I grew up a Yankee fan, I favor Pitchers whenever possible, I am a stathead, and my dream job is to be a GM for an MLB franchise. In the summer, I go to MLB games and catch baseballs. In the winter, I write about what teams are doing to get better or worse. I try to be positive and unbiased in my writing, but that isn't always possible when evaluating teams truthfully.
In the spring of 2014 I really didn’t go to that many baseball games. With the combination of school and a newly-found internship with the NASL soccer team, Minnesota United FC, it wasn’t necessarily that there weren’t any six-hour blocks of time open in my schedule, but that I didn’t feel like I had time to deal with the peripheral time commitment that came with it. Doing the whole ballhawking-blogging-life thing can wear someone out. I applaud the people such as Alex Kopp and many others who can make this world part of their everyday life by working extra-hard in other aspects to accomodate it, but at this point in my life, I felt like other things needed to take precedent over attending baseball games and writing about them.
However, on one Tuesday, I left my internship in Golden Valley, Minnesota, I had to transfer buses to get back home. This transfer had me walking right here:
It took me right past Target Field’s Gate 34. At this point it was 6:30 and I had missed all of batting practice, but for some odd reason, I had brought my glove in my backpack to my internship (I seriously did not remember putting it in there). It was Jackie Robinson Day and I made the rash decision to go to the game and not care about my consecutive ball streak anymore. I had been saying to people for a while that once my streak reached 100 games, I wouldn’t care anymore. (I was at 127 coming into this game.) I had just seen what similar streaks had done to other ballhawks’ level of enjoyment at games and I didn’t want to deal with the pressure of keeping up the streak at every game I attended. However, some ballhawks, (namely Ben Weil) didn’t believe me, saying that I would still care no matter what. What he didn’t know was that I will be stubborn enough to prove my point in the face of disbelief regardless of underlying truth. With that, I walked into a game with a very slim chance of getting a baseball, fully expecting to get shut out for the sake of celebrating Jackie Robinson Day for the second year in a row at Target Field:
After entering, I headed to left field to get some evidence that it was actually Jackie Robinson Day:
And then listened to “Oh Canada” from there (since we were playing the Blue Jays):
And then I kind of stayed in that spot for most of the rest of the game (because it was cold and I had fallen in a creek earlier that day(true story) leaving my sneakers still wet) and sat under the heating lamps to stay even mildly warm. I kind of explored, but only about a fifty foot radius from that spot:
Anyways…I’ll spoil the surprise for you a little: Had I gone to this game and not snagged anything, I wouldn’t have bothered putting together the pictures into a full entry, unless something not-snagging-related happened during the game. I would have just written a one-paragraph summary of the game, or even nothing at all and gone on with my life. So yeah… I snagged an umpire ball at the end of the game.
But first, I went down to the left field seats once the frozen people that just weren’t having the game cleared out:
And when I say “cleared out,” I do mean that there were very few people left:
Naturally, when Trevor Plouffe came up to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning, I was recreating my first home run in my head. Expect in this imaginary world making up for the fact that I started that home run with my glove off and didn’t catch it cleanly as a result. Well I knew that was unlikely, but then this happened:
For the record, I am the one in the blue sweater that you see going about five feet into the section before climbing the bleachers. And here was the result:
I will admit that half of me first going into the section before going up was just me not expecting the ball to carry that far in the cold April air. But the other part was that I thought it was going to bounce back down the bleachers once it hit (which it did) and have me see the ball bounce back down to someone that was below at the height in the seats where I had started the play. (A similar thing has happened to me before and it sucks.)
Here is the ball with the spot where I ended up picking up the ball in the background:
The girls to the left of glove you may be able to identify in the video from them staying put and not moving until I was already climbing the seats to get to the ball.
At that point, I knew there was not going to be another home run, so I headed to the dugout area, got a ball from home plate umpire, Eric Cooper:
And went home a little warmer because I had my second ever career home run with me. I would have been probably made miserable by the cold otherwise, but the happiness I had kept it bearable. Both of which have been Trevor Plouffe home runs in the bottom of the ninth.
In 2014, I continued my tradition of going to the Twins’ home opener, though when they took on the Oakland Athletics to start the Target Field year. I thought that Gate 34 would be a mess of people, so I headed to the center field gate, Gate 3 (for Harmon Killebrew) instead:
And much to my surprise, I got to see a different Twins legend there:
If you can’t tell who that is, let me zoom in a little for you:
That would be Baseball Hall-of-Famer, Bert Blyleven, who came out to gate 3 to greet fans as they entered the gate. I got to shake his hand and then took these pictures as he moved down the line of fans. Speaking of fans, it was the home opener. That means that there was an atypically-large crowd present. Not as big as I thought it would be, but big enough:
This worried me a little, but I had already come to the conclusion that while it would be a tough game to snag at due to the Opening Day crowd, I would get a couple baseballs from it being the Athletics, since I had gotten I believe seven baseballs the last game they had been at Target Field. I was kind of wrong about it, but we’ll get to that later. For now, here’s the view when I got to the left field bleachers:
And because it was the home opener, the other fans came quickly behind. Here was the bleachers within the first five minutes:
Not much, but I’m used to having only a couple of people to beat out in the left field bleachers in the first five minutes, so I just had a little less room than I normally did to work with. But I made the most of it. Or at least something of it as I caught a ball hit by Josh Willingham a couple of steps from my usual spot in left:
It was around then that my then-roommate, Sean, showed up:
As you can see, he really had by that point been desensitized to me snagging baseballs. I think it might have occurred when he and another friend tried briefly to shut me out for the game–before I was then able to snag nine baseballs that game. While he also doesn’t usually partake in the process of documenting my games, he aided by doing a little video work.
