Baseball, the Connection between Analytics and Injuries
By Bob Branco
August 29, 2021
In recent years, the number of injuries in Major league Baseball has risen astronomically. I speculated that a lot of this had to do with the way players conditioned themselves, but I’m not so sure about that anymore. A lot of Major League Baseball teams hire analytics departments to dictate new ways to play the game based on computer science. As a result, players are asked to behave differently than what they’re used to, either at the plate, in the field, or on the pitcher’s mound. Batters are told to swing for the fences whether they like it or not. Fielders are told to shift out of position because analytics departments use computer science in order to determine exactly where the player should stand according to who the opposing batter is. Pitchers are told to throw harder than they normally do, and to keep their pitches as high in the strike zone as possible.
Baseball players are human beings. Each individual player does things his own way. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. However, you can’t force a human being to do something that a computer suggests. This new analytical philosophy often results in injury. I’ve heard of many players who suffer prolonged injuries because analytics departments ask them to do things out of character. This needs to stop right now. As a player, you are being asked to do something that you may never have done in your career, simply because baseball front offices shove analytics down our collective throats.
I know that Major League Baseball has a very powerful union, and you would think that many players in the union would complain about how front offices are injuring them with science. Agents should not be happy about this either. How can you as a player land the big contract if you are constantly injured? As a result, how would an agent sell your services?
My next point has nothing to do with injury, but If Tanner Howck, starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, is constantly removed from baseball games early because analysts are afraid that he will slip up when he faces opposing batting orders for the third time, how can he qualify for a win? If Howck has no wins, his agent will have trouble getting a large multi-year deal for him.
A friend of mine believes that these analytics departments are so focused on computer data that it affects their judgment of what baseball is really all about. He even implied that they don’t know about baseball at all. Whether he’s right or wrong, I can understand his way of thinking. I’ve seen Red Sox manager Alex Cora use the same relief pitcher for four consecutive games, and where that makes no sense, the obvious theory is that analytics departments believe this is the right thing to do based on computer data despite what Alex Cora really thinks. Doesn’t Cora’s general manager realize that you run the risk of injuring a pitcher if you use him way too much? Is science so important to this general manager and his analytics department that it doesn’t matter if the pitcher is overused? Is this brand of philosophy good for baseball? As a fan, I think analytics is ruining the game and its players literally. When the collective bargaining agreement comes up next winter, I want the Commissioner to sit down with team owners, and make it clear to them that they must stop allowing analytics to run players’ lives and putting their physical health in jeopardy based on science and physics. Several months ago, Commissioner Rob Manfred hired Theo Epstine as director of on-field activity. It is believed that Epstine wants to stop much of this analytics. That’s okay, but Manfred has to approve what Epstein wants.
So, the question is, when will this all stop? How many more players have to get hurt before Major League Baseball leaders put an end to analytics, and concentrate on the fact that players are human, and need to do things according to their own comfort zone. It’s all about the comfort zones of the players, and not those of scientists and physicists. Just remember, Theo Epstein is in charge of on-field activity, not Albert Einstein.
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