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Speaking of max effort pitches (and "smoking guns"), there was a fascinating story in this morning's New York Times.  Researchers looked at 83 pitchers who had Tommy John surgery and compared them to 83 who had not.  Age, weight, height, experience, innings, handedness, starter/reliever,  fastball/curve/change-up speeds were all very close for the two groups, but the TJ group threw 47% fastballs and the non-injured group threw just under 40% fastballs.  They estimated a 2% increase in risk for each 1% increase in number of fastballs, the only significant effect they found.  Does this seem believable to you and, if so, do you think that teams should encourage pitchers to increase their use of off-speed pitches?  
Asked by: Robinsong

Answered: 5/22/2016
 It sounds like an interesting article, and I will look it up.  


Hey Bill,  
In re: hometown draft picks. Didn't some of the other sports have "territorial rights" to local stars at one time? I think that's how the Philly teams wound up with Wilt Chamberlain and Chuck Bednarik. Did baseball ever have such a rule? 
Asked by: AJD600

Answered: 5/22/2016
 Sort of.   From about 1920 until about 1940 MINOR LEAGUE teams had territorial rights to players from their region.    When the Cleveland Indians signed Bob Feller in 1936, the Des Moines team protested to the commissioner that, since Feller was from their area, they had the sole rights to sign him.    The commissioner ruled that the Des Moines team was correct (I think. . .this is from memory). . .the commish said that the Des Moines team was correct, but nonetheless allowed Feller to stay with Cleveland, although I think he did fine the Indians for violating the territorial rights of the minor league team.   
I think we should divvy up rights to players based on height, eye color and religion.   For example, the Dodgers would have the rights to draft blue-eyed Methodists more than 6-foot-4, and also Jewish players from 5-7 to 5-9.   There'd be lawsuits over a guy's exact height, and we'd have to hire specialists to determine whether a guy's eyes were blue or green.   It would be a lot of fun.   


I agree completely that our penchant for easy explanations and the trend, over time, for narratives of events to become cultural set-pieces, leads us to imbuie certain events with undue importance. My favorite baseball example is the Chico Ruiz steal of home in 1964, which is always cited as the great harbinger of the Phillies' monumental collapse.
Asked by: Fireball Wenz

Answered: 5/22/2016
 The rest of us miss a lot by not living in Philadelphia. . .


This probably sounds insane to you … but why not create a two-strike zone? Keep a normal zone for the first two strikes – whatever seems to work best, adjusted periodically like they have been doing forever – but with two strikes, increase the zone to some massive, gaping portal that a blind gorilla hurling watermelons could hit. This would create a genuine need to get the ball in play early, plus every hitter in the league would have to turn into Vladdie Guerrero with two strikes. Plus it might help blind gorillas find work. I’m in favor of that.
Asked by: ventboys

Answered: 5/22/2016
 Before we adopt that, why don't we test it out in some other league?   I'm recommending the Italian league.   Nothing personal; love Italy.   


" I think you could find many times when a team drafted a hometown player first and it worked out great. "  
Joe Mauer leaps to mind, actually.
Asked by: doncoffin

Answered: 5/21/2016
 Everybody's mind, apparently.   I've had like 30 of these. .  .


Thanks for illustrating the "straw" shape of the minor league system. Could one Major League team, on its own, shuffle its system into a different shape, or would it have to be done by all the teams simultaneously?
Asked by: rtallia

Answered: 5/21/2016
 It would have to be done in a co-ordinated way by many or most of the teams.  


A few years ago you wrote something about how many people, even "experts," are always trying to find the one BIG cause of a particular problem, change, event, etc...the "smoking gun," if you will. And I think you said at that time that people are just unable, many of them, to admit to the fact that there could easily be six or seven reasons why something occurs, each one of which has SOME impact. I keep coming across, both in baseball and not in baseball, instances of reporters saying, in effect, "well, because none of these possible causes I've come up with is the "smoking gun," then essentially why this certain event happened is a total mystery to me." It's really starting to drive me you remember writing about this or am I just dreaming? (btw, Posnanski had a great piece on Leicester City winning the Premier League that is a perfect example of the opposite of this "smoking gun" type of thinking..)
Asked by: rtallia

Answered: 5/21/2016
 No, I don't remember writing anything like that, but it seems consistent with my general approach.   Our minds search for linear patterns; THIS causes THAT.   It's not really a choice; it's just the way our minds work.   Unless we fight against it, we WILL search for a single cause for an event which may have many contributing factors.   I'm sure I have made the same mistake myself many times.  Thanks.  


