The New Home Run Reality

I’ve been operating under a few well known and mostly agreed upon facts.

  1. People love home runs.
  2. A slimmer taller strike zone, which better represents the rule book strike zone, is being called these days.
  3. Even without PEDs, athletes (and all of society) values strength more than ever.
  4. There are always PEDs, though they don’t seem to be widespread, but they’re certainly there.
  5. When home runs go up and strikeout rate goes up, too? Yes, hitters are swinging harder, making more mistakes, but also hitting more balls out of the park. There should be a Moore’s Law about this ratio. I’m going to work on it.

But the fact is, as Ben Lindbergh points out in this Ringer piece, based on research by the estimable Mitchel Lichtman, it seems the ball is juiced.

Lindbergh is extremely diplomatic about this assertion.

Maybe because Lichtman’s interesting testing (certified game-used balls bought on Ebay) is based on a small sample size, and subject to all kind of aging and sample treatment issues that are especially important in a small sample.

So, it’s fair so posit that Lichtman’s numbers aren’t perfect.

But, when you go through all that Lindbergh goes through quite methodically to present the case, it’s hard not to conclude that the ball is likely juiced. And that a small difference, seven feet in distance, could account for the insane increase in homers the last few years.

Which doesn’t mean that the MLB poohbahs decided to juice the ball, because as Lindbergh points out, if that’s what they did they did it in the most obvious way. Which, with crazy child reverse logic, means they probably didn’t do that on purpose, because they would not want their fingerprints on the manipulation. Right?

But they might have not cared, too, though they deny it, and have presented scientific evidence from their own labs that Lindbergh was given access to some months back that the balls are not juiced. We’ll let Alex Jones, the performance artist, weigh in here.

The most interesting part of the story for me was Lindbergh’s recitation of some Craig Wright-reported historical info about the transition from the dead ball to live ball in 1919 to 1921. The wool changed! The bottom line is that the game is played and has been played in continually changing historical and social conditions. To expect gross stats to adhere to any simple benchmark was a childhood fantasy for most of us, and for anyone younger? It should be a goof.

So, I’m not 100 percent down with Lichtman and Lindbergh, I mean who knows for sure (none of us), but this is good work, and the discussion should continue. That’s how science works.

PS. Plus, I realize I didn’t include the most excellent stat to help explain that the home run rate is because the balls are different. Big home run hitters aren’t benefiting much. Top home run rates aren’t increasing. What is increasing is home runs from secondary hitters, whose deep fly balls are suddenly leaving the park. Assuming that’s true, I’m taking their word, let’s blame the ball.

 

 

 

Link: Baseball’s Real Revolution Reframed

screenshot-2016-09-23-11-46-12Josh Levin uses the sagas of the Fire Joe Morgan blog and Rob Neyer to chat about how baseball’s statistical revolution stopped being about stats versus scouts, and comes up with something nice to say about Tim McCarver!

Well worth reading for it’s gentle sense of history, and optimistic view forward. In Slate.

http://www.slate.com/articles/sports/the_next_20/2016/09/fire_joe_morgan_and_the_moneyball_revolution.html

ASK ROTOMAN: A pitcher smuggled out of Cuba

Dear Rotoman:

I’m not sure if this falls into the scope of the questions you answer, but I was talking with a friend last night about baseball history and he brought up a pitcher who had been smuggled out of cuba by his manager after he was attacked with some kind of weapon. I remember reading about that somewhere, but can’t remember the player’s name and can’t find it anywhere! Do you have any idea?

“History Buff”

Van Lingle Mungo was a rough and rowdy pitcher, mostly for the Brooklyn Dodgers, from 1931 to 1945.

