Walks and attendance and looking for reasons

The human mind has no problem coming up with reasons for things. It’s in our nature. These reasons are often wrong or wildly exaggerated or too simplistic … but they tend to be entertaining. And they do lock in. For instance, if you ask why offense skyrocketed in baseball in the 1990s, I suspect most people would say: Steroids. That’s it. One word. There are some pretty compelling reasons to believe that steroids actually played a pretty small role in the offensive explosion. But the steroid reasoning is satisfying to many. The mind, like I say, appreciates satisfying answers.

Well, there are two trends in baseball right now that frankly have me a bit baffled. I keep waiting for some reason to sound compelling and satisfying. But so far, I have not heard one. I’m sure you will have ideas.

The first trend: Hitters are walking less than they have since the mid-to-late 1960s, when pitchers so thoroughly dominated baseball that owners worried the game was becoming obsolete. I’ve had a couple of requests to try and put my data tables into line graphs to make them easier to read. Here’s one of my first efforts to do so.

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I honestly do not get it. Think about how many times we heard that the stars in the 1970s and 1980s didn’t walk because they were told not to walk. The lingering image of that time, before the mass population of baseball fans had even heard of on-base percentage, is of players hacking away Steve Garvey style because real men got 200 hits a year and real men drove in runs. When Andre Dawson was elected to the Hall of Fame, that was all anyone could talk about: Hey NOBODY walked in those days.

Now we are in the Moneyball age, where everyone knows about the value of the walk and the value of working the pitcher and working the count. And yet, hitters are walking quite a bit LESS now than in the 1970s and 1980s. What gives?

I was talking about this with PosCast partner Michael Schur … and in truth we were stumped. We couldn’t even come up with an even slightly sensible-sounding theory. One might come to mind for you immediately, but we kicked around the possible effects of relief pitching, the rise in strikeouts, perhaps a subtle (or not too subtle) difference in strike zones, the possible impact of catchers framing pitches. But nothing really sounded all that good.

The second trend is actually something I came across while doing something unrelated … did you know that, at this very moment (8:33 a.m. Eastern Friday morning) the bottom SEVEN teams in attendance are all American League teams? That would be the bottom seven. In reverse order:

30. Cleveland. My hometown team is averaging barely 14,000 people a game.
29. Tampa Bay. Bad stadium, bad location, etc.
28. Chicago White Sox. Should pick up, but right now not even averaging 20,000 per game.
27. Kansas City. Small market, frustrated fans.
26. Oakland. Can’t get all the problems into one pithy sentence.
25. Houston. Playing better and might not lose 100 for first time since 2010; not much to build a campaign around.
24. Seattle. Robinson Cano signing didn’t excite people that much.

And then, only then, do we get to the Miami Marlins.

The bottom seven. If you throw in Minnesota and Toronto, the American League has a real shot at having nine of the bottom 10 teams in attendance. And this is not a fluke. Brilliant reader Matthew put together his own line graph which shows that the National League has outdrawn the American League pretty much every year since 1992. and the gap has been pretty sizable the last seven years or so. Let’s see if I can put his chart up here:

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Hey, not bad. This is the chartiest post I’ve ever done.

This spread between American League and National League baseball becomes more pronounced the more you think about it. Other than New York, the National League more or less dominates every competitive market. In Los Angeles, the Dodgers are bigger than the Angels. In Chicago, the Cubs are bigger than the White Sox. The Marlins might be a mess, but they draw better than their Florida counterparts in Tampa Bay. There’s no point in even bringing up the San Francisco-Oakland relationship. The Cardinals dominate Missouri, the Reds draw double what of what Cleveland gets. Washington outdrew Baltimore last year and they’re about tied this year.

What gives? Of course the first theory that comes to mind revolves around the designated hitter. On Twitter, which is sort of the great American repository for theories, gut reactions and instant reasons, people batted away at the DH, which is fine with me. But I don’t think the DH has anything at all to do with this. Having grown up in an American League town after the DH was put in place I can tell you, as a fan, you don’t even think about it. You watch the baseball you are given.

ESPN’s smart baseball guy David Schoenfield wonders if length of game could play a role in this. Last time I checked, the average American League game was roughly 10 to 15 minutes longer than the average National League game — I suspect that still holds. The American League games are just slower paced which is strange because there are more pitching changes in the National League. I do wonder if there is a sense that American League baseball is glacial, and that has some impact on families going to the movies instead of the ballgame. I’ve heard people in Kansas City say they would like to go to a Royals game on a Friday night to catch the fireworks afterward; but the games are so long they just can’t wait all night for them.

On Twitter, I saw some theories about bad weather affecting AL baseball more than NL (Minnesota, Cleveland, Detroit, etc). Maybe. There is a theory that American League teams — other than the Yankees and, to an extent, the Red Sox — are just not good draws on the road. The numbers certainly back that up this year: The bottom TEN road averages are all in American League.

One theory I have thought about involves rivalries. The National League is FILLED with rivalries — Cubs-Cardinals, Giants-Dodgers, Mets-Phillies along with some heated secondary or developing rivalries like Cubs-Mets, Cardinals-Reds, Atlanta-Washington and so on.

But the American League? Obviously there’s Yankees-Reds Sox. And then … what? One thing that has interested me is how stubbornly resistant the American League Central has been to rivalries. Yeah, sure, if there’s a pennant race involved there will be a little bit of buzz. But generally speaking, does anyone care about Kansas City-Minnesota or Detroit-Chicago or Cleveland-Detroit or Chicago-Minnesota. It’s obvious that people in Kansas City see St. Louis as the Royals’ biggest rival. The American League West doesn’t seem too rivalry driven either — I guess the Angels and Rangers had a little thing going for a few minutes but now … nah.

This leads directly the most compelling theory I’ve heard — originated by the infinitely compelling Joe Sheehan. He asks: “Do you think the 15-year emphasis on NYY and BOS has sucked the air out of the AL in some way?”

I have to tell you: That makes a lot of sense to me. For 20 years or so — and, of course, historically — the Yankees and Red Sox have been wonderful rivals for countless reasons. Over time, though, the Yankees-Red Sox did come to dominate everything about American League ball. They were inescapable. They have won eight World Series since 1996. They had the highest payrolls, they signed the best players, they were on TV more than the Big Bang Theory. Their particular brand of baseball — four hour marathons of patience and power and intensity — came to represent how the game was played.

And, honestly, I do wonder if other American League teams just fell by the wayside. The Los Angeles Angels have been able to hold their own (being in Los Angeles) and they are on pace to draw three million again. But in Kansas City, in Cleveland, in Tampa Bay, in Oakland, in Toronto, in Minnesota, maybe it felt like they weren’t REALLY part of things. I think there could be some effect here.

Or … maybe not. It could just be a statistical fluke of timing combined with the National League having more great baseball markets (Los Angeles, St. Louis, Chicago, San Francisco) than the American League. I don’t know.

Here is something I do know: A line graph of the Superman movies:

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107 thoughts on “Walks and attendance and looking for reasons

  1. David

    I wonder if the lack of walks is a combination of the unintended consequence of not trying to hit everything and actually getting better pitches and pitcher’s adjustments to the theory of walks being so important. Are there as many pitchers that just won’t give in any more? i.e. Glavine, Maddux, Livan Hernandez

    Reply
    1. ralphdibny

      I like that theory. Joe seems to be focusing on how hitters might have changed, but what if it’s the pitchers who are less willing to walk anyone?

