The New World Order

June 26, 2018

"…the negligible effect of batting orders on baseball…."-- Adam Gopnik, p. 73, The New Yorker,  4/3/17


The above quotation exemplifies a universal truth which people, nonetheless, perversely choose to reject overwhelmingly. We continue to discuss batting orders as if the strategy behind them has a pivotal effect on baseball games, even smart folks like us here on BJOL:​up-Are-they-even-in-touch-with-Bill-these-days .

Gopnik’s citation of batting orders’ unimportance appears in a stimulating article on the subject of prison reform—well worth reading, by the way, for those appalled by the monstrous Gulag-system in the U.S. (Ten-word version: prison overpopulation is caused primarily by prosecutorial power gone wild.)  I have no idea why I like beginning articles with irrelevant digressions before I introduce my main subject, so let me assure you that "the negligible effect of batting orders" will indeed become my main focus shortly.

But as long as I haven’t gotten started cooking yet, excuse my banging on these enumerated pots and pans first:

1) I am composing this draft longhand, in red ink on ruled paper, which I haven’t done in so long I can’t tell you whether it’s been years or decades since I last wrote anything in pen and ink longer than my signature.

2) If you’ve also gotten out of the habit of longhand composition, try a little experiment for me: write a page in longhand, trying to use the best, neatest, most legible handwriting you can conjure up. I’m finding that, try as I might (and I am trying mightily), my penmanship has deteriorated well beyond cryptography’s limits.

3) I’m not writing longhand for frivolous experimental reasons: my laptop screen this morning suddenly got tangled up in blue, and the laptop will now no longer even turn on. If one of you IT savvies wants to venture a guess why this occurs every few months, you will advance ahead of the IT folks at my university whose best response in the past has been a multi-syllable, often multi-paragraph version of "Shit happens."

4) I read that 14-month old article in the New Yorker because I plan on moving year-round to Florida, and moving my extensive collection of old magazines 1000 miles south seems wasteful both of space in the moving van and of my SoFlo apartment. So I’ve decided to read these old magazines before I move, and pitch them in the trash instead of in the van. Today so far I’ve educated myself on prison reform, Prince Charles’ upbringing, and Dana Schultz, a white artist who painted a controversial portrait last year of Emmett Till lying in his coffin.

5)  You might assume from the preceding paragraph that I’ve decided to retire from my academic career, and you are semi-right. I will teach six more courses in that career (or six more classes, all of the same course), all on-line, which in itself is sort of like being retired.

6) I will continue, however, to be pedantic.

7) On to batting orders (still prefatory stuff):  my earlier drafts (electronic, as this one will be eventually) approached the subject in my typically digressive fashion, by introducing my endless argument on that subject with Bill James all over this website for years. (Bill may not have noticed that we were having an argument, in much the same way that your windshield might not pay attention to the bugs flying kamikaze missions into it on the highway, but we were.)  Mostly Bill was asserting that pitchers need regular use and a secure knowledge of their precise roles, while I was questioning that assertion, unwisely using terms like "coddling" and alluding to the toughness of previous generations who worked multiple games of doubleheaders, up to four games per day, for stints of seven innings in each game, which Bill promptly blew apart with his hand-grenades of mockery. This argument is neither here or there or anywhere, except for this: how come batters (and fielders) neither need nor get offered anything resembling pitchers’ assurances of regular work on precise schedules?

Why do closers need to know with metaphysical certitude, as a certain prissy right-wing talk-show host used to put it, that they will pitch the ninth inning and only the ninth inning, and only when they are in line to get a save for their troubles? Bill’s non-hand-grenade response to this question went something laconic like "People do their jobs better when they know what their jobs consist of."  

As pitchers’ roles get more and more sharply defined, however, why has the batting order become less and less defined, to the point of utter irrelevance that Gopnik alludes to above? Batting orders matter less and less, according to contemporary wisdom, than they ever did, while pitchers’ use gets measured more carefully than we ever thought possible.  In moments of frustration, managers have historically resorted to pulling their batting orders out of a cap, illustrating how inessential a well-reasoned lineup may be, but now we’ve reached the point at which a random batting order is defended as making as much sense as any other. In purely practical terms, if no harm can be shown by jumbling up the order in which hitters bat (or batters hit), then a batter can shifted from leadoff to #8 to #2 to cleanup on successive days and not feel that his role on the team is being undermined.  But if there’s no harm that can be shown, wouldn’t there still be some psychological or morale benefit (as Bill argues current pitchers enjoy) in knowing how batters and fielders will be used, and when, and why?

Has it been shown that pitchers suffer harm when they were used in fluid roles? Sure, they LIKE knowing when they’ll pitch, and when they won’t, but demonstrating actual harm resulting from role-fluidity is a whole different order of difficulty. There are too many competing factors that go into injuries to fix one cause with certainty, or to rank causes in some sort of hierarchy, and there’s no way of knowing what the results would have been if managers had continued to use their pitchers in the random, mercurial, cruel, heedless, reckless fashion of previous decades, shuttling them in and out of the rotation and the bullpen like so many puppets, telling them to relieve, or even to start, on very short rest. It is certain that pitchers continue to suffer from physical damage to their arms, of course, but whether this is due to overuse, or misuse, or poor training regimens, or throwing a more dangerous array of pitches than previous generations of pitchers, is unknown and probably unknowable. We do know that pitchers now are closely monitored for the number of pitches thrown in a game, and in an inning, and in a season, and in an off-season, and in the bullpen warming up, and between starts,  and in consecutive games, and before the age of 21, and on and on and on, yet I haven’t noticed any radical reduction in pitchers going on the DL. Off the top of my head, I’d say that, despite this astonishing array of new protective measures, pitchers are going on the DL at least as much today as they ever did.

It might just be, of course, that without all these new protections against injury, current pitchers would injure themselves even more frequently than they do, although that would be hard to imagine. In 2017, no pitcher started more than 34 games or threw more than 214 innings. In 1968 (with only 20 MLB teams, mind you), no fewer than 29 pitchers started 34 games or more, and 45 pitchers threw more than 214 innings (led by Denny McLain in both categories, 41 starts and 336 IP.)  There’s no question but that a great deal more care is taken today to protect pitchers from injury, not least by this sharp reduction in their workloads, but the DL is used at least as much as it ever was for pitchers. Indeed, the increased use of the DL is one of the direct causes of that sharply reduced workload. Pitchers complaining of sore arms are no longer routinely treated callously, no longer mocked by their managers as having low thresholds of pain, questioned by coaches for being malingering deadwood, found by trainers to be hypochondriacs, accused by owners of spitting the bit, ridiculed by sports-columnists as lacking in manhood, booed by fans for being quitters. All of these sources of calumny are now agreed that pitchers must shut down, at least for a thorough medical examination, at the first sign of possible injury, and if that exam is in the least ambiguous, that they must spend the next 10 days on the DL. Kinda hard to get your 40 starts and 300 IP in, as several of 1968’s worthies did, in this risk-averse atmosphere.

So if pitchers are working under much less harsh conditions, and they’re still going on the DL with great frequency, it’s going to be difficult to show how overuse (or misuse, or lack of strict roles, or lack of pitch-counts, etc.) leads to injury. You might suppose that once the light bulb went off over Baseball’s head that it was the 120th pitch that was the fatal one, or the 30th pitch in an inning, or the 35th start in a season, or whatever, we would see a sharp reduction in DL visits, but no, DL visits just continue to climb as more and more strictures against pitching under dangerous conditions continue to be invented.

Obviously, it is the act of pitching itself that is inherently dangerous. It is unnatural and stressful on the arm to pitch, in a way that batting or fielding are not inherently stressful acts. So you want to protect against abuse, only we haven’t quite defined what "abuse" consists of. We think it might be too many pitches in an outing, but it might be, well, all the things that I just enumerated, or any combination of them, that will lead to a sore or permanently damaged arm. Since pitching, with rare exceptions (Ryan, Seaver, Lolich, et al.), leads to some sort of trauma to the arms that perform it, better to be safe and curtail it in some way. We haven’t yet figured out what that way should be.

