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Beyond The Rulebook: SoSH's guide to How to Follow Baseball


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#1 MentalDisabldLst


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Posted 13 August 2011 - 09:11 PM

When I first started kicking around SoSH back in 2002, I was lucky if I even knew how to calculate ERA. But I came here because I'd been captivated for years by watching Pedro Martinez make a mockery of the rest of MLB, and because of him, gradually I had become a baseball fan. SoSH helped me learn innumerable things about the game and how to appreciate it, but I picked those up gradually and sporadically. Hundreds of other members before and since have come here to learn too, and became deeper students of the game as a result.

With this thread, I'd like to make the baseball education we got more explicit. Let's compile a guide - right here - on how to appreciate baseball and follow the nuances of this game we all love.

The inspiration for this thread was a great post by Kenny F'ing Powers over in the football forum, where he broke down exactly how to watch linebackers to appreciate what they're doing and sift the good from bad. In this thread, people should post guides to anything they find interesting about a baseball game between the lines. Things like:

- How you watch a batter's stance or swing
- Pitching mechanics
- How a prospect develops and what to watch for
- Managerial tactics, including bullpen use, play calls, etc
- How a pitcher sets up a hitter (or vice versa)
- Defensive positioning
- Pitch type identification
- How to spot the telltale signs of a tiring starter
etc.

The ground rules for the thread are mostly common-sense:

  • This doesn't have to be PhD-thesis-level stuff. Imagine you're talking to a beginner, who knows the basic rules and has watched a few games, but not much else.
  • Submissions of any length are fine as long as they're in the spirit of the thread. You don't need to be Charles Dickens here, some of us are just long-winded. A post explaining the infield fly rule is just fine.
  • Paeans to specific players or teams of old aren't so useful, except as examples in service of a larger point. This isn't a history lesson.
  • You don't need reams of evidence to submit as proof of anything. Explain something subtle which you've spent some time thinking about, and you'll naturally come off as an expert.
  • When responding to someone's guide on a particular subject, free to clarify, amplify, further explain, or even rebut with an alternate view. But don't extend it to a discussion - state your point of view, and let people start a separate thread if they really want to have a back-and-forth. Dopes are invited to break out side conversations as they form.

With all that said, here's my kickoff:

--------------------------------------

I'd like to talk a bit to the psychology of the pitcher-hitter dynamic and share what I've learned about pitch selection.

So first of all, broadly speaking, there are 4 types of pitches in baseball:

1. Fastballs, usually 90-97mph, with minimal lateral movement. Meant to be the fastest pitch a pitcher throws, and can throw most reliably for a strike. There are variants on the fastball (two-seamer, sinker, cutter) which all break slightly differently, but we'll ignore those for now.
2. Curveballs, usually 70-80mph, thrown with heavy topspin to create a hard, downward break. Typically the slowest pitch a pitcher throws, can be hard to throw for a strike on-demand. Pitchers will often have days when their curveball command is good, and days when it's not (and they'll just not throw it, or not very much).
3. Sliders, usually 78-88mph, thrown 4-10mph slower than the fastball. Sliders break downward (there's a little of the curveball in its grip), but particularly break right-to-left (when thrown by a righty), across the plate and across the pitcher's body. Often looks similar to a fastball when it leaves the pitcher's hand, so if a pitcher can locate it, its deceptiveness can generate swings-and-misses.
4. Changeups, usually 72-85mph, thrown with the same arm action as a fastball but with a grip that causes the ball to go more slowly. The changeup, when thrown on a trajectory where a fastball would result in a strike, will end up diving down at the end (slower = more time for gravity), but also typically away from a pitcher's body arm-side (most typical with a circle change).

There are several other types (knuckleballs, splitters) but they are more rare and not important to the following points.

A lot of pitch selection comes from seeing how certain hitters respond to pitches they've seen, either in earlier at-bats or earlier in the count. First, some general guidelines:

- Most pitchers will throw a majority of fastballs, but certainly in the range of 50-65% depending on how many other pitches a pitcher has to mix in (major-league average is 59%). Often, a pitcher will attempt to "establish" his fastball early in the game, in the first inning or two, to show the other team that he has command of it and it needs to be protected against. A few pitchers (like Justin Masterson) throw fastballs much more often than this, but are typically throwing two-seam fastballs (or sinkers) which are designed to get ground-ball outs. Most pitchers, however are looking for swings-and-misses, so they'll mix up the pitch selection.

- In service of the previous point: batters swing and miss at fastballs less than half as often as they swing through an offspeed pitch. They also slug a lot better off fastballs. Curveballs, meanwhile, are put in play 20% less often and are hit for power less often.

- If a hitter is fouling off fastballs to the "opposite field" (i.e. not the side of the field they're standing on in the batter's box: foul to RF when batting righty; foul to LF when batting lefty), then it means they're a little slow in getting around on the fastball. In other words, they're really close to just missing it entirely, and are unlikely to put it into play with authority. You'll often see pitchers throw repeated fastballs in such situations, even though it deprives them of the element of surprise. I recall one at-bat in particular where Pedro Martinez was facing David Eckstein, who was unable to get around on his 93mph fastballs to the outside corner. After 5 or 6 of them, Eckstein finally swung and missed.

- If a pitcher is "forced" to throw a strike (a 3-0 or 3-1 count; sometimes in 2-0 or 3-2 counts depending on the base/out situation or the score), they will often go to their fastball. But a pitcher with terrific command of a curve or changeup will sometimes throw those, just for the extra element of surprise. A pitcher with high confidence, who has gotten a lot of swings lately, may even throw a ball if they're confident of getting a swing (particularly against guys like Jeff Francoeur who seemingly swing at everything). In one instance I can recall, Jonathan Papelbon threw a splitter on a 3-2 count with the bases loaded (i.e. where taking it for a ball would walk in a run), because he knew he could make it look like a fastball and would draw a swing.

- Conversely, when ahead in the count (0-2 and 1-2 especially), pitchers will throw fewer than half fastballs and dramatically increase the use of curves and sliders.

- If a batter has gotten a good swing on a fastball, and either fouled it straight back or hit it a long way just foul, it suggests they're seeing the fastball really well out of the pitcher's hand. Usually you'll see something "off-speed" (i.e. slower than the fastball - could be a curve, change or slider) as a result, just to change the hitter's timing and make them more uncomfortable.

- When facing a batter on the same side (Lefty pitcher / Lefty hitter, R/R), pitchers will usually have an advantage. They express this advantage by throwing many more sliders (~50%) and a few more curveballs, and fewer changeups.



More nuanced observations I'd offer:


- Pitchers are keenly attuned to a batter looking "off-balance" when swinging at a particular pitch. This may mean that their weight goes more forward than it should when reaching for an outside pitch, or they're less rooted swinging at an inside pitch, or their weight goes forward too soon or too late. If you watch a couple thousand at-bats, probably less than a full season of following a team, you'll spot when batters look uncomfortable. Pitchers will usually decide this has more to do with pitch location than with pitch type, and will often continue pounding a particular side (or seeming to do so, via slider/changeup) in the hopes that poorer balance = poorer contact ability.

- Many batters have "holes" in particular parts of their swing, where a well-located fastball can get a swinging strike an usually high % of the time. Pitchers will go to those holes, almost always with a fastball, when they have 2 strikes on the batter. For example, David Ortiz is well-known to have a hole on the inside half of the plate, from middle height and up. Pitchers may avoid these (for example, a hole on the low-and-away corner is pretty common), however, if the consequences (missing and walking in a run, say) are bad enough.

- After repeating more or less the same pitch for multiple pitches in a row, a pitcher will often go to a different pitch that appears to be the same pitch (and headed for the same location) as it comes out of the hand, but then veers or fades out of reach of the batter who was aiming at the same trajectory. If the repeated pitches were fastballs, a changeup or slider may produce that effect; if it was a slider (for an opposite-handed batter), going to the fastball will do the same. Seeing this pattern many times, you can come to predict when the pitcher is going to change it up. The hitter knows all this too, of course, and will be guessing alongside you.

