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15 Most Recent Questions

Just because I was watching it this morning... in the Rick Ankiel Meltdown Inning in the 2000 NLDS, Greg Maddux drew a leadoff walk and then was wild-pitched around the bases.  
Asked by: RipCity

Answered: 10/18/2018
 I always said, you've got to keep Greg Maddux off the bases.  


Bill, I think you are on the right track with the 70s Royals, although I doubt Wilson and Cowens ever were the backup CF at the same time.  But in the 1976 ALCS, after Otis got hurt on the first play of the Series, Cowens played CF the whole series, which is pretty good proof, I would think, that he was the backup CF at that time and, of course, Wilson certainly was the backup CF once he came on the scene.  BTW, I was only 7 in 1976 and forgot we played that whole Series w/0 Otis until I forced myself to watch the Chambliss HR once and thought, wow that RFer is short.  Of course, that is because the RF wasn't Cowens, it was Hal McRae, then I was like, what happened to Cowens, then I found him in CF in the box score and then I wondered where Otis was, and I didn't find him until the first AB for the Royals of the ALCS, when he apparently was thrown out trying to beat out a bunt, and I would guess, hurt himself in the process.  The rabbit holes we go down sometimes.
Asked by: bhalbleib

Answered: 10/18/2018
 Amos stepped in a rabbit hole?  That hardly seems possible with George Toma's Groundskeeping.   


Using your formula from the 1980s, I calculated that on October 16 Gonzalez had a game score of 44 and Hill's score was 60.  MLB's box score shows the numbers as 37 and 60, respectively.  Did you change the formula, or is MLB just using something different?  (https://www.mlb.com/gameday/brewers-vs-dodgers/2018/10/16/563403?#game_state=final,lock_state=final,game_tab=box,game=563403)  
Asked by: LesLein

Answered: 10/18/2018
 MLB is using a slightly different formula, I think. 


On the Red Sox OF defensive excellence... I noticed that both the starting right fielder (Betts) and starting leftfielder (Benintendi) serve as the backup centerfielder.  This *seems* like it would be a rare thing (say, starting 100+ games in RF or LF and starting 10+ games in CF)... my memories are best about the 1970's Pirates and 1980's and 1990's Red Sox, but I don't *think* any of those teams had any such OF.  Are there any other outfields like this that you can recall?
Asked by: jgf704

Answered: 10/17/2018
 I don't know that Al Cowens ever served as a backup center fielder, but I wouldn't be surprised if he did.  The Royals outfield of Willie Wlison, Amos Otis and Al Cowens might work.  It's a good question. . ..I don't know.  


Bill, did you ever see a player walk and then score on 3 passed balls/wild pitches before?
Asked by: Steve9753

Answered: 10/16/2018
 I think that may be a new one.  


Hey Bill,  
I was reading your mini-essay on umpires and thinking, this is great stuff. It reminds me of essays from old Abstracts. Then I read 337’s comment about enjoying old Hey Bills and -CLICK- it dawned on me that Best of Hey Bill would be a great book! I’d buy it, anyway. All you need is a good editor (I would volunteer for the job!) and it’s practically done already. Whaddya think?    
Asked by: Doodles

Answered: 10/16/2018
 We actually talked about doing that. . .probably I should call Greg Pierce and see if he is still interested.  What are your credentials to be an editor?  (I won't publish). 


