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.

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