Woodrow Wilson: baseball geek

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This is pretty fascinating. Baseball’s Official Historian John Thorn writes today about how our nation’s 28th president may very well have been something of a fantasy baseball player. As in: he fantasized about baseball results and wrote up statistical summaries and phony newspaper reports about the imaginary exploits — in 1871:

Claire Dekle from the Library’s Preservation Department was able to procure images of the entire “Proffessional Record” for me, and then the real fun began. Wilson’s recording of detail was thorough in the extreme—not only in the presentation of box scores but also in the clubs’ year-end summaries, which split out earned runs scored and allowed and detail individual batting and fielding totals and averages in the manner of the day . . . This was the record of a magical mystery tour, played between the young Wilson’s ears.

Wilson was 15 at the time. And he was doing what a lot of us did with Strat-o-Matic cards or computer simulations or other faux-baseball pursuits. And the result, if not the process, is a lot like many people’s sim or fantasy baseball teams.

Wilson: polarizing president, namesake of my high school and a total baseball geek 143 years ago.

No one pounds the zone anymore

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“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.

Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:

Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?

There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.

As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.