Running with Geeks: One Man’s Experience of SABR41

I finally made it to a SABR convention, and was it ever worth the wait. This year’s convention took place in Long Beach, which meant that I could attend with relative ease (having to catch a plane is usually a deal-breaker for me, but a two-hour drive is no problem).

The festivities began on Wednesday, but I didn’t head up there until Thursday. The original plan had me commuting from San Diego every day. On arriving at the hotel, I quickly changed that plan on account of it sucked.

I booked a room, picked up my convention badge, and wandered into the annual business meeting. I missed Scott Boras’ keynote address that preceded the business meeting, but a video is available. Also, one of the many fine folks I met at the convention — Mike Luery — cornered Boras for a one-on-one interview, which he is posting in installments at his blog (first one focuses on Washington Nationals uberprospect Bryce Harper).

After enjoying lunch and drinks with the Baseball Think Factory crowd (see Aaron Gleeman’s excellent recap for a list of names), I listened to a panel of distinguished speakers (Dave Cameron of FanGraphs, Sean Forman of Baseball-Reference, and others) discuss the future of baseball media coverage. Ever-increasing accessibility was the primary focus.

At the panel’s conclusion, I hob-nobbed with Sam Miller (Orange County Register), Gleeman, Colin Wyers (my esteemed colleague at Baseball Prospectus), Forman, and’s Corey Schwartz. I also met a fellow named Jeff Polman, who… well, I’ll let him explain:

The Bragging Rights League is a fictional baseball replay “blogella,” told in 22 weekly chapters posted every Sunday. What if history were flopped on its end, and a team of 1941 white stars were inserted into the thriving, all-black major league for a hotly contested 60-game season? Would Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Bob Feller be able to hold their own against the likes of Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston and Satchel Paige? And what might happen to the players off the field? Heck, let’s find out.

Polman also lives, like, a block away from my mom. Small world, eh? Anyway, check out his site. He also writes for Huffington Post and wrote a nice recap of SABR41 for that publication.

On Thursday evening, FanGraphs did its thing for three hours, which felt more like one hour. There was a panel on the local teams that featured Miller, Rich Lederer (Baseball Analysts), Eric Stephen (True Blue LA), and Jon Weisman (Dodger Thoughts). The estimable Jonah Keri moderated. As you might imagine, much of the discussion centered on the McCourt fiasco, although the panel did discuss the Angels as well… mostly Miller noting that catcher Jeff Mathis can’t hit.

The second panel featured Lederer, Cameron, Vince Gennaro, and Rob Neyer. FanGraphs’ Carson Cistuli moderated and just killed. That is a damned funny dude.

There was a third panel, but I forget what it was. Afterward, I chatted with Polman, Eno Sarris (FanGraphs), Cistuli, and Ryan Kaltenbach. Then the festivities spilled over to the hotel lobby bar, where I hung out with Stephen and one of his readers.

We talked ’70s and ’80s Dodgers (I am a full-fledged Padres fan now, but I cannot betray my roots) for much of the night, with me lamenting Tommy Lasorda’s decision to start Dave Goltz over Fernando Valenzuela in the one-game playoff against Houston in 1980. But Rick Monday’s 1981 homer against Montreal’s Steve Rogers healed all wounds (although we were careful not to mention this to Keri). We agreed that Steve Garvey’s number should be retired by no one.

* * *

On Friday, I caught Bill Staples Jr.’s fascinating presentation on the Japanese-American Nisei Leagues. It focused on the efforts in the ’20s and ’30s of Kenichi Zenimura, about whom Staples has written a book. Staples also mentioned a movie called American Pastime (starring, among others, Gary Cole of Office Space fame) that I now must see.

Steve Treder (Hardball Times) and Anthony Giacalone did a tag-team presentation chronicling the 1965 National League pennant race. Treder covered the Giants, while Giacalone covered the Dodgers. Good stuff…

After chatting with Lederer and Keri, I headed back to San Diego. Other convention attendees visited Dodger Stadium to watch the hometown club beat our beloved and woeful Padres. Wyers wasn’t impressed with the venue, which comes as no surprise since it hasn’t been a pleasant place to watch a ballgame in decades.

* * *

I booked a room for Saturday night and this time brought Mrs. Ducksnorts with me. She hung out at the Long Beach Aquarium and Queen Mary while I got my geek on.

I arrived too late to catch Phil Birnbaum’s Home Field Advantage presentation, although he has made his slides available. (Wyers offers his thoughts as well.)

The next panel attempted to answer the question of whether veterans get preferential treatment from umpires in terms of balls and strikes called. There is evidence that they do. Among the many tidbits shared in this panel was the surprising fact that Padres catcher Rob Johnson got more strikes — as identified by PITCHf/x — called balls (11.4%) than any other player in MLB in 2009-2010 (min. 700 pitches). Who says the men in blue aren’t sympathetic?

