Category Archives: Analytics

Wabash College class gives freshmen look into sports analytics

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As an introduction to liberal arts, freshmen students at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., take tutorial classes.
Eric Dunaway, a BKT Assistant Professor of Economics in his fourth year at the all-male school, has chosen to teach For The Outcome of The Game — a class that class meets 9:45 to 11 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and focuses on sports analytics.
So far the class of 14 has dug into the book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” and went on a field trip to a Cincinnati Reds doubleheader where they enjoyed give-and-take with Lead Data Scientist Michael Schatz.
“It’s something I’m interested in,” says Dunaway of sports analytics. “We’re learning it together.
“I’m thinking about re-tooling it into a sports economics class in the future. I can absolutely teach it again.”
Dunaway is a native of Spokane, Wash., and a lifelong Seattle Mariners rooter.
“I have a strong background in statistics,” says Dunaway. “Sports analytics is new to me.”
“Moneyball” — written by Michael Lewis and published in 2004 — was assigned summer reading for the fall semester elective class. The book tells about how the Oakland Athletics and Billy Beane (who is now Vice President of Baseball Operations) used analytics to their advantage.
“It’s changed how (Major League Baseball) is played — for better and worse,” says Dunaway.
Is it better or worse?
“I try to avoid making the conclusions for the students,” says Dunaway. “We are changing the way we look at what stats matter.
“There is no guarantee that making the sport more efficient will make it more fun.”
The Sept. 1 St. Louis Cardinals at Reds outing was Wabash College’s first excursion since March 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic keeping the school from those activities for 1 1/2 years.
“We’re getting back to one of the things Wabash is really good at,” says Dunaway. “We do a lot of great learning in the field.”
Professor of Rhetoric Dr. Todd McDorman, who went with Dunaway and company to Cincinnati, has taken Wabash students to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N,Y. The Society for American Baseball Research member hopes to do so again.
Dunaway, who also advises students, says he received a perspective from Schatz into what classes they should take if interested in sports analytics.
“Statistics and computer science are the two big subjects,” says Dunaway. “Those are the things you have to enjoy to enjoy doing sports analytics.”
Another text for the class is “Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won,” written by Tobias Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim in 2012. Moscowitz, a native of Lafayette, Ind., with bachelor and masters degrees from Purdue University, is a Professor of Finance at Yale University. Wertheim is an accomplished sports journalist.
Evan Neukam, Justin Santiago and Jacob White are students in Dunaway’s class. They all shared their takes on sports analytics and baseball.
Neukam, a Carmel (Ind.) High School graduate who is on the Wabash baseball team, had seen the “Moneyball” movie (2011) starring Brad Pitt several times but had not read the book.
“The biggest difference (between the movie and the book) is that the book goes more into detail on how analytics work than the story of Billy Beane and the Athletics.”
Schacht worked with Beane in Oakland.
“It was really interesting how (Schatz) got into his position,” says Neukam. “He didn’t use his college major (Economics). He learned on the job. He learned all coding for statistics on his own.”
Neukam, a Cardinals fan, is finding out about sabermetrics, its terms and how they work.
“I’m not sure what WAR (Wins Above Replacement is,” says Neukam. “But I know that’s pretty important.
“The average Exit Velo (off a hitter’s bat) is more important than batting average.”
Santiago, who grew up a Milwaukee Brewers fan in Mount Pleasant, Wis., and graduated from Westfield (Ind.) High School, enjoys combining his interest in sports and numbers.
“Learning about the field of sports analytics in general has been great for me,” says Santiago. “I knew a decent amount about it. The next few weeks we’re going dive a lot deeper.”
Santiago says tutorial classes help students become more well-rounded so they can write, debate and discuss a subject.
Looking at MLB trends, Santiago says he has been “frustrated with high number of strikeouts and really low batting averages.”
He has been pleased to see the Brewers — which have clinched a 2021 playoff berth — increase batting a average and on-baseball percentage.
“Put the ball in play and you have a chance,” says Santiago. “WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) is important for pitchers.”
During the Cincinnati trip, students were able to ask many questions of Schatz.
“I asked about when to move off of a player — when to trade or release them,” says Santiago. “As organization there is balance between knowing talent and this is the major leagues and you can’t give a player an infinite amount of chances. You have to win.”
Santiago learned how Schatz dug into data for right-handed pitcher Dan Straily.
“(Schatz) thought he could be more successful than his numbers showed and can develop into a better pitcher,” says Santiago. “He played well as a Red and traded him to Marlins for (right-hander) Luis Castillo (who has 40 games for Cincinnati since 2017).”
Santiago’s take on “Moneyball”?
“(Billy Beane) did not pan out as a player,” says Santiago. “Scouts valued him because of his physical stature and appearance. They over-valued the physical tools but did not look into the numbers and his flaws.
“That — in a sense — led him to analytics. It’s not all about looking at a player’s tools. You have to focus on the results and what the numbers really say about the player.”
White, a Peoria, Ill., native who pulls for the Cardinals, has his opinions.
“I’ve always been on the analysis side,” says White. “I get the argument where the aesthetics are hurt (by analytics). Basketball is all about 3-pointers and baseball’s Three True Outcomes (home run, walk or strikeout).
“It’s a product of ‘Moneyball’ and the whole analytics approach. Home runs are more interesting. There are less less stolen bases and bunts. There’s something exciting about a stolen base. It’s lost with the analytics.
“If I’m paying money to see my Cardinals I want to see a win, I don’t care how they get it.”
Dunaway’s class is giving former Peoria Chiefs foul ball hawker White and his fellow freshmen “a baseline understanding of how sport’s stats work.”
Also a Chicago Bears fan, White is involved on 22 fantasy football leagues.
“It’s a crude science,” says White of fantasy sports. “I use my best educated guess (to fill out weekly lineups).”

