With only a few more days left this year, another decade is about to conclude. The last ten years were filled with plenty of moments of excitement throughout baseball, along with moments of heartache. It’s hard to cover everything that happened over that time in a single article. After all, over the last ten years, analytics have become more prevalent, front offices have become more educated, and players have gotten involved from a workload standpoint.
Here are five of the biggest trend shifts that have happened throughout baseball over this decade (2010-Now).
1. More Analytics
Among the biggest trend shifts in the entire game of baseball involves the use of analytics. Every team across baseball is using analytics when determining the value of a player that they want to sign in free agency or acquire via trade, as well as in how they build their roster.
With the introduction of newer technology, this trend has grown in popularity and doesn’t appear as though it’s going to go away anytime soon. For instance, the makeup of analytical and research departments is an example of teams investing money into the analytical age.
In many cases, there are at least five or six members in those departments who crunch the numbers daily to get an accurate assessment of how a player is performing at any given point during the season. In addition, those employees attempt to develop and create models that project what the future of their respective organization might look like. Furthermore, analytics have caused teams to place a value on their prospects, which is why some organizations are so hesitant to deal them away in a trade.
2. Uptick in the Number of Teams Shifting
Over the last few years, there have been a number of teams that have embraced the idea of shifting to help in their efforts with run prevention. Statcast originally started tracking that during the 2016 regular season and since that time, the Houston Astros have led the way in shifting and really helped to make it a trend across the game of baseball.
Since 2016, the Astros have committed the shift (9,248) times out of a total of (23,910) plate appearances, which means that they have shifted approximately (38.6%) of the time over those four seasons. That easily makes them the team with the most shifts, but last season, the Los Angeles Dodgers really started to embrace the shift as well and ranked ahead of the Astros.
Dodgers Role in Shifting
Last season, the Dodgers shifted (50.5%) of the time with (1,493) shifts coming against righties and (1,482) shifts coming against lefties. Here is a link showing the data. With the inundation of analytically-inclined front office members in a number of different organizations such as the Minnesota Twins, Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays, and the Miami Marlins, it would not be a surprise to see this trend continue.
3. Analytics and Position Versatility
The idea of playing multiple positions for a single player has also grown in popularity over this decade. Teams and their front offices like to build their roster now with the idea of being able to mix-and-match their lineup in different matchups.
As a result, that is why a team like the San Francisco Giants are promoting the idea of their young prospects opening up to being versatile. The Giants have come to the realization that by promoting this idea, it allows the team to have more flexibility in regards to addressing certain needs on its big league roster.
Analytics and Lineup Development
The San Francisco Giants aren’t the only organization pushing that idea as indicated by the plan of attack from other teams during the past couple offseasons. When the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in 2016, they were very notorious for using a different lineup for virtually every game and skipper, Joe Maddon incorporated that idea quite a bit.
In addition, a team like the Los Angeles Dodgers possess plenty of positional player depth to be able to have a different outfield or infield combination for every single game. It is an idea that has allowed for them to have sustained success over the last ten years.
4. Role of the Bullpen
Prior to this decade, a lot of value was put on starting pitching. At that time, a lot of teams focused heavily on building up a starting rotation that could go between six-nine innings every game and didn’t invest nearly as much into their bullpen.
However, this is a trend that has certainly changed over the past ten years, especially since the 2015 regular season, when the Kansas City Royals went onto win the World Series. The Royals were really the chief team that introduced the baseball industry to the idea of building a pitching staff from the back to the front.
Colorado Rockies and Bullpenning
In addition, a number of teams that didn’t advance to the World Series followed that idea as well. In fact, following the 2017 regular season, the Colorado Rockies realized that they might embrace a new strategy and attempt to build up their bullpen instead of relying so heavily on starting pitching. During that offseason, the Rockies invested over 100 million dollars in their bullpen, with contracts for relievers like Bryan Shaw, Jake McGee, Wade Davis, and others.
Looking ahead to the future, this could be one of the trends on this list that slowly starts to disappear as indicated by this offseason. More teams have signed starting pitching this offseason and have shown that in their valuations that those free agent starting pitchers have signed for or offered.
5. Player Workload
No longer is the idea of playing in all 162 games encouraged by teams. Instead, teams would much rather invest money into efforts that promote the idea of players taking care of themselves and getting adequate rest, to the point where they have a number of days off during the regular season. In fact, teams have gone as far as investing money into nap rooms where the players can sleep before or after a game or practice, invested significantly in athletic training maintenance and care programs, and are tracking player workload management more than ever.
To illustrate that point, teams are going into the regular season now with a general plan of when they want to give their star players a day off throughout the course of a season. Sometimes, a front office elects to exercise an off day for a player that coincides with a travel day or utilize an off day during a long stretch of consecutive games. Furthermore, the league has done its part in trying to promote the idea of player workload management by increasing the number of off days during the course of a regular season.
CBA and Player Workload
One significant change occurred prior to the 2018 regular season when the schedule was extended to a total of 187 days, which included 4 additional off days. With the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), the introduction of even more off days throughout the course of the season could become a topic again and teams as well as the league might even push for that idea. Additionally, another way that teams have displayed player workload over the decade is through the depth of their roster.
As you can see, there were some significant trend shifts throughout the game of baseball over the past ten years. As 2019 gets ready to come to a close, a new decade is waiting on deck and that means there will be plenty of excitement and heartache, joy and disappointment, and blissfulness along with sadness to come. However, with the start of a new decade comes plenty of wonder about what’s to come and what trend shifts this decade will bring. Only time will illustrate that to every baseball fan.