John Henry’s recent comments about the team’s reliance of analytics came as a shock to many, especially since the team has employed Bill James since 2003, the father of saber metrics who was made famous by the book Moneyball and its subsequent film.
The Boston Sunday Globe quoted one scout who, after hearing Henry’s declaration said, “Finally, someone who realizes that human beings play the game, not numbers…” While in many cases analytics has proven to be a very useful tool that owners have used to build championship teams, focusing less on the numbers could bode well for players like Jackie Bradley Jr., whose own numbers do not capture his talent and potential.
Many saw Bradley Jr.’s performance in the 2014 and 2015 seasons as promising but inconsistent. But if you set his numbers aside for a minute, you see a 2014 Gold Glove nomination. In fact, Bradley Jr.’s defense led Red Sox great Bill Lee to say in August 2015 that he reminded him of Willie Mays from the waist down. That same month, Bradley Jr. became one of only eight players to accumulate five extra-base hits in one game. In a match against the Seattle Mariners, Bradley Jr. hit two home runs and three doubles in six at bats as the Red Sox won 22-10. So does Bradley Jr.’s 2015 .249 batting average represent his abilities? I think not. Now that the Red Sox are taking a step back from analytics, there will be opportunities for people to focus more on what qualities Bradley Jr. does posses that can’t be categorized using analytics. This step back will be good for other players like Brock Holt and Rusney Castillo, players whose true potential may be unfairly overshadowed by analytics.
Should We Toss Analytics Aside Altogether?
I’m not saying that analytics should be completely discarded. After all, it played a role in the Red Sox winning the World Series in 2004 after an eighty-six year drought. But focus on numbers, statistics, and projections has done a lot to drain the humanity and excitement out of the game. When I see Bradley Jr. take the field next season, I won’t be thinking about the previous season’s batting average, or what Bill James’ thinks his batting average will be. I’ll be thinking about whether I’ll be lucky enough to see Bradley Jr. make an outstanding defensive play.
Analytics remind me of a story about my time in graduate school. One of my professors told me that the best indication of how well a student will do in graduate school, is to see how well they actually do in graduate school. In other words grades, GPA, and test scores can only do so much to predict how someone will do. Seeing how they actually do in a graduate class is the true indicator of someone’s abilities. With that said, we should follow John Henry’s lead and step back from analytics so that we can focus more on what we see on the field, instead of what we read in a statistical analysis. After all, it’s possible that Bradley Jr.’s performance this upcoming season could blow the lid off any predictions anyone’s made using analytics.