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How Analytics Is Shaping the 2018 World Series and Baseball’s Future

Ahead of Game 3 of the 2018 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers, SportTechie spoke to Vince Gennaro to get insight into this year’s Fall Classic matchup and the future of analytics in baseball. Gennaro is the president of the Society of American Baseball Research and associate dean and clinical associate professor of NYU’s Tisch Institute for Global Sport.
The Impact of Analytics on the 2018 World Series
“Both teams are very prepared in that both teams have studied the information available to them. What I do think though is that the Red Sox were constructed in a way that is really completely in step with today’s game. I think the Red Sox have done a terrific job—as have the Dodgers.”
“The teams that are most likely to reach the World Series, or certainly the ones that make the postseason, are the teams that are in the top third of the league in analytics, and then also are particularly good at blending that with the scouting side of the sport. The blending is an important aspect. Analytics will not give them all the answers, but it will be a great component of the decision process along with top scouting insights from expert individuals who have years and years of experience.”
Baseball’s Analytics Era
“There’s so much that can be unlocked in the experience of insights of the people who have been around the game for years who are observing specific attributes that we’re not measuring today. I don’t know that that will ever change, but it’s also because we’re really in the early stages of analytics. It’s taken a real leap forward in the last three or four years in the Statcast era, but that’s only the beginning of the explosion of Big Data. From 2005 to 2015, that 10 year window, we increased the volume of data of what goes on during a baseball game by 1.3 million times.”
“We’re on the cusp now of integrating beyond what goes on on the field of play. We’re now talking about integrating neuroscience information. We’re talking about integrating biometrics about health and wellness.”
Engaging Fans With Data
“Numbers—data, statistics—are deeply ingrained in the culture of baseball. While in another sport that might seem like almost intrusive on enjoying the sport, it is actually one of the ways that people have learned and enjoy the game of baseball. Either by looking at the back of the baseball card when they were a kid growing up or going to a ballgame with their mom or dad and scoring it on a scoresheet. Those parts are very culturally ingrained.”
“Now when you take it to the next level of getting into things like exit velocity and launch angle, that’s an acquired taste. That’s going to be something that some fans drive on and seek out, and other fans would perhaps consider that would interfere with the romance of the sport.”
Baseball and Sports Betting
“Baseball is ripe to see betting expand and part of it is that there are so many ways to analyze the game. And one of the reasons there’s so many ways to analyze it is the key component of the game is this discrete matchup, the confrontation between the pitcher and the batter. A lot of other sports are more continuous—flow sports—and they’re harder to assign value. They’re harder to isolate and measure.”
“This is the stuff that teams do all the time: They assess how their hitters respond to certain pitchers. Not by looking at the fact that they got six hits in 15 at bats, because that’s not significant enough, but rather how do they react to the pitcher that releases the ball from a certain point. How do they react to pitches that have downward movement. How do they react to a pitcher who pitches more to the inside part of the plate, to one who throws a changeup. All these different attributes of pitchers are meaningful in terms of how a hitter is expected to perform.”
“When you start clustering pitchers by similarity and seeing how hitters hit against those, you can start to make some real inferences. And when you rack all that up, when you look at a team’s roster and you say ‘Well you know what? This is not a great pitcher that they’re going to face, but they’re at a real disadvantage today because none of their hitters perform particularly well against this type of pitcher.’ That’s where the bettors will be attracted to inefficiencies like that in the market that may or may not be reflected in the odds.”

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The Value of Data for Players
“J.D. Martinez of the Red Sox has really optimized his talent with the use of analytics. He has crafted his swing, his swing mechanics, so that he gets maximum impact for the talent that he has. He becomes in many ways a model for other hitters … Here’s a guy who understands the dimensions of the ballpark. One of the wonderful great things about baseball is that the ballpark dimensions vary so much. He understands the dimensions of the ballpark that he plays in—Fenway Park in Boston—and has tailored his swing for that ballpark. I think he is a really textbook example of a player who has remade his career using information to his advantage.”
Talent Versus Intelligence
“It used to be talent trumped everything. But today because of the volume of information that exists, and how much we know about a player, how much a pitcher knows about a hitter, how much a hitter knows about a pitcher before they even face them, it’s the ability to continue along that chess match.”
“We know what the holes in this guy’s swing are, we’re going to exploit them. That used to take months or years to figure out with a certain hitter. Now you will know that probably before they take their first major league at bat.”
“I do think that if we could find a way, a good way to assess an athlete’s learning agility, his ability to incorporate new information into his game, then that will be another variable that will help select really great talent.”
“Just because someone performs well at the mid-level in the minors, it doesn’t mean he’s the best candidate for promotion to the next level of the minors, or that he projects necessarily to success at the major league level. It depends on what his skills are, and it also depends on obviously the quality of competition he’s facing. But it finally also depends on whether he’s adaptable enough, once people respond to him, to be able to make that next chess move.”
Home-Field Advantage in Los Angeles
“I would expect the Dodgers to put up a more formidable showing back in LA. That 40-degree difference of temperature is not a trivial thing. The Dodgers are not accustomed to playing in the weather that we saw in Boston, and the Red Sox are a little more accustomed to that, so I think that we’ll see a more even series.”
“Like most American League teams, the Red Sox are supremely built for the designated hitter. They will lose that when they go to the three games in LA now—Games 3, 4, and 5—and I think the pendulum will swing back to LA having an upper hand. Not just because you’re playing at home, but because they’re not as designed to employ the DH the way the Red Sox are, and the Red Sox are not designed to take one bat out of the lineup and have the pitcher hit. That they both hone their games appropriately to the leagues they play in will make the home-field advantage a pretty pronounced thing.”


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