- The longer into a game a pitcher goes, and particularly the more sliders and curveballs they throw, the harder it may become for them to generate the necessary torque to produce these pitches and reliably get them where intended. Towards the end of an outing, pitchers will often abandon the pitches in their arsenal that have a lot of left-right break, as that's hardest to control; they may keep throwing curveballs if theirs is mostly straight up-and-down; they'll usually keep fastballs and changeups. Hitters may adjust and start being able to more reliably predict fastballs, which can often lead to things getting crushed and a quick end to a starter's outing.

- In the course of their pre-game study of the opposing lineup, pitchers may plan out specific pitch sequences to use for certain opposing batters, based on watching film of those hitters and looking at their tendencies, vs certain pitch types and locations in certain situations. If they use one particular sequence (say, inside FB, outside FB, outside CB, inside CU, inside FB) and it has the hitter make weak contact or otherwise show vulnerability, they may use it again in the next at-bat vs that hitter. If a hitter seemingly expected one particular pitch in a particular count, and either nailed it or nearly did, they may change that one pitch to its deceptive equivalent. The point is: each pitch sequence sets up that batter's next pitch sequence, and looking at how pitchers adjust in that respect can be very interesting, particularly with successful pitchers.

- If a hitter was frequently calling timeout after pitches, they may be utterly confused, and the pitcher choosing to fuck with them (say, 3 straight changeups) may make them feel otherwise helpless. Confused batters will tend to do a couple of things more frequently: (1) Any pitch that starts at them and then breaks over the plate, they will swing at much less often; (2) They will swing at pitches that start over the plate and then break away from it more indiscriminately; (3) They may expand the strike zone on fastballs, swinging at things outside their normal disciplined zone.

Of course, these are general trends, not rock-solid laws of nature. But with increasing familiarity with specific pitchers, predicting their choice of pitch in advance can become a surprisingly reliable instinct. Further reading here.

#2 absintheofmalaise


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Posted 13 August 2011 - 09:32 PM

Thanks for starting this MDL. I'd like to add that if there is something you'd like to know about the game, please ask about it here. We have numerous people who are very good at explaining pretty much every facet of the game from the proper footwork on fielding a grounder to to good hitting and pitching mechanics to how players should be positioned depending on who is pitching and hitting and the base/out situation.

If you don't want to post a question in the thread, shoot me a PM and I'll post it for you.

We'll move this to MLB once it gets going so the folks in the Sandbox can post in it too.

#3 Kevin Jewkilis

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 07:24 PM

Fun thread.

I want to dive into one small, special area of defensive positioning: the shift. The idea seems simple: as a general rule, lefties are more likely to hit the ball towards right field and righties towards left. You don't really gain anything by sticking someone in shallow left field against a RHB, though, because even if they field it it's unlikely they'll be able to beat the runner to first. But stick someone in shallow right against a LHB and they're still close enough to first base to turn a lot of would-be singles into outs.

To show the theory of the shift, I'm using David Ortiz's spray charts generated from http://pitchfx.texasleaguers.com/. I'm using his 2008 season from May 3 on (OPS of 956) to exclude the long slump that opened the season. The Red Sox also use the shift against similar batters (most prominently Jason Giambi during his tenure with the Yankees).

Posted Image

(NB: there's a slight bias in the spray chart because it records where balls are played. If a ground ball to the third baseman's position is fielded by the left fielder, it shows up on the above chart as a ball hit to the outfield.)

So if Ortiz hits a ground ball or a shallow line-drive, he's much more likely to hit it between first base and where the second baseman normally stands than anywhere else. In the outfield, that isn't true; yes, there's a slight preference towards right, but he hits plenty of balls to left field. Thus, when facing a left-handed power hitter with Ortiz's profile, opposing managers like to stuff the right side of the infield. The basic shift is this: infielder A (always the first baseman) plays shaded toward the bag. You stick infielder B either on the grass or in shallow right field. Infielder C plays in the vicinity of second base (sometimes to the left of it, sometimes slightly to the right). Infielder D plays in the normal shortstop position, possibly shaded a little towards third base. Note that while most commonly the infielders will stay in the "first-second-short-third" order, sometimes managers elect to have the third baseman play position B so that only one fielder is out of position. (This leads to some strange plays, like "Ortiz grounds out to shallow right, 5-3.")

Runners on base will complicate the shift. With a runner on first, fielders playing out of position can lead to difficult double plays. Shortstops playing as infielder C aren't used to having to pivot like a second baseman, and the third baseman may be unexperienced in turning double plays. If there's a runner on second, then the fourth infielder needs to stay between the runner and the bag. If they're playing too close to second base, then the runner may be able to get past them and steal third base easily. Similarly, with a runner at third, the fourth infielder must stay close enough to third base to keep the runner honest; otherwise they may be able to get a big enough lead to execute a straight steal of home. Additionally, on balls in play, fielders may get confused about their coverage/cut-off assignments. For example, with a man on first, if the batter hits a single to right field, with the third baseman out of position, the runner may be able to go first-to-third even if the right fielder gets the ball back to the infield quickly. Sometimes teams will have the pitcher or catcher cover third in that situation, or have infielder C cover second and infielder D cover third. The important thing is that everyone have clear assignments and that they actually execute them; otherwise intelligent baserunners can take extra bases at will. With the bases loaded, all these issues converge and you're more likely to see infielders playing in their own position (maybe shaded to the right) rather than the full-on shift.

What's a batter to do in the face of the shift? The most common approach is to go about his business and try to hit it hard enough that the shift doesn't actually stop it. (As they say, you can't defend against home runs.) Other hitters will make a conscious attempt to hit it to left (sometimes even bunting). The catch is that they may be sacrificing power in that situation, and power hitters are loathe to make that sacrifice. Game theory comes into play; if you bunt or hit enough weak ground balls to the right side, then maybe the other team will alter or eliminate the shift, allowing you to go back to hitting it hard to right. But changing your hitting approach like that can get dangerous, and hitters may also be concerned about potentially messing up their mechanics. It really depends on the kind of hitter and the kind of bat control they have.

Finally, it should be noted that not all left-handed hitters are good candidates for the shift. A hitter with great bat-control like Ichiro might use all 90 degrees of the infield. And a shitty hitter with no power like Juan Pierre doesn't hit it hard enough to make the shift worthwhile. If a left-handed power hitter hits the ball to left field, the infielders probably won't matter; Pierre just isn't that strong so the third baseman and shortstop will see a lot more playable balls from their normal positions. Given that we're in the 21st century, opposing managers have the spray charts and power numbers to determine which hitters are good candidates for the shift and which lefties aren't.

#4 John DiFool

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 09:01 PM

Fun thread.

I want to dive into one small, special area of defensive positioning: the shift. The idea seems simple: as a general rule, lefties are more likely to hit the ball towards right field and righties towards left. You don't really gain anything by sticking someone in shallow left field against a RHB, though, because even if they field it it's unlikely they'll be able to beat the runner to first. But stick someone in shallow right against a LHB and they're still close enough to first base to turn a lot of would-be singles into outs.


If I can focus on this little tidbit...if correct, and given the ubiquitous use of the shift against lefty sluggers anymore (and even some non-sluggers), then righthanded hitters now have an advantage they didn't enjoy before every manager started shifting against lefties. And the stats bear this out: in 1995 the platoon difference was Right: .263 .331 .418, Left: .272 .347 .416, and choosing an earlier year at random (1975), I get R: .251 .318 .366, L: .268 .341 .387. The first # batting average, is what we are concerned with here, 9/17 point edges for lefties. In 2010 it was R: .257 .320 .401, L: .258 .333 .405 , and in 2011 R: .252 .315 .393, L: .257 .326 .398. The edge that lefthanded hitters formerly enjoyed in batting average is now mostly gone. Yes maybe something else is contributing too (changes in pitcher handedness, better or worse lefty/righty hitters in a given year, etc.), but that's pretty striking. Weirdly, it's been a 5 point edge almost every year of the 00's, starting in '03.

Edited by John DiFool, 14 August 2011 - 09:04 PM.


