Matt Williams: pro-stats, pro-eyes, pro-everything

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LAKE BUENA VISTA — I’ll post some pictures and random thoughts about the Braves’ complex a little later, but for now let’s talk about Matt Williams.

Williams was a bit of an unknown quantity to most fans when he was hired as the Nats’ manager. One obviously knows of his playing career and one knows he coached in Arizona, but it was harder to get a read on his preferences and dispositions as a manager. Is he going to be one of the new breed of cerebral managers who puts a lot of stock in advanced metrics? Is he going to kick it old school? Inquiring minds want to know.

This morning during his media availability Williams was asked a lot about that. What are his go-to stats. How he feels about taking extra bases. Defensive shifts. That sort of stuff. His answers suggested that he is going to take every single piece of data, be it from the analytics department or his own gut, into account. He’ll leave nothing off the table.

For stats, he said that it depends largely on who the hitter is. He’ll look to on-base percentage for his leadoff hitters like Denard Span. For someone like Wilson Ramos batting average with runners in scoring position will matter more. For guys like Bryce Harper who, Williams says does everything well and “can take over a game,” it all matters but it’ll all probably take care of itself. For pitchers. he wants to see his strikeout guys striking guys out and guys who strike fewer batter out, normally speaking, to just get early outs. “Stats are good,” Williams said. “But feel is also good.”

I asked him about defensive shifts, and Williams said that there are “reams” of data out there and that it’s impossible to take it all in. That said, he’s going to do his best to try, and expects that he’ll have the Nats shifting more on defense this year than we’ve seen in the past while having his hitters do their best to take advantage of open holes presented by opponents’ shifts. But again, there are no absolutes. Not all pitchers can hit the spots necessary to force hitters to hit into the teeth of an extreme shift. Not all hitters have the bat control to poke it through the opposite side. Williams went back, again and again, to making sure that guys aren’t asked or expected to do things beyond their capabilities. That seems to be the common denominator for him.

So no, Williams is no extremist. No hardcore stathead but no old school curmudgeon either. Not that most managers are extremists about such things in comments during spring training. It’ll be interesting to watch his tendencies once the games start to matter, however. I can’t get any real read on what his predispositions will be once the enemy has been met and the battle plans are made obsolete.

MLB crowds jump from ’21, still below pre-pandemic levels

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PHOENIX — Even with the homer heroics of sluggers like Aaron Judge and Albert Pujols, Major League Baseball wasn’t able to coax fans to ballparks at pre-pandemic levels this season, though attendance did jump substantially from the COVID-19 affected campaign in 2021.

The 30 MLB teams drew nearly 64.6 million fans for the regular season that ended Wednesday, which is up from the 45.3 million who attended games in 2021, according to baseball-reference.com. This year’s numbers are still down from the 68.5 million who attended games in 2019, which was the last season that wasn’t affected by the pandemic.

The 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers led baseball with 3.86 million fans flocking to Dodger Stadium for an average of 47,672 per contest. The Oakland Athletics – who lost 102 games, play in an aging stadium and are the constant subject of relocation rumors – finished last, drawing just 787,902 fans for an average of less than 10,000 per game.

The St. Louis Cardinals finished second, drawing 3.32 million fans. They were followed by the Yankees (3.14 million), defending World Series champion Braves (3.13 million) and Padres (2.99 million).

The Toronto Blue Jays saw the biggest jump in attendance, rising from 805,901 fans to about 2.65 million. They were followed by the Cardinals, Yankees, Mariners, Dodgers, and Mets, which all drew more than a million fans more than in 2021.

The Rangers and Reds were the only teams to draw fewer fans than in 2021.

Only the Rangers started the 2021 season at full capacity and all 30 teams weren’t at 100% until July. No fans were allowed to attend regular season games in 2020.

MLB attendance had been declining slowly for years – even before the pandemic – after hitting its high mark of 79.4 million in 2007. This year’s 64.6 million fans is the fewest in a non-COVID-19 season since the sport expanded to 30 teams in 1998.

The lost attendance has been balanced in some ways by higher viewership on the sport’s MLB.TV streaming service. Viewers watched 11.5 billion minutes of content in 2022, which was a record high and up nearly 10% from 2021.