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February 1, 2011

Changing Speeds

11 Random Wishes for 2011

by Ken Funck

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My local weather forecast is calling for somewhere between four and twenty inches of snow over the next few days — obviously the folks at Weather Central read Colin Wyers and remembered to display their error bars — but now that February is here, spring and baseball are just around the corner. Pitchers and catchers will be reporting in two weeks, and I’m counting down the days by preparing for my Strat league draft, and wondering if I should trust my home-grown formula that says playing Jack Cust in left field against right-handed starters is truly the right thing to do. The latest BP annual is set for publication this month, the PECOTAs are coming, and Joe Hamrahi’s invaluable Top Prospects Compilation is growing full. All will soon be right with the world.

Each year at this time, I start thinking about what I would like to see in the coming season. Like you, I want the usual things: my team to win (for once), tense pennant races, jaw-dropping individual performances, and baseball on the radio when I have long distances to drive. In addition to the norm, however, there are usually a few things I’m especially looking forward to, or dreading, or hopeful about for the coming season, and this year is no different. Below you can find my wishes for the upcoming season. I’d love to hear yours.

1. Continued labor peace. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement is set to expire on December 31, and both sides are gearing up for negotiations. The calamitous strike of 1994-95, which canceled the World Series, drove fans away, and may have caused teams to studiously ignore steroid use with the thought that increased scoring would boost attendance, left such a deep scar that both sides have been loath to risk another work stoppage.

Over time, that scar will eventually fade and both sides will again dare the sort of disastrous brinksmanship that alienates fans and leads to strikes and lockouts, just as greedy investors occasionally forget that markets can go both up and down, with disastrous consequences. Let’s hope (as seems likely) that the pain of the '90s is still fresh enough to remind both sides that a larger share of a small pie is worth less than a smaller share of a large pie. If I had a say in these things (and it’s probably a good thing that I don’t), I’d require the negotiators to meet in a room with a video screen showing a continual loop of protesting fans, half-empty stadiums, waifs in baseball caps weeping inconsolably, and Jose Canseco smiling and signing books. You can never be too sure.

2. Draft-pick trades. On the flip side, the new CBA is perfectly timed to allow a few tweaks to improve the game, such as allowing teams to trade their draft picks. The purpose of awarding draft picks in reverse order of record is, of course, to give the least successful teams a leg up on building themselves back into contention. However, as long as unsuccessful small-market teams feel the need to pass over more talented players for lesser players they’re sure they can sign, the draft is a far blunter instrument than it should be. Sure, it’s valid to question whether a team should ever pass over the best players due to signability concerns, but if you allow those teams to instead trade those picks for something they value as much or more, it becomes a moot point. Any mechanism that allows smart GMs to make trades that they feel help their teams, whether it involves moving up or down or out of a draft entirely, should be embraced.

3. No additional Wild Card teams. It seems a near certainty that the new CBA will also include the addition of a new wild-card slot in each league starting in 2012, but I’m hoping against hope that everyone will come to their senses. I’m on record as supporting the current system, not so much to keep additional teams in the playoff hunt longer, but to ensure that the second-best team in a league isn’t shut out entirely. An extra Wild Card round, however, further cheapens the regular season for little additional benefit, especially if the decision is made to go with a one-game Wild Card showdown, making the baseball playoffs start out with a whimper that’s disturbingly similar to the pointless NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament play-in game.

Adding more playoff games lengthens the season and ensures that the World Series gets played in ever-colder weather, when the league should instead be looking at ways to finish the season earlier in the fall, perhaps by reinstituting the occasional Sunday doubleheader. Have four doubleheader weekends a year, and get the beverage industry to sponsor them, with vendors only offering things like Pepsi Throwback and Schlitz. I’ll let you have that idea for free, Bud, so long as you send that extra Wild Card idea down the memory hole.