I moved to right field and…well there wasn’t much. Sean did take a video of me sharing my lack of excitement for Nick Punto as a batting practice hitter as well as an update video, but WordPress doesn’t allow me to add videos, so I’ll cut to the chase: The Willigham was the only ball I got.
So Sean and I went to the right field standing room for the national anthem:
Where I also managed to get a t-shirt from the t-shirt gun that TC Bear (the Twins’ awesome mascot, for those who are unaware) shot it from to me:
(Forgive the fuzziness of the foreground objects.)
Then I was able to experience something really nice/sad at the same time. Major League Baseball has a partnership with a charity by the name of Stand Up To Cancer. As a result of this, there will be certain games in which they have plugs for the organization/the cause they look to fight for. Since it was the home opener, they handed out signs at the gates. These signs were for people to write in the name of a person in their life affected by cancer whom they “stand up” for:
As you can’t read on the scoreboard (unless you clicked on the image and zoomed in), this was to take place at the end of the second inning where everyone would stand up and hold their signs up to recognize that almost everyone’s life is affected in one way or another by cancer–with the charity’s objective being to end the disease. Here is a picture of the stadium once this took place, which can give you a little bit of idea as to how it was when it actually happened with all of the signs lifted up:
With Terry Ryan having been diagnosed with squamous-cell carcinoma (a type of cancer) just two months prior in the offseason, many of the signs–particularly of the players–were dedicated to him. Others paid tribute to cancer’s effect on the Twins by writing Harmon Killebrew who had died almost three years earlier. Instead, I wrote the name of someone whose death preceded Harmon’s by just two or three hours:
And after that, there was one other thing I had to do. I had gotten some temporary tattoos, and for those who didn’t click the link I had on his name, Sean is a pretty big White Sox fan. He’s originally from a southern suburb of Chicago, so I forgave him enough to be roommates with him for a year. The opportunity to get him completely “Twins-ed” out was just too tempting. The result was the following:
He wasn’t thrilled to have to deal with the fallout from me inevitably posting the picture on social media his friends would see, but he was semi-cooperative once I started taking a burst of pictures by not ducking out of the frame.
We then got a picture together on the second level of the right field seats:
And that’s where I’ll end the entry. Normally I do a “STATS” section at the end of entries, but I will skip that for all of the games I write about having gone to in 2014 because it is now 2015 as I write this. If you really want some ballhawking statistics about myself (or the majority of all ballawks in the country), go to mygameballs.com. Here is the link to my individual profile from which you can stalk me.
On a Saturday came the final day of my wonderful, baseball and number-filled experience. I still got up as early as the day before to watch the sun rise, but this time I did some schoolwork instead of heading to the earliest panel.
Thus, the first panel of the day that I attended was International Baseball Landscape. It was moderated by Rob Neyer and the panel itself consisted of:
Leonte Landino, ESPN Deportes
Tyrone Brooks, Pittsburgh Pirates
Josh Rawtich, Arizona Diamondbacks
The discussion started with the World Baseball Classic. The panel saying that the goal of the WBC was to teach America about international baseball and to spark interest in other countries. Landino added that comparatively, other countries are way more excited for the WBC than in the US.
The conversation then shifted away from the WBC and moved to player development abroad. Brooks started off with saying that MLB players will start coming from China; Landino saying that Colombia is the next baseball frontier, which I then talked to him about after the panel ended. (For those of you who don’t know, I was born in Colombia, so this was exciting for me.) Another thing that was exciting to me was what Rawtich said next which was: If you can speak Spanish, you are four steps ahead of everyone else in terms of working with a baseball team, since there are so many Latin-American facets. The panel then ended with the state of two Caribbean baseball power houses. With regards to the Dominican Republic, Landino said that a setback nowadays is that players are too old at 17 or 18 years old. Brooks then said that the main problem with Puerto Rico is that with them being included in the MLB draft, they now have to compete with hundreds of US prospects without people looking for them as feverishly as before due to the lack of scouts in PR.
From there, I headed to a presentation: Quantifying the Consistency of Pitchers. The idea being, that consistency is always something that has been regarded as a positive thing for a pitcher, but there has never really been a way of ascribing a number to it. This is all I feel like explaining about that presentation.
After which, it was time for another lunch and panel on prospect analysis and evaluation. Moderated by Barry Bloom, of MLB.com, the panel consisted of a trio of technically-MLB.com people:
Mayo and Callis started off with saying that there has been an explosion of both information and the speed at which it travels, which has led to a different evaluational process with prospects, with Callis elaborating that the most important stat to look at first in that whole process (for both hitters and pitchers) is K/BB ratio.
Pleskoff’s contribution to the group was rattling off some names for the audience to remember going forward: Tim Cooney (who I wrote down as “Tom” in my notes), Jonathan Schoop (whose name I spelled “Scope”), Steven Matz (whose name I spelled “Maetz”), and Kris Bryant (whose name I spelled “Chris”).
While there were other things in this panel, that’s all I’ll include since these entries would be 7,000 words if I transcribed even half of the panels.
