Joe Maddon is known as an outside-the-box thinker who has incorporated analytics into his managerial style. But Maddon, now the manager of the Los Angeles Angels, thinks baseball has gotten too extreme in its focus on analytics and technology, to the point that it’s hurt the game.
In an interesting feature by ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez that you should read if you haven’t yet, Maddon says technology and analytics “are responsible for subtracting the passion from what we do, not only in sports but in our regular lives.”
Maddon believes the extreme focus on analytics and technology has made the game less appealing to fans.
“I think somebody’s got to stand up for our game and the way it is and it should be played, and what should be tinkered with and what should not,” Maddon said. “My conclusion is analytics and technology are slightly responsible for putting the game in a position where it’s not as attractive to fans.”
The Oakland A’s became successful by playing “Moneyball” and using non-traditional metrics to build their teams. Since their methods of success were publicized, every team has developed an analytics department and thinks similarly. They platoon players to death, make frequent numbers-driven pitching changes, use openers, don’t bunt, rarely steal, and shift like crazy.
To be clear, these are all smart moves, but they don’t make for as fun of a product.
The executives are too sharp, and yes, that has made the game less fun. MLB has enacted one rule to speed up the game — enforcing a three-batter minimum for pitchers. One area we think they could also improve would be to limit shifts by enforcing starting positions for defensive players.
For 100 years, if a lefty batter smoked a line drive or ground ball to right field, it usually went for a hit. Now, analytics departments are so good, they have defensive players set up almost exactly where players hit the ball, including in shallow right field or up the middle.
For the longest time we were demanding teams to be smarter. They’ve gotten to that point and surpassed it. Now it’s about recognizing the detriment that’s been caused to the product and curbing it.