Ahead of the Statistical Curve
In the current baseball environment where analytics have taken major league front offices by storm, it may come as no surprise that visionary Dodger owner Walter O’Malley was way ahead of the curve. More than 50 years ahead, that is.
O’Malley was so interested in baseball statistics and their analytics that the Dodgers hired Allan Roth to work on interpolating the numbers for the team.
“Allan works for us all the year round,” said O’Malley. “It isn’t just sets of dry statistics for press releases. His compilations aid us in making decisions. Even in making trades.”Harold C. Burr column, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “Prexy Walter O’Malley Depends on Statistics,” Jan. 12, 1955
Roth was born in Montreal, Canada in 1917 with the given name Abraham. After his marriage in the summer of 1940, Roth changed his first name to “Allan.” Always mathematically inclined, Roth thought a professional baseball team could benefit by his services. He was hired by the Dodgers on Opening Day 1947 when Branch Rickey was President and O’Malley was Vice President and Secretary. Both were equal ownership partners and Dodger stockholders. Roth proceeded to make a big impression as he advanced statistical analysis to a whole new level, working during the season and in the off-season.
“Allan goes beyond the verbal word of our scouts and other observers,” said O’Malley. “Underlying causes are important.”
O’Malley continued, “We on the Dodgers realize that figures can be unreliable. There are those 46 stolen bases, for instance, by Chico Fernandez. I don’t suppose it would have made any great difference if he’d only stolen six. Rookies the Dodgers bring up must have more than the ability to run. Perhaps in the majors Fernandez may not even get on base. These 46 stolen bases may have been achieved against wild pitches, inexperienced catchers, unpolished infielders. Errors might have been charged in the big leagues. Running alone won’t get Fernandez a Dodger job. He must be able to field and hit.
“There are those special figures. If we were five games out we wouldn’t need six more triumphs to win. Three in the win column would do it. That would leave three less defeats, and the total would add up to six. It’s the little plus.”Ibid.
Whenever there was a statistical question, Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully would seek Roth’s input and it would be answered. Roth, who frequently worked in the broadcast booth and did his calculations by hand, followed the Dodgers to Los Angeles with his vast volume of boxes filled with various statistics, including promoting the importance of on-base percentage. At the time, Roth was working on the type of statistics that only 50 years later would truly be appreciated in baseball. O’Malley had moved Roth into the public relations office so that some of his work would be enjoyed by the fans.
His final season with the Dodgers was in 1964, but Roth continued his statistical work by writing a column for The Sporting News and then he was hired by NBC as a sports statistician in 1966.