Monday, January 26, 2015

Manfred's Mann(ifesto)

I was thinking it was about time to post about Ryan Vogelsong's signing, and what it means for Yusmeiro Petit and Tim Lincecum, but Mr. Rob Manfred, the new Commissioner of Baseball, has caught my attention, and not in a positive way.

This, from Mark Townsend on Yahoo Sports: "Manfred made it clear that examining the pace of the game is first on his list of priorities, but not far behind will be finding ways to 'inject additional offense into the game.'  Without being prompted for an example, Manfred specifically mentioned he'd be open to pursuing the elimination of defensive shifts, which he says gives the defensive team a competitive advantage."

So here we have it.  More offense, which means higher scores, more hits, more baserunners, more pitches, more home runs, more cap doffs after home runs, etc.  Yet a shorter game.  How is that going to work?

It is my belief that in the past few years, we have seen the sunset in the playing careers of a number of the game's historically great hitters, and are witnessing some of the game's great pitching performances.  Not that there haven't been great hitters and great pitchers in every era, but that the numbers on the field at once have shifted from hitters to pitchers.  Think of the great sluggers in history.  Yet can you imagine talking about seeing Barry Bonds and Mark McGuire play each other?  Or McGuire and Sosa in the same division?  You can blame PED's if you wish for the spate of great hitters, but remember, at the time, the home run race "saved baseball" by drawing fans into the game.

And now, although baseball clearly doesn't need saving, there seems to be a perceived need for more offense.  There are only so many ways to get offense.  You wind baseballs tighter (like that hasn't been done before), you handicap defense (by, like, not letting them move around on the field), you change the dimensions by making fences shorter or lowering the mound, which is really just a physical rather than an operational way of handicapping defense, or, finally, you let the batters improve.  PED's????  Corked bats?????

They lowered the mound after 1968's season in which Bob Gibson (one of my childhood heros, along with Juan Marichal) posted a 1.12 era.   Yet guys like Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle didn't need a lower mound to become baseball legends.   (Maybe you can detect a bias towards pitching, not that I could ever pitch worth a damn.)  In 1969, the runs per game went up, then up in 1970.   Then down, down, up, down, up, down, up, down and then up, so that in 1980, MLB averaged 4.29 runs per game, a little higher than 1973's 4.21 (1968 was 3.42, due in part to Mr. Gibson).  In 1999 and 2000, runs per game were more than 5, but have not been 5 or less than 4 since.

But the fact of the matter is that more offense will make a game longer.  There is no way around it.  You can put pressure on batters, like making them stand in the box.  I am not convinced that this would appreciably speed up the game, although it would make batters less annoying.  I think that any increase in offense would offset any possible time savings in games.  Pitching changes after more offense?  Yeah, that will eat up any savings from harassing batters.

So, let's think for a minute about this other statement - that defensive shifts gives the defense a competitive advantage.  Why is that?  Isn't every defensive alignment designed to help the defense, from the wheel play, to charging a bunt, to shifting a center fielder?  You don't put more people on the field in a defensive shift, you merely re-arrange them.  That means that there are big holes in other areas of the field.  That doesn't sound like a competitive advantage to me, it sounds like a very big risk, and if the offense can't exploit it, well then, it is no different than a fat pitch over the middle that the batter fails to put into the seats.  Mark said it well, that offenses will (or at least should) adjust.  There is no competitive advantage in a defensive arrangement, regardless of Mr. Manfred's statement.

So I am not happy about this nonsensical manifesto of Mr. Manfred.  Since they aren't about to speed up games by eliminating tv advertising between innings, you simply are not going to speed them up AND create more offense.

I think Ryan Vogelsong's signing is a good thing.  What about a 6 man rotation for a couple of months?


Clayton Kershaw said...

Seriously, fuck that guy.

M.C. O'Connor said...

Yeah I saw that, too, and thought 'what a dumb thing to say' and vented a bit in the comments of the previous post. But as I think about it more I suspect Manfred is just throwing things around to see what sticks.

I think everyone would like to see the pace pick up, and that's easy. Cut down on catcher-pitcher meetings (one per batter, for example), only allow batters to step out of the box after two strikes, only allow pitchers to step off from the set position once per batter, etc. In other words the ball needs to get pitched! Umps can penalize pitchers who are too slow by calling a "ball". That will force them to quit stalling and get to work. None of that changes the game fundamentally.

Getting rid of shifts is just too stupid to take seriously. And I wonder if that's the point--get people talking and see if any good ideas might come of it.

Lowering the mound and using the "rabbit" ball had huge impacts on the game, yet the game still worked because players and managers adapted to new conditions. It's a low offense era now but that will change in time and we will see run scoring go up again. Like you said they can always move in the fences!

Fred Wilpon (Mets) was duped by Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme yet he's on the Finance Committee. That, perhaps, tells you more about Manfred than his utterances.

campanari said...

