As you may know, the baseball chapter of SB Nation is divided mostly into team sites. There are 34 blogs in total -- 30 assigned to teams and 4 others devoted to all things 'other' in baseball. Those 30 teams all prepared 2015 previews for their readership and, while many of the writers at Beyond the Box Score do have a vesting interest in one specific team, we all have a clear bias toward sabermetrics getting more widespread recognition. You could say we're fans of the unofficial team named 'analytics.'
So, instead of mope that we don't have a team to preview, we decided to share with you what excites us most about 2015 from a sabermetrics perspective.
Increased use of Statcast
This one is the biggest news for sure. Even though it doesn't get the broadcasters talking about the differences between bWAR, fWAR, and WARP, it is an achievement of sabermetrics. Yes, we claim this as our victory.
It's effective because of its simplicity to the casual fan. It's presented not unlike the montages you get mid-football game about length of drive and, as much as I don't enjoy football, the NFL works at great length to make each Sunday a television spectacle. Yet, even though it is presented simply, it is extremely advanced in how it breaks down a play. The amount of information you're about to take in during your typical afternoon game is about to become well above replacement level.
This one is a near no-lose situation for Manfred. The casual fan will appreciate this just as much as the hardcore. It was a significant investment to implement this in every ballpark, but there is little doubt that it will pay off.
Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi working together for the Dodgers
Not only were Friedman and Zaidi given pockets, but those pockets have unbelievable depth. It will be interesting to follow the escapades of these Beverly Hillnerdies to see if their philosophies change somewhat on a team with a seemingly endless payroll.
We've already seen hints that their philosophy has changed with the signing of Brett Anderson to a $10 million deal plus incentives. But then again, we have indication their philosophy hasn't changed with spring training invitee Erik Bedard.
Does dollar per WAR mean less when money becomes less of an issue? Is there incentive for Friedman and Zaidi to continue looking for market inefficiencies at all? The 2015 season will help enlighten us all as sabermetrics got quite a bit of respect with this pair of hires.
The use of shifts
Upon his coronation, Rob Manfred nearly declared war on the infield shift. And by 'nearly' I mean 'mentioned it in passing.' And by 'war' I mean 'suggested taking a look at it.' But you understand.
Regardless, it will be interesting to see how front offices view the effectiveness of the infield shift. As Dan Meyer pointed out earlier this offseason, the Houston Astros shifted the most and saved themselves nearly 53 hits against in doing so. The Tampa Bay Rays however, who shifted second most, saved themselves only 5 hits against. Four teams even cost themselves hits against by shifting.
With more data we will be more informed to understand what makes one team better at shifting than others. Are the Astros just that much better at shifting or were they lucky? If another team shifted as much would they reap the same benefits? Is there such a thing as a 'bad shift' or are they just 'unlucky' shifts? With a large enough sample size we'll even be able to see specific hitter's propensities against the shift.
The idea of an 'opener' instead of a closer
This one was brought to my attention only very recently by Beyond the Box Score's managing editor Bryan Grosnick. As teams look for ways to deploy their assets in the most effective ways, the idea of an opener instead of a closer seems to make intuitive sense.
As opined by Grosnick, the Diamondbacks have the most suitable roster construction to implement this because of their "anything but fearsome", all right-handed rotation. Also, they have a bullpen that boasts left-hander Oliver Perez. You can read more about it here, but if a team were forced to open against a left-handed closer, and then face what would essentially become a long reliever who pitches with the opposite hand, you could see how lineup construction could become frustrating.
Hypothetically speaking, this is an interesting idea. If I had to pin a percentage chance on it actually being used it might jump up to 1% because of a rounding error. But hey, maybe a team like the Diamondbacks is performing so poorly by the three-quarter mark and their fans want to see some sort of change that ideas like this change the narrative.
Pace of play
Of all the storylines mentioned, pace of play is the biggest actual headline. It remains uncertain whether or not the new pace rules will have a measurable impact on sabermetrics.
Hypothetically speaking however, these ideas were a product of the games being too long and scoring being too low. While the pace rules themselves seem to address only the former problem and not the latter problem -- at least directly -- I think it may actually impact the scoring environment as well. Let's say, for instance, the pace of play rules do happen to help the scoring environment in baseball as well. For whatever reason, the pace of play really throws the pitchers off their game and baseball is saved. League constants in all sorts of sabermetric categories would probably have to be re-evaluated. This is undoubtedly minutiae though and causes no sleep to be lost by anyone not named Tom Tango.
What seems more realistic to me is that this causes scoring to go down, or it at least continues the trend. I don't believe this to be from the realm of #HotTakes -- maybe #TepidTakes -- but the pace of play rules seem a lot more restrictive on hitters. Now, the hitters will have more to think about when they step into the batter's box and less time to do it because now the Aroldis Chapmans of the world are forced to work at Mark Buehrle's pace. Of course that's hyperbolic, but I don't believe it is an unreasonable expectation going into 2015.
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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.
Michael Bradburn is a Featured Writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @mwbii. You can also reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org