#5 MentalDisabldLst


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Posted 15 August 2011 - 09:41 AM

Thanks for the contributions, guys. Keep 'em coming. Meanwhile, if you're having trouble picking something to write about, lurker amlothi wrote in with some requests:

First, I'd like to know more about umpiring. Where they should stand for which types of plays? Where are they looking and what do they watch for? For example, on a stolen base, how are they able to determine where is the hand/foot of the runner and see the tag on another part of the runner's body at the same instant?

A second thought would be about balks. I can look up what a balk is, but I don't know why it is called or isn't called in a certain situation. It seems that, whenever it is called, the pitcher always disagrees. Then you have pitchers like Andy Petitte that people say "always" balk. How to make that call?

Finally, I'd like to learn more about batter stance. What are the common types of stances, the advantages of each, etc? On a related note, how to tell if a batter swung at a strike or not? No matter how many times I see the slow mo replay of a "check swing" I can never seem to consistently be able to tell what umpires are looking for here.


Lots of good ideas here.

#6 absintheofmalaise


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Posted 15 August 2011 - 11:58 AM

Unless something has changed recently, there is no official rule about check swings. What umpires look for, and it does vary, is whether the bat crossed the front of the plate and/or whether the batter broke his wrists. I'll tackle the batting stance one tonight.

#7 mauidano


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Posted 15 August 2011 - 01:42 PM

Fantastic topic. What makes this game special is the nuances, the psychology of the small details such as chess. Everything is a reaction to the ball thrown by the pitcher. Another fun thing to think about is the base running aspect. Stealing bases, best pitch counts. Is it always 2-1? Can you have success rate on a LHP? When do you want to hit and run? So many factors to think about once you get a runner on. Do you stick by the old adage that you never make the first or third out at third base?

#8 LogansDad


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Posted 15 August 2011 - 02:25 PM

I have a feeling this is going to be one of those threads I look forward to opening when I wake up in the morning.

I do a lot of sitting around doing nothing at my job, and it gives me a lot of time to talk to the person that I am working with at any given moment. Football always seems to be a good topic of discussion, but a lot of the people I work with refuse to acknowledge baseball. When I ask why, they generally say it is slow and boring... but every once in a while someone says something along the lines of, "There isn't any strategy in baseball." It doesn't matter how much I try to convince them otherwise, they just won't accept that strategy comes into play on every pitch. I guess it is because baseball analysts don't use a telestrator or something.

Anyone onto my point... one of the best recent examples of visible strategy to me was on Friday night (12 August) when Daniel Bard entered the game with runners on second and third and two outs. Miguel Olivo was the batter, and everyone knew that Bard wanted to get ahead in the at-bat. Olivo knew that Bard's most reliable pitch is his fastball, and fully expected Bard to throw a hittable fastball for a strike.

What did Bard do? He uncorked a slider that Olivo was ahead of by about 3 feet. Olivo was so geared up for the fastball that he didn't have a chance of stopping (or even slowing down) his swing once he started. The next pitch, Olivo had to be thinking was a slider, since he swung about a half second late at a fastball in on his hands. And on the third pitch, it was easy to see that Olivo no longer had any idea what was going on in the at-bat, as he flailed at a slider that started just off the outside corner and ended up about 2 1/2 feet outside. Just a msterful performance by one of the best relievers in the game.

I am sure others here will go into detail on where fielders are positioned and why and other nuances of the game that you won't necessarily see on the television. For me, the best part about the game is the one-on-one matchup between the pitcher and the batter.

#9 Bdanahy14

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 04:04 PM

Not very technical, but it has everything to do with how I follow baseball

Between Pitches

Baseball, more than any other sport outside Golf, is game that has more down time than actual action. Even the longest plays take 10-12 seconds at most. But unlike every other game - there is so much to take note of and enjoy in between these stops and starts.

When I am at the game, my favorite moments take place right after the previous play ended and you start to watch the preparation for the next one. I tend to focus on the infielders, every single play they each run through the same process in an amazingly consistent rhythm. Take Dustin for example: he gets into position back on the grass, creeps forward slowly, jumps as his pitcher releases the ball, lands on the balls of his feet, and reacts to the play.

It really is amazing, as every pitch - somewhere between 10 and 13 players go through their own unique sequence of events in preparation for the pitch - and each player has to account for so many situations...

One of my favorite plays in baseball to watch is a battle between a left-handed pitcher, first basemen and a base-runner with a lead. I will NEVER understand why a crowd boo's this scenario. I could watch a pitcher throw to first 5 times and with each throw over it gets more fascinating. How does the runner change his lead? Does the pitcher throw over to get him out or to keep him close? There are very few plays in baseball I find more exciting than when a pitcher finally kicks up his leg, brings it toward the plate, the runner breaks and the ball heads towards the batter.



I was also thinking of submitting a post on keeping score, but feel like there must be someone better to address that as I only do it once or twice a year.

Edited by Bdanahy14, 15 August 2011 - 05:02 PM.


#10 Barbara

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 07:10 PM

Unless something has changed recently, there is no official rule about check swings. What umpires look for, and it does vary, is whether the bat crossed the front of the plate and/or whether the batter broke his wrists. I'll tackle the batting stance one tonight.

This is a great thread for me so expect lots of questions.
Abs, I'll bite. If nothing in the rules, why are check swings even an issue? Is it ump training school or precedent that decides a swing is not a swing? Has this been an issue since the dawn of baseball?

#11 absintheofmalaise


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Posted 15 August 2011 - 08:32 PM

This is a great thread for me so expect lots of questions.
Abs, I'll bite. If nothing in the rules, why are check swings even an issue? Is it ump training school or precedent that decides a swing is not a swing? Has this been an issue since the dawn of baseball?

I really don't know the history of how it evolved but I was able to find a couple of sites that talked about how it has evolved since the 60s. I'd recommend getting in touch with someone from SABR to see if they have more information about the check swing and how it has evolved over the years.

The first is from the Never Too Much Baseball blog by Gabriel Schechter. He was watching film from some World Series in the 60s and noticed how the call is so much different than it is today. I recommend reading the entire post, but here is an excerpt.

But that's not why I'm here today. I want to talk about check-swings. That's what I was looking for in the telecast, and that's what I found. Watching video of Game 7 of the 1965 World Series several years ago, I noticed back-to-back pitches by Sandy Koufax on which Don Mincher took mighty swings that stopped with the bat pointed (more or less) at the foul pole--in other words, about 80% of a full swing. Both pitches were called balls, and the announcer remarked matter-of-factly that Mincher had held up his swing. This was long before the home-plate umpire was willing to yield to a base umpire on this call, and it was accepted as a check-swing. Today, we see strikes called on swings that are maybe 20% of a full swing. So yes, I'm saying that Mincher went four times further past the "plane" that determines the call today than today's players go when their check-swings are called strikes. I wondered whether I'd find more evidence of what I see as just about the only rule of the 1960s that went against pitchers.


This is from the Call to the Pen blog by Jonathan Bohall. He quotes from Bill James's site as well. You'll need to go to the site to read that. There is also a decent picture of Hal Smith "checking his swing" right before he hit a 3 run HR.

In the eighth inning, the Piratesí Hal Smith hit a three-run homer that helped set up Mazeroskiís game winner. The pitch before appeared to be a high hard one that Smith offered at. Check out the picture: his bat clearly went around for strike three. Instead, a ball was called and the rest is history.

Bill James was asked on his website when and how this change occurred. He points to about 1990 when a rule was added where players (pitcher or catcher) could ask for a check swing to be appealed.


I'll post on batting stances later this week.

#12 The Four Peters


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Posted 15 August 2011 - 08:48 PM

When I am at the game, my favorite moments take place right after the previous play ended and you start to watch the preparation for the next one. I tend to focus on the infielders, every single play they each run through the same process in an amazingly consistent rhythm. Take Dustin for example: he gets into position back on the grass, creeps forward slowly, jumps as his pitcher releases the ball, lands on the balls of his feet, and reacts to the play.

