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May 30, 2013

Skewed Left

Bring Back the Hidden Ball Trick

by Zachary Levine


Among the game’s many unquantifiable mysteries—up there with how many extra wins or losses a good or bad manager contributes to a team—is how many wins a season baseball teams pass up because of decorum.

It’s probably a small number. Talent, plus some small deviations for statistical noise and fluctuations in #TWTW, is still what determines the standings. But I would venture to say that it’s a non-zero number. In other words, teams are too nice to each other or have too much respect for the game.

For instance, people talked a lot leading up to the Wild Card playoff last year about ideal strategy for pitching, and one idea that came up was a quick switch from a lefty to a righty or vice versa to trap the opponent in a sub-optimal lineup. You could really do this any time an off-day gave you two pitchers who were rested enough to throw as long as you had a relatively leak-proof relationship with the media. It would be especially helpful in the National League, where teams would be reluctant to substitute early in the game. If you didn’t want to burn your other real starter, you could start a reliever for one batter and then have the opponent guess which pitcher you’d use.

Anyway, the implementation would be bumpy, and there is some risk involved if it’s not done properly. But teams are passing up an opportunity for an almost entirely risk-free reward every day, and the dearth of attempts brings us to a sad anniversary.

Next week will mark six years since Major League Baseball’s last successful hidden ball trick.

It’s so long ago that finding video of the play, in which then-Red Sox shortstop Julio Lugo duped Alberto Callaspo of the Diamondbacks, has proven elusive on the internet. Before that, the last successful hidden ball trick (the HBT acronym is unfortunately taken) was executed in 2005 by the Florida Marlins, when Mike Lowell caught another Diamondback, Luis Terrero, with the ploy at third base. The video isn't embeddable, but it's viewable in full at MLB.com. Here's the crucial moment:

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Related Content:  Ethics,  Hidden Ball Trick

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article The Prospectus Hit Lis... (05/30)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Skewed Left: The Real ... (05/28)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Skewed Left: Bayes and... (06/13)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Raising Aces: Kevin Ga... (05/30)

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