Next was the panel Telling Stories in the Age of Sabermetrics. This being put on by the sports website Sports on Earth and featuring its writers as both moderator and panelists. These were (starting withe the moderator): Steve Madden, Emma Span, Mike Trainer, and Howard Megdal.
I believe it was Steve Madden who started the panel by introducing Sports on Earth by saying that it was like Grantland in terms of how people viewed the content but more like the National in terms of getting content out as quickly as possible. He said that, “smart is better than loud,” saying that you need to be accurate and engaging but not intentionally sensational.
Emma Span gave some insight in interviewing players by saying that one should not construct yes-no questions, but the more broad and open-ended one’s questions are, the duller the response, so try to create context with the question that is specific and directed.
Howard Megdal related this to numbers by saying that numbers are very helpful in doing stories and can also be so with interviews. To elaborate, you should find player-specific information so they are engaged, because players can tune out a reporter very quickly. They are craftsmen, so if you take notice of what they are doing, they’re more likely to be engaged, with Span adding: Just because you can’t measure something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Span then capped off the panel by offering advice for writers looking to get into sports writing, specifically looking at the type of writers that might be in the audience for this particular panel. She said first that if can explore a niche, go for it but you should be able to write on a variety of topics. Target what you want to write about/see what you need to be able to write for that. She said that you should also just try and write as much as you can, but to err on the side of specificity. “I would stop before you take a job writing for a site about non-phosphorous metals.” Then giving some advice about critiquing things: Break things down into manageable chunks when voicing critiques in a way that doesn’t sound as critical. Megdal added to this idea by saying that one must approach things gingerly when whomever you are talking to is not doing well. When looking at the numbers, look not necessarily how good they are, but where there’s room for improvement.
And with that panel and Vince Gennaro leading the conference wrap-up:
my first ever SABR Analytics Conference. The actual wrap-up ended at 4:30, so I hung around the hotel a bit talking to some of the conference organizers. Then I went to the airport via Phoenix’s Minnesota-esque lightrail line and entertained myself by taking picture like this:
And this (even though it was technically from the airport tram):
My flight wasn’t until midnight, so for the moment I just took in the pretty sunset:
And the Phoenix skyline in said sunset:
After which I waited at my gate to get on a couple of flights that via Atlanta would see me landing in Washington DC at 8:00 AM:
Good news (unless you hate my writing–in which case, why are you reading this?): I decided that I should finish out these entries to get across the information I was able to ingest at my first ever SABR Analytics Conference.
Bad news: In the year+ that it took me to come to this decision, I lost most of said information along with all of the pictures from the last two days, so I’ll make these entries brief but try to include everything I have written down/memorized from over a year ago.
The day started out pretty spectacularly–partially due to the night before. At the end of the last day, I had gone to a networking event for the conference. Besides it being kind of awkward since I was the only one there by his/herself who was not able to drink alcohol (I was 19 at the time) it was also exhausting having to talk to so many people with whom I had never spoken to before in my life. When I got back to my hotel room, I pretty much went right to bed. When I got up at 6:30 the next morning, this was the sight out my window:
I can only recall the actual experience when I see this picture, so I really don’t know how good the picture itself looks. However, I must say that however spectacular or not the picture looks to you, I can say that it does very little justice to what it was like to awake to that in the morning. I was on the 22nd floor of my hotel and with those mountain/butte-type things in the distance, it seemed as though a volcano was erupting on the horizon of this magical desert. Despite having been witness to more of the natural wonders of North America than about 80% of the 19-year-olds in the US, this was very close to the top of list in that regard. The craziest part, too, was that I experienced it from within the confines of my own cushy, overpriced hotel room.
The reason I needed to be up even that early was because while I was pretending to be all grown-up by traveling by myself to Arizona and going to a baseball analytics conference, it was still a Friday. That meant school. For those of you who may not have yet experienced college, you may have heard that it is usually very expensive. I mean there are some very interesting reasons for that, but part of what comes with this is that many classes do not care if you attend. Since you are paying so much money to access these professors and materials, it is simply in your best interest as a student to take advantage of them. And if you don’t, well that’s not their problem, they’ll still be very happy to take your money. Now this was great for allowing me to get out of my Thrusday classes, but my Friday class (besides my bowling class) was not a typical college class. It was a leadership class that to this day I cannot decide if it was one of the better or worst classes I’ve taken in college. One part of this was that it was incredibly student-driven, and this meant being in class. When one missed class, he/she was not only hurting his/herself but the rest of the class as well. Since I had already booked these trips before even starting the class, we agreed that if I “telecommuted,” so to speak, to class, then that would count as me being there. Thus, since Minneapolis was 2 hours ahead of Phoenix at the time (Arizona is weird about daylight savings), I had to be on my computer dressed for not only my class but the conference at 7:45 for the normally-9:45 class.
After that ended, I caught the end of a one-on-one conducted by Ken Rosenthal of Mark Attanasio, the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers. I knew of him and have not retained much information from this particular day a year later, but prior to this interview, my only moderately-personal connection to Attanasio was hearing his son present a statistical website at the MIT Analytics Conference the year prior.
After this, I went to a presentation about a Bayesian forecasting system for scouting. For the sake of the people reading this, I’ll summarize this into: blah, blah, numbers, formulas, blah, blah, people much smarter than me, Bayesian statistics can be flawed due to the subjectivity of the priors needed, blah, blah, but I guess the priors can be standardized.
