Make baseball fun again

Gregory Howard of MIT is on the job market this year, and I was intrigued by one of his papers in process (not yet available):

Make Baseball Fun Again (with Vivek Bhattacharya)

Abstract: Using Pitch F/X data covering over 6 million pitches, we document that pitchers are averse to throwing fastballs. Controlling for the state space of a baseball game, including balls, strikes, outs, inning, run differential, and pitcher/batter fixed effects, we find the pitching team is more likely to win the game when throwing a fastball. This is inconsistent with a mixed-strategy equilibrium where the pitcher’s utility is winning the game. We document that fastballs are riskier, leading to more outs, but also to more extra-base hits. We outline a possible incentive problem between the team and the pitcher, who has preferences over remaining in the game, similar to career concerns (Holmstrom 1998), leading the pitcher to be risk-averse. As suggestive evidence, we show that these effects are more prevalent later in the game, and that rookie pitchers, who have less leverage over pitch choice, do not exhibit this tendency.

If you are wondering, Greg’s job market paper (also at the above link) is on how local labor migration creates an “accelerator” for labor demand by boosting the demand for housing — a locally-produced good — in that area.

Comments

"Controlling for ...": sociologists and psychologists are prone to "control" improperly for variables that are part of the interactions that they should be studying. Do economists do it too?

P.S. "leverage" is being pressed into service in such a variety of ways that soon it will mean just 'thingie'.

That's what I thought. Game 7, Chapman threw nothing but fastballs in 8th inning, shelled for 3 runs; nothing but sliders in the 9th, 3 up, 3 down.

Debunked by anecdote.

I think the hitter has something to do with the outcome as well.

Though, if you want to go with an anecdote proof, there was a pitcher who threw almost exclusively 90 mph cut fastballs and did so for 17 years as the closer for the Yanks. Mariano Rivera seemed to have some success.

I presume the author has ``fixed effects'' to control for both pitcher and batter, and possibly for the count, number of outs, number of men on base and which base, inning and score.

sorry, mid 90's fastball.

And in baseball, as in retail, location matters!

Mid-'90s at the beginning of his career maybe, not at the end. But he had pinpoint control

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I looked into whether pitchers are getting wimpier a couple of weeks ago:

http://www.unz.com/isteve/are-american-men-getting-wimpier/

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Interesting. The mention of a desire to remain the game longer suggests this study is for starters only?

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Speed up the game so that it takes less then 2 hours.

Too much time is taken up watching players, spitting, scratching themselves and adjusting their gloves

......."Too much time is taken up watching players..."

ahhh, the distilled truth of all spectator sports

vast majority of adult Americans have no interest in baseball nor spectatot sports

The vast majority of men love sports. Get real.

Only 16% of Americans watched Game 7 of this year's World Series baseball

Not contradictory

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If the vast majority of American men truly "love sports" -- how hard was it to watch Game 7 on TV ?

If you think baseball is somehow abnormal, we can review the viewership/attendance stats for other sports, but you will not like those numbers either.

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It's not "abnormal," it's simply not the entire sports market, and not close to the biggest portion of it.

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Some of the games take so long, I can see their beards grow and their tattoos go out of fashion.

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The last game before the expansion era in baseball, the famous seventh game of the 1960 World Series, in which the underdog Pittsburgh Pirates beat the mighty New York Yankees 10-9, only took 2 hours and 36 minutes. In contrast, the 5-1 second game of the World Series took 4 hours and 4 minutes:

http://www.unz.com/isteve/a-5-1-baseball-game-takes-4-hour-and-4-minute/

The big difference is in the number of pitches thrown. There were no strikeouts in the 1960 game versus 20 in the 2016 game. One of the lessons of sabermetrics is to make baseball more boring by swinging less often.

Also pitchers now take longer between pitches. As a commenter suggested, 1960 pitchers tried to stick to a dance-like rhythm to facilitate pitching, while 2016 pitchers try to make a supreme effort with each pitch, like a weightlifter.

