Billy Beane Predicts Baseball's Future

A's GM Billy Beane has what amounts to a written TED Talk in today's Wall Street Journal. It's always worth paying attention to him when he's talking about advances in baseball, but this is Beane at his most expansive: Making bold (if general) pronouncements about how analytics and technology are going to change not only the game, but the people who run it.

Technology will create an equally drastic shift in front offices. Aspirants to the front office already are just one click away from decision makers, thanks to social media. It is not uncommon for a blogger's analysis post to show up in a general manager's Twitter feed—a level of proximity and access unheard of a decade ago. Many sports franchises are already hiring analysts based on their work in the public sphere; as social media become more targeted and efficient, the line between the "outsiders" and "insiders" will narrow.

Increased demand for the technical skills required to interpret the "big data" produced by 3-D tracking systems also will dramatically change the composition and demographics of front offices, which historically have drawn on former players. Competing to hire those best equipped to glean insights from the new data regardless of their backgrounds will be a welcome trend in an industry that has actively sought ways to improve its diversity.

Sounds good. What is a little disappointing is Beane's simplification of eyes-on scouting—declaring that skills like "the subtle footwork required of a difficult fielding play [are] accessible to any player willing to commit to the '10,000 Hour Rule'" is as reductive as saying Moneyball is all about OBP. And the Gladwell endorsement doesn't do him any favors. But that's an aberration in a generally conservative piece with the thesis that this isn't a revolution so much as it is a new way of doing old business. And that can satisfy everyone.

The current modus operandi of building rosters to maximize the sum of individual talent also will be challenged; data compiled using new technologies will enable management to assemble players in new ways, emphasizing their ability to complement one another. Whereas current metrics describe players' performance in isolation, front offices will increasingly rely on statistics that measure a player's value in the context of the rest of the team, picking up externalities such as how a player's defensive abilities may compensate for the deficiencies of those playing around him.

In a new twist to the "old school vs. new school" debate in sports, technology-based roster-building and algorithm-driven decision-making thus will be the strongest propagators of the traditional virtues of teamwork and chemistry.

Go read the thing.

[WSJ]