Wow, it’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these. In case you’ve forgotten, this is a post I do when I want to cover a multiple topics that are not sufficient enough for its own post. It’s called “Reactions” because I’m a chemist. Yes, I thought of that all by myself.
Pace of Play
MLB did something proactive, and I can’t believe that I’m saying that, by enacting rules to improve the pace of play in baseball. I believe that it’s a necessary step, especially if the game wants to attract a younger audience that finds baseball “boring”.
Nowadays, games average roughly 3 hours, except for Red Sox/Yankees games which average 3 days. In 1981, games averaged closer to 2.5 hours. Part of the reason for the games getting longer has to do with longer breaks for commercials, which of course MLB will never do anything about since it would cost them money. Some might also point to how hitters have become more patient or passive and how that could be adding time to the game. Hitters have learned the value of working the count and drawing walks. Baseball Prospectus’ Russell A. Carleton showed that this doesn’t actually make the average game significantly longer, and even if that wasn’t the case, you can’t force hitters to swing.
More recently, Carleton wrote a piece for Fox Baseball’s new microsite, Just A Bit Outside (JABO)1, back in August to discuss the issue. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:
“If baseball really wanted to shorten games, it could take a few of the steps above. Eliminate social mound visits (or limit to one). Eliminate mid-inning pitching changes (or limit to one). Eliminate instant replay. Implement even a modest pitch clock (although good luck getting the players union to agree to that!) Allowing for the fact that some of the rule changes would spawn some workarounds, you might save 20 minutes off the average game.”
Obviously, that’s not much time off of a three-hour game. He did seem to touch upon it in his piece, but unless I’m misunderstanding him, I believe that Dr. Carleton is missing the point. Now I have nothing but the utmost respect for the man since he’s a great baseball writer, has an advanced understanding of statistical analysis, and is the only writer I know of that can credibly write about the psychology of baseball. He has a Ph.D. in psychology. His expertise in the subject makes it especially surprising that he didn’t seem to understand that the pace of play problem doesn’t come from the extra time that games have gained, but the perception of how quickly the game is moving. If the game seems like it’s moving slowly, then it doesn’t really matter how long it’s actually taking. As Dr. Carleton touched upon in his piece, nobody complains about the pace of play in a three-hour NFL, NBA2, or NHL game. Action is constantly happening. In baseball, on the other hand, there is constant waiting. We wait for the pitcher to throw the ball. We wait for the hitter to get back in the box because for some reason he needs to go for a walk and adjust his gloves between each pitch.
The rule changes are an attempt to make the game move faster. The length of the game doesn’t matter nearly as much as the perception of how quickly it moves. There are people who don’t mind the game the way it is, and that’s fine. I’d be ok if nothing ever changed, but I am in favor of a quicker pace. It’s interesting because I do feel that the game can drag when I’m watching it on TV. When I’m watching it live, however, there’s just something so exciting about being there that I don’t care how quickly the game is moving.
The problem is that this is not how the younger generation views the game. In an age of video games, tablets, smartphones, etc., kids are developing shorter attention spans. Heck, I’m over 30 years old and I feel like all that technology has had a similar effect on me. The game is stronger than it has ever been, and I’m not really worried about its future. That being said, appealing to a younger generation by quickening the game can only help.
The new rule changes are discussed here. The timer that will be used to make sure that game resumes promptly after a commercial break will be the most effective. I’m also in favor of requiring managers to challenge plays from the dugout. We all saw they tried to game the system in the first year of replay last season. They would slowly walk out onto the field and stall while the bench coach was on the phone with somebody reviewing the replay in order to advise whether or not the manager should challenge. It wasted time. It also, I believe, flew in the face of the spirit of the system, which intended for a manager to immediately challenge a disagreeable call, just like they always did, only now they’d actually have a chance to win the argument.
