What's the best way to spend money, given what we know right this minute?
A few years ago, I had a conversation with my brother. We were talking about (surprise!) baseball, but then his finance degree started talking. He pointed out to me that baseball is actually a really bad business model to be trapped in. The majority of your costs are fixed. You will be paying them, no matter what. Unlike the NFL, MLB contracts are largely guaranteed, so once a team signs a big expensive free agent, they are on the hook for paying him, sometimes on the hook several years into the future. On the other side, a lot of the revenue sources that teams have traditionally counted on (attendance, concessions, merchandise)—items that even in the age of huge TV contracts and regional sports networks being big feeders of the bottom line are still important—are variable. Fans usually come out to support a winner and a lot of times it’s hard to know how good you’ll be in three years. Will there be enough revenue to cover the cost of that fancy new second baseman? Teams aren’t completely operating in the dark when it comes to budgeting, but unlike a lot of other industries where if demand slows down, you can simply slow down production (and save money that way), baseball doesn’t let you do that.
One of the greatest high schoolers ever turned into one of the greatest major leaguers ever. How much credit could PEDs even *theoretically* deserve?
We live in a time that will likely be remembered by some—unofficially, of course—as the Steroid Era in baseball. Beginning in the 1990s when offensive production and reported uses of steroids, some later confirmed, went way up. With the publishing of the Mitchell Report in 2007, which detailed oodles of allegations against players that they used performance enhancing drugs, including anabolic steroids. Even now, 20ish (gulp) years removed from those halcyon days when flannel was a thing, they’re apparently still around. We still see players testing positive for the use of PEDs, even though everyone knows that there’s a testing program in place.
Searching for a cost to multi-positional experimentation.
I’m about to commit a cardinal sin of writing. I’m going to spend the first part of this article telling you all the reasons why you shouldn’t believe the second part of this article. I’m going to lay out a pretty good case (if I do say so myself) that I’m an idiot and that I shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a database. And then I’m going to do it anyway.
A seemingly simple solution would have dramatic unforeseen consequences? Well, I'll be.
There are apparently certain things in life that you don’t want to last for more than four hours. They might be fun for the first half-hour, but after a while it just gets dangerous for your health and you should call a doctor. Of course, I’m talking about baseball games, and for the past few years, MLB has talked about ways in which they could make the game go a little bit faster and wrap up in a shorter amount of time.
If you want a bunch of Zobrists, it helps to plant them early. Are teams doing it?
We live in an era of short benches. Recently, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred made news when he admitted that the league office has had discussions about new restrictions for teams around how they can use relievers (and how many). There’s nothing imminent, but Manfred cited the dominance of relievers in recent years and hinted that the move would bring a little offensive spark back into the game. Plus, we all know the complaints about innings where a team uses four pitchers. Because they have eight relievers on the roster.
Let’s think outside the box. You know. “The box.” The box that every single motivational speaker and business consultant and hack writer tells you that you need to think outside of, before reaching for one of the acceptable 10 examples of out-of-the-box thinking. (Did you know that Post-It notes were created by accident? All because someone had the idea to think outside of the box!) “The box” is now—ironically enough—a tired metaphor for thinking in ways that aren’t creative. I’m always amused by the fact that people call for “outside the box” thinking, and then never talk about how that’s to be accomplished. The problem is that we are all trapped inside a mime’s box. How do you step outside a box that neither you nor anyone else can actually see?
What can Starting Lineup figurines and Abraham Lincoln teach us about baseball research?
Somewhere at my parents’ house, there’s a Starting Lineup figurine of Jose Canseco, depicting him during his Bash Brothers days with the Oakland A’s. I got it for Christmas one year back in the days when Jose Canseco was my favorite player. I would have been nine or ten at the time and he was ... let’s just say the words “Jose Canseco” evoked a different image back in the late 80s/early 90s than they do now. Canseco had won the 1986 Rookie of the Year award at 21 and the 1988 MVP at 23, hitting 40 home runs and stealing 40 bases in the same year. At the time, Canseco seemed like the guy we would all look back on some day and tell our kids that we saw him play.
Moving the strike zone up seems a simple, elegant solution to what ails offense. But won't anybody think of the unintended consequences!?
Last week, Major League Baseball announced a proposed change to the strike zone. In response to a zone that continued to sag downward, MLB’s competition committee has recommended that the definition of the bottom boundary of the strike zone be changed from the hollow under the kneecap to the top of the knee. It doesn’t seem like much. That’s maybe two inches of space, although the actual called strike zone has always differed somewhat from the rulebook strike zone, but if the changes are put into effect for 2017, then pitchers might be feeling a little more squeezed next year.
Is Tony Wolters the answer to 24 years of mile-high pitching woes?
Good-framing catchers, as best as we can define them, seem to have magical powers. They can “steal” extra strikes for their pitchers, and while it might not seem like much in the moment to get an extra borderline call, it adds up. The generally accepted consensus has been that the top framers can save their team 20 runs compared to a merely average framer. Compared to the bottom of the barrel, that swing is 40 runs. When the general public figured out how big that effect was, they rightly made a big deal about it. (When teams found out, they quietly made a big deal out of it. In fact, in Francisco Cervelli’s case, they just made more than 30 million big deals about it.)
The super-cool, super-modern, super-fun strategy that might not be doing anything.
Last week, we looked into The Shift and whether it was actually doing what we said it was supposed to do, which is to be a better way of getting hitters, especially pull-happy hitters (and double especially groundball-heavy, pull-happy, left-handed hitters) to make more outs. The traditional story of The Shift is that because those hitters are going to be sending most of their ground balls to one side of the field, why not put more fielders over that way?
Here’s a cheeky question that I ask in complete sincerity: How many home runs were hit against The Shift last year? I’m sure someone out there knows the answer to the question, but there are probably more people wondering why I even bothered to ask it. If the ball was hit over the wall, what does it matter whether The Shift was on or not? Either way, the fielders weren’t going to be able to get to it.