This past weekend I made my way back to Boston, specifically down the street from Fenway Park to one of the most informative and interesting meetings of baseball science and analysis in the country; Saber Seminar.
After going last year I had to go back and obviously it didn’t disappoint. Two full days of presentations and talks about sabermetrics, science, scouting and baseball history. That is what I live for.
Where else can you get Keith Law, Dave Cameron, Dr. Dan Brooks, Dr. Allen Nathan, John Farrell, Dr. Chris Geary and Brian Bannister among others in the same room and even making jokes with each other? Nowhere. That is why this conference to benefit the Jimmy Fund is such an amazing event.
I may not be the most “qualified” person in the audience or have the resume yet, but that’s exactly why I go, to improve my skills, have an open mind and well, I love baseball.
Chuck Korb, the originator of Saber Seminar opened the weekend with a great monologue on the game, easily getting everyone psyched for what would be a remarkable event. This year featured more question and answer sessions with major league baseball personal, including Tom Tippett, the Director of Baseball Information Services for the Boston Red Sox. He provides the team with analytic support when it comes to making team decisions. He is a great insight into what is going on within the team when transactions and decisions are made; we all just wish he could comment on team matters.
If you’re at Saber Seminar obviously you know what pitch f/x is, but for those of you that don’t, it’s is basically a tracking system of all pitches thrown in major league baseball and with the help of Dan Brooks, the creator of brooksbaseball.net, anyone can see and use the data. This may not seem like an exciting topic for the casual fan, but that’s why we’re here and you’re watching the game at home.
Harry Pavlidis, a colleague of Brooks at the website, has identified and tagged over three million pitches on his own; an amazing feat. He gave a talk on what makes an effective changeup. If you play baseball, you know that a changeup might be one of the hardest pitches to throw even though it seems like the easiest, it’s just slow. Well, no, that’s not it.
The parts of the weekend that I really took a lot out of were all of the journalists: Brian MacPherson, Alex Speier, Ben Lindbergh, Dave Cameron and Keith Law. These are some of my favorite writers of the game, except for Lindbergh, but that’s just because his work is behind a pay-wall and I haven’t bought a subscription to Baseball Prospectus, yet.
Jon Sciambi of ESPN “moderated” the panel on Sunday and did a wonderful job, especially having his voice. The four minus Law talked about how they use advanced stats in the stories they write and how they convey them to the public, which is exactly what I am trying to do with my career. It’s tough to convince someone that pitcher wins don’t matter, but when the pro’s are doing it, it’s validating. In addition to the information these guys give, they are entertaining, especially Lindbergh, the editor in chief of Baseball Prospectus and Cameron, the managing editor of FanGraphs. They have a friendly rivalry that isn’t even a rivalry, they just like to kindly insult each other’s respective websites.
There is so much to say about this event, but I don’t want to keep this going too much longer so I’ll give you the rest of my highlights.
Dr. Allen Nathan is always interesting. The professor in physics from the University of Illinois gave a talk on a study he’s been working when it comes to evaluating batting. One of the biggest take-away’s I got from that was the speed of the ball coming off the bat and the launch angle do not directly correlate to landing position, spin of the ball has a lot to do with it. Basically, if a hitter has the ability to put backspin on the ball, he will increase his chances of hitting a home run.
Dr. Chris Geary followed with another funny and entertaining talk, just like last year. The Chief of Sports Medicine at Tuffs Medical Center has an amazing dry sense of humor and incorporates it amazingly into his talks. He discussed Avascular Necrosis, the hip condition Mike Napoli was discovered having in the off-season. It is basically a loss of blood supply to the bone and it slowly dies. A Geary presentation wouldn’t be complete without pictures of his son and the famous, “I Will Fucking Cut You Bitch” slide when other forms of rehab don’t work and surgery is the only option.
Of course the weekend wouldn’t be complete with Dan Brooks giving his talk. A lot of talk around the SABR community when explaining stats and why a certain player can and can’t be considered elite is ‘sample size.’ How do we know when we can call a pitch ‘swing and miss’ or ‘elite?’ Well, Brooks used his neuroscience background to get very scientific to explain this. Cronbach’s Alpha, a coefficient to determine consistency and reliability. Whatever that mean, I learned that it takes different periods of time to determine whether a certain pitch can be consistent and reliable.
I can’t end a post about Saber Seminar 2013 without mentioning John Farrell. For the second straight year the manager of the Red Sox walked to the front of the room and answered questions from some of the most educated fans of the game. Last year Bobby Valentine told some awesome story about his playing time and managing in Japan, this year John Farrell just answered questions and did it wonderfully. He didn’t dodge any question and gave some really cool insight. One person asked why the Red Sox have been struggling with left-handed pitching and he specifically said it has been with ‘left-handers who throw strikes,’ like Bruce Chen and the other Royal they called up just to face the team. Another big pitching point made by Farrell is his starter getting 21 outs. “That’s huge,” he said. If the pitcher can go out and finish the seventh inning, he’s done his job. “Those first seven innings are probably more important than the last two.”
This was a great point by the manager. It’s easy to see why the clubhouse in Boston has turned around and brought them back from the cellar.
There were many other incredible speakers at Saber Seminar and I thank each and every one of them for their time and expertise. It was truly a wonderful experience and I will definitely be back for years to come.