In the movie Slap Shot, one of the teams the Charlestown Chiefs played during their season was the old Long Island Ducks of the Federal League.
They played “old time hockey” like the days of Eddie Shore, complete with no helmets, brawls and even the occasional goal scored.
It’s fitting that the current residents of Central Islip are named for the Island’s hockey team, because ironically the Atlantic League is playing “old time baseball.”
The league made headlines over the past few seasons with innovations on pace of play, some of which like the between innings clock has been adapted by the big leagues and others such as the automatic intentional walk are being discussed.
However, as a league, the shift hasn’t made its way down to independent ball, at least not in the way it’s prevalent in the majors.
“We do with (Travis) Scott for Sugar Land,” said Ducks manager Kevin Baez. “He’s a lefthanded hitter. We did it for a couple of guys from Somerset, but not extreme, though. Over there they have a lot of data over the years of how they hit the ball.”
Unlike most affiliated minor league teams, which place player development over wins and losses, the Ducks and their Atlantic League counterparts are playing the games to win. However, understand, since they don’t have major league money backing them up, they don’t have the same type of scouting you see in the big leagues.
“We do charts on how they hit the ball,” Baez said and noted that the Ducks don’t have the advanced scouting like they have in the majors, nor do they have an analytics specialist, as most major league teams employ.
So the batters are defended in a more straight-up manner and that’s dependent on the charting by the next day’s pitcher.
Call it Pre-Moneyball baseball, like it was played in the 1980s. Yes the shift is sometimes employed, like the way it was back then. The big lefthanded slugger will get the Ted Williams treatment, but everyone else is played like Abner Doubleday intended.
“You look at the pitcher of the day, what kind of stuff they have and what hitters they have,” Baez said. “We don’t have as much data as the big leagues, so we go with what we know about the players.”
Now, Baez is no throwback. It’s the minor leagues and there’s no budget for an advanced number cruncher. If there was, he would be all for it. “It’s facts,” he said. “A guy comes up 100 times and 90 of them are hit to the right side. Those are facts so use them to their advantage.”
So they use the players as their own scouts. Many have played with each other on other teams and against the population of the Atlantic League, so team meetings sometimes become scouting sessions.
“We talk about it amongst us and of the team the other pitchers, since many have played with or against them. That’s pretty much old school, like when I played. What kind of hitter this guy is and what kind of pitcher this guy is. That’s pretty much what we are doing here.”
Maybe when one team in the Atlantic League starts using the advanced analytics the others will follow. But for right now, it’s old time baseball in Central Islip.
The way we used to love it.