      Reply
      1. jscape2000

        In the 90s, you had to pitch around everyone because the #8 hitter was a home run threat. Less so today. My impression is that team defense has improved (except for Derek Jeter), so pitchers are further willing to put the ball in play.

        Reply
        1. Donald A. Coffin

          Except, with the enormous increase in strikeouts, the number of balls in play per game has declined. (Since roughly 1960, walks have varied up and down a little–between 8% and 10% of plate appearances, while strikeouts have increased from about 9% of PA to almost 21%.)

          Reply
          1. jroth95

            All the more reason not to give in. If you throw a strike, one of 3 things will happen: ball in play, strike out, or homer. 15 years ago, the homer was relatively more likely, and balls in play didn’t turn into outs all that often*, and so the strike was scarier. Today, homers are much rarer (especially in KC), BIPs turn into outs much more, *and* hitters swinging from their heels strike out more often than ever.

            A modern pitcher should rarely walk anyone.

            Which reminds me: K/BB ratios are more important than ever, to analysts and to teams. Everyone thought Nolan was an all-time great because of the Ks, but now everyone knows that he gave back much of that value with all the BB. I see more excitement about prospects with 5.5 K/9 but a 4:1 K:BB ratio than about guys with 10 K/9 but a 2:1 K:BB.

            *aside from shifts making current defense better, the offensive tilt of that era made defenses worse, as teams prioritized hitters over glove men; the saber crowd hated Jack Wilson because he didn’t hit enough, until UZR came along and told us that he was one of the best defensive SS of the ’00s

      2. Richard Aronson

        I completely agree. Hitters have a huge downside to taking a close walk: both the pitcher (throwing a ball) and the umpire (calling it a ball) have to make it a walk; wouldn’t you rather just do what you’re paid to do and hack at it? Pitchers, OTOH, know that as long as the pitch is staying in the park, it’s better to make the batter swing; most contact leads to outs and many hits are functionally identical to walks. So I think the walk trend is just organizations like Oakland refusing to promote pitchers who walked too many. Moneyball changed pitchers more than hitters.

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      3. Tim

        Right – for every offensive action, there is an equal and offensive defensive reaction. If teams realize how valuable walks are to collect, that also means they realize how costly they are to issue. Maybe pitching staffs have an easier time figuring out how to reduce walks than lineups do figuring out how to collect more of them. I guess what Joe is really getting at is why that’s the case, which is harder to answer….

        Reply
    2. bellweather22

      Putting Maddux in this groups is wrong. Maddux threw strikes and while he was difficult to hit, because of location and late movement, he was not a “never give in” nibbler like Glavine or Hernandez. Maddux walked 1.8 batters/9, while Glavine and Hernandez walked at least 3/9.

      Reply
      1. David

        I had considered that as well, but felt like he found a way to expand the strike zone for both the batter and the umpire, which is why included him.

        Reply
        1. bellweather22

          Except Maddux expanded the strike zone, usually when ahead in the count, because the umps gave it in those days. But he didn’t nibble. He never wanted to walk anyone. He was OK with throwing a ball over the plate, depending on movement to produce a weaker hit and his defense to field the ball in play. He was big on the first pitch strike, where again, he was good with the fact that the batter would get to take a whack at it. Glavine was OK with walking a batter and would not throw a pitch over the plate unless he absolutely had to. He just refused to let the batter take a whack at it. I know they are linked in many ways, but their pitching philosophies were completely opposite. Glavine and Hernandez, however, are very much alike in their approaches.

          Reply
  2. Brad Kelley

    A plausible theory. The national sports media love the AL East. Look how they are all over Toronto these days. Peter Gammons is unaware that baseball exists west of the Mississippi.

    Reply
  3. 18thstreet

    I’m pretty sure AL teams are just in smaller markets, which is why the AL lagged enough in attendance back in the 1970s to add the DH.

    But if the Indians are only drawing 14,000 a game, then their tickets are too damned expensive. That’s supply and demand.

    Reply
    1. jposnanski Post author

      Actually, I don’t think AL teams are in smaller markets. There’s an AL team in the Top 5 metro areas in the U.S. (NL has only three of those). It’s just that baseball markets are different from market size. Minneapolis and Tampa Bay both have larger metro populations than St. Louis, for instance.

      Reply
  4. David Nix

    I think you’re onto something. It seems like ESPN and Fox carry about 40 Yankees-Red Sox games a season. Plus about 30 Dodgers-Giants games.

    Reply
  5. Lee

    After having just watched them both with my son, I’m forced to conclude that all these people who insist Superman 2 is better than Superman 1 haven’t seen either recently.

    Reply
  6. Blake

    I like the Bos-NYY theory. Those games, to me, are unwatchable. Interminably dull, with announcers intoning like every pitch in May is a world-altering event. They represent the worst of baseball broadcasting.

    And they’re all the national media shows of the American League. If by chance there’s an Angels-Rangers game on ESPN one week, the announcers are apologetic: don’t worry, we’ll have the Yankees and Red Sox next week.

    Maybe things will change gradually now that the economics of the sport appear to be making big spendy dynasties more difficult to maintain. The real excitement in the AL has been and is in the West, but only aficionados know that.

    Reply
  7. bullman

    joe sheehan is correct. hatred of the sox & yanks has lead to apathy, especially since boston fans have become even more obnoxious than yankee fans (which 10 years ago I didn’t think was possible).

    Reply
    1. 5aces

      I think you are right here. And I also think there is another part to this. Many of the fans for teams feel like they don’t have a shot. But also I think the NL teams are spoken about in different ways and have developed a different image.

      When you think of the AL it is Yanks-Sox. And everyone outside of the East Coast and their fan base is sick of hearing about them. I confess I have not watched a game on ESPN in probably 2-3 years because I know they are the only teams that will be shown. And they have the reputation of being arrogant and obnoxious.

      Now think of the NL. You have the Cards with ‘the best fans in baseball”, the “class” of the Dodgers, the “lovable losers” that are the Cubs. Everything has a more positive and fun spin. I think the one place historically that CAN have an AL attendance advantage is the bay area. And as Joe already said, there are more than enough things going on with that right now to just say…yeah check back in a few more years.

      Reply
        1. Josh L

          Also, the last time Dodgers and Giants fans were major news items was the Brian Stow incident. That’s certainly an interesting idea of NL fans being “more fun.”