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I suppose that a pitcher with a Nolan Ryan fastball should throw the fastball, but not every pitcher has a Nolan Ryan fastball. Greg Maddux comes to mind. And my nephew. My nephew was the star pitcher on his high school team. His strength was his control and ball movement. His bread and butter pitch was the slider/curve, which he used to perfection to set up his out pitch: a fastball thrown sidearm which would "freeze" a right-hand batter (my nephew throws right). Watching my nephew throw two or three "junk" pitches at 65 mph that were unhittable to the clean-up batter and then "freezing" him with that side-arm fastball was pure artistry. Nolan Ryan, on the other hand, used the fastball to set up his out pitch: a slider/curve which would "freeze" the batter (whichever side he hit from); or Ryan would just throw that 98 mph near the batters head once or twice and dare him to stand in there when he threw a two-strike fastball - at 98 mph, I sure wouldn't stand in there. As for Greg Maddux, there was only one: Maddux. His strength was his control, which he used to perfection to never throw a hittable pitch: his pitches were all around the plate, just not right over the plate, and because he was Greg Maddux, the umpire would give him the benefit of the doubt and treat pitches as strikes even though they were not. Maddux was great for baseball, and not only because he was such a great pitcher but because he worked fast, many of his games under two hours. Indeed, one could say he worked faster than his fastball (which was, maybe, 80-85 mph). Baseball is such a great game. Greg Maddux didn't look like much of an athlete, yet he is the only pitcher to win over 300 games (355), have over 3,000 strikeouts, and have fewer than a 1,000 walks.

Maddux sure was one of a kind, but his greatness needn't be inflated by false statements. In his prime, his fastball was a serviceable 92-93, not "maybe" 80-85. Even at the end in LA, he was averaging 86. No pitcher could survive long with an 80 mph fastball, even with Maddux's control.

No pitcher could survive long with an 80 mph fastball,

Indeed. Even if we read "survive" literally.

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No pitcher could survive long with an 80 mph fastball

Other than knuckleballers, you mean.

Looking at Dickey's game logs from the 3 games he pitched over that period where his fastball was at or below 80, he gave up 13 runs. 5.85 ERA. Just eyeballing those three years and his monthly ERAs, it looks like he's having worse results when he drops below 81ish

But yeah, knuckleballers are weird.

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Does make it pretty weird that that show with the female pitcher has her throwing something other than a knuckle, though.

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Mark Buehrle went 15-8 with a better than league average 3.81 ERA in his final season throwing a fastball averaging around 83-84 mph.

http://www.fangraphs.com/pitchfxo.aspx?playerid=225&position=P&pitch=FA

However, late in the 2015 season he dropped down to about 82 mph and was left off Toronto's postseason roster.

Buehrle, assuming he doesn't come back after a year off, finished with an impressive career record of 214-160. One theory for his success is that he may have been one of the greatest defensive pitchers of all time (e.g., pickoff move and starting the double play).

Here's a Fangraphs piece explaining Buehrle, including videos of a couple of astonishing defensive plays.

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-last-of-mark-buehrle/

Here's an interesting topic for economists: Buehrle likely could have come back at age 37 for an additional season in 2016, but probably would have gotten hit pretty hard. Most baseball players in history end their careers with a bad season. (Sandy Koufax, who walked away after a won-loss record at age 30 of 27-9 in 1966 is the exception that famously supports the tendency.)

But, having made $139 million through 2015, Buehrle chose not to suffer the ignominy of a bad final season.

Here's the economics question: does the radically higher pay of today's ballplayers (Buehrle made $20,000,000 in 2015 compared to Sandy Koufax's league leading $125,000 in 1966) induce players to retire earlier or to play longer?

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Great comments on Buehrle, who was a favorite of mine. Koufax retired due to an injury, so he's not the best example of 'going out on top'. Ted Williams' last year was a good one. And David Ortiz just left the game after one of his best seasons.

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Maddox's fastball looked slow on tv because it moved so much.

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Jamie Moyer would like a word with you.

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Babe Ruth didn't look like much of an athlete either.

All things being equal, I'd rather be in Philadelphia. Of course, all things aren't equal. That's a truism that economists sometimes forget. Maddux succeeded because he exploited his strength. As did Ryan. And my nephew. It's just they had different strengths. And that's true of everybody. Some people are good at investing, which, when combined with good luck (and health), can be the ticket to early and enjoyable retirement. For them, 401(k) is their friend. Some people are not good at investing, which, when combined with a little bad luck (illness), can be the ticket to no retirement. For them, a defined benefit plan (pension) is their friend. Economists go off the rails when they assume everyone is the same (homo economicus). Or worse: should be the same.

