June 10, 2018

Braves’ Refreshing Embrace of Analytics

On a per plate appearance basis, Nick Markakis is having the best offensive season of his career in the early going of the 2018 season.  His high in homeruns in a season with the Braves is 13 in 158 games in 2016.  He has 8 through 63 games through Friday.  He currently has the highest homerun per flyball rate and the lowest groundball rate of his career.  By now, we all know about the launch angle revolution (though I would call it the swing plane/bat path/linedrive and flyball revolution, but I digress).  Perhaps analytics information is being better communicated from the Braves front office to the field than it was under previous regimes.

Alex Anthopoulos came to the Braves from the Dodgers, one of the most analytically-driven organizations in baseball.  The primary value of analytics/sabermetrics was in player acquisition and player value determinations.  Analytics/sabermetrics were thought to be disciplines for front offices, not coaches and players, for the most part.  Sure, there was some advanced information that would help on the field with defensive positioning.  But most of the value from analytics/sabermetics was about getting undervalued players, players with hidden skills that were evident in non-traditional statistics.

Over the last half decade or so it’s become clear that teams are using analytics for not just defensive positioning and in player evaluation but to directly impact on-field play and strategy.  The Dodgers were one of the teams at the forefront of using analytics in this way.  With the hiring of Alex Anthopoulos, the Braves caught up.  It’s possible that John Hart and John Coppolella attempted more analytics implementation on the field but weren’t as skilled as Anthopoulos and his team at communicating information to coaches and Brian Snitker, or they weren’t supported by the higher-ups, or both.

At times this season, Snitker, who is 62 and a baseball lifer, has done things like hit his pitcher eighth in the order.  Although it was reported he didn’t like to do that, he apparently listened to the Braves’ analytics people and he did it, further evidence that Anthopoulos and his group have been successful at implementing analytics from the top down better than previous Braves regimes.

For the first time, perhaps ever, the Braves appear to be one of the teams in full embrace of the cutting edge of something (although the cutting edge of implementing analytics for player improvement and on-field strategy is not all that sharp at this point with many perhaps most teams in full embrace of it).  They finally have someone in charge who is interested in going beyond just doing the traditional team-building things very well to looking for creative ways to improve.  And they have someone in charge who has the communication skills to implement this kind of creativity throughout the organization.  The scandal helped get the old guard out of the way and now the Braves have the right man running things.



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