A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Posts Tagged ‘Baseball

Should MLB games be 7 innings long?

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Despite a dream matchup of Boston vs LA the World Series ratings were down 25% from last year. While local ratings remain strong it’s the latest warning sign for the MLB’s long term viewing future that the national engagement with the sports and its stars is waning. It’s better to act before the floor falls out than after.

Baseball has a length problem. Not only does the season run 6 days a week but the games clock in at 3 hours, 5 minutes on average. To watch all your team’s games requires a commitment of 18-20 hours a week compared to 6-8 to a sport like the NBA or 3 for the NFL, and times have changed. It’s not just competing with other sports or other TV shows for that attention, but competing with Netflix, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, apps, etc. Even if someone finds the time to watch all of their own team’s games, are they turning into Mike Trout’s Angels game after it ends? In the NFL everyone watches the Sunday night and Monday games even when it doesn’t contain their team. Likewise in the NBA people are interested in seeing league wide storylines like Lebron on the Lakers or the Warriors. This is where the MLB appears to be losing the most ground and it’s a numbers problem. More time watching local teams means less time available to watch anyone else’s.

Reducing the games played in the season would be ideal, but would be near impossible to get owners to agree. A 110 game season would be mean 26 less home games of revenue, and 52 less games on television for each team.

My proposal while radical would be a softer landing: 7 inning games, which would take down the average to about 2 hours 20 minutes. If people miss that extra 45 minutes of baseball a day, they can use it engaging in other team’s games or highlights which is precisely what the MLB needs. At the gate the same price can be charged for 7 inning games as 9, if anything it’s easier for people to fit shorter games in their schedule. Television loses 45 minutes of airtime a game, but perhaps the stations can just play other baseball games. The MLB could also add more games to the schedule as double headers.

The arguments against it would be:

  • Baseball is a 9 inning game, at 7 innings it’s no longer baseball: While the purists would be upset, there’s no easy solution here if the MLB wants to be relevant a generation from now.
  • Statistical history becomes meaningless: Like the first it hurts purists, but there would be a division between the old era and the new era statistically. The PED asteriks have also tainted the record books already.
  • Pitchers lose their jobs as the worst starters and relievers are weeded out: Making the player’s association agree to this would admittedly be one of the biggest obstacles, although it leaves more revenue for everyone else.
  • The relationship of starting and relief pitchers changes: Starters would not go as long, but with a regular 4 or 5 innings they’re still more important than relievers. They would also be available to pitch in more games and would have the star showcase of more complete games and more no hitters. If the MLB doesn’t want teams like Oakland to go “all reliever” and eliminate the starting pitcher, reducing the amount of pitchers teams legally carry on a roster would make it no easier than it is now to use the strategy.
  • Low scoring games: In addition to shorter games, pitchers are well rested, batters see them less and the worst starters and relievers are eliminated, all of which leads to less runs. The other way to see it however is every scoring opportunity they do get is heightened in importance, every home run makes a bigger splash league wide. A tie game in the 5th inning with men on base feels quite different in a 7 inning game with relievers waiting to finish it out than it does now. The drama could increase and a single player can be the hero of a game more often. The relationship between how high scoring a sport is and popularity is overall mixed. The most popular sport in the world soccer regularly has 1-0 or 2-1 scores.
  • It doesn’t change the real problem, the game is too slow: I’d point towards the popularity of football and soccer as examples how “slow” games can be popular. In football there’s so much time with the game stopped between plays, challenges, timeouts, commercials, etc. that it makes the speed between pitches in baseball seem rapid in comparison. The difference is that every football play is more meaningful than every pitch largely due to the season being ten times as short. Likewise in soccer a lot of time is spent passing the ball around the middle of the field but it hasn’t reduced its popularity. Finally I would point out that for most of the 20th century baseball’s pace didn’t stop it from being popular.
  • Is 7 innings enough of a difference? Or should they just go all the way with a draconian 6 inning games? Instead of games being merely as long as NBA and NHL games, being even shorter at 2 hours would make up for playing twice as long a season. On the flip side it pushes starting/relief pitcher strategy closer to the tipping point of no longer being the current game, and this idea is crazy enough anyways that I figured 7 is a compromise for the current fanbase and player’s association.

