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September 3, 2010

Future Shock

Random Thoughts For A Friday

by Kevin Goldstein

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Some random thoughts for a Friday...

Hard Slots Would Make Baseball Whiter

My piece two weeks ago on fixing, or rather not fixing the draft, drew a slew of comments, and one aspect of that discussion got me thinking a bit more. Major League Baseball has put considerable resources in terms of both time and money to address the problem of steadily decreasing participation and attendance from the African-American community. Those efforts are well-founded, honorable, and have already led to a number of success stories. With that in mind, has the Rule 4 draft committee, headed by Braves president John Schuerholz, considered how a hard slot system would, in the end, make baseball that much whiter?

The problem, as explained in the piece two weeks ago, is that a hard slot system will lead to less money being available to high school talent, with much of those players therefore choosing to go to college instead of going pro. If that's the case, with many African-Americans coming from low-income backgrounds, football and basketball will often be more attractive options for multi-sport stars. The crux of the problem is that both sports are revenue-generating, which means that they often provide full scholarships. Division I baseball allows for just 11.7 scholarships per team, meaning that the money is spread around, with even the best of players usually responsible for some financial aspect of their education.

College baseball's race issue is even more staggering than that of the big leagues, as a recent study found that even in the powerful SEC, where the states represented have more than 20 percent African-American population, African-Americans represented less than 2 percent of the player pool, and not even 1 percent of the attendance. Hard slots would certainly help address that issue, but fixing college baseball's problems isn't MLB's concern. Baseball America's Aaron Fitt, who leads that magazine's college baseball coverage, agrees that such a system would be good for college baseball, while hampering advancements made in the pros. “You can envision a scenario where you'd be funneling more players to college baseball,” Fitt said. “But short-term, it would make the pro ranks less diverse as you are no longer buying players away from other sports. Kids are going to go with the full ride—that's just common sense.”

Still, Fitt explained, there is the possibility of such a system helping both sports. “If more players are going to school because of strict slotting, teams could change,” explained Fitt. “It's obviously good for the college game, but maybe it's also a way to level the playing field as you could see some of the smaller schools offering full rides to bring in a star and fill in more of their roster with walk-ons.”

A possibility to be sure, but also an organic one that would take years to come to fruition. MLB's moves to address draft-related problems are usually short-sighted, and that would be no different with a hard slotting system following the current figure, but this time, the collateral damage could potentially be far greater.

Is Josh Leuke Worth the Trouble?

Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times reported on Thursday the the Mariners claim to have not known about reliever Josh Lueke's disturbing criminal past before acquiring him at midseason from the Rangers in the Cliff Lee trade. On the surface, it seems like damage control, as I knew, and so did the entire industry. The story wasn't so big when Lueke was an unheralded prospect, but now that he's throwing bullets and is on the verge of the big leagues (at least talent-wise), the right-hander's past is becoming more well known. All of the sordid details are in the link provided above, and it adds to the question of how much can a team put up with in the name of talent. Players with anger issues like Milton Bradley I can understand, even those with some less serious one-time issues like Brett Myers I can handle, but the Mariners deserve every bit of bad public relations they get from having Lueke on the payroll, and the Rangers deserved the same. I'm all for redemption and second chances, and while I'd be against any sort of official ban from baseball for the 25-year-old, I'm equally embarrassed for baseball when teams can't police these sorts of situations themselves and allow him to pursue a big-league career on their dime.

Aroldis Chapman and the 105 mph Fastball

The story seemed apocryphal at first, that Chapman had hit 105 mph on the gun in a Triple-A appearance. A quick Twitter poll I conducted found six responders believing the number, with 83 doubting, and a quick industry poll found about the same ratio. Then came Chapman's two electrifying big-league showings that included 103 and 104-mph readings and all of a sudden things didn't seem so crazy. Or are they? While watching the ninth inning of Wednesday night's Rangers victory over the Royals, closer Neftali Feliz had his fastball recorded at 103 mph, and a quick view of GameDay data for the game has every pitcher in the game throwing 2-4 mph faster than one would normally expect based on previous scouting reports. The game also took place in Kansas City, where Chris Sale was recorded at 101 mph less than two weeks ago. I don't believe Feliz's 103, I don't believe Sale's 101, and because of that, I'm doubting Chapman's 103 and 104, though I'd certainly buy consistent triple digits out of the Cuban southpaw. Radar guns are sensitive pieces of equipment that need to be consistently calibrated, and that could be the extent of the issue, but at the same time, there's been so much good press generated by Chapman's velocity since the 105-mph reading, that conspiracy theorists are starting to ask questions. Now that MLB doesn't have juiced balls or players anymore, are the radar guns juiced?

