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15 Most Recent Questions

I see it's snowing in Kansas City, April 14.  It was a sunny 80 degrees in SOCAL.  
 
I read your article about the Hall of Fame.  I agree with you about Trout and Harper.  I see Trout everyday.  Harper seldom.  I saw him at Dodger stadium last year, he had a nice game.  He's obviously very good.  I don't understand why people think he's better than Trout.   Is it just east coast basis?  Or that they don't see Trout enough?  
 
Next week the Angels are playing the Red Sox.  The two best teams in baseball.  I like the sound of that.  Looking forward to it.  
Asked by: mauimike

Answered: 4/19/2018
 I'm guessing you may not be enjoying it too much so far. . . .

 

The recent spring snowstorms have amplified the annual complaint about early season scheduling outdoors in cold weather cities.  And yet at the end of the year somehow all the games end up being played (6 total unplayed games in the last 10 completed seasons).  Unless baseball is truly responsible for the weather (I'm dubious, but others seem convinced), I'm not sure why the sport gets dinged so hard for trying to cater to the anticipation and excitement of all 30 team fanbases.  What if, say, the Phillies go 2-12 on an extended road trip to begin the season?  Wouldn't that cast a pall on their mid-April home opener?  At some point don't you just have to hope for the best, weather-wise?
Asked by: sansho1

Answered: 4/19/2018
 At some point, don't you HAVE to unnecessarily expose your fans to miserable conditions?  My vote would be "No", you don't have to do that. 

 

Hey Bill!  
 I find it amazing that Reggie Jackson's career strikeout record still stands, and stands comfortably. But considering the contemporary style of play, and recalling your metric that 17 years of league-leading totals makes a career record vulnerable, it seems likely that we will soon be seeing modern hitters blowing past Reggie's career record just like they have blown past Bobby Bonds' single-season record. Nobody is close at the moment, but I'm curious ... if you were to predict, who do you think will be the first batter to surpass Reggie's career strikeout total?
Asked by: mikeclaw

Answered: 4/19/2018
 Well, haven't really thought about it.   Off the top of my head, the top two candidates would be Judge and Trout.   It takes a long career, so it requires a good player.   Trout would break the record somewhere around 10,000 at bats, which he will probably get--and we have to assume that strikeout rates will continue to ascend, for Trout as well as others.  

 

With a decline in the number of steal attempts, there may be a corresponding decline in the importance placed on a catcher who is good at throwing out base runners. To begin with it only represents part of a catcher's defensive contribution, and probably not a large part.  
 
If, as another poster mentioned, stolen base percentages are going up, could it be that simple?  Maybe major league teams evaluations of catchers have changed in this area?
Asked by: Christopher

Answered: 4/19/2018
 Well. . .saying "could it be that simple" sounds like there has been a discussion going on about why stolen base percentages are increasing.   If there has been such a discussion, I've missed it.  
 
I would relate it to this.   In my memory, in the 1960s and 1970s, NFL place kickers had really terrible conversion rates, relative to what they have now.   Guys would attempt field goals that they could not make.    
 
What happened to field goal kickers was that they developed, with more information, a vastly better idea of what they could hit and what they couldn't.   In modern football the coaching team assembles before the game and says "with these wind conditions we think he can hit a 42 yard field goal going south or a 49 yard field goal going north."   If it's 43 going south, they're not going to try it. 
 
It's the same here.  Modern base stealers, given the much information that we now have, KNOW what their parameters are.   They know if the release is  x and the pop time is y, they can make it, and they know if the release time is x+1 or the pop time is y+1, they can't.   
 
It's totally different than it was 40 years ago.   40 years ago it was bravado and machismo and reputation.   I can run on that guy.  I know I can beat him.   But they didn't REALLY know, so they attempted a lot of stolen bases when it just wasn't there.  

 

Do major league rules allow players to warm their bats?
Asked by: hermitfool

Answered: 4/13/2018
 I think so.   You'd have a hell of a time preventing it.   

 

without empirical confirmation, i have a strong impression that teams are bringing their infields in with a man on third much more frequently, even in early innings, than has been common over the past few decades -- since you and others demonstrated that it was poor strategy.  i know i've seen games this year with infields in in the first or second inning (for instance, in the pirates-cubs game today).  has there been a change in the statistical analysis?  what gives?
Asked by: jamesmcljordan@gmail.com

Answered: 4/13/2018
 No idea.   Why don't you send me a list of your medicines, and we'll look it over. 

 

I was thinking about the resistance to changing baseball's rules. One thing I try to do in daily life, when something changes from X to Y and I'm grouchy about it, is try to imagine how I'd feel if the change was instead from Y to X. For instance, what if baseball HISTORICALLY restricted mound visits, but NOW seeks to free the catcher to trot out there any old time? How would I react? Or fans? Or talk radio?  
 