          Reply
  8. Darrel

    It is absolutely the case the case that the Yankee-Red Sox saturation has and is still killing Al baseball. As a Jays fan there is often little reason to hope. As Joe has said countless times baseball is all about hope. But everytime the Yankees miss the postseason and look vulnerable they immediately go out and buy the 3 best free agents available and voila hope is lost. I live in Canada so I can see every Jays game but I never ever bother watching a Fox or ESPN game cause I always just assume it Yanks and Sox. Only so many time you can see Ortiz face Rivera before you want to just punch yourself in the face. I have been saying for years that the desire for a short term ratings bump based on the size of the markets alone is doing the long term health of the sport an injustice.
    Secondly, the people in the industry who spout off about the wonderful parity in baseball must all follow NL teams. The Sox and Yanks have captured an inordinate number of playoff spots in the AL wildcard era. This has stolen interest from strong traditional baseball markets in Baltimore, Cleveland, KC etc. At some point the TV networks, MLB, and the Yanks/Sox have to realize that those teams need other teams to play against or the money all dries up. Even the most diehard Sox/Yanks fans don’t want to see them play each other 162 times. A financial system that does a better job equalizing the payroll disparity would go a long way to developing interest in the depressed markets.

    Reply
  9. Jake Bucsko

    I understand that many people feel strongly about Man of Steel and their problems with it. That’s fine. I share some of them, not all. But there is no earth in this universe or another where Superman 3 and 4 are significantly better than MoS.

    Reply
    1. Bill Caffrey

      Remember that Joe’s Move Plus-Minus scale is based on quality relative to expectations. So his -2 ranking for Man of Steel indicates that he expected a 5 and it delivered a 3 (or he expected a 4 and it delivered a 2, etc). Whereas his 1.5 for Superman III could mean that he expected a 0 and it delivered a 1.5. So he may actually think that Man of Steel is better straight up, but that it was more disappointing based upon his higher expectations.

      Reply
      1. frank

        Joe really needs to break down this ranking to include expectation and delivered, otherwise I really don’t know what I’m looking at here. Unless there is some standard expectation value system for sequels that I don’t know about.

        Reply
  10. Aryeh Bak

    With respect to walks – we shouldn’t assume that only hitters recognize the value of walks. Pitchers (and pitching coaches, et al) read Moneyball, too. So we shouldn’t expect the Moneyball effect to be an increase in the amount of walks, but rather an elevation in the recognition of the value of the walk by all parties – hitters and pitchers alike.

    While we all know that batters can, to some degree, control their ability to walk, I have little doubt that pitchers, as a group, can control walks even more than hitters. Therefore it doesn’t surprise me that an increase in the recognition of the value of walks by hitters and pitchers alike would result in a secular decline in walks, given that pitchers control walks more than hitters.

    Reply
    1. Steve

      In addition, with the steep drop in home runs recently (for whatever reason), the cost of throwing strikes has been reduced. If the best pitch is on the corner of the strike zone, the penalty for missing out of the zone is a ball. The penalty for missing toward the center is a ball that can be driven. In a reduced power environment, a ball is still a ball but a miss toward the center is less costly. So there’s less incentive to nibble, and walks go down.

      I don’t know if that’s the right explanation, but it’s certainly plausible.

      Reply
      1. Mark Daniel

        Billy Martin’s old pitching coach, Art Fowler, used to say to pitchers having control problems, “Throw strikes. Babe Ruth’s dead” .
        I remember first reading that about Fowler during the height of the steroid era, and I thought, “Hmm, with Sosa, McGwire and Bonds, Babe Ruth is not only alive, but there are three of him.”

        Reply
        1. bellweather22

          The idea that Joe again suggests that steroids were a “minor” reason for the offensive uptick during that era is laughable. How is it that all the record setters and most of the 50 HR crowd were either known or likely users, and yet steroids didn’t effect offense much? Every now and again Joe serves up one of these nuggets as if it’s just a scientific fact that us flat earthers should be aware of.

          Reply
          1. Tim

            By my quick count there were 15 guys who hit more than 50 HRs a season in the so-called steroid era, and only 5 of them have been legitimately implicated regarding banned substance use.

            Also, Joe has written extensively about the other factors involved in the offensive spike of the 90s/2000s (juiced balls, smaller stadiums, smaller strike zones, changes in strategy regarding strikeouts and power, greater emphasis on weight training) and why he thinks steroids are just a small part of it at best.

            If it was all steroids, why did literally no one hit 50 home runs in the 80s? It’s not like steroids first came on the scene with McGwire and Sosa – they’d been in baseball a lot longer than that?

          2. bellweather22

            Tim, I count 10 players who hit 50 HRs pre-testing during the steroids era. McGwire, Bonds, Sosa, ARod and Brady Anderson are definites. Luis Gonzalez was leaked as testing positive on the 2003 “confidential” testing. Albert Belle was said to have used by Jose Conseco. Greg Vaughn is suspicious. Thome and Griffey are pretty universally considered to be clean. We can’t know for sure on some of these, but I think putting a 70-80% number as being users is very reasonable.

          3. Tim

            Well I was including guys since testing started (Howard, Bautista, Davis, etc.) since PEDS clearly weren’t eradicated with the dawn of testing (though I’m sure they’re much, much less likely to be used). And those guys have never been implicated in any way with any kind of real evidence. I also included Cecil Fielder in my count, since it seems pretty clear that there were steroids in the game at that time. Interesting to have a father/son combo in Prince and Cecil on the list. I didn’t remember Gonzalez’s name being leaked, but, as flimsy as that is, I suppose that counts as evidence. I don’t remember any evidence coming out against Brady Anderson, other than the HR spike, which I would say doesn’t account for evidence at all (I think Joe once wrote a post putting him in context of other HR spike outliers, so it’s not without precedent).

            Anyway, it’s fair to say that some of those guys took steroids, and it’s fair to say that steroids probably had a non-zero effect on their HR totals. But don’t forget they were facing roid-ed up pitchers too (I’ve seen it argued, though I don’t know how true it is, that steroids could conceivably help pitchers more than hitters based on the mechanics of each activity). But so did a ton of other factors that I personally think contributed more. And if steroids were that good – if they could make a guy like Brady Anderson double his HR total out of nowhere when he started taking them, I think we’d have seen much crazier numbers than just a bunch of 50+ HR seasons.

          4. Dr. G

            Tim, I find it interesting that you’d concede there could be a greater emphasis on weight training in the 90s/2000s, yet it appears there is an assumption that steroid use remains consistent from the decades of the past and into the 90s/2000s.
            I’d say its a safer bet that steroids – and the larger world of PEDs – also saw much greater emphasis and the drugs and their usage evolved, just as weight room and dietary practices did.

  11. BobDD

    Who has more influence on walks? The pitcher or the hitter. If a low-walk pitcher faces a high-walk hitter, does the pitcher’s walk rate go up more, or does the hitter’s walk rate go down more? As far as I can tell, the pitcher’s rates are more consistent, making this a pitcher issue.

    It also makes sense to me that a pitcher can more easily change behavior because of a change in philosophy, in midstream/mid-career than a hitter. A pitcher is trying to make a change in mental approach about deciding what to throw when he gets good and ready to start his motion, while a hitter is trying to make a change in how he adjusts to 90 m.p.h. pitches in a matter of milliseconds.

    Bet then, I’m just guessing.

    Reply
    1. Dave

      It’s been a while since I looked at this, but using http://www.baseball-reference.com you can see the results of individual batter-pitcher matchups. While I’ve never studied it systematically, when I have looked at specific examples in the past I have found exactly the opposite to be true. And not by a small margin. It is the batter who has a greater influence over whether the outcome of the PA is a walk, not the pitcher.

      Reply
    2. Dave

      Just a few examples, and again, this is not systematic. I looked up records of Curt Schilling (one of the best control pitchers in history). Considering only players he faced 50 or more times, I noticed the following. Schilling’s career walk rate (walks per batters faced) was 5.35%.

      Schilling faced Barry Bonds (career walk rate of 20.3%) 100 times. 19 walks (19%).
      Schilling faced Ray Lankford (career: 12.4%) 54 times. 8 walks (14.8%).
      Schilling faced Gary Sheffield (career: 13.5%) 87 times. 12 walks (13.8%).

      You’ll see similar numbers of just about every high-walk hitter whom Schilling faced a lot: Helton, Chipper Jones, Larry Walker, etc. Their walk frequency against Schilling looks an awful lot like their overall walk frequency.

      The guys at the other end of the spectrum are the low-BB guys: Matt Williams, Benito Santiago, Marquis Grissom. These guys Schilling basically never walked (together those 3 players walked 4 times in 201 PAs against Schilling, for an overall walk rate of less than 2%.

      If the pitcher were really the dominant factor in determining whether a PA result in a walk, you would not see this effect. You would see a pretty even distribution of walk/PA regardless of the hitter.

      This is clearly not intended to be a definitive study…I’m citing 1 pitcher here. But I’ve looked at this in the past for Clemens, Mussina, and others who were noted for their control and you tend to see the same effect.

      Reply
      1. David

        I think you have to have the analysis of how often the higher walk pitchers do in the same scenarios to really make a good analysis here.

        Reply
      2. Herb Smith

        That’s a pretty good theory, but I think you have to account for this: Schilling was known for being uber-prepared, and studying video and spray charts and the swing tendencies of the hitters he would face. That leads me to believe that he realized that he simply couldn’t tempt HOF-calibre hitters like Bonds, Sheffield, Chipper and the Rockies guys with off-the-plate stuff, and so if he wasn’t hitting his spots, he’d concede the walk.

        But with the lesser hitters, (fine-enough hitters, but not Bondsian types, and free-swingers, to boot), he could get them to hack away at darting sliders, and other pitches out of the strike zone.

        Reply
      3. BobDD

        Nice to hear about that. So among the best pitchers and hitters (walk-wise) the hitter’s tendencies play out. I accept that.

        So does that hold true all along the spectrum? Or does it swing towards the pitcher before it gets to the average hitter?

        If it holds the same (hitter’s stat) then that means that walks are going down because of hitters this year and that surprises me. I would have thought that Sabermetrics has so thoroughly proven the value of walks – both as controlling the strike zone (hit better pitches), and as an offensive tool (baserunners), let alone burning through pitchers – that I thought we would be seeing additional emphasis on selectiveness and walks among younger hitters. If that is not the case, then young hitters sure aren’t reaching their potential and I cannot think of any excuse why they would not.

        Reply
          1. BobDD

            So if I’m reading that chart correctly (which I’m not all that sure about), hitters rates are the deciding factor all across the board. I cannot see any area where the pitchers rate is more determinate, other than a super few random boxes. Thanks.

            Overpowering data that goes against what my intuition was trying to tell me. I really don’t know what young hitters and their coaches are thinking about. Unless they really do have their heads screwed on straight and the “new” knowledge and approach is just masking somewhat a sharp swing towards pitching dominance.

            Strike Zone? I think this could be a big deal.

  12. Noah

    Hey, Joe. Nice work on the Excel charts. If you want some help making them more robust, let me know.

    Reply
  13. Mikey

    Take a look at local TV ratings and you might come to some different opinions. Of the eight lowest-rated teams four come from each league. Of the 12 lowest rated six come from each league. You don’t see much of an AL/NL divide.

    Some of these fanbases that are laggards in attendance are stronger than average in viewership which leads to different questions about why fandom manifests mostly as viewing in some areas and as ticket buying in others. Cleveland is well above average in viewership, which could be aging population plus crappy economy plus lousy April weather keeping people at home. Tampa is above average in viewership too which I imagine is just a reflection of their horrible, inconvenient ballpark. Royals ratings are decidedly better than average. Many readers of this blog know KC a lot better than I do so I won’t try to guess as to why that is.

    Reply
  14. Ken

    Off the top of my head, I would think walks are down because all offensive categories are down across the board. Fewer singles, doubles, triples and homers as well. Maybe walks are as valuable as they’ve ever been, but we can’t see it just by looking at raw walk rate. What about looking at isolated on base (OBP – AVG)? Would that show something different?

    Reply
    1. Donald A. Coffin

      The percentage of plate appearances ending in a walk has been roughly constant–between 8% and 10% (and mostly not above 9%) for 60 years. So, long-term, walks have no particular trend.

      Reply
      1. Doug

        So, to draw this out a little – the explanation for why there are fewer walks per game is that there are fewer PA for game, because offense is down on the whole? So it’s not something to do with walks specifically, just people having fewer opportunities to take walks.

        That’s fascinating.

        Reply
  15. AaronB

    On walks:
    As some have mentioned, pitchers are recognizing throwing a 1st pitch strike is good for them. Pound the strike zone, get ahead of that hitter that’s trying to work the count. If you’re a hitter who is trying to work the count, you could quickly find yourself down 0-2 or 1-2 before you have time to blink. I think this is part of the reason walk rates are down.

    On attendance:
    Pace of the game – NL is faster, even with all the pitching changes/PH, etc. The game is just crisper. Pitchers can control this to an extent and the pitchers in the NL seem to like quicker paces. Hitters, can step out to break up the flow, but even they seem to be with the faster pace.

    Yanks/Red Sox – yes they clearly have a rivalry, but I’ve really wondered how much is real Vs propagated by ESPN. They have shoved them down our throats for the last 15 years. I live in MO and really don’t care about them so I suspect a lot of people feel the same way. We don’t care about the Yanks/Red Sox, so stop showing them all the time. Catching them every once in a while would be nice, but it’s overkill. How about someone else on the game of the week? I’d like to see Tampa or Oakland play every once in awhile. I can actually see the Yanks/Red Sox more than the Royals in my market. Thankfully the Cards dominate where I live so I can watch them.

    So, with that rivalry jammed down our throats, I think it has killed the sense of “having a chance” for many of the AL teams. Royals brass are having a hard time understanding why their fans aren’t excited by this year’s team. One reason, I’d guess the fans realize that even if they somehow get into the playoffs, they’d have no real shot at the big boys.

    In the NL, the Cards and Braves have dominated for close to 20 years now, but I think we’ve seen more balance overall. In the NL Central you’ve had the Cards, but great runs by the Astro’s, Brewers, and Reds as well. Even the Pirates turned the corner and made it in last year. Even the lowly Cubs had their run with Wood/Pryor.

    In the West, the Dodgers & Giants have been up the most, but the Rockies, Padres, and DBacks have all made it in and even won the WS (DBacks). East – Braves dominate, but the Phillies had their run and now Washington may be on the verge of running things for awhile. Even the Mets has some success before Waino’s curve. Marlin’s? Heck, they’ve won 2 WS in the last 17 years. The NL just has more balance.

    I could go on, but I’m getting too wordy as it is.

    Reply
    1. Sadge

      With regard to pitching changes per game, I found an article from 2011 saying the NL averages 6.0 changes per game to the AL’s 5.4. However, I’m interested to know how many of those changes were in the middle of the inning. The AL doesn’t have to worry about pinch hitters so they can change at any time. The NL might be more likely to change between innings so they can have someone else hit for the pitcher if they are due up. If that’s the case, even with more changes per game, it might take less time.

      Reply
    2. buddaley

      I am glad you raised the question of the hyping of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry. I do not pretend to speak authoritatively, only to filter the issue through my own experience.

      I became an avid Yankee fan in the early 1950s, so I missed the battle for supremacy in the late 1940s. Until 1964, I recall no particular animus towards Boston, probably because they were never a factor in the pennant race. I recall a rivalry with Al Lopez led teams, the only ones that took pennants away from the Yankees. And in 1961, until September, the Tigers threatened to derail what seemed a great Yankee team. Their lead pitcher, Frank Lary, was considered a Yankee-Killer, so I did not like him. I did like many of the Boston players. For some reason, I still remember a fondness for Frank Malzone for example.

      After 1964, the Yankees did not figure in pennant races for 12 years, and in both 1967 and 1975 I rooted for Boston as they were an American League team, and particularly in 1967, they were such a good story. Yaz was incredible down the stretch that year. And in 1975, Tiant was a very appealing player.

      Only in 1977-1978 did NY and Boston seem on a collision course, and while I rooted hard against Boston of course, I had only respect for the Red Sox and certainly no sense of them being an enemy, just a powerful competitor. Sure, we Yankee fans gloated over the Boston Massacre of 1978, but not because it was Boston specifically. Even in 1986 I hoped they would beat the Mets.

      Of course I knew the story of Babe Ruth, and eventually of the numerous ex-Red Sox who became the foundation for the first Yankee dynasty. And I do recall some rumbling about the Cater for Lyle deal being odd because it involved rivals in the same league. But none of this registered as more than history, certainly not as the root of some deep-seated rivalry, and I can fairly say that my friends who were Yankee fans never exhibited any sense that Boston was a special rival.

      Suddenly in the 1990s, there was this hubbub about the two teams being age-old enemies. To me, this was an artificial and mythological rivalry concocted by columnists and talk radio, an example of self-fulfilling prophesy. Perhaps I was blind to a seething hatred between the two teams and their fans all that time, but until recently, when one team was competitive, the other was usually lousy so what rivalry could exist?

      My guess is that the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry is far more fierce and long-standing that the NY-Boston one. I know they have gone through long periods when only one team was really a contender, but that seems not to be the substance of the issue between them.

      Reply
      1. BobDD

        When I was a kid, the Cubs/Cards rivalry was that they had all the western half of the U.S. as their “extended” territory to be the “home team” for. I chose to follow Musial and the Cards only because I lived near Portland OR then, and they were the AAA farm team of the Cards. But at night you could easily pick up either team on the radio.

        Even now that the western half of the country is filled up with teams, the Cards and Cubs still have a larger national following than average that I’m pretty sure is an outgrowth from those days of them being the western-most NL teams. Oddly enough, the same did not seem to hold true for the White Sox and Browns in the AL.

        Reply
    3. bellweather22

      Washington is going to have to get over .500 before they “dominate” the NL East. They didn’t even win the division last year. So, if the twin this year, that’s one in a row. Their roster looks like they should be good. They just haven’t done it on the field for the last year and a half.

      Reply
  16. Wilbur

    Could it be the people who make the programming decisions at ESPN, Fox, etc. logically believe that games including the Yankees or Red Sox increase the ratings?

    I always assumed so, and thus never had much of a complaint that seemingly every game included one of those two teams. They’re in business to make money now, and not to worry about the future health of the game.

    I just find something else to do or watch.

    Reply
  17. John Bishop (@jdbish)

    Hey Joe — just a comment about the Los Angeles markets. I’m not an Angel fan, but I live in Orange County and I can tell you that without a doubt, the Angels attendance is at least 90% due to Orange County fans. When I lived in LA, there were ZERO Angels fans, and from what my friends tell me, the name change has done nothing to change that.

    The Angels are “Orange County” in everything but the name, and I think fans down here still wish they were called the Anaheim (or even California) Angels.

    Anyway I bring it up because, although the fans would never be confused for “rabid”, they are certainly loyal and they draw well on their own merit, not LA overflow.

    Reply
    1. bellweather22

      I was an OC Angel fan. I loved the Dodgers too, but to go to a game it was a 90 minute drive in heavy traffic. The Angels were a 15 minute drive with minimal traffic and many good parking options to avoid the stadium lot crush. I would imagine the reverse would be true as well. Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium are not at all close to one another, especially considering traffic conditions. No amount of marketing, or calling the Team “LA” will change that.

      Reply
    2. Fin Alyn

      I have to agree with Bell, in that a good chunk of Angel fans come from the Long Beach area, and LA County up the 605. I lived in that area growing up and was a Dodger fan, but went to dozens of Angel games and only a handful of Dodger because traffic and other issues just made it a much easier and enjoyable time.

      Reply
  18. Matt Vandermast

    Great food for thought, and it seems to me you’re on the right track about the AL.

    >…if you ask why offense skyrocketed in baseball in the 1990s, I suspect most people would say: Steroids. That’s it. One word. There are some pretty compelling reasons to believe that steroids actually played a pretty small role in the offensive explosion.

    What portion (roughly) of the “steroid era” ‘s offensive increase do you think steroids actually caused? If you ever do a blog on this question, I’ll read it eagerly (and, as always, gratefully).

    Reply
    1. Darrel

      This point, as mentioned by others here, is maybe my only quibble with Joe on baseball. When discussing hitters the Steroids had a small impact, but he is quick to call it the “selig power hour” and other shuck the blame away from the actual offenders quips when he wants to make a point. There is enough blame to go around in this area but for the love of God can we at least lay some of it at the feet of those shooting themselves up with this crap. As for the impact, Barry Bonds had a pre-steroids high of 46 HR and then averaged like 52 as an aging player in a HR depressing ballpark over a 5 year period all while having the bat taken out of his hand by all those walks. Yeah, steroids had a small impact.

      Reply
  19. Greg H

    Layer in PA/game onto your walks chart. I suspect that they’d move the same way and, thus, would be a big reason for the walks/game numbers.

    Reply
  20. otistaylor89

    The fact that FOX and ESPN will not show Blue Jays games takes away national knowledge of one team that should be a national draw.

    The Yankees playing the Red Sox is now like watching the Cowboys vs. the Cowboys – and I live in Boston.

    Reply
  21. Dan W.

    I believe the Yankee / Red Sox cartel has caused considerable damage to the branding of American League baseball. But it is not just their fault and the fault of the broadcasters. Blame also must be cast on the owners and management of the other AL teams who utterly failed to compete with them. If Toronto and Baltimore were fielding competitive teams they would be on TV and their rivalries with the Yankees and Red Sox would be strong. But that is not what happened. Since 1993 the Blue Jays have been invisible. Since 1997 the Orioles have been invisible. The Rays surprise but they, like the Marlins, have no legacy and generate zero national interest (and this despite the Marlins having won 2 world series!!)

    I have always been an AL fan but I’ll be the first to admit there is nothing special about AL baseball. Given the choice of watching any two AL teams or any two NL teams I would lean towards the NL. And yet this is despite my belief that the AL teams are actually stronger than the NL teams right now.

    Reply
  22. Marco

    For several years, watching the AL has been akin to watching a 100 meter dash where a couple of the entrants only have to run 95 meters.

    Reply
  23. Fitz

    “And yet, hitters are walking quite a bit LESS now than in the 1970s and 1980s.”

    You’re saying 3.30 (’70s) and 3.22 (’80s) are THAT statistically significant from 3.09 walks per game now? To me, this line graph (which is zoomed/exaggerated) shows normal variation, not something worth examining.

    Reply
  24. Bryan Adams (@bpadams)

    I wonder if the emphasis on batters drawing walks was met with equal (or more?) emphasis on finding pitchers who don’t give them up?

    Also: spitballing … is payroll disparity between top / bottom teams similar in AL / NL? I note that all the teams w/ low attendance are also in the bottom half of payroll (except Toronto, I guess).

    Reply
  25. Jeff

    I’m sick of the Boston/NYY bias on ESPN as well, so I just did a quick look at all of the games that they’ve televised so far (through May 29th), looking for how many of them involved what to me seem like the most covered teams in baseball: Red Sox/Yankees/Dodgers/Angels/Cardinals. Here’s the final tally (obviously they don’t add up right because many of the games involved two teams from the list, instead of just one).

    Total games televised: 56
    Games involving Boston: 16 (28.6%)
    Yankees: 11 (19.6%)
    Dodgers: 7 (12.5%)
    Angels: 5 (8.9%)
    Cardinals: 8 (14.3%)

    And now the kicker. Games involving none of those five teams: 15 (26.8%). You only have a slightly better than 1 in 4 chance of not watching those 5 teams, and you actually have a greater chance of seeing Boston than you do of seeing any other two random teams outside of those 5 put together.

    They’re cannibalizing their sport.

    Reply
    1. David

      “They’re cannibalizing their sport.”

      That might be true, but chances are they are showing those games because that is what the most amount of people will watch. They likely will have to be shown the affect.

      Reply
    2. daveoinsf

      It’s a self fulfilling cycle. More people want to see nyy/Bos because they’re more familiar with them already. And they’re more familiar with them because they’re on tv all the time.

      This is why baseball postseason ratings are in decline. Baseball and it’s tv partners do a Poor job marketing the rest of the teams involved to the broader national audience during the regular season.

      Reply
  26. sourcreamus

    The easiest explanation for the rise of strikeouts and decline of walks is the strikezone is being called differently. They introduced a camera system to try to get more consistency in various umpires’ strikezones and they have brought back the high and low strikes and stopped calling the way outside strike. Batters have more space to defend and pitchers have more room to pitch strikes.

    Reply
  27. Chip S.

    There are two well-known ways to boost attendance: build a new ballpark and play the Yankees. Both of those effects have served to boost NL attendance relative to the AL over the period covered by your chart.

    The new-park effect strongly boost NL attendance relative to the AL. Since 1998, 16 new ballparks have opened. Of those, 12 were NL parks (including Houston).

    With interleague play, AL teams lose something like 8 home games a year against the Yankees, and NL teams gain those. And this effect is big. One estimate of the Yankee effect on attendance at NL games obtained from the 2001 season puts it at 17,000 per game (http://nysea.bizland.com/nysea/publications/nyer/2004/NYER_2004_p003.pdf).

    Reply
    1. bellweather22

      So 17,000 extra Yankee fans for 8 NL home games accounts for 136,000 extra NL fans over the entire year. Divide by 82 home games for 17 teams and the net per team impact is 97 extra NL fans per game caused by the Yankee effect.

      Reply
      1. Chip S.

        Yeah, I messed up by neglecting to divide by the number of teams. So, aside from the number of home games being 81 and the number of NL teams being 16, I concede the point. Thanks for checking that.

        But I still don’t buy the story that ESPN and Fox are killing the interest of fans in Oakland and KC by showing all those long, boring Boston-NY games. If that were true, wouldn’t the Yankee effect on attendance be negative?

        There are plenty of opportunities for fans to watch their local teams on tv. Maybe it was Rex Hudler who killed interest in baseball in KC.

        Reply
  28. senorpogo

    I’m a Cleveland fan who has debated and analyzed our attendance woes ad nauseam.

    I really don’t see the emphasis on the NYY/BOS as a factor. Say what you will about ESPN and other major sports media, but the Yanks and Sox have been emphasized because they’ve been dominate over the last two decades. If it is a factor, it’d out of the top ten causes of Cleveland’s attendance issues behind things like regularly bad teams, distrust in ownership, team payroll, ticket prices, regional economic woes, etc. etc. etc. And those are factors that have been issues for all that 15 year span and beyond.

    I’m guessing if you look at the other bottom teams, you’ll find something similar. Tropicana has always been out in the boondocks. Oakland-Alameda has always been a bad baseball venue. The Royals have been irrelevant for decades. There – solid explanations for four of the teams on the list.

    Not saying it proves anything, but I think micro-team level analysis makes more sense here than jumping to the conclusion that there’s something about macro-league level thing going on.

    Reply
  29. Justin

    That “Superman Returns” is watchable, let alone a decent movie, is a minor miracle. Look online at the failed Superman movies that were almost made. Every single one of them would have been a train wreck. “Returns” will age far better than “Man of Steel” or even the first two Reeve movies. Blasphemy? Let’s talk in 20 years.

    “Man of Steel?” It’s worth every second to get to the shot of Clark as a little boy, standing among the laundry on the line, red cape flowing in the wind, fists on his hips. It’s absolutely gratuitous with no earthly reason to be there, but man, is it awesome.

    Does it really matter if the Cubs outdraw the Sox? We’ve been subjected to some insanely bad baseball here for some time now. Everyone in this godforsaken wasteland of baseball needs to have his or her head checked for casually following either team.

    Sorry for all the adverbs.

    Reply
  30. Daniel S.

    Speaking as a Twins fan, there were a few years in the mid-aughts in which I HATED the White Sox. It faded away as the White Sox (and now of course the Twins) started fielding AAAA teams every year. The AL Central just hasn’t had two teams maintain a high level of play together for a long stretch of time since.. probably its inception.

    Reply
  31. fivetwentyone

    regarding walk rates when extremes face reach other, I dug out some data from retrosheet, heres what I come up with. this shows what happens to the bb rate when a pitcher/batter with extreme bb rates faces a batter/pitcher with the specified overall walk rate. high means bb rate>=0.12 per PA, low means <=0.04 per PA. the columns are range of overall bb rate, number of walks when facing extreme pitcher/batter, number of Pas against extreme pitcher/batter, walk rate vs extreme pitcher/batter; I hope that explanation makes sense.

    pit. high
    0.00 0.02 0 0 0.0000
    0.02 0.04 14 233 0.0601
    0.04 0.06 61 772 0.0790
    0.06 0.08 138 1313 0.1051
    0.08 0.10 148 1095 0.1352
    0.10 0.12 194 1153 0.1683
    0.12 0.14 121 603 0.2007
    0.14 0.16 57 280 0.2036

    pit. low
    0.00 0.02 0 80 0.0000
    0.02 0.04 3 781 0.0038
    0.04 0.06 64 2471 0.0259
    0.06 0.08 90 3422 0.0263
    0.08 0.10 125 2945 0.0424
    0.10 0.12 82 2078 0.0395
    0.12 0.14 65 1042 0.0624
    0.14 0.16 44 601 0.0732

    bat. high
    0.00 0.02 7 134 0.0522
    0.02 0.04 122 1764 0.0692
    0.04 0.06 829 8514 0.0974
    0.06 0.08 1830 14503 0.1262
    0.08 0.10 1706 11257 0.1516
    0.10 0.12 838 4448 0.1884
    0.12 0.14 180 857 0.2100
    0.14 0.16 33 168 0.1964

    bat. low
    0.00 0.02 0 101 0.0000
    0.02 0.04 3 760 0.0039
    0.04 0.06 57 3799 0.0150
    0.06 0.08 182 6065 0.0300
    0.08 0.10 116 3479 0.0333
    0.10 0.12 58 1295 0.0448
    0.12 0.14 13 205 0.0634
    0.14 0.16 1 32 0.0312

    Reply
  32. fivetwentyone

    so Im pretty sure the data I posted above say that the batter is more responsible for the bb rate than the pitcher; for example, a pitcher with a high overall walk rate faces a batter with a low overall rate, say <=0.06, the batter will walk 7.5% of the time (the entry labeled pit. high), on the other hand when a batter with a high overall walk rate face a pitcher with rate<=0.06, he will walk 9.2% of the time (entry labeled bat high). and similarly for low facing high.

    Reply
  33. Tom

    I’m an Angels fan and I can attest that their games are just brutal. I’m probably exaggerating but I don’t think they’ve had a single game finish in less than 3 hours. And when they play the Yankees it’s a Bataan Death March.

    Reply
  34. Jeff

    Here’s why I think the NYY-SOX saturation is devastating to the game.

    Most of us on here are not casual fans. I watch whoever I want on mlb.tv. Except, of course, the Astros, who are blacked-out. ESPN and Fox (and noe MLB Network) show pretty much every NYY-SOX game. Those are the only games the casual fan sees. The four and five-hour death marches that they play are being shown and promoted to the novice fan as what the “best” teams and their games are like. Is it any wonder that the average fan will turn to other forms of entertainment. I, like many others have posted, cannot watch these games. They make my love for the game die just a little.

    Reply
  35. Jeff

    Back to the Astros:

    I live in San Antonio and grew up an Astros fan. I hear they are pretty bad now. They have no local broadcast of their games (unless they are playing the Rangers) and they are blacked out from my mlb.tv subscription. Being employed full-time (no complaints about that!), it is near impossible for me to make the drive to go to a game. So, I haven’t seen an Astros game in over two years. They have basically surrendered the entire Texas market to the Rangers.

    I’ve always been a NL fan. The closest NL ballpark from San Antonio is St Louis-over 900 miles away.

    Reply
  36. clayton

    Joe – I think a BIG reason why fans aren’t attending that many games anymore is because baseball is getting boring. There aren’t many great personalities anymore, there aren’t many fun and loveable players anymore, and the entire league is becoming so businesslike in its approach that it’s sucking the fun out of the game. I think the NBA is in a similar funk.

    Look back at the late 80s and early 90s and remember all the fun players in baseball? We had Ozzie and his backflips, we had Kirby and his permanent smile, we had Nolan and his fastball. Ken Griffey Jr. reminded us all how much fun baseball can be and Rickey Henderson gave us all fun non-sequitur quotes while making base-thievery look easy. Bo Jackson was a human highlight real, Eckersley had his famous mustache, and the Bash Brothers were entertaining if not flawed. Even entire teams provided fun and excitement: who can forget the ’93 Phillies? They were an absolute blast to watch with all of the personality on their team.

    Now? It’s suits. It’s cranky players grumbling about contracts. It’s 24-hours-a-day of two-team coverage (I totally agree about the over-saturation of the Yanks/BoSox). What little personality that is in the game – think Puig or even Gomez – is being stifled by the baseball police. There’s so much negativity around the game that it’s difficult to enjoy for free, let alone pay the expense of ticket prices, parking prices, a couple of Cokes and a bag of Cracker Jacks.

    I cannot remember a time in my life that I did not love baseball. Few things in my childhood bring back as many pleasant memories as this silly game. But now? Well…now I face a sad reality:

    BASEBALL has become BORING.

    Reply
    1. Derek

      Um, attendance right now is in a golden age. It’s much higher now than it was in the 60s, 70s, 80s.

      The topic here is why NL attendance is higher than AL, or rather why a whole bunch of the lower attendance teams are all in the AL.

      Reply
      1. bellweather22

        True. The stadium experience, to me, is always fun. But the glacial pace of games makes it difficult to watch on TV. I DVR games and have to FF through multiple innings to get through a game in two hours…. Which is what games used to take…. And what is reasonable to sit through. Is anyone signing up to go watch a 3 1/2 hour movie these days? So, why can’t the league speed up the games?

        Reply
      2. John

        Anyone who starts a comment with “um” is automatically an idiot. Secondly, I think the point he was trying to make was that boring baseball hurts attendance.

        Reply
        1. Chip S.

          First, anyone who uses “secondly” in a comment–or anywhere else–may not automatically be an idiot, but he probably shouldn’t be issuing grand pronouncements about other people’s writing styles.

          Second, if baseball is boring now, and if boring baseball hurts attendance, why is attendance higher than it was in the Golden Age of Excitement? That’s the entirely reasonable question posed by Derek.

          A lot of these comments sound like they’re written by the ghost of John McGraw, who also didn’t think the Yankees were ruining the game. Perhaps the baseball we watch when we get older is always inferior to the games we watched when we were young.

          None of which explains why NL attendance is higher than AL attendance, of course.

          Reply
          1. Chip S.

            Um, make that “John McGraw, who also thought the Yankees were ruining the game.”

            (Iron law of correcting someone’s grammar online.)

    2. catveg

      Watch the A’s sometime. That team has a lot of fun and is really good. Most fun I’ve ever had watching a baseball team are the 2012-14 A’s.

      Reply
  37. fivetwentyone

    two mistakes from the analysis I posted above;
    1. batters have a larger range of bb rates, so the mean for players with bb rate >=0.12 is higher than the mean for pitchers with bb rate>=0.12
    2. I was only looking at pitcher-batter match ups that had 10 or more occurrences, which chopped out a lot of the data.

    here are some updated heat maps, that fix those. the only difference between the two is the size of the bins. the data have been expanded to cover 1961-2011.
    https://fivetwentyone.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/walkrates2.png
    https://fivetwentyone.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/walkrates3.png

    it isn’t obvious that pitcher or batter are more responsible for the walk rate, it seems pretty symmetrical.

