Ron Costello

Monday, February 1, 2016

Blogging to the top

At a recent Temple game — two minutes before the half — Denise leaned against me and said, "How long did John Baum play in the NBA?" She's a big JB fan, we both are. At Temple home games he sits just down in front of us at courtside, an analyst for Temple basketball.

John Baul (R), with broadcasting partner Harry Donahue.
It was an analytical analysis type question regarding Mr. Baum's professional career, so I reached into my jacket pocket for my iphone and went to work. I tapped in John Baum and I got it on the first Google try.

I put the  iphone away, leaned into her and said, "Two years in the NBA and three in the ABA."

Then I one-upped her, "With the Bulls, Nets, Tams, and Pacers."

"Oh, wow," she said.

We do it all the time in the Age of Information.

My attention went back to the game but I was thinking. With my iphone, I'm as smart as the next guy, maybe smarter.

But here's the thing. How smart am I in the same room with six other iphone owners, two in their twenties and four in their thirties, and one of them is Andy Galdi?

See what I'm saying?

And that's where the Phillies are, in the same room with 29 other major league teams — trying to one-up the Mets, Nationals, and Yankees. So they hired a guy who might get stuff better and faster than  everyone else. That's Andy Galdi, of course.

Mr. Galdi, 30, doesn't hit or pitch and he's not a scout. But he can do statistical research and data visualization probably better than anyone else in the room.
The Phillies hired Andy Galdi to
do probability.

Take Charlie Manuel, for example. Charlie can do field visualization pretty damn good. He can look at a young shortstop at the high school level and predict whether or not the kid can make the Show. I'd trust Charlie's visualization because he's an admirable baseball man. An exceptional visualizer.

Mr. Galdi might look at the same kid and say, "Hell, I have no idea. Wait, hit him another grounder. Hmm, no, I'm not sure.

But here's where Galdi can do things that Charlie never dreamed of; wouldn't have the slightest interest in, or wouldn't think it'd be worth his time. While Charlie can look at one kid, Mr. Galdi can look at hundreds.

And, without hitting them one grounder!

Mr. Galdi might use statistical models of probability — the Bayesian  analysis — to examine data on a  hundred shortstops. He might tell the scouts the kid in Weston, Florida is the  one to watch, where Charlie told them to go to Biloxi, Mississippi and examine that kid.

Mr. Galdi has a Stanford University master's degree in statistics, once worked for the Mets, the NBA, Google, and completed an internship at Groupon. That's right, Groupon. 

In case you're interested, here's what he did at Groupon — he implemented a generalized boosted regression model to predict the number of phone calls it takes to close a deal with a merchant.
Charlie, a great  baseball visualizer.

He created an algorithm that determined a merchant's relative quality while minimizing the number of comparisons necessary to accurately rank thousands of merchants.

He co-authored a research paper introducing a method for declarative crowd-machine data integration.


Now, I know what you're thinking. This stuff will never replace Charlie's eyeball,  his intuition, his experience and baseball knowledge to judge if a prospect has not only the skills to make the Show, but the heart as well. Who cares about the Bayesian thingie when we've got people like Charlie who know baseball inside out?

Well, that's a good point!

I have a feeling the Phillies might be thinking the same way, at least some of them — Dallas Green, Charlie, Dave Montgomery, Scott Proefrock,  and Andy MacPhail — will accept the probability models but not give up the visual observation.

Of course, I'd have to Google that to be sure.

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