4. Expanded instant replay. I’ve written at length about this before, and there is virtually no downside to the idea of putting an umpire in a booth to review plays as they happen, and buzz the home-plate umpire when something needs a closer look. It won’t slow down the game, it will ensure egregious errors won’t cost some unfortunate team a playoff game, and most importantly, it won’t undermine the authority of umpires. Instead, it will increase it, and give them the safety net they deserve. How mainstream is this idea? I’ve heard Mitch Friggin’ Williams stumping for exactly this plan, so you have to think its time has come. The league is right to take time to study the issue and come up with the best solution (which I’m convinced I’ve just described), but if we don’t have expanded replay in time for 2012, this season will have been a major disappointment.

5. The Next Jose Bautista. If there’s one baseball storyline I absolutely love, it’s the veteran journeyman who suddenly breaks out a boom-stick on the rest of the league, with virtually no one expecting it. Last season it was the Jose-Bot launching 54 dingers in Toronto; in other seasons I’ve fallen hard for guys like Esteban Loaiza on the South Side and Mike Bielecki on the North Side of the Windy City. There’s something magical about watching long-suffering players having a career year, as if Dame Fortune has decided merely smiling on them isn’t enough, she also needs to wash and condition their hair, do their laundry, and make them a meal of chicken, waffles, and deep-fried ambrosia — and you can tell they know it. They’ll occasionally flash an unbelieving grin, hoping against that inevitable day when their long drives start dying again at the track, or their cutter starts catching too much of the plate. Who will it be this year? Maybe we should run a contest, asking people to predict the players that most outperform their PECOTA forecast or something like that. I’m open to suggestions.

6. Even better baseball analysis in the mainstream media. This is another topic I’ve beaten to death, but it continues to bother me how far behind the curve some of what passes for baseball analysis in the mainstream media actually is. That’s not to say progress isn’t being made — on the contrary, several years ago I wouldn’t have said “some”, I would have said “most.” The number of voices that are actively hostile to sabermetrics as a whole are growing ever fewer, while there are more and more instances of a Len Kasper or a Jon Sciambi tossing in an advanced metric while calling a game. There’s a long way to go, but the needle is moving in the right direction. Our sabermetric moon-mission should be to bring triple-slash stat displays to all the major network broadcasts by 2012, not because it is easy, but because it is hard — because that challenge is one we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone and one we intend to win.

7. Sabermetrics gets a seat on the panel. Similarly, I dream of seeing a leading saber-friendly analyst with a permanent seat at the big-boy panelist tables on MLB Network, ESPN, and FOX. Sure, it’s nice to hear a Peter Gammons or a Tom Verducci toss out a more nuanced take on the topic of the day than, say, Kevin Millar, but can you imagine how the entire tenor of the conversation would change if, say, Rob Neyer or Joe Sheehan were at that table every day? They’d be right there on set every day, microphone clipped to their lapel, poised to say all the things you wanted to say in response to some other panelist’s cringe-inducing evocation of Joe Carter as a run-producer, only doing it more eloquently than you could yourself. Sounds like heaven to me.

8. A breakthrough in keeping young pitchers healthy. Few things last season were as exciting as watching the arrival of Stephen Strasburg, and few things were as depressing as watching his quick departure from active action. Pitching is an unnatural act, and arm injuries will never be eliminated, but for all the work that’s been done tracking pitch counts and using other blunt instruments to keep young arms from being overburdened, we still lose way too many to surgery. Perhaps increased use of biomechanical analysis will lead to some breakthrough, or mining PitchF/X data will identify characteristics of fatigue that can be monitored and acted on. With so much money at stake, and so much data available, it’s hard to believe that more progress hasn’t been made. Perhaps this is the year.

9. More success for the long-suffering fan. Last season it was the Giants and Rangers slaying dragons and ending long droughts. This year, maybe it will be the Brewers winning a playoff series as a reward for Doug Melvin’s bold off-season moves. There’s nothing wrong with the Yankees or the Red Sox playing the Phillies for the title, but there’s something right about, say, the Reds playing the Orioles.

10. No more steroid talk. Seriously. I’ve reached the point where I can’t summon the will to care about who used what when, who’s lying and who’s telling the truth. The hypocrisy of both those who used and lied, and those who deliberately looked the other way and now accuse, has worn away my capacity for outrage. If only there were some chemical I could take which would help me overcome the fatigue I feel whenever I read the word “steroid.”

