Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hot Topics from the SABR Convention

The Society for American Baseball Research Convention, held earlier this month in Atlanta, had something for every diehard fan. I’ll focus this post on topics of greatest interest to baseball agents.

Vince Gennaro, a consultant for Major League teams and author of the book “Diamond Dollars”, gave a fascinating talk on the economics behind midseason trades. He pointed out that a player’s true value is different for every team. For example, Cliff Lee had a much greater value to the Rangers than the Mariners this season.

Gennaro described how much team revenues get impacted by winning. Just reaching the postseason has a $25-to-$50 million benefit to teams. And it has a multi-year effect for up to five seasons!

It occurred to me that if the playoff races stay close, a number of arbitration-eligible players could make the difference between their club earning a playoff spot and missing out. That would carry some weight this offseason!

The New Technologies and Baseball panel was a serious eye opener. Based on the capabilities of the data becoming available, I wouldn’t be surprised if terms like “launch angle” become common in the next five years. It’s now possible to analyze the flight of both a pitched and batted baseball. Want to know which batters hit the ball the hardest? It’s all there. Among numerous other applications, this information could be used to determine whether a hitter is truly in a slump or hitting the ball just as well but experiencing bad luck.

Physicist Alan Nathan used PITCHf/x data to show the brilliance of Mariano Rivera. But he debunked the theory that his pitches have “late break”. This is actually an illusion caused by the fact that one of Rivera's cutters breaks about five inches more than his other cutter.

J.C. Bradbury, author of “The Baseball Economist”, gave a great presentation on pitch counts and days of rest. He showed data revealing that – contrary to popular opinion – pitch counts have remained stable since 1988. But minimum pitch counts by starters have actually increased, possibly as a result of managers looking to ease the workload on their bullpens.

Bradbury also found that there was little difference in performance by pitchers working on just three days rest versus four. This always becomes a hot topic in the postseason.

In general, the conference demonstrated how much research is out there to help agents build value for their players.