Jeff Long has been selected as the winner of the fourth annual Greg Spira Baseball Research Award. His $1,000 prize-winning entry, “Every Player in Its Right Place,” was written for Baseball Prospectus, where he has been a writer since 2014.
Long’s winning piece featured the comparison of players using proprietary information through an arrangement with Ayasdi, an analytics company that uses machine intelligence software to analyze data sets. Looking at all 311 players with at least 250 plate appearances in 2014, Long analyzed the resulting topological maps, providing a new look at “the old ballgame,” those who play it at the highest level, and how many have more similar skill sets than would otherwise.
“I’m honored to have been selected by the committee and humbled to be in the same company as past winners,” Long said after notification of the award. “More than anything I want to thank the team at Ayasdi for providing me with access and guidance in using their incredible tool and Sam Miller who encourage me to take moonshots and try new things, not to mention all the great people I get to work with every day on awesome projects like this one. Finally I just hope that I’ve done Greg Spira's legacy justice.”
Long received both his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration/Marketing and his MBA from Loyola College in Maryland. Besides writing for Baseball Prospectus and several other sites, he is a brand and campaign strategist for Planit, a Baltimore advertising agency.
Jon Feyen was selected for the $200 second prize. “Analytics: The New Currency of Major League Baseball” was the capstone project in his Sports Management graduate degree program at Cardinal Stritch University in Fox Point, Wisconsin. Feyen gleaned many of his insights while serving as an advance scout for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2015.
"I'm thrilled to receive this award,” said Feyen. “Baseball has always been a passion of mine, so it's great to see my research and hard work recognized. I'd like to thank each of my interview subjects, as well as the Cardinal Stritch University Sports Management program."
Feyen paid his dues in the minor leagues and college. He worked in the statistics department for the Class A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers for two years. As assistant sports information director at his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, he wrote game summaries of nearly every baseball, softball, football, and basketball game played by the Titans for seven years.
Third-place winner Ben Diamond is 18 years old and a student at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. Diamond is the youngest person to earn a Spira prize in the four years that Spira Award has been given. He received the $100 prize for his piece, “What Is the Success Rate of Shoulder Surgery?” on the Baseball Essential Web site.
“Greg was a uniquely special writer and contributor to the online baseball community, and it’s truly an honor to be recognized for this award. Baseball analysis online is what got me so interested in the sabermetric side of the game, and Greg played a key role in helping it grow and flourish,” said Diamond, who also writes for BP Bronx (http://bronx.locals.baseballprospectus.com/) and The Dynasty Guru (https://thedynastyguru.com/).
This year’s results for the Greg Spira Award are certainly encouraging, as is another development simultaneous with the award: the publication of Jonathan Spira’s book, Meditations and Reflections on the Loss of a Sibling: A Brother’s Lament.
Jonathan Spira began keeping a journal the day Greg died in 2011 as a form of therapy, and those notes became the basis of Meditations and Reflections. Based on the author’s own experiences, the book helps teenagers and adults who have lost or are about to lose a brother or sister realize they are not alone in their grief. The book is now available at www.gregsbook.com. Jonathan is donating 10 percent of royalties from the book to the Polycystic Kidney Foundation in Greg’s memory.
The Greg Spira Award is given annually in recognition of the best published article, paper, or book containing original baseball research by a person 30 years old or younger. The winners are announced on April 27, Greg Spira’s birthday. This year’s award was announced on the 49th anniversary of Greg’s birth.
Spira, a longtime member of the Society for American Baseball Research, was the founder of the annual Internet Baseball Awards (IBA) in 1991. A graduate of Harvard University, Spira was also an early adopter and a pioneer in using the Internet to advance baseball analysis, particularly via Usenet’s groundbreaking rec.sport.baseball group and via BaseballProspectus.com.
Spira later contributed to many sports books as a researcher, writer, and editor, including the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, the ESPN Pro Football Encyclopedia, Total Baseball, and annual periodicals about the Mets. A lifelong and passionate Mets fan, Spira died on December 28, 2011 in his native New York City.
Pieces eligible for consideration for the Spira Award included those published on the World Wide Web, in e-books, and in print, as well as academic dissertations and presentations at conferences. Entries needed to display innovative analysis or reasoning to be considered.
The judges who evaluated the submissions for this year’s Spira Award were a mix of baseball writers and researchers who knew and respected Greg Spira and his work. The panel included previous Spira Award judges Sean Lahman, Gary Gillette, Matthew Silverman, Claudia Perry, Dvd Avins, Carl Rosin, Stuart Shea, and Greg’s brother, Jonathan Spira. Also participating as judges for this year’s Spira Award were last year’s second-place winner Cee Angi, and 2014 Spira Award winner Ben Lindbergh.
Besides Lindbergh, Long joins other past winners of the Spira Award: Lewis Pollis (2015) and Trent McCotter (2013).
Remembrances, tributes, and information about Greg Spira can be found at:
The Greg Spira Memorial Baseball Library is housed at the SABR office in Phoenix, Arizona. Visitors to the SABR office are welcome to use the Greg Spira Memorial Baseball Library for research or reading. Please call (602) 343-6455 before your visit to check on office hours and availability.
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