Today’s opening bell of free agency signals the start of Major League Baseball’s offseason. Players may now legally (cough) bargain with any team to get paid the most for their work. As crucial dates approach, trade negotiations between teams are certain to heat up as well. (Thankfully, there is no chance this winter of the hot burner being turned off by an owner-imposed lockout.)

In the past few weeks, spoken with a variety of business insiders about the difficulties they face when appraising players at a time when the game is constantly changing. This is in preparation for clubs putting together the lineups they hope can unseat the Houston Astros next year. The product of the MLB is in a state of flux that would please both Buddha and Bowie because to the erratic nature of the rules and the game as well as the on-again, off-again use of grip-enhancing drugs. Front offices have also had to modify their procedures to stay current.

The people mentioned in this article are employed by teams in a range of capacities, including scouts, analysts, and player-development experts. They all received anonymity in return for their frank descriptions of how their front offices function.

Independent variable theory is taught in middle school science courses. Nothing much will change if you make a minor adjustment here or there. If you make a greater adjustment, everything changes. Baseball shares the similar situation. You invite turmoil when you make compound modifications that are tied to core game mechanics.

You can see why some evaluators believe it is now riskier to evaluate players

A seasoned analyst said, “It’s probably a little tougher now than it was 10, 15 years ago.”

One of life’s unavoidable constants is change. So it comes as no surprise that it occasionally makes an appearance in baseball. Front offices are worried because change has moved in permanently. The ball’s composition first caused the highest home run rate in league history in 2019, and then, last season, the lowest since 2015; the sticky stuff ban that went into effect during the summer of 2021, but that suspiciously had zero violators in 2022; and the new restrictions on defensive positioning and implementations of a pitch clock and time limit; to name a few. Front offices have had to deal with a steady wingbeat of tweaks over the last few years.


In other words, the laws of the game, the tack of the pitcher’s fingers, and the interior of the ball, which determines the distance of each batted ball, have become independent variables. To paraphrase Heraclitus, you may be assured that no one goes into the same batter’s box or onto the same pitching mound twice in baseball, since the sport has undergone a gradual transition over the past few years.

The majority of individuals who talked were cautious to assert that evaluating players had grown more difficult. They did admit, though, that certain player profiles now have a larger range of possible outcomes. As a result, it might be difficult to predict exactly what numbers you will receive from the player, as it depends on external circumstances. Consider batters whose home run performance depended on the rabbit ball or relievers who used SpiderTack to increase their swing-and-miss percentages.


Before complimenting this past season’s baseball, scout No. 1 noted, “I believe the ball and sticky things create confusion about certain player types.” It’s great that legitimate power hitters have a distinct advantage over Tom, Dick, and Harry with 45 raw and a modified swing plane. (“45 raw” is scouting jargon for marginal power potential.)

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