In the course of curtailing it, I think the psychological aspects (what Bill calls "knowing what their jobs will be") have been folded into the general protection of pitchers’ arms, and probably IMO a little unnecessarily. When the dominant protocol for managers was "pitch anybody on the team in any role you like, as much or as little as you like" we couldn’t have closers, 9th inning specialists charged with finishing close victories, because their talents would be wasted. It would be like deciding to take your cleanup batter out of the game after two at-bats: Why would you do that?  Before there was a perceived danger in, say, having your best reliever throw 60 pitches, it would be wasteful not to have him go out to pitch the 8th inning before pitching the 9th, or even to get him out there in a crucial jam in the 7th and then finish the game. But when it became de rigueur to limit his pitches to one inning’s worth, and when we devised the definition of a "save," then all this stuff began about the closer knowing what his role would be.

Thought experiment: say we had jettisoned the whole "save" thing, after about five seasons, sort of like we did with the "game-winning hit." It was stupid, it was imprecise, it was ill-defined, we were putting too much emphasis on something that wasn’t all that and a bag of chips, etc.  So there’s no save rule any more (and no "hold" rule, either, but skip that for now). And also suppose that we had discovered that there isn’t any measurable harm to most relievers in throwing 40 pitches in a game. Say we came up with some hard evidence that the danger point came after 40 or 45 pitches—up to that point, it doesn’t matter if a reliever throws 10 pitches in a game or 35. With the pitch-count thus minimized, and with the "save" rule abandoned, would there still be a purely psychological advantage to the closer in knowing that he wouldn’t start work until the 9th inning?

I doubt that very much. If a 35-pitch outing were decreed as safe as milk, and if there were no "saves," I think your closer could know that he’d come into games sometimes at the start of the 8th, sometimes in the 7th, sometimes in the 9th, and he would perform exactly as well as he does now. The "knowing" when he’ll pitch is a tiny part of why he is now used (almost) exclusively to start the 9th inning.

Was there any difference, back when pitchers used to throw routine two-inning saves, in quality of performance in the 8th and 9th inning? I’d like to go back and see if Goose Gossage or Sparky Lyle or other ‘70s relief aces showed a higher ERA, or WHIP, or anything, in the 9th inning than in the 8th. Actually, a higher ERA makes a little sense, not because of the worn-out pitchers’ arms in the 9th inning but because of the higher quality pinch-hitters they would likely be facing as the opposing manager looked to fire his last remaining bullets. Still, I’ll venture the guess that there would be no significant difference between the quality of the pitching in the eighth vs. in the ninth. And if true, this would argue against any psychological advantage in knowing what a reliever’s role would be.

For position players, there is no such advantage offered or taken.  Why don’t pinch-hitters get the benefit of hearing their managers’ thoughts as pinch-hitting opportunities loom? Or defensive subs? Or the whole bench in potential double-switch situations? Instead position players seem to cope just fine, on a few minutes’ notice, sometimes a few seconds, before they’re told to grab a glove, or grab a bat, or grab some pine, or "Loosen up, I’m putting you in as a runner, as of 4 seconds ago when this idea occurred to me." They don’t get notice, they don’t need notice, their jobs consists of always being ready to go into the game at any moment, in any role.

I’m not complaining for their sake, only observing that the protocol that pitchers seem to require differs radically from the one that batters and fielders live with.

The sort of knowledge that pitchers now have about the precise nature of their roles is helpful, no doubt, to pitchers. I don’t doubt that pitchers enjoy the security of knowing how they’ll be employed. What this security translates into in terms of better pitching, however, is unclear. This is devilishly tricky to nail down because there are so many variables that enter into evaluations of "pitching" in general: how can you possibly tell that the difference in overall MLB ERA, for example, between any two years in MLB is caused by a greater knowledge of pitchers’ roles rather than any number of other factors?  An increase in ERA, for example, doesn’t necessarily show that pitching is getting worse, but rather that it might be getting better, only not as quickly as hitting is getting better. (Which I think is generally true.)  To do a truly fair comparison between 1980s pitching and its equivalent in 2010, you’d need to have the 1980s pitchers throwing to 2010s batters, who are (presumably) much improved over the previous generation of batters. It’s very hard to show that more knowledge of pitchers’ precise roles, or more security from that knowledge, or anything of the sort, is a significant factor in improved pitching.

(BTW, a seemingly objective yardstick of ability would be the average speed of pitches as measured by radar guns, except I have no idea whether today’s Miles-Per-Hour are equivalent to those measured by the radar guns of thirty years ago. When I was researching my last article, that digressed into a rant on the subject of Nolan Ryan, I noticed him sort-of-bragging in his autobiography that he once hit 100.9 MPH, which figure has since been exceeded regularly—but is Ryan’s maximum-MPH figure from the 1980s an apple compared to current radar gun readings, or a cantaloupe? If half the pitchers in the majors are capable of throwing in the very high 90s, and only Ryan was capable of reaching that speed thirty years ago, then does that attest to the greater reflexes of current  batters?  Of course, current hitters are also striking out at unprecedented rates, but so did the batters who faced Ryan. Now, not so much. But I digress again…)

8) (You forgot that was all digression #7, right?) Anyway, what I wanted to express here was not so much a continuation of my previous argument with Bill over the coddling/respect given to contemporary pitchers by assigning them strict roles in which they feel comfortable doing their jobs, but almost the opposite of that: how come there is no attempt to assign batters (or fielders) such strict roles, and (thereby presumably) increase their comfort levels accordingly?

It’s always been a little puzzling, not only in our era but throughout baseball as far back as I can recall, why batting orders show as little stability as they do.  If you look at the batting order charts of particular teams on, you might be struck by their incessant mutability. We’re all pretty much used to it by now, but I sometimes find the announcing of tonight’s batting order a little strange: the day-to-day turnover of most teams’ batting orders is far greater than can be explained by the need to rest a regular, or the handedness of tonight’s opposing pitcher, or such. Sure, that sort of stuff explains why tonight’s batting order differs in some regards from last night’s, but the sheer total number of lineups most teams use over the course of a season is much higher than can be rationalized by that sort of stuff. Much of the instability of batting orders just seems whimsical to me.

An extreme example is the early Mets’ teams I grew up watching:  (If you want to check it out with a team of your own choosing, which I warn you gets addictive, go to a year’s BBREF page for your team and on the menu line, offering a choice of Stats/Schedule & Results/Roster/Uniforms/Batting/Pitching/Fielding/Scoring/Other, choose "Other" and one of your options will be "Batting Orders.")  At the bottom of the Batting Orders page, there is a summary chart that, among other things, reveals that team’s total number of different batting orders used that season. For the 1963 Mets, it shows that 142 different batting orders (slots 1-8) were used that year, a mind-boggling total if you stop to think about it.  Counting pitchers, in slot #9, they used 159 different batting orders in 162 games. With only a little more effort, the 1963 Mets could have used a different batting order in every single game they played. Exactly one time, the Mets used the same batting order 1-8 for three straight games, August 11-15, 1963. I’m thinking they must have been wracked by short-term injuries that week.

In terms of stability, this is a crazy policy, switching up your batting order every single day of the season, right? As I say, this is an extreme example, caused by a combination of Casey Stengel, who liked keeping his players on edge, and the early Mets, who would make anyone think "Oh, God, I’ve got to try SOMEthing different!", but the principle of "Always Switch SOMEthing"  applies to even the most solid and productive of lineups. Rarely do even the most stable of teams use the same lineup from one day to the next, and even after accounting for such rational explanations as "handedness" or "resting regulars" there’s far more instability than can be explained. In a relatively stable lineup, often players will be moved up or down in the batting order without any obvious employment of reason.

At the opposite end of the offensive-competence spectrum from the 1963 Mets, the 1962 Giants outscored everyone this side of Wilt Chamberlain. And do you know how many times in that 165-game season the Giants used their most common batting order? Only ten times.  And the most consecutive uses of one batting order was five, from April 11-April 16.  Not counting pitchers, the 1962 powerhouse Giants used 108 different batting orders, or roughly two-thirds of the season’s games. Does that seem to be a lot of unnecessary instability? It does to me, just musing abstractly.

Those Giants could be said to have the opposite problem from the Mets of the next year: too many excellent hitters rather than too few. But the same sorts of issues persist as to the instability.  Alvin Dark, the Giants’ manager, seemed to find a virtue in NOT sticking his players in a batting-order slot and leaving them there, even at positions that had abnormally stable personnel. Jose Pagan (ss), Willie Mays (CF), Orlando Cepeda (1B), Chuck Hiller (2B), Felipe Alou (RF) and Jim Davenport (3B) averaged 158 games apiece. (Catching was split between Tom Haller and Ed Bailey, both lefthanded batters, and LF was split mostly between Harvey Kuenn and Willie McCovey, a true platoon.)  So you might think that this was an environment that naturally leads to pretty good stability: these six batters (plus Kuenn, who played 130 games) were all veterans, giving Dark a pretty good idea from the get–go about the type of hitter each man was. He could have written "Willie Mays cf" third on the lineup card pretty much every single game, for example, and know that his #3 batter was going to do an exemplary job of driving in the table setters batting #1 and 2, and also get on base and run the bases well enough to be driven in by the sluggers batting behind him.