The rule requiring hitters to stay in the batters box unless an “exception” occurs, such as hitting fouls, time being granted by the umpire, and wild pitches, is going to be problematic. There’s too much subjectivity involved in when an exception occurs. There’s going to be a lot of arguments from hitters, especially since the exceptions are unlikely to be consistent from umpire to umpire. Worse still, there are no in-game penalties. It will be handled similarly to how the NBA handles flopping. You get a warning and then you start getting fined. Eventually, suspensions will occur.
I’m completely in favor of keeping hitters in the box because it’s ridiculous for them to step out after each pitch. Hitters did just fine without having to do that for well over a hundred years. It’s an unnecessary waste of time. I understand that it’s a comfort thing, but let’s be realistic here. Staying in the box isn’t going to turn a 50 hitter into a 20 hitter, or even a 45 hitter. They’ll all learn to adjust. Unfortunately, the only way to successfully enforce this new rule consistently and fairly is to call a strike whenever a hitter steps out of the box for no reason. The players union will never approve that.
David Ortiz certainly disagrees, which is obvious to anybody who has ever seen his plate appearances. He claimed that hitters need to step out of the box so that they have time to contemplate what the next pitch could be. Well, the pitchers have just as much time to come up with their next pitch as the hitters do to guess it. It’s like I already said, it won’t change who you are as a hitter. It’s impossible to succeed at the major league level without the ability to make adjustments. This is just another adjustment that hitters will have to make.
Ortiz was definitely right about one thing: There was nothing mentioned about pitchers having to speed up how often they throw the ball, and that is indeed unfair. Hitters may have to stay in the box, but pitchers can hang on to the ball as long as they would like. There is in fact already a rule in place to cover that. If a pitcher doesn’t throw the ball within 12 seconds of getting it back from the catcher, the umpire will call a ball. That only applies if there is nobody on base. That is an official rule. Of course, umpires have never had the guts to enforce the rule. As far as I know, MLB made no mention of it. Perhaps if they had the courage to enforce the rule that’s already on the books, the pace of play may never have been a problem in the first place.
The new rules also do nothing to address the biggest problem. MLB continues to insist on long commercial breaks. I’m not aware of how much say the players’ union (MLBPA) had in the new pace of play rules, but I cannot believe they let the league pass these rule without some sort of concession on commercial breaks. It’s a further indictment on how weak the MLBPA has gotten. Why should the players have to make all the concessions on improving pace of play? The MLBPA should’ve fought tooth and nail against any rule of these rule changes without MLB enacting some change on their end as well. If I were the head of the MLBPA, I’d demand that the league cuts 30 to 60 seconds off of each commercial break or give the players a chunk of the revenue that is earned during the extra commercials. Without those concessions, I would not agree to a single rule change with regard to pace of play.
On a side note, the current CBA ends December 1, 2016. It’s too early for me to be afraid of a lockout. What I am afraid of, though, is that given how weak the MLBPA has grown in recent years, the players are going to get killed in the new negotiations.
That Old Clubhouse Chemistry Thing
Now that spring training has started, the beat writers have started spinning their narratives. There isn’t much to write about right now, so writers go for the low-hanging fruit. They go for the kinds of things that don’t require any kind of proof, analysis, or brain power to write about: Clubhouse chemistry and leadership. For example, one writer fabricated a narrative about the Baltimore Orioles’ clubhouse chemistry and then criticized sabermetrics because it can’t quantify it. The writers out there who are actually intelligent enough to see through his nonsense called him out on it. He believed that his subjective perceptions were sufficient proof that the Orioles have good chemistry, and responded to challenges of his baseless claim by failing to address the argument or misrepresenting it altogether. In other words, he responded with worthless anecdotal information and strawmen.
Contrary to that writer’s beliefs, no analytical writer has ever conclusively stated that there is no value in clubhouse chemistry. I, myself, find it plausible. When asked to provide evidence that even one sabermetrician completely dismissed the idea of the value of clubhouse chemistry, he completely failed to do so. Instead, he kept firing off the strawmen arguments, as if anybody with a half a brain couldn’t see right through what he was doing.
