The Impact of Technology on Baseball

I’ve been thinking of technology and how it’s impacted baseball. After all, baseball is viewed as a pure, historic sport and a lot of its charm rests in its history and what people view as its old fashioned-ness. Any new approach to strategy seems to be met with some disdain whether it be Babe Ruth adding home runs to a game of contact and base running or the modern shift of starters not going so long into a game in order to protect a pitcher’s arm for longer.

There are certainly times when I would love to have seen more modern elements injected into the game of the past. For example, I think we would all love to know how hard Walter Johnson actually threw. It’d be fun to see the exit velocity on a Babe Ruth hit ball. Maybe see the stat cast distance on Mickey Mantle’s 600-foot blast home run. I’d personally love to see Willie Mays’ famous catch in the World Series and the distance he had to run to make such a play because it’s a play that seems to be devalued in the modern era as a play that people have seen so many times before (though that often ignores the distance one has to run to dead center at the polo grounds compared to the much smaller parks of today and also ignores the situation along with Mays throw back to the infield.)

Ultimately, when technology is used in a way that really shows the differences in skill between one player to the next I think it’s great for the game and if there would be a way to go back into history and apply it to everyone there’d be so much more exciting information in an era where we have to rely on metaphor and first hand, eye witness accounts to really know what’s going on.

I do think where it’s had a negative effect on the game is when it gives a player an advantage they wouldn’t have had if they played in an era of no technology. I’m not talking about the Astros trashcan thing, I’m more talking about, for example, all the defensive data that exists in the modern game. One of the skills described of the better defenders of yesteryear seems to be their instinct. Players had ways to read how a hitter hit the ball, knew how there’d pitcher would pitch a guy and just knew their tendencies just from paying attention to the game. I feel that a lot of that is lost solely because we have computers and a lot of data will tell a player how to play in different situations. It’s great from a strategic point of view if you’re a ball club but I feel it narrows the gap between an all time great defender and an average defender. Even less advanced things like a first base coach using a stop watch to time a pitcher’s delivery takes some of the instinct out of the game for a base runner. I love listening to the stories of Maury Wills really studying a pitcher’s delivery and how they handle a base runner and in a way that stop watch takes away some of the thinking for the base runner.

I feel overall that baseball is a game of instinct and any form of technology or utilization of data that takes away from it is a negative thing as it removes some of the individualism from the game that the game really needs. On the flipside, the data that shows in a more quantifiable way that what this guy did, is impressive is great for the game. It’s awesome to know Aaron Judge can hit a ball 120 MPH. It’s awesome to know guys are actually throwing 104 mph. It’s fun to see that “this guy is doing something that this guy can’t” and that’s where stars are made.

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