Theo Epstein wants general managers to scale back on analytics

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(AUDACY) Former Cubs and Red Sox lead executive Theo Epstein was at the forefront of baseball’s analytics revolution, but now he would like his proteges to pull back.

In a recent interview on the R2C2 podcast, Epstein, who was hired as an MLB consultant last offseason after leaving the Cubs, said he wants general managers to consider aesthetics alongside analytics when constructing their teams.

“You get them in the offseason and say, ‘For this conversation only, I want you to take your team hat off and just think about the industry as a whole,'” Epstein said, per Boston.com. “'Right now, only 20% of Gen Z identify as baseball fans. We need to double that number. We need to triple that number, hopefully someday. Think about the industry as a whole, not just your team, to move toward the very best version of baseball. And then, for this conversation only, I want you to think long-term and big picture. Let’s not think about tonight’s game. Let’s not think about how your personnel will be employed to get an advantage to win tonight’s game. Let’s think big picture and over time how we’re going to put the best product on the field.'”

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Epstein's modus operandi is to come up with ways to improve MLB's pace of play, which continues to lag. Currently, the ball is put into play every four minutes, and the average strikeout rate was 21.7% in 2020.

Former MLB pitcher CC Sabathia, who hosts the R2C2 podcast with Ryan Ruocco, has a career 20.6% strikeout rate.

Epstein added the players with whom he speaks dislike the direction of the game as much as some fans.

“With the players I’ve talked to, they all really care about this stuff,” he said. “No one loves standing around for four-hour games with the ball never in play. Three true outcomes and if you pop a home run, you win the game. And if you don’t, you don’t win the game. No one loves that version of the game. Everyone’s united.”

MLB’s crackdown on pitchers using sticky substances has helped boost offense, but Epstein would like the game to go further. More than anything, he believes the players’ athleticism is being drowned out by a sea of spray charts and launch angles.

“Almost everyone agrees we can benefit from more action,” he said. “I think putting the game back in the players’ hands so that players are in the middle of the action. They’re making decisions, using their instincts, dictating everything that happens on the field. Analytics are great, but having a little bit of a firewall so that they don’t creep too much onto the field … We probably have the best athletes that have ever played the game playing now, but there’s fewer opportunities for players to show their athleticism because the ball’s not in play.”

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