Last week, we presented our MLB All-Decade Team. Now, it's time to hand out individual and team awards.
From the player, team, game and moment of the decade to the best brawl, blooper and baseball jargon, Bradford Doolittle and Sam Miller serve up some traditional and outside-of-the-box honors as we bid farewell to the 2010s.
Player of the decade
Doolittle: He led all hitters with a .317 average during the decade, and with 941 RBIs, he's one of three hitters to top 900. Clearly the best player of the decade was ... Miguel Cabrera. OK, obviously I don't believe that. I'm just trying to figure out if you could export the decade's numbers to any era of sports analysis from the past century and not arrive at the conclusion that Mike Trout was the best player. I don't think so.
Even though a few players had a higher average, he hit .305, so he was safely above the hallowed .300 level. And, sure, his RBI totals have been lower than you'd think -- for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with Trout's ability to drive in runs -- but he scored over 900 runs and stole 200 bases. Add in the Gold Gloves and I don't see how you can even fake an argument that Trout wasn't the best player -- even if we ignore every tier of advanced metrics. Of course, once you do consider the metrics, there is no one even close, even though he didn't really start to produce until the third year of the decade. There is no argument for anybody else. Oh, wait, here's one I've seen somewhere on the web: He has no rings!
Miller: If not for Trout, we might be talking about how pitcher-heavy the list of contenders was. If not for Trout, I think we'd actually skip Cabrera, and Adrian Beltre and Joey Votto and Robinson Cano, and go right to the three future Hall of Fame starters who were great in 2010 and great in 2019 and pretty reliably great in between: Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.
Collectively, they claimed eight Cy Young awards and had 20 top-five finishes, and they rank 1-2-3 in wins, WAR, strikeouts, innings. Even Scherzer's third-place WAR -- 56 -- would have led all starting pitchers in the 2000s, the 1980s, the 1960s and the 1940s.
Best Mike Trout season
Miller: I could write a paragraph in defense of every single one, other than his short debut in 2011. Heck, that one had some charm, too. But in 2012, when Trout was a rookie, he was still so fast as to be undefendable, and I continually think back to a day sometime in August, when I was following him for a long magazine profile. On that day, my memory tells me, he led the American League in hitting WAR, fielding WAR and baserunning WAR. Baseball is one sport that ropes together different types of athletes, and Trout was, that season, the best in the world (or close to it) in every type. Trout probably got better at baseball than he was that year, but he never got faster, so as a singular superstar he never got more fun to watch than that.
Doolittle: I will go with 2016, which for me was Trout's most stark combination of athleticism, skill, durability and contextual performance. That was the first year when his absolute mastery of the strike zone really kicked in (116 walks, .441 OBP). He stole 30 bases and led MLB with 123 runs. He posted positive defensive metrics and led the majors in win probability added. And most importantly, he matched his career high with 159 games played. Really, though, take your pick. Just going by bWAR, his sixth-best season ranks as the 15th best among all position players during the 2010s.
Game of the decade
Miller: Thanks to the wild-card round, and a greater-than-usual number of World Series going the distance, this was the decade of the Sudden Death Postseason Game, where both teams faced possible elimination. There were 43 of them. In the three previous decades combined, there were only 42.
I loved all of them -- especially the 2014 wild-card game between the A's and Royals and the Kershaw-in-relief National League Division Series Game 5 in 2016 -- but I don't see how not to pick the final game of the 2016 postseason, when the Cubs finally won their first World Series in a century: Unbearably tense for four innings, then the Cubs pulling ahead and seeming to be in control, then Rajai Davis of all people homering off Aroldis Chapman of all people in the eighth, then a badly gassed Chapman surviving the bottom of the ninth inning throwing nothing but looping sliders, then the rain delay, and extra innings, and the Cubs going ahead but Cleveland nearly coming back again, and Kris Bryant grinning as he threw out Michael Martinez for the final out. It felt like it put the past century to bed, like it was the last remaining storyline from the 1900s. It might be another century before anything in baseball carries as much emotional baggage as that game did.