The writer’s cheap shot at the analytical community stated that sabermetrics fails as a result of not being able to measure the value of chemistry. Little did he realize that he was just demonstrating his own lack of understanding of how logic and rational thinking work. Quite frankly, I do not believe that he cares, just as long as he can keep peddling his unverifiable claims and pandering to his readers. The reason why the sabermetric community ignores clubhouse chemistry is because it is far too subjective and nebulous to evaluate. If you want any intelligent, logical, critical thinking person to take clubhouse chemistry more seriously, then you need to provide objective evidence that proves the state of a clubhouse and exactly how it affects the team’s record.
Truth be told, that’s probably impossible. Too bad. That’s why rational people don’t make claims that they can’t defend. The fact of the matter is that currently the value of clubhouse chemistry is completely arbitrary. Completely. Arbitrary. Yet, those like the unnamed writer expect their subjective perceptions to be taken as facts. That’s either incredibly foolish, or incredibly arrogant. No rational person takes a completely arbitrary assessment seriously. He has no evidence that the Orioles will have good chemistry this season, nor does he have any evidence that it will result in extra games won.
A year ago (on my birthday, ironically), ESPN came out with an article that purported to be able to quantify team chemistry. It was an abomination. First of all, the methodology used was hidden under the cloak of proprietary secrets. Sabermetric fans love advanced stats, but only when they’re done correctly and opened up for peer review. Sometimes, like with projections systems, that can’t be done for business reasons. Perhaps it was intended for this methodology to make money, but I highly doubt it has or will. Without access to how the methodology was derived, we were just left with some of the assumptions that were made, which were terrible. You can read a good criticism of the article here.
Back to the Orioles, they are likely not to be very good this season, so if that turns out to be true, the writer is almost certain to then move the goalposts to save face. If they do succeed, he’ll claim to have been right all along, which is really just post hoc crap. Moreover, clubhouse chemistry “analysis” is frequently done post hoc. It’s all just spinning an argument to fit the narrative that whatever writer wants to make up.
Don’t believe me? You could just as easily make the case that clubhouse chemistry is detrimental to teach success. It can be argued that it’s a distraction that takes the players’ focus away from their game preparations. If the players didn’t like each other, you could say that it would allow them to perform better as a result of being better able to focus on making themselves better, instead of goofing off or joking around or whatever it is that good clubhouses do that bad ones don’t. That’s certainly not romantic nor heart-warming enough to make a good narrative, but think about it. I mean really think about it. Doesn’t that sound plausible? I have just as much evidence to support that theory as everyone else does to support the belief that clubhouse chemistry makes a team better.
I am not saying that I do not enjoy a team with good chemistry. I thought the Red Sox beard thing in 2013 was a lot of fun. I am also not saying that I believe what I wrote above about good clubhouse chemistry being a bad thing. What I’m saying is that there’s no evidence that clubhouse chemistry affects a team’s overall record. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. I don’t know. Nobody knows. Nobody.
Joey Votto Rants About Leadership
Joey Votto as been shown to be one of the most rational, logical, analytically minded players in baseball. I’m not sure that he has the personality to be a great TV analyst, but he certainly has the brains for it. His intelligence and objectivity has led him to be just as sick of the media’s team leadership talk as any other critical thinker out there3. You can read about it here. I encourage you to read the whole piece, but here are a few snippets:
“The thing that upsets me most is the people who are talking about leadership and our clubhouse are not in clubhouse. They’re not consistently here to make any sort of comment on the clubhouse. These are guys who very rarely show their face in the clubhouse. They’re never on the bus, not in the hotel, certainly not on the field. These guys are constantly commenting about the importance of leadership with no sort of experience to be able to have that conversation. They don’t see the interaction. They don’t see the bench. They’re going to write and talk endlessly about something they have no information on. And, to me, that’s doing a disservice to this team. It’s doing a disservice to the front office, the coaching staff. I think it’s highly, highly convenient because we lost last year to highlight that.
