PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.
Francisco Lindor opened a Pandora’s Laptop of sorts this past week when he railed against analytics as a threat to baseball. But he was only half-right.
Lindor is one of the most entertaining players in the sport, a speedy, often spectacular switch-hitting shortstop who is a joy to watch, unless of course you’re playing against him. The people who inhabit front offices, however, high above where Lindor conducts his business, aren’t necessarily worried about what the game looks like.
The recent generation of general managers, and the lieutenants they employ, are hired to win in the most efficient manner possible, by using the best tech available while keeping the operating costs at or below budget. It’s not their job to create an entertaining product. They use data to precisely deploy every player on the field to prevent runs or figure out the highest-percentage methods of scoring them.
It’s still baseball, but more and more, it’s a version that has become less fun with the proliferation of the three true outcomes (strikeout, walk, home run) limiting the action on the field. That’s the fundamental difference here. Players turn into pieces on a board rather than showcasing the artistry that makes them the world’s best at what they do.
"Analytics is taking over the game too much," Lindor said. "Analytics are great, they’re good. But they don’t need to take over the game. It’s not right. Let the players play the game. You want to see excitement. We have been talking about speeding up the game for such a long time, but . . . the analytics have kicked in, in the sense that it’s making the game a little slower. So yeah, we want this game to continue to be America’s game and have a lot of excitement.’’
Lindor’s viewpoint has not been voiced publicly very often, aside from the occasional griping about the shift, which is heard from both pitchers and position players. The reason for that is a desire not to cause any friction with their bosses, who obviously run the team based on this information.
Lindor hasn’t even worn a Mets uniform for a week, but he still lashed out against some aspects of Big Data despite the fact that acting general manager Zack Scott is very much a disciple of the numbers.
"Analytics are good to prepare yourself," Lindor said. "They’re good for preparation. The odds, the percentages — those are real things. They’re good. That’s why I like analytics; I’m not against it. But when they’re telling you how to run the game? ‘Take the pitcher out because after 70 pitches he’s not good.’ Or ‘Take the hitter out because he doesn’t hit lefties.’ He might see that lefty pretty good. Not the other ones, but he might see that one; not all lefties are the same.
"There are so many things, when they start telling you how to play the game and how to do things. You know you work your entire life to get to the big leagues and to have the freedom to play the game, and all of a sudden, now I have to move one step because he hits the ball one step from me 80% of the time. Or I have to move two steps because he hits the ball in that direction 96% of the time."
As you might expect, Lindor’s monologue created some awkwardness a little later when Scott was asked about his new shortstop’s beliefs. To his credit, Scott handled the delicate situation with diplomacy, sticking up for his own methods while conceding some parts of Lindor’s argument.
"In general, I’m someone that welcomes any kind of pushback or questioning of anything that we’re trying to do to get better," Scott said. "It creates a better dialogue. Obviously, I have an analytical background, so I value analytical work as a tool. I don’t ever think that any one thing is the end-all, be-all. It’s part of the conversation.
"I hope that the analytical work that our R&D department is going to do is something that puts us in a better starting point than some of the information that we previously had, and we’re always going to be trying to get better in that area . . . It’s another tool in the toolbox."
But this is not all about between the lines, either. Lindor used his opening remarks of spring training to highlight other problems with the industry, such as teams "tanking."
In December, Lindor was elected to the executive subcommittee of the Players Association — along with the Yankees’ Zack Britton and Gerrit Cole — giving him a prominent voice in the union’s negotiations with Major League Baseball, so it wasn’t surprising for him to bring up these issues.
With the current CBA set to expire in December, expect the saber-rattling between the two sides to intensify in the coming months. So far, they’ve failed to reach an agreement that would implement the universal DH and expanded playoffs for the 2021 season, but many in the industry still believe there’s a chance for both to be put in place before Opening Day.
Even so, the lack of trust between the owners and players does not bode well for the CBA negotiations, as the growing financial tension seems to have passed the boiling point.
Right in the middle of all that is Lindor, who was just traded to the Mets because Cleveland insisted it couldn’t afford to pay its franchise shortstop $300 million.
Cleveland’s owner, Paul Dolan, is among the richest in the sport, but the team’s 2021 payroll currently ranks last in MLB at roughly $38 million — or only a few million more than what Lindor’s annual salary is expected to be under his next contract.
"The game is heading in the wrong direction rewarding teams for losing," Lindor said. "A team loses 100 games and they get money at the end of the year because the bigger-market teams are the teams that decided to spend money. They spent too much money and won, so they got to give money away to help other teams. We want it to be fair for everybody."