Stop Fooling Around and Play Baseball

Terry, July 8, 2021

A few new rules, for a better game:

  1. Let the pitchers have the spider tack.
  2. Let ‘em all have the ‘roids.
  3. Shrink the strike zone two inches and lower it to the bottom of the knees.
  4. Establish an 8-pitch limit.

I’ll take ‘em in turn and give you my reasoning:

  1. Spider Tack is a good thing, not a bad thing; better control means a safer game, a more efficient game, and a more theatrical game. The Tack gives pitchers an edge, though, so to balance it back out …
  2. Hitters dominated the PED era, so let’s Occam’s Razor it and let them have that era back. PED away, guys, all of you; hitters, pitchers, coaches, bat boys, venders, whatever. It might be fun to see a vender huck a bag of peanuts into the third deck from the warning track.

The primary side benefit is that nobody else has to ever give a fuck about steroids again. Let the doctors deal with it.

Does this outrage you, the idea that steroids and Spider Tack should be allowed? Do you think steroids and traction substances are unfair?  Well, I can’t argue with you that it makes it hard for those who don’t use PEDs to compete. But major league baseball never, even at the start of professionalism, adhered to the principles of amateurism. If you want to compete in NASCAR, you can’t show up in a 1986 Honda Civic. If you want to compete for the billions of dollars flowing in baseball, you have to accept that there are sacrifices to be made. 

We would have much nicer wars if opposing armies used pillows; good luck getting that written into the Geneva Convention. The best way to be fair to major league players who do not want to use steroids is to ignore them. It’s a choice, but it’s also a multi-billion dollar business and a competition at the highest of the highest levels. Don’t bring a Flintstone’s vitamin to the Matrix and expect to get the cool sunglasses.

Are major league players role models? Sure. But professionals always use tactics and innovations that are not appropriate for amateurs. Put simple, don’t try this at home. It’s the “young arms should not throw curve-balls” principle writ large.  

  1. My goal with the lower, smaller zone is twofold: first, cut down some on the strikeouts and compensate for the Spider Tack effect. Second, get the zone low enough that the hitters still have to use the ground once in awhile We don’t want the entire battle to be fought in the air, or even most of it. Get the ball back near the ground, where fielders can get involved. And if you can’t get the ball in play at all …
  2. Any hitter who does not put the ball in play in eight pitches is forced to leave the game, to be replaced by someone from the bench. The replacement does not get free foul balls; anything but a ball or a ball in play is a strikeout.

The easy solution would be to call an 8-pitch failure a strikeout, but we are trying to increase action here, not add more trips back to the bench. The replacement rule creates some drama.

I’d recommend, to keep the rule from slowing the game down, that the hitting team is required to get a player up there within about 20 seconds. They’d have to be paying attention to make sure somebody was ready.

The biggest reason for replacement instead of one more strikeout, in my mind, is that it limits the number of times a team can go to the well; there are only so many bench bats to use before you wind up sending pitchers up there to hit. And it creates extra drama, always a good thing.

I have one additional rule, more of a long-term rule:

  1. Any new stadium construction must include the capacity for fences to be at least 400 feet down the lines and at least 500 feet to centerfield. Those won’t necessarily be the dimensions, but a game with no limits on enhancements has to anticipate that there will be a lot of enhancements. If you think 400 feet down the lines is excessive, you might be right. But before you commit to a shorter distance, check out the progression in the PGA’s annual driving distances.

The point of all these rules is to get the game of baseball back to an action game. The Three True Outcomes, Swing Plane Revolution, Bill James SabrMetrics advances are great for trying to win, and they ain’t going anywhere because the point of the game is, well … it’s to win. But you can make adjustments around the edges that incorporate the various attempts to game the system into the system itself.

  1. If 3TO works, make it not work quite so well. Make it so that players who can’t get the ball in play have to shirk back to the dugout, fired for the day for wasting the paying customers’ time. Lower the zone enough that they are not rewarded for trying to turn baseball into slow-pitch softball, with every swing being a swing for the parking lot. Make ‘em get those four balls within eight pitches or stop wasting our time. Stop fooling around and play baseball.
  2. If you want to uppercut everything, and get everything in the air, fine. But you ain’t getting an easy path to success. In 2019:
  • 57 players hit at least 30 home runs.
  • 9 players hit at least 40 home runs.
  • 271 players hit at least 10 home runs.

For comparison, 135 players had enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title (502). Of those, 130 hit at least 10 home runs; 52 of them hit at least 30. Five players hit at least 30 home runs without qualifying for the batting title; 28 more hit at least 20.

Of the 443 players who had 100 or more atbats, 166 hit a home in at least 5 percent of their atbats. Think about that for a minute. Ten players have hit at least 400 career home runs without hitting one in at least 5 percent of his atbats; 71 hit at least 300.

If we don’t want every yahoo that comes off the bench to have more power than Eddie Murray or Carl Yastrzemski, we need to make it less rewarding to swing at every baseball like John Daly bombing Titleists all over the driving range.

So lower the zone, forcing the swing plane lower, and eventually move the fences out to compensate for the increased size and strength of modern ballplayers. Let pitchers use tacky methods to make monkeys of batters who don’t compromise with two strikes. Make them stop fooling around and play baseball.

  1. Bill James used that phrase, “Stop fooling around and play baseball” in his BJNHA (new historical abstract), published around the turn of the century. He listed a series of suggestions to keep the game from getting hidebound and stodgy under the weight of the very strategies he pointed out, the strategies that would help teams win. James’ influence on the game is strong enough to get his ideas considered, but not so strong that he’s been able to get more than a smattering of them adopted.

So Bill continues to suggest the best ways to win, while taking time occasionally to point out that what’s best for the gamer is not always best for the game. The man who developed techniques for analyzing baseball’s statistical universe needs to be listened to, so that the universe can be interesting to the fans who make the universe matter. In short, the game needs to stop fooling around. And get back to playing baseball.

Not home run derby. Thanks for reading. 

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Douglas Byzewski

Sounds good to me. New one, all pitchers have to get 6 outs (except the last of the game) or the team loses a roster spot for 10 games.