Stats have always been a part of baseball. Every baseball fan has been reciting batting averages and home run records to make themselves sound smarter since numbers have existed in the game. Now those stats have turned into something much more valuable: data. The data available to MLB teams, and hell, even the fans, is never ending. Predictive analytics can reasonably spit out a window of wins a Major League team is expected to earn over the course of a season. So since we know these things and they’re readily available for consumption, is that the reason most kids couldn’t give a shit about baseball?
The MLB has started an ad campaign revolving around the unpredictability of the sport. It’s how they’re attempting to get in touch with today’s stupid kids, by appealing to their dumb-brained short attention span. By nature, the game is indeed unpredictable. But over 162 games we can measure trends in not only teams but players as well, leaving us with a season full of micro moments of randomness that all lead to, in general, the predictable conclusion. Wil Myers hitting for the cycle is an anomaly in baseball worth watching, but ultimately his four hits that randomly lined up in perfectly to achieve this anomaly were worth diddly poo because we know the Padres are still going to suck.
I hate this idea that statistics are fun-killers because I love statistics and I love fun. It’s like watching your kids fight on the off chance you actually love both of them equally. The average person does not love their kids equally. They love fun more than they love statistics, and it’s quite possible they hate statistics and wish they would get a job and move out of the house already. We have to understand that fan. They don’t like data and don’t want to know what’s going to happen, even if they say they do. If you’re reading Fangraphs daily or visiting Baseball Reference more than you visit your in-laws, you’re not the casual fan. You can’t ignore the fact that the better we become at predicting outcomes the less entertaining baseball is to that casual fan. Walking into the theater knowing Bruce Willis is dead the whole time kind of lessens the drama, doesn’t it?
Of course, the playoffs are safe from this notion of predictability destroying any fun to be had. If GMs were able to predict the playoffs or even determine what was most important to a deep run we’d be talking about basketball. Theo Epstein even admits he has no fucking clue how to ensure playoff victory, though recent success may suggest he’s a big fat liar. Predicting the regular season isn’t an exact science either, though at the start of the season the smart GMs can probably tell you what their team’s win total will be at the end of the year within 5-10 games.
So what’s the solution? Do we go backwards with the publicity of baseball data, leaving the masses to wonder if the Reds really can sustain this early season success? Not possible. We’d be talking about shutting down an entire sub-industry, effectively ending numerous baseball writers’ careers and closing the doors to sites like Fangraphs. Maybe we shorten the season so nerds have less of a sample size to work with and those anomalies that don’t matter over the course of 162 games start to matter a little more. We wouldn’t truly understand who the best teams were, but maybe that’s not what this generation of new fans wants.
Maybe we need to kill predictability.