Following the expiration of Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement at 11:59 p.m. ET Wednesday, Dec. 1, team owners announced a lockout of the players. It is the league’s first work stoppage in nearly three decades.
What does that mean for the 2022 season? What do team owners and players stand to lose?
“It is hard to imagine a scenario where the current standoff between baseball owners and players would lead to lost games in 2022,” said Patrick Rishe, director of the Sports Business Program at Washington University’s Olin Business School and professor of practice in sports business.
According to Rishe, the pandemic-induced economic losses sustained by MLB teams during the 2020 and 2021 seasons add incentive to reach an agreement before the start of the 2022 season.
“Of course, that’s assuming that acrimony and egos don’t get in the way, which at times in baseball’s history would be deemed a heroic assumption,” Rishe said.
Baseball in December?
According to Rishe, to initiate a lockout with over three months before the start of the 2022 season is, in some respects, “much ado about nothing.”
“In any type of negotiation, real deadlines spur action. The recent settlement between the City of St. Louis and the Rams/NFL are evidence of this, as is the 2011 NFL season where players were locked out from March until August without regular-season games lost,” he said.
“As such, I suspect this lockout will get resolved between late February and mid-March.”
However, Rishe noted that the NBA lockout of 2011 and the NHL lockout of 2012 did cost those leagues games. “But those standoffs didn’t occur in the immediate aftermath of a global pandemic, giving me confidence smarter minds and cooler heads will prevail in MLB before games are lost in 2022,” he said.
From a public relations perspective, however, baseball has already lost.
“Baseball has fallen from being America’s pastime to a sport that feels past its time with younger generations of fans,” Rishe said. “It is now only the third most popular sports league in America behind the NFL and NBA.
“Games are too long, the style of play too dull and slow. Players and teams still lag behind their NFL and NBA peers in encouraging individualism through social media to help market the sport among younger fans.”
Rishe offered the following advice to team owners and players:
“It is crucial during these labor negotiations that both sides show discipline to not get the media involved to sway public sentiment, because if both sides spew the same public vitriol toward each other as they did when trying to return to play during the 2020 pandemic, this would only further amplify fan resentment and reticence to re-engage in 2022.”
Here’s one way to look at how and when baseball pitchers throw at opposing batters after one of their own gets plunked: corporate conflict resolution.
That’s part of the research findings by three business scientists — two at WashU Olin and one at China’s Fudan University — who, true to the 21st-century fabric of Major League Baseball, pored over 20 seasons of statistics to reach some intriguing data and conclusions with implications off the field and in the office.
For one thing, these baseball retaliations mostly arise in the fifth and sixth innings. But let’s not get ahead of the game within the game.
At the heart of their study is how “negative reciprocity” leads to “destructive sequences of reprisal.” It translates into organizational behavior and, more pointedly, to workplace environment under the categories of conflict, cohesion and relationships — healthy or not.
“Ethnography and experiments have given us a lot of insight about the biology and psychology of reciprocity, including how it often generates profitable trusting partnerships but can sometimes degenerate into prolonged, highly destructive conflicts,” said Bill Bottom, the Joyce and Howard Wood Distinguished Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Olin Business School.
Bottom, who is also Olin’s associate dean for undergraduate programs, was joined in the study by Tat Chan, professor of marketing at Olin, and Xing Zhang of Fudan University.
“Major League Baseball provided us with a unique opportunity to study conflict escalation among highly paid professionals where the record-keeping is detailed and highly reliable,” Bottom added. “Because the game is now a global one, we could also examine the effects of diversity.”
“Major League Baseball provided us with a unique opportunity to study conflict escalation among highly paid professionals where the record-keeping is detailed and highly reliable.”
Certainly, businesses make punitive decisions within the workplace, via intergroup conflict, or they take malicious actions against other firms — sometimes at their own peril. The co-authors also make an allusion to similar acts of aggression in everyday life, such as the hate-mongering and name-calling that precipitated anti-Asian verbal and physical attacks on American soil in 2021. That’s an embodiment of the vicarious retribution seen on a baseball field when a teammate feels his side has been wronged and the pitcher throws at an opposing batter.
The co-authors sought a simple, old-fashioned American backdrop: what they labeled the “empirical setting” of regular-season baseball. In fact, their paper cites and quotes Hall of Fame pitchers Pedro Martinez and the late St. Louis Cardinals great Bob Gibson, against whom opposing batters stood at the plate bearing consistent respect and, when tensions or situations came up, occasional fear.
“Vicarious retribution where third parties start getting involved is especially prone to destructive escalation, so this was a setting where we could study it over time under controlled settings where the rules are firmly established and enforced,” Bottom said. “Because the profession is now truly global, we can also examine the effects of culture and diversity on aggression, reciprocity and escalation.”
