First, get all of the “Assistant (to the) Regional Manager” jokes out of your system.

We good? Ok.

Tonight, Blogs With Balls hosted an event featuring Bloomberg Sports (the Chicago Cubs’ new technology partner) and Assistant to the GM Shiraz Rehman.

You’ll recall, earlier this offseason, the Chicago Cubs announced a partnership with Bloomberg Sports to handle the organization’s technology needs. I described it this way:

In short, Bloomberg Sports will help the Cubs actually implement the technological requirements for their overall scouting/player evaluation/player development/player health system. Beyond that, there isn’t a whole lot of “news” here. The Cubs were going to need to satisfy the tech side of things somehow. Bloomberg Sports is that somehow.

That’s the gist.

The Cubs/Bloomberg Sports partnership is not unique, you’ll note. Indeed, 25 MLB teams use Bloomberg Sports in some way for their data management. The system, which can be customized and made proprietary to each organization, is robust. The presentation tonight showed some of the nitty gritty, which, as you can see, is all kinds of nitty and gritty:

That’s a view of every pitch that Matt Garza threw – type, location, result, pitch f/x, etc. – in his last five starts in 2011. You can do it for the whole season, break it down by every conceivable variable (pitch count, pitch sequence, batter faced, game situation, on and on), and watch video for every single pitch.

The point is, Bloomberg doesn’t create and record any new data or stats. But it makes existing data and stats available to teams as quickly, efficiently, and effectively as ever.

And that’s one of the keys for the Cubs, according to Rehman, who took the stage after Bill Squadron, from Bloomberg Sports, had done his thing. Summing up what the Bloomberg Sports system does for the Cubs, Rehman explained: “How can we get access to all the different pieces of information to make the decisions we make, in one place, and get it quickly?”

The Cubs are able to customize the system however they like – the details of which, naturally, Rehman wouldn’t share. He walked through, generically, how the Cubs use the system. The sense I got is this: The Bloomberg system doesn’t make decisions for the Cubs – it gives them the largest possible toolbox with which to make their own decisions.

One of the many interesting bits Rehman shared is that the Cubs ask their minor league managers to write a bit about each game, which is logged into the data system, and in which the Cubs track certain things about players. That way, when it comes time to make decisions, the Cubs will have a great deal more than just the numbers. I imagine that kind of practice isn’t wholly new (maybe it is), but having it all organized and tracked together within one centralized system is all kinds of awesome.

All in all, a good presentation. If you were there, I’m sure we’d all love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

A few random notes from the Q&A portion:

  • Rehman noted that the Cubs are constantly tweaking the way they gather information about players (what inputs we deem important, how to rate certain things, etc.). He separately noted that the Bloomberg system is constantly refined per the Cubs’ instructions so that they get optimal use from it.
  • Rehman was asked about what players think about the explosion and wide availability of analytical data, and whether they take advantage of it by checking themselves out on the web. He said that some players are deeply interested in all available data on themselves, and they read what we read. Some are less interested in higher-end analytics like that. Overall, it’s increased over the past decade.
  • Rehman pointed out all the value that can be found in bounce-back candidates (which he acknowledged was a big strategy this Winter), noting that guys like Cliff Lee, Josh Hamilton, and Roy Halladay were very available at some point over the last five years, and now they’re MVP/Cy Young types. It’s hard, but it can be done.
  • Rehman noted that teams evaluate the value of players based on both the advanced statistics about value (WAR, for example), and a generalized notion of what the market will bear.

(Shiraz, for what it’s worth, came off as – here’s a shock – smart, funny, well-spoken, and likable. Who would’ve guessed?)

  • Aisle 424

    I didn’t see where they were measuring scrap or heart. That system will not help at all.

    • Brett

      Customizable. I assumed that was the first two-tiered tab the Cubs added.

      • DocWimsey

        Yeah, it just tallies the length and number awkward pauses of sports talk radio hosts as they try to find a 3rd adjective to describe a player, with the +/- sign determined by the initial adjective.  That’s got to be the best measure, right?

      • Joey Jo Jo Junior

        What about grit?

      • Turn Two

        I continue to love scrappy, you all can mock as you will, but scrappiness is one of the few things that is still safe from mathematical analysis. This may sound very 1st half of the twentieth centuryish but occasionally you do still have to watch the games to know what works.

        • JasonB

          It isn’t safe from mathematical analysis because stat heads have already assigned a value to it- that value is zero.

  • Luke

    I would love to have access to that data system.

  • MightyBear

    After having a strong 19th century and a less than adequate 20th century, it is good to see the Chicago national league baseball club coming into the 21st century.

  • MichiganGoat

    Looking forward to seeIng how this determines the elusive scrappy factor.

  • TC

    I saw someone from Bloomberg Sports go through this at the Cubs Convention. My jaw was on the floor, the entire time. The sheer amounts of data and ways to interpret it was, like, remarkable.

