SABR Baseball Analytics Conference 2014-Day 1

While I had a week-and-a-half break between the two, it felt like I essentially went right from the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston to the SABR Analytics Conference in Phoenix:

SABRDay1 Logo

I touched down on Wednesday at about 3:30. Having come from Minnesota, where we were having an exceptionally “warm” week of days above 30 degrees, the 85 degree weather was both very nice but inconveniently so. Because I had come from Minnesota, I had to wear two sweaters for the 28-degree weather, but didn’t have room in my bags to take them off. So I wore a dress shirt, tie, suit jacket, and sweater on my journey from the airport to the hotel I was staying at in Phoenix. So while I got there a bit sweaty, I did appreciate the view from my 20th-floor room:

SABRDay1 View from Hotel Room

I then  set my things in the room and headed out to explore Phoenix. My initial plan was to go out and find a place to eat, but when I stopped in one of the tourism centers and the guy in there told me there was a Suns game that night, I decided that I couldn’t pass up going to a new arena.

When I woke up the next morning at about 6:30, I considered going to the Case Competition for the conference momentarily before deciding to wait until the panels themselves began since I had to do things before that like actually eat something since I had forgone that by going to the Suns game.

After the two main conference organizers, Vince Gennaro and Marc Appleman (in that order), made their opening remarks:

SABRDay1 Vince Gennaro Opening Remarks

SABRDay1 Marc Appleman Opening Remarks

the first panel was entitled: Medical Analysis and Injury Prevention. The panelists were:

Dr. Stan Conte-

SABRDay1 Stan Conte

I actually knew at least *of* Conte from the MIT conference. I’m not sure if he was there this year (if he was, I missed his panel) but I recognized him immediately as medical director of sorts with the Dodgers. (His actual title is Vice President of Medical Services. Close enough, right?)

Glenn Fleisig-

SABRDay1 Glenn Fleisig

Research Director at the American Sports Medicine Institute, who I don’t recall ever seeing before.

Chris Marinak-

SABRDay1 Chris Marinak

Who I have definitely seen at MIT since the fourth picture when you google search him is one I took, and is the Senior Director of Labor Economics at MLB.

Buster Olney (moderator)-

SABRDay1 Buster Olney

I don’t think I have to introduce him to any baseball people, but he is a writer and TV personality for ESPN for you non-baseball people perusing this blog for whatever reason.

Buster Olney started right away in this panel (despite being the moderator who is typically simply a facilitator of the discussion) by pointing out that the new innings limits aren’t really as helpful as they are designed to be with the fact that Matt Harvey who was handled “perfectly” still ended up injured, but Tim Lincecum and Chris Sale who came right out of the gate pitching a lot remain uninjured.

Conte I wouldn’t say countered, but added that it’s not so much pitch count but change in pitch count that is more of a factor in looking at injury. He also added something that surprised me, which was the fact that the number of Tommy John Surgeries have stayed pretty consistently around 22 since the procedure came into existence; except for in 2012 when they doubled for one year inexplicably and fell back down to normal the next year.

Glenn Fleisig added that mechanics throughout the pitches is an important tool to evaluate pitch counts through in that a guy throwing x number of pitches with good mechanics is less at risk than a pitchers throwing x pitches with bad mechanics. It was pretty obvious to me, but I think he threw it in for the people who haven’t really looked at bio-mechanics of pitchers at all. I only know the fact about mechanics affecting injury back and forth because I was involved in high school baseball so much. Speaking of high school baseball, Fleisig added that pitch counts have a correlation to injury at the high school level but not at the MLB level.

Marinak came in with the fact that I’ve heard before, but that health evaluation is the next frontier in baseball in that it will be the next place where teams get their competitive advantages. I should mention that the reason (probably) that he was on this panel is that he actually founded a system for keeping track of players’ medical histories that was more or less standardize. Before his system, there was 1. Very little information about any players’ medical histories and 2. The information they had varied based on the thoroughness of the doctor when evaluating a player. And even then, different doctors could label things differently in their records:

SABRDay 1 Injury Panel

I mean you couldn’t even look at something as basic as how many total injuries a given team had in a year. One remark that Conte gave that highlighted the absurdity of the situation was he said a team would say that they had a program that was reducing the number of total injuries, but they wouldn’t even know how to quantify that because they had no proof or indication  if that was actually the truth; any truth to this statement was purely anecdotal.

One thing that teams learned was that even though hamstring injuries are the most prevalent in terms of number of injuries, pitcher-related injuries such as Tommy John Surgery were far more devastating in terms of the amount of time they decommissioned players for.

Speaking of Tommy John, Fleisig remarked that while *SOME* pitchers come back throwing faster than before the surgery, the fact that high school pitchers are getting an healthy arm operated on is absolutely absurd. The rest of the panel very quickly backed him up, saying that they had no clue why you would go through an unnecessary surgery just to add a couple of MPHs that won’t come since you weren’t repairing an injured arm.

On looking at injured pitchers/players, each of the three panelists had something to say:

SABRDay1 Injury Panel 2

Marinak:

You can’t standardize how long a player is going to need to rehab. This is a hard concept for many GMs to grasp, but because of many individual health factors, you actually can’t say that player x will be back from injury y after 5 weeks, because while that may be the trend throughout the league, player x’s body is individual to himself which may make him more apt to heal in 1 week or 10.

Feisig:

About 50% of the teams in MLB are looking at the biomechanics of pitchers.

Conte:

He and his team at the Dodgers look at Pitch F/X data; specifically the change in Pitch F/X data to determine whether a pitcher may be injured. If they see anything of note in the data, they then look into it.

