Since the writing of Moneyball, there has been an enormous shift in how the game of baseball is played. Moneyball chronicled how the Oakland Athletics utilized on-base percentage and eschewed defense in order to build a competitive ballclub. (Having Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, and Tim Hudson in their starting rotation helped, too.) While many people fixated on the surface-level message, it was the submerged portion of the iceberg that was more important; stay ahead of the opposition. The A’s found an underappreciated way to value players and took advantage of it. Then other teams picked up on it, so Oakland had to find its next edge.
Statistics aren’t the only thing that has revolutionized baseball. With the introduction of Statcast, we’re able to measure things like spin rate of pitched balls, exit velocity off the bat, running speed of baserunners, and more. Suddenly, we were able to quantify information that previously could only be measured subjectively, and teams rapidly adjusted to accommodate the new figures available at their fingertips.
Because of all the new info, teams aren’t just being built in new ways but their on-field strategy has adapted as well. Starting pitchers perform worse the third time they face a lineup so organizations are working to minimize their exposure, even as they’re throwing harder and strikeouts are up. Smaller players are discovering they’re capable of knocking out home runs with an adjustment to their launch angle whereas they were typecast as slap hitters in the past.
There’s change all around the game, yet we turn on a baseball broadcast and it doesn’t take long to hear someone complain about how baseball is being played today. This isn’t even Bert Blyleven ranting about pitch counts. I’m talking about the complaints that batters don’t slap the ball through the open half of the infield during an infield shift, even though hitting is really, really difficult, the misguided argument that shifts are ruining the game, that virtually everything that’s going on in this decade that wasn’t around in 2005 is bad for baseball. Literally Tuesday night, color commentator John Smoltz derided the Los Angeles Dodgers for being too focused on launch angle. You know, the Dodgers offense that finished the 2018 season with the top wRC+ apparently generated their scoring chances in the wrong way.
It’s exhausting for me to turn on a game and listen to announcers openly refuse to celebrate the game of baseball today. How is baseball supposed to be exciting to viewers if the men paid to talk about the game can’t even enjoy what makes the game fun? We’re seeing some of the best pitchers and hitters ever in this sport and yet their every move is belittled because it’s not being done in the “right” way.
I rant about this several times a year and it annoys me that this isn’t changing as quickly as I would like. I guess I’ll be spending the last week of the postseason with my TV on mute and hope that next season brings a little more acceptance of how the game is being played today.