The Ball Or The Outfielder?

by · April 4, 20122 comments

Have you ever been watching a baseball game, seen the batter drive a ball deep and hear the announcer or some fan near you declare that it’s a home run long before the ball ever clears the fence? It seems like some sort of sixth sense or intuitiveness that you can’t quite figure out. How did they know?

Here’s the secret: You’re watching the ball. They’re watching the outfielders.

FORT MYERS, FL - MARCH 09:  Outfielder Andrew ...

Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

It’s impossible for the human eye to judge how far a ball is going to go, what trajectory it’s going to take and where it’s going to land from any part of the ballpark. While you could argue some exceptions if you’re sitting at a perpendicular angle to the trajectory of the ball (i.e. sitting in the left field corner watching a ball travel from home to the right field corner and vice-versa), I’ve personally seen dozens of people in those areas scream, “That ball’s outta here!” only to watch the outfielder saunter over and make the catch at the wall.

Watching the ball doesn’t give you the proper indicators as to how far the ball is going.

However, if you watch the outfielders, who spend hours each day watching and judging fly balls off the bats of opponents and teammates (in batting practice) and are far more experienced at knowing where the ball will go, you’ll see a clear indicator when a ball is going to be a home run. They stop running toward the wall to make the play when they know there won’t be one.

On a well-hit home run, they won’t even move.

Now think about your web analytics, sales numbers or success metrics. Frustrated with not being able to see or predict certain shifts or trends?

Think about it a bit then ask yourself: Am I watching the ball or the outfielder?

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.experiate.net Paul Flanigan

    You see, Jason? I’ve been following your blog forever, and started following Twitter, and you go right ahead and mix my absolutely favorite sport in the world with social media. So OF COURSE I have to chime in.

    I worked in professional sports (major league and minor league baseball) and can offer this perspective: Announcers, players, employees, those are around the game a lot, know when a dinger is a dinger. The sound of the bat, the speed and trajectory of the ball. We know it just as easily as the outfielder does. You see enough balls hit to the warning track and over, and you can judge, with relative accuracy, which ball is going out.

    Compare that to analytics. I have been around it enough to see what works and what doesn’t. I don’t just observe, I actively participate. One job I had required me to learn Google Analytics. I have solid understanding by being in it and figuring it out, not just getting reports from some IT person…

    A suggestion: If you want to see how balls fly out of the park, go to batting practice, right as the gates open. Hitters don’t TRY and belt it out, they have a regimen they stick to. But a lot of balls go into the stands. Now, think about that with your own Analytics – take BP, try what works and what doesn’t, and soon you’ll be hitting a lot more homers.

    And everyone will know it.

    (Except me. Because on Thursday I’m going AWOL for opening day.)

    • Dave

      Love this post, and I love Paul’s thoughts on BP, too.

      Some of us will never be THAT advanced with our measurement skills – just like some of us (me) will never be able to discern what kind of breaking ball to throw to which kind of hitter.

      So I’ll follow on with this baseball analogy: some hitters hit for power, some for average. Some don’t even focus on hitting – they focus on getting on base.

      Thus, clarity in objectives is a great place to start. You’ll have singles hitters on your team, you’ll have a home run gal who strikes out a few times. Learn to play to your team’s strengths.

      Play ball.