If I suspect I'd loathe the change from Y to X, I find it really clarifying if not exactly conclusive; tradition has got to count for something.  
 
If I suspect I'd love the change from Y to X -- "sorry fellas, no more feebly automatic intentional walks. How bout this: you throw four pitches" -- it is a very strong argument for X indeed.
Asked by: PB

Answered: 4/13/2018
 Thanks.

 

The question about the causes for the decline of offense from 1963-68 reminded me of something: Recently I read two different articles of 1968 moaning about the lack of hitting, both of which blamed expansion. Both writers said (with supporting quotes from a manager, a coach or a GM) that expansion had brought a lot of Triple-A hitters into the major leagues and thus allowed pitchers to dominate. No kidding: The exact same line of thinking that was used to explain several outstanding offensive achievements in 1961 and '62 was now being used to explain something at the very opposite end of the spectrum. And neither article mentioned the change in the strike zone in 1963.  
 
Asked by: BobGill

Answered: 3/29/2018
 Right, thanks.   And there's a profound lesson there.  We don't understand the experience that we are living at the time we are living it. . .none of us do.  In retrospect, the failure to monitor the height of the mounds, the failure to require hitting backgrounds for the hitters. . .these things were crucial, but we didn't "see" them at the time.  It was only when we (a) lowered the mound and (b) enforced the rule that we understood what that meant.  
 
In the early 1990s there was a hitting explosion, and if you go back to that more recent period (more recent than 1968) and read people's explanations of what was going on, you'll see that we were ALL wrong.   People had started using steroids, but we didn't understand at that time what that meant.  
 
The same happens all the time in politics.  If you watch the talking heads explaining what is happening with Mueller or with the firings in the White House or with Trump's silly tweets or whatever. . . all of their analysis is wrong.   None of them really has any understanding of what is happening, because we lack perspective on it.  We'll understand it better in retrospect. 
 
Or perhaps a better example.  .. .a relationship.  Many times when you are in a relationship, particularly if the emotions in that relationship are intense, you really don't understand what is happening in that relationship at the time that it is happening.  Later on, after the relationship is over or has moved on to a different stage, then you may see more clearly what was going on.  The person you were in a relationship with may have had other interests or other problems or other relationships that you really didn't have any understanding of at the time, but later on, you see how these things were defining the relationship between the two of you.  Same thing here.   We can't reliably interpret what is happening in the game while it is happening.  

 

Re: steals. Much of what the cited Olney argument is a bad baseline. Olney compared steals today with steals in the 1980s, with the implication that the 1980s had normal stolen base rates. It didn’t, and some folks have a hard time getting a handle on that. As I’m sure you remember well, steals in the 1980s were high, leading us to do silly things like call Vince Coleman a star.  
 
That said, the stolen base percentage is up, which strikes me as more noteworthy, since it makes the steal a better strategy. It isn’t selection of the stealers, since it has been trending upwards since the very low steal 1950s. I’m sure it’s some combination of the death of the classic hit-and-run and slow pitching motions.
Asked by: CharlesSaeger

Answered: 3/29/2018
 You might be right, but I wouldn't be too sure.  I doubt that pitching motions are slower than they were 30 or 50 years ago.   I'd bet that they are, in fact, much quicker.  

 

I know many people attribute 1968 -- the Year of the Pitcher -- and its historically low scoring to an enlarged strike zone that was instituted in 1963. But were other major-league clubs copying the Dodgers and allowing the pitcher's mound to be higher than regulated during the late 1960s? Were there other reasons for pitching in that era to be so dominant?
Asked by: rwarn17588

Answered: 3/28/2018
 If other teams were also using higher mounds, that doesn't mean that they were copying the Dodgers.  If other hitters used corked bats, were they copying Graig Nettles?  

 

Willie Keeler appears to hold the dubious record of hitting 2.44 times his reported weight (.341, 140 pounds).  And the other extreme is indeed Adam Dunn, 0.83 times (.237, 285 pounds).  
Asked by: PeteRidges

Answered: 3/28/2018
 OK.  

 

Don Sutton set a personal best for strikeouts per inning in his rookie year, 1966. I see Dwight Gooden did the same as a rookie in 1984. How common is it for a starting pitcher's strikeout rate to peak in his first full MLB season?
Asked by: arnewcs

Answered: 3/28/2018
 I'll try to do a study of it.  
 
* * * * *
 

Well, let’s see. . .how do I get to that?  I took all starting pitchers who had 200 or more starts, and eliminated those born before 1920 or after 1980, thus giving us (essentially) all post-war starting pitchers who are no longer active.  This left me with 415 starting pitchers.   Then I identified the career-high strikeout-per-inning season for each pitcher, ignoring any seasons with less than 150 innings pitched.    