It really is amazing, as every pitch - somewhere between 10 and 13 players go through their own unique sequence of events in preparation for the pitch - and each player has to account for so many

There's so much more that an infielder needs to do between every pitch, especially with runners on base. While people might think that pitchers take too long between pitches, in that amount of time a middle infielder has to communicate to the pitcher who's covering on a double play attempt, give open mouth/closed mouth sign to the other middle infielder*, see what pitch is being called by the catcher, adjust his position based on the pitch, signal that pitch to the outfielders, and then get ready for the actual pitch. Oh, and they might have to keep an eye out for a pickoff sign or play, too. It's all second nature to them, but it's definitely not like they're just standing around kicking dirt until the next pitch is thrown.

*The way middle infielders tell each other who is covering second on a steal isn't verbal, you'll notice they cover their mouths with their glove and give a signal that way. One guy (usually the SS) is in charge of making the call, and if he keeps his mouth closed it means he has the bag, if it's open then the other guy has the bag. The 2B will then reciprocate with the opposite sign to confirm understanding, so that the guy with the closed mouth knows to cover. It's quick, easy, hard to misunderstand, and pretty much impossible to steal. This will get caught on camera once in a while but usually you have to be at a game to see it.

#13 zenter


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Posted 16 August 2011 - 10:41 AM

Unless something has changed recently, there is no official rule about check swings. What umpires look for, and it does vary, is whether the bat crossed the front of the plate and/or whether the batter broke his wrists.


Abs, I'll bite. If nothing in the rules, why are check swings even an issue? Is it ump training school or precedent that decides a swing is not a swing? Has this been an issue since the dawn of baseball?

There are a couple references to a "checked swing" in the rulebook, but no definition. This is actually a classic example of exception (checked swing) that proves the rule (there is a specific meaning to "swing"). If I understand this correctly, the idea here is that there is a point of no return where intention is realized - that any movement by a batter does not imply intention to swing, but only certain movements. Umpires have, as abs said, ended up resolving around the wrist or bat analyses to define "swing" and "checked swing".

#14 joyofsox


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Posted 16 August 2011 - 10:42 AM

Re positioning of umpires: it seems to me that the first and second base umpires are often out of position to make accurate calls on close plays at first or second base.

Pedroia was called out at first in the first inning on Sunday even though first baseman Mike Carp had to reach so far towards RF for the ball (thrown from shortstop) that his foot clearly came off the bag. But Alfonso Marquez was positioned beyond the bag, down the RF line a bit. I don't think he could see if Carp's foot was on or off the bag.

Similarly, on steal attempts, having the 2B ump on the infield grass between first and second, maybe 20 feet (?) away from the 2B bag puts him in a very poor position to see a tag. His sight line can be blocked by the sliding runner or maybe even the fielder (if he's close to the bag or in the baseline, rather than in front of the base) so even though he should be able to see the tag, he would have absolutely no idea when the runner's foot touched the bag. On a headfirst slide, this would seem to be even worse for an ump in that position. The runner's shoulders would be between the ump and the hand on the base.

This is why another umpire looking at replay is needed. No umpire can be in the proper position for every play at his base. Players and throws come in at different angles and he often has to move quickly. When I see blown calls at first or on steals, it is usually because the umpire cannot see the entire play and guesses wrong.

#15 Rice4HOF

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Posted 18 August 2011 - 01:26 PM

I will be happy to add an umpire's perspective to any questions readers may have. Let me start by addressing JoyofSox inquiry on where umpires are positioned.

Re positioning of umpires: it seems to me that the first and second base umpires are often out of position to make accurate calls on close plays at first or second base....



Umpires are instructed to get to a proper angle to make the call. On that Pedroia play, the umpire WAS in the right position. Unfortunately being in the right position does not guarantee that you can see everything. For example, 1st base umpires are rarely in a good position to see a swipe bag from the 1st basemen, if the throw takes him off the base, towards home plate. In that situation, they are instructed to call the play based on whether or not the runner beat the throw, and then if there is doubt as to if they got tagged, to confer with the home plate umpire (who should be up the 1st base line to look exactly for that).

This is the standard manual for a 4 man umpire crew (in Canada anyways - I suspect the MLB one is similar). Full disclosure - I have very little experience working as part of a 4 man crew - I do mainly 2 and 3 man, but the concepts are the same. Even with 4 umpires, each umpire is not only responsible for his own base. For example, there are many situations where the HP ump gets the call at 3rd base, and if there's an overthrow, or for some other reason a play at the plate, it becomes the first base umpire's call at home. There are different situations depending on the number of outs, base runners and where the ball is hit to that dictate where all 4 umpires should go. I actually enjoy following the umpires and seeing how they all move to be in the correct position for calls. This is tough to do on TV, and if you're watching at Fenway you probably have more interesting things to look at than the men in blue. But if you get a chance, go to a High School or minor league game that you have no cheering interest in, and watch the umpires. When a rotation is executed well, it's poetry in motion.

I'll touch on the check swing rule shortly.

#16 Rice4HOF

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Posted 18 August 2011 - 02:08 PM

Re: check swing...

As already pointed out, there is no definition of a "check swing" in the rule book. There are, however, interpretations(*) of what is a swing. A strike is simply defined as a pitch that is "struck at by the batter". You hear people talking about a batter "breaking his wrist" or the bat "crossing the plane".... these are all factors or things to take into account to determine if a batter "struck" at the ball, but do not by themselves define anything. For example, on an inside pitch, a batter may take a full swing as he spins around to try and get out of the way of a pitch. This is not a strike - he did "break his wrists", but this situation is deemed as not striking at the ball. Also, holding a bat over home plate in a bunt attempt, but not moving the bat is by definition not a strike (See item # 2 on this misconceptions page).

(*) There is an interpretation book widely regarded as "the standard", commonly referred to as "The J/R manual" It's full name is something like "interpretations of the rules of baseball by Jaksa and Roder". This book may have some more guidelines for check swings - I've seen this book and read a couple of pages but don't have my own copy of it.

As far as how many more check swings are called strikes now then in the 60s, I think this is because of the invention of instant replay. In one of the umpire courses I took, they showed us a video of some plays. One chapter was on check swings. They showed some clips from games, in full speed, and asked us to give our thoughts. Almost all the check swings looked to the naked eye as if the batter had stopped his bat short of the plate and clearly "checked" his swing. The slo-mo instant replay always showed that they went ALL the way around, and then pulled the bat back. If they do it quickly enough it is almost impossible to see with the naked eye. I think this has led to 2 things: 1 - umpires know that it's hard to check a swing, so if they thing the batter may have gone, or see a slight blur, are more willing to call it a strike (knowing that instant replay will back them up), and 2 - players know about (1), so ask for appeals more often. It used to be that if the catcher didn't see the swing, he wouldn't bother appealing, but now he knows that the base ump might have some doubt in his mind and may call it a swing, so might as well appeal and hope for the best.
As a base umpire, I often see swings that my partner will call "ball", and the catcher doesn't appeal. Probably 2-3 times a game this will happen. If they appealed, I'd call it a strike. (My personal interpretation is that if they swing hard at it, they probably couldn't/didn't stop in time).

#17 absintheofmalaise


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Posted 19 August 2011 - 11:29 AM

Finally, I'd like to learn more about batter stance. What are the common types of stances, the advantages of each, etc?


Hope this helps.

There are subtleties in every hitterís swing, and no two swings are the same. If you watch closely, there are so many things to watch for when a hitter is at the
plate. How far does he stand off the plate? Where is he set in relation to the front and back of the box? Where does he plant his front food when the ball is coming towards the plate? Is he a rotational or linear hitter? Does he have a long swing or a more compact one?

The way a hitter sets up before the pitcher starts his delivery is interesting to watch, but isn't necessarily important. Some hitters start out with their stance
wide open like Damon and Crawford, while some are less open like Gonzalez and Aviles. Some have their pre-set habits like Youkilis massaging the bat handle or Thome pointing out to right field or the countless hitters who slowly swing the bat over the plate like a 9 iron.

What is important is how a hitter sets his feet as the pitcher delivers the ball. When he plants his front foot is it open slightly or parallel to the plate or slightly closed? Does he plant it in a different spot if he thinks the pitch will be on the inside or outside half of the plate?