So how come Mays only batted in the #3-hole 117 times out of 162? I’m sure Dark had his reasons each time, but 45 games moving Mays up or down in the lineup? Whatever else Dark was accomplishing, he certainly wasn’t sending Mays a clear message about the vital role he played in the team’s batting order. If stability was anything like a priority, wouldn’t you take the world’s best #3 hitter (the world’s best HITTER, IMO, but let that go) and tell him "You bat third" and for the rest of the year, know that you had only the other eight slots to think about?

It’s more than Mays, of course. For the first third of the 1962 season (58 games), Dark realized he had a great cleanup hitter in Orlando Cepeda, and for the first 58 games Cepeda proved him right:  .325 BA, 15 HR, 55 RBI—multiply by three, and you get a pretty good season. But suddenly on June 9th, Cepeda is removed from the cleanup spot and from then on, he never spends more than 10 consecutive days batting in the 4-hole. He mostly bats there for 3, 4, 5 games at a clip before being briefly replaced by F. Alou, McCovey or Mays.  He’s not injured, because he’s usually batting 5th or 6th during these stretches. On September  2nd, he bats third, ahead of McCovey and then Mays, which seems to be a perverse use of running speed if there ever was one.  Obviously Dark saw a virtue in batting Cepeda cleanup for the first two months of the year, and then he saw a virtue in moving him in and out and in and out of that slot for the rest of the year.

Or take the leadoff slot. Dark’s main leadoff hitter is Harvey Kuenn, who bats in that slot exactly two-thirds of the season, 108 games, platooning pretty much with McCovey. But for a month and a half, 38 games between June 23rd and August 3rd, Kuenn bats leadoff only sporadically, only 13 times in those 38 games. Kuenn obviously isn’t injured—he gets some starts in other slots, and he does lead off in those 13 games spread out over the six-week stretch. And then on August 4th he’s restored to the leadoff slot, starting 33 out of the next 35 games there.

This indecisive pattern holds for most of the lineup, if not all. I don’t mean to single out Al Dark for his whimsical ways here, and I’m sure many of these moves were made for sound baseball reasons—I’m just citing him because this seems typical of most managers.  Dark had an unusually healthy, unusually productive offense that season, where he wasn’t in fact forced into all sorts of emergency measures, needing to improvise his lineup on a daily basis. He knew who his batters would be, knew what they were capable of, saw that they were producing the way they could produce all year—and yet he kept tinkering, experimenting, fooling around with his regulars in different batting slots all season long.

One more example: Jim Davenport was his 3b-man (Jim Ray Hart was still in the minors) and a good one. Dark batted Davenport substantially in four different slots all season long: 41 times sixth, 36 times seventh, 28 times second and 26 times eighth. He has him moving around at the bottom of the order for the first half of the year, never batting in the same slot for seven consecutive days, but suddenly on July 2nd Dark puts him in the #2 slot and leaves him there for next 17 consecutive games. It looks like he’s settled upon Davenport as his #2 guy, but then on the 29th of July, he moves him back to the bottom of the order, and bats him second only on 4 widely separated occasions for the rest of the season.

Again, I’m not qualified to question Dark’s judgment, only to point out how these patterns show a lack of definite ideas in Dark’s mind about his batting order. He seems to have adjusted his thinking on an almost daily basis. Here’s that most common batting order of his in 1962, slots #1-8, the one he used only ten times, although all of these players were healthy the whole year long:











Other than starting McCovey against righties and giving Haller some starts behind the plate (Haller actually started more games than Bailey), no reason sticks out that this wasn’t Dark’s default lineup, one he could have used many, many times more than the ten times he did use it. (The conventional thinking of our day, btw, would probably have Mays batting second, behind the Giants’ only decent singles hitter with a good OBP, who was Kuenn, but no one in 1962 thought of Mays or Mantle or Aaron as #2-hole guys—that slot was reserved for bunters, hit-and-run guys, and practitioners of other small-ball strategies that have faded from fashion.)

Another very stable lineup of the 1960s was that of the 1969 Cubs, managed by Leo Durocher, who has drawn considerable criticism for playing his regulars to death, though in fact his main seven (Williams, 163 games; Santo, 160; Kessinger, 158; Banks , 155; Hundley 151; Hickman, 134; and Beckert, 131) averaged 150 games, a little less than the average of 1962 Giants’ Big Seven.  Al Dark, however, has neatly sidestepped the barrage of criticism that Durocher has received for flogging his horses in the noonday sun.  Winning a pennant will deflect an awful lot of criticism, I suppose. (Speaking of sidestepping criticism, you remember how Ralph Houk’s baseball IQ is questioned for relying on his shortstop Tony Kubek and his second baseman Bobby Richardson, both paid-up Life Members of the Barely-.300 OBP Club, to bat 1-2 in his lineups? Well, when Dark wasn’t using Kuenn, with a .357 OBP, as his leadoff batter, he also used his shortstop and second baseman to bat 1-2, and neither Pagan nor Hiller managed to crack a .300 OBP for their careers.) Unlike Dark, however, Durocher did resist switching around his regulars: not only did Kessinger, Beckert, Williams, Santo, and Banks bat 1-2-3-4-5 over 120 times, it would have been more like 150 times but for a jammed thumb Beckert suffered on D-Day that caused him to miss 26 straight games from June 7th through June 30th that year. Rightfielder Hickman, also, didn’t earn his right to bat in the 6-hole regularly until late, getting off to a terrible start, batting .212 with 7 HRs and 23 RBI for the first two-thirds of the seasons, but .258/14/31 for the final third, as every other Cubbie went into a slump. Hickman batted 6th 32 times in the Cubs’ final 42 games of 1969. Hundley mostly batted 7th after Hickman moved into the 6-hole, and the 8th slot was almost exclusively manned by the terrible rookie centerfielders the Cubs used all year long. A more stable lineup you will hardly find. The Cubs used only 59 different batting orders all season long, excluding pitchers.

Durocher being of the previous generation to Dark (he was in fact Dark’s manager for most of Dark’s playing career), do batting orders get more stable the earlier we search through baseball’s history? I would assume so, if only because of what little I know about the way uniform numbers began on the Yankees, #3-slot batter Ruth getting assigned #3, cleanup batter Gehrig getting #4, etc.  (7th place-hitting middle infielder Durocher wore #7, btw, on the 1928 Yankees, and leadoff batter Combes wore #1, second-place hitter Koenig wore #2, #5-hitter Meusel wore #5, #6-batter Lazzeri wore #6 and #8-batter Grabowski wore #8, though there were  necessarily anomalies. Joe Dugan, who batted mostly 7th, getting 21 more games in that slot than Durocher, wore #25. (2+5 = 7?) Obviously, such a system has to break down very soon, as new players break into the lineup, but clearly Yankees in 1928 could easily tell something about their role and slot in the lineup by looking at the backs of their uniforms.)  That Yankee team used only 54 different lineups, with most of the changes coming in the #7 slot—otherwise it was pretty much Combes-Koenig-Ruth-Gehrig-Meusel-Lazzeri-Dugan-Grabowski all season long.

The 1928 Browns used 49 batting orders, the A’s used 54, the Indians used 59, the Senators used 67, the Tigers used 69, the White Sox used 81, the last-place Red Sox used 84. So the Yankees were just doing what other AL teams did, use between 49 and 84 different 1-8 lineups in 1928. If you look the lineups over hastily, as I just did, you’ll find a lot of consecutive games for individual players at a single slot and fielding position, leading perhaps to the conclusion that stability was more the order of the day than it became after Durocher and Dark stopped managing. The 1969 Cubbies’ 59 lineups would fit neatly into the AL of 1928, but them days are gone.