Doolittle: Since I've covered each of the past four postseasons and have been attached to an eventual pennant winner all four times, I'm heavily biased toward the best of the recent postseasons. Although I do have a personal attachment to that 2014 AL wild-card game that keeps it vivid in my memory. I was staying in a cabin in Big Sur with no Wi-Fi or cellular connection while it played out. I could get a faint signal if I walked down through the trees to the highway and hung out by the side of the road in the dead of night. So I followed the game like that, with the basic game app I had going giving me updates every five minutes or so, hoping I wouldn't be accosted by a bear. And that's the way I watched the Royals' comeback unfold. It was pretty awesome.
The back-and-forth Game 5 of the 2017 World Series stands out. That was Houston's 13-12 win in 10 innings that ended on an Alex Bregman RBI single off Kenley Jansen. The twists and turns of that game were unbelievable.
But I doubt I'll ever experience a more intense sports event than Game 7 between the Cubs and Indians, especially given the historical context that everyone following both teams knew so well. Chicago hadn't won since 1908, which we all know, but it seems like we kind of overlook how close the Indians came to winning for the first time since 1948 -- and perpetuating the mythology of the Cubs' curse. When Davis homered off Chapman, the shift in energy at Progressive Field was surreal. The fan split that night was pretty close to 50-50. So the energy and noise levels at that moment remained about the same -- off the charts. But the source of those things flipped in an instant. It was the strangest thing I've encountered at a game. And from a professional standpoint, I was tasked with filing the end-of-game instant reaction piece that was supposed to capture the exhilaration of a city snapping an epic title drought. But the identity of that city kept changing, so with all of that going on, I had to write two such stories at the same time and update them with each plate appearance. It was intense.
Weirdest career arc of the decade
Miller: One's mind naturally goes to the great player who unexpectedly collapses (e.g. Tim Lincecum) or the scrub who unexpectedly bursts into stardom (e.g. Max Muncy), but I'll pick the pretty good pitcher who didn't do anything more extraordinary than stay pretty good: Bartolo Colon.
Colon ended the previous decade with an ERA slightly better than league average as a 36-year-old starter on the White Sox. His story: out of baseball entirely in 2010; undergoing pioneering stem cell surgery in the Dominican Republic; back in baseball as an average starter on the Yankees in 2011; pretty good starter suspended for PEDs as an Athletic in 2012; 40-year-old All-Star in Oakland in 2013, receiving Cy Young votes for the first time in nearly a decade; 202 innings as a Met in 2014, as a 41-year-old, his first time passing 200 innings since 2005; 14 wins as a 42-year-old Met in 2015; his first career homer and first career walk as a 43-year-old Met in 2016, and another All-Star appearance; maybe the most beloved player in baseball at 44; nearly threw a no-hitter in 2018, at age 45. He did it all with, basically, nothing but good control of a fastball that was one of the slowest in the game. Even at 45, he would occasionally lean back and throw 93, against an average velocity of 87. He started the decade out of the game, ended it out of the game, but still ended up tied (with Gerrit Cole) for 27th most wins in baseball over those 10 years.
Doolittle: One thing that defines the decade to me is that, largely because of analytics, player development at the big league level became more essential than ever. So I'm inclined to pick someone who fits that narrative. Collapses are sad. Thus I'll go with Charlie Morton. Through 2016, Charlie had nine big league seasons under his belt. He was 46-71 with an ERA+ of 84 and had struck out 6.3 batters per nine innings. After the 2015 season, when Morton was already 31 years old, the Pirates shipped him to the Phillies for a pitcher named David Whitehead. That guy not only never reached the majors but in fact lasted only one more season in professional baseball.
Morton famously started to turn things around during his last season with the Phillies. But to split the career numbers cleanly: Since 2017 -- his age 33, 34 and 35 campaigns -- Morton has gone 45-16 with a 131 OPS+ and 10.7 strikeouts per 9. He throws harder than ever and videos of his ability to tunnel pitches look like clips from David Copperfield. (The magician, not the picaresque Dickens title character.) I'm not sure Morton's leap could have happened in any decade but this one. For all the hand-wringing about what analytics have done to the game, the stories of Morton, Justin Turner, Daniel Murphy, J.D. Martinez and many others have at least in part been driven by them.