11. This. Not that I’m holding my breath.

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

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

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JayhawkBill

Regarding steroids, until we know better who used steroids and other PEDs, as well as when they did and didn't use them, our concepts of career trajectories are sadly underresearched. You can't just make part of your science go away. It's easier, for example, to postulate frictionless surfaces when modeling in physics, but you compromise the accuracy of your results when you do that. The same applies in sabermetrics.

Right now PECOTA includes the career years of Jose Canseco, Alex Rodriguez, and Manny Ramirez. Should it? It also includes the career of Tom House, who has openly admitted steroid use. Should it? It also includes the career of Dave Johnson, who joined pioneer steroid user Tom House and became the next Jose Bautista before Jose Bautista was even born. Should it? There's absolutely no proof or suggestion, or even a hint except for sharing a clubhouse with House, that Johnson used steroids, but his going from an average of nine home runs per season to a one-time mark of 43 home runs looks...well, unusual.

If the sabermetric community wants to be taken seriously, the sabermetric community needs to be able to assess the effects of PEDs on baseball quantitatively. We cannot wish that away.

Feb 01, 2011 03:48 AM
rating: -2
 
PeterBNYC

This is the nuttiest position on steroids I have ever seen articulated. So in this view, all of PECOTA is tainted by including the results of any steroid user, and we can no longer trust any statistics in the game? Am I exaggerating the position? I don't think so. It is ludicrous enough without the need for exaggeration. And it is the hyper- exaggerated positions of this type that shut down or render useless the discussion, research and dialog that will help us determine a way out of the historical trap. In the meantime, try not to be UNhelpful.

Feb 01, 2011 08:14 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Ken Funck
BP staff

I take your point, Bill. But the problems I have with throwing out all the data points for actual or suspected PED users are pretty numerous. We can't be sure who did or didn't use. We can't be sure whether use actually had any effect on their performance (evidence there is still inconclusive). We don't know what other substances we should also try to correct for (e.g., greenies, cocaine, 5-hour Energy). I know that throwing up our hands and saying we can't figure all this out might be an unsatisfying answer, but at the end of the day modifying a process based on a number of not-well-understood factors is just as likely to make the results worse as it is to make them better, imho.

Feb 01, 2011 14:08 PM
 
Robotey

Let's keep burning incense at the altar of (semi) baseball purity and stave off that extra wildcard as long as possible. Bud and his boys are going after the Goose with the Golden Egg in seeking to expand the playoffs. I give him credit for devising the current system, it's working very well. Like Dusty's Giants who won over 100 games and lost to the Braves. If they expand now do we get the great Twins-Tigers one game playoff? Or the Padres-Rockies? Part of what gives the baseball season its legitimacy is that even good teams sometimes miss the party. Don't give us these 'every kid gets a prize' playoffs. No November baseball!

Feb 01, 2011 07:59 AM
rating: 2
 
Marc Normandin

Sorry, any excuse for additional baseball during the year is good by me.

Feb 01, 2011 08:57 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ken Funck
BP staff

I'm all for adding baseball games by making the first round of the playoffs best-of-seven, and shortening the regular-season calendar to allow for it. Give me that rather than expanded Wild Cards.

Feb 01, 2011 14:10 PM
 
sfastatsprof

Better yet, just shorten Spring Training by a week, keep the regular season the same length while expanding the first round to best of seven.

Feb 01, 2011 18:40 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ken Funck
BP staff

Sure. I didn't mean to suggest reducing the season from 162 games, but rather to shorten the time it takes to complete the season by adding doubleheaders. Starting the season earlier would work too, though I worry about snow-outs in cold-weather cities.

Feb 01, 2011 19:12 PM
 
PeterBNYC

Ken's idea is brilliant. Before a whole generation of fans comes forth who have no idea what a doubleheader is, this is definitely worth a try, especially as a a solution to the November Problem. Baseball has been fortunate so far in pushing the last game out further and further- sooner or late, Mother Nature will catch up.

