Sunday, June 16, 2013

Are you getting good "At Bats"?

One of my more quixotic quests is my ongoing habit of blogging about what the startup world can learn from the sports world.  As I've noted before, the founders of Silicon Valley seem to take a perverse delight in their ignorance of sports, which they probably view as the purview of the jocks who gave them wedgies in high school.

(Though if the recent 21 Jump Street movie is to be believed, jocks are the new nerds, displaced by green activists)

Therefore, it is with little hope that I set out to note what startups can learn from baseball.

One of the big revolutions of the Moneyball era is the emphasis on "good At Bats."  Whereas old-school scouting focused on a hitter's batting average (the number of hits), Billy Beane's Moneyball tactics focused on the hitter's ability to avoid making outs by drawing walks and taking (e.g. not swinging at) lots of pitches.

A good at bat (or "AB" as the players refer to it) is one where you don't swing at baseballs thrown outside the strike zone, and where if you do swing, you make good contact.

Baseball stat-heads know that the batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is largely a product of luck; all the hitter can control is how many pitches he sees, how many times he strikes out, how many times he walks, and how many times he puts the ball in play.

In the startup world, it's easy to get caught up in the results--the rounds raised or the companies sold.  But that's scoreboard watching.  It doesn't tell you enough about the process.

Good founders get good at bats.  They don't swing at pitches outside the strike zone, and they wait patiently for the opportunity to unleash their best swing.

Are you focused on getting good at bats?  Or are you scoreboard watching?


kenarneson said...

With some exceptions, BABIP is largely a matter of luck for pitchers, but not for hitters.

A hitter with a high BABIP one year is likely to have a high BABIP the next year. A pitcher with a high BABIP one year is likely to regress to the mean the next year.

That is, whether a ball in play is a hit is largely a function of the skill of the hitters and fielders, not so much of the pitcher.

Chris said...

Good point--there are some hitters for whom BABIP is skill (e.g. speed demons like Ichiro).

But most hitters have a BABIP of around 0.300, just like pitchers.