Saber Seminar 2014 Recap

It’s cliche to say that an event keeps getting better, but when it comes to Saber Seminar, it’s true. This year’s event, which is hosted and organized by Chuck Korb and Dr. Dan Brooks and raised more than $30,000 for The Jimmy Fund, ratcheted up both the enlightenment and the lightness for which the event has come to be known. They, along with emcee Mike Ferrin, kept the talks flowing and on point the whole weekend. I don’t want to get into everything here today, but I do want to highlight some of the presentations.

  • Dr. Robert Stern: You may know him from his work on CTE with NFL players, but the good doctor detailed just how important baseball players are in the fight against CTE. He also got to present just before John Farrell and Ben Cherington, which he told us was cooler than speaking before the United States Senate or the United Nations. Not too often you hear that.
  • Jeff Luhnow and Ben Cherington: It’s not often that you get one general manager to prepare remarks for an event like this, let alone two. Luhnow and Cherington both had revealing observations about their team’s play both this and last season, and then took time to answer questions from the audience as well.
  • John Farrell: For the second straight year, Farrell participated in the event. He did mostly Q&A, during which he suggested that we are continuing to see an expanded strike zone this season.
  • Dr. Aaron Seitz: A professor at the University of California, Riverside, Seitz showed us his work on improving the vision of baseball players. UCR’s players in particular served as the test subjects, and their team strikeout rate decreased four percent in the year after Seitz and his team trained the players. While perhaps the training is not directly responsible for all of that drop, his findings were impressive nonetheless.
  • Dr. Chris Geary: The orthopedic surgeon continued to do the best Micro Machines guy impression that I’ve ever seen. The fast-talking doctor educated the audience on microfracture and Lisfranc surgery.
  • Jared Porter, Ben Crockett, Eddie Romero & Gus Quattlebaum: The Sox’s scouting and player development braintrust also returned, but with Romero in tow. The club’s director of international scouting proved to be a great addition to the panel.
  • Dr. Dan Brooks: While he never gives himself enough time to talk, Brooks had a great presentation on the work that Harry Pavlidis and him have undertaken recently, and he also introduced a new metric GIP that everyone agreed was a winner.

Of course, FanGraphs also had a number of contributors on panels this year. They were:

  • Dr. Matt Swartz: I didn’t know that Matt was a doctor of economics until this weekend, mainly because I’m just not that bright. Matt, on the other hand, is very bright, and participated in a great panel with Dr. Ben Baumer and Vince Gennaro on the value/cost of a win. Witty banter was certainly not in short supply.
  • Scott Spratt: Scott and his partner at Baseball Information Systems, Joe Rosales, introduced a great new metric on catcher framing. We can look forward to seeing it in The Fielding Bible 4, which they announced is set to drop next spring. Start salivating now!
  • Tony Blengino: Speaking of introducing new metrics, Tony unveiled a Contact Manager metric that was a lot of fun. There was even one player on the leaderboard who Tony didn’t know anything about in Spec Shea (though Ferrin seemed to know something about him).
  • Dave Cameron: Of course, Dave was seen and heard quite frequently. Since FanGraphs was the keynote sponsor of the event, Dave introduced both of the keynote speakers, and lightheartedly thanked Luhnow for the Astros’ frequent hires of Baseball Prospectus employees. Dave also participated in the media panel along with Tim Britton, Alex Speier, Pete Abraham, Ben Lindbergh and Evan Drellich. And finally, Dave closed out the seminar with Lindbergh, as the two fielded questions from the audience, with Dave attempting to turn every single one into a Mike Trout question, much to Brooks’ consternation.

There really are too many great presentations to break down. Mainstays Tom Tippett and Dr. Alan Nathan were great as always, as were Jeff Sackmann and Dr. Russell Carleton. Jared Cross, David Gassko, Craig Glaser and professor emeritus of sabermetrics Mitchel Lichtman had a really fun panel on projection systems and the Trackman guys did a great live demo of their portable radar — with a left-handed catcher to boot! There were also interns, abstracts and a whole lot of networking. That everyone stays for almost the entire two days to see the authors and talk with everyone there helps further separates Saber Seminar from others events of its kind.

If you made it out this year, please, let us know what you enjoyed the most in the comments. If you didn’t make it out, you can help out the Jimmy Fund by purchasing some of the merchandise they have for sale on the website. I bought this year’s poster. It isn’t for sale on the site yet, but I’m sure it will be soon. You can also start counting down the days to Saber Seminar 2015, as it will surely be just as educational and fun as this year’s was!




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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


10 Responses to “Saber Seminar 2014 Recap”

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  1. kevinthecomic says:

    I’d be curious to know whether or not Mr. Luhnow addressed either the George Springer or Brady Aiken situations, specifically the juxtaposition between ruthless economics versus the human element of baseball.

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    • matthewyaspan says:

      An audience member fumbled through a Brady Aiken question and fell flat, leading to the typical press conference response.

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    • Brian Cartwright says:

      Luhnow declined to get into specifics of the Aiken situation. I would have been interested in comments as to how the new CBA has unintended consequences, putting teams in a bind of commitments.

      He mentioned Springer’s K-rate vs his prospect status, but I don’t recall any Super 2 questions

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  2. Jeff Zimmerman says:

    So what is the replacement level for GIP?

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  3. Andy says:

    Wrt Seitz’s work on vision: In his book The Sports Gene, David Epstein points out that vision is much more strongly correlated with batting skill than reaction time. There simply isn’t enough time to react to a pitch when it’s anywhere close to the plate, and he notes that many great hitters, e.g., Pujols, have a basically average reaction time. Epstein argues that success at hitting is far more dependent on being able to pick up visual cues from a pitcher’s release, and in support of this he discusses the remarkable success that Jennie Finch (with a delivery that of course is completely unfamiliar to the typical MLB batter) had against Pujols, Bonds and some other great hitters.

    So I’d think any efforts spent on vision would be well rewarded.

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    • Brian Cartwright says:

      Seitz emphasized training with a video game “whack-a-mole’ format, where subjects have to clock on patterns that appear on the screen. This apparently allows them to spot the patterns (picking them out of the background) more quickly.

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  4. Ben Hall says:

    In general, Dan Brooks is awesome. I thought he did a tremendous job (while constantly tugging on his hat) keeping everything running smoothly. His presentation was also both informative and incredibly entertaining.

    Pretty much all of the speakers were excellent, but I particularly enjoyed the Sox scouting and player development group.

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  5. asdf says:

    If only I lived in the U.S.
    Is the venue for Saber Seminar the same year after year?

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