Spray Charts and the Shift: How Baseball got me Interested in Predictive

By December 11, 2015
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Giants AT&T Park

Baseball has been such a large part of my life for as long as I can remember. From my first tee-ball practice to my college senior game, baseball has influenced my life in countless ways. With the sport ruling my life for the majority of the last two decades, I never imagined it would influence my career choice the way it has. I’ve always been so fascinated by the amount of data MLB teams are collecting year in and year out. What do all these numbers mean? Are they just recordings to allocate awards at the end of the year? Nope. Turns out this data can have a big effect on how the game is played.

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Spray Charts

teixeira-hit-chart

For the better half of the 2000’s, scouts, coaches, and executives have been turning all of the data they have been collecting on players into actionable insights. Even players were tracking data. When I wasn’t on the mound during my college tenure, I had my nose down charting every single at-bat of every single opposing player. Every time the ball was put in play, I would draw the flight of the ball from home plate to where it landed on the diamond. By looking at the chart after the conclusion of every 4-game series, one could clearly see where each particular batter hit the ball most often. This is where the infield shift comes into today’s game.

The Shift

the shift

The infield shift is a common term for baseball fans, a term used to describe realigning the defense from their standard positioning to cover one side of the field or the other based on where the player at bat has hit the ball in the past. The shift is most commonly used against left-handed hitters, the purpose being to eliminate extra base hits pulled to the right side of the diamond. Because statistically speaking, (most) left-handed hitters are more likely to hit the ball toward right field. The infield shift employs either the short stop or the third baseman (from the left side of the infield) to the right side of second base, dramatically decreasing the chances of the batter squeezing a ball through the infield and thus getting on base. That’s data-driven baseball. 

In today’s game, Boston Red Sox left hander slugger David (Big Papi) Ortiz is the shifts’ best friend. From 2010-2014 Ortiz faced shifted defenses 2,060 times. The batting average disparity is impressive, comparing his at-bats against defenses that implemented a shift (.229) vs. defenses that didn’t (.253). He’s not the only lefty power bat getting killed by the shift, Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies can most likely empathize. Over the same time frame, at-bats without the shift Howard hit a whopping (.366) and against defenses that shifted a measly (.184). I’m aware that not everyone buys into all the saber metrics baseball is measuring these days, but If I was managing an MLB team I would take those numbers all day!

 Analytics…They’re Everywhere! 

Predictive Analytics Cartoon

How do saber metrics, spray charts, and the shift tie into my career choice you may ask? Growing up in the Bay Area and majoring in business at San Francisco State University, I felt so passionate about joining the tech industry. The question I kept asking myself as I approached graduation was, where does my passion lie within the tech industry? When I found out what predictive marketing was capable of, it reminded me of a lot of what I loved about baseball—using data to dramatically increase your odds of winning a game. I mean, if something as simple as shifting your defensive alignment could cut a batter’s success in HALF, what else is data capable of?

Much like baseball with the infield shift, at EverString, we are also using information from the past in order to forecast what will likely happen in the future. There are valuable insights to gain by analyzing your business’ internal data. Whether your sales funnel is flooded with bad leads, or all of the good leads are starting to dry up, predictive scoring and demand-generation helps create a crisp, clean, picture of what your best customers look like both inside and out of your funnel.

As a former pitcher, I can’t think of a time I complained about having my defense in the right position to make a play. As a sales person, I certainly have never complained about new, quality leads.

Are you ready to shift your sales team?

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