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How analytics helped this team out of a 20-year slump

How analytics helped this team out of a 20-year slump

 

I heard this attention-grabbing question on my car radio this morning: How did analytics play a role in turning the Pittsburgh Pirates around in 2013?

I grew up behind Three Rivers Stadium and remember hearing the cheers and watching the Zambelli fireworks from my porch when the Pirates won. But that was 20 years before the Pirates became the team with the most consecutive losing seasons in Major League Baseball history, from 1993–2012.

Then, in 2013, the Pirates surprised us all and made a pretty good postseason run through the playoffs. What made the difference? After all, no standout, rock-star player or high-profile new manager had suddenly emerged on the scene. And the team hadn’t made any newsworthy, significant financial investment to take credit for the change.

The answer was analytics. In his recent book, Big Data Baseball: Math, Miracles, and the End of a 20-Year Losing Streak, Travis Sawchik explains how the Pirates collected millions of data points on every pitch and ball in play. The organization used analytics to uncover insights from all that data that were previously invisible to the organization. With these new discoveries, they adjusted their strategies and began exploiting areas of hidden value.

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