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Saberseminar 2019 in Review

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This past weekend, Dan Brooks and Chuck Korb hosted another Saberseminar, an annual conference focused on “Sabermetrics, Scouting, and the Science of Baseball,” held at Boston University. The schedule was packed with more than 50 research presentations and Q&A sessions over the course of two days. This week’s Stat of the Week will give a recap of the big themes, findings, and ideas from the conference, and link to either the presentation itself or related publications when available.

Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) had a presentation of its own, a review of the landscape of four-man outfields by Andrew Kyne. BIS started tracking the alignment in 2018, and to this point in 2019 teams have already more than doubled their use of the tactic, as measured on balls in play (37 in all of 2018, 80 in 2019 through Aug. 1st).

Andrew defined a player as a “four-man outfield candidate” if he hits at least two-thirds of balls that wouldn’t be fielded by a typical first baseman to the outfield. That’s because if you want to put four of six non-P/C/1B fielders in the outfield, you should be expecting at least four of six balls to be hit there. Early returns suggest the tactic works much better on those candidates, but teams haven’t fully refined who to use it on yet.

Four-Man Outfield Performance on Non-Bunts by Candidacy
Through 8/1/19

Candidate 60 15 3 .250 .317
Non-Candidate 48 24 5 .500 .604

The conference was themed around diversity, so there were several sessions related to getting more women and minorities involved in baseball. That included a Q&A session with Yankees and Red Sox executives Jean Afterman and Raquel Ferreira, and a panel called “Dirt in the Skirt” featuring women who have umpired, played, and worked for the league.

An unofficial theme that you could have seen coming was the physics of baseball, particularly with respect to the ball itself. Lloyd Smith analyzed dozens of 2017 balls and found no significant difference in flight characteristics from previous seasons. Meredith Wills presented her research suggesting that the ball changed in 2019 to have smoother leather and lower seams, leading to less drag and more home runs. And Bart Smith used high-speed cameras to show just how seam height affects the drag.

Another common thread was pitch and pitcher analysis. Glenn Healey, Zach Aldrich, and Jesse Jeter each used pitch characteristics to evaluate pitches on their objective quality independent of the results. Both Healey and Vicente Iglesias discussed how to optimize a player’s pitch mix, with Iglesias suggesting that finding the right balance of fastball and breaking ball could be worth about 1 run per 1,000 pitches. Aldrich took his metric and evaluated pitches on the 20-80 scale, and Jeter calculated an expected Win Probability Added by pitch type to create a WAR-like metric.

In addition, there was a good deal of discussion on player health and safety. Brooks Platt showed that after Tommy John Surgery, pitchers tend to lose movement on their fastball. Kristen Nicholson detailed a robust study that Wake Forest is conducting that combines various biomechanics measurements with psychological evaluation to see which factors affect pitcher injuries and rehabilitation. Chris Ewanik did some preliminary research on players who use the C-flap helmet, and through case studies of a few notable hitters showed there might be some plate discipline improvement with the safer helmet, but the effect would be small.

One last finding from one of the presenters: Wataru Ando used home run rates by launch angle and spray angle for each park to estimate how many home runs each player would hit in each park. Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius would lose the most home runs of any hitter if he played in any of 23 different parks. He must be thankful that he plays in Yankee Stadium.

Saberseminar is always a great event, and it’s growing each year! We highly recommend attending if you haven’t already.

For more baseball content, check out the Sports Info Solutions Blog or the SIS Baseball Podcast.

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