This was followed by lunch: even more awkward, but surprisingly more rewarding than the networking event. I will say that the food was semi-difficult to navigate as a vegetarian, though.
After lunch, we picked up with a panel: SABR Defensive Index. Moderated by Jon Sciambi of ESPN, the panel itself consisted of (as listed in the program):
Vince Gennaro, the president of SABR
Sean Forman from Sports Reference
John Dewan, of Baseball Info Solutions, as well as the founder of STATS Inc
Kurt Hunzeker of Rawlings (since they are the title sponsor of the Gold Gloves)
Ben Jedlovec, who had a presentation later in the day, however, took over for one of the panelists that was unable to make it. I can;t remember who it was, though. Either Sean Forman or more likely John Dewan.
The conversation for this panel started with the Gold Glove Awards. Hunzeker stated that Joe Maddon had talked to him about changing the 3 OF gold gloves into a LF, CF, and RF gold glove since they all have different types of fielding skills needed but CF’s are more recognizable. Vince Gennaro added on that they had rethought the qualifications for the gold gloves.
This led to a conversation about how the increase in the league has changed what is valued in terms of defense. Most notably, how range has started to become less and less valued as opposed to sure-handedness. Another thing was trying to understand how shifting affects defensive statistics in that players are in zones that they would have otherwise not been and things like UZR can be confused by this. Finally, the panel discussed that it may be that teams would start investing even less in defense compared to offensive value.
The final panel of the day was Clubhouse Confidential, which I can’t remember that clearly, but basically talked about the current state of baseball but as it related to free agency and the direction of baseball. The panel consisted of:
Dave Cameron, from FanGraphs
Ben Lindbergh, from Baseball Prospectus
Rob Neyer, a baseball writer who has done a bunch of stuff
Vince Gennaro, the President of SABR
I won’t really go through the stuff that was current then because it’s more or less meaningless now. (I will say that it involved the praising of both the Royals and the Nationals in what they did.) The next conversation, however, revolved around salaries and contracts. Dave Cameron said that there seems to be a trend evolving where players (examples such as Evan Longoria and Matt Moore of the Rays) are going to be locked up at earlier and earlier ages due to the unequal distribution of resources in the leagues. Translation: teams like the Rays are going to have to do what they’ve done to have a chance at competing with their homegrown players. Rob Neyer added that it’s an ironic thought that richer culture in baseball because of this might lead to a move away from huge contracts due to the players getting signed that much earlier. Dave Cameron added that this is not necessarily a good thing for players to do as a unit. As in, while the early contracts give players security, some players feel a sense of obligation to hold out and take bigger contracts. This is not necessarily because they themselves need the money or even want it but because them getting a bigger contract helps lesser player to get more money that they might indeed need. This has been a constant struggle for players to be paid adequately (before baseball contracts were exorbitant amounts of money); and thus, if players took smaller contracts, they would be undoing the work of the players before them and also not helping out the players in the future.
With that ended day 2 of my conference experience, leaving only the last day left.
While I had a week-and-a-half break between the two, it felt like I essentially went right from the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston to the SABR Analytics Conference in Phoenix:
I touched down on Wednesday at about 3:30. Having come from Minnesota, where we were having an exceptionally “warm” week of days above 30 degrees, the 85 degree weather was both very nice but inconveniently so. Because I had come from Minnesota, I had to wear two sweaters for the 28-degree weather, but didn’t have room in my bags to take them off. So I wore a dress shirt, tie, suit jacket, and sweater on my journey from the airport to the hotel I was staying at in Phoenix. So while I got there a bit sweaty, I did appreciate the view from my 20th-floor room:
I then set my things in the room and headed out to explore Phoenix. My initial plan was to go out and find a place to eat, but when I stopped in one of the tourism centers and the guy in there told me there was a Suns game that night, I decided that I couldn’t pass up going to a new arena.
When I woke up the next morning at about 6:30, I considered going to the Case Competition for the conference momentarily before deciding to wait until the panels themselves began since I had to do things before that like actually eat something since I had forgone that by going to the Suns game.
After the two main conference organizers, Vince Gennaro and Marc Appleman (in that order), made their opening remarks:
the first panel was entitled: Medical Analysis and Injury Prevention. The panelists were:
Dr. Stan Conte-
I actually knew at least *of* Conte from the MIT conference. I’m not sure if he was there this year (if he was, I missed his panel) but I recognized him immediately as medical director of sorts with the Dodgers. (His actual title is Vice President of Medical Services. Close enough, right?)
Research Director at the American Sports Medicine Institute, who I don’t recall ever seeing before.
Who I have definitely seen at MIT since the fourth picture when you google search him is one I took, and is the Senior Director of Labor Economics at MLB.
Buster Olney (moderator)-
I don’t think I have to introduce him to any baseball people, but he is a writer and TV personality for ESPN for you non-baseball people perusing this blog for whatever reason.
Buster Olney started right away in this panel (despite being the moderator who is typically simply a facilitator of the discussion) by pointing out that the new innings limits aren’t really as helpful as they are designed to be with the fact that Matt Harvey who was handled “perfectly” still ended up injured, but Tim Lincecum and Chris Sale who came right out of the gate pitching a lot remain uninjured.
Conte I wouldn’t say countered, but added that it’s not so much pitch count but change in pitch count that is more of a factor in looking at injury. He also added something that surprised me, which was the fact that the number of Tommy John Surgeries have stayed pretty consistently around 22 since the procedure came into existence; except for in 2012 when they doubled for one year inexplicably and fell back down to normal the next year.
