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Big Data Baseball: Math, Miracles, and the End of a 20-Year Losing Streak

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4.05  ·  Rating details ·  1,798 ratings  ·  196 reviews
New York Times Bestseller

After twenty consecutive losing seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates, team morale was low, the club's payroll ranked near the bottom of the sport, game attendance was down, and the city was becoming increasingly disenchanted with its team. Pittsburghers joked their town was the city of champions…and the Pirates. Big Data Baseball is the story of how
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Hardcover, 233 pages
Published May 19th 2015 by Flatiron Books
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 ·  1,798 ratings  ·  196 reviews


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Emsoca
Aug 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The book is so amazing.
Matt
Sep 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
At first blush, this is a baseball book about the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates. Small Market Team Overcomes the Odds, Enjoys First Winning Season in 21 Years and Advances Past the First Round of Playoffs.

And yet, that's not what it is. In actuality, it's a business book, with what I'd identify as two primary messages. The first is that 'big data' offers the potential to provide market data beyond what we've ever dreamed was possible. And the second is that it requires a lot of leadership and communic
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Brad
Oct 16, 2015 rated it liked it
Another entry in the post-Moneyball "how'd these guys do it?" genre. The problem is Michael Lewis is a great writer, and a lot of the authors trying to emulate him are less talented at weaving a wonderful story out of metrics. The Pirates are an interesting team, but aside from maybe Clint Hurdle and Russell Martin, I don't leave this book for a real feel for personalities, and only so much plot can be driven by describing infield shifts. Overall, there is interesting material, but the tale woul ...more
Adam
Mar 27, 2016 rated it it was ok
Low-rent Moneyball with less compelling characters, less interesting revelations (a whole chapter is about how PIT has a large LF so they found - wait for it - a fast guy to play left!!), and a far less talented author.

Also full of editing mistakes and padded with pages of pitch-by-pitch details.
Jay
Apr 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: baseball, audiobook
This is the story of the Pittsburgh Pirates of 2013. With a number of years of poor performance, Pirates management decided to invest in analytics in a big way. You could say this is the sequel to “Moneyball”, amping up the analytics analysis to start playing different. Here, the Pirates go big on “the shift”, moving defensive players to where each hitter tends to hit in order to make more outs. Given the move to optimize the shift, they also determine that ground ball pitchers are more valuable ...more
Theo
Jan 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: baseball
First and foremost, I want to state my appreciation for how often the expressions “get on board” and “preventing a mutiny” were used in this book about the 2013 Pirates organization. Why bother writing about the pirates if you don’t take that liberty.

Big Data Baseball follows in the same vein as Moneyball, as it follows a small-market low-budget team make its way to the post season. But where Moneyball’s Billy Beane took an underused statistic and made it important, the pirates opted for a diffe
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victor harris
Jun 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: baseball
How did the Pirates finally become competitive and make the post-season after several decades of futility? Why are we seeing more and more teams employing defensive shifts? (In fact, the rise in shifts has become dramatic.) It's all in the numbers and not the traditional numbers. While batting averages, ERAs, and a handful of other data points have been the traditional markers for assessing performance they don't necessarily translate into producing wins. The new numbers crunchers go well beyon ...more
Colin Grove
Jun 17, 2015 rated it liked it
I really wanted to love this book, given that it's about baseball analytics, but oh boy, did the author (or more likely, editor) nip that enthusiasm in the bud.

