Baseball Prospectus: Where in the rulebook does it say?

a) Tie goes to the runner.

Jim Evans: It doesn’t. It states that a runner is out IF the defensive team tags him or his base BEFORE he reaches it. The implication is if the tag doesn’t occur first (not at the same time or after), the runner would be safe.

BP: b) A check swing is a strike if the batter breaks his wrists.

JE: The wrists are never mentioned in the rulebook. A swinging strike is based solely on the umpire’s judgment of whether or not the batter committed to the pitch. Check swings are very difficult calls. Base umpires are often able to make more accurate decisions on check swings because their attention can be focused solely on the bat since they are not obligated to call the pitch.

BP: c) The hands are part of the bat.

JE: This is another misconception. The hands are NOT part of the bat. If a pitched ball hits the hands and the batter did not attempt to swing, it is a hit batsman. If a pitched ball hits the hands as he swings, it is a strike and the ball is dead. Reference: Rule 2.00 Strike (e.)

Michael Wolverton looks at caught stealing rates, Clay Davenport clears up a debate, and Will Carroll wants more meaningful discussion of drug abuse in baseball. Plus other bits and bites.

The baseball season has reached its adolescence. Oh sure, there are the still the occasional temper tantrums, the delusions of grandeur, the fashion faux pas. But the season has been around for long enough that we can’t totally dismiss it, even when it mouths off without reason or, convinced of its own invincibility, it pushes its limits a bit too far.

The PECOTA system wasn’t originally designed to update its forecasts in real time, but through some creative mathematics we can adapt it to that purpose. In particular, we can evaluate its projections by means of a something called a binomial distribution (geek alert: if you’re uninterested in the math here, the proper sequence of keystrokes is Alt+E+F+”Blalock”). The binomial distribution is a way to test the probability that a particular outcome will result in a particular number of trials when we know the underlying probability of an event. For example, the probability of a “true” .300 hitter getting six or more hits in a sequence of 15 at bats is around 27.8 percent. (The binomial distribution’s cousin, the Poisson distribution, has a cooler name but is less mathematically robust).

A couple of important objections are going to be raised here. First, the binomial distribution is designed to test outcomes in cases in which there are mutually exclusive definitions of success and failure–for example, “hit” and “out,” or “Emmy Nomination” and “WB Network.” The measures of offensive performance that we tend to favor don’t readily meet that criterion. Second, the binomial distribution assumes that we know the intrinsic probability of an event occurring, as we would with a dice roll or coin flip. But we never really know what a baseball player’s underlying ability is–we’re left to make a best guess based on his results, presumably coming closer to the mark as the sample size increases.

The first problem has an intriguing, if mathematically sketchy solution in the form of Equivalent Average, which is scaled to take on roughly the same distribution as batting average, even though it accounts for all major components of offensive performance. So, we could test the probability of a “true” .300 EqA hitter putting up an EqA of .400 in 15 plate appearances by assuming that this is equivalent to six successes (40%) in 15 trials. Since I haven’t heard any objections, let’s roll with it.

Last week, I wrote about what baseball can do to improve the selection of owners. This week, I want to focus on the game’s structure. Frankly it’s a column that, if I thought I could get away with it, would consist of six words: Stop trying to be the NFL.

Since 1994, when the game went to three divisions in each league and began allowing non-division winners into the playoffs, MLB has moved inexorably toward becoming Just Another Sports League. While the game’s administrators like to defend the changes by invoking the need to appeal to young people and a broad audience of sports fans, the fact is that every single move has been reactionary, every one has eliminated a point of differentiation between MLB and the other three major sports, and none of them have shown any level of insight beyond: “How can we get more TV money right now?”

Believe it or not–and for people who know me, this will come as a shock–I spent most of Tuesday speechless. At an hour much too early for me to be up, and not having had near enough coffee (or alcohol), I was squeezed into the back seat of an Indy Car today and taken around the track. I can’t begin to describe the experience, but suffice it to say that I came away with a new respect for what athletes these drivers are, how much courage–or stupidity–they have, and the fact that I really, really want to buy one of those when I win the lottery! If you have a couple hundred bucks lying around and you’re near a track when the IRL comes through, I can’t recommend this highly enough. Never mind that Robin Miller of ESPN made fun of me all afternoon, reminding me that I only went 180 or so–racing was a blast.

The Mets need to blow up the team and start over. The Rockies swing through the NL East in a key two-week stretch. The Orioles could turn over 1/5 of the roster and improve based on their Triple-A talent. Plus notes on Mike Piazza, Shawn Chacon, and the Baltimore rotation.