Glenn Fleisig added that mechanics throughout the pitches is an important tool to evaluate pitch counts through in that a guy throwing x number of pitches with good mechanics is less at risk than a pitchers throwing x pitches with bad mechanics. It was pretty obvious to me, but I think he threw it in for the people who haven’t really looked at bio-mechanics of pitchers at all. I only know the fact about mechanics affecting injury back and forth because I was involved in high school baseball so much. Speaking of high school baseball, Fleisig added that pitch counts have a correlation to injury at the high school level but not at the MLB level.
Marinak came in with the fact that I’ve heard before, but that health evaluation is the next frontier in baseball in that it will be the next place where teams get their competitive advantages. I should mention that the reason (probably) that he was on this panel is that he actually founded a system for keeping track of players’ medical histories that was more or less standardize. Before his system, there was 1. Very little information about any players’ medical histories and 2. The information they had varied based on the thoroughness of the doctor when evaluating a player. And even then, different doctors could label things differently in their records:
I mean you couldn’t even look at something as basic as how many total injuries a given team had in a year. One remark that Conte gave that highlighted the absurdity of the situation was he said a team would say that they had a program that was reducing the number of total injuries, but they wouldn’t even know how to quantify that because they had no proof or indication if that was actually the truth; any truth to this statement was purely anecdotal.
One thing that teams learned was that even though hamstring injuries are the most prevalent in terms of number of injuries, pitcher-related injuries such as Tommy John Surgery were far more devastating in terms of the amount of time they decommissioned players for.
Speaking of Tommy John, Fleisig remarked that while *SOME* pitchers come back throwing faster than before the surgery, the fact that high school pitchers are getting an healthy arm operated on is absolutely absurd. The rest of the panel very quickly backed him up, saying that they had no clue why you would go through an unnecessary surgery just to add a couple of MPHs that won’t come since you weren’t repairing an injured arm.
On looking at injured pitchers/players, each of the three panelists had something to say:
You can’t standardize how long a player is going to need to rehab. This is a hard concept for many GMs to grasp, but because of many individual health factors, you actually can’t say that player x will be back from injury y after 5 weeks, because while that may be the trend throughout the league, player x’s body is individual to himself which may make him more apt to heal in 1 week or 10.
About 50% of the teams in MLB are looking at the biomechanics of pitchers.
He and his team at the Dodgers look at Pitch F/X data; specifically the change in Pitch F/X data to determine whether a pitcher may be injured. If they see anything of note in the data, they then look into it.
Then both Fleisig and Marinak said that teams are very secretive about their data and Marinak added that is an impediment to innovation that this information about the players’ medical histories is not in the public domain.
Conte and Marinak then ended the panel with two of the things that I saw as most important:
Conte’s remark was that the 2012 and 13 seasons saw more time lost to injury in baseball than in any other two seasons. His point being that there’s still a lot of room to go in terms of improvements.
Marinak’s point was that nowadays a “medical guy” is what a “stat guy” was ten years ago in the front office in that it is the cool and innovative thing to have.
Then it was time for questions, and I won’t bore you with…well, I’ll bore you with the question I got to ask them and their answer to it plus the tangent it sparked in their conversation.
Mateo’s (admittedly-stupid) Question: “With Tommy John surgeries staying more or less consistent despite advancements in medical knowledge, what is the goal of researching it?”
Conte’s A: To get the number of surgeries down to zero. We are headed in the right direction, but the thing is medical data is dirty data. We just need to get to the root cause, but the goal is still no injuries. While old players say they pitched every day and never got injured, it goes with the saying: “the older you are, the better you were,” and we have no data to say that there were less injuries.
There are today an average of 20 more pitches per game than there were 40-50 years ago because of the emphasis on walking.
There are no new injuries in baseball;it’s been played the same way since it began. There are just injuries that were wrongly listed in the past.
Overhand throwing is also not an unnatural motion. What is unnatural is throwing overhand at 95 MPH 90 times in three hours.
If you would like to watch it for yourself, though, here is a video of the full panel:
END OF PANEL
Now in the interest of your sanity and mine as well as the brevity of these entries, I will only introduce the panel or presenter and give the five most interesting things that they had to say during the panel/presentation. If you want to know more about the panels, let me know in the comments. I took notes to this detail for almost every panel/presentation that I attended. Additionally, I can refer you to an audio recording of each of these.
If you’ve read my longer-form entries for the MIT Sloan Sports Conference in past years, you may have picked up that there were always multiple things going on at one because the conference is so big. Well this conference is a little smaller, so one of the products of that is that while there were sometimes multiple things going on at once, for the most part, the agenda for the conference was not an elective process. Therefore, between the Injury Analytics Panel and this next presentation, the only thing that I had to do was sit in my seat and wait for the next presenter to get on stage. Who was the next presenter and what was he presenting? Well I’m glad you asked, conveniently-inquisitive voice in my head. It was Vince Gennaro, the president of SABR, doing a presentation entitled: “In-Depth Study of Team Chemistry.”
Through Vince’s admission, though, I will say that the presentation was a misnomer. It might be that the end product will indeed be an in-depth study of team chemistry, but what this presentation was was an update at about the half-way point in a process of interviewing former players and coaches. Here are the five most important things from that presentation:
There’s an instinct in the analytics community to disregard something if it isn’t quantifiable.
