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  • Writer's pictureJacob Skorka

Baseball: A Video Game

Updated: Jan 9, 2022

Here, have a beer and let's talk about how technology is taking key parts of baseball away from baseball.


Technology now plays a very large role in baseball, at all levels. Youth baseball programs across the country are using film and analytics to break down the swing of 7-year-olds. 7-year-olds who have to choke up 3 inches because they can't find a bat light enough to swing. Similarly, there are coaches telling 12-year-olds that if their curveball had a higher spin rate then that monster of a kid on the other team wouldn't have hit it 100 feet over the fence. "That monster of a kid" being the only kid on the field who has started puberty and is 4 inches taller and 15 pounds heavier than the next biggest kid. We're seeing freshmen in high school give up the other sports they've played their whole life because they want stronger "baseball muscles" and don't have time in fall to play football, or in the winters to swim. Or worse, the 7-year-old who can't swing the bat is forced to choose baseball over other sports.


Technology has crept its way into every piece of life. It lurks in the background as we go about our day not knowing about the problem that the next big thing is going to fix, then is introduced as something that we can't not have, like a dangling carrot. It comes in shiny packaging and promises a better life, or more money, or more success, and deletes any chance of us being able to ignore it. It's invited in with caution then quickly, and rudely, unpacks its bags in the guest room of our life. Like a bad roommate, it eats all the groceries and never does the dishes. But, every once in a while, it surprises you and folds the towels, and you can probably make a case that it's good to have some company in the house because, after all, he's not a bad guy he's just abrasive. Now, like the roommate that was never supposed to be a roommate, technology is always there.


The same is true for the technology that has nudged its way into a game that is so simple. Some of the most famous words ever spoken, ". . . you throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball." Not anymore.


For example: exit velos and launch angles.

Fernando Tatis Jr., the shortstop for the San Diego Padres, had an average exit velocity of 95.6 MPH in the 2020 season. Matt Chapman, the third basemen for the Oakland A's, had an average launch angle of 21.4 degrees in the same year. Truthfully, nobody cares that Tatis Jr. averaged 95.6 MPH exit velocity and Chapman averaged a launch angle of 21.4 degrees. All we care about is Tatis Jr. throwing his bat as high as he can after launching a ball 50 rows deep in the left field bleachers, and Chapman flexing his forearms and bowing his chest as he rounds second base in front of Carlos Correa after hitting a ball 480 feet.


Can we just let the boys hit, please?


I don't wonder why the washed-up-has-been of a coach, who makes $25/practice babysitting 7-year-olds, puts so much emphasis on bat path to create better launch angle. He can't escape the idea that the new metrics are the end-all be-all for a baseball player. He probably wishes he knew about that stuff when he was playing 15 years ago because he thinks it would have made a difference in his career.


Can we just let the kids swing the weapons they're holding and hope they don't kill each other, please?


Analytics and technology have become so do-or-die that very very very talented, intelligent baseball guys are either being ousted, or ousting themselves, left and right. Here are two stories from the last 90 days that prove the point.


Story numero uno: Theo Epstein (no relation to Jeffrey) steps down as Cubbies' President of Baseball Operations. After he dropped his pen he was quoted saying, "it is the greatest game in the world, but there are some threats to it because of the way the game is evolving. . . using analytics and other measures to optimize individual and team performance have unwittingly had, you know, a negative impact on the aesthetic value.” He also mentioned that he contributed to that, you know, negative impact by some of the moves he made. Theo Epstein is a baseball guru. A mogul. A savant. A genius. And, to the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs, a savior. His career started before launch angles and spin rates. He was successful because he was keen on the key parts of baseball that technology is taking away.


Story numéro deux: it was a chilly fall evening in Arlington, Texas. Game 6 of the 2020 World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers, ahead in the series 3 games to 2, and the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays were the visiting team of the evening, and in the first inning a stud rookie, with a name I'm not going to type, hit a homer to right field. There was an exit velocity and a launch angle but I don't remember them because. . . homers are homers. The Dodgers, having lost in the World Series way too many times in the last 5 years, had one hell of a challenge standing 60 feet 6 inches away from home plate. The Dodgers were facing the Cy Young winning southpaw, Blake Snell, in a must-win. The biggest game of his career, the one game he has envisioned himself pitching in since he was 3 years old. Blakey Boy started out strong, striking out the side in the first frame. He continued, painting his way through inning 2. He found himself in an eyebrow-raising situation and SHOVED, 98 MPH by Mookie's eyeballs, to get out of the third. He diced his way through the fourth, making grown ass men look like 7-year-olds with a bat too heavy to swing. The fifth inning was so quiet it's not even worth mentioning, and now we're in the 6th. The first batter of the 6th inning = out. The second batter = single to center field. Man on first, one out, Rays up by 1, Blake Snell carving Dodgers hitters, and. . . here. . . comes. . . the Rays' manager to take Blake Snell out of the game. Yoinked. The best pitcher in the American League the year before gets pulled, in a seemingly non-threatening spot in game 6 of the World Series, because there was some stat about Dodgers hitters being better after each batter has seen the same pitcher 3 times in one game. Technology provided Kevin Cash (Rays' manager) a situation that scared him into taking out his best pitcher in a must-win game. Guess what happened. . . the Rays lost. In the same inning that our beloved Blakey Boy was yanked, the Dodgers took the lead, and clung to it until the fat lady started belting, We Are the Champions. The Rays lost the World Series because a stat scared their manager into ignoring a key part of baseball that technology is taking away.


