ASK ROTOMAN: Expansion Blues

Greetings Rotoman.

We have a veteran 20 year sharks 5X5 ultra roto league in a quandary. We’ve lost four teams from our original 12, working frantically to replace them and return to 12 via a dispersal draft from the vacated rosters. If we ultimately return with only 11 or even 10 owners, would it necessitate throwing back all players frozen from the previous season (max 15 with carry over salaries and contracts) because there will be fewer teams and less $ avail to spend? I.e., will the salaries be skewed since they’re based on a 12 team league, not 11 or 10? We’re desperately trying to maintain status quo and not start over. Are there ways to augment or artificially level the playing field and legitimize the salaries of those frozen players? 

“Skewed Blues”

Dear SB:

That’s tough luck losing four teams, and good luck restocking your roster of owners.

To answer your question: A dispersal draft, distributing the best keeps from four teams to three teams, will skew in favor of the three new teams. While the original franchises will be keeping 15 x 8 = 120 players of a potential 120 best keeps, or 100 percent, the new franchises will be keeping 45 of 60, or 75 percent. The new teams would be able to be more selective and end up with better freeze lists. You don’t want that.

I think the fairest way to solve this problem is to let each owner who signs up adopt one of the existing franchises, so he’ll be keeping 100 percent of the best keepers. There’s no selection advantage to that, but there is the likelihood that some abandoned freeze lists will be better than others. There are two ways to handle that.

One would be to reward early movers by giving them their choice of franchise. It’s probably best to let your targets know that they’ll be in a draft of teams if they sign up by, say February 1. Then on February 1, have the new owners play paper-rock-scissors or flip coins to determine an order or selection, and then let them pick the teams by that established priority.

The other way to go is to randomize. Put the names of the abandoned teams in a hat, and as new owners sign up randomly give them one of the franchises. Each will get what he gets, for better or worse. But each will be getting 100 percent of the best freezes, which seems totally fair. This has the advantage of possibly keeping a better freeze list available, should early selecters be unlucky, and you can use it as an incentive for new owners to join up. Although, if these freeze lists were really good, what sort of owner would bail?

Hope this helps and good luck getting it together for the new year!

Sincerely,

rotomansignature

ASK ROTOMAN: Hold On I’m Comin’!

My league 8 team AL only 5×5 pitching categories are QS, SV, Holds, K and ERA.

We have had holds for at least seven years. I always struggle with it. Since its a bit of an odd ball category not much is written about it. A hold is a terrible stat, but it brings value to middle relievers. I was wondering if you had any good advice on how to attack Holds?

“Hold Out”

Holds is a terrible stat, just about as terrible as Saves, though a little worse because a staff can have more holds in a game than Saves, or Wins, for that matter.

But in the fantasy game, holds can have a solid role, as a way to value productive relief pitchers, even if they don’t find their way into the closing job.

What’s curious about your league is that instead of combining Saves and Holds in a single category that values relief pitchers, you’ve split the two imperfect stats so that you have to man two less-than-perfect categories.

The cool thing about that is that you’ll need to roster a closer, and an eighth inning guy, at least, so i guess your question is, how do you identify the eighth inning guy.

Path No. 1: Read many comments from each team’s manager about how he is going to set up his bullpen. Of course you’re going to roster a closer or two, but then also keep an eye on the guys who are identified as setup guys. These are the guys likely to run up high holds totals.

Path No. 2: Identify guys with high strikeout totals and low walk totals. These guys may not be identified by their managers as closers in waiting or setup guys, but they’re likely–if they can keep it up–to be increasingly trusted in game situations, which means they’re likely to add Holds or Saves as the season goes along.

The quirkiness of your rules also means that you can mess around with your roster configuration. Clayton Kershaw plus a roster of high strikeout relievers could finish high in ERA, Holds, and Saves, and in the middle of the pack in Strikeouts, for middle of the pack money. But even if you put together a more traditional staff, high strikeout pitchers are going to help you in Ks and ERA, and maybe Holds and Saves, too.

