Monday, December 29, 2008

Defense as a Competitive Advantage.

Competitive Advantage.  That's what a team hopes to achieve.  Any significant change that the team can master can result in a competitive advantage.

My friend Eric Weiss has this suggestion: five infielders.  Not just as a rare late game gamble but as an alignment for a ground ball pitcher.  My implementation would position the outfielder turned infielder behind second base.  That player would handle all plays at second, allowing the shortstop and second baseman to play further from the bag.

My own favorite is to alter the outfiled to effectively have no fences, i.e., make them 450-500 feet from home plate.  Then get three centerfielders.  Also get middle infielders with strong arms to make the many long relay throws.  The  three centerfielders would need to hit enough so that the team would not be at a competetive DISadvantage on the road.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Let the starter close.

This is a variation on my theme of getting an optimal number of pitches from the best pitchers available for each game. This latest may be the easiest for conventional managers to implement. The pitchers we currently describe as starters would continue to pitch in a regular rotation as they do now. The difference would be that they enter the game in the fourth inning and finish it. They would be long men and closers all wrapped into one. That means that they only need to pitch six innings. Most can do that most of the time. If not, bring in the worst relief pitchers to finish and take your chances. So who pitches the first three innings? The same guys who now pitch the last three innings, except in reverse order. The closer starts because he is the team's best short pitcher. The advantages as mentioned in previous posts:

1. He pitches to the top of the batting order.
2. He may pitch more than one inning, depending on pitch count.
3. Tha game is close.

Next into the game is the second best relief pitcher and so on until the three innings are complete. Then the long man enters to finish the game. An additional advantage is that the opposing manager has a dilemma: does he set his lineup for the expected long man or for the short starter?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Neutral site for WS.

Some non-radical people have suggested that the World Series be played at a neutral site in a dome on seven consecutive days. This because of the weather mess of the 2008 WS. The neutral site would not be needed if they implemented my recent suggestion: do not play on a wet field or when the temperature is below fifty degrees. Failing that the neutral site is not as nutty as it may seem at first, nor such a long shot. 1. We could have a special field on which the outfield fences are the same distance from home plate in all directions and the same height. This was in my very first post. 2. MLB would have an excuse to add more games because the final round, the World Series, would be weather-proof. The additional games could take these forms: A. First playoff round extended from five to seven games. B. Add a playoff round. C. Lengthen the regular season. D. Extend the WS from seven to nine games; four WS were best of nine: 1907, 1919, 1920, 1921; MLB could claim that it was returning to its roots. All four of these forms of additional games could be implemented, either one at a time or all at once. Playing the WS on seven consecutive days would be more like the regular season when there are few off days much less two in nine days.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Put lids on ball parks. "There was no roof on the Colosseum, but in the summer great canvas sheets were rigged to the top to form awnings that kept the sun off everyone inside." If the ancient Romans could do it we can do it. Cover the ball parks. My recent post about not playing in wet cold conditions resulted in this post, which addresses half of the equation. I am guessing that it would be relatively easy to develop retractable soft covers, probably made of something more high tech than canvas. Anything would be preferable to the travesty of 2008 World Series game five, which took three days to finish and which was tied in the sixth inning during a driving rain storm. MLB has no shame.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Rain, rain go away ... and cold, too.

MLB has poor judgment. Commissioner Bud Selig displayed that again with his ignoring rules and continuing game five of the World Series two days later from the point of suspension. The solution: remove judgment. No MLB game may be played if the temperature is below 50 (I could be talked into 60) degrees or if there is any precipitation. Can't just say rain because the idiot Selig would play in sleet, hail or snow. Oh, and the ground must be dry, too. MLB is lucky that Tampa's B.J. Upton did not break a leg and ruin his career sliding twice in a driving rain to tie the game and give MLB some cover for its suspension decision. That should do it. Then, maybe, they would put lids (preferably removable) on the ballparks, as well as temperature controls, you know, so that fans in the stands (as opposed to those watching at home) would be reasonably comfortable.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Fool Proof Strike Zone

