Shortly after returning from my trip to Las Vegas, I hopped on another plane and headed out to New York City for SABR 47, the Society for American Baseball Research’s annual convention. This conference was really fulfilling for me, as I got to meet a wealth of huge baseball fans and researchers, as well as witness the hard work many of those same people put into their research as they presented it.
For instance, one of the most intriguing panels I was able to attend was the “At the Ballpark” session at Citi Field. During this session, our group listened to many employees of the Mets, including coaches, members of the analytics department, broadcasters and general manager Sandy Alderson. Getting insight from Alderson was especially enjoyable, as he mixed in plenty of humor with a great grasp for the game. Some of my favorite lines from him include “Signing Tim Tebow wasn’t an inside joke” and “If you want to pay $20 for a ticket just to boo Tebow, be my guest.” He also discussed his draft strategy, as he likes to look for high-upside players early on in the draft, and then shift his focus to college seniors who would likely be easier to sign. This allows the team to maximize the number of players that they sign while still having the proper funds on hand to land younger players above slot value in the early rounds.
Another riveting session was the MLB Now panel, featuring Brian Kenny and Mark DeRosa of MLB Network, as well as SABR president Vince Genarro, Joel Sherman of the New York Post and Mike Petriello of MLB Advanced Media. Their main talking points revolved around how Sabermetrics are changing the game of baseball while also fielding questions from the audience. It was especially eye-opening to get DeRosa’s perspective on Sabermetrics since he actually played. He talked about how he personally loved the extra data teams had, as it allowed him to really dive into why he was succeeding or failing and how he could alter his game in order to maximize his success. However, he also spoke of players who preferred to be left in the dark when it came to this data, as they didn’t want “number crunchers” to tell them how to play the game.
Many of the presentations were very interesting, although some of them didn’t necessarily have implications for fantasy baseball. However, there certainly were a couple that could lead to some altered decision making for fantasy owners.
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The first presentation that seemed to be especially relevant was a report by Chuck Hildebrandt investigating how a player’s performance is affected by switching leagues. As a lifelong Tigers’ fan, his research was prompted by the lack of success that Jordan Zimmermann was having since joining the Tigers. In the end, he did find that there was a statistically significant performance change when players switched leagues. He found that both pitchers and hitters actually outperformed their season projections when they switched from the American League to the National League, while they both tended to underperform when switching from the National League to the American League. There are naturally some exceptions to this discovery, although this knowledge likely could’ve saved people from drafting Zimmermann or Hanley Ramirez early in drafts when they made the switch to the Junior Circuit, or conversely could’ve landed other people Greg Holland this season or Jon Lester one of the past couple seasons for a reasonable price.
One other fantasy-relevant panel I attended was an investigation by Mark Pankin on whether or not “hitter’s umpires” and/or “pitcher’s umpires” exist in the game today. Thanks to plenty of data from 2001 through 2015, Pankin was able to conclude that there were in fact some umpires who tended to favor hitters and others who favored pitchers. Umpire-specific data isn’t easily attainable for casual fantasy players and likely isn’t overly helpful for season-long leagues, although knowing the tendencies of an umpire could give players an extra edge in daily games or in situations where an owner is streaming pitchers.
My final experience of the convention was attending the June 30th matchup between the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Mets. In this contest, I got to witness a masterful pitching performance from Jacob deGrom as well as the major-league debut (and first career hit) of Phillies’ outfield prospect Nick Williams. The Mets ultimately won 2-1 with deGrom collecting the victory, Ben Lively taking the loss and Addison Reed tallying his 13th save of the season.
All in all, SABR 47 was an amazing experience. Simply being in the presence of so many brilliant baseball minds and hearing what people uncovered about the history of the game, how it fits into culture and what previously unknown trends exist in the baseball universe taught me so much and made for a fun and enriching weekend.