Past performance and youth are the best predictors of high strikeout rates among relievers.

Sincerely,
rotomansignature

ASK ROTOMAN: Is Jake Elmore Perfect?

Hi.

This could be a dumb one but I cant find the answer anywhere. Last week I picked up Jake Elmore. In his first game he went 1 for 1 giving him a batting average of 1.000 on that particular day. If I don’t play him again and remove him from my roster do I retain that batting average towards the category? There’s nothing in my league settings that states you have to use a player a minimum amount of times. Is this a loophole that could be used towards batting average and also ERA and WHIP for pitchers? I really don’t want to question my Commissioner in case I have stumbled onto an advantage. I’m a first time player so I hope I’m not coming across as an idiot. Any help is greatly appreciated. Thank you very much.

“Idiot Wind”

Dear IW:

jakeelmoretwitterThe short answer is that without knowing your league rules, it’s hard to say exactly what having a 1-1 Jake Elmore means.

What can be said with certainty is that your ignorant question goes to the very heart of fantasy game theory when the game is played with category rankings.

That’s because one maximizes the qualitative categories (BA, OBP, ERA, WHIP) by reducing the number of AB or IP relative to productive evens (Hits for hitters, Outs for pitchers) by reducing the number of AB and IP, trying to prune away the bad ones and focus on the productive ones.

jakeelwoodFor instance, a pitching roster of middle relievers would almost certainly win ERA and WHIP, but would do very poorly in Wins, WHIP, and Strikeouts, the quantitative categories.

The challenge of Rotisserie style scoring is to find the balance between these two inexorable and mostly contradictory forces, though the challenge was reduced as the game moved from 4×4 (in which 37.5 percent of the categories were qualitative) to 5×5 (in which they are 30 percent). Still, in recent years a lot of roto thought has turned on how to take advantage of strong middle relievers in 5×5.

Still, it’s hard to see the advantage you’re going to get out of a 1 for 1 performance by Elmore. That’s just one of thousands of at bats your team is going to accumulate over the course of the season, which makes it the smallest of advantages possible.

Sincerely,
rotomansignature

ASK ROTOMAN: Addison Russell at Second Base

WHEN WILL CUBS RUSSEL BE QUALIFIED 4 2 BASE?

No Signature

Dear Shouter:

There are so many things wrong with your question, they must be addressed.

A salutation isn’t required, but it is nice. I’m fine with just Rotoman! or Hey Rotoman! or Hey! Or even something without an exclamation point.

Secondly, we are too deep into the 21st century for anyone to not know about the caps lock. Don’t use it to communicate. It is that easy. WHY? Because it feels like shouting.

It isn’t that hard to type “for.” Or FOR if you must.

If you’re going to type 2, you might as well type 2B. That gets it done. 2 BASE sounds like a small boy band.

The premise of your question is either impossibly specific or hits the sweet spot of my opinion.

Screenshot 2015-04-27 16.23.16If you want to know how many games it takes for Addison Russell (LL at the end, or I prefer ll) in your fantasy league to qualify at second base, I have no idea because you didn’t say what league you’re in.

And since looking up rules is easier, there is always a link on your stat service, than typing with thumbs, you should look there.

If you’re asking how Addison Russell is performing as a second baseman, since he has always played shortstop until this year, I’m interested, too.

Russell had only played five minor league games at second base before the Cubs called him up to the major leagues. And he’s played five major league games at second base. He made one error in each five-game set, which is too many, but errors are not a fair way to grade a fielder, at least not entirely.

Joe Maddon says Russell is doing a fine job as a fielder at second base, which could be the truth, or Maddon could be blowing smoke. We do know that Russell is a fine shortstop, so any problems he has at the less-demanding second base position are likely due to the learning curve, which he should quickly move along.