David W. Smith (Retrosheet) then discussed starting pitcher usage over the years. Among many other things, he noted that stability in a pitching staff doesn’t correlate with quality. For example, the 1962 Mets and 1971 Orioles were about the same in terms of stability, but radically different in terms of quality.

Gennaro then presented his new Starting Pitcher Rating System. Not everyone was impressed with his efforts, but it’s a work in process that I found interesting. (Read more about it and the other Saturday panels here.)

Lunch. Beer. Chatter.

Saturday concluded with a GM panel that featured current Padres GM Jed Hoyer, as well as former Dodgers GMs Fred Claire and Dan Evans. Claire had the best stories, which makes sense given the amount of time he has spent in baseball. He talked about negotiations with Fernando Valenzuela, the differences between working for the O’Malleys and FOX News Corp (heh), and the regrettable decision to trade Pedro Martinez to Montreal.

Hoyer noted the challenges of operating a small-market team and insisted (as do I) that lack of funds cannot be used as an excuse for failing to field a competitive team. I chatted with Hoyer briefly after the panel. I would tell you a great story if I had one, but really, this is just gratuitous name dropping.

Then busloads of attendees trekked over to Angels Stadium for baseball (THT’s Chris Jaffe will tell you all about it, and more). Mrs. Ducksnorts and I skipped that, instead enjoying a lovely dinner.

After the game, we all met in the hotel lobby bar for more beer (you are sensing a theme, no?). Then there was a poker tournament. I watched and drank beer, but did not play. That broke up around 3 a.m. or thereabouts.

* * *

On Sunday, after breakfast, I got to hear former Dodgers Tommy Davis and Al Ferrara (who also was an original member of the Padres) tell stories. They grew up in Brooklyn together (the sense of place East Coast folks seem to feel is something I’ve always envied a bit) and were a treat. Ferrara talked about the differences between the Dodgers and the Padres at that time (hint: one organization had more money than the other) and mentioned his appearances in such fine films as Dracula’s Dog, Mansion of the Doomed, and Riot on Sunset Strip.

Ferrara also had nice things to say about his manager in San Diego, the late Preston Gomez. And he shared a fun anecdote about his third base coach on that same team, the late Sparky Anderson. While playing under Anderson in Cincinnati, Ferrara misplayed a fly ball to left field and Anderson stared him down as he returned to the dugout after the inning. Ferrara, who had been acquired from the Padres for the immortal Angel Bravo, quipped to his skipper: “What did you want for Bravo, Willie Mays?”

I could have listened to those two talk all day. The video of their panel is well worth watching.

* * *

This has dragged on long enough, but I must say one more thing. I had an absolute blast at SABR41. The presentations and panels were informative and entertaining, the conversations stimulating. If the convention comes to a town near you (it’ll be in Minnesota in 2012, Philadelphia in 2013), by all means attend.

Failing that, at least consider joining SABR. The organization is run by volunteers who are passionate about the game and their research. The work done by SABR over the years has advanced our knowledge and understanding of the world’s greatest sport in ways too numerous to count, and continues to do so today. These fine folks deserve your support.

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12 Responses »

  1. sounds like a blast, GY.

    thanks for the recap. would love to read some highlights of that Jed Hoyer presentation.

  2. re: We agreed that Steve Garvey’s number should be retired by no one.

    All I got to say is … +1 :-)

  3. I consider myself a Pads fan, but prior to this year (I haven’t made it up for a game yet, and may not) I have felt way more energy at Dodger Stadium than at Petco. To be sure, the Dodgers are in freefall right now, but if I had a nickel for all the great experiences I’ve had there in the last 40 years…..

  4. Thanks for mentioning Bill Staple Jr.’s presentation. As a nisei (and hapa), I’ll have to give the book a read. Especially since my historical knowledge of Japanese ball players doesn’t extend past Nomo and Sadaharu Oh, which is incredibly sad.

  5. It’s interesting that what separate the Padres from first place in the division is merely 44 runs. The pitching is almost as good as the Gigantes’ but the hitting (scoring run part) is last in the NL and only 3 runs better than the Mariners’.

    And here were are with mirrored record at the ASB, Padres 40-52, Giants 52-40. Forty four runs, an average of roughly half a run per game in the 92 games played, would have put the team closer to the top of the NL West and going from certain seller to possible buyer to make a run. Not that I’m not happy we are out of it and getting ready for the next season and more, but a little more runs and the team could be contending without having to add a rent-a-player down the stretch.

    It turns out that in the NL the Giants, Dodgers, and Padres are bringing up the rear in hitting with runners in scoring position (OPS of .666, .646, .626) far below the ML average of .718 (NL at .719 v. AL at .716). Both the Diamondbacks and Rockies are above average, and scoring 287 runs (NL average) or more. Meanwhile the other three teams have scored only 272, 260, 237 runs.

    Things stay the same for the Padres in RISP, 2 outs situations (OPS .625) but worsen for Giants at .600 as the league average also decreases (.679), though, they had more ABs resulting in RS of 103 v. 97 for the Padres.

