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Fatigued ballplayers make worse decisions as the season goes on

Jun 14, 2013, 12:30 PM EDT

Sleepy baseball players

Drug dealers who sell greenies Vanderbilt University neurologist Scott Kutscher discovered something interesting:

To see whether baseball players suffer the effects of sleep loss as the season drags on (or skips along for six non-tedious months, depending on your inclinations), Kutscher and his colleagues looked at data from 2011 back to 2006, after the MLB cracked down on steroid use. For each team, they tracked how often players swung at pitches outside the strike zone. Over the course of the season, the researchers saw a steady increase in how many out-of-the-strike-zone pitches players swung at. These badly judged swings went up by about six-tenths of a percent each month.

There may be some other factors at play like less-experienced players filling out rosters late in the season, but Kutscher says that these results tracked what they’ve observed in other people who have suffered from fatigue and sleep-deprivation.

But I’m sure that players who took amphetamines to “pep up” before games back in the 60s and 70s didn’t experience any performance-enhancement at all.

(thanks to Morgan Jackson for the heads up)

  1. specialkindofstupid - Jun 14, 2013 at 12:39 PM

    Bad decisions as the season goes on? Well, considering the error* Chipper Jones made in the 163rd game last year, I wholeheartedly agree with this. “Grounder to me…should I throw it to 2nd base and start a 5-4-3 double play, or throw it to Heyward in RF? Aw, heck, Heyward looks lonely out there. I’ll throw it to him.”

    *Chipper was never any better than slightly above average defensively (usually he was below average), but there were two things he always did well: 1) The charging, bare-handed grab and throw on slow rollers and 2) throwing. Before that horrific error that turned the momentum of the game around, I don’t ever recall seeing Chipper throw away such an easy play.

  2. DelawarePhilliesFan - Jun 14, 2013 at 12:39 PM

    But was there also a decline as the season went on before MLB cracked down?

  3. heyblueyoustink - Jun 14, 2013 at 12:42 PM

    I wonder if blog commenters get fatigued as the week goes on from commenting all week.

    / falls asleep sitting up.

    • historiophiliac - Jun 14, 2013 at 1:01 PM

      Well, in your case, we have to control for scotch.

      • heyblueyoustink - Jun 14, 2013 at 1:20 PM

        That would be:

        /passes out, sitting up.

      • historiophiliac - Jun 14, 2013 at 1:22 PM

        Oh, you meant at a Phillies game. With you now.

      • heyblueyoustink - Jun 14, 2013 at 1:33 PM

        At stadium prices?!?!?

        I am *not* rich white guy…..yet.

      • historiophiliac - Jun 14, 2013 at 1:34 PM

        As an aside, you Phans are so easy to work, it’s hard not to feel drunk w/ power messing with you.

      • heyblueyoustink - Jun 14, 2013 at 1:45 PM

        Well, I guess if I wanted to I could just do my job for all 40 hours. Instead I spend some of that quality time with you.

        ( reason # 576 against marriage :-) )

      • historiophiliac - Jun 14, 2013 at 1:50 PM

        I didn’t necessarily mean you specifically there, but get some work done, sloth.

        (PS You are too young to be bitter about marriage.)

      • heyblueyoustink - Jun 14, 2013 at 2:01 PM

        Nah, Friday afternoon and fiscal month end= relaxation if you’ve exceeded the goals laid at your feet four weeks ago, rinse and repeat, until hopeful early retirement.

        And honestly, my skepticism on that particular legal contract stems from childhood. You don’t need a piece of paper to be with someone for life if you find that person.

      • historiophiliac - Jun 14, 2013 at 2:05 PM

        Yeah, only if you want them to have legal protections/privileges.

      • foreverchipper10 - Jun 14, 2013 at 3:32 PM

        Rich White guy here. I love that my name is a stereotype.

      • heyblueyoustink - Jun 14, 2013 at 3:41 PM

        I use it to point out the ridiculous narrative that ultimately all problems in this world are caused and controlled by rich white guys.

        Personally, I aspire to be wealthy, I think that’s kind of part of the American Dream thing: work hard, advance, save, make sound financial decisions, and then, when you get to the top, get told you’re unpatriotic for not paying enough in taxes. ( well, I don’t think that last part should be in there, but that’s just me. )

  4. nobody78 - Jun 14, 2013 at 1:00 PM

    I didn’t know a lot about greenies until relatively recently. The more I’ve learned, the more I think people in fact went far too easy on them.

