By Max Kaplan, “The voice of the millennial sports fan”
We millennials are losing interest and it’s not our fault.
We can’t sit through another 4-hour MLB game with 11 pitching changes and 15 walks.
We groan every time a batter steps out of the box to re-adjust his batting gloves for the third time since the last pitch. Or when the pitcher starts pacing around the mound, fondling the rosin bag.
We think “get on with it” when the manager takes a full minute to decide whether to challenge a play and then challenges it – and the fans are gifted another 3-minute stoppage.
It’s not the 10-9 slugfest that’s the problem – it’s the 3-2 game that takes 3.5 hours where nothing happens.
In a game earlier this month, “Make Baseball Fun Again” Bryce Harper faced 27 pitches and didn’t swing at a single one. Great…
The baseball establishment mocks and shames the millennials for not watching the game the “right way.” They patronize our short attention spans and our “addiction” to social media. They say we don’t “respect” the game’s tradition.
I played baseball ‘till high school, have attended over 200 MLB games across 23 different stadiums in my life.
Rob, you need me and my friends – maybe not this year, but we are your future revenue stream – and I’m telling you, it ain’t looking good.
My observed reality: college students would rather watch the English Premier League (or literally any other sport) than an unwatchable baseball game on TV.
We think baseball is getting more boring and guess what? We’re right.
Baseball Boredom Index (BBI)
Everyone knows that MLB games are getting longer and longer. But there is also way less stuff happening.
I created a new statistic, called the “Baseball Boredom Index.” Or BBI for short. It is extremely easy to understand. The BBI is how many minutes you have to wait, on average, until something happens in a baseball game.
Let’s say an “action event” is a ball in play, or a stolen base attempt. This is a low bar for excitement. It includes sacrifice bunts, dribblers to 1B, and pop-outs to SS.
How long do you have to wait between these action events? Over three minutes! That’s a full commercial break between every single moment of ‘action.’
And it has trended up ever since the dawn of the game. The last three seasons have been the slowest in MLB history. As teams incorporate sabermetrics, we are seeing record-level strikeout totals, leaving fewer balls in play and more pitches per game.
Mr. Manfred, I leave you with a bold challenge. The gauntlet has been thrown. Bring us back to 2.5 BBI. 1985 is not that long ago.
The pace of play changes in 2015 led to slightly shorter games, and a lower Baseball Boredom Index. The pitch clock experiment in the Minor Leagues proves we can cut another 10-15 minutes from time of game. It’s a start, but not enough to keep our attention. Please hurry!
Rob, the writing is on the wall. You will lose the attention of the millennials (and everyone else) unless more progress is made. In fact, I just got three text messages, a snap, six tweets, four fb notifications since you started reading this so this article is now over. Bye.
Max Kaplan, “The voice of the millennial Sports Fan”, is a graduating senior at Princeton University Engineering School majoring in Operations Research and Financial Engineering. Max’s “Curse of the Home Run Derby” article hit the front page of Yahoo.com in 2011. He has appeared on NFL.com and NFL Network. His favorite sport used to be baseball.
How the Best of the Best Performed Relative to Their Time Period
By Keith Gladstone
Only the best players of a given era are inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, from classic names like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, to the most recent nominees of Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr. Since the MLB era tainted by PEDs saw unthinkable, sky-high hitting totals, the question of who deserves a seat in the Hall of Fame is open for debate. The great differences in eras alone can convolute our interpretation of the game’s statistics, so in this article I will introduce a method of comparison.
Indeed, I did an analysis to normalize the career HR totals of all Hall of Famers based on their historical era. Babe Ruth held the career home run record at 714 upon retiring in 1935. Hank Aaron shattered the record almost 40 years years later, but what does this actually mean? Was Hank Aaron better than Babe Ruth?
I calculated a new statistic to measure a player’s HR performance relative to the era in which they played. I call it the “Home Runs to Benchmark Ratio.”
