E-Net News

Elon team trades all-star pitcher at SABR Analytics Conference

Six Elon University students participated in the March conference’s student competition, analyzing and presenting a real baseball operations decision: trading a certain Philadelphia Phillies left-hander for maximum return. The students will discuss their Arizona presentation on Wednesday, April 15, at 6:30 p.m. in the Koury Business Center, room 208.

Pictured (from left) are Colin Kelly, Assistant Professor Mark Cryan, Drew Forte, John Lopez, David Higgins, Grant Flick, Nick Stringellow and Assistant Professor Andrew Greenland. Photo courtesy of Mark Cryan

​Before trading a three-time MLB all-star, such as Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels, a series of conversations must be had. Fortunately for the six Elon University students charged with this task, they were in the perfect setting to discuss this transaction: the annual Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) Analytics Conference.

Each year, the conference hosts the top minds of the baseball analytic community to discuss, debate and share insightful ways to analyze and examine America’s pastime. This year’s event, held in March in Phoenix, Arizona, included a half-dozen self-described baseball fanatics, who happen to be Elon undergraduates.

The Elon team consisted of students from the School of Communications’ Department of Sport and Event Management and the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business. Among the baseball fans on hand were Drew Forte ’15, Colin Kelly ’15, Nick Stringfellow ’15, John Lopez ’16, Grant Flick ’17and David Higgins ’18.

Mark Cryan, assistant professor of sport and event management, and Andrew Greenland, assistant professor of economics, accompanied the team.

As part of the conference, the Elon students participated in the Diamond Dollars Case Competition, which pitted representatives from colleges and universities against each other by preparing an analysis and presentation of a baseball operations decision – the type of decision a team’s general manager and staff is faced with during the course of a season. The Case Competition is the first national competition to be based solely on baseball operations issues.

This year’s challenge was to trade Hamels for the best possible prospects. The contest required the Elon team to project the veteran pitcher’s upcoming performance – utilizing advanced analytics, of course ­– and figure out what prospects would be the best return. Each team provided its strongest two trade scenarios, which were graded by a panel of judges that included MLB front office executives.

In the undergraduate bracket, Elon faced off against New York University, Ohio University, Syracuse University and many others. A student group from Stanford University won the contest, but Elon received accolades for its impressive showing, said Cryan. The competition only selects a winner, with no subsequent list of final rankings.

“Dr. Greenland and I saw the majority of the presentations, and our group was one of the strongest,” said Cryan. “We got very positive feedback from the judges after the event.”

Forte, who served as a team captain with Stringfellow, was pleased with Elon’s trade proposals. “We had a very good showing, and we worked tirelessly to put together a great presentation,” said the finance and sport and event management double major. “We got high remarks for it.”

For those interested, the Elon students will present their SABR conference findings at a special presentation on Wednesday, April 15. The open meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Koury Business Center, room 208.

Following their presentation in Arizona, the Elon group, which participated in the conference as part of an independent study course for one credit, attended the reminder of the three-day event. The highlights included several panel discussions featuring former major league players and prominent front office executives, as well as networking opportunities with fellow attendees.

Among the baseball personalities Forte enjoyed meeting were longtime MLB manager Tony La Russa, who captured three World Series titles as a coach, and Buster Olney, senior baseball writer for ESPN The Magazine.

“We were all drawn to this conference by a love of baseball,” said Forte of the Elon team. “Plus, we all have a desire to work in baseball and a passion of advanced analytics.”

Tommy Kopetskie,
4/13/2015 9:40 AM