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.