Baseball has long been a game of numbers, but software has made it possible for managers to immediate access to information of value - information that previous generations of managers only had a feel for. Take the radical shifts you see teams using against power left handed hitters: here's a shot from a NY Times story on the way the Mets stacked the right side of the field for Giambi last July:
That's the second baseman out there in shallow right. Right handed hitters don't see as much of this, since the first baseman has to be near the bag, and the shortstop has a longer throw. teams do similar things against David Ortiz of the Red Sox (who's been a one man wrecking crew this year: 40 home runs, 109 RBIs, and a .290 average). Here's some speculation on what this does to Ortiz (and other left handed power hitters like him):
Short of reviewing every at-bat, it would be impossible to know exactly how many hits players like Ortiz or Giambi have lost or gained from the shift. Ortiz estimated that the shift has robbed him of 40 points on his average. When a reporter who has seen most of his games suggested it was 20, Ortiz said: “I’m hitting. You’re watching.”
The reason we see more of this now (it goes back to the 1920's, when teams shifted for Cy Williams) is the large amount of data that managers can get before a game. Want to know how often a guy like Ortiz hits to right field? Just ask the team's IT guys, and they'll pull it up, updated to the most recent game.
Access to this kind of data is why so many retailers have affinity cards - they want the same kind of research data that the baseball people have. Armed with that kind of information, they can move from mass marketing to more of a one to one model, where they can provide information on products you actually care about at the time you're looking for them. That's why good IT systems still matter - used properly, they can move beyond traditional marketing and it's tremendous waste of time and money.
statistics, baseball, marketing