Friday, September 19, 2014

Pitching inside: what is the target if not the batter?

Try it.  Maybe with a tennis ball or wiffle ball.  Try buzzing someone.  A friend.  Kid.  Spouse.  Not to hurt them but to experience what to do.  We all need a target to throw accurately.  There are probably no people on earth who need a target more than major league pitchers.  They are supposed to look at the catcher's mitt and hit it with pitches of amazing variety and speed.  Maybe that's why they are so bad at throwing to second base, where the target may be some empty space over the bag or the front shoulder of a moving infielder.

Ray Chapman's grave in Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland
April 2008 By Jtesla16 via Wikimedia Commons
I have never heard a pitcher, former pitcher or announcer address this.  They just talk vaguely about pitching inside.  At what exactly?  It cannot be the catcher's mitt.  Have you ever seen the mitt positioned near a batter's head when a pitch is thrown there with obvious intent?  I have not.  So how does the pitcher do it, if not by using the batter's head as his target?  Oh, he probably thinks or wants us to think that he actually aims a few inches away from the head but even that is depraved indifference to human life, the definition of murder two in New York, according to no less an authority than the TV show "Law and Order".  The pitcher is putting the burden on the batter to use his world class vision and reflexes to move out of harm's way in the blink of an eye or be smashed in the face as Chase Headley was a few days ago at the hands of one of Joe Maddon's Tampa pitchers.  Headley is back playing but with terrible contusions on his neck, several inches from the point of impact, his chin, where Maddon said Headley had been grazed.  Maddon later revised that a bit but only after being challenged.

What about the most innocuous of inside pitches, the one intended to force the batter to jack knife in order to avoid being smashed?  The target must be the batter's belt buckle.  If not, then what?  Locate the belt buckle and then try throwing a few inches away?  Like throwing to that empty area above second base?

The batter is the target! Wake the heck up!  Stop using euphemisms to hide the barbarous nature of what you as a fan are condoning.

Tony La Russa: you hit one of ours, we hit two of yours. Really? No.  Friday, September 19, 2014

Blood feud: Hit By Pitch. Can technology determine the pitcher's intent?  Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ken Singleton ... a year or two ago while announcing a Yankee game ... recalled being at bat and suddenly noticing that during his windup the pitcher was looking at him and Singleton wondered why and instantly realized that he, the batter, was the target and not the catcher's mitt.

It makes perfect sense.  The pitcher needs a target, which is why the vague notion of pitching inside but not at the batter is such nonsense.
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Crime and punishment.  Friday, March 28, 2014

Ray Chapman:
Born: January 15, 1891 in Beaver Dam, KY
Teams (by GP): Indians/Naps 1912-1920

Final Game: August 16, 1920 (Age 29)
Died: August 17, 1920 in New York, NY (Aged 29)
Buried: Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland, OH

Note the proximity of Chapman's final game and his death.  That's because Ray Chapman was killed by a pitched ball thrown by Yankee Carl Mays, who plausibly claimed it was an accident.
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Tony La Russa: you hit one of ours, we hit two of yours. Really? No.

During the recent unpleasantness between the Yankees and Rays, Yankee announcer Micheal Kay again stated something attributed to Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa: you hit one of ours, we hit two of yours.

Tony La Russa April 1, 2007 by shgmom56, Barbara Moore
via Wikimedia Commons
It sounds ominous and unlikely to be correct.  So, I checked for the years that La Russa managed the St. Louis Cardinals in the National Conference, which still has that quaint old rule requiring the pitchers to bat.  The numbers are below but the average is that Cardinal pitchers hit opposing batters about 6.2% more than Cardinal batters were hit.  I didn't expect it to be two to one but 6.2% is pretty slim.  This is a very simple look and does not consider percent of plate appearances nor the critical relationship between Bases on Balls (BB) and Hit By Pitch (HBP), which I call the meanness factor.  I looked at the meanness factor several years ago and concluded:
1. pitchers do not throw at each other
2. there are reputations that are backwards; for instance, Early Wynn was nice, not mean, and probably would not knock down his mother
3. the three meanest post World War II pitchers are Pedro Martinez, Don Drysdale and Jim Bunning.
4. there is probably a bias against sidearm pitchers.
5. there is probably a bias against right handed pitchers; recent evidence suggests that pitchers tend to hit batters of the same handedness more often; see previous post.

