2013 SABR Analytics Conference: Research presentations

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Here are research presentation abstracts for the second annual SABR Analytics Conference, March 7-9, 2013. The full schedule of research presentations can be found here. For registration information, visit SABR.org/analytics.

Here are the research presentations for the 2013 SABR Analytics Conference:

Vince Gennaro, “The Big Data Approach to Baseball Analytics”

The next generation of baseball analytics has arrived. Three factors have come together to create an inflection point in baseball’s analytic templates and our use of decision tools—an explosion of baseball data, new processing technology, and abundant, inexpensive data storage capacity. Thanks to the efforts of MLBAM, Sportvision, Baseball Info Solutions and other data providers, baseball is the envy of sports analysts, with over 3 million annual data points to describe game action. In fact, 95% of the baseball data available to researchers today, emerged after the publication of Moneyball. New processing technologies allow us to go beyond traditional data analyses by applying graph analytics or analyzing unstructured text data using sophisticated linguistic algorithms. This presentation will show examples of ways emerging technology can advance our understanding of player performance, aid in player development and provide insights into player valuation. 

Vince Gennaro is the president of SABR, the author of Diamond Dollars: The Economics of Winning in Baseball, a consultant to MLB teams and a regular contributor to MLB Network’s “Clubhouse Confidential.” This follows a successful business career, which includes diverse roles — CEO of an early stage public company, president of a billion-dollar division of PepsiCo, and ownership of a women’s pro basketball franchise. He is on the Advisory Board of The Perfect Game Foundation, which is dedicated to helping young people build a career in sports.

Ben Jedlovec, “The Anatomy of a Batted Ball”

Baseball games are won and lost on the outcome of batted balls. Using the comprehensive new batted ball timer data set from Baseball Info Solutions, we can dissect the trajectory of every batted ball in recent seasons. Building batted ball profiles for individual hitters can help us better understand, evaluate, and predict hitter performance.

Ben Jedlovec is Vice President of Product Development & Sales at Baseball Info Solutions, where he guides the company’s Research and Sales efforts. With BIS President & Owner John Dewan, he co-authored The Fielding Bible—Volume III in Spring 2012.

Geoff Miller, “Making Intangibles Tangible”

Ask coaches and staff from all 30 Major League Baseball teams to define the role of psychology in their organizations and you might get 30 different answers. The lack of agreement on terms, identification, and development of intangibles contributes to the difficulty in measuring the impact of mental skills training. Making Intangibles Tangible is meant to provide starting points for finding new ways to combine intangible factors with analytics methods.

Geoff Miller, Mental Skills Coach for the Atlanta Braves and author of Intangibles: Big-League Stories and Strategies for Winning the Mental Game – in Baseball and in Life, discusses the organizational role he plays at the big league level, in scouting, and player development, as well as qualitative and quantitative practices for measuring psychological variables. This presentation includes case studies that demonstrate root causes of behavior as well as the importance of understanding the people who produce performance when considering future measures.

Alan Nathan, “Using F/X and TrackMan for Novel Baseball Analysis”

Technological advances for tracking the baseball have opened up new opportunities for baseball analysis that have heretofore not been possible. These advances include both the camera-based F/X systems supplied by Sportvision (PITCHf/x, HITf/x, COMMANDf/x, and FIELDf/x) and the Doppler radar-based system known as TrackMan. The talk will begin with a detailed analysis and case study of a most unusual play that occurred during the 2012 season, which showcases the potential of both systems for innovative analysis. It will be followed by a more general discussion of these systems, comparing and contrasting their capabilities and limitations for both pitched and batted baseballs. For pitched baseballs, the concepts of movement and spin will be presented, along with a discussion with a discussion of how these quantities are measured in the two systems. For batted baseballs, it will be shown how limited information about the batted ball can be used to reconstruct the full trajectory. A variety of analyses using this technique will then be presented, including some of the following: the effect of temperature and elevation on fly ball distance; the effect of a humidor on home run production; the optimum launch angles for batted balls; and the effect of spin on a batted ball trajectory. The presentation will conclude with an outlook for future studies.

Alan Nathan is Professor Emeritus of Physics at the University of Illinois and a Fellow of the American Physical Society. For the last decade he has added the physics of baseball to his research portfolio and has written numerous papers, primarily on the physics of the ball-bat collision and the aerodynamics of a baseball, for scientific journals. In addition, he has lectured on the subject to both scientific and popular audiences and maintains a frequently visited “physics of baseball” website. He and his much younger colleagues are part of a baseball-analysis consortium known as Complete Game Consulting. He is the Chair Emeritus of SABR’s Science & Baseball Committee.

