Atlanta Braves take full advantage of everything Jayson Werth is complaining about
Let me run down a list of some things that have occurred or otherwise been introduced over the past several decades that somebody-or-another thought would destroy baseball:
- inter-league play
- the designated hitter (okay, yeah, I’m still bitter about this one)
- lowering the mound
- the 162-game schedule
- free agency
- the 5-man rotation
- the era of specialization (relief pitchers)
- lights at Wrigley Field (okay – only in Chicago did they think so)
- small ballparks
- instant replay (the jury might still be out on this one) and manager challenges
- the Wild Card playoff system
- the “Buster Posey rule” on slides
- the ‘wave off’ intentional walk
- the pitch clock and mound visit limitations
That’s just the ones off the top of my head. There have been changes in equipment (bats, gloves, and balls), changes in umpires (no longer league-separated), changes on the field (the1st base running lane, the ‘batter’s eye’, and changes in uniforms (seemingly on a weekly basis now).
Here’s a snippet from Hall of Famer Bob Gibson about the mound height change in 1968, conducted 40 years after his stunning season (1.12 ERA):
"“Why should they take away the pitcher’s livelihood because he becomes proficient at it?” Gibson asks. “That, to me, seems like what they did. The hitters weren’t doing very well against you so they say ‘Well, we’re going to fix that.’ “I still might sue baseball for that.” … The mound had a 15-inch elevation in 1968, and in 1969 it was only 10 inches, a huge change akin to expanding the nets in hockey."
In short, there hasn’t been any aspect of the game that hasn’t seen some form of change over the years and more changes are still coming – I, for one, am an advocate of the rodo-ump concept for balls and strikes.
The game is different but it’s been getting different for… decades.
Where Werth might be right
Now Jayson Werth was engaging in a bit of hyperbole in that interview, but it was also borne out of the frustration you could hear in his voice about how the past off-season came around for him… which effectively resulted in a ‘semi-forced’ retirement that he hasn’t been willing to embrace.
I get that – I feel for him, for nobody wants to be told that there isn’t a place for him any longer. That’s a a rough thing.
But in that interview was the suggestion of how I believe advanced stats get misused in some circles. Let me explain.
Werth so much as declared that in a shift situation, players are being told to ignore the fact that there’s a massive hole on one side of the infield and that they should aim for the fences – essentially all the time.
This is the same mentality that has created the current New York Yankees: get enough bombers in your lineup and just swing away: get 3 or 4 homers a game and we don’t care if you guys strike out 18 times in a 27-out game. That’s over-simplified, but it’s also not far off.
The Yankees are leading baseball with 188 homers… in 115 games. Even though the formula is off, it’s still mostly working for them (they would be leading every other division in baseball, save for the AL West).
The Flip Side
Yet you have other teams – like the Atlanta Braves – who seem to be taking a more strategic (overarching) view of using advanced stats… and one that favors their players’ style:
- More running
- More 1st pitch strikes (Sean Newcomb and Kevin Gausman have both benefited greatly here)
- Better positioning in the field (Nick Markakis)
- Better defense in general
Gausman spoke of this just last night after one of his best performances of the year.
In short (I know – too late for that), here’s my overall philosophy on baseball advanced metrics:
- They are not perfect
- They need not be forced into use
- Common sense and skill must still prevail (i.e., if a team is giving you the entire left side of the infield, then take it)
- They can be misused (i.e., my common complaints about BABIP and luck or FIP ignoring 2/3rds of the game)
- They can be helpful to establish trends
This whole statistical “industry” that we bloggers use, that teams use, that baseball sites use… this is not going away. These things can be used to improve how the game is played if used correctly.
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The pendulum has swung wildly, perhaps, in a new direction… time will tell if it swings further or swings back a bit.
Likewise, teams will have to evaluate themselves to learn if their own methods for using advanced stats are actually helpful or harmful… essentially having to use stats on themselves to make such a determination.
Adjustments will be made as part of the process and that’s how change happens in life.
I’m not going to blame Werth for his rant – in his position I likely would do so, too. But I also don’t believe this new wave of data will kill baseball.
In fact, from this writer’s observations, our Braves are doing it right.