Must-Click Link: We’re probably thinking about baseball wrong

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I’ve known Ken Arneson, in that way you “know” certain people on the Internet, for years. He’s an incredibly smart guy who thinks about baseball in ways that form a bit of a tangent from your typical analytically-minded person. He’s certainly well-versed in sabermetrics and the like, but he’s also maintained a good bit of healthy skepticism and distance from it all.

Which allows him to drop utter bombs like his piece today, which should blow people’s minds. At least the minds of people who are familiar with advanced analysis but maybe don’t engage with it themselves in a hands-on way. I’m one of those people — a fellow traveller of the stats folks and, at times, a member of its liberal arts wing, as Jay Jaffe describes it — and because of that I am not the first person to identify flawed thinking among the folks whose work I otherwise appreciate and follow.

But Ken is a computer science guy, and today he has some amazingly smart observations about how baseball is analyzed and what, as a result of that process, is missed. Fundamental things about how the basic language we use colors our ability to see certain things. About how, because we use databases to analyze baseball, we are biased in favor of things databases can capture but unwittingly blind to those it cannot.

The central observation and biggest takeaway, I think, is that THE biggest thing in baseball is this:

But I do know that if I were to build a technology for analyzing baseball, this is where I would begin, right at the core of the game, the engine that drives the sport: what pitch the batter is expecting from the pitcher, and what happens when the pitch he gets conforms or deviates from that expectation.

Ken lays that all out in very clear and illuminating terms, and it is incredibly compelling. He allows that teams may very well be working on this game theory-ish piece of the game already — I’m assuming they are — but the public analysis of the game at places like sabermetric websites, blogs and, increasingly, mainstream baseball outlets fails to capture this because it really doesn’t have the tools to do so.

Just some super thought-provoking stuff that you should check out ASAP.

MLB crowds jump from ’21, still below pre-pandemic levels

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PHOENIX — Even with the homer heroics of sluggers like Aaron Judge and Albert Pujols, Major League Baseball wasn’t able to coax fans to ballparks at pre-pandemic levels this season, though attendance did jump substantially from the COVID-19 affected campaign in 2021.

The 30 MLB teams drew nearly 64.6 million fans for the regular season that ended Wednesday, which is up from the 45.3 million who attended games in 2021, according to baseball-reference.com. This year’s numbers are still down from the 68.5 million who attended games in 2019, which was the last season that wasn’t affected by the pandemic.

The 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers led baseball with 3.86 million fans flocking to Dodger Stadium for an average of 47,672 per contest. The Oakland Athletics – who lost 102 games, play in an aging stadium and are the constant subject of relocation rumors – finished last, drawing just 787,902 fans for an average of less than 10,000 per game.

The St. Louis Cardinals finished second, drawing 3.32 million fans. They were followed by the Yankees (3.14 million), defending World Series champion Braves (3.13 million) and Padres (2.99 million).

The Toronto Blue Jays saw the biggest jump in attendance, rising from 805,901 fans to about 2.65 million. They were followed by the Cardinals, Yankees, Mariners, Dodgers, and Mets, which all drew more than a million fans more than in 2021.

The Rangers and Reds were the only teams to draw fewer fans than in 2021.

Only the Rangers started the 2021 season at full capacity and all 30 teams weren’t at 100% until July. No fans were allowed to attend regular season games in 2020.

MLB attendance had been declining slowly for years – even before the pandemic – after hitting its high mark of 79.4 million in 2007. This year’s 64.6 million fans is the fewest in a non-COVID-19 season since the sport expanded to 30 teams in 1998.

The lost attendance has been balanced in some ways by higher viewership on the sport’s MLB.TV streaming service. Viewers watched 11.5 billion minutes of content in 2022, which was a record high and up nearly 10% from 2021.