The big issue for Russell right now is the bat. He drove in two with a double yesterday, but he’s struck out 12 times in 22 AB. Even for a Cubs player that’s a lot. But Maddon seems fine with letting him work it out, and the Cubs have been winning, so maybe he’ll get a chance to develop his big league talent in the big leagues.

Sincerely,
rotomansignature

Ask Rotoman: Zack Greinke or Mark Melancon?

Rotoman:

Only 4 pitching categories in my keeper league. Wins+Saves is one category…Greinke or Melancon?

“Volatile”

Dear V:

My 5×5 projections for both Greinke and Melancon are worth $17 this year, so I thought this would be an easy one to answer. Combine the value of the Wins and Saves for the pitchers, divide in half, and replace the values of Wins and Saves with that number and bingo. Or voila! Or eureka!

Instead, I’m not sure. I used the Razzball, FanGraphs and Patton $ Online value calculators on whatever projections they used (Grey Albright, Steamer, Rotoman) and found that though the numbers they spit out were different, all favored Greinke. In order: $10.4/$8.2, $7.6/$1.9, $10.1/$7.55.

Fangraphs clearly punishes relievers more for their lack of strikeouts, but I’m sure a closer look would show they’re rewarded more for their low ERA and Ratio. Razzball and Patton were close enough to declare a winner, but I was nagged by the question of population. You see, pricing systems are based on the performance of some group of players. In the regular 5×5 world this means one thing, but when you make guys who get saves more valuable, as you do when you combine saves and wins, the population changes. That changes the value of an earned run, it alters WHIP, it means a strikeout is worth something different.

Mark Melancon, off field
Mark Melancon, off field

So, I ran the numbers on last year’s stats using my own pricing calculator.

Last year, in 5×5, my pricer says Greinke earned $21 and Melancon earned $19, Combine Wins and Saves into one category for all ML pitchers, re-sort, and their prices change to $21 and $20.

Which means, if you agree with me that they’re each worth $17 this year, that Melancon gains a little edge in value over Greinke using your rules.  But prices didn’t change as much at the high end as I expected they would.

Of course, value is only part of the equation. Keeper questions start there, but always come back to what the guy is going to go for in your league. You want to keep the one you think is going to cost more. That’s a question only you can figure out.

Sincerely,
rotomansignature

ASK ROTOMAN: Doing the Newest FAABest Steps!

Dear Rotoman: 

As a league that’s been around for 30 years, we’ve played by the rules that Alex Patton established in his book, and have made sure we changed the ones he did in newer books. Since he hasn’t put out a book in several years, many in our league are wanting to know if some of our rules are outdated and need to be changed, dropped or modified.

We play NL, 5×5 (HR,R,SB,OBP,RBI and W,S,K,ERA,WHIP), $280 starting salary, $340 in season cap, 25 players with Farm Team. Three year contracts with extensions at $5 per year. We do $100 FAAB from after All-Star til last week of August. FAAB over $10 must be kept next year or dropped for $10 salary penalty.

Anyway, do you know if most teams still use these same basic rules or have any of them mostly changed. The one I want to modify is to make FAAB all year vs. six weeks. Currently, early in the season, lower ranked teams are “rewarded” by drafting guys that don’t play or will soon be sent down, to wait and see the two or three guys we all miss in the draft each year. The league winner last year screwed his draft and left with $60+ dollars, only to pick up Erving Santana, Hector Rondon and Aaron Harang the first three weeks of the season. Personally, I feel like every player needs to be FAAB eligible so that EVERY OWNER has a chance. Higher ranked teams cannot get these guys for DL selections because lower teams are holding their DL guys several weeks to see if someone good comes up.

Any input you can give us would be greatly appreciated as it relates to how most leagues deal with things these days.

“Old Ruled”

pattonbookDear OR:

What’s funny is that I’ve played with Alex Patton in the American Dream League, which was something of the model league in his books, for more than 20 years, and our rules are totally unlike yours. I’ll be brief: AL, 4×4 (BA), $260 budget, no salary cap, 24 man rosters with seven man reserve. One year contract with no escalator. $50 FAAB starting the third week, and then all season long.

