SABR Analytics Conference: Around the Web
We're collecting and posting recaps and stories about the inaugural SABR Analytics Conference from around the Web. In addition, check out these videos recorded at the conference at MLB.com below:
- "Clubhouse Confidential" on the history of sabermetrics
- MLB embracing statistical analysis
- SABR president Vince Gennaro with "Clubhouse Confidential" host Brian Kenny
- Angels GM Jerry Dipoto delves into the stats
- Cubs owner Tom Ricketts on leadership, Wrigley
"Sportfolio", a weekly sports business show hosted by Rick Horrow on Bloomberg Television, spent several days in and around the inaugural SABR Analytics Conference in Arizona and will present a special “Baseball By The Numbers” show as the 2012 MLB season gets set to begin.
Here are some recaps of the SABR Analytics Conference from around the Web:
- Jay Jaffe (Baseball Prospectus)
I can't do full justice to my trip to Arizona to participate in the inaugural SABR Analytics Conference, which took place from March 15-17 in Mesa, Arizona. Five days in all, part work, part working vacation—and rarely just vacation—the trip was pure sensory overload, a full immersion in a corner of the baseball universe with which I am quite familiar, but one whose size and scope have grown larger than I ever imagined. I couldn't possibly absorb it all, but what follows here and in the second installment is my best attempt to capture some of what I experienced. ...
Thursday marked the beginning of the conference proper, with a keynote panel called "The Changing Face of Baseball Data," moderated by Baseball-Reference.com creator Sean Forman and featuring MLB.com VP of Stats Cory Schwartz, Baseball Info Solutions owner John Dewan, and FanGraphs Editor-in-Chief Dave Cameron. The state of fielding metrics was a common topic of discussion, given the scant nature of FIELDf/x data offered to the general public relative to PITCHf/x data, and Dewan's recent publication of The Fielding Bible III. "I feel like we're getting about 60 or 70 percent of the picture with current defensive metrics versus 80 or 90 percent on offense," said Dewan. "If I knew how to find the other 40 percent, I'd be doing it! ... (But) what advantage do teams have if you release the data? They're trying to gain a competitive advantage and it's hard to do that if everyone has access to it."
As to which teams are more sabermetrically inclined, both Dewan and Schwartz were understandably coy about the identities of those using specific services, but the general consensus was that nearly every team is doing something or other with regards to advanced metrics—"If you can spend a million on your weakest player, why not spend as much on analytics?" asked Dewan rhetorically—but that scouting was still incredibly important as a necessary component to blend with that data.
(Read part 2 of Jay's recap here.)
- David Fung (Beyond the Box Score)
A few days ago, I had the pleasure to make it to Mesa, AZ for the inaugural SABR Analytics Conference. Aside from being an observer and unofficial representative of Beyond the Box Score, it was really great to see so many great minds in one place, including SB Nation's very own Rob Neyer, author and economist J.C. Bradbury and many many others. ...
For those of you who haven't had a chance to read the cover story of ESPN Magazine's Analytics Issue earlier this month, Brandon McCarthy gives us a good look on how he reinvented his mechanics to save his career. McCarthy and Neyer dug a little deeper on this including how McCarthy uses analytics to inform his game preparation, specifically Pitch F/X. On Twitter, I had asked McCarthy if he was using the Bloomberg Sports professional personalized player product to help him prepare, and he confirmed (I remember reading about his iPad use on Swingin A's).
- Dan Strittmatter (AZ Snakepit)
Half-way through searching for any ounce of news in baseball, I hear someone say "there's free books over there." Oh, great, I love reading books (psyche! - though, to be fair, I doubt they'd be passing out Jane Austen novels). Still, I venture a look up to see what the literature is...
... WHAT?! FREE 2012 BILL JAMES HANDBOOKS?!?!
Poll the audience time: do you know what it's like to be deeply upset by the fact that it is not socially acceptable to sprint over short distances during moderately crowded conventions? I do. Now, sure, in retrospect there were a couple hundred copies laid out and there was little chance - approximately never percent - that they were going to get scooped up during my 50-foot walk to where they were displayed. In my defense, though, I didn't know this at first, and I really wanted a Bill James Handbook.
(Read part 2 of Dan's recap here.)
