In last night's first annual "Tech's On Deck Meetup" at Citi Field, hosted by the New York Mets and Thunder11, some of the best minds in data aligned to discuss the connections between technology, startups, big data, and, of course, baseball. The panel, moderated by Adam Penenberg, an Editor at PandoDaily and Professor of Journalism at New York University, consisted of a hodgepodge of different job titles and backgrounds, all of which were rooted in one thing: making sense—and making use—of big data.
Penenberg began the panel by stating that sports is one of the drivers of technology. He explained that this influence stems from a passion from the consumers (fans) of the product (athletes) wanting to know more, to understand more, and to have that information more easily accessible.
Of course, the connection between data and baseball is a natural one. In the last 15 years, we've seen a major spike in available data in baseball, leading to the emergence of innovative ways to take this data and do something with it. From Michael Lewis' Moneyball to the rise in defensive shifts this season, using data to help with decision making has only increased. However, as the data become more and more available, it will be even more imperative for teams to properly use the data. As Jeffrey Kraut, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Business Informatics at North Shore-LIJ Health System, stated, "you can't be successful unless you organize your data and harness it."
As we've already started to see, teams are embracing big data in different ways. Some teams, like the Oakland A's, are searching for "the diamonds in the rough," according to Dan Wawrzonek, Senior Manager of Projects and Information Technology at Major League Baseball. He explained their process of doing season-by-season comparisons between MVP-level caliber players and then searching for similar starts in minor league players' careers.
Others are going through what Michael Flowers, who formerly served as the City of New York's first Chief Analytics Officer, described as the "old institutions, new thinking" phenomenon. In essence, they're looking to become more efficient at what they've already been doing instead of searching for a different way to do things. At its core, that's what having access to so much data can do.
There's still a problem, though. As Wawrzonek explained, "[baseball] captures over 1,000 unique data points for each player." With that much data, how are teams to know what to prioritize? The answer is simple: they won't.
Wawrzonek brought up the example of FIELDf/x tracking data, which, for the record, was discussed a few times, and joked that they still don't even know what they're going to do with the data.
But, maybe that's the point.
Kirk McDonald, President of PubMatic and former President of Digital at Time Inc., noted that this is the first time in history when the consumer can so easily join the conversation. Technology—be it blogs, social media, or some other form of digital communication—allows the consumer to be a part of the discussion that decides what is produced.
At the end of the panel, Penenberg posed the question, "what does the future have in store?" All of the panel members had interesting ideas about how data will continue to evolve both baseball and technology. And, that was the answer: open dialogue.
It's us, the writers, readers, thought-leaders, and fans, who will help to decide how these data are used. Analyzing new concepts, identifying underlying trends, and continuing to push the envelope on the data that we do have will lead to a better future for baseball and data.
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Evan Kendall is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score, co-founder of The Sports Post, and contributor to Athletics Nation. You can follow him on Twitter at @Evan_TSP.