The elimination of the defensive shift is an idiotic notion, and of course more offense would slow games. Myself, I don't care if the games last longer or get over faster. The going to a game has become costly enough for games to be gala events, and the extra length seems somehow fitting. The game, I agree, does not need saving.

On a much more minor if more immediate note, I am struck as to how many people have happily swallowed the Heartwarm Pill of re-Vogeying without wondering about its costs. What will happen to Kontos who has neither options left nor roster room, but who's a valuable player? Will the pen be weaker because it includes someone who hasn't pitched in relief for some years? The Giants have benefited year after year by being able to include at least one non-roster ST invite, a freedom that comes with having some elasticity within the roster. Is it wise to have the roster fixed so early, to buy pitching insurance which may or may not be needed, given the presence of Petit?

M.C. O'Connor said...

My guess is that someone will start the year on the DL (Hudson, for example). And the Giants can bide their time before a decision has to be made.

nomisnala said...

I know pitchers get bonuses based on number of innings, or games started, but I'm all in for a six man rotation for at least the first half of the season. Save some arms.

Brother Bob said...

I find the defensive shifts one of the more fascinating recent developments. It's the inevitable outcome of the sophisticated analysis which is now available. Every tendency can be quantified into a probability and every response can have a risk/benefit ratio.
If Bochy does it, then it's the smart thing to do.

obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

It's better to go with 6-man in second half than first as there are much less days off, particularly in August, if you are going to do one half or another.

I would be happy with a modified 6-man rotation in first half, much like the old 5-man process of skipping the 5th starter when there is a day off, just now for the 6th starter.

Yeah, not too surprising that teams would analyze probability. That type of analysis/data drives UZR, so shifts is a natural evolution from the shifts that that started against Ted Williams linked to the data micro-slices that is possible today on each batter and/or pitcher.

Ron said...

Good post, Zo.

Prohibiting defensive shifts is one of the dumbest baseball ideas that I have ever heard. This rewards goombas who are dead-pull hitters & haven't even tried to perfect the art of hitting the ball where it's pitched. Why would we want to reward people like that?

There is nothing more tense & exciting than a low-scoring Pitchers' duel, so cranking up offense does nothing for me. And, as several of you have already pointed out, cranking up the offense would work against the other goal of shortening games.

I am in favor of shortening games. I don't give a shit about the 'gala' that the game as become. I tend to arrive early to enjoy BP, sit in the sun, watch the other interesting pre-game things that go on on the field, & appreciate all of the other wonderful things about sitting in the stands at a game. So, even if the game itself is a 2 - 2 1/2 hour game, I have gotten 4 - 4 1/2 hours of fun.

When watching a night game on TV, I would like to get to bed at a reasonable hour - not watch some guy step out of the box a million times or step off of the rubber over & over again.

As far I have seen, the only effective means of shortening games is the time clock between pitches & limiting the number of times that Batters can step out or Pitchers can step off. The time clock is the best solution.

M.C. O'Connor said...

If you mean by "time clock" that the umpire has the discretion to decide if the pace of play is too slow, then I'm for giving umps that power. I think they do have guidelines already in Rule 8.04, the so-called 12-second rule, but no one seems to enforce them. Or, at least, with all the stepping off and stepping out, it seems that way. But any kind of "clock" in the game that ticks on the scoreboard would be an abomination. My favorite thing about baseball is that it is 27 outs, not 60 minutes. I would, however, be a fan of time regulated inning breaks. A time limit on the damn video replays would be nice, too. Even pitching changes could be timed to quit all the dicking around. But those are minor things. Just tell the batters to get in the damn box and the pitchers to pitch the damn ball! An assertive ump with a good sense of time and pace could do a lot.

We've all watched baseball during high run-scoring times and low-run scoring times and it's all been good. Part of the ups and downs and historical cycles of he game. It still takes good pitching and fielding to win whether it is 3-2 or 6-5.

Zo said...

Brandon Crawford has reached agreement with the Giants, avoiding arbitration.

M.C. O'Connor said...

Great piece from Joe Posnanski via Baggs(which I saw in our Twitter sidebar):

Are baseball games too long? Yes. Do they move too slowly? Sure. You know who can fix that? The umpires. The rules are already in the book. Umpires don’t need a clock to warn a pitcher to pick it up. They don’t need a clock to refuse timeout to a hitter who breaks contact with the batter’s box. The job of an umpire is to not only to get calls right but to keep the game lively and fair, and for too long now I don’t think the people who run baseball or the players themselves have given umpires the freedom to speed up the game. Give them that freedom now. Leave the clocks to the NBA, where they will replay a shot back and forth to see there was a tenth-of-a-second left.

Entire piece is here

Brother Bob said...

I'm a big Crawford fan, have always had a soft spot for shortstops. I hope to live to see a "Lifetime Giant." I can't think of anyone who played for no one but the Giants for theire entire career. I think the last one was Mel Ott. I hope that is actually a joke, but you name anyone?

M.C. O'Connor said...

Jim Davenport.

Ron said...

Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Sergio Romo! Is that enough wishful thinking for one list?