    With bases loaded, the Giants kill with OPS of .781 v. the Padres at .550 (NL at .767). Still this doesn’t explain the run deficiencies as both teams scored 51 and 56 runs respectively. The Padres scored more runs with the fewest XBHs in this situation, a double, while the Giants hit 2 doubles and 3 HRs.

    It looks like the bulk of the difference in RS between the Padres and the Giants happened in the RISP situation with fewer than 2 outs as the latter hit 8 more doubles and 9 more HRs to score 35 more runs. Surprisingly, both teams are about equal in RS when faced with RISP, 2 outs and bases loaded situations.

    Not surprisingly, the Padres are in the top 5 in the league in preventing runs in all three situations with the Giants being in the top 5 in two of the three categories.

    OK, so now we know in what way do my Padres suck at scoring runs.

    Team leaders in hitting categories:
    - Chase Headley: 91 hits (Ludwick 11 behind), 25 doubles, 45 walks
    - Cameron Maybin: 6 triples
    - Ryan Ludwick: 11 homeruns, 73 strikeouts (4 players within 5).
    All three are in order of the OPS of the team and also top 3 in SLG with Maybin having a point ahead of Headley.

    Bartlett needs to pick his spot better in stealing base, 18 SB v. 6 CS just won’t do with .600 OPS. Venable is great in this (15 v. 2) and let’s hope he hits more or at least gets on base more often.

  6. @LynchMob: Yeah, I thought you’d like that.

    @FBR: I have fond memories of Dodger Stadium as well, although most of them predate 1990.

    @JayWantsACat: My pleasure. Staples’ presentation was terrific. My only complaint is that it ended too soon. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, you might want to look into the life of Wally Yonamine, another pioneering Nisei baseball player. I wrote about him over at when he died earlier this year.

    @Didi: Thanks for the insights. The NL West really is a weak division, ripe for the taking by any team that doesn’t suck… which sadly excludes the Padres.

  7. OK … here’s my next idea for getting the #6 down off the wall …

    Remember, the key, imo, is that Garvey has to DEMAND it … so … here’s the idea …

    He wants to buy the Dodgers right … so I say we create a form letter and as many folks as possible send it to him in the mail (so that he, or his agent, will notice it) … and in that letter, we challenge him to go “ALL IN” on his quest to own the Dodgers … we tell him that step #1 is to purge himself of all ties to other teams :-) The letter will point out the notoriety that he will receive by demanding his number be unretired by the Padres … and he’ll be more loved by the Padre-hating Dodger fans to the point where they will cry out for him to be the new owner!

    If he can do this soon enough, then the Padres can simply plan to replace his #6 with Hoffman’s #51, saving them the pain of figuring out how to squeeze that up there :-)

    CAN DO???

  8. LM: that’s a fantastic hook for Garvey to help un-retire #6.

  9. A while ago, I was looking into QS and correlation to wins and as it turned out not very useful, and as TW pointed out, if the Padres are giving up 3ER in no fewer than 6IP, more often than not, the team won’t win the games. So, it’s hard to tell based on QS alone.

    This list at the break illustrates the point rather clearly:

    The Dodgers, Astros and Padres are double digits away in wins from QS. Looking at the Giants and my Padres, it’s strange to see that while the Giants are -7 in Ws from QS for +12 in W-L record, the Padres are -12 in Ws from QS for -12 in W-L record.
    Perhaps, the Giants QS are better than the Padres QS.

    So, I decided to look into starting pitching gamescores and the team records by both staffs. And here’s the breakdown:

    <50: 11-27,
    50-59: 12-7
    60-69: 10-16
    70-79: 6-2
    80+: 1-0

    <50: 10-18
    50-59: 10-12
    60-69: 19-6
    70-79: 8-4
    80+: 5-0

    Not only are the Giants' starters performer better more often, the team won most of those (32-10 W-L) when the gamescore is 60+ versus the Padres (17-18 W-L). The Giants' starters also scored 70+ eight more times (13-4) than the Padres' pitchers (7-2). Percentage-wise that is not a bad record. The trouble is that the Padres lose more games than they won (10 out of 26) when the gamescore is between 60 and 69, while the Giants pretty much guaranteed a win in similar situation (19 out of 25 games). This can probably be attributed to their prowess in winning 1-run games at 25-12 (best percentage in the ML at 67.57% and having played as many such games).

    So, great pitching, timely scoring (since they don't score that many runs either) led to many more wins than their ExWL of 47-45 while the Padres are just about where they should be with ExWL of 41-51.

  10. Btw, the lone 80+ game score belongs to….the opening day starter, Tim Stauffer. He also leads the staff by having 10 gamescores of 60+ (team W-L 6-4). For comparison, Tim Lincecum only has 9 of those but 4 of which are 80+ (team W-L 7-2). Not to say that one Stauffer is comparable to the CY winner but to point out that he has been as steady as the staff ace.

  11. Sounds like a blast. Wish my schedule would have supported some attendance.