Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Indians Highlights from the SABR Analytics Conference

This past weekend, thanks to the generosity of the Anthony A. Yoseloff Foundation, I had the tremendous honor of attending the Society for American Baseball Research Analytics Conference in Phoenix. It would be impossible to write a recap of the weekend that does justice to the incredible experience I had, but sprinkled amongst the high-level research presentations and captivating panelists were a number of interesting Tribe tidbits. Here’s a brief summary of the most interesting Indians-related topics from the conference.

  • Cleveland Vice President of Marketing & Brand Management Alex King gave a fascinating presentation Friday morning (along with Damon Ragusa from ThinkVine) about how the organization has completely revamped its approach to promotional schedule and targeted advertising. Using a more complex “agent-based model” (rather than traditional econometric regression) the Indians feel they have a much better handle on how best to spend their marketing resources. The number that shocked me: the team recouped about a 5 percent return on investment from money spent on promotions in 2012, but the Tribe expects a whopping 75 percent ROI from giveaways in 2013.

  • In the midst of a tangential point, Red Sox Senior Advisor of Baseball Operations (and father of sabermetrics) Bill James offered some interesting insight into the mind of Terry Francona Saturday morning. James said that, during his time in Boston, Francona valued setup man Daniel Bard more than star closer Jonathan Papelbon specifically because he knew he could bring Bard into any situation. Perhaps this offers some insight into why the Indians kept Chris Perez—Francona presumably values having Vinnie Pestano in a more flexible relief ace role.
  • To most saber-friendly fans, the Indians’ front office may appear to be the most analytically based in an otherwise traditional-thinking division; however, White Sox GM Rick Hahn said at the General Managers Panel Friday morning that his team’s reputation for being old-fashioned is wrong, but encouraging the facade is “kind of on purpose.” Hahn said his predecessor, Kenny Williams, had begun to integrate analytics into the Chicago front office even before Moneyball was released. He added that this false perception helps the White Sox operate under the radar and that he was actually reluctant to speak at the SABR Analytics Conference for fear of blowing his cover.
  • Though he didn’t talk about real specifics, Indians Director of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey offered a couple particularly interesting thoughts. Despite all the flack the new Collective Bargaining Agreement has gotten this winter for its negative impact on high-profile free agents, Falvey said that another of its provisions—moving the signing deadline up to the middle of July—has been tremendously helpful in that it gets newly drafted players on the field much faster, thus facilitating their development. He also said that GM Chris Antonetti always seeks opinions from throughout the front office before making a player transaction.

There were, of course, countless other fascinating insights and ideas bouncing around the conference in panels, lectures, presentations, and casual conversations. This conference was a phenomenal event and I would strongly encourage anyone with an interest in baseball statistics to make the trip down to Phoenix next year.

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Tags: Cleveland Indians Terry Francona

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