Baseball gained widespread national recognition in the months leading up to the pandemic – for the Astros fraud scandal, using an illegal sign theft program on their way to winning the 2017 World Series. Manfred was sharply criticized for not disciplining players, but he suspended manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, who were then fired by Astros owner Jim Crane.
Luhnow did not orchestrate the cheating, but some viewed its demise as an indictment of the team’s analytically motivated culture that has spread throughout the game. With so many teams relying heavily on data and video for a minor benefit, it may have been inevitable that some were tacitly encouraged to push ethical boundaries.
“I think that’s true,” said Derek Falvey, Minnesota Twins chief baseball officer, earlier this spring when asked about this theory. “We are all competitive at heart and looking for an advantage, I think. Maybe I’m naive; I try to be who I am with our group and they will interpret it as they want it.”
As teams have increasingly interpreted the numbers to find bargains and avoid costly mistakes, this has undermined the profitability of veterans. Their production could theoretically be replaced by younger, cheaper players.
This trend upsets many players, although most have responded to the wave of analysis by giving managers what they want: power pitchers looking for strikes and disciplined hitters waiting for pitches in the Drive air.
It has had a significant impact on the game itself. M.L.B. set a record for home runs last year – but also for fields per game. The average number of pitches per record has increased to 3.93 in the last four seasons in the past four years, with most of the 21 seasons being followed by Baseball-Referenz.com.
Accordingly, the 2019 games lasted an average of 3 hours and 10 minutes, the longest ever.
“You have to do something at the pace of the game,” said Duquette. “It’s absurd. We’re going in the wrong direction and all the data indicate that the new fan base is talking about how long the game is.”