Sabermetrics And Computer Advances

It’s interesting to think about how modern computers have changed even the game of baseball through the statistical analysis available to analysts since the advent of computers that are able to crunch the numbers.


“In many ways, professional baseball has been slow to recognize the potential impact of statistical and analytical tools. It was not until 1954 that the formal detailed analysis of baseball through mathematics and statistics was pursued. This was at about the same time that American industry was turning toward using statistical and optimization tools to improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness. In a 1954 issue of Life magazine, Branch Rickey, then–chairman of the board of the Pittsburgh Pirates, authored an article in which he described the use of some new measures of baseball performance. (23) Although not named as an author, Allan Roth, a statistician, played a large part in developing and reporting the new measures. (24) Among other equally prescient ideas presented in the article, Rickey and Roth rightly devalued batting average and proposed in its place on-base percentage as a better measure of a batter’s performance. This article would serve as the starting point for baseball’s new statistics, those th at sought to recognize a player’s contribution to scoring runs.

……In the twenty-first century, organized baseball seems to finally be embracing much of what has been learned through the mathematical analysis of the game. The advent of the personal computer in the 1980s made the collection, storage, and crunching of the huge quantities of numbers that baseball analysis necessitates much easier. With this ability, researchers outside of professional baseball have made a significant impact on the analysis of the game. These include members of SABR, an organization founded in 1971 and dedicated to the study of baseball history and statistics; John Thorn and Pete Palmer, whose book The Hidden Game of Baseball, published in 1984, took a historical perspective on the evolution of statistics and went one step further with the introduction of linear regression analysis as a method of measuring player performance; and Bill James, who began to self-publish his work on the mathematical analysis of baseball in 1977.

In many respects, Bill James has been to sabermetrics what Taylor or the Gilbreths were to industrial engineering. (28) James took the smattering of statistical research that had been done through the history of the game and, with single-mindedness and graceful writing, turned the analysis of baseball statistics into an accepted science. However, the impact of his work has been mitigated by the glacial speed of change in on-field strategy by the baseball establishment. Much like the slow acceptance of the quality movement in the United States, organized baseball has been shortsighted in assessing the impact of the new science. But, as many baseball observers, such as journalist Rob Neyer, have commented, a new generation of baseball people, especially general managers, who have grown up on the work of Bill James and others will use the new information. (29)

The typical view of organized baseball’s attitude toward the numerical analysis of the game is expressed in Roger Kahn’s novel The Seventh Game, the prolific baseball writer’s only work of fiction. The team on which the story’s protagonist plays is owned by a man “with degrees in engineering and business” who has an affinity for using computer programs to calculate statistics for analyzing strategies for his team. (30) This owner, who is essentially educated as and playing the role of an industrial engineer in his effort to improve his team, is seen as an annoyance and a harm to the game. Although statistics have been used in the analysis of baseball strategy and performance essentially since the birth of baseball, they are often seen as meddlesome in the enjoyment of the game. Although some bemoan the fact that statistics take the magic out of baseball, no one can argue that they are not essential to the game’s history as well as to its analysis and strategy. As baseball innovator Branch Rickey was quoted as saying, “Luck is a residue of design.” (31) It is virtually impossible to thoughtfully design successful baseball strategy without the use of numerical tools.”

Puerzer, Richard J. “From scientific baseball to sabermetrics: professional baseball as a reflection of engineering and management in society.” Nine Fall 2002: 34+.


How do you think that personal computers have changed baseball?  Do you think the changes are good?

In my daily usage of my own computer, even my life has changed.  The way that I make plans, appointments, and even choose what movie to see has changed.  Instead of just picking a movie that sounds good, I see what the statistical breakdown of all reviews presented amount to on sites like Rotten Tomatoes.  It’s interesting to think about what impact computers have had on old time games such as baseball.

The reason I like baseball so much is how it’s a throwback to an earlier era.  It’s such an unlikely game that probably wouldn’t be invented nowadays.  It’s slower pace and (surface) simplicity hearkens back to an era when things were…slower.  I absolutely LOATHE the new video aided review system where teams can challenge a play.  I liked the aspect where an umpire could potentially make a mistake.  With this video review it feels to technical, too video game.

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