Then both Fleisig and Marinak said that teams are very secretive about their data and Marinak added that is an impediment to innovation that this information about the players’ medical histories is not in the public domain.

Conte and Marinak then ended the panel with two of the things that I saw as most important:

Conte’s remark was that the 2012 and 13 seasons saw more time lost to injury in baseball than in any other two seasons. His point being that there’s still a lot of room to go in terms of improvements.

Marinak’s point was that nowadays a “medical guy” is what a “stat guy” was ten years ago in the front office in that it is the cool and innovative thing to have.

Then it was time for questions, and I won’t bore you with…well, I’ll bore you with the question I got to ask them and their answer to it plus the tangent it sparked in their conversation.

Mateo’s (admittedly-stupid) Question: “With Tommy John surgeries staying more or less consistent despite advancements in medical knowledge, what is the goal of researching it?”

Conte’s A: To get the number of surgeries down to zero. We are headed in the right direction, but the thing is medical data is dirty data. We just need to get to the root cause, but the goal is still no injuries. While old players say they pitched every day and never got injured, it goes with the saying: “the older you are, the better you were,” and we have no data to say that there were less injuries.

Marinak:

There are today an average of 20 more pitches per game than there were 40-50 years ago because of the emphasis on walking.

There are no new injuries in baseball;it’s been played the same way since it began. There are just injuries that were wrongly listed in the past.

Overhand throwing is also not an unnatural motion. What is unnatural is throwing overhand at 95 MPH 90 times in three hours.

If you would like to watch it for yourself, though, here is a video of the full panel:

END OF PANEL

Now in the interest of your sanity and mine as well as the brevity of these entries, I will only introduce the panel or presenter and give the five most interesting things that they had to say during the panel/presentation. If you want to know more about the panels, let me know in the comments. I took notes to this detail for almost every panel/presentation that I attended. Additionally, I can refer you to an audio recording of each of these.

If you’ve read my longer-form entries for the MIT Sloan Sports Conference in past years, you may have picked up that there were always multiple things going on at one because the conference is so big. Well this conference is a little smaller, so one of the products of that is that while there were sometimes multiple things going on at once, for the most part, the agenda for the conference was not an elective process. Therefore, between the Injury Analytics Panel and this next presentation, the only thing that I had to do was sit in my seat and wait for the next presenter to get on stage. Who was the next presenter and what was he presenting? Well I’m glad you asked, conveniently-inquisitive voice in my head. It was Vince Gennaro, the president of SABR, doing a presentation entitled: “In-Depth Study of Team Chemistry.”

SABRDay1 Team Chemistry

Through Vince’s admission, though, I will say that the presentation was a misnomer. It might be that the end product will indeed be an in-depth study of team chemistry, but what this presentation was was an update at about the half-way point in a process of interviewing former players and coaches. Here are the five most important things from that presentation:

  1. There’s an instinct in the analytics community to disregard something if it isn’t quantifiable.
  2. The conclusion that a baseball player is more self-reliant compared to other sports because of the one-on-one nature of it is an incorrect one. If anything, a baseball player is more reliant on his teammates in baseball.
  3. Once in combat, social cohesion in US troops trumps patriotism by a huge margin in terms of motivational force. This relates to baseball because similarly to troops, they see their teammates more than their families.
  4. The culture in today’s players is that they don’t only want to be told what to do but also want to be told why they are doing it. (Which drives some coaches/managers nuts.)
  5. Gennaro was looking more at the ingredients of team chemistry moreso than the payoff of good team chemistry.

Here is a video of his presentation, if you’re interested in how exactly he went about evaluating team chemistry:

END OF PANEL (Well presentation, but you know what I mean.)

Panel: Numbers Athletes Love and Hate

Eduardo Perez:

SABRday1 Eduardo Perez

Manny Acta:

SABRDay1 Manny Acta

Kirk Goldsberry:

SABRDay1 Kirk Goldsberry

Aaron Boone:

SABRDay1 Aaron Boone

 

John Walsh:

SABRDay1 John Walsh

I didn’t really take very detailed notes for this panel. If you want, you can listen to the full panel, but I did ask a question towards the end of the panel, and got an interesting response from the panel.

Mateo’s Question: “What would you say is the perception of statistics in the Hispanic players that come over to the Majors Leagues?”

Eduardo Perez: They keep it old school- He said that he had actually just the day before asked around amongst Hispanic players at the Spring Training complexes what their favorite statistic was. All of them answered very basic statistics. He shared an anecdote of him asking Alejandro De Aza. De Aza answered Batting Average, but Perez was befuddled since De Aza was at the time a lead-off hitter for the White Sox and should probably then be more focused on On-Base Percentage.

Manny Acta added onto Perez’s question by agreeing that Latino players were indeed way behind in terms of statistical literacy is concerned, but added that there was a reason for that, saying, “We have to have someone teach us how to say water before we can learn to say On-Base Percentage.”

That was a pretty hilarious moment as the room burst out laughing. If you want to see that or other hilarious moments that occurred during the panel, go ahead and watch the full panel here:

Finally, Brandon McCarthy and Brian Bannister finished out the day with the “Analytics from the Players’ View” panel hosted by Jon Scambi. While I could describe the whole panel in text, here’s a five-minute highlight video of the panel that I put together which ends with them responding to a question that I asked them myself:

And after that, I went to the conference-wide networking reception and met some pretty nice and cool people who were pretty much all from Texas/going to Rice. We ate and talked and then I left to write the first 2,000 words of this entry which as I am writing these words was over three months ago. I’m sorry, but life and other work has taken over. I have no clue when I will get out the entries from the next two days of the conference as well as the two games I have gone to this year at Target Field but they will be out sometime on the future. Until then, I have been doing a weekly baseball/ballhawking podcast that is live every Sunday at 10:30 PM EST/ 7:30 PST. It then goes onto my YouTube Page (linked here) starting fifteen minutes after it ends until the rest of eternity for anyone who cannot watch the podcast live. For the links every week, just tune into my Twitter account (that’s in the sidebar over there –>) and I tweet out the link 10-30 minutes before the show starts.