It's back to basics. Years ago a kid on a farm would practice pitching by throwing at a tire hung on the side of a barn. In cities improvised baseball games like stick ball had strike zones drawn on the wall behind the batter. No catcher needed as the ball would bounce back to the pitcher if not hit. Everyone facing the batter could see if the pitch was in the strike zone. These concepts can be applied to MLB. Move the plate umpire behind the pitcher. Place something behind the plate that would be a target for the pitcher. Ideas: - barrel - whole in a netting - whatever works. The target would be round, not a rectangle like the current strike zone; that's more fair as those corner strikes are hard for the batter to judge and for pitchers to throw to. The width of the current strike zone is the width of the plate, 17 inches, plus the diameter of the ball, about 4.5 inches: 21.5 inches. The new target could be 21.5 inches or 20 inches to make more simple. The same size strike zone would apply to all batters. That is a change. No other team sport varies something for the size of the player. Basketball does not lower the basket when a short player attempts free throws. Football does not change the height of the goal post for smaller kickers. Only baseball has the silly rule that a batter has a personal strike zone. I might allow the batter to select the height of the target but not change the size. Pitchers would now have a uniform size target for every batter. That's fair. The umpires would no longer vary the strike zone based on individual interpretation. Either the ball goes into the target area or it does not. The catcher could be deployed elsewhere. The umpire could hand the pitcher a new ball. Ball boys/girls could keep the batting area free of loose balls. The metaphor for a catcher is backstop. A backstop is a wall. Who wants to play wall? It's easily the most ridiculous position in team sports. Most baseball players want no part of catching. Put that player in fair territory where he can do some good. How about next to the pitcher where he could field balls hit up the middle and still be close enough to cover home plate? I have already advocated that base runners may not take a lead until the ball is hit. That would speed up the game as the pitcher would have one pitching motion (no stretch position) and no need to check the runner and throw to the base. The new strike zone rule would eliminate the getting the sign from the catcher ritual. Throw the ball where the batter can hit it and judge that in a fair and simple way.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Free Substitution

Free substitution means that a player may leave the game and return later. Pretty basic. Football and basketball have it. Why not baseball? Just because they didn't think of it a million years ago? Or in 1950 when there were the last big modifications of the rules?

The only big rule change since then is the designated hitter, which is a lousy rule but not for the reasons usually presented. See my idea about designated fielders in my original radical baseball post.

To make this work in baseball simply maintain the batting order. If Derek Jeter starts the game batting second he may only bat in that position. I am guessing that the other objection would be that changing pitchers constantly would slow down the game, as if anyone would notice. Change on the fly like the other sports. As long as the move is done within the flow of the game there should be no problem. Of course, they cannot continue the pitcher changing ceremony that is unique in team sports for its disruption and delay and which should be eliminated anyway.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Instant Replay used on Home Run

MLB finally used its replay system on a monster (probably over 450 feet) home run by Alex Rodriguez in yesterday's Yankee game in Tampa (actually St. Petersburg).  What a joke.  Instead of worrying about enforcing the current rules, change the dumb rules!
As written previously:
1. Establish a distance for a fly ball to be a home run.
2. Mark that distance (380 feet seems reasonable) in all directions in all parks, including into the stands where the wall is closer than that distance and where a ball hit into those stands would be a ground rule double.
3. Include in the home run area long distances in foul territory like the upper deck where no fielder has a play, which is the reason for having foul territory.
Here are the top ten reasons for boring baseball fans to oppose this:
The rules are the rules.
The rules are the rules.
The rules are the rules.
The rules are the rules.
The rules are the rules.
The rules are the rules.
The rules are the rules.
The rules are the rules.
The rules are the rules.
The rules are the rules.
How about changing the ancient rules when they make no sense?  Why continue to reward the pitcher for making mistakes?  If the batter hits a bomb, give the batter a home run.  That's fair.  That makes sense.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sacrifice bunt

To put a little more pressure on the defense why not have righty batters bat lefty when they intend to sacrifice bunt? They are that much closer to first base. Surely they can bunt with the opposite hand position. Or better yet, do not sacrifice bunt at all. It is a dumb tactic.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Names and Numbers.

In 1929 the New York Yankees became the first team to wear numbers on the backs of their uniforms on a regular basis. The "original" ten Yankee uniform numbers were:
#1 - Earle Combs
#2 - Mark Koenig
#3 - Babe Ruth
#4 - Lou Gehrig
#5 - Bob Meusel
#6 - Tony Lazzeri
#7 - Leo Durocher
#8 - Johnny Grabowski
#9 - Benny Bengough
#10 - Bill Dickey.

