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Funbag

Analytics Aren’t Why Baseball Is Worse

TORONTO, ON - MAY 22: Mookie Betts #50 of the Boston Red Sox comes in from right field and plays on the lip of the infield as the Red Sox emply a five-man infield with the bases loaded in the tenth inning during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on May 22, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Mookie Betts
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And preorder Drew’s next book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we’re talking about UFOs, evil babies, ripping off toenails, fartin’, and more.

Your letters:

James:

MLB has become less entertaining as advanced analytics has taken over the game. The Atlantic League exists solely to test ways to make the game better like a new DH rule and moving the mound back. These rule changes gave me an idea: What if MLB banned managers from having binders/tablets in the dugout? Not that they cannot use analytics for matchup and defensive positioning decisions. They can, but now they have to memorize that stuff or go with their gut more often. Realistically, they cannot memorize all that information for all 162 games. 

Honestly James, until you wrote to me I didn’t even know that managers were ALLOWED to have tablets in the dugout. Whole new world for me. Anyway, my answer to your proposal is an emphatic no. It’s funny because I started off my blogging career worshipping Fire Joe Morgan and the way it gleefully lambasted every old-timey local columnist who both feared and hated the coming analytics revolution. Now I find myself, alongside many of my friends, despising the Houston Astros and worrying about other teams finding a way to hack the game and render it spiritually void. I feel old complaining about this, and I deserve to.

Because information overload isn’t the problem with baseball right now. The problem is that the game was always headed in this direction, but the people in charge of it never accommodated for how it would change as a result, nor how to prepare fans for it. I too didn’t foresee many of these changes, but I don’t run that sport. It’s not my JOB to do accommodate for its future. MLB owners get no such benefit of the doubt. They’ve been lazy and unimaginative in response to what’s happened, and the money has been such that they’ve had no real incentive to be anything MORE than lazy and unimaginative.

So everything happening in baseball now is all coming too late. Only now is baseball working on preventive rule changes like banning/limiting infield shifts, and those tweaks were only adopted, as James said, for beta testing in the minor leagues, which barely even exist anymore. For the big boys, Rob Manfred changed the ball and accidentally took the sport back to 1900 in the process, a development that surely delights Mike Lupica and exactly no one else.

There also strategic changes to the sport that its leader SHOULD have anticipated—this one, for instance—and didn’t. So what you’re watching right now is a sport that is openly attempting to re-engineer itself in real time to its new strategic landscape and, on many levels, failing. Manfred, a sullen idiot who always looks like he’s getting over a case of pneumonia, isn’t the best steward for this transition. But I’ll bet you two dollars that baseball will un-fuck itself down the line anyway, and that you ultimately won’t give a crap about any of this.

I don’t know how baseball will perform this un-fucking, and I doubt baseball does either, but I do know that withholding useful information from your area manager during the game isn’t the best way to go about it. These men need all the resources they can get. You’re not gonna fix the game by making managers even DUMBER than they already are. Instead, you accept that the game is smarter, and you tailor the rules and economics (and broadcasts!) to work around that shift. I get called a boomer on here plenty, but even I know the dumbest, oldest shit you can ever think is that things aren’t as good as they used to be. That is, exclusively, a you problem.

Caroline:

I recently applied for a job that included a 30-minute online “work style and preferences assessment.” The assessment may have been written by Satan himself. It consisted of a series of statements made in parallel, and then you had to identify which one you agreed with more. But here’s the trick: most of the statements were false equivalencies that were both telling choices. Like choosing either one would make you a sociopath. All that said, which do you think is the right choice in this example? “I try to impress others with my possessions” vs. “I get upset and yell if I am in a difficult situation.”

Probably the latter, because bosses love to yell and therefore love yellers with upside. Lets them know you have corner office potential. I think I’ve told this story before, but I’ve told every story before, so fuck it. I had a friend apply to a job at the Huffington Post back when Ariana Huffington was still in charge of it. In the interview, they asked him, “Do you work well with others?” My friend assumed this was a meatball and answered like a good little boy. “I work very well with others. I value their feedback and I know that no one can do great things entirely on their own,” etc. All the boilerplate Team Player shit. And they said him, “Hmm yeah, that’s not really what we’re looking for. This is very competitive environment, and we want people who are ambitious enough to want to stand out among their peers.” He had answered WRONG. Who would have guessed that place would turn out to be a haven for psychopathic behavior? Not I.

Anyway, the point is that it’s typical of modern workplaces to not only encourage sociopathic behavior, but to actively scout for it. Do I try to impress others with my possessions?  Yes.  Do I get upset and yell if I am in a difficult situation?  Yes.  Are these good qualities to have?  No … UNLESS you’re applying for a gig at Scott Rudin Productions. Then you’ve got a bright future ahead of you.

