Monday, February 1, 2010

Baseball Braces For Bloomberg

For about four hours yesterday, a good portion of the baseball blogoshpere gathered at the Bloomberg headquarters in Midtown Manhattan. Many went through the painful process of putting on pants, emerging from their mother's basements and commuting to New York City in exchange for an up close and personal tour of Bloomberg's new baseball software, along with lunch, beverages, some especially delicious frosted peanut butter brownies and an awesome shirt.

Even those of us who don't work in finance were familiar with Bloomberg's capabilities in data gathering, organization and visualization and were anxious to see how they had applied it to baseball. The company is offering two separate products, one aimed towards fantasy baseball players and the other designed specifically for and in partnership with the teams in the MLB. The demonstration of the fantasy version came first.

Within the fantasy product, there are two main incarnations of the program, available for purchase separately. The first is the draft kit, in which you can enter the specifications of your league regardless of where it is hosted (CBS, ESPN, Yahoo, etc).

Bloomberg's system revolves around a proprietary B-Rank based on a 5x5 league, which the presenters disclosed next to nothing about. I understand reasons for the secrecy, but I think users might find this off-putting in contrast to the availability of data throughout the rest of the software. It's tough to get a someone with a sabermetric slat to put their faith behind a metric whose methodology is purposely concealed.

Beyond the B-Rank though, you can search for and prioritize players by any statistical category (and by multiple categories at once) to ensure you have a balanced roster. Conveiently, Bloomberg has already computed player's eligibility by position to save you that headache. With your subscription, you have access to a player's average draft position in relation to their projected production, providing a simple visual representation of their value among many, many, many other intuitive features and comparisons. If you take your fantasy draft preparation seriously, the biggest limitation of the utility of the software is the amount of time you want to put into it.

Similar to the draft tracker, the in-season version of the Bloomberg software offers an impressive depth of information and is very customizable. They don't have historical or minor league stats available yet, but those are included in the professional suite and could be added in the future. The in-season version will be the most useful to this site and you will likely see some of the Bloomberg visualizations in our posts once the software debuts on February 18th.

The draft kit is being offered for $19.95, the in-season tools for $24.95 and both of them together will set you back $31.95.

The professional level software was what was most tantalizing to most of us bloggers in attendance. With a less colorful and more data-heavy layout, I could imagine spending days on end poking through the spray charts, pitch predictors and countless other tools that were offered. The teams are being given a free trial which started at the Winter Meetings and extends through the All-Star break, during which time Bloomberg has been and will be making every effort to customize the software and give the teams exactly what they want.

One of the underlying themes Bloomberg bent over backwards to convey was that what we were looking at on the 7th floor of 731 Lexington Ave. yesterday was just the beginning. They welcomed and encouraged - and might have even demanded - our input and suggestions were that socially acceptable.

To a company like Bloomberg, the market for baseball information is pretty limited. The financial firm employs over 10,000 people and has 126 offices around the world, so their entrée into the world of sports statistics and information isn't likely to significantly affect their bottom line, even if their software becomes ubiquitous among teams, fantasy baseball players and bloggers alike. But they seem committed to constant improvement of the technology nonetheless.

What was most encouraging about yesterday's presentation was that Bloomberg seemed to embrace the sabermetric ideal, even though they had arrived there from a financial background. They aren't attempting to give people the answers they are looking for, they just want to give them the information to come to their own conclusions. Through it all, there was a notion of humility and the desire to improve the product in every way possible and that bodes well for the future of the software.

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