Saturday, June 10, 2023

Quote of the Day (J.J. Cooper, on the Prospect of Artificial Intelligence in Baseball)

“Baseball is a sport where dozens of professional teams around the world, hundreds of colleges, thousands of high schools and various other organizations are all looking for an edge. AI will be a tool in a savvy team's toolbox. Or more accurately, it will be a full tool shed. It's the next step in the revolution that has already transformed baseball.”—J.J. Cooper, “The Coming Revolution,” Baseball America, May 2023

As soon as I read Cooper’s article, I wanted to shout “No-o-o-o!!!!” with the same force as characters in the Star Wars saga do when they witness the violent death of heroes. Because I’m afraid that artificial intelligence (AI) will result in the demise of my favorite sport.

As Cooper notes, AI is the next logical step in the data-analytics disruption of baseball in the last two decades. You know: the one that gave us launch angle, exit velocity, spin rates, induced vertical breaks, vertical approach angle, and other terms too numerous and awful to mention. (Just typing these gives me vertigo.)

You know what followed after baseball handed the game over to Oakland A’s “Moneyball” wizard Billy Beane and the band of byteheads who followed in his wake: lower stolen base totals, fielding shifts, more sluggers with embarrassing strikeout totals, starting pitchers lucky to last five innings, more relievers inserted at will—in short, a longer, slower, duller game.

This past winter, the Lords of Baseball took the game back a step from the brink with new rules that encouraged base stealing, increased batting averages, and reduced the likelihood of interminable contests.

But now, I read in Cooper’s piece that AI has the potential to affect America’s Pastime in multiple areas on and off the field, including:


*pitching coordination

*computerized vision models

*player valuation

*statistical projections

*draft interviews

*medical reports

*psychological testing


*ticket pricing


(With that last use, just think: In the not-so-distant future, if Hollywood remakes Clint Eastwood’s Trouble With the Curve, his cranky old scout will see his job endangered not by failing eyesight but by AI.)

Baseball is a sport in which men’s deeds create mighty myths. Do we really want all that replaced by machines?

(For more information on AI—including a groan-inducing, ChatGPT-created Q and A on player evaluation capabilities—see Adam Salorio’s February post from Medium.)

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