Major League Baseball

Opinion: Are We Sucking the Fun Out of Baseball With Such High Scrutiny?

We had a conversation the other day on The Fast Lane about how the proliferation of analytics has affected the way people enjoy the game.

It wasn’t too long ago that fans’ emotions were driven by whether or not their team won the night before, but that’s changed. Now, even if our team wins, many fans digest all the information and determine if projections suggest that they’ll be able to win the World Series.

I’m well aware fans have always wanted their team to have an All-Star at every position. That’s a noble desire for every fan base and every fan, even though it’s somewhat unrealistic. What’s happened now is that even if a player plays at a winning level in a winning game, the analysis of that player is so deep that inevitably we find stats that are going to shed a negative light on a player. There is a time and a place for adjusted OPS+ (Matt Chapman of Oakland leads the majors) and FIP (Nick Pivetta of the Phillies leads MLB this season) and BABIP (career .300 hitters Joe Mauer and Robinson Cano are 1-2 so far).

Some things are too early to call two weeks into a season, and some things turn out to be obvious because veteran players with track records are going to hit. If guys put the ball in play a lot, there’s a pretty good chance they’re going to get a lot of hits.

These days, the Cardinals…by their standards…have been mediocre for a couple of years. Their current start has provided much of the same in terms of wins and losses, so it’s a time to savor victories. That’s why I’m surprised when we go negative after wins. For example, if the team completes a four-game sweep of a division opponent on the road, I like the idea of focusing on Carlos Martinez’ eleven strikeout, two hit, shutout seven innings. That’s a good performance against anyone. But we hear about Martinez’ 3.82 FIP.  Really?  Or, “he’s pitching against the Reds.  Let’s wait until he faces a good team.”  Or “will he ever command the strike zone.” This on a day in which he threw 108 pitches and 71 strikes. C’mon.  Let’s be happy.

Jose Martinez has played 123 professional games at first base and 769 in the outfield. He is NOT a polished first baseman, and he may never be. But let’s keep in mind Anthony Rizzo played 420 minor league games at first base and Paul Goldschmidt played 293. I’m simply suggesting some perspective before we look hard at his UZR and scrutinize his defensive ability there. He should get better. Some rugged looking plays in the first two weeks of this season don’t necessarily portend lots of those in the season. He’s working hard to get better.

John Mozeliak said last week that he thinks this Cardinal team will be better at mid-season than it is now. Should DeJong ascend? He’s in his first full season as a big leaguer. Would it be nice if he was a Corey Seager level prospect? Sure it would, but before last season the Cardinals asked him to play third, second and short because they looked at him as a utility player. The Cardinals paid him as an everyday player this spring. He’s hitting .246 with a .295 OBP. Is it reasonable to think he’s going to get better? Who knows? There isn’t enough track record there…just as there isn’t with Chapman or Pivetta.

Kolten Wong is off to a rugged start. In fourteen games over two weeks of play, he’s hitting .150. I have a tendency to look at a career .246 average and .696 OPS. Those aren’t All-Star numbers, but they’re more indicative of what Wong is than fourteen games and 37 at-bats this season.

On the flip side, while I’m thrilled with Jose Martinez’ offensive start, ESPN’s Buster Olney noted in a Friday Tweet:

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Should we expect Martinez to maintain that batting average over a full season? Absolutely not. He’s capable of being really good, but hitting .340 for six months is hard to do.

When you let a season breathe, veteran players are generally going to give you their career numbers. And you’re going to find out if a young player can indeed play at a winning level. There are a lot of players this year’s Cardinals are finding out about. There aren’t as many established resumes as Cardinal teams of days gone by.

I’m an optimist by nature and prefer to accentuate the positive. And as I’ve said before, the everyday passion of baseball fans is great, but when we scrutinize every game every day, I think it has a tendency to take the joy out of wins. The Cardinals are not going to have an All-Star at every position, and they aren’t going to win 110 games. And no amount of analysis is going to change that. I’m going to enjoy the wins they DO get.

More: Miklasz – Don’t Cheat Yadier Molina Out of Career Innings. He’s Earned Them.