Sure, I can explain it—you could have been even more inclusive than you were, since "Houdini" not only refers to baseball but non-baseball situations: a kid who gets his big toe stuck in the bathtub faucet  "pulls a Houdini" in extracting himself, but you were (I still think) the first to apply the term to a very specific pitching situation. If successful, your usage will drive out other baseball usages, as you have tried to do, in criticizing people for misusing it (applying it to non-bases-loaded situations, or more than no outs, etc.) 
Asked by: 337

Answered: 5/21/2016
 Oh no. . .I wasn't criticizing anybody for misusing the term.   I don't own the language; other people can use terms however they see fit.   It is true that a specific usage will drive out a general, loosely defined usage in some situations, but we haven't reached that point yet, not is it clear that we will.   


On the subject of AAA baseball these days, John Feinstein wrote a book a few years ago (covering the 2012 season) mainly about life in the International League. The title was Where Nobody Knows Your Name, or something close to that. Have you read it? If not, I think you'd like it. It's a good book, but as somebody who has read a lot about the minors in their glory days, I found it discouraging, for the reasons you mentioned. The story was NOT about who might win the Triple Crown in the International, or who was in first place, or who might win 20 games; it seemed to be all about watching the waiver wires and the injury lists, wondering who might get an emergency call-up and a chance to spend two weeks in a major league dugout. (At a major league salary, too, of course.) I guess fans in those cities might go to games to see guys who might be real major leaguers in the near future, but I can't imagine that they actually care about the teams any more.  
Asked by: BobGill

Answered: 5/21/2016
 There is more loyalty to the teams at some lower levels in the minors.   But. . .yes.   Go to a Florida State League game some time.   Total attendance:  Wives, girlfriends and scouts.   That's all.   


If I understand this right, a major change in the last few decades has been an increase in the percentage of max-effort pitches, to where it now approaches 100. My question is, back when starters tended to coast a bit with, say, the bases empty, then bear down with runners in scoring position, does this show up in the numbers as a sort of anti-clutch effect for the hitters in those big spots? To put it another way, were pitchers once comparatively more effective in big spots, and has that since evened out?
Asked by: PB

Answered: 5/21/2016
 Well, those are big questions and serious questions, but they may be too big for me to try to take on in this space.   For one thing, the coasting vs. Max effort effect does not end suddenly, but rather deteriorates gradually over a period of 100 years, thus making it more difficult to study, and also, this process is not finished yet; we are not yet at the point where all the pitches are max effort.   


Bryce Harper is having a weird year. His batting average is just .254. But his on base percentage is .455. If he keeps this up (which I doubt he will), he'd have to be one of a very select group of people to play a full season with an on base percentage 200 points higher than their batting average. Even noted walkers Ted Williams and Rickey Henderson never did that, nor did low average Adam Dunn. Besides Barry Bonds (who I assume holds the record with a 247 point difference in 2004), do you know of any others who had a 200 point difference between batting average and on base percentage?
Asked by: pablo

Answered: 5/21/2016
 Bonds' .247 gap is the widest.   Of the six widest gaps ever, five are by Bonds--.247 in 2004, .212 in 2002, .204 in 2007, etc. . .doesn't matter.   The only one of the six which is NOT Bonds is .205, by Yank Robinson in 1890; he hit .229 with a .434 on base percentage in 98 games, but 400+ plate appearances, which was the cutoff I used.   Outside the top 6, we have Jack Crooks, 1892 (.213 and .400, 187-point gap), then Bonds again, then Wes Westrum, 1951, Gene Tenace, 1977, Eddie Yost, 1956, Gene Tenace anyone, 1980, Roy Cullenbine, 1947, and Jack Clark, 1990.   


Hey Bill  
We all know you were a Kansas City fan growing up, even if we can only imagine your pain - do you actually remember the 1959 game when the A's walked 8 guys with the bases loaded in the same inning? And if you do - well, gosh. Were there nightmares afterwards?  
As far as I can tell, while the four consecutive bases loaded walks in a row has happened at least half a dozen times, Delabar was the first pitcher to perform this feat all by himself.
Asked by: Magpie

Answered: 5/21/2016
 No, I don't remember the game at the time.   I've read about it. . ..


(This might be a better question for Dewan or for someone who follows the Astros closely.) Jose Altuve is tearing it up this season--but he's listed as being worth -5 runs for baserunning in the Total Runs section here.  He's stolen 15 bases and only been caught once; so that's not where the problem is.  What's he doing? Is he repeatedly not taking the extra base? I tried to find a tally of this year's TOOTBLANs, but I haven't succeeded yet... It's got to be something pretty rough to be that far below 0 baserunning runs when you're such a prolific and efficient thief. Any clarity y'all?
Asked by: Edward

Answered: 5/21/2016
 I am very clear that there are no such things as TOOTBLANs.  


Have you actually researched whether more players are promoted directly from Double A to the majors now than in 1980? I haven't noticed that that's true.
Asked by: manhattanhi

Answered: 5/21/2016
 I'm confident that it is true, but no, I haven't researched it.  


Different sport, but hard to argue with the Cavaliers taking LeBron #1
Asked by: 3for3

Answered: 5/21/2016


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