Moneyball & the Analytics of a Red Sox Playoff Panic

September 23, 2011
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Analytics of a Red Sox Playoff Panic photo (predictive analytics)

Author: Amanda Brandon
Spotfire Blogging Team

Analytics of a Red Sox Playoff Panic photo (predictive analytics)

Author: Amanda Brandon
Spotfire Blogging Team

Today is the debut of the movie all baseball data analytics fans have been waiting for – Moneyball. We’ve pulled together some interesting data on the movie and we have some analysis on the likelihood of the Red Sox making it to the playoffs next month.

We’re centering on the Red Sox because the team was the focus of an analytics contest back in March. See our coverage of how predictive analytics helped John Tobin of Portsmouth, Rhode Island beat out over 3,000 entrants to win $300 in Boston.com’s Fan Prediction Contest. Congrats to John!

Now, let’s look at how Moneyball applies to data analytics. The movie centers on the true story of Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt), the general manager of the Oakland Athletics who leveraged analysis and a sabermetric approach to scouting baseball players.

A good example comes from the Sabermetric Manifesto by David Grabiner with the question “Which player on the Red Sox contributed the most to the team’s offense?”

This is a good question given that there is already talk of a Red Sox panic about not making it to the playoffs. Apparently, no team failed to qualify for the playoffs when leading by eight games or more in September.

Things could change as the Red Sox have had a major pitching problem and only have a two-and-a-half game advantage over the Tampa Bay Rays for the wildcard playoff slot (at the time of this post).

At the beginning of the month, they were given a 99.4 percent chance of making the playoffs. Now, the fans are a little edgy, as they should be. The franchise has had its share of  historic collapses.

However, the analysts think there’s nothing to panic about – yet.

Andrew Mooney, a sophomore at Harvard and an active member of the Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective, says there’s no need to panic yet because Boston has a scheduling advantage over the hot Rays right now. His September 13th post Andres says that the next 20-some-odd games are more advantageous for the Sox over the Rays.

As Mooney says, “You’ve got a 10-game home stand coming (winning percentage at Fenway: .592), while the Rays will be away for their next 11 (winning percentage on the road: .557).”

So when the Red Sox and Rays each lose games as is the case over the last few days, the Sox continue to gain an advantage.

Our in-house sabermetrics expert and self-proclaimed Fantasy Sports geek, Brett Stupakevich, also contributed some analysis on the topic of whether the Red Sox have a reason to panic. Here’s his review of the Spotfire visualization below.

image0011 300x192 photo (predictive analytics)“Spotfire’s visualization leads me to the insight that the Red Sox will most likely make the playoffs this season because 2010 was the lone season of the past four that not one player at the top of the Sox batting order played at 5+ WAR production,” Brett says.

The WAR production rate translates to the number of wins that a player added to the team above a replacement player. For instance, a WAR of 5+ is of All-Star caliber.

“Given the addition of Adrian Gonzalez to Ellsbury and Pedroia, 2011’s top of the batting order has multiple 5+ WAR producers,” Brett says. Translation, don’t panic as this all-star lineup will come through in the end. This stands true even with a starting rotation and bull pen that is not performing at playoff caliber at the moment.

Given the odds are still in the Red Sox favor, where is your Red Sox panic meter? Take the survey at ESPN where on a scale of 1-10 currently over 60% of those surveyed have a panic score of 8 or higher.

Next Steps:

Before you head out to see Moneyball or order the pizza  and watch the Red Sox take on the Yankees tonight, check out a pre-recorded webcast on the magic of easy and fast analytics software with our on-demand intro to Spotfire Analytics.

Tweet us your thoughts on why the Red Sox may be on the brink of the worst collapse in baseball history, or a “one and your done” playoff run.  Then again, perhaps they will enjoy another Word Series victory duck boat tour around the city of Boston.

Photo courtesy of Fantasy Sports Gab

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