As is the case every year about this time, I spent an early August Saturday reliving my college days – cramped into a slightly warm auditorium and listening to lecturers. The difference between those days and now being that I was not only paying attention, but also quite interested in what was being said.
Saberseminar 2018 kicked off Saturday, August 4 – hosted by Dan Brooks of Brooks Baseball and the fantastic Chuck Kolb, who as usual delivered a heartfelt and emotional opening, discussing his personal experiences and the great mission of the weekends main beneficiary, the Angioma Alliance.
The morning of Day 1 featured heavily on pitching, with a variety of topics including former pitcher Dan Blewett with a discussion on tunneling and pitch sequencing, Jinji Tsutomu discussing the improvement of pitcher skills with technology-based coaching, Lizzie Hibbard discussing injury mitigation in pitchers, and also a Q&A with ex-major leaguer and current Red Sox front office member Brian Bannister.
The highlight of the morning, however, did not focus as much on pitching. Instead it was a presentation by Jonathon Judge on a companion stat to DERA, Deserved Runs Created. DRC should appear on Baseball Prospectus in the next couple of weeks. And, it promises to be one of the best comprehensive hitting stats for overall offensive output. In particular, the DRC+ version (adjusted for parks) looks to be particularly useful. Judge was also quick to back up the data by showing the reliability of the stat for players switching teams as compared with alternative measures such as wOBA or wRC+.
After the lunch break, Laura Yecies had a relevant presentation showing a device for measuring optical performance, which can be (and is) used on NFL sidelines to check for concussions. But it can also measure fatigue in athletes (to control training workloads/sleep). And it could even be predictive of hitter performance. Glenn Healey then showed us some very interesting TrackMan data on using Spin Measurements (and effective spin) to compare pitchers and help understand pitcher effectiveness.
Finally, Meredith J Wills had an intriguing presentation on the increased lace thickness on baseballs, which could have contributed to both the sudden increase in pitching blisters and the increased home run rate across baseball.
Other afternoon presenters included Sydney Bergman with a glance at the ejection rates of non-white versus white players (hint: non-whites are ejected more frequently). Cornelius Thomas talked about pitch mix and the importance of fastball command. Former player Nate Freiman spent time on the minor league strike zone, or lack thereof.
What’s also important to note is that this conference gives an opportunity to lesser known presenters for abstracts. Thus, the afternoon included several short research topics which present some interesting findings or pose a few questions.
For example, Benjamin MacLean and Nathan Haddon had an interesting update on the changing value of a strike in the juiced ball era while Dominic Theofan discussed the effects of the 2017 CBA on the market for international amateurs. Bergman’s study of ejection also fell into this category..
The debut of Saberseminar Awards saw four scholarships given out to college grads for research. And all four yielded fantastic results. Jillian Strileckis discussed her research into hitting and pitching in D3 Liberty League Softball in upstate New York (where she also played). Meanwhile, Shanna Shi explored the use of modeling to predict Chase Utley’s 200th HBP – and also to show us that the Mets harbor a secret grudge against him.
Alexis LaMarsh compared fan perceived attractiveness of ballplayers to their success on the field. (Kevin Kiermaier was rated No. 1 in her survey, but this author questions the absence of Kris Bryant). Last but not least, Micheas Yimam examined the value of high school versus college draft picks.
The wrap-up for Day 1 of Saberseminar included an update from Tyrone Brooks on MLB Diversity Pipeline, a project by Major League Baseball for building participation in minority and female candidates in front offices and field staff. What followed was a Q&A with former U.S. softball star and Olympic Gold Medalist Jessica Mendoza, who talked about her experience as a color analyst on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.
Mendoza was fantastic, sharing several anecdotes as well as her perspective as a woman entering the clubhouse and discussing swings and pitch grips in a traditionally male dominated arena, and really driving home the value of Tyrone Brooks’ previous presentation on MLB’s drive to find more individuals with a passion for the game regardless of their background, appearance, or gender.
All-in-all it was a successful first day at Saberseminar, one that left all of the attendees looking forward to another.