Over the last thirty years, baseball statistician Bill James has revolutionized the way that players, managers and fans think about statistics in baseball. By carefully analyzing statistics, James has dispelled numerous myths and has shifted the Boston Red Sox management’s decision-making process from one based on intuition and “gut” to a rigorously fact-based approach.
What has been the result? After decades of loss and heartbreak, the Red Sox have won two World Series Championships in the past 5 years.
Bill James’ analyses have dispelled many myths and have helped both the Red Sox and much of the industry focus on proven measures of performance. For example, James was a leading force in emphasizing the significance of on-base percentage over a player’s batting average. On-base percentage, James argues, is a more significant statistic, since batting average fails to account for bases gained from walks.
Regarding batting strategy, James says that the order of the line-up is inconsequential to overall performance, and that the concept of a “clutch” hitter is nonsense.
On the subject of a player’s lifetime performance, James concluded that the “prime” years of a baseball player’s career are his mid-late 20s. The Red Sox took James’ recommendations into account when deciding against re-signing star player Johnny Damon.
Regarding pitching strategy, James argues that “closers” – pitchers traditionally brought in during the final inning(s) of a game – should instead enter at critical moments when a team’s lead is at stake (e.g. perhaps in the 6th inning), rather than waiting longer.
What does all of this have to do with business building and entrepreneurship?
James makes a compelling case that all businesses – not just professional baseball teams – can benefit from careful statistical analysis. Such analysis can dispel unfounded theories, identify significant measures of performance, and illuminate creative, counter-intuitive strategies to bolster a business’ competitive advantage.
James’ fact-based analytical approach is especially valuable for emerging companies who are competing against larger, more established businesses.
If Bill James were to analyze your industry or your business operations, what myths would he dispel? What performance benchmarks would he stress? What strategies would he recommend?
- Bill James was profiled on CBS’ 60 Minutes last Sunday. You can read more about the episode and watch a clip here.
- An excellent book on this topic of statistical analysis is Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning by Thomas H. Davenport and Jeanne G. Harris. It's available for sale on Amazon here.