Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy has been spot on of his criticisms of the sport lately.
Dan Shaughnessy is at it again.
On Sunday the Boston Globe columnist, who wrote quite accurately about how baseball’s lack of competitive balance is killing the sport earlier this month, used a quote from the Boston Red Sox vice president of pitching analysis Brian Bannister (yes, the position actually exists) gave to the newspaper’s Alex Speier to show what is wrong with the game.
“Baseball has become a game full of data scientists.”
Bannister goes on to explain how the modern day pitcher wants to make sure the ball is not put in play.
Hence, emphasis on strikeouts, throwing instead of pitching, more high fastballs, and more home runs, more pitches, more pitching changes, and more dragging.
The problem is this has made the game batting practice. This makes Bryce Harper, the most overrated player but perhaps the biggest name in baseball with his Adam Dunn or, if you prefer a reference from when baseball players were household names, Dave Kingman like stats.
Basketball escapes the criticism other sports do, but it’s a legitimate gripe all hoops highlights look the same. They end with the ball going through the basket.
Think of a really memorable highlight in basketball that doesn’t involve scoring. There’s “Havlicek stole the ball,” which is remembered primarily as a radio call, and that’s about it.
But baseball highlights are always unique, be they defensive or offensive. A diving stop by an infielder rates as much satisfaction as the ball going over the fence.
And offensive highlights are hardly limited to the home run.
Bannister, however, referred to the ball being put in play as “chaos.”
True, there is a certain appeal of watching pitchers rack up strikeouts. But when pitchers are taken out throwing no-hitters because of pitch counts, what chance do they have to go after strikeout records?
Shaughnessy writes how last week a 1–0 Boston Red Sox victory against the Detroit Tigers took three hours and thirty-one minutes to play.
At one time, this would have been a game of two dominant starters throwing a complete game. Zip, zip, zip!
Instead, neither starter, Boston’s David Price or Detroit’s Matthew Boyd, went seven full innings or even 100 pitches. Four mid-inning pitching changes. Ten relief pitchers in all.
Incidentally, earlier in the month the Giants and Rockies also played a 1–0 game. It lasted 2:15 minutes. No mid-inning pitching changes.
See what the designated hitter does to baseball?
Or how about this; in the Red Sox’ 1–0 victory against the Tigers, relief pitchers Matt Barnes and Craig Kimbrell both threw an inning for Boston and both threw 23 pitches.
That’s 46 pitches in all. They combined to face nine batters, one of whom reached on a strikeout. That’s more than five pitches per hitter.
For comparison’s sake, a May 22, 1957 Milwaukee Braves triumph against the Phillies won in 13 innings, 4–3, on a game-ending home run by Chuck Tanner saw Philadelphia’s Robin Roberts go the route in defeat, throwing 170 pitches. Today a manager would be fired for asking his pitcher to do such a thing.
But Roberts faced 50 hitters for an average of 3.4 pitches per batter. That’s why he could last another 10 years in the majors.
Roberts is in the Hall of Fame. My guess is none of the pitchers in Friday’s game will be.
By the way, this 13-inning game from yesteryear also took five minutes less to play than Boston’s 1–0 victory. It also drew 21,775 fans on a Wednesday night, better than the majority of Wednesday night games Detroit has played at home this season.
Yet analytics heads will argue that their numbers provide a winning strategy. That a relief pitcher in the aforementioned game would have prevented Tanner’s home run.
Or not. Roberts had thrown seven straight shutout innings. The bullpen, with less talented pitchers, could have easily lost the game for the Phillies in the name of saving the arm of a pitcher who would consistently throw 190+ innings a season for the rest of his career.
Tell analytics heads this, and they’ll suggest you don’t know baseball, or they’ll make a dismissive comment that its the job of managers to win games and not preserve outdated strategies.
But are these outdated strategies?
I honestly have no problem with analytics. I do have a problem with how they are used, which results in how baseball is played.
How to change this? It’s really not that hard. Encourage scouts to sign pitchers for accuracy, not velocity.
Start paying pitchers for innings pitched, not FiP. Build new ballparks with the deep centerfields of yore, which will encourage pitchers to pitch for easy fly ball outs to center from weaker hitters and teams to employ rabbits in centerfield instead of slow sluggers, thus resulting in a return to the stolen base.
Make sure every new park has a retractable dome. Eliminating rain delays and insuring fan comfort without eliminating pleasant days in the sun is attainable. So why not do it?
And if the examples above haven’t convinced you what has dragged pace of play down from two and a half hours a game in 1972 to three hours today, nothing will.
Tell MLBPA Union head Tony Clark to go to hell. Let the players strike if you must.
But get rid of the DH. It’s been killing the sport for 45 years.
Analytics have made today’s players numbers instead of men. Teams no longer build around a big-name star.
If today’s players were to strike who would miss them?
Truly no one when tomorrow’s players will play a more exciting, faster paced game as it was meant to be played.