How Sabermetrics Changed the MLB Fan Experience

Sabermetrics started off way back in the 1970s. At the time, it was the ultimate hobby for baseball fans who adored a hard look at numbers. Specifically, it let them see the game through a totally new lens: data. Through tallying baseball statistics alone, fans like Bill Jams helped redefine the game.

Half a century later, sabermetrics has contributed to some of the greatest shifts in professional sports, far beyond the MLB alone. Today, sabermetrics is an ingrained part of the sport, as all franchises rely on data crunching to some capacity. This is thanks to James’ sabermetrics explorations, along with Michael Lewis’ 2003 book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game

Combined, these efforts catapulted baseball into a quasi-scientific sport. Statistical applications of the game have shifted over time, leading to more complex interpretations of statistics. Within the game, this has created a myriad of new insights for managers to take advantage of. Beyond that, however, sabermetrics has had a huge influence on the fan experience. Here’s how.

Fantasy Sports & DFS Stem from Sabermetrics

Sabermetrics hit the scene in the 1970s. Only a decade later, the official Rotisserie League Baseball was established in New York City, becoming the first fully-fledged fantasy sports league. Today, fantasy sports is a much vaster landscape than it was during the Roto days.

DFS, in particular, has taken off thanks to offers from DraftKings and similar providers. DFS offers a shortened fantasy league setup. And despite the fact that DraftKings’ fantasy baseball includes unreal stats, like xFIP and BABIP, which aren’t elements of sabermetrics at all, the entire scheme is based on a data-first approach.

In other words, without sabermetrics providing a new way to interpret sports and quantify player talent, would there be fantasy sports and DFS today?

Prop Bets from Sportsbooks

DFS contests like those from DraftKings are easily one of the most popular ways in which sabermetrics can be explored. However, sportsbooks that offer prop bets on the MLB are also another extension of the sabermetrics movement. In fact, similar to fantasy and DFS, sabermetrics and data analytics helped steer the future of sports betting.

That’s because statistics provide a reliable outlook for oddsmakers to set their lines. While many sportsbooks also rely on the insight of qualified analysts, they do include ‘computer picks’ too. Computer picks are selections based on algorithms, which use data to forecast a sporting outcome.

Beyond the realm of computer picks, sportsbooks also use statistics intrinsic to sabermetrics to create prop bets. In the last few years, prop bets have become incredibly popular because they offer a more granular look at outcomes, specifically those related to players. 

In other words, a bettor can zero in on bets tied to specific hitters, pitchers, and more. Some of the most popular cover strikeouts, letting an MLB fan put their knowledge to the test. To determine strikeout props, they might analyze data specific to a hitter, the pitcher, matchup history, and much, much more.

Bleeding into Other Leagues

Clearly, sabermetrics outlined how major league sports could leverage data. This data is now being used internally to help teams do things like recruit, manage, and train players. It also influences how fans can interact with their favorite sport, including DFS and sports betting. It even helped steer how sportsbooks set their lines.

But sabermetrics has had a resounding effect on how professional sports of all stripes approach the game. Most of all, sabermetrics changed the outlook of the NBA. Following Lewis’ exploration of Billy Beane’s new approach to recruiting with the Oakland Athletics in 2003, some other managers took notice.

Specifically, Daryl Morey of the Houston Rockets decided to take another look at the data. When he did, he found that basketball teams that sank more three-pointers had a statistical advantage. In 2012, the era of ‘Moreyball’, as it’s known, kicked off across the league. This approach to the game means that fewer teams are opting for creative drives that result in lay-ups. Instead, they’re targeting shots outside the paint.

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