For SABR, Data Is Just a Small Part of the Equation
Despite being the inspiration for the term 'sabermetrics,' the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) leaves the number crunching to its members.
If the office is looking a little empty this week, don’t worry—everyone didn’t coincidentally come down with a cold on the same day. This week just happens to be Opening Day at Major League Baseball (MLB) stadiums throughout the country (and in Toronto).
Baseball, long-referred to as America’s favorite pastime, has a knack from drawing a wide variety of fans, from casual watchers looking to catch some rays to die-hards who manage to find a way to get out to all 81 home games each year.
Still others live for the history of the game and the innovations being made in statistical analysis of the players who come and go over the years. That’s where the Society of American Baseball Research comes in. Founded in 1971 in Cooperstown, New York, SABR exists to bring together fans of the game, journalists, former players, team owners—really anyone who has a passion for the game—and give them a forum to discuss all things baseball.
“We’ve got 6,000 members around the world, and they are doing baseball-related research on every possible subject you can think of,” said Jacob Pomrenke, web content editor and producer for SABR. “We’ve got people doing research on the early origins of the game in the 1700s; we’ve got people doing research on sabermetrics in the modern game today; we’ve also got people researching the dead-ball era in the early 20th century; and we’ve got people researching the Negro League, women in baseball, all kinds of baseball-related subjects.”
Sabermetrics—what SABR calls “the search for objective knowledge about baseball” on its website—may be what the group gets the most recognition for. This way of measuring a player’s ability by analyzing a variety of statistics was introduced in the 1980s by baseball writers and statisticians like Bill James, Richard Cramer, and current MLB Official Baseball Historian John Thorn, all of whom are SABR members.
But it wasn’t until the release of Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball—the story of Oakland Athletics’ general manager Billy Beane, who revolutionized the way teams scout players and build their rosters—that sabermetrics hit the mainstream.
“We put together this SABR Analytics Conference which is now in its third year—we just wrapped it up here in Phoenix in March,” Pomrenke said. “We bring together the thought leaders of the baseball-analytics industry, and we have some panel discussions and some research presentations and things like that. That’s kind of SABR’s role—facilitating this research and bringing everybody together.”
Sabermetrics is just a small part of it, though, he said.
“One of the big misconceptions about SABR is that we’re all about Sabermetrics, and that’s actually a very small part of what we do,” said Pomrenke. “We do a lot of historical baseball research as well. We publish a couple of research journals a year. We publish about six to eight new books every year that our members are doing research for and producing. And then we hold multiple conferences as well.”
And just because baseball has its offseason, doesn’t mean SABR gets a break.
“We’re actually pretty busy throughout the year now,” Pomrenke said. “We moved to Phoenix in 2011, and we’re kind of in the center of the baseball Mecca here with Spring Training and then the Arizona Diamondbacks during the regular season, and then there’s the Arizona Fall League. Baseball’s happening year-round here, and we’re glad to be a part of it.”