Big data and baseball efficiency: the traveling salesman had nothing on a baseball scout

All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk

The MLB draft is coming up and with any luck I’ll get this posted by Thursday and take advantage of web traffic. I can hope! Anyway, Tuesday in Fangraphs I read a fascinating portrayal of the draft process, laying out the nuts and bolts of how organizations scout for the draft. The piece, written by Tony Blengino (whose essays are rapidly becoming one of my favorite parts of this overall terrific baseball site), describes all the behind the scenes work that happens to prepare a major league organization for the Rule 4 draft. Blengino described the dedication scouts show in following up on all kinds of prospects at the college and high school levels, what they do, how much they need to travel, and especially how much ground they often need to cover to try and lay eyes on every kid in their area.

One neat insight for me was Blengino’s one-word description of most scouts as entrepreneurs. You could think of them almost as founders of a startup, with the kids they scout as the product the scouts are trying to sell to upper layers of management in the organization. As such, everything they can do to get a better handle on a kid’s potential can feed into the pitch to the scouting director.

I respect and envy scouts’ drive to keep looking for the next big thing, the next Jason Heyward or Mike Trout. As Blengino puts it, scouts play “one of the most vital, underrated, and underpaid roles in the game.” While one might make the argument that in MLB, unlike the NFL or NBA, draft picks typically are years away from making a contribution and therefore how important can draft picks be?, numerous studies have shown that the draft presents an incredible opportunity for teams in building and sustaining success. In fact, given that so much of an organization’s success hinges on figuring out which raw kids will be able to translate tools and potential into talent, one could (and others have)  made the argument that scouting is a huge potential market inefficiency for teams to exploit. Although I’ll have a caveat later. But in any case, for a minor league system every team wants to optimize their incoming quality because, like we say in genomic data analysis, “garbage in, garbage out.”

As I was reading this piece, I started thinking about ways to try and create more efficiencies. And I started thinking about Big Data.  Continue reading

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Mobile tech and the challenge and opportunity for design

All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk.

Lots of things bother me when I’m driving my car.  But recently I’ve found that the number one thing making me bang my head on the steering wheel is when I’m behind a car at a stoplight, the light changes…and nothing happens. Many times I can see the back of the driver’s head, which is almost always tilted down, and I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that this is because the person in front of me is texting or surfing the web.

A recent report from the Seattle Times that one in twelve active drivers in Washington State was observed using a cellphone while driving confirms how widespread this problem is. The thing is, the problem is, the opportunity is, this is only one small symptom of how our world is changing and becoming full of distraction. I may be irritated when the person in front of me isn’t paying attention but at the same time I’m continually impressed by the immediacy and mobility of technology.  In some ways, much as I might rant about people who are texting while driving, I also understand why. They do it because it’s easy, simple, and feeds our hardwired desire for rapid positive feedback.

So what can be done? Continue reading