Is Analytics Killing Baseball
By Bob Branco
December 2, 2019
We live in a sophisticated technological world. It seems as though we can’t get through the day without numbers, statistics and analysis. While this new philosophy is helpful to some degree, I think it’s overdone to the point where it’s affecting the human element of sports.
Let’s take baseball, for instance. When I was growing up, almost everything about the sport was humane. It was about your performance as a player. You either pitched well or pitched badly. You either had a successful day with the bat, or you failed so miserably that you couldn’t hit a basketball if you tried. This form of baseball was acceptable, and no one really cared about the overuse of statistics which appear to be trivial. All we cared about were batting averages, earned run averages, strike-outs, home runs, and other general information. Now, there are statistics for everything, and these stats completely dominate the way managers think, if they even think at all. Why should managers think? Their lap tops and smart devices do their thinking for them. For example, it doesn’t matter if a pitcher is throwing a no hitter after 6 innings. If the numbers say that pitchers have difficulty with the batting orders of opposing teams the third time around, managers will likely take these pitchers out because the computer says so.
Opponents of baseball analytics will tend to exaggerate about the subject in order to further make the point. “Well, if the temperature falls below 80 degrees, we have to take the pitcher out despite how good he’s throwing, because the numbers say then as the temperature drops, he loses command of the strike zone.” Here’s one that’s more realistic. “We have to impose a defensive shift on this hitter, because his batting average is much better when he hits balls to the left of second base.”
I know that some pitchers have expressed their feelings about analytics, especially those who are forced to pitch against their own comfort zone. Furthermore, when starting pitchers are taken out of games before the end of the fifth inning, they do not qualify for a win if their team is ahead. You have to pitch 5 innings before qualifying for the win. As a result, there may be some resentment from the Players Union about how these pitchers are being denied wins, which affect their overall statistics. Why would agents want to push for long-term contracts on behalf of these pitchers when they are taken out of games without qualifying for a win? The number of wins by a pitcher goes a long way toward marketing and promoting him.
I have been an old-school baseball fan for over 50 years. I appreciate the human element of the game, not the video game approach. I don’t need to know that Mookie Betts has a better batting average on Thursday nights when it’s cloudy outside, or that J. D. Martinez hits more home runs to left field when he drinks orange juice on a rainy morning between 8 and 9 o’clock, or that Jackie Bradley makes more errors in the field on Sunday afternoons when he’s wearing purple sneakers three hours after having sex. All I care about is whether my team wins or loses. If technology was completely taken away from baseball, I would not lose any sleep.