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Josh Lueke

40 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Brock Dahlke

It could be possible that in that Royals game they were actually using a radar gun, where normally on the GameDay app the data from pitch f/x is used, and i am fairly sure that has been proven to be very accurate. So I wouldn't necessarily doubt the data from Chapman since he has been in the majors since pitch f/x has gaged him at 103.

Sep 02, 2010 23:22 PM
rating: 0
 
Mike Fast

Chapman's velocities in Cincinnati are being recorded by PITCHf/x, which uses cameras, not radar, for its measurements. Cincinnati's PITCHf/x system has been pretty accurate for speed measurements this year, and this week's games don't appear to be an exception.

Kansas City's PITCHf/x system, on the other hand, has been recording speeds that are around 1 mph too fast this year, as compared to other parks. I'll have to check Wednesday's game to see if it was even faster than that, but I've noticed that people tend to see the pitchers and games where velocities are 2-4 mph faster and ignore the pitchers/games where velocities are the same or slower, even if they altogether average out to around +1 mph.

Sep 03, 2010 04:33 AM
rating: 2
 
Michael
(736)

Is there a list of home ballpark adjustments that ought to be made to the Pitch F/X data? E.g. 2010 Kansas City should have velocity reduced by 1 mph, etc.

Sep 03, 2010 05:46 AM
rating: 2
 
Mike Fast

As far as I know, Josh Kalk and I are the only ones who run a comprehensive set of adjustments to the PITCHf/x data. Josh's haven't been public since he joined the Rays, and I don't publish mine. Someone else may be doing it, too, but not that I know of. None of the major public sources for PITCHf/x data (TexasLeaguers, Fangraphs, BrooksBaseball, etc.) make any adjustments to the data.

Sep 03, 2010 07:44 AM
rating: 1
 
Michael
(736)

Thanks for the response, Mike.

Sep 07, 2010 09:15 AM
rating: 0
 
Mike Fast

I show Kansas City's PITCHf/x system as recording speeds about +1.6 mph too fast for the year as a whole and +1.9 mph for the most recent homestand.

Cincinnati, on the other hand, is around -0.2 mph for the whole year and very close to correct for the most recent homestand.

So you can take Chapman's numbers at face value, but subtract a couple mph from Feliz in KC.

Sep 03, 2010 07:53 AM
rating: 1
 
Joey Matschulat

Pitch f/x also had Tommy Hunter maxing out at 95.8 mph (and averaging 92.4 mph against a seasonal average of 90.2 mph) in the Feliz game, just as a point of reference.

Sep 03, 2010 05:07 AM
rating: 0
 
NJASDJDH

The following ballparks have PitchFX systems that run about 1-2 MPH hot: KC, Toronto, CWS.

I noticed this when the Yankees played these teams and was wondering if any of the data collection services take this into account or normalize for it.

Sep 03, 2010 06:57 AM
rating: 0
 
dianagram

source for your figures? (just curious)

Sep 03, 2010 07:18 AM
rating: 0
 
Mike Fast

I have Toronto at +0.5 mph in the last homestand and Chicago Cellular Field at +1.5 mph.

Sep 03, 2010 07:59 AM
rating: 0
 
evo34

How do you know if a given series is being measured too high or too low? I can understand how you could estimate park effects from season data, but unless you are manually gunning each game, I don't see what your method would be for measuring a specific game.

Sep 04, 2010 23:38 PM
rating: 0
 
Mike Fast

I do it by comparing how pitchers who pitched in those games pitched in other games during the season. It's a little tough to get a read on a single series, but a homestand that lasts longer, say 10 games or so, gives you 70 or 80 data points. That is enough to get a pretty good read.

