Each year, the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference highlights the importance of data analytics, and as a result, the growing numbers of MIT alumni working the front office of professional sports teams.
The list of MIT alumni who serve as high-level decision makers include Daryl Morey MBA ’00, the SSAC co-founder and general manager the NBA’s Houston Rockets, and Brian Bilello ’97, president of Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution.
Add Farhan Zaidi ’98 to the list. Earlier this month, Zaidi was named the new general manager of baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers, a storied franchise newly dedicated to statistic-minded analysis and strategy.
According to the New York Times, the hiring of Zaidi, who spent 10 years in the front office of the Oakland Athletics, is being regarded as part of a growing trend in which statistic-minded executives are taking larger roles in the decision-making process. The Oakland organization—which was profiled in the movie Moneyball—is regarded as a pioneer in using data analysis to develop sports strategy.
Zaidi, who was previously profiled by MIT Technology Review, grew up in the Philippines. At MIT, he studied public finance and development economics, and led the undergraduate economics association.
“Farhan Zaidi '98: Baseball and statistics are a natural match,” MIT Technology Review:Zaidi joins a Dodgers front office led by new President Andrew Friedman, who previously served as executive vice president for the Tampa Bay Rays, a team, like Oakland, that relied heavily on advanced statistical analysis.
“With the A’s, Zaidi (did) statistical analysis to evaluate and target new players and trade prospects, almost as if they were equity assets. ‘I still use Stata, the statistical program I used as an undergrad,’ he says. More important, he uses the critical-thinking skills he honed at MIT.
‘There are good trades, bad trades,’ he says. ‘There will be times when you come out on the wrong end, but if you have the right process, you’re going to be right more times than you’re wrong.’”
Friedman and Zaidi—neither of whom have played professional baseball—are expected to take a data-driven approach to running the Dodgers, a sharp contrast to an organization that often relied on former players and coaches to make similar decisions.
“Front offices today are very balanced—traditional scouting backgrounds mixed with analytics backgrounds,” Zaidi ’98 told Slice of MIT earlier this year. “Much like MIT, sports now live in a very hypothesis-driven environment. You need to ask the right questions, accumulate the right data, and implement a strategy based on that data.”