Speaking the Same Language With Analytics
BY ADAM GROSSMAN
If there is one place where analytics should be settled science it is baseball. The publication of the book Moneyball, which likely did the most to popularize analytics in sports, was published in 2003 and is about a Major League Baseball (MLB) team - the Oakland Athletics. While professional teams and athletes in sports ranging from basketball, soccer, football, hockey, and golf have all adopted analytics to various degrees since then, baseball is still arguably the sport where analytics are most commonly used.
That is what makes a recent New York Times article titled “The Analytics Guy Failed to Compute One Thing: How to Be Accepted in Mexico” so surprising. Author David Waldstein examines the story of a Mexican professional baseball team’s complicated relationship with analytics. After the Charros de Jalisco of Mexico’s winter baseball league hired former MLB outfielder Tony Tarasco as its coach, he insisted that the team hire Anton Dahbura from Johns Hopkins University as its analytics consultant.
Dahbura was one of the first analytics consultants in Mexico’s winter league and may be the last. After a 19-16 start, the Charros fired Tarasco after a 1-5 stretch and hired Roberto Vizcarra “a popular and well-respected veteran of 23 seasons as a player in Mexican baseball, and a bit of a traditionalist.” More specifically, the article describes that Vizcarra had little communication with Dahbura and made decisions that contradicted the analytics. After Vizcarra and the team failed to use the analytics information in a crucial at bat during a playoff game, Dahbura said, “They could have made better use of the intel I gave them.”
This is a sentence too often uttered by people working in analytics. When data is not used by decision makers in executing a strategy, it is easy to blame the people rather than the way the information was communicated. In the case of the Charros, there literally could have been an issue where the on-field manager (Vizcarra) and the analytics consultant (Dahbura) were speaking different languages (i.e. the former likely spoke Spanish while the later likely spoke English).
However, this is usually not the case. Most teams and their analytics professionals usually speak the same language. Yet, too often the people receiving insights from data think that the people generating analytics feel like they are speaking a different language. As Dahbura himself said, “One can see the rub when old-school guys are confronted with new ways of thinking.”
The key to the last quote is the word “confronted”. When people feel that they are being “confronted” with data then it will be difficult to obtain the desired results. In the Charros example, it is easy to see why Vizcarra would be defensive given that the data seemed to be a direct challenge to his years of experience. This is a clear example of how data is still too often presented in a way that someone with little quantitative background would not understand or in a way that does not resonate with their background.
That is why Block Six Analytics (B6A) developed the Partnership Scoreboard platform. Our goal is to analyze and communicate insights that enhance the decision making process in ways that anyone can understand. We use words, images, and videos to communicate what our sponsorship and player performance models have discovered. In particular, we provide actionable insights that decision makers can understand and that are specifically geared to the goals of their businesses.
Analytics should be an important part of strategic decision making. However, it is difficult for that to be the case without doing audience analysis to determine the best way to communicate data. Technologies like the Partnership Scoreboard better enable everyone in the organization to speak the same language when it comes to analytics.