Former Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon has never been shy about sharing his opinions. As one of the more outspoken managers in baseball, he usually has a lot to say.
Sure enough, Maddon didn't disappoint during his appearance on Jayson Stark's podcast "Starkville" for The Athletic. In particular, Maddon had some gripes about modern MLB front offices and the ever-expanding role of analytics in today's game.
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Maddon is no stranger to sabermetrics. He rose to prominence as the Tampa Bay Rays' manager from 2006-2014, when they went from a perennial doormat to the second coming of the Moneyball Oakland A's with their innovative tactics and roster-building. After leading them to a pennant and multiple playoff appearances, he then guided the data-driven Chicago Cubs to a World Series title in 2016, ending the franchise's 108-year championship drought.
Following the overwhelming successes of quantitative-focused teams such as the Rays, A's, Cubs, Boston Red Sox and others, the sport has become increasingly dominated by analytics. Front offices have embraced them to the point where nearly every decision, it seems, is spit out of a computer, including where defenders position themselves on the field and which pitches are thrown in certain situations.
As a result, managers like Maddon have lost a lot of autonomy. Their jobs are less about calling the shots and more about implementing the directives of the front office on the field. This shift has been frustrating for older, more experienced skippers such as Maddon, who feel that front offices have become too meddlesome and controlling.
While Maddon doesn't have a problem with analytics themselves, he's more concerned with how they're being rammed down managers' throats. Managing a baseball team is often an art as much as it is a science, but the latter is making the former go extinct.
On the one hand, it's fair that long-time leaders like Maddon don't necessarily like being told how to do their jobs. They've seen and managed a lot of baseball, so they feel they should have more trust and leeway to make in-game decisions based on what they're seeing on the field, rather than what their spreadsheet-stuffed binders dictate.
On the other hand, organizations pour millions of dollars and man hours into trying to assemble the best possible team, and the last thing they want is to see their championship dreams go up in smoke because a manager pulls a Grady Little.
Analytics aren't going away anytime soon, so it's up to managers to adjust to the times. But Maddon's "get off my lawn" rant has a point, and it's well-taken given the negative aesthetic value that analytics have had on the game. Baseball has become bogged down with too much information and technology, and giving managers more freedom to direct the game could ultimately prove beneficial for the sport.