As you can see there wasn't much thought here. The numbers followed the batting order. Aside from the obvious shuffling of the batting order, what about subs and pitchers? Oh, well. The numbers for Ruth and Gehrig became famous. Of course Dickey went on to wear 8 as did Yogi Berra. Both are in the Hall of Fame.  Joe DiMaggio wore 9 in 1936, Joe's rookie season, because Frank Crosetti was wearing 5. Pretty sure that Tommy Henrich wore 7 in 1937, later 9. In Mickey Mantle's rookie season many know that he wore 6 originally because Cliff Mapes had 7 before Mapes was traded to the St. Louis Browns; Bob Cerv also wore 7 in 1951 after Mapes while Mantle was in the minors. Mapes also wore 3, Ruth's number. Only number 4 was worn by only one player.

Numbers on baseball uniforms were nice. They helped sell scorecards. Then in the late 1950s teams started to add player's names above the numbers. That eliminates the need to buy a scorecard. The New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants and Boston Red Sox are the only MLB teams with numbers only on home uniforms. The Yankees are the only team with numbers only on away uniforms. No names for the Yanks. Good for them. So why use numbers at all? Seems pretty stupid. Oh, it's tradition, the universal excuse for pretty much every stupid thing done in baseball.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Everyone should wear catcher's gear.

OK, the outfielders probably don't need it, especially if MLB implements my suggestions about padding the walls. However, the infielders, certainly the pitchers, need this protection. I can remember when Eddie Giacomin tended goal for the New York Rangers hockey team with nothing on his head. Even the NHL (National Hockey League) woke up. Today all players wear helmets and face masks. Infielders are taught to get in front of ground balls to block them in case of a bad hop. Bad hops happen often. Have you seen the rockets that batters blast at these unprotected players? Catcher's gear is exactly what they need. Yes, including the face mask. If they do not start wearing this gear, pitchers will need the screen that is used in front of the pitcher during batting practice.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Best relief pitcher in fifth inning.

Yankee manager Joe Girardi has lived down to my expectations: no more imagination than any other MLB manager. In yesterday's Yankee loss (15-6 ouch!) to the Mets (double ouch!!) Girardi had a chance to follow my guidelines for doing something DIFFERENT from what all the other BORING MLB managers would do: use his best relief pitcher to save the game, not by facing an arbitrary set of batters in the ninth inning, IF his team was leading, but by using him in the middle of the game. The Yankee starter, Dan Giese, was through at least one batter before Girardi finally relieved him with the Yankees LEADING 4-3 in the fifth with the bases loaded, no outs and the Mets best batters, Beltran and Delgado (set a Met team record with nine RBI) coming up. That's a save situation. It certainly calls for your best relief pitcher. For the Yankees he is Mariano Rivera. Girardi brought in Edwar Ramirez, who immediately allowed all three inherited runners to score. Mets took a 6-4 lead and then broke it open with five in the sixth inning. Girardi was waiting until the ninth inning to use Rivera. This was such an obvious occasion to break with the conventional tactics but it apparently never even crossed Girardi's mind. Keeping the game close might have put more pressure on the Met relief pitchers and given the Yankees a chance to battle back. Instead Girardi wasted a golden opportunity to distinguish himself.

Friday, May 23, 2008

How to achieve uniform playing areas.

I wrote about this in my original post. Here are some suggestions about implementing it given the absurd configuration of MLB ball parks.

1. Decide on a distance that a fly ball should travel to be a home run, let' say 380 feet. Measure that distance from home plate in each park, into the stands where necessary. Mark the 380 foot line in the stands. Any ball that lands in the stands but not over the 380 foot line is a ground rule double. Move the fences in at any point where they are more than 380 feet from home plate.

2. A fly ball must be caught in fair territory to be an out. This addresses the disparity of the area of foul territory.

3. Determine the minimum foul territory and mark a boundary in all others to match that area. Any ball that goes over the boundary is considered to be in the stands.

4. Make the height off the fences the same in all directions in all parks to the extent possible. Ten feet seems about right, preventing players from jumping into the stands.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Why are foul balls strikes?

By 1903 both the American and National Leagues had settled on a foul ball counting as a strike, at least until there were two strikes. In some slow pitch softball leagues, a foul ball after two strikes is a strike out. Maybe MLB went to this rule to speed up the game. It didn't work. Consider two at bats. Babe Ruth swings and misses two pitches then fouls off the third. Ruth is still at bat. Ty Cobb fouls off two pitches, then misses the third. Cobb is out. How is that fair? It isn't. Get rid of this rule. A foul ball any time should not affect the count. It should not be a strike.

