2015 SABR Analytics: Origins of Baseball Analytics

A veritable "Mount Rushmore" of baseball analytics pioneers came together at the fourth annual SABR Analytics Conference on Friday, March 13, 2015, to discuss the evolution of sabermetrics and a path for its future.

Panelists included: John Thorn, Major League Baseball's Official Historian; Pete Palmer, sabermetrics pioneer and co-editor of Total Baseball; John Dewan, founder of Baseball Info Solutions; Dick Cramer, co-founder of STATS LLC. The moderator was John Walsh, ESPN's former Executive Vice President and Executive Editor.

Here are some highlights from the Origins of Baseball Analytics Panel:

ON THE EARLY DAYS OF ANALYTICS IN SABR

  • Palmer: "When [Dick] Cramer and I got together, we were the Statistical Analysis Committee, you and me."
  • Thorn: "It was at a SABR convention in Toronto in 1981. I was assigned to cover it by The Sporting News, and the very first persons I met were, at a mixer like we had last night, Pete Palmer and Bob Carroll. And I think among the three of us, we probably produced about 30 books together over the next 20 years, for better or worse."

ON UNEXPECTED DISCOVERIES

  • Cramer: "I mentioned the clutch hitting thing. (When I did my original study, published in the 1977 Baseball Research Journal), I expected I was going to find an effect, because we all know clutch hitting is important, right? But I looked at the data — there wasn't much data at the time — and that wasn't what the data said. And even today I admit that even when my computer simulations are going good, I think my team is 'hot,' I feel that way, that's the way you feel, even though intellectually I know it's not true. I was really surprised to find that clutch hitting, as far as I'm concerned, is not a skill. It happens, but it's not a reproducible skill."

ON THE FUTURE OF STATISTICAL ANALYSIS

  • Dewan: "I think the discovery of new analytics is never ending. I think there will always be things to research, always new discoveries that we make in baseball alone, let alone all the other sports."

ADVICE FOR THOSE LOOKING FOR A CAREER IN STATISTICAL ANALYSIS

  • Dewan: "Do your own research. Start doing your own work, look at things you find interesting. If you're a numbers guy become adept with using a computer. … Being able to do things like code in SQL and work with databases is a big deal. It's about coming to events like this and showing what you can do. Share your research, put it online, everyone can read it if you put it out there, and if it's good work, it will get published."
  • Thorn: "I think statistical analysis and sabermetrics, as has been attested to by others at this conference, is a frame of mind. It's a habit. It is not a toolbox. My advice to anyone wanting to break into baseball from an analytical point of view would be: Do not limit your studies to baseball alone. … Learn everything you can about the wide world and think about how baseball might connect to it, or how it might connect to baseball. I think if there is a royal road to success in baseball, it's in knowing a thing or two about the wide world."

For more coverage of the 2015 SABR Analytics Conference, visit SABR.org/analytics.

This page was last updated March 4, 2016 at 7:05 pm MST.