This weekend in Mesa. Azizona, some of the biggest minds in baseball, along with a large group of fans and others interested in the game, will gather for the first ever SABR Baseball Analytics Conference presented by Bloomberg Sports. SABR, or the Society for American Baseball Research, has vastly outgrown its humble beginnings as a small organization looking to preserve and document baseball statistics. The company, now located in Phoenix, is a hub of information for all things baseball both now and into the future, and this week’s event will have some of the leaders from teams, media and all kinds of analytic programs gathered for what is believed to be the largest baseball analytic conference of its kind.
The impression of SABR is still in many ways about erasers and ledger sheets. How does an event like this reflect the new vision of the organization?
SABR is actually a multi-facetd organization, with over 6,000 members, that is as much vested in the history of baseball than the stats of baseball. We have 27 research committees focused on Women in Baseball, the Deadball Era, 19th Centruy Baseball, Science and Baseball, Music and Baseball, Asian Baseball, as well as Statistical Analysis and many others. The new vision of SABR is more about being connected to the broader baseball community. On the statistical analysis front, we believe we can add value to baseball by organizing an event like the SABR Analytics Conference, which brings together some of the thought leaders on the topic of baseball analytics to debate, discuss and share thinking on new ways to analyze the great game of baseball.
The start of this is similar to the way the MIT Conference started, only this event is launching with a much bigger list of participants. Is it a goal to make this sort of an MIT West?
MIT produces a great conference and in some ways they do serve as a model, but in other ways we believe we have our own unique identity. For one, we are all about baseball and we are proud to be singularly focused on the sport which has the longest history and legacy in analytics. That focus allows us to form lasting relationships within the baseball community and draw on those relationships and resources to produce an outstanding conference. Also, with many of our attendees, presenters, panelists, and industry professionals being members of the SABR community, we have an on-going year-round relationship with baseball and its institutions.
Why Arizona and not Florida? Is it possible to replicate this in both places?
Arizona is the home to SABR. We chose to relocate our HQ to Phoenix 18 months ago to be in one of the major nerve centers of baseball. with 15 teams training within an hours drive, we had our sights set on a Conference of this nature and other baseball-related events, when we made our decision to move to Phoenix. We believe it is certainly possible to duplicate a Conference like the SABR Analytics conference in Florida. In fact, more than 1/3 of the FL based spring training teams are making the trek to Arizona to attend our conference.
SABR does a very successful event in Minnesota as well, how will this be similar or different?
Our SABR National Convention will be held June 27-July1 in Minneapolis this summer. The event is our 42nd annual convention and it moves from city to city each year. The similarities include a large gathering of passionate baseball lovers, but the National Convention is more characteristic of the makeup of the SABR membership, which is very diverse with a wide range of interests. As a result, the National convention has panels, research presentations and discussion on the full range of baseball-related topics, with only a small portion devoted to analytics.
What is the goal of the event?
The goal of our Analytics Conference is to produce an event that expands the knowledge base of the baseball industry and fosters innovation–in the way we analyze the game, consume the game, and even enjoy the game of baseball. If MLB teams and avid fans who attend walk away feeling great about the experience, then it will have been a success. Hopefully, for those who could not make it out to the Conference this year, they will set their schedule to attend what promises to be an even stronger event next year.
We are all aware that “Moneyball” in some ways now dominates the thinking of all sports business. How can events like this enhance the thinking of what is already going on?
Moneyball–the book and now the movie–popularized using decision tools–analysis–in baseball. It acknowledged that baseball is a business and that it was financially sensible for teams to operate efficiently. In much the same way any business would analyze a costly decision before it acted, baseball teams learned that evaluating a baseball decision is a lot like evaluating a decision in other businesses. Our conference is about exploring and sharing new methods of analyzing and evaluating the major, multi-million dollar decisions that teams are faced with on an on-going basis.
The Cubs will have a big presence with their front office. Was that be design or will it rotate amongst Cactus League teams in the future?
With new ownership in the form of the Ricketts’ family and new leadership–Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer–the Cubs are one of the teams that that show a major commitment to employing disciplined decision tools to make decisions. The Cubs new partnership with Bloomberg Sports exemplifies their commitment to analytics and quickly places them among the thought leaders in the industry. Both of these developments make them a natural fit with the Conference.
What is the balance in SABR these days in members interested in historical data vs. those interested in the future and analytics? Is it swinging either way?
It’s very hard to characterize a SABR member beyond his or her love and passion for baseball. But I think it’s fair to say the large majority of SABR members have a penchant for baseball’s rich history. Of course, it is difficult to divorce baseball’s history from its statistics, since they are so intertwined. However, we do have a relatively small, but solid core of statistical analysts that comprise our SABR membership.
Has there been any thought to expand the event in the future beyond baseball, and partner with groups from other sports with similar interests?
As a non-profit organization it is important that we are mindful of our mission. Our mission is very much baseball focused, so while we may “partner” with groups from other sports, we would always want to stay true to the mission of our founders, who in 1971 set out to build an organization dedicated to the preservation of baseball’s historical record and advancing the understanding, knowledge and appreciation of the game of baseball.