Anyone who hoarded baseball cards as a kid knows a fundamental truth about sports: they produce an unbelievable amount of data.
For the better part of a century, the best we could do was collect it, print it on cardboard, and sell it as a curiosity. Coaches could use statistics to track streaks and slumps, of course. But without the tools to process huge reams of data very fast, it was tough to understand player performance in a way that was mathematically rigorous and helped teams win tomorrow’s games.
Then there were Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s, famously profiled in Michael Lewis’s book-turned-movie Moneyball. Beane used advanced statistics to build a smarter, faster, cheaper baseball team. Data brought efficiency to the phenomenally inefficient business of drafting and managing players.