This article was written by Rob Neyer
This article was published in the Spring 2015 Baseball Research Journal
Dick Cramer, recipient of a 2015 Henry Chadwick Award, has been doing sabermetrics for just about as long as anyone alive. Cramer began serving SABR in various positions during the 1970s and published a great deal of research, including work on clutch hitting that remains a touchstone 40 years later.
Cramer grew up near Wilmington, Delaware, where his father worked as a chemist for DuPont. Young Dick turned to baseball early on. “I decided that following the Phillies,” Cramer related in Alan Schwarz’s book, The Numbers Game, “would be more fun and less costly than building and crashing model airplanes.”
“In 1958,” Schwarz wrote, “when he was 16, Cramer’s parents went away for the weekend and left Dick $15 for expenses; he promptly mailed the cash to APBA for its baseball dice game. The Cramers were furious, but Dick was hooked.” He wasn’t shattered by the Phillies’ collapse in 1964, and somehow managed to remain optimistic about them for a few more years. Maybe until shortly after 1966, when, Cramer says, “I started doing ‘analytics,’ and on the basis of computer simulations had reinvented OPS (as on-base average times, not plus, slugging average) by 1969. A squib in The Sporting News in 1971 introduced me to SABR, and Bob Davids then introduced me to Pete Palmer.”
Along the way, Cramer had earned an AB in Chemistry & Physics from Harvard in 1963, and a Ph.D in Physical Organic Chemistry from MIT in 1967.
In the ’70s, Cramer served one term as SABR’s vice president and was on the Board of Directors for a spell. Cramer’s first published article appeared in the 1975 Baseball Research Journal. But it was his second article, published two years later, that established a significant baseline for future analysts. In “Do Clutch Hitters Exist?” Cramer looked at batting statistics from 1969–70, and his conclusion was easy to grasp: “[T]here is no tendency for players who were clutch hitters in 1969 to be clutch hitters in 1970. True, a few of the ‘clutch hitters’ in 1969 were also ‘clutch hitters’ in 1970; but as many became ‘unclutch’ and most became average, exactly as would be expected if ‘clutch hitting’ is really a matter of luck.”
More than 30 years later, Cramer and Palmer teamed up for yet another study of clutch hitting, this time using oodles more data and different methods. Their conclusion? “Thus the results of the original study are yet again confirmed, this time by every analysis we can devise and based mostly on 50 seasons of major league play. Over this period there is no convincing evidence that any fluctuation of any batter’s performance in tense situations had any cause beyond random variation.”
In 1980, Palmer introduced Cramer to Steve Mann, who introduced Cramer to Matt Levine; in 1981, the latter two founded STATS, Inc. Over the following decade-plus, Cramer remained heavily involved as STATS became one of the leading providers of sports information in the world (which of course it remains today).
Following a decade-long hiatus from serious baseball work, Cramer reconnected with sabermetrics in 2004. “For the last ten years,” Cramer says, “I’ve been greatly enjoying working with Retrosheet, as my interests and goals are much like Dave Smith’s and he is so extraordinarily good at making things work together.”
Outside of baseball, Cramer founded and led SmithKline’s computer-aided drug design, holding a variety of positions. In 1983, he joined Tripos (now Certara Discovery) and until recently served as Vice President for Science. In 2000, Cramer moved to Santa Fe, where he lives in the Sand River cohousing development.
To learn more about the Henry Chadwick Award, click here.