Baseball has changed significantly over the last 20 years. There was the Moneyball revolution that is almost 20 years old. The newer advances we have seen on the field in the last couple of years, shifts, openers, pitcher usage, less bunting, catcher framing and on and on. Most of these changes are readily observable and often lead to analysis on Fangraphs or similar sites. We may not appreciate their impact on the enjoyment of the game but we understand why teams use those options.
But the latest advances are generally hidden from sight. We hear about mysterious analysts in front offices making decisions about players and tactics. Players switch teams and suddenly get better. We hear about Rapsodo, Edgertronic, Trackman and other technologies that teams and players are using. We also see that a lot of baseball old timers, who were major league coaches and managers, are getting squeezed out and new young coaches are getting hired, often from college programs or from third party player development shops like Driveline.
I knew a little about the changes in player development but the book, the MVP Machine, opened my eyes to what is going on behind the scenes. It explains all of the changes I listed in the previous paragraph. I am recommending this book.
The central character in the book is Trevor Bauer who has consistently worked hard every off-season to become a better pitcher. Bauer says he is not a great athlete and has to use every edge he can. He has been at the forefront of technology adoption to make him as good as he can be.
You have probably heard a lot about launch angle. Hitters have adjusted to connect in front of the plate and swing up more. The old advice to let the ball travel, to hit the ball to right centre, to hit down on the ball is gone. The book covers these changes and the cat and mouse game between hitter changes and pitcher changes. As the hitters swing up more, that has a negative impact on sinker ball pitchers. Some of the more savvy teams will acquire a pitcher and tell him to drop the sinker, to throw more breaking balls and four seamers. In many examples in the book the impact on the players career has been significant.
In the book I learned about:
The hitting gurus who help hitters like Justin Turner, JD Martinez and Mookie Betts.
How pitchers work to improve their pitches using high speed cameras to optimize finger location and spin.
How some teams are using the new technologies to develop their players.
How some teams were not impressed by players using technology and in some cases thought players were over thinking.
How the new technologies allow teams to understand which minor leaguers have the most potential and thereby reduce their number of minor leaguers.
How the technology is impacting player ageing curves and the salary structure.
The Astros are leaders in analytics but the book was written before the cheating scandal. However, the Astros culture does not come off well in the book.
I recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about the changes in player development. I found it educational and enjoyable.