Moment of the decade
Doolittle: The last out of the 2016 World Series -- when Bryant picked up Martinez's dribbler and the smile broke out on his face even before the out was recorded. When a moment can be communicated with an indelible image, that's the one that does it for me.
Miller: Happy moment: Vin Scully's final send-off. Bummer moment: Armando Galarraga completing, then losing, his perfect game on a blown call at first base. Suspense moment: Alex Gordon holding at third base in the final inning of the 2014 World Series. An entire season came down to a third-base coach, and when Sal Perez popped out six pitches later it set up an all-time what-if for future baseball historians.
Blooper of the decade
Doolittle: I mean, it was all good, clean fun, but it was pretty embarrassing when the cameraman got beaned with a poorly thrown ceremonial first pitch last year at Guaranteed Rate Field. I missed it live, unfortunately, but they held a news conference before the game the next day. It turned out the woman who threw the pitch is an employee at the ballpark -- but they probably didn't need to hold a news conference for her.
Miller: This was the decade that the blooper -- played in quick-cut succession on stadium scoreboards or in TV news packages -- was replaced by the GIF, replaying endlessly for maximum parsing. Because of that shift, I've lost track of what a blooper even is anymore. Is Tim Lincecum shoveling sunflower seeds into his mouth in the Giants' dugout -- probably my favorite GIF of the decade, but far more about the cinematography, pacing and editing than any actual fail -- a blooper? Is Elvis Andrus repeatedly attempting to rub Adrian Beltre's head a blooper? For a good three years around 2012-2014, the standard "blooper" was just Hunter Pence playing baseball in his awkward, effective way. But the best blooper of the decade would work in any format, in any decade: It's the first time you saw The Freeze. He chases down his opponent with breathtaking efficiency, and then, just as he is about to take the lead, the blooperiest moment of the decade bloops.
Home run of the decade
Doolittle: David Freese's game winner in the 11th inning of Game 6 of the 2011 World Series against Texas was a career-maker. That's especially true given that it came on the heels of his two-run triple off Neftali Feliz to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth, when Texas was one agonizing out from its first championship. As many big homers that came after that in the next few postseasons -- Davis against the Cubs in 2016; Jose Altuve to beat the Yankees in the most recent ALCS -- Freese's is the one with the most direct impact on a championship. Beyond that, there weren't any record breakers -- single-season homers or career homers -- to contend for this title.
Miller: In the era of four postseason rounds, we tend to snub what happens in the regular season, so I'll pick Evan Longoria's walk-off homer on the last day of the 2011 season. It came just moments after the final score was posted in the Baltimore-Boston game, a one-two punch that elevated the Rays to a playoff appearance, and it was probably our most shared regular-season moment of this decade. (That or Derek Jeter's walk-off hit in his final home game.) Along with the stakes, Longoria's was also just a purely beautiful thing: Barely off the ground, barely over the wall, barely inside the foul pole.
Team of the decade
Miller: Is this "most successful" or "most representative" or "most influential" or some combination of the three? I'll go with the combination option: It's the Houston Astros.
Yes, the Astros were under .500 for the decade, had three of the six worst team seasons in the decade, and won only one World Series title. But the Astros' narrative arc was this decade's most influential story: They sank into the lowest pit of terribleness by design, stripping away every bit of How Things Are Done until they could design a franchise around an almost amoralistic application of modern management theory. They eventually blew the doors off the rest of their competition -- the World Series in 2017, but also a three-year run of regular-season dominance that probably tops any since the Yankees and A's of the late 1920s and early 1930s. They finished the final season of the decade with as many as six or seven future Hall of Famers, all of them either developed by Houston or, in Justin Verlander's and Gerrit Cole's case, born again in Houston.
