The Chicago Cubs won the 2016 MLB World Series and had the best team ERA average during the regular season. A portion of their pitching success can be attributed to the Cubs’ unparalleled use of big data analysis. The Cubs work with a motion capture technology company called KinaTrax to help them analyze numerous pitchers’ movements and angles throughout the process of every pitch.
Big data has slowly been making its way into the sports world for a while, and for a sport regarded by some as stuck in the past, baseball has been among the quickest to embrace it. This was portrayed most famously in the 2011 film “Moneyball”, which followed the story of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane as he formed a team with decisions made largely on the basis of data analysis. Beane and Oakland were extremely successful in the regular season following this method, but the knock on them was that the lack of big-money players did them in in the postseason.
There are many differences and similarities between the 2016 Cubs and the 2002 Athletics. First of all, the Cubs did not need to play “Moneyball”. Their team salary was a middle of the road $116,654,522, the 14th highest mark in the league, compared to Beane’s Athletics, who had the league’s lowest total salary in 2002. Beane was forced into efficiency, while the Cubs chose it. The Cubs’ money combined with their attention to data analytics is what made them more successful than the A’s in both the regular season and postseason.
Another difference between the two teams could be found in the types of data they were looking at. Much of what the A’s were looking for were predictive statistics. What the Cubs are doing, however, is looking at specific moments in a pitcher’s delivery in order to predict how effective, efficient, durable, etc. a pitcher can be throughout an inning, game, season and career. This attention to detail allows the organization to understand what allows a player to put up good numbers in the relevant statistics the 2002 Athletics examined. Those Athletics were simply capturing the numbers, while the modern day Cubs are analyzing pictures and videos to understand the story behind these numbers.
The 2002 Athletics started a big data movement throughout baseball, and no team has adopted the notion more heavily than these Cubs. It is no wonder they were the best team in baseball in 2016. Big data for the win.