Bill tweeted "Since baseball exists only to be enjoyed and pro baseball is dependent for its existence on those who enjoy it, the fact that many people LIKE the old system of ace starters and starter accountability is very relevant to debates about our future."  
OK, I'm just one person, but I think it is more fun when teams try radical new strategies.  
Even before Bill James' Abstracts, I only sort of went along with Wins as being important in the way I went along with believing in Santa Claus when I was young. I pretended to believe in Santa because it might ruin this really fun Christmas thing if I didn't. I half heartedly credited pitcher's Wins as an important stat, because it was part of the language of baseball, but I always thought it unfair to pitchers on teams with a weak offense.  
Nonetheless, statistics and their history are a very important part of baseball and Wins have a long history. Would it be so bad, if they tweaked the Win rule a little - adapting to today's game?
Asked by: hotstatrat / John Carter

Answered: 10/16/2018
 Right, but my comment specifically left room for that point of view.  Some people enjoy the experiment; great.   I'm not criticizing anyone or disagreeing with anyone for having that opinion. But some people do NOT enjoy the bullpenning.   We need to be respectful of their opinions.  Some people in my field act as if, if you don't immediately accept the changes in the game, there is something wrong with you.   No, there isn't.   You have the right to enjoy what you enjoy.   We should be very careful about throwing away parts of the game that some fans enjoy. 


Bill, thanks for the recent history on umpire/strike zone changes.  I just picked 20 years somewhat arbitrarily, not knowing/remembering everything that you laid out in your reply.  I am almost 50, and the only game I remember that was obscenely awful with ball/strike calls was Eric Gregg's 1997 Braves/Marlins NLCS game that you mentioned.  Obviously it was a serious problem throughout MLB for many years.  
I brought up the question because it has seemed to me (recently, anyway), that ball/strike calls by umps have gotten worse, and that the pitchers' skill at painting the edges of the strike zone has gotten better.  But then I think it might be because I'm now watching the game in HD with all of those graphics showing what is/isn't a strike, so my expectations of getting the call right or higher than they were in my younger days.  
So my new question is: if ball/strike accuracy is more or less the same, I suppose my expectations (and the TV audience's as well) has gotten higher?
Asked by: jimmybart

Answered: 10/16/2018
 Right. ..as our TV pictures get better it changes our perspective on the calls, causes us to see things we didn't see before.   I also have had the thought that the home plate umpires did not seem to be having particularly good seasons, but I don't know whether it is true or not.  


Just a small correction: John McSherry's thing actually happened a little bit into the playing of the game.
Asked by: MarisFan61

Answered: 10/16/2018


Bill, I was reading what you said about the meaninglessness of data regarding particular hitters vs. particular pitchers, ie, whether a given hitter hits better or worse against a given pitcher.  Is this because of the small sample size in most of these cases?  Or is it because, conceptually, at any given level of skill, there is no reason to expect a hitter to do better or worse against a given pitcher?  
Asked by: Marc Schneider

Answered: 10/16/2018
 Well, you'd be closer if you'd stop talking about the sample size.  


I recall that when the umpires delivered their ultimatum, Sandy Alderson said something which I remember to this day.   He said that it was "a threat to be ignored or an offer to be accepted."    Which baseball did...  accepted it, that is.  
I've used that on multiple occasions over the years.    It's a good idea to have a clear view of the leverage which you hold during a negotiation.   The umpires did not.
Asked by: DavidH

Answered: 10/16/2018


I just read (and enjoyed) the interview of your daughter Rachel.  
I was reminded of a story Isaac Asimov told in the second volume of his autobiography. His mother took some adult education courses in her senior years and her ESL (?) teacher approached her and asked if she was related to the famous writer. She said, "Yes, he's my son."  
"Ah," said the instructor, "No wonder you're such a good writer."  
She wasn't having any, however. She immediately corrected the teacher, "No," she said, "It's no wonder he's such a good writer."
Asked by: Gfletch

Answered: 10/16/2018


Bill -- Maybe this is something you can't (or choose not to) comment on, but if you can, please explain to me the logic behind pulling Gio Gonzalez after two innings last night. I was, and remain, mystified, regardless of Woodruff's home run--didn't Milwaukee specifically get Gonzalez down the stretch in anticipation of making the playoffs? The Brewers got the win, yes, but they burned through seven pitchers in the process. It reminded me of something you once wrote about not changing pitchers for the sake of it, because eventually you're going to land on someone who doesn't have his stuff that day.
Asked by: Phil Dellio

Answered: 10/13/2018
 Well. . ..this issue is being hotley debated by many people, and I will fall back on the answer that I always give.  You can't actually calculate all of the advantages and disadvantages and know what is the right strategy.   You can study it; you can improve your understanding of the percentages.   But ultimately you can only do what you think is right.  


