I’ll use this article as a philosophical defense of my answer to the question how can we improve baseball? Here’s my three-step plan.

Step 1: Use the Pitchf/x replay system to determine balls and strikes, and use a replay system (similar to Hawk Eye in tennis) to determine foul balls.

Step 2: Release between 50-75% of all professional umpires who will be useless if we use the technology described in step 1.

Step 3: Donate this extra $10-20 million in saved costs to the Cancer Research Institute in order to advance the study of mouth cancer.

What the heck are ethics?

 

Ethics is a branch of philosophy that, in its most fundamental essence asks the question what is good conduct? To answer this question, the obvious starting point is to begin with the question what is good?

This may seem to have nothing to do with baseball, but if you stick with me and read mindfully, I’ll explain how we can objectively improve baseball, from a viewpoint that every single rational person on Earth can agree upon.

As rational individuals we understand that preserving life is an inherently good thing.

The conclusion I propose, that the MLB donating money to cancer research is objectively good, shouldn’t be too difficult to defend. I’m not asking us to change how baseball is officiated in order to make the game more exciting or to increase profit margins, but rather propose that advancing our knowledge of cancer will save lives. Again, saving lives from an ethical standpoint is good.

I specifically focused on mouth cancer because of baseball’s dark history that’s intertwined with chewing tobacco abuse. Even as recently as this past year, baseball legend Curt Schilling was diagnosed with mouth cancer and publicly spoke out in an emotionally powerful letter about chewing tobacco’s devastating health risks.

I recommended the Cancer Research Institute because they received the best grade on their charity report card. Simply, this report measures the percentage of money that charities actually pass on to their mission, rather than spend on employee costs and outreach. So, by donating to The Cancer Research Institute, you optimize your donation (for anyone donating money to charity, I highly recommend checking this website first).

The second principle that I propose is that if we know the truth, we should uphold the truth. In baseball, we can say that a strike is truthfully a strike if it is within the strike zone as it crosses the plate. This may seem pretty obvious, that there is an objective measurement of what defines a strike, and that calling strikes accurately helps the game of baseball keep its integrity. If you agree with this, the next figure should shock you.

More than one out of every eight pitches, approximately 14%, are incorrectly called by the umpire! This is literally passing a false approximation of truth as reality, even though baseball currently has the technology to objectively determine whether every single pitch thrown in the MLB falls in the strike zone.

Strike_zone_1_medium

I want you to realize how absurd this is.

Imagine that one out of every eight potential catches in football was incorrectly called, or if one out of every eight three point attempts were deemed a two. There would certainly be an uproar, and there would definitely be replay implemented. Wait, there is replay in both of these cases! (For more on this phenomena, read this article)

The most ridiculous thing is that this replay technology already exists in every single MLB stadium across the country. So, simply put, utilizing the system would cost no additional funding. That’s one unneeded umpire behind home plate, who’s being paid 350,000 dollars a year. There are nineteen MLB umpire crews, so that’s already 6.65 million dollars that can be allotted to mouth cancer research.

If the MLB went an extra step further by requiring that MLB stadiums be equipped with hawk-eye technology, which is used for tennis replays, the first and third base umpires would likewise be unneeded. With the average umpire being paid 235,000, an additional 6.93 million dollars saved every single year, when we’ve adjusted for the cost of additional replay systems (approximately $60,000 per stadium), that’s a combined 13.5 million allotted to cancer research.

If the above steps were implemented successfully, the ultimate conclusion would be clear: implement the replay system across all minor league teams, save millions of additional dollars, and pay Cancer researchers with those funds.

We not only improve the game of baseball by accurately calling pitches, but donate an approximate 25 million dollars a year to fighting cancer once the system is implemented across all levels of the sport. That is ethically good. There are some who might argue for the sake of the umpires who would be laid off. We should consider though that these funds could finance an equivalent number of Cancer researchers, all while saving lives in the process.

Ensuring that the objective truth is upheld while rededicating the additional revenue to saving lives: That’s as American as baseball.

Where did this all come from?

I set out to write this article with a very different question in mind. My first proposition that I posed was how to improve baseball from a fan’s perspective. Essentially, I wanted to find a quantitative-based solution for making baseball more enjoyable for us viewers. Frankly, I find the games painfully boring to watch on TV. This may or may not be a result of the absolutely awful start to the Brewers’ season.

So, I began contemplating ways to improve the game, and began by researching how Cricket revolutionized itself through the creation of a fast pace version of Cricket called Twenty-20. Essentially, cricket matches used to be all-day affairs, beginning in the morning and lasting through the afternoon. Twenty-20 changed the length of cricket, yet kept the core objectives and rules of the game the same. On average, twenty-20 lasts less than three hours.

The pitch clock is baseball conservative version of adding new rules in order to speed up the pace of play. I thought of coupling it with a pitch count per inning, alongside other gimmicky ideas that might make the game more entertaining such as run limits within an inning to avoid early blowouts. Essentially, I based my ideas on two principles: speed the game up and keep the game closer.

What I realized though was that I was making biased and evaluations of “entertainment” based on my opinions. Yes, a speedier game is more exciting for me, but is it better? Does everyone find a quicker game more exciting?

For cricket, the decision to cut down the length of the game was devised to increase TV revenues. Simply put, people would tune in to watch three-hour games but wouldn’t care to watch a seven-hour game. The same rationale was used for implementing the pitch clock. But just because something makes money, does it make something better? Is there some way of making sports better, a method or course of action that everyone could agree on?

Before I asked this question of seeking objective truth, rather than a convenient answer to “prove” my hypothesis, I began looking at in-game win probabilities of MLB, NFL, and NBA games. Essentially, these fascinating graphs (I’m posting links here to baseball, football and basketball) calculate the probability of each team winning given the score and circumstance at each point in the game. My hypothesis was that baseball is the least exciting sport, and I was planning on using these graphs to measure excitement.

How do you quantify exciting though? For me, the simple solution was to pick a point in the game, say two thirds of the way in, and determine the probability that each team had of winning. My assumption was that the closer the games were, the more exciting they were. In the small sample I ran (fifteen postseason games per sports), baseball was in fact the most lopsided at the two-thirds mark.

But then I suddenly closed out of all the tabs I was working on. I realized that this was no scientific method. This was sifting through statistics to prove an opinion!

The problem is this: people don’t all agree that a close end of the game is exciting! Why? Because people don’t have the same definition of exciting. For instance, baseball fans might argue that an NBA game isn’t exciting until the last quarter, because on average, the first three two thirds of the game are relatively meaningless. Additionally, they might argue, at any moment a simple swing of the bat could turn the game on its head.

Here’s the moral: there is no objective way to make baseball more entertaining. But there is a way to make Baseball better, in a way that every single person can agree on. That’s why we play ethics!

Image via CBS Sports

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