There are things about baseball, and baseball players, that we can't take away. The key parts of baseball that technology is taking away are things are known as "intangibles" in the baseball world. Intangible things {super creative name, I know} that baseball players have that make them the best in the world. Things that can't be analyzed or technologized live in the brain, and spirit, of the athlete.


Blake Snell gives up one base hit before the lineup turns over for the third time. The intangible is that Blake Snell would have nutted up and competed harder than he has ever competed in his life to get the next two outs in that inning. Then, starting in the 7th, Kevin Cash could have managed a baseball game, rather than reacting to a scenario provided to him by some dude behind a computer. That happened on October 27, 2020 and on December 28, 2020 Blake Snell was "acquired" by the San Diego Padres. Allegedly, the Rays were "open to offers for Snell" but I'll be damned if Blake Snell didn't walk into the front office and tell them the that he can't pitch for a guy who doesn't trust him. Blake Snell, a very very very talented pitcher, ousted because of a decision made based on analytics.


Similarly, Theo Epstein constructed World Series winning teams with every type of baseball player that exists. Every type of hitter - great launch angles, terrible launch angles, big boppers, scrappy sunsuvbitches. Any type of pitcher you can name - flame throwers, crafty specialists, even pitchers who will stand in left field for one hitter before coming back in to strike a dude out. Epstein won by doing things that analytics would suggest were stupid things to do. How? Identifying intangibles. Now, Epstein is out of baseball, and the evolution of technology is partially to blame.


You know what else technology has allowed in professional baseball? Crying. Technology has helped losers cry. Don't believe me? Allow me to rant: the 2017 Houston Astros won the World Series. . . and were caught cheating. How were they caught cheating, you ask? They were exposed by a video produced by Jomboy Media. Jomboy Media, also the co-host of the Talkin' Yanks podcast, headquartered in The Bronx, New York, and self-proclaimed die-hard Yankees fan, did a "video break down" of what he assumed to be cheating by the Astros. Who did the Astros beat to get to the Series that year? The Yankees. How was this video confirmed as cheating? A dude named Mike Fiers. Fiers pitched for the Astros in 2017, winning a World Series. . . and cheating. In 2018, Fiers found himself pitching for the Oakland A's. He was a member of the 'Stros's divisional rival, A's, when the Jomboy video surfaced and he confirmed, after he had been let go by the winners, that they did, in fact, cheat. Let me tell you something - everybody cheats! The only reason the Astros got caught is because they kept winning. That gave the people they beat nothing but time, while sitting at home crying, to watch, and study, until they found out {maybe} why they lost.


Who was the most upset about the Astros cheating in 2017?

1) New York Yankees, beat by the Astros in the American League Championship Series.

2) Los Angeles Dodgers, beat the the Astros in the World Series.

3) Mike Fiers, got the boot by the World Series champion.

4) Fans of baseball who don't realize that if you're not cheating, you're not trying.


Rant over.


All of this to say, I realize that analytics are not going anywhere. Technology is here to stay and will only produce more options of things to study in players. There will be much more to sift through before trending back to the good ol' days of talent and competitive spirit. With that said, I'm sure there are great things that will come of technology. It is beneficial in some ways and will continue to be, but I hope it doesn't replace the time-tested player evaluation that a baseball eye can see.


In the meantime, raise a glass to bat flips, dugout stare downs, and 105 MPH fastballs.

 

Choke up is the term used when the hitter is holding the bat with his bottom hand some distance away from the very end (knob) of the bat. It is often used to have better control over the bat as a whole or make the bat lighter.

Spin rate is a new metric used to help determine the likelihood of the hitter hitting the ball in the air or on the ground. "Useful" spin rate correlates to ground balls. The only reason this is considered "useful" is because ground balls don't pay the bills. Curveballs are thought to have the "most useful" spin rate of any type of pitch.

"You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball." is a quote from the movie Bull Durham. Great flick, 10/10 would recommend.

Velo is an abbreviation for "velocity" typically used in baseball jargon.

Exit velo, or exit velocity, is how fast the ball is accelerating off the bat when it is hit.

Launch angle is the angle of the baseball in relation to the bat after it is batted.

Carlos Correa is the shortstop for the Houston Astros. The Oakland A's and Houston Astros have a little bit of a rivalry, especially after the news broke that the 'Stros cheated in 2017.

Bat path is, obviously, the path of the bat in a hitter's swing. Bat path and launch angles are directly correlated.

Theo Epstein was named the GM of the Boston Red Sox in 2002. He was the youngest GM in baseball history. He assembled the team that won the World Series in 2004, ending an 85-year championship drought for the team. He then went on to assemble World Series winning teams in Boston in 2007, and 2013 (even though he left Boston in 2011). After his tenure with the Sox he jumped over to the Chicago Cubs and assembled a World Series winning team in 2016, ending a 108-year championship drought for that club.

60 feet 6 inches is the distance between the pitching mound and home plate.

Cy Young award is given to the best pitcher in the American League and in the National League every year.

Striking out the side means striking out three hitters in a row.

A frame is a half-inning in baseball.

Painted, shoved, diced, carving are baseballisms for pitching well.

Mookie is Mookie Betts, an outfielder for the Dodgers and one of the best hitters in baseball.

Lineup turns over means going from the 9th hitter to the 1st hitter.

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