What Moneyball-for-Everything Has Done to American Culture

Article by Derek Thompson: “…The analytics revolution, which began with the movement known as Moneyball, led to a series of offensive and defensive adjustments that were, let’s say, catastrophically successful. Seeking strikeouts, managers increased the number of pitchers per game and pushed up the average velocity and spin rate per pitcher. Hitters responded by increasing the launch angles of their swings, raising the odds of a home run, but making strikeouts more likely as well. These decisions were all legal, and more important, they were all correct from an analytical and strategic standpoint….

When universal smarts lead to universal strategies, it can lead to a more homogenous product. Take the NBA. When every basketball team wakes up to the calculation that three points is 50 percent more than two points, you get a league-wide blitz of three-point shooting to take advantage of the discrepancy. Before the 2011–12 season, the league as a whole had never averaged more than 20 three-point-shot attempts per game. This year, no team is attempting fewer than 25 threes per game; four teams are attempting more than 40.

As I’ve written before, the quantitative revolution in culture is a living creature that consumes data and spits out homogeneity. Take the music industry. Before the ’90s, music labels routinely lied to Billboard about their sales figures to boost their preferred artists. In 1991Billboard switched methodologies to use more objective data, including point-of-sale information and radio surveys that didn’t rely on input from the labels. The charts changed overnight. Rock-and-roll bands were toppled, and hip-hop and country surged. When the charts became more honest, they also became more static. Popular songs stick around longer than they used to. One analysis of the history of pop-music styles found that rap and hip-hop have dominated American pop music longer than any other musical genre. As the analytics revolution in music grew, radio playlists became more repetitive, and by some measures, the most popular songs became more similar to one another…(More)”.