When is the count even?

Most people think the count is even at 0-0, 1-1, 2-2. Wrong. Since it's four balls for a walk and three strikes for a strike out, the pitcher starts the plate appearance ahead in the count. The count is even at 1-0, 2-1, 3-2. That's when both the pitcher and batter are an equal number of pitches from their limit. Maybe we should give a walk at three balls, that would make it simpler and more obvious. It's amazing that even something this simple and fundamental is viewed incorrectly. It shows the extent to which baseball fans are stuck in conventional wisdom.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Start at bats with the count 3-2

Another great idea from slow pitch softball.

Friday, April 4, 2008


Only baseball begrudges its players protection. Plastic covers for the elbow are called armor. Many think that if a batter is hit by a pitch on the "armor" that the player should not be entitled to first base, unless maybe the batter has had a previous injury to that body part. Does that apply to the head, too? Hitting a player's batting helmet does not warrant the batter being awarded first base unless that player has already had a concussion?

Outfielders used to battle brick walls and other
immovable objects in most ball parks. In some cases there was naked chain link fence. Hey, it was cheap. Mickey Mantle broke his foot in June 1963 chasing Brooks Robinson's home run to center in Baltimore and missed three months. I remember being on the subway platform in Flushing Queens waiting for the seven train to take me to high school in Manhattan and seeing the headline on the front page of the Daily News: Mantle Breaks Foot, Out Season.

So eventually padding was introduced. Have you ever touched that stuff? It's hard. Would you let a pole vaulter land on that from twenty feet? The pole vaulter lands on a big soft cushion. You know so that injury is avoided. Since that stuff exists, why not use it in baseball parks? Players would actually be protected. Imagine how cool it would be to see them running into it? Kids would love to play that way.

MLB could also outlaw catches of fly balls that are in the stands. That eliminates players trying to vault onto and over the new stuff. It also separates the players more from the fans on batted balls, hopefully decreasing fan interference.

Foul Territory: what good is it?

by Kenneth Matinale

April 4, 2008

In basketball and football out of bounds means that the play is over. Not in baseball. For no apparent reason baseball allows some plays to be made out of bounds, i.e., in foul territory. There are passed balls and wild pitches. Balls that the defense otherwise place into foul territory such as by a bad throw. If a pitcher tries to pick off a runner at first base and the throw gets past the first baseman, the runner may run until the cows come home or until he scores. The most amazing thing is that even some batted balls are in play, but only those hit into the air. Once a ball touches the ground the fielder may not play it. In their incredible haze of historic acceptance baseball fans never even ask why. Why the heck is a foul fly in play but not a foul grounder? One reason may be to keep the playing area within practical limits so that fielders are not covering too much territory. That makes sense except why flies? Why not make all fouls not playable? Maybe so that all those fouls do not result in players just standing around. Yeah, right! Baseball wouldn't want players standing around.

If a ball is batted it should be in play. Here is a simple way to achieve that. Had ice hockey been invented before baseball it might have been incorporated from the beginning. Then again if hockey and especially basketball had been invented before baseball, baseball would never have been slowed down to its presently unacceptable state. Slow pitch softball is the essence of the game. Put the damn ball in play. Eliminate leads by base runners and eliminate stealing.
Speed slows down the game.

Side boards, baby! That's it. Bring the stands to the foul lines with a barrier to protect the fans: plexyglass or see through fence like that in the Japanese park where Boston and Oakland recently opened the 2008 season. Any batted ball that hits the board is in play. If hit over, it is a foul out of play like balls hit into the stands now. Some would describe this sarcastically as arena baseball. So? It eliminates all that standing around that sucks the life out of a baseball game. The action would be much more flowing. Offense may not increase as much as some might expect. Balls hit off the board between home and first or third base would probably result in an out. Now it's just more pointless waiting for something that counts to actually happen.

Runners would not be able to cut the angle of first and third base but could bounce off the board to propel themselves forward. Without stealing, there are no throws to first to hold the runner close. The pitchers could use one motion to the plate and concentrate on the batter. Runners would have further to run if they could not leave the bag until the ball crossed home plate. There might be many more double plays.

Behind home there would be a limited area in play; use something like the batting cage used in batting practice. Passed balls and wild pitches would be a distant memory.

