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Got a radical new idea? Save it, sonny.

Apr 24, 2012, 3:02 PM EDT

Light Bulb

Our friend Bill from The Platoon Advantage turned into an old fart at some point in the last week. Specifically in reference to radical ideas about how to optimize pitching staffs and stuff:

I suppose it happens in baseball just as everywhere else, doesn’t it? You get older, you gain experience, and you start to realize that most “revolutionary” ideas are revolutionary because they’re stupid. If they were any good, somebody would be doing it by now. But they’re not any good, so no one is …  while revolutionary thinking is good and productive, the vast majority of ideas that come out of it are not. And most, but certainly not all, traditional ways of doing things are done that way for a pretty good reason. The round-table, twelve-men-with-no-starters pitching staff addresses all sorts of real issues, but creates all sorts of bigger problems. The real gains to be made are in the margins, small adjustments here and there, incremental improvements.

He’s right, I think. Which probably makes me an old fart too.  But whatever.

Oh well. It’s a good read with some good ideas to keep in your back pocket the next time someone claims that baseball minds have been doing dumb things for the past 150 years.

Now get off Bill’s lawn.

  1. WhenMattStairsIsKing - Apr 24, 2012 at 3:07 PM

    I thought this article would be about the GOP.


    • oldpaddy - Apr 24, 2012 at 7:16 PM

      Howard Sterns Penis!!!!!!!!!!!!
      HSP for prez ’12!!!!!

  2. Baseball Beer Burritos In That Order - Apr 24, 2012 at 3:08 PM

    I love that he qualified all of that with the instant replay caveat. “Robots now”. Yes, please.

  3. saints97 - Apr 24, 2012 at 3:16 PM

    Let’s not forget that, once upon a time, Jackie Robinson was a radical idea.

    It’s funny how the old coots are always all for the revolutionary ideas of their time, but when another generation has them, they are stupid.

    • The Common Man - Apr 24, 2012 at 3:24 PM

      Interesting point, but I’m pretty sure the specific debate Bill references (the “what if we had a 4A and 4B, and 5A and 5B starters” suggestion) has been something that seamheads have been pie-in-the-skying about for at least a decade. I think his point is that not all new ideas are inherently better than the old ones, and that our willingness to believe in whatever kooky theory gets suggested is often tied to our age/experience. But he’s not saying that innovation is inherently bad.

      • saints97 - Apr 24, 2012 at 3:47 PM

        I can read what he said, and it is different than your point. Let me quote him, and let you insert allowing black ballplayers into his quote. His line of thinking would have rejected the idea of Jackie.

        “you start to realize that most “revolutionary” ideas are revolutionary because they’re stupid. If they were any good, somebody would be doing it by now. But they’re not any good, so no one is”

        Assuming new ideas are bad automatically is just as ignorant as assuming they are good. Every new (radical) idea must stand on its own merits.

      • The Common Man - Apr 24, 2012 at 4:02 PM

        He says nothing about making assumptions. He says that most “revolutionary” ideas tend to be bad ones. But that doesn’t abdicate the need for skepticism toward anything and everything. Which is not something most people tend to be very good at when they’re young and/or inexperienced, confident, and idealistic. Hell, it’s something I’m still not always good at (and I’m old, at least for the Internet), but I’m learning.

      • saints97 - Apr 24, 2012 at 4:41 PM

        He says, “If they were any good, somebody would be doing it by now. But they’re not any good, so no one is”

        Basically he’s telling the younger generation that they are incapable of coming up with anything useful. It is a stupid, and close-minded concept. I mean, there was no way letting blacks play in MLB was a good idea. If it were, someone would have already been doing it, right?

        There are plenty of things that are done in archaic ways, and the only thing keeping them in place is inertia. Given time, people always find a better way.

      • The Common Man - Apr 24, 2012 at 4:49 PM

        He also says this:
        “That’s not to say that all revolutionary ideas are bad, or that the kind of thinking that leads to them is ever bad. The changes that do happen in the way teams are built and the game is analyzed — and there have been a ton over the last ten years or so, and will probably be as many over the next ten — happen because smart people are thinking just that way. There’s also a lot of traditional thinking that I hate and will keep hating”

      • saints97 - Apr 24, 2012 at 4:50 PM

        So basically he said nothing at all. Great.

