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In recent years, sports have changed dramatically due in no small part to the

advancements that have been made in technology, and specifically, the revolution that has
occurred in the field of data analytics. Data analytics has changed the way we view sports, the
way sports are played, and the way that players are found. It has truly been a wholesale change
for something that had remained largely the same for nearly a century. The sport that has
remained at the forefront of this technological wave has been baseball and as a result, most of
the focus of this piece will be on baseball.

The article that I have chosen to use for this project is Thomas MacAulay’s “How data
analytics is transforming sports on and off the pitch” ¹. The article uses some small examples
from tennis, baseball, and football to prove this point, but I feel as if more explanation is
required as to how data specifically impacts several different working parts of sports: players,
coaches, general managers / scouts, owners, and fans.
The facet of sports where this data revolution can be seen most clearly is with the
general managers and scouts who make the decisions on which personnel to pursue and sign.
The widely-accepted first group to do this Billy Beane and his now famous “Moneyball” 2003
Oakland Athletics. Leigh Steinberg, in his article “CHANGING THE GAME: The Rise of Sports
Analytics” ², details how Beane utilized analytics to maximize his team’s run scoring potential by
shirking the traditional body types that were commonly consulted when it came to choosing
players to fill out a roster with. His system sparked a new era of baseball team building in which
managers have increasingly used analytics to build teams to fit the trends that lead to the most
wins. Recently, general managers have been prioritized based on their willingness to accept
these analytics and the “old-school” managers have been proven to have less success than
those who use the analytics.

Another group who has been affected greatly by this statistics revolution. Like the
general managers, the coaches who embrace analytics have generally been found to have
greater success, but unlike general managers, the coaches cannot choose which players they
have, only the ones that get to play. As a result of this, coaches must be more creative with how
they use the statistics that they have access to. This has led to three main common adjustments
on the part of coaches. The first, known as the “shift”, involves players leaving their normal
spots on the field in order to better cover the areas that specific hitters usually hit to. For
fielders it means being comfortable with moving constantly throughout the field. For hitters, it
means being able to get hits to parts of the field that your swing doesn’t normally let you hit to.
This breakthrough has been proven effective at shutting down hitters who have trouble
controlling where they hit to. Another change has been the use of the “opener”, which has
been pioneered by the Tampa Bay Rays, the other team, along with the Athletics, that stands at
the forefront of the use of analytics in sports. The opener refers to when teams use relief
pitchers to pitch one or two innings at the beginning of a game and then give way to a more
traditional starter who can pitch several innings followings. According to Zack Kram in his
article, “Tampa Bay’s “Opener” Experiment Could Spark a Baseball Revolution” ³, the logic lies in
the fact that starters usually face the best batter 2-3 times over the course of the game, but if
an opener faces those batters to start a game, the starters can go on to only have to face the
best batter 1-2 times during a game, which could potentially allow them to pitch longer into a
game. The final adjustment that is usually made is playing attention to batter-vs-pitcher splits.
This essentially means that less right-handed hitters will be put into a starting lineup if a lefty is
starting and vice-versa. And later in games, relief pitchers will be brought in based on the
handedness of the batters that they will be facing. The stats tell how well a certain player does
again each type of pitcher (righty or lefty) and are then used by coaches in the lineup-making

Of course, these personnel decisions, whether they be on the field or in the front office,
affect players as well. More and more players are getting to play due to the wide variety of role
players that are necessary to fulfill the large number of statistical possibilities that occur in the
sport. This change to analytics and higher use of role players has some players upset. Recently
retired ballplayer Jayson Werth and Hall-of-Famer Richard “Goose” Gossage have both gone on
record decrying the recent data tidal wave by suggesting that it ruins the game and prevents
the most talented players from getting as much playing time as they deserve. According to
Aaron Timms in his article, “Are super-nerds really ruining US sports?” ⁴, this mindset generally
revolves around the idea that as “nerds”, these statisticians don’t really know the sport and are
making the sport boring by overanalyzing. Overall, the players who are most positively affected
are those who fill a specific role and would not have made the majors in the MLB of the past.
On the opposite side of this, the players who are at the top of the game are seeing less and less
field time when they are taken out late in games for analytically better alternatives.

However, the people who are getting paid to build and fuel these teams aren’t the only
ones who are using the massive amount of data that has been unearthed. Elizabeth Heichler, in
her article, “From Winning Games to Winning Customers: How Data Is Changing the Business
Side of Sports” ⁵, details that the owners of the Orlando Magic have used analytics to reward
more passionate fans and determine when less fans will show up to games in order to adjust
ticket prices accordingly. This can net the owner parking, concession, and ticketing revenue that
would have otherwise been lost to low attendance. It also benefits fans as they can pay less to
experience their favorite teams. Both groups also generally benefit in that they get to see the
best possible product on the field. However, some fans, especially those of an older age, agree
with those players who feel that statistics ruin the sports and make them less fun. But overall,
younger fans have embraced the analytical revolution.

MacAulay’s article chooses to explain a small portion of what is being done with the
analytics that are being provided for the sports world but does not mention their impact on all
the pieces that have turned sports into what they are today. General managers / scouts,
coaches, players, owners, and fans have all been affected by this revolution and the impact that
it has made on them needs to be understood.

Works Cited
1) https://www.techworld.com/data/how-data-analytics-is-transforming-sports-on-off-
2) https://www.forbes.com/sites/leighsteinberg/2015/08/18/changing-the-game-the-rise-
3) https://www.theringer.com/mlb/2018/5/22/17379048/tampa-bay-rays-sergio-romo-
4) https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/aug/16/sports-nerds-analytics-data
5) https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/from-winning-games-to-winning-customers-how-