Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Question: what happens when you reduce punishment?

Answer:  Crime increases

In this case, we are talking about major league pitchers deliberately throwing at batters, called "Hit By Pitcher" or HBP.  In 1994, the HBP rate exploded.  Why?

Before 1994, if a pitcher deliberately hit a batter, the batter's team would retaliate.

After 1994, the rules changed to a "warning-then-eject" rule.  Once the “warning-then-eject” rule was implemented, teams effectively got a free HBP, with no fear of retaliation. Team A hits team B, then both teams get warned and team B can’t retaliate without automatically losing their pitcher and manager! They de-incentivized retaliations to such a degree that they actually incentivized the first HBP.

Article summarizing the history of the HBP rule and with nice graphs of the HBP data: 

HT:  Eric E.


  1. Extremely interesting. I think what I find unique is that say hypothetically 2 batters are intentionally Hit By Pitches in the opening game of a 3 game series, typically this is when the warning will be input. Knowing that a pitcher (probably) cannot get away with another hit batter this game, the MLB is in theory guaranteeing a minimum of 2 more players will get hit by a pitch over the series, perhaps more if warnings are not issued in the following games.

  2. Followers of Froeb will know that we want to start with the decision itself, not the data itself. When the rule was changed in 1994, what was the reason for the change? Was it to reduce the HBP itself or was it to reduce the ramifications of a deliberate HBP situation? In other words, was MLB trying to cut back on bench-clearing brawls that would happen after a deliberate HBP? What was the true end-goal here?

    Bench-clearing brawls are a black-eye for MLB as players have become significantly injured in such ugly incidents. Star pitcher Greinke broke his collar bone once in a meaningless fight. Catcher Jason LaRue was on the wrong side of a kick in the head and never played a game again.

    The intentional HBP has always been part of the game’s DNA. Most of the time, pitchers just want to get close and send a clear message to the batter (or team), and often times it doesn’t work out that way. It’s one of the basic “playground” unwritten customs in baseball that supposedly helps to keep the game “honest.”

    Back to the rule – if the rule change was aimed to reduce the bench-clearing brawls, did it have that effect, even if the HBP metrics have increased? I can see MLB executives being ok with HBPs as long as the bench clearing brawls are removed or kept to a minimum. Anyone have their hands on such statistics?


  3. This is a very interesting discussion and touches upon the essence of human nature. We, as humans, will push everything to the limit. One such example is procrastination. If a student has 2 weeks to finish an assignment, it will take 2 weeks. If the same student has 2 days to finish an assignment, it will take 2 days. All tasks, incentives, and punishments will be pushed to the limit. Humans are more attracted to immediate satisfaction rather than delayed gratification. Therefore, an additional warning before ejection will merely be an additional offense before ejection occurs. The same situation happened in football where padding was added to the players' uniforms to protect players against injuries. However, this had a reverse effect of increasing the force with which players will hit each other with, and therefore increasing injuries within the game. In the same fashion, we are pushing the rules to the limit before consequences are implemented.

  4. Rule Changes Shift Motivation

    I feel the change of “warning-then-eject” which came about in 1994 changed MLB team’s decision making process for determining whether or not to deliberately hit a batter. The “cost” to the team of hitting a batter in the past was that the batter could be seriously injured (pitcher has to live with that), there could be a bench clearing team fight, the other team could retaliate by hitting their players, or a player could be ejected. The benefit of hitting a batter was to give the batter a base so that they couldn’t make a hit, to settle a score, to take out a key player, or to get the team all fired up.
    Changing the rules and adding in some mandatory penalties, changed the costs and benefits. This led MLB teams to analyze and rethink their decision making processes. Unfortunately this “warning –then-eject” rule had the opposite outcomes than what it was intended to do. Instead of decreasing the amount of MLB players that were hit by pitches it actually greatly increased that number. The first team to hit a player each game would essentially suffer no consequences and then the other team could not retaliate. If a team did choose to retaliate, the team would have to first accept the consequence of losing both the pitcher and manager. By structuring the penalty for hitting a batter in another manner the league would have had better results in reducing the Hit by Pitch numbers.

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  6. If the MLB's intent was to decrease the number of HBPs, this is an interesting case of misdirected action which, as Froeb would argue, stems from starting with the data as opposed to the problem. However, the intent may have been to reduce the number of bench-clearing brawls, in which case the incentive is appropriately structured.

    It should be noted, however, that the impacts to the game being played extend beyond ejections, injuries and HBPs. Once the first warning has been issued, a secondary incentive is manifested for batters. During an at-bat, the offensive player now has motive to "crowd the plate" and place themselves in a position to be hit by an errant pitch, which would increase the likelihood of injury. Furthermore, pitchers will be conscientious of the risks of trying to place pitches in difficult to hit areas - which tend to be between an imaginary line in the middle of home base and the batter-, meaning a batter will likely see better to hit pitches.

    In general, it is difficult to determine the effectiveness of the rule without first knowing the outcome Major League Baseball was trying to accomplish.