      • 18thstreet - Apr 24, 2012 at 4:57 PM

        Yeah, don’t you hate it when people do that? Like, in the comments of a blog?

      • The Common Man - Apr 24, 2012 at 5:04 PM

        I didn’t realize one had to completely throw in with either Murray Chass or with Johnny NewIdea instead of advocating giving careful thought to the merits of each. (OK, that’s a false dichotomy. Murray Chass has no merits.)

        Look, saberists have been very quick to suggest things in the past (defense doesn’t matter, stolen bases aren’t important, pitchers should be limited to 100 pitches or it’s abuse) that turned out to be wrong. They will again (they’ve (we’ve, I mean, I count myself as part of that too) also got a lot right too, I’m not shortchanging anybody). That doesn’t mean that tradition and conventional wisdom has a stranglehold on the truth. It does mean that we should be skeptical of new ideas, in the same way that we’re skeptical of the old ones.

  4. paperlions - Apr 24, 2012 at 3:30 PM

    Most traditional ways of doing things were simply the first solutions to problems that worked…they are rarely the best solutions…but once A solution exists people stop looking for better answers and just do it the way that worked once. Traditions don’t actually last very long, they typically die out after a few generations as better solutions are discovered and incorporated by the younger generation (but ignored by the outgoing one). This is most notable in modern society where better solutions to problems were discovered in other cultures and are now integrated into a single culture, replacing local “traditions”.

    …so…yeah…you guys are old farts.

    PS: Baseball is played and consumed in a completely different fashion than existed 20 years ago…but somehow….traditions? Really?

    • The Common Man - Apr 24, 2012 at 3:46 PM

      I don’t know that baseball is played much differently than 20 years ago (it is consumed very differently, I agree there). And again, there’s a difference between doing something “because it’s tradition” and acknowledging that sometimes conventional wisdom is conventional wisdom because it makes the most objective sense. And that new ideas would have their own inefficiencies and flaws that could make them even less ideal than what’s happening now.

      • paperlions - Apr 24, 2012 at 4:56 PM

        Nah, it is pretty different.

        Pitch counts. Larger staffs, more relievers. Different training programs, video study, using data to position fielders, using data to evaluate hitter weaknesses and plans of attack….the game may look the same on the field, but players get to that point via completely different methods than they did a couple decades ago.

      • The Common Man - Apr 24, 2012 at 5:08 PM

        That’s a fair point. I wasn’t giving a lot of thought to preparation. Though staffs were 11 large back then I remember. And teams did do video study, but it wasn’t nearly as precise (or as rapidly available) then. And there were definitely some clubs using data to plan for different hitters/pitchers. The data sets may have changed, however.

  5. jwbiii - Apr 24, 2012 at 3:46 PM

    A new truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

    – Max Planck

    • The Common Man - Apr 24, 2012 at 4:05 PM

      That seems incredibly defeatist. Why even bother having the argument then?

      • stex52 - Apr 24, 2012 at 4:14 PM

        But Planck was right. He was referring, of course, to quantum theory. Einstein died never really having bought into it.

        But apply it to any really different views of the world and you can see it everywhere.

      • The Common Man - Apr 24, 2012 at 4:24 PM

        I’m not saying that Planck is wrong in a macro sense, but it seems to me that such a sweeping generality sells a lot of individuals in older generations who are interested in listening to and being convinced by “new truths” ridiculously short.

      • spudchukar - Apr 24, 2012 at 4:33 PM

        What is true of Quantum Physics (were even that a universally accepted truth) does not necessarily translate to pitching staffs. Plus comments here regarding Physics are far too general to have any value whether it be to the quote “real world”, number of starters, the trickle down theory or the migration of electrons.

      • paperlions - Apr 24, 2012 at 5:06 PM

        It is, but it is generally true. I’m an ecologist, and many of my older colleagues still cling to “truths” they learned as graduate students that have been shown to be untrue decades ago. Of course, those individuals are rarely among the leaders in a field (or the don’t remain leaders for long), but compared to the general population, they are very mentally agile.

