Analytics and the Rules of Survival

Billy Beane didn’t exactly invent analytics,
but he did open the gate and let them in.

 

SABR friend Bob Dorrill sent me an interesting group mail article yesterday. It was entitled: “More Strikeouts Than Hits? Welcome to Baseball’s Latest Crisis.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/16/sports/baseball-mlb-strikeouts.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=mini-moth®ion=top-stories-below&WT.nav=top-stories-below

This apparent analytics-inspired crisis is that baseball may soon be reaching the point in which we shall see more strikeouts than hits in the game over the course of a season.

To that fearsome day, I say, “so what?”. Baseball has been moving in this direction, no matter how swiftly it now seems we go, since the 1920s and the introduction of power baseball as the tonic the game needed to help fans recover from the tedium of the dead ball game and the blow to the game’s integrity that generated from the Black Sox Scandal.

Of the few suggestions made in this brief small company of e-mail respondents, the one I liked best was the same one I offered ~ let it be. This well-known baseball figure said it best too. In words to the same effect as mine, but more particularly stated, he said let it be for five years then check again to see how the ratio was working. People adapt their hitting to changes that are hurting them. The smart ones will adapt to shifting defenses by learning how to “hitting where they ain’t” within all the broad surface of today’s park on the inside portion of the HR fence. ~ Then he adds, in so many words, if they haven’t adjusted in five years, re-examine the ball. A deader ball that will not clear fences easily will encourage a decline in power swinging and an increase is placement batting.

Whatever will be, will be. My point today is not this specific issue. The issue of SO/Hit ratios just shows how quickly analytics has found a link to all we do in baseball. The really important systems issue today is that we all ~ fans too ~ need to get up to speed on how Analytics got into the driver’s seat in some capacity with every big league team, or so it seems, by the year 2018. Am not sure how strong it is everywhere ~ or how long it’s been true ~ but it seems to be plain as day ~ that they are ~ everywhere.

A Little Systems Theory. I spent a few baseball unfriendly weekends in graduate school studying social systems theory because it was important to my interests in how mental health services in this country got so screwed up in the first place. In irony, it turns out that they got screwed up by the not so little dynamic that kicks in with the creation of every new government or non-profit organization.

They run straight into Social Systems Law #1 in the creation of every new government or non-profit organization. It’s the same systems law that was sociologically in place when the government created Social Security, Medicaire, Obamacare, HUD, U.S. Postal Service or what have you ~ and it works exactly like this, even if is never stated ~ and it works its way to the same end ~ whether the new action was created majorly by Democratic or Republican support:

Social Systems Law #1 (Gov’t/Non-Profit): Once a government or non-profit program or service entity is created, its original purpose is immediately replaced in priority by the new unit’s need for survival. The governing boards and administrative bodies will continue to espouse the creation goals of the new program, and may actually do some immeasurable good, but they will manage to find a niche in the bureaucracy of things that shields them from qualitative review or efficacious criticism. 

Social Systems Law #1 (For Profit Entities): Like all for-profit ventures, these entities hit the ground running with survival directly tied to the financial success of their entity in the marketplace. Irony knows no boundaries. The first publicly successful deployment of Analytics at Oakland was not terribly far from Silicon Valley ~ nor from Sutter’s Mill near Sacramento and, of course, the gold rush on analytic experts quietly was on after Billy Beane and Money Ball captured our public imagination.

But let’s keep in mind that analytic experts may sometimes ~ to often ~ or always be driven by their own career survival/advancement needs to give us one of those “the sky is falling” reports for their own purposes ~ even if it’s simply to see how baseball people are going to react to the “crisis” news that we may be soon seeing more strikeouts than hits at major league games.

After that heartbreaking 4-3 10th inning loss to Oakland in the Friday night opener, I’d just like to see the Astros get a few more homers with men on base. Get more men on base by hitting the ball to the opposite field that defenses are leaving open. Of course, if you want to help the analytics prove that we are in crisis, keep swinging from the heels at pitches that will get you.

If either the Bregman or Maldonado solo homers had come with one man on, the Astros would have won it 4-3 in nine ~ even with that disappointing, but possibly correct overturn of the out call on the A’s runner at the plate in the 9th.

Yeah, I know. If’s and buts and candy and nuts!

********************

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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