Do luxury boxes cause ballpark violence?

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No, I didn’t formulate that question. Political blogger Mickey Kaus did in his “assignment desk” feature over at the Daily Caller. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, Kaus uses the feature to play editor, coming up with a question that interests him, outlines the parameters and then “assigns” it to a reporter he thinks would be good at handling it. The questions rarely actually get researched. It’s just his way of playing the “hey, I’m just saying” game. Sometimes the questions are interesting. Sometimes they are not.

In this instance, the formulation is probably more interesting than the actual question, because Kaus is interested in exploring ballpark violence in terms of one of his very old topics: social equality and the idea that, to sustain both equality and capitalism, policies should be pursued that make it so that money should have as little influence as possible. The idea: let us do things to avoid a society in which people can simply buy their way out of interacting with everyone else via VIP sections, priority lines and seating, hospitals for only the rich, etc.

Why? Because the coming together of people from all walks of life — be it for good things like Fourth of July parades or bad things like all of us having to wait in the same line at the airport — fosters democracy and social health and all of that.  He wrote a book about it once that I actually kind of liked, even if I think Kaus gets a lot of stuff wrong a lot of the time.

Anyway, Kaus would probably include luxury boxes in ballparks in that world view, and here he wonders if they aren’t in part to blame for violence and rowdiness in the cheap seats:

Here in L.A. we’ve been traumatized by the vicious beating given a San Francisco Giants fan who attended a game at Dodger Stadium.  Many are shocked that this could happen at a ballgame, but I remember being told several times, when I was sitting in fairly expensive seats at the stadium, that I shouldn’t go to the bleachers because that’s where thugs hung out. Which raises a question: Has the class segregation of sports stadiums helped promote hooliganism? The argument would be a fairly straightforward miniaturized version of the argument that concentrating the poor in inner cities helped breed an underclass. Specifically, if all the classes were mixed together–no skyboxes, no separate, more expensive decks–middle class values would prevail, or else the cops would be called and management would hear about it in no uncertain terms. The more they are unmixed–with the cheap seats geographically cut off from the mainstream–the more we a) allow general mainstream norms to be flouted in the cut off areas and b) ensure that the affluent are insulated and won’t care about (a). … Problems with theory: Even bleacher seats aren’t that cheap.

The bigger problem with that theory — aside from the fact that he was sitting in high-end seats when the question occurred to him — is that, as I said last week, I’m willing to bet that there were more problems with hooliganism in the 70s and 80s than there is now, and there was way less class segregation then due to fewer club level,elite level, etc., options in ballparks.

People pay more attention to incidents at ballparks now and they get reported in the media more often. And of course, the Bryan Stow case was such an outlier in terms of its severity that of course it’s being discussed more. Especially in Los Angeles, where Kaus lives.

So, interesting idea, Mickey. I have a pretty strong anti-elitism streak in me (fostered by both reason and, I’ll admit, occasional jealousy!) so I think it’s a good idea to ask whether or not luxury boxes are a good thing in an absolute sense (not that they’re going anywhere).  But I have a hard time linking their existence to increased bad behavior in ballparks, simply because I don’t believe that there is more bad behavior in ballparks than there used to be.

(link via BTF)

The Mets are a mess

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The Mets lost again on Thursday afternoon, suffering a 7-5 defeat at the hands of the Braves. It’s their sixth consecutive loss and the club is now in last place in the NL East. Not exactly the start the Mets envisioned.

Matt Harvey got the start, but lasted only 4 1/3 innings. He gave up six runs on five hits and five walks with only one strikeout. After the game, Harvey said he was tight and that he threw yesterday expecting to start on Friday instead, per Matt Ehalt of The Record. Sounds like no one communicated to Harvey that he’d be starting this afternoon until it was too late for him to properly prepare.

Harvey started because Noah Syndergaard was scratched due to a “tired arm.” Syndergaard blew reporters off after the game, according to Mike Puma of the New York Post. Puma then added that Syndergaard ripped Mets P.R. guy Jay Horwitz for letting reporters approach him.

By the way, the Mets also lost outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a hamstring injury. Not much else can go wrong in Queens.

Joey Votto isn’t on board with the latest fly ball trend among hitters

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If you haven’t heard, fly balls — not ground balls or line drives — are all the rage among hitters these days. Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez summed it up perfectly last month when he said, “I’m not trying to hit a [freaking] line drive or a freaking ground ball.” The goal is to maximize damage. Last year, for example, fly balls became hits about 17 percent less often than ground balls (7.4% versus 24.6%), but hitters had a slugging percentage more than twice as much as on ground balls (.539 versus .267). This refocusing has helped hitters like Martinez as well as Ryan Zimmerman reinvigorate their careers.

Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who is as much a student of new age analytics as anyone in the game, doesn’t feel that this approach is necessarily a good one, as Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Votto said:

Where I get concerned is the guys that make this attempt and burn out too much of their time and don’t get a chance to be their best selves, and either don’t make it to the big leagues or don’t perform their best in the big leagues because they’re always attempting this new style of hitting. I see it with a lot of guys. Everyone tells the good stories, but there’s a lot of s—ty stories of guys who are wasting their time trying things.

Votto added that while the fly ball approach is working right now, pitchers will soon adapt and the fly ball approach won’t be so good anymore. And he’s right. Baseball has always been a game of adjustments. For example, as teams have gotten comfortable with shifting their infield, hitters like the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber have both dropped bunts down the third base line for easy hits. Knowing that hitters are aiming to hit fly balls now, pitchers may stay higher in the strike zone more often as one possible solution.

Votto is just trying to stay as well-rounded as possible. He says that he wants to become “unpitchable.” Votto wants to be like Angels outfielder Mike Trout, whom he describes as a guy “who can do absolutely anything he wants” and “at all times [has] all options.”

So far, Votto is having another productive season despite a relatively pedestrian batting average and on-base percentage. He’s hitting .238/.330/.563 with seven home runs and 16 RBI in 94 plate appearances. Coincidentally, he’s been hitting way more fly balls than usual as he’s currently carrying a 42.3 percent rate compared to his 33.1 career average, according to FanGraphs. His line drives are way down to 16.9 percent compared to his 25.4 percent career average.