QUESTION: Has the overall ability level of MLB players gone up a lot, a little, or not at all over the last 20 years (or 40 years or however far back in your career you want to go)? Put another way, is the average MLB player today a lot better or not better than the average player 20 years ago?
COMMISH: There is no question that the players are bigger, faster and stronger than they were 20 or 40 years ago. I would say at the top tier of talent, the best players now would be just as good as the best players of either 20 or 40 years ago.
But the average big-league player was better in previous eras because there weren’t as many players then as there are now. Expansion has been great to give more cities a chance to have major league baseball, but that means many more players are major leaguers who wouldn’t have been in another era when there were 16 or 20 or even 24 teams.
To a follow-up comment about how baseball is better now because of the greatly expanded talent pool and the professional training that’s available for all age groups. Commish replied:
You make good points on how there are other countries providing more high-end talent than they were before. But, with few bigger-league teams in the past, there were many good players who had to wait years in the minors before getting a chance. Now, minor leaguers often are rushed to the majors before they are ready.
The talent edge may go to today’s players. The quality of play, I’m not so sure.
Follow-up: What would you say the average player is worse at today than 20 years ago?
COMMISH: Not being able to hit for average, or at least making contact. Check out some of the team averages in the past few years. The home run has become too much of a mindset and the average player of today often tries to play out of his boundaries.