The front foot, whether the hitter strides out or lifts and plants, starts the process. It keys the hips to move forward and start opening and starts the weight shift from the back leg to the front, which generates power. The hands start moving forward towards the ball, the bat follows.

After the front foot lands, the toe should have opened and and be pointing toward the 2B (RH) or the SS (LH). If the toe is at a different angle, the hitter is not optimizing power: if a hitter opens his hips too much (or too soon), it is up to the arms to generate any power. Swinging with just the arms is a recipe for failure and usually results in a weak grounder or pop-up. It looks like that's what Crawford is doing, in addition to having problems with pitch recognition. Ortiz had a similar problem last year, almost like he was stepping into the bucket.

If the hitter leaves the toe pointing toward the plate, he's not in position to open his hips. This happens often on outside pitches, if they have the ability to adjust quickly. Some hitters leave their stance slightly closed when they swing, which is not optimal for all hitters because it restricts the hips from opening up.

Some players use a closed stance intentionally, in an effort to not pull every pitch. Brian McCann is a good example of a hitter who leaves his stance slightly closed and is still one of the best hitters in baseball for average and power.

Those are some of the things I'm looking at when I watch hitters.

#18 absintheofmalaise


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Posted 21 August 2011 - 10:53 PM

Lurker Dr. Noisewater sent in this on infield positioning if anyone would like to handle it.

I'd like to ask a question in the Beyond the Rulebook thread, if its not too much trouble. One of the things I never really learned, while playing in my youth (I always played the corners) is middle infielder positioning. What exactly is "double-play depth?" Where do they typically play with runners on various bases? etc.



#19 RedOctober3829


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Posted 21 August 2011 - 11:04 PM

Lurker Dr. Noisewater sent in this on infield positioning if anyone would like to handle it.


Double play depth is when the shortstop and 2nd baseman shade over towards second base when a double play is a possibility. Usually, the shortstop plays between 2nd and 3rd base and a few steps from the outfield grass while the 2nd baseman plays between 1st and 2nd and a few steps from the outfield grass. In a situation with a man on first and either nobody out or 1 out, you move the SS and 2B up on the infield in line with 2nd base and a few steps over towards the base. Moving both players up and closer to 2nd base makes it easier for players to get to 2nd base and try to turn the double play.

Make sure you don't shade the SS or 2B too far over towards the bag so you don't give the hitter a bigger hole on the infield to hit through. If you have a pull-happy lefty up, keep the 2B a step or 2 towards 1st base but still parallel to the bag as he is more likely to hit the ball to that side. Same thing with the SS and a right handed hitter.

With your corner infielders, shade them a bit farther towards the middle where they usually play.

Edited by RedOctober3829, 21 August 2011 - 11:13 PM.


#20 There is no Rev


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Posted 11 September 2011 - 02:14 PM

Reddick and Carl don't believe in smart baseball.

Playing like shit is one thing. Playing stupid baseball is another. Hit the fucking cutoff man.

Meh -- Scutaro didn't establish effective cutoff position. Reddick's throw was a good one.

Although I am loathe to disagree with you, Sprowly...

Posted Image

Posted Image

...ball don't lie.

Second time this game, too.

Edit: Scut is covering bag and realizes there is no cutoff, so runs to get it maybe hoping maybe he can get it and run it back, but then it's over his head. Of course, there would have been nobody covering the bag anyway...

I think that supports my conclusion, rather than the contrary -- it is the cutoff man's job to get in position between the RF and the 3B so that he can make the decision about whether or not to intercept the ball. The rightfielder must avoid overthrowing the cutoff man, but that's a matter of trajectory, not direction. There's no point in throwing the ball to a cutoff man who is out of line with the 3B: if that's the case, then the rightfielder just runs the ball in to hold the men at first and third.

I think the larger problem is that there is no cut-off play given the arrangement of the players, no?

Pedroia chased the ball. Scut covered the bag. Weiland's backing up third.

The whole thing is sorta a clusterfrick. Maybe Reddick threw to 3rd because there was no cutoff man, but if Pedey's in short right... I'm actually trying to figure out what should have happened.

It's up to Scutaro to judge the situation, but I think part of that judgment is that the cutoff man is the first job, and covering second is the last job. First things first, and all that...

I just don't want Reddick to catch flak when he made a very good throw in both line and trajectory.

Also, where does the pitcher go in all this mess? To back up 3B?

I beg to differ. The only place that throw should have gone was to 2B. Reddick made a bad decision to throw to 3B. There was zero chance of getting him there. Scutaro moved over to the line that the ball was thrown on to try and cut it off, but Reddick threw it to high to do that. He was where he was supposed to be. There was zero need for a cutoff man. Reddick was shallow enough to get the throw to second easily.


This was an interesting issue that came up last night that I think highlights some of the finer and more subtle points of the game--that there was some disagreement suggests it as well.

On reflection, I think Reddick didn't so much miss the cutoff man as throw it to the wrong base. Had Scutaro been there as a cutoff man, I think it would have still gone over his head. But there would be no purpose to Scutaro acting as a cutoff man, because then second base wouldn't be covered anyway. Of course, it's also interesting that Weiland is backing up third, which suggests he thinks it might be going to third, even though it looks to me like the better play is to throw to second.

I feel like I've been noticing some of these details more than usual, which is neat because I'm learning more about the game, though a source of concern because I think I may be learning through viewing their errors. Crawford's throw to third way over the cutoff man allowing the runner to go to second earlier in the game comes to mind.

Anyway, I thought this might be an interesting point to look at in terms of understanding baseball in a really dialed in sort of way.

Edited by Reverend, 11 September 2011 - 02:17 PM.


#21 absintheofmalaise


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Posted 11 September 2011 - 02:31 PM

Weiland is where he's supposed to be on that play. If the ball had gone to 2B, like it should have, he might have been a little closer behind the line to home in case a throw might need to go there. If there was a play at 3B you would have seen Gonzalez as the cut off man in the grass between the mound and the 2B basepath if the runner had already gone to second. That way Scutaro could cover 2B. No one expected that throw to go to 3B. Gonzalez would sometimes be the cut for a play at home from RF too, depending on depth of the ball.

#22 Frisbetarian


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Posted 12 September 2011 - 11:23 AM

This was an interesting issue that came up last night that I think highlights some of the finer and more subtle points of the game--that there was some disagreement suggests it as well.

On reflection, I think Reddick didn't so much miss the cutoff man as throw it to the wrong base. Had Scutaro been there as a cutoff man, I think it would have still gone over his head. But there would be no purpose to Scutaro acting as a cutoff man, because then second base wouldn't be covered anyway. Of course, it's also interesting that Weiland is backing up third, which suggests he thinks it might be going to third, even though it looks to me like the better play is to throw to second.

I feel like I've been noticing some of these details more than usual, which is neat because I'm learning more about the game, though a source of concern because I think I may be learning through viewing their errors. Crawford's throw to third way over the cutoff man allowing the runner to go to second earlier in the game comes to mind.

Anyway, I thought this might be an interesting point to look at in terms of understanding baseball in a really dialed in sort of way.


A few things. Scutaro should be able to get back and make a play at 2nd from the cut-off position (just to the home plate side of 2nd, directly in line between 3rd base and where Reddick picked up the ball) if he cuts off the ball, although it can be problematic with a very fast runner and an off-line throw (like in this situation). He chose not to line up in the cut-off, however, because he (correctly, imo) read the play and knew they had no shot getting Rodriguez, a fast runner who was around the bag well before Reddick picked up the ball, at 3rd. Scutaro decided to make sure Jennings, an extremely fast runner, stayed at first, so he covered 2nd base. This was, again imo, the correct baseball play. Reddick, for whatever reason, thought he could get Rodriguez at 3rd - he would have needed a rifle - and airmailed a throw that Scutaro would have had a hard time cutting off were he in the position to do so. Jennings getting to 2nd was all on the throw.

Weiland's job on that play is to back up third, and he should head over there as soon as the ball is through the infield. He has no way to tell for sure if there is going to be a play, and even if there is not, and he knows it, there is always the possibility the outfielder will do something stupid.