- J.P. Hoornstra (Los Angeles Daily News)
Cory Schwartz, the vice president of stats for MLB.com, might as well have poured a gallon of blood into a shark tank.
"Someday," he said, "I wonder if we might see some kind of `unified theory of baseball,' understanding how it all fits together. Right now we're looking at hitting, pitching, fielding and it's all pieces of the same puzzle. We're all chasing shades of gray."
Schwartz was a panelist at the Society for American Baseball Research's inaugural Analytics Conference on March 15. The audience was full of baseball number-crunchers, fantasy website owners, and others for whom WAR - wins above replacement, an advanced metric - is good for absolutely something.
Several members of the Dodgers' front office were in the audience, too. If there is a "cutting edge" model for teams making decisions based on statistical analysis, the Dodgers probably aren't on it. But these days, as their active participation in the SABR conference demonstrated, at least they aren't afraid to go near it.
- Ben Horrow (Summer Pastime)
Following this panel I remained glued to my seat waiting for the next talk. In this discussion, Vince Gennaro, the president of SABR, spoke about his top 10 value plays for building a roster. He spoke about inefficiencies in baseball and ways to exploit them in order to build the cheapest and most productive roster possible. Although some of his analysis sounded like statistical mumbo jumbo, two points of his resonated with me. First, he explained that some teams use a platoon advantage when building their roster. The best players cost the most money, so when replacing the value of a top player, the cheapest option may be to sign two players to the same position and have them switch off different games. ...
Gennaro's next point concerned looking at players as assets. Why shouldn't a team, Gennaro explained, sign/draft a player and convert them to a position that the market overvalues in order to then trade them for a player(s) that the market undervalues. He gave examples such as Oakland recently trading closers Andrew Baily and Huston Street as well as the Padres trading Matt Latos.
(Read Part 2 of Ben's recap here.)
- Dustin Parkes (The Score)
Among the top ten things I learned at the SABR Analytics Conference:
Roy Halladay is the model for everyone.
Time and time again it seemed to come up that the very best in terms of both intangible and metric approaches to understanding the game was Roy Halladay. The pitcher inspired glowing descriptions from everyone who spoke of numbers and work ethic.
One of the most interesting mentions of Halladay came from Brandon McCarthy who candidly admitted to mimicking the pitcher’s approach with his use of cutters and sinkers. His Halladay imitation directly led to something of a career resurgence for the pitcher as he continues to adapt his game to be more Doc-like. McCarthy’s latest alteration involves throwing two strike cutters up in the zone in search of swing and misses.
Everyone, from players to fans to analysts, absolutely loves Roy Halladay.
- Corey Brock (MLB.com)
Move over ERA, there's a new boss in town.
"We use analytics at all levels of our operation, whether that be player personnel moves, Major League team decision-making," [Indians GM Chris] Antonetti said. "It's a factor in all of our decisions. Our goal is to make the most informed decisions we can and get information from all aspects of our operation.
"We want to have the best scouts and best evaluators giving us the best information. We want to have the best group of analysts providing us with the best analytic information, and the best medical staff providing the best medical information."
Nearly every Major League front office has someone -- or a group, in most cases -- who spend their time working on quantitative analysis. Some fly under the radar in the baseball operations department. They are young in many cases, many in their 20s.
They have assorted backgrounds, many mathematical. And that you never advanced past junior varsity baseball as a player? That (rightfully) means nothing. A few of them have cool titles, like the Astros' Sig Mejdal, [a longtime SABR member] who is the club's director of decision sciences.
(Read Corey's story on the San Diego Padres' scouting department here.)
- Tyler Lockman (FSN Arizona)
If there is one thing baseball executives can agree on today, it's this: Advanced metrics can no longer be ignored.
Three prominent general managers made that much very clear Friday at the first Society of American Baseball Research Analytics Conference, stressing that no club today can operate efficiently without using advanced analysis to some degree, and that means much more than statistics. ...
There's clearly a disparity in how much advanced statistics are valued by GMs such as [Doug] Melvin and [Jerry] Dipoto, who began his front-office career in Boston under known stats advocate Theo Epstein. Executives can agree, though, that no stats by themselves tell the whole story.