HR to Benchmark Ratio = Annual Career HR Average / HR Era Benchmark
- A ratio of 1 means the player was an average home run hitter in his own era.
- A ratio of 2 means the player hit twice as many HR as the average player.
Pitching dominated the game in the “Dead Ball Era,” which ended upon the emergence of Babe Ruth and the Bronx Bombers in the 1920s. 714 HR in an era when the average player hit only 100 HR in a career underscores how impressive Ruth’s prowess was.
The Home Run to Benchmark Ratio rankings below confirm this, with Babe Ruth miles above the rest, followed by other classic Yankee heroes Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio. Stunningly, Hank Aaron does not even crack the top ten. His ratio is 2.48, leaving him 26th overall. The HR performances of The Great Bambino, The Iron Horse, and The Yankee Clipper relative to their contemporaries shows just how incredible they must have been to watch.
MLB HOF All-time HR Rankings – Normalized by Era
|MidYear||Name||Career HR||HR to Benchmark Ratio|
Below is a graph of career HR per game against the average HR per game in that era . Players that appear above the line toward the top-left have higher ratios. Babe Ruth is the top left point.
The following assumptions were made for data collection and analysis:
- Player performance is symmetrical over time with a peak in the middle of the player’s career
- League averages are decent estimates of the “benchmark” over which a player could measure
- This analysis will consider the modern era (Hall of Famers whose careers occurred mostly after 1900) and those with career batting averages above 0.250
- Since Hall of Famers had relatively long careers, their statistics are reliable estimates of their abilities
Using the “middle year” as a barometer for a player’s peak
Since the number of players in this dataset is so large, we need a simplified way to capture a player’s top-performing year. For this analysis, we can take the player’s career totals and divide by the number of years played to get a yearly average for the player, and measure this average against the benchmark for the year (selected as the middle year of the player’s career). While this analysis is therefore not perfectly rigorous, it stills serves as a useful method for comparing players from different eras. Put another way, the performance benchmark in 1995 should be similar enough to 1997, and the benchmarks in the 1990s are different enough from those in the 1920s where a benchmark a few years off wouldn’t be a significant issue.
By Ben Ulene
After this year’s World Series ended in a Game 5 comeback win for the Royals, plenty of questions remain about what caused the Mets – who almost nobody  predicted would go home after just five games – to lose so quickly. While sloppy defense certainly contributed to their collapse, an even bigger liability was their offense, which only managed a meager 7 extra-base hits in the series.
Should we be surprised that the same team that had excelled at the plate during the NLCS, putting up 21 runs in a four-game sweep of the Cubs , could only manage 10 runs over their four losses to Kansas City? Probably not; as the statistics show, the Mets not only came into the World Series with a historically weak offense, but they also were up against a Kansas City bullpen that dominated games like perhaps no other bullpen before.
|2015 Mets Offense|
|Statistic||Value||All-Time Rank (out of 202 W.S. teams since 1914)|
|R / Game||4.22||177th|
First, the Mets’ offense, for a pennant-winning team, had been weak throughout the regular season. The team’s .244 regular season batting average was the fourth-worst of any World Series team since 1914; on top of that, their 1,290 regular season strikeouts were more than any other pennant-winner aside from the 2013 Red Sox (who more than compensated with a .277 regular season team average).
The Mets’ regular season mark of 4.22 runs per game was also the third-lowest of any World Series team in the last twenty years – and the only two to score less played each other (the 2014 Royals and Giants).
Perhaps most strikingly, the team’s OPS+ for the season – a statistic that measures a team’s OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage) relative to the rest of the league, with 100 being the league average – was 97, putting it below average in the big leagues this year. Only 23 other teams have ever made it to the World Series with an OPS+ of 97 or lower; of those, only 9 managed to win the series, and none since the 1997 Florida Marlins.
