A few days ago Dave Cameron published a post outlining some wild new rules for an alternative baseball. I missed it at the time, since I am on holiday in Sweden, but one Wi-Fi hotspot later, I was walking the streets of Stockholm thinking about the Dave Cameron Rules.
This post will make no sense to you unless you read the idea for “Daveball”, so go do that now. In it he asked a number of questions about what managers would do. This is my reply.
Overall Season Strategy
If every current game is divided by 3, the season schedule will be 486 games long. Playoff teams will lose 200 contests a year. The dramatically lower stakes make it easier to deliberately lose games.
Suppose you are facing Jose Fernandez. He will start Game 1 and probably continue to Game 2. Your own available pitchers are a mixed bag, so you save the best ones until the game(s) after Fernandez departs. As with bunts, every manager will need to calculate the risk and reward of trading unlikely wins for increased odds in another.
I also see a need for a new rule restricting roster moves to one time per day. (Not one move; one time.) This closes a new loophole wherein teams can call up a player for one three-inning game only. Not many teams have minor leaguers nearby to do this, but Texas, for example, could have an AA player report to Arlington instead of Frisco, call him up for Game 2, and have a spent pitcher hide in the clubhouse being “demoted”. This would give an unfair advantage to the few teams for whom this possibility exists.
I see options for a manager under these rules. Broadly speaking, there are three. The first is only modest changes to status quo, such as bringing high quality relievers in at the sixth inning as well as the ninth.
The second option is to convert current mediocre starters into one-game pitchers. Consider the Washington Nationals, who have four pitchers capable of throwing two games in a day, and five pitchers, either borderline starters or long relievers, who could pitch one game a day well (Tanner Roark, Ross Detwiler, Taylor Jordan, Craig Stammen, Blake Treinen). Especially if you believe the weakness of a borderline starter is getting through a lineup the second time, they can suddenly become very valuable.
Here’s how to do it. (Listen up, Astros.) Convert a few of your guys and trade for some more. You could have around seven or even eight of these starters, plus relievers for the other innings and for getting out of trouble. The shorter starts will make these pitchers more effective. Today’s market for mediocre one-inning relief will transform into high demand for mediocre five-inning guys who can pitch effectively for three.
The third option is extreme: all short-outing guys, all the time. Every day, every pitcher only goes four or five outs. This would lengthen the games considerably, but on the other hand, fans could see a barrage of 98 mph high heat.
The major change to mound strategy will be an increased reliance on strikeouts and the near death of the intentional walk. I will explain this shortly.
Dave Cameron already pointed out several key changes to batting strategy: put all the best hitters at the top of the order, and pinch-hit early and often. (The pinch-hitter would actually function like a movable DH.) Sometimes it will be advantageous to work counts, but sometimes the short games will call for aggressiveness. Either way, the run-scoring environment will be very different. With a sudden surplus of decent pitching, and probably a slight increase in average velocity, batting will become harder.
Scoring, however, could be easier.
Under Dave Cameron’s rules, Billy Hamilton would become the most valuable player in baseball.
Here’s how it works. The logic of pinch-hitting for weak defenders, then returning them to the next game, applies to pinch-runners, too. If your slugger draws a walk, put in Billy Hamilton. Every time.
Let’s assume your team is fairly good, and has at least one baserunner in 95% of games. Billy Hamilton has scored about 62% of the time he reaches base, with an 83% steal success rate. To compare, Mike Trout has scored about 42% of the time he reaches. There are other factors at work, but I’m on holiday, so ignore them. Hamilton should be running for any player, if the situation demands it, but for sale of argument (and of me writing this on a phone) assume that in 95% of 486 games, Billy Hamilton increases your odds of scoring by 20%. That’s 92 additional runs per year, and not over replacement level, either. Suddenly an elite runner becomes the most valuable weapon in the game.
Three factors could limit the damage. First, managers could be dumb or unlucky and use runners at the wrong times. Second, defenses could invent some kind of wild new “no steals defense”. I have no idea what this would look like, but teams would be forced to try.
Finally, every team will acquire their own super-runner. (Currently a running-only player is a waste of bench space, but the opportunity to use him or her three times per game without penalty would change the math.) Oakland would call up Billy Burns. Some teams would sign actual Olympic sprinters, train them in fundamentals like pitch recognition and sliding safely, and set them loose. (This is how we would acquire the first female player.) If Usain Bolt breaks for second base, a catcher will throw to third to limit the damage.
More than anything else, the runners will change baseball. Intentional walks will never be used with one or zero men on base. Unintentional walks will force wild pitchers out of the league. Strikeouts will be a priority as the third-inning hitting strategy is simply to get on first base.
I couldn’t think of much here, except for almost universal use of the no-doubles defense (especially once the enemy has used his runner). Probably shifts would be more common.
Dave Cameron’s rules would accelerate some trends we already see in baseball: more strikeouts, more speed, more reliance on defense. But it would also inspire madness, like nine-man starting rotations comprised of suddenly valuable borderline starting pitchers, and female sprinters charging toward home plate on squeeze plays. The game would be unrecognizable and loony, but also a lot of fun. And Billy Hamilton would punch a ticket to the Hall of Fame.
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