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December 19, 2013

Baseball Prospectus News

A New Direction for Stats at BP

by Harry Pavlidis

Two things about Baseball Prospectus that seem to remain true:

  • A lot of things change
  • A lot of things stay the same

Nate Silver is gone, but PECOTA remains. Clay Davenport and Colin Wyers have both moved on, passing on stewardship of our projection system. The same can be said—perhaps with different names and acronyms—about other BP stats, like FRAA, WARP, and the underlying bits, such as park factors.

We've recently celebrated the departure of a few staff members, including Colin, as they've gone off to work for major league clubs. We love when this happens, and we hope it continues. It's reassuring to know we're doing the right things here, or right enough for teams to take our talent. At the same time, it's something you could refer to as a business continuity risk.

This is a great problem to have. And when I joined BP last year, it struck me as something that could be managed such that we could all enjoy the success of our colleagues while continuing our work to serve our subscribers. In the wake of the latest turnover, we have a chance to put some of our ideas in motion, though most of this was in motion while Colin was still with us. Colin, myself, and Rob McQuown have been finding ways to make PECOTA more modular, to make all of our stats more transparent and, in the end, to improve our statistical offerings wherever we see opportunity to do so.

Many of you saw this process unfolding with Colin's series of “Reworking WARP” articles. Some of you have asked if the series would continue, and even more of you have asked if we're going to replace Colin. The answer to both questions is the same—sort of.

First and foremost, it’s tough to replace a Colin. And if you do, you're just teeing up another person for a team to swipe. Instead, we’re involving our entire stats team in theory and research, with no single staffer designated as the owner of statistical theory. This is hard to do, but spreading out the knowledge actually has multiple benefits. One, better work. Two, more people getting smarter about baseball. Three, unless five people get hired at once, our product timelines are less likely to be changed due to a staffer getting a big break with a club.

As Director of Technology, I am accountable for the quality of our team and the work we produce. Some of the articles we'll produce about our stats will come under my byline, and others will be written by other members of the team. In either case, the work presented will be a product lovingly cared for by several people. Each goal we have as a team is owned by an individual, but everything is so intertwined that no one succeeds without the others succeeding.

Without further ado, our core technical and statistical team and a slice of what they do:

  • Tim Collins: Researcher, analyst, developer, depth chart/playing time data tender
    A computer professional by day and a baseball nerd by night, Tim Collins is two inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter than the Royals lefty. Being right-handed and about 40 miles per hour short of the other Collins’ fastball, Tim gave up pitching at the age of 12, and playing at 18 when he was cut by his college team.

    After giving up his playing dream, Tim took up a much more lucrative (and quite frankly, more easily mastered) career as a computer professional. After spending eight years scraping web data, developing windows applications, and other corporate nerdery, he was given an opportunity to work at Baseball America. While employed there, he revamped the player cards, added several statistical offerings to the website, and improved general data flow across the organization. After leaving baseball for the corporate world yet again, he never lost the urge to be involved in the game again in some way. Tim is excited to be a contributing member of the new BP team approach to statistics and technology.

  • Andrew Koo: Researcher, analyst, developer
    Andrew Koo is an intern at Baseball Prospectus. By day, he takes classes in pursuit of his undergraduate degree in mathematics. By night, he writes, mingles with databases, and sleeps. He lives in Toronto, where his igloo is solidifying itself for the winter. Follow him @akoo for unwitty tweets and general Canadian-ness. It’s pronounced “és queue el.”

  • Ryan Lind: Researcher, analyst, developer, database admin/analyst
    Ryan Lind is a data geek from Vancouver, British Columbia. He has a background in computer science that he uses to build solutions and answer questions for businesses. During the Moneyball craze of 2002-03, Ryan developed an interest in sabermetrics and has come to realize that he can waste leverage his professional background to help answer questions about his favorite sport. Ryan created Curly Bacon, an online tool for finding players and seasons that match criteria, and he is excited to blend his professional skills with personal interests and contribute to the talented team at Baseball Prospectus.

  • Rob McQuown: Lead developer on the stats and website
    Rob McQuown is a lifelong Cubs fan who was inspired by a Bill James Abstract to join STATS, Inc., where he was first published in the The Scouting Report, 1993. Since then, neither starting up multiple dot-coms or years in big corporate life could pull him convincingly away from his first love, baseball. Getting restarted in the industry in 2006 with Baseball Daily Digest, he was welcomed to the Baseball Prospectus team when BDD became a subsidiary of BP. As a programmer and writer, he has contributed extensive web content with both words and programs, and has supported back-end data provision.

  • Bill Skelton: Researcher, analyst, developer
    As a teenager, Bill discovered the works of Bill James and Pete Palmer. He was fascinated by the way they viewed the game of baseball. Since then, he has spent way more money than he'd like to admit on books about baseball analytics. He is grateful to Al Gore for inventing the internet so that he no longer has to pay for everything he reads.

    In the late 1980s, Bill spent a few summers working for a guy named John Dewan at a fledgling company being run out of the basement of a building in the north suburbs of Chicago. That company grew up to be STATS, Inc. For the last 20-plus years, Bill has been using technology to solve problems for large Fortune 500 companies. Over the same period, he has spent his free time using technology to answer questions about baseball. While the former pays the bills, he greatly prefers the latter. He is grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of the future of Baseball Prospectus.

  • Stuart Wallace: Researcher, analyst focused on quality control
    After a very brief career as a lefty reliever—think J.P. Howell without the velocity—Stuart Wallace walked away from baseball under the assumption that the game was done with him. In place of sliders and stirrups, he pursued an education and career in the neurosciences. In spite of the seemingly 180-degree turn, baseball always trickled into his everyday activities, whether through his web browser or in the form of stats or physiology course projects and papers completed using baseball data (much to the chagrin of his professors). Even so, it wasn't until he read a college newsletter that included an interview with a fellow alumni who was working in baseball many years and degrees removed from his playing days that he realized everything he had been learning post-baseball career was preparing him for a return to the game. He still doesn’t wear stirrups, but he is happy to have the slider back in his life, even if only via PITCHf/x.

Folks you know well whom we bug often include Russell Carleton and Dan Brooks.

We do plan on expanding our staff, so if you're interested in joining this crew, please contact us via email at jobs@baseballprospectus.com. We're looking for additions to our team who can contribute hands-on behind-the-scenes work as well as more statistically-oriented writing to the web site.

Harry Pavlidis is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Harry's other articles. You can contact Harry by clicking here

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