Imagine sitting in the first row down the line? Fans would be so much closer. You do not want to sit behind a barrier? You like having your life in danger from balls and splintered bats? Have you ever sat behind the glass during a hockey game? It's amazing. Of course baseball would still be slow by comparison but you could be so much closer to the action.

Read my post about padding the walls.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Thinking Man's Guide to Managing a Pitching Staff


Kenneth Matinale

December 10, 2007

The New York Yankees recently replaced their long time and very successful manager with another former Italian catcher named Joe: Girardi replaced Torre. Many Yankee fans hope that Girardi will change tactics and/or strategy. Not likely.
For instance Girardi has already indicated that he will follow the Tony LaRussa orthodoxy of designating his best relief pitcher as the closer. The closer is used almost exclusively to pitch one and only one inning (the ninth), which he starts, and only with a lead. The set up man is the second best relief pitcher who pitches only the eighth inning. The set up man is removed no matter how many pitches he threw and no matter how well he pitched. It's like Russian roulette, looking for the pitcher who does not have his good stuff that day.

This is exactly backwards as is an
orthodoxy from another sport, NBA basketball. When a good player commits too many fouls early in a game the basketball coach removes the player so that he does not foul out, thus missing the final minutes of the game. To preserve the player for more playing time the player is denied playing time. That makes no sense unless you truly believe that the final two minutes are more important than those that precede them. Should the coach prefer that his player play 28 of the maximum 48 minutes including the final two or should he prefer that the player play 36 minutes regardless of when they occur? Obviously the answer is to get the most minutes from the player. Minutes are the currency of basketball.

Outs are the currency of baseball. Since pitchers are on pitch counts, pitches are the currency of individual pitchers. The manager should attempt to get the optimum number of pitches from each pitcher in each game constrained only by the game situation and the needs of the long 162 game regular season. Here are the two guiding principles to get the
optimum number of pitches thrown by the team's best pitchers:

1. The best relief pitcher available should be the
first to enter the game. The second best relief pitcher available should be the second to enter the game. And so on.

2. Starters should pitch in relief on their normal throw days between starts.

The reason for using Mariano Rivera, the Yankees best
relief pitcher, first is to get the maximum number of pitches from him in that particular game. If Girardi waits until the ninth inning, Rivera may retire the side on six pitches when he could have thrown 24. Twenty-four pitches may have equated to two or even three innings thus eliminating the dreaded middle inning relievers, the worst pitchers on the staff. Not waiting until the ninth inning also allows Girardi to use Rivera in a game saving situation: bases loaded, sixth inning, cleanup hitter at bat. Waiting until the ninth deprives Girardi of discretion as to which batters Rivera faces. The bottom of the order is as likely to bat in the ninth as the top of the order.

Using this technique the pitchers most likely to be short changed, i.e., throw the fewest pitches, are the worst pitchers, not the best as is the case now. Each succeeding pitcher in order of value is increasingly more likely to throw fewer pitches.

Starting pitchers all throw between starts. If a pitcher starts thirty games, he can relieve thirty times. That is a huge boost to the team, replacing innings thrown by the
middle inning relievers with innings thrown by the team's best pitchers, the starters. Whatever the number of pitches that a particular starter would throw hard in practice should be thrown in a game. Throwing hard outside of a MLB game is a waste of resources. This includes those ridiculous rehab starts that starters throw when practicing to return from an absence. Instead of having Roger Clemens or Pedro Martinez pitch to minor leaguers for a few innings, have them throw their alloted number of pitches in a MLB game, either starting or in relief. They have got to be better than the fifth starter or middle inning relievers. It's not like a batter facing live pitching. What is live batting? The pitcher is playing catch. Play catch in a MLB game.

If Joe Girardi does anything like this he will be different from Joe Torre. Otherwise he is like all the other MLB managers.

*** The End ***

Radical Baseball

Radical Baseball

Kenneth Matinale

June 9, 2006

  1. Start the closer.
  2. The Real scandal of the last 16 years: propagation of non-uniform playing areas.
  3. Four leagues, no divisions.
  4. Walks: a terrible rule.
  5. Designated Fielders and the Six-Player Batting Order.
  6. Clock, time-outs, … you know, like the other sports.
1. Start the closer.
Last night the Yanks were leading the Red Sox 3-2 in the sixth, bases loaded, no outs. Starter Jaret Wright was done. With the game on the line manager Joe Torre called for not his best relief pitcher, Mariano Rivera, but his third best (at best) Scott Proctor. Proctor did an OK job allowing two of Wright’s runs to score. Unfortunately, in the next inning Proctor allowed three of his own.