It’s funny, but I would have sworn that lineups, in an age that valued pitchers knowing what their roles would be and also an age of declining numbers of position players on a 25-man roster, would be at record-low levels about now. Instead, most teams I’ve checked have shot way beyond 1962 Giants’ territory and have gone well into 1963 Mets’ territory. Offsetting the roster-spots available at any given time (now most teams carry only 4 or 5 bench players, as opposed to 7 or 8) is, of course, the expanded use of the DL and the frequent recalling of AAA players to substitute for injured players, giving managers expanded palettes to paint new lineups with. I got the idea for this article by realizing that I never had a clear idea anymore what the batting order would be in tonight’s game. Literally none. I had no clue who would be batting where, and I had no clue who would be playing each position.

It started with my admiring the Mets’ good young outfielder Brandon Nimmo. It’s hard not to admire him. He hits, he fields, he runs the bases with aggressiveness and finesse. One day, when he was playing right field, I noticed that he wore the number 9, Roger Maris’s number, and played Maris’s position. He also batted lefthanded and bears a certain facial resemblance to Maris as well. (He looks more like Barry Pepper, who played Maris in the movie "61," and he’d resemble both of them a lot more if he didn’t smile so much.  There are only two photographs ever taken of Maris smiling in the 1961 season, one of them taken in Maris’s sleep. He still holds the Yankees’ team record for "Most Consecutive Days Puss, Sour.") Anyway, I was musing about our new right fielder, and trying to figure out if he also batted third in the order, as Maris often did, and I realized that he batted in a different slot all the time. Some nights he led off, some nights he batted third, other nights he batted fourth, still other nights second.

And I had no idea if he was a right fielder, or a center fielder, or a left fielder. Likewise with Michael Conforto, who sometimes was a center fielder leading off, sometimes was a left fielder batting second, other times a right fielder batting fourth. Thinking back to 2017, it was the same: Curtis Granderson played all over the outfield, and all over the batting order. Wilmer Flores, forget about it—he doesn’t have a clue where he’s playing on a given night, and he started in every slot except leadoff. Asdrubal Cabrera plays all over the infield, and up and down the lineup—it’s a hot, sloppy mess and I was used to it.

They actually have a firmly set outfield, not involving Nimmo or Conforto or Granderson: Jay Bruce plays only RF, Juan Lagares is an excellent CFer, and Yoanis Cespedes, for reasons known only to him, insists on playing LF, though his skill-set (strong arm, good speed) screams RFer or (a little less high-pitched scream) CFer. So you’d suppose we’d be set, except Bruce isn’t hitting (and is now hurt), and Lagares and Cespedes are more or less permanently injured, so the Mets have been playing musical chairs in the outfield for most of the past year. In such a perilous environment, you might expect the Mets to impose stability wherever they can, but manager Mickey Calloway seems to prefer making a different lineup card every night. He seems to think that’s his primary job, and he’ll get fired if he does something as lazy as submitting the same lineup card two nights running. In 75 games so far, he’s used 68 different orders (not counting pitchers) and never the same one more than twice.

So my conclusion is that batting orders, indeed, do not matter.  If there is any purely psychological advantage to letting players understand exactly when they will be employed in a game, it’s reserved exclusively for pitchers, who have plenty of non-psychological, non-morale-related reasons for being used sparingly, though we are far from figuring out the precise nature of that sparing use for pitchers. I don’t think their state of mind enters into the equation, except that, as Bill says, they prefer knowing to not-knowing when they will be used. Managers, however, have shown a strong proclivity for ignoring position players’ senses of security in that regard, so I continue to minimize the importance of the pitchers’ self-esteem.


COMMENTS (61 Comments, most recent shown first)

Frank: Thanks. I had begun suspecting that as I thought about it further.
I have a feeling it's a basic principle of Newtonian physics, which once upon a time I was good with.
9:46 PM Jul 10th
MarisFan61 ..... if there is no air, and the ball is thrown horizontally, the ball's horizontal velocity never changes - there is no force acting on the ball in the horizontal direction. Without air: given a ball thrown horizontally from a height of 6 feet and a ball dropped from 6 feet at exactly the same time as the ball is thrown
the two balls will hit the ground at exactly the same time. The only force acting in the vertical direction on both balls is gravity
9:03 PM Jul 9th
(sorry that I screwed up the underlining and italicizing; not all of it is my fault -- it's mostly just not working)
4:10 AM Jul 3rd
Frank: Good work. (And I see your correction -- good work there too.)
I'm going to question part of it -- but I realize you could be right, and it will go a long way to answering what I've been laboring to ask although it still won't answer the basic question.

I think vocabulary is all that's been hanging us up and what has kept you from being able to try a direct answer. I'll give up on that, and just ask this....

Your work assumes that the downward velocity caused by gravity, which results in a [u]diagonal[/i] direction of the ball (actually more like a parabola, but let's call it diagonal) .....your work assumes that the diagonal direction that is forced on the ball [i]doesn't decrease its forward velocity.[/i]
I figured that it does, totally aside from air resistance (which I'm ignoring for the moment also).
I'm figuring that the diagonal direction forced on the ball by gravity results in a decreased rate of 'forward movement' (which I referred to before as the ball's forward vector, and which I think is the same as what you're calling "velocity horizontal" but I'm not sure).

Are you sure it doesn't? Are you sure that the rate of the ball's 'forward movement' remains the same even when the direction of the ball becomes diagonally downward? (ignoring air resistance)
4:08 AM Jul 3rd
went through it, a mistake ......

this is wrong: At home plate the ball is 8.95 ft/s * .41s = 3.7 ft lower than the release point.

the fast ball at 100mph with no air will have fallen 1/2 * 32 * (.41 **2) = 2.68 ft
4:03 PM Jul 2nd
here's my resolution using a simple physical model, where we'll just discuss the movement of the pitched baseball - improvements and corrections are welcome.
Assume that there is no air resistance and a baseball is pitched with the only velocity acting on the ball is 100 mph horizontally (Velocity Horizontal or Vh). We'll also stipulate that the baseball is released 6' above the ground. With out air resistance baseball rotation effect is zero. For the ball to travel 60'6" at 100 mph takes about .41 seconds (100 mph = (5280 ft/mile)*(1hr/3600 s) = 147 ft/s and to get travel time (60.5 ft / 147ft/s) = .41 seconds)
In .41 seconds the baseballs Vertical Velocity is (32 ft/s**2)*(.41 s) = 13.12 ft/s.
Converting 13.12 ft/s *( 1 mi/5280 ft)*(3600 s/hour) = 8.95 mph Velocity Vertical of Vv.
So, when the ball reaches home plate its velocities are 100 mph Vh and 8.95 Vv. At home plate the ball is 8.95 ft/s * .41s = 3.7 ft lower than the release point. And its total velocity is square root ( Vh squared) + Vv squared) = 100.4 mph.
So, the contribution to the total speed due to gravity is only 0.4 mph. Note the the baseballs velocity started perfectly horizontal, now its velocity has both vertical and horizontal components.
Add in air resistance and you will effect both horizontal and vertical velocities, but I can't see how gravity ever adds much horizontal velocity relative to 100 mph initial Hv over such a short distance ........

along these lines lets say you throw a change up that leaves at 80 mph ..... it now takes .52 sec for the ball to get to the plate and at home the change up will be have a Vv of 16.6 ft/s (11 mph) and will have dropped 4.32 feet.
3:52 PM Jul 2nd
.....So as not to leave this as an endless thing with no resolution, I'll say this as a presumptive answer, which is what I think it is seeming to be:

-- What gets measured by the radar guns is indeed what I'm calling the "forward vector" -- i.e. the rate of its increasing nearness to home plate, rather than the speed along its own path.

-- Those are different except when the ball happens to be traveling on an exact horizontal line toward the plate. The degree of difference depends mainly on the severity of the up- or down-angle of the ball at that moment. (It's usually at least somewhat of an up angle upon release, and almost always somewhat of a down angle as it nears the plate.)

-- Assuming that the down-ness as it nears the plate is more severe than the up-ness upon release, which I believe usually to be so (a key thing in what I'm wondering and saying), the 'forward vector' is a smaller fraction of whatever is the ball's speed 'along its own path' as it nears and crosses the plate than upon release, and so the measured speed would be lower even if the speed on its own path were the same.

And I'm suggesting that this would be the main reason for the difference in measured speed at different points in the path.

