Elon students score win in SABR Analytics Conference competition

A team of sport management and statistics majors won its division in the 2022 Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) case competition, analyzing and presenting ways to increase the action in a baseball game.

A team of five baseball-minded Elon students recently won the 2022 Diamond Dollars Case Competition hosted at the SABR Virtual Analytics Conference. The March 18 event pitted undergraduate, graduate and professional school students from universities across the country against one another, with participants preparing an analysis and presentation of a baseball operations decision — the type of decision a team’s general manager and administrative staff is often faced with during a season.

Cryan (pictured) chats with Vankrevelen as the Elon University baseball practices in the background.

In addition to Elon, the other winning institutions were Tufts University, The Branson School, St. John Fisher College and Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School.

“The SABR Analytics Conference is the top gathering of baseball analytics industry professionals, and the Diamond Dollars Case Competition is the most well-known and competitive competition for students,” said Assistant Professor Mark Cryan, who co-led Elon’s SABR team. “Many of the young people who compete in this event go on to work in baseball analytics, including our own David Higgins, who led our team to a win in 2017 and now works in analytics for the Washington Nationals.”

Led by team captain Zach Cioffi ’22, Elon’s lineup included Teddy Freeman ’23, Jackie Jovanovic ’23, Evan Wu ’25 and Wenye Yang ’23 – a mix of sport management and statistics majors. According to Cryan, the team drew strength from its diverse backgrounds and areas of study.

For Cioffi, this was his third time competing in the Diamond Dollars Case Competition and he explained that pulling out a victory this year vindicated his team’s hard work – as well as his past efforts.

“It is very gratifying to be recognized in such a competitive contest,” the sport management major said. “I really credit our entire team for working together, and pulling in the same direction with a same goal in mind. We all should be very proud of this win.”

Cioffi, who captained the Elon contingent in the Diamond Dollars Case Competition, shares a light-hearted moment with his teammates.

In preparation for the competition, the student team worked with Cryan, Ryne Vankrevelen, lecturer in statistics, and Duke Hutchings, professor of computer science, throughout the year to perfect their analysis and presentation. Cryan commended his on-campus counterparts, calling it a true collaboration between the School of Communications, the Love School of Business, the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, and the Department of Computer Science.

“This yearlong prep is key because the students only have a week to turn the case around, just like a real baseball analytics staff would have a short window to solve an analytics problem,” Cryan said. “We had a variety of skills and experience levels in this year’s group, including some strong traditional baseball knowledge, some strong coding and data skills, and a good understanding of presenting information in an understandable way.”

As part of this year’s contest, the student teams were tasked with providing recommendations to increase the action in a baseball game, then evaluate the risks and rewards of each proposed decision. Cryan noted one of the challenges of this year’s prompt was its wide scope. “It required very broad thinking and a problem-solving mindset,” Cryan said.

There was another two-fold challenge facing the students: the conference was virtual and Elon University was on spring break. As a result, the students had to remotely work from a variety of locations. Despite the many logistical hurdles, the team pushed through and succeeded, Cryan said.

“We all are pretty used to doing things on Zoom, and the students were able to coordinate their work and they presented from different locations,” he said.

The competition’s case study was developed by Vince Gennaro, co-founder of the SABR Analytics Conference, author of “Diamond Dollars: The Economics of Winning in Baseball,” and consultant to several MLB teams. The Diamond Dollars Case Competition is the first national competition to be based solely on baseball operations issues.

The competition’s 12 judges hailed from across MLB organizations. Other notable participating schools included: Carthage College, NYU-Tisch Institute for Global Sport, University of Arizona, University of Chicago, University of Florida, University of Michigan, UTHealth School of Public Health and Washington University in St. Louis.

Check out a few more photos of Elon’s winning team.

Elon’s Diamond Dollars Case Competition team

Zach Cioffi ’22 (Team Captain)
Major: Sport Management
Hometown: Poughkeepsie, NY

Teddy Freeman ’23
Major: Sport Management
Hometown: Potomac, MD

Jackie Jovanovic ’23
Majors: Statistics and Music in Liberal Arts
Hometown: South Brunswick, NJ

Evan Wu ’25
Major: Statistics
Pasadena, CA

Wenye Yang ’23
Major: Statistics
Hometown: Beijing, China