There is a revolution going on within the game of baseball. For those of us that came of age in the 1980’s and 1990’s, we learned the game that way it had been played and taught for probably the last 75 years. Innovation in the game was most closely represented by designated hitters, expansion, new ballparks, revenue sharing, and integration. The fundamentals of the game, the essence of the game, the way the games were played, taught, and managed, remained largely untouched. There weren’t really any fundamental differences in the games that were played in the 1960’s from games that were played in the early-mid 1990’s. Performance enhancers changed the game in unintended ways for more than a decade, but what emerged from the “steroid era” was a more scientific approach to how to place a value on players’ skills, and how those skills contributed to a team’s success.
As revenues and payrolls soared, and baseballs flew out of ballparks in record shattering numbers, the teams that were first to the table in the “Moneyball Era” were using statistical analysis to derive hidden value from players’ performances. Power and speed were commodities that had been overvalued, and as a result, teams overpaid for that production. On-base percentage, defense, and exploiting weak bullpens became cheaper alternatives to base stealing, home runs, and sacrifice bunts.
In the last two weeks, Joe Girardi, Pete Mackanin, John Farrell, and Dusty Baker, were all fired by their respective teams at the end of the season. With the exception of Pete Mackanin, each of those men had managed in the major leagues for a decade or more, had won divisions, league pennants, and world championships, and had come of age during the transitional period from the 1990’s to the present day. In past eras of baseball, these were considered credentials, not detriments. John Farrell (Red Sox) won a division championship this season, and Joe Girardi (Yankees) managed a young group of players to within one win of the World Series. They no longer have jobs.
Added to the rosters of major league managers in the last few years have been A.J. Hinch (43 years old, Astros); Dave Roberts (45, Dodgers); Alex Cora (42, Red Sox); Dave Martinez (53, Nationals); Torey Luvello (52, Diamondbacks); and as of yesterday, 42-year old Gabe Kapler of the Phillies.
As managers, none of these men have won pennants, world championships, or have even managed in the major leagues prior to their current roles at the helm of each team. Never before in the history of the major leagues has there been a younger, more inexperienced group of men managing their respective clubs.
What these men do have in common is that they are untied to the past. They are unencumbered by the norms and lessons that have been taught to an earlier generation of managers. As players and baseball executives, these men came of age in data-driven organizations, and played or worked for some of the more progressive leaders in the industry.
If the Phillies had hired Mr. Kapler five or ten years ago this would be considered an outlier and a considerable risk. What the Phillies have done by this hire is join an ever-increasing trend towards the type of data-driven, analytical decision making that baseball has ushered in with open arms. Whether these movements result in on-field success, only time will tell.
Photo credit: Harry How, Getty Images
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