One of the common perceptions in sports is that analytics do not belong in the game of baseball. It is too boring. It is something only nerds like. It brings nothing to the table. It has no benefit.
While the numbers may seem daunting and the statistics may seem like overkill, analytics, through all the graphs and charts, have a purpose. Let’s first look at this from the general manager’s perspective.
Paying players based on past production was the name of the game 15 years ago. If a big, buff and burly first baseman hit the open market after driving in 120 runs and mashing 25 home runs, he would have jumped up and down at the big dollar signs that he would inevitably received.
However, what if I were to tell you that the same batter was in his prime, struck out over 190 times, had a tendency to pull the ball, did not hit well on the road, and had a tendency to catch every break when the opposing outfielders misread the ball and let it drop. In this hypothetical, the first baseman did not live up to the contract and was unable to produce anywhere close to what he did previously.
If this happened to the general manager who signed him, the owner would run him out of town and not have the courtesy to give him a bus ticket. With the advancement of analytics, general managers look not at past production, but future production. What will you give my team for the next five years? While, of course, the numbers might not be precise, it can give general managers an idea of what to expect. It gives them a safer estimate on what a player is worth and what a player will positively do on the field.
In this case, analytics help in determining which free agents are worth the dough. In another case, analytics can help with drafting. Looking at the data from an advanced standpoint helps get players that can best help the team in the future. General managers use the increased data to get more booms than busts in regard to players. Not using the system could, similarly to above, cost them their job.
What about players? With analytics, players can further hone their craft by improving on weaknesses of their game. With analytics, players potentially become more complete. With more data, players can see aspects that might not necessarily be seen in film sessions.
Analytics does not solve every problem and can be wrong at times. Projections are just that — projections. A player can get hurt or simply not live up to the expectations. Nothing is perfect.
Everything has a benefit, though, including that of analytics. Respect it. It has a place in the game — a big one, actually. Set aside the usual fan opinion on analytics and look at it from a more objective angle. It will surprise you in a big way.