From Scientific Baseball to Sabermetrics: Professional Baseball as a Reflection of Engineering and Management in Society

Article excerpt

Throughout its history, professional baseball has been a mirror of many aspects of American society. This relationship extends to the evolution of attitudes and practices of management in baseball, both on the field and in the front office, and in society as a whole. From the advent of scientific baseball in the late 1800s to the use of sabermetrics and strict pitching regimens today, baseball has reflected the application of engineering and management practices for the improvement of both on-the-field and business performance.

Managing a baseball team is far more complicated than the plan attributed to Casey Stengel of "keeping the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided." When formally examined, team management in baseball is a multidisciplinary task requiring knowledge of statistics and mathematics as well as an understanding of the diverse areas of ergonomics, organizational behavior, and management theory. These topics are all prominent areas of study in the field of engineering, specifically in the discipline of industrial engineering. In fact, links to the field of industrial engineering can be seen throughout the history of professional baseball. One reason that this relationship is so strong is that baseball, like industry, is ever evolving. In discussing baseball of the late 1800s, Bill James states what he believes is a fundamental misunderstanding about the way baseball is and always has been played. He says that the way baseball is played is not defined largely by the rules. Instead, it is defined by the conditions under which the game is played--specifically, the ballparks but also the players, the ethics, the strategies, the equipment, and the expectations of the public. [1] Continuous changes in the game of baseball have necessitated and will continue to necessitate the constant evolution of baseball management to lead this process of change. Likewise, developments in industrial engineering have been and continue to be a bellwether of business and industry trends acceptable within and relied upon by society. Thus industrial engineering serves as a change leader in industry.

This paper will analyze the development of methods and trends in industrial engineering that have also been applied to baseball throughout its history. This analysis will demonstrate the inextricable bond between the evolution of management in baseball and in industrial engineering. Likewise, it will suggest that perhaps a closer formal working relationship, such as the hiring of industrial engineers in the baseball management field, would be advantageous to the business of baseball.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF INDUSTRIAL ENGINEERING

Before looking at its relationship with baseball, we must discuss industrial engineering as a discipline because it is a little-known and often-misunderstood field of engineering. Industrial engineering can be described generally as the study of methods for the improvement of the great variety and multitude of systems used in the working world. These described improvements can be characterized as improving productivity and cost-effectiveness in accomplishing a task; improving the safety, comfort, and satisfaction of workers; and optimizing related systems achieving work. [2] In more general terms, industrial engineers strive to make things better, faster, and cheaper.

Industrial engineering has four major areas of study operations research, ergonomics, manufacturing, and management. All four areas are covered to some degree in an undergraduate program in industrial engineering. Operations research encompasses the many mathematical tools used in industrial engineering, including statistical analysis, linear programming, and simulation modeling. Ergonomics is the study of improvements in the design of the work environment for human beings. The manufacturing area studies the improvement of methods for the manufacture of goods. …