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Jim Furtado
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Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Baseball, Judgment, and Technocracy

(Alan) Jacobs, a life-long fan, explained why the game was losing its hold on him. Chiefly, it amounted to the triumph of fine-grained analytics dictating team strategy. As Jacobs succinctly put it, “Strangely enough, baseball was better when we knew less about the most effective way to play it.”

This paradoxical point, with which I tend to agree, raises an interesting question. By way of getting to that question, I’ll first recall for us Heidegger’s distinction between what is correct and what is true. What is correct may not yet be true, in part because it may be incomplete and thus potentially if not actually misleading. Perhaps we might similarly distinguish, along the lines of Jacobs’s analysis, between what is correct and what is good. As Jacobs readily concedes, the analytically sophisticated way of approaching the game yields results. GMs, managers, and players are correct to to pursue its recommendation. However, granting this point, might we not also be able to conclude that while it is correct it is not good. Its correctness obfuscates some larger reality about the game, or the human experience of the game, in which the goodness of the game consists.

We might generalize this observation in this way. The analytically intensive approach to the game is a mode of optimization. Optimization seems to be something like a fundamental value operating at the intersection of technology and society. Like efficiency, it is a value that seems most appropriate to the operation of a machine, but it has seeped into the cultural sphere. It has become a personal value. We seek to optimize both devices and the self. But to what end? Is such optimization good? Perhaps it is correct in this field or that endeavor, but at what cost?

The effects of analytics on baseball aesthetics may be one of the better examples of the law of unintended consequences.


 

 

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