Sep 05, 2010 21:53 PM
rating: 0
 
blw777

With no malice - or, particularly opinion - I wonder if the discussion and/or readings such as they are have provided an environment for "doing the impossible." Conditioning, nutrition and other factors aside, men tried at least since the mid-1860s to break the four minute mile, and did not succeed until Roger Bannister in 1954. But once he did, demonstrating that it was possible, it was accomplished again within weeks. (Indeed, the record was shattered, beaten by almost two full seconds, just five weeks later.) Without researching, I'd guess that 105mph has never before been recorded, but now that Chapman "has" accomplished it I rather expect that he and probably others will do it again in the near future.

Sep 03, 2010 07:31 AM
rating: 3
 
onegameref

I don't care if they are accurate or not; Sale throws exceptionally hard for a young lefty. I think they should let him go back to starting next year. I saw a 3 pitch K against KC that were all read as 99. The hitter stood no chance. Another pitch or two and he could be gold.

Sep 03, 2010 07:38 AM
rating: 0
 
G. Guest

Regardless of race, the best athletes are going to end up going to the sport where they feel like they can get the biggest payday. If you compare the lower payoffs in baseball, plus living the life of a minor league player to the allure of the instant riches and fame being a high pick in the NBA / NFL, it's easy to understand the choice.

Sep 03, 2010 07:39 AM
rating: 0
 
dianagram

Biggest payday? Not in all cases ... some choose sports in which they'll have the best longevity (baseball over football, from an injury risk standpoint).

(just sayin')

Sep 03, 2010 08:51 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Kevin Goldstein
BP staff

When kids come out of high school, and baseball can't provide them with a full scholarship but other sports can, baseball is going to go by the wayside. A lot of kids can't wait for the big payday.

Sep 03, 2010 09:04 AM
 
Matthew Avery

The most likely result of a hard slotting system in terms of talent allocation is an overall drop for MLB short term, a long term increase for college baseball, and a smaller long term drop for MLB. The rational is thus:

Hard slotting will lead fewer HS players to be signed by MLB teams. This is just supply and demand. Some of these players who don't sign will play college ball, leading to the increase in the talent pool for college baseball. These players will eventually be drafted out of college and hence will ameliorate the initial talent drop in the MLB draft. However, some of these players will go to college and play other sports besides baseball and eventually be drafted to play in these others sports. These players will never play professional baseball and hence the overall talent level in MLB will in the long-term be lower.

This system will save MLB money both in terms of lower signing bonuses and more players playing college ball requiring fewer resources spent on talent development. (One could argue that just as many players will be drafted, so these last saving won't materialize; instead, resources will be funneled towards individuals that aren't as talented and were hence willing to be signed for the hard slot value.) However, the loss of premier athletes (particularly players like Donovan Tate who would be able to play football at a high level) means baseball's talent pool will shrink overall.

It's unclear to me what the hard slotting on race will be. If we assume that African-American HS baseball players are poorer on average than white HS baseball players (which seems implicit in the article above), there should be two factors: on one hand, they may be forced into other college sports than can support them through scholarship, but on the other hand, they may be more willing than their white counterparts to take the lower, hard-slotted dollar amount to sign, since either they or their family is in more need of the cash. This latter case would lead to fewer African-American baseball players leaving the sport for football, etc. than white players. I suspect the true effect will be a little of both and not effect the black/white mix in MLB, although Hispanic players, who won't be effected by the draft, should show up in increased proportion.

Sep 03, 2010 10:51 AM
rating: 0
 
coachadams5

How many players from low income households are going to turn down $100,000 (which is slot for rounds 5 and above, I believe) to play pro baseball in exchange for going to school and a chance to make an unknown sum in 3 years in a sport where there is tremendous injury risk (FB) or one with extremly limited rosters (BB) and no minor league system in either to develop? Unless they are certain of getting more, later, it doesn't make sense. If college is important, that can be negotiated with the team.

