Bob Davids Chapter of Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) meeting

These summaries are transcribed from my notes, so none should be taken as verbatim quotes. Somehow in the Q & A every speaker was asked about replay and the possible pitch clock, and most of them were asked about the free agency/Cold Stove/Labor Relations. Although there wasn’t a perfect consensus, the general sentiment was “replay is necessary, but not at a level beyond human observation (i.e. momentary loss of contact with the bag), and that a pitch clock wasn’t going to solve the problem of games going ‘too long’ for some people.” On the issue of the current state of affairs, there was some support for a salary floor as well as some changes to the CBA, because the current state of affairs didn’t seem sustainable.

I. The first presenter was Dick Bosman. (link to his SABR bio: )

He talked about learning to pitch “here” (pointing to head) from Ted Williams. He really enjoys coaching, saying that the best way to coach a pitcher is to be their catcher. He acknowledged his wife who pointed out that he was probably a better coach than he was a player. He loves working with young, enthusiastic players who are eager to learn, from Little League on up.

He talked about learning from Frank Howard how to be a big leaguer, how to carry himself after a loss. He said he’d only seen Frank mad once or twice. Hondo made sure that when they came through the clubhouse doors that they were one team, no matter what else was going on between the players.

He talked a bit about pitcher development: as are so many people, he’s concerned about those scouts and teams that worship the radar gun. He thinks that the game will have to come full circle: there just aren’t enough 100 MPH arms in existence at the rate that MLB is burning through them, even with Dr. Andrews patching them up.

He was asked specifically about Brent Honeywell ( ). Says he pitches well, but he’s still young and the game may humble him. Expects him to be called up by Mothers’ Day or thereabouts.

When he was out of the game, he missed the cat-and-mouse of pitcher vs. hitter the most: the thing he missed the second-most was the camaraderie.

He said that he had one of the easiest transitions between 1968 and 1969 (when they lowered the mound) because he was more of a sinkerball pitcher. Back in the day, some of the mounds ended up being closer to 20 inches, and the groundskeepers would grow the grass high enough to hide a golf ball if you asked them to: the rules were not nearly as well enforced as they are now. Pitching in the “Mistake by the Lake” wasn’t bad: the park was big and the air stayed cold, so the ball didn’t fly out of the park that much.

Speaking of changes, he thinks the hitters will be more impacted by a pitch clock than the pitchers (here he did a pantomime of a hitter in & out of the batters’ box . . . looked like a cross between Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa: futzing with gloves, asking for time, wiggling the bat. Totally cracked up the audience). He said the umpires could start by enforcing the “keep one foot in the box” rule.

SABR Meeting

Photo by David Raglin

II. Switching to the modern era, Emma Baccellieri did a presentation on how Statcast might kill Sabremetrics (I had seen her article on Deadspin so I was familiar with her premise that having the Statcast data unavailable to independent researchers is changing the nature of what research can be done, and what can be verified.) Here is a link to the full article, which I will not repeat here. . It’s worth looking at even if only to explain why “route efficiency” was a thing . . . until it wasn’t, and it was replaced with 1-5 Star Catches.

What I did find very interesting from her Q & A was the state of Pitch F/X and its successors as a possible substitute for human umpires. Today, the technology is less accurate than human umpires. If the League wants to be ready to go head-to-head with the umpires’ union, they have to have a machine that’s better than humans (meaning it is 100% accurate) and it just isn’t there yet. There’s the raw data (uncorrected) that we see during games, and then there’s the corrected data that’s processed after the game—and that’s still not 100% accurate. Both the teams and MLB resisted releasing the Pitch F/X data, but now that’s “out of the box” so it would be hard to stop supplying it.

Amazing stat of the day: EACH MLB GAME produces 7 terabytes of data. That is more than the Library of Congress accumulates in a month. Luckily Amazon Web Services is providing free storage for the baseball data.

Then there was a panel of scouts: Bill Buck, Brad Fidler, Dan Nellum. All of them scouted amateur players (high school, college, and including GCL), in contrast with the Big League scouts (looking for trade targets from A level to the Big Leagues) and Advance Scouts (scouting the team in advance of the upcoming series). Interesting facts I learned:

1. Social media postings can kill a prospect’s chances at being scouted/drafted (that “make-up” aspect).
2. Scouts for different teams do exchange certain information just to help each other out—but not everyone (sometimes the conversation stops at “hello”), or everything (especially rankings—that’s the secret sauce).
3. Most scouts have a period in their early career when they are part-time assistant scouts and aren’t paid, as they are working their way up the ranks.
4. Big aspect of a scout’s job is to determine “signability:” spending time on the high schoolers that don’t sign is a quick way to unemployment.
5. The MLB Scouting Bureau used to have about 25 people who provided a lot of data on prospects. It’s now down to about 5 guys who just focus on medical data and providing video to the teams.
6. All of the scouts would take a high school prospect over a college prospect (given the same physical attributes and stats). They would believe that their organization would do better developing the HS guy than letting him go to college: better nutrition, better & more focused training, more at-bats.
7. They will watch a prospect play other sports: looking for athleticism and make-up. They don’t see that as often as they used to, or as often as they like—many guys are playing baseball 9 months.

III. Jorge Castillo is a name familiar to Nationals fans from the Washington Post. Probably the most interesting tidbit he had was that there had been some discussions of a Mike Rizzo extension. Rizzo and Ted Lerner speak weekly.

There were a number of questions on how he and Washington Post reporter Chelsea Janes divided up stories, assignments, etc. At the Winter Meetings, he and Chelsea have a “Road Trip Draft” where they divide up the road trips, with the intention of splitting them 50/50. Speaking of road trips, that’s when they have a better chance to talk casually with the manager post-game in the visiting manager’s office, vs. at Nats Park pre- and post-game pressers, which feel scripted (author’s note, yes, they do). He doesn’t travel on the team plane—Post pays everything. He does not aspire to be a columnist, maybe a feature writer.

Someone asked him to project the Nationals 2019 lineup: He went with Pedro Severino or Raudy Read catching, Ryan Zimmerman at first, Wilmer Difo at second, Trea Turner SS, Anthony Rendon at third, Adam Eaton in left, Victor Robles in center . . . and somehow they’ll find a right fielder (to much laughter). He said later that he’d left out Michael Taylor because he thought he’d be traded away, even yet this off-season, given the Nats’ outfield depth.

Asked about what the players have said about Dusty Baker, he said that the only time he’d been able to converse with them has been at Winterfest, which is pretty structured. But Dusty was a great manager of people, got along with everyone, everywhere. He felt Dave Martinez’s first challenge is going to be winning over the clubhouse. Jorge thinks he’ll be good with that: he was Joe Maddon’s ears for years in Chicago.

As far as 2018 competition in the NL East, he thinks Philly will be second—the Mets just can’t stay healthy.

As you can see, this wasn’t a stats-heavy day: pretty much any fan would have enjoyed the presentations, as well as the raffle (six tables of donated stuff to choose from). On the first drawing, a winning ticket allowed you to pick one bobblehead or shirt, or two books. The second round, one bobblehead or three books. On the third round, if you bought a ticket—take as many books as you can carry (and boxes were provided). I scored an Adam Dunn bobblehead, a Rockford Peaches t-shirt, and enough books to get me through the travel for spring training and three Bar Mitzvahs. My spouse considered it a successful day because I brought two bags of stuff and only came home with one.

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