Then I numbered the pitcher’s 150-inning seasons, 1, 2, 3, etc.. . .his first 150-inning season, his second, his third, etc. 

Of the 415 pitchers, 89 had their highest strikeout per inning season in their first season pitching 150 or more innings, including, as you mention, Sutton and Gooden, but also including Johnny Antonelli, Vida Blue, Orel Hershiser, Tim Hudson, Tommy John, Jamie Moyer, Fernando Valenzuela and Jim Palmer.

67 of the pitchers had their highest strikeout season in their second 150-inning season, 56 in the third, 55 in the fourth, 43 in the fifth, 30 in the 6th, 29 in the 7th, 15 in the 8th, 8 in the 9th, 13 in the 10th, two in the 11th, three in the 12th, two in the 13th, and one each in the 15th, 16th and 17th.    The three who hit the 15th, 16th and 17th were Early Wynn (1958), Nolan Ryan (1987) and Steve Carlton (1983).   John Lackey was one of those who hit his high water mark in his 13th season. 

 

In his rookie season in 1940, Pee Wee Reese hit .272, had an On-Base Percentage of .364, a .372 Slugging Percentage and stole 15 bases.  
 
His lifetime numbers are: average: .269, OBP: .364, Slugging: .377, and his 162-game career average is 17 stolen bases.  
 
Are there many other players whose rookie season (he only had 361 plate appearances) is so close a predictor of how they would do career-wise?
Asked by: MidnighttheCat

Answered: 3/28/2018
 I'll take a look at it.  
 
(Later)
 
I took all players who played at least 1,000 career games and were not active in 2017, and eliminated seasons with less than 400 plate appearances.   Then I compared the season to the career numbers by the sum total of the absolute difference between the season and the career batting average, the season and the career on base percentage, and the season and career slugging percentage.   
 
The LARGEST differences ever were by two 19th century players, Hugh Duffy in 1894 (478 points) and Tip O'Neill in 1887 (440 points), followed by (3) Barry Bonds, 2004, 434 points, (4) Barry Bonds, 2002, 401 points, (5) Willie Keeler, 1907, 389 points, (6) Chuck Klein, 1940, 387 points, (7) Ed Delahanty, 1892, 385 points, (8) Barry Bonds, 1986, 380 points, (9) Norm Cash, 1961, 375 points, (10) Adam Dunn, 2011, 363 points, and (11) Barry Bonds, 2001, 357 points.  
 
That is the opposite of what you had asked about, of course, but this is just my habit. . .to put out all of the incidental stuff I found while looking for X first, and then work toward the actual question.   The SMALLEST difference ever is for Johnny Callison, 1969, 2 points, and at this point I remember that I have done this stufy before because I remember finding that before.  The second-smallest difference ever was by Jack Doyle, 1899, 3 points, and the third-smallest ever was by Earl Battey, 1964, also 3 points.   That seemed kind of interesting because Battey and Callison were both on the bench as young players for the 1959 White Sox, and both got traded away that winter--as did Norm Cash; Cash, Callison, Battey and a couple of other good young players all got sent packing by the White Sox that winter.  John Romano. . .I don't remember who all. 
 
Anyway, in 4th place is Steve Sax, 1982, who is in fact a rookie, so his rookie numbers predict his career numbers even better than Reese's--3 points total discrepancy, as opposed to 8.  Sax hit .282 as a rookie with a .335 on base percentage, .359 slugging, whereas in his career he hit .283, .335,.358.   It is three points total if you save more decimals.
 
Three other rookies also came closer than Reese--Gus Bell in 1950 (5 points), Luis Aparicio in 1956 (6 points) and Tommy Harper in 1963 (8 points).   Don't actually know whether Harper is ahead of Reese or behind him if you save more decimals.   

 

Are there players who are truly poor starters - predictably worse early in the season than later on?
Asked by: mrbryan

Answered: 3/28/2018
 I think there are very few cases in history in which you can say definitively that a player's in-season pattern has held up throughout his career.  Many times a player will do something three times in four years or something, and people see a pattern and insist there is one.  But in almost all cases, when you get to the end of the player's career, you see that he is the same player in April that he is in June, except that (of course) everyone hits more in June because it is warmer.  
 
An exception might be Warren Spahn, who had a career won-lost record of 160-73 in August and September, whereas he was not much over .500 (166-150) in May, June and July.   That's probably beyond chance.   Randy Johnson had a very impressive late-season record.  99% of the time, it's just something that happens.  

 

Bill, back to Andruw Jones.
Asked by: Steve9753

Answered: 3/28/2018
 You go ahead. I have no interest in Andruw Jones. 

 

 
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