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Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

A defensive shift is employed when a power-hitter, known to swing for the fences, comes to the plate. A lefty hitting power-hitter will pull the ball to the right side and a righty power-hitter will pull the ball to the left side. A defensive shift occurs when defensive players leave their normal positions to overload one-side of the field. For example, a shortstop will move between first and second base for a lefty pull-hitter.

The first known defensive shift was done against the Babe. It involved overloading the three outfielders between centerfield and right field. But, most baseball people credit Lou Boudreau, the Cleveland manager/shortstop for instituting the first shift against Ted Williams. On July 14, 1946 in a doubleheader against the Red Sox Williams went 4-for-5 in the first game including three homers. In the second game, Boudreau employed the following shift on Williams. He placed three infielders between first and second base, three outfielders between centerfield and right field, and one infielder into left field. There were no infielders between second and third base.  

So how did it work? Well, Williams went 1-for-2 with two walks. Clearly a better result than the first game. This shift became known as “The Ted Williams Shift.”

The NBA made any zone defense illegal for many years. A zone defense allowed teams to clog the area close to the basket. The commissioner outlawed the zone defense because he felt that the zone defense caused a decrease in scoring. With the introduction of the 3-point shot the effectiveness of a zone defense was reduced. This led to the decision to allow the zone defenses.

Recently, new Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred suggested that eliminating the shift as a legal defense would put more scoring into baseball. Can you imagine the NFL not allowing linebackers to blitz? Is Manfred’s logic correct that the decrease in run production is caused mainly by the shift? Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) which tracks shift data stated the total number of shifts used by teams has jumped from 2,357 in 2011 to 13,296 in 2014.

Can one conclude from this that there is a direct cause and effect relationship between the increase in the number of shifts and the decrease in scoring? BIS estimated the number of runs saved via shifting in 2014 was an average of 6.5 runs per team for the entire year. In 2014 the average team scored 659 runs compared to 779 runs in 2004. Thus, we can estimate that the shift accounted for approximately 5% of the decline in offense over the past 10 years. Of course, the trend of using shifts by teams is clearly increasing. As more shifts are used in future years this result will increase but still have a minor effect on scoring.

So what is the biggest reason for the decline in offense? The answer is the increase in strikeouts. The total MLB strikeouts for 2004 was 31828 rising to a new record of 36710 in 2013. Guess what! In 2014 there were 37440 strikeouts, another new record.

Chapter 17 of my book “Sandlot Stats” has the title “Mission Impossible: Batting .400 for a Season.” In that chapter, I also showed the reason why it is very unlikely any player will bat .400 again is the increase in strikeouts. In 1941 when Ted Williams batted .406 he struck out just 27 times in over 600 plate appearances.

Clearly, the data shows making a defensive shift illegal will have little effect on run-scoring. My request to Commissioner Manfred is do not be so obsessed with run scoring that you make rule changes that hurt the great game of baseball. A rule forbidding defensive shifts is unnecessary. It is the responsibility of a major league hitter to have the ability to hit the ball to the vacated positions. If he repeats this process enough times the shift will be stopped.

Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

Baseball was full of many scandals. There was Joe Jackson and “The Black Sox Scandal”, George Brett and “The Pine Tar Incident”, baseball players corking their bats, baseball pitchers scoffing the baseballs, and baseball players taking banned substances.

Now the NFL has deflate-gate starring Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. Commissioner Goodell faces quite a dilemma. How do I punish the New England Patriots and or Belichick? Some of his options are suspending Belichick for the Super Bowl, suspending Belichick for a fixed number of games next season, taking draft choices away from the Patriots, fining Belichick and the Patriots, or some combination of the above.

After an exciting NFL Championship Game in which the Seattle Seahawks staged a dramatic comeback in the last five minutes of the game to defeat the Green Bay Packers in overtime, the second game to determine the AFL Champion was a 45-7 blowout won by the New England Patriots over the Indianapolis Colts. Leading up to the February 1 Super Bowl the stories should be about the actual matchup between the two teams and their quarterbacks, Russell Wilson and Tom Brady. However, what has dominated the talk is the deflate-gate scandal. Specifically, did the New England Patriots intentionally deflate the footballs that Brady used in the game?

It was reported that the Colts first noticed something unusual after linebacker D'Qwell Jackson intercepted Brady in the second quarter. Jackson reportedly gave the ball to an equipment person, who thought it seemed under-inflated. He allegedly told Colts coach Chuck Pagano. The Colts general manager was also notified and he notified a league official, according to the report. At half-time the officials checked the 12 Patriot footballs and it is reported they found 11 underinflated.

The Patriots are no stranger to controversy. In 2007, the team was punished for videotaping sideline signals used by the New York Jets during a 2007 game, in a controversy later named "Spygate." Belichick was fined $500,000, and the team was docked $250,000 and stripped of its 2008 first-round draft pick.

