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Inside Pitch Magazine, September/October 2020

The Hot Corner: Simple Sabermetrics

Playing by the Numbers 

By Adam Revelette

Simple Sabermetrics HatJake Stone is the Director of Operations and Player Development at Penn State University, and has prior experience in professional baseball as a minor league video and data assistant, and as an undergraduate student assistant at the University of Iowa.

With the Orioles, Stone created and maintained opposing team scouting reports to assist the coaching staff of their short-season Class-A affiliate, the Aberdeen Ironbirds. At Iowa, he managed a team of 14 fellow students, assisting with day-to-day operations such as practice setup, scouting, travel and camps.

In the summer of 2018, Stone served as a collegiate area scout in the Northwoods League for Prep Baseball Report and operated the TrackMan system for the Single-A Cedar Rapids Kernels, a Minnesota Twins affiliate. He graduated from the University of Iowa in May with a degree in sport and recreation management.

Inside Pitch: How did you get a job in professional baseball at such a young age?

Jake Stone: I knew that based on the timeframe of when I was graduating, in order to get a job in professional baseball, it was going to be with a short-season team. I went down to the winter meetings and met with a bunch of teams and in the beginning it was, "Here's what I'm interested in doing. Here's how I think I can help you. Here's my background." And by the end of almost all the interviews it was like, "You're doing what in Iowa?" Eventually I accepted the job with the Orioles.

IP: So what exactly was the setup for the student managers at Iowa?

JS: It evolved as I was there, thanks to a great coaching staff. They were always interested in bringing on more technology. They definitely cultivated the culture of, "we're going to use this information to try and get better.” Obviously seeing some results on the field with the team helped as well. In terms of the student managers, most people who applied could help out in some way. In the beginning that was to help set up practice, but as the team started seeing some success, more people were drawn to the program. Then everybody started asking “what can I do more?”

At the end of my time there, we had a lot of students who were volunteering. Everybody was there to get the experience, and it was a great one. And a lot of them have earned jobs in baseball as a result.

IP: What are the first few analytical statistics or metrics that you point to?

JS: It's kind of a twofold answer for me because the first thing, at least in the college realm, you have four or five months with the guys, and your slash line doesn't matter as much as actually trying to get to the best you can be before the season starts. So where I like to start is how to focus on player development in practice, talking about pitch design and introducing different systems. When TrackMan spits out an Excel sheet with 70 columns of data, it’s great, but we are trying to make it easier and more accessible to everybody. So we tie data with video, we can put it up on the network, we can track different things over time. That's where I start.

Then you can flip to the other side of the coin and start diving into things like weighted runs created, for example, and finding different ways to apply that at the college level. The biggest metric I’ve used so far is OPS (on base plus slugging percentage), which is an easy one to calculate at any level of baseball. Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) is definitely my personal favorite because it helps in things like lineup creation.

IP: When it comes to application, to the players' standpoint, what are the methods that you have found, or that you might suggest to introduce this type of teaching?

JS: That's the million dollar question, “how do you actually reap the reward from the work you're putting in behind the scenes?” Keep it simple. You have all this data and you’re doing all this work behind the scenes, but in reality the players don’t need to see that.

If your goal is to improve a pitcher’s secondary pitch, you don't necessarily need to throw every reason in front of him about why he needs to change his wrist position or whatever. It's a constant battle of chipping away, doing your homework, and making sure everybody's on the same page.

Additionally, some players may be visual learners, so you have an Edgertronic camera or Rapsodo, where you can show them what they’re doing and how they can improve. And some guys may just need to feel it a few times; they’re not as interested in the numbers.

IP: Amateur baseball is typically skewed in comparison to big league baseball in terms of sample size, with games played, at bats and so forth. How do you handle that?

JS: A lot of that can be addressed in the Fall, where we are constantly collecting data during every bullpen, every BP session, every scrimmage. That way we can make personalized individual decisions in the offseason instead of the Spring. Where it’s more of a challenge is advanced scouting. You need to be willing to generalize reports with tendencies instead of hard data.

IP: Where did you get the inspiration for your YouTube channel, Simple Sabermetrics?

JS: The way that I learned how to analyze and develop players wasn't exactly the way that the entire industry was doing it. When you did a simple Google search of certain statistics, you could find a definition, but no one was out there really saying, "here's how you apply this stuff.” It is a resource to put out general information to help the community and growing this data-driven revolution that a lot of baseball has seen over the past half-decade. It's been an awesome experience for me, just because of the positive feedback. Some of the things that I've been fortunate to be a part of over my short career so far and seeing how that's impacted other people has been one of my favorite parts about the creation of it.

IP: What is your hope that people that have your skills can ultimately do for baseball? When do you think the total buy-in is going to happen?

JS: Looking around from organization to organization, it's different everywhere, but I think as we've progressed, you've seen large jumps from a lot of organizations in this realm. Seeing how this shift is taking the industry by storm is interesting, because if you're not utilizing the information that every team has available to them, you're going to fall behind.

In terms of the individual aspect of the application, it's just constantly bringing in people who are willing to play the translator role. Most MLB clubs have a Research & Development (R&D) team and are trying to find the best way to translate that information to the coaching staff and ultimately the players. There's a lot of freedom to really do what you want to do and find the best ways to apply it.

Inside Pitch Magazine is published six times per year by the American Baseball Coaches Association, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt association founded in 1945. Copyright American Baseball Coaches Association. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any way without prior written permission. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained herein, it is impossible to make such a guarantee. The opinions expressed herein are those of the writers.
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