Wabsash College freshmen went to see the Cincinnati Reds and learn about sports analytics Sept. 1, 2021.
Cincinnati Reds Lead Data Scientist Michael Schatz meets with Wabash College students Sept. 1.
Eric Dunaway, BKT Assistant Professor of Economics at Wabash College, took members of his tutorial class on sports analytics to see the Cincinnati Reds and hear from Lead Data Scientist Michael Schatz.

Purdue’s Frank creates community of baseball stat hunters, consumers

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeremy Frank has taken his love for baseball and numbers and carved out quite a niche in the diamond community.
Six years after creating @MLBRandomStats on Twitter, he has nearly 78,000 followers.
“It’s really cool that there are that many people out there interested in random baseball stats like me,” says Frank, a 20-year-old Data Science major at Purdue University.
His @Diamond_Digest Twitter account — launched in 2017 — has more than 7,800 followers.
Frank, a 2019 graduate of Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Ill., who hails from Buffalo Grove, Ill., has joined with fellow stat hunter Jim Passon Jr., of Tacoma, Wash., (runs a similar Twitter account — @PassonJim) to publish “Hidden Ball Trick: The Baseball Stats You Never Thought To Look For From 1876-1919 (Vol. 1)” in May 2019 and “Hidden Ball Trick: The Baseball Stats You Never Thought To Look For From 1920-1969 (Vol. 2)” in May 2020. A third volume covering 1970 to the present is in the works,
“It’s a look at baseball’s history through random stats of each time,” says Frank. “We go year-by-year and find the most fun facts.
“We don’t use super-advanced statistics. We might mention the first player with 30 home runs and fewer than 30 strikeouts. We’ll talk about WAR (Wins About Replacement) once in awhile.”
A guest on several podcasts and featured on several websites and more, Frank is especially proud of being invited on ESPN during a Korea Baseball Organization broadcast during the 2020 U.S. baseball shutdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. He was on at 4 a.m. with play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti and commentator Jessica Mendoza.
“It was really cool for me,” says Frank. “I’m still just in college.”
As a data intern in the summer of 2021, Frank gained experience with Sports Reference, LLC.
“I was able to work on a bunch of projects,” says Frank, who now works part-time on the company’s marketing team.
“I Tweet during games,” says Frank. “It’s the same as on my personal account.”
Just this week, Frank let his followers know the best batting average in at-bats that don’t end in a strikeout.
Chicago Cubs third baseman Patrick Wisdom (.428) was second on that list. The oldest child of Cubs fan Missy Frank and White Sox fan Nolan Frank counts himself as a Cubs rooter.
“The first few years I was a huge baseball fan was 2015 and 2016 — the best Cubs team in over 100 years,” says Jeremy Frank, whose sister Allison is a Stevenson senior in 2021-22. “I also go to a lot of White Sox games. I was at Mark Buehrle’s perfect game (on July 23, 2009). That’s the first game I kept score at.”
Where did Frank’s affinity for athletics and numbers begin?
“Growing up I’ve always been a big sports fan,” says Frank. “My favorite subject was math.”
Frank devoured the stats on baseball cards and watched the movie “Moneyball” for the first time when he was about 10.
“I saw that teams hire people who use statistics,” says Frank. “My goal since then has been to work in sports.”
While Frank has not yet read the Michael Lewis book that led to the film, he does have a take on the movie.
“It’s kind of outdated now, but the (Oakland) A’s got a big edge because they could compete with big market teams (by utilizing analytics). Now the Yankees still spend and have a team of analytics people.”
