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Baseball trends

By Bob Plezia

Strikeouts (SO): We've all been reading of the large number of strike outs in games the season. Yu Darvish (Texas Rangers) has collected over 200 SO this season already; Darvish is the leading SO pitchers in the MLB with a SO per nine inning ratio of 12.12. If the rate of SO this season continues, this yr will be the ninth straight season in which MLB has seen a new record for total strikeouts in a season. This yr, in the 3,526 games played up to last Monday, each game has ave. 7.5 SO. If this rate continues, there will be 36,462 SO in MLB in 2013.

Hitting: We have also seen batting ave., on base percent and slugging percentage numbers dropping over the last decade. In 2000, the ave. MLB line was .270/.345/.437. The ave. so far, in 2013, line is .253/.317/.398.

Reasons for these trends? One could argue this is a correction from the steroid inflated late 1990s and early 2000s, when offense jumped to levels not seen since the 1930s. Who could document which hitters and pitchers were on PED during what months and/or yrs.? And who is to say the PED period is reduced, at what level, or is over, today with the recent suspensions and the dates of PED use in these cases?

Over the last century there have been cycles in offense and pitching, with "dead ball" era, HRs in the '30s, the offense spurt in the 1960's, than lowering of the mound, DH, etc. But there has been no rule changes in the last 10 yrs.

One noticeable trend has been the pitchers throwing harder. In 2013, the ave. velocity for all fastballs (fb) thrown by pitchers with at least 10 innings recorded is 91.6 mph. That's a full 2 mph faster than the ave, fb in 2002. And the elite starters will ave. 95 mph for up to 9 innings. And the "flame throwers" who ave. 97.9 routinely get it up to 103, ex. Chapman (Cinci).

One of the offsets to such stress on the arm are the number of "Tommy John" surgeries. However, the improvements in surgical techniques, equipment, tissue, etc. has resulted in many of the pitchers with such surgeries are coming back, and a few are throwing harder than they threw before.

Another contributing factor could be MLB is now, more than ever, an international league with players from all over the world, ex. Darvish and Chapman.

Of course, all these reasons apply to the hitters as well. The cycle of the hitters catching up to the pitching speed therefore could occur and the current trends could flatten or reverse.

If you look at these BA stats from a diff perspective, teams, by picking the top 5 teams and the bottom 5 teams over the yrs. 2008 - 2013, you will find that the top 5 teams, overall, don't lose the points of BA ave. as much as the bottom teams. And there are teams repeating in the top 5 such as Texas, St. Louis and Tigers.

In the bottom 5 teams, every yr, you find more teams that repeat more often like San Diego, Houston, Cubs and Seattle, at least in this time period. We also found 2 teams, Minn. and the Mets, that went from the top 5 teams to the bottom 5 teams in this period. We did not find any team going from the bottom 5 to the top 5 teams.

Implied in these stats are some teams, that stay near the top in standings, are better able to chose (trade) and draft better talent, they may also have better coaching and they are better at developing their talent.

And does the umpiring, with their own strike zones today, affect the game and the stats?

Hitting Coaches: When you look at coaches rosters today, you will find each team with at least 2 pitching coaches, one in the bullpen and one in the dugout. The pitching coach and bullpen coach have been around for many yrs.

Over the last 10 yrs. you have seen more hitting coaches on the MLB roster. Today, only 13 or 43% of MLB teams have a hitting coach and an assist. coach. When you look at the work load, especially physical, of the hitting coach vs. the pitching coach, and the number of hitters/team and the work they require vs. pitchers, the hitting coach job is much more physically demanding.

Both pitching and hitting coaches have there share of hitters and pitchers team meets, and individual meets. Both type coaches watch and chart individual workouts. Most teams have video techs who do the "slice and dicing" of a game tape for the pitchers and hitters. And when a player is sent down, or a player comes up, there is prep work, watching the players in the minor league and post work that is done.

Looking at the teams with 2 hitting coaches and their recent ranking by BA, in the top 10 teams, 6 have 2 hitting coaches, and 62% of the teams with 2 hitting coaches are above the 50% BA level.

Hitting Coaching Swinging is instinctive. And if you talk with the Chinese and their position on instinctive martial arts, they say it takes up to 10,000 reps for a move to become instinctive.

And sportsmen say hitting a baseball is the most difficult feat in sports.

If that is the case, this fits in that reps are the basis for most of baseball practices. If that is the case, the use of more than one coach would insure good quality and more reps. (The above limited stats hint at the results when 2 coaches are used.)

