Very few industries have avoided the slow but sure march of digitalization, but baseball has been on the leading edge of embracing big data. For many, baseball represents a timeless American pastime, but data and technology have long played a role in baseball. Whether it’s embracing stadium technology, radar guns, or the use of data analysis, commonly referred to as Sabermetrics. Today, big data represents a world of possibilities that no ball team can afford to ignore and which may change the game forever.
Until the last few years, using data analysis to gain insight and improve gameplay granted teams a big competitive advantage. These data-powered teams were a step ahead of the game and understood competitor patterns as well as their own strengths and weaknesses. Now, sports teams must adopt the regular use of data to maintain relevancy.
Data Use in Baseball Evolves
American baseball was first recognized in 1845, though some variation of the sport had been played long before then. The early days of the game were much different, when simple scoring and rules governed the sport. In the 20th century, however, player statistics started gaining importance for those who played, and became part of the fun for fans. Batting averages, running averages, and other popular statistics grew in importance for both small town teams and professionals.
In the 1980s, sabermetrics started to take hold, making it possible to measure in-game activity at a more in-depth and quantitative level. In the last few years, the importance of data has shifted, but the field of data analysis continues to explore the inner workings of the game to create better teams and better management.
Today, many teams employ data analysts to help pick apart the common metrics used to measure activities. Teams are using WAR (wins above replacement), BABIP (batting averages on balls in play), and FIP (fielding independent pitching) scores, among other short-term (game) and long-term (season or years) metrics.
Taking Sabermetrics One Step Further
With radar guns and other technologies, baseball teams can more accurately take measurements and convert them into usable analytics. In 2016, expect even more teams to start adopting the regular use of analytics to improve player placement, individual performance, and team plays.
Biometric trackers invite the study of physical movement as well as the typical measurements of trajectory and force. Real-time analytics promise more accurate refereeing, and gives fans a much faster understanding of what is happening on the field. Statcast, a real-time tracking platform, premiered in 2015, giving viewers, players, and managers an unprecedented level of real-time data.
Many sports teams have started developing proprietary analytics to help them gain a competitive advantage once more, and the race to learn more and build better teams continues. In 2016, the availability of data may start to change the way the game is played. At this time, Major League Baseball is considering altering the definition of strikes and changing the official rulebook (link to data that supports this). As more things change in our beloved sport, the question becomes not if, but how different the great American pastime might look when compared to when it started as a simple ball and bat game.