All in all, this was not an offense that anybody should have expected to put up huge numbers against any pitching staff in the World Series.
|2015 Royals Bullpen|
|Statistic||Value||All-Time Rank (out of 202 WS teams since 1914)|
The Mets weren’t just facing any ordinary pitching unit in the World Series, however, but rather one with a historically dominant bullpen for a World Series team.
Not only did the Royals bullpen hold opposing batters to a .214 average during the regular season, the 8th lowest for any pennant-winning club, but simultaneously posted a 2.63 strikeout-to-walk ratio, the 6th best regular season mark for a World Series team. The bullpen also maintained a 2.72 ERA during the regular season, the lowest for any World Series team since the 1990 Oakland A’s.
More complex statistics also reflect the dominance of the Royals’ bullpen. Its tOPS+ against – which reflects opposing hitters’ OPS relative to how they hit against starting pitching – was 78 (the 4th lowest for a World Series bullpen), making the Royals’ bullpen one of the best all-time at shutting down opposing offenses mid-game. And the bullpen’s sOPS+ against – which reflects opposing hitters’ OPS relative to the average OPS of hitters across the league – was 80, highlighting the bullpen’s excellence at shutting down hitters entirely.
While all of these numbers are impressive, what will go in the history books is how manager Ned Yost used his bullpen, which was a lot. The Royals’ bullpen pitched 539 2/3 innings this season, more than any other pennant-winning team in history. It’s not surprising that winning teams generally pitch their bullpens less than average, since more bullpen innings generally signifies bad starting pitching; in the Royals’ case, however, their bullpen was just really effective.
During the World Series, Royals relievers pitched 23 2/3 innings, compared to their starters’ 28 1/3. Take away Franklin Morales’s 6th inning implosion in Game 3, and the numbers are staggering: 1 run and 14 hits in just over 23 innings (an ERA of 0.39), with 4 walks and 30 strikeouts. And given just how dominant those relievers had been all year – and how susceptible to offensive slumps the Mets had been – the Royals’ dominant and decisive showing might just have been a foregone conclusion.
By Jeffrey Gleason
Nine weeks into the NFL season, no teams remain unbeaten. This could’ve actually been said after eight weeks, after seven weeks, and after six weeks as well. Week 5 was the last time an unbeaten team remained, when both the Cardinals and Bengals were sitting at 3-0.
However, after these same nine weeks, five teams remain unbeaten at home. The Patriots, Broncos, Eagles, Packers, and Cardinals have yet to lose on their own turf.
Home field advantage is a phenomenon that gets a lot of traction in sports. Experts often use it to justify their predictions and betting lines usually reflect the perceived advantage of the home side. However, people often generalize home field advantage with a “one size fits all” approach, acknowledging its presence, but assuming it displays a constant impact across different situations.
With five unbeaten NFL home teams and the recent impetus of a road team finally winning Game 7 of the World Series (the Giants topped the Royals on October 29th to capture their third championship in five years), I was interested in how home field advantage was quantitatively different in different situations. How does it vary across sports? Do both good teams and bad teams experience the same advantage? Is it magnified in the postseason? What about differences in earlier eras? These are the questions I set out to resolve.
By Max Kaplan
The baseball playoff system is messed up. It’s a statistician’s worst nightmare. As both an Angels diehard and a statistician, I have descended into despondency.
After six months and 162 games of baseball, a 5-game coin flip decides the fate of the eight playoff teams. The Los Angeles Angels, considered by many to be the best team in baseball and considered by most to be a better team than the Kansas City Royals, were knocked out in only three games after leading the league with 98 regular season wins. That’s three games – the same length as the common regular season sweep.
I’m going to try to “fix” the randomness and unfairness of a short playoff series. And by doing so, I hope to resurrect the Angels 2014 World Series hopes.
How many games would we need in a playoff series to be fairly confident that the better team moves on? According to my calculations below, that number is 1,101.
