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Introduction & Mission Statement

max scherzer vs jack morris

Photo on left (Max Scherzer) – Julian H. Gonzalez/Detroit Free Press. Photo on right (Jack Morris) – Screenshot of MLB video.

Last year, I picked up a pen to write my first baseball article after the Hall of Fame voting results were announced. I’ve always been a baseball fan; some years more so than others. I also played competitively throughout my youth, and had a hobby of collecting baseball cards. For some reason, last year, I felt compelled to research statistical data and put my thoughts down as it pertained to the elimination of Jack Morris from the Hall of Fame ballot.

Over the last few years, there have been a growing number of teams, writers, reporters, bloggers and even players who study sabermetrics to find out the true value of an individual’s performance to the game and their team. I, too, have delved into advanced statistics that were not available when I was collecting baseball cards as a kid. It allows everyone to have a better perspective on the game.

The truth is sabermetrics (statistical analysis) has been around for a while; but with new media and faster technology, it is now easier to access the data than it has ever been before. Baseball Think Factory and Baseball Prospectus each debuted on the web in 1996 and it looks like Baseball-Reference has been around since 2000; which is the first year I accessed it. When the MLB Network launched in 2009, shows like Clubhouse Confidential (2011) exposed a wider audience to a deeper understanding of comparative analysis.

Advanced statistics have also allowed low-budget teams like the Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland Athletics to compete against the big market teams. Applying defensive shifts and utilizing the strengths and weaknesses of their players, teams don’t have to spend the most money to win. This is great for baseball… but has it gone too far?

According to Baseball Prospectus, the average time of game in 2014 was 3.13 hours. The highest it’s ever been. This would not be a problem if run scoring was also at an all-time high… but offense is actually down. While I have no problem with the decline of offense, the problem is you have a longer game with less offense. Basically, there is a lot of down time in games with no action. Why is this?

While the advent of Instant Replay plays a role in extending the time of game, it’s not the only reason why the game is longer. Defensive shifts were also at an all-time high in 2014. The time it takes for coaches to align players in the right spot and for the pitcher to wait for the third basemen to move into shallow right field takes longer than it would to throw a pitch between an at-bat with no shift. This can add up over the duration of the game depending on how many shifts are employed. I’m not advocating eliminating shifts as I feel it is the hitter’s responsibility to take advantage of the huge gaps that defenses are giving him. It does show, though, that the use of new data can slow down the pace of game.

Prolonged at-bats, the increase in the average time between pitches thrown, and the increase in strikeouts also contribute to longer game times; but the biggest lull in the game comes when managers use the bullpen. This is when the game slows down to a standstill. It can feel similar to when an NBA basketball team commits an intentional foul to slow down the game clock in order to get a competitive advantage. It leads to another commercial break on TV, and it can lead to a long line of fans waiting to use the restroom at the ballpark. Now, pitching changes have always taken place in the history of the game; but they have increased recently as pitching counts rise and managers try to get the best possible match-ups according to their data.

Using the MLB pitching splits gathered at baseball-reference.com, I discovered that there were 7,331 relief appearances in 1988 and 14,239 relief appearances in 2009. Taking the number of relief appearances and dividing it by the number of games played in the season (162) and dividing that number by the number of teams in the league… I was able to determine the average number of relief appearances per team for a single game. It works out to 1.75 relief appearances per game in 1988 and 2.93 relief appearances in 2009. So that’s a 67% increase in relief appearances.

That was in 2009. During the 2014 season, there were 14,463 relief appearances. So, basically MLB currently averages 3 relief appearances per team for every game in the season. The time it takes for a pitching change varies; but let’s say on average it’s roughly 3 minutes. That would mean that pitching changes add an average of 18 minutes to a game (if they take place during the inning and not between innings), given that there are 6 pitching changes per game. That’s 18 minutes of no action.

This is what brings me to my original article that I wrote in January of 2014; The Jack Morris Debate & The Biggest Flaw Of The Sabermetrics Community. I explained that I thought the writers missed out on electing Jack Morris in his last year on the ballot. While sabermetrics helped the candidacy of someone like Bert Blyleven, they hurt the candidacy of Jack Morris. He was a throwback type of pitcher, who at times was inconsistent; but still threw a lot of innings. In 1983, he threw 7 straight complete games that he and his team won.  Do you want to speed up the pace of game? Reward the players who pitch deep into games.

I never thought that Morris was a cinch to get in the Hall of Fame, but the vitriol surrounding his candidacy was interesting to me. If you posted a comment on a website that you thought Morris deserved to get in, stat geeks would show up saying, “Morris was terrible. He was barely above average. His ERA, ERA+, FIP, Strikeout-to-Walk ratio, WAR stats were all below many pitchers who are not in the Hall. He never won a Cy Young, etc, etc….” This is the fork in the road that got me thinking about what the game of baseball is. Is it a data spreadsheet or is it a game of action?