There’s a lot of risk going to 7 innings of a currently profitable league and the people who love the current league would be unhappy. But without a major change there’s a serious danger of the MLB being horse racing or boxing a generation from now as “your father’s sport” and minor tweaks to the speed of the game aren’t moving the needle. The real difference between baseball and the other sports is being 162 3 hour games a year. Either the length of the season or the length of games may have to be sacrificed.


Written by jr.

November 1, 2018 at 5:13 pm

An NBA Talent Evaluation Analogy: The Baseball Pitcher

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BASEBALL Pitcher of the Week - May 3-9, 2010

BASEBALL Pitcher of the Week – May 3-9, 2010 (Photo credit: Big West Conference)

For the last year and change I’ve been writing about how I split up NBA talent into 3 equally weighted categories: Physical impact talent, Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent and Feel for the Game talent.

If I had to the closest comparison to this split, it’d be a baseball pitcher. I am not a baseball expert, but think of the tools that define a pitcher’s upside and success:

1. Power is clearly an important trait. The greater velocity, the harder it will be to hit a pitcher. Pitchers with huge arms are seen as having a high upside, even if raw. For my system the obvious comparison is physical impact talent. Notably, for a power pitcher, while I assume literal athletic and strength tools are key to throwing at a dynamic velocity, the player’s technique is also a relevant part of their power. Likewise in my system not everything in “physical impact” talent is literally physical tools, like how a player’s ballhandling will usually help him attack the basket more fiercely, a way to physically impact the game.

2. However, arguably just as important is control and ball placement. The ability to throw a strike and put the ball where it’s wanted is essential, arguably as important as the velocity of the throw, if not moreso. The comparison in my system is Feel for the Game where the control, smoothness and timing of a player’s game increases his effectiveness.

3. The final key part of a pitcher’s success, is the skill to throw multiple types of pitches – change-up, slider, curveball, splitter, cutter, etc. Mastering these skills goes beyond the ability to hit the plate. This also has a clear connection to my Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent category. Instead of the skill to throw a pitch like a curve or change-up, there’s the skill of shooting and having 3 point range, passing or playing in the post.

Relevantly, for a pitcher any of these 3 categories isolated, will not lead to a successful player. It doesn’t matter if a pitcher throws 100 miles per hour if he has no ability to hit the plate and no pitches outside of a fastball. It doesn’t matter if a player has a wide array of skill pitches like the curve, change-up, slider and variants if he has no velocity on his pitch and he isn’t hitting the plate. And even if a player has the control to hit the plate extremely well, if his pitches have no gas and have no off-speed variants, he also won’t make it. What leads to success is combining the skills. It’s having both power velocity and the ability to hit the plate, or having both both great skill with off-ball pitches and the ability to hit the plate, or having both power and a variety of pitches. If one is a star in 2 of the categories, it’s very important even if he doesn’t excel in the 3rd, that he’s passable in it instead of bad. A pitcher doesn’t need to throw the most power if his control and pitches are at an elite level, but he can’t go out and throw 80 miles per hour either and hope to have a high ceiling. Likewise a pitcher with great power and a multitude of pitches even if he doesn’t have elite control, needs to at least respectably hit the plate, instead of being all over the place.

Likewise I believe a player in the NBA having all his eggs in one of my 3 categories, will make it difficult to success. You can’t just be a physical force without skill and feel on top of it, you can’t just be skilled if an athletic and mental liability and one can’t just be smart and controlled without some physical and skill tools. But the player who is physically dominant and with elite feel/control, has strong skill and feel, or who has strong physical and skill tools, starts to get somewhere. And like the pitcher, if the player only excels in 2 of the 3, it’s key that he’s passable instead of poor in the 3rd.

The mistake I believe that is made most often in the NBA Draft, is taking a prospect with elite physical tools, who’s skill and mental game is extremely raw. For example, Nerlens Noel is ranked 1st overall this year. I’ll reveal my (lower than you can imagine) ranking of Nerlens when I get to ranking Cs in this draft, but compare him to my baseball analogy. Nerlens is a player with amazing athleticism and ability to physically impact the game, who’s subpar with a risk at being awful as a skill and feel for the game player. This is like the pitcher who throws at a league high velocity, but has one pitch and can’t hit the plate. That won’t work! Nerlens has the chance to develop more pitches so to speak to improve his chance at success (such as developing Serge Ibaka-like range) but if he doesn’t, it could be a disaster. To me it’s not a more appealing situation than a player like Brandon Davies who has an elite feel for the game but is unimpressive athletically and with a limited skill game – his analogy being like the pitcher who’s elite at finding the plate, but throwing very weak velocity and limited skill mixing up his pitches, which makes him a guy who’s serving pitches over the plate like a waiter to hitters.