They also alienated almost everybody -- their own players, their beat writers, their rivals, some of their own front-office staff. And now, as the decade comes to a close, the arc seems to have reached its dramatic final phase, with the Astros as anti-heroes perhaps poised to face real backlash (for the trash cans, for Brandon Taubman) or else win out and reshape the sport in their vision, with GM Jeff Luhnow's underlings now spreading out to populate other teams' front offices. This was the team that did more than any other team to make scorched-earth rebuilds routine, to make Edgertronic cameras ubiquitous, to establish the infield shift as the default alignment, to reframe secondary pitches (sliders, curves and splitters) as primary pitches, and to put dozens of minor league teams under threat of contraction. And they were responsible, in the 106/107/111-loss seasons from 2011 to 2013, for about 80% of the decade's best bloopers, too.
Doolittle: For better or worse, I think it's been the Astros. They typify so many things that have come to the fore over the past 10 years, and many of those things also serve as a lens to overall societal changes, particularly in the areas of business, finance and technology. A drive for efficiency, a bottom line of the means being justified by the results (OK, it was already like that), the willingness to push the boundaries of the competitive arena, the embracing of technology without concern for its human implications, an almost paranoid preference for protecting information and controlling the message. I could write a couple of books on any one of those things. But with the developments of the past couple of months, I've really changed my thinking in a lot of ways about baseball. Mostly, I've been reminded that this is supposed to be fun. How you win might not be as important as actually winning, but it does matter. A lot. The bottom line might be the bottom line, but it isn't everything, especially when you factor in the long-term effects of short-term thinking.
Doolittle: There aren't many good brawls anymore. Not that I condone any brawl of any sort. But in the 1960s, Juan Marichal went after John Roseboro with a bat. In the 1970s, Bert Campaneris threw a bat at Lerrin LaGrow, which then spurred Billy Martin to lose his mind. That said, the Jose Bautista-Rougned Odor brouhaha in 2016 was pretty great. What I never have quite understood is just what the heck Kevin Pillar was doing during the fracas. He was obviously mad and he wanted everyone to know he was madder than anybody else. The guy came unhinged. I don't hold it against him.
Miller: Brad is right. But I'll make a different suggestion, anyway. Two, in fact, that are related to each other: The time Brian McCann started one with Jose Fernandez after Fernandez homered; and the time Brian McCann physically blocked the plate after Carlos Gomez homered. I posit that you can trace MLB's Let The Kids Play/We Play Loud campaigns back to those two fights.
In both cases, McCann was dutifully representing the scowly, no-emotions-allowed position that had become, since sometime in the early 1990s, the broadly accepted standard. But in both cases, McCann was clearly and unambiguously the villain, anybody could see it, and he was also the one who was having the least fun. He had made himself look obsolete. Anybody who was against Jose Fernandez's smile in 2013 was obsolete. There's still some hostility out there to shows of celebration on the field, but the league's marketing has chosen its side, and "old-school" now feels merely old. Antiquated.
Bad hot take (our own) of the decade
Miller: On July 4, 2010, after the Giants lost a 15-inning game against the Rockies, falling to 41-40, I was so indignant about a small managerial move -- I think it was not pinch-hitting for Eli Whiteside? -- that I declared it was time to fire Bruce Bochy. The Giants, of course, went 51-30 after that and won three of the next five World Series, and Bochy is probably going to the Hall of Fame for it. Meanwhile, I'm just a very embarrassed guy!
Doolittle: I think I may have said something about Joc Pederson becoming an MVP candidate after his hot start early last April. In my defense, I was specifically asked to provide a hot take, and the way I go about things is specifically designed to avoid anything resembling a hot take. I don't even like the term. Anyway, I meant to say Cody Bellinger. Can we edit that please?
Exec of the decade
Miller: They're all complicated in their own ways, but my first and subsequent thoughts are that it's Chris Antonetti of Cleveland.
Doolittle: In an answer heavily informed by the past few months, I'll go with Dayton Moore. I wish they were all like him.