The conclusion that a baseball player is more self-reliant compared to other sports because of the one-on-one nature of it is an incorrect one. If anything, a baseball player is more reliant on his teammates in baseball.
Once in combat, social cohesion in US troops trumps patriotism by a huge margin in terms of motivational force. This relates to baseball because similarly to troops, they see their teammates more than their families.
The culture in today’s players is that they don’t only want to be told what to do but also want to be told why they are doing it. (Which drives some coaches/managers nuts.)
Gennaro was looking more at the ingredients of team chemistry moreso than the payoff of good team chemistry.
Here is a video of his presentation, if you’re interested in how exactly he went about evaluating team chemistry:
END OF PANEL (Well presentation, but you know what I mean.)
Panel: Numbers Athletes Love and Hate
I didn’t really take very detailed notes for this panel. If you want, you can listen to the full panel, but I did ask a question towards the end of the panel, and got an interesting response from the panel.
Mateo’s Question: “What would you say is the perception of statistics in the Hispanic players that come over to the Majors Leagues?”
Eduardo Perez: They keep it old school- He said that he had actually just the day before asked around amongst Hispanic players at the Spring Training complexes what their favorite statistic was. All of them answered very basic statistics. He shared an anecdote of him asking Alejandro De Aza. De Aza answered Batting Average, but Perez was befuddled since De Aza was at the time a lead-off hitter for the White Sox and should probably then be more focused on On-Base Percentage.
Manny Acta added onto Perez’s question by agreeing that Latino players were indeed way behind in terms of statistical literacy is concerned, but added that there was a reason for that, saying, “We have to have someone teach us how to say water before we can learn to say On-Base Percentage.”
That was a pretty hilarious moment as the room burst out laughing. If you want to see that or other hilarious moments that occurred during the panel, go ahead and watch the full panel here:
Finally, Brandon McCarthy and Brian Bannister finished out the day with the “Analytics from the Players’ View” panel hosted by Jon Scambi. While I could describe the whole panel in text, here’s a five-minute highlight video of the panel that I put together which ends with them responding to a question that I asked them myself:
And after that, I went to the conference-wide networking reception and met some pretty nice and cool people who were pretty much all from Texas/going to Rice. We ate and talked and then I left to write the first 2,000 words of this entry which as I am writing these words was over three months ago. I’m sorry, but life and other work has taken over. I have no clue when I will get out the entries from the next two days of the conference as well as the two games I have gone to this year at Target Field but they will be out sometime on the future. Until then, I have been doing a weekly baseball/ballhawking podcast that is live every Sunday at 10:30 PM EST/ 7:30 PST. It then goes onto my YouTube Page (linked here) starting fifteen minutes after it ends until the rest of eternity for anyone who cannot watch the podcast live. For the links every week, just tune into my Twitter account (that’s in the sidebar over there –>) and I tweet out the link 10-30 minutes before the show starts.
Okay, I don’t usually do these “right after the story breaks” type stories and I do promise that I’ll get into other entries that I’ve said I’ll write–like my days at the SABR Analytics conference–once I’m less bombarded by things, but this was just too big of a story for me to not write about. Anyways, let’s get into the entry:
First let’s establish that you know what happened. Baseball has long been behind the curve in terms of instant replay. In 2008, Major League Baseball first instituted replay as a means for overruling questionable home run calls. In January of 2014, however, the MLB clubs ruled unanimously to expand replay to the point where it was usable int other facets of the game such as safe/out calls, fair foul calls not on home runs, and catch/no-catch calls. This system went into place on Opening Day of 2014. (Or yesterday if you’re reading this the day it got published.) After seeing the system, though, commissioner Bud Selig essentially “Scrooged” the grand opening this morning after it was put into play:
He said, “I must admit I was hesitant going into the experiment, and I will allow expanded replay to continue for the remainder of the season. I will allow myself to be swayed by how it turns out in the future, but from what I have seen of the expanded replay and challenging system, I am very certain that my last decision as acting commissioner will be to rid Major League Baseball of [expanded] instant replay to restore the purity and magic of the game of baseball.”
It is not surprising that this decision immediately came under fire. One of Selig’s main critics was Joe Maddon:
He said, “I don’t care how much I get fined by the league for saying this. They could fine me my entire salary for all I care. What the man who calls himself the commissioner of baseball says he is planning to do is absolutely idiotic. This is like a mom who got outvoted by her kids and husband so she let’s them got have ice cream one night just to prove that she’s nice and open but then gets whiny and gets what she wants just because she’s the mom. He’s supposed to be the man who knows more than anyone what’s best for the game of baseball, but seems to be pulling it in the exact opposite direction as of late.
Executive Vice-President of Baseball Operations, Joe Torre also remarked on the matter:
He said, “I’m disappointed Bud decided to take this route because of how far along in the process we’ve come, but ultimately, he is the one who knows what’s best for the league. He’s been around this game for many, many years and we have to trust that what his decisions are will be what drives baseball forward in the future. From talking to him personally, his main concern is that baseball is becoming too indistinguishable from the other sports, so he wasn’t to keep the parts of baseball that make baseball uniquely baseball. This is one of those things and he thought it would be best to remove it from the game of baseball.”
