Play Ball: The Expansive Role of Data Collection in Major League Baseball

Mar 31, 2014 in Uncategorized

While spring has technically sprung, sports fans across the country tend to agree that it is not really spring until baseball’s opening day, March 31. It is now upon us, and excitement is in the air; in fact, a petition on the White House website to “Declare Major League Baseball Opening Day a national holiday” has crossed the threshold of the 100,000 signatures needed to guarantee a response.

So as America prepares to play ball, let us survey the diamond from a data collection point of view. Indeed, as readers and viewers of Moneyball know, the game has a storied data-focused dimension. For one, Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane’s unique method of statistical player evaluation has revolutionized the game. As Moneyball author Michael Lewis noted on NPR, Beane’s research and analysis based system showed that “[Y]ou can use statistics to sort of dig below the surface of baseball and find the hidden game, find attributes, for example, in players that are very important but not highly valued in the marketplace.”

Nowadays, it is standard procedure for teams to employ data analysts. The volume of data collected in the game is ever increasing, and it is the job of these specialists to generate new insights to inform key organizational decisions. Houston Astros analyst Mike Fast explains the nature of the job over at the Utopia Inc. blog, noting that it is about “marrying all of our diverse data sets together.” He goes on to say, “We have everything from scouting reports, which have a great deal of diverse detail in themselves, to medical reports to video to radar and camera tracking data to weather data to histories of transactions and contracts.”

As Fast suggests, in baseball, no available data set and the potential for actionable insights are left unturned. Teams are collecting more and more data every season, and this is having a profound impact on the strategy of the game. For instance, this year’s MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference featured a presentation on “A Data-driven Method for In-game Decision Making in MLB,” which explored the application of machines learning to generate a predictive pitcher-performance model to improve on-field decisions.

Simply put, as evidenced by Major League Baseball Advanced Media’s (MLBAM) revolutionary new technology recently reported on MLB.com, baseball is at the absolute cutting-edge of real-time data collection in professional sports. Also unveiled at the MIT Sloan Conference, the interconnected tracking camera-powered infrastructure will “provide the first complete and reliable measurement of every play on the field and answer previously unanswerable analytics questions.”

Baserunners’ speeds, outfielders’ throw trajectories and batted-ball velocities—these are just some of the new data points that will be definitively collected by the MLBAM technology. This will undoubtedly change the way everyone from fans to broadcasters to managers and beyond will think and talk about the game. Here at GoSpotCheck, we are deeply excited to find our passion at the heart of America’s pastime and discover the infinite ways such exciting advances in data collection are fundamentally transforming the business of baseball.