They thought by examining these occurrences and interrelationships, they could predict when a conflict might likely begin, which individuals are prime suspects for acts of retribution and then identify likely targets.
True, accidents happen in a modern baseball world of staffs of 12-plus pitchers and minor leaguers constantly called up to pitch in the majors. A younger pitcher misfires once amid the nearly 300 pitches per game and the ball glances off or strikes a batter inadvertently. In statistics-mad baseball, however, it’s possible to find clean data about intentionally struck batters. And they aren’t the first scientists to probe baseball thusly; they cited studies going back 30 years or more involving the social strata and bellicosity in baseball.
Whether it’s by accident or on purpose, it’s recorded in the scorebook the same: hit by pitch (HBP). Bottom, Chan and Zhang studied two decades of “punitive aggression” in the majors, from 1991 to 2010. They broke down the pitcher and batter relationship: each to their own team, prior teammates or rivals, etc. Then they input the data into their computational model for retribution dynamics. For statistic-mad baseball types, that worked out to be 42,241 games, 2.5 million at-bats and 20,000 HBPs. Moreover, to test their hypotheses, they identified “113,461 unique pairs of a particular pitcher and a teammate who had previously been hit during a game as well as 479,955 unique pairs of a pitcher with an opposing batter.”
What they found will surprise nary an avid baseball fanatic. Once a second pitcher retaliates by plunking a batter from the team that first hit their teammate with a pitch, the incident is perceived as “legitimate justification” and the conflict subsides. Game-within-a-game over. Nobody else gets plunked.
Some other findings:
The initial HBP occurs most commonly in the fifth inning, around the game’s 42nd at-bat.
The retaliatory HBP comes in the sixth inning, around the 54th at-bat.
A pitcher is more likely to retaliate on behalf of a teammate if both he and his plunked teammate come from a country other than the U.S. (However, foreign-born pitchers — probably due to empathy for each other’s “outsider” status — are less likely to plunk a fellow foreign-born player.)
A pitcher is more likely to target a fellow former collegian for reprisal. (Rivals from competing schools, the co-authors wondered? That would underscore the behavioral perception of “out-group” vs. “in-group.”)
Winning teams and home teams are more likely to plunk in retaliation. Better paid pitchers are, too.
Former teammates are less likely to be involved in a plunking.
That last finding is where a true everyday benefit scratches its place in the batter’s box of the business realm. Businesses often promote or cycle employees through their departments and organizations, building camaraderie and shared experiences. In other words, such moves are team-building and conflict-sturdy.
“Industries characterized by greater professional mobility may prove less susceptible to escalation; the broader scope of personal relationships may dampen motives for vicarious retribution,” the co-authors write.
Bottom concluded: “We found that the more diverse teams performed better and pitchers on those teams were more likely to engage in vicarious retribution on behalf of a teammate. Given prior work on cohesiveness of teams in industry, we expected that greater diversity might limit this kind of retribution but found that wasn’t true. The best teams appear to be adept at managing diversity and the willingness of veteran pitchers to take this kind of action on behalf of a teammate may be one aspect of that.”
So … play business.
Zhang’s work is supported in part by the National Natural Science Foundation of China [Grants Nos. 72072035 and 71832002].
Photo: Benches empty, but no brawl erupts in a 2008 game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds in Busch Stadium. (Shutterstock)
Our annual visit to Florida’s baseball mecca began inauspiciously. I deferred, as usual, to Elaine’s preference for checking bags on airlines, but nonetheless reiterated the standard arguments against doing so. Southwest proceeded to confirm my “fast thinking” by misplacing Elaine’s luggage. (Mine was delivered without incident.) The loss of Elaine’s bag meant that she had to sleep in my “well-aged” undershirt, but dormant passions were not aroused. No harm, no foul: the bag arrived the following morning and Elaine switched back to her own threads.
The second day we went to breakfast at a favorite deli, TooJays, and pigged out on carbs, oblivious and delirious. After blinnies, potato pancakes, both with sour cream, cherry preserves on the former and applesauce on the latter, we belched our way to the new Ball Park of the Palm Beaches, a pretentious name for a quotidian ambiance. This is the new spring home shared by the Houston Astros and the Washington Nats (lovingly, the Nits).
Deploying my most authentic Janet Yellen accent, I was able to “schnorr” two (almost) free tickets from a generous bystander. For the $10 cost of parking his car he gave us two $32 face value tickets behind home plate. I was wearing my L. A. Dodgers windbreaker and newsboy cap so he probably knew I was a displaced crypto fan of the Mets who suffered an ignominious defeat.
