Digital Dugout

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


Normally Major League Baseball (MLB) is the last sports league to adopt change much less technological change when it involves the game itself. Tradition is very important to the gatekeepers of baseball which is why a partnership with Apple to allow iPads in the dugout during games is all the more shocking. This change is a quantum leap in a lot regards and puts MLB in front of the other major sports when it comes to using technology during a game.

Apple’s iPad Pro and an app called Dugout will allow each team to access their own proprietary data during a game. This is includes video if the player or coach so desires. Now think about this for a second, the NFL and their much ballyhooed deal with Microsoft to allow Surface tablets on the sidelines only allow pictures and even those are limited. Meanwhile, the old school MLB is going to allow actual video and hopes to get to a point where it’s real time sometime in the near future.

The handoff  is going to be key. As Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon pointed out, until you have AI moving at the speed of thought there is going to be limit to the technology. The anticipation, preparation, etc will eventually come but Maddon makes the same point that Bill Gates made years ago which is that the computer needs to be as easy as a piece of paper.

There must have been some hesitation in the offices of general managers and mangers across the league when this idea was initially floated. Why? Well there is always the old school fear that the other team will ‘steal your signals’ but the most recent technological example is when the Houston Astros were ‘hacked’ by the St Louis Cardinals.

Regardless of the past, come Opening Day players and coaches can ditch the binders (if they want) and grab the iPad to access information. A massive leap indeed for MLB and a move that will have other leagues monitoring the move closely.

 

 

A Better Catch

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

Last week saw two tremendous catches in Major League Baseball. One by a fan and another by Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson. One was legal and one wasn’t.

One Handed

A dad at a Chicago Cubs vs LA Dodgers game made a one handed grab. While impressive it was actually illegal. The fan interfered with a ball in the field of play. After a review the Cubs batter, pitcher Josh Hammel, was called out. As SF Giants announcer Mike Krukow would say, ‘you are not a Labrador.’

Now Donaldson on the other hand made a catch out of play and no fans interfered. It’s arguably one of the better catches you will ever see and even more amazing is the fact that he didn’t hurt himself.

Two great grabs. One legal and one illegal. Just another week in baseball.

America’s Pastime Returns

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

Major League Baseball (MLB) is the oldest professional sports league in North America. It opens up another season on Sunday evening with two of their more legendary teams (St Louis Cardinals vs Chicago Cubs) and a lot of questions to answer as far as where it fits in the modern era.

MLB

The fact is that baseball has it’s fair share of issues. From performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) to the speed of the game (they usually average around three hours) to a lack of diversity on and off the field. Despite all of this the average player salary is now over $4 million a year led by LA Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw who will pull in a record $31 million this season.

While PEDs have been a part of every major sport, baseball seems to be at the forefront as far as use goes. It seems that not a season goes by where a big named player is suspended or accused of using PEDs. The speed of the game is something that is being addressed by the league. Matthew Futterman of the Wall Street Journal wrote a great article about the changes MLB is trying in order to speed up the game and appeal to younger fans.

Diversity in the game, whether on the field or in the front office, has been a topic just below the surface for a while now. White players make up some 27% of the players on the field while African American players make up only around 8%. When it comes to the front office, there has yet to be a female general manager in the history of the game. While there are some ground breakers like Kim Ng, there has yet to be a female in the role of General Manager or President of Baseball operations.

Now it is not all bad news for baseball. 2014 was the seventh best year as far as attendance is concerned. There is a new commissioner in Rob Manfreda new face of the sport in Buster Posey, and last year saw the return of a “small market” team to the World Series (Kansas City Royals).

The biggest change in baseball over the last decade has been the widespread adoption of analytics thanks to Michael Lewis’ book ‘Moneyball’. Released in 2003 and debuting on the big screen in 2011, the book made people aware of sabermetrics and how a small market team like the Oakland A’s could compete year after year with the likes of the New York Yankees and their bottomless bucket of money. Big data has become a major part of the sport and something that both the teams and the fans can dive into.

While the game has it’s flaws it is still ‘America’s Pastime’. A game that has been passed from one generation to the next. Each team starts anew with the hope of reaching the postseason and raising that World Series trophy above their heads. So in preparation we recommend the following this weekend; re-read ‘Moneyball’, watch ‘Bull Durham’ and get yourself ready for moments like the one below.