MLB to Get Rid of Expanded Replay

Okay, I don’t usually do these “right after the story breaks” type stories and I do promise that I’ll get into other entries that I’ve said I’ll write–like my days at the SABR Analytics conference–once I’m less bombarded by things, but this was just too big of a story for me to not write about. Anyways, let’s get into the entry:

First let’s establish that you know what happened. Baseball has long been behind the curve in terms of instant replay. In 2008, Major League Baseball first instituted replay as a means for overruling questionable home run calls. In January of 2014, however, the MLB clubs  ruled unanimously to expand replay to the point where it was usable int other facets of the game such as safe/out calls, fair foul calls not on home runs, and catch/no-catch calls. This system went into place on Opening Day of 2014. (Or yesterday if you’re reading this the day it got published.) After seeing the system, though, commissioner Bud Selig essentially “Scrooged” the grand opening this morning after it was put into play:

budseligbanner

He said, “I must admit I was hesitant going into the experiment, and I will allow expanded replay to continue for the remainder of the season. I will allow myself to be swayed by how it turns out in the future, but from what I have seen of the expanded replay and challenging system, I am very certain that my last decision as acting commissioner will be to rid Major League Baseball of [expanded] instant replay to restore the purity and magic of the game of baseball.”

It is not surprising that this decision immediately came under fire. One of Selig’s main critics was Joe Maddon:

joe-maddon

He said, “I don’t care how much I get fined by the league for saying this. They could fine me my entire salary for all I care. What the man who calls himself the commissioner of baseball says he is planning to do is absolutely idiotic. This is like a mom who got outvoted by her kids and husband so she let’s them got have ice cream one night just to prove that she’s nice and open but then gets whiny and gets what she wants just because she’s the mom. He’s supposed to be the man who knows more than anyone what’s best for the game of baseball, but seems to be pulling it in the exact opposite direction as of late.

Executive Vice-President of Baseball Operations, Joe Torre also remarked on the matter:

Torre Sad Face

He said, “I’m disappointed Bud decided to take this route because of how far along in the process we’ve come, but ultimately, he is the one who knows what’s best for the league. He’s been around this game for many, many years and we have to trust that what his decisions are will be what drives baseball forward in the future. From talking to him personally, his main concern is that baseball is becoming too indistinguishable from the other sports, so he wasn’t to keep the parts of baseball that make baseball uniquely baseball. This is one of those things and he thought it would be best to remove it from the game of baseball.”

 

Now for my personal opinion. If I had to line up with any of the three people I quoted, it would probably have to be Maddon. There is no “magic” that getting calls wrong preserves about baseball. The fact that a man who is in charge of a league takes such a resource away from it is ludicrous. I personally didn’t even know he could do that since the clubs voted it into existence in the first place. My only consolation is that Selig will be retiring at the end of the year and a hopefully more open commissioner will be taking his place and hopefully making reinstating replay as his first act as commissioner to spite Selig. Anyways, here are all of the sources I used to write this article:

Fox Sports Article

Interview with Joe Maddon

Statement from Bud Selig

Response by Joe Torre

 

10 Things I Learned at MIT Sloan Analytics Conference 2014- Day 2

This happened  two weeks ago, but since I’m at the SABR analytics conference, I figured I should do my second list of items I learned at the MIT sports analytics conference, especially since I learned more than I did the first day.

  1. The analytics community in baseball has done a great job in terms of research, but it still has to get implemented. That said, people doing the analytics need to keep in mind that there are a lot of things that go from the analysis to implementing it on the field.
  2. Health analysis is the next frontier in baseball. (Bill James)- He was talking about the fact that there has been so much work done in statistical analysis that being able to tell who is more or less likely to get injured or stay healthy is going to be the next break through age in terms of competitive advantage in the way that the statistics was for the Moneyball era. Speaking of Moneyball…
  3. When Moneyball was written, we had two percent of the data that we have now. (Bill James)
  4. Jose Altuve is an exception in that he is the leader of the Astros team at a very young age. (Jeff Luhnow)
  5. Don’t be dogmatic about data. People are more likely to go through with something if they feel it’s their idea too, so walk  them through the whole process and talk their language.
  6. Nate Silver feels as though there should be a maximum of ten pitchers per team, and Rob Neyer added that to do such, MLB should liberalize promotion rules.
  7. The fact that driving is an option for everyone is absurd. (Malcom Gladwell)- He added that it’s a very complex task, so he has no clue why it is assumed that everyone can do it.
  8. Boys are socialized to like what it is they’re good at whereas girls are to think that they like what they like regardless of what they’re good at. (Malcom Gladwell)
  9. 100% of NBA fans between the ages of 25 and 29 have watched a game with a second screen present. (Those polled anyway. I don’t actually buy that EVERY fan in that age range has done so.
  10. This generation are the most entitled, demanding customers in history, so you have to provide a unique, customized experience.

Also, if you want to see any of the pictures I took at this day of the conference, I have uploaded them as well as the pictures from day 1 onto the Facebook page. Right now I am currently at the SABR baseball analytics conference, so I am going to get started on those entries in 3, 2, 1, now.

