We can learn a lot from baseball’s numbers game

While the White Sox were spending a weekend at Fenway Park, I was less than half a mile away on the campus of Boston University with a few hundred baseball fans. Some were dressed as front office members, some as bloggers, some as physicists, and others as former players.

Dan Brooks, who runs the superb baseball data website brooksbaseball.net, is part organizer of something you may not heard of called Saberseminar, which is in its seventh season. No, Pat Lafontaine wasn’t there. Yes, that joke bombed in person, too.

I had never been to Saberseminar until this year when Dan asked me to emcee. So I was privy to most of the two days of conversation. Here’s a small sampling of the guest list:

• Former Devil Ray Fernando Perez;

• University of Illinois physicist Alan Nathan;

• White Sox general manager Rick Hahn;

• Tufts Chief of Sports Medicine Christopher Geary; and

• Yankees assistant general manager Jean Afterman.

Saberseminar has a daunting name because it seems to suggest a gathering of those who are solely interested in numbers. That’s an overgeneralization in two ways:

1) The speakers, as shown above, are not simply math wizards.

2) Math is a major part of baseball anyway, so it’s difficult not to include some of it.

The topics ranged from physics to trade-deadline stories to life in the minors to chemistry. Some science, yes. Some math, yes. But not all. There’s a place for numbers in baseball. That place, to me, is in helping to tell a story.

One of the speakers at the event was Brian Bannister, the Red Sox assistant pitching coach and analytics guru. I asked him how many of his players have truly bought into concepts such as spin rate.

His response was enlightening.

There’s nobody, Bannister said, on the Red Sox pitching staff who doesn’t speak that language.

The Boston Red Sox,…

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