Power of World Series math: How Astros analytics led to data-driven strategy
11.07.2017 | By Andrea Vasquez
HOUSTON – More than likely, the roar of the Houston Astros’ World Series championship win against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Nov. 1, could be heard from the International Space Station. Houston is, after all, the Space City.
But one of the major players, in what some are calling the greatest World Series of all time, never set foot on the field. That’s because they don’t make jerseys for touchscreens. Those tiny machines held vital statistical information to each team’s offensive and defensive strategies.
The World Series was in fact a numbers game. Though not as visually appealing as one of George Springer’s home runs, math played a consistent role in the Astros’ journey to the top. San Jacinto College mathematics department chair and Astros super fan, Regan Boudra says that today’s technology provides a more precise, accurate game than ever before.
“Think about a baseball player in 1936- the only information they could rely on was their physical experience with the teams they played,” said Boudra. “Now we can put numbers and measurements on top of what our eyes see on the field and recall it with a click. The tracking software that’s available can tell teams so much more about opposing teams’ strengths and weaknesses along with their own, which allows for more data-driven decision making when it comes to developing pitching plans for every batter in the lineup.”
Last season, in a technology collaboration with Apple, Major League Baseball (MLB) implemented game changing on-field capabilities by providing all teams with iPad Pro and the specially designed MLB Dugout app, which allowed teams to generate their own strategic statistical reports, data visualizations and scouting videos allowing them to make real-time critical game decisions.
“These capabilities have taken the game to a whole new level. We can calculate statistics that we haven’t been able to before. These statistics formulas are really so intricate that they’re essentially impossible to calculate by hand with so many data points, but modern computing can crunch the numbers with ease. That’s what’s great about having computers in the dugout now,” added Boudra.
Analytical data can also be the unexpected curve ball that beats a player at his own game. Former major league power hitter Ryan Howard suffered a decline in his career due to his batting statistics. In his game films, teams saw that Howard consistently hit along the first base line. Their defensive strategies against his at bats proved effective, as he could not adapt his game to counteract those that opposing teams put in place.
For the Astros, Boudra says that analytics play a major role in their defensive shifts that were taken to the extreme this season, adding to the momentum that brought Houston the World Series win.
“The Astros used defensive shifts more extensively than any other team the past few seasons. Depending on the batter’s hitting tendencies and the pitcher-catcher plan of attack, you saw them reposition players for where the hitter was most likely to hit the ball. What makes this championship so special is that fans have witnessed the entire journey. We’ve seen this team’s absolute lows in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons. Then came the infamous, bold Sports Illustrated prediction in 2014. Going forward the front office began to use advanced metrics to develop an aggressive team makeup of homeruns, steals, defensive shifts and strikeouts paired with groundball pitchers that lead to unanticipated success in 2015. By adding more contact hitters this season, it definitely pushed them ahead and allowed them to make the leap to World Series Champs.”
About San Jacinto College
Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, since 1961. As a fiscally sound institution, the College currently holds bond ratings of AA and Aa2 by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s, respectively. San Jacinto College is a 2017 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence Rising Star Award recipient and an Achieving the Dream Leader College. Approximately 45,000 credit and non-credit students each year benefit from a support system that maps out a pathway for success. The College offers eight areas of study that prepare a diverse body of students to transfer to four-year colleges or universities or enter the workforce with the skills needed to support the growing industries along the Texas Gulf Coast. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $690 million each year to the Texas workforce.