Friday, March 19, 2021

Baseball History's Impact on Interpreting Today's Game 3/19/21

 Hey baseball fans!

One of the reasons I enjoy baseball history so much is that it puts modern baseball into perspective. I always preach that understanding the precedence or background of a current subject is paramount if you want to be an expert in it. I don't consider myself an aficionado when it comes to talking about all 30 rosters of the MLB, but I do know how to judge teams, players, managers, and championships because of what I've learned about baseball's past. So, I figured that for this post, I would share some of the guiding principles I've picked up that will help you understand modern baseball a little better. 

I'll start with my calling card, the saying that I repeat on most episodes of the podcast I do with some of my friends, Baseball for Breakfast: Batting average wins MVPs. Mathematically speaking, it clearly doesn't. OPS (on-base-plus-slugging) or OPS+ (a scaled version of OPS which puts the average OPS of the league at 100) are more indicative of Most Valuable Player winners than any other stat in modern baseball, and I'm including WAR in that grouping. But as history has shown, if a player has a high/higher than career-average batting average in a given season and is in the MVP conversation, chances are that they'll win it. This isn't a proven science, but it just goes to show how tough it is to hit a baseball, especially in a modern age when batting averages are going down and homers and strikeouts are on the rise. There are productive ways to get on base besides getting a hit, yes, and any hitter can get screwed over by a spectacular fielding play, yes, but batting average is the best raw stat that answers the question of whether or not the guy who's up can hit off the guy on the mound. It's that primitive, but it's also that simple. Onto the next topic!

I don't like the GOAT debate across any sport. I think it's useless and doesn't provide any knowledge to a given sports fan, other than the knowledge of when the analysts that are having the debate grew up. But in baseball, the GOAT debate is different because the GOATs in conversation all have "what-if" factors. For example, what if Babe Ruth didn't start off as a pitcher? What if Ted Williams didn't serve in the army? What if Barry Bonds never took steroids? Because these "what-if" factors exist perpetually, you can't play the what-if game in baseball. It's unfair, no matter which hypotheticals you look at and which ones you choose to ignore. And this mantra isn't just for the GOAT debate. It works for a lot of topics. Look at the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. There were a lot of stars that had down years. Is it justifiable to use the 60-game season as an excuse for their slumps? No, because although it's fair to say that they could've rebounded had they played 162 games, we'll never know, so there's no point in bringing up the suggestion. 

And finally, winning isn't everything. I definitely sound like an entitled Yankees fan with just that sentence, but hear me out. At the end of the day, the small moments of a season have a lot more magnitude and fondness attached to them than the climactic finishes because only one team gets the ultimate finish. The same thing goes for the players, the announcers, the ballpark dimensions, and even the dumb songs stadiums play for certain outcomes. Championships feel great, but I'm certainly not a baseball fan because the Yankees have 27 rings (sorry, I had to). That would be petty and disingenuous of me as a fan to say. I love baseball because I get to find my heroes through it, I get to learn from it, and I get to make connections with it. It's a distractor from the real world, sure, but I like to think that all pastimes have some subliminal messaging, and to me, reading between the foul lines indicates a lot more about baseball's impact on any generation than watching your squad lift the Commissioner's Trophy does. 

Thanks for reading this post and I hope you enjoyed it. Check back soon for more of "all the buzz on what wuzz."

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