Crazy no?

The fact of the matter is that your league is much more progressive, with your 5×5 and OBP, particularly, than the ADL is. Which doesn’t mean that rules can’t or shouldn’t be changed. There’s just no reason to try to conform to any one set of rules, because you can’t. There are people playing in so many styles I hesitate to list them, because I’m nodding off just thinking about them.

Which brings us to your crazy FAAB rule. Yes, I said crazy, because I think you guys have it all backward.

In the old days, before their was FAAB in Fantasyland, the waiver wire ruled supreme. Whoever got their claim in first, when a player “came over,” (as we still say though without the frenzied dialing), would acquire the player. But everyone soon realized that this gave such an advantage to the unemployed obsessive they wished they could be, that weekly waivers became more the norm.

The problem with weekly waivers is that priority goes to the bad teams, the teams lower in the standings, which means they acquire talent that all too often would get traded to one of the good teams, thus making all the other competing teams angry. Hence, FAAB.

FAAB is an equalizer. It gives each of us the chance to make the market on a particular player on a particular day. And if we blow our wad one day, the teams that still have FAAB left have the advantage. Which is why it is perfect tool for leagues to use all season long.

In fact, relegating it to a brief period means there is no warp and woof to the budgets. I would imagine players are traded over from the AL and everybody goes all in on them, and they’re awarded to the team lowest in the standings on the tie-breaker. That misses the point.

I mentioned that in the ADL we wait three weeks to start up our FAAB. This is a vestige of our time before FAAB. We held up waivers until there was some settling in the standings, a bubbling up of talent, a dropping down of not so much, so that good teams off to a bad start weren’t unjustly rewarded. Some argue that since we use FAAB now we could start waivers Week 1, and they’re right. But I resist that.

Having a week or two, or even three, before teams can beef up their rosters is a test for teams that take players in the auction who are injured. The idea is no more an impetus to force them to find a replacement than the Affordable Care Act was intended to compel the States to set up their own exchanges. Rather, the goal is to inflict on them a little pain if they don’t draft a replacement. Isn’t that fun?

As for some of the other crazy new rules the kids are coming up with, OR, don’t get me started. Have you heard of the Daily Games?

Sincerely,
rotomansignature

ASK ROTOMAN: How is a stat service like a nice Chianti and fava beans

All Hail Rotoman!

Is there a ‘3rd party’ available for a weekly FAAB process?

Currently, our FAAB rules require us to turn our weekly roster changes and FAABs into the commissioner on Sunday Nights by 9pm.  The league-friendly commissioner, has made that 9pm kind of a ‘soft deadline’ and has on occasion accepted FAABs and roster changes past that 9pm deadline with a friendly reminder to get it in on time.  In addition, new job responsibilities have delayed the FAAB results and roster changes until Tuesday, sometimes Wednesday mornings.

My thought here is… IF there is a 3rd party process available, any and all deadline and integrity concerns can be completely eliminated.

There is NOT an integrity issue with the commish.  Just looking at alternative methods for assuring that the FAAB process is timely and legit.

Sincerely,
Hannibal Lester

Dear Hannibal,

Almost all stat services have automated FAAB processes. These require that teams enter their claims and picks and moves into the box, via a form of some sort, and at the appointed hour, as the bells strike, the software does it’s utterly rational magic and awards are made.

In the past I’ve used the systems at Yahoo, ESPN and CBSsports and found they all worked well enough. It has been a while, however, so chances are decent they have improved, though I don’t know for sure.

I can enthusiastically endorse the BidMeister at onRoto.com, which is quite flexible and fault tolerant, though it does force you to submit your bids structured as replacement blocks. That is, all your claims to replace your first basemen go in at once, then your claims for a starting pitcher, then the outfielder.

I was at first wary of this, but once you take this into account you can gain most of the control you want by ordering the blocks and using your FAAB.

