One of the things I find most interesting about baseball is how often players seem to try new things and then how often those changes seem to make little to no difference in their overall productivity. Batters alter their stances and pitchers try new grips and patterns all the time, but it’s actually pretty rare that a player makes a small change and becomes significantly different. A whole lot of effort goes into small changes, but the vast majority of these changes don’t seem to make a big difference, yet everyone is always making them. It seems like a lot of wasted energy.
Except that it’s not wasted energy as much as it’s about context. One reason all of these tweaks don’t have huge impacts is that everyone else gets a chance to respond to the adjustment very quickly and make their own. There’s so much information available to players and they’re generally a perceptive bunch. If Clayton Kershaw suddenly threw Paul Goldschmidt a 50-grade knuckeball, I would wager that Goldschmidt wouldn’t do much damage against that first one. Theoretically, Kershaw spent lots of man hours working on the pitch, but most hitters have faced knuckeballs and they would very quickly figure out that Kershaw has one and when he likes to use it. A pitcher adjusts, and then the hitters adjust to that adjustment. It goes on and on forever. If you don’t constantly tinker, you might be left behind.
At the beginning of 2014, there were a lot of questions about how well Jose Abreu would perform in the major leagues because we didn’t have any information about Abreu in the context of the American professional regime. His raw tools had our attention, but until we saw him face professionals in the American context, our information was rather limittarget=”_blank”. The question at hand was how Abreu would adjust to the major leagues.