But a team can’t thrive on number-crunching alone.
“You have to have good players to win games,” says Frank.
As president of the Purdue Sports Analytics Club, Frank has seen the group got about 30 during his freshmen year to between 200 and 300 this year. The club meets at 7:30 p.m. each Wednesday and recently had ESPN MLB Insider Jeff Passan and Sports Reference, LLC founder and president Sean Forman as Zoom guest speakers.
“We have competitions, trivia nights and analytics projects,” says Frank.
He sees Data Science as “wide-ranging degree that gives you a lot of skills.” This semester, Frank is taking four classes (12 credit hours) — Economics (Game Theory), Computer Science (Machine Learning), Communication and Environmental Science.
Because of COVID-19 protocols, Frank has not been able to get too involved with Purdue sports teams though he did Tweet some stats for the Boilermakers baseball team in 2020.
Frank is seeking a different kind of internship for the summer of 2022.
“I want to get a taste for all the things you can do in sports analytics,” says Frank (Purdue Class of 2023).
What about after graduation?
“Working in front office would be cool,” says Frank. “I’m not sure yet.”
Frank also finds time in his schedule for fantasy sports. He runs baseball and football teams.
“You can use analytics to make money if you find the right things, but that’s not my end goal,” says Frank. “Fantasy baseball is a good way to make me sure I was watching other games (besides the Cubs).”
Then he can tell his Twitter followers things like how Juan Soto is 26-of-51 with 18 walks, 5 strikeouts, 4 doubles, 1 triple and 3 home runs with a .510/.634.804 slash line in his last 15 games.
“There are so many ways you can enjoy baseball,” says Frank. “That’s the beauty of it.”
Using numbers is the way Frank does it.

Jeremy Frank on Full Steam Ahead Podcast
Jeremy Frank & Jim Passon Jr. talk about “Hidden Ball Trick”
Jeff Passan with Purdue Sports Analytics Club
Jeremy Frank on FOX 59
Jeremy Frank
Jeremy Frank

Indiana’s Sagerman gets competitive fix in operations, pitch development

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Denton Sagerman no longer stares down batters or tries to get the baseball past them with his pitches.

But he still has a competitive spirit and he uses it in his roles as Director of Operations/Pitching Development for Indiana University baseball.

“I love competing,” says Sagerman, who started working in Bloomington in August 2018. .”It’s very hard to replicate that once you’re done playing.”

As a right-handed pitcher at the University of Dayton, Sagerman had the ball and could dictate to his opponent.

Now he finds a competitive outlet in the weight room, where he can measure his progress, and in his job.

“In my professional development, I compete,” says Sagerman, 27. “I read about what everybody else is doing. I try to replicate that here and be the best at what I do in the country.

“That’s the goal that motivates me every single day.”

Sagerman’s favorite part of playing was development.

“What are the tools I can use to get better?,” says Sagerman. “I could measure where I was at and show quantitatively where I was going.

“I always wanted to be in a baseball development role.”

What does Sagerman do as a baseball operations man?

“All of the administrative tasks,” says Sagerman. “Everything outside coaching and recruiting.”

He is there to support head coach Jeff Mercer, associate head coach/pitching Justin Parker, assistant coach/recruiting director Dan Held, volunteer assistant Derek Simmons, director of player development Scott Rolen and the rest of the Hoosiers.