Meanness Factor: how to determine if HBP is intentional.  Saturday, August 20, 2011

St. Louis Cardinals:
yearBatPitP-Byear(P-B)/B
19964435-91996-20.45%
1997425917199740.48%
1998425412199828.57%
1999516312199923.53%
20008462-222000-26.19%
200165727200110.77%
20026760-72002-10.45%
20037365-82003-10.96%
2004516716200431.37%
20056260-22005-3.23%
2006618019200631.15%
2007547319200735.19%
200842519200821.43%
20096153-82009-13.11%
20105048-22010-4.00%
20114446220114.55%
tot893948556.16%

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Blood feud: Hit By Pitch. Can technology determine the pitcher's intent?

Ken Singleton was a switch hitter.  In 1979 he finished second to Don Baylor, a righty batter, for American League MVP.  Their teams finished first in the two divisions, which contributed to their MVP votes.  Fred Lynn, a lefty batter, had the best numbers but his team was third.  Here are their Hit By Pitch (HBP) and plate appearance (PA) :

Singleton 1 in 688; career high: 2
Baylor 11 in 722; led league EIGHT times; high 35 in 1986
Lynn 4 in 622; that was his career high

This supports something said yesterday on MLB Network by writer Tom Verducci; in 2014 pitchers tend to hit batters of the same side (lefty/lefty, righty/righty) much more per PA than opposites.  He attributed that to pitchers throwing very hard with movement and trying to pitch inside.  He thought batters getting hit tended to be accidents.  The small anecdotal data above suggests that the same side dynamic may have been true in 1979.  In fact I wonder if it isn't always true since 72% of pitches are thrown by righties and 63% of PA are by righties.  Maybe someone has those numbers over many years and can share.

I mentioned Singleton because a year or two ago while announcing a Yankee game he recalled being at bat and suddenly noticing that during his windup the pitcher was looking at him and Singleton wondered why and instantly realized that he, the batter, was the target and not the catcher's mitt.

It makes perfect sense.  The pitcher needs a target, which is why the vague notion of pitching inside but not at the batter is such nonsense.

I recall many years ago that high speed film of tennis players revealed that Ille Nastase, a Romanian former world No. 1 professional tennis player, one of the world's top players of the 1970s, did not always watch the ball as long as he should.  I also recall an interview during his playing days with Joe Pepitone in which he could not give a coherent answer as to when he picked up the pitch.

Batters should be too busy to notice what the pitcher is looking at when the pitch is released to see what Singleton saw in that unusual PA.  The obvious candidate to watch that is the plate umpire but who knows what, if anything, they watch when the ball is released by the pitcher.

And who says that the pitcher actually looks at the mitt or the batter when the ball is released?  Remember Dodger southpaw Fernando Valenzuela in the 1980s?  Fernando looked up at the sky during his high leg kick.  Did he spot the target at the instant of release?



Let's find out.  This could be both a good teaching tool and also a way to finally end the barbarism of pitchers intentionally hitting batters.  How about a special camera that looks at the pitcher's eyes and determines his target, if any?  Something like gopro.com.  Maybe mount it on the umpire's head.  Many people have used it that way, such as on a cycling helmet.  Live stream it to that review headquarters and let them decide if there is sufficient evidence to determine the target of the pitcher when a batter is hit in such a way as to reasonably cause suspicion.  That just occurred in two series this week: Orioles v. Blue Jays and Yankees v. Rays.  Bad blood ensued and blood feud erupted.  Maybe that can be eliminated, but only if there is swift, sure and severe punishment.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Old terms die hard: league's leading hitter.