Best piece of baseball writing of the decade
Miller: Andy McCullough's piece in the LA Times about the Dodgers' GM dominating (and, arguably, ruining) the clubhouse's fantasy football game probably captures the culture of the decade better than any other. The piece I'm most jealous of is Jeff Sullivan's, at SB Nation, about the first alien baseball player. Rob Arthur and Ben Lindbergh breaking the story of the new juiced ball, for FiveThirtyEight in 2016, is among the most prophetic. I was most moved by Rachael McDaniel's Baseball Prospectus article about Doug Ault and the daily fight to feel happiness.
Doolittle: Man, there is just so much to choose from. My favorite book from the decade was Jane Leavy's "The Big Fella." I thought I'd read more than enough about Babe Ruth, but I was wrong. The best baseball book I read during the decade, although it came out in the 1970s, was Pat Jordan's "False Spring." Among shorter-form pieces, I have a lot of affection for Dayn Perry's "The White Sox ballpark in Chicago that never was and could have changed history." It sounds a lot of my chimes in terms of geography and subject matter, but it was also just superbly written. Nice job, Dayn.
Favorite piece of baseball writing, egocentric class
Miller: My favorite actually shows up in the next category, and my second favorite showed up in the Best Trout Season category, so I'll cheat and go with my third choice: My 2018 piece for ESPN The Magazine about what happens to ballplayer bodies (and the rest of our bodies) during the aging process.
Doolittle: I am partial to this piece on Kerry Wood's retirement, which came out of the blue one day when the media showed up for a routine afternoon game at Wrigley Field. It's a long piece, with some good outside voices in it, was unplanned and written in one intense sprint.
Most #ycpb (you can't predict baseball) of the decade
Miller: Philip Humber's perfect game in 2012, a season in which his ERA was over 6.00, near the end of a career that was mostly defined by frustration. I wrote about that day -- and other days in Humber's life -- and what struck me from my conversations with Humber was this: There's nothing unpredictable about a single good pitch, or a single out, or three of those outs in a row for a clean inning. All a perfect game really is is 27 predictable events arranged in an unpredictable, but still perfectly rational, sequence. And the same thing is true of the reverse, of the worst moments in every athlete's life.
Doolittle: The Humber game is a sore subject. I was going to go to the game. I had planned on it, packed my bag, started for the door. Then I changed my mind. So of course he throws a perfect game. And I am now cursed to never see one. Every time I even become conscious of a no-hitter, it disappears like a Snapchat. So ... not to pick on the Yankees, but how do they get out of the decade without a pennant? Yes, I know there was a transition from the Jeter era. But the Yankees still won more games than any other team and never dropped below .500. And they're the Yankees. Of course, now they're mad and just committed a third of a billion to one pitcher, so we'll see how the 2020s work out.
Most unforeseeable change in the decade
Doolittle: Probably the prevalence of shifting. It's not an entirely new concept of course, but I would never have thought it would spread as it has. And if I had known how many extreme shifts we'd be seeing by the end of the decade, I wouldn't have believed it simply because my assumption would be that batters would adjust to them. What makes this change stand out is that the effect is so visceral. You look out on the field and see an entire side of the infield left more or less undefended and it just looks wrong. I'm not sure I'll ever get used to it.
Miller: That gambling on baseball would be legal and -- through partnerships with daily fantasy -- endorsed by the league.
Most enjoyable player
Miller: Andrew McCutchen. There's that old Mitch Hedberg joke: It's hard to dance if you just lost your wallet. ("Whoa! Where's my wallet? But, hey this song is funky.") It's equally hard to feel sad if you're watching Andrew McCutchen in Pittsburgh black and yellow.
Doolittle: You have to like a player who thinks big, and no one thinks bigger than Javy Baez. You can't take your eyes off of him. And that goes for every facet of the game, whether it's mad scrambles around the bases punctuated by reckless dives into the bag, or his signature speed tags, or the out-of-his-shoes swings he always takes. The best part of it is that Baez is really good, so the mistakes he makes with his hyper-aggressiveness are more than wiped out by what he makes happen.
