Olney: Could Theo Epstein help MLB fix its pace-of-play problem?

  • Senior writer ESPN Magazine/ESPN.com
  • Analyst/reporter ESPN television
  • Author of “The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty”

The questions for Theo Epstein the other day were rightly about why he’s leaving the Cubs now and what he’s going to do next. But in the middle of his explanations, he talked briefly about his worry about where the sport is as an entertainment product.

“It is the greatest game in the world,” Epstein said, “but there are some threats to it because of the way the game is evolving, and I take some responsibility for that because the executives like me who have spent a lot of time using analytics and other measures to optimize individual and team performance have unwittingly had a negative impact on the aesthetic value of the game and the entertainment value of the game.”

He is the most prominent front-office official to talk openly about this, but he’s hardly alone. Among teams, there is enormous concern about how the micromanagement for advantageous matchups has created enormous valleys of inaction throughout most games — the parades of relievers, the strikeouts, the walks. Privately, people in the industry are deeply concerned about trying to draw the next generations of baseball fans to a sport in which most of the time nothing happens beyond the changing ball-strike count.

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