A Batting Title That May Whisper: .317
SEPT. 16, 2014
Keeping Score
By BENJAMIN HOFFMAN  The New York Times

batting champion ... batting average leader ... batting title ...

emphasis on such old-fashioned stats caused a bit of a civil war among baseball fans ...

the days of prestige for the batting title are waning, and barring another triple crown contender or a player making a run at .400, it is hard to see it making much of a comeback.
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If only that were so.  In addition to the terms in that article, the "league" leader in batting average (BA) is still also called the league's leading hitter  and the act as leading the league in hitting.  Former players are especially prone to that but even some who are supposedly enlightened will continue to use old, outdated metaphors.  Almost three years ago I wrote this:

Merger: AL and NL merged years ago. How come no one noticed?  Wednesday, October 19, 2011

merger between the once independent American and National Leagues ...

When the National Football League (NFL) and American Football League (AFL) agreed to merge in 1966 the merger was set to take place four years later.  In the interim they agreed to play an additional game between to two independent leagues.  It became known as the Super Bowl, a name that stuck even after the merger when the game more properly should be called the NFL championship game.

Similarly the baseball AL and NL agreed  to play a series of games starting after the 1905 season, usually best of seven, between the champions of their respective leagues.  It became known as the World Series.  Since the generally  unrecognized merger of the AL and NL, the World Series description has persisted for what more properly should be called the MLB finals.
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Subsequently, to emphasize the merger I took to referring to them as conferences, not leagues.  I gave the league designation to the single corporate entity whose name I modeled on the National Football League (NFL): the Major Baseball League (MBL).

Major Baseball League: a new phrase is coined.  Monday, June 11, 2012

Major League Baseball (MLB) should change its name to Major Baseball League (MBL).  Maybe I'll do it for them.  Ladies and Gentlemen, now introducing the already existing Major Baseball League with its American and National conferences!  Get used to it...

In case it is not obvious enough the intent of this name change is to drive home the point yet again that the old American and National Leagues merged into one league known as Major.
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That led to my describing the "post season" and playoffs as a tournament and the World Series as the tournament finals as in the National Basketball Association (NBA).  I also used the term seeding to refer to the home field/rule advantage accorded teams with the better record, which happens now.  Recently I introduced the NCAA term brackets to emphasize that what happens after the regular season is a tournament.

But it's all for naught.  None of it has caught on.  I guess we'll just have to wait to see who emerges as the league's leading hitter.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Does Mark Teixeira think he's better than Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams? Bunt the damn ball into the ocean!

Bunt.  There are no fielders there!  Just bunt and get on base!

Monday, September 15, 2014, 7:10pm, Tropicana Field
Attendance: 16,058, Time of Game: 3:28
Rays 1, Yankees 0

What a boring game, especially for fans of the losing team.  Derek Jeter didn't play.  Maybe Jeter and/or Yankee manager Joe Girardi read my previous post:

Should Derek Jeter bench himself?  Monday, September 15, 2014

Nah.

With two out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th Ben Zobrist singled and drove in the only run.  At least he spared everyone dreaded extra innings.

Mark Teixeira in Baltimore August 28, 2011
by Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons
Earlier in the game Yankee announcers discussed at some length the stubbornness of Yankee first baseman Mark Teixeira who last night was batting cleanup.  Teixeira has given no indication this season that he would hit the ball away from fielders who overload on the right side when the switch hitter is batting lefty against a righty.  The word bunt is not in Teixeira's vocabulary.  Even Yankee catcher Brian McCann bunted against the shift for a single this season ... once.

Leading off the top of the 9th Teixeira drew a walk.  During that plate appearance the Yankee announcers again addressed the idea of Teixeira forgoing the possibility of hitting a home run and simply take what was being offered: first base.  There was a lot of the usual blah, blah, blah.  I've written extensively about this throughout the season.  In a nutshell my view is that any major league non-pitcher and probably any top professional tennis player can hold the bat still and bunt a pitch into fair territory.  Bunting against the extreme shift should produce a batting average of at least .500. Mickey Mantle bunted .527 for his regular season career against regular fielding alignments; in the World Series Mantle was 7 for 8 (.875).  Ted Williams against unknown fielding alignments bunted 11 for 12 (.917); Williams was 1 for 1 bunting in his only World Series.

Mantle and Williams were much better hitters overall and better home run hitters than Mark Teixeira.  Mantle and Williams had better home run rates in eras when there were far fewer home runs per at bat.

