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Big Data Baseball: Math, Miracles, and the End of a 20-Year Losing Streak Paperback – May 3, 2016
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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“Big Data Baseball is a particular kind of nerd heaven and if you’re even vaguely interested in advanced analytics, you should already be halfway through the second chapter by now… Sawchik’s real achievement is making the sabermetrics story accessible to everyone, even people who might have been scared off by it at first.” ―MLB.com
“[Big Data Baseball] is a useful, entertaining look back at how the Pirates turned a small market, longtime loser into a playoff team… a very illuminating book.” ―Baseball America
“How this motley collection of men-from data geeks to throwback coaches to reluctant players-worked the numbers together to mold a winner makes Sawchik's tale as compelling as Michael Lewis' Moneyball. Which is saying a lot.” ―Booklist, starred review
“This enlightening book by Sawchik explains how the team helped redefine the game... Taking cues from Michael Lewis's Moneyball and Jonah Keri's The Extra 2%, Sawchik wonderfully dissects statistics and the game itself in a style that will score with a broad range of readers.” ―Publishers Weekly
“In Big Data Baseball, Travis Sawchik reveals one of the great untold baseball stories of the early 21st century--how the Pittsburgh Pirates ended a twenty-year streak of futility by using data to revolutionize the way they positioned their defenders. Sawchik's fascinating tale is not merely about numbers, however. It also is about a spirit of collaboration between the new-age analysts and old-school field operatives that elevated the Pirates above other teams with access to the same information. For those who truly want to understand how the game has changed, Big Data Baseball is a must-read.” ―Ken Rosenthal, Senior MLB writer for FOXSports
“An author's goal when telling a story like this is to combine gripping storytelling with fresh insight into the wonkish methods an underdog baseball team uses to defy odds and win. The former is a great achievement for anyone, let alone a first-time author. The latter, given how incredibly secretive sports teams have become, is damn near impossible. In Big Data Baseball, Travis Sawchik pulls both off, and he does so masterfully.” ―Jonah Keri, author of The Extra 2% and writer for Grantland
“I read and loved Big Data Baseball...Highly recommend if you dig baseball stats and anecdotes!” ―Seth Meyers
“At times, the story reads almost like a John R. Tunis baseball book for boys...Tunis' optimism, idealization of character, and overall enthusiasm all are here. Most important is Sawchik's realization, however, that the diamond will never again be so rough-data-gatherers and -analysts are polishing assiduously. Both a comprehensive and a focused look at how computer-recorded data are fundamentally altering America's pastime.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“The paradox is that as baseball becomes more complicated, the Pittsburgh Pirates are making it less complicated with one single word: communication. Big Data Baseball intelligently reveals how the symbiotic relationship between the data and the human factor is the future of baseball.” ―Ron Darling, former major league pitcher and MLB Network and SNY analyst
“Insightful, thorough, and outstanding. Travis takes us beyond the field to show where we are in the post-sabermetric revolution. The Pirates have combined scouting, analytics, and old fashioned attention to detail to revitalize their franchise. Want the state of the art in winning baseball? Big Data Baseball gives it to you.” ―Brian Kenny, analyst/anchor for MLB Network
“Sawchik provides us with far more than the binary debate of ‘stats versus scouts.' Rather, he's produced the definitive narrative of how one organization forged a way forward using both objective and subjective methods---and made a great, skeptical baseball city believe again.” ―Jon Morosi, national baseball writer for Fox Sports
“It's too simplistic to call this ‘Moneyball 2.0,' but Sawchik has done much the same as what Michael Lewis did--he's found an interesting story about how a team is forced to do things differently. Much like the Pirates, Sawchik finds a way to not go with the herd, not take the simple approach, and to make us understand how Neal Huntington changed a culture. Sawchik's ability to find insights and the human stories inside of rows and columns on a spreadsheet is what makes Big Data Baseball a great read.” ―Will Carroll, writer at BleacherReport.com and former writer for Sports Illustrated and BaseballProspectus.com
“Big Data Baseball is the logical successor to Moneyball, a blueprint for how the successful teams of the next decade will get ahead. Sawchik has done a masterful job of pulling back the curtain to show how one team used advanced data analysis and technology to gain a competitive advantage. Serious fans will find the story fascinating and enlightening, and baseball executives who choose to ignore Sawchik's insights do so at their own peril.” ―Sean Lahman, Database Coordinator for the Society of American Baseball Research and Data Reporter for Gannett Newspapers
“Big Data Baseball takes readers inside the Pirates' analytics department, clubhouse, and beyond. One of the best baseball books I've read in years.” ―David Laurila, writer for Fangraphs.com
“In his two seasons on the Pirates beat, Sawchik has demonstrated a great facility for understanding how a radical, analytically-driven change in direction breathed new life into a struggling franchise. Just as a unique cast of players, coaches, analysts, and executives--Clint Hurdle, Neal Huntington, Dan Fox, Mike Fitzgerald, Russell Martin, Francisco Liriano, Ray Searage, Gerrit Cole, and more--were exactly the right people in the right place at the right time to put baseball's latest wave of statistics into practice, Sawchik is the right man to tell the story.” ―Jay Jaffe, contributing writer to SportsIllustrated.com