By Patrick Harrel
A few years ago, NBA teams started installing the SportVU system in their stadiums to get proprietary player tracking data and an edge over the competition, a decision that cost them $100,000 a pop. In the run-up to the 2013-14 campaign, the rest of the league caught up, making the tracking system standard and releasing the data to the public. Today at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Major League Baseball released their plan for a counterpart system, unveiling a player tracking system of their own.
This system has been in the pipeline for a while, with a pilot setup being deployed at Citi Field last year. This season, the system will expand to three stadiums, with all 30 MLB ballparks receiving the technology for 2015. Major League Baseball has been making a push to improve their technology in recent years, with PITCHF/x being released to the public years ago, giving us greater access to detailed pitch data.
Quite simply, the system looks beautiful. Check out this sample video the MLB released of Jason Heyward making a game-winning catch against the Mets last year.
Ultimate Zone Rating and Total Zone Rating have advanced the field of defensive statistics, but they have their problems as they struggle with defensive shifts and do not differentiate between a high fly ball and a more looping strike. The idea with those systems are that over a large sample those variations balance each other out, but this new player tracking system will give teams and fans much more tangible evidence to determine if someone is a quality defender or not.
The biggest question will be how much of this data the MLB will hoard for themselves. PITCHF/x has been available in the public domain for years, so one can hope they will follow their own precedent (and the NBA’s) in releasing the data to the public. The possibilities for meaningful research are simply endless.
by Jay Hashop
“I’m a big believer in Michael Young. And if the ship sinks, I’ll still be on it.”
– Ron Washington, August 2012
The S.S. Ultimate Professional officially sank on October 5th, 2012, when the Texas Rangers lost the AL Wild Card game to mighty Joe Saunders and the Baltimore Orioles. Coming off a strong 2011 season in which FanGraphs credited Young with 3.5 fWAR (FanGraphs wins above replacement), the Rangers’ super-utility player struggled all season at the plate and in the field, ending the season at -1.6 fWAR as one of the worst everyday players in Major League Baseball. Contributing significantly to his collapse was the complete lack of power Young displayed in 2012, when he posted his lowest season marks in both home runs (8) and isolated slugging (.093) in over a decade. Additionally, Young’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) dropped to .299 from the .367 he recorded in 2011. The breakdown in Young’s game was so severe that general manager Jon Daniels paid the Phillies 10 million dollars to take Young in exchange for a middle reliever and a bullpen prospect in case Young had permanently lost the ability to play at least replacement-level baseball.
While Young fizzled, his teammate David Murphy sizzled on his way to accumulating more fWAR in 2012 (3.9) than he had from 2009 through 2011 (3.7). Murphy finally appeared to have conquered the left-handed pitching demons that had forced him into a platoon-like role for much of his career, and the Rangers showed confidence in Murphy by naming him the everyday left fielder going into 2013. A .433 BABIP against left-handed pitchers on only 60 balls in play served as cause for concern about steep regression, but Murphy at least appeared to be a sufficient corner outfield option. Continue reading
By: Patrick Harrel
MLB Free Agency is upon us and with that comes players moving teams, crazy contracts, and MLB writers scrambling to get the latest rumors out of team executives. In the coming weeks, teams will start signing players, and as salary figures are tossed out, heads will spin.
Overpaying is sometimes just the cost of doing business in the MLB, a league without a salary cap, but often, that overpaying can be a killer blow to a franchise. In 2006, as the Astros were trying to put together another team that could go deep into the playoffs after reaching the World Series in 2005, they spent $13 million on Woody Williams and $100 million on Carlos Lee. Williams was released in spring training the following year, Lee hamstrung the Astros payroll for the next six seasons, and the Astros bottomed out to be the worst team in baseball for three seasons in a row.
Today, we discuss a pair of veteran free agents that teams should stay away from if they want to avoid the fate the Astros fell victim to in the winter of 2006. Continue reading
by Dylan Ackerman
Last night, we got our first taste of real playoff baseball. Not that the one game Wild Card games are not important, but it’s only with the Division Series that teams are guaranteed to face each other multiple times. Last night gave us the first games in which the teams will meet again, so an understanding of what happened in each game becomes especially important. With that, here are the major lessons from game one.