    My favorite bit was the breakdown of pitch tendencies by piechart, where it showed the percentages of what a guy would throw first pitch, and you could click on one, and it would give the percentages of the second given the first. Craziness

  • djriz

    Does this mean 5 hour games?

    The first time I see a hitter at the plate with an i-Pad, I’m becoming a soccer fan.

    • brittney

      Love this comment except I am a soccer fan. I will becoming a golf fan if that happens. I love all this new data system but at heart I love old fashioned baseball. I know we have to change with the time but I love watching games from when it was paper and pencil, gut instinct, ect….I am excited overall to see how theo&co really put this to use!

  • TeddyBallGame

    Another example of how things are being done differently in our front office. Continue to be excited for what’s in store for the Cubs in the coming years…

  • Bobo Justis

    There once was a Cub team with GRIT
    That gave their opponents a fit
    By stealing first base
    They could be in first place
    But instead it was the usual ____.

    Our Cub team was tenaciously SCRAPPY
    And it made us fans endlessly happy
    We were totally sold
    On Campana and Fuld
    But the won/loss remained mighty ______.

    The Cub farm team in Pawtucket
    Carried their HEART in a bucket
    The bucket overflowed
    But the team still blowed
    And the fans could only say ____ __.

  • Andrewmoore4isu

    There once was a Cub team with GRIT
    That gave their opponents a fit
    By stealing first base
    They could be in first place
    But instead it was the usual RACE.

    Our Cub team was tenaciously SCRAPPY
    And it made us fans endlessly happy
    We were totally sold
    On Campana and Fuld
    But the won/loss remained mighty OFF PACE.

    The Cub farm team in Pawtucket
    Carried their HEART in a bucket
    The bucket overflowed
    But the team still blowed
    And the fans could only say “NOT FIRST PLACE”.

    • Ogyu

      There once was a poster named moore
      Whose rhymes were horrendously poor.
      He made everyone groan
      As they viewed their iPhone
      ‘Cause his verse was too much to endure.

  • CubSouth

    I was so tired of reading the same old blogs
    Til I stumbled upon BN, which rocks.
    Now I have meaning to my life
    Not taking anything from my beautiful wife
    Whom, like me, thinks the Sox can suck …

  • Toosh

    There once was an owner from Boston
    Who common sense was lost on

    He claims he was deceived
    When he let his GM leave

    Then tried to blame Carl Crawford’s cost on

  • die hard

    You cant have too much information in any line of work including baseball. Information suggests trends, exposes weaknesses in strategy, and allows for corrective measures. However, analyzing can lead to over analysis which could lead to indecision. This is especially true in athletics where instinct is so important. When a batter outthinks himself at the plate, he lets the fat pitch go and swings for the fences chasing the slider off the plate. When a fielder cheats to the left he misses the easy grounder to the right. If they use these tools once a month instead of every day, that may be the balance necessary to make best use of the information.

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  • Jay Anderson Jr

    All this analytical crap is good for scouting opposing players pregame, but not for really signing players to your team. I hate all this peripherals crap. I hate when numbers say this guy is doing that but he could be doing this. I believe you can develop players at an early age, say 16-23, but after that, you are what you are. You can have fluke seasons, good or bad, but if you have 3 straight seasons of high 4 ERA, then thats who you are. If you have 3 straight seasons of hitting .220, then that’s who you are. Coaching can tweak this and that, and in some instances, they do improve on their stats, but that is very rare. Even the best hitting or pitching coaches have little success with improving players statistical output at a high rate. I say the best coaches have a 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 major improvement rate, and even that may be high. If we are going to use computers to tell us that Josh Hamilton would turn into Josh Hamilton, then what are scouts fo. If this data shows us that an opposing player can’t hit the slider low and away, or can’t hit the high fast ball, then I’m all for it. If we are using it to sign our future “Super Stars” out of the bounce back pool, then we are in trouble.

    Wonder what kind of machine told Theo to sign David Ortiz. Maybe the same one that told him to sign J.D. Drew.

    • Brett

      You’ve misunderstood the entire purpose of this tool. It doesn’t make decisions for anyone – it makes the decisions incrementally easier and more effective. Scouting remains important. Analyzing data remains important. Your suggestion that valuable players can’t slip through the cracks is, well, flatly wrong. It’s happened time and time again. And if the Cubs can use this tool to help them identify those players, why on Earth would you be opposed to it?

      (That is just a sliver of what I disagree with in your comment, for what it’s worth.)

      • Jay Anderson Jr

        The reason I’m against it is because we spend to much time looking for the David Ortizs of the world, instead of going after the Miguel Cabreras. I’m not against it, but if you build your team off of guys that might slip through the cracks, you are going to struggle. I would rather sign guys based off the old school, he has raw power, a good swing, good patience, pure speed concept. I think a tool like this can hinder us as much as help us.

        It reminds of the shooting sleeves the NBA guys wear. They look cool, and everybody uses them, but how much better do they really make your jumpshot. Maybe I’m just old school, but I ain’t buying.