"can be the ticket to early and enjoyable retirement." That means that, at least in contemporary America, daily life means working to accomplish the expectation of not working. Apparently working, or the daily productive activity that makes life possible, is somehow bad and not working, being subsidized by past financial activities and the contributions of others is good. This is a very new and disturbing concept in human history.

Not that you ever reply when your bs is questioned, but pray tell how things worked earlier in history when it wasn't so disturbing? Maybe when people worked from age 13 to death at 60?

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Let's look at the famous figure in the O.J. Simpson case, L.A. police detective Mark Fuhrman, who retired from the force at age 43 in 1995. I guess that's history now, isn't it? Since it happened over twenty years ago and Fuhrman is now 64. Probably hasn't worked a day in his life since.

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When you say "worked", you probably mean, "was employed". Many people work all their lives without ever being employed or holding a job. If you're a contemporary American you may not see the difference.

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Yes, chuck, before the modern world people worked on the farm until they died. Then they started moving to the cities where they worked in a factory or an office until they retired and died a few years later. What exactly is your point?

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http://67.media.tumblr.com/d504372c153360b217ddb0c3758a7470/tumblr_mfisg8savs1r1a5mio1_500.jpg

Judge for yourself

He's been dead and buried for 68 years. Where did you come up with the "now" measurements?

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Ironically, Curt Flood loved hitting fastballs.

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Baseball has never been really fun.

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Fastballs are maybe 20% faster on average than breaking balls, but I think the author misses what factors actually slow down the game.

couldn't agree more...how old is author? how long as he been watching sport? There's actually more time between innings for commercials, way more pitching changes than there were just 20 yrs ago, frequency of trips to mound from catcher to get on some page w/ pitcher, batters stepping out of box constantly, instant replay reviews......fastballs vs breaking pitches???

Two free pitching changes, then must swap positions if a change is desired...

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Maybe 20%? Most breaking balls are not curve balls. Cutters and sliders are 95ish% the speed of fastballs.

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Non-fastballs also (I think) wear out the pitchers arm quicker.

Not a baseball man? The baseball doesn't curve or "slide" because the pitcher twists his arm or wrist; it curves or "slides" because the pitcher grips the ball a certain way. Having good form is essential to a long career as a pitcher. Maddux had very good form. And so did Ryan. Both had long careers, even though they exploited different strengths. Life is like that. Economists need to be reminded.

Rayward, most "baseball men" believe the same thing although I have seen some information that a fastball is actually worse than breaking pitches.

How the ball is gripped affects the way the ball is thrown. The pitcher absolutely is torquing every joint.

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You don't know what you're talking about. Stop talking.

Curve balls are notorious anecdotally for damaging elbows of younger (pre-college) pitchers, associated with time on the DL in the majors, and the grip you hold the ball with forces your wrist to work differently. Sliders are both statistically correlated with shoulder injuries and DL stints and known mechanically to put different stresses on the elbow. Oh, and again, there's different wrist action at the release. The screwball also relies partially on wrist movement. They're not thrown enough for anyone to have studied whether or not they cause more injuries, of course.

The cutter, which you didn't even mention, actually does what you say the others do: it is thrown with the same elbow and wrist action as a fastball and the difference is in the grip, and is not known for causing injuries..

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"Non-fastballs also (I think) wear out the pitchers arm quicker."
Change-ups are easiest on the arm. Four-seam fastballs and curveballs (where the strain is on shoulder and wrist) are about the same. Cutters, splitters, etc, and to a lesser degree sliders put more torque on the elbow and the forearm.
However, to the extent that certain pitches are thought to contribute to injuries at the MLB level, it's probably more conventional wisdom than hard science. Velocity, arm slot, mechanics, and overall workload probably matter as much, if not more, more than pitch type.

A fangraphs article from 4 years ago http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy/curve-ball-and-slider-pitchers-and-the-dl/

Of the 47 seasons where a pitcher threw more than 25% curves, 51% of the time they ended up on the DL the next season (39% for all pitchers over the period)

43, 30%, and 46% respectively for sliders.

this is something that is going to become reallyobvious statistically (or, conceivably, go away) as the PITCHf/x era gains more data

I'm curious how well PITCHf/x differentiates between a two-seamer, a cut-fastball, a cutter, slider, etc. Not perfectly, certainly.

