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What We Can Learn from Baseball’s Obsession with Data

Tad Druart

As I read through The Wall Street Journal this morning the sub-head for an article titled, “The Data Wonk Who Became a Coach,” by Jared Diamond, captured my attention. The sub-head read: “The Houston Astros wanted to learn more about what happens on the field. So they put their stats guru in the dugout.”

As I read the article the analogies for how fire departments, EMS agencies and hospitals are using data from the field to improve patient outcomes and safety was interesting. As we kick off the Major League Baseball season I thought it might be interesting to see if the lessons learned from baseball are relevant for our customers.

Right off the bat, I saw a similarity. The article claims that “The data revolution that reshaped baseball and sparked innovation far beyond sports also inspired an element of distrust.”  In my short tenure in this market, I have seen some similar responses. Once the players understood how the traditional approach and data analysis helped them improve outcomes and be better at their profession they worked in tandem with their manager to improve. The professionals in the field needed to know and trust that the use of the data was to help make them better professionals, not be used punitively. The goal for the baseball teams is to make better decisions, make players better, and improve outcomes – sounds exactly what I have heard in our industry conversations.

Baseball, like fire and EMS has strong roots, traditions, and “tried-and-true” approaches. If the data person has never been on the bus or on the field, their credibility is limited. The Astros made their data people put on the uniform, throw batting practice, and live the experience of their players from the bus to the field.  While the data is critical to the outcomes, understanding the environment where it can be used was as important as the data itself. They learned that the players – the people on the field – don’t always respond to new ideas and ways of doing thing. Having the data person with them helped with the “implementation challenges” that they faced. Having been in the field meant adoption of the new ideas increased.

One of the players didn’t realize that cutting a half second off the time it took him to deliver a pitch would make it harder to steal on him. That was the way he had always approached it and he lived with the outcome. If seconds matter in baseball, what can data help us with in life and death situations?  (In fact, our Chief Medical Officer, Brent Myers talked about that in a different context on his webinar about Acute Stroke Care, just today.)

The most interesting take-away for me was the manager and former major league player who stated, “We see that the future is going to be.” He didn’t say it begrudgingly, he embraced it and looked at it as way to improve his profession. Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles coach, Doug Pederson had an analyst on his headset this season to help with strategic decisions. Both the Eagles and the Astros are embracing data to “assist in the decision-making process” and develop talent.

We are seeing data make a difference in sports, and even more importantly seeing our customers using data to improve patient outcomes and make communities safer.

The biggest challenge for baseball is “upending decades of tradition and conventional wisdom.” For the World Champions they’re using data and working collaboratively to help players get better and to predict outcomes that are desired and, if possible prevent outcomes that are undesired.

At ESO we’re proud to be a part of a community of professionals who are not threated by new ideas, but are using data to work collaboratively and look at what the future is going to be. More importantly they are using data to embrace the words of Abraham Lincoln, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”

If data matters in sports, it really matters for the health and safety of our communities.

Tad Druart is ESO’s vice president of marketing.

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