The Tao of Theo: How Informed Decisions, Objectivity & Data Can Drive Success

“Analytics” and “stats” aren’t simply synonymous, a fact Theo Epstein proved in building the Cubs into a championship team.

The Tao of Theo: How Informed Decisions, Objectivity & Data Can Drive Success

“Analytics” and “stats” aren’t simply synonymous, a fact Theo Epstein proved in building the Cubs into a championship team.

As the days go by and the Chicago Cubs are celebrated for breaking their 108-year-old World Series drought, much has been made of Theo Epstein embracing analytics and how that decision has won the President of Baseball Operations three titles in the past 12 years (the previous two came with Boston).

While Epstein is celebrated for his ingenuity, some have rolled their eyes about the obsession with analytics. Dating back to the release of Moneyball, Michael Lewis’ book profiling the rise of Oakland general manager Billy Beane in the early 2000s, there has been a butting of heads between traditional talent evaluators and the new age of decision makers focusing more on statistics and analysis.

But, contrary to popular belief, the term “analytics” is not simply synonymous with “stats” or “data.” Analytics is taking all information available to an individual and utilizing it in a smart, impactful way, something Epstein did to break the two longest “curses” in baseball history.

Instead of making decisions because “that’s the way we’ve always done it”, Epstein put all of his intel on the table to construct the Cubs roster. He didn’t reinvent the wheel - he just put it upright and began rolling it.

That’s the beauty of analytics. Data, statistics and video aren’t going to win any games by themselves. But when combined in creative and intelligent ways, they can change the way a team approaches the game, leading to legendary results.

The Cubs were coming off an abysmal 71-91 campaign when Epstein arrived in 2011. The roster was a mishmash of underperforming veterans and overwhelmed prospects, and Epstein saw the organization needed a new foundation.

He sent off the older players for pitchers Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and Pedro Strop, arms that had disappointed in other situations but had the talent to eventually blossom. He had the Cubs bottom out, then drafted hitters Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber with his top picks, eschewing the notion that young pitchers were the most valuable commodity. He hired Joe Maddon, one of the game’s most forward-thinking managers, and, when the opportunity presented itself, opened the checkbook for playoff-proven veterans Jon Lester, John Lackey, Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward.

Nothing Epstein did was particularly revolutionary, but by taking all of his information and making incremental tweaks to traditional processes, he was able to break through where so many others had failed.

The same tactics that Epstein applied when building the Cubs are also applicable in coaching. Video by itself will not add to your win total. Neither will stats.

But successfully integrating both into your coaching workflow should balloon your win total. No need to simply abandon your original processes - just inject them with more information to make smarter decisions. Here are a few examples:

  • Game review: The stats might show a flaw or weakness that you missed previously, and watching the video could back that up. Once you see some areas that could be cleaned up, it’s up to you to address them.

  • Recruiting: Simply looking at a prospect’s measurables isn’t going to be enough to assess his ability as a player. But combine those with relevant statistics, video that backs the stats up, and your personal evaluation, and you have a complete, unbiased view of the player. The additional information helps to uncover insights for a more thorough evaluation.

You’re likely not fighting 100-year-old ghosts or trying to overcome eras of a losing culture, but by incorporating stats and video into your workflow, you increase your chances of success. If Epstein’s achievements have taught us anything, it’s that every ounce of information available should be examined and dissected. The power of analytics is greater than any curse.

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