Sabermetrics 301

My name is Bailey Heath ’19, and I am working with Dr. Wessell of the mathematics department on a summer research project about America’s pastime – baseball!  More specifically, we are studying how players from non-NCAA Division I colleges (NCAA Division II/III, NJCAA, NAIA, CCCAA) transition to Minor League Baseball.  For me, a typical day in the “lab” (anywhere with WiFi that I can use my laptop, typically Glatfelter 202A) involves searching every nook and cranny on the Internet for statistics for these guys (college baseball stats are surprisingly difficult to find) to enter into my huge Excel sheets (we’re talking over 1700 rows and 50 columns of data in one of them).  One of the most difficult parts of the project is keeping all of these data organized in such a way that each player stays with his stats and I can actually analyze the numbers appropriately.

As fans of the book-turned-Brad-Pitt-movie Moneyball know, the advanced study of baseball through fancy numbers is not a new field – in fact, part of the reason that we are studying what we are studying is that it is one of the corners of the baseball universe which has not beaten to death yet.  In general, this field is known as sabermetrics.  The term, coined by Bill James, the godfather of sabermetrics, comes from the name of the Society for American Baseball Research, or SABR.

That brings me to the meat of this blog post.  Being an avid baseball fan who is considering pursuing a career in Major League Baseball, my grandmother got me a membership for SABR as a Christmas present last year.  Shortly after that, I received an email from SABR promoting a big convention of theirs (SABR 47) from June 28-July 2 of this year in New York City.  Sadly, this convention was awfully expensive to register for (never mind travel, lodging, and dining in NYC), so it did not seem like a reasonable thing to pursue (awwwww 😦 ).

But wait!  Skimming through the email a bit more, I saw the word “scholarship” and got intrigued.  As it turns out, SABR was offering four scholarships (known as Yoseloff Scholarships) to college or high school students to attend SABR 47.  I could draw this out and make it very dramatic, but seeing as I have dedicated so much time to this convention, surely you know what is coming next.  Long story short, after getting a letter of recommendation from a professor and writing an essay explaining how I would benefit from attending the convention, I was awarded a Yoseloff Scholarship and was able to attend the convention!  HOORAY!!!  🙂

After explaining to Professor Wessell that I was going to have to miss a few days of my summer research to attend this convention, he looked into the convention and decided to (a) join SABR and (b) attend the convention!  Thus, on Wednesday of last week, Dr. Wessell and I embarked on a journey to the Big Apple.

Aside from getting checked in to the hotel, not much happened on Wednesday at the convention.  I met my roommate for the next few days, a man named Carlos who is a student at a university in Mexico City; ate Shake Shack for both lunch and dinner (a decision which I am both proud and ashamed of); and attended a welcoming reception that evening.  At the reception, I saw a couple of people in the flesh who, as a baseball nerd, are basically celebrities:  John Thorn, MLB’s official historian and co-author of The Hidden Game of Baseball, a book from the 1980s which helped usher in the sabermetric revolution; and Sean Forman, founder of baseball-reference.com, a website with up to date professional stats (both minor and major leagues) from just about every player ever which has been invaluable in my current research and in past statistical analyses which I’ve done just for fun.  After the reception, I met up with a couple of representatives of SABR and the other scholarship winners, a student from Bard College and another from Washington University in St. Louis, and then called it a night.

Thursday began with me attending an 8:00 am meeting of the Official Scoring Research Committee.  This was led by an official scorer for the Minnesota Twins, which I thought was pretty cool, and mainly consisted of a discussion of tough scoring calls, particularly when it comes to differentiating between a hit and an error in certain contexts.  At the beginning of the meeting, everyone said their names and how old they were.  At 20, I’m proud to say that I was the youngest…by 23 years.

After that, I attended SABR’s annual business meeting, where I was recognized as a scholarship winner (I had to stand, turn, and wave at the crowd when they said my name) and the recent progress and future direction of SABR was discussed by their board of directors.  Interestingly, something they were quite proud of was that they have recently gotten the average membership age below 60 for the first time in a while (they should send my grandmother a thank you note).  Baseball fanaticism/research seems to be something that life gets in the way of – people do it when they’re young and again when they’re retired, but it is hard to find the time for when you have to do that whole “job” thing.  Hopefully I’ll be able to combine the baseball and job things someday so I don’t have to pick between the two.

After that, I watched an interview with Jean Afterman, the assistant general manager of the New York Yankees and the highest ranking woman in baseball.  Her talk was very entertaining and inspirational, as she had some great stories and, being a woman in baseball, has faced her fair share of challenges.  Then, Dr. Wessell and I went over to MLB Advanced Media to get a tour of their offices, as I have connected with a Gettysburg alum who works there through the Center for Career Development.

Okay, I feel like I am going into way too much detail here – my apologies!  Long story short, I learned a lot about this really awesome organization of SABR, had a great time bonding with Dr. Wessell, connected with some awesome people with valuable knowledge and experience about the field which I am considering working in, watched some terrific research presentations which inspired me even more in my own research both this summer and beyond, attended two New York Mets games (and got a ball thrown to me at one of them), fell in love even harder with my favorite game in the world, and ate an unhealthy amount of Shake Shack.  For anyone interested in more info, hit me up at heatja02@gettysburg.edu or comment below!  Thanks y’all!SABR

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