ST. PETERSBURG, FL - MARCH 6: MLB team scouts keep their radar guns trained on the pitchers during MLB Spring Training action on March 6, 2005 at the Progress Energy Park in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-3. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)2005 Getty Images
Analytics isn’t necessarily the first word that comes to mind when one thinks of baseball in Latin America.
But as the study of the game and players stateside has shifted, even the purists have been forced to accept sabermetrics and data analysis as part of the game.
In Latin America, the perception, as president of the Puerto Rico Professional Baseball League Sadi Antonmattei admits to be true, is that scouting and the evaluation of players is done primarily by the old-fashioned “eye test.”
However, he believes that’s about to change.
“Change is not always very welcomed at first, but those who don't evolve with this technology might be making a big strategic mistake in the long run,” Antonmattei said. “It is too early to tell how [traditional scouting and technology] will merge, but I am certain the 'eye test' will be tested itself.”
It wasn’t all that long ago that baseball in the United States experienced a similar shift, as the trailers for the upcoming big-screen adaptation of “Moneyball” remind us.
Abroad the game is changing as well.
“More organizations are embracing technology as a scouting tool,” said Eduardo Najri, an executive with los Leones del Escogido, a Dominican Winter League team. “We have the benefit that all our players, before they can be drafted, have to play organized baseball at least at the Single-A level, so we have statistics we can use to better evaluate players.”
Seeing that shift and an opportunity, Bloomberg Sports recently introduced its professional sports tool – a scouting, video, statistics and data analytics package that the company has offered to MLB teams for the last two seasons – to the heads of various Latin American teams and federations.
“Much like the world of Major League Baseball, the baseball leagues and teams in [Latin America] are becoming more and more comfortable dealing with data and understanding that using these analytical tools can help them make better decisions and run their operations more effectively,” said Bill Squadron, head of Bloomberg Sports. “We’re really pleased that, even though it wasn’t initially our focus right out of the gate, we’ve been able to establish relationships with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Venezuela because the products will certainly help those clubs and their operations.”
Though early in the process, the interest is clear, and the response has been positive.
“Bloomberg Sports has arrived and made a wealth of data available to the league and our teams that will certainly take the sport in a new direction,” Antonmattei said. “Our coaching staff used to make calls based on personal experience observing a player in our league, in the spring training camps or, worse, through word of mouth from contacts.
“Now they will have up-to-date, detailed data on all players, and that will certainly increase the level of competition in Puerto Rico and elsewhere,” Antonmattei added.
While baseball personnel, players and fans alike have come to realize sabermetrics as a part the game, the debate about the value of data analysis versus traditional methods of player evaluation is still ongoing – both here and abroad.
“As younger people get involved in the process, there is a healthy debate about the importance of each method,” Najri said of the issue in the Dominican Republic. “A player’s attitude, hustle, his relationship with his manager and players, can be better evaluated in person.
"When you complement that with all the different stats that are available, you can make better decisions," he said. "In the end, I think that both are important, because when making a decision about a player, one needs as much information as possible.”
Antonmattei also believes balance between the two schools of thought is essential, but adds: “We didn't have much to balance before.”
As that thinking changes, the game itself likely will as well.
Maria Burns Ortiz is a freelance sports journalist, chair of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists' Sports Task Force, and a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. Follow her on Twitter: @BurnsOrtiz