Gio Gonzalez and friends managed to pitch a one-hitter. The Mets were so flat I became dispirited and totally unprepared for the 16-2 walloping they administered to the Cardinals at the Mets’ home park in Port St. Lucie the following day. Indeed, Wainwright and Weaver of the Cardinals managed to gift the Mets 14 runs in the first three innings. The hitting star of the game was Wilmer Flores, no longer tearful, with a double, a grand salami, and six RBIs. Less than suspenseful, this game was good for laughs and it exposed the managerial limitations of both the Mets and Cardinals field managers, an enduring condition I fail to understand.
The only adventure came with obtaining tickets for this game. We have lovely friends at the Cardinals who comp us when the Mets play the Cards, home or away. However, this was the second time the efficient Mets administration could not find the tickets set aside for the Greenbaums. We were rebuffed at the VIP window maybe five times and were ready to throw in the towel and pay for proletarian seats in the far off outfield when an apparently delusional woman circulated among the crowd of fans screaming “Greenbaum, Greenbaum, Greenbaum”. I fearlessly confessed and she seemed mightily relieved, explaining that they somehow had found our tickets. No harm, no foul: the Mets-Cards spread of 14 more than doubled that of the University of KY over Northern KY in the March Madness tourney. The previous year the people at Port St. Lucie similarly could not find our tickets and Travis D’Arnaud’s dad happened to be standing nearby to generously offer us two from his bulging envelope.
The third game we observed again pitted the Mets against the Cards, but the venue was the Cards’ home field at Jupiter. We were thrilled at having seats #1 & 2 immediately behind the Cardinals’ dugout. No sooner had we settled in than another frantic lady approached us imploring that we exchange our tickets for seats #7 & 8 in the same row behind the dugout. It seemed the DeWitts, the managing owners of the Cardinals, were claiming their regular seats. Being appreciative “Schnorrers,” Elaine and I obligingly moved over. Noblesse oblige!
This game again offered a striking contrast to its predecessor. The Mets led 4-1 going into the last of the eighth when the Cards managed to score three runs and all in attendance at Roger Dean Stadium seemed to expect the Mets to cave. Surprise, the Mets, thanks to Carpio and Carillo, minor leaguers both, stroked back-to-back doubles producing the leading run. Then Corey Taylor, an A-ball closer, closed out the Cards for a 5-4 Mets victory. Thus, we had ridden the rollercoaster of baseball emotions and exited elated.
Our our fourth and last day in Florida took us to the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach for a taste of over-the-top opulence. I found this supercilious and invidious consumption off- putting, a persuasive argument for progressive taxation. We further celebrated over pastrami at TooJays on our way to the airport at Orlando, a long and tiring schlepp.
No report of this kind would be satisfying without a few dark horse picks and prognostications. Watch for Phillip Evans and Corey Taylor, the former a third basemen who played in double-A last year and the latter a closer in advanced single-A. You heard it here, both seem ready for the show, even if management is probably too conservative for that to happen. I also believe the Mets may face frustrations with their vaunted rotation. Matt Harvey is currently 0-4 with an embarrassing ERA and Zack Wheeler is being mollycoddled two seasons past Tommy John. On the other hand, I like Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, the latter starting for Puerto Rico in the WBC finals, and Rafael Montero is having a surprisingly good spring. Fitting together the rest of their one-way players into a smooth functioning team is likely a managerial feat that exceeds available managerial talent in the dugout.
Oh well, this trip was great fun, even if too brief. I do hope Elaine and I have the will, wealth, and wigor to return next year.
Guest Blogger: Stuart I. Greenbaum, edited by Margaret Elaine Greenbaum
The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) Analytics Conference brings together the top minds in the baseball analytics community to discuss, debate and share insightful ways to analyze and examine the game of baseball. The Washington University Sports Analytics Club made it a priority this year to attend the conference. Now is in its third year of existence, the club wanted to allow members to learn from professionals in the field and increase networking opportunities at the SABR Analytics Conference.
Not only did we – Tyler Brandt, Kenny Dorian, Brent Katlan, Ben Rosenkranz, and Brody Roush – attend the conference, but we also competed in the Diamond Dollars Case Competition that invites students from across the country to analyze and present a real baseball operations decision. We ended up winning our undergraduate division, and learned a lot from our own experience presenting, watching other teams present, and listening to expert panels talk about analytics in baseball.
The case itself was on pitch tunneling. We were handed a data set that was just recently unveiled by Baseball Prospectus, and asked to use that data to “develop insights into how this information can enable a MLB team to gain a competitive advantage on the field.” Our specific case looked at the ball in play effects of pitch tunneling. If you want to know more about how pitch tunneling affects groundball rates, pull rates, or the value of certain fielders, come find one of us. What follows here is a recap of some of what we learned.