Sep 03, 2010 14:00 PM
rating: 0
 
Dan

I think a college football scholarship is worth more than $100,000. If a player redshirts, they're looking at 5 years of college with just about everything paid for. Either way, if a guy develops, he has a shot to make the pros, so I don't see a significant difference there. The big difference for me is that 4-5 years of college athletics is probably more enjoyable than the minors, and you're left with a much better backup plan if things don't work out for you athletically.

Sep 03, 2010 19:16 PM
rating: 1
 
evo34

First off, I don't think MLB policies should be dictated by what may or may not help a ridiculously tiny number of poor teenagers. Secondly, even if one was in favor of MLB trying to save the world, are there any numbers to indicate exactly how many low-income kids actually benefit from the current system?

Sep 04, 2010 23:33 PM
rating: 0
 
CalledStrike3

Funny comment re: KC's gun .... my wife (God Bless her) puts up with me watching Ranger games on direct TV once we get the kids to bed, at the end of a game the other night Blake Wood for KC is pitching and I am not really paying attention at that moment - she makes the comment "sheesh ..he throws hard" I watched him touch 97 on the next pitch and I was like, "No ... something is wrong with the gun, Blake Wood does not throw 97" ..I paid attention to it the rest of the series and all the Ranger pitchers I follow were a couple MPH higher than normal (Tommy Hunter reference above) ...

Sep 03, 2010 08:21 AM
rating: 0
 
Luke in MN

Is there any atmospheric, temperature, or wind effects that would cause an MPH or two difference on a pitched ball?

Sep 03, 2010 08:59 AM
rating: 1
 
Mike Fast

The effect of wind on the pitched ball speed seems to be very small compared to other effects we observe.

The drag on the ball is proportional to the air density. Air density is dependent on altitude, temperature, humidity, etc. However, the drag is not going to have much effect at the points near the release of the ball where the speed is being measured. It's going to affect how much speed the ball loses from release to plate crossing.

There is also, however, an additional effect that I have observed from temperature on pitch speeds. Pitchers tend to throw about 1 mph harder for every 40 degrees that the temperature increases. I don't know the cause of this, but possibly it's because it's easier for them to get loose and warmed up.

Sep 03, 2010 09:28 AM
rating: 1
 
pepper

For what it's worth, I saw Chapman pitch in a Triple A game in Columbus a couple of weeks ago. The scoreboard radar showed nothing unusual with the precious pitchers. Aroldis came in to close out the extra inning game and three of his last 5 itches were clocked at 101,102,103 MPH on the scoreboard. The other two were breaking balls.

Sep 03, 2010 10:01 AM
rating: 0
 
PeterBNYC

Kevin: I'm curious. Your analysis doesn't compare the opportunities with basketball- where most high skill players are these days playing a year, tops, in college before entering the NBA draft, whereas in baseball, my understanding is that, once a player has signed a letter committing to a college baseball program, MLB will not allow him to be drafted until his class has graduated?? If I'm correct, wouldn't that account for the problem? Has this been the target of a lawsuit against the NCAA or MLB? Seems to me the players (perhaps with the "help" of agents) are making the right economic choice for themselves? I suspect I'm missing something. Maybe the economic tide has just turned against baseball, and the inevitable result is what we have seen- a tsunami of Central/ South American/ Caribbean players signing up for the best opportunity available to them. This is a GREAT topic that is very much worth study and action- by the NCAA, by MLB or, heaven help us, the Department of Justice? Thanks

Sep 03, 2010 10:08 AM
rating: -1
 
PeterBNYC

I omitted mention of the "amateur" status problem- does a player entering the MLB draft, or signing an MLB contract, make himself ineligible for college basketball under NCAA rules? That would be a further disincentive.

Sep 03, 2010 10:11 AM
rating: 0
 
69wildcat

Unless the NCAA has changed the rule, a player can be a professional in one sport (baseball) and still retain eligibility in other sports. He cannot, however, be on scholarship in any sport once he signs a professional contract, he would have to be a "walk on" in order to play college basketball (for example).

Sep 03, 2010 13:22 PM
rating: 0
 
drawbb

Who says MLB doesn't have juiced baseballs anymore?