Nathan:

I am currently dealing with a fingernail I bit down too far and is now bleeding and painful. Will I ever stop doing this and what exactly is wrong with me?

I’ve gotten better about biting my fingernails over the past few years, but I still chew on the skin around those nails, which is arguably worse. I’ll rip off a shred of skin and start bleeding. I work with these fingers mind you. So I’ll be at my computer and every time I have to punch a key using a bandaged-up index finger, I’m reminded that I played myself for absolutely no reason. That I’ve managed to leave the actual fingernails alone lately has represented a titanic leap forward for me.

But I know my hands look like absolute shit to other people. I watched Lord of the Rings and saw Elijah Wood slip the One Ring onto his chewed up finger and I was like, “That’s what my fingers look like to other people.” I also worked with a woman who bit her nails so badly that her fingertips looked like they belonged to a fucking zombie. It was gross. I was repulsed. Did that compel me to stop my own habit? Nope. It’s like how I find my own farts and dumps fascinating, but everyone else’s is the stuff of nightmares. Part of that is self-absorption, and another part is that I’ve been chewing on my fingers for so long that it’s become a compulsion, with its own bizarre set of urges and rewards. If I feel a loose skin edge down by the cuticle, I HAVE to tear it off. My mind won’t leave me alone until I do. And then, once I’ve gotten it off, I’m left both bloodied and oddly giddy. It makes no sense.

My toes are even worse. I still rip off toenails. The whole nail on my pinky sometimes. I’ll get a nail clipper and make an incision in the nail, then grab that flap and rip it off. Then, instead of getting a band-aid, I put on a sock to both catch the blood and to hide the crime from everyone else. I could easily just trim the nail cleanly so that it looks nice. But there’s some fucked-up dopamine rush I get from tearing away at my own body that I’ve never been able to let go of. It follows the same contours as addiction. Your brain gives you a little treat for indulging and the fact that only you know why it’s gratifying only makes it more addicting. In fact, when my wife catches me biting my fingers or whatever, I get angry. HOW DARE YOU JUDGE ME AND INTERFERE WITH MY PRIVATE MOMENT, MISSY?!

But my wife’s not noticing this to make me feel bad. She’s noticing it because it’s noticeable. It’s flip flop weather now and soon my piggies will be out in the open. I’m gonna have to seal these nails off with fucking duct tape or something. I can’t be trusted with access to my own anatomy.

Drew (not me):

I was reading a recent Funbag question about holding in farts on work Zooms, and my reaction was the same as it always is when people talk about holding in farts … namely, how? I don’t fart often, but when I do, they just come out. I once farted in church and felt no shame because, I mean, what’re you going to do? Do I just have a naturally weak sphincter? Do fathers teach their sons the secret of butt kegels, and my dad just dropped the ball? I don’t understand how some of you are walking around with Zen master colons, and I apparently got stuck with a broken screen door. Is this talent innate, or do you guys have to practice?

I never had to practice. I just hold the fart in, same as I can hold in a dump when I’m not near a toilet. My bladder is a goddamn train wreck, but my colon works with a deadly (and occasionally silent) efficiency. I can hold in a shit WHILE farting. Isn’t that something? All of my sphincter muscles and my pelvic floor muscles work in harmony to let out what needs to come out and keep in what needs to stay in. I’ve sharted a few times—haven’t we all?—but those occasions are rare for a good reason. They’re an example of the system breaking down when it usually doesn’t.

Which brings us to you, Other Drew. Sometimes I can’t hold a fart in because I’m sitting on a real bomb of one. But in general, I have functional bowel control, as I assume most anyone who hasn’t just eaten at Moe’s Southwest Grill does. If you’re farting uncontrollably all the time, perhaps you should consult your local butt doctor to see if you can get that tuba in your pants under control. You do not deserve to go through life with substandard farting apparatus. You deserve only the BEST.

Patrick:

I am proud of the fact that, on smell alone, I know with 100% accuracy whether it was the dog, my wife, my daughter or my son who farted (in descending order of toxicity). Do you have this same sense? And how much do you hate yourself that you take pride in these detective skills?

I can’t smell any longer due to my accident a few years ago, but even before then I don’t think I could identify who dealt it strictly through a blind smell test. This was because, as I said, I only REALLY cared about my own farts. Those were the ones I drank deep from. The only farts that truly captured my heart.

HALFTIME!

