Remake the game of baseball in one simple step

Ballparks aren't as big as they used to be (via Tom Thai).

Ballparks aren’t as big as they used to be (via Tom Thai).

Last year, there was an outpouring of rage over how many strikeouts there are in baseball. This followed outrage over how long games are and how many homers are being hit. Though the latter two have faded somewhat, what we’re really talking about is many people’s desire for a game that involves the fielders more, because more action equals more excitement. At least, that’s the idea, and it’s one I agree with. So I’m going to propose a solution that will affect all three. I am magical in that way.

Ready? Here we go.

Let us first take as a given that today’s baseball players are generally better than those in days of yore. They are more highly trained. Their games are more perfected. There is less margin for error. Let us then also acknowledge that much of what was once regarded as standard in the game became standard when a lesser athlete was on the field. One such standardization was and is ballpark size.

In 1915, before things were really standardized, the average ballpark was 365 feet down the left field line and 332 feet down the right field line. The center field wall was 454 feet away. Compare this to today’s 331-407-328 average and it’s clear that there was a lot more room out there back before Babe Ruth graced us with his presence. Of course, I doubt this is surprising to anybody. It wasn’t long after Ruth, though, that parks started to standardize and the 330-400-330 model has been pretty normal for a long, long time.

The difference is that athletes today are better and hitters have figured out that if they swing hard enough, there will eventually be payoff. No more choking up with two strikes. Instead, they go all-out all the time. That means lots of strikeouts and long home runs. Last year, the average home run distance was 397 feet. That’s just 10 feet short of the average center field wall. Isn’t it supposed to be hard to hit one out to center? In fact, only 122 home runs that cleared a wall were under 350 feet. That’s out of more than 4,600.

So here’s my little plan. Instead of a 331-407-328 average, let’s move it more toward 350-425-350. Think about what that would do. Right away, of course, it reduces the number of home runs, which may be a good or a bad thing, but it also reduces scoring, which shortens games.

I think there’s more to it, though. I think there’s a ripple effect that goes like this:

Right now, a lot of teams stash lumbering sluggers in the outfield corners, but if, all of a sudden, you have that same slow-footed guy out there trying to cover 20 extra feet and if that same slugger is now hitting five or 10 fewer homers, maybe your opinion of him changes and instead, you go with a fleet-footed contact hitter.

There will still be power hitters, of course, but with the walls farther away, maybe it becomes more tempting to just try to make contact when behind in the count. And because of that, maybe those hitters also strike out a bit less.

So what does that game look like? It probably looks like some weird cross between the 1980s and now. Home runs would obviously be way down, but so would strikeouts. Scoring would be lower and games thus a bit shorter, but there would be a lot more extra base hits. Triples and inside-the-park home runs would become more commonplace and there would be a lot more doubles. Defense would matter a lot more.

Pitchers would also likely go deeper into games as their pitch counts probably drop in this scenario. That would mean fewer relief pitchers and more interesting benches with real pinch hitters taking a spot or two on the pine. In short, it would make some movement toward “fixing” just about everything people complain about.

I’m not going to pretend I think this will actually happen, but it would make for an interesting experiment. I doubt very much that the effect on the game would be greater than when the mound was lowered and it’s a simple solution that doesn’t require anything more than MLB setting some kind of minimum distances for the fences.

Print Friendly
 Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on Google+0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone
« Previous: The Marlins might not be terrible this season
Next: The Screwball: Home advantage »

Comments

  1. DrBGiantsfan said...

    Hasn’t this already been tried with Petco Park and Citi Field before they moved in the fences?

    Baseball is in an extreme power pitching era right now.  As K’s continue to climb and power continues to decline, there is no reason a team should not try the contact/gap power approach now without changing park dimensions.  In fact, the Giants have been doing this for several years now and have had some success.

  2. Andrew said...

    I am not sure it would have the effect you expect, at least not in the short term.  For example, if you look at David Wrights statistics before and after the Mets move to Citi Field with its larger dimensions, his K% jumped from 16% – 23%.  After they moved the fences back in after complaints, his K% dropped back down to 16.

  3. Jim said...

    I thought you were serious until the third paragraph, then after reading that, I became convinced this was a meant as satire.
    Thanks for the laugh.

  4. Anon21 said...

    Jim: What did you take to be satirical about that? Do you actually think ballplayers from past eras could compete with today’s players?

