Bryant Gumbel closed his show last night by lamenting the state of baseball, blaming advanced metrics for attendance decline, the pace of play, and for attracting an older crowd. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but here it is anyway.
“How ironic then that the same obsession with numbers that once made the game a national pastime is now complicating its problems,” he said. “Much of the blame can be traced to the modern preoccupation with the silly numbers produced by the analytics folks who value metrics that do little more than cloud a player’s image. It’s a troubling mentality that somehow rewards a pitcher for winning only 10 games but diminishes a hitter who bats .300.”
Gumbel offered no supporting evidence for how advanced stats punish or reward players. Nor did he explain why the very existence of statistics is hurting the game.
His main argument seemed to be that he personally doesn’t like them. Which is fine, but not exactly compelling.
Look, there are plenty of challenges facing baseball. The era of three true outcomes has made the game less exciting. The explosion of pitching velocity has created an inequitable power dynamic between hurler and batter.
Major League Baseball has already implemented changes that traditionalists don’t like. There will be more. Things either adapt or they die. And yes, it’s frustrating for those who love the game to both see it struggle and turn to answers in the wrong places.
But it’s perplexing to see Gumbel, whose entire show is presumably catered to those who want to think critically about sports and the world at large, fall back to a familiar and largely non-sensical Boogeyman.
And I say that as a person who isn’t particularly interested in sabermetrics or re-inventing the wheel. I say it as someone whose sensibilities are a lot closer to Gumbel’s than someone on the cutting edge of baseball’s future.
Having more information is not a bad thing. It helps paint a more complete picture of what’s going on. It’s incumbent on intelligent people to cut through the “cloud” to make sense of things. It’s possible — even easy — to enjoy the game without thinking too much about analytics. Selective attention is a beautiful thing.