Posts Tagged ‘Moneyball’

The MVP Machine

August 25, 2019

The title of this post is the first part of a title of a new book by Ben Lindburgh and Travis Sawchik. The remainder of the title is “How Baseball’s New Noncomfortists Are Using Data to Build Better Players.” Initially HM read this book purely for his own interest in baseball, and he would recommend this book to anyone interested in baseball. But HM encountered topics integral to the Healthymemory blog including fixed mindset, growth mindsets, deliberate practice, and GRIT. So this book could be regarded as applying principles in the healthy memory blog to baseball.

A good place to begin this post is with Branch Rickey. Branch Rickey is famous for recruiting the first black player into the major leagues. Rickey was the general manager of the Dodgers (then in Brooklyn). Even though this was a major breakthrough in Civil Rights, Rickey’s immediate goal was to build a contending major league baseball team. A further goal was to bring a higher quality to major league baseball. Prior to Jackie Robinson, Rickey developed a minor league system to provide polished players to major league baseball. Prior to Rickey, baseball suffered from a fixed mindset. That is, they believed that good baseball players were born and not made, and the job was to find these fellows and sign them for major league teams.

But Rickey had a growth mindset. He thought that minor league teams were needed so that new players could learn and master new skills. That was the purpose for these minor league teams. Rickey told his staff not to criticize a player’s messed up play without telling them how to correct the error.

Remember that Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has researched and developed the concept of growth mindsets. Anders Ericsson developed the concept of deliberate practice which takes place out of one’s comfort zone and requires someone to constantly try things that are just beyond his or her current abilities. Thus it demands new-maximal effort, which is generally not enjoyable (enter “deliberate practice” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com.)

Angela Duckworth developed the concept of GRIT, which refers to the mental toughness required to develop and master important skills. Once again there are many healthy memory blog posts so just enter GRIT is the search block as described above.

The best-selling book “Moneyball,” described how sabermetrics were being used to develop a smarter type of baseball. This new book is moving beyond sabermetrics and using data to build better players. Much of this work is dependent upon new technology used to develop new metrics to capture human performance.

If you watch baseball on television, you are likely aware of some of this technology. When a player hits a home run stats on launch angle and speed appear on the screen. Technology has also been employed for pitching. Extremely high speed cameras enable the capturing of the spin rates and spin axis of the baseball. There had been an argument among pitchers whether they consciously released the ball when they threw it. The fast speed cameras revealed that pitchers don’t release the ball by moving their fingers. Rather, the hand accelerates the ball linearly forcing the fingers to extend or open. These high speed cameras not only allow for pitchers to improve their throwing, but also allow for the creation of entirely new pitches. Using a knowledge of physics, the study of speed, spin rate, and spin axis new pitches can be theorized. Then pitchers learn how to change their throwing to produce the pitches. The effectiveness of these new pitches can be tested against a range of batters.

These technologies are allowing for marginal players to develop their skills to make or stay in the big leagues. The skills of even highly paid players deteriorate, This results in teams being stuck with high salaries for non producing players. However, the new technology provides a means of correcting and upgrading their skills. An assembly line of players at different skill levels can be developed so the they can step into active roles when needed. This is true for both pitchers and batters.

However, pitchers are at somewhat of an advantage. They produce a pitch, which might be the first time that the pitch has been thrown in a game, and batters are forced to react. So even though that batters are able to produce more home runs, new developments in pitches might reduce the total scoring. Fans need to wait and see, but they should be aware that they’re currently watching a dynamic environment.

What the authors term “soft psychology” is playing a bigger and bigger role. The mind and mindfulness have important roles in baseball. First of all, there is the battle of the batter against the catcher and pitcher. This begins with the battle of minds in terms of what the batter expects and how the pitcher can foil the batter’s expectations.

For individual players, baseball is a game of highs and lows. Batters fall into slumps. Pitchers discover that batters are starting to hit them hard, For professional players this goes beyond simple succeeding or failing, as large amounts of money can be at stake.

In spite of the conspicuous roles of individual players, baseball is a team game. Consequently, getting along with one’s teammates is extremely important. It could be said that baseball calls for mindfulness all around.