And this is how a stat service is like a liver, which goes so well with the favas and a nice Chianti. It filters out the labor and toxins of a fantasy league, increases communication and information, making the thing work better, and does so quietly, at least in the best of times.

Sincerely,
rotomansignature

A Pitch Clock.

pitchclock-arizonaThere’s a story here that is all gung ho in favor of a ML pitch clock that limits pitchers to 20 seconds between pitches.

The writer shows the average times for the Royals pitchers last year, and only Bruce Chen averaged less than 20 seconds. He notes, however, that there wasn’t a pitch clock, that hitters were allowed more time to get ready than they presumably will if the pitcher is facing a clock, and the Royals other starters, Ventura and Guthrie, were just a hair over 20 seconds on average, so maybe wouldn’t be too rushed if the rule is adopted. All well and good.

I just wanted to report that after watching some games in the Arizona Fall League last November, in which the pitch clock was used, the main thing we noticed is that there were clocks everywhere. In order to make sure everyone knew how much time remained, there were clocks on the fence behind the catcher, on each dugout, and on the right and left field fences. Maybe it was the novelty, but the bright flickering light was a definite distraction. (The picture above shows the clocks on the first base side.)

And just as at a basketball game, there was almost as much suspense watching the pitcher beat the clock as there was seeing him work the batter. So, the clocks are ugly and distracting. Will they speed up the game?

Another point is that the clock is reset when the pitcher starts his rocker step. So, if a pitcher uses all 20 seconds to start his rocker step, his full windup and delivery will put him on a longer than 20 second pace.

With that in mind, if each pitch is made on average five seconds faster, a game with 250 pitches would save 1250 seconds. That’s 21 minutes or so, which would be quite an accomplishment, but would we even notice? I suspect that we wouldn’t. We would still be irritated by pitching changes for every batter in the later innings, in games aren’t all that close, and two minute breaks between half innings for commercials, and three minutes for the 7th inning stretch’s two songs–at least. These are the things that make baseball games seem slow and too long, and each is hard to address because it either is an important part of the competition strategically, or it is a money generator.

So if we’re really concerned about game length, let’s try another idea: Seven inning games.

Crafting Rules: A few thoughts

xfllogoI play in a mixed fantasy baseball league with 14 friends. We meet in Arizona at the First Pitch conference in November and auction off 23-man teams for $260. It’s a keeper league, you can keep up to 15 players each year, and in the auction you’re limited to players who finished the previous season on a major league team’s active roster. When you roster someone without major league experience their price escalated by $3 each season after they make the majors. Other players’ prices go up by $5 each year they’re kept.

We started playing in 2003, and made up a set of fantasy rules that are unlike any other league in the world, with the goal of having a simple-to-administer keeper league. It has worked out pretty spectacularly. I love going to Arizona to see AFL baseball and my friends, but making sure I’m at the auction is very important. You can’t play if you don’t auction.

The second part of roster provisioning is a 17-round reserve draft in late March, during which you can draft anyone in the world who hasn’t already been rostered. We’ve had high school players drafted, and players years away from Japanese free agency. The teams draft in order of last year’s standings. At the end of the day,  in time for Opening Day, each team has 40 players for the season.

Since this is a keeper league, dump trades are a part of the process, but each year it seems that teams with bad teams dump earlier than they did previously. Last year there were seven dump trades on May 19th, just seven weeks into the season.

We’ve recently been discussing whether these early dumps are a good thing or not for our game. I thought not, because it felt as if marginal teams were in a race to the bottom. The first ones to bail were able to pick off the best prospects from the teams competing for the top, so there was constant pressure to bail earlier, in order to make the best deal.

This meant that other teams were pressured to make deals as early as possible, too, in order to compete. Once teams dumped, they were no longer competitive, and once teams added real talent they were no longer catchable.

