Moneyball opened our eyes, but it wasn't a game-changer
With the 2003 publishing of
But this was precisely what worried many traditionalist fans and commentators. After all, if every team started playing Moneyball, wouldn't the game essentially turn into a slow-pitch softball league, filled with nonathletic, one-dimensional fat guys who took pitch after pitch? While everybody loves to win, nobody loves walks. Watching 10-pitch at-bat after 10-pitch a-bat end without action isn't anybody's idea of a good time. Traditionalists wondered, if all teams adopted Beane's thinking, emphasizing patience and drawing walks, wouldn't the game's aesthetic appeal be ruined?
Eight years later, other teams have caught up with Beane's approach. Nearly every team in the majors has come around to see the value of drawing walks and on-base percentage. Mainstream media now routinely quote a player's OBP and OPS, and walks are no longer vastly underrated. So have the fears of a boring Moneyball-style league come to fruition? If teams were now coaching players to draw more walks, we would likely see a rising trend in the number of base on balls since the publication of Lewis' book. Do we?
In fact, the above chart of walks per plate appearance below doesn't support that line of thinking. While the amount of walks has fluctuated over the past 30 years, there's certainly no evidence that walks are overrunning the game. Walk rates peaked in 2000 -- three years before
Skeptics will point out that the graph above shows that walks have risen slightly each year since 2005. Fair enough. Perhaps teams are just now catching on and the trend of increasing walks will continue into the future. Perhaps young players are being coached to be more patient, and walks will take over the game when these young players arrive in the big leagues. If this were true, we might see a vastly different game being played in the years to come. For some indication on how the future of the major leagues may look, let's take a look at what's going on in the lower levels of the minors. Are teams building vast armies of
The above chart shows the number of walks per plate appearance in the Class A Midwest League and South Atlantic League. Far from an increase in plate discipline, there has been a steady
In short, baseball is in no danger of become a league full of unexciting guys who take pitch after pitch. Since the sabermetric revolution, there has been very little change in the walk rate. While teams now value the base on balls to its full extent and players who take walks can earn a lot more money than they used to, this hasn't significantly changed the makeup of major league players. As players such as
Another element of the Moneyball approach was its disdain for the speed game. Oakland routinely ranked last in the American League in steals during the early 2000s, preferring instead the lumbering
The graph below shows the number of stolen base attempts per plate appearance during the past 30 years. While stolen bases are not as ubiquitous as they were during the 1980s, since the book's release the number of attempts has remained flat. There has been no dropoff whatsoever in the number of stolen base attempts since the sabermetric revolution in the early 2000s. I love a daring speedster as much as the next guy, but the continued use of advanced statistics poses no threat to him.
The feared side effects of advanced statistical analysis have never come to fruition and likely never will. Not only that, but several aspects of sabermetrics are beneficial to the game's aesthetic appeal. For one,
Another more recent aspect of the sabermetric movement that could potentially help the aesthetic appeal of the game is the renewed emphasis on defense. In
However, the reality is that, like the other sabermetric revelations, the actual effect on the game itself is minimal. Defensive butchers like
In all, the fact that teams are now using more sophisticated statistical analysis has a very small effect on the look and feel of the game. For fans uninterested in sabermetric ideas, all of that statistical inside baseball can remain, well, inside baseball. The types of players who play the game and the way they perform on the field has remained remarkably constant in the face of this new style of thinking. While teams may now better understand the true value of
Regardless of current statistical thinking, the variety of types of players that populate the major leagues has not and will not change significantly. The only difference is that the advanced numbers have been able to more accurately assess the value of each player. While that's useful, it's not going to affect the view from grandstand. Juiced balls, a changing strike zone, artificial turf, steroids and the height of the mound all changed the aesthetics of the game far more dramatically than subtle shifts in statistical analysis ever will. While