Thursday, June 5, 2014


(Photo Credit: Erich Schlegel for The New York Times)

We live in a data dominant world.  In fact, data often drive the decisions we make and in baseball, we see these data driven decisions playing out before our eyes on every ballpark in America.  “For many companies, leveraging big data is the hot ticket to more effective marketing and product development. But those who are using data to improve their customer service are taking it one step further. When a customer reaches out, the representative can more quickly and efficiently solve the problem if they have the right data in front of them. They won’t need to ask as many questions of the customer because they already know the answers,” according to an article entitled “5 ways companies are using big data to help their customers” on the Venture Beat site last week.  In a related story produced by Fallon Consultants, “Big data analytics can provide the information you need to identify customer needs and tailor product and service offerings to them.”  Why do I bring all of this up?  Well it’s simple, I am sick of Joe Girardi always playing the numbers and forgetting about just playing ball.  I think data can be helpful, for sure, but not when it interferes with the actual playing of the game and products on the field.

Here’s my beef: the shift just does not work.  I was at the game this week when Seattle broke the game open following misplayed balls and out of position players.  Don’t play the numbers, play ball.  My 12-year-old daughter, who is not the most knowledgeable baseball fan and besides she is a Met fan (that’s another story for another day), asked very plainly, “Why is Derek Jeter playing third base?  Who will catch the ball if it’s hit to shortstop?” 

I answered just as plainly, “No one.”  Just because a player hits predominantly to a certain side of the field doesn’t mean he will hit the ball there every time and ignore the rest of the open infield.  Murphy’s Law certainly reigns supreme in cases like this. 

Data can make you neurotic, to the point that you lose yourself in it.  I listened to three fans sitting behind me at the same Seattle game this week as they discussed voting percentages for the Hall of Fame ballots.  The trivia question among the three friends went something like this, “Overall, who are the top five players who received 95% or more of the vote for their first time on the Hall of Fame ballot?”  I was like, “am I home watching the game on television and it’s the trivia question of the night?”  No, I am in $250 box seats and the Yankees have no shot of winning, so the fans look to use data to answer a question to pass the time.

By the way the answers included, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan and George Brett.  Now I am getting neurotic. 

Lefties, righties, shifts, designated hitters, pitching match ups- the numbers and percentages are all skewing the game itself.  We didn’t care about half of this stuff 20 years ago.  Why do we care now?  Because.  We have big data to help us make decisions. “Companies that use big data well excel in sorting through the white noise of data, filtering out the relevant information and drawing insight from its analysis. Only then can companies begin to put big data to work to target and re-target the right customers, personalize their experience, solve their problems or build products suited to their needs. Big data can certainly be valuable — but only with actionable insight,” according to the Venture Beat article.

Right now, I am not seeing actionable insight. I am seeing failed attempts.  Perhaps we need some economics interns to sift through the data better.  But in reality, I think we need to get back to basics and just play ball.  Stop the statistics nonsense and develop your team, develop your young players into young leaders, let go of the old and bring in the new and let’s get back to the game that has been America’s pastime not America’s database.

--Suzie Pinstripe, BYB Opinion Columnist
Twitter: @suzieprof


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