When I first heard about the charges I like many other people thought it was just a funny story. I reasoned that both teams used the same football so what’s the big deal. Boy, was I wrong, it turns out each team prepares 12 balls to be used by their team and gives these balls to the officials before the game starts. The officials’ job is to check the air pressure in the balls. If the air pressure is low they bring it up. If it’s too much, they deflate it to the appropriate point. The balls stay with the officials until 10 minutes before kickoff. NFL rules prohibit any alteration in the balls after they are approved by the officials.

Before talking about cheating and penalties to Belichick and the Patriots, I ask the following question: Why don’t the officials provide the footballs used in a game? In the other major sports the teams don’t provide the balls; the officials provided the balls. This scandal never could have happened if the officials provided the balls.

In a two recent news conferences both Belichick and Brady denied any knowledge of how 11 of the 12 balls lost their air. Could it just have been caused by the cold temperature? Well, I must answer no since all 12 of the Colt balls had the correct pressure after the game. Brady admitted he prefers throwing a soft football. Clearly someone deflated the footballs.

There must be some punishment handed out to the Patriots and Belichick. The problem for Commissioner Goodell is whatever punishment he doles out it will be criticized by a large number of people. However, time is his enemy. Each day that passes without a decision impacts negatively on the Super Bowl. 

Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

For the first time since 1955, the Baseball Writers' Association of America has elected four members to the Hall of Fame. They are Randy Johnson (The Big Unit), Pedro Martinez (Pedro),John Smoltz and Craig Biggio. All four of these players have no link to any use of baseball’s banned substances. Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz easily earned induction on their first tries and Biggio made it on his third attempt.

Many baseball people consider Johnson as the greatest lefty pitcher of all-time. The only question about his voting was whether he would exceed Tom Seaver’s record of 98.8 percent of the vote. Johnson came close receiving 97.3 of the vote. Martinez also did well receiving 91.1 percent. A few writers said they did not vote for either pitcher only because they are limited to voting for at most 10 players and knew these two were sure-fire winners. Martinez also lost a few votes because he did not reach the 300-win milestone. These few writers probably accounted for Johnson not breaking Seaver’s voting record. An interesting note about these two great pitchers is they never started against each other in a game.  

Until the age of 28 Johnson’s career numbers showed an ERA of 3.95 with a record of 49-48, far from any HOF consideration. His fastball was clocked at 100 mph but like Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax in their early days he did not know where the ball was going. In 1992, Johnson sought advice from Nolan Ryan. The advice he received helped him turn his career around. Johnson’s final career totals included winning five Cy Young Awards with 303 victories and 4,875 strikeouts. He was selected on 534 of 549 ballots. The 97.3 percentage for the left-hander was the eighth-highest in the history of voting.

As great as Johnson was, Pedro's peak performance may have been the best ever for any pitcher since Sandy Koufax. From 1997 to 2003, Pedro went 118-36 with a 2.20 ERA. While Johnson relied on his blazing fastball and slider, Pedro had three pitches: a blazing fastball, a great curveball, and a changeup. For those seven years batters hit .198 against him. For his career Pedro was 219-100, struck out 3,154, led the major leagues in ERA five times, and won three Cy Young Awards.  In 2004, he helped the Red Sox to their first World Series title in 86 years. Martinez joined Juan Marichal as the second player from the Dominican Republic elected to the HOF. He was selected on 500 of the 549 ballots.

After falling two votes short last year, Biggio got in with a comfortable 82.7 percent. If you dissect the numbers, he's probably a borderline Hall of Famer. His peak performance was from 1995 to 1999 when he was one of the best players in the game. Lasting 20 years enabled him to be the 27th player to reach the 3000-hit milestone. That along with his popularity as a player probably pushed him over the top. Biggio appeared on 454 of the 540 ballots. In his three years on the ballot he rose steadily from 68.2 percent in his first appearance and 74.8 percent last year. He had 3,060 hits in 20 big league seasons, all with the Houston Astros. Biggio hit more doubles (668) than any other right-handed batter in history and is the modern leader in hit-by-pitches (287).

John Smoltz was picked on 455 ballots (82.9 percent) and will join former Atlanta teammates Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, who were inducted with the class of 2014. In 1996, he won the Cy Young Award. His career record was 213-155 with 154 saves. He is the only pitcher with 200 wins and 150 saves. For his 21 year career he had a 3.33 ERA. Even though I consider him a Hall of Famer I did not expect him to make it on the first ballot.

The HOF classes of 2014 and 2015 show starting pitchers are back in vogue. From 2000-2013 there have been 21 players inducted. Of those 21, only one was a true starting pitcher (Bert Blyleven).

Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

As I have said in many of my blog postings baseball follows me wherever I go. It was Dec. 15, 2014, my wife Tara and I were at the Bradley Airport in CT, on line waiting to board our plane. The woman behind us and my wife looked at each other and thought they knew each other. It turns out that the woman was the mother of a woman who worked with Tara. We met up with all of them in FL. This led me to talk to my wife’s colleague’s husband Scott. Scott was already familiar with my book Sandlot Stats: Learning Statistics with Baseball. He told me of his recent encounter with Bobby Valentine. For those of you not familiar with Bobby V (as he is called) here is a brief background on him.

