Dec

7

 What is the significance for markets of the fact that only 5% of major league baseball games are completed by the starting pitcher these days versus 50%, 50 years back? And that relievers like Rivera average 1 inning a game these days?

George Parkanyi writes:

Over-specialization

Lack of accountability

Symptom of the money spent on distracting the general population with sports, entertainment etc.

Counting — playing the percentages (right vs left-hand, hitter's success against specific pitchers etc); running baseball more like a business

Sensitivity to starting pitchers' self-esteem

Phil McDonnell adds:

In the 1970s a Professor of Statistics studied the game of baseball and noted several things:

1. Starting pitchers tended to be less effective somewhere between the 5th and 9th inning. For most pitchers a pitch count of over 100 is where the trouble might begin. Maximum pitch count is somewhat specific to each pitcher and can vary from day to day. The prevalence of radar guns has made it easier to measure any decline in pitch speed as the innings go on. Clubs also use a variation on a Shewhart chart to track the ratio of strikes to balls to quickly identify any loss of control.

2. He also noted that a pitcher who had thrown more than 2 innings was not as effective the next day. Thus the strategy of short relief and closer was born. Pitchers who only pitched 1 inning maintained a high level of effectiveness the next day. Even with only one inning of work on two consecutive days they still need a day off on the third day.

3. It was also discovered that by using relief pitchers for 2 or 3 innings starting around the 5th or 6th inning that the odds of winning improved. These short relief pitchers could also play again in that role after a day or two of rest. In contrast starters who pitched more than 100 pitches (usually about 5 innings or more) required about 4 days of rest.

Baseball, like trading, has evolved because of Counting and is getting more competitive every year as people learn to play the game more intelligently.

Dr. McDonnell is the author of Optimal Portfolio Modeling, Wiley, 2008

Stefan Jovanovich replies:

No wonder Dr. Phil and I keep doing Rodney King and the LA cops over baseball. On this subject I don't think we will ever "just get along". Baseball in 1970 was going through the transition from being the childhood national sport to being 3rd choice behind football and basketball. The result was that most of the culture of the game was being lost. In the 1950s and even the early 1960s pitchers were still expected to know how to through at least 5 pitches for strikes. Even Bob Feller knew how to throw a knuckle ball. As a result pitching was something that had no specialization, and pure journeymen like Don Larsen could throw complete and perfect games even in the World Series. (Check the news reports of the time — 1956 — and you will find that no one thought the complete game remarkable at all; it was only its perfection that was significant.) By 1970 the culture of the game that Larsen and hundreds of thousands of other professional players had grown up with was gone. Pitchers no longer had the experience of learning the game from uncles, cousins, fathers who had played in the military or in the minor leagues. They were the products of Little League. They were lucky if they had 3 pitches they could throw for strikes, and they had no experience with varying speeds and/or arm angles for the same pitch. Most were straight 2-pitch pitchers. It was hardly surprising that the "modern" pitchers had no surprises left by the end of the 6th inning. Some had none left by the end of the 1st. Since the essence of the game is keeping the hitters off-balance, the only possible solution was to bring in another 2-pitch pitcher the batters had not seen before. Hence, "relief pitching".

What is fascinating now is that the money has gotten so good that pitchers are realizing they can extend their careers by adding pitches to the repertoire. Lincecum - the back to back Cy Young winner for the National League — is the most remarkable example. He learned/was taught the change-up after he was in the major leagues. (If he learns a 4th pitch, he will be Christy Mathewson reincarnated.) As Hayek would have reminded us, the thing being counted — the "game of baseball" — is not a thing that can be quantified in the same way that the mining and smelting of copper can be. An pound of copper in 1970 is the same as thing as one produced this morning. Human activity not only varies; it also changes. Statistics applied to what people do without a knowledge of history easily becomes an exercise in counting what is no longer there.


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