At Bats / Home runs (lower is better), OPS+:
Williams 14.8  190
Mantle 15.1  172
Teixeira 16.9  129

So what's the deal with Teixeira and Girardi?  If Teixeira won't make the decision on his own, why won't Girardi make it for him?  I've written multiple posts on this, too, including:

Shift fear up the chain of command: why are general managers afraid to order their managers to order their batters to bunt against the shift?  Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The field manager minimally decides:
1. who plays
2. the fielding position of the player
3. the batting order position of the player.

So what the heck?  What are we all missing here?  Managers employ the shift against opposing batters but then sit there like dopes and let their own batters bang away hitting into the teeth of the shift deployed against them.  Is there something obvious that I'm missing, because it's driving me nuts.  Who can watch this?

Numb to the dumb? The shift, that is.  Saturday, August 30, 2014

Not quite.  I'm less outraged but still really annoyed when I see Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira ignore recent situations where the Yankees needed base runners and they eschewed (a Howard Cossell word) a gift bunt single into the ocean of open area near third base and instead continue to try to hit a home run over the shift.  Argh! ...

So, where's the leadership?  None from Girardi.  Apparently, he is too afraid to simply order his batters to bunt against the shift.  None from captain Derek Jeter.  Nothing up the chain of command.

What about the fans?  Where are the boos?  I do not approve of fans booing their own players ... except for unsportsmanlike behavior and dumb actions repeated many times.
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When will batters who insist on hitting into the teeth of the shift suffer financially?  Wednesday, July 9, 2014

At some point dumb batters will start being paid less because they refuse to adapt.  But how long will that take...

So when?  There's no sign of it...

All I hear are dumb comments ...:

1. Well, the batter could try hitting the other way.
2. Some batters cannot bunt.
3. Bunting requires more skill than you think.

Responses to dumb comments:

1. Bunting is much easier than changing a pull hitter into a spray hitter.
2. If a player can swing and hit the ball, the player can much more easily NOT swing, hold the bat still and hit the ball.
3. Yes, bunting against a regular alignment of fielders requires skill but not dumping the ball into the ocean of empty territory available due to the extreme shift.
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Monday, September 15, 2014

Should Derek Jeter bench himself?

The corpse of Derek Jeter is on display.  The real ball player is clearly dead.  Yankee manager Joe Girardi obviously does not have the nerve to bench Jeter. Perhaps Girardi has been ordered to play Jeter by upper management.  Jeter is the only Yankee who can remove Jeter from the starting lineup.

Jeter's On Base average has dropped to .298.  That's On Base, not Batting Average (BA).  League On Base average is about .320.  Jeter's slugging average (SLG) is the same: .298.  Plus, Jeter is last on the team depth chart for fielding at shortstop behind Brendan Ryan and Stephen Drew.

When Derek Jeter passes Alex Rodriguez in Runs, will they stop the game and save the ball?  Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Even with Rodriguez banned, Jeter is still behind him in the one thing you'd think Jeter should have been better at: getting on base and scoring.  Rodriguez has 1,919, six more than Jeter.  By the way, On Base average:
Rodriguez .384
Jeter .379
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In 33 games Jeter still hasn't scored those six runs.  He's two from tying Rodriguez.

The Yankees have 14 more regular season games to play, with their faint chances of qualifying for the tournament fading fast.  Jeter's presence in the lineup violates every team concept that Jeter supposedly embodies.  The Yankee captain can right the ship by benching himself.

Lou Gehrig benched himself when illness became too much for him to perform.  Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle both turned down their same high salaries to continue because each knew that he could no longer perform at a high level.  Mantle was zero for his last 18.  Jeter is now zero for 24.

If he continues to play, Jeter should play out the season and not finish in Yankee Stadium with three games remaining in Boston.  Ted Williams did the equivalent: ended on a home run in Boston and skipped the final three games in New York.