When I was pitching in Little League or High School, I would calculate my E.R.A. after the season and compare it to other players on my team and other players in the league. It was an exercise to see where I stand. But, if another pitcher had a slightly better E.R.A. than me, it didn’t always mean that they were better than me or vice versa. Sometimes, it reflected the competition. I would know that Pitcher A hadn’t faced this team or that Player B was injured, so the lineup was a collection of easy outs. You can’t quantify certain anomalies.

The new theory is: starting pitchers don’t need to pitch deep into games. The bullpen is there and ready to go. The days of the complete game are over. You have a better chance of playing match-ups late in the game. The LOOGY (Lefty One-Out GuY) will come in and get his one out, then another pitcher will come in and then another pitcher; but with the average time of game over 3 hours… is this the best way to maintain interest in the game?

Sometimes you need to reward action, competitiveness and passion. You want to watch a story unfold in front of you. The game has become a little too robotic. There is too much money at stake to make a mistake, so fewer chances are being taken. It was fun to watch Morris compete through the 10th inning of Game 7 in the 1991 World Series. You are taken on a journey with that person. You feel the fatigue that they feel. It makes you want to be in that position with them.

When Madison Bumgarner came out of the bullpen in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, it became must-see TV. You knew that he was going to try to finish the game. You wanted to see it play out. Would he pull off one of the greatest postseason performances ever or would the Royals finally get to him? It was a little more exciting than having the LOOGY come in, then the setup guy, etc… At that point no one was caring about the stats or probabilities of winning. Everyone knew the best chance the San Francisco Giants had of winning was with Bumgarner… no matter what the stats told you.

I realize there are times when leaving the starting pitcher in too long can be the wrong move. The most famous example is when Grady Little left Pedro Martinez in for the eighth inning of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. The Yankees came from behind to defeat the Red Sox and win the ballgame. Was leaving Martinez in the wrong move? Maybe…..Did it make the game more interesting? Yes…..Did it slow down the action? No.

Now it is February 7th, 2015… less than two weeks until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. There have been some interesting developments this offseason. Max Scherzer was one of the top free agents, and he waited until after the NFL Conference Championship games in January to announce he signed with the Washington Nationals. For a pitcher who has thrown only one complete game in his entire MLB career, it was interesting to see that he received a contract worth 210 million dollars over 7 years of playing time.

I’ve always been a Max Scherzer fan, but to be honest I thought the amount of money in his contract was a little excessive. It also made me look at him in a different light. In my eyes, he went from being a happy-go-lucky teammate to someone who conservatively saved his pitches for a big payday. Recently, Jim Leyland was asked if he would change anything about the 2013 ALCS: “I’m not going to change what I did and say I’m sorry that I did that,” Leyland said. “Had I known David Ortiz was going to hit a home run, yeah, I would’ve walked him. That doesn’t bother me.”

MLB.com’s Jason Beck states, “Leyland had his bullpen lined up the way he wanted in Game 2 once starter Max Scherzer told him (the skipper) he was done after seven innings of two-hit ball. With a 5-1 lead, Leyland had lefties and righties to go batter for batter. Whether he had his best matchup for Ortiz will be long debated.

Let’s read that again: “Max Scherzer told the skipper he was done after seven innings of two-hit ball.”

Compare that with: “I just didn’t want to quit and somehow we figured out a way to win this thing.” – World Series MVP Jack Morris following his performance in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

Now, I have no idea how Max would have performed had he tried to pitch that 8th inning of Game 2 of the 2013 ALCS. He threw 108 pitches. That is a good amount. The only thing I know is that the Detroit Tigers lost the game anyway, so why not try to pitch until the manager takes you out. That’s the unquantifiable statistic that Morris wins out on. Sparky Anderson never had to worry about whether Morris could pitch the 8th inning in a big game.

So, Max Scherzer turned his I haven’t thrown a lot of pitches for a 30-year-old” free agent profile into a 210 million dollar payday. Good for him. He saved his bullets and turned it into a winning lottery ticket. I would rather have seen him throw a few extra pitches for the Tigers when they needed him to go longer into the game. That’s what makes a Hall of Famer to me… not ERA+

Following the 1991 season, Jack Morris became a free agent. Did he care that he was throwing too many pitches in the playoffs that year? Did Madison Bumgarner think about the repercussions that his rising pitch counts will have on his 2018 free agency status? What about Pedro Martinez? Randy Johnson? Heck no. They were living in the moment; not worrying about their free agent profiles. These are the stories that should be told. This is baseball.

THIS IS BASEBALL UNPLUGGED.

Mission Statement: To give old school baseball fans a chance to unplug from the status quo. To create new stats that quantify durability, skill, toughness and/or team collaboration. To provide a unique experience from other baseball sites. To talk about baseball situations that will arise throughout the year… and to have fun.

Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
-Robert Frost

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