10 Things I learned at MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference 2014- Day 1

Since I have no interest in writing the full-fledged entries I’ve done the past, and I actually wouldn’t be able to for this day, since I missed most of it because I had to Skype into a 2.5 hour class I was missing in Minnesota, I decided to just impart some of the things I learned from each of my two days at the conference. I will also do this same kind of entry for tomorrow at the conference.

  1. Coaches/Managers like to have the illusion of control, but chaos is often helpful (via Bill James). For example, Jeff Van Gundy’s most effective play when with the Rockets was labeled “random” where the play just broke down and the offense played randomly. (via Daryl Morey)
  2. Many sports suffer from it, but in the 1950’s, baseball thought it was a perfect sport and suffered greatly because of it. (via Bill James) He also added the tidbit that you would think people would be over the DH rule when it happened 41 years ago.
  3. Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane are by far the best duo in terms of working together in the MLS.
  4. People don’t like it when you talk over Skype while someone is giving a presentation about the bias umpires have when making different kinds of strike calls.
  5. Skyping on your phone takes up a huge amount of phone data and battery. (As in I drained my iPhone 5s’s battery in an hour and used 60% of my data plan in the same window of time that is usually allotted for a whole month’s worth of phone usage.)
  6. Stan Van Gundy likes numbers but doesn’t trust them at all. (via Stan Van Gundy)
  7. Paul George ran 138 miles in the 2014 season. (via Stan Van Gundy) who then went onto say, “why the heck do I want to know that?”
  8. Brad Stevens, despite being labeled an analytical coach feels he is given that title unfairly so. (via Brad Stevens)
  9. Jerry Rhinesdorf likes knowing things. And Phil Jackson knows more about basketball than him. (via Phil Jackson)
  10. Jonathan Kraft feels as though Tom Brady would still be a sixth-round draft pick if he were coming out of Michigan today.

And now here are some of the pictures I took from the events:

IMG_2497 IMG_2500 IMG_2511 IMG_2512 IMG_2514

I definitely will have a better (read: completely legitimate) list of things I learned, but again, I missed a bunch of panels and didn’t take particualrly good notes on the ones that I did attend. But until then, I’m going to take a brief nap that most people call a night’s sleep before heading out to tomorrow on the conference.

Dave St. Peter (President of the Minnesota Twins) Interview

I have an excessive amount of contact cards. The site I bought them from was having a huge sale, so I maybe went a little overboard and got myself enough to last me 30 years. (Seriously, if you ever see me in person, just ask me for one even if you know me.) A result of having so many contact cards is I use any chance I can get to get rid of them. During Twinsfest, that meant leaving them everywhere and probably driving some Target Field janitor insane. But I also gave them out to some of the people related with the team (3 in total) in hopes that they would get back to me and it would result in me interviewing them for this blog. Now while Mr. St. Peter actually didn’t take my card, he was them only one to this point who has gotten back to me. The result of talking to him and his assistant was I was able to take a half-hour off of my internship with Minnesota United FC and interview him via phone. Here’s how it went:

Mateo Fischer: What would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of the Twins having the market that they have where they are essentially THE team for a tri-state area with a strong presence in others but with none of those having a particularly dense population?

Dave St. Peter: Well…you know I think that’s always been the reality for the Twins. We’re very much a regional team. I think we embrace that. We, you know, are very cognizant of the geographic area, which is rather larger, but we also recognize that there’s a significant part of that geographic area that’s more rural in nature. And thus is less densely populated. This is not a small market overall. We play in the 15th largest television market in the country because of the Minneapolis-St. Paul DMA. That makes it more of a mid-sized market, and we understand that part of our market is our region, but we don’t approach it as if we are a small-market team. We approach it as though we are a middle-market franchise, and so that’s more of the filter by which we make business decisions.

MF: How difficult is it to line up concerts at Target Field with the Twins season being in the summer when an outdoor concert makes most sense and having a ton of competition for artists bookings with all of the concert venues in Minneapolis including even your next-door neighbor, the Target Center?

DSP: Well certainly our primary focus here at Target Field is playing baseball. Make no mistake. From time to time, there are going to be opportunities to look for non-baseball events. We certainly are going to be opportunistic in those opportunities, but it will never be and has never been our primary focus.

MF: Do you work together with Terry Ryan on a joint budget for the team from the money you are given to work with by Jim Pohlad or do you each have your separate budget that is individual to your own facet of the team?

DSP: We have a single budget as a business. Ultimately I am responsible for that budget as the President of the baseball team, reporting to Jim Pohlad. As a part of that single budget there are line items devoted to, obviously, expenses for all of the various departments within the Twins organization. Obviously the biggest of those and the highest profile budget is that which Terry Ryan manages for us in term of the baseball budget. That includes Major League payroll. That includes a budget for international and domestic draft or signings; amateur talent. It includes minor league operations, etc.

MF: So does Terry have to run that budget by you?

DSP: As long as Terry stays within the budget, we have hired good baseball people that are hopefully going to make good baseball decisions. So it’s a highly collaborative process because of the people we have in place. Terry certainly has a high level of communication with me on baseball-related matters just as I have a high level of communication with him on business-related matters. But at the end of the day, Terry is responsible for managing the baseball part of the budget. And if his decision extend to multi-year contracts and certainly get to a level of long-term commitment, more than likely those types of contracts will stimulate an incremental level of discussion with myself and the owner of the baseball team.

MF: What was the main concern of the front office when thinking of Target Field as a concept? For example, upon its completion, it was the greenest ballpark in the majors, but would you say that was emphasized more than, say, concession accessibility?