Sep 03, 2010 11:32 AM
rating: 0
 
evo34

Right...that's why run scoring is way down.

Sep 04, 2010 23:39 PM
rating: 0
 
seaman
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Hard slotting drives american players out of baseball making way for more foreign players. NOTHING BUT STUPID GREED. I go to baseball games to see AMERICAN players play. IF YOU DON'T SEE ANYTHING WRONG WITH THIS-- HOW ABOUT FIRING YOU AND LET THEM HIRE A FOREIGNER TO TAKE YOUR JOB!! I LIVE IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA WHERE THERE IS 12% TO 14% UNEMPLOYMENT-- PEOPLE LOSING THEIR HOMES. AND THEY ARE STILL SHIPPING JOBS OUT OF THE COUNTRY!! THEY RECENTLY CLOSED A PHONE ANSWERING SERVICE AND SHIPPED IT TO THE PHILIPPINES-- BECAUSE IT WAS CHEAPER !! AND WE SHOULD SUPPORT THIS SPORT??? JOHN BROWN

Sep 03, 2010 13:06 PM
rating: -53
 
Jivas
(649)

KG: I'm pretty late to this game (I have a really good excuse, I swear!), but let me state that I have a *VERY* hard time imagining Brett Myers' issue as a "one-time" thing given the details that emerged. It seems more likely that that was the only one time anyone else found out.

Sep 03, 2010 13:41 PM
rating: 4
 
BP staff member Kevin Goldstein
BP staff

A fair point.

Sep 03, 2010 13:47 PM
 
tomjsheehan

I agree. Kevin, I respect and enjoy your work but to say "even those with some less serious one-time issues like Brett Myers I can handle" sounds naive and in poor taste, to put it kindly.

Sep 03, 2010 15:20 PM
rating: 3
 
dzzard
(805)

It is an odd coincidence that you muse about Josh Leuke on the same day that the NFL lessens its suspension of Roethlisberger. These are but two examples of fellows who seem to have something missing in their off-the-field lives. I suspect that they need the adoring entourage of enablers, or the awards, or a half-drunk female, to make up for whatever they lack. Pathetic.

Sep 03, 2010 13:59 PM
rating: 2
 
ofMontreal

Late here too, but Leuke has a one time offense as well. Lying to the police isn't a second count. It was a stupid stupid thing to do, but it isn't worse than any number of other incidents. I got the impression that Baker had the right tone in his coverage and people just hate the sound of it. Heck, ESPN magazine has a big story about a lineman who was jailed for a sexual crime who deserves a chance too.

That said, I hope the M's release him. Then he can go somewhere else and get another chance. The people jealous and judging of athletes just need to get their fix. People seem to forget that lessons are sometimes hard learned. If he does jail time then so be it, but he cannot be robbed of his profession.

Sep 04, 2010 11:14 AM
rating: 0
 
quietgoesthedon

"Still, Fitt explained, there is the possibility of such a system helping both sports. “If more players are going to school because of strict slotting, teams could change,” explained Fitt. “It's obviously good for the college game, but maybe it's also a way to level the playing field as you could see some of the smaller schools offering full rides to bring in a star and fill in more of their roster with walk-ons.”"

This absolutely will not happen. Smaller schools, especially privates, see athletics as a revenue generating enterprise, but not in the way you normally think. They spread scholarship dollars around, so that nearly everyone ends up paying something, and frequently quite a bit, just to play their sport.

Sep 04, 2010 14:23 PM
rating: 0
 
quietgoesthedon

I get the impression, though I don't have any data to back it up, that the percentage of pitchers, especially middle relievers, who throw at 95 or above has considerably increased the last three years.

Sep 04, 2010 14:26 PM
rating: 0
 
coachadams5

A college schollie is worth more than 100K - that's why you take the 100K, negotiate 4 years of college with it and then go back if it doesn't work out in the minors. If he goes right to college he doesn't get the cash.

Sep 04, 2010 21:40 PM
rating: 0
 
Lespaul1

How do you have "consensual sex" with someone who's passed out drunk?

Sep 05, 2010 08:03 AM
rating: 4
 
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