The obvious problem is accounting for the fact that guys who are losing velocity (indicative of arm problems) will throw more junk. I'd hazard a guess that the off-speed guys throw more pitches, or at least go deeper in the counts. That might be less so with cut stuff, since the goal is not to get swings and misses.

Back when I played (at the dawn of videographic data) at least a few organizations were shying already away from cutters, etc., at least in the developmental leagues. The goal is still fastball/change/ overhand curve, then work from there.

I'm pretty sure it's only based on speed and movement. I know reading stuff from people who could answer your question has had them saying things about how certain pitches were on the edge between judged a cutter or slider, etc.

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Steve Stone was a 5'10" pitcher of undistinguished accomplishments but he was an articulate guy. In 1980 at age 32 he resolved to throw more curves. He went 25-7 and won the AL Cy Young award.

The next year he had a sore arm and went 4-7. And then he was out of the league. But his Cy Young award helped him get a color man job with the White Sox.

Stone was also a 34 year old, with a recent history of arm issues, who tweaked his mechanics, and had career highs in starts, CGs, innings, batters faced, and pitches throw the year before.

This being a an economics blog, I wonder if the next market inefficiency to be exploited by MLB teams is to look for H.S. kids who throw hard but didn't play travel. Or, maybe start domestic versions of the Dominican academies and basically have kids play pick-up ball all summer long. Cut out the expense and travel and you'd get a lot more talent playing baseball.

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Or, maybe start domestic versions of the Dominican academies

The Dominican academies were established because there was no draft or anything for foreign players, so if you could identify a stud there, you could grab him early. (it's a system that's largely been broken now with restrictions on signing foreign players). I don't see the point of doing that if your players are just going to enter the draft.

Anyway, I wouldn't be surprised if the inefficiency is players who have played travel and thrown a ton of innings. Pitching prospects burn out at a really high frequency, but there are some freaks out there with rubber arms. Drafting people who have never thrown high workloads is going to lead to an increased number of burnouts.

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To each his/her own but baseball is just frickn boring!!

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Baseball would be fun again if the sabermetricians that have taken over the game with their inane and meaningless statistics moved on to some other obsession. Broadcasters are continually providing statistical nuggets like " This batter last hit a home run on a Friday night off of a red-haired lefty pitcher from California and that's exactly the challenge he's facing tonight!". Evidently they lack material and need better writers.

"He beat him like the left handed, red headed stepchild that he was!"

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So what? Broadcasters don't compete. Truth is, the game is Inherently boring.

" the game is Inherently boring."

By that you probably mean that not enough significant events occur in a given time period during a game. This is true for many would-be spectators. For those that understand baseball, everything that happens during a game is important and, as Tom Boswell says, if the game moved any faster nobody would be able to keep track of it. Part of the problem is the delayed maturation of society, just as thirty-year olds have rejected becoming grown-ups, they've failed to acquire the patience that was once considered an essential element of adulthood. A continuous bombardment of sensory stimuli is deemed important in sporting events. Jillion-dollar scoreboards exhorting the audience to cheer, displaying kissing contests, etc are now normal at all events, apparently because the contest itself isn't compelling enough to keep the attention of the post-baby boomers and millennials.

Look at a photo of the crowd at a 1920s baseball game. It's composed of guys in black suits, white shirts and hats. There are no women. Or kids. Baseball marketers realized that they were ignoring well over half of the potential market and have since made a huge effort to turn baseball into a "family" affair. Women now attend games in droves, with their husbands or boyfriends, a book or kindle in hand, and often spend most of the game texting with their magic phones. Kids are there to play grab butt, irritate the people seated in front of them and eat ultra-expensive junk food. The women are more interested in getting the old man straight home instead of him stopping at the saloon and being late for work the next day.

Old soccer game photos also show guys in black suits, white shirts and hats, no women, no kids. Yet, since then, the fair game has evolved without sacrificing its beauty and moral superiority over other sports to Mammon. One doesn't have to sell one's soul to succeed. Women and kids already appreciate the game, families gather around their TV sets to watch the Brazilian Cup games, the whole nation rejoiced with the Olympic Games' unprecedent gold the Brazilian tean won. The only reason kids don't attend the games at the stadiums during the national competitions is fear of riots and hooligans, it has nothing to do with the game rules, they are already perfect and yield the best possible viewing experience.