DSP: I would say that all-together was our focus, but it was mainly the game day experience. You know for twenty-eight years, we played in the corner of a football stadium at the Metrodome, where we had some very good teams, but it was not a great place to play baseball. So the number one focus when coming to Target Field was all about just that: the ability to present the game the way it was meant to be presented. So elements around the game such as accessibility, greening, the urban footprint, transit, and all of those things were important, but were only one part of the puzzle when looking at the game day experience.

MF: Now besides Target Field, what is your favorite stadium in baseball to have visited and for what reasons?

DSP: It’s hard to compete with Fenway Park and Wrigley Field because of the history, and their beauty and intimacy. Of the new stadiums, for me, it would still be Camden Yards because of the setting. If there were one on the West Coast that comes to mind, it would be AT&T Park in San Francisco, because of the setting.

MF: Based on the feedback you received about Twinsfest 2014, what are some areas you look to improve on in 2015 if any?

DSP: Too early to tell. We’re still studying the results of this year’s Twinsfest, looking to get a better idea of what did and did not work. I’d rather not go into specifics here today, but we do think there are ways we can improve. I’m pretty optimistic there are ways we can improve going forward.

MF: Because it was a venue you owned and not the Vikings’, did you save any money in operations cost that was then able to add to the amount of money donated to the Twins community fund?

DSP: Yes and no. It swings both ways. There are actually ways where it was more expensive to hold here at Target Field that it would’ve been at the Metrodome.

MF: Regarding the Twins community fund, most stadiums have a strikeout counter that determines the amount of money donated to a charity. Why was it that the Twins decided to go the route of Strikeout ALS?

DSP: We have a long history, unfortunately, with that organization that dates back to Kent Hrbek and his father passing away from ALS. So we’ve had a long relationship of fundraising for them. Minnesota Air Carrier is a longstanding corporate partner of the Twins and also a longstanding partner of ALS organizations, so we tied those two things together.

MF: Since you grew up there and went to UND, were there any minute cultural differences you had to pick up coming to Minnesota from North Dakota, or are they pretty similar?

DSP: No. People in this part of the region are very similar. There is perhaps a difference between the urban people who grew up in Minneapolis or St. Paul, which might change things compared to rural out-of-Minnesota, or North Dakotans, but I think that people come from the same place in terms of values, and in terms of hardiness, and in terms of dealing with four seasons. In the end, we find a lot in common between Twins fans whether they come from Minnesota, North or South Dakota, Western Wisconsin, or Northern Iowa.

MF: Twinsfest is a truly unique experience with it being three days of fanfest. Would you say that there is anything else that makes Twinsfest unique?

DSP: Just the number of players available. There’s not another team in the game that is going to deliver as many players to their home market during the offseason like we do during Twinsfest. That’s the biggest thing we do that is unique to Twinsfest.

Twinsfest 2014 Extras

In addition to doing formal tours of Twinsfest 2014 like I showed you in the last entry, I also did a couple other videos I thought you might want to check out. The first is a three-day vlog I filmed throughout my time at Twinsfest:

And the second is a video of two interviews I did on the second day of Twinsfest with my friend Jonathan and a fan of the blog, Nate, who arranged for us to meet up interestingly enough via Instagram comment. I apologize for the video in this one not filling up the entire window. I don’t know why that happened:

Also at Twinsfest I got to talk to Dave St. Peter, President of the Twins, which ultimately ended with me being able to interview him via phone, which will be my next entry after this one. After that, I should maybe get back to normal offseason entries before the season starts. Thank you for those who have stuck with me throughout me having school and being generally busy these past few weeks.

Twinsfest 2014 Tours

With Twinsfest moving from its usual home at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome–which was getting demolished as Twinsfest took place–to Target Field, there obviously needed to be a restructuring of the Twinsfest to be able to hold it indoors away from the Minnesota cold. Thus, one of my projects coming into Twinsfest was to document this new set-up for anyone who was curious about how everything was crammed into Target Field.

There were three levels to the new Twinsfest set-up–with their elevator floors next to them:

3. Suite Level.

2. Club Level.

0. Main Concourse (Only used as an entrance to and exit from Twinsfest. Nothing was actually held there.)

-2. Service Level.

The first day of Twinsfest, I went with Paul Kom, and my college friend Tony Blustein. That day, Paul and I filmed two of the levels. One for each of our channels/blogs and featured each other in them.  The next day I went with another college friend who you may more readily recognize, Jonathan, and I did the final level.

Now here from the top level down, are the tours of the floors of Twinsfest:

Suite Level:

Club Level:

Service Level:

I do have more footage I have to edit that I filmed at Twinsfest. That will be the next entry where I interviewed two people about there experiences at Twinsfest (first video) and then a three-day vlog of my time at Twinsfest (second video). But until then, keep voting for what you want to see on the blog after that in this poll and leave comments for what concepts you would the new blog icon:

My Favorite MLB Teams

While I’ve always kind of known which teams I like and which I don’t–although even those have changed throughout the years–I truly have never ranked the teams 1-30 as to which I like better than others. So that’s what I’m going to do right now. (Disclaimer: This is a list of how I order the teams in the offseason of 2013-14. While most of my decision in where to put a team in the rankings is based off of the franchise itself, some of it is based on who is on the team right now, so these rankings are subject to change over time.)