  5. Jason Linden said...

    This was meant to be at least partially tongue-in-cheek. However, I think it would work if it were done league-wide. If just one or two teams do it, it’s not enough to tip league-wide practices. But if everyone did it, there would be real changes to the game.

    And yes, I believe today’s players are better than yesterdays. If for no other reason than that they are drawn from a vastly larger and more diverse population.

  6. Elf said...

    What parks really need is more foul territory. You’re seeing longer and lnoger at-bats because batters keep fouling off pitches that not too long ago could’ve been caught in foul territory. But the new parks try to get the fans as close to the field as possible so they can sell those seats at a premium.

    Personally, I’d like a rule that says a relief pitcher must face at least two batters after being brough tin. None of this changing pitchers every single batter garbage.

  7. james wilson said...

    No less a student of the game than Ted Williams proclaimed today’s player superior to his era, much less an earlier one. But it’s not only that. Look at the video of Jim Maloney’s no hitter against the Cubs in 1965. There were heavyweights on both teams, but the game was looser, no question. Each pitch, each at-bat, is more competitive now. That doesn’t slow the game down in every case, but in general it does. Yankees-Red Sox is a prima donna show at the plate.

    Another evolution in the game is in taking pitches and running counts. The old timers who did that were known for it because they were the exception. Tommy John’s manager in his White Sox days would buy him a new suit whenever he threw under 70 pitches in a CG. Two ground ball pitchers on their game could finish in 1:20. Neither of these things will never happen again.

  8. Paul G. said...

    The David Wright example is not a good one.  Not only is a small sample size, he seemed fairly desperate to play his game in the new park as he had in his old park, which didn’t work as well.  If the park sizes did increase, you would probably see many sluggers flailing similarly while others adjust.

    As to the suggestion on tap, more strikeouts are most certainly a product of a greater emphasis on home runs.  There are other ways to adjust home run totals without the park facelifts.  For instance, Bill James suggested that forcing players to use thicker bats – much of modern power comes from whipping thin, lights bats at high speed – would do the trick.  At the time, it had the added bonus of mitigating the shattered bat syndrome, which fortunately has been reduced significantly since his proposition.

  9. Fatbot said...

    I love it, but in the tongue-in-cheek spirit, how will you convince the superior “advanced stat” crowd that strikeouts are bad? For one thing, they have mathematically determined a strike out is no worse than any other out. So all you would be doing is having people run around to make the same amount of outs, so who cares?

    Next, baseball research has discovered that any ball that’s a hit other than a HR is only due to luck. Indeed, a pitcher that induced a ground ball out probably only did so because of lucky defense, stadium, time and temp, groundskeeper, angle of sun, Justin Bieber’s BAC level, or lastly, skill.

    Suggesting a batter make contact and leave the result to luck is silly because the only batter skills are walks, K and HR. So a better suggestion in line to where the game has advanced would be remake the game into a home run derby since that’s a true outcome skill.

    Bottom line, you have not provided any research, you have no acronym stats that back any of your points (in particular all capital letter ones that start with lower case x or w), nor have any YTY correlations of proof.

    Your suggestion is so outlandish it might seem that it’s worth actually putting a ball in play, and that watching baseball when the game is played as it was meant to be played is more fun than math.

    • buddaley said...

      Your comment, Fatbot, is wrong on two counts. First you misrepresent sabermetric research by parodying it. Sabermetricians do not say that the results of all hits other than home runs are due to luck. They have refined that analysis dramatically since the introduction of BABIP notions stimulated research into the matter.

      And second, a major element of sabermetric research is to continually refine our understanding of the game and to respond to changes in the conditions under which it is played. Emphatically, it is not a set of orthodox views that are considered universal. That is the traditionalist approach, and a reason the traditionalists so often miss the point.

      So, should the context change, sabermetric researchers would account for that in its evaluation of the significance of strikeouts. You see, the point is to keep up with changes, not to blindly hang on to engrained prejudices.

  10. Jason Linden said...

    Well, you’re a prickly one, Fatbot.

    I’m actually quite sabr-inclined myself and would agree that an out is just an out for the purposes of winning and losing. But the game is more fun to watch win the ball is put in play (in my opinion).

    I think most sabr-folk and other folk would agree with me on that.

