Researcher Ethan Arsht applied the principals of baseball sabermetrics to history’s most well-known generals.
The model produced some surprises, leaving off some recent generals and other famous commanders.
Someone went and moneyball-ed military history. Ethan Arsht applied the principles of baseball sabermetrics to the performances of history’s greatest generals. It starts with comparing the number of wins from that general to a replacement general in the same circumstances.
The math is tricky but the list is definitive. There are just a few caveats.
First, where is all this information coming from? Although an imperfect source, Arsht complied Wikipedia data from 3,580 battles and 6,619 generals. He then compiled lists of key commanders, total forces, and of course, the outcome. The general’s forces were categorized and his numerical advantage or disadvantage weighted to reflect tactical ability. The real power is ranking the general’s WAR score, the aforementioned Wins Above Replacement.
For each battle, the general receives a weighted WAR score, a negative score for a loss. For example, at the Battle of Borodino that pitted Napoleon against Russian General Mikhail Kutuzov, the French had a slight numerical advantage against the Russians.
So the model devised by Arsht gave Bonaparte a WAR score of .49, which means a replacement general had a 50% chance of still winning the battle. Kutuzov gets a -.49 for Borodino, meaning a replacement for him had a 51% chance of losing anyway.
The more battles a commander fights and wins, the more opportunities to raise their scores. Fighting fewer battles doesn’t help, either. There were some surprises in the model, like the apparent failures of generals like Robert E. Lee and more modern generals. For more modern generals like Patton, that can be attributed to the relatively small number of battles commanded.
For more about Arsht’s results, responses to criticism, and his findings, visit his post on Medium’s Towards Data Science. To see every general’s data point and where they sit in the analysis, check out the Bokeh Plot, an interactive data visualization. Remember, this has nothing to do with overall strategy and it’s all in good fun. Arsht does acknowledge his shortcomings, so check those out, too.
This story was originally published in February 2019.
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Source:: Business Insider