One thing that you realize right away about Cubs Assistant to the GM, Shiraz Rehman, is that he is a likable, unassuming guy. The second thing you get is that he understands the value of analytics as it applies not just to baseball, but to sports and business as well.
That was Rehman’s background, as a trader and financial planner before getting the baseball bug and joining the ranks of the new “Moneyball” crowd, first in Boston and then in Arizona and now in The Windy City, where he is part of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer’s crew tasked to finally end “The Curse of the Billy Goat” in Wrigleyville.
On Tuesday night in Chicago, Rehman joined with the head of Bloomberg Sports Bill Squadron (also another deep thinker when it comes to the possibilities of sports and stats) to give some insight into how MLB teams are now using analytics more and how that use of stats can help right the wrongs of the past for those who have long suffered around the Cubbies.
“I think our goal is to make sure that we are using every bit of data available to make the best possible decisions with players throughout our system, and by working with a company like Bloomberg Sports, with all their history and success in business analytics, we can do that and have all that information in one place,” Rehman said in the 90 minute discussion before over 100 interested parties and several thousand others watching via a live stream on CSN Chicago.
“There are lots of smaller programs that provide analysis, but Bloomberg has pulled all those options together in one place where we can custom design what we are looking for and then get that data in minutes. We think it is a big part of the player evaluation puzzle and are looking forward to using it to its best capacity.”
Rehman is certainly no stranger to the use of analytics—from his Wall Street background, to helping the Diamondbacks reach the playoffs last year under Kevin Towers. But he was quick to point out that the analytic side is still only a part of the equation. The human factor and the ability for scouts to evaluate talent on what they see on the field and hear in person doesn’t go away with the use of stats.
“This remains a human business, and being able to predict what a 15 or 16 year old may do when he is 28 or 29 is certainly a gamble and we do miss from time to time,” he added. “However, being able to have everyone going in the same direction and being able to customize our system is going to help give us the best chance at success and that’s what makes this partnership very exciting.”
The discussion was more top-line about the value and speed of analytics linked to video for players and teams; options which used to take hours or days before will now take minutes. The partnership with the Cubs, according to Squadron, is the company’s most advanced in their three years in existence.
They are working with 24 clubs and several hundred players who have a tablet-based product customized to their own stats, as well as a new fantasy product for fans, one that will have added features this year in addition to all that made “Front Office” the No.1 paid app last year in the fantasy category.
The professional tool that Bloomberg has built can now draw data from almost every reliable global source, ranging from college and high school showcase events to Caribbean baseball and soon the Japanese and Korean professional leagues.
That is in addition to over 100 years of data available through a partnership with MLB.com. All of that data, along with the customized elements that scouts or minor league managers and coaches can add in, will factor heavily in the decision-making process for the Cubs, maybe even more so than for other teams.
As far as how quickly a new system and a new outlook being brought forth by Epstein and company can change Wrigleyville, the jury is still out. Encouraging, yes, but with spring training just starting and lots of questions for the new regime, time will tell as to how effective the vision can be.
“This is an ever-evolving process and it is a challenge that we are excited about,” Rehman added. “However, it is not an overnight process. There are changes we are making from things we see right now and through spring training, and we see some great potential with what we have already in place, but the goal is to also have long term success throughout the organization. That comes with commitment and dedication, and we will use all the tools available to reach that goal.”
All positive information from an executive who fits the mold of the new look of a sports business professional, especially in a high profile, high demand environment like that around the Cubs.