Managers’ View: Do Today’s Players Understand the Game Better?

Players today are physically superior to those of previous generations. They’re bigger, they’re stronger, they’re faster. Thanks in part to advances in training methods, most modern-day athletes are fine-tuned machines.

Are they also smarter? Given the amount of information now available, from launch angles to spin rates to advanced stats, they certainly know things their forebears didn’t. Does that mean they understand the game better? I asked a selection of big-league managers for their opinions during the Winter Meetings.

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Craig Counsell, Milwaukee Brewers

“Hopefully we’re making progress. I think they should always be getting bigger; they should always be getting stronger; they should always be getting a little smarter. We have access to more and more information as we make progress in the game. So yes, I think so, but it’s not leaps and bounds. Some of it is that the information is a little different, and we’re asking the players to consume more information.

“Frankly, everybody is asked to do that. Your phone makes you consume more information on a daily basis. Everybody has access to more information, so players are used to consuming more of it. They do it in their everyday lives. Does that mean they actually understand the game better? I think we’re making progress with that, but there’s nothing revolutionary. It’s just slow and steady all the time.”

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Andy Green, San Diego Padres

“I think they probably understand the analytical better than the previous generation. The vernacular of the day has changed. The intricacies of the game sometimes are swept away and guys don’t pay as much attention to the fine details that matter to winning baseball games. They can probably talk about launch angle, exit velo, what your runs created are, in a way that the previous generation couldn’t. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re more tuned in with how to execute in a key moment in the game.

“I think it’s different. They’re definitely bigger, faster, stronger. There’s no doubt about that. That’s just the natural progression of sports, in general. But there was real dialogue when I was coming up as to how you execute under pressure in a key situation, and that’s been probably drowned out a little bit by the technical noise of how to create a launch angle with your swing. That’s kind of where the focus has changed. I think there’s a great balance to strike, and we try to strike it just like every organization does.”

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A.J. Hinch, Houston Astros

“Some of them. I don’t think information helps every player. Not everybody can absorb some of the thesis work that comes out of these research projects. We do have more information on our fingertips, and I think players are more open to absorbing information. I would caution against saying they’re smarter. I think they’re just exposed to more.

“There are some areas of the game where dumbing it down is probably a strength — not that the old-school players, or the players of yesteryear, were better at that. That was all they were really exposed to.

“I think the key in the competitive advantage, as a manager or organization, is to find what information each player can handle and maximize it. Some guys can handle everything you need to give them. Some can only handle a little piece, so you give them a little piece. I’ve learned that in my time as an Astro, because we pride ourselves in having the most information.”

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Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates

“I believe they look at it differently, they talk about it differently. There are parts of the game I played that are really unexplored territory in today’s game. We never left the dugout. We had nowhere to go. We didn’t have a video to run to. You’d talk to the guy next to you on how he got pitched. We didn’t have the number of scouting reports.

“I do believe, on the other side of it, that there can be an overload. Players will gravitate to more information. It’s, ‘OK, this kind of information didn’t work, so give me some different information.’ What they get really good at is gathering information. Finding the right information, making it practical, making it useful, making it work for you, is a challenge for every player. Today’s player has more opportunities to do that. We still try to revisit the scoreboard as a template. Not a tablet, as a template. It’s a different landscape.”

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Gabe Kapler, Philadelphia Phillies

“I do, because I believe in the concept of… as we acquire more information, and as our bodies… as human beings, as we evolve, I think we do become bigger, faster, stronger, more intelligent. And there’s more information out there. If we’re effective at delivering that information, if we do it in bite-sized chunks and we share it with a lot of conviction… Some degree of coaching is sales, so if we sell the information well and market it well, yeah, I do think mentally players become stronger. They become better equipped to manage their match-ups. They’re more confident and convicted in delivering a pitch or taking a pitch, as well.”

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Torey Lovullo, Arizona Diamondbacks

“That’s a loaded question. I think from my dad and my grandfather teaching me the game from the ground level, and hearing stories about Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, I would say no. I would say that the players are probably just as talented, just as smart. Today’s generation might be a little bit stronger because there’s weightlifting; that wasn’t happening in the older days. There’s also specific training. These guys are going very point specific on their bodies, areas that are going to be more conducive to add strength to their game.