The quote that is always used to address his temper is from Casey Stengal: “”Mungo and I get along fine. I just tell him I won’t stand for no nonsense, and then I duck”

At the Baseball Almanac I found this telling of the story of Mungo on a date in Havana:

The following story about Van Mungo appeared in The Herring Design Quarterlies, “Once, when the Dodgers were training in Cuba, his friends really saved him. Seems Van Lingle Mungo became enamored with a nightclub dancer by the name of Gonzalez, and she liked him pretty well, too. Her husband caught them in the clutches, and Mungo punched him in the eye. Señor Gonzalez returned with a butcher knife. That’s when a Dodgers executive by the name of Babe Hamberger hid Mungo in a laundry cart. He got his pitcher out of a major jam and down to the wharf where a seaplane was waiting. Mungo hid while his bags were loaded. Then Hamberger yelled, and Mungo sprinted for the plane, leaping aboard with the police hot on his heels.”

Bill James, in the Historical Baseball Abstract, lists Mungo as a drinking man in 1930s baseball, and that’s all.

But Mungo has been immortalized, of a sort, by David Frishberg, who wrote a song called “Van Lingle Mungo.” It’s a jazzy piece, well worth a listen, and while you do head over to Baseball Almanac and read about Frishberg’s one meeting with Mungo.

Mickey, Willie and the Hacker. Or Buschel’s Perfect Day.

Screenshot 2016-01-31 00.43.08I play in the American Dream League with the tech writer Steven Levy, whose team is known as the Random Hackers.

Another writer (of this excellent book, among other things), Bruce Buschel, is in the league, too, and has been since its first year, 1981. His team has gone by many names, most memorably, the BB Gubs.

Even if you don’t know who Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Martin Luther King are, or Bowie Kuhn for that matter, let Bruce fill you in with this delightful shaggy dog story.

Read it here.

Woodrow Wilson: Father of Fantasy Baseball?

p1020962-copyJohn Thorn, basesball historian, has an amazing tale about Woodrow Wilson, the 28th US president, who as a boy appears to have spent 1871 creating a fictional version of the National Association season that year.

Found in the Woodrow Wilson collection at the Library of Congress was a handwritten end of season account, including box scores, that mimicked similar actual accounts published by Henry Chadwick.

The attention to detail is amazing, and maybe a little scary. Read Thorn’s story for all the details, including an account of the “newspaper’s” sale by the auction house that is today called Southby’s, which attributed the piece to Chadwick himself.

UPDATE: The linked story was originally published on February 24, 2014, but I just came upon it today. If you liked this story, you may like this one about the baseball game Jack Kerouac invented as a boy.

Rotisserie Baseball: Carved In Stone

Dan Okrent talks about the game he invented.

http://m.mlb.com/video/topic/7417714/v103509783

 

Henry David Thoreau and the Baseball Fields

thoreau1

 

On April 10, 1856, Henry David Thoreau, looking like Dustin Pedroia’s older brother, wrote in his diary about the baseball fields in Concord, Mass., being finally dry enough on which to play.

dustin-pedroia-mlb-boston-red-sox-tampa-bay-rays-850x560

 

Boston residents today are not so sure the snow will ever melt this year.

 

LINK: Baseball is Dying! Again and again and again!

BYD-BostonBaseballNavy_largeGrantland’s Bryan Curtis visits baseball historian John Thorne, and surveys the literature of baseball is dying stories. The first one dates from 1868.

In a HardballTalk story from September, Craig Calcaterra showed the fallacy of  current baseball is dying stories, over and over and over.

Map of US Baseball Players’ Birthplaces

Screenshot 2014-10-08 09.01.24What if you took the birthplaces of all the US born major league baseball players since 1900 and mapped them into 50 states of equal size?

And what if you gave them cute names based on a famous ballplayer who was born in that imaginary state?

You would have this map. If you did it for current ML players, you would have this map. I was born on either Long Yastzremski or Markakis York.

And you would have this story that maps the birthplaces of NLF, NBA and NHL players, too.

LINK: The State of the Fantasy Baseball Nation

Nick Minnix does a fantastic job surveying the fantasy baseball business at Hardball Times, looking for the games’ next big thing. He covers a lot of ground, with insightful reporting and a light touch with the analysis. Highly recommended for fantasy players.