The New York Yankees just went through the cycle of hiring a new manager in which the interview process was based solely on two criteria: Communication skills and an understanding of something called “analytics.” It’s the latter I’m concerned about and here’s why.
Sabermetrics aside for a moment, there used to be a time in baseball when a player like Don Mattingly (Yankees) with nine Gold Gloves and Keith Hernandez (Mets) with eleven Gold Gloves were permitted to think on a baseball field about positioning certain batters.
And they would draw on their many years of playing in the major leagues to recall, for instance, that batter X tended to go the other way when he had two strikes on him. The gray matter in their brain then told them to take a couple of steps towards the line. It would go unnoticed, even perhaps to their manager who was busy trying to figure out who was left in his lineup to pinch-hit next inning.
That’s gone by the wayside in baseball, and more and more players are becoming robots moved around the playing field like puppets from batter to batter — because of the “numbers,” or sabermetrics, say it’s a wise move.
Baseball has always been a game of numbers and statistics. We determine, for instance, who gets into the Hall of Fame based on a player’s numbers. We learn their salaries and their value in arbitration cases and free agency by their numbers. But now, numbers have transcended to a higher level and more significantly, they are “coded”.
They’re numbers you don’t see in the box scores or the back of a player’s baseball card. And you don’t see them when you look up a player in the bible of MLB, Baseball Reference.
If you are a moderate fan of baseball, you can find these stats if you dig hard enough. But it’s easier if you buy into the whole idea of sabermetrics and you become part of the “clique” that knows all. These are the fans who reserve part of their day to tune in to Brian Kenny every night for his show on the MLB Network where numbers are thrown around in a manner based on a mine is bigger than your’s mentality.
To exercise the point, Kenny got together with another sabermetrics guru, Vince Gennaro, in this hour-long video preaching the gospel.
And just in case you want or need it, here’s a glossary which will explain to you in case you ever need to know the meaning of CERA as opposed to dERA, BAPIP, DICE, and don’t forget this one, PECOTA.
Like many of you reading this, I consider myself a notch above the average fan of baseball. But do I (now) need to devote my entire “life” to keep up with these guys who “know more” than we do?
Bob Dylan said it all many years ago when he wrote almost as an afterthought as part of his classic Subterranean Homesick Blues, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” Amen.
Aaron Boone won the job as the new Yankees manager because he proved to Brian Cashman he was not averse to sabermetrics and he was willing to utilize the information made available.
But in the bottom the ninth with runners on first and third with one out in a tie game, as Boone looks down his bench knowing he needs a sac fly at least, does he need the weatherman to tell him Ronald Torreyes is not the guy, but Aaron Hicks is in that situation?
As a sportswriter, I have all I can do to keep up with batting averages and on-base percentages. And I suspect that is true of you as well. Baseball is visual, and we live in a visual world where we can see things, process them, and decide for ourselves whether the second-baseman was late in covering the bag at first on a bunt play because he was shaded too far to the right.
This is not rocket science, and yet they are trying to make it so. There’s a valued place in baseball for analytics. But let’s look before we leap into this thing hog-wild, and certainly before we forget human beings, not robots, play this game.