Pros and Cons of Baseball Analytics By Lucy Wyndham
Big data has become a commonality in baseball. Analytics are used to determine everything from defensive shifts to how teams recruit new players. The question is, are we overdoing it? Are we relying too much on analytics and ignoring the point of the sport? It is still a game, isn’t it?
A Brief History
Bill James is credited with starting the revolution that would become Sabermetrics, beginning with his Baseball Abstracts in 1977. For those that don’t know, Sabermetrics is the statistical analysis of baseball, particularly in-game activity. Before Sabermetrics became mainstream, players were using more simplistic methods to determine pitching changes, measure offensive production and record or evaluate player performance. Books such as Ted Williams and John Underwood’s, The Science of Hitting, were early glimpses into what would become an addictive aspect of the game.
A Good Reason to Use Analytics
So what’s the point of all these stats? For instance, why use numbers to determine when to promote a minor league player? The Houston Astros have been neck-deep in analytics since 2011 when Jeff Luhnow came on board as general manager. He designed a system that considered various data points about players and weighted them “according to the values determined by the team’s statisticians, physicist, doctors, scouts, and coaches.” This data and the associated algorithms Luhnow developed helped the team determine when to promote minor league players.
The system worked. The Astros rebounded by trading their higher-priced players for prospective players and using analytics to measure player performance. Although each team uses Sabermetrics differently, the Astros are one example of how paying attention to the numbers can make a difference.
Cons of Relying on Analytics Too Much
But should teams be relying so heavily on numbers to make decisions like that? Baseball is, after all, still a physical game. Although it certainly requires a great deal of mental acuity as well, the players aren’t required to be math geniuses when they’re recruited. Most teams now employ entire analytics departments, staffed with mathematicians and physicists. The days of the simple stats we memorized on the backs of baseball cards are fading fast.
Every player uses analytics differently both on and off the field. Some players are heavy into stats while others just want to go out and play the game. Managers have to adjust to player preferences more now than ever. Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer wants to know what a pitcher will do in any given situation but agrees that there’s “only so much of that you can use before you’re dissecting too much, getting too involved, too far into it. You can get yourself in some trouble.”
Reds first baseman Joey Votto was quoted in saying, “I think that sometimes chasing certain numbers can get in the way of kind of being present to how you’re being challenged on the field.” So, what’s the point? Although Sabermetrics isn’t going away, there is a limit to how many different numbers we should assign to players before America’s favorite pastime becomes the equivalent of a dreaded math quiz.