As baseball starts its second week, lets reflect a bit on how data analytics has changed the game. Not just the Moneyball phenomenon of ranking players but also the extensive use of defensive shifts (repositioning the infielders and outfielders for each batter) and other maneuvers. We're not quite to the point that technology can replace managers and umpires but give it another decade or two.
We've seen a huge increase in data analysis in sports. ESPN ranked teams based on their use of analytics and it correlates well with how those teams are faring. Eventually everyone will use the same learning algorithms and games will just be a random coin toss with coins weighted by how much each team can spend.
Steve Kettmann wrote an NYT op-ed piece Don't Let StatisticsRuin Baseball. At first I thought this was just another luddite who will be left behind but he makes a salient point. We don’t go to baseball to watch the stats. We go to see people play. We enjoy the suspense of every pitch, the one-on-one battle between pitcher and batter and the great defensive moves. Maybe statistics can tell which players a team should acquire and where the fielders should stand but it still is people that play the game.
Kettmann worries about the obsession of baseball writers with statistics. Those who write based on stats can be replaced by machines. Baseball is a great game to listen on the radio for the best broadcasters don't talk about the numbers, they talk about the people. Otherwise you might as well listen to competitive tic-tac-toe.