Carl Crawford has missed a small village of cut-off men this season. I do not remember him being such a terrible fundamental baseball player with Tampa, but he sure has been one with the Sox. Another reason for Felix to hate him.

#23 MarkInLondon


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Posted 12 October 2011 - 01:29 PM

Excellent thread, thanks.

One comment I've got regards is a general one about spectating. 99% of the games I've watched have been on TV. I've seen about fifteen games live - and up until this summer the last was at Wrigley Field in 2001.

I went to three A level games in Florida (2 at Lakeland Flying Tigers and one at Tampa Yankees) and I've picked up more about the rhythm and subtleties of the game in those three evenings than the hundreds of games I've watched on telly.

Some random thoughts -

- The way the two umpires ran the game (I'd never appreciated that there were only 2 at that level) Where they positioned themselves whilst someone was running the bases, or with men on base.

- Being able to hear what the players in the dugout were shouting at the batter and what the catcher was saying to the umpire.

- The way the catcher helped outfielders with fly balls near the line.

- Umpire dusting the plate to give a catcher time to clear his head when a foul tip hit him in the face, and the catcher reciprocating a few innings later when the umpire took one on the shin!


It helped that there were few other distractions - barely 300 people at any of the games so I could immerse myself in what was going on. Also helped that I could move around - a couple of innings behind home plate, then move to the third base line and so on.

It also helped meeting a couple of retired Sox fans at Lakeland who saw it as their civic duty to answer every question I put to them, and not to let me buy any beers!

#24 plnii

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Posted 01 November 2011 - 03:48 PM

A second thought would be about balks. I can look up what a balk is, but I don't know why it is called or isn't called in a certain situation. It seems that, whenever it is called, the pitcher always disagrees. Then you have pitchers like Andy Petitte that people say "always" balk. How to make that call?


I can talk about lefty balks to first base. There are a few key rules.

  • Once your body is moving towards home you have to go to home (and the same to first base).
  • If your front foot crosses back behind your back leg, you have to go home.
  • You have to step more towards first base than towards home if you throw to first base (angle between first and step direction is ~< 45 degrees)

Back in high school, I used to always move my leg past my back leg because runners didn't know rule #2, and would return to the base.

Pettitte is notorious for abusing #3 and stepping more towards home plate. It's hard to do and throw accurately.

There are also some weird rules about when you come set -- you have to step your back foot off if you want to "reset".

#25 joyofsox


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Posted 17 January 2012 - 09:12 AM

Sprowl, in the Padilla thread:

[Daniel Bard will] have to incorporate his changeup more often, and as early as the 2nd time through the order to LHB. He'll have to master his sinker and alternate it with his 4-seamer more often. He probably can't use his slider half the time, since it places more strain on the shoulder.

This is the kind of stuff I never seem to figure out (or retain) and would like to know. Especially the first sentence, to get an idea of what is coming next and thinking along with the battery.

When the Sox pitchers are going good or going bad, what are they throwing most of the time to LH and RH batters? Fangraphs shows how often certain pitches are thrown (Lester here), but I'd like to know more. Like when Lester is going good, what is he throwing and when? Are there pitches that he won't throw to certain batters even when in a groove? Or if you see him throwing x to certain batters, that is an indication that he is struggling, because that is not his strength.

Stuff like that.

#26 There is no Rev


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Posted 09 April 2012 - 04:38 PM

Others have noted that there are some questions about Salty's pitch calling around the league. Any comments about the Beckett gopher balls here? I don't believe they were all on fastballs, but I get the sense Salty goes to that pitch a bit too often.


Aceves seemed dug in to throwing his horrible fastball. When he was throwing his off speed /secondary pitches he induced the ground ball. He waved Salty off to throw Cabrera that meatball.

I actually disliked Stoppach's pitch calling with Buchholz who last season seemed comfortable with Salty.


I always thought the pitcher called the game - catcher only suggests/critiques


Beckett's tantrum throwing last year in order to get Varitek catching all his games suggests otherwise.


The pitcher ultimately is going to throw what he wants to throw. I am sure any pitcher would prefer that he and his catcher are on the same page with what to throw in certain situations. Being in sync breeds confidence in what you are about to throw. Catchers call games in the sense that they throw down signs, but the pitcher is going to get final say on anything given that he is holding the ball.


Over in the closer thread, there was more disagreement about the responsibilities of calling a game than I expected and it got me thinking about the issue. Obviously, the pitcher can and will wave off the catcher. Also, we know sometimes the catcher runs up to talk to the pitcher when they disagree.

This made me wonder about what kind of range of deference pitchers actually have to catcher's suggestions and why it matters or not. Obviously, different players have different levels of preparation and different amounts of respect for the views of other players. How is this relationship negotiated? I imagine they prep together. But as far as pitch calling, do the pitchers and catchers explicitly lay out before hand the differential responsibility--which would then be different for each pitcher vis-a-vis each catcher?

I remember reading about Tony Pena being particularly good at all of this; there's a story about how he basically bet a pitcher to not shake him off a whole game and the guy had an outstanding game. And the Beckett situation is interesting--like, if he doesn't like the call, why not just shake it off and who cares? On the other hand, maybe he preferred having V-tek's input--perhaps he considered it better than his own in such cases? (This idea, perversely, puts me in the strange situation of hoping in retrospect that Varitek's skills were in fact over-rated.)

The answer is likely that it varies player to player, but the debate about how important pitch calling as a skill for catchers is seems to recur but never get hashed out in a comprehensive ways, and I'd be interested to hear more on what people think.

#27 Pearl Wilson


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Posted 14 April 2012 - 08:03 AM

The Brad Asmus Fresh Air interview was interesting to me in that respect. Paraphrasing, he admitted he found it irritating to be shaken off, most especially by the younger pitchers. He knew those young guys didn't know the hitters like he did. Part of his preparation as a catcher was a catchers' meeting that was separate from the pitchers.

#28 LoweTek

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Posted 20 April 2012 - 10:31 AM

A lot of pitch calling is now done from the dugout. Scioscia, for example calls pitches from the bench. I'm not sure what options he gives to the catcher or pitcher to change or shake off. In college and high school ball this is routine. Watch as the catcher look in his dugout prior to giving the sign.

#29 HriniakPosterChild

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Posted 29 April 2012 - 09:52 PM

A lot of pitch calling is now done from the dugout. Scioscia, for example calls pitches from the bench. I'm not sure what options he gives to the catcher or pitcher to change or shake off. In college and high school ball this is routine. Watch as the catcher look in his dugout prior to giving the sign.

I have never seen Scoscia sending in signs without a runner on base, and I have seats just behing the visitor's dugout in Seattle.

The George Will book Men at Work had Will giving LaRussa a bit of a tongue bath for a chapter or so, and Tony said he didn't want the battery to be focusing on anything other than getting the hitter out, so he'd worry about controlling the running game from the dugout. I believe that Scoscia is doing the same thing.

#30 DennyDoyle'sBoil


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Posted 28 May 2013 - 01:48 PM

I was at a little league game not long ago, and there was a kid who was putting on a show at shortstop.  He played a ready position like an 18-year old.  His range was astounding.  His positioning and ability to read balls off the bat was exceptional.  One of the

parents said, “boy, he’s a natural shortstop. I replied, “not really, he throws with his left hand.”  To which I was treated with a chorus of “so
what”?  Since then, I’ve been interested to note that many people, including significant baseball fans, never noticed that those who throw left handed are, once they become teenagers, pretty much disqualified from four of the eight non-pitching defensive positions.  There supposedly has not been a left-handed shortstop in over 120 years. Catchers, second base, shortstop, and third base are almost exclusively right-handed positions.

 

So what?

 

Well, one of the things that I think has made baseball fun in the last couple of decades is the challenging of baseball lore.  For those who think Bill James and Billy Beane already have figured it all out and there’s nothing left to discuss, not so.  I’m not a heavy stat guy and my math is poor.  But baseball can still be fun if you think of sabermetrics like physics.  Some are really good with the equations and mathematics – the language of physics. But there is room for the theoretical physicists too – those who spend time on more big picture ideas and tease them out with those who get the numbers.  You’ll never be a great theoretically physicist if you don’t speak math, but you can still have fun.  Same with baseball.  If you’re intimidated by the math and intricacies of sabermetrics, don’t give up.


