Scout’s Take: The “Eyes” Have It

Today a friend of mine wrote to me: “Remember when I said there are no longer any facts? That now “there are two sides to every story?” Well, I couldn’t sleep last night, so I turned on WFAN at 3:30am. A guy called to say that Babe Ruth was not really as good a ball player as we might think.”

Now you know that a statement like that would get my juices going. I know my friend and that was not his intent. He was just commenting on how we watch the news today and hear two sides to every story. Like, who is telling the truth? I thought to myself, was the caller over 110 years old? Obviously he was not so just like me, he never really saw Ruth play. We can only go by what was written and told by those who did see him and for that matter, many others..

Today many powder heads that only see baseball through the use of never ending analytical data, make comparisons of players they never saw play with todays players. Today Batting average is not as important as OPS: On-base plus slugging. The biggest of all, to the present day player evaluation, is WAR or WARP: Wins above replacement player. Those are useful tools in helping to gauging a players value. However, it was never needed in the past to develop good ballplayers.

I don’t know about you but I hated math class. It was hard and I figured out early on that playing or watching baseball was easy and pleasant. Why would I want to bring my books and calculator to a game?

All of this sabermetrics information is the idea of a guy named Bill James. Using his system to evaluate players, HOF players like Yogi Berra, Vladimir Guerrero and countless others would have never been signed. They were notorious “Bad Balls Hitters.” His evaluation would say, “No Plate Discipline.”

Just read some of these mind boggling things. “Holy too much information Bat Man!” Too confusing and boring to me. This is not supposed to be a graduate class at MIT in astrophysics or fluid dynamics. What ever happened to “See the ball, hit the ball?”

The people who are involved with “Fantasy Baseball,” have embraced the beliefs and algorithms of Mr James as they play for money in those leagues. That’s fine. Use those stats and information and have fun with it. The fact that many of the new young GMs in baseball have eagerly canoodled up to this different way to evaluate their prospects and big league players, to me, is dangerous for the game.

The average fan like me, who watches with his own eyes, the difference between one player and another, doesn’t need that stuff. I don’t need a radar gun to see that a guy throws hard. I don’t need to know what the spin ratio on a pitchers breaking ball is to see it was a nasty pitch. Analytics have made strikeouts ok as long as the hitter has a good launch angle on his swing. No more intentional walks because now you put another potential run on base. Why? Because the number 8 and 9 hitters are swinging for the fences! Why? Because analytics are telling him and his organization that this is the way baseball should be played. Blasphemy!

I know I’ll take some heat for saying this but I feel that some of the major changes in the rules of baseball today, like instant replay, were done to satisfy sites like “Draft Kings,” the fantasy league betting site that MLB has partnered with. In 2014 there became a need to make sure the umpires calls were perfect. Money was on the line. Many fans today don’t root for an MLB club but rather for their own Fantasy team and players. Draft Kings advertising is big time presence at every stadium. (Remember when “No Betting” was printed on every backstop in baseball stadiums?). Pete Rose should be reinstated just because of what I just wrote!

Getting back to the Bambino, yes there are two sides to every story, this is my side. Babe Ruth was not only one, if not ’the’ greatest hitters but also one of the greatest pitchers in baseball when he began his career and would have gone into the HOF as a hurler if he didn’t switch to being an everyday player. He saved baseball after the “Black Sox” scandal in 1919. He had a life time .342 BA, 714 legitimate HRs, an average of 42 HR per year over his 22 years in the game. etc, etc. These are the only stats that matter in a players career. He was the greatest player ever. He is baseball.

Interestingly, I do not fault the caller. I believe the most treasured part of baseball are the arguments and friendly discussions people have over what they just saw happen during a game and the never ending comparisons we make of players past and present. That, to me, is priceless and what makes the game fun. One of the things that divide us as a people today, is that fewer and fewer among us don’t know how to have a difference of opinion and still respect the fact that the other person has a right to their view.

Guess I could have just said, I disagree and walked away but what’s the fun in that? Boy oh boy, do we need baseball to start up soon!

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