19 June 2011

The Science of Baseball: June 19, 2011

In the pitching study, the pads were situated on the pitching arm.
Due to seasonal trips and obligations, the Science of Baseball will go on a two week hiatus after today.  To send you off, we are going to focus on three interesting topics.  First, we are actually going to look back on studies done in 2006, 2009, and 2010 that assess whether or not interleague play truly increases attendance for the league.  Second, we'll review a Korean study that tries to assess how well "Small Ball" works for Korean league teams for scoring runs.  The final study this week is one that considers three different ways to replenish strength of a pitcher between innings.

How Does Interleague Play Affect Attendance?
Gary Gillette and Pete Palmer (2006), Eric Rosen (2009), and Maury Brown (2010)

Typically, I try to keep the Science of Baseball discussions to more recent research, but I have been inundated with announcers and professional journalists telling me that interleague play is an attendance boom.  I am told that attendance goes up about 10-15% simply due to this novelty.  I could write an article on this, but it is simpler to point toward three solid pieces of research that have already been written and have all come to a similar conclusion: interleague play does not increase attendance league-wide as much as MLB claims.  The numbers MLB quotes are accurate in that they compare average attendance between inter and intra league games.  However, this ignores that MLB schedules interleague games for the summer when attendance is highest and that MLB schedules interleague games for weekend dates 50% more often than games within leagues. 

Adjusting for the differences in schedules, the numbers are at best half what MLB claims and perhaps no different from regular games held this time of the year.  The 2006 study puts the attendance bump for the '98-'06 seasons at 5.3%.  The 2009 study puts the attendance bump for the '00-'08 seasons at 0.4%.  The 2010 study compared attendance over two consecutive weekends and found the difference to be -0.63%.  At the very least, we can conclude that MLB's claims of attendance boosts over 10% to be unfounded.

A caveat should be made in which specific rivalries are bound to increase attendance over what normally would be available.  For instance, we should expect attendance to be higher for an Orioles-Nationals game due to geographic proximity.  However, we also see this sort of thing within divisions as attendance is also higher when the Orioles face off with the Yankees or Red Sox.  There does not seem to be anything remarkable about these games.  What I would like to see and what I imagine someone is doing somewhere is to create a year by year chart to show how the fan base grew more and more indifferent toward interleague play.

Is the small ball strategy effective in winning games? A stochastic frontier production approach.
Lee 2011. J Product Analysis 35:51-59

Lee suggests that small ball baseball is taking over Korean baseball.  That the success of Japan in the World Baseball Classics has convinced the majority of the team in Korean leagues to follow the ways of Japanese baseball as opposed to the American version of the game (which is far less about small ball).  The way Lee tries to characterize a team as small ball or not is to measure three things: stolen base attempts, sacrifice hits, and the number of batters to appear in a game.  He uses those three metrics as they are things he can measure and events that are largely the product of a manager's control on the game.  Korean teams attempt to steal about 30% more, sacrifice 100% more, and bat 20% more players per game than do Major League Baseball teams.  He then models these factors for the Korean league and finds that on base percentage and slugging are far more important than those three factors.  He also finds that attempting to steal correlates with a positive increase in run scoring.  He also found that sacrifice hits and pinch hitting negatively correlated with run scoring.  The lesson here might be that in the Korean leagues that managers are overvaluing the utility of bunting and pinch hitting.

I find this interesting because it reminds me of a regression I ran to determine how speed was valued differently between different positions in a batting lineup.  I have the numbers all calculated and the explanations in my head, but I have never gotten around to publishing it.  Anyway, what was most interesting to me was that speed was found to be negatively correlated to run production for the lead off slot in a batting lineup.  A quick assessment would lead someone to say that speed is not important for a lead off hitter, which would be an incorrect assessment from my perspective.  What that study actually told me was that managers were going out of their way to put fast runners first in the lineup without any regard for their actual offensive ability.  Speed is actually very good for a leadoff hitter, but it looked bad because players were chosen for that position without consideration of their other talents (or lack thereof).

Effect of three different between-inning recovery methods on baseball pitching performance.
Warren et al. 2011 J Stren Cond Res 25:683-688

This study was interested in whether there is any truth to a few best practices suggested for maintaining pitching performance during a game.  Passive recovery was assessed.  This technique was tested by having the pitcher simply sit and not move.  The idea behind this being useful is that the body can focus on regenerating glycogen reserves, but it is thought that this can take 15-25 minutes to actually be useful in restoring those reserves.  In this study, pitchers were given six minutes between innings.  Another technique considered was active recovery.  You may be most aware of this with respect to Michael Phelps and swimming competitions.  After races, swimmers will often "cool down" with laps.  This is often thought to be one of the more successful techniques because it causes an increase in blood flow, which helps supply muscles with oxygen and reducing acid content.  In this study, the pitchers were told to lightly jog between innings.  The final technique used in this study was electromuscular stimulation.  This involves using electrical stimulation to cause muscle contractions which will increase the blood flow without straining the heart.  I personally am not aware of any athlete who uses this, but it would not surprise me if they did.  Though, it would surprise me if pitchers ever used this during a game.  For this study, college pitchers were used.  They threw on four days rest and they threw three simulated innings with six minutes between innings. 

The results of the study were interesting.  The pitchers reported that they felt more rested by implementing the passive recovery and electromuscular stimulation techniques.  These two approaches also resulted in pitchers being able to retain their pitch speed.  Active recovery was not perceived as beneficial.  When they measured the pitchers lactic acid content, they found that only electromuscular stimulation resulted in a decrease.  They conclude that teams should be more open minded and explore the utility of implementing electromuscular stimulation for pitchers between innings.

Me?  It sounds very interesting, but I would be interested in seeing more studies on this.

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