The author is paid to cover the Pirates, so I can't imagine the numerous baseball-related errors were his, but were probably the editor's. (For example, relief pitchers come out of the "bullpen", not the "bull pen", though that would make pitching changes a little more entertaining. More importantly, a 2-strike count is "0-2", not "2-0",
...more
Jim Patton
May 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
A more in depth Moneyball, in that the Pirates went full on with primarily defensive analysis. This one was very interesting in that the key character was the Manager, Clint Hurdle. It was a great depiction of the evolution of data driven baseball, which now is being embraced at the manager level.
Dave
Feb 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
A good story trapped in below average writing and truly bad editing. So, the story, which deserves to be heard - small-market Pirates team, 20-year streak of no winning seasons, uses advanced metrics to sign two undervalued free agents, re-align their infield defense, and have their pitchers modify their tactics. All this leads to a 94-win season and a berth in the NLDS after an exciting win at home in front of a huge crowd. I have a lot of respect for Pittsburgh's data chiefs and decision maker ...more
Matt Lieberman
Dec 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
I haven't followed Major League Baseball closely over the last few seasons, but I've been fascinated by the statistical applications to the sport since I read Moneyball about ten years ago. I picked up Travis Sawchik's recent book Big Data Baseball hoping to better understand some more current avenues of baseball research and an idea of what today's MLB analytics departments look like. Thankfully, Big Data Baseball largely delivers, exploring the quantitative insights underpinning the Pittsburg ...more
Ron Nurmi
Jul 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
A look at how the 2013 Pirates broke a 19-year losing streak and made the playoffs by using "big data" analytics to improve the on-field play.
Chris Esposo
Could have been a much better book, ends up being more about the personalities surrounding the 2012 - 2014 Pirates attempts at leveraging statistical analysis and basic machine vision to help improve team performance, vs the actual science and techniques itself.

Central in this story is 3 people, Russell Martin, the undervalued free agent the pirates procured during their storied 2013 run, Clint Hurdle, the team manager, and his (soon to be) team of statisticians, starting with, and led by, Dan F
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Jeff
Jul 18, 2015 rated it liked it
With the advent of greater statistical and data analysis starting in the mid-1980s, the use of — and tools for collecting — new kinds of information to analyze the performance of baseball players has exploded. Some stats, like OPS, have become mainstream; others continue to be more valued by the data folks than by the announcers and/or fans. The technologies used to collect this information improve every year and more and more major league teams have created their own statistical analysis staffs ...more
Alex Lennon
May 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: baseball
Fantastic analytic book. Moneyball 2.0. Doesn't just tell you what the Pirates did--and there is no simple solution (defensive shifting, using more 2-seam fastballs, pitch framing and the acquisition of Russell Martin, integrating the data into a culture of players, finding players like Starling Marte in Latin America, Liriano and AJ Burnett on the scrap heap, Gerrit Cole through the draft)--but where Big Data is going with StatCast. One of the reviewers said it perfectly, does for defense what ...more
John
Dec 25, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
Ostensibly the story of the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates, a team that broke a string of 20 consecutive losing seasons and won back the hearts of the city's football-crazed fans. How did they do it? With data and analytics. Think Moneyball 2.0, with defensive shifts, pitch framing and 2-seam fastballs instead of on-base percentage.

But this is more than a baseball book. It describes the challenge faced by the Pirates' analytics team to convince Clint Hurdle to buy into what they were selling, and Hurdl
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Ray
Jan 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: baseball
I got caught up in this one and finished the book with the Pirates' 2013 Wild Card win playing on the TV in the background.

Sawchick, a rookie beat writer in Pittsburgh in 2013, had fortuitous timing as he was able to cover the Bucs during the season that they snapped their 20 year playoff drought. The story is a sort of Moneyball 2.0 as the Pirates had to use analytics to level the playing field against big-spending competitors.

As a close follower of Sabermetrics, I was vaguely familiar with s
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Oliver Bateman
Oct 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
the book that moneyball should have been: sawchik's BDB is a pretty fantastic point by point analysis of how the pirates rebuilt their dismal operation from the data up (and in ways that the moneyball crew were grasping but dimly years ago). this book is: a) blissfully free of game by game recaps, which i fucking hate in sports books and b) constructed out of considerable original research by a former beat reporter who covered the team. bully stuff, except for how clint hurdle (a pretty wretched ...more
Brant
Nov 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is like MONEYBALL 2.0. Baseball fans will love this book but people who know nothing about baseball will be able to easily follow the concepts and ideas and will be inspired to look at information in new ways. This is more than a fascinating look at how the Pittsburgh Pirates used big data to exploit a market inefficiency; it's also a call to action to question commonly held assumptions and to build teams that can marry big data concepts (the tech guys) with real-world results (the coaches ...more
Mark Simon
Dec 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Got an advance copy of this one. It's a really good, easy read ... basically a sequel to Moneyball, but one with less conflict since scouts and stats act in a greater harmony. Everything is explained thoroughly-- things like the value of pitch framing, shifts, and even heat maps(!)-- and it's simple to grasp. Everything comes together, setting up a nice ending (always like it when the ending ties back to the beginning)

It's not coming out until May, so file it away on your wish lists.
Chris
Jan 02, 2016 rated it it was ok
The story is as interesting as the one told in Moneyball, but the storytelling is not nearly as compelling. It's dry and lacks any emotion. The author also butchers some of the math and analyses. The book reads like a 235 page magazine article that would have been much better had it ben condensed to 24 pages.

