In Monday’s NYT there is yet another article about the supposedly new discovery, complete with new, abstract, and techie-sounding words, of a very old baseball concept. All the current chatter about launch angles and exit velocity further convinces the old boys with the spit cups, who actually know the difference between a hit-and-run and the straight steal, that the sabernerds with the iPads, laptops, and computer printouts have their heads up their apps.
Young players who wish to hit more home runs are now urged to increase their launch angle so as to hit more fly balls, some of which will make it out of the park. That is if they hit the ball hard enough, a simple and concrete concept now morphed into the abstract and technical sounding exit velocity. (If the ball don’t exit, it’s just a long out.) So here’s what all this computer power and advanced thinking has discovered: big strong guys who hit the ball hard with what for about a century players, coaches, managers, scouts, sportscasters, and anyone who had seen a dozen baseball games called an upper-cut, will hit some home runs. Folks who can’t hit the ball this hard are better off with a line-drive swing.
Well, duh. I had this much sorted while watching baseball games as a teenager in the 1950s. And I didn’t need a computer and a bunch of baseball stats that look like third year algebra to figure this out. This new baseball faux wisdom is little more than a firm grasp of what has been obvious for as long as baseball has been played. And it’s beside the current point. In this era of waaaay too many strikeouts, we don’t need more players with home run or nothing swings. (Dave Kingman, call your office.) What we need are more players with a put-the-damn-ball-in-play swing. For this long-time baseball aficionado, I find the Dee Gordons of the game far more fun to watch than the buffed sluggers who strike out 180 times in a season while hitting 30 home runs (and always swing over the slider when they fall behind in the count).
Perhaps it’s time to launch some of the techno-nerds and computer-jockeys out of a game that would be better off with more baseball and less algebra.
From: "How to Play Baseball, A Manual for Boys" by John Joseph McGraw (1914) (Wikimedia Commons)