New Day Dawning

Those Philly boo birds: Oh where, oh where have they gone? — Ron Costello

Are We Ruining the Grand Old Game?

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We sit and wait and watch replay after replay until the New York ump decides.

We sit and wait and watch replay after replay until the New York ump decides.

Went to the ballpark with friends Tuesday night to see the Milllville Meteor Mike Trout take apart the Phillies, error by error — three by a shaky third baseman known only as Cody in his hometown of St.  Charles, Missouri.

Nobody from St. Charles stood and cheered, or booed — that I could tell, anyway — unlike the migration that came north on 55, crossed the Walt Whitman and landed in South Philly’s backyard — duded up in thunderbolt orange.

With Trout on their back.

But it wasn’t the Trout Show that bothered me; it was the video delays.

Several.

While waiting for the final decision from the Video Replay Command Center in New York City, we fidgeted in our seats and watched the play — again and again and again — on Phanavision until five minutes later when a New York ump made the call.

Here is a typical infield shift for a left-handed hitter who hits the ball on the right side.

Here is a typical infield shift for a left-handed hitter who hits the ball on the right side.

Amazing. Even the Phanatic was bored.

But that’s not all. Another phenomena are changing the Grand Old Game even more — infield shifts.

Put yourself in a major league ballplayer’s shoes. You’ve been in the league six years and you have decent numbers. You’re not a power hitter, but you hit for extra bases  and because of your speed, you can stretch doubles into triples. Sort of like Freddy Galvis in six years.

Then, in 2014, some geek takes all of your at bat results and stuffs it into a computer. What that computer tells the geek — and the team that employs him, or her 

How much will they change the game?

How much will they change the game?

is that 70 percent of the time  you’ve hit the ball either up the  middle or slightly left or right of second base. Ten percent you struck out, and 20 percent you either popped-up or walked.

Professional IT staff, hired by, lets say the Yankees, set up a quantitative analysis department inside the bowels of Yankee Stadium. The IT staff takes your at bat statistics and formulates a plan — or, an infield shift — to better defend against your at bats.

In the first game of the next Yankees’ series, when you come to the plate, you are bowled over. The shortstop moves directly behind second, twenty feet into center, and the third baseman and second baseman move closer to second, leaving two huge gaps in the infield.

Don't laugh, it's coming.

Don’t laugh, it’s here.

You step out, rub some dirt in your hands, waiting for the infield to go back to its “normal positions.” But it doesn’t. You step back in. You see the two huge holes on the left and right sides of the infield, and you now have a choice.

Ignore it, and take your normal cuts. Or, adjust your feet and stance and try to hit the ball to the huge infield gaps. The Yankees’ quantitative analysis department and manager Joe Girardi are fine with either decision.

Is this baseball’s future?

Uh uh, it’s today, yesterday — since the 2013 season  — and tomorrow.

We're half way there. Now we need a radar induced strike zone.

We’ve already got them. Now we need a radar system to call balls and strikes backed up by video.

By the way, I forgot to tell you that while you were in the ballplayers’ shoes in the above example, because of the infield shift your average dropped from .290 to .263. Nice, huh?

It’s happening all across baseball. The Phillies — why shouldn’t this surprise you — have not been as active with the infield shift as other teams. The Rays and Astros first experimented with it in the minors, while the Pirates and Yankees lead the league in infield shifts.

Some players say you can’t let the infield shifts “get in your head.” And some hitters will bunt against an infield shift. Rays’ manager Joe Madden says, “that’s fine, let them bunt their ‘bleeps’ off.”

In 2012 without defensive shifts, the Pirates turned 339 double plays. In 2013 with the shifts and with the same  infielders, they turned 419 double plays.

Outfielders do not shift  — possibly creating situations for extra base hits.

Will radar replace the home plate umpire? Perhaps that's next.

Will radar replace the home plate umpire? Perhaps that’s next.

Last year there were 8,134 infield shifts in the Show. Through last weekend, teams have already shifted 3,213 times, putting them on track to shift nearly 14,000 for the season — all based on analytical information.

We now have the video and computer making a huge impact on  today’s game. Companies such as Baseball Information Solutions are tracking every hit ball — even every thrown pitch — giving hitters equal statistical information.

It’s a new game, monitored by video replay and computers.

But is it a better game?

 

 

 

 

 

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