The Player to be Analyzed Later–Another Article on Data in Baseball

The characters of Tim Robbins and Kevin Costner arguing in the movie Bull Durham

Here are three things to know about me:

  • I love baseball
  • I'm extremely superstitious
  • I think Bull Durham is unequivocally the greatest baseball movie of all time

I’m also currently a bundle of nerves and excitement with the Red Sox up 2-0 over the Dodgers in the World Series going into game 3.

Yes, I’m a Red Sox fan. Please don’t crucify me.

And maybe it’s because I work for a SaaS company and data is ingrained in my daily life, but I’m a sucker for ALL the stats and predictions surrounding the Series.

Because the other thing to know about me? I believe big data has fundamentally changed the game of baseball for the better.

The battle of business vs. baseball

I’m pretty confident I could write this entire article using just baseball quotes, but I’ll spare you that debacle and just start with this one line from Bull Durham:

And just like any other job - time is still money and efficiency is still key.

Over the years, the game has injected a powerhouse of statistics and analysis into every facet of its operation - and so has every other business who understands the “adapt or die” mentality.

Believe me - I understand there’s a certain air of romanticism and an idea of being part of something bigger than yourself about the game of baseball. And I’m not trying to kill it.

But simply put, gone are the days when baseball or any business can afford to let intuition and gut instincts be the sole dictators of success.

How not to be a dinosaur, according to John Henry

We all know Moneyball was the story about data.

How it revolutionized the way players were scouted, lineups were built, and how smaller ball clubs competed against the sport’s largest payrolls.

John Henry reminded us all that baseball is still a business and their job is to win.

(And let me point out that no fan likes to lose - take it from someone whose team lost for 86 years.)

Data's influence on baseball is something people love to hate

I frequently read quotes like, “it’s killing the game… we could just put computers out there”  - and I know how high the emotions behind them still run.

But personally, I’m fascinated by the rabbit hole of sabermetrics and the ways technology has rocketed the game into a new era.

Smarter baseball isn’t about replacing talent, instincts, or even jobs. It’s about enhancing them.

It’s essentially the ONLY acceptable form of performance enhancing drugs out there.

A few examples:

  • Machine learning is working to quantify movements most associated with injuries to reduce the disabled list
  • AI and predictive analytics are used for scouting and predicting talent through vision, sensory and motor testing
  • Virtual reality is integrating motion sensors with data analysis to refine players’ swings and hitting approach
  • Pitch tracking across ballparks give teams real-time throwing stats on velocity, release point, spin and location
  • Augmented reality is effectively replacing the baseball cards of yore

Even Amazon, who now provides AI-generated stats to fans, and YouTube, who is showing ads with augmented reality during the World Series, have gotten in on the action.

And while the above were no doubt designed to increase profits - there’s no arguing that they were also developed to nurture talent and innovate the game.

Just like any other business.


"You can either hit a curveball or you can't"

Baseball in 2018… is a multivariable math problem masquerading as a game.”

For me, that math problem just doesn’t diminish it or the intuition behind playing it.

Because as Jimmy Fallon said in Fever Pitch, “You can either hit a curveball or you can’t…. You can have a lucky day, sure, but you can’t have a lucky career.”

I know technology has made my career a whole lot easier and realistically I wouldn’t even have a job without it.

And whether you agree with me or not about this era of baseball, know that I’m still a fan for the same reasons I’ve always been...

I'm in it for the rush of rooting for the underdog.For that edge of your seat, bases loaded, bottom of the 9th feeling.And for the thrill of watching my team make one of the greatest comebacks of all time - when everyone said they couldn't.

written by

PowerChord Inc.

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