        Yes, some do change with the times, but even among scientists, many refuse to adapt because it will force them to admit that decades of their work was incorrect or irrelevant, at the very least requiring a complete re-interpretation of their data within the context of new understanding.

        For many, even with inquisitive minds, that price is simply too high.

      • jwbiii - Apr 24, 2012 at 7:44 PM

        Why even bother having the argument then?

        If the argument wasn’t made, Niels Bohr might not have thought about it.

  6. kopy - Apr 24, 2012 at 4:04 PM

    Maybe it’s just that the successful “radical” ideas aren’t labeled as radical in hindsight. There have been plenty of recent ideas in baseball that have been fantastic. Defensive metrics, FIP, understanding of a pitchers W-L record, offensive stats beyond the triple slash, etc.

  7. stex52 - Apr 24, 2012 at 4:15 PM

    Then there’s the DH. 😦

    • spudchukar - Apr 24, 2012 at 4:50 PM

      Yes, I have long imagined an ex-terrestrial conversation to go along the following lines:

      Alien Alan, “okay should we try out planet Earth on this journey or not?”

      Alien Bob, a proponent suggests, “Yeah, those guys have done some great stuff. Motion Pictures, Democracy, Rock and Roll, Abstract Art and Baseball”.

      To which Alien Alan interjects, all good points Bob, but did you know they instituted the DH for the American League?”

      To wit, Bob responds, “Yeah, you are right Bob, not so bright after all, let’s skip Earth this trip and check back in 3010, and see if they have come to their senses”.

      As they zoom by Earth, Bob offers these parting words, “Maybe we will get lucky next time and our visit will co-inside with a Cubs World Series Victory.”

    • leftywildcat - Apr 24, 2012 at 9:15 PM

      So the DH was once a radical idea….and if it was a good idea, it would be universally accepted by now, right? Guess it’s not a good idea.

      One change over the years that never seems to get mentioned is starters pitching every 5th day instead of ever 4th day. And I’ve read that before my time, starters went every 3rd day.

  8. dowhatifeellike - Apr 24, 2012 at 4:38 PM

    Old people dislike change in general. Radical or not, real change takes two generations.

  9. MJanik25 - Apr 24, 2012 at 4:41 PM

    Counterpoint: baseball teams have been sacrifice bunting for 150 years… If not every radical idea is a good one, it’s certainly not because all traditions are the correct solution, either.

    • spudchukar - Apr 24, 2012 at 5:03 PM

      The sacrifice bunt can be a very effective approach to winning MLB games. It can and has been abused. But you confuse the number of runs a team can score with the more meaningful, when a team scores. Let us not forget the 4 teams that advanced to the next round of the 2011 all scored less total runs than there counterparts.

      • spudchukar - Apr 24, 2012 at 5:47 PM


      • jwbiii - Apr 24, 2012 at 8:03 PM

        Absolutely. You have a 142/177/184 hitter at the plate (average NL pitcher) and a 269/331/401 hitter on deck (average NL leadoff hitter), you bunt. Don’t ask me about Markov chain analysis, but I assume that this increases your team’s overall chances to score one run but decreases its chances to score five. Scoring one run is a good thing from the bottom of the order is a good thing.

  10. steveohho - Apr 24, 2012 at 5:01 PM

    Look at the universities, science or yes, even politics. Ideas that are radical are promoted, and after a while the promoters begin to gain new adherents who in turn recruit people to their view, and over time the radical ideas of yesterday become the orthodoxy of today. And of course, their defenders become hostile to all would be challengers, because their status and prestige is at stake. Thomas Kuhn goes into this in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions

    • natstowngreg - Apr 24, 2012 at 6:46 PM

      Had to read that book in college, some 40 years ago. Probably the single most boring book I’ve ever read. It was a miracle that I passed the course.

      It did, however, have one positive value. It helped me realize I’d never be a high school math or science teacher when I grew up. Well, that and not very good Physics and Calculus grades.

      Thus, instead of remaining on the path to failure in that area, I found a different path that led to a bit less failure.

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