Mildly embarrassing confession: I never got around to seeing “Moneyball” when it was out at the theater. I don’t know why. It just never happened. Finally got to see it last night. And for the life of me, I can’t really say anything intelligent about it.
The biggest reason: I watched it with two people who were not baseball fans. Like, at all. And not just not baseball fans: one of them is a guy from Hungary who is not even familiar with baseball. He likes Brad Pitt movies, though, and he knows that I write about baseball, so I think he thought it would be cool to put us all together. It was rather sweet, actually. But I found myself, the entire time I was watching the movie, wondering how on Earth anyone who doesn’t know the first thing about the game could get anything out of it.
But they surprisingly did. Sure, I had to explain a lot of the things happening, but they quickly grokked the whole stats vs. scouts thing. The idea that young Ivy League kids with computers represented something different in sports. They picked up on the friction between Art Howe and Billy Beane. They understood the notion — based on the stuff near the end with the Boston Red Sox — that Beane’s advances would quickly be co-opted by the rich teams and then the A’s would soon be back to square one, playing the same game as the big boys and not having the money to compete. And, heck, based on some NPR report or something, the Hungarian guy said “this Bill James; he wrote the serial killer book, yes?” Yes, yes he did.
Anyway, I was rather pleased by all of that. I talk to people steeped in baseball all day and I’ve come to expect that people who aren’t so steeped think of the really inside parts of baseball like front office moves and sabermetrics and stuff as something close to impenetrable. Guess not. Very cool.
Oh, and as the father of a little girl, I’m not too tough to admit that Beane’s daughter playing that song on the guitar to her dad didn’t make it a little misty in the room.
Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:
Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.
The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?
Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.
The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.
I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.
ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.
MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.
Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.
Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: