Monday, August 16, 2010

What is a Bunker?

Dustin Johnson missed out on a playoff in yesterday's PGA Championship after breaking a rule about not grounding his club in a bunker (see here). While Johnson was clearly not as well-versed on the local rules of the course as he should have been, my bigger question is about the particular ground rules that were used to deal with the large number of bunkers on the course.

"The dilemma," Wilson explained, "is that it's even harder to say some of these are not bunkers and some of them are, because then how do you define those? And then a player would essentially be treading on thin ice almost every time he entered a sandy area wondering where he was. And with 1,200 of them, there's no way to confirm with each player exactly where he lays."   (Link)

My problem with this explanation is that the rules that were in place do not seem as definitive to me as this suggests:

1. Bunkers: All areas of the course that were designed and built as sand bunkers will be played as bunkers (hazards), whether or not they have been raked. This will mean that many bunkers positioned outside of the ropes, as well as some areas of bunkers inside the ropes, close to the rope line, will likely include numerous footprints, heel prints and tire tracks during the play of the Championship. Such irregularities of surface are a part of the game and no free relief will be available from these conditions. (Link)

"All areas of the course that were designed and built as sand bunker will be played as bunkers …" means that someone (the golfer) has to make a determination as to whether a spot of dirt or sand was designed to be a bunker at a particular spot. If the purpose is to make the distinction obvious, wouldn't a more reasonable rule be:

"Any obvious bunker inside the lines of the course is a bunker. Any sand outside those lines should not be treated as a bunker."


"Any sand on the course should be considered to be a bunker"

Given that there were people walking through a lot of the outer bunkers so they would not play similarly to an actual sand trap anyway, I like the first version better. Also, a rope is a pretty clear delineator. However, either of these rules should be clearer than the actual rule.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Dark Side of Moneyball

Bill Simmons and Brian Goff discuss the issue of excessively long baseball games. I concur that this is a problem. I also am in favor of the suggested solutions of eliminating the DH and reducing the time between innings (commercials). Also, steps to reduce the amount of time between pitches (particularly for Kyle Farnsworth) would help.

However, I want to focus on one additional element of the problem that Simmons mentions, the number of pitches per at bat. One element of the Moneyball strategy is that it encourages looking for a walk and taking pitches by the batter. However, this will lead to longer at-bats and thus longer games. Combined with recent concerns that high pitch counts will lead to more injuries, longer at-bats will also lead to more pitching changes, compounding the problem of longer games.

So here we have a strategy that increases the chance of winning for teams that employ it, but when used by everyone creates a negative impact on the sport as a whole. It reminds me of the neutral-zone trap that came into being in the NHL in the mid-90s. It helped teams win but certainly made for a less enjoyable sport to watch. The NHL eventually changed its rules to make it a less appealing strategy to use (eliminating the two-line pass and calling more obstruction penalties). However, there is not an obvious solution to solving the taking pitches problem. Even increasing the number of balls needed for a walk from 4 to 5 might have the perverse incentive of batters taking more pitches as pitchers have less incentive to throw strikes.