    • Norm

      The people who aren’t a fan of computer analytics seem to believe that it’s computers or bust, and ignore scouting. That’s just wrong. It’s BOTH. The more info the better.

      What about a guy that has an ERA of 3.00 in year 1, then 3.80 in year 2, and then 4.50 in year 3….what kind of pitcher is he?
      And what if his shortstop went from Ozzie Smith to Derek Jeter? Don’t you think that change in player would have an impact on his ERA?? Sure it would. But his *peripherals* would be the same and we can see that his true talent is the same as it ever was.

    • hansman1982

      I love how much statistical analysis and using computers to scout players polarizes some people.

  • Brett

    There once were a handful of turds
    Who sat while typing some words.
    They spent so much time
    Searching for rhymes
    They were surprised to learn they were nerds.

    • die hard

      From Wikipedia

      Nerd is a derogatory slang term for an intellectual but socially-impaired, perhaps obsessive person who spends inordinate amounts of time on unpopular, obscure, or highly technical pursuits, or relating to topics of fiction or fantasy, to the exclusion of more mainstream activities. Nerds will tend to associate with a small group of like-minded people. As with other pejoratives, nerd has been reappropriated by some as a term of pride and group identity.

      BN=Bleacher Nerds?

      • Brett

        Fair by me. I consider myself a total nerd.

      • Dave H

        I’d say everyone on BN would fall into that category by definition. This place is obscure and could be considered fiction and possibly fantasy. It is definitely not unpopular though.

    • Toosh

      I resemble that remark.

  • When the Music’s Over

    I was there last night, and was pretty blown away by the system itself. The amount of time it takes to track that data must be staggering (i had no clue someone splices up video of every single pitch). Shiraz was cool and very patient and cordial with all questions; however, nothing he said seemed too telling or surprising, which was to be expected.

    One thing that surprised me about it all (although maybe it shouldn’t have), is that Bloomberg Sports hopes to sell this product directly to players in a large scale. I asked this question last night, but Shiraz really didn’t have a great way to answer it: At what point are players going to be inundated with so much data that they get over cerebral about their approach to the game, and therefore water down their natural physical instincts? I think in many players cases there is a fine line of data use effectiveness.

    So the next question is, how do the front office management and coaches effectively relay/use this data without over-complicating the game for the players themselves?

    • Brett

      I liked that question, by the way, but it seemed like Shiraz wasn’t really zeroing in on your point.

      It’s a really interesting issue, and one that’s probably hard for front office types (read: highly educated, super smart) to talk about publicly in a candid way, given that they’d appear to be talking about the “intelligence” of their players (read: often didn’t attend college). I have no doubt that many players are super smart. I also have no doubt that many players are super dim. It’s probably a tricky issue to discuss, and one that will be even more difficult to work with such a wide range of players on.

      • Scotti

        Brett, if the end-product that gets to the players requires a college education then the system is worthless. However, if the end-product is the same data that has been given to players for over a century of baseball (tendencies, etc.), but in a more reliable way (statistical rather than anecdotal) and a very accessible way (simple graphs/video via iPads or other commonly used media) then the system is very valuable.

        Asking a player to understand the components of WAR, etc. (where a college education comes in handy) is unnecessary. WAR isn’t a driver stat. Driver stats are, for example, base hits and strikeouts. A player learning ACCURATE tendencies of opponents in a simple (quick) way helps to improve those driver stats that, ultimately, improve WAR, etc.

        • Brett

          I don’t disagree with any of that. But I’m trying to imagine what that product looks like, if it doesn’t already exist.

  • When the Music’s Over

    Oh, and the event itself was very well done. Free food and free booze make me very happy. Enough said.

    • Brett


  • JB88

    I haven’t read all the comments, so I apologize if someone made the same point, but I’d love to see this analytic used at the minor league level. To me, at that level you are able to instill good habits and correct bad ones and having this sort of data at the minors would certainly seem to differentiate the Cubs from other organizations.

  • Reality Check

    I think different people can find success in different ways, some people are analytical while others aren’t. I remember back when I used to speak at seminars, I would never practice beforehand. The more I practiced, the more I found myself making mistakes, and then I would obsess over them and psyche myself out worrying about making this same mistakes. I did much better creating an overview of what would be discussed and then just free-styled once onstage. Doing it this way took all the stress and pressure off me; I knew I could do it, and do it well, as long as I didn’t psyche myself out beforehand. For a lot of other people that worked with me, practicing over and over was necessary to have the confidence to get onstage. For me all these stats would make make me overthink, and over analyze everything. In baseball you have a fraction of a second to decide to swing or not, and all this data would work against my natural instincts. For other more analytical types however this may be very helpful. I know a good teacher learns how their students learn best, and then teach the kids accordingly. Hopefully the cubs don’t force all players to learn the same way. Some guys have natural talent and instincts and I’d hate to see all players treated the same..

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