(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Reviewing Baseball Prospectus from 2010. . . and a Word About Data

Okay, this is a minor point, but the writers of Baseball Prospectus are frank and occasionally either tough or brutally honest, to the point that they bring home the notion that clarity can be offensive. Put differently, they tend to see the hypothetical baseball player as a flawed athlete trying to defeat statistical trends and Father Time, and when they praise people, well, you know that the player either had a great year or has had a great career to date. Most position players, though, don't walk enough, strike out too much, don't hit for enough power for their position, while most pitchers don't have good enough stuff, enough pitches or enough consistency.

I've been re-reading the book occasionally, if only to look for funny analogies or observations, of which there are many. If I could do the very good writing justice, I'd compile a Top Ten list of the book's best lines. I happened upon one of them yesterday, about the journeyman centerfielder Alejandro de Aza, who got his start with the Florida Marlins.

de Aza appeared in the chapter on the Florida Marlins, even though he was destined not to return to their organization after last season, because it's customary for the editors to place a player with the team where he ended his season, and not where he will (or might) begin the following season. Fair enough, it's a consistent approach. After a few sentences about de Aza's historical performance, the book offered that de Aza would be in the mix for centerfield for the White Sox, which hadn't resolved their opening for that position since Judge Landis banned Happy Felsch. Okay, maybe I had too much free time, but the thought of well-read people drawing an analogy to a guy who hadn't played in 90 years and who was part of baseball's biggest scandal was pretty good. There are other, similar, gems, which is why I wholeheartedly recommend that -- if you're a big baseball fan -- you purchase this book when it comes out next year for the 2011 season.

And, if you're not a big baseball fan, you should buy the book anyway, if for only this reason -- it shows you how statistical analysis can change the way you look at anything, so that you can maximize performance where you didn't think it possible. Why do I say this? Because baseball is a sport all about numbers and data. There is plenty of it, it is measured daily, and the data has great integrity. Your business might have trouble collecting data (because it's growing fast and your company hasn't advanced the means to collect it as quickly as market forces are compelling your leadership to make key decisions), but it's imperative that it adapt and collect data, scrub it (to use a term of art) and ensure that it has integrity. Thereupon. . . hire smart quantitive people who can analyze it six ways to Sunday, compare the data to data from prior years and prior periods, look for trends, look for something, and, the bet here is that there are many ways for your company to improve. When you combine Moneyball with Baseball Prospectus and apply the principles from those books to your business, anything is possible.

Finding the resources and making the effort is difficult, especially in this economy, when it's hard enough to get more done with less, to multitask (which could have a secondary meaning, which is to mean doing many things simultaneously not so well) and to just keep the lights on and the motor running. From various business books, it's apparent that the businesses that thrive after a recession do so because of investments made during the recession. Investing in some sort of data initiative and an "out of the box" exercise to measure performance might be just the type of thing to keep your business relevant, to help it get ahead, and to help ensure that it doesn't become obsolete.

Food for thought.


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