Most professions have a set career path. Engineers go to engineering schools. Doctors go to medical school. Plumbers must go to trade school for certification. The list goes on and on. When it comes to baseball statisticians, no such career trajectory exists. The majority of professional baseball statisticians today are self taught. Major league clubs have hired analysts from financial sectors, mathematical sectors, and even straight out of college to analyze the numbers.
So how exactly can one become a baseball statistician? Today, we will review what a baseball statistician does, the difference between statisticians and data scientists, baseball sabermetrics, and how an individual can get started in the field.
What does a Baseball Statistician Do?
Baseball is perhaps the most numbers oriented of the major American sports. With 162 regular season games, there are few sports with as much sample size as baseball. Baseball statistics are truly relevant in ways that simply do not hold up for other games. So what does a baseball statistician do?
Finds relevant numbers - wins above replacement (WAR), defensive wins above replacement (DWAR), and walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP) are all relatively recent additions to the baseball lexicon. This work was done by baseball statisticians.
Looks for trends in the data - gathering data is one thing, but finding patterns in that data is what ball clubs crave. How does a hitter come off injury? Do pitchers throw better during the day or at night?
Come to a conclusion - baseball statisticians and advanced analytics such as sabermetrics gives baseball organizations the tools to make informed decisions. A classic example is the Oakland A’s Moneyball approach.
Baseball Statisticians vs. Baseball Data Scientists
Data scientists are more focused on the collection, maintenance, and organization of data. This can include finding new statistics to record, the best way to manage a database, and so forth. Baseball data scientists are certainly as important as statisticians, but their role is more of a generalized, technical role rather than a baseball role.
Statisticians lean towards the interpretation of said data. Baseball statisticians will take the carefully collected and organized data provided by data scientists and turn that information into actionable advice. Consider WAR. In order to determine a player’s value, we can’t just look at how many homeruns or stolen bases they got last season. These numbers must be analyzed, valuated, and weighted against the performance of other players in the same position. Pretty fascinating stuff!
Baseball Sabermetrics and Advanced Statistics
“Advanced statistics” has gotten a lot of attention in recent years. Where players used to be judged on batting average and fielding percentage, modern ball clubs can use advanced statistics and sabermetrics to determine a player’s full performance. Typical examples of advanced statistics include:
On base plus slugging + (OPS +) - On base plus slugging is what it sounds like - a players on base percentage plus his slugging percentage. In recent years, the plus has been added to account for field conditions such as altitude, weather, and so forth. This allows players to be judged fairly across many teams and locations.
Defensive efficiency ratio (DER) - Yes, everything has an acronym. According to MLB.com, “The formula for Defensive Efficiency Ratio is: 1 - ((H + ROE - HR) / (PA - BB - SO - HBP - HR))” where H = Hits, ROE = Reached on Error, HR = Home Runs, PA = Plate Appearances, BB = Walks, SO = Strikeout, and HBP = Hit by Pitch. If you are still with us after that one, you might just enjoy advanced baseball statistics.
Start Your Path Towards Becoming a Baseball Analyst Today
As we mentioned in the introduction, sports statistics is still considered a non-traditional career path. However, it is estimated that the field will grow approximately thirty four (34) percent in just a ten year period. There are several ways in which you can prepare to be a baseball statistician:
Play baseball or participate in baseball activities. Numbers are great, but true analysis requires an intimate understanding of this great game.
Take relevant mathematical, statistics, and/or data science courses. Again, there is no straight arrow here, but a foundational knowledge of math and statistics is required.
Seek employment with a baseball team. Minor league, major league, and even college programs may offer internships or entry level positions just to get your foot in the door.
Run the numbers in real time. One of the fascinating aspects of baseball statistics is that the numbers are available to the public. Go nuts! Try to determine why the Orioles have the worst record in baseball. Use numbers to explain why Tony Gwynn was the last player to come close to a .400 season in the pros. Many baseball analysts have found employment after presenting their own research.
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