If you don't like stats, Big Data Baseball isn't worth reading. If you do like stats, you'll likely find the inaccurate presentation of the math to be distracting.
Brad Crouse
Aug 30, 2015 rated it liked it
Every beat writer is looking to write their own version of Moneyball. The difference being that Michael Lewis is a fantastic writer. This book was uneven - really felt like a long form SI article with some fluff in the middle to get to 200 pages. Interesting none the less.
Ryan
Feb 29, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
Pretty much Moneyball but with the Pirates, but the storytelling isn't quite as solid. Still, as a baseball fanatic, it was worthwhile.
Jeffrey
Jan 15, 2016 rated it liked it
What a shame that the game of baseball is being so being polluted by technology. What kind of a world do we live in where only the most powerful computers using proprietary models can tell us the ‘real’ value of our most beloved ballplayers? Why do we feel the need to quantify the poetic beauty of a left-fielder’s long run to track down an impossible fly ball, or to monitor a starting pitcher’s biometric data when he’s two outs away from a complete game? Why must we share our grandstands with 60 ...more
Gregory
Jan 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Travis Sawchik's Big Data Baseball is easily seen as a sequel to Michael Lewis' classic Moneyball, which showed how a General Manager (Billy Beane) found a metric (getting on base, especially with walks) that other teams undervalued. With less money, Lewis wrote about how Beane built a winning team (the 2002 A's). Fast forward to 2013, and Pirates' GM Neal Huntington hires people with strong data analytics skills who use new technology (especially PITCHf/x) to find new strategies such as pitch f ...more
Evan
May 21, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you're a Pittsburgh Pirates fan and want to relive the glory of the 2013 season... this is not the book for you. As the title and subtitle clearly state, it's all about why the Pirates got to the playoffs and not necessarily about the whole team that got them there. By the way, the title of the book could have also been "Russell Martin and How Much I Love Him". Seriously, the author could not get enough of this guy, as references to Martin, including his personal background and how great a pe ...more
Reid Mccormick
Mar 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: baseball
The longest winter of my life was spent in a small town just an hour outside of Pittsburgh. Being a kid who grew up in the deserts of California, I was not accustomed to several feet of snow falling over the weekend. I was far from my element, however, the one joy of living in western Pennsylvania was getting to visit the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the beautiful PNC Park. When I saw the Pirates face my beloved Los Angeles Dodgers, the Bucs were still in the midst of their recording setting, ...more
Owen
Apr 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I love baseball, I love data. This is an outstanding book. If you don’t love data and baseball you’ll probably be bored.

By analyzing lots of data, the Pittsburgh Pirates make a tremendous playoff run. Lots of interesting information but the three main things they focus on are.shifting of defenses, framing of pitches, and pitchers trying to produce more ground balls and throw fewer pitches.

To a lesser degree they talk about using player data to try and reduce injuries. Especially with pitchers.
...more
Dana
Jul 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I love baseball, I love data. This is an outstanding book. If you don’t love data and baseball you’ll probably be bored.

By analyzing lots of data, the Pittsburgh Pirates make a tremendous playoff run. Lots of interesting information but the three main things they focus on are.shifting of defenses, framing of pitches, and pitchers trying to produce more ground balls and throw fewer pitches.

To a lesser degree they talk about using player data to try and reduce injuries. Especially with pitchers.
...more
George
Jun 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
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Travis Sawchik is a sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight. He is a former staff writer for FanGraphs and previously covered the Pirates and Major League Baseball for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Sawchik has won national Associated Press Sports Editor awards for enterprise writing and numerous state-level awards. Sawchik's work has also been featured or referenced on The Athletic, ESPN, Grantland, and ...more

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“Pull-heavy, right-handed hitters should also have seen shifts, but rarely did. According to BIS’s database, the first shift employed against a right-handed hitter in the modern era didn’t occur until June 11, 2009, when the Phillies shifted left against Gary Sheffield.” 1 likes
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