Best player archetypes
Miller: The Zobrist: Position players who break the old utility combos (2B/3B/SS, LF/CF/RF) by playing funky combinations, and who do it not as part-time utility bats but as stars. Ben Zobrist was still an anomaly at the start of this decade, but his success -- he was sixth in the majors in WAR during the first half of the decade, as a second baseman/right fielder/occasionally everywhere else -- begat copycats, and flexibility is now at an all-time high. Last year's standouts: Danny Santana, who hit 28 homers for Texas as a 1B/CF/2B; Ketel Marte, an MVP candidate in Arizona as a CF/SS/2B; Jeff McNeil, a Mets All-Star as a LF/RF/2B/3B; and, of course, the Reds' Michael Lorenzen, who both pitched and played outfield in the same game nine times.
Doolittle: The Gallo: Hitters whose batting average tells you nothing about their offensive value.
Best baseball jargon
Miller: It didn't originate this decade, but it made it into the mainstream this decade: Let it eat. More often used for pitchers -- to throw their hardest -- but applicable anytime a ballplayer uses maximum effort, like swinging for the fences or slamming into the catcher at home. As Michael Baumann wrote, the phrase is a triumph of concision: "Even a one-sentence definition of 'let it eat' takes way longer to say than a three-word, eight-letter idiom that is frequently intelligible even to people who are hearing it for the first time."
Doolittle: I am unsure when most jargon came into common use. For instance, I dig Victor Rojas' "oppo-taco" for opposite-field homers, but it probably precedes the decade. I love "yakker" for a knee-bending curveball, but that goes back decades. The term "walk-off" is a menace and it's gotten out of control this decade, when derivations of it have been deployed as verbs. I never use walk-off in a story, but a couple of times it's ended up in the headline over one of my stories. It makes me very sad. So, too, does it bum me out when the phrase "grind at-bats" is tossed about, as we hear it so often now that it's lost all meaning. Wait, was this supposed to be a positive category?
Doolittle: We've learned more about the nuances that go into differentiating one pitcher from another this decade than any other area of the game. Just in time, too, when it felt like pitching was being reduced to just strikeout and walk rates. Of these, tunneling has been the most fun to learn about. I mean, we knew it existed, but to finally get a sense of what hitters are up against when they have no idea what the ball is doing halfway to the plate has been thrilling. Sometimes it amazes me that hitters ever connect.
Miller: The Play Index at Baseball-Reference, which makes any one of us the world's best baseball researcher.
Doolittle: Auto-walks, or the no-pitch intentional walk. I know, I should be over it by now. And the impact on competition is almost nil. But it's just such a senseless external intervention into the game on the field. The time savings from the rule is inconsequential. Meanwhile, what you have in its place is an almost obligatory moment of confusion when the on-deck batter heads to first base. Those moments when the visiting team would walk a favorite home player -- drawing robust boos no matter what the situation might be -- are gone. I always enjoyed them. And while wild pitches on intentional balls were exceedingly rare, they happened once in awhile. And managers had to factor in the possibility of a pitcher losing his release point. There is just no good reason to not have that as part of the game. It's a stupid, stupid rule.
Miller: The "call stands" part of the umpire review system. When a manager challenges a call on the field, it can be upheld, reversed, or allowed to "stand," which basically means the umpire watching on a dozen slow-motion replays thinks he knows what happened but isn't certain enough to overturn the call on the field. The whole premise of this system is that a dozen slow-motion replays are better than one set of eyes watching from one angle in real time. If the umpire on the field isn't sure, he still makes a call; the same should be true of the much better informed umpire in Chelsea. There should be no shrugs allowed.
Most hopeful metric
Doolittle: Youth participation in baseball and softball is still on the rise, during a time when getting kids to do anything that doesn't involve a screen has never been more challenging. The numbers are starkly different than they were at the beginning of the decade. What they mean for formal participation in the future, or the future of the fan base, is still unclear. But at a time when we can quibble about a lot of the initiatives that emanate from the league office, this is one area in which it has been proactive, and the future of the sport is brighter because of that.