“We’re talking about different things such as launch angles and spin rates. There is more technology, which allows players to get more data and more information, and visually speaking, there’s a lot of video that these guys can walk up to the plate more prepared. I remember Alan Trammell saying to me when I was a rookie that it was almost unfair that, the first time around, the pitchers were going to have an advantage. Then, the next time around, because I would get more familiar with them, the advantage would switch. Today that’s more neutral. Players walk up to the plate knowing exactly what the pitchers have based on the video and the technology that’s provided.”

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Mike Matheny, St. Louis Cardinals

“I think the modern-day player understands the modern-day game better. You just have to adjust and adapt. Our guys are in tune with the analytics that weren’t relevant in previous generations. I know our guys are understanding the TrackMan data better. They want that information, and it’s accessible to them. Many of these guys are hitting in facilities that will have [instructors] talking to them about their launch angle. The TrackMan data tells them about their exit velocity. Those sort of things are just commonplace conversations.

“Much like front-office and clubhouse staff — how that’s kind of integrated — I think the players are also understanding the value. We’re making those conversations happen with our front-office personnel to where the players see this as a resource, not just to the coaches, but also as an open resource to the players.”

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Rick Renteria, Chicago White Sox

“You see a pitcher throw a breaking ball and it falls off the table. You go, ‘That’s a pretty good breaking ball.’ Someone else comes in and says, ‘That guy’s got good spin rate.’ Well, I didn’t need to know spin rate to tell you that he had a good breaking ball. But if you need to use spin rate to identify that guy as having a good breaking ball… that’s okay. I’m alright with it. It just depends on how you use it.

“We’ve been exposed to new terminology. In language, or in math even. There are some maths, and… I saw a movie the other day, and they talked about math. It was for NASA actually, and they were trying to figure out: ‘What math did you use to get the original astronauts to come back through orbit to come back into earth.” It was an old math equation that they ended up using. They were trying to figure out new math and they realized, ‘Gosh, the old math works.'”

“Kind of all I’m saying is there are new ways of being able to describe different things. Nothing wrong with it, but as coaches, we also have to understand the math and the language that they’re using, so it’s best for us to also learn that language.”

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Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles Angels

“I think, like all of us, we understand what we have been seeing now — why it’s happening — and a lot of things have been quantified for us that weren’t 20 years ago. A major-league player has access to a lot more data than ever. So, from the coaching component, it’s important for us to take the data, see how we can a take it to each player’s game to make them more proficient. A lot of the data isn’t really going to be functional to a player, like Wins Above Replacement. All of the things we’re talking about that are kind of in the macro aren’t really going to affect the player.

“But the amount of data he gets, specifically — exit velocities if you’re a hitter, spin rates if you’re a pitcher — these [apply to] and quantify things that a lot of hitters were trying to surmise in the batter’s box. Where do I hit the ball the hardest? What pitch should I look for? A lot of this [makes it] much easier for them to get that information and grasp it now.

“They understand why some things happen. There’s no doubt. They understand not only do they hit the ball harder when the pitch is in this location, they understand why they hit it harder. The swing analysis has gone a long way in the last 20 years. It’s even taken some huge steps forward in the last two years.

“This is about making players better prepared. So I guess the short answer is ‘Yes.’ Our job is to take the information and translate it into a format that players can apply. One thing about being in the batter’s box… if anybody here has played baseball, you understand the need is to react, not to read. If you give players too much information, and it’s filling their mind and they can’t get in that zone they want to be in, that can be counterproductive. It has to be balanced.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

15 Comments
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cjbrassa
4 years ago

Poor Rick Renteria 🙁

CatWolf
4 years ago
Reply to  cjbrassa

Gosh, his repsonse really does stand out amongst the others, and not in a flattering way

DBA455
4 years ago
Reply to  CatWolf

Give the man credit – he made Mike Scioscia sound open-minded and thoughtful by comparison. That’s not easy.

dodgerbleu
4 years ago
Reply to  DBA455

Sciosciopath actually had a good answer on its own merit, methinks. Color me impressed – there was a time when he couldn’t have even faked that answer, so even if he’s not progressive compared to his contemporaries, and even though he did in a way defend the old-school way in his answer, it does seem as though he’s progressed compared to where he used to be with regard to analytics. Good on him.

Beep Boop
4 years ago
Reply to  cjbrassa

On the other extreme is Kapler, who may as well be talking about the healing power of crystals.

Jetsy Extrano
4 years ago
Reply to  cjbrassa

that strange bit they put into Hidden Figures about “whoa dude we could use Euler’s method to integrate a differential equation” 🙁 🙁 🙁

channelclemente
4 years ago
Reply to  Jetsy Extrano

Runge Kutta is a AAA class, better laptops.