Half-baked ideas, Vol. 1by Derek Ambrosino
August 29, 2012
I’m a fan of the Bill Simmons and Kevin Wildes podcasts in which they discuss “half-baked ideas.” For those unfamiliar with this feature: Wildes usually takes the lead in bringing up a variety of pitches for services, products or businesses. These ideas seem good to Wildes (they are often, but not always, pretty clever), but they haven’t been substantially vetted. Through the conversation, Wildes and Simmons kick the tires a bit and get a better sense of the viability of the idea.
So, I thought it would be fun to do a similar column here focusing exclusively on changes to the game of baseball.
As in the podcast, I plan to write this column as a recurring feature with no predetermined schedule. Your job is simple—read and react. Tell me if these are good ideas. Tell me if they are bad. Can we make them better? Am I overlooking something obvious (or not so obvious) that would preclude the idea from being feasible?
Remember, these are just ideas. I haven’t done extensive research relating to them; they’re half-baked—springboards for discussion. I think this should be fun. So let’s get into the first of three ideas for discussion today.
The Joe Girardi rule
This is the first of two rule proposals I’ll be offering today. This one is named after Joe Girardi because it attempts to foreclose a tactic I often see him use. When he needs to make a pitching change, but the pitcher set to come in has had minimal time to warm up, I often observe Yankee pitchers making a few throws to first base to give the pitcher warming up a few more throws. (I know other managers do this, too.) I find this annoying, and more importantly a loophole that allows a team to get away with not getting its relievers up promptly enough. It’s a way to mitigate poor planning.
So, here’s my proposal. For every pick-off attempt a pitcher makes, he must throw an equal number of pitches to the batter (or complete the at-bat) before being removed for a reliever. To cover the possibility of a pitcher suffering an injury (or a team claiming a pitcher suffered an injury), the alternative would be that if the pitcher is removed without having thrown an equal number of pitches to the batter, the batter is awarded a number of automatic balls equal to the disparity between pitches thrown and pick-off attempts.
So, if a pitcher makes two pick-off attempts without throwing a pitch to the batter and is then taken out of the game, the batter begins the at-bat against the new pitcher in a 2-0 count.
The impetus behind this rule has nothing to do with a desire to speed up the game. I just want to block a disingenuous stall tactic managers use to buy time for their relievers to warm up. One can theoretically make pick-off throws forever; this should not a substitute for proper bullpen management and planning.
Conquering batting order determinism
Last week, in a minor league game between the Augusta GreenJackets and the Greenville Drive, there were numerous instances of a team batting out of order, including instances of batting out of during the first time through the line-up. This struck me as strange.
How can you violate an order that has not even directly established?
I know a team must declare its starting lineup to the umpires prior to the game. But why need this be the case? Is there anything inherent to the game that benefits from a team committing to the order in which its players hit befoe their first trip to the batter’s box?
It seems to me, and I’ve done no research on this—half-baked, remember—that this rule is a concession to the media and not rooted in any practical benefit to the game itself. It’s surely in the interest of broadcasters, official scorers, statkeepers, etc. to know the batting orders before the game begins. But, doesn’t it sort of hurt the team? Wouldn’t it be interesting if a team didn’t have to declare the order, but could rather send up its players in whatever order the manager felt most beneficial? Of course, after everybody hits once, the order is then formally established and must be followed going forward.
Think about all the strategies would open up by taking the handcuffs off managers here. Would they bat players in different orders depending on how the early innings are shaping up in terms of base/out states? Would they rather go with a set line-up regardless? How would players react to the idea of not knowing exactly where in the order they were going to hit?
A question this idea begs is whether the team that’s batting first would even have to declare which players are its starters. Of course, once a player goes into the field, he’s “in the game.” So, the home team’s starters would be established in the top of the first, even if its batting order was still to be decided. But one could argue that you needn’t even declare who is “in the game” until they have to do something related to being in the game, and therefore the visitor would get the advantage of being able to bring its batters out as surprises to the opposing pitcher.
This would be jarring, as it would confer an advantage to the visiting team, which counters the established dynamic of the sport. So, perhaps the visitors do have to declare their nine, but don’t have to state the order in advance.
Oh, and here’s a strategic cousin to this idea. If you are the away team, why not announce your best-hitting starter as your starting pitcher every day and then take him out before he throws a single pitch if you do not get to his spot in the order in the first inning. If he’s not going to pitch in the game, you might as well give yourself the potential marginal edge you’d gain if he did get to bat in the top of the first instead of your actual starter.
This rule proposal was prompted by the notion that it seems oxymoronic to be able to bat out of order in your first time through the order.
Discounted concessions during rain delays
This is not a rule change, but a prospective ballpark policy.
I’ve been spending more and more time in Washington, D.C. recently. Damn day job. This means that I’ve been attending a good number of Nationals games. Did you know that they have a Happy Hour prior to the game? On weekdays, beers are $5 at the scoreboard pavilion beginning 90 minutes before the first pitch. On weekends, the deal starts an hour earlier. And, how about this: If the game begins in rain delay, the deal runs 2.5 hours from when the ballpark gates open. Not bad, huh?
Once you get out of the premium seats, teams are making their money by having their patrons spend at the concession stands. (Frankly, once the game starts, they should just give out unpurchased tickets for free and hope the people coming in buy a dog and a brew.) But, when a game goes into a rain delay, people often leave. This means a major loss on expected revenue for the team. So, the question becomes how to keep people in the ballpark during rain delays.
Enter half-priced food and drinks!
The mark-up at the concessions is so exorbitant that the team is certainly not taking anything on the arm to give the discount. Meanwhile, you likely retain more fans. I think it’s a clear win-win here. As the team, you’d keep butts in your seats and win some PR points from your fans by doing it. As a fan, you get a bit of an economic incentive to stick out some bad weather.
One potential snag with this plan involves beer, which is really the core of my personal stake in this proposal. I know that some states have laws against drink promotions like happy hours. While many local bars will skirt them, it’s probably less viable for a major sports arena (that likely received public funding) to do so. I’m not sure if this policy would be in violation of those kinds of laws, but I assume we could find a workaround in certain markets if needed.
This proposal was inspired by my desire to increase my consumption of beer at games while simultaneously decreasing the amount of money I spend on beer.
So, there we are, the first three half-baked ideas for the wise commentariat of THT to stew up, pretty up, or rip apart. Have at it.
Derek Ambrosino aspires to one day, like Dan Quisenberry, find a delivery in his flaw, you can send him questions, comments, or suggestions at digglahhh AT yahoo DOT com.