Lindbergh: The Pirates’ sabermetrics road show

From SABR member Ben Lindbergh at on September 23, 2014:

The first time I called Mike Fitzgerald, quantitative analyst for the Pittsburgh Pirates, I got his voice mail. Fitzgerald, I later found out, wasn’t screening his calls; he was on the phone with bench coach Jeff Banister, whom the Pirates drafted out of college before Fitzgerald was born. It was an off day for the team, and Fitzgerald was using the rare breather in baseball’s exhausting regular-season schedule to visit his hometown of Wilmington, Massachusetts. For most front-office types, “off day” is a relative term: If they’re not in the office, they’re working remotely or are on call to field requests. Pittsburgh’s coaches, Fitzgerald joked when we connected, were once adamant about making their off days real respites from the grind, but with the Pirates two wins away from securing a wild-card spot for the second straight season, they, too, are using their hours away from the park to prepare for upcoming opponents. And when coaches have questions, Fitzgerald is often the first person they call.

In his third season with the Pirates, the 26-year-old Fitzgerald has become something of a sabermetric pioneer, the bleeding-edge embodiment of the trend toward teamwide, data-driven decision-making that began before Moneyball and has accelerated since. However, Fitzgerald’s statistical skills, while considerable, aren’t what separate him from his counterparts with the other 29 teams. The former math major at MIT is comfortable with R, SQL, and other tools of the analyst’s trade, but every club has someone (if not several someones) like Fitzgerald providing reports and recommendations. The difference is in how the Pirates have deployed him.

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Originally published: September 23, 2014. Last Updated: September 23, 2014.