What We Learn from Baseball Data

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Readers of my blog, know that I am a big baseball fan and now-retired player due to a bad-hop broken nose years ago. Golf is generally much safer. If you look back, you can see my blogs about juiced baseballs, Moneyball and baseball in Japan. I also write a lot about safety at chemical plants.  So, here we go again…let’s talk about baseball data and safety.  

This season there has been a lot of talk about foul balls striking and injuring fans and installing netting to protect fans. But, as process engineers, we know that we need to first consider the data before making any decisions. So, let’s get the data and discuss the best way for Major League Baseball to proceed.

Annette Choi and her team recently published, “We Watched 906 Foul Balls To Find Out Where The Most Dangerous Ones Land.”  Their research gathered the following data points:

Column Description
matchup The two teams that played
game_date Date of the most foul-heavy day at each stadium
type_of_hit Fly, grounder, line drive, pop up or batter hits self
exit_velocity Recorded exit velocity of each hit — blank if not provided
predicted_zone The zone we predicted the foul ball would land in by gauging angles
camera_zone The zone that the foul ball landed in, confirmed by footage
used_zone The zone used for analysis

This data collection was no easy feat. The MLB does not keep this type of statistics, even though baseball is really a numbers game. The team watched the 10 most foul-ball-heavy games this season to gather their findings.

Armed with the baseball data, Choi and her team determined the ball parks with the most foul balls:

MOST FOUL-HEAVY DAY
STADIUM AVERAGE NO. OF FOULS PER GAME DATE MATCHUP NO. OF FOULS
Camden Yards* 57 4/20/19 Baltimore Orioles vs. Minnesota Twins 113
PNC Park 57 6/1/19 Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Milwaukee Brewers 111
Oakland Coliseum 53 6/2/19 Oakland A’s vs. Houston Astros 109
T-Mobile Park 53 5/18/19 Seattle Mariners vs. Minnesota Twins 100
Globe Life Park 55 5/3/19 Texas Rangers vs. Toronto Blue Jays 87
Dodger Stadium 51 3/29/19 Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Arizona Diamondbacks 86
Miller Park 55 5/4/19 Milwaukee Brewers vs. New York Mets 85
Citizens Bank Park 53 4/27/19 Philadelphia Phillies vs. Miami Marlins 75
SunTrust Park 53 4/14/19 Atlanta Braves vs. New York Mets 73
Yankee Stadium 51 3/31/19 New York Yankees vs. Baltimore Orioles 67

The team then looked at netted versus non-netted areas as well as the ball velocities.  Interestingly enough, they found that almost an equal number of balls went to each area but the balls with the highest velocities went into the unprotected areas. 

Choi concludes, “Even with extensive netting, no one will ever be completely safe at a baseball game. But there are ways for MLB to protect its fans from foul balls — particularly in the most dangerous areas of the park.”

What I appreciate most is her observations are based in testing and learning about baseball data!

So, enjoy the World Series and root on your team and as Ernie Banks once said “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame… Let’s play two!”

Always Be Learning Leadership Skills

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One way to be a better leader? Always be thinking about ways to become a better leader. I see lessons about leadership skills in my reading about sports, current events and more. Today, I thought I’d share some examples that have prompted personal leadership insights as I look to constantly develop and embrace change.

First, leadership requires taking full responsibility for the company, project, process or whatever you are leading. What are some examples? Well, whether you like him or not, Tom Brady routinely takes personal responsibility for his actions as well as the actions of his team. Another example is “EK” the 25-year-old coach of the soccer team trapped in the Thai cave for over 3 weeks. He acknowledged his actions and accepted full responsibility even sending notes to the boys’ parents apologizing for having led the team astray. 

Secondly, a leader exudes confidence in his abilities and his team’s abilities. Brady is the master of making comebacks and finding a way to win; his confidence transfers to his teammates. EK may have made the biggest misstep of his life but he also exhibited confidence and strength when the team needed it most. 

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Next, leaders are cool under fire. Leaders set the tone in a crisis and can inspire others. While TV illustrates Brady’s explosive drive on the sidelines, he’s quite calm on the field. Under tense circumstances, EK kept himself and his boys steady until help arrived.  When you keep your cool and don’t get rattled as a leader, you can make better and more thoughtful decisions.

Leadership is a Balancing Act

Communication, hard work and knowing the market and the competition are also essential for leaders. Leaders should also put themselves second to their employees as it creates an environment of trust and cooperation. 

Brady will put his team first to accomplish a goal — the next Super Bowl win. In the Thai example, EK was the last person out of the cave and even refused food and water for himself, choosing instead to give his rations to the boys. This prioritizing of his team members likely helped EK to command respect and cooperation from his young players.

Finally, leaders also taking time to recharge and find balance. I practice yoga every day and have written about my practice and breathing in this blog. There is, however, no one checklist to follow for achieving balance. What’s most important to you will change depending upon where you are in your career. The balancing act will encompass a leader’s drive for and valuation of knowledge, professional expertise, lifelong learning, relationships, family, community, and openness to self-questioning and to change. 

I’d love to read your ideas on leadership and learn how you balance your guiding principles and life pillars. Let me know!