Thursday, April 5, 2012

In celebration of baseball’s Opening Day

A lot of you who know me know that I am a diehard Philadelphia Phillies fan (check my twitter profile), watching my first game as a 6th grader on the safety patrol in old Connie Mack stadium. So, it was quite interesting to read in April’s Quality Progress, an article (“Fair or Foul”) from two ASQ members who provide statistical consulting services to the Los Angeles Dodgers on their take of the Oakland A’s application of econometrics into Major League Baseball, recorded in the book and movie, Moneyball. 
Let’s get the bad out of the way first. I was disappointed with the online version of the graphs. Graphs were often visually busy and axes did not clearly delineate differences when describing Team ERA. What I was also disappointed was the lack of application of the author’s findings to the game of baseball nor an understanding of the historical era in which the decisions Billy Beane had to make to at least put a presentable product in a market where revenue generation, the prime source of baseball salaries, was more difficult than any other market, save Tampa Bay or Miami.  In short, I found that the article was written like a typical statistical journal article; it does well to present the facts but leaves little for historical context.  
What I did like about the article is the fact that they proved you cannot rely on a single statistic to base decisions.  Of course, the original model from which Moneyball is based ALSO doesn’t rely on a single statistic, like is mentioned in the article, but the article does prove out a successful formula for competition.  Good hitting will win games but good pitching prevents runs from scoring.   What I did want to read about is taking the author’s assertions, how do the latest playoff teams rate?  For example, the St. Louis Cardinals where the hottest team in baseball at the end of last year, ending the year as baseball’s top hitting team.  They also came back to become the best pitching team when Chris Carpenter came back from injury to lead an above average pitching staff to World Series victory.
Again, historical context is missing.  I have to give Billy Beane credit for understanding the economic landscape of baseball; balancing out whether to trade for financial gain (trading Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder) or holding them until the end of the season to at least keep fans in the seats (Barry Zito). How do injuries impact the statistics? Are there teams who exhibit the success factors the authors mentioned (I know the Phillies did last year)?
So what does all this mean to us quality geeks?  All that time crunching the numbers is useful only if you are going to use them in context. To crunch numbers they have to support a story.  When I was teaching Black Belts, my favorite line when asked how to do a project presentation was to tell me a story. Make the DMAIC deliverables tell a story about your progress and support the decisions your team makes.
Until next time, enjoy Opening Day, and may your favorite be successful, except when playing mine!
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