Now for my personal opinion. If I had to line up with any of the three people I quoted, it would probably have to be Maddon. There is no “magic” that getting calls wrong preserves about baseball. The fact that a man who is in charge of a league takes such a resource away from it is ludicrous. I personally didn’t even know he could do that since the clubs voted it into existence in the first place. My only consolation is that Selig will be retiring at the end of the year and a hopefully more open commissioner will be taking his place and hopefully making reinstating replay as his first act as commissioner to spite Selig. Anyways, here are all of the sources I used to write this article:
This happened two weeks ago, but since I’m at the SABR analytics conference, I figured I should do my second list of items I learned at the MIT sports analytics conference, especially since I learned more than I did the first day.
The analytics community in baseball has done a great job in terms of research, but it still has to get implemented. That said, people doing the analytics need to keep in mind that there are a lot of things that go from the analysis to implementing it on the field.
Health analysis is the next frontier in baseball. (Bill James)- He was talking about the fact that there has been so much work done in statistical analysis that being able to tell who is more or less likely to get injured or stay healthy is going to be the next break through age in terms of competitive advantage in the way that the statistics was for the Moneyball era. Speaking of Moneyball…
When Moneyball was written, we had two percent of the data that we have now. (Bill James)
Jose Altuve is an exception in that he is the leader of the Astros team at a very young age. (Jeff Luhnow)
Don’t be dogmatic about data. People are more likely to go through with something if they feel it’s their idea too, so walk them through the whole process and talk their language.
Nate Silver feels as though there should be a maximum of ten pitchers per team, and Rob Neyer added that to do such, MLB should liberalize promotion rules.
The fact that driving is an option for everyone is absurd. (Malcom Gladwell)- He added that it’s a very complex task, so he has no clue why it is assumed that everyone can do it.
Boys are socialized to like what it is they’re good at whereas girls are to think that they like what they like regardless of what they’re good at. (Malcom Gladwell)
100% of NBA fans between the ages of 25 and 29 have watched a game with a second screen present. (Those polled anyway. I don’t actually buy that EVERY fan in that age range has done so.
This generation are the most entitled, demanding customers in history, so you have to provide a unique, customized experience.
Since I have no interest in writing the full-fledged entries I’ve done the past, and I actually wouldn’t be able to for this day, since I missed most of it because I had to Skype into a 2.5 hour class I was missing in Minnesota, I decided to just impart some of the things I learned from each of my two days at the conference. I will also do this same kind of entry for tomorrow at the conference.
Coaches/Managers like to have the illusion of control, but chaos is often helpful (via Bill James). For example, Jeff Van Gundy’s most effective play when with the Rockets was labeled “random” where the play just broke down and the offense played randomly. (via Daryl Morey)
Many sports suffer from it, but in the 1950’s, baseball thought it was a perfect sport and suffered greatly because of it. (via Bill James) He also added the tidbit that you would think people would be over the DH rule when it happened 41 years ago.
Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane are by far the best duo in terms of working together in the MLS.
People don’t like it when you talk over Skype while someone is giving a presentation about the bias umpires have when making different kinds of strike calls.
Skyping on your phone takes up a huge amount of phone data and battery. (As in I drained my iPhone 5s’s battery in an hour and used 60% of my data plan in the same window of time that is usually allotted for a whole month’s worth of phone usage.)
Stan Van Gundy likes numbers but doesn’t trust them at all. (via Stan Van Gundy)
Paul George ran 138 miles in the 2014 season. (via Stan Van Gundy) who then went onto say, “why the heck do I want to know that?”
Brad Stevens, despite being labeled an analytical coach feels he is given that title unfairly so. (via Brad Stevens)
Jerry Rhinesdorf likes knowing things. And Phil Jackson knows more about basketball than him. (via Phil Jackson)
Jonathan Kraft feels as though Tom Brady would still be a sixth-round draft pick if he were coming out of Michigan today.
And now here are some of the pictures I took from the events:
I definitely will have a better (read: completely legitimate) list of things I learned, but again, I missed a bunch of panels and didn’t take particualrly good notes on the ones that I did attend. But until then, I’m going to take a brief nap that most people call a night’s sleep before heading out to tomorrow on the conference.
I have an excessive amount of contact cards. The site I bought them from was having a huge sale, so I maybe went a little overboard and got myself enough to last me 30 years. (Seriously, if you ever see me in person, just ask me for one even if you know me.) A result of having so many contact cards is I use any chance I can get to get rid of them. During Twinsfest, that meant leaving them everywhere and probably driving some Target Field janitor insane. But I also gave them out to some of the people related with the team (3 in total) in hopes that they would get back to me and it would result in me interviewing them for this blog. Now while Mr. St. Peter actually didn’t take my card, he was them only one to this point who has gotten back to me. The result of talking to him and his assistant was I was able to take a half-hour off of my internship with Minnesota United FC and interview him via phone. Here’s how it went:
Mateo Fischer: What would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of the Twins having the market that they have where they are essentially THE team for a tri-state area with a strong presence in others but with none of those having a particularly dense population?
Dave St. Peter: Well…you know I think that’s always been the reality for the Twins. We’re very much a regional team. I think we embrace that. We, you know, are very cognizant of the geographic area, which is rather larger, but we also recognize that there’s a significant part of that geographic area that’s more rural in nature. And thus is less densely populated. This is not a small market overall. We play in the 15th largest television market in the country because of the Minneapolis-St. Paul DMA. That makes it more of a mid-sized market, and we understand that part of our market is our region, but we don’t approach it as if we are a small-market team. We approach it as though we are a middle-market franchise, and so that’s more of the filter by which we make business decisions.