Now admittedly, I do not know enough about pitchers to say whether the distribution of power, variety of pitches and ball control is equally distributed. It seems like power and ball control may be more important than the number of pitches a player has. But I am simply using this as an example to illustrate why I believe my interpretation of NBA talent is a logical approach.

Written by jr.

June 7, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Video Blog Wednesday: Why OPS is a very flawed stat and no more than baseball’s PER + An idea to fix it

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By Julien Rodger

Twitter: @ASFW_twitter

Email: julienrodger@gmail.com (If I get enough questions, I’ll do a mailbag)

Written by jr.

October 3, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Why the faith in OPS?

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First off, I’m not a sabermatrician. I won’t pretend to be in their league in advanced baseball knowledge.  But I have a problem with their most widely used advanced batting stat: OPS.

OPS stands for On-Base Plus Slugging. In short, On-Base Percentage measures how often a player gets on base and Slugging Percentage accounts for the value of extra bases. Both these stats are fine. But I don’t see the basis for simply adding them together 1 to 1. Since they clearly aren’t worth the same, this immediately makes the stat flawed.

The consensus is OBP is worth more. It’s more important to not waste one of the precious 3 outs than advance more bases when you get on. The number I’ve heard is OBP is worth 1.8x more, though some have estimated as high as 3x and up. If true, OPS is very off. Furthermore, SLG% itself is also flawed because it weighs singles and walks the same. Singles are worth more because they advance players on 2nd and 3rd without a force from 1st, making them much more potent for scoring runs. Once again this just trips up any pretensions of accuracy for OPS.

The real basis for it is adding them together happens to coorelate pretty well with offensive production. So under the guise of “it works”, it’s stuck. I’m not buying it. Stats should be equated for reasons making sense on their own, not just because they give us the good looking answer. We shouldn’t accept flawed stats because it gives us an answer we want. Especially in baseball, a sport where eventual statistical exactness is not only possible, but realistically attainable.

In truth, OPS is a great ballpark stat. The basketball equivalent is John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER) or Win Shares (WS). In one number it can tell you who the MVP candidates, all-stars, and mediocore players are. It should not be treated as more.

Recently OPS+ was introduced, adjusting OPS for ballparks and giving OBP 1.2x weight. It’s not enough. It still doesn’t make sense without relying on the conclusion looking right. To me the answer is a multiplication equation involving OBP and SLG%, not addition.

My quick glance across the internet has shown me fringe sabermatricians have realized the faults of OPS and tried to develop better, multiplication based batting stats for years. Much credit to them. I’d only say not to treat OPS as gospel or the end of the line because it’s clearly not. Baseball is a sport where we can truly exact offensive value. It’s all on the paper. To treat simply adding together OBP and SLG% together 1 to 1 as enough, is selling ourselves short.

Expanding the Baseball Playoffs is a BAD Idea

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As the 2010 Major League Baseball playoff have come to the close, commissioner Bud Selig has recently made statements indicating he wishes to strongly consider adding more teams to the league’s playoff system.

His statement of the issue:   “Is eight out of 30 enough? Is that fair? And that’s the basic question here, at least for me.”.  The ‘eight’ here meaning the 8 teams in the current playoff system.

He was then asked for his opinion of having 10 teams in the playoffs instead of 8: “It’s more fair than eight.”

This just leaves me shaking my head.  Talking about fairness sounds lovely, but without context, even the most die hard of baseball fans wouldn’t be sure what he meant, and with context, it appears he’s talking about striking some balance where part of the goal is putting as many teams into the playoffs as possible.

Folks this is just ridiculous.  You want to know what’s unfair?  Working your tail off for 162 games, and then having that discounted.  Sigh – let me take a step back here for a second.  I’m not anti-playoffs.  I’m not against having quite a few teams in a playoff if it’s suitable for the sport and league in question.  It’s fine for football, it’s fine for basketball, but it’s not okay for baseball, and I’m going to show you why. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Matt Johnson

November 2, 2010 at 1:54 am