Thoughts on Bloomberg Sports
Bloomberg Sports unveiled its two new products to the media on Sunday afternoon, and I was one of those fortunate enough to be in attendance. Thoughts:
The fantasy product, to be released this month on a trial basis, contains a draft kit and in-season tools. Player news, stats, and data visualizations are all available with at most three clicks of the mouse. Bloomberg Sports is not providing any new data sources to the consumer, but in partnerships with MLB and Rotowire, BBGSports aggregates relevant player statistics and news, laying the data out in a friendly and efficient interface. Pretty much all of the offensive and pitching stats/splits available on Baseball Reference and FanGraphs are available in Bloomberg’s product. Even better, those stats that aren’t included can be written into the system. You can create new stats and the product is adaptable to the most obscure fantasy league settings. All of these stats can be easily ranked and charted. The best visualization I saw was their “spider” chart, which is similar to Justin Bopp’s DiamondView and Kevin Dame's 5 Tool Analyzer.
Attached to the fantasy product will be a team of writers led by Jonah Keri, whose background in business and baseball analysis makes him a neat fit, but more importantly, Keri’s refined post-up game and precise outlet passes are reminiscent of a younger, Jewish Wes Unseld. BBGSports has decided to produce some of its written content for free, and lock some behind a pay wall. I imagine the free content will be similar to FanGraphs’ written content, in that it will use progressive analysis to inform the reader as well as to promote the site’s statistical engine. But what will be behind the pay wall? The Baseball Prospectus model is sensible in that BP leaves its more random material, for lack of a better term, in the open (Interviews, TWIQ, Roundtables), while leaving its selling point—progressive analysis—behind the pay wall. However, BBGSports isn’t selling its analysis. In fact, BBGSports is selling others' analysis, as Bloomberg specializes in collecting and distributing relevant news from thousands and thousands of web sites. So I wonder if BBGSports is just going to put some of its written content behind the pay wall to satisfy the consumer who likes to feel that he’s getting more bang for his buck. I hope that BBGSports finds a way to differentiate its free analysis from that which is paid for. I look forward to seeing what Keri and Co. have in store, and who it is that composes Keri’s company.
My chief criticism of BBGSports’ fantasy product is, oddly enough, with its only never-before-seen-to-me data. Again, I don't think the product was built to harvest any new data, but rather to provide an incredibly convenient database that consists of already-available information. In that mission, BBGSports has succeeded. But BBGSports went ahead and set up a proprietary algorithm to rank players in a traditional 5x5 fantasy league. The rank, called “B-Rank,” is not customizable to league settings as of yet and the methodology behind the ranking system was not explained despite multiple questions from the audience. The speakers, headlined by the impressive Stephen Orban, did not share any intentions to market the B-Rank, nor did they explain the B-Rank’s value, yet they nevertheless insisted on keeping it entirely secret. Now, to be fair, there is a very nice ranking feature that allows you to rank players using whatever categories and filters you’d like, and exclude drafted players or put players on your watch list and all that good stuff. But the B-Rank looms over it. One of my favorite things about my fantasy experience at ESPN is the player rater, which rates players in each category based on a Z-Score, and then sums those scores to form a comprehensive rating. This is intuitive and understandable, and I can adjust these rankings to my own whims since I understand what goes into them. But with the B-Rank, I have no idea why players are ranked where they are.
Same with the new projection system. Even if BBGSports is releasing the new PECOTA, we wouldn’t be buying it, since BBGSports hasn’t shown that it is an expert in sabermetrics, and the speakers were in fact adamant that they are not baseball experts. So why should I care that BBGSports is launching a projection system? If you were to follow the projection’s advice and draft Ryan Howard fourth or Matt Kemp sixth, I would take pity on your children, for they would have been born to a poor fantasy baseball player. Instead of taking its cue from Baseball Prospectus, whose initiative it is to develop new and progressive analytics, BBGSports should follow in FanGraphs’ footsteps and assemble an assortment of projections. And if BBGSports wants its own projection system, I feel the user should have the ability to modify the projections however he or she pleases. If BBGSports wants B-Rank to catch on, then BBGSports will need to treat it the same way as FanGraphs treated WAR. FanGraphs went through pains to ensure that readers understood the thought process and calculations behind WAR. It would be a big plus and potential selling point for BBGSports to create a ranking system that can become universally accepted among fantasy players, but that’s not happening if fantasy players don’t know what the hell B-Rank consists of.
BBGSports might want to allow one of its programmers to play around with the data and periodically release new metrics that incline to the sabermetric bent. As I’ve stated, I don’t think Bloomberg should be trying to introduce any proprietary metrics, but along the same lines as BBGSports' written analysis, perhaps a quantitative analyst can demonstrate how the product in place can be utilized to develop one’s own projections/rankings/metrics using only the data provided by BBGSports. The B-Rank would be a great start, if only its purpose wasn't defeated by protecting the algorithm.
Fortunately, BBGSports appears genuinely interested in consumer feedback. I feel that its willingness to accept and respond to feedback will be instrumental to BBGSports' success. The fantasy product exists to make the fantasy player’s job easier and more fun, which necessitates the fantasy player’s input. As for the pro product, with only 30 teams to sell to, BBGSports will have to cater individually to each and every team. To get a glimpse of the the pro product, see David Appelman’s post. Incorporated into the pro product are pitchf/x data and and the tools to integrate whatever proprietary information teams are already holding into the BBGSports database, which can only be accessed via a proper bar code and finger print. The visuals provided by Appelman and Ben Kabak speak to BBGSports as an innovative and interactive product. And from what I've heard and seen so far, improvements will be ongoing.
Already in an advantageous relationship with MLB and MLB advanced media, Bloomberg Sports will likely want to partner up with STATS, Baseball Info Solutions, and Baseball America. Bloomberg Sports will eventually become the leading distributor for all private data collectors, as BBGSports does a better job of presenting that data than any other provider I’ve seen.