    As for how it was meant to be played, I assumeyou don’t refer to tossing underhand as was initially done.

  11. tz said...

    Another way to increase the number of balls put in play would be to increase the amount of fair territory.  Instead of having 1st and 3rd bases at 45 degree angles to the midline of the field, increase this to say 60 degrees each way.

    Your 3B and SS would need stronger arms, and your corner OFs would have to have a lot of range.  Of course you might end up having to reconfigure the outfield fences so the foul poles aren’t very close, but think about it.

  12. Mac said...

    In response to Fatbot:

    Just because a hitter relies on in play (BABIP) contact to generate offense isn’t bad. Right now average BABIP sits around .280 or so (that’s from memory, someone should fact check). In bigger parks, BABIP will go up league-wide, thus making all contact hitters more valuable. Avoiding K’s for contact hitters still results in more overall offense. Just because there’s a luck component so what? Ever think that there’s also a luck componant to HR with park effects. Power hitters hit more HR, but that potential HR power is dependent on where you are when you get that 390 foot drive.

    HR are great because they’re instant runs. Walks are great because they’re never outs. Strikeouts are auto-outs. Not good. Hits are an interesting mix of about 2/3 out, 1/3 hit. Batters can build offensive value in all sorts of ways with this mix.

  13. AJ said...

    Another possible result of substantially longer fences across all stadiums could be a decline of PED use among hitters.  As HRs decrease, and high-strikeout, defensively-challenged HR hitters fall from favor, the better paid players would be well-rounded, as the author points out.  I don’t suspect being bulked up is nearly as great an advantage is this scenario.

  14. AJ said...

    Another possible result of substantially longer fences across all stadiums could be a decline of PED use among hitters.  As HRs decrease, and high-strikeout, defensively-challenged HR hitters fall from favor, the better paid players would be well-rounded, as the author points out.  I don’t suspect being a bulked up offensive player is nearly as great an advantage is this scenario.  On the other hand, if PEDs helped Clemens’ performance then you can imagine the pitching lines if the games was changed in this way.

  15. Mike said...

    More walks = longer games. Simple.

    Once QuesTech, K-Zone, and other similar electronic strike zones were introduced, the games got longer because if an umpire calls a pitch that’s not a strike a strike, everyone watching the game can tell he missed the call. Why are the Red Sox / Yankee games so long? Both teams are patient at the plate and don’t swing at bad balls. if it’s just off the plate, they won’t swing.

    Anyone that ever watched Tom Glavine pitch knows this. Once that umpire gave him a strike 6 inches off the plate, he owned those hitters. They HAD to swing at pitches outside the strike zone, or get called out on strikes. Glavine literally made a career of doing that. If they called the game as tight as they do now, he wouldn’t have become a Hall of Famer.

  16. gdc said...

    Lotta comments here.  Worst part of either making playing area or foul territory bigger is that it moves paying audience further.  Making the game more athletic and less longball would not have an effect on PED usage, as runners and cyclists are as interested as weightlifters.

  17. Marc Schneider said...

    IMO, rather than moving fences back, they need to set a time limit on pitches and enforce it.  Make the hitters stand in the damn box and make the pitchers throw the damn ball.  I was watching a 1961 game on YouTube the other day and you didn’t see hitters stepping out and fiddling with whatever while they think about what to have for dinner like they do now or pitchers acting as if the fate of the universe depended on the next pitch.  Make them play, even in the playoffs.  That would help the game a lot.

  18. SanDane said...

    I agree with Jason.  Would like to see more action more often in the playing field (larger ballparks or higher fences).

    The thinking that physically the players have evolved and are outplaying the current average dimensions is correct (like the need to lower the pitching mound in 1969).  Just as the NBA should change the height of the basketball rim due to the average player’s height has increased over the decades.

  19. Bill said...

    I don’t really see how moving the fences back would result in less scoring. Sure some balls would be caught but also I see more triples or inside the park home runs being hit, which may breed more excitment. Overall I think it would be basically a wash.

  20. spudchukar said...

    Shortening games would be ideal. But what are the chances? Longer games mean more commercials. Fat Chance.

  21. Jim Detry said...

    You can produce the same results without spending a dime on moving fences. Simply deaden the ball.
    They don’t even have to admit they did it. And if it doesn’t work well, they can juice the ball back up at any time, again at no cost.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>