Feb 02, 2011 15:02 PM
rating: 0
 
Michael Bodell
(89)

What I want in the playoffs is no/few off days and travel days. Play a 7 game set in 7 days or at most 8. Force teams to have and use a more full rotation and not just the top 3 starters and multi-inning closer as they alternate between game days and off days.

You get rid of those off days and you can have a longer first round and/or a longer World Series.

In 2010 the regular season ended October 3. Give teams October 4 as an off day (available for a play-in).

Start the LDS on October 5. A 7 game set in 7 days puts you at October 11.

October 12 is an off day (available for rain outs).

LCS is 7 games running from 13th through the 19th.

October 20th is an off day (available for rain outs).

WS is 7 games running from October 21st through October 27th.

Even if every series goes 7 days that still gets you done in October instead of November 1 (which was the last day of the 5 game WS), and you have a 7 game first series. If a team finishes in less than 7 games they get extra off days. Modern travel isn't that onerous, tomorrow's starting pitcher can travel a day earlier if needed, and teams often get fewer than 3 off days in a 3.5 week part of the regular season.

You could turn the LDS into a 7 game set, the LCS into a 9 game set, and the WS into an 11 game set and still end the playoffs no longer than last year's would have been (had the WS gone the full 7 games last year).

How can more games (more TV revenue and more ticket sales) be a bad thing from the owner's point of view?

Feb 01, 2011 20:30 PM
rating: 8
 
ZeusIsLoose

Yes to #11. I ain't getting any younger.

And especially #5. Somewhere Rick Wilkins is thinking about 1993 and smiling. Miguel Dilone is pondering 1980..I love those outliers.

Feb 01, 2011 09:23 AM
rating: 0
 
cubfan131

Re: #11

Is it too eary to say wait until next year? I'm not holding my breath for success this season.

Feb 01, 2011 09:34 AM
rating: 0
 
lonechicken

I'm against another wildcard slot, but for all playoff series being best of 7. It just seems silly for something like the Reds to have a great season, end up rewarding their fans with 1(!!!) home game in the playoffs.

Feb 01, 2011 09:36 AM
rating: 6
 
BP staff member Ken Funck
BP staff

This!

Feb 01, 2011 14:11 PM
 
Richie

("active action"?? as opposed to inactive action?)

Feb 01, 2011 10:32 AM
rating: 0
 
tduren

Great article.
Shorten the reg. season. DO NOT ADD ANY MORE PLAYOFF TEAMS! Make all playoff series best of 7.

Feb 01, 2011 10:36 AM
rating: 2
 
Richie

Of course going from a PED use environment to a PED non-use environment could affect the PECOTAs. Just as going from a dead-ball to live-ball environment could affect them, from 60% turf parks to no turf parks could affect them, and so on.

Feb 01, 2011 10:39 AM
rating: 3
 
Richie

For example, Bill James has concluded that steroids kept the old players young. If so, then PECOTA would overpredict the effectiveness of this coming year's old players based on those previous such seasons which can no longer be so chemically extended (or enhanced).

Feb 01, 2011 10:47 AM
rating: 0
 
HeavyHitter

How are you going to quantify it? You'd need to know who took them, how often they took them, what they were and in what quantities and concentrations they were taken. Not gonna happen, so let it die. I think we have to assume that pitchers benefitted as much as hitters and leave it at that. There were some players who played well into their 40's in the pre-steroid era too. I'm tired of the smears (Davey Johnson? Mike Piazza? Jeff Bagwell? Brady Anderson?) based upon absolutely zero evidence and I think that's more harmful to the game than the use of PED's itself. For the most part, the "abuses" occurred at a time when PED's were not banned.

I agree with the commenters above who espouse a shorter ST, uniformly 7 game playoffs, no increase in wild card teams and fewer days between games in the playoffs. I also agree that instant replay should be expanded and I think there has to be a time limit between pitches - and/or a rule that a batter cannot step out of the batter's box between pitches.

Feb 06, 2011 21:23 PM
rating: 0
 
jnossal

Get rid of the divisions. Two leagues, balanced schedule, interleague if you must. Top 4 teams make the playoffs. End of story.