The point is you can make baseball fun, even without a heavy sabermetrics orientation, by understanding the game and asking some big questions. Here's an example:  Why do teams put their better corner outfielder in right field?  More batters in the MLB hit right and more balls are pulled than hit to the opposite field.  So why this prejudice?  Believe it or not, despite a plethora of evidence and analysis, you’ll find serious baseball people still argue about it.  Much of it circles around going first to third and the need for a good arm to get outs at third base.  Maybe this is enough to put your better arm in right – but often the player with a better arm has better range.  I don’t have answers, but the point here is that asking the question can enhance how you watch baseball.  And, it’s one thing to talk about WAR and OPS in the abstract, but if you start digging into the stats to answer a puzzling question or to challenge a long-held dogma, it’s more of an adventure and you may learn something along the way.

 

So, back to the left-handed shortstop.  Why does it matter?  The first question is why no lefty infielders (except 1B) or catchers.  It's because most think the throw to first is too difficult coming across the body, and an infielder that has to spin to make the throw will be more wild and take too much time.  Fair enough.  Probably right.  120 years don't lie.  What about the catcher?  I haven't really read a great answer.  Just seems to be the way it is.  But even beyond those points, much of baseball strategy is oriented around pitcher batter matchups.  Two facts are well established.  First, batters with a left-handed swing are better hitters than righties.  Just look at the historical lists of greats.  Second, lefty batters hit righty pitchers better than lefty pitchers, and righty batters hit lefty pitchers better.  Interestingly, compiling data over several years shows that these advantages, while undeniable, are a bit less pronounced than people often think. 

 

In any event, by now, hopefullyyou can see the questions that are raised by the lefty shortstop and start to see why some traditional dogma may be subject to further thinking.  Why do batters hit the opposite handed pitcher better?  Many think it’s because balls that move horizontally tend to move from the pitcher’s dominant hand toward the other batter’s box – in other words, a lefty pitcher who throws a ball with movement will tend to have it move right, and vice versa.  So, the argument goes, a hitter can often hit a ball coming toward him better than one that goes away from him.  A good theory.  Yet, still managers will platoon against closers who throw fastballs and changes exclusively.  And some batters swear it has more to do with where they pick up the ball.  Over the course of a year, a manager will probably get on the good side of the stats by platooning, but there’s more work to be done here.  A manager can take short cuts if the pitcher
has pitched for a long time.  Just look at his splits, and you don’t need to know the “why.”  But, as fans, the “why” is still fun.


Why do lefties hit better?  Is it positional bias?  In other words, left handed throwers tend to bat lefty too.  So if your kid is hoping to be a major leaguer, and he throws left, he better be a good hitter, because he can’t play one of the four premium defensive positions where you can be an average hitter and still have a good career because of defensive abilities.  Or, maybe, if you kid hits lefty, he will be so desirable in order to platoon in a world where most pitchers are righties, that he will advance even if there is a better hitting center fielder out there

with more range, because college coaches aren’t sabermeticians and just want that lefty in there to fact that righty in the eighth inning. 

 

No answers in this post.  Just questions.  I hope it’s in the spirit that the thread was intended.

 



#31 SoxJox

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Posted 28 May 2013 - 02:25 PM

What about the catcher?  I haven't really read a great answer.  

Great post DDB.

 

One possibility here is that most catchers' throws tend to tail in the direction of the throwing hand (i.e., RH catcher's tail to R; LH to L.).  The effect of a LH catcher's throw in many cases would have the ball tailing in a less than advantageous direction relative to the runner stealing or advancing to second or third.  Many throws likely would cause the player covering the bag to reach to the opposite side of the bag (as opposed to just dropping a right-tailing throw on the sliding runner).

 

Throws to first, on pick off plays for instance, might often be more difficult to handle as the 1B is moved out of an ideal tagging position by having to extend further than normal out over a runner sliding back into the bag.

 

Not always in each case, to be sure, but I would think often enough to lower even further what is already a fairly low percentage for successful throw-outs and pickoffs.

 

Edit: I just realized this was post #666 for me.  So the "devil" must obviously be in the details in answering these things.


Edited by SoxJox, 28 May 2013 - 02:28 PM.


#32 MalzoneExpress


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Posted 28 May 2013 - 02:31 PM

Great post DDB.

 

One possibility here is that most catchers' throws tend to tail in the direction of the throwing hand (i.e., RH catcher's tail to R; LH to L.).  The effect of a LH catcher's throw in many cases would have the ball tailing in a less than advantageous direction relative to the runner stealing or advancing to second or third.  Many throws likely would cause the player covering the bag to reach to the opposite side of the bag (as opposed to just dropping a right-tailing throw on the sliding runner).

 

Throws to first, on pick off plays for instance, might often be more difficult to handle as the 1B is moved out of an ideal tagging position by having to extend further than normal out over a runner sliding back into the bag.

 

Not always in each case, to be sure, but I would think often enough to lower even further what is already a fairly low percentage for successful throw-outs and pickoffs.

 

Edit: I just realized this was post #666 for me.  So the "devil" must obviously be in the details in answering these things.

 

I would imaging it's the same reason there are no left handed shortstops. In the catcher's case it would be the throw to third base that would be more difficult. And you don't want to give up steals of third.



#33 Mark Schofield


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Posted 28 May 2013 - 02:32 PM

In addition to the tailing of a left handed thrower's throws down to second (towards the SS side of the bag) I always thought the main reason most catchers were right handed throwers was due to the prevalence of right handed batters.  Easier to throw down to second if you don't have to throw over/around a batter in the batter's box.

 

Here's a rather interesting article about this:  http://www.nytimes.c....html?_r=1



#34 ToeKneeArmAss


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Posted 28 May 2013 - 02:48 PM

I would imaging it's the same reason there are no left handed shortstops. In the catcher's case it would be the throw to third base that would be more difficult. And you don't want to give up steals of third.

 

This.  There's no way as a lefty to get a good throw off to third that will beat a decent runner with a decent jump.  Too much twisting required.



#35 ToeKneeArmAss


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Posted 28 May 2013 - 02:57 PM

Why do lefties hit better?

 

Two reasons come to mind - for one, they start a bit close to first.  As a result, a lefty might beat out a few more infield hits over the course of a season than an equally-quick righty might.  Secondly, while the proportions are less pronounced than in the general public, there are more righty pitchers than lefties.  So a left-handed hitter faces his preferred-handed pitcher (the righty) more often than his equally-talented right-handed teammate gets to face a lefty.

 

 

I'm curious if there's an updated answer to the trivia question "Who was the last lefty to play third and catcher in the major leagues?"  I believe it was Mike Squires with the White Sox in the early 80's - not sure whether anyone's done it since.



#36 Just a bit outside

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Posted 28 May 2013 - 03:29 PM

So, back to the left-handed shortstop.  Why does it matter?  The first question is why no lefty infielders (except 1B) or catchers.  It's because most think the throw to first is too difficult coming across the body, and an infielder that has to spin to make the throw will be more wild and take too much time.  Fair enough.  Probably right.  120 years don't lie.  What about the catcher?  I haven't really read a great answer.  Just seems to be the way it is. 


 

 

Great post.  The reason that you will see left-handed throwers at infield and catcher in youth baseball is because there skills are more advanced and it makes up for extra time it takes to make the throws.  As the competition improves and the player skills become closer together the left-handed thrower can not make up for the differences in throwing.  This is true for both the infield and catcher positions.

 

 

 

In any event, by now, hopefullyyou can see the questions that are raised by the lefty shortstop and start to see why some traditional dogma may be subject to further thinking.  Why do batters hit the opposite handed pitcher better?  Many think it’s because balls that move horizontally tend to move from the pitcher’s dominant hand toward the other batter’s box – in other words, a lefty pitcher who throws a ball with movement will tend to have it move right, and vice versa.  So, the argument goes, a hitter can often hit a ball coming toward him better than one that goes away from him.  A good theory.  Yet, still managers will platoon against closers who throw fastballs and changes exclusively.  And some batters swear it has more to do with where they pick up the ball.  Over the course of a year, a manager will probably get on the good side of the stats by platooning, but there’s more work to be done here.  A manager can take short cuts if the pitcher

has pitched for a long time.  Just look at his splits, and you don’t need to know the “why.”  But, as fans, the “why” is still fun.