Miller: Young ballplayers have been dominating the majors for the past few seasons, claiming far more playing time (as a cohort) than they ever had and doing better with that playing time, too. Nothing against older players, but the aging curve almost guarantees that young players will have a more dynamic style of play: They're faster, they tend to swing more, and they play better defense. The past five years have given us the most interesting collection of stars, in my opinion, since the late 1980s and early 1990s: Trout, Betts, Lindor, Bregman, Chapman, Baez, Judge, Yelich, Bellinger, Ohtani, Acuna, Tatis, Soto -- and it's because they're all young enough to still do everything, rather than merely hang out in the batter's box to draw walks and hit homers.
Most alarming metric
Doolittle: The average game lasted three hours, 10 minutes in 2019 -- an all-time record. That happened despite all the attention the issue of game length has gotten in recent years. I love baseball and when I'm at a game -- and I go to more than 100 per season -- I rarely worry about how long it takes. But I recognize that this is a problem when it comes to growing the sport and reversing attendance trends at the big league level. I'm not sure how much the number can be cut; getting it back down to 2:40 or so just doesn't seem reasonable given the leading factors, like the increase of foul balls.
Still, it would be more heartening if the players seemed to understand the issue, and so far, they have not been cooperative with any attempt to tighten up the game. It's driven by self-interest and you can't blame them for that. I'd be the same way. My salary is driven by my production, and if I feel like I need to step out of the batter's box to adjust my jockstrap after every pitch, that's what I'm going to do. But until we get back to the point where pitchers get the ball and throw, and hitters stay in the box, this problem will fester. Pull up any old game of Jim Palmer or Bob Gibson pitching on YouTube; the difference is stunning.
Miller: It's the lack of women employed in the league -- as executives, uniformed coaches, broadcasters, umpires, players. It's dispiriting in the current moment, and it's a problem that feeds itself by signaling to women and girls that they're either unwelcome or facing long odds to break in. But beyond that, I suspect it's an existential threat going forward. It's not hard to imagine a future when we make a cultural decision that spending money for entertainment where women are entirely absent is unacceptable -- that it is simply not good for the culture to celebrate a boys-only club.
Story that defines the decade
Miller: This is only a little bit of an exaggeration: Every story this decade was about either home runs or strikeouts -- either the result of more home runs and strikeouts, or a cause of more home runs and strikeouts. The past four seasons were four of the five highest home run seasons ever (by homers per game), and last season was so far beyond anything before this decade it would be unrecognizable to anybody from last century. Strikeouts went up every year this decade, and the climb isn't slowing -- the jump from 2018 to 2019 was the second biggest jump in at least a century. Last season's leaguewide strikeout rate would have been Bob Gibson's career high, and next season the league average probably will pass nine K's per nine innings pitched. Pace of play is ultimately about home runs and strikeouts, as is attendance, as is the looming collective bargaining fight. Pitcher injuries are ultimately about home runs and strikeouts. Statcast is about home runs and strikeouts, the shift is about home runs and strikeouts, the opener is about home runs and strikeouts, player development is about home runs and strikeouts, Mike Trout is about home runs and strikeouts, catcher framing is about home runs and strikeouts, robo umps are about home runs and strikeouts, and every weird idea you ever have about how to fix baseball is about home runs and strikeouts.
Doolittle: Pitch tracking hit the fast track during the 2000s, with the advent of Pitchf/x. But during the 2010s, comprehensive player tracking accelerated in a way that was pretty shocking. For me, the furtive advances moved into the light with the unveiling of Statcast to the public at the 2014 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. That was the point when pitch tracking -- movement metrics, spin rate, etc. -- and similar initiatives to generate data for hitters and fielders began to enter the mainstream.
The evolution of baseball data remains a work in progress, but these next-level technologies have already changed the game in profound ways, and will continue to do so (for better or worse). Since I was on the NBA beat at the time, I'd lost touch with the newest methods in baseball, so for me that was a revelatory experience. I remember watching the video rollout of it on an enormous screen in a huge auditorium at Sloan and being stunned by things like route efficiency for outfielders. Some of the stuff never even panned out, and Statcast wasn't even installed in every ballpark until the 2015 season.
Still, the processes underpinning baseball changed more during the past decade than at any previous time in the sport's history. For me, that presentation was the inflection point when the new age dawned.