Feb 01, 2011 10:54 AM
rating: 2
 
R.A.Wagman

One thousand times yes. The way the divisions are currently almost requires additional playoff teams to overcome the geographic imbalance of the game. Removes geo-specificity in deciding who gets to play for all the marbles and we can easily keep the playoffs participants to the nice round number of 8.

Feb 01, 2011 13:10 PM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Ken Funck
BP staff

But it just feels so ... I dunno ... hockey-ish. You'd never really have a "pennant race", since the first place team would likely have clinched a playoff spot weeks in advance. Though I suspect lots of fans of Al East teams would like this setup better.

Feb 01, 2011 14:16 PM
 
R.A.Wagman

Nothing hockey about it. Hockey has 8 teams per conference. Three divisions with the division winners automatically getting the top three seeds. I am proposing that division get wiped away completely. One league, no geography.

Feb 01, 2011 14:40 PM
rating: -1
 
jnossal

I don't see how you can say that, Ken. Look at the AL finish last year:

TB 96
NY 95
Minn 94
Tex 90
Bos 89
Chi 88
Tor 85

You've got a 3-way chase for the top spot that earns you home-field and a 4th seed opponent in the first round and a 4-5 team battle for the 4th playoff berth. The NL had Philly out front for best record, but five teams (SF, Cin, Atl, SD, StL) all finish within six games of each other in a fight for the other three spots.

How is that less compelling than the current WC format? We already have divisions decided in August, it's frequently only the 85-win teams fighting it out for the wildcard in Sept anyway.

Fine, we'll gin up extra excitement Bud-style by making it five playoff teams with the overall best record drawing a bye in the first round. Reward enough? Now we're getting hockeyish, with more a third of the league getting into the post-season. But I'd still take that over the current divisional setup.




Feb 01, 2011 22:50 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ken Funck
BP staff

See, this is the great thing (or at least one of the great things) about writing at this site. Make an off-hand comment, especially one that includes the word "feel" in the first sentence (which should be a dead giveaway), and our readers are more than happy to point out how inadequate your off-the-cuff analysis has been. You're absolutely right, jn, and so are you, ra. Just taking a cursory glance at the standings over the last few years makes it clear that you'd probably have better races, both for the top spot and for the final spot, if you discarded divisions altogether.

The argument against this is the loss of regional rivalries. But how true is that, and how important is that compared to the unfairness of the current arbitrary geographical divisions? Great points, guy, that I'll need a little time to process.

Feb 02, 2011 03:55 AM
 
Patrick

The regional rivalries will be there, even if the rival teams aren't playing each other nearly 20(!) times a year. Maybe it's the Twin Cities' relative geographic isolation, but growing up there in the late 80s and early 90s, I felt more of a rivalry with the contending A's than the mostly-mediocre Royals and White Sox teams of the time.

I fully support getting rid of divisions and playing a balanced schedule for fairness' sake. It seems ridiculous that the bar for making the playoffs is so much higher for some teams, just because they happen to be located in a certain region.

Feb 02, 2011 08:22 AM
rating: 2
 
R.A.Wagman

Also don;t forget that many of the "rivalries" of the current, 6-division set-up are new and not fully ingrained. I think many Toronto baseball fans over the age of 30 still view Detroit as a far more natural regional rival than any of the teams currently in the AL East. I can't think of more than a few exceptions (ChiC-StL, NYY-Bos, LAD-SF - more than just regional there) where the rivalry is real and strong.

Feb 02, 2011 08:31 AM
rating: 0
 
TraderBob

FREE TORONTO!!!


please...

Feb 02, 2011 07:15 AM
rating: 0
 
BarryR

The concept of one large league with the top four sounds good, but the reason baseball went to divisions in the first place was that teams at the bottom of a big league have an even tougher merchandising situation than teams who are last in a six-team division. A franchise wandering around between 11th and 16th for few years would be really depressing, even if they were no further from winning than a team in fourth in a six-team division.

Feb 02, 2011 09:59 AM
rating: 1
 
beerchaser42

Major league baseball in North Carolina. NC is the 9th largest state in the US by population. We have all the other major sports here, although I'm tempted not to count the Panthers and/or the Bobcats. Baseball is the only one that really matters to me though, and it's not here.