Steve:

I’m only 31 but just had my first Andy Rooney moment. Why are songs so short these days? In my day, they were three minutes. Now, you’re lucky to crack two minutes thirty seconds. Christ, just loop the hook a few more times, it’s not going to hurt anybody. 

That has not been my experience with songs lately, especially since we all now have immediate access now to, like, every song ever made. You can queue up all 63 minutes of “Dopesmoker” by Sleep as quickly as you can find “Old Town Road,” which clocks in at under three. You control all that shit now. You’re not beholden to JACK-FM. You probably haven’t even been to a bar in over a year. So you can’t be like, “What’s the deal with all this short music?” given all that.

Besides, songs have always varied in length. There isn’t one song on The Beatles’ debut album that runs past 3:00. There isn’t one song on …And Justice For All that runs under five. Those are two VERY old albums I just gave you. Terrestrial radio station managers have always butchered album tracks to make them shorter for airtime (I remember being very angry about them doing this to “Sweet Child O’ Mine” when I was in middle school), but who gives a fuck about those people anymore? Not me. All the good songs are exactly as long as they need to be, and that’s always been true. What’s ALSO always been true is that “American Pie” blows.

Leah:

I’m in my late 20’s and am finally living in a two-bedroom apartment without a roommate! I’m planning on making the second bedroom into a combo gear storage room/office/guest room, and I’m having some issues deciding what guest sleeping furniture to put in there. Do I put in a sleeper sofa in there, or do I invest in a twin bed with an actual decent-quality mattress on it?

Damn, you’re right on the cusp of “needing an actual guest room for actual guests” age. That’s a big moment. That’s when you start having people over for wine and cheese and what not. Very adult.

However, if you’re not married yet or any of that shit, I say fuck the bed. Just get a regular sofa. Not even a sofabed. You know how goddamn heavy a sofabed is? They’re fucking brutal. Now, you might say to me, “But Drew, it’s not as comfortable to sleep on a sofa as it is a sofabed.” And my response to that is EXACTLY. Because the age where you start having a real guest room is ALSO the age where any guest staying over, especially if it’s for more than one night, starts to really annoy you. I’ll have a friend over and they’ll put a clean dish in the wrong cabinet and I’ll be like OH FOR FUCK’S SAKE CAN YOU BELIEVE WHAT THIS ASSHOLE JUST DID?!

Hence, the ideal setup is having just enough room for guests but not enough room for them to actually want to stay. That way, you can “invite” Dana over for the weekend but include the caveat, “I actually only have a sofa and it’s not a pullout so if you need a hotel I TOTALLY understand.” And then guess what Dana does? She gets the hotel room. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. It’s flawless!  

John:

My mother-in-law has been helping my wife and I take care of our now three-year-old for a couple days a week over the course of his life. As he recently started going back to preschool, I’ve found he no longer will eat mini ham or turkey sandwiches I make with mustard. I asked him why he hasn’t been eating his lunch and he stated he wants the “white sauce” on the bread. He then pointed to the mayo jar in the fridge. I’m at a loss. My mother-in-law has been a mayo sleeper cell. This travesty has scaled worse than I imagined. I’ve found he loves mayo and banana sandwiches (???) and fruit salad made with mayo instead of yogurt. He even will dip carrots in mayo. I can’t stop recoiling over this and I feel like I need to take him to a shelter. So I ask, how do I end his love for mayo… or should I let this keep going to see how disgusting it can go?

Leave him be. If he wants to eat like a 1962 Wisconsinite, that’s his choice and not yours. Take it from a guy who’s still trying to get his 12-year-old to eat anything that’s not pizza or nuggets. The more things your kids eat, the better. I’d do a fucking cartwheel if my son suddenly started wolfing down mayo one day. I’d buy him a goddamn oil barrel of the shit if he wanted it. I don’t care. I fucking hate mayo and I hate having it forced on me, but I’d be a hypocrite if I tried to force that hatred onto everyone else. So long as I don’t have to eat the mayo, we’re all good. So let the boy’s mayo phase go on. You’re not gonna get him to stop loving it anyway. Only he gets to decide that. Genie’s out of the bottle now. All you can do is shove your mother-in-law into an incinerator.

(My kids all hate mayo, by the way. I swear I didn’t demand they hate it. But they’ve seen daddy flip the fuck out about mayo and taken their cues accordingly. They get it.)

Jameson:

My nine-month-old has an uncanny ability to sense when his old man is one beer past the hangover threshold. Whereas he normally sleeps through the night, he wakes up constantly when I’m in the early stages of a hangover. Take last night, for instance. My dad is in town this weekend and we had some beers. The baby decided this was his chance to sprout his first tooth and cried all night. I rocked him to sleep with a massive headache, cursing my life. Are all babies evil or do some babies respect their parents?

