The Marginalizing Humanity Debate… Stats Are Smarter and Fair

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

Nobody likes to lose. It sucks. Just image any losing scenario. Maybe your team gets robbed by a bad call. Or your team is poorly prepared because it lacks scouting tools. Or maybe management doesn’t understand how to assemble a winner because the front office people in the organization are constantly looking at the wrong data.

Each of those losing scenarios is historically accurate. Historically, front office people had no way of controlling that reality. Fortunately society and technology have evolved effectively and enables games to be played on an even playing field with replay, and front offices have to become smarter and more effective with the help of statistics and analysis.

My Dad – a self-made man who has an impressive resume and no college degree – always said, “They teach you one thing at Harvard Business school: If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage.”

Ah, dad’s and their seminal wisdom.

This is a quote from my Dad that I was never reluctant to admit truth in or steal and use. As it applies to business, so too does the meaning apply in sports.

So many times in sports the outcome of a game can be changed simply by better, more thorough preparation. Statistics provide that necessary data to fuel more prepared teams and better outcomes to games.

My suspicion is that Loyal Homer is going to bring up the famed “gut feeling” manager of the last era in baseball, Bobby Cox. I really like Bobby Cox and believe is an amazing manager, one of the best baseball has ever had. Hid gut was impressive in many of the calls he made, for sure. But it was no perfect. And as many calls as he would get right, sometimes he would get it wrong by making the wrong gut choice. Though he did win on World Series in 1995, that was prior to the now dominant emphasis on statistics. In fact, when stats and sabermetrics became a bigger part of baseball, Bobby Cox’s teams started to be less effective, and a seemingly dominant manager and team began to slip in the division, and then disappear from the national stage entirely.

During that time – from the late 1990s to the 2000s – sabermetrics took off in popularity and usefulness. For those unfamiliar with the concept, sabermetrics is the scientific use of statistical data to make baseball decisions. Bill James is the father of sabermetrics. He has written over 20 books on the use of statistics in managing baseball and has become an integral part of one of the most successful baseball franchises in the past eight years, the Boston Red Sox.

We all know the history of the fledgling Red Sox. At one time the franchise was considered perpetually snake bitten and impossible to take to a World Series. Then he was hired as a Senior Advisor in Baseball Operations because of his impressive resume in statistics and analysis. What happened next? The Red Sox won a pair of World Series championships, first in 2004 then again in 2007.

Those victories were no gut feel, lucky wins, either. They were a collection of seasons, games, and moments that were carefully analyzed and accurately diagnosed with the help of statistics that helped forecast the right managerial and front office moves.

Boston went from virtual irrelevance to a now traditional power in a division that was dominated by the New York Yankees. Since the Red Sox adopted the philosophy, many other teams have as well, including the San Francisco Giants, The Tampa Rays, the Philadelphia Phillies, and many more. It does not get more obvious – statistics and analysis help a team win, and good decision making from analysis makes good teams great. It is the modern approach for getting the most out of the collection of talent on a team.

As enchanting as they are, hunches and gut feels are a thing of the past. As much as we all may want the charming approach of yesteryear to remain the standard – especially in a sport like baseball – it simply isn’t reality if the goal is to win, and win consistently.

A gut feeling is not business like. It is uncontrolled and a not a repeatable process. It is not something that can be replicated and enhanced for improvement. It is very risky. In an era where teams are less willing to make bold and risky moves, statistics help govern winning actions. And, that’s okay. Like it or not, it is progress.

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