There are batting machines that throw up to 150 mph, but they throw tennis balls. And when a tennis ball gets a little used, the ball moves a little. Maybe practicing swinging against higher speeds like 110 or 120 may get the hitter to adjust faster to the "flame throwers". Experience tells me it's only a matter of practicing against faster pitches that you "adjust" your swing and "catch up" to the speed of those pitches.

Moving the pitching screen in BP cages and for front toss closer to the batter should also acclimate the hitter to the faster pitches.

Adjusting the swing to hitting to the opposite field may give the hitter a moment longer to see the ball.

The toughest part in hitting is with change of speeds, so a flame thrower has a distinct advantage at any speed at any time.

Analytics (Research, Baseball Info, Architect Systems, etc.) Within the last 10 yrs, many MLB teams have developed statistical departments that keep track of 100s ie pages, of individual, baseball stats of each MLB and AAA player, for most of their career in pro baseball. Most are offensive stats, but there are also defense and base running stats as well. Stats such as at bats (but now by park, by pitcher), base hits (now by park, by pitcher), strikeouts (now by park, by pitcher), base on balls (etc.), hit by pitch (etc.), stolen base (etc.), caught stealing a base, doubles, triples, HRs, RBIs, DP, Sac fly, etc. stats at home, stats on the road, stats during day games, stats during night games, vs right handed pitchers vs left handed pitchers, etc. have been kept for decades.

Use of the stats have changed, ex. "Moneyball" and the emphasis of players' on base percentage. More interest in a player's hits that produce RBIs, hits/outs with RISP (runners in scoring position; with a runner on third, runner on second, runner on second and third, etc.), RBI from first, etc.

Newer stats like swinging at the first pitch, hits on first pitch; base runner's time from first to third, times moved from first to third, times moved first to third/opportunities, times scored from 2nd, times scored from second/opportunities, etc. Stats on these plays measure's a player's speed but also his decision making process, is he risky (to many put outs) or is does he have great base running judgment.

Fields are now qualified for distances of fences (a hitter's park, a pitcher's park), and the player's performance at those fields. A hitter's performance vs. each pitcher he has faced at each park; a pitcher's performance vs each hitter at each park. Pitcher's pitches by hitter, by inning, by outing; how many times does he throw a fastball in an inning, a game, and in what situation. A curve... A slider... A change..., strikes/pitches an inning, game, a player, etc.

As noted in the title of this section, there are many diff descriptions for these stat departments. We found 12 MLB with "analytics" in their title; however we know of an MLB team with such a dept. but it is not noted in MLB. And there may be MLB teams with diff descriptions and titles of these departments.

This info/knowledge has a benefit to a pitching and hitting coach. These stats can be used to study free agents, for trades, analyzing the skills and performance of your own players, etc.

Altho this is rather a new development, taking a quick look at where in the standings the teams that have Analytic Dept. are, 2 are in first place in their Div., 3 are in second place and 3 are in third place, that is 8 out of 12.

(Their are baseball scouts who believe this dept. is taking a lot of their job away. Others argue many of these statisticians have never played ball and don't understand the stats. And in many situations you can't quantify what the player is being measure for or when. Most games today are video taped, so a review of the tape, by anyone, can answer most questions.)

Baseball Tracking I was at PNC (Pitts) park this yr and saw a system where a person stands on the top of the center field fence/wall, and with a device that is able to track a ball from the pitcher's hand (release point) to the catcher's glove. And within seconds, it registers into a stream of numbers, in the stadium, which tells how many inches the ball dropped or went up, in inches, and how far the ball went to the right or to the left. There is no degrees of movement, but each pitch is charted which shows the slope of each pitch. So over a game you can chart and observe if a pitch is changing in its slope. So you can chart each pitch and location, to see if the pitcher is changing the location of the pitch.

The hitter can study previous games of a pitcher to note when and how far a pitch goes down, or to the right or left, how far a fb-2 seam or 4 seam, sails to the left or right,etc.

I have been at a few minor league parks this summer and have not seen the system in those parks.

Video taping All MLB games are taped today. These tapes can be further broken down by hitter, pitcher, by fielder making a play, runners, umps calls, umps accuracy in calling strikes, etc. These tapes are stored usually by player and used to study the player, pitchers can review the upcoming lineup, the hitters can study pitchers motions, teams can look at a player for a specific position to trade for etc.

Designated Hitters (DH) are noted to run into the club house after an at bat (AB) so see the pitches thrown, how he looked at the plate, where the pitch was thrown, see any patterns of pitches, etc. and get ready for the next AB.

Most teams have such tapes on each player in MLB and in AAA.


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