The media will make a big deal of the championship droughts of the Indians and Cubs, and understandably so. From a storytelling perspective, that’s clearly the most interesting aspect of this World Series matchup.
But inside baseball there is a far more important consequence of a Cubs/Indians World Series: Sabermetrics are here to stay.
The use of advanced stats (often referred to as Sabermetrics or Moneyball) has been increasing in front offices for the past two decades. But it has primarily been used to influence offseason transactions, playing very little role in the clubhouse on a day-to-day basis during the season.
The Sabermetric managerial style first showed up in Tampa Bay almost 10 years when the Rays, led by current Cubs manager Joe Maddon, began toying around with defensive shifts. The idea wasn’t new (Lou Boudreau had previously been the most well known manager to use them against Ted Williams in the 1940s) but the Rays were the first team to use them on a regular basis.
Statistics had shown that over an extended sample size, the shift works. So the Rays tried it and began frustrating hitters around the league. Now it’s an accepted practice. In fact, it’s so widely used now that Maddon, who routinely led the lead the league in shifts used during his time in Tampa, finished dead last in the use of shifts this season with the Cubs.
But still, the use of Sabermetric-influenced managerial decisions has been slow to take hold. The Rays needed to be the guinea pigs on the defensive shift before others bought in. And it’s taken some time for other managers to be convinced to test out other theories.
Terry Francona, however, hasn’t been shy about tying new concepts since coming to Cleveland. The Indians use of shifts has increased every year of the Francona era. This year he moved Carlos Santana, a high OBP hitter with decent power, into the leadoff spot. And, perhaps most importantly, he chose to not use his best relief pitcher in the role of closer.
And with those decisions now taking center stage in the World Series, the old school model of the baseball manager has died. It’s over. The nerds won.
Terry Francona and Joe Maddon, the most creative sabermetric-minded managers in the game are in the World Series and their outside-the-box thinking has played a significant role (especially for the Tribe).
Of course, we can’t have this conversation without mentioning Orioles manager Buck Showalter.
The dominance of Andrew Miller in his unique role will certainly lead to a rise in the use of the “bullpen ace” across the league. But it holds even more importance due to our ability to hold it up against Showalter’s stubborn refusal to use Zach Britton—arguably the only reliever more dominant than Miller—in the AL wild card game simply because it wasn’t a save situation.
Showalter was immediately ridiculed, but the subsequent dominance of Miller—a “middle reliever” who won the ALCS MVP award—makes Showalter look even more foolish in hindsight.
There are still some very stubborn old school managers out there. Showalter is obviously one. Nationals manager Dusty Baker is another, who famously insists that the only qualification for being a leadoff hitter is being the fastest player on the team (Ben Revere and his .260 OBP hit leadoff for much of the season for Washington.
But others are starting to be weeded out. Tony LaRussa, widely credited with creating the modern closer, has failed miserably in the front office in Arizona—perhaps the last of the 30 clubs to fully buy into the use of Sabremetrics at the front office level. But LaRussa was demoted this offseason and his GM, Dave Stewart, was fired.
The movement is spreading, and it will only continue to grow from this point forward.
In 2017, expect to see a significant rise in Sabermetric-influenced managerial decisions. Sports teams love to copy each other, and the success of Maddon and Francona will lead the other 28 teams to try to further perfect the use of Sabermetrics in baseball.