1. Minnesota Twins-

My story with the Twins is that I grew up a Yankees fan being from New York, but being that I look at things from a GM’s perspective, I thought that being Brian Cashman and having a $200-million payroll would be a pretty boring job creatively since he could essentially buy any player he wanted to. In thinking this, I thought of a team who had success but doing so with a reduced payroll that required teams to build their team in an innovative way on a much smaller budget. Being as it was the mid-2000s, the Twins was a natural choice seeing as they were a constant playoff team with one of the lowest budgets in baseball. Now don’t get me wrong; there’s a different challenge in being the GM of the Yankees: you’re never allowed to take a year off having success to rebuild your core/farm system, but I was entranced by the building of a successful major league team from a solid minor league core.

2. Washington Nationals-

In going to a ton of games at Nationals Park in 2011 I fell in love with the core of players that went 80-81 as well as the people who inhabited it. Ever since then, I have been a really big fan of the players that made up the core of the teams in the next two years. And because of me falling in love with the Nationals Park environment for whatever reason as well as the people who made it such a special place, I became a fan of the franchise as a whole.

3. Tampa Bay Rays-

Much like the Twins, the Rays endeared themselves to me by being a team that built their team intelligently–allowing them to achieve repeated success on a payroll that can’t compare to that of a larger market team.

4. San Francisco Giants-

The Giants is an interesting case because it started as simply a liking of a specific player: Tim Lincecum. However, as I kept up with Lincecum more and more as he began to turn from the Washington kid who could pitch insanely fast for his size to a household name, I grew to have a liking fro the other players on the Giants as well. I think having shared a hotel with the players in Milwaukee and having a mini-conversation with a couple of them as well as having a personal memory of what Brian Wilson was like pre-beard may have contributed to this connection to the team, though.

5. Texas Rangers-

I truly have no idea how the Rangers managed to climb my list so high. I used to not really be a fan of them in their team with the two Rodriguezes, but as they turned towards a team that relied more on pitching *in addition to* the offense the Rangers always seemed to have, I really liked the teams that they constructed around 2009-10.

6. New York Yankees-

While they have fallen down my list and I hate the franchise past the team itself, they still are my childhood team that I can’t help to root for.

7. Philadelphia Phillies-

While it was not the beginning of my fandom of them, this certainly sealed it for me. They’d be higher on the list for me, but Phillies fans.

8. Toronto Blue Jays-

Part of me always sympathized with our neighbors to the north. Even when the Expos were still a team, I liked the Blue Jays a lot and always secretly as a Yankee fan hoped they would surge up and break the norm of the AL East standings for a while in the early 2000s–which was:

1. Yankees

2. Red Sox

3. Blue Jays

4. Orioles

5. Devil Rays

I just really always wanted them to have success, and this translated to a fandom of the team when they played teams that weren’t my top-of-the-line favorite teams.

9. Milwaukee Brewers-

My liking of the Brewers began in around 2008 when CC Sabathia joined the team for half a season and did amazing with being in attendance for what should have been a no-hitter, (I might write about this/do a video for a “Blast From the Baseball Past” entry) but then I just had a fandom for the Fielder and Braun teams. My fandom for the team, though, has lessened the past couple of years for obvious reasons regarding one or more of the aforementioned players.

10. Oakland Athletics-

(See Tampa Rays.)

11. Cincinnati Reds-

I think this is kind of a fusion of many of the various teams I have talked about to this point. So in part it’s like the Rays where I liked that a solid major league team was built from the pooling of major league talent, but it is also a lot like the Giants since I really like Joey Votto as a player.

12. Atlanta Braves-

I think this is Nationals-esque in that I loved Turner Field and its atmosphere. I also liked the core and became much more of a fan because of people I have met that are passionate about the Braves. And I can say that the fact that Julio Teheran plays for them doesn’t hurt them at all.

13. Arizona Diamondbacks-

This is one of the teams that I honestly don’t know why I like more than most teams. I’ve just always liked Diamondbacks teams (after the 2001 season, that is.) Yeah, I don’t know.

14. Seattle Mariners-

This has been mostly the product of running into very nice baseball people who are fans of the Mariners. I’m also a fan of how good of a pitching team they have been despite being offensively anemic the past seasons.

15. Baltimore Orioles-

Similarly to the Mariners, I just know a ton of awesome baseball people that are Orioles fans. In addition to that, their stadium is my favorite in baseball. I would say that really the only reason they’re this far down the list is that some Orioles fans became obnoxious as they began to climb out of the AL East cellar.

16. Detroit Tigers-

I know that I’m supposed to hate the Tigers as a Twins fan, but the fact that we beat them in the game 163 we played them helps and I always admired the teams that had success more than most of the teams I am supposed to dislike.

17. Pittsburgh Pirater-

I can pretty safely say that if I weren’t a ballhawk, this team would be lower on the list, but because of the big ballhawk following in Pittsburgh, I have kept up and liked the Pirates and it was incredibly fun watching them have success for the first time in over two decades last season.

18. Miami Marlins-

Ah the Marlins. Those poor souls. I always had an affinity for them especially teams with the 30+ homer infields of Uggla, Ramirez, Cantu, and Jacobs. That said, Jeffrey Loria has made this a team that I can’t root for over half of the other teams. They remain a team that I’m intrigued by and want to root for, and they would skyrocket up this list if Loria ever sold them and kept them in Miami, but right now they’re just not a team I can really get behind.

19. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim-

I don’t know about this team. I want to like them in many respects, but they lost me when they started spending a bajillion dollars on free agents, trading for Vernon Wells, and then having success with not with their big free agent acquisitions but with the farm talent they had beforehand.

20. Colorado Rockies-

The Rockies are one of those teams I have a preference towards, but still in a kind of “eh” way. I’ve never disliked them really, but I’ve never really had any passion behind my support of them.

