A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

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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

Should there be an 8th/9th seed play-in game?

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Last season the MLB added an extra playoff “spot” with 2 wild cards having a play-in game, instead of 1 wild-card automatically getting in.

The motive for this is easy to see. Aside from increasing the revenue for the teams who get an extra spot and by putting 2 huge television games on the schedule – it also keeps more teams alive late in the season, helping fans keep interest longer in the year.

Should the same logic apply to the NBA? Instead of the 8th seed getting in automatically, make them play the 9th seed in a 1 game play-in. The winner gets the 8th seed as it is now, entering a full series against the 1st seed.

Here’s the benefits:

– The 8th seed play-in game is beneficial for revenues. The 4 teams involved in it get an extra high priced playoff game. Television ratings are likely strong as event TV.

– 2 extra “playoff” spots increases interest late in the season for more teams. For example right now Milwaukee is 8th in the East at 34-36. Following them is Philadelphia at 28-43, Toronto at 26-45, Washington at 26-45. Instead of Philadelphia and Toronto’s season being over for months, they’d be wrapped up in an exciting playoff race right now. Washington’s great play with John Wall would have put them back in the race. This teams being thrown in the race would be great for sales and ratings. Moreso, franchises build reputations to fans by making the playoffs or coming close, as well as build winning cultures on rosters that way.

– This creates a race not only between 8th and 9th – but between 7th and 8th. For example last year New York and Philadelphia finished 7th and 8th in the East separated by one game, while Dallas and Utah finished with the same record at 7th and 8th in the West. Make the 8th seed mean a 1 game playoff instead of a guaranteed spot and that race would have been a lot more intense.

– If an 8th seed is likely to be beat badly by the 1st seed every year, giving them a carrot by winning a big play-in game helps add a little more meaning to that season. Would Baltimore’s season last year in the MLB have as felt as special without the play-in win?

An 8th/9th seed play-in game is good for revenues, good for building the credibility of franchises and good for the fans. It seems an all-around win, as it is for the MLB. After the MLB got the ball rolling, similarly adding a play-in game may be impossible to resist for the NBA and NHL.

Written by jr.

March 28, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Posted in Basketball

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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

Stats Tuesday: A statistical case for Miguel Cabrera as American League MVP + Should a runs involved stat replace RBIs?

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English: Miguel Cabrera at Dodger Stadium.

English: Miguel Cabrera at Dodger Stadium. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The AL MVP race is the most interesting in years due to the debate of traditional stats vs new age sabermetrics, as many have pointed out. As of October 1st, 2012, Miguel Cabrera is in position to win the Triple Crown of leading the league in the traditional hitting stats Batting Average (BA), Home Runs (HR) and Runs Batted In (RBIs), but Mike Trout holds a significant lead in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), 10.7 to Cabrera’s 6.8 according to baseball-reference.com, a massive gap.

Trout’s gap in WAR comes from two places. One, he is given 2.3 points in defensive WAR due to excellent fielding in center-field, while Cabrera’s score is -0.2 at 3rd base. Secondly, Trout’s offensive WAR (8.6) beats out Cabrera’s score of 7.4 on baseball-reference. This is interesting because it is clear that Cabrera is the better hitter statistically, leading in OPS, batting average, slightly trailing in on-base percentage, and having a sizeable gap in home runs. A fascinating statistic is that Cabrera has 137 Runs Batted In (RBI) to Trout’s 83.

RBIs have of course lost favor in recent years for obvious reasons. They’re simply too context based. A player’s RBIs depends on the ones in front of him who get on base. In this case, Trout’s offensive value is more reliant on scoring from the bases than Cabrera’s is. For one, he hits lead-off, a position where where worse batters behind him mean there’s less chance of players to be on base – and the first bat of the game no players can be on base. Secondly, Trout is a fantastic base-runner and base stealer (Leading the AL in stolen bases at 48, amazingly only being caught 4 times). Third, by the fact that less of hits are home runs than Cabrera’s despite a higher on-base percentage, this is another reason why more of his hits end up with him on the bases, waiting for the batters in front of him to hit him in. RBIs of course can’t measure the value Trout brings by getting into scoring position. When a batter in front of him hits Trout in, they are credited with an RBI, while he is given a Run Scored, which is tracked but not given much weight in awards voting. Trout, unsurprisingly, leads the AL in Runs Scored by far with 129 – Cabrera coming in 2nd at 109. Trout leading Cabrera in offensive WAR comes down to favoring this “scoring from the bases” advantage Trout has over Cabrera, outweighing the extra damage Cabrera does at the plate.

We know Trout’s Run Scored nor Cabrera’s RBIs advantage over each other isn’t indicative of their value. Their roles are different, Trout’s favoring scoring off the bases and Cabrera with the bat. This is concerning because fundamentally, we should want to measure how much runs a player actually scored in a game, in a same way we want to know how many points a basketball player actually scored.

So what I came up with a little stat to try and incorporate both runs batted in and runs scored off the bases for a player. I can’t be the only one who’s tried this, but nonetheless here’s what I did: I took a player’s Runs Scored and subtracted Home Runs, as when a player scores a Run off a homer, it’s counted as an RBI. A good term for the total Runs Scored not counting Home Runs, is “Baserunning Runs Scored”. I then added this number to RBIs. The stat thus is simply (Runs Scored – HRS) + RBIs, or Baserunning Runs Scored + RBIs.

Thus this counts the “Total Runs Involved In” for a player, accounting for the runs a player scores either with his bats or from baserunning Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

October 2, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Thumbs up for meritocracy in the 2011 World Series and MLB playoffs

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Albert Pujols

Image via Wikipedia

I’m generally not a MLB guy, but this has been a good year for the sport. Not only did they get an all-time regular season final day, but the playoffs have been enjoyably close with lots of “moments” like the Chris Carpenter-Roy Halladay Game 5 duel, Nelson Cruz’s big home runs and the Albert Pujols 3 HR game – with the World Series being all around outstanding. But the real reason I like the way thing have turned out, regardless of the winner, is it all feels deserved.

Last year, despite how much I like the San Francisco Giants franchise, the result of their World Series win was wholly unsatisfying. As with most people I felt like the 2010 Philadelphia Phillies’ roster was clearly better – matching the Giants pitching but adding star hitting. But the Giants got hot at the right time and beat them and then dispatched the Rangers much faster than they should have.

This year on the other hand, everything has made sense with the rosters each team put on the field. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

October 25, 2011 at 12:36 pm