Friday, April 12, 2013


If you haven't seen it, this video shows Carlos Quentin of the Padres being hit by Zack Greinke of the Dodgers. I was at a remote The Score (670 AM in Chicago) had for its afternoon hosts Terry Boers and Dan Bernstein, and Terry suggested that a 50-game suspension was in order for anyone who charged the mound, his point being that there is no place in baseball for such activity and to penalize it so heavily as to seriously reduce, if not eliminate those occurrences. Disagree with the number of games if you wish (I thought it was high), but I clearly understood his point--stop rushing the mound.

I thought this would be about two minutes of discussion, but the callers reacted in a manner suggesting that an affront to the game had been made. If you don't believe me, check out the podcast and listen for yourself (it's commercial-free and moves along quickly and you should do it regularly anyway, particularly when they mention stuff I've contributed). I heard so much nonsense that I felt it needed to be debunked.

I'll begin with showing incidence of HBPs from 1901-2012:

Yes, I was surprised as well. HBPs are near an all-time high, not because of "old-time baseball" as much as batters going to the plate with enough protection to defuse bombs, allowing them to stand ever closer to the plate. When people talk about the "good old days" when guys like Bob Gibson or Juan Marichal would plunk batters just because it was a day that ended in "y," I strongly suggest that the data shows otherwise--pitchers hit batters, but far more often, batters ALLOW themselves to be hit.

Carlos Quentin has been in the majors since 2006, and this chart shows the players with the most HBPs from 2006-2013:

Chase Utley has 18 more HBPs than Quentin--in 1300+ more plate appearances. The last column normalizes the HBPs into HBP per 1,000 plate appearances, and before you shrug and move on, consider that Quentin's incidence is about 30% greater than Utley's and double or more than just about everyone else on this list. When showing this to Terry and Dan, Dan said this shouldn't be surprising since Quentin basically stands over the plate, making virtually any pitch "inside" an opportunity to hit him. When you look at the video, Quentin doesn't appear to be crowding the plate, but if you look at his elbow, it's inside the plate area. Guess where he got hit?

None of this should come as any surprise to anyone who knows anything about the Carlos Quentin and his approach at the plate, but the callers to the show made it sound like rushing the mound was a sacred and time-honored part of the game. There were two callers that made such stupid points that they need to be rebutted in a serious manner. The first was someone suggesting that pitchers needed protection because they're not as big as the players. Interesting--this chart shows the average weight by position for those on 2013 rosters:

The heaviest player in the majors is Jonathan Broxton, listed at 310. The second-heaviest is Jon Rauch, listed at 290 (all weights and position designations are from Believe it or not, every single position (except DH) achieved statistical significance in difference between pitcher and the other position--catchers and first basemen being heavier, and EVERYONE ELSE being lighter. This was a solid argument only missing the facts to support it. The fact that it was a female caller brought this t-shirt to mind.

The second argument took the freaking cake. He suggested that baseball needed fighting because viewership is down and no one watches anymore. When directly refuted on this point, he suggested that attendance is up only because of population growth. This chart's for him, and it's busy:

There are three values plotted on two different axises. The right axis is average attendance per game, which shows an increase from around 14,000 per game in the 1950s to about 30,000 per game in 2010. People seemed to think that baseball was in its Golden Era in the 1950s and they're just dead wrong. The Giants and Dodgers didn't leave New York because of the weather--they weren't drawing fans, even while the Dodgers were one of the best teams in baseball history during the 1950s and the Giants had Willie Mays.

The plots on the left require greater explanation. The blue line is the percent of stadium capacity that was filled, which I find to be a more accurate measure than just attendance. Baseball used to be played in larger stadiums--Cleveland used to play in a stadium that seated 74,000, and by the 1970s were lucky to get 10,000. As the new stadium wave that began in the early 1990s worked its way through, stadiums got smaller (usually by being baseball-only instead of multi-purpose), which resulted in the percent of seats sold increasing  from about 30% to around 70% today.

The red line is the percent of a metro area's population that attended games. If population growth alone fueled increased attendance, that red line would be straight, but it's not--it increased from about 20% of metro area population to around 40%. This despite expansion, or the potential to dilute attendance by creating more supply.

One last thing is to notice the relative flatness of the average attendance from 1950-1980 and the growth that began around 1981. I'm sure doctoral dissertations have been written on the subject, but this increase in attendance (which also occurred in hockey and basketball as well) is tied with the economic expansion that occurred between 1981-2007. The scariest part is that the caller would probably look at the first chart in this post and claim that the increased HBPs drove the attendance increase.

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