21. San Diego Padres-

I used to like them a lot more in the Trevor Hoffman era, but they’ve dropped a bit since then  not necessarily because their lack of success but the players behind these teams. They just haven’t been groups of guys that I’d like to get behind.

22. Cleveland Indians-

Again, never disliked them but never really liked them.

23. Houston Astros-

I actually like the group of people in this team and could see myself liking a lot in the years to come. That said, they have made some pretty bad decisions in the past and it was not a shock that they were as bad of a team as they have been.

24. Kansas City Royals-

I actually like this franchise in terms of their ballpark and look, but then there are the people behind the scenes that ruin this team for me. At the ballpark, I have not heard many positive things about their ushers, and behind the franchise, I disagree on many things with the GM of the team, Dayton Moore. I think that the team could have been competing a long time ago had it not been for his guidance.

25. St. Louis Cardinals-

The main reason for them being this far down the list is the fact that their fans claim incorrectly that they are definitely the “best fans in baseball.” While I don’t think there is a no-doubt group of the best fans in baseball, if my experience with Cardinals fans in baseball has taught me anything, it is that while the Cardinals fan base may be in the top-10, they are definitely not the no-doubt best fans in baseball they claim to be.

26. Chicago White Sox-

I was a fan of the 2005 Astros and 2008 Twins. Enough said.

27. New York Mets-

They’re the Mets. I don’t know how many things I have admired about the Mets the past five years. If it’s any indication, the rendition of “Meet the Mets” that I have adopted begins:

Beat the Mets,

Beat the Mets,

Step right up and,

Sweep the Mets

28. Los Angeles Dodgers-

While I have kind of liked the players on the Dodgers for stretches, their recent acquisition by the Kasten-Johnson group and metamorphosis into baseball’s new Yankees has really turned me off to them. I have disliked them sans Vin Scully for a much longer time than just that, but that’s the most recent thing that provides a rational reason for disliking them.

29. Chicago Cubs-

I have never had any appeal to the Cubs, and I’m not particularly found of how Cubs fans overreact to prospects as well as how in-your-face Cubs fans I have interacted with have been about the most minor successes. Granted, it’s a conditioning that has come with being the fan of a team who last won a World Series when one’s great-grandparents were your age.

30. Boston Red Sox-

This is partially because I grew up a fan of the Yankees, but I also do like their stadium and the atmosphere of it. However, I can’t get over the attitude of their owner John Henry that many fans have adopted without realizing the absurdity of it of that the Yankees have a ridiculous advantage in terms of having a humongous payroll. The reason this argument infuriates me is because for the longest time, there was a gigantic gap in payroll between the Red Sox and the third largest payroll. Thus it was the rich crying poor in order to gain sympathy. The second reason is because the Steinbrenner family is actually a middle-of-the-pack ownership group in terms of wealth. The reason they invest so much money into the team is because they value winning. Therefore, if John Henry truly wanted to win, he could spend the extra money and win. The problem is that if he didn’t win with this extra money invested, he would be losing money. However, George Steinbrenner was taking the same risk when he invested his extra money; it was just that Steinbrenner’s Yankees did win every season and could thus keep spending. So what Henry did by calling out Steinbrenner and the Yankees was criticized him/them for doing what he didn’t have the guts to do with the Red Sox in order to give his fans the winning such a great fan base deserved. However, being the fans that they were, many Red Sox fans backed their owner without truly understanding what was behind these claims.

So those were my favorite teams. I am by no means “right” in any of my judgements. Picking a favorite team–or in my case *teams*–is something of complete subjectivity and can be done for any number of reasons. Also, the next entry is me making a new Observing Baseball Logo. I would actually like to make a clarification. So it’s actually not the logo itself–this:

Just Logo

But it would actually be me remaking the icon itself, which is this:

Icon 5

But besides that, keep voting for your favorite entries. I should mention that I’ll be doing various entries for Twinsfest, but you can vote for the stuff you want to see besides this on the poll below:

Stadium Profiles: Citizens Bank Park

Overall Grade: B+

1501_Exterior_of_Citizens_Bank_Park

Aesthetic Grade: B+

PHI_77173601_580

I went back and forth between a B+ and a B for this. On the one hand, it is a nice ballpark that I really don’t have much to complain about aesthetically. But on the other hand, it is also a very bland ballpark in terms of its features. There is really nothing that stands out as being amazing; so I couldn’t justify any grade in the “A range” for the ballpark. What eventually led me to going with B+ is that it has enough subtle flairs like the greenery, statues , and center field plaques that it gets some personality and style.

Atmosphere: B

San Francisco Giants v Philadelphia Phillies, Game 2

While the Philadelphia sports fans are a passionate bunch, and can get up for their sports teams when they’re doing well–leading to an electric atmosphere at CBP when the Phillies are competitive–they are also known for not displaying their passion in the most friendly ways. So while many athletes say that their least favorite city to travel to is Philadelphia and this can lead to a great home-field advantage for their sports teams, it also means that Phillies fans are not the best people to be around if you’re simply going to a stadium to enjoy a peaceful game at a new ballpark. So by averaging out the electricity that can live inside CBP with the negativity that its fans can bring, I arrived at a B for the overall atmosphere at the ballpark.

Fan Experience: B+

img_3789

For the sake of fairness, I’m going to take the fans out of the equation for this one. The guest services staff from my experience has been an overall friendly one with only case-by-case rudeness. I haven’t really had that many positive encounters with vendors there, but those are also ever-changing and so that is maybe due to me not having gone to that many games at the ballpark. Plus, vendors don’t really play all that much into the overall fan experience. Overall I’d call the staff at CBP above-average, but where they make up in the “fan experience” department is that CBP is a generally fun place to walk around and explore. In a sense, it kind of feels like a minor league ballpark that got a ton of money to be made into a major league ballpark; this begins and ends with their award-winning mascot: The Phillie Fanatic.