    Reply
  38. fivetwentyone

    two mistakes from the analysis I posted above;
    1. batters have a larger range of bb rates, so the mean for players with bb rate >=0.12 is higher than the mean for pitchers with bb rate>=0.12
    2. I was only looking at pitcher-batter match ups that had 10 or more occurrences, which chopped out a lot of the data.

    here are some updated heat maps, that fix those. the only difference between the two is the size of the bins. the data have been expanded to cover 1961-2011.

    Reply
  39. tombando

    *Right Poz. It wuz jist park fx and little bats that caused the majors to do a 15 yr 1930 on us. No roids need apply. Problem is, still got the small parks and little bats, but its now veering towards ’68. You are full of sheep dip.

    *Fox and Espn need to show more Padres Mariners games. Yessir. Gotta git me some Jays Astros. Wheeeee.

    *Man of Stool sucked. Needs giant robots.

    Reply
  40. Herb Smith

    Serious question: Is the MLB umpires’ union so strong that they can just tell Torre and Selig to go screw themselves when the those league officials tell them to speed up the game?

    It seems that if you just installed an ass-kicker as the “Ump Czar,” and he was like a strict cop, ENFORCING the 12-second pitch rule, and the “batter can’t leave the box during an at-bat” rule, you’d quickly shave a half-hour off of each game.

    Are you telling me that, when informed of this new policy, Joe West, Angel Hernandez and their brethren would just tell MLB to *&^%$# themselves?

    Reply
    1. bellweather22

      We just had Angel Hernandez pass through for a home stand. The guy is just a human blown call (which these days turns into challenges that drag the pace down even further). Every damn game he was right in the middle of a controversial call. When he was behind the plate it looked like he was just guessing on the pitch location. I don’t know how the man keeps his job. You’d think other umpires would be embarrassed to be on the field with him, especially having to contend with irate players and managers and booing fans that spills over to the rest of the umpire crew.

      Reply
  41. Rick Rodstrom

    It seems simple to me. Strikeouts are skyrocketing. There are more guys who can’t hit—can’t even put the bat on the ball—and pitchers are just mowing them down. So of course there are fewer walks.

    Reply
  42. Chris

    Great first try on the charts Joe. Next time, make sure to assign a row in excel indicating each year as your x axis label. Still, great job for a first try, exceptfor the blatant inaccuracy of how much you’re overrating Superman 4.

    Reply
  43. Kendell

    Superman IV ranked ahead of anything? Joe, I’m disappointed. For what it is worth, here are the tomato meter ratings for all of the Superman movies in the chart:

    Superman 93%
    Superman II 89%
    Superman III 26%
    Superman IV 12% !!!
    Superman Returns 76%
    Man of Steel 56%

    Reply
  44. Fin Alyn

    Having listened to a couple thoughtful former players who now color comment on games, they are very much convinced that more pitchers than ever are throwing strike one with the first pitch, putting batters in a hole more often than ever. They feel that so many batters were trying to work the count that the first pitch has become a freebie strike, as they tend to let the first one go by. They didn’t have hard numbers, but just felt from watching games the last 2 years that they had seen more 0-1 and 0-2 counts than they were used to.

    Reply
  45. Haris H.

    “The Los Angeles Angels have been able to hold their own (being in Los Angeles)”

    Well then. The Angels win. Even Joe believes they’re in Los Angeles.

    Reply
  46. Avattoir

    It’s right in your avatar name: weather.

    In the 1960s, 4 of the 20 MLB teams were west of St. Louis: 20%. Today it’s 9 of 30: 30%. That’s significant. This decrease in walks isn’t a persistent trend; it’s off a third of a season. What’s been happening with the weather where an increased number of teams are located?

    With the spring comes more photons, so heat. But typically, the wet of spring cools down ambient temperatures and allows pitchers more control, ease & predictability in pitches that cross the zone. This spring follows a particularly dry winter in the west, and there’s wide-spread serious drought across the western states. Those 9 clubs are still feeling heat, cuz that’s how this (every) planet rolls; but not the moisture from the ground and in the air that cools and thickens ambient air.

    What that means to pitchers is that, unless they prefer to work the lower third of the zone, or depend on a splitter or forkball, they’ve lost weaponage, forced to resort to straight fastballs towards the middle of the zone. Combine that with warm, dry, ambient air, in which balls travel hard and long, and the result is: harder grounders, harder hit liners, and lots of long, soaring dingers.

    Spring arrived late in parts of the west, barely in others, and was late on the coast. It’s been rough on pitchers who rely on sliders or who work the edges with fast stuff with movement; they’re putting up some uncharacteristically (for them) high ERA numbers, having to resort to second and third pitches, typically some kind of basically straight fastball, just to get in the zone. And with those types using too much of their less-favored pitches, there could be – I’d expect – starters needing even more time off between starts, and a higher than normal number of pitchers on the DL thru the season.

    One team that’s really benefited from all this, so far, is the Giants; they’ve hit dingers at nearly twice their rate last year, in part due to acquiring Morse plus Belt’s early start, but also they’ve shown power right thru their line-up, including from players with no history. At the same time, their ground balls are up, especially hard ones (meaning a premium on solid IF play), and while their pitchers who rely on sliders and sideways movement (Bumgarner, Romo), have been lit up some & had to work harder, their pitchers who work off location and sinkers (Hudson, Machi) have had terrific starts.

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  47. Pat

    Walks are down because Nolan Ryan couldn’t pitch forever. I’m only sorta joking. I don’t know how many other pitchers adopted Ryan’s philosophy of not ever challenging batters, of making a deal that they could get a walk but they couldn’t get a hit—and he may have been the only one.

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  48. JRb

    I think the NL attendance advantage has a rather simple explanation. The NL is called the “Senior Circuit” for a reason. And even today there is a first mover advantage. Brand loyalty is deep in sports. (How else could you explain me being 29 and a Royals fan?)

    The Dodgers and Giants own the West coast because they were there first. The Cardinals dominate Missouri because it has deem roots with KMOX. Chicago Cubs were in Chicago first – even the Marlins predate the Rays.

    NY belongs to the Yankees, but that isn’t even really an exception – its simply an extension of the rule – Yankees predated the Mets.

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  49. Dave B

    Superman II is the best of the bunch, with Superman 1 a close second. Superman Returns and Man of Steel are in the next tier, and Supermans III and IV are so bad it’s not worth ranking them, though, for what it’s worth, IV is worse than III.

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  50. Mark A

    “Now we are in the Moneyball age, where everyone knows about the value of the walk and the value of working the pitcher and working the count. And yet, hitters are walking quite a bit LESS now than in the 1970s and 1980s. What gives?”

    I can’t say that I know the answer to what gives,

    But despite the narrative being told about the moneyball age being all about hitters, if a walk’s perceived value has increases that should affect decisions on pitchers as much as it does on hitters. Hitters try harder to walk, but pitchers try harder to avoid them.

    And if that’s the case, the overall answer might not be causal at all, but rather just ebb and flow over time.

    But if I needed to look for a cause, I’d be wondering:

    -Are hitters being intentionally walked less?
    -Are pitchers less apt to nibble thanks to effectiveness of defensive shifts?

    Also, while the line graphs are a neat quick summary tool, to analyze trends I think you’d want more data points than one per decade. While that cuts out sample size concerns, it also masks whether walks are consistently down.

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