Matt Swartz, “Bayes at the Plate: Game Theory and Pitch Selection”

Game Theory—the study of strategic decision-making—lends itself very well to baseball at all levels of decision-making, from the GM down to the individual player. This study views pitch selection as a “game” between batter and pitcher, and employs a game theoretical model to determine the best approach for each of the two actors. The result of this research—the equilibrium solution—suggests that players are likely not picking optimal strategies in terms of pitch selection, and that they could improve their winning percentages by following a more strategic framework. By examining the players’ available information and potential payoffs from their individual choices within various hypotheticals, I was able to uncover some general guidelines. These results hold up to the scrutiny of adjusted assumptions whereby batters get a noisy “signal”—a split-second eyeballing of the pitch coming towards them—and use Bayesian updating techniques to determine their approach at the plate.

Matt Swartz is a contributing writer at FanGraphs.com, The Hardball Times and MLB Trade Rumors. He has a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Pennsylvania.


Sportvision PITCHf/x Summit presentations

Sportvision is pleased to announce that it is collaborating with SABR to integrate its fifth PITCHf/x Summit into the 2013 SABR Analytics Conference. In its inaugural year, the SABR Analytics Conference attracted an international audience of almost 300 attendees, including MLB front office personnel from 19 teams. Integrating these two popular gatherings of influential baseball analysts and thought leaders will further enhance this event as the premier baseball analytics conference. Sportvision will manage a series of presentations specifically related to f/x data much like the PITCHf/x Summit. The presentations will be integrated with other SABR Analytics talks throughout the course of the event.

The following presentations at the 2013 SABR Analytics Conference are part of the Sportvision PITCHf/x Summit:

Kevin Tenenbaum and Dave Allen, “Nash Equilibrium Solution for Fastball Locations in Two-Strike Counts”

Despite many useful applications, the Sabersphere has placed little focus on finding Nash Equilibria (NE) that define optimal strategies for pitchers and hitters. We present the Nash Equilibrium solution for the pitcher’s location of fastballs in two-strike counts given the hitter’s best response. This model is set apart from previous NE applications because we model the locations continuously, rather than just in the zone or out. Therefore, we are able to solve for the both the pitcher and hitter’s payoffs for all possible locations. This model can be used as a tool to ensure that hitters and pitchers are behaving optimally in the two-strike setting.

Kevin Tenenbaum is in the Class of 2015 at Middlebury College. Dave Allen is a contributing writer at Baseball Analysts and The Hardball Times.

Graham Goldbeck, “Batted Ball Success by Depth in the Zone”

While much work has been done on the relationship between batted ball success and ball location in the horizontal and vertical directions, very little has been done regarding contact point with regards to depth in the zone. Using the contact points from HITf/x, we can begin to understand the relationship between how deep into the zone the ball travels before being struck and other HITf/x components (batted ball speed, horizontal/vertical launch angles) as well as more traditional statistics (home run percentage, batting average, etc.)

Graham Goldbeck is a Baseball Analytics Specialist at Sportvision, the company behind PITCHf/x, HITf/x, COMMANDf/x, and FIELDf/x. In the past, Graham was a writer for the website Beyond the Box Score and also worked as a baseball operations intern for the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays.

Andy Andres and Rory Kirchner, “Merging weather data to PITCHf/x and HITf/x”

This work analyzes the relationship between pitch effectiveness and weather factors, specifically temperature and humidity, using PITCHf/x data. Past analyses show the velocity increases with temperature are approximately .06 MPH/10 degrees F for the changeup and curveball, and from .12 to .25 MPH/10 degrees F for the various fastballs and sliders. Using historical hourly records from the weather stations located nearest MLB ballparks, we interpolated the weather conditions for every pitch in the PITCHf/x database from 2007 to 2012. The weather conditions were also matched to every batted ball in the HITf/x database for 2012, and weather impact on batted ball distance will be reported.

Andy Andres teaches a course on sabermetrics at Tufts University, the head coach for the MIT Science of Baseball Program and a datacaster for Boston Red Sox games at Fenway Park. He is also a senior lecturer of natural science at Boston University’s College of General Studies and an expert in exercise physiology. Rory Kirchner is a Visiting Scientist at Bioinformatics Core at Harvard School for Public Health.

For a complete schedule, visit SABR.org/analytics/schedule/2013.

For more coverage of the 2013 SABR Analytics Conference, visit SABR.org/analytics/2013.

Originally published: February 7, 2013. Last Updated: July 27, 2020.