Something that strikes fear into many people who work or want to work in sports media is mathematics. Whether it be algebra, calculus or statistics, math is a subject we try to forget about, because we don’t want it to be involved in the sports we love.
However, math is being used in sports now more than ever, especially in baseball. It comes in the form of one ghastly word: sabermetrics.
MLB general managers have hypnotized coaching staffs into making sabermetrics a near religion in the game, as it makes them believe they have cracked the code or found the formula for winning.
Sabermetrics is just a fancy term for overthinking. Coaches stray away from their gut instincts about who they think should pitch and rely on formulas to tell them what to do.
Take Game 7 of this year’s World Series, for example. Starting pitcher Gerrit Cole was the premium pitcher for the Houston Astros’ entire playoff run. With only one loss between the months of May and October and having just pitched a seven-inning gem in Game 5 of the series, anyone who tuned in to Game 7 knew that Cole was going to see the mound at some point. Man, were we ever wrong in that assumption.
With Houston up 2-1 in the seventh inning, Astros manager A.J. Hinch removed a stellar Zack Greinke from the game and went to relief pitcher Will Harris, instead of Cole. Without a doubt, this was due to sabermetrics telling Hinch that Cole wouldn’t be as effective coming in after two-days rest. Did Hinch forget that this was Game 7 of the World Series?
Hinch’s decision would be equivalent to the Diamondbacks throwing pitcher Greg Swindell in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series instead of going with their two best pitchers at the time, Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, to get the job done.
If there’s one example of how I view sabermetrics compared to relying on talent, it is the Chum Bucket versus the Krusty Krab from the timeless cartoon “Spongebob Squarepants.” Plankton is the sabermetric general manager looking for the secret formula that will defeat his one superior opponent, Mr. Krabs, and turn his dump of a restaurant into a hot spot in Bikini Bottom. Instead of seeking the best talent to make the food, Plankton solely relied on a formula that he believed would make his restaurant great.
In this year’s World Series, Hinch became Plankton. After everything Cole had done for the Astros leading up to that fateful game, Hinch banked on a formula to win the championship over trusting his top talent to finish the job.
Hopefully down the road, MLB franchises will figure out that math isn’t the best answer. Sabermetrics may look pretty on paper but will never formulate into a World Series trophy.