Torre should have brought in Mariano Rivera, his best. Since Tony LaRussa created this nonsense called the closer with his use of Dennis Eckersley in the late 1980s, managers have adhered to this formula like their jobs depended on it. Part of the orthodoxy is: who will pitch the ninth inning? The closer is used almost exclusively to pitch one and only one inning, which he starts, and only with a lead. Save the game in the sixth and take your chances in the ninth. Is Scott Proctor more likely to allow runs entering a game with bases loaded and no out or when starting an inning?

This brings up another piece of nonsense. The closer is the only pitcher who probably will not need to pitch with runners on base. Why doesn’t he wind up? The starter is the only pitcher who winds up, yet he is the most likely to pitch with runners on base because he pitches the most innings. About 25 years ago people realized that relief pitchers often pitched with runners on base, so relievers abandoned the wind up. But the closer could and probably should wind up. How come nobody has realized that? It’s pretty simple.

In another recent game Torre announced before the game that he would pitch Rivera no matter what because Rivera needed work. Aside from the silliness that a pitcher needs to play catch in a game rather than just do it on the sideline (hey, it’s nothing like a batter needing to face game pitching), why wait until Rivera’s usual time in the ninth? Start him! Here are three advantages:
  1. Rivera pitches to the top of the order. The batters in the ninth are random. Rivera is as likely to face the bottom of the order as the top. Pitch Scott Proctor against the bottom.
  2. In the first inning the game is almost always close. Always at home. On the road it might not be close if the closer’s team scores a bunch in the top of the first inning.
  3. Rivera can pitch more than one inning. If Rivera retires the side in the first inning on six pitches, he did not get the work that Torre wanted. However, Rivera can pitch at least one more inning. If Torre waits until the ninth inning, Rivera may throw those six pitches, get little work and Torre may have already used Scott Proctor for an inning or two when he may have avoided using Proctor at all. Let pitch count dictate how long Rivera works, not the arbitrary wall of the ninth inning. You know, like they do for starters.
Rivera pitches in about 70 games and throws about 80 innings in a season. Why not start him every other game? He would get regular rest and the three advantages listed above would apply in every appearance. I’ll bet that Rivera’s contribution to the Yanks winning would be at least as great as it is with Torre blindly following the formula. OK, now it’s time for you to run around and scream: he blasphemes!

2. The Real scandal of the last 16 years: propagation of non-uniform playing areas.
It’s not steroids. It’s the fences. Baseball is the only American team sport in which the playing area is not uniform. Imagine a National Basketball Association (NBA) game played at Madison Square Garden. The three-point line is drawn irregularly. A player can get three points by sinking a basket from behind that line but in some places the line is 25 feet from the basket and in some places it is 15 feet away. How about a National Football League (NFL) game played on a field where the sideline is wider in some places than in others? Or the end zone is shaped oddly? Silly, right? So how come baseball gets away with it? Baseball does not merely get away with it. It’s considered cute, charming, traditional, blah, blah, blah. Here’s the real travesty: the non-uniform playing area perverts baseball’s most cherished event: the home run. It undermines the very integrity of the game that is supposedly threatened by steroid use.

Some thinking fans categorize baseball events into random and non-random. To them a home run (one hit over a barrier on a fly, not an inside the park home run) is clearly a non-random event because a fielder has no chance to catch it. A home run is a random event. Here is why. Is a 180 foot fly ball a random event? Clearly, it is random: it may be caught or it may not. But how about a fly ball hit 380 feet? The non-random advocates would be forced to ask in what direction and in what park the fly ball was hit. In other words they can only certify its randomness by waiting until it lands. The same could be done for the 180 foot fly. Like the three point shot in basketball (OK, the line is closer at the sideline to fit in bounds but that’s basketball’s problem) the only thing that should matter is how far did the fly ball go. With uniform playing areas that alone would tell us if the fly ball is a home run or not.

