The Issues That Divide Us

Should there be a limit on mound meetings to help speed up the game? (via Keith Allison)

School becomes a lot more fun when you can relate it to what you love. So, when I was tasked with creating a survey for a Sample Survey Methods class, I knew I had to make it about baseball. While baseball brings people together, there are many topics that still divide us, and I wanted to know how people really felt.

So I set out to find the topics that still are contentious. I had my own ideas of course, but I also took to Twitter to and asked, “What is something you’re really opinionated about that others disagree with?” Responses were generally in line with what I expected, with the designated hitter and pace of play issues being prevalent. Other issues people responded with were regarding the use of an automatic strike zone or “robot umpires,” the instant replay system, and the updated slide rules.

From there, I had to narrow down the question list to something manageable. Originally, I was going to ask more questions relating to bunting, but I decided that asking four or five questions about it would be too much. Other questions that got eliminated were “Should a team wear the same style of socks (tall, short, stirrup, etc.)?” and “Should managers wear the same uniform as players?” I decided these questions wouldn’t tell me anything particularly interesting, and when the survey felt too long, it made sense to cut these two.

After this narrowing down, I was left with 15 statements I wanted people to rate their agreement on:

  1. The National League should adopt the use of a designated hitter.
  2. The National League should allow American League teams to use a designated hitter in National League ballparks.
  3. Bunting is acceptable, even when nobody is on base.
  4. Bunting is acceptable as long as it advances a base runner.
  5. Relief pitchers should have to face at least two batters.
  6. Relief pitchers should have to face at least three batters.
  7. There should be a clock that limits the time between pitches.
  8. The number of mound visits by a coach that do not involve pitching changes should be limited.
  9. Eliminating the four-pitch intentional walk has improved the pace of play.
  10. Instant replay, as a whole, has improved Major League Baseball.
  11. Catchers should be able to block home plate.
  12. Base runners should be able to slide into the second baseman to break up a double play.
  13. It is acceptable for a second baseman not to make contact with second base while turning a double play, as long as he is close.
  14. Major League Baseball should use cameras/robots to call balls and strikes instead of home plate umpires.
  15. All Major League Baseball stadiums should have uniform field dimensions.

There were 1,000 total responses, with 996 usable responses. (Four people didn’t correctly respond with their age, including two that responded with their name.) There were 927 males, 67 females, and two that responded “other.” I asked about the gender of those taking the survey not to make any conclusions based on gender but to get a feel of the distribution of respondents. I anticipated there being more males that responded than females; however, the nearly 14-to-1 ratio was a bit shocking. Ages ranged from 15 to 72, with a median age of 33. There were 511 American League fans, 463 National League fans, and 22 with no favorite team, so the representation here was fairly even. The entire survey was conducted on June 4.

To begin, I decided to throw out the results for Questions 3 and 4. Question 3 was supposed to be about bunting for a base hit, and Question 4 was supposed to be about sacrifice bunting. I decided these questions were poorly worded and didn’t reflect what I intended them to. Also, the decision to bunt or not includes many more factors than those considered in the statements. Because of this, I didn’t feel like any meaningful conclusions could be drawn from the responses to these questions.

Question 14 showed interesting results. Although there was not a “statistically significant” difference between those who agreed and those who disagreed, this is what the distribution looks like when you break it down into age quartiles:

Considering that eliminating a home-plate umpire would be a drastic change to the way the game of baseball is played, it is surprising that the 41 to 72 age group had the highest amount of “strongly agree” responses. Meanwhile, the youngest group, 15 to 27, (who I assumed would be more willing to accept change), had the highest number of “strongly disagree” responses.

Questions 11 and 12 dealt with the updated slide rules that have been put in place in recent years. As of 2014, catchers could not block home plate in order to stop a runner from scoring. As of 2015, runners could not slide into the second baseman or shortstop in order to break up a double play. Question 12 had a small difference between those who agreed, at 44 percent, and those who disagreed, at 48 percent. Question 11 had a slightly higher difference between those who agreed, at 41 percent, and those who disagreed, at 47 percent. Because both of these differences are so small, a conclusion can’t really be drawn from these results.

