Saturday, March 17, 2012

SABR Conference: Day 2

The conference moves on.  Day 1 of the Society for Baseball Research (SABR) conference in Mesa, Arizona proved both exciting and humbling.  When you last left me I had attended a number of panels, speakers, and presentations.  Thursday, day 1, sported (pun intended) a number of interesting panels and speakers, but Friday's lineup (again pun intended) featured some big names in the baseball world.  They included, Jerry Dipoto, Angels GM, Chris Antonetti, Cleveland Indians GM, Doug Melvin, Brewers GM, and Tom Ricketts, Cubs owner. 

Due to my inability to integrate into pacific standard time with the speed of the flash, I awoke on Friday morning bright and early and went down to the complimentary breakfast provided by the hotel.  I walked in only minutes before the General Manager's panel began and thus grabbed something quick and sped to get a good seat.  Due of course to my punctuality, the panel began late.  Nonetheless, in strode the three GM's, walking into a room full of baseball minds like the winners of the Nobel prizes in physics appearing before an undergraduate mechanics class.  Antonetti and Dipoto displayed athletic physiques, toned and tanned bodies with faces that showed intelligence, confidence, and intensity.  Doug Melvin, the elder statesman of the group, wears a bushy grey mustache that perfectly matches his age (60).  The three men took their seats and almost immediately the room fell silent.  Next, the exuberant FOX Sports writer and commentator Ken Rosenthal stepped to the podium.  Rosenthal would be moderating this panel probably because he has interviewed all three GM's at least once in his career. 

Doug Melvin
Chris Antonetti
Following a number of well thought out, yet not incredibly difficult to answer questions by the moderator, the session opened up for questions from the audience.  A number of the older gentlemen who always sit in the front row asked questions with a surprising number of younger attendees swallowing any bit of nervousness they possessed in order to ask three kings of the industry a few solid questions.  Eventually the session faded, but before it ended Ken Rosenthal, considered one of the best insiders in baseball, had some breaking news for everyone in the ballroom.  Andy Pettitte, recently retired NY Yankees left-handed pitcher, just signed a one-year contract with the Yanks for $2.5 million.  This is news that most of us sitting in the room usually discover this information reading Rosenthal's twitter feed, but instead on this day we found out from the horse's mouth without any electronic go between.

 What struck me about the three GM's on the panel occurred after the session ended.  Following the obligatory and well-deserved applause some of the crowd dispersed while others sped to the front of the room to ask one of the three men some questions.  The longest line of suitors appeared in front of Jerry Dipoto, who made splashes this off season by signing top free agents Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson.  As seen above a few attendees surrounded Doug Melvin and one or two walked up to Chris Antonetti.  While Melvin and Dipoto answered questions, I watched Antonetti.  As the GM of the Cleveland Indians, Antonetti works with a smaller budget than most, using that money in an attempt to ameliorate the ailing hearts of all Cleveland sports fans by bringing a world series to Cleveland.  He specifically spoke to younger conference attendees while Dipoto and Melvin took questions from mostly older ones. 

Following the star studded GM panel came Tom Ricketts.  Ricketts recently bought the Chicago Cubs, and even more recently lured Theo Epstein away from Boston to run baseball operations in Chicago.  He is a fairly plan looking yet polished man in his late 40's.  Vince Gennaro, president of SABR, asked him numerous questions concerning Ricketts' business background, the process involved with buying a major league team, the hiring of Theo Epstein, as well as Rickett's plans for renovating Wrigley Field.  Although Ricketts spoke well, this session paled in comparison to the one that preceded it. 

Moving right along, the next speaker, Greg Rybarczyk, presented some fascinating findings.  His talk was titled, "Integral Baseball: Comprehensive Performance Valuation via Player Tracking."  Essentially he went through the process of creating a metric that assigned value to all parts of a typical defensive play using new proprietary technology dubbed field F/X.  Field F/X uses a number of cameras strategically placed around a baseball park that capture the movements of the ball as well as all of the players.  This is an analogue of pitch F/X, which tracks a pitch when it comes out of the pitcher's hand as it crosses the plate and either finds the catcher's mitt or the batters bat.  Most fans see the results of pitch F/X at the bottom of their TV screens in the form of a strike zone.  Pitches come in and using pitch F/X every fan can see where exactly the pitch cross the plate and at what speed it did so.  Field F/X looks at similar dynamics but instead of pitching, it focuses on defense.  His research was complex yet fascinating, but due to it's complexity I will not delve into it now, but ask me any time and I would be glad to discuss it.
Ichiro Suzuki warming up
Chone Figgins and Ichiro stretching

Well, apparently I am running behind schedule, so I will, once again, cut this post short.  In short, my Mom and I went to an A's Mariners spring training game at night and enjoyed it immensely as we had seats just in front of the Mariners bullpen.  I leave you with a few photos from the game and bid you farewell until tomorrow when I will recap today's events and talk about the conference as a whole. 


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