Rawlings, SABR Hit A Homer…

One of the interesting questions around the endless numbers crunching that takes place this time of year around baseball is what exactly, other than team player evaluation, fantasy play, and sports talk, is the real value for all of the statistical analysis.

Teams need ways to properly analyze talent for sure, and the minutia that goes with baseball fandom is interesting to some, but is it really quantifiable for brands that spend millions supporting and activating around the sport? Is there a way for a brand to effectively use analytics to market and get a return on its investment?

On Friday one such partnership seems to have been announced that can maybe help solve that opportunity, and if it works ay open up a door for brand analytics partnerships with some great upside. SABR (The Society For American Baseball Research) announced a partnership with sporting goods company Rawlings to give hard data analysis to its tentpole award, the Baseball Gold Glove.

This collaboration will add a new sabermetric-based component to the award selection process and gives the brand another step in the lifting of the profile of one of baseball’s unique and historic awards

As part of the multi-year collaboration beginning with the 2013 season, SABR will develop an expanded statistical resource guide that will accompany the Rawlings Gold Glove Award ballots sent to managers and coaches each year. In addition, SABR will immediately establish a new Fielding Research Committee tasked to develop a proprietary new defensive analytic called the SABR Defensive Index™, or SDI™. The SDI will serve as an “apples-to-apples” metric to help determine the best defensive players in baseball exclusively for the Rawlings Gold Glove Award and Rawlings Platinum Glove Award selection processes. The collaboration also installs SABR as the presenting sponsor of the Rawlings Platinum Glove Award.

Since its inception in 1957, the Rawlings Gold Glove Award voting process has included national sportswriters, a secret players-only ballot, and the current system where each manager and up to six (6) coaches on his staff vote from a pool of qualified players in their respective league, but not for players on their own team. Beginning in 2013, the managers/coaches vote will constitute a majority of the Rawlings Gold Glove Award winners’ selection tally, with the new SDI comprising of the remainder of the overall total. The exact breakdown of the selection criteria will be announced once the SDI is created later this summer.

The SDI’s ability to accurately compare players from different positions will help determine the updated Rawlings Platinum Glove Award presented by SABR. Fans will continue to have a voice during this process, once the newest class of Rawlings Gold Glove Award winners is announced in November.

So what does this mean? It means that an award, perhaps for the first time, will have hard statistics, in a formula, attached to the voting process. While the human element will still be a large factor, using this new index provides a first-time measuring stick for what was once totally arbitrary, and can really give shape to this, or any awards voting process. If successful, this type of analytic formula could officially apply to help alleviate some controversy in any voting process. Should a certain formula for success be used in determining Hall of Fame balloting, or even an MVP choice? How about the Heisman?

Of course it won’t be totally driven by analytics, but the Rawlings/SABR partnership shows that going forward, randomness won’t be as essential in the voting process for an award which does have its base in statistical performance. It doesn’t take any of the mystique out of the award. In many ways it sets the right benchmark for success, at least partially, and it puts everyone on an even playing field that is unbiased. The numbers don’t lie.

For Rawlings, a brand with long roots in baseball, it is a very smart move. It gives the Golden Glove even more legitimacy for a casual fan, and it provides the voters and the hardcore fans with a benchmark to work with, instead of just going on a hunch. It improves the brands ties to MLB, and shows all its interested parties that the company is being progressive and smart with its sponsor dollars and with a model that could be cutting edge in the way awards are judged in the future.

Sure sometimes sports, especially baseball, can be victims of paralysis by analysis, But in this case SABR found a way to take all those numbers and increase the value of a brand that is wed to the success of the sport, and that makes the partnership both unique and a winner for everyone.

A smart business move for both parties, and one with some nice opportunities for replication by other brands in a host of sports who are enamored with statistics but aren’t sure how to use the numbers to improve on the ones that matter most for them…those in the sales category.

Definitely a hit from a sports business perspective, as Opening Day approaches.