Addressing Steven Goldleaf's question which set this off:
If this is all so, then there couldn't be any standard answer about the magnitude of difference between the measured speed at the different points because it varies according to the particular trajectory of the pitch.
8:46 PM Jun 30th
P.S. Steve -- just wanted to mention, it's great to be seeing you back on here. Hope you're doing well....​
5:34 PM Jun 30th
Steve, that still doesn't answer what I'm asking!
And, in fact my question is most particularly ABOUT fastballs, because that's mostly what we're talking about regarding speed of pitches, and it's absolutely just what we were talking about in the question that kicked off this discussion here, and which I've been trying to address.

As you say: yes indeed, fastballs' trajectories are closest to a straight line -- BUT NOT REAL CLOSE TO A STRAIGHT LINE! -- in fact quite far from it.
And that's exactly what I'm talking about: the fact that it isn't, and that this matters for which of the two things I'm talking about is the thing that gets measured.

It feels like at least now we're getting closer to addressing what I've been so painfully trying to get across. And maybe at least your ears can help take it further; hopefully other people's too.

As I've indicated, upon release the pitch is usually MORE of "a straight line" toward the plate than as it gets toward the plate, and perhaps much more.
That's why, even aside from "air resistance" which I suspect to be a lesser factor than could account for an 8 MPH drop .....that's why it matters a lot which of the things I'm asking about is measured by the radar.

Y'know, folks, this seems like such a simple thing. I really can't understand that it's been so hard to grasp. I have to take the responsibility on myself -- obviously I haven't succeeded in stating it clearly enough. But I have no idea what's unclear about it.
12:49 PM Jun 30th
Maris, thanks for reposting that. It suggests to me that you and Frank understand each other perfectly well and are simply getting sidetracked by terminology. Either of you should correct me if I'm misunderstanding, but what you call the 'forward vector' is just another way of making the point that the gun's measurement is most accurate when it is located on a point that is an extension of the ball's path--this applies most specifically to fastballs, whose path is most nearly like a straight line.​
2:58 AM Jun 30th
MarisFan61 save you or anyone else from having to look down for what I asked....
here it is again: *sigh* :-)

Do the guns measure the speed along the actual path of the ball at that instant, or of its 'forward vector'?

Why there's a difference:

The ball is usually at a slightly upward path on release, and almost always on at least a slightly downward path at the plate (sometimes greatly downward).
The speed of the ball's progress [u]toward the plate[/u] -- which I've called its 'forward vector' -- is less than its speed [u]on its own path[u] unless the ball is going totally directly [u]toward the plate[/u], which it isn't unless its movement is on a straight line between the release point and the plate. Usually, except for a brief stretch in its flight, it isn't.

Maybe think of it this way: If you're driving on a several-lane highway and then decide to go quickly from the extreme left lane to the extreme right lane, temporarily you're going [u]diagonally[/u] with respect to the forward axis. Let's say your speedometer shows 60 MPH. Since that speed always just shows the speed of the car [u]on its own path[u], it's not showing what your speed is with respect to forward movement. Depending on the severity of your angle, the speed of the forward movement could be much less.

It's just like that with a pitched ball, except that the major non-forward movement is up-or-down instead of sideways. But the principle I'm talking about -- the fact of the 'forward movement' being less than the on-its-own-path movement -- is the same for both.

BTW I've also wondered which of the two things gets measured by police radar. Just as I'm figuring that for pitched balls it's the 'forward vector,' I figure the same for police radar, and so when I'm driving 'a little' too fast and see a cop car, if there's room to go diagonally for a stretch, I do. If the speed gets measured the way I think it does, this takes a few MPH off my measured speed. Of course it does me no good if the radar is somewhere else besides where I'm doing this maneuver, which actually it probably is.

Maybe that criminal example will actually help clarify the question.
11:11 AM Jun 29th
Steve: Do you know, from Frank's info or from anything else, which thing the gun measures??
If so, I'd love you to tell.

Frank's info did not address it, and, as I keep noting, it makes a significant difference for both (1) the specific reading that's gotten at any given point in the ball's flight and (2) the difference between readings that are gotten at different points in flight.

This part of the discussion got kicked off by wonderment about #2 that I just mentioned. It is generally assumed that the difference is due to air resistance. Depending on the answer to what I'm asking, it could be mainly due to differences in the ball's trajectory at different points in flight, and in fact I suspect that's the case.

If only someone could answer that freakin' question I keep asking.... :-)

(Frank finally acknowledged he didn't understand it. DO YOU?)
10:55 AM Jun 29th
And I don't see how Frank's explanation of how a radar gun works and what it measures could be any clearer. Maris, if you've followed what Frank wrote, it's the best answer you're going to get.
4:01 AM Jun 29th
OK -- now I understand why your posts haven't addressed what I said!

Frank, I can't put the question any clearer than I did.
10:10 PM Jun 28th
Then I have no idea what you are asking. Do you understand what the radar gun measures? With a radar gun at homeplate, do you understand that the radar gun would measure near zero speed for a ball thrown from the pitchers mound to first base?
8:40 PM Jun 28th
Frank: Thanks for keeping on trying, and all of that info is useful.
But it's still not answering the thing I'm asking, which, as I noted, makes a big difference.
(I'm not 'confused' about any of it.) :-)

I have to ask, do you get what I'm asking about?
(Does anyone find it unclear?)
1:10 PM Jun 28th
sorry, crappy youtube link .... just go find Fastball by Kevin Cosner..... probably on Netflix or Hulu or or Amazon
12:29 PM Jun 28th
I should add that although the position of the radar gun dictates the speed measured, with the gun nearly behind home plate relative to the pitcher, the speed measured is near the maximum speed of the ball. However, when (or where the baseball is if you like) the speed is determined is also a factor. The radar gun is not instantaneous in its calculation and there has to be some time before the radar gun can pick up the returned signal of the baseball relative to background noise. So, what people have estimated is the the baseball is about 10 feet from the pitcher when the radar gun finally makes an estimate. And this estimate is an average speed over a small distance, not an instantaneous measurement of speed. I think others have said the the older radar guns took longer to make the measurement and thus recorded a slower speed for the same pitch (new guns measure speed 10 feet from pitcher, maybe older guns measured the speed 30 feet from the pitcher).

watch this great documentary :
12:26 PM Jun 28th
I'll try again..... velocity is a vector made up of a magnitude (speed) and direction. I think you are confused about what the radar gun actually measures and what information we really want - that being the actual speed of the pitched baseball as it goes toward home plate. The position of the radar gun matters. The best place to have the radar gun would be the catchers glove - that would allow the radar gun to measure speed along the direction of the flight of the ball. Lets say the catcher has a radar gun and the pitcher fires a fastball to home plate and the radar gun reads 100 mph. So now, with the radar gun still with the catcher, the pitcher fires his fastball to first base. Now the ball is travelling nearly perpendicular to the previous throw, with little to no speed toward home plate, the velocity vector is now pointed at first base. The radar gun held by the catcher would record little if any speed, not because the baseball isn't moving, but because the baseball isn't moving toward the radar gun. Next the pitcher fires his fastball to second base. Now the velocity vector is pointed straight away from the radar gun. So the radar gun will now register a speed of -100 mph, the - sign indicating that the ball is moving away from the radar gun...... the radar gun only measures the speed towards (positive sign) or away (negative sign) from the radar gun. The radar gun only measures the max speed of the ball ff the velocity vector of the ball is pointed straight at the radar gun
12:16 PM Jun 28th
Astros34: No, I don't see that it says anything about where they were measured from, just where they were measured at.

And still nothing about what I've been asking.

Folks, it's quite big difference -- and depending on the answer, it could tell a lot about the differences between the speeds that are measured at different points of flight.
I think it would be a larger factor than air resistance.
10:33 AM Jun 28th
I did try the penmanship experiment ... Well, not exactly, but I have a page right here with several notes I jotted down last week, and I have to report that my handwriting is still very legible. However, it's not at all the same style as the way I wrote back in my teens. In those days I wrote almost exclusively in cursive -- not exactly the way we were taught in school, but fairly close to that. Today I write in a mix of cursive and print, probably closer to printing. So maybe that doesn't count.​
9:49 AM Jun 28th

This article talks a lot about FB velocities and where they were measured from. It says you would extrapolate Ryan's to 108.1 MPH. BTW the clocked pitch at 100.9 was supposedly his 154th pitch in the ninth inning.
8:48 AM Jun 28th
Steven Goldleaf
Your hours "is"? Mine spent in grammar school learning English grammar have been completely wasted.

