Nuclear physicist and SABR member Alan Nathan makes big waves in baseball

From Tim Casey at Sports on Earth on September 24, 2013, on SABR member Alan Nathan:

During a trip to the East Coast with his wife last month, Alan Nathan walked around Princeton University for a day, the first time he had returned to his alma mater since 1995. After earning his Ph.D. from Princeton, he’d spent more than 30 years as a professor at the University of Illinois, teaching and conducting research on nuclear physics before retiring in December, 2008.

The last time he’d been on Princeton’s campus, 18 years ago, he was happy to have made a successful, fulfilling life doing something he always wanted to do since high school. On this visit, 18 years later, he couldn’t believe the turn his career had taken.

“I’m coming here with a totally different viewpoint of the world,” said Nathan, smiling.

Three days later, Nathan stood in front of a science classroom at Boston University. He seemed comfortable delivering a lecture, as he had thousands of times before. The topic, however — “Sabermetrics, Scouting and the Science of Baseball” — wasn’t anything he’d envisioned discussing when he began studying physics in the 1960’s. The crowd of around 200 listened as Nathan spoke about modern techniques of evaluating hitting. Twelve major league teams had tickets to the weekend seminar, which also featured talks from Red Sox manager John Farrell, former pitcher Brian Bannister and several authorities on the science, scouting and analytics of baseball.

In recent years, Nathan has combined two passions to become one of the foremost experts on the physics of baseball, at a time when the sport has embraced non-traditional insights. He has offered free advice to the Nationals, Cardinals, Red Sox, Padres and Brewers, the only condition being that he can discuss the issues with others in the industry and write about his ideas on his or other baseball websites, in the mainstream press and in academic journals.

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Originally published: September 24, 2013. Last Updated: September 24, 2013.