Feb 01, 2011 12:45 PM
rating: 2
 
k17duffy

Great article. Especially agree with no extra wild card, double headers and Saber analysis on MLB / ESPN / local play by play. Maybe everytime you hear steriods you can think you were fishing like in office space.

You want a Cubs world series. I just want Oney Guillen to disapear. Both very unlikely to happen.

Feb 01, 2011 13:10 PM
rating: 1
 
TJHelms

Why not the Cubs. Hey, the Giants just won the World Series, and I didn't think it would happen in my lifetime. Guess I can take up smoking now.

Feb 01, 2011 14:47 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt Kory

Great article, Ken. Thanks for that.

Feb 01, 2011 21:57 PM
rating: 0
 
BarryR

I disagree with the wild card wish. I like the one-game idea because it makes finishing first mean something. I am tired of tight races between the best teams in the league coming down to the last weekend and having both teams not care because they are both making the playoffs. No one cares at all about the home field advantage, as is demonstrated by who pitches and plays the last two games. But if the loser had to play a one game series for their life,facing Jon Lester and the Red So, you'd see Price and Sabathia starting the last weekend and the race would matter again.
And please don't make the first series seven games - the playoffs are interminable now, with low ratings to demonstrate how little people want to see them.

Feb 02, 2011 10:04 AM
rating: 1
 
VDracul

Wishes:
1. No more people who have not read the book talking about "moneyball players"
2. No more Rob Dibble being taken seriously
3. The Marlins getting a new owner and moving to Las Vegas - henceforth called the Las Vegas Highrollers
4. Batters staying in the batter's box
5. More intelligent usage of bullpens
6. Protection for pitchers/bats that don't shatter like toothpicks
7. Modified 5 man rotations so we can watch more Roy Halladay and less Scott Kazmir while keeping Roy on normal rest.
8. A Texas Ranger dynasty so Texas actually has a team to root for.
9. MLB catching NFL in ratings as people realize football is just as slow and not nearly as interesting (hence cheerleaders to distract us).
10. All Star Games where stars play the whole game, with all the bonuses going to the winning team (That time it would count $$$)
11. A Fantasy Baseball Championship.

Feb 02, 2011 10:26 AM
rating: 1
 
samkparker

First pitch of LCS and World Series games should be no later than 730 pm EST.

Feb 02, 2011 13:22 PM
rating: 0
 
Jeff Evans

Any batter leaving the box to adjust his batting gloves gets a called strike in return. Any catcher that runs out to the mound to talk to his pitcher either during an at-bat or after the pitcher shakes off too many signs before throwing the first pitch of the at-bat gets a ball called against them.
Most important, any time a game is delayed by 10 minutes or longer because of a manager arguing a supposedly horrible call with the umpires, a young fan of the crowds' choosing gets to slap Bud Selig at the All-Star Game until we get expanded replay.

Feb 02, 2011 14:48 PM
rating: 0
 
mrdannyg

Hahaha, unexpected laugh at the end there. I like that the fans get to choose the kid. Would make for tough decisions, right? Do you go for a sympathetic choice, like a sick kid who needs baseball to change soon, or just pick some 6'2 12-year old? Decisions...

Feb 07, 2011 15:06 PM
rating: 0
 
Robotey

Someone please explain why bumping the Opening Round from 5 to 7 games is inherently 'better'? I prefer the differentiation in strategy of the 'short series'. Consider the series outcomes: when a team sweeps in 3 there is nothing gained by insisting on a perfunctory Game Four. When a team wins in 4, odds were slim they'd lose that lead. And when teams win in 5, hey, that's plenty of excitement--witness this year's Ranger-Rays. Managers had to choose when to throw their respective aces and when to hold them back, all while considering the cost of taxing their arms should they move on. What more could you want? What do you gain by making the opening round 7 games? Not much.

Feb 02, 2011 22:33 PM
rating: 0
 
drawbb

Yes, Ken, there would be something wrong with yet another year of watching the Yankees or Red Sox in the World Series.

Feb 10, 2011 06:47 AM
rating: 0
 
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