As a response to the growing popularity of Sabermetrics, last season Major League Baseball debuted Statcast, which was described as “a revolutionary tracking technology.” It can measure how fast a ball comes off a bat, what a player’s top-end speed is while rounding the bases, how efficient an outfielder’s route was to getting to a fly ball, and so on. Fans seem to love this shit.
To me, it is teetering on the edge of being completely worthless.
I appreciate advanced metrics more than the average fan, and have for some time now. But Statcast seems more like noise than actual information that we, common fans, can use. We don’t work in MLB front offices. We don’t make a living scouting players. The extra information might generate some oohs and ahhs on occasion, but it doesn’t tell us anything beyond that specific play.
Now, trivial information such as what Statcast spits out is nothing new. Over the last handful of years places like ESPN and MLB Network began incorporating home run distance into its baseball highlights. Which, again, panders to the fans who make ape noises when they see such numbers. As if how far a home run travels carries any additional value. It does not. The HR was hit, whether it cleared the fence by an inch or a hundred feet.
That’s how I see Statcast. It tells us something, but it’s not really saying anything. I ask the simple questions, like “Did player X make it home?” I don’t care that he ran 18.2 miles per hour to get there. “Did player Y catch the fly ball?” I don’t care how efficient his route was. “Did player Z hit a home run?” I don’t care how far it went.
And so on.
I would guess I’m in a small minority vis-à-vis Statcast, which is surprising given how I’ve championed virtually every other forward-thinking technology that’s come across the sport over the last half-decade — since I first invested in the advanced metrics. I love forecasting models like ZiPS and PECOTA. I love the Pitch F/X data from places like Brooks Baseball and MLB.com. I even love using offensive measurements, like wRC+ and wOBA, that many of my readers aren’t aware of. It’s like reading a poem for the first time and not understanding some of the references. The author expects the audience to catch up.
So for me not to like Statcast means it really has to suck.
This goes without saying, but for how smart and advanced baseball front offices have gotten over the years, the majority of the media coverage of the sport has remained anti-intellectual. So long as the networks employ mostly dim former players to talk about it, you are going to hear more grunting noises than smart dialogue for the informed fan.
But television made their bed a long time ago. When they hit the fork in the road between being smarter or louder, they chose the latter and never looked back. It’s only going to get louder and dumber from here.
Statcast is a product of them. It’s a way for the former players to feign like they are with the times — because holy shit that ball was just hit 110 miles per hour! — without actually having to move forward.
They still believe the role of closer takes a special personality trait that most guys don’t have. (Which is false.)
They still believe being “clutch” is a real thing. (When all statistical evidence points to the contrary.)
They still believe that having a good batting average is more important than a good on-base percentage. (Which, duh. No.)
Listen, major league baseball players are pretty fucking good. They have to be good to get there, they have to be good to stay there. But the game has moved ahead far enough that it’s passed by an entire generation, or multiple generations, of baseball fans. The Internet has been waiting for everyone to catch up for a while now, but I have my doubts it’s ever going to happen.
MLB had all this money to invest, and they chose a useless technology. It’s a case where doing nothing would have been more beneficial, as at least then they would still have money to put elsewhere. Baseball is a dying sport, not meant to last the ever-shortening attention span of the younger generation. This is the era where MLB should be getting as creative as possible to attract a new audience to the game. To that end, Statcast was and is a waste of time.
A better allocation of resources would have been to build as many foreign baseball academies as the budget would allow. It’s like going on missions to grow whatever church.
Build the damn academy. Give more hope and opportunity to the children of the poorest countries on the planet. And in the United States, build more urban baseball academies and quit losing so many of the country’s best athletes to basketball and football.
The future of baseball is foreign-born. Their style of baseball, particularly from Latin America, is what gets people excited. There’s currently a culture war within the game, between the mostly white “old-school” generation, and the yelling, bat-flipping, home-run-pimping, mostly Latin American players.
The dinosaurs are eventually going to die off. The progressives always win.
I just think now, of all times, MLB needs to embrace the new culture. It needs to embrace the truth — supported by empirical evidence — instead of clinging to its admittedly checkered history.
I might sound like a broken record by now, but it should be about the kids. Baseball needs to find a way to bring in new people. The information Statcast provides can only be useful to the very most diehard stat people, or as extra data for MLB front offices. Otherwise, for the heavy majority of baseball fans, the numbers are esoteric.
I will continue using WAR and Sabermetrics in my writing, because those help prove points, and justify positions. Statcast does neither. It’s just a narrative piece of equipment to make what happened seem more impressive than what happened. And it happened.
That’s the only thing that’s important.