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How the rise of baseball analytics forever altered America's pastime — and the Kansas City Royals

Michael Zupon
Baseball has always been a game obsessed with numbers, but the rise of statistical analysis over the last twenty years has entirely changed the way the sport is approached.

The Kansas City Royals — and every other team in Major League Baseball, for that matter — factor advanced statistics into almost every decision they make. That's a far cry from where the game was just two decades ago.

In the last couple of decades, advanced baseball statistics — often referred to as sabermetrics — have completely changed the way Major League Baseball teams operate.

This statistical revolution has changed which stats are viewed as the most important and how the game is understood. While batting average and pitcher wins were once agreed upon as among the most important stats, those are now rarely taken into account by today's MLB front offices.

Each team employs statisticians who crunch numbers to find ways to improve their chances of winning. Here in Kansas City, Royals assistant general manager Daniel Mack is among them, having earned a doctorate's degree in computer science from Vanderbilt.

He told KCUR's Up To Date that the Royals have a team of 11 people expressly for this purpose.

"Six of them are currently involved in doing a ton of research, taking these data streams, finding new ways of helping to evaluate and assess player performance, building reports and other mechanisms for coaches and front office staff to use," said Mack. "The rest of that department is building the larger tools that allow our scouts to enter in reports and take all that data to help make larger decisions."

Starting in 2023, the league decided to change a series of rules to counter the ways in which big data had negatively impacted the product on the field. Defensive shifts were limited, preventing teams from putting more than two infielders on either side of second base.

Bases are now larger and pickoff attempts have been limited in order to increase the number of stolen bases. Additionally, a pitch clock was implemented to speed up the length of games, which had been growing longer year after year.

Ahead of their involvement in a panel discussion at the Linda Hall Library later this week, Mack and Sports Reference CEO Sean Forman both joined KCUR's Up To Date to discuss how analytics have changed baseball.

Beyond the Box Score: Baseball in the Analytics Era, 6:30 p.m., Thursday, June 15 at the Linda Hall Library, 5109 Cherry St, Kansas City, Missouri 64110. The event is free, but registration is required.

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
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