MF: How difficult is it to line up concerts at Target Field with the Twins season being in the summer when an outdoor concert makes most sense and having a ton of competition for artists bookings with all of the concert venues in Minneapolis including even your next-door neighbor, the Target Center?
DSP: Well certainly our primary focus here at Target Field is playing baseball. Make no mistake. From time to time, there are going to be opportunities to look for non-baseball events. We certainly are going to be opportunistic in those opportunities, but it will never be and has never been our primary focus.
MF: Do you work together with Terry Ryan on a joint budget for the team from the money you are given to work with by Jim Pohlad or do you each have your separate budget that is individual to your own facet of the team?
DSP: We have a single budget as a business. Ultimately I am responsible for that budget as the President of the baseball team, reporting to Jim Pohlad. As a part of that single budget there are line items devoted to, obviously, expenses for all of the various departments within the Twins organization. Obviously the biggest of those and the highest profile budget is that which Terry Ryan manages for us in term of the baseball budget. That includes Major League payroll. That includes a budget for international and domestic draft or signings; amateur talent. It includes minor league operations, etc.
MF: So does Terry have to run that budget by you?
DSP: As long as Terry stays within the budget, we have hired good baseball people that are hopefully going to make good baseball decisions. So it’s a highly collaborative process because of the people we have in place. Terry certainly has a high level of communication with me on baseball-related matters just as I have a high level of communication with him on business-related matters. But at the end of the day, Terry is responsible for managing the baseball part of the budget. And if his decision extend to multi-year contracts and certainly get to a level of long-term commitment, more than likely those types of contracts will stimulate an incremental level of discussion with myself and the owner of the baseball team.
MF: What was the main concern of the front office when thinking of Target Field as a concept? For example, upon its completion, it was the greenest ballpark in the majors, but would you say that was emphasized more than, say, concession accessibility?
DSP: I would say that all-together was our focus, but it was mainly the game day experience. You know for twenty-eight years, we played in the corner of a football stadium at the Metrodome, where we had some very good teams, but it was not a great place to play baseball. So the number one focus when coming to Target Field was all about just that: the ability to present the game the way it was meant to be presented. So elements around the game such as accessibility, greening, the urban footprint, transit, and all of those things were important, but were only one part of the puzzle when looking at the game day experience.
MF: Now besides Target Field, what is your favorite stadium in baseball to have visited and for what reasons?
DSP: It’s hard to compete with Fenway Park and Wrigley Field because of the history, and their beauty and intimacy. Of the new stadiums, for me, it would still be Camden Yards because of the setting. If there were one on the West Coast that comes to mind, it would be AT&T Park in San Francisco, because of the setting.
MF: Based on the feedback you received about Twinsfest 2014, what are some areas you look to improve on in 2015 if any?
DSP: Too early to tell. We’re still studying the results of this year’s Twinsfest, looking to get a better idea of what did and did not work. I’d rather not go into specifics here today, but we do think there are ways we can improve. I’m pretty optimistic there are ways we can improve going forward.
MF: Because it was a venue you owned and not the Vikings’, did you save any money in operations cost that was then able to add to the amount of money donated to the Twins community fund?
DSP: Yes and no. It swings both ways. There are actually ways where it was more expensive to hold here at Target Field that it would’ve been at the Metrodome.
MF: Regarding the Twins community fund, most stadiums have a strikeout counter that determines the amount of money donated to a charity. Why was it that the Twins decided to go the route of Strikeout ALS?
DSP: We have a long history, unfortunately, with that organization that dates back to Kent Hrbek and his father passing away from ALS. So we’ve had a long relationship of fundraising for them. Minnesota Air Carrier is a longstanding corporate partner of the Twins and also a longstanding partner of ALS organizations, so we tied those two things together.
MF: Since you grew up there and went to UND, were there any minute cultural differences you had to pick up coming to Minnesota from North Dakota, or are they pretty similar?
DSP: No. People in this part of the region are very similar. There is perhaps a difference between the urban people who grew up in Minneapolis or St. Paul, which might change things compared to rural out-of-Minnesota, or North Dakotans, but I think that people come from the same place in terms of values, and in terms of hardiness, and in terms of dealing with four seasons. In the end, we find a lot in common between Twins fans whether they come from Minnesota, North or South Dakota, Western Wisconsin, or Northern Iowa.
MF: Twinsfest is a truly unique experience with it being three days of fanfest. Would you say that there is anything else that makes Twinsfest unique?
DSP: Just the number of players available. There’s not another team in the game that is going to deliver as many players to their home market during the offseason like we do during Twinsfest. That’s the biggest thing we do that is unique to Twinsfest.
In addition to doing formal tours of Twinsfest 2014 like I showed you in the last entry, I also did a couple other videos I thought you might want to check out. The first is a three-day vlog I filmed throughout my time at Twinsfest:
And the second is a video of two interviews I did on the second day of Twinsfest with my friend Jonathan and a fan of the blog, Nate, who arranged for us to meet up interestingly enough via Instagram comment. I apologize for the video in this one not filling up the entire window. I don’t know why that happened:
Also at Twinsfest I got to talk to Dave St. Peter, President of the Twins, which ultimately ended with me being able to interview him via phone, which will be my next entry after this one. After that, I should maybe get back to normal offseason entries before the season starts. Thank you for those who have stuck with me throughout me having school and being generally busy these past few weeks.