Lessons from the Case Competition
The WashU Sports Analytics Club team included: Tyler Brandt, Brent Katlan, Kenneth Dorian, Brody Roush, and Ben Rosenkranz, pictured with Vince Gennaro, developer of the case and author of Diamond Dollars: The Economics of Winning in Baseball, and consultant to MLB teams.
In reality, the simple things helped us the most. We knew that MLB analysts were going to be the judges, and knowing our audience helped a lot. The judges were well aware of what pitch tunneling was, but the teams were split about 50/50 on which ones defined terms regarding pitch tunneling and which ones did not. Our decision not to define terms like the tunnel differential (see the link above) gave us an extra 7-8 minutes to get into our process and results. That extra time gave the judges a much clearer idea of how we came to our evaluation of how pitch tunneling can help a Major League Baseball team.
Additionally, just attaching values to our insights played a major role in our presentation. In baseball, each value must somehow be connected to the number of wins a team can get. Nevertheless, it’s pretty easy to put yourself in a situation where you just can’t get to a number that can be translated into wins. One common denominator among the winning teams at the competition was that they found a way to value their projects in terms of the one thing that baseball teams really care about: wins.
Lessons From the Conference
Players Don’t See the Same Things that the Front Office Does
One of the common refrains that we kept hearing was that using the insights gained from analytical work can be very difficult, because of the disconnect between players and analysts. Analysts try to break things down in terms of data and numbers, while players are trying to think through an actual game and see how that would affect the individual players. Many people brought up the idea that the front office and the players are “speaking two different languages.” What became clear to us is that the team that can communicate the results of new studies to its players better will have a sizeable advantage on the field, at least until others catch on.
New Developments in Baseball Analytics
There were a couple of interesting new developments that are worth sharing. The one that will affect fans the most is Statcast’s new catch probability. For fly balls, they can now tell how likely a ball is to be caught by the average fielder given flight time and distance from the nearest fielder. When you watch games this year, you might see those numbers on your TV screen, in addition to a rating that tells you the difficulty of each catch. Some other highlights include: the Mariners employ mental experts at all levels of the minors to help their prospects develop the toughness needed to succeed in the majors, Bill James implored us to think on a more macro level about where we need more insights in baseball, and Tom Tango* revealed himself!
*Tom Tango is the Senior Data Architect, Stats at MLB Advanced Media and is the co-author of The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball. He also developed the Tangotiger.com website, where fans and analysts will find a large number of research pieces devoted to sabermetrics. Tom has previously worked as a consultant for major-league teams in baseball and hockey.
Browdy who is majoring in finance, is a D3baseball.com Third-Team All-America selection, started all 51 games and batted .352 with 18 doubles, three triples, five homeruns, and was second in NCAA Division III with 79 RBIs. Browdy also led the UAA in home runs, doubles, RBIs and total bases (114). He earned D3baseball.com and ABCA/Rawlings Second-Team all-Central Region selection, and was named the 2016 University Athletic Association (UAA) Co-Player of the Year. Browdy drove in a run in 33 of 51 games, including 25 games with two or more RBIs. He ended the season on a 19-game hitting streak, and is a two-time UAA Hitter of the Week selection.
Golembo, majoring in finance and entrepreneurship, is a second-team all-UAA and all-Central Region honoree, batted .358 with eight doubles and 28 RBIs in 50 starts in centerfield. He tied the WashU single-season record and ranked eighth in NCAA Division III with 41 walks. Golembo ranked in the top five in the UAA in seven offensive categories: first in on-base percentage (.488) and walks, second in runs scored (56), third in hits (69), fifth in stolen bases (20), eighth in RBIs (28) and ninth in total bases (77). He was named to the UAA Championship All-Tournament Team in March, and reached base in 47 of 50 games played. Golembo ranks second in school history in runs scored (172), fourth in stolen bases (67) and fifth in games played (162) and hits (208).
Margolin, majoring in psychology, is the D3baseball.com Central Region Pitcher of the Year, posted an 8-1 record with a 2.74 earned run average in 13 starts for the Bears. He was also a D3baseball.com First-Team and ABCA/Rawlings Second-Team all-Central Region selection. Margolin led the UAA in shutouts (two), complete games (five) and strikeouts (73), and was second in wins and fifth in ERA. He ranked in the top 15 in NCAA Division III in walks allowed per nine innings (seventh, 0.89) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (12th, 7.30). Margolin was a three-time UAA Pitcher of the Week honoree, and earned Central Regional All-Tournament Team honors.
WashU finished the 2016 season with a 33-18 overall record, one win shy of the single-season school record, and were the 2016 UAA champions. The Bears also made their second-straight NCAA Tournament appearance, and won two postseason games for the first time in school history.