Anderson: With big data in baseball, ‘Moneyball’ will be on steroids

From R.J. Anderson at Newsweek on July 24, 2014, with mention of SABR members Harry Pavlidis and T.J. Barra:

The ball looked like trouble the moment it came off Justin Turner’s bat. With two outs in the ninth inning of a one-run game between the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets in July 2013, the tying and winning runs were on base. Braves center fielder Jason Heyward knew they would be going on contact, and they were—they took off as the ball was lined toward the gap in left-center. The Braves, so close to victory, were now seconds from defeat—until Heyward rushed across the outfield, dove and caught the ball before it could kiss the grass. Just like that, he had secured the win for the Braves, and a place in the highlight reels for himself.

David O’Brien, of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, wrote that Heyward “[raced] over from the right-center gap,” then “dove and fully extended his big body to catch the ball inches from the ground.” D.J. Short, a writer at NBC Sports’s Hardball Talk blog, credited Heyward for “[getting] on his horse to make an all-out diving catch.” The Associated Press channeled Theodor Geisel by suggesting that Heyward “made a flat out dive for the drive.”

At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in March, the catch was described in a very different language: Turner’s batted ball traveled at 88 miles per hour toward the gap; split the two nearest outfielders, stationed some 81 and 83 feet away; and hung in the air for four seconds. Heyward caught the ball because his first movement came three-hundredths of a second quicker than teammate Reed Johnson’s, and his top speed was three miles per hour faster than Johnson’s. But the key to the play was an almost perfect route to the ball: He traveled a path that was 97 percent true to a straight line.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: July 26, 2014. Last Updated: July 26, 2014.