Sagerman is responsible for budgeting, scheduling, travel coordination, video breakdown and managing the role of analytics within the program; amongst other general program operations.

Some tools at his disposal include TrackMan, Rapsodo Pitching, HitTrax and WIN Reality (virtual reality).

There plenty of challenges. One example is with budgeting.

“It’s hard knowing what the landscape is going to look like one, two, three years out and the costs that can add up and the things that are unforeseen,” says Sagerman. “There are minute details and you make sure all of those are accounted for in your planning process.”

When IU goes on the road, Sagerman works with a travel agent and sets up a bus company. The driver is given a full itinerary. Staying at the team hotel, the driver is available whenever team members need the bus. When possible, drivers who are familiar with the Hoosiers are requested.

Sagerman assists Parker with pitch design.

“I enjoy working with all the different tools and making the data applicable to players and coaches,” says Sagerman. “As each class comes in they know more about technology. The coaches do a good job of explaining what the data means.

“It’s not just overwhelming them with an Excel sheet of data.”

IU’s Bart Kaufman Field is equipped with a TrackMan video system which allows Sagerman to present postgame reports to pitchers on every single pitch. They can learn many things about the quality of those pitches, including location and effectiveness, and apply that in the future.

“They can see that their slider in the game was 1 mph slower with an inch less horizontal break than they’ve seen in practice or other games,” says Sagerman.

Another way to make pitches better is by finding comparable data from professional pitchers.

On the hitting side, a heat map of the strike zone can be created to show exit velocity and launch angle and a profile is built.

Sagerman says since this information is available to the opponent, they can use it to attack a hitter’s weaknesses.

“As a hitter, I need to train myself to not swing or hit that pitch better,” says Sagerman.

A virtual reality system helps hitters with pitch recognition. They see how quickly they can pick up pitch type and location.

“We do a good job of using utilizing all the different pieces of technology to paint a picture for that specific athlete,” says Sagerman. “I didn’t access to any of this stuff in college. The boom of tech/analytics has come about in the last two or three years.

“It would have helped my career immensely.”

Sagerman has that there is a misconception that with technology comes an infinite outcome. It must be applied correctly to help the user.

Also, limited resources can bring about results. Sagerman was a coach and administrator with the Dayton Classics travel baseball organization. The Classics used a radar gun. Launch angle was measured with strings in the batting cage.

Before coming to IU, Sagerman was Director of Baseball Operations at Wright State University, under head coach Mercer, while focusing on analytics and its use in player development. Before that the graduate of Olmsted Falls (Ohio) High School was employed as an aerospace engineer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base specializing in Computational Fluid Dynamics as well as a varsity coach at Centerville (Ohio) High School.

Sagerman has a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a master’s in Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from Dayton and a master’s in Sport and Athletic Administration from Gonzaga University.

“My education taught me problem-solving and organizational skills,” says Sagerman. “The engineering, I use on analytics and the pitching side.”

A typical day for Sagerman when the Hoosiers are at home begins with him arriving at the stadium around 7 a.m. for a workout. He then splits his time between operations and pitching tasks.

He answers general emails and communicates with the opposing director of operations.

Sagerman works with IU’s game management staff and he also makes sure the team has the day’s schedule and knows which uniforms to wear. He sees that the pregame meal is set up. He assists the staff in preparing lineup cards.

During the game, he keeps his own scorecard and makes notes. He is also there to make sure everything goes smoothly and is there to get anything needed by the coaches. Monitoring the weather is also part of his job.

After the game, Sagerman runs pitching and hitting reports and gets those to the coaching staff. He also makes sure the team has the schedule for the next day.

“They’re definitely some long days for sure,” says Sagerman.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Indiana played its last game of the 2020 season March 11 (the Hoosiers finished 9-6).

During quarantine time, Sagerman has been working on long-term projects.

“I’m looking for the most efficient processes and to be more organized, efficient and effective,” says Sagerman. “I’m also doing some prep for next year like ordering equipment.”

DENTONSAGERMAN

Denton Sagerman is the Director of Operations/Pitching Development for Indiana University baseball. (Indiana University Photo)