As to the order of comments, I've gotten used to it, counter-intuitive though it be. The convenience of having the most recent comment at the top somewhat outweighs the inconvenience of having to scroll to the bottom the first time I read any given set of comments.
7:53 AM Jun 28th
Steven Goldleaf
No one's tried my experiment with penmanship yet? Or are you all too ashamed to admit that your hours practicing your handwriting in grammar school is completely wasted? Go ahead, write a couple of lines at least longhand, and tell me if your final few words are remotely legible.
6:12 AM Jun 28th
michtom: I agree.
This is how it always is, and I agree it would make more sense to have it the other way.

BTW, have y'all noticed, some of the play-by-play webpages now do it this way?
One of the major ones, probably either ESPN or, goes back and forth: While the game is in progress they show it one way (I think in the confusing reverse way), but when the game is done, they do it the other way.

And not only that: In what I'm calling the "reverse" presentation, the progress of the inning is shown in 'reverse' too!!
i.e. The stuff about the first batter appears at the bottom, and each next batter appears above him.
Then, when the game is done, it all gets flipped to the traditional way.

It always makes me do a double take, and it requires some mental gymnastics to orient myself to where innings start and end.

Why do they DO that..... :dunno: :shrug:​
12:29 AM Jun 28th
Frank: Still unclear, because I don't think you mean what you seem to mean!
And even if you do, it still doesn't answer it.

(Sorry! I know you're giving a lot of info and trying to help out.)

".... draw a line from the radar gun to the baseball. The radar gun only measures the velocity along that line."

What does that mean??
First of all, WHERE is the radar gun? Are we supposed to just know?
And, it's not a uniform position, is it?

But even forget those questions; what does it mean, 'the velocity along the line from the gun to the ball'?

If we take it literally, I don't get how it has any relation to the speed of the ball toward home plate which is what the whole thing is about.

Anyway, whatever it might mean, IT WOULD STILL LEAVE THE QUESTION I ASKED:

Do you mean the velocity in terms of the forward vector toward the gun, or the velocity of the ball in terms of its own path?
(I'm guessing it would be the former, which would be consistent with what I said before that I'm guessing that the gun measures.)

BTW, I never before realized there was any distinction between "speed" and "velocity."
They must have changed it since I was in school. :-)
(no sarcasm intended, just amazement and amusement)
In my day, at least in the NYC school system and where I went to college, they were synonymous.)

Back to the question: Can anyone else help out?
12:23 AM Jun 28th
I only have one problem with this whole discussion: why the hell is the conversation arranged in reverse chronological order?

Unless there's a way to have it start at the beginning and read left-to-right, top to bottom, the way the gods intended, it's a royal PITA!

11:42 PM Jun 27th
I do not know how quickly the radar gun calculates the baseball's relative velocity. We know the baseball is decelerating as soon as the ball leaves the pitchers hand due to air resistance. So where/when the radar gun finally gets a usable return signal has to be some distance out from the pitchers hand. I think the old guns took longer to get a measurement so the baseball decelerated more before the measurement was finalized and the ball was closer to the plate. I think the measurements now are thought to be about 10 feet from the pitcher. I'm sure there must be some tech literature on this somewhere .......
11:28 PM Jun 27th
Neither ...,.,. draw a line from the radar gun to the baseball. The radar gun only measures the velocity along that line. Any movement not along that line will not be picked up by the radar gun. Remember that velocity is a vector composed of speed and direction. The radar gun measures the relative speed along the direction of a line between the radar gun and the ball. So, if the ball is not moving directly at the radar gun, the radar gun will only measure the speed component that is along the direct line and not the true overall speed that the ball is moving at. So you want to place the radar gun as close to directly behind home plate as possible to measure the speed along the baseball's path.

I guess using your terms the line-of-sight vector is the forward vector, the radar gun measures the speed of the ball's forward progress toward the radar gun.
11:19 PM Jun 27th
P.S. Correcting my math from before, about the amount of distance of the drop caused by gravity:

I said that I thought it was ~8 feet.
I think actually it's ~4 feet.

The math:
The downward acceleration is an increase in velocity of 32 ft per second, every second (i.e. "32 ft per second squared").
The ball travels for about ½ second. So, the downward speed (or vector) reaches 16 ft/sec.
That means the average downward speed reaches 8 ft/sec.
Averaging 8 ft/sec for a total of ½ second, the total distance is 4 feet.

9:41 PM Jun 27th
(not just Frank, of course; please anyone who thinks they know)
9:31 PM Jun 27th
Sorry, but still not getting it.

How about if you put it in (or translate it into) the terms I used?

Does it measure:
(a) the speed (velocity, if you will) :-) of the ball linearly on whatever path it's on, or
(b) the speed of the forward vector, i.e. of its forward progress toward the plate?

(Or neither? In which case, what?)

I know that you put it very well in terms of the tech aspects of the radar.
But how about in plain English????
9:19 PM Jun 27th
There is only 1 'version' of velocity measured - the line-of-sight velocity between the ball and the radar gun. The line-of-sight is the direct line from the radar gun to the ball. This line-of-sight is not necessarily parallel to the ground, thus I put in that the line-of-sight velocity may have both horizontal and vertical components. Hope this clears up any misunderstandings I inadvertently created in previous explanation.
9:14 PM Jun 27th
Frank: I can't tell at all from your post which of the two versions of the velocity get measured.
(i.e. the two versions I've talked about; if you need me to repeat it, just say)
8:55 PM Jun 27th
The radar gun measures the frequency shift between the outgoing and reflected/returned signal. This frequency shift, known as the Doppler Shift, can then be converted to the closing velocity of the target and the radar gun. Note that the closer the radar gun is to the line of the trajectory of the ball, the closer the velocity measurement will be to the 'true' velocity of the ball. If the radar gun is perpendicular to the trajectory of the ball then there will be no frequency shift and thus no apparent velocity. If you know the radar gun's angle to the trajectory of the ball then you can estimate the 'true' velocity but the greater the angle the worse the estimate, with an angle of 90 deg preventing any estimate at all...... so radar guns work best behind the plate and since the radar guns are lower than the release point of the pitch, both horizontal and vertical velocities are combined into the measure velocity .......
8:41 PM Jun 27th
No, not if what's measured is the 'forward vector' (or progress) rather than the speed along its own path.

(Looks like you missed a lot of stuff that's right before your eyes.) :-)
6:13 PM Jun 27th
Steven Goldleaf
Seems pretty useless if the various radar guns are measuring pitches at different points along their trajectory and not telling us about where they're measuring them. Also seems to me it would be easy enough to translate the MPH figure for "released from hand" into "just ahead of home plate" or anywhere else so they could come up with a constant figure.
5:12 PM Jun 27th
......does anyone KNOW if radar guns measure the speed along the actual path of the ball at that instant, or of its 'forward vector'?
I'm assuming the latter, but I've never seen it addressed, so I don't know.

BTW, why there's a difference:

When the pitcher releases the ball, it is almost always (if not always) on a slight upward path. It just about has to be, since (if my math is right) the ball undergoes the equivalent of about an 8 foot drop on its way to the plate.

By the time it gets to the plate, it's on a downward path.

If you measure the speed at any point in terms of the ball's "forward progress" at that point, it's less than the ball's speed along it's actual path -- and, as to why this would account for some lesser speed at the plate, it's because (I think) the downward path at the plate is generally more acute than the upward path upon release.

(As with the other things, further elaboration if wanted.)​
4:15 PM Jun 27th
(pardon the 2 grammar mistakes) :-)
4:05 PM Jun 27th
(Of course you meant 8 MPH less.)

I don't think it would be a constant.

I assume the "at the plate" measure isn't exactly a measure of the speed along the axis at which the ball is traveling at the time, but of what we might call the 'forward vector.'

Just as upon release, it's likewise probably not the speed along the ball's basic axis but of it's 'forward' component.

Since the trajectories of different pitches (and different pitchers) varies, I wouldn't think the difference between the two measures is any constant. Even if there were no difference in how much different pitches are slowed on the way to the plate, which I'm sure there are, it would vary according to the different proportionality of the forward vector upon release and upon arrival at the plate.
4:04 PM Jun 27th
Steven Goldleaf
Astros--is that a fact? That is, when contemporary pitchers are measured at 100 MPH, does that mean that their pitches measure about 8 MPH at the plate?
3:58 PM Jun 27th
Steven: For multiple reasons, that doesn't follow -- in the least, at all.