This was a question I was hoping to see disagreement with. It is a bit disappointing to see how many people support these statements, as the rules were put in place to keep the players safe. However, baseball is full of traditionalists, so it is not surprising that fans may be resistant to changes in the way the game is played.

Question 13 talks about the “neighborhood play,” where the second baseman or shortstop doesn’t actually touch second base in order to turn a double play. Traditionally, the neighborhood play was supported in order to keep middle infielders safe. However, with the new slide rule put in place in 2015, and with teams being allowed to challenge the neighborhood play in 2016, the practice of the neighborhood play has declined. The results of this survey show that the neighborhood play is unpopular among fans as well. Around 70 percent of people who responded either strongly or somewhat disagreed with the statement.

Questions 5 and 6 proposed two potential solutions to the pace-of-play issue. To eliminate the down time caused by pitching changes, some responses to the pre-survey tweet were about imposing a minimum number of batters a relief pitcher would have to face. Both results showed the majority of people disagreed with these statements. There was a greater amount of disagreement with question 6, at 76 percent, than with question 5, at 62 percent. So, overall, setting a batter minimum for relief pitchers does not appear to be a favorable solution to the pace-of-play issue. These results went against what I expected but was more in line with how I felt about the issue.

In Question 7, I was getting at the idea of implementing a pitch clock at the major league level. Pitch clocks are already in place in the minor league level, with the punishment for going over the 20 seconds allotted between pitches being a called ball. About 56 percent of people agreed that a pitch clock should be implemented, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Let’s look at how the responses broke down.

Only 19 percent strongly agreed, while 37 percent somewhat agreed. This, again, shows there is an interest in pace-of-play improvements, but there will likely be no rush to implement a pitch clock at the major league level.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Question 8 offered another pace-of-play solution by limiting the number of mound visits by a coach during a game, not including those involving a pitching change. Mound visits stop the pace of play completely to allow a head coach or pitching coach to talk to the pitcher. In 2016, Major League Baseball implemented a 30-second time limit on mound visits. However, it appears to be more of a suggestion and is rarely strictly enforced, if it’s enforced at all. This question had the highest agreement rate, about 80 percent. Therefore, to speed up the pace of play, limiting mound visits by coaches appears to be a popular option.

Question 9 was about the new intentional walk rule put in place this season. Just about half of the respondents either somewhat or strongly disagreed with the statement that this new rule improved pace of play. This question also had the greatest number of indifferent respondents, at 27 percent. These results are likely because the intentional walk does not happen very often. Eliminating the four-pitch intentional walk saves maybe a minute or two, which is very miniscule over a three-hour game. So, while this rule change had good intentions, the fans do not believe eliminating the four-pitch intentional walk has improved the pace of play.

Question 10 dealt with instant replay. Here’s the distribution of responses.

Major League Baseball introduced instant replay in 2014, well after most professional sports adopted it. Those who agreed (77 percent) greatly exceeded those who disagreed (13 percent). This result does not surprise me. Before the use of instant replay, there was nothing that could be done about wildly incorrect calls, like when Armando Galarraga lost a perfect game on the final out.

Something interesting to note is the fact that more people only somewhat agreed (48 percent) than strongly agreed (29 percent). One explanation for this goes back to the pace-of-play concerns. Instant replay stops the game; there is no action on the field while the manager is deciding whether to challenge a play, as well as during the review process. As of this season, managers must decide within 30 seconds whether they want to challenge the play or not. Also, it is suggested by Major League Baseball that the review be made in two minutes or less, but this is hard to enforce. However, the general agreement that instant replay has improved baseball shows fans are willing to sacrifice a few minutes of their time for the right call.

Question 1 had the most interesting results. Whether the National League should adopt the use of a designated hitter is one of the most divisive topics among baseball fans and one that is constantly ripe for discussion. Eli Ben-Porat tackled both sides of the issue here at THT just two weeks ago. With 44 percent of people disagreeing and 48 percent of people agreeing, the only conclusion I can draw is that this debate is far from over. However, if you split the answers based on whether respondents’ favorite team is in the AL or the NL, the graph looks like this:

There appears to be a relationship between what league your favorite team plays in and whether you are for or against widespread use of the designated hitter. It should be noted that this graph does not include the responses of the 22 people who marked that they did not have a favorite team.