Details: A

baseball-statue-at-citizens-bank-park-bill-cannon

Like I alluded to in the “Aesthetic” grade, it really is the details that save this stadium for me. From the statues all over the place to the “monument park” in center field, to the flower beds in front of the left field wall, the people who thought up Citizens Bank Park really covered all of the bases. While many of them have to do with the overall aesthetics, many bring huge benefits for any ballhawks who may visit Citizens Bank Park.

BP Ballhawking: A+

8313 LF

If you are in a stadium early for batting practice with a decent crowd, there is no better stadium for snagging a BP home run than Citizens Bank Park. In fact, if I had to design a ballpark that was ideal for BP ballhawking, whatever I come up with would not be that far off the design of CBP. First of all, it has a double-decker bullpen, which is in center field. This is ideal because it means that both the left and right field sections can be full, long sections that aren’t cut off by bullpens like they are in so many other stadiums. Long sections are key for BP since they let you run as far as you need to make BP home run snags. Another thing that separates CBP from the rest of the field is the fact that it has no hand railings. What this allows ballhawks to do is run from section to section on any row in the section. Whereas the stadiums with hand rails have only a one-row gap every three-to-four rows, so if you run across the section in the wrong row, that’s as far as you can run for the ball. Left Field at Citizens Bank Park is basically a ballhawk’s dream. Really CBP’s only fault is that the right field seats aren’t open for the first hour that the stadium is open. But once it is, it is only marginally worse than the left field seats, so you can then enjoy two sides of awesome outfield seats.

During-Game Ballhawking: B

15-citz-sec102

Although it is an absolutely awesome stadium for BP, these features that make it a great BP stadium don’t make it all that great a place to ballhawk during the game itself. While the fact that there are no handrails does help during the game, you still have to rely on not that many people showing up to their seats in order to take advantage of the long sections of running room CBP has to offer. The really only truly great spot to ballhawk is behind home plate for foul balls, but entry to that part of the stadium costs you a pretty penny, so it really isn’t available to the common ballhawk. Overall, CBP is maybe a slightly-above-average ballpark to ballhawk at during the game itself. Its biggest advantage during the game is probably how home run-prone the stadium is.

Anyway, that’s all I have to say about Citizens Bank Park. If you would like to check it out, I made a video recently highlighting my experiences in the fall of 2013 via unused vlog footage. It’s a fun video to watch:

But as always, continue to vote on which entries you want to see me write next by using this poll:

Since I can’t design a new logo for the blog until I get back to Minnesota, the next entry will be my favorite MLB teams. However, I may have another baseball-related video project on the way before that. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it may have to do with some recent baseball current events.

New Years Thingamajig: 2014

First of all, sorry to everyone who is waiting for me to get caught up with the Observing Baseball Trivia leader board. I’ve been in New York doing something at all hours. I’ll get on that once I am out of New York and given some free time to work with.

Now, it is the new year, and that usually means that I make resolutions/goals for what I want to accomplish in the following year. But considering the fact that I checked my goals from last year yesterday for the first time in 11 months and saw how brutal my sticking to them was, I’m going to pass of on making a ton of them this year. Now the success rate for new year’s resolutions is about 12%, and I’m glad to say I passed that, but that’s also because I did a bunch without really thinking about them all year.

Anyway, I find myself in the very peculiar position of not really being sure what I’m going to be doing for the next year of my life (besides school). I mean I’m most likely going to be doing some sort of job-type thing to work towards my eventual career goal of being a general manager, but I’m not entirely sure what that’ll be. So I have no clue whether or if so how much I’ll be ballhawking. While it might’ve seemed terrifying to me a while ago, it actually is really freeing to me right now. A by-product of this, however, is that I can’t really make specific goals like last year. I also found out that the more resolutions I make, the harder it is to keep them. So what I’m going to do is fashion a list of all of my favorite ones from last year’s list and ones I thought of in thinking of good goals for the coming year.

Ballhawking:

  • Go to a new stadium-With 2013 came another year I didn’t visit a new stadium.

Writing:

  • Write more mygamballs.com columns than last year- For the record, three.

Video:

  • Do my previously-planned ballhawking videos- Highlight video, and an all-video ballhawking entry–even if it’s not mine.

Twitter:

  • Meet internet people- Because face-to-face is where it’s at.

Facebook:

Since I still don’t plan on using Facebook that much, I’m going to use this as a sort of wildcard slot.

  • Make whatever content creation I do in 2014 a more collaborative effort- It keeps things fresh, exposes people to new things, and to continue doing things on my own is to say that I am the best at what I do in all aspects of it, which is definitely not the case.

Instagram:

Another wild card here.

  • Keep making content and being creative about it–even if that means straying from baseball-related topics-It can be hard with school and things, but I do love creating stuff, and hopefully I can get better at doing it by continuing to create things but in different ways.

Vine:

  • Just keep doing it- The top viners are alive and well, but it feels like with an increase in the revine culture, smaller people are being left out. I want to keep that culture alive and well if only in my own small way.

And now, with it being the new year, here is my 2013 WordPress statistical report. It isn’t as traditionally successful as last year’s, but I also think I was a lot better about content creation last year:

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 28,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 10 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Even though it has been technically 2014 for over 24 hours now, I may do one more year-end related thing. Either that or I’ll go on to the next entry in my winter writing ideas. That said, keep voting for the things you want to see this winter:

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