How the Giants hacked their way to a division title using data

Using digital tools, analytics and brains, San Francisco outpaced every team in baseball

Don’t feel bad about checking your mobile device at Oracle Park for work right at a key moment in a big ballgame. The Giants do it, too — and it’s one reason they won 107 games. Unfortunately, it’s also one reason the arch-rival Dodgers won 106.

The two teams, ever-locked in their fierce on-field rivalry, also compete to make the best use of data – even during games. This season, for the first time, Major League coaches and players are huddling quickly over iPads in the dugout to watch videos of plays that just happened, and make key adjustments on the spot.

The Giants and Dodgers had the best records in baseball this year, and their use of data is one reason why, Giants Chief Information Office Bill Schlough told The Examiner. “Clearly the use of technology and analytics have contributed to where we are,” Schlough said.

All the teams have the same iPads, and even the same Wi-Fi setup. “The league has lots of rules to ensure a level-playing field,” Schlough said. But not all teams have Farhan Zaidi, the Berkeley PhD who is the Giants’ president of baseball operations. Zaidi previously worked analytics magic for the A’s and Dodgers, and has instilled a data-driven approach that has paid off for the Giants, big-time. “How we leverage the data and insights to make better decisions, that’s the differentiator,” Schlough said.

Examples: The Giants led the big leagues in using scouting reports to position infielders to shut down opponents offensively. And Los Angeles and San Francisco were the top two in baseball in low “chase rate” — when hitters swing at bad pitches. They don’t do that if they know what pitches to look for.

The Giants use San Jose data-management company Cohesity, which is blowing up and now counts a quarter of the Fortune 500 as customers. Schlough says Cohesity helps the team quickly gain insights from data, and protect it from hackers.

Schlough says being surrounded by tech companies — Oracle Park is ringed by Mozilla, Google, Slack, Salesforce and many others within walking distance — helps the Giants as a business. He gets pitched (get it?) new tech all the time. “I don’t think that would be the case if we were in a different geography. We have the luxury of so many companies being here in our backyard, and I think it’s a huge advantage that we have.” …

The Blue Angels are in town for Fleet Week, AS YOU MIGHT HAVE HEARD roaring by overhead. The famous Navy demonstration pilots took a spin down the Peninsula to check out some of the coolest tech hardware in the Bay Area, or anywhere else. NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View boasts the biggest wind tunnels in the world, where fans generate enormous gusts past aircraft to simulate flight. The largest tunnel can hold a Boeing 737. In smaller Ames wind tunnels, flight can be simulated at up to about 2.5 times the speed of sound. No wonder insiders overheard a couple of Blue Angels say the Ames wind tunnel researchers might have an even cooler job than they do…

A Marine rode a bike across a tightrope strung between two flag poles atop the St. Francis Hotel in a promotion for Fleet Week in 1921, The Examiner reported on its front page. (Examiner archives)

A Marine rode a bike across a tightrope strung between two flag poles atop the St. Francis Hotel in a promotion for Fleet Week in 1921, The Examiner reported on its front page. (Examiner archives)

Speaking of Fleet Week, 100 years ago a Marine promoted the event by riding a bike across a tightrope strung between two flagpoles atop the St. Francis Hotel, according to The San Francisco Examiner from Sept. 5, 1921. The Marine was smoking a cigarette while he precariously pedaled, and hanging below the bike was a woman on a trapeze. Here’s where things get interesting: The article includes a brief mention of silent movie star Fatty Arbuckle, a guest in the St. Francis, who looked out the window and spied the stunt. Just days later in that same 12th floor suite at the St. Francis, Arbuckle would be embroiled in one of the biggest scandals in this city or any other in America, in which he was ultimately acquitted of manslaughter charges in the death of an actress in his suite at the very same hotel. It, too, played out in notoriously sensational spectacle in the headlines of this newspaper. In the Oct. 4 issue of the New Yorker magazine, writer Michael Schulman compares the Arbuckle scandal to uproar over Silicon Valley today: “Social media is roughly as old as the film industry was then, and is also on the receiving end of a public backlash”…

Last week Ripple, the booming cryptocurrency company headquartered in the Financial District, announced a $250 million fund to help artists and other creators use and make non-fungible tokens, the unique blockchain currency shaking up the art world. You may have heard about NFTs as a way of buying digital art, like Mila Kunis’ “Stoner Cats,” a cartoon series about pot-smoking cats that you can watch if you buy unique digital tokens. Ripple wants its fund to go beyond that kind of thing, though. “While digital art and collectibles have quickly captured public interest and popularity, the utility of NFTs goes far beyond these use cases,” the company said in announcing the fund. “For example, interactive experiences and fractional ownership.” I don’t understand exactly what’s going on there, but selling “interactive experiences” sounds very San Franciscan to me…

A group of senior product managers from companies including Google, Airbnb, Microsoft and Walmart, and led by Facebook’s Mayank Yadav, unveiled a “Product Manifesto” this week, producing a “unifying set of values” for their profession. Product School, a training company in the beautiful, wedge-shaped Flatiron Building at Market and Sutter helped organize. The first tenet of the manifesto is “Ask ‘why’ before ‘what,’ use data and research to reveal the opportunity.” That’s deep, but also practical. Ever look at a product or tech feature and think, “Why the hell did anybody build that?” Yep…

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