- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
The best trend in baseball over the past decade is that a simple question is asked reflexively: Why?
For a sport long entrenched in unwritten rules and a that's-the-way-things-have-always-been mentality, the changes are dramatic.
Not only are pitches thrown by relievers counted, but the number of times they warm up is counted, and the number of pitches thrown in warm-ups are counted. Some managers have the warm-ups of the other team's relievers counted. Defensive players are being moved, in sweeping shifts, to where hitters are most likely to hit the ball, an alteration so simple and so logical. Teams started realizing that it made no sense for a catcher worth tens of millions of dollars to put himself at risk blocking the plate to save a run worth about $200,000.
It's good stuff, mostly. It's great stuff, mostly.
But there is a risk of paralysis through analysis, and it might be time for teams to ask this "why": Why are teams routinely trading the opportunity to win games today -- right now -- for the sake of tomorrow, and is it worth it?
Exhibit A: Service time manipulation
The Pirates are front and center in this conversation at the moment, because their right fielder of the future, the highly talented Gregory Polanco, is sitting in the minor leagues with a .378 batting average and an OPS of almost 1.100.