 

I think the platoon advantage is picking up the ball, particularly for left-handed hitters.  Left-handed pitchers tend to throw more 3/4 to sidearm, see Tony Fossas or any other Loogy, and it is hard for lefties to pick up the ball.  You see the same results with some righties who drop down, see Justin Masterson.



#37 ookami7m

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Posted 28 May 2013 - 03:57 PM

What about the catcher?  I haven't really read a great answer.  Just seems to be the way it is.

The reasoning I've always heard for the lack of lefty catchers is that any lefthander who can have the kind of arm needed to be a catcher is going to be converted to a pitcher long before he's allowed to settle in behind the plate. The combination of accuracy and power needed for the home->2B throw is rare enough.

#38 Carlos Cowart


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Posted 07 August 2013 - 10:30 PM

What's up with batters stepping out to untape and retape their batting gloves? I used to hate seeing Nomar do it but chalked it up to some form of autism, but Pedroia does it as well as Ellsbury and several other Sox. Is there some "attend to your equipment" loophole intended to let batters tie their shoes which allows this idiocy without a delay of game? I don't recall seeing this until Nomar but now it seems like half the players routinely step out, untape their gloves and then retape them - many after every pitch. Are umps compelled to allow this?



#39 BCsMightyJoeYoung

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Posted 07 August 2013 - 10:36 PM

Silly observation .. If you are watching on TV and the batter hits a pop up that may or not drift foul into the seats .. Usually there are at least a couple of players that are going for the catch. If you project the path that both fielders are taking the intersection point is a rough approximation of where the ball will land. Give it a try ..

 

Edit: as MalzoneExpress mentioned below - just the guys going for the ball. A classic example is the Catcher and 1Bman tracking a popup between Home and 1st as it drifts toward the seats.


Edited by BCsMightyJoeYoung, 09 August 2013 - 10:25 AM.


#40 Carlos Cowart


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Posted 08 August 2013 - 10:26 PM

So your your theory is that players starting from different parts of the field will each run in more or less a direct line toward where the ball eventually drops and would eventually intersect there, given enough time and lacking impediments, such as walls? I tried this tonight and it didn't work. There was a popup that ended up behind the left side dugout and the catcher ran to first and the 3d baseman ran out to center field.



#41 MalzoneExpress


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Posted 09 August 2013 - 07:36 AM

So your your theory is that players starting from different parts of the field will each run in more or less a direct line toward where the ball eventually drops and would eventually intersect there, given enough time and lacking impediments, such as walls? I tried this tonight and it didn't work. There was a popup that ended up behind the left side dugout and the catcher ran to first and the 3d baseman ran out to center field.

 

I believe you should only consider players who are in active pursuit of the ball. Other players have off-the-ball responsibilities like covering or backing up bases. 



#42 Poulsonator

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Posted 29 March 2014 - 05:53 PM

Not sure if this is the right place for this, but I thought this article on the obstruction call to end game 3 of the 2013 Series was well done:

http://espn.go.com/m...bstruction-call

Interviews with all of the players and umpires involved, with more in-depth explanation on the actual rule itself. If I read it correctly, this was only the second game in history won on such a call.

#43 FinanceAdvice

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Posted 19 April 2014 - 08:13 PM

Thanks for this thread. I used to think catcher was the most important position but now realize its all about pitching. I feel I can'see' the diference in fastball change-up curve and slider. But I've a question on the psychological conept of the pitcher. How can anyone here explain the vast difference between Doubront, Lackey and Buchholz from '013 to first month this year? In addition thanks for whomever posted the sabermetrics class which I just signed up for today.

#44 lxt

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Posted 03 October 2014 - 06:48 PM

Is there a good book out there that discusses sabermetrics without forcing you to lose your mind in the math? I want to read about the sabermetrics in a manner that explains its purpose, use and its relevance and not spend three hours trying to get through the math.



#45 FinanceAdvice

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Posted 08 October 2014 - 07:23 AM

Try Baseball Prospectus 2015(coming out in February) and also Bill James Handbook 2015. Good prices at amazon.



#46 lxt

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Posted 09 October 2014 - 06:18 PM

Try Baseball Prospectus 2015(coming out in February) and also Bill James Handbook 2015. Good prices at amazon.

Thanks



#47 JimBoSox9


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Posted 20 November 2014 - 10:00 AM

I found this article to be a really well-structured example of how to combine solid sabermetrics, what you see with your eyes, and logic to produce a cohesive argument.  As someone who doesn't like the perception of a saber vs scouting conflict, I appreciated the path this writer (Alec Dopp) took: http://www.gammonsda...al-second-half/  

 


As is usually the case with mid-year turnarounds, Kemp began squaring up the baseball at an increased frequency. In fact, exactly 23.5% of his at-bats prior to the break ended in a hard-hit ball in play (based off comprehensive video review of each pitch). Put into context, that number was better than 68% of qualifying hitters in that span. Good, but certainly not great. But as the season wore on, he became great in this respect. Precisely 28.0% of his second-half at bats finalized in a well-struck ball in play. That may not seem like a significant jump, but this was ninth-highest among qualifiers and better than 94% of the league!

-----
You see, Kemp struggled to lift the ball in the air prior to the All Star break, as only 29.1% of his balls hit in play during this stretch of time were fly balls. Following the break, that number rose sharply to 38.1%. More context: approximately 80% of big-league hitters maintained higher fly-ball rates than Kemp from April to mid July. After, only 30%. That’s a massive turnaround.
-----
Notice how the overwhelming majority of his fly balls prior to the All-Star break originated on pitches up in the strike zone. Now notice — and this is the key — the increase in fly balls on pitches in the lower half of the zone. This tells me a few things.
Firstly, it screams the obvious: Kemp produced more fly balls on lower-half/third offerings in the second half of the season than he did prior to the All Star break. In fact, we have the numbers to back up this observation: Kemp’s 26.5% fly ball rate on pitches located at the lower half of the strike zone increased to a healthy 33.7% during the second half of the season. Moving even lower in the zone, Kemp witnessed his fly ball rate on lower-third pitches increase from 20.5% to 27.7% over both spans. Simultaneously, his HR/FB% on lower-half pitches ascended from 10.3% to 34.3% (!). 
-----
Secondly and without question more importantly, this massive increases in fly ball rate on pitches ‘low’ in the zone tells me (us) that they weren’t born purely out of coincidence. Rather, through video research, we find that Kemp made necessary adjustments at the plate during the second half of the season to make such improvements possible. 
June 16 – Athletic stance; slight bend at the knees; front foot closed.
June 16 – Contact point low and inside; front foot lands closed; unable to fully open/extend hips; overcompensates by using upper body, creating long, looping barrel path
sept 21Sept. 21 – Relaxed stance; feet closer together; front foot even with back; less bend in knee.
contact point sept 21
Sept. 21 – Contact point low and inside; front foot lands even and more open; generates power through fully-extended hips; less emphasis placed on upper-body; more efficient swing, less wasted movement.
-----
Through placing his front foot even with his back and utilizing less bend at the knees (e.g. a more ‘relaxed’ stance prior to the pitch), Kemp was able to create more bat head velocity and leverage on the baseball low in the zone at the point of contact. An increase in fly balls — and ridiculous power — was the result.

Edited by JimBoSox9, 20 November 2014 - 10:01 AM.


#48 lxt

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Posted 21 November 2014 - 07:22 PM

I found this article to be a really well-structured example of how to combine solid sabermetrics, what you see with your eyes, and logic to produce a cohesive argument.  As someone who doesn't like the perception of a saber vs scouting conflict, I appreciated the path this writer (Alec Dopp) took: http://www.gammonsda...al-second-half/  

 

Wonderful article. It makes sense of the statistics through the actuals seen in a player.






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