One of the biggest sports scandals of the year did not include
performance-enhancing drugs, drunk driving or an illicit affair.
It didn’t even involve athletes.
On June 16, the New York Times reported that analytics and
computer programming employees of Major League Baseball’s St.
Louis Cardinals breached a Houston Astros’ database during 2014
spring training. The Cardinals claimed very little was looked at,
but the violation still called for an FBI investigation. American
sports fans and media pundits were rankled.
Why was this a big deal? Money and competitive edge. Zach
Hass (right), a graduate student in the Department of Statistics,
sees such databases as a gold mine for professional sports teams.
Huge data sets are being used to gain any competitive edge. Every
pitch in baseball is scrutinized. Every down
in football is dissected. Even the positioning
of basketball players on the court is
recorded and broken down by fractions of
“Teams are very much trying to find
the numbers that explain the players better
than what the other teams are using,” Hass
says. “Data can be expensive — collecting
it, organizing it. Any time you have something someone else doesn’t have, you would
like to hang onto that advantage.”