Published on March 29, 2021  

Samford’s Center for Sports Analytics sponsored two undergraduate students to attend the recent SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) virtual analytics conference. The annual conference, held this year from March 11th to March 14th, is the premier international conference devoted to advanced statistical analysis in Major League Baseball (MLB) and the sport of baseball.

Kelly Roberts, a junior economics major from Atlanta, GA, and Molly Allsup, a freshman economics major from St. Louis, MO, both attended the four-day virtual conference, hearing from numerous industry innovators, including Brian Kenny (MLB Network), Eduardo Perez (ESPN), and numerous MLB team representatives. Dr. Glenn Fleisig of the American Sports Medicine Institute, a recently named Fellow in Samford’s Center for Sports Analytics, was also a featured speaker at the conference, discussing his team’s current research on pitching biomechanics.

Research topics at the conference included a look at the use of the designated hitter in the National League for the 2020 season, the use of analytics in MLB contract negotiations, comparisons between KBO (a South Korean professional league) and MLB hitters, and an analysis of the changes in baseball construction over the last five seasons. Additional sessions looked at a variety of research questions related to on-field player production and injury-related concerns.

Kelly’s favorite session was Barton Smith’s discussion on “Seam Shifted Wake in MLB pitches.” This session discussed experiments out of Utah State University that measured airflow over pitched baseballs to learn more about their aerodynamics. “I think the discovery of Seam Shifted Wake will have a significant impact on future pitch design. If pitchers can learn to control this effect and alter traditional pitch movement, I believe it will add an exciting new element to the game,” Kelly said. Molly enjoyed the session on injury projections because of its importance in the game and because she had not done much research in this area previously.

Both students are taking classes in the sports analytics curriculum in the Brock School of Business. Kelly is actively involved with player and team performance analytics on campus, working with Samford’s volleyball team during the 2020-2021 season. She helps to code on-court activity during both practices and games, while also conducting additional research and analyses for Coach Keylor Chan’s staff. Though Molly is in just her second semester on Samford’s campus, she has already jumped in to the campus sports analytics scene as well. She has been assisting Coach Casey Dunn and the Samford baseball coaching staff by gathering data on upcoming opponents to help create scouting reports for the 2021 season.

In reflecting on the conference, Kelly mentions, “As an undergraduate student, I found the SABR conference to be very informative. It discussed current trends in baseball, predominantly in MLB, and provided real insight as to how data analysis can be used to investigate those trends. The conference also gave me an idea of the different types of jobs available in the baseball industry.” Molly adds, “I am so grateful to have the opportunity to attend the SABR virtual analytics conference. There were many great speakers, who each had their unique input in the changing world of baseball analytics.”