If anyone would like elaboration, just ask.
3:30 PM Jun 27th
As an aside, with regard to Nolan Ryan, it is important to note that the famous 100.9 MPH speed was measured [u]as the ball reached the plate[u], so he was probably releasing it around 107-108 MPH given normal effects of friction, intertia, and gravity.
3:25 PM Jun 27th
FrankD, I suspect that Reggie's pouting in the 1977 post season wasn't because Billy wasn't batting him 4th consistently, but because Billy BENCHED him in the Deciding Game 5 of the ALCS. Whitey Herzog had decided to neutralize all the Yankee left handed hitters (Nettles, Chambliss, Reggie, Rivers) by pitching almost all lefties against the Bombers (only RH starter for Royals was Leonard in Game 3). It totally worked, sort of. The power hitting LH hitters for the Yankees were completely shut down (Chambliss was 1 for 17, Reggie was 2 for 16, Nettles was 3 for 20); as mentioned before Billy finally just benched Reggie for Game 5 when Splittorff started for the second time. OTOH, Mickey Rivers was not shut down at all and the RH hitters in the lineup were great. Cliff Johnson had a 1.171 OPS, Piniella had an .810, Munson had 5 of the Bombers' 17 RBIS, Roy White and Paul Blair both hit well in limited roles. It is kind of ironic that Reggie then went on and dubbed himself Mr. October that year when he crushed all those homers in the WS. I guess he should have called himself Mr. Mid to Late October.
2:25 PM Jun 27th
Steven Goldleaf
Yes, I shouldn't have said "ignored." The word I was looking for is "dismissed." I've explained the large difference in results in inning #2 that should appear for Lyle, Gossage, Radatz, Marshall, McGraw, and other multi-inning closers in order for the argument for single-inning use to be clear. I may be wrong, and studies might show that there is a large and measurable difference between inning 1 and inning 2, but I'm aware of no such study. Until I see one, my logical assumption is that no such difference exists, and that pitchers are as effective in two-inning stints as in one-inning stints. You want to show otherwise? Show otherwise. But don't expect me to be persuaded by your mere naysaying.​
2:23 PM Jun 27th
Steven, I didn't ignore it; I mentioned it.
As I said, I don't see how it relates to what you're talking about.
2:01 PM Jun 27th
BTW, not sure if my last post supports or doesn't support your article (which was very insightful), but whenever the issue of optimal batting orders come up I think of the Great 8. Clearly Sparky Anderson, once he "discovered" The Great 8 (I don't Rose was shifted from the outfield to 3B until some time in May, 1975 and even then, Sparky used the shift to create more time for Driessen in LF than Foster at first, so you were probably nearly halfway through 1975 before The Great Eight lineup was even used), knew it was a Kick-Ass lineup. He certainly put that lineup on the field in all 17 post season games. And it was nearly an unbeatable lineup too. Obviously, had Sparky used that lineup 50% of the time, I don't think the Reds would have won over 80% of those games, but I think they would have won more than 110 games in both years (rather than the piddly 108 and 102 games they did win)​
1:40 PM Jun 27th
I have a coffee table book entitled "Big Red Dynasty" about the team I would consider the greatest team of my lifetime (I was born the same year as my Royals, the Expos, the Padres and the Seattle Pilots). Anyway, this book claims that the Great Eight (Rose, Griffey, Sr., Morgan, Bench, Perez, Foster, Concepcion and Geronimo) only started 70 games together in 1975-1976 in the regular season. Not surprisingly, they were super good when they started together: 19-5 in 1975 and 36-10 in 1976, or 55-15 overall(a very nice .786 winning percentage, quite a bit better than their overall winning percentage of .648 in those two years). Sparky apparently did know how good they were together as the Great 8 did start all 17 post season games the Reds played those two years (winning percentage .824). I would note, that it is generally thought their best lineup was Rose, Griffey, Morgan (Foster, Bench, Perez in some order 4-6), Concepcion, Geronimo. Those 87 games above when they played together do not represent the number of times that "optimal" lineup was used (the change most often employed was putting Griffey down at 6 or 7 and sliding everyone 3-6 up one spot), so I can't say for sure, but it would seem that the Great 8's best lineup was employed by its manager less than 20% of the regular season games they played.
1:21 PM Jun 27th
Steven Goldleaf
My examples weren't chosen for their precise appropriateness; I strongly suspect that there are NO examples I could choose where you would say "That's a perfectly appropriate analogy. Great job!" which leads me to say that you find pitching to be without comparison in the sporting world. I'm simply suggesting that pitching is like any other difficult, strenuous athletic activity, like playing soccer, like boxing, like skiing, etc. in ALL of which you have sudden developments that you must be prepared on a moment's notice to cope with skillfully.

Actually, there is a pretty good analogy, which i have used and which you have ignored: compare modern relief pitching to its counterpart before, oh, say, 1980 or so. Back then you had relief pitchers NOT knowing their roles, not being able to say "What? You want me to pitch the 7th inning? How dare you! I am a closer, sir!" etc., not given to more than mild grumbling if asked to pitch four days in a row, or more than 25 pitches, etc. I certainly don't perceive any big advantage, health-wise, for contemporary pitchers who as I say (repeatedly) seem to get injured as frequently if not more frequently than their predecessors did. Back then you had relievers routinely pitching two innings in closing out a game. Is there any significant difference between how they performed in inning 2 as opposed to inning number 1 in such outings? If not, then maybe we're making too much of a virtue in limiting our relief aces to a single inning.

Folks SAY that it's to protect pitchers' health, but I see no signs of that. I say it's all a sham explanation, designed to cover up the obvious (to me, anyway) ploy of giving designated pitchers the maximum number of saves, which they want not to help the team in any way but to pad their stats which they can then cite at contract time. That sort of thing helps the team not at all, but if they can claim that staying healthy helps the team (a baseless claim IMO), then they can get away with wanting artificial limits on their use. I see no indication that closers are one bit healthier for all the protections afforded them by the strict adherence to "maximum saves" policy that most teams employ.
11:51 AM Jun 27th
I appreciate the good natured tone of your reply (very impressive) :-) but I have to say, to me the content is a further example of what I talked about.

Like, these two things:

Of course putting players randomly in the field would be worse than doing it with a batting order, and yes indeed, even I would agree that a random batting order isn't deadly. But how is that an argument that a batting order doesn't make a significant difference, albeit not deadly? (It's not.)
Besides my doubting that the supposed out-of-a-hat batting orders have really been as advertised, and even supposing they were, those managers simply judged that what we might call the "epiphenomena" (good word) :-) of doing such a thing would outweigh the disadvantage of the screwy batting order. This focusing on one aspect of a thing to the exclusion of other salient things of it is often part of the things you say that stop me in my tracks.

About FG kickers not knowing their precise roles in the way that pitchers do, a couple of things:
-- You ignore the fact that it's not possible to do that with FG kickers in such a way, and the possibility (I'd say likelihood) that they'd do better if it were possible to do such a thing and it it were done; and
-- While you might well point out that FG kickers have very high rates of success as it is, what about that maybe FG kicking isn't as difficult as pitching? Or maybe that they're just not highly comparable?

This segues into another thing in the article: the attempted analogies between pitching and hitting. You say that hitters don't need so-and-so; why do pitchers?

Pitching and hitting aren't necessarily directly comparable, and I'd say they're not much. BTW I do think hitters benefit from having stable roles and knowing what those are, but we'll leave that aside.

I would submit that pitching is a more delicate and vulnerable thing than hitting -- not meaning vulnerability to injury although that's true too, but vulnerability to being thrown way off more easily.
I know that's an opinion, not a fact; it's why I said I "submit" it. :-)

Two things from among many that could be said:

-- When a hitter is a little off on a swing, the worst is that he swings and misses and it's a strike. When a pitcher is a little off on a pitch, the cost can be much greater.

-- The pitcher operates over a longer distance and so any off-ness in what he does is magnified. I know that this would benefit from elaboration, but to avoid taking up more space (and time) I'll just toss this out there for now.