Dodger 6, Braves 1 in Atlanta.
The major takeaway is a confirmation of something any baseball fan already knew: Clayton Kershaw is dominant. His performance for the Dodgers was exactly what the team needed, and the offense was nice enough to give well beyond adequate support to carry the day. The good news for the Dodgers is that this solidifies their advantage in Game 5. Now they just have to make the series go that far.
What this means for the Dodgers: This was the one game Los Angeles was supposed to win. While they may be underdogs in the series as a whole, any game with Kershaw on the hill makes the Dodgers the favorite, putting pressure on them to win game one, even though it shifts to the Braves for the rest of the series. It isn’t much of a reach to say the series really starts with Greinke-Minor in game two. Los Angeles hit Atlanta’s best starter well, and if they can keep the offensive numbers even close to that level, they certainly have a chance in the series. They have to feel especially good after a 6-1 win instead of a 2-1 victory largely dependent on the arm of Kershaw.
For the Braves: Last night’s game can largely be chalked up as a wash. On his best day, Medlen is one of the few pitchers in the game who can go inning for inning with Kershaw (a shutout in his final regular season start speaks for itself), but losing this game is far from a death knell for the series. While Atlanta certainly wishes their number one starter pitched better, a win tonight puts them back in the driver’s seat for the NLCS. Greinke pitched well during the season, but his limited postseason showing has been shaky (1-1 with a 6.48 ERA and 1.62 WHIP for MIL in 2011). If the Braves hit well in game two, their fortunes look good as the series moves west.
The rest of the series: Coming into Game One, Los Angeles and Atlanta matched up well on paper. The Dodgers have the better top three starters, but drop off with number four. In the bullpen, both teams have pitched near perfection, especially down the stretch, but, Kimbrel in the ninth gives the Braves the slight upper hand. On the offensive side of the ball, both teams have nothing short of stacked lineups. Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford compare well to Chris Johnson, Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann. Still, injuries have hurt the Dodgers a bit more, and the Braves come into the series as the deeper team. Especially late in the game, the Braves have more weapons to pull off the bench, an aspect of the playoffs that can be hard to predict but can easily decide close games.
Final prediction: Either Atlanta wins in four or Dodgers win in five, but expect hard-fought and close games throughout.
St. Louis Cardinals 9, Pittsburgh Pirates 1
What we learned: After beating the Reds in four consecutive games to reach the NLDS, the Pirates came into Busch Stadium and got absolutely rolled. The Cardinals demonstrated in full force why they claimed the National League’s best record in its arguably toughest division. Adam Wainwright pitched as expected, and all but one of their starting position players came through with a hit. This game is lot simpler to dissect then the Dodgers-Braves, and spells out a much tougher road for the Pirates than the Braves. Only four hits as a team and a starter who fails to get out of the third inning is rarely a winning mix, and a game one that taxes the bullpen this heavily is an especially bad setup for the next two games.
Looking ahead: Tonight was not a fluke. Even with Allen Craig injured, the Cardinals’ lineup is deadly. Their starting pitching does not particularly drop off after Wainwright either, with 2012 All-Star Lance Lynn pitching game two and 15-game winner Shelby Miller waiting as well. There is also the less measurable but important factor of playoff experience. For the Bucs, only Rusell Martin and AJ Burnett have a significant number of playoff games, something that didn’t seem to help the latter much this afternoon. For the Cardinals, many of their key pieces earned rings in 2011, and a few were even around for the team’s earlier title in 2006. Even for those without hardware, the Cardinals playoff appearance last year means this series brings nothing new. Don’t expect the pressure to get to any of them, and don’t expect the offense to slow down any time soon.
Final Prediction: It’s been great to see the Pirates back in the playoffs, but don’t expect a true fairy tale ending. Cardinals sweep Pittsburgh in 3 games.