However, in some cases a fly ball can travel 50% further than a home run and be an out. The distances to the barriers are not just different from park to park but they are different in some parts of the outfield in the same park. A home run should reward the batter for hitting a fly ball over a barrier and for that to be fair and meaningful the barrier should be the same distance and the same height in every direction in every park. That’s pretty basic stuff. How about 375 feet to a ten foot high barrier? If you were starting baseball today and making the rules, that’s clearly how you would do it. But baseball evolved and that’s how it has always been. So? About 13 new parks have been implemented in the last 16 years (with two more coming in New York) and baseball had a rare opportunity to correct this historic inequity. Instead it allowed and even encouraged teams to replace parks that were in many cases at least symmetrical with parks that were irregular in the shape of the playing areas. Irregularities were often unavoidable in old parks because of streets and other things that required some imagination in building a park. In recent years there were no such impositions, just a warped intent to make new parks that looked old fashioned. See the Rangers park in Texas, built in an open space.

Yes, this should also apply to foul territory. Here’s something no one has considered: Fenway Park helps strike outs. Because the area in foul territory is so small it is very difficult to foul out. Also, because the fences are close in the outfield, that also helps. Let’s say Roger Clemens is going for the single game strike out record and he’s pitching in Fenway Park, a hitter’s park. Every out that is not a strike out hurts this effort. Every batted ball that results in an out also hurts. A foul pop up that drifts into the stands helps. A ball hit off the wall in left also helps.

The single season and lifetime home run records are the most important sports records in America. Yet, they are subject to the greatest randomness of any records in team sports. Forget the steroids. Fix the fences.

3. Four leagues, no divisions.
Let’s face it when Major League Baseball (MLB) expanded its playoff system in 1994 by splitting into three divisions in each league it did not put much thought into it. MLB just tried to copy basketball and hockey, which had been doing this stuff forever. Some people felt the divisions were good because they allowed more teams to be competitive. No, what made more teams competitive was that in implementing the three divisions MLB DOUBLED the number of teams that made the playoffs. For some reason baseball people did not notice. They could have doubled the number of playoff teams and eliminated the two divisions they already had in each league but that never occurred to them. What mattered was not the number of divisions but the number of playoff teams.
Maybe part of it was some vague idea that there would now be more first place teams. Did they think no one would notice that there were also more last place teams? Or that teams hovering around .500 are not really very good.

The objective should be fair competition. It should not be a random event in which a .500 team happens to be first in a weak division and a .580 team is out of luck. What to do? Eliminate the divisions and go to four leagues. Keep the same number of playoff teams. I’d like to have only first place teams advance but that’s too much to hope for. Play only within your league and the first two teams qualify for the playoffs. OK, if you insist on inter league games, play one of the other leagues on a three-year rotating basis. How about playing three games against each of those eight teams. That’s 24 games. Plus, each team would play the same opponents, not the nonsense MLB has now. That’s fair.

The first step is to expand. Yes, add two teams. 32 divides by four much better than 30. It’s possible to find MLB caliber cities: Las Vegas, Portland, Charlotte, San Antonio. Whatever.
There are two scenarios: geographic or retro. MLB almost went to geographic a decade ago but mysteriously backed off. It could be cool: Yanks v Mets, White Sox v Cubs, … I do not see MLB doing this. Local TV contracts, fear of real competition, etc. Retro is the solution. Recreate the old American and National Leagues circa 1960, i.e., before modern expansion. Create a new Pacific Coast League; California alone has five teams. Create a new fill in the blank league of leftovers and/or “small market” teams; call it the Texas or Bush or Southern League. Who cares?

Here is how it might look.
American League:
New York Yankees
Boston Red Sox
Chicago White Sox
Detroit Tigers
Cleveland Indians
Baltimore Orioles
Washington Nationals (yes, back to the AL)
Toronto Blue Jays (hey, they have to go somewhere)
The As were in Kansas City in 1960 but nobody cares, plus who wants to hear Kansas City whine about big market teams.

National League:
Philadelphia Philliies
Pittsburgh Pirates
Chicago Cubs
St. Louis Cardinals
New York Mets (replacing the Giants)
Milwaukee Brewers (replacing the Braves in that city)
Cincinnati Reds
Atlanta Braves

Pacific Coast League:
Seattle Mariners
San Francisco Giants
Los Angeles Dodgers
California Angels
Oakland As
San Diego Padres
Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies

Texas League:
Texas Rangers
Houston Astros
Kansas City Royals
Florida Marlins
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Las Vegas Gamblers
San Antonio Alamos
Minnesota Twins

Here’s how the new system compares to the new in terms of the number of teams in contention.

