2015 SABR Analytics Conference Research Awards

Voting closed on President’s Day for this year’s SABR Analytics Conference Research Awards, and like last year, I have taken a great interest in seeing which articles were nominated. Although the voting is closed, I once again am sharing which articles I voted for and runners up in each category.

Contemporary Baseball Analysis: Harry Pavlidis and Dan Brooks, “Framing and Blocking Pitches: A Regressed, Probabilistic Model,” Baseball Prospectus, March 3, 2014.
This category was stacked. I could have reasonably voted for 4 of the 5 articles. But Pavlidis and Brooks managed to stand out above the rest by a hair. Like Max Marchi’s winning article from last year, this is another landmark addition to our statistical understanding of catcher framing, possibly the hottest topic in sabermetric research until the StatCast data sees the public light of day. While Jonathan Judge and this duo have already updated and improved on their work, its import to quantifying catcher framing was without equal in 2014.
Runner up: Jon Roegele, “The Effects of Pitch Sequencing,” The Hardball Times, November 24, 2014.
Pitch sequencing is my current favorite topic in sabermetric research. It’s not quite as popular as catcher framing because sequencing is largely dependent on the pitcher’s arsenal and the techniques needed to study sequencing tend go beyond basic data mining. Jon’s work is the best on the topic that doesn’t require an understanding of Markov chains and/or the mathematical mechanics of game theory.
The other 2 articles I almost voted for were:

  • Russell Carleton, “N=1,” Baseball Prospectus 2014: The Essential Guide to the 2014 Season, January 2014. Pizza asks what we really know about an individual player, and explores swing rates for individual players using regression. (Yes, I’m one of those who instantly started mouthing GLM, HLM, and MLM at the words “gory math” and “regression” in the article.)
  • Jeff Sullivan, “Alex Gordon Barely Had a Chance,” FanGraphs, October 30, 2014. The best breakdown of the most scrutinized play of this year’s World Series.

Historical Analysis/Commentary: Steve Treder, “The Strikeout Ascendant (and What Should Be Done About It),” The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2014.
A tough category to pick, but Steve’s breakdown of strikeout eras in baseball history was an exploration reminiscent of a Bill James essay do in his 1980s Abstracts. He explores strikeout rates rates through history, citing that the increase is part of a natural rise of the power game in baseball, both at the plate and on the mound. Nothing, not even a proposal to lop off the bottom three inches of the strike zone, will change the minds of batters sacrificing discipline for power or pitchers trying to keep that power in check by throwing hard at the expense of in-game longevity.
Runner Up: Bryan Soderholm-Difatte, “The 1914 Stallings Platoon: Assessing Execution, Impact, and Strategic Philosophy,” SABR Baseball Research Journal, Fall 2014.
While platoons aren’t anything new, I always find it interesting when someone looks at a season in the distant past using modern tools. Bryan’s analysis of the 1914 Stallings was well thought out and about as comprehensive as such an analysis is capable of being.

Contemporary Baseball Commentary: Lewie Pollis, “If You Build It: Rethinking the Market for Major League Baseball Front Office Personnel,” Brown University, senior honors thesis, Spring 2014.
Most senior theses don’t make it beyond the adviser’s desk. If you happen to read one, it’s probably because you know the person who wrote it or you were in the person’s grauduating class and major while they wrote it. Lewie’s thesis is clearly more pubic than that. It’s also an extremely articulate breakdown as to why wages for lower-level front office personnel should be higher. It won my vote in a rout.
Runner Up: Eno Sarris, “Learning the Language of the Clubhouse,” The Hardball Times, March 13, 2014.
Eno’s article was full of wonderful anecdotes and personal reflections on speaking the ballplayer’s language. It’s the runner up almost by default, as the other 3 articles rehashed (or completely missed) ideas I have previously seen explored.

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