My suggested solutions, a variety of them, all involved increasing the pain for teams dumping. For instance, teams that fell below a certain number of points would lose some of their freezes, depending on how far short they fell. Or the price of players traded before the All Star break might be automatically increased to $10 or more, in order to decrease their value as keeps. Or they would pay a financial penalty, depending on how many points they fell below a threshold. This isn’t a money league and there is no reason to reward winners, but the money could go to charity, simply to induce a little pain if standards weren’t achieved.

Other suggestions, like a reduced inseason salary cap and having losers pay winners some amount, were suggested by others. These are all standard ways for leagues to control dump trades, but in this league at this time these suggestions were met mostly with derision, primarily with the not-really-an argument notion that in a keeper league you can’t/shouldn’t punish dumping. Though that isn’t what any of us were suggesting.

I started this post spoiling for a fight about this and thought that maybe a look at the trades made last May 19th would help me win my argument (something I know never happens on the Internet, or anywhere, really). On May 19th…

The team that eventually finished first traded Garin Cecchini, Dom Smith, and Wily Peralta in two trades for Joe Nathan, Adam Jones and Prince Fielder (when he was still expected to come back). (14 and 13)

The team that eventually finished second traded Matt Harvey and Alexander Reyes for Ben Revere and Adam Wainwright. (15)

One of the teams that tied for third traded Maikel Franco, Marcus Stroman and Daisuke Matsuzaka for Pedro Sandoval, Alcides Escobar and Francisco Rodriguez. (11)

My team was the other team tied for third and didn’t make a trade.

The team that finished fifth didn’t trade.

The team that finished sixth traded Miguel Sano and Matt Moore for Mark Teixeira and Kenley Jansen. (15)

The teams that finished seventh and eighth didn’t trade.

The team that finished ninth traded Alex Meyer and Addison Russell for Ian Kinsler and Asdrubal Cabrera. (14)

The team that finished 10th traded Gregory Polanco and Miguel Gonzalez for Troy Tulowitzki and Brett Gardner. (13 and 12)

All the teams that traded away quality players finished in the bottom five in the league. The teams that finished first and second traded away quality prospects for immediate help and were never caught.

This division, last year, clearly meant that there were teams that were winning, teams that were losing, and then a bunch of teams in the middle who could not win and would not lose.

That in itself isn’t a problem. It’s part of the game dynamic. There is no penalty in our rules for coming in last. In fact, Brian Walton came in last this year with a pathetic number of points (28.5), and that’s a good thing! As he explains, if you’re going to dump you should go all in, trade in this year’s assets to improve next year’s squad.

But that brings us back to dumping in May. There is a problem if somewhat competitive teams are willing to sacrifice their season so early, basically locking in the tiers of competition. The problem is that this is less fun for many teams, and devalues the auction that we enjoy so much. My suggestions of adding friction to dumping wouldn’t end dumping, but they might slow the process, and make the stakes higher for the dumping teams. They would have to not only reload their squads, but try to claw for points this year (and would be rewarded for their success).

This would be good, because it was make it easier for the teams that didn’t trade away prospects early to remain competitive longer. For instance, my team didn’t trade prospects in mid May because it got off to a horrible start (bad pitching mostly) and was in 11th place on May 19th. The team looked too good to dump, but was not competitive enough to buy by trading away prospects. Of course, once we didn’t buy we had no chance to catch the teams that did when we started rising in the standings.

If the trading didn’t get going until June we might have been tempted to trade Oscar Taveras and Archie Bradley. Instead, we decided to play for third, which is a different way of playing for next year.

While trying to make my argument, I looked at the May 19th standings and wasn’t exactly surprised to see that the bottom four teams finished in the bottom five at the end of the year. After all, they had traded excellent players for futures, most of whom didn’t contribute much this year at all.

What surprised me more was that a look at the Draft Day Rosters, the team that was bought in November (something of a less than perfect estimate of the amount of talent a team had last year on Opening Day), three of the five lowest finishers were in the bottom four (the other two were sixth and ninth). If anything, with the die cast before the season started, it seems as if these teams actually waited too long to dump. Or maybe, it was the teams that were contending who waited to be sure they were in the fight before swapping their top prospects and futures for reinforcements.