Question 2 was also related to the DH argument. With 70 percent disagreement, regardless of league affiliation, this is not a viable solution to the debate.

Question 15 existed mostly to test just how strongly people would disagree with the statement, and it did not disappoint. Having 30 different and unique stadiums is what makes the game of baseball so much fun. However, it can be hard being a Detroit Tigers fan, watching Comerica Park turn 420-foot shots into long outs that would be a home run in any other park. The graph of responses to this question is beautiful.

I was not surprised that 805 people strongly disagreed with this statement. Even if you filter the responses and only look at Detroit Tigers fans, 30 out of the 41 strongly disagreed.

Something to note: When combining the strongly and somewhat responses into a general agree or disagree category, this does ignore those who respond indifferently. In all but two questions (Question 9 and Question 15), this category had the lowest response rate. Therefore, I feel confident making conclusions based on these groupings is justified.

I’d like to thank everyone who retweeted and participated in this survey.

Tess is a senior at Western Michigan University, majoring in Mathematics. For hot baseball takes, follow her on Twitter @TessKolp.
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87 Cards
5 years ago

Ms. Tess:

Did you qualify your survey respondents? How did you populate the surveyed-sample? What data-gathering tool did you use?

The questions asked are interesting but I need info on who was eligible to respond before I can assess your conclusions.

5 years ago
Reply to  87 Cards

On top of these very important points, did you weight or normalize your data in any way? I work with this kind of data every day (market research), so I’m skeptical when I see non-industry folks casually throwing around figures.

Tip for better visualization: people usually don’t care about all 5 scale points. Summarizing at “top/bottom 2 box%” is a good way to cleanly present findings unless the data truly warrants “top box” percentages.

5 years ago
Reply to  DLHughey

My tip is actually to present things in 5-point scales. That pretty much is how we think. It’s a matter of opinion not fact. Indeed, you can run your own survey on Twitter and find out what people actually want!

5 years ago

Question 7: Rule 8.04 is your friend.

5 years ago

Updated… slide rules?

5 years ago

Statistical significance does not belong in quotation marks! It’s dangerous to draw conclusions based on differences that aren’t statistically significant.

5 years ago
Reply to  Cavarretta

There’s no more misleading term than an unquoted “statistically significant”. It deserves to be in quotes, every time it’s used.

5 years ago

I think the reason there was so much agreement for Question 8 is that there is already a rule in place that limits the amount of non-pitching change related mound visits; one per pitcher per inning. It seems that your surveyees were agreeing that the game should stay the same and that disagreement would be lobbying for a more laissez faire, slower pace of play type of game. I don’t know, the question seemed strange when I read it.

5 years ago

I respectfully suggest that the reluctance of respondents to strongly agree with the instant replay question is that support is tempered by the incredibly stupid way MLB structured its replay system. They made it a dumb gimmick, rather than a real attempt to get the call right. Add in that, even with replay, MLB *still* sometimes makes the blatantly wrong call, and there you go. How could most fans possibly be strongly supportive of a gimmick that didn’t even accomplish the fundamental purpose of the exercise?

5 years ago

Re: Robo-umps: I’m not sure why a compromise can’t be reached. A viewer at home can see the strike zone imposed on the screen, and often gets shown a review of the pitch sequence between batters. Why can’t the home plate ump get the same view? I imagine the technology already exists to update the ump’s facemask from the 19th century and create a clear plastic visor that could, using laser sights or something, superimpose the strike zone, adjusted for each batter, on the face of the visor. A human can still make the calls, but with the aid of technology. The visor would also allow an ump to review his pitch-by-pitch work between innings or study it after the game. I’d go so far as to put an ear piece in the helmet so that another ump in some central location can monitor the ball-strike calls and inform the home plate ump during the game, “You’re calling the bottom of the zone a few inches too high.” I can’t imagine similar technology isn’t already available in, i dunno, military applications, aviation applications or video gaming. I don’t think we need to get rid of umps; I think we need to give umpires 21st century technology to help them do their jobs better. I don’t think this would be much different from allowing video review technology to help umps on the field make the right calls. While I don’t think it would absolutely eliminate disputes about borderline strike calls, it certainly should help eliminate egregious calls like the one that helped send Lester and Contreras off on a tirade the other day.