  5. drewsylvania - Jun 14, 2013 at 1:13 PM

    You forgot the control group, Craig.

    If you’re going to nitpick MLB and others on their baseless assumptions, you might want to improve on yours.

  6. phillyphannn83 - Jun 14, 2013 at 1:16 PM

    Players also get more comfortable that they can hit the pitches they’re seeing. As the season progresses, they see more pitches and their “batters eye” gets a little better(for some players its just a perception) so they feel like they can hit balls outside the strike zone. To make a jump and say unequivocally that it is due to fatigue and sleep-deprivation sounds like someone trying to prove their own narrow-minded theory as opposed to a true evaluation of what’s going on. Honestly, if I was you Craig, after getting this little tidbit of information, I would have laughed at it and not wasted my time writing a story about something that has no factual basis supporting the claim. Maybe I’ll write an Op-Ed claiming players swing at more pitches outside the zone because 162 games is too many and the games take too long and they can’t wait for the off season so they aren’t afraid of getting out so they just swing at more pitches to speed up the process. Does that warrant your coverage of my stupid, biased, incorrect editorial? Didn’t think so. Real baseball news please.

    • stlouis1baseball - Jun 14, 2013 at 2:47 PM

      So…are you saying you didn’t like the article 83?

  7. albertmn - Jun 14, 2013 at 1:19 PM

    Maybe pitchers’ control gets better later in the season, so those pitches out of the zone are closer to the zone and drawing swings instead of a foot out of the zone because they don’t have pinpoint control yet. Interesting study, but I think there are too many variables that can’t be isolated and no control as to what happened prior to the changes. I don’t know if you can necessarily correctly draw the conclusions they are drawing (in a scientific sense).

    • albertmn - Jun 14, 2013 at 5:17 PM

      Players also tend to have more nagging injuries as the season goes along. Maybe it is injuries rather than lack of sleep.

      If lack of sleep were an issue, shouldn’t that also affect pitchers? Where are those numbers? Did they throw more strikes or fewer strikes? I really can’t give this “research” any credence.

  8. bh192012 - Jun 14, 2013 at 1:28 PM

    Wouldn’t it be easier to just look at # of fielding errors commited by month or something?

  9. Innocent Bystander - Jun 14, 2013 at 2:07 PM

    I used to say if amphetamines didn’t do anything than why did they take them. But now player wear those necklaces so my theory is pretty much shot.

    • paperlions - Jun 14, 2013 at 3:55 PM

      If you want to know what amphetamines do, just buy a pre-workout supplement and start using it in the morning or prior to physical activities. You don’t know to guess what they do, you are very aware of their effects….and the pre-workout stuff you can buy OTC is child’s play compared to the greenies players used to take.

  10. danaking - Jun 14, 2013 at 2:21 PM

    This is worth talking about, but why are such studies not controlled better before they are released? They should have compared each player month over month, which would have eliminated the concern over late season call-ups skewing the data. The other point that stuck out–was this true in the past–we’ll have to live without. No data.

  11. sportsdrenched - Jun 14, 2013 at 3:15 PM

    “Then Kutscher and his colleagues tested that model on the data from the 2012 season. When the numbers from all the MLB teams were pooled together, the model was a tight fit. Out of 30 teams, 24 were swinging at more balls in September than in April. Kutscher presented the findings at a recent conference on sleep.”

    What if they’re not sleep deprived. What if they’re just playing out the string and have mentally checked out on the season and spend more time worrying about post-season vacations and working on the fantasy football teams as opposed to actually hitting? .6% is hardly definative. Mentally checking out could account for that. Not saying lack of sleep may couldn’t be a cause, but these guys will have to come with a better data set before I beleive it.

  12. brewcrewfan54 - Jun 14, 2013 at 5:42 PM

    Having hoes in different area codes doesn’t help either.

  13. deaninajijic - Jun 14, 2013 at 5:47 PM

    Check out Umpires as the game goes on too. The home plate umpires get worse as the game goes on. Especially from the 5th inning on.

  14. scoutsaysweitersisabust - Jun 14, 2013 at 8:28 PM

    Tired people make bad decisions? Seriously, someone got paid to figure this out?

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