The advancement of “baseball science” has brought us tremendous development in the sport.
Thanks to a greater understanding of the human body, training and dietary regimens have evolved, radically shifting the makeup of the “modern” baseball player. You need only compare photos of Babe Ruth and Albert Pujols to see the evidence of that reality.
Likewise, technological advances have given us access to the instant replay.
With each of these new developments, the quality of the baseball product is enhanced. The game itself is improved, as is the fan experience.
But for every new development that advances the game of baseball, there is also a baseball fad that makes an appearance. Unlike the great advances in baseball science, though, these fads over time either fail to add any real value to the game, or in some cases, actually detract from the great experience of America’s Pastime.
The use of performance enhancing drugs falls under this classification, as does the decision to use the All-Star Game as the determinant for which team in the World Series will get home field advantage (in my opinion). These are changes that were adopted by the game in an attempt to maintain relevance, but over the long-term failed to add any real value to the product of baseball.
Which brings us to the issue at hand today.
One of the hot trends in baseball over the past decade has been the growing emphasis that many baseball franchises are placing on highly complex, advanced statistical analysis. Sabermetrics, for example, is no longer referred to anecdotally. Instead, it is perceived as a viable tool in analyzing past results to project future performance.
Franchises are not just casually using these advanced analytical tools, either. The Boston Red Sox hired Bill James, the father of Sabermetrics, as a Senior Advisor for their organization nearly ten years ago. And more recently 17 different MLB franchises purchased Bloomberg’s Scouting Tools, which they tend to employ in a similar manner.
The statistical analysis of baseball performance has developed into a very real aspect of the game, and is now heavily ingrained as a viable practice in the front offices of more than half of Major League Baseball.
But are these advanced analytical tools the next great advancement in baseball science, or are they just the latest baseball fad?
Sports Geek is of the opinion that Sabermetrics and the like are the next step in the evolution of baseball. According to Sports Geek, these new analytical processes and tools are a tremendous advancement in the game, because they provide franchises with an opportunity to validate decisions that were previously based almost entirely on hunches.
There is a great deal of truth behind that assessment.
Like instant replay, these analytical tools seek to eliminate the subjectivity of human interpretation, and the fallibility that comes with that judgment. It seeks instead to replace that subjectivity with the objectivity of measurable or quantifiable facts. Rather than rely on a human being to process information through the filters of their own perception, which leaves room for error, these tools provide franchises with unbiased data which can be used to govern decision making.
The negative side of that, though, is the fact that there are certain aspects of the game which cannot be measured.
As Loyal Homer discusses, there are times when objectivity is not possible, because the circumstances within each game-time scenario are unique. There is no number to quantify the health of a player, or the personal stress he might be under, thanks to a problem at home, when he steps up to the plate.
Furthermore, it can be difficult (if not impossible) to substitute real experience that can only be gained over a lifetime of direct observation and analysis. A computer has not spent months or years developing relationships with players, and a math formula cannot tell you the attitude of your left fielder.
But despite those objections from Loyal Homer, I tend to agree with Sports Geek in his assessment that there is real value behind these measurements, and that they are the next step in the natural progression of baseball.
These tools are not intended to eventually replace the decision-making process for a manager or the front office. Baseball is a situational game, and the chess match that plays out on the field can never be directed by a set of hard and fast rules. Loyal Homer is correct in that assessment. But that fact does not automatically negate the value of Sabermetrics. To the contrary, it actually validates the need for it.
Managers will always be required to make spur-of-the-moment decisions, based on the context of each unique situation. Sabermetrics will not replace the decision-making process for those managers, but it is a greater set of tools that can help guide the manager to a decision they can feel confident will provide them with the best opportunity for success.
Sabermetrics and Bloomberg’s Scouting Tools are not a series of if-then statements. They do not provide managers with a crib-sheet on standard operating procedures. They help to arm that manager with the best possible information, thus equipping them to make the best possible decision.