How Professional Sports General Managers are Minimizing Risk with SPC

Picture this: a major league slugger cranks 55 home runs and manages to drive in 160 RBIs over the course of a season during a contract year. This is, by all means, a legendary amount of production—one for the history books. And as a result, his efforts earn him a record contract that will pay him nearly $300 million over the next 10 years.

Then, the problems start. The next season, production drops dramatically. He tops out with fewer than 30 home runs and lands on the disabled list in August, keeping him on the bench for the most important part of the team’s run—the playoffs. And over the course of the next five seasons, he never even comes close to reproducing what the team thought he was capable of when they signed him.

This scenario has been happening frequently in professional sports. Teams continue to dole out astronomically high payloads for players who do not even come close to meeting their expected output.

In baseball, a hitter that produces two out of every 10 times he is at the plate is considered to be in a “slump.” But in manufacturing, a product that fails even 1% of the time can be a disaster.  

In response to this problem, many general managers are seeking methods for tracking player production and very oftentimes that quest lands them on statistical process control (SPC) which helps them avoid the perils of speculation based on previous seasons’ statistics. Just as statistical process control provides manufacturers with real-time data as products are being made in factories, it can also help professional sports franchises monitor player performance quality on a daily basis, both in practice and in games.

Some NBA teams, for instance, now attach accelerators to jerseys to gauge how quickly players are capable of accelerating from a standing position. Statistics are being collected on everything from heart rates to individual body motions such as a swing or a throw, to transform players from humans into something closer to a machine when they are performing.

At the end of the day, professional sports are based on numbers—just like manufacturing. And just like CEOs have to justify what spend and prevent errors before they happen, sports organizations strive to minimize errors before issuing contracts. Players are investments, and investments are meant to produce. And statistical process control is a means of ensuring that an investment will return a guaranteed level of production after a player receives the money that they are given.

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