What's that got to do with baseball?

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The game is inhrently boring.

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From the guy whose country worships soccer

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That's not sabermetrics. That's the antithesis of sabermetrics and has been around since the 1800's

Who knew that Joe Morgan posted here?

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I agree about the meaningless stats, but don't blame the sabermetricians. Those are the kinds of things that idiot announcers like to talk about. "No team has ever won three games in a row starting on a Thursday night when it rained."

That's the kind of thing the serious stats guys are fighting, not endorsing.

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Get rid of batting gloves....

Why?

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What, wait a minute, baseball was once fun?

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The best pitcher in Chicago baseball history (that isn't saying much) is Mark Buehrle of the White Sox. He has a World Series ring and a perfect game.

Buehrle had an 85 mph fastball and a changeup. That's it. But he worked fast, threw strikes, hit his spots, changed speeds, and got guys to hit ground balls. He had a lot of complete games, he always saved the bullpen. And his games were always less than 2-1/2 hours.

The funny thing is that he learned all this from David Wells, who had a short stint in Chicago early in Buehrle's career.

Baseball needs more Mark Buehrles.

The best pitcher in Chicago baseball history (that isn’t saying much) is Mark Buehrle of the White Sox

Fergie Jenkens was quite a lot better, off the top of my head. Chris Sale, excluding his rookie season, has had all 5 of his seasons be better than all but one of Buerhle's and he's on pace to surpass him in a few years, assuming he stays in Chicago.

Zambrano wasn't quite as good as Buehrle, especially given Buehrle's advantage in seasons played, but would probably have been viewed more positively (as a pitcher, not a person) if he had played in the current era. Although Buehrle also consistently out-pitched his predicted results, too

Chris Sale's only hope is to be dealt to the Cubs!

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Geez, what about Early Wynn?

Billy Pierce?

I gave my criteria: best pitcher on a World Series winning team and the perfect game. I'm sure some young gun on the current Cubs team will give him a run for his money.

The only starter close to a "young gun" on the Cubs is Hendricks, and he's unlikely, even given his incredible season this year. And they don't have much in the pipeline. They're planning on trades and free agents to fill stating spots, and neither of those is likely to wind up with them receiving 20 year old stud pitching prospects

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And what about my larger point? Throw fastballs, throw strikes, keep the game moving makes for a much better baseball game?

Well they're not about to throw more strikes if it's going to make their performance worse. Maybe someone could make a game theory argument that they should be throwing it closer to the heart of the plate than they do, but I haven't seen it

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Or, at least re best season, there's Maddux, Kerry Wood, Three-Finger Brown, Rick Suttcliffe, and Ted Lyons.

How many World Series rings do those guys have? Any perfect games?

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WS rings and perfect games are just about the dumbest ways to decide who the best pitchers of all time are. Unless you think Tom Browning is the best pitcher in Cincinnati Reds history, which perhaps you do.

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So after Arrieta wins a World Series next year, are you going to be calling him the best pitcher in Chicago history? I hope not.

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Buehrle is 61st all time among pitchers in the century and a half of baseball history in wins above replacement, the current premiere statistic.

That's better than Hall of Famers Early Wynn, Sandy Koufax, and Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown.

I'd vote for Tommy John for the Hall of Fame before Buehrle (Tommy John is really famous), but Buehrle ought to be a very interesting guy.

WAR isn't really a statistic, given that it's not standardized; different people calculate it in different ways. How much control do pitchers have over batted balls in play? How much credit goes to the catcher and to the players in the field? How do you account for sequencing? And so forth. It's a heuristic.

Sure, but his point is that Buerhle is sneakily comparable to many other HOFers, but he probably won't get in. Kind of like Tim Raines, who definitely deserves to be there.

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fWAR/bWAR are at least consistent with themselves, so you can judge the fWAR of two players and feel reasonably confident that you're getting a good reading (as long as a lot of their value wasn't from defense, anyway)

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For the record, there are a few different premiere statistics for looking at pitching. RA9 is, I believe, the best for showing how good a pitcher's actual results were. fWAR is more about how good a pitcher's peripherals say he should have been, and bWAR is similar to RA9

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