Let’s play ball!

 

The End Of The Argument

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

In baseball there are big market teams and there are small market teams. What makes a team fall into one or the other? In a word, attendance.  You can make an argument that it’s the owners willingness to spend money to win but in the end it comes down to how many people pay to see the team play. However this is not the deciding factor on if a team can win or not as we have seen over the last 10-15 years which makes Tampa’s trade of staff ace David Price all the more baffling.

This years MLB trade deadline was one of the most interesting in years. Not only were multiple big name players dealt but they were dealt for other major league players which never seems to happen in this day and age. Tampa’s David Price went to Detroit in a three team trade while Boston’s Jon Lester went to Oakland for Yoenis Cespedes and Boston’s John Lackey went to St. Louis. The biggest head scratcher of all was Price going to Detroit especially since Tampa has been one of the hottest teams in baseball since the All-Star break and fought their way back into playoff contention.

Tampa is the smallest of the small market teams. Through 57 home games in 2014 they had yet to hit the seven figure mark in attendance while averaging 17,450 people per game. The lowest average attendance in baseball. Yet between 2008 and 2013 (and since they changed their name from Devil Rays to Rays) their lowest win total has been 86. They have made the playoffs four times and appeared in one World Series during that span.

So why trade the ace of the staff?

The argument that it’s a question of economics doesn’t fly here. Price is eligible for arbitration next year but he is not an outright free agent which means that Detroit will probably be able to lock him up to a long term deal if they play their cards right. It also means that Tampa could have traded him in the winter and work out, possibly, a better deal without sacrificing the season.

Contrast what Tampa did to Oakland. Oakland is the epitome of a small market team as so well documented in Michael Lewis’ book ‘Moneyball’. Yet Oakland went off and traded for big name, big contract pitcher who will be a free agent next year in Lester. Yes it took one of their power hitters (Cespedes) to get Lester but Oakland is just as small of a market as Tampa. While Oakland has 24,000 plus people per game, Tampa actually had a more expensive payroll at the time of the trade deadline.

How can Oakland justify making deals that take on more salary while Tampa can’t? It appears to come down to just the perspective of the front office. One is making a commitment to doing everything it can to win the World Series this year vs just being happy to maybe make the playoffs. One team clearly realizes that they have a better than average chance to win it all while the other believes that there are too many variables against them.

It’s a classic class of the glass half empty or half empty scenarios playing out in real time over the course of a major league baseball season.

The other big question is how does one of baseball’s best managers in Tampa’s Joe Maddon keep his team from tanking the rest of the season? Here you are one of the hottest teams in baseball since the All-Star break and the front office trades the biggest bullet in your gun. If he is somehow able to keep Tampa in the hunt, much less making the playoffs, he should have no problem winning yet another AL Manager of the year award.

The trades made before the deadline were more interesting then they have been in the past few years. Time will tell who got the better end of them. Common wisdom would lead us to believe that Detroit and Oakland did. But as Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher once said, ‘if it’s common it’s not wisdom and if it’s wisdom it certainly is’t common.’

How Sports Can Bring People Together

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

Sports took a backseat during the tragedy in Boston. Games were been postponed or cancelled as hospitals treated the wounded and the authorities searched for the terrorists. Some of the initial shock has subsided and part of that is because of sports.

In baseball, teams around the league sang ‘Sweet Caroline’ during the 8th inning, a Boston Red Sox tradition. Neil Diamond even showed up in Boston to do it himself this past Saturday. Even the arch rival New York Yankees sang it earlier in the week. David Ortiz may have said it best though as he addressed the crowd at Fenway the day after the crisis ended.

Big Papi Addresses Red Sox Nation

BIG PAPI

Sports are important especially in a sports crazed town like Boston. Sports gives people, even if for only a few hours, a chance to think about something else. It gives us something to hold onto when your whole world is turned upside down. A conversation topic other than the pain and sorrow you may feel. Sports can bring a nation or city together.

Want proof? Look no further than Didier Drogba. He helped stop a civil war in his home country of the Ivory Coast.

Players always talk about representing a country or city. The Red Sox and the Boston Bruins both have extra motivation to win now. This can also be a burden though, especially when you’re talking about the grind of a major league baseball season. How the Red Sox handle the psychological weight of the events of the Boston bombings will be something to monitor throughout the 2013 season.