Ted Williams in 1951 Red Sox games 142-150 ... and abandoning his team.  Thursday, February 10, 2011

September 28, 1960 (nine years to the day) at Fenway Park Boston Williams did his famous thing: homered in the 8th in the final at bat of his career; Boston was still losing 4-3.  What did he do next?  Williams abandoned his team.  Top of the 9th: "Carroll Hardy replaces Ted Williams playing LF batting 3rd".  Nice move. Leave in a one run game.  That eliminates the possibility that he may bat again and ruin his individual accomplishment.  Aided by an error Boston scored two in the bottom of the 9th to win 5-4.  Number 2 batter Willie Tasby was the final Boston batter.  Williams spot was next with Carroll Hardy waiting to bat.

In 1960 after the Ted Williams farewell homer Boston still had three more meaningless games to play at Yankee Stadium.  Boston played them without Ted Williams.  Yanks won all three: 6-5, 3-1, 8-7.  I wonder how Ted Williams teammates, especially the pitchers, felt about that.  You think losing pitchers Brewer, Nichols and Earley were thrilled about the great Ted Williams simply going home before the season had ended?
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Derek Jeter ... overrated. Derek Jeter ... overrated. Derek Jeter ... overrated.  Friday, September 12, 2014

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Are relief pitchers becoming too dominant? Mike Marshall 1974: 208 innings, 106 games, all in relief.

It seems like every pitcher who comes out of the bullpen averages more than one strike out per inning.  Actually it's only about half the relief pitchers.  Below are numbers for every ten years going back 50 years.  1994 was a short season, so 1993 was used.

With 2014 almost complete, it appears that 2014 will be the only season examined in which no pitcher will reach 100 innings with zero starts; Dellin Betances leads with 85.  Queries were run in baseball-reference.com for IP>=50 and GS=0), sorted by greatest Strikeouts per 9 IP (SO9).

Willie Hernandez in 1984 won both the Cy Young and MVP awards; 140 innings in 80 games; but he averaged only 7.18 SO9.  Dick Radatz in 1964: 157 innings, 79 games, 10.38 SO9; Radatz was known as the monster.

Mike Marshall in 1974  won the Cy Young award208 innings in 106 relief appearances, SO9 6.18.   Part of what probably helped Marshall was that his pitch count might have been low because he had low strike out (143), walk (56) and hit (191) totals, relative to his 206 innings.  Those three things tend to increase pitch counts.  But modern pitching in 106 games, even if it had been only one inning per game, is still amazing.  Marshall averaged almost two innings per game.  All in relief, Marshall exceeded 100 innings in 1971, 1972, 1973 (179), 1974 (206), 1975, 1979 (142); 99 innings in 1976 and 1978.  Marshall's best SO9: 7.4 in 1972; his next best: 6.9 in 1971.  Marshall did not dominate.

For some perspective: Mariano Rivera pitched 1995-2013.  Rivera threw 100 innings only once: 107 in 1996 when he was the setup man for John Wetteland.  That was also Rivera's best SO9: 10.6.  Rivera had SO9 better than 9 in only 6 of his 18 full seasons; low: 1998: SO9 5.3 in 61 innings.  Rivera's second most innings: 80 in 2001: SO9 9.3.  Rivera was under 70 innings in 8 of 18 seasons.  Rivera might be obsolete one year after retiring.


yeartotSO/9 > 9pcthighlowhighlowteams>=100 InnSO/9 > 9 / teams
20141115347.75%14.674.37Andrew MillerDan Otero3001.77
20041142219.30%14.933.3Brad LidgeDanny Kolb3010.73
1993891617.98%12.183.38Duane WardSteve Howe2840.57
19846211.61%10.212.85Mark ClearDan Quisenberry26140.04
19743800.00%8.353.34Al HraboskyTom Burgmeier24130.00
19643538.57%10.384.09Dick RadatzBob Duliba2070.15

The number of dedicated relief pitchers in 2014 and 2004 is about the same but the percentage with SO9 >= 9 jumped from 19.30% to 47.75%.  About half the relief pitchers in 2014 are doing what only about 20 percent did just ten years ago: blow the hitters away.  In 1984, 1974 and 1964 only a very few elite relievers did that.

Pitchers who did not start a game but threw at least 100 innings: