Three years ago, the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) decided to finally take advantage of the rise in sabermetric research and organized an analytics conference during Spring Training. In that short time, this conference has become one of the big events of the year for aspiring and practicing sabermetricians/saberists. Last year, SABR decided to recognize achievements in sabermetric research by inaugerating the SABR Analytics Conference Research Awards.
My favorite things about this award are that it highlights some of the great written work being published in sabermetrics in all media (primarily the web) and lets the sabermetric community vote on the awards. Awards are handed out in three categories: Historical Analysis/Commentary, Contemporary Commentary, and Contemporary Analysis. This year’s nominees in each of the three categories can be found here, which also includes links to the nominated articles and and the ballot for voting.
Here’s who I voted for in each category, and why:
Historical Analysis/Commentary: Max Marchi, “Catcher Framing Before PITCHf/x,” Baseball Prospectus, May 16, 2013.
Catcher framing has been one of the hot topics in sabermetric research over the past few years. It began as an offshoot from the PITCHf/x data that MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM) has gratiously allowed to be freely accessed by the public. (SABR has thought so highly of this that Cory Schwartz of MLBAM is being honored with the Chadwick Award this year.) However, using PITCHf/x data means most framing analyses only go back to 2008 or so. Max Marchi’s analysis utilized Retrosheet’s pitch sequencing data contained in its play-by-play files from 1988 onward to build a model that estimated the effects of framing prior to the advent of PITCHf/x data, and he used a modeling technique that I’m not sure has been applied to baseball data before. Because it went into unexplored territory, both in terms of topic and technique used, I gave it my vote.
Runner up: Russell Carleton, “Dating the Impulse to Protect Pitchers,” Baseball Prospectus, December 2, 2013.
The saberist formerly known as “Pizza Cutter” from his days running the now-defunct Statspeak blog spent a lot of his time at Baseball Prospectus last year exploring the evolution of how pitchers are used. The whole series of articles is worth a read, including all the gory math. Like the other articles in the category that I didn’t vote for, I find it’s not quite as innovative as Marchi’s work.
Contemporary Baseball Commentary: Jon Roegele, “The Strike Zone in the PITCHf/x Era,” The Hardball Times Annual 2014, November 2013.
For me, this was the highlight article of this year’s HBT annual. Thankfully for you, they’ve reprinted the article online because of these awards so you don’t have the buy the book, although I highly recommend doing so.
As noted above, PITCHf/x analysis in recent years has started to branch beyond analyzing the pitch itself. While catcher framing is one offshoot, strike zone evaluation is a second offshoot. While there are a number of articles using the data to evaluate individual umpires’ abilities behind the plate, Jon Roegele examines the longer term effect on the strike zone that has been arguably influenced by the use of PITCHf/x data as an evaluation tool for the umpires. He considers not only how the strike zone has changed, but how the players have adjusted to the changes. Very thoroughly done.
Runner Up: Jonah Keri, “Grand Theft Baseball,” Grantland.com, March 20, 2013.
I’m a big believer that numbers should be paired with narrative when the numbers are used and depicted properly. Jonah is one of the best at doing just that. This is a taste of why stats and scouts should never have been at odds with each other. I put it below Roegele’s work because a lot of the analysis was specific to the examples used, though a number of insights were gleaned.
Contemporary Baseball Analysis: Andrew Ball, “2013 MLB Draft: How Valuable Are Draft Picks?” Beyond the Box Score, June 25, 2013.
This was admittedly the toughest category for me to pick. I ended up leaning towards the more numerically based analysis done by Andrew Ball. I’m not necessarily sure it’s better than a couple of the other nominees in term of originality or depth, but I’ll have the tiers in the back of my head as I keep an eye on the draft this June.
Runner Up: Adam Kilgore, Sohail Al-Jamea, Wilson Andrews, Bonnie Berkowitz, Todd Lindeman, Jonathan Newton, “A Swing of Beauty,” WashingtonPost.com, May 14, 2013.
This breakdown of Bryce Harper’s swing was so thorough, it only missed my vote by a slim margin. Perhaps it was just as surprising that it didn’t come out of one of the sabermetric blogs, but having the resources of a major newspaper definitely enabled the multimedia presentation.