Bobby V was an all-state football and baseball player at Stamford’s Rippowam HS. He was selected by the LA Dodgers in the first round of the baseball amateur draft. He went on to play 10 years in the major leagues. Valentine played for the LA Dodgers;(1969, 1971–1972), CA Angels(1973–1975), NY Mets(1977 - 1978), and Seattle Mariners(1979). After retiring as an active player, he managed the Texas Rangers(1985–1992), the NY Mets (1996 2002), the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan (1995, 2004 ;2009), and Boston Red Sox (2012). He is currently Executive Director of Athletics at Sacred Heart University. He has also been a broadcaster for ESPN and currently serves as senior baseball analyst for NBC Sports. In addition, he is the owner of Bobby Valentine’s Sports Gallery Café in Stamford. He was voted by Sports Illustrated as one of the best athletes of the 20th century from CT. Bobby V was known to be a controversial baseball character. One particular incident I remember was called the disguise incident. The date was June 9, 1999. The Mets played the Toronto Blue Jays. In the 12th inning, Valentine was ejected for arguing an interference call. However, Valentine's night was not done. As I remember, Valentine returned to the dugout wearing glasses and a fake mustache made of eye black. He earned a two-game suspension for his return to the dugout and was also fined $5,000. "I wasn't fooling anyone with that disguise,"Valentine said, “This had absolutely nothing to do with the umpires. I did it to lighten up the team."

Here is Scott’s story of his meeting with Bobby V.

A good friend grew-up with Bobby Valentine in Stanford and recommended we go to his new restaurant in South Windsor, CT. We were meeting friends who were departing on a late night flight. My friend has explained what an exceptional athlete Bobby was in HS. He was such a football talent, he was recruited by UCLA. However, Bobby’s love was baseball. He is a dedicated student of the game.

We entered the restaurant “Bobby V’s”, gave our name to the hostess and were lead to our table. As we were walking to the table Bobby was enjoying dinner with friends. I immediately introduced myself and explained our mutual friend. Bobby’s response was “No Shit”. After Bobby’s guests left he came over to our table. We introduced everyone to Bobby.Two members of the group wanted to learn how to bet on horses. Bobby immediately started explaining the process and took them to an OTB betting station. Bobby guided them through the process and they returned with tickets. At the table we discussed sports, his HS football prowess, the restaurant and our mutual friend. Bobby could not have been nicer. He spent at least 20 minutes with us and we immediately felt like we knew him forever.

We are looking forward our next dinner with Bobby and our friends. The girls in the picture with Bobby V are Kayla and Johanna, my friend's daughters,holding their tickets.

Bobby V with Fans

By Scott Haeffner

Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

As Trent McCann was growing up, his grandfather would tell him many stories about his own youth. Some of these stories involved famous sports celebrities. Since his grandfather recently passed away, Trent wanted to share with everyone the unplanned afternoon his grandfather spent with Babe Ruth, so that the little piece of history his grandfather shared with him would not be forgotten.

Babe Ruth was traded from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees on January 6, 1920. My Grandfather, William Anthony McCann, was born October 15, 1921. One day, around age 13 my grandfather was caddying for one of his regulars when he recognized one of the other golfers in the group. It was the Babe. He had recently retired from his prolific career on the diamond and was becoming a regular on the links of the Upper Montclair Country Club in New Jersey.

The Babe was very friendly with a man named Jimmy Donahue, who was most likely the man who nvited Babe to the club. Donahue had a big restaurant on Route 23 in New Jersey, where many of the most influential people of the time hung out including athletes, politicians, and others. Babe would park around back as to make a quiet entrance and hang out with Jimmy and have hot dogs and hamburgers and drink beer. According to my Grandpa, Babe told him not to tell anyone. I have a feeling that it's okay to let the cat out of the bag on that one now.

“Prior to this day at the Upper Montclair Country Club”, my Grandpa said, “I had only ever seen the Babe at Yankee Stadium when he was playing ball for the Yankees. The day I was caddying in the foursome with Babe around early afternoon, the foursome had already played 9 of Upper Montclair's 27 holes. The “West 9” holes were taken down when the New Jersey Parkway was built.”

He went on to say, “The Babe could hit the golf ball a mile, but he didn't know where it was going. Every 9 holes he would stop to take a break at the club house.” On this day, he said that the Babe said “Fellas (to the caddies), don't go down to the caddy shed or anyplace else. Go behind the pro shop (which we weren't supposed to do) – you're with me today and you can go anyplace you want to go for lunch. So we decided to eat on a bench behind the pro shop and the Babe sent out for some food and sodas or beer for anyone old enough. The Babe would go into the club house and have a few drinks. After that we went out and played another 18 holes.”

My Grandpa finished his story by saying, “The Babe was just a real regular guy.”

This story is written in remembrance of my grandfather, Bill McCann (1921 – 2014)
by Trent McCann

.Note: To see images of the Babe playing golf in the 1930’s, visit Babe Ruth’s daughter’s website




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