The Oakland A’s are well noted for being one of the first organizations to use sabermetrics with the story of how they came to use mathematical data in a new and different way being depicted In the movie Money Ball.
After a long period of being out of contention the A’s have re-emerged these last few years as an organization still led by the legendary Billy Beane having done so on a paupers budget.
The A’s winners of their division with a win tonight will advance to the American League Championship Series with a rookie pitcher on the mound.
The answers to how they have accomplished this against teams with double and near triple the amount of resources the A’s have, can be found in the same theories and statistical tools that all those in baseball have available and use themselves. That is— the A’s are metrically better than their counter parts.
I recently took a look at the many sites, and articles that feature and discuss issues regarding the ever evolving field of using statistics to help organizations make wide ranging decisions about their teams and most importantly assist them in deciding who will be on the field and who will not in every conceivable game situation imaginable.
These terms are fed to us ad-infinitum and bandied about endlessly in newspapers, stat sheets and baseball broadcasts.
I came away from it all with a headache— as can sometimes happen when I am presented with data over load and with intellectuals and pseudo intellectuals discussing their theories and ideas while arguing over minute points.
However it should be noted that this is normally the case when you get theorists in any enclosed community discussing what is their labor of love and passion.
I also came away with a greater appreciation of the abilities to think, reason, interpret and understand the data you are looking at in a manner that others do not. In addition to a further affirmed conviction of what Major League Baseball does not use very well–and that is their use of psychometrics and their relative capacities to creatively integrate all available data. But that discussion is for another day.
As it pertains to working with data as a psychologist I have administered hundreds of evaluations that helped to yield information that would assist all involved to make decisions about people’s abilities as well as their psychological status– while at times also deciding if they were a danger to themselves or others.
In addition, I have been privileged to have read thousands of similar reports written by others and have been asked to give my thoughts on the data they reported.
These experiences have allowed me to appreciate not only the value of what information, data, tests and statistics can be used for — but also their limitations.
But most importantly, it has also been my experience that you can have mounds of sophisticated data which only accounts for so much predictability. With today’s computers you can create enough reports and data to wipe out our planets trees.
Way too often professionals rely on the reports that their computer systems give them, rather than interpreting and integrating the data yielded—-leading them not to be able to see the forest for the trees.
It seems interpreting your own data in many ways to be a lost art. Unfortunately, many young psychologists simply print out canned reports sold to them by the publishers, and fill in the names—it is the same in other fields as well.
Moreover, common sense suggests that if you do not interpret or use your data correctly it is worthless. Erroneous conclusions can have very tangible effects on people’s lives—and baseball teams.
Sabermetricans in baseball come up with never ending measurements and statistics which they give various names to that are all attempts to predict how players will perform. These experts are also subject to the incontrovertible fact that some are better at it than others– much like the players they are evaluating and the general public.
Thus one again, given the same data which in baseball is easily measurable those that use that data most effectively and in novel ways to achieve the proper information they require to make decisions will do better than others—and that is exactly what the A’s are doing.
Recent studies have concluded that the United States lags behind the rest of the world in math and science, this should come as no surprise as our education system and government are a mess. The capacity for higher order thinking, and problem solving, as well as abstract and conceptual reasoning is not being promulgated in our schools, and it is sorely lacking in our ineffective government.
The ability to formulate plans of action based upon imposed realities like the ones the teams like the Rays, Pirates and A’s face speaks to their creative and higher order thinking capacities. One Ray’s executive recently stated that think multiple years ahead in making present day decisions.
The Saint Louis Cardinals clearly have an overall organizational strategy that they adhere to. Both teams have had periods of sustained success.
We can only hope for these types of our approaches in our educational system.
No one should rely on data alone as there are so many other variables and life situations that are not adequately measured by data or can impede one’s ability to use the data their optimally.
For example, the effects of tragedy on a player’s life or the personality characteristics of those in charge who you have to convince that your data is their best bet in making the decisions that are in front of them.
However, with careful enough scrutiny and study you can at least prepare for these contingencies. And of course as a last resort, there is always human judgment and intuition available!
Nonetheless, the A’s have best successfully dealt with all of these hurdles which has led them to not only win their division, but be one game away from going to the American League Championship Series. What do you think other teams would have given to be in their position?