At this point, it is safe to say that sabermetrics have made a sizable impact in Major League Baseball. There is the classic case of the Moneyball A’s, and teams like the Rays who have used analytics to thrive despite low payrolls. On an individual level, pitchers like Max Scherzer have acknowledged their interest in metric stats.
Even so, there is a lot of reluctance towards the acceptance of sabermetrics. For example, Reds first baseman Joey Votto has come under criticism for having an albatross contract, despite a career OPS of .961. There are countless examples of people with an old school mentality rejecting the new school way of thinking.
It might be easy to categorize people into buckets like the new school nerds who look at spreadsheets all day and the angry, old men who can’t accept a changing reality. But in doing so, we do everyone a disservice, and we might be overlooking one important aspect: confidence.
For athletes at any level, confidence is essential to success. But confidence may be more than just believing in one’s ability to complete a task. It is possible that a true, genuine belief that one is doing something “the right way” inspires confidence. For example, imagine a pitcher who is 100% certain that the best way to pitch is to throw a fastball down the middle every time. In this example, his belief is completely unwavering. Even an ERA over 9.00 will not change his mind.
It is entirely possible that this imaginary pitcher will be as confident as anyone. This is a short-handed example of why some players and coaches are so hesitant to embrace sabermetrics. In many cases, doing so would mean questioning a large bulk of what they thought to be true within the game of baseball. In a sport that is routine-driven and requires the peace of mind to balance out the highs and lows, opening their views up to scrutiny can be detrimental to their performance.
Recently, several MLB hitters are touting the value of hitting more flyballs. In fact, Tigers outfielder JD Martinez even thinks a full blown fly ball revolution is on the horizon. However, it is perfectly understandable that some hitters would be skeptical. JD Martinez is listed at 6’3”, 220 pounds. He has a ridiculous amount of pop to all fields, something most hitters don’t have. Even if large amounts of data highlight the benefits of hitting flyballs, there is no guarantee that it will work for everyone.
Even worse, altering one’s swing mechanics could cause a player to end up in a sort of No Man’s Land, where their adjustments aren’t helping, but they have lost the muscle memory they had with their old swing.
Over the last decade, there have been a handful of trends that enveloped Major League Baseball. For a while, groundball pitchers were all the rage. Then, the elevated fastball came back in style. Now, the 90 mph slider is in vogue for hard-throwing pitchers. But there will always be the non-believers and skeptics. In order to reach them, the sabermetrics community will have to be prepared to answer a several questions. Some of them include: Will this work for me? What causes it not to work? What is the easiest way to make the necessary adjustments?
With services like Statcast and increased stat-keeping at the college and high school levels, the sabermetrics community is entering a new revolution. In this next era, it won’t be enough to know whether something works, or even why. The future will be about mixing theory and execution to maximize efficiency for everyone.