GIS in Baseball

This goes along with a previous post on the application of GIS to tennis. From a student in the Intro to GIS course:

In an attempt to reach Americans as well as the few ashamed Canadian baseball fanatics, I examined Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball”. In this top-selling sports/business hybrid novel, Lewis writes about the elusiveness of an accurate way to measure defense. The typical statistic used to gauge a player’s defensive skill is his number of errors, meaning the mistakes a player makes throughout the season. However, Lewis challenges this simplification of defense, reasoning that a less fleet-footed athlete might not even be afforded the opportunity to make some mistakes due to physical incapability to even get to the ball.

The solution to this conundrum, Lewis says, is a new breakdown of defense, in which the entire field is broken into smaller units of areas, known to GIS people as the implementation of the raster model. With this type of structure, every ball hit to any fielder can be documented with set of geographic coordinates. The fielder’s position prior to the ball being put in play is also noted. Both the velocity with which the ball travels, as well as its trajectory, is also tagged to positional location as attribute data.

The Oakland Athletics, a major league baseball team, have implemented these tactics, along with other scientific methods, and have experienced tremendous success. With one of the smallest budgets in baseball, they have used GIS to efficiently spend their meager funds to acquire players that provide the most production for the amount of money they are willing to pay. Over the past five years, the Oakland Athletics have been among the league leaders in victories per season despite their inescapable “poverty”.

Being from New York, I constantly have it drilled into my head that the Yankees are the team to beat and that rooting for anyone else is futile. I despise the Yankees. Where is the fun in rooting for a team that’s expected to win because of the throngs of hundred million dollar contracts they hand out on a yearly basis? The Oakland A’s, however, have successfully shown that money can’t buy everything. The Yankees are Goliath, and the A’s are David, with their heads buried in science books. The Yankees continue to chase their own tails, failing to win a World Series since their payroll ballooned to over $200 million, compared to Oakland’s $40 million. Baseball may not look like a battle of intellect, but behind the scenes brilliant minds (many of whom are experts in GIS) are quickly gaining respect and snatching up all the jobs previously bestowed upon those who were said to have an immeasurable “baseball sense”. It appears that what you need to win at baseball is not the biggest muscles, but rather some thick coke-bottle glasses, a McGill diploma, and a computer loaded with ArcGIS 9.

So, to all my Canadian friends: before you write baseball off as a useless “American Pastime”, you should realize that there is a growing market demand in this sport for those who have skills in GIS. Major League Baseball is accepting applications now.

References: Lewis, Michael. Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. W.W.
Norton and Company, Inc., New York, 2003.

3 Responses to “GIS in Baseball”

  1. Matthew M. Cowie says:

    This is a brilliant example. I know this is a G.I.S. course, but what a great writer. Major League Baseball teams would be foolish not to hire such an insightful young person, with such a deep understanding of some of the most important and cutting edge principles of the game. It’s an honor to have read this, and please let me know if you have published any other works.

  2. sieber says:

    I’ll have to look through my notes to see how the student is doing. Thanks.

  3. Fred Ni says:

    I was searching online and I found your site on google. Just finished reading a few of some of your other posts here. I’ve already added your site to my Google News Reader. Thanks for your good and educative posts and please keep up the good work as I look forward to reading more of your posts in the future.