How the Numerati are killing baseball

April 6, 2010

An Utley homer: The computer probably called for the pitch 3 inches to the right.

Optimization may be terrific for factories, and data-driven targeting will no doubt revolutionize marketing. But these arts of the Numerati, I’ve come to believe, are killing baseball as a spectator sport.

Sunday night I was watching the Yankees play the Red Sox in the opening game. This was a scenario I could have only dreamed of a couple decades ago. I was watching two great teams in hi-def on a 40-inch screen. They were playing in Fenway Park, one of the most beautiful fields on earth, and the game, a 9-7 win for the Sox, featured a roaring comeback and clutch home-runs. But I wasn’t done til after midnight, and that’s part of the problem.

The trouble is data. In the data-sparse era I grew up in, teams did not have ‘the book’ on every single hitter and pitcher. They didn’t know, for example, that a certain shortstop hit .086 against left-handers’ curve-balls over the outside corner. Today they know such things. In the old days, teams had a certain idea about how to pitch to two or three sluggers on the other team, and then treated everyone else like commodities