Let's say it's the top of the fourth inning. CC Sabathia just threw strike one to Dustin Pedroia at Yankee Stadium. The balance of power in this at-bat has shifted greatly in the big lefty's favor, right?
Conventional wisdom says yes, but reality tells a different tale.
That tale is being told to many MLB teams these days by Bloomberg Sports, which is making waves throughout baseball.
"The batting average in the big leagues when the batter hits the baseball with a 0-0 count is around .339 to .341 — incredibly high," said Rick Peterson, former A's, Mets and Brewers pitching coach who's now involved with presenting Bloomberg's tools. "If the pitcher gets strike one, and the count goes to 0-1, according to the media, this is a huge advantage for the pitcher, [but] the batting average at the 0-1 count is somewhere close to .320. …The real advantage for a pitcher is once you get to a two-strike count, because every two-strike count [with the exception of 3-2] are all under .200.
"Is strike one an important pitch? It is an important pitch, but the tradeoff is that the average batting average is .339, so you better make a good pitch after strike one," Peterson added, noting that these stats remain true over decades. "And if you happen to throw a ball, you haven't lost a big advantage at this particular point."
When you're working with a game that's hundreds of years old, it can be difficult — and sometimes impossible — to convince people within that game to change their way of thinking. Yet, that's precisely what the folks at Bloomberg Sports are doing. Thanks to tools that have been used in the financial market for 25 years, Bloomberg has the kind of data that makes the convincing an easy task.
"Almost all of these players, they have a burning desire to be the best, without question," Peterson said. "And you can give them a tool to allow them to really open their minds. Because you're not there really debating with them at that particular point. You're just showing them hard, cold data."
"We have encountered much less resistance or concern about technology than you might anticipate," Squadron said. "People have really embraced the fact at this point that technology can be helpful. … Even some of the guys who have been around for a very long time in baseball, they, for the most part, understand that this is now part of the picture."
For Bloomberg, that picture is an all-encompassing, one-stop shop for analytical tools and data. The organization is dedicated to providing MLB teams with information that in the past required several different sources. It also aims to create a "whole new level of insight for fans" by providing information for television broadcasts, beyond basic statistics.
What sets Bloomberg apart from its peers is that it's a web-based system that can be accessed from anywhere in the world. For players, that can mean airports, hotel rooms and just about anywhere else. And, as Peterson explained, it means players and coaches no longer have to rely on carrying physical hard drives, which were limited in space and were typically out of date anyway.
"That is really a major step forward," Squadron said.
In terms of the actual information, Peterson said Bloomberg can provide the type of information that simply brings results.
"From a coaching standpoint, we're not interested in outcome data (ERA, WHIP), but we're more interested in process data," Peterson said, referencing a major change made to John Axford's delivery in Milwaukee. Peterson looked into the mechanics of the pitcher, eventually determining that a move from one side of the mound to the other would greatly help him (you can watch video of the presentation by clicking here).
"In the past, you'd only have subjective information, but now you have data to show specifically because his release point changed by moving him over on the rubber, his outcome data has dropped his ERA from in the low 3's to under 2.00, and he had a 5 percent increase of swings and misses — that's off the charts," Peterson said.
Squadron said that every team needs to be able to apply information with creativity and ingenuity, so there's no magic solution for teams. However, he said Bloomberg's tools are the best available.
"Everyone has embraced the concept that you have to use the state-of-the-art tools in order to be successful, but I always think everyone brings their own perspective to it," he said. "At the end of the day, it's in some ways less about the technology than about the creativity and skill and insight that people bring to using it.
"We feel like we have the best underlying technology and set of tools that's ever been created, and partly because we're leveraging the technology that's been used for the financial markets for 25 years and is really unparalleled worldwide in that area. We're applying that to baseball statistics and to baseball visualization and graphics."
It goes beyond MLB teams, too. Bloomberg offers products for fantasy baseball and fantasy football, which syncs with teams for ESPN.com, Yahoo.com and CBSSports.com. Squadron also said Bloomberg "expects" to offer a professional analytics product for football "down the road," and other sports are being considered as well.
"Our basic plan is to be able to apply our core technology to the data and statistical elements of all major sports in the U.S. and around the world and be able to deliver added value, whether it's to fans or to the professional side of the business, going forward across all the major sports. That is the objective," Squadron said.
For now, baseball is the only professional sports league that is a paying customer, but with 18 MLB teams already signed up for Bloomberg's services, the company has made significant headway in a very short period of time.
Yet, while Bloomberg has been a major part ofthe growth of analytics in the game, Squadron makes clear that sabermetrics can't replace the parts of the game that can't be measured or predicted.
"We don't think technology or data or analysis in any way displaces somebody's observations and insights and all the intangibles that come into play," he said. "All those things are never going to go away and will always be critical. All this does is just help people do their jobs. … At the end of the day, you can't measure how somebody is going to step up to a big moment, or the impact of the wind on a fly ball. These are the things that make sports in some ways so great."
No coach or executive can predict a player's intangibles, but having data on their side helps.
"One of my all-time favorite quotes," Peterson said, "from a consultant for a top Fortune 500 company, is, 'In God we trust; all others must have data.'"
Bloomberg certainly has plenty of data, and as a result, they're building a tremendous amount of trust.
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