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Bill Ripken talks new-school versus old-school baseball, and the future of the sport

Greg Fiume/Getty Images
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — As a former Major League Baseball player, Bill Ripken has strong feelings about the changes in the league in recent years. In his new book, State of Play: The Old-School Guide to New School Baseball, the MLB Network analyst talks about his hesitancy to adopt some of the sport’s newest statistics, and the way longtime baseball people see the game.

Ripken, who played 12 seasons in the major leagues, says some of the modern sabermetrics may bring “ideas to the table that provoke conversation with” those he calls “baseball people.” Not all of those ideas, however, are new ones, Ripken explains.

“The fact that many in the new school have not been directly involved in the game is far more alarming to me,” Ripken writes. “This group is becoming more and more responsible for spreading misleading information about how much the game has changed and how much of an impact their new school methods have had.”

Speaking with ABC News, Ripken explains that statistical analysis has long been part of the game, even if some don’t realize it.

“I think people have lost sight, or maybe never knew in the first place, that old-school baseball guys have always used numbers,” he says, “have always used information, have always been analytic in their cause to go out there and put a better product on the field.”

In the book, Ripken goes in-depth on more than two dozen topics that represent shifts in the sport. From an emphasis on launch angle and pitch framing, to what he sees as the waning attention to counting statistics like runs batted in and errors, he makes a pitch for something of a traditionalist approach to the game.

That preference also shapes his beliefs when it comes to one common topic of discussion — robot umpires.

“I would love to keep robo umps out of baseball,” Ripken told ABC News, as he explained how he would create a more consistent strike zone. “I like the look of baseball, and there is something to be said for the element of human error involved.”

His idea instead focused on training and compensating the human umpires best able to make correct ball and strike calls.

“I’d like to use the technology to grade the umpires behind home plate better,” he begins. “And we do that nowadays, the problem, I believe, is that I don’t know what we do with that data when we grade out the umpires.”

Ripken’s plan also suggests choosing the umpires best-graded for their work at home plate, and having them work that position more often.

“There needs to be a weeding out process and more accountability on their end as well. Umpires will need to perform at a high level to maintain their position in the game.”

And when it comes to teams’ decision-making, Ripken says the power that has been ceded to front offices and analytics experts needs to shift back towards those he calls baseball men.

“The teams that succeed in the future will be the ones with the outside-of-the-box front office thinkers doing their thing and then turning over the information to the inside-of-the-box thinkers in the clubhouse…Front offices working with managers, not running roughshod over them, will be the key to success moving forward.”

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