Advanced analytics and statistical analysis is as present in the game of baseball now as it has ever been before.
But that isn’t really news, is it?
Since the book ‘Moneyball’ was published back in 2003, we’ve been hearing about the battle between outdated, out-of-touch scouts and out of their depth, in over their head stat-geeks in newspapers, books, reports, etc.
But, in recent years, that “battle” has become much less visible or interesting, as teams have found ways to blend the benefits of traditional scouting with the advantages of statistical analysis. Instead, the real battleground has appeared in the research and development departments between teams themselves.
Consider, for example, the years following the Ricketts family’s purchase of the Chicago Cubs. First Theo Epstein came aboard, and then, a barrage of talented, analytically-minded executives, scouts, and consultants joined in (Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod, Shiraz Rehman, Jaron Madison, Jason Parks, and Tom Tango, to name a few of the more visible examples). Now, the Cubs have one of the largest, most forward-thinking front offices in baseball … but it wasn’t cheap.
According to Lindberg and Arthur, not only have individual “stat-heads” become more highly valued, but also just about every team in baseball is hiring more and more of them (making it a good market if you’re looking for a job [Brett: Well, relatively-speaking. Any job in a baseball front office is going to be very hard to come by. But, if you get one, can we be friends?]).
For example, in 2009, just 44 people in baseball fit the FiveThirtyEight-mold of employees that are solely focused on quantitative or statistical analysis. Moreover, a third of the teams in baseball had not one such employee at all. Today, in 2016, there are 156 employees that fit that mold, and not a single team is without at least one of them.
What seems to be happening now is a statistically-oriented arms race between MLB teams in their front offices.
However, from Lindberg and Arthur’s perspective, that is money well spent; money that teams should consider “chump change.” Although, it’s not quite playing out as “chump change,” any longer, for the smaller market teams that want to find a cheap edge. In fact, in a stark contrast to the early 2000s, the richest teams in baseball now have by far the biggest analytical departments in the league. What used to be led by the Rays, A’s, Indians, Padres and Pirates is now being led by the Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs, Red Sox, etc.
So check it out, and learn more about the battleground that is advanced analytics, growing front offices, the relative cost of adding more employees, the relationship between scouting and analytics, and the impact on the game of baseball.