No, all babies are evil. That’s in all the literature you get before the delivery. The nurse hands you a free package of Similac and a flamethrower and tells you, “You’ll need both of these things.” The OB-GYN pulls the baby out of the womb and tells you, “See all this blood? This is a metaphor for what your social life is about to become.” And Lamaze class is actually a seminar in preventive judo. Because babies give absolutely NO fucks about you. They just want their food and they want mommy and they want you to know that they have a load in their pants and WHY AREN’T YOU DOING ANYTHING ABOUT IT?! They are selfish, nasty little creatures. They ARE the hangover. For the sake of our future, we must destroy all the babies. There’s simply no choice.

If it’s any consolation, you WILL learn to drink around your kids. Every parent sorts it out. It’s often their top priority. I know it was mine.

Mike:

Two hard hitting questions for the Funbag because I feel like being obnoxious:

How long will it be before the other shoe drops and we find out the US military’s confirmation of various UFO sightings is some sort of viral advertising campaign for the Air Force?…

Oh god, that’s what it is, isn’t it?

…Do you believe that the Yankees people testing positive for Covid were ever actually vaccinated?

I sure don’t.

John:

Should major league baseball starting pitchers adopt the same mindset as NFL defensive backs? Blame everything that just happened on something else besides yourself?

Whoa whoa whoa hey, let’s not ascribe that practice to defensive backs when Dan Marino pioneered the art form of openly throwing your teammates, your coaches, and the refs all under the bus after your own fuckup. That’s all primo quarterback shit. When Aaron Rodgers reports to camp two months from now, he’ll blame Marquez Valdes-Scantling for leaking his trade demands to Adam Schefter. But hey, it all makes for good drama, so I can’t complain.

To that end, John is RIGHT. Major League pitchers are pathological freakshows who internalize every mistake and get their own cordoned off section of the dugout for perma-seething every half inning. It would be healthier, not to mention juicier, for pitchers to openly lash out at everyone around them instead. Chew out your catcher in front of everyone. Testily ask the shortstop why he booted that ground ball. Complain about your manager in the postgame. Bean the ump. LET IT ALL OUT. That would make a fantastic corrective to all those naughty analytics contaminating our pastime.

Email of the week!

Jackson:

During the pandemic, my wife and I started doing something that has turned out to be a real treat, and it is something we will continue this as a tradition once this is all over. I consider it my duty to share it so others may partake as well. On Thanksgiving this year, we started cooking a bit late, so the Macy’s parade had already ended on the west coast. The parade on TV in the morning and football in the afternoon is an essential part of what makes Thanksgiving feel like Thanksgiving. So I fired up YouTube to re-play the livestream, and a thought struck me: If we’re already watching it on delay… why not watch the one from last year when there were actually people in attendance? Better yet, if we’re already dipping into the past, why not go back further??

We ended up watching the 1996 Macy’s Parade, which was delightful. They had live performances by such luminaries as Lambchop and Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk. They introduced Sarah Jessica Parker as “Matthew Broderick’s wife”. When the parade was over, we threw on the 1996 Lions/Chiefs matchup with Barry Sanders and Marcus Allen. We had no idea how the game would play out so it didn’t matter that it had happened years ago. Honestly, I still couldn’t tell you who won. It was just nice to have a cool football game on in the background.

When New Year’s Eve rolled around, we tried watching Ryan Seacrest Sells You A Hyundai In Times Square, but it was brutal so we went to YouTube in search of an alternative. And boy did we find one: The MTV2 Y2K New Years Eve. We were treated to four hours of people debating the best album of the millennium (MTV2 voters were split between the new Backstreet Boys album, the new N Sync album, and the new Limp Bizkit album), plus performances by Bush, early Christina Aguilera, and Jay-Z, who dropped a now-classic promotion of then-perennial “next big rapper” Memphis Bleek. 

I can’t say whether these broadcasts have gotten worse or I’ve just gotten older. But I can say that for my wife and I, YouTube archives will be a staple of these and other major TV-on-in-the-background type events in the future. Hell, we might even throw on old Olympics events this summer if the games don’t happen! Or even if they do! If you’re looking to take a nap on a nice Sunday afternoon in the springtime, why not queue up the 2002 Masters as a soundtrack? 

The addition of the “Oh wow, I remember that guy!” or “Man look how stupid everyone’s clothes are!” factor to these mostly underwhelming perennial TV events adds just enough to elevate the whole viewing experience above the Mendoza Line. It may be low-grade nostalgia humping, but I highly recommend it.

I’m willing to try it. No guarantees, though.