SABR Analytics Conference and Case Competition set for this week


If you’ve read my work on this site you know that I lean toward writing pieces that involve statistical analysis. I’m not a numbers cruncher, but I do enjoy reviewing statistics and trying to make sense of how they impact various aspects of the game of baseball.

I have had the distinct privilege of studying baseball analytics and research methods with one of the minds at the forefront of the ideal, Vince Gennaro. I also spent time as a research assistant to Mr. Gennaro and still feel like I learn something new from him when we are able to catch up. I still call him professor for this very reason.

Mr. Gennaro is the President of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). He is an accomplished author, having penned Diamond Dollars: The Economics of Winning in Baseball. He is a contributor to the new MLB Network show Clubhouse Confidential. Mr. Gennaro has appeared multiple times on CNBC and the YES Network. He has published articles for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and CNN Money as well as various baseball sites.

This week SABR will be conducting their annual analytics conference in Mesa, AZ. As part of the conference this year there is a collegiate case competition. All of this is of interest to me because of my relationship with Mr. Gennaro, my standing as a member of SABR, but also because some former classmates from my master’s program at Manhattanville College are participating in the competition. We all took a research class together conducted by Professor Gennaro. I graduated in August, thus eliminating me from participation in this competition, so I decided to write about it.

I performed two separate interviews. One with Mr. Gennaro and the other with the captain of the Manhattanville team, C.J. Hangen. I’ll begin with the questions for Mr. Gennaro which lay the groundwork for SABR, the conference and the competition. Then, Mr. Hangen will let us know how his team hopes to fare in the competition.

CC: Please give the readers an idea of what SABR is all about and your role with the organization.

VG: SABR is a diverse group of over 6,000 passionate baseball lovers, who have a variety of interests ranging from 19th Century baseball or the Deadball Era, to Statistical Analysis or Scouting. My role as President of this non-profit organization is to work closely with our Executive Director, Marc Appleman and the rest of the Board of Directors to advance our  mission to foster the research, analysis, preservation, and dissemination of the history and record of baseball.

CC: Where do you and the members of the executive committee see the organization’s direction heading over the next few years?

VG: SABR is focused on it’s long-term growth and stability, which means bringing in younger members that can sustain the organization and ensure that it flourishes for years to come. Over our 40 year history, SABR has amassed some unique and rich content that baseball fans can enjoy, such as nearly 2,000 detailed player biographies and hundreds of oral histories of old-time players. In order to bring in younger members, we are focused on delivering our rich baseball content in a format that young fans value, meaning electronically. Another way we can connect with young fans of the game is to become a more active player in the “baseball community”–Major League Baseball, its 30 teams, the Hall of Fame, MLB Network and other entities.

CC: The SABR Analytics Conference is being held in Phoenix, AR from March 15-17. Please tell us a little bit about the conference.

VG: The concept is simple–a gathering of many of the thought leaders of the baseball analytics community to discuss and debate learnings and insights on the great game of baseball. As a non-profit organization dedicating to deepening everyone’s appreciation of the game of baseball, SABR became a “natural” to make this concept a reality. For 3 days in March we will gather in the heart of spring training in Phoenix. The agenda is packed with MLB insiders, as well as well known researchers covering some fascinating topics, including several presentations on the latest innovations in measuring defense and how teams are making decisions.

CC: There is going to be a Case Competition during the conference. Could you give us an idea of how the competition will be run?

VG: We’ve got 14 colleges or graduate programs represented in a first of a kind competition–a case focused directly on a baseball operations decision. The panel of judges will include executives from MLB teams. I’ve told MLB teams they should view this as a scouting combine for future analytics talent. There will be a “first round” to determine the 4 finalist teams, which will compete in a Championship round, with one school being crowned the winner of the competition. Some of the schools involved include, NYU, U of Chicago, Northwestern, Cal-Berkeley, Tufts, U of South Carolina, and Manhattanville College, among others.

CC: Was this an open competition, or was there criteria for the selection of teams who could participate?

VG: The competition application included some screening criteria, but we wanted to be open to any passionate group who had an aptitude and interest in baseball analytics. With very little “marketing” the Case Competition received an overwhelming response and we expect it to be even bigger next year.

CC: How are teams going to be judged?

VG: There are several criteria the judges will apply. Most importantly is the “decision process” the team followed to answer the questions posed by the case. This is a case with real issues, some of which are difficult to quantify, so it’s important the participants have a disciplined process to assess the various options the case presents. Also, a team’s ability to convey there thought process and their answer to the case in front of judges in a limited period of time will also be an important criteria.

CC: Who are the judges?

VG: Judges will include Tom Garfinkel, President of the San Diego Padres, Adam Cromie, director of Baseball Operations for the Washington Nationals, Andrew Miller, Assistant to the President of the Cleveland Indians, Shiraz Rehman, Assistant to the GM, Chicago Cubs, Rob Neyer, Senior Baseball Editor for SB Nation, and Dave Studenmund, Founder of Hardball Times, too mention a few.

Again, it’s unfortunate that I graduated when I did. I would have loved to have been a part of this team. Just to be able to pick the minds of the people involved would be beneficial to my ongoing lessons.

Here is my interview with C.J. Hangen the captain of the Manhattanville team.

Rest of the Team: Matt Healy, Matt Adams, and Anthony Durante

CC: Give me an idea of what the team has done in preparation for the competition.

CH: We have been reading and for all of us except Matt Healy, re-reading Diamond Dollars, by Mr. Gennaro. We’ve also been going through old case studies from The Business of Baseball class taught by Mr. Gennaro. These cases centered on the contract negotiations with Derek Jeter and Cliff Lee. We felt that reviewing changes in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association would be beneficial.

CC: What qualifications do you as a group have which will lead to success in the competition?

CH: All four of us participated in Mr. Gennaro’s Research Methods class and three of us (besides Healy) participated in his Business of Baseball class. Working in Research Methods we learned to work with an abstract concept such as a player’s “Marquee Value” and to try and make sense of it. We all have experience gathering and analyzing data. We also have a strong hold on the ever changing world of advanced baseball statistics. We all have a passion for baseball.

CC: Let me know anything else you think I should know about the team in general.

CH: Matt Adams and I are SABR members. Adams work for ACES working on advanced statistics and free agent/arbitration briefs. Matt Healy works for American Express. We could not have done this without the support of Manhattanville College and the Director of the Sports Business Management program David Torromeo.

The Manhattanville team will be traveling to Arizona via the red-eye on Thursday. They will receive the case study for the competition today and need to complete and turn it in Friday, March 16 at 8:30am. Good luck boys, make Manhattanville College proud! I will write a follow-up article with the result and some of C.J.’s observations from the conference and competition next Monday.

A special thanks Vince Gennaro and C.J. Hangen for answering my questions.

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