Baseball Then and Now.

Photo by Laura Peebles for TalkNats

There’s an interesting dynamic at play when following fan reaction to their teams. The fascinating part is that the reactions are nearly the same regardless which team one is following and it’s obvious that many of the fans grew up with a different type of game and they are still yearning for the game they grew up with, a game that has really changed so dramatically. I include myself in this group.

The game we knew put a very high premium on manufacturing runs in many ways. We all remember beautifully executed hit and runs, perfect sacrifice hits moving runners into scoring positions, swinging the bat in a way which maximizes ‘productive outs’ and lead-off hitters who ran wild. To me, the game was more interesting then — more like a chess match than a boxing match.

We are all baseball fans but the game we remember from our youth is pretty much dead and gone. What happened? Money ball happened. The advent of statistical analysis brought with it some unfortunate by-products. Let me start by saying that statistics are neither good nor bad and really, they aren’t open to debate. If action A results in better outcomes than action B (over the long haul) let’s say in 55% of the cases then you should do action A 100% of the time. It’s like black jack, you play hunches, you will lose in the long run. You should always follow the basic strategy.

So what did money ball determine? In a nutshell it determined that you will score more runs by not giving away outs than by playing for single runs, it also determined that it’s unlikely to string together enough base hits to score multiple runs therefore increasing the value of the home run ball and as a consequence decreasing the negative stigma of the strike out. Additionally, the value of the stolen base has been proven to be less than what we though simply because the negative effect of a caught stealing is a much greater negative than a stole base is a positive.

The newest game changer of course is the extreme shifts we see on a nightly basis. Shifts aren’t new, the big boppers always faced them, what’s new is the frequency of use which has really exploded over the past year. And let’s be real, teams shift because statistics say they work, if enough players busted shifts on a regular basis there would be less shifting.

There are 2 notes which need to be added to this article.

1) Every team uses analytics and they all have the same data. Analytics don’t give you the advantage they used to when Paul DePodesta introduced them to Billy Beane. The difference makers these days are: character, work ethic commitment. Same as it was in the old days.That’s why some of the best managers are the best people managers and not the x’s and o’s managers.

2) The explosion of statistical analytics has had one major negative effect. There are places in games when teams should play for 1 run because 1 run might win the game and most managers and players aren’t very good at the little things it takes to manufacture 1 run.

It’s a different game but it continues to evolve. No idea what the game will look like in 20 years from now.

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