Baseball, Apple Pie and… Analytics?

What could be more dependable than Baseball, Apple Pie and .. Analytics? Mom’s apple pie never disappoints. Baseball, there is always Opening Day next year, when hope springs eternal for participating in the Fall Classic. Okay, it was in doubt in 2020 because billionaires were squabbling with millionaires, being selfish, not For the Love of the Game. But they came around and saved the season. As for analytics and baseball (Sabermetrics), there are terabytes of data that are applied to influence and drive many facets of baseball operations. 

Using these tools and relying on lagging indicators has become pervasive in baseball. Our Opening Day blog projected Atlanta winning the division in 2020. This year sources (CBS, The Lines and SI) all predict an Atlanta repeat at 91.5 wins, followed by the Mets, Nationals, Phillies and Marlins at 89, 88, 82 and 71 wins, respectively. You will recall this analysis starts with collecting key data for each player and through proven analytics build a forecast of  individual player performance. Using player performance forecasts and building a team roster, the team’s schedule is simulated enough times to achieve projected season performance with the desired level of confidence. Every team is projecting how many wins it will take to get to playoffs and building a team within budget to get there. This process is represented well in a 4 minutes scene in the movie Moneyball.

Oakland, Boston and Tampa Bay pioneered managing by the numbers and continue to manage to their 2021 payrolls of $107M, $77M and $45M respectively. Other teams have been fast followers, applying analytics that have largely leveled the playing field for what were misconceptions in what it takes to win baseball games and what makes a player valuable. Capitalizing on the power of analytics, Major League Baseball has gone beyond roster strategy into additional areas of baseball operations, including:

  • Advance scouting
  • Minor League player development
  • Major League draft analysis
  • Player/coach game preparation
  • International arbitration
  • Financial modeling and budgeting
  • Marketing 
  • Community Outreach

Businesses are also expanding the use of analytics. There is a thoughtful expansion of analytics use from descriptive/inferential statistics and trailing indicators to supervised/unsupervised learning and natural language processing for:

  • Personalization: promotions and notifications tailored to specific customers
  • Forecasting Services: anticipating demand for properly staffing customer service centers
  • Predictive Modeling: accelerating research and development for new products
  • Preventive Health: maintenance strategies based on anonymous patient histories
  • Health Delivery: supporting voice transcription of doctor-patient interactions

These result in modern business models which:

  • Launch new product offerings
  • Create new revenue streams
  • Automate manual processing prioritizing higher value-added tasks
  • Improve customer, business partner and employee relationships

All businesses need to evaluate the power of the total analytical tool set in isolating the imperfections in their business models and capitalizing on the imperfections in their competitors’ business models.

How about dependability? Even if it is close, you need to go with Mom’s apple pie, because in the end she is one of the few people who will always love you for who you are. In baseball, the next collective bargaining agreement looms on the horizon and we will need to monitor the owners’ and players’ stewardship of the game. Analytics in baseball has to be applied with judgment. With the right data and a sufficiently large data set it has its appropriate applications. But we need to keep in mind the ’02 Oakland A’s, recent LA Dodger playoff futility (until 2020) and game 6 of the 2020 World Series and taking Blake Snell out of the game. In the postseason, the sample size becomes too small for season-long trends to be significant and it becomes a different ballgame.

In each instance, as in business, historical data and analytics can recommend certain courses of action, but in the moment, there will be outliers and variability that must be considered. Consideration requiring being in the moment and delivering on the leadership opportunity.

Reach out to Yalo’s Rich or Tim Krahn for deeper analytics expertise.