“The Pittsburgh Pirates were the story of the season in 2013, but Travis Sawchik set his reporting eye on something bigger: The story of the decade. He found it in Pittsburgh's use of big data, which is forcing teams and analysts to rethink a century of baseball wisdom. Sawchik is perfectly positioned to tell this story, with a backstage pass to the Pirates' season and the keen baseball mind necessary to illuminate a complex subject.” ―Sam Miller, coeditor, Baseball Prospectus 2014
“Big Data Baseball is a Moneyball story for a new era, one in which the people and numbers work in tandem, rather than against each other. This book is a comprehensive, well-told case study of one team's success at implementing a plan that wouldn't have been possible a couple of decades ago.” ―Mark Simon, ESPN Stats and Information
“Travis Sawchik has really captured the essence of successful big league teams in today's data-driven world by illuminating not only the strategies now being employed by teams, but also that critical partnership between a major league GM and his staff, with managers, coaches, and players.” ―Vince Gennaro, President of the Society for American Baseball Research and author of Diamond Dollars: The Economics of Winning Baseball
“A great read! What Moneyball did for offensive analysis, Big Data Baseball does for defense and shows how the Pirates shifted the field in their favor.” ―Mike Ferrin, MLB Network Radio
“Big Data Baseball shows how the small-market Pirates outsmarted their opponents and became the talk of the game during their historic 2013 playoff run. Travis Sawchik describes the Pirates' tactics in fascinating detail, noticing crucial bits of strategy most commentators miss and explaining how members of the Bucs' unglamorous roster formed a team far greater than the sum of its parts. In an era in which most clubs have already learned the lessons of Moneyball, Big Data Baseball is as close to a sequel as we're likely to get. As a Pirates fan, I can't recommend it highly enough, unless you're the GM of an opposing team, in which case I hope you'll stay far, far away.” ―Charlie Wilmoth, editor of BucsDugout.com and author of Dry Land: Winning After 20 Years at Sea with the Pittsburgh Pirates
“Travis Sawchik paints a picture of the 2013 Pirates and their successful pursuit of a postseason berth: equal parts new-age data, front office decision-making, management's leadership ability, and on-field player success--all contributing to Pittsburgh ending a twenty-year losing streak. [Sawchik's] style of writing is convincing, entertaining, and a quick read! Any baseball fan can learn the attributes of a winning organization by reading Big Data Baseball!” ―Jim Duquette, baseball analyst for XM Radio and former General Manager with the Mets
“Big Data Baseball is the next logical step in the Baseball Sabermetric nonfiction collection, preceded by Michael Lewis' Moneyball and Jonah Keri's The Extra 2%. Travis Sawchik is able to take some relatively complicated concepts and provide a soft, inviting touch for less data obsessed readers.” ―Camden Depot
“The book is a love letter to sabermetrics.... It is not just a book for Pittsburgh Pirates fans...and it will likely serve as great fodder in strategy sessions for baseball's twenty-nine other teams, and for baseball analysts everywhere.... Sawchik makes sense of it all from both high-level and nuts-and-bolts views.” ―Hardball Times
About the Author
TRAVIS SAWCHIK covers the Pirates and Major League Baseball for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Sawchik has won national Associates Press Sports Editor awards for enterprise writing and numerous state-level awards. Sawchik's work has been featured or references on ESPN, Grantland.com, and the MLB Network.
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To beat those odds, Clint Hurdle not only had to abandon much of what he considered important like a pitcher's Win Loss record and ERA, and batting average as the most important metric for position players, he had to convince his coaches and next his players. To do this, Hurdle integrated the stat people with the scouts, as well as with the coaches. How Hurdle did this is explained in this very readable book. Although the specifics here deal with baseball, in a general way, it would be useful for businesses, especially those which need to be re-organized.
So that part was good.
Where the book fails is two fold. First the analysis of the stats was a little on the weak side. I looked in vain for the numerical results of the Pirates shifts....opponents batting average, on base percentage, OPS or something would have been good.
Second, the book is just not that well-written. In fact, it is badly written in portions. Michael Lewis is a much, much better writer than Travis Sawchik. There were a number of sentences by Sawchik that I would not have let my 8th graders get away with.
His prose is just clumsy at times, marred by diction problems and excessive colloquialisms.
Just read Lewis' bio on Billy Beane and Sawchik's on Clint Hurdle in the first chapters of the respective books and you'll see what I mean.
That said, Big Data Baseball is well worth a read. Just don't expect something as well done as Money Ball.
One of my favorite baseball books ever written, and I say that despite having to read and relive the Pirates win in the wild card game (I am a Reds fan)!
Great read for anyone interested in new ideas to the game and how sabermetrics can produce real results
A possible criticism is that the manager, Clint Hurdle, might deserve more credit for pulling this off. It was kind of a miracle, and the "how did this get orchestrated" question wasn't answered too well. A small problem.
Tons of insights about how baseball (and front office baseball) is played today. Hats off to Travis Sawchick.