The winds of change are blowing in baseball. This year we will deal with limitations on visits to the mound, with the supposed need to speed up the game to make the young kids like it more. The heck with what baseball has always been, we’ve now got to make millennials embrace it.
Sure, part of me wonders if it’s needed. This is baseball. It is what it is. Like what it is or simply don’t watch. Why should we change something that’s worked well for decades?
Wow, I’m suddenly sounding like a get-off-my-lawn old man, and I’m not that old.
Fact is, baseball is changing whether we like it or not. Some of us fought for years to not go down that statistical highway, where batting averages and earned run averages are a thing of the past. There are new stats that young kids with calculators believe we should all understand.
As someone once said, “It’s not all about OBP.” That someone was me, but I know it’s not all about on-base percentage. But it’ll never again be about runs batted in and batting averages, either. It’s now about launch angle and bat speed and exit velocity and other things most of us just don’t get.
We better learn. Those are the things now important in roster construction, and if we want to understand why teams go after certain players we must know these fancy numbers. We must accept that baseball is changing, and it’ll be even more different a decade from now.
Two years ago, when I first got to spring training, someone in Atlanta’s front office walked up and said, “Have you seen Ronald Acuna? He’s got the best exit velocity of anyone in our camp.” I didn’t exactly know what that meant, but I figured out it was the speed of the ball off the bat. He was only 18 at the time, but they knew from that one stat Acuna was going to be special.
They were right. Exit velocity obviously showed them Acuna was going to develop into a dangerous hitter. He’s now the best prospect in the game.
With players starting to understand these stats, it will be interesting to see how they change to be more attractive properties. For example, will launch angle and exit velocity make hitters swing for the fences more? And will that, in turn, cause pitchers to throw out their rules and do things differently?
Last weekend I heard on TV that Mike Maddux, the Cardinals pitching coach, was telling his pitchers to experiment in spring training with pitching more up in the zone (with the fastball) than normal. That’s always been taboo. If you get the ball up, hitters will usually make you pay. But if hitters are worried with launch angle and trying to hit home runs, they may uppercut a pitch that is higher in the zone and instead chop down on it and make an out.
That was an interesting theory, and we will hear more like that.
We’re already seeing teams do away with advance scouting. You will no longer see a scout behind home plate preparing a report for the next series. Instead, the use of video is replacing the scouts. More and more teams feel technology is making a pair of eyes obsolete.
Look at how infield shifts, based on hitting charts, has changed the game. No longer does a shortstop always stand at shortstop. He may be parked in right field if the chart says that’s where someone needs to be to stop a hit.
I can’t exactly tell you how to figure out some of these new stats. Perhaps we’ll just learn what’s good and what’s bad without even knowing what it all means. But whether we like it or not, there are new numbers to pay attention to in baseball. Now instead of just being interested in how many times a batter gets a hit, we must wonder how hard the ball is hit.
So, while you’re watching baseball on your phone this season, have your calculator handy. You’re going to need it.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at email@example.com.