Baseball computer departments and their endless obsession for crunching statistics have converted the sport into a simulated, robotic chess match, even referring to players as pieces. Their position shifts and analytics — OPS, WAR, WHIP, ISO, BABIP — have transformed our beloved game into rocket science. Computer geeks have been leading owners and baseball’s hierarchy down the wrong base paths, while chasing away avid fans. Analytics have turned “The Boys of Summer” into “The Robots of Fall.”
Baseball is a kid’s game played at the highest level by grown men. It was designed to be played on a diamond, rather than something analogous to a simulated robotic game played on a rectangular computer screen. Managers and players were not meant to be marionettes with strings pulled by front office nerds. Nor was baseball ever meant to be too complicated for the average fan. Front offices have not only taken the human aspect out of the game, they have failed to respect or recognize its spirit.
It was never meant to be a perfect science. If the stat crunchers scientifically perfect baseball strategy, but the fans don’t appreciate or enjoy the way the game is played, attendance, viewership, and revenues decrease. Is that considered success or failure?
The 2020 World Series record low numbers of television viewers validates my point. It should give owners a clue; they should not have to see the writing on the dugout wall. They could cop out and blame it on COVID, but that would be another mistake. With more people staying home, one would think the television audience would have been record setting. Baseball’s brain trust is allowing the game to become less entertaining to attend or view.
The owners, commissioner’s office, executives, players association, and number crunchers are failing to crunch the two most important statistics of all: fan support and revenues. Baseball can ill afford to have attendance and viewership continue on its downward trajectory like a sinker. “Money Ball” is rapidly converting baseball into the “Loss of Money Ball.” Lucrative TV contracts in the billions are the only savior, keeping baseball’s revenues above the Mendoza Line.
Give us what we want and people will come.
We want to see potent offenses, players hitting to all fields, circling the bases. When the switch is on, as Wee Willie Keeler once said, “Hit’ em where they ain’t.” Don’t try to hit it like Barry Bonds, hit like Ichiro Suzuki. The most frustrating play in baseball is when a stubborn egocentric hitter tries to hit a launch angle homer over the shift and meekly grounds out. We don’t want average players trying to jack home runs on every pitch so that they develop a hitch in their swing. That hitch added to launch angle equals far too many strikeouts. Don’t try to manufacture excitement with launch angle home runs, then stifle would-be hits with out-of-position shifts. Attempting to take away hits is akin to taking away the pass in football. We’re weary of the all-or-nothing home run approach. Owners and front offices have forgotten that most fans want to see potent offenses much more than they want solid defense. Football discovered that at least a decade ago.
Stolen bases and squeeze plays bring us to our feet, cheering with excitement. One of the most exciting plays of the 2020 World Series was when Manuel Margot attempted to steal home. We may be called Old School, but wasn’t baseball more accepted and exciting when second basemen actually played second instead of short right field? When third basemen played third rather than second? These stat crunchers even have a four-man outfield with a three-man infield in certain situations. Have these computer geniuses improved our beloved game or have they transformed it into something we no longer recognize, watch, appreciate, or even have any interest in? Like me, you are probably asking, Where has America’s favorite pastime gone?
When I see a ball screaming up the middle past the pitcher’s ears, I want it to be a solid hit. I don’t want to see a second basemen, playing behind second, field the ball and toss it to first for a routine out. When a ball is hit smoking between first and second, I don’t want to see the second baseman field it in short right and throw the batter out at first. This is not a softball game. I don’t care what the percentages dictate about where a player normally hits the ball. Computer geniuses have taken the fun out of watching the game.
Astute fans don’t want to hear managers on pregame shows saying they are planning to get 21 outs from their starting pitcher. Or saying they plan on pitching a bullpen game, especially when they have more than enough qualified starters. Something I’m absolutely certain of, I would not have removed Blake Snell, the Rays’ pitcher from game six of last year’s World Series. I would have ridden his hot arm to the end of the game, if possible. And I’m 98 percent certain he would have won the game for me. He was so in rhythm and focused that they would have to hold me back from pitching him in game seven. This tells me executives, computer geeks, and managers don’t know as much about baseball as they like to think they do.
Managers and coaches are having trouble with the curve. Front offices have managers micromanaging and overthinking the game. Everyone is trying to out-think everyone, rather than out-play them. Baseball has become a mind game rather than a skills game. Analytics work well in the boardroom but are painfully boring in the locker room.
Give baseball back to the fans. Fans with a deep passion for the game want to see it played the way we knew it, enjoyed it, loved and cherished it. Players of today are bigger, stronger, faster, more powerful, and more talented than ever. So take the analytics out of it, and let them play even better than before. If being a fan of a world championship team means watching or going to games that are no longer interesting, enjoyable, and fun, as much as it may hurt, I’ll have to give up the game, like so many others have.
Baseball’s brain trust has made it much less entertaining for fans to enjoy a day at the park with family and friends. If owners, the commissioner’s office, and the players association don’t square the ball up and correct their mistakes soon, there will be plenty of crying in baseball.
Ciao for now, J.J. Volpe