In either case, the problem I thought I was actually seeing was subtly different than the one I had diagnosed.

Instead of marginally talented teams racing to dump, mostly truly bad teams recognized they were better off dumping than not. Increasing friction for them might make the game marginally more interesting inseason, and might protect the value of the auction a bit, but any rational player with a bad team would still dump.

I suppose this seems like a fairly esoteric tale. A league unlike any other trying to fine tune rules that aren’t working all that badly isn’t much of a tale. But what I found in the telling was evidence that the problem I was seeing wasn’t totally the problem I was experiencing.

I still think adding some friction for teams that finish poorly is a good idea, simply to make sure they take it seriously. Just because they usually do doesn’t mean an incentive doesn’t help order things properly. After all, two of those bottom five teams  had Top 10 teams based on the Draft Day Standings. Why were they dumping a quarter of the way into the season? Because that’s when you can get the best prospects.

This friction, call it an incentive, isn’t a punishment. That definition is what got me riled in the first place. Every league’s rules define limitations that shape the way the game is played. Deadlines, keeper rules, categories, position eligibility all shape the way the game is played. In the context of the current rules, adding more restrictions might seem like punishing certain behavior when it’s really incentivizing others.

But to go back to Brian Walton, he hits the nail on the head in his story when he says, “It is always best to agree on the original problem statement before throwing around ways to address it.”

Our division is between those who think we can make the game better (but have to recognize that the problem at this point isn’t acute) and those who think dumping and rebuilding should be an unfettered process (apart from the inseason salary cap, of course), who don’t see a problem.

So, for now, we take no action, but we each snap our lips trying to make the other side see reason. It’s almost Hot Stove season.

 

 

LINK: Did pitchFX Destroy Baseball?

marcummoveDerek Thompson surveys the scientific literature of the strike zone today to demonstrate that fewer homers hit is bad for baseball, and that fewer homers are being hit today for two primary reasons:

1) Starting in 2006 stringent drug testing reduced the use of PEDs in the game.

2) Starting in 2006, the introduction of the pitchFX system increased the size of the strike zone, most notably by expanding the low part downward. Follow the link for more about pitchFX, a video and computer sensor system that tracks the speed and trajectory of every major league pitch.

It’s an interesting piece, especially the chart that shows how much better the umpires have gotten since their work could be not only reviewed, but reviewed against real objective data (not that it is always perfect).

As someone who, perhaps naively, argued in the early days of the homer boom that it looked to me like the real cause was a flattening strike zone, which meant hitters could look inside or outside and not so much up and down, the data strongly suggests this is at least partially true. One researcher says that the decline in homers since 2006 is 40 percent due to changes in the strike zone.

That’s a lot, and could be true, but I suspect we haven’t heard the last of this.

At the end of his piece Thompson lists other causes for a drop in offensive power, including defense (though this shouldn’t have much of an impact on homer rates) and changes in the baseball, but when he tries to remind us all of the shadow of PEDs use on this issue, he falters.

He writes:

Perhaps most importantly, the harsh 2006 rules against performance-enhancing drugs offer a compelling explanation for baseball’s dearth of power—although it’s odd that baseball’s minor leagues haven’t seen a similar decline in offensive performance since their own steroid policy was implemented.

The minor league drug policy is in many ways more stringent than the major league program. What the minor leagues don’t have is pitchFX and the absolutely best umpires.

Baseball_umpire_2004Oh, and to answer the question in the headline: pitchFX didn’t destroy baseball, it simply made the administration of the game more accurate and fair.

But if the low run environment proves to be persistent and unpopular, MLB can raise the bottom of the strike zone back to 2006 levels. That’s what they do. (It perhaps pertains that it was part of my argument about the power of the strike zone to change other outcomes, that umpires would be inclined to make this adjustment in an ad hoc way if the pitchers became too dominant, in order to help sustain the game’s equilibrium, which wavers but never cracks.)