Dipoto said that, for him, player makeup might be the single most important nonperformance element in evaluating players, possibly even outweighing the physical tools scouts evaluate. Personal situations and how a player handles them can have a great effect on how a player performs.
"There's so much going on," Dipoto said. "We all have something going on in our own lives every day. Some days it's easier to do your job than the others. Players are no different."
(Read Tyler's story from the SABR Analytics Conference on Diamondbacks prospect Trevor Bauer here.)
- Peter Liubicich (Love My Team)
The panel with Mark Shapiro, former GM and current President of the Indians touched on a number of topics including the mental makeup of players and the lack of predictive medical research in baseball currently. A couple of interesting insights that I found was that teams need to take more pride in their minor league system, especially the AAA team, as if can build a winning culture at that level, when a team calls up their players they’ll be bringing with them a winning attitude. Shapiro also said that although fans look first to the free agent market to improve their team in the offseason, Major League Free Agency is actually a very inefficient market.
- Dave Cameron (FanGraphs)
I’ve uploaded the slides of the presentation I did on Scrap Heap Starting Pitchers on Saturday. The slides really just feature the highlights of what we talked about, but do illustrate some of the points I tried to make in discussing whether teams can get value by signing pitchers coming off of seasons where they spent time on the disabled list. As I noted at the talk, there are a lot of caveats that need to be applied here, and this is not an extensive study of the issue, but I do think the failure of reclamation project starters from 2007-2010 produced a market correction that may have gone too far the last few offseasons.
- Chris Carelli (Call to the Pen)
Manhattanville College’s Graduate Program in Sports Business Management, participated in a case competition last week against several other graduate and undergraduate programs as part of the SABR Analytics Conference. Unfortunately for my former classmates, the title went to a team from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, but the experience was one of a lifetime for team captain C.J. Hangen, Matt Adams, Anthony Durante and Matt Healy.
Here are some thoughts from Manhattanville College team captain, C.J. Hangen on his team’s performance:
CH: While we did not win I think we can all agree that we are truly proud of how our case came out and how we represented Manhattanville. Yes, we could have had some more advanced math to enhance our case but we were able to make a compelling argument and backed it up with solid logic. After looking at the other presentations we felt confident that our overall baseball knowledge (statistics, player personnel, and roster configurations) was at least at the same level of the other schools.
- Wylie Wong (Ed Tech Magazine)
Gennaro, who is a baseball analytics consultant for several major league teams, teaches sports analytics at the graduate sports business management programs at Columbia University and Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y.
In his classes, he uses case methods, where students play the role of team executives faced with making operational decisions. It gives students a hands-on opportunity to use quantitative research methods and analytical tools. Gennaro took that concept one step further earlier this year by launching a national case competition, in which undergraduate and graduate students from 14 colleges competed at the inaugural SABR Analytics Conference in Mesa, Ariz.
Given a scenario in which the Washington Nationals baseball team was one game over .500 at the All-Star Break, teams of four or five students from each college were asked: Should they trade away prospects to boost the offense and try to make the playoffs? Or should they build for next year and trade a starting pitcher for a hot prospect?
Students used statistical analysis to determine the likelihood of the Nationals making the playoffs and to weigh the pros and cons of several trade options.
Executives from the Nationals, the Cleveland Indians, Chicago Cubs, Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres judged the competition. It was a great educational opportunity for the students, and it was also a chance for them to network with team executives and sports networks.
"In the last five years, we have seen a growing popularity of sports functioning more like a traditional business in terms of applying analysis to decision-making," Gennaro says. "It's providing opportunities for these young students who previously went into investment banking or financial services to go into sports."
- Drew Balen (Seedlings to Stars)
Personally, I enjoyed being surrounded by some extremely interesting people who have combined their passion for analytics and baseball. I learned a number of things and had a great time. I would strongly recommend for those who share a similar passion to attend in the future. If there is one thing I came away with is the fact that great minds figured out how to put a man on the moon in the 1969, but they are still trying to determine better defensive fielding metrics for MLB players. The good news some of the smartest people around are currently working on it. That is the great thing about the game of baseball that it combines the power of analytics with a children’s game that is played by grown men.
For more stories from the SABR Analytics Conference, visit SABR.org/analytics.