Based on improvements in velocity, movement, etc., is it harder for umps to call balls/strikes now than it was 20 years ago?  Have there been any studies to determine ball/strike accuracy by umpires in the long term?
Asked by: jimmybart

Answered: 10/13/2018
 I don't think so.  I haven't seen any.   I don't know how old you are, but 20 years ago was about the end of THAT era. . . ..
Umpires went through a phase of being obscenely arrogant.  Beginning about 1970 and ending about 2000, umpires decided that they were God-like figures who could make up their own rules as they went along.  "That's not MY strike," they would say--as if they were assigned not merely to recognize a strike when they saw one, but to write their own interpretation over the rulebook, as if the rulebook were merely a nearly-obsolete reference point.  They didn't say this once in a while; they would say that all the time; that's not MY strike zone.  In the 1997 National League Division series there was a famous game in which Livan Hernandez struck out 15 batters because the home plate umpire was calling strikes on pitches several inches outside.  It was kind of a scandal.  
Some time about 2000, the umpires, with a working contract, staged a walk-out demanding a better contract.  They apparently believed that their skills were so indispensable to baseball that baseball could not carry on without them.   This turned out to be not true.  Baseball hired a bunch of amateur to fill in, and what one noticed immediately is that th eamateur umpires were dramatically better than the regular umpires.   Not making that up; the replacements were FAR better, obviously better, than the professionals.  
Also, the leagues took advantage of the walkout to fire all of the incompetent umpires that they had been stuck with, while allowing the competent umpires to sheepishly return to work.   
Also, about the same time, the commissioner (Selig) hired Sandy Alderson to develop a program to restore the strike zone to what the strike zone was supposed to be.   Alderson started a program to meet with umpires after every game and review the video of the game with them.  That was a strike; that was not a strike, you missed that call.  The umpires didn't enjoy it, but they were reminded that they were, after all, employees of the league.  By 2005, 2006 the strike zone had been restored to what it was. 
Another element that brought the umpire problem to a crisis point was that one year in that era, don't remember which year, a morbidly obese umpire (John McSherry) suffered a heart attack and died on the field, just before game time.   My memory says that it was opening day in Cindinnati and that the Opening Day game had to be cancelled and re-scheduled; you can check that out.   Anyway, there were quite a number of umpires at that time who were tremendously overweight, and the umpires union would not acknowledge, until McSherry died, that this was a legitimate issue.  
So on the question of whether ball/strike accuracy is better or worse now than it was 20 years ago, there is no doubt that it is vastly, vastly better.   If you go back and watch a game from the 1990s, you will often be astonished at what is called a strike and what is not called a strike.   Not that EVERY 1990s umpire was bad, but a certain number of them were just terrible.  


This is kind of a meta-"Hey Bill" and lacks a question, but I’ll offer it anyway: "Hey Bill"s make damned good reading, years after they’re published. On airplane flights especially, I’ll often download two or three consecutive months, say April 2015 to June of 2015, and then read them in sequence once I’m out of wifi range. (Airports usually offer free wifi, and it usually doesn’t work, just like the inflight wifi, which also usually doesn’t work—why is that?) A three- or five-year-old "Hey Bill" is often fresh reading to me, though I had read it carefully when it first appeared, and I’m often astonished by even my own questions which I can’t remember asking, much less your answers. The themes that come up connect many of the questions and answers—it’s like following a conversation between very smart (occasionally very stupid) people. It amazes me how little I retain after only a few years have passed.
Asked by: 337

Answered: 10/13/2018
 Thanks.   I know that when I read old exchanges, I often have completely forgotten them as well.  


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