Hope springs eternal in baseball and politics

This is a special time for baseball fans. Major league baseball is ready to begin another season, with spring training officially opening this week. With some exceptions, fans in most cities can at least dream of watching their team play in the postseason and maybe even compete for the World Series championship. For them, hope springs eternal.

Ditto for the Democratic Party. 2018 appears to be a “wave year,” with an opportunity to win control of the House of Representatives, maybe even the Senate, and then use those majorities to place a major constitutional check on a president almost all Democrats loathe. Once that victory is secured, Democrats dream of finding the perfect candidate to win back the presidency in 2020. Just who that might be is not clear yet, but Democrats are hopeful that it is only a matter of time before the next Messiah arrives to lead them to the promised land. Unfortunately, hope is not a strategy in baseball or politics.

In baseball, there are two competing strategies for assembling a winning team. The choice is between going “old school,” trusting the accumulated knowledge of veteran managers, coaches and scouts to select a team and its daily lineup, or using new statistics often called “sabermetrics” to find and utilize players with the skills needed to win. The latter strategy’s recent success, incorporating new video technology that analyzes each pitch, swing, and catch in every major league game, has led to a wholesale turnover in big league managers. In just this last offseason alone, a group of young, analytically savvy new managers were hired by owners looking to copy the strategy used by last year’s World Series champions, the Houston Astros.

Political candidates and those hoping to run winning campaigns have a similar strategic choice to make, but on a much more complex playing field. When Barack Obama upended conventional campaign wisdom by defeating Hillary Clinton for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination and then went on to beat two respected Republican opponents in the 2008 and 2012 general elections, a similar wave of out-with-the-old and in-with-the-new sentiment took over the Democratic Party. Suddenly, David Plouffe, Obama’s numbers guy, became the model that every presidential hopeful wanted to hire for their campaign. In 2016, this fascination with data analytics led Hillary Clinton to…


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