September 14, 2016
What's In A Name
Humans name everything. We name our progeny, our pets, our cars, our software, our hardware, our boats, and many other things. It is believed that people have named things, inanimate or not, in order to assert their dominance over the object in question. Since there have been tools and machines people have been giving them names. Peter McClure of the Oxford English Dictionary suggest that machines are named for two reasons. The first being that it gives the owner/operator some sense of ownership over the machine and the second being purely anthropomorphic in nature.
The idea being that these machines are helpful and so we bestow names upon them, which allows us to greater appreciate their contributions to our work and goals. It’s all about comfort for the owner. Adrienne LaFrance of The Atlantic had a prescient observation in a profile of this phenomenon:
Machines don't need names, but we feel the need to name them—out of a mix of affection, perhaps, but mostly out of a desire to reorganize forces more powerful than we are so that they appear to be under human control. Whether or not they actually are
In the baseball world, the Houston Astros realized that maybe their system wasn’t wholly under their control. This isn’t yet another article about the Astros-Cardinals conflict, or the morality of stealing baseball secrets. This is simply an effort to catalog and briefly dissect the funny practice of naming software that contains context-agnostic analyses of players, trades, and much more.
Ground Control might be the only computer system more famous than the Red Sox’s (in)famous Carmine. Both names connote a massive database with thousands of player reports, hundreds of statistics for each player in every level of organized baseball, and even a log of trade conversations with other teams. It’s the holy grail of baseball data, and the dream of baseball fanatics far and wide. One is named after the official team color and the other an inspired effort that draws an homage to the club’s ever-popular #process.
Neither team has shied away from the spotlight when it has been shined directly on their technology, an uncommon approach across the major-league baseball. Thankfully, the torchbearers for these computer systems have nicknames worthy of the attention they receive. Truly, “Ground Control” was a master stroke in naming, while “Carmine” is interesting and relevant in its own way.
Unquestionably, both are better than BASEtech, the rumored name of the San Diego Padres’ computer system. I’m sure BASEtech makes up for its lackluster name with terrific content, but sadly we’ll never be able to judge that. Another poor effort is the White Sox’s White Sox Scouting Portal, arguably the most straightforward front office computer system name out there. The Yankees’ system is similarly named to San Diego’s, called BASE, which is probably an acronym of some sort, though public acknowledgement of the system seems to be essentially non-existent
Acronyms are, somewhat predictably, popular among the Ivy League-powered front offices in baseball. The Phillies are likely the newest guys on the black having rolled out PHIL (short for: Phillies Holistic Information Location) within the last 12 months. PHIL of course is surely an upgrade over the prior regime’s analytics technology. Another Pennsylvania team, the Pirates, also have an acronym-named computer system in MITT. The name stands for Managing, Information, Tools, and Talent; and is the brain-child of Dan Fox, a BP alum who essentially founded the Pirates’ analytics department. Since then MITT has gone on to power one of the most effective analytics departments in baseball. MITT may not be the most creatively named computer system in baseball, but it has arguably paid the most dividends.
Some front office systems are new, like the Cubs’ Ivy, which was built in collaboration with Bloomberg Sports and is modeled after Carmine, Theo’s brainchild in Boston. On the other end of the spectrum are the elder statesmen, like the Indians’ DiamondView. The club’s DiamondView computer system is so old in fact, that it’s something like the hipster of front office computer systems.
Another common theme is naming your system after people. The Athletics built a system called the Tye Solution, named after Tye Waller, a scout who wanted a database to house the team’s many scouting reports. The Blue Jays followed this trend, once having a system named for Paul Beeston, the club’s former President. The Beest was built by the club in 2013, though it’s unclear if the club will overhaul or replace the system with Mark Shapiro being hired as Beeston’s replacement. Surely a new name is at least in the cards. The Tampa Bay Rays’ program is named for a person as well, sort of. It’s unclear if “uncle charlie.” the baseball term, is named after an actual person or not, but the Rays’ Uncle Charlie is likely to be one of the most well-supported networks, as the Rays have more analytics staff than any other team in baseball.
Some of the most fun, and frankly best, names are ones that pull directly from the club’s mascot or team name, like the Cardinals’ Red Bird Dog or the rumored “Stache” of the Cincinnati Reds. I’m likely biased, but the Sonoma Stompers’ Grapevine (named by BP’s own John Choiniere) is on par with Ground Control at the top of the naming leaderboard. Grapevine became famous for being part of a certain book, but it also boasts the honor of being the only front office system the public can access.
The Mets’ Matrix system seems to focus heavily on matchups, though it has yet to turn Terry Collins into Neo, so their system may still need some tinkering. Still Matrix is a decent name, and certainly better than the effort put forth by their cross-town rivals.
We know that most every team in baseball has a computer system of some sort. Like anything in baseball, different approaches mean wildly different executions. The Tigers, for example, have partnered with TruMedia, a company whose heatmaps you’re probably familiar with. Division rival Kansas City once got lampooned for its aversion to analytics while it secretly built out a top notch analytics team and system. The Orioles’ analytics department is also an under-the-radar effort in a lot of ways, but the club’s Director of Analytics Sarah Gelles runs a solid operation. The O’s, much like the Royals, are fairly tight-lipped about their analytics efforts, so analysis of their system name will have to wait. While the Astros and Red Sox boast and even joke about their mechanical front office members, these teams are tight-lipped on what they’re using.
We may never discover the names of every computer system in use across baseball. That said, it’s interesting to see the level of attention paid to the name of the no. 2 bookmark (after BP, of course) on every browser in front offices across the league. While the names really don’t matter much at all, that doesn’t mean that we can’t have a little fun with what is usually the only public-facing facet of the engine behind your team’s front office.