This baseball season, the Tampa Bay Rays have been ‘putting on the shift’ for almost every hitter they face. Inside each of these battles within the battle, the Rays have even been shifting pitch by pitch based on the count. If you find yourself confused, it’s okay. The Rays have a subsection of front office staff that are metrics specialist dedicated to crunching the numbers
Miguel Cabrera in a 2-0 count, against a left-handed pitcher.
There is a spot that the computer ‘says’ the ball will most likely get hit to. Rays manager, Joe Maddon, doesn’t hesitate to shift his defense to that spot, even leaving huge portions of the field open for the hitter. The Rays are one of the first teams to totally take the human element out of at least one part of the game, defense. As the Rays continue to implement sabermetrics, they have to remember that it is players who make the plays, not computers.
Baseball is a game that has been played for over 100 years. For the most part, owners, GMs, coaches, and players have made decisions during the heat of battle based on their gut feeling. I’d venture to say Joe Torre didn’t have a computer program recommend to him that he pinch hit Aaron Boone in the 2003 ALCS. Kenny Williams admittedly ignored sabermetrics this past decade when he built a World Series champion. It is not a stretch to think the Big Red Machine of the 80s rarely took a look at any type of statistics, let alone sabermetrics. What is my point..?
The Rays may have fancy shifts, and more interns crunching data than they can supply coffee for, but they are last in the AL in defense, and they are leading the league in errors. It is time for the nonsense to stop before it infects the rest of the game. I am normally a progressive person, and a fan of technology replacing old ways, but it has nearly gone too far in baseball. The Rays are showing a lack of balance, designing their roster, line-up, and now defense based on computations.
Although there is a place in our beautiful game for these ugly computers, I would stress, even as a Computer Science Major and sabermetrics-lover myself, that we cannot let the computers take over! The Phillies are in the midst of finding sabermetrical balance. In a recent philly.com article, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said: “We do utilize some of the information…There are times when I think maybe we should use it some more, but, frankly, I have a great deal of confidence in the people that we have hired to help us make some of the scouting and personnel decisions. I err on that side probably because I believe in our people.”
As the next decade plays out, history will end up showing the teams with balance achieved the most success. The best managers will have the trust in their gut to ignore the numbers at the right times. The best players will be like Brandon McCarthy, who accepted the adjustments that the stats were telling him and decided to figure it out and pitch. McCarthy’s use of sabermetrics is fine with me, but moving your second basemen 14 steps after each pitch is ridiculous and has proven unsuccessful so far.