A Colby student’s quantitative passion for baseball

Baseball is America’s past time and for Dan Meyer ’16, his passion for the sport extends far beyond the outfield fence. Meyer has been interested in the sport since before he could count, but after missing the cut in high school, he had to reconsider his dream to play in the MLB. However, Meyer was certainly not discouraged and wanted to continue his involvement in baseball—transitioning from the pitcher’s mound to the front office.

“I’ve always had a fascination with what happens on the field, but also what drives that activity at an organizational level,” Meyer said. “Since I can remember, I’ve loved baseball and was always good at math, so at some point, I realized I could combine those two interests.” In his sophomore year, he started to become serious about making that dream a reality, arming himself with the tools, taking statistics and comp sci classes to do interesting baseball analysis.

In September, Meyer was hired to write for Beyond the Box Score, the saber metric site for SB Nation, an American sports network comprised of a collection of over 300 sites operated by Vox Media and maintained by a number of regular contributing writers. Meyer likes to write about a wide range of topics, and published an article last October, entitled “How long of a season does it take before talent beats chance?” that was particularly well received.

“After the best teams got eliminated from the playoffs, I wanted to see what the odds were of the best team winning the regular season too,” Meyer said. “Everyone says the playoffs are such a crapshoot that I wanted to prove that the regular season was as well. I found that for the best team to finish the season with the best record more than half the time, the season would need to be about 1,000 games long.”

Meyer received further recognition for his work in December, when he co-wrote an article about geographic bias in the draft. His co-writer, Alex Smith of Cornell University, secured a year-long baseball operations internship with the Chicago Cubs following the article’s publication. This prompted Meyer to realize that there was “the potential for still more meaningful work to be done on this topic.”

He submitted a proposal and an abstract to speak at the Society for American Baseball Research’s (SABR) Analytics Conference, a highly selective conference that took place March 12 to 14 in Pheoniz, AZ. SABR awarded Meyer a presentation slot and a scholarship to attend. His presentation, titled “Geographic Bias and the Amateur Draft”, analyzes the geographic distribution of where amateur players come from, where they are left behind, and which areas of the country are being over and under scouted. “My initial findings found that players from California and Texas were being undervalued. My more advanced models for the presentation make these findings more robust and concrete.”

Regarding his presentation, Meyer said, “The conference proved to be a really beneficial experience….Multiple people and team representatives told me afterward that it was one of the best researched presentation of the weekend.” Meyer also added that he had the opportunity to meet a number of big names in the industry, and he joked about the culture at the conference. “Me, along with most of the people there, were less in interested in Curt Schilling’s presence than we were in Voros McCracken, inventor of Defensive Independent Pitching.”

According to Meyer, one major takeaway from the conference, was that the league is planning to roll out Statcast Player Tracking, a program that will basically track every moment on the field. “It’s exciting to see the potential for processing all of that data,” Meyer said. “However, as people talk about big data, they need to remember that it’s not the data—it’s what you do with it.”

Even with all those stats running through his head, Meyer noted that he still finds a lot of enjoyment in the game itself. “In the back of my mind, I’m listening to assumptions broadcasters could be making and thinking about what the next study might be,” he said. “That said, I’m also the fan, and there’s a lot to enjoy about the game.”

Meyer is the president of the Colby’s Baseball Analytics Club. The group’s primary function is attending the SABR case competition in the fall. If interested, in baseball analyics contact
demeyer@colby.edu.

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