4. Walks: a terrible rule.
They should have changed the walk rule no later than 1923 after Babe Ruth walked 170 times. Who goes to the park to root for a walk? OK, my friend Eric but he’s a SABR member. The penalty is not severe enough to deter the defense from simply bypassing the offense’s best batters. The offense must be given a choice. In most cases the manager will be too wimpy to exercise the option, much like football coaches ignore the two-point conversion after a touchdown. However, for a Ruth, Bonds, Pujols, … maybe the manager would be radical.

Here are a couple of options. Decline the walk but continue the at bat. This is cool. Let’s say Barry Bonds is batting and he gets ball four on a 3-1 count. The offense may choose to let Bonds continue batting with the same count. If the count reaches 6 balls, the batter may take two bases. In other words, for each two additional pitches outside the strike zone the batter gets an additional base. There is some risk. The strike count remains the same. So if the count reaches 6-2, Bonds is at risk if he continues. However, the crowd is in a frenzy! Everyone is screaming for Bonds to continue. Ball eight: three bases. All runners move up, as they would with a one base walk. Ball ten: Bonds walks all the way around the bases! That will make the defense think twice about walking the other team’s slugger.

I prefer the option above but here is another. The batter declines. A pinch runner goes to first but is still eligible to play later. The walked batter starts a new at bat. Obviously, if a weak batter walks, he would probably simply take the walk as now happens. But a slugger might bat again.

5. Designated Fielders and the Six-Player Batting Order.
There should be designated fielders, not a designated hitter. Everybody fields but a team has the option to have up to three players only play the field and not bat. Six batters in a lineup. That’s the minimum there could be without a batter coming up with himself on base. They’d get 1,000 plate appearances a season, comparable to the number of batters faced by a starting pitcher. This would improve both offense and defense. It addresses those sappy complaints of National League fans without having to watch the dreaded bottom of the order. Who wants to watch the bottom of the order? No one, except people who are actually interested in sacrifice bunting and all the brain power involved in making that decision. Oh, and the double switch. Take me out to the ball game so I can see a double switch in person. Complaining about batters not knowing how to bunt is like complaining about American soldiers not knowing how to load a musket. Who cares? Bombs away. Batter up, not bunter up.

6. Clock, time-outs
Put in a damn clock! These four hour games are driving me crazy! I wouldn’t mind except there’s nothing happening. 90% of what passes for action is two guys playing catch. In a nine inning game there is at most 30 minutes of action and that includes the batter taking a pitch and the second baseman throwing out a runner. Make what little action there is continuous. Watch a basketball game to get the idea. Baseball is by far the simplest game. 70% of head coaches in the NFL never played in the NFL. 30% of head coaches in the NBA never played in the NBA. 10% of MLB managers never played MLB. That’s a pretty accurate reflection of the relative complexity of the sports. Football cannot leave the running of a team to some dumb former player. Basketball is about in between football and baseball. Only baseball entrusts a $100,000,000 to $200,000,000 payroll to a dumb tobacco dribbling former player. Why? Because baseball is simple. There are at least 10,000 twelve year old kids who know enough baseball to run a MLB team. I could run the Yankees. No way I could run the Knicks and I wouldn’t even think about running the football Giants.

So, why is baseball the only sport with no clock and with unlimited meetings? Give each team three time outs per nine innings, then one more for each additional three innings. No meetings other than the time outs. Do not stop play by calling time. A base runner does not need time out to dust off his uniform. Get in the box and stay there. Get on the rubber and throw. Once, just once, I’d like to see a meeting on the mound followed by the pitcher not looking in for a sign. He just talked to the catcher! Decide on the pitch in the discussion and just throw it!

A team could get a competitive advantage by changing the pace of the game. Only baseball teams do not attempt this. Twenty years ago the San Francisco 49’ers started games with their first 20 plays scripted; no huddle between plays. Baseball cannot do that for even one batter! How difficult can it be? Just start pitching without waiting for a sign!

Baseball has a twenty-second rule, which of course it never enforces, with no runners on base. It needs a twenty second rule with runners on base and a zero second rule with no runners. Just start throwing. If the batter is not in the box, too bad. If the batter wanders, call strikes. If the pitcher wanders, call balls. What passes for coaching is instructing both the batter and pitcher to make the other wait. Hey, you’re both making the fans wait.
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