Baseball is Changing and That’s Just Fine
Welcome to a world where tanking, increased home runs, shorter pitching starts, and younger, analytically-inclined mangers reign supreme.
The 2017 Major League Baseball season has officially come to a close and indubitably, the sport will never be the same. This season saw the realization and continuation of many concepts around the game that will surely stick around, altering the way we view America’s Pastime. But that’s just fine. Baseball, as it is proving with its massive World Series ratings, is better than ever.
The Astros Proved Tanking Worst
No, the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers are not the ideal sports model for how to tank. In fact, the Astros have vindicated their years long stretch of losing baseball with their massive success this season. From 2012 to 2015, Houston picked first overall in the draft a whopping three times. And although the Astros failed on two of those picks (starting pitchers Mark Appel and Brady Aiken are no longer with the organization and have yet to reach the big leagues), the club selected shortstop Carlos Correa in 2012 who has since become one of the best infielders in all of baseball.
Houston previously selected outfielder George Springer with the 11th pick in 2012 and went on to take infielder Alex Bregman with the second pick in 2015. Throw in the $15,000 international signing of presumed AL MVP Jose Altuve and a seventh round steal in Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel and Houston had effectively built a championship team out of nothing. The club lost for a while to win big. And while this tactic is often viewed as a method to construct a basketball team, Houston’s success will surely have more baseball teams following suit.
Starting Pitchers Are Less Important Than Ever
Starters just don’t go deep into games anymore. This is not just a postseason thing. This will not change.
Due to advanced analytics, managers are now prone to pulling their starting pitchers before they have to face the opposing team’s lineup a third time, a situation that results in failure more than success. From 1969 to 2015, pitchers in the postseason were allowed to face the opposing team’s lineup a third time an average of 15.9%. In 2017, that number dropped slightly below 10%, a rigid change in the way games are played. It’s very likely that this number will either level out or drop even further in coming years as bullpens are becoming the single most important unit for the modern baseball team. Clubs like the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians have even shown that entire rosters can be built around a dominant bullpen.
The way that Terry Francona used Andrew Miller was not an aberration. Soon, every team will employ one or two players to assume the “super reliever” role and come save starting pitchers during crucial moments in the middle innings. This role is just as if not more important than a team’s ace because of the three true outcomes and the frequency in which bullpens are utilized. Apologies if you’re looking to increase pace of play.
Home Runs are Fun. They’re Here to Stay.
It’s no secret that home run rates are well above where they used to be. The 2017 regular season set the record for the most home runs of all time, with 6,105 bombs blasted. This year’s World Series has seen a home run every 17.5 at bats, even more frequent than the 27.1 regular season mark.
Something is obviously different. This could be a change in player’s approach, as more and more batters are forgoing what they were taught in Little League and trying to get lift on the baseball instead of getting on top. Or this could be because of juiced baseball, something players who participated in the World Series seem to think was the case. But really, does it matter?
Scoring is fun. Home runs cause scoring. In turn, home runs are fun.
While that is a fairly simplistic way to view the home run epidemic, it’s hard to argue that World Series Game 5’s 13-12 thriller wasn’t the one of the most exciting baseball games we have ever seen. The game featured 12 home runs and a flurry of lead changes. And while some may argue that this looked like a different game entirely, it carried all the tension and pressure of a crucial postseason match up. Much like the progression of three pointers in basketball, home runs are the wave of the future. It’s alright to evolve, baseball. Let’s embrace it.
Young Managers are the New Wave
As young as the offseason might be for most teams, it has already shown that baseball is moving in a new direction in terms as to who will make day to day decisions for clubs. Managers are getting younger, more analytically inclined, and less experienced than ever. Just ask Joe Girardi, who was let go by the Yankees despite reaching Game 7 of the ALCS. The Yankees will seek a new manager who is more in touch with advanced statistics.
In the NL East, the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies each chose 42-year-olds with no major league managerial experience to run their squads in Mickey Callaway and Gabe Kapler. Both hires were met with praise.
It’s about time baseball embraced progressive sports thinking. This should mean good things moving forward.