Some simple proposals to fix baseball

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Baseball rule book.jpgWashington Post columnist Thomas Boswell
is a big fan of the new committee tasked with looking at rules changes,
pace of game issues and the like.  In fact, he’s so enthusiastic he
offers a dozen or so of his own suggestions, most of which are aimed at
speeding up the game.  On the whole I like his proposals, but let’s
take them one at a time because lunch isn’t ready just yet:

Changing the rules so a pitcher would have to face at least two batters:
Worst idea first. I’m all for reducing La Russa-style hyper-specialized
bullpen use because it sucks, but I don’t think changing a fairly
fundamental part of the game — the manager’s ability to change
pitchers — is the way to do it. Sometimes it does make sense
to bring in a lefty killer to get that one killer lefty out. It just
doesn’t make sense to do this twice a game, every game.  I think
education and a p.r. initiative is a better bet than a rule change here.

Ban mound visits: Boswell suggests “miking up” the pitcher and
the coaches. That’s kind of silly if you ask me, but there are a lot of
meetings out there. I’d say (a) count a visit from the pitching coach
in the manager-must-change-the-pitcher-if-he-visits-twice rule; and (b)

(note: coach visits are already counted; my bad) find a way to crack down on catcher-pitcher mound meetings.  A football
team doesn’t get extra time outs if the quarterback and the receivers
can’t get on the same page, and pitchers and catchers who can’t get
their stuff together shouldn’t get to stop the game either.

Putting a clock on mid-inning pitching changes: Fine with me.

Canning “God Bless America”: Ditto. I’ll take my daily does of nationalism at the beginning of the ballgame, thank you very much.

Waving the hitter to first on an intentional walk: I’m good with
this too. Other than tradition, I don’t see the utility in making the
pitcher throw four pitches. If we need something ceremonial to signal
an IBB, how about some sort of cap-off bow by the pitcher to the
batter? In addition to it having something of a reverent, Asian-flair,
it might also lead to fewer IBBs on account of pride and ego and
whatnot.

No home field advantage to the All-Star Game winner: Amen, amen
a thousand times amen. I like Boswell’s specific reasoning here too:
the current rule, in addition to being dumb, has the effect of
exacerbating the imbalance between the leagues.

No November games: He’s right about this, but on an abstract
level I do kind of like there being one less baseball-free month on the
calendar. Boswell’s suggestions: no WBC-induced delay, schedule some
more doubleheaders, fewer days off in the postseason all make perfect
sense, and if the La Russa committee doesn’t spit those suggestions out
after their first meeting they’re not worth the conference room in
which they caucus.

Replay: Boswell assumes that there won’t be expanded replay in
the regular season, though we may see it in the postseason. I’d be fine
with this. I’d be much finer with the idea I floated a couple of months
ago: simply station an extra ump in the booth with replay equipment.
Make sure he watches the game closely. Rather than dealing with
challenges and official reviews and everything, simply give him the
booth guy the power to call down to the crew chief when they mess up
something really bad, keeping the discretion in-house with the umpires,
but just giving them another set of eyes.

I’m sure I could go on and on about this stuff. I’m sure you could too. Thoughts, in the comments, are appreciated.

Must-Click Link: Sherri Nichols, Sabermetic Pioneer

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If you are old enough and lame enough as I am, you may have lurked around on sabermetic message boards in the 1990s. If you did, you may have heard of Sherri Nichols, who back in the day, was a significant contributor to the advancement of statistical analysis, particularly defensive analysis.

While it’s probably better that not everyone is as old and nerdy as me, the downside of it is that most people haven’t heard of Nichols and know nothing about her contributions. That changes today with Ben Lindbergh’s excellent analysis of Nichols and her work over at The Ringer, which I recommend that you all read.

The short version: Nichols is the one who planted the seed about on-base percentage being valuable in the mind of Baseball Prospectus Founder Gary Huckabay, back in the late 80s. She’s also the one most responsible for the rise of zone-based defensive metrics in the 1990s, such as Defensive Average, which she created and which served as the basis for other such metrics going forward. She also played a critical role in the development of RetroSheet, which collected almost all extant box score and play-by-play information going back to the turn of the 20th century, thereby making so much of the information available at Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs possible. A key contribution there: making the information free and available to everyone, rather than closing the underlying data off as proprietary and either charging for access or keeping it in-house like some recent data collectors have chosen to do. Ahem.

A larger takeaway than all of Nichols’ contributions is just how loathe the baseball community was to listen to a woman back then. I mean, yeah, they’re still loathe to listen to women now, as indicated by the small number of women who hold jobs in baseball operations departments, but back then it was even worse, as evidenced by Lindbergh’s stories and Nichols’ anecdotes.

A great read and a great history lesson.