In short, I see all kinds of reasons why "knowing your role" might be more important for a pitcher than for a hitter, and the seeming assumption that the two things are equivalent from this standpoint (not to mention also FG kicking) is simply unwarranted.
11:32 AM Jun 27th
Steven Goldleaf
Pretty conventional hat, btw: Randolph leading off, Reggie batting third, Nettles 4th, Dent 9th, etc​
9:13 AM Jun 27th
Steven Goldleaf
Here's one result of Googling "Billy Martin batting orders out of a hat":

9:06 AM Jun 27th
Steven Goldleaf
To answer a point that MarisFan and FrankD each made, about lineups picked out of a hat mattering (or as I'm supposing NOT mattering): yes, of course, it's largely symbolic, a chance to shake things up, change your team's luck, and so on. But there are two obvious ways to switch up your team's luck: you could change the order that the players bat in, or you could keep those slots where they are and change up randomly the positions those players play. Never has any manager suggested fooling around with the players' defensive positions, just to change the teams' luck. Why not? Obviously, because putting your 1Bman at ss and your catcher in cf etc, or however luck dictated, would be ruinous to your team's chances of success. Changing where they batted in the order would have much less effect. The conventional wisdom (at this point in history, among the cognoscenti anyway) is that it doesn't matter at all but certainly baseball managers who tried or contemplated trying the lineup-in-a-hat gambit think it doesn't matter very much.

To what I take MarisFan's primary objection to be, it is the essence of athletic competition that players are doing difficult things. I can't really think of a counterexample in sports where a difficulty has been made easier on a player for psychological, morale, statistical, or contractual advantages as with the reserving of a specific situation for a closer in baseball. It's hard to imagine baseball coming up with a rule that rewards pinchhitters by formalizing RBI/AB ratio and then assuring your star pinchhitter that he will bat only with men in scoring position to maximize his RBI/AB ratio. In all other areas of athletic competition, the deal is that the job is difficult and often uncomfortable or even unpleasant or unexpected for the athlete, and we expect him to overcome that difficulty. His comfort, or peace of mind, is contrary to what we as fans want--except with the usage of relief pitchers. Does a field goal kicker get told that he will go in the game ONLY when the ball is inside the forty-yard line and ONLY when the wind is prevailing in his desired direction and ONLY when the ball is between the hashmarks and ONLY when a field goal will win the game, and all other times a different field-goal kicker must be used or else the team must try for a touchdown? No, one of the challenges is that he must be prepared to go in the game at any time, in any situation that the coach wants him in there--and that's how it is for every athlete, except relief pitchers who are given strict parameters to how they will be used, mainly for contractual or statistical advantages (that also happen to give them peace of mind). That's one of the reasons I'm rooting for Calloway, btw: he vowed to use his bullpen in unconventional ways this spring, including pitching his closer in non-closer situations. I wish him great success in this venture. If someone succeeds in yanking his closer out of the "9th inning, save situation" ghetto, the doors might open.
6:18 AM Jun 27th

I too am starting to think that our current understanding of pitching is a load of crap.

Nice work as always.

6:05 AM Jun 27th

6:04 AM Jun 27th
I don't know how many others this might be the case for, but at least for me, not that I expect you much to care :-) .....your material often is very hard to get very far with (and here I couldn't make it past the first few paragraphs), because it's so annoying.
About which more in a moment.
But first, more importantly: About this:
"So I’ve decided to read these old magazines before I move, and pitch them in the trash instead of in the van."

Maybe don't be so fast.
Let me suggest this rule of thumb. I call it "the eBay rule."

Anything you're thinking of throwing away, ask yourself, suppose you throw it away and 5 years from now you come across it on eBay -- the very selfsame magazine that you had for most of your life, I mean the very same copy, perhaps with some notations of yours; maybe you even wrote your name or something in it -- if that copy were to turn up on eBay in 5 years and you could buy it for 5 bucks, would you? Whenever the answer is yes, keep the thing.

I made up this principle when going through my parents' stuff after they died. It was useful. I've applied it to countless stuff since. It has always worked. (Fortunately I have lots of storage space.:-)

What I so often find annoying about your writing isn't particularly that our views differ; it's the prevalence of seemingly logical illogic, stuff that you present as though it's a string of reasoning but which is more like a series of mistaken assumptions, misunderstandings, misapplications, and odd skepticisms. You write beautifully and interestingly, but at least to these ears, it keeps tripping over itself with that kind of stuff.

Let me first highlight this:
"I don’t doubt that pitchers enjoy the security of knowing how they’ll be employed.'

Yes. I was pleasantly surprised to see that, in view of what you had said leading up to it. But then:

"What this security translates into in terms of better pitching, however, is unclear."

Why would you much doubt that it would translate significantly into that??
Do you not function in such a way? Does not everyone you have ever observed doing anything of a demanding nature?
If those answers are yes, why wouldn't you figure it's likely that it does translate into better pitching? (If they aren't yes, then forget about it, but I imagine that at least most would say yes to them.)

Especially when current baseball seems to bear out that this is so!
I don't mean I think this is proven, not that I know of anyway, but I do think current baseball has seemed at least to strongly suggest it.

Maybe it's me, but you lost me completely in the thing about how looking at Gossage's 1st and 2nd pitched innings in given games would demonstrate that predictability of a pitcher's use isn't an important factor. I admit it could be that I'm just failing to see a connection, but it looks to me like jumbled logic.

And, BTW, as you know I differ with you about the importance of batting order but I'll leave that aside, except to mention this:
The instances of managers picking batting orders out of a hat, if indeed it has ever really occurred (at least one of the famous examples of this -- by Billy Martin -- seems pretty suspect), didn't by any means "illustrate how inessential a well-reasoned lineup may be," and really I have no idea why you would make such a connection -- maybe because the teams did no worse than usual in those games (I don't know if they did) and that this demonstrates it? Maybe because you figure the managers wouldn't have done it unless they assumed a batting order makes no difference? I won't take more space going into why those things don't follow, but I could if you wish, and I think most people reading this will realize that they don't.

P.S. Your using a Reader Posts thread that I started as an example of perversity has nothing to do with what I'm saying, but I can't vouch that it has nothing to do with how I'm saying it. :-)
4:02 AM Jun 27th
interesting on REGGIE!! but what are the raw stats? I have no idea if REGGIE was better at certain batting lineup. I just remembered it was well reported that he had to be "The straw that stirred the drink". Was Mr October just a stat fluke with his World Series HRs? What was the probability if his hitting a string of 4 HRs in 4 at bats? I dunno .....
7:41 PM Jun 26th
Steven Goldleaf
REGGIE!!! (or as he's referred to at home, REGGIE!!!!!!!) had an .861 OPS while batting cleanup, not quite as good as his OPS while batting 3rd (.904) or leadoff or 7th, but better than other slots and better than his lifetime OPS (.846). He did seem to react badly to being in the 5-slot or the 6-slot.

5:57 PM Jun 26th
I think an interesting analysis might be if we could somehow measure lineup 'stability' by binning each batter into say three consecutive slots. I wouldn't consider a batting lineup changed much if you swapped Cobb and Crawford (3,4 vs 4,3) and kept all else the same. So Mays is 3 or 4, that is stable. Now if Mays is 7 or 1, that's a change. As for picking a lineup out of a hat, that's superstition and fun. We'll do something to change our luck....... Pitching usage and injury: I have no scientific idea but a whole host of unfounded opinions. But I think all arguements come down to the 'past' was different than now - and it may have been and thus projection of stats to the present are BS. Some have said that kids pitched more in their youth in the past and built up their arm 'strength' and thus could take the strain in the Bigs later. Of course, that could be interpreted as that those for whatever reason couldn't continue to pitch all those innings as a kid were weeded out. Or now maybe all throw way harder now and damn near everybody can only throw hard so many times (except Ryan). As for coddling - now the arm is worth millions maybe tied up in a contract vs thousands and only for a year......
4:53 PM Jun 26th
Interesting on batting order. Given that if we know the outcome beforehand (i.e., each batters stats projected to the now) then batting order does not seem relevant. But given that we cannot a priori predict the outcome, maybe the order is important vis-a-vis the batters psyche. Has anybody done a study on REGGIE! and his performance relative to his position in the lineup. Reggie Jackson sniveled and pouted all the time if he wasn't batting 4th. Is there any statistical significance in the results of where Reggie was in the lineup? Maybe a managers choice of lineup is more of a 'people' skill than an analysis of the stats. Keep the individuals and the team happy and rowing in the same direction yields better results.
4:20 PM Jun 26th
Of course there is at least one way in which batting order matters: you want your good hitters to get more PA than your poor hitters.

But in a larger sense, what strikes me is this: baseball has been played professionally for a century and a half. In the form we recognize, it's been played for over a century. But these questions have been asked seriously for less than 50 years. No wonder we still don't really know what the right answer is.
8:57 AM Jun 26th
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