“We win this year, all of a sudden there’s going to be a leader on the team or a group of leaders, and so and so did this or so and so did that, we win and all of a sudden everything changes… Leadership is one of the things people have been pointing out. I don’t think it’s objective.
“You don’t need one focal point, we don’t need rah-rah, we don’t need everyone to be slapped on the [butt] and patted on the back, because we’re not that group of guys. None of these guys need to be motivated to be at their very best.”
If I had been there when Votto said this, I would have stood up and applauded him. I wish I could say for sure that he was saying what every major leaguer thinks, but he has always seemed to have a unique way of looking at the game. His objectivity is refreshing coming from a player. Votto made a few great points here that I’ll break down.
First, like clubhouse chemistry, the quality of leadership is frequently done post hoc. It’s an especially popular topic when a team underperforms or overperforms. Last season, the Reds underperformed, so the lazy-minded, narrative hungry writers out there apparently blamed it on a lack of leadership. It’s a much more controversial and juicy narrative than what really happened, which was injuries. But nobody is going to click on a boring article about injuries when they can read about a fabricated narrative surrounding the Reds lack of leadership, right?
What’s more, as Votto pointed out, it’s common for those who are critical of the leadership to not have the access to the team that is required to make such an assessment. Obviously the beat writers are the ones that have the most access to the team. I doubt that even they have enough access to accurately assess the quality of leadership in the clubhouse. How many team meetings and conversations among teammates are they privy to? Moreover, as Votto said, it’s difficult to trust their objectivity. Is what they’re observing real, or are they just seeing what they want to see for the narrative?
Further to Votto’s point, the overvaluation of leadership is, quite frankly, insulting. Front offices work so hard in putting their teams together, and coaches put in so much work training and managing the players, and players do everything they can to prepare for games and be the best that they can be. To say that a team succeeded or failed because they did or didn’t have a player to offer encouragement and advice to others is trivializing the game of baseball to an offensive level. Talent and luck win baseball games. Nothing else.
It’s the job of the manager and his coaches to lead, not the players. I’ve harped on this before. If a player wants to take up that mantle, then fine, but it’s not his job. As to Votto’s last point, while I find its benefits plausible, I don’t see why players need to be motivating each other. If all the pressure and money involved in being a major league baseball player aren’t enough to motivate you, then I doubt that a teammate will make the difference.
Finally, just like with clubhouse chemistry, there is no evidence that a player’s leadership adds any wins to the team’s record. Until somebody proves differently (and good luck with that), the value of leadership is totally a media fabrication. Just analyze and evaluate what happens on the field. After all, what happens on the field is why we watch baseball, right?
Jason Giambi Officially Retires
Jason Giambi officially called it quits on a great career that sadly, at least in the media’s eyes, was marred by steroid usage. He wasn’t crucified quite as much as other users, likely because he came clean. To my knowledge, he has publicly apologized at least twice for his steroid usage. While I personally don’t care that he used steroids, because there’s no evidence that it enhances baseball performance, I do applaud him for publicly acknowledging it and apologizing. I’m sure Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez wished that they had done the same thing. Lying and covering up the mistake always makes things worse.
Giambi added a surprising amount of length to his career as a part-time player, not unlike Jim Thome. Unlike Thome, however, he has not had a Hall of Fame career. Of course he has no chance of getting in as a result of the steroids, but his performance doesn’t merit it anyway.
For his career, Giambi hit .277/.399/.516 with a 140 wRC+ and 50.8 WAR. That offense looks great, but it came during one of the highest offensive eras in baseball history. A 140 wRC+ just isn’t that great for a player whose primary position was first base. He also was a below average runner and a poor defender. That all adds up to a great player, but not a Hall of Famer.