There’s no one way to build a baseball team or even compete, and yet the industry has started to treat itself like rocket science. Or, maybe more accurately, like the stock market.
On Friday, the general manager of a Major League Baseball team communicated to his team, his team’s fan base, and the industry at large that despite his franchise’s confounding and long-standing inability to decide on uniform colors, they have been able to settle on the color of their trade deadline flag: white. Pure white.
Mike Hazen doesn't sound convinced into buying: "The belief that a .500 team is going to win the World Series, get through the wild-card format that we have and win the World Series is, I don’t think objectively that’s a position we should be staking ourselves to."— Zach Buchanan (@ZHBuchanan) July 22, 2019
This is great boardroom speak or something you’d get a bonus for saying on an earnings call, but it’s embarrassing to actually see in print from a sports GM. The naked fund managerspeak just robs this entire enterprise of any importance.
So, the Diamondbacks have sort of swung in the opposite direction. They’re no longer that gritty team that clings to old baseball orthodoxy. They are now the ruthlessly efficient math machines of the 21st century. What is objective about baseball? Are modern teams that confident that they can now predict the outcomes of every game and every season?
Yes, sports are entertainment. But just as front offices have used the carrot of a big pay day to trick younger players into working hard, the mirage of competing has kept fan bases interested year after year. Obviously — and we’ve talked about this many times before on the site — the league has figured out how to monetize the game separate from wins and losses, but now the fundamental point of the game — competition — has been rendered completely irrelevant.
Monday night, Rays 2B Mike Brosseau pitched in a nine-inning game with his team behind by only five runs. In July 2018, the Cubs became the first team since the 1990 Expos to pitch two position player in a nine-inning loss that was decided by six runs. #quirkjians— Tim Kurkjian (@Kurkjian_ESPN) July 24, 2019
So, yeah, the Rays were down five runs the other night and opted to have a position player pitch instead of a standard pitcher to save an extra inning from their overworked bullpen.
In a since-deleted tweet, Driveline Baseball founder Kyle Boddy said:
Why are people so mad about this? A five run deficit in the 9th carries a < 1.0% probability of winning with a negligible leverage index. This type of thing should likely happen more often if you’re trying to maximize a season’s worth of wins (and pitcher’s arms and health).
Taken together, it’s a near-certainty that the the insurance company view of baseball is now the predominant one. I’m not basing that on these two examples, though. I’m highlighting them because they’re recent examples of a more insidious trend of simply giving up or not competing because that’s what the numbers say.
What’s the logical endpoint of this? If the Rays are getting people to accept 99% certainty as 100%, how far can they push it? Can fans reasonably punt their interest during the season once they get a sense of what the projections say the bulk of the team will produce?
Why did the Rays players even bother to swing the bats in the bottom of the ninth inning? They’re at risk of being injured, too. Why did the Rays even bother to finish the game? This logical, bloodless, “cool” and Definitely Very Smart decision-making process raises a lot of questions that don’t seem like they could possibly lead to worthwhile or even interesting answers.
Look, there’s safety in numbers. Relying on math is another way of deflecting responsibility and minimizing risk. Human beings are ruled by fear. Mike Hazen just wants to keep his job. The Rays don’t want to have to spend an extra $555,000 in two years in case a pitcher gets injured between now and then because the youngsters don’t know if they’ll have $555,000 in two years or if they’ll have been lucky enough to find a comparable player who could replace this mysteriously injured player.
The cost-saving talk is just now out in the open and it’s pretty dumb. It’s unclear why baseball GMs are okay with rubbing themselves in loser stink and not hurt their teams. Yes, there will always be people who follow management in lockstep and will loudly defend whatever cost-saving measures or probability-based no-try decisions, but there will usually be a greater number of people who are ticked off that their team is bad and the team is okay with that.
Anyway, this is a rambling article just pointing out that baseball is run by a bunch of losers who are really good at managing other people’s money.