December 13, 2013
Get It Now!Hardball Times Annual is now available. It's got 300 pages of articles, commentary and even a crossword puzzle. You can buy the Annual at Amazon, for your Kindle or on our own page (which helps us the most financially). However you buy it, enjoy!
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THT's latest e-bookThird Base: The Crossroads is THT's new e-book, available for $3.99 from the Kindle store. The good news is that anyone can read a Kindle book, even on a PC. So enjoy the best from THT in a new format.
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Wednesday, February 06, 2013
5,000 days ago, baseball entered the replay era. Okay, so it didn’t intend to do so, but nevertheless that’s what happened. League offices had issued no directives or orders to umpires to use replay. However, they hadn’t strictly banned umps from doing so. And that’s all one umpire needed when he decided to do things his way.
It was May 31, 1999 and the Marlins hosted the Cardinals. In the bottom of the fifth, the home fish trailed 4-1 with two outs and a runner on second with left fielder Cliff Floyd at the plate.
After swinging and missing at the first offering from St. Louis hurler Kent Bottenfield, Floyd connected on the next pitch. It went to the wall in left field and over—but there was some uncertainty. Was it a clean home run or did it hit the top of the fence first and then bounce over?
The man with the call to make was third base umpire Frank Pulli. A crew chief and veteran of nearly 30 years, Pulli was nearing the end of his umping career. Going by his instincts, he initially called it a home run. After all, it did go over the wall and when it doubt, call it a homer.
But Pulli had some doubt. He wasn’t sure if it clipped the top of the wall, but he also wasn’t sure he got the call right. And this call was a big deal— homers are the biggest play in the game. Pulli didn’t like the look he had of it and so ….
Ah, hell with it—why not? Pulli had 27 years under his belt so there wasn’t much the league could do about it. He went to the dugout camera and had the TV people run him a series of replays to determine if the ball really was a home run or not.
Turns out it wasn’t. Pulli was right to not trust himself. Instead of a two-run homer, Floyd had a one-run double, and soon died at second base. I’m sure the Marlins weren’t happy about that outcome. I’m sure the fans in Miami (21,943 paid, but who knows how many actually attending) weren’t happy. Heck, major league baseball’s offices weren’t happy. But there was nothing anyone could do about it. The game was going on and Pulli was crew chief—and he decided to personally begin instant replay review in baseball.
It ultimately made no difference. The Cardinals won easily, 5-2. The league offices chastised Pulli, but he was on the way out anyway. And in the long run, the powers that be decided Pulli was on to something. It took the better part of a decade, but eventually major league baseball did institute instant replay—a very limited form. League officials limited it to judging home run balls, just as Pulli had done – and he did it 5,000 days ago.
Aside from that, many other events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that happened X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
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At every level of every organization, baseball teams have a group of players they call "organizational players," or more accurately, "non-prospects." At best, they exist to provide depth for the team, and at worst, they exist to put a team on the field so the prospects can get plate appearances and innings pitched.
However, when organizational players make the leap to prospect status—or even major league regular—it's seen as a huge surplus value for the organization. Turning 30th-round draft picks into average major leaguers is something that not only the Tampa Bay Rays and Houston Astros can get jazzed about. For each cost-controlled player produced in this way, the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers can spend that many more millions of dollars on free agents, draft compensation and international pool spending.
Surplus value drives everything that front offices do when it comes to player acquisition and retention. However, while teams continue to pour money and understanding into the scouting and analytical departments, player development continues to lag. As I mentioned in my previous articles about how baseball failed two non-prospects, players who are no longer considered to be part of the pipeline to the big leagues tend to get shoved to the wayside.
Two anecdotes follow about my experiences with training baseball players:
An acquaintance of mine was a top-five-round draft pick as a pitcher out of college, and he earned a significant bonus as a result. However, after a few years of declining velocity, he began to fall out of favor in the organization. Desperate for help, he found out that the organization had a very expensive biomechanics facility where multiple high-speed cameras could film and digitize his pitching motion. Not knowing much about this, he tracked down the pitching coordinator and arranged to go through the lab.
After he did so, the researchers handed him and his coaches a printout with the relevant mechanical data (kinematics, kinetics, joint loads, angular velocities, etc) and he inquired on how this data could be used to improve his pitching performances. The coaches had no idea, and basically trashed the report, leaving him with a stack of paperwork that required an advanced understanding of kinesiology to grasp.
A current client of mine has been in the minor leagues for some time, having already been involved in a trade for another non-prospect. He sought out our program to improve/maintain fastball velocity, and despite having been in two "progressive" organizations, he said that the information I passed on to him was completely lacking at the professional level. He will be attending his first big league camp in an attempt to break into the parent organization's bullpen, and he felt he needed to look outside the organization for a reasonable fastball development program.
In a blog article I wrote titled Making the Sabermetric Argument for Increasing Fastball Velocity, I discussed what it would be worth to an organization to increase a replacement-level pitcher's fastball velocity from 86 to 90 mph (a common drop in velocity in journeymen pitchers—a great example being Scott Kazmir). The not-so-surprising answer is that it's worth a heck of a lot!
And so, I propose a basic risk-free model to adding surplus value: Take the group of pitchers you plan on releasing from baseball due to declining fastball velocity (this is a large group in any organization, I promise you), and offer them the chance to go through an experimental program in extended spring training or another venue to improve their arm strength. If they refuse, release them. If they accept (and many would, knowing the writing was on the wall), test out a six-to-eight-week program designed to improve their velocities. What do you have to lose?