Regional Sports

What’s in a name for analytics?

Analytics are destroying the fabric of baseball.

Major League Baseball is now different.

The days of managers with personalities are over. The days of managers making impacts in games have been shelved with general managers being involved in making out the lineups and telling their managers to use certain players and relievers for a particular game. There are no more pull hitters. Role players might well as be useless now in today’s game. Starters going past six innings have not existed for a long time now. Relievers are more valued than starters.

All of this in the name of analytics now. It’s more about numbers, exit velocity, defensive shifts, pythagorean winning percentage and ultimate zone rating. It’s okay now to strike out as long the hitter has a high OPS and home run rate. The more information, the better for general managers.

The sad thing is all of this is relatively new. It was a decade ago we learned about OPS, WHIP, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and batting average on balls in play. That was simple enough, and it was useful to determine how good hitters and pitchers were.

The more baseball has gone into analytics mode, the more it has become unwatchable and boring. It’s become more of a game played by robots rather than human beings, which numbers dictate who plays. The managers have basically become useless altogether. Shifting has made it hard for hitters to hit. Players playing different positions does not make this game anything special. It was painful watching the playoffs and seeing hitters hack, hack and hack.

It was home run or bust all season long. The Yankees defined that so well. They took analytics to the next level, and it may have had the hitters and pitchers unhinged in the end, especially in the playoffs where they may have been worn out by so much information given by the front office. It seemed like the players were going by what the spreadsheets tell them to do rather than think for themselves. Sometimes information can be paralysis by analysis.

It is not a great thing when hitters are focusing on hitting the ball out of the ballpark by executives telling them to change their launch angle of hitting and focus more at hitting at a high velocity. Baseball should be about using the field to hit. There’s something to be said about winning games by playing small ball. Bunting shouldn’t be a crime. Baseball should be a thinking man’s game where hitters need to know how to be effective in hitting, even when they don’t have it at the plate.

Bloop hits, bunt hits and moving runners up should be celebrated more. Hitting home runs are nice, but it’s overrated. In cavanerous ballparks such as Citi Field, Dodger Stadium, Safeco Field and Comerica Park, it’s hard to hit home runs period, so teams need to be more effective in creating offense.

Unfortunately in the era of analytics, it’s taboo to do the little things that create runs. With the advent of shifting, teams are focusing on their players to hit home runs more than ever.

Baseball is more fun when teams are more creative in scoring runs. Not every game should be decided on home runs. Watching home runs are fun, but when a hitter strikes out too frequently, that is not fun to watch. The adage of great pitching beats great hitting will never change no matter how much analytical general managers want to reinvent the game. There are always going to be great pitchers in baseball, so the odds of them striking out hitters will always improve.

It’s sad now that small ball has become a lost art.

Seeing starting pitchers not able to go past six or seven innings is also sad. Managers are behold to the numbers where they are not told not to use their starters when they face the hitters for the third time around. The fear is that the hitters will figure out a starter’s weakness by then. That’s where the numbers don’t tell you anything. It’s hard to really predict. If a pitcher still has good stuff, he might as well stay in the game.

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts raised eyebrows when he took Rich Hill out in the seventh inning of Game 4 of the World Series after facing two batters. The Boston Red Sox struggled to get a hit off him the entire night, so it did not make sense to take off a starter that was controlling the game. Then, Roberts had to use two relievers in Scott Alexander and Ryan Madson to get out of the inning. It did not work out well as Mitch Moreland hit a three-run home run off Madson to cut the Dodgers’ lead to 4-3. The Red Sox tied it in the eighth inning when Steve Pearce homered off Kenley Jansen. Eventually, the Red Sox won 9-4 to take a 3-1 World Series lead.

If Roberts would have used his brain and figured out Hill was still the right guy to go at least until the ninth inning, maybe the Dodgers even the series at 2 with that win. It was an odd decision. This seemed like it was a managing by the book. Common sense made more sense than numbers in this situation.

This is what analytics have done to managers. They are beholden by stats at the whim of the general managers, and now they can’t really figure out whether to stick with the starter or use the right reliever. Players are now playing based on what stats tell them on a certain game. Nowadays, managers can be paralyzed by analysis.

It’s a fine line to know how to apply analytics during the game.

I miss the days when baseball decisions are made by gut feel. I miss the days where we did not have information overload with analytical terms. I miss the game when it was determined by players and managers.

Baseball is different now, and it’s not for the better.

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