Monday, March 5, 2012

Top 5 Notes from the 2012 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

March's annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference is nice bonus for sports and stats geeks who live through Boston winter, a season desperately in need of high points. On the surface, it looks like any suit-and-tie-heavy business conference, but provides access to plenty of interesting people in the arenas of sports writing and management. Here's my rundown of some Q&A with five conference panelists from last weekend.

Bill James (Baseball Abstract author, Boston Red Sox consultant)

Question: I recently researched Doc Ayers and Bob Friend (for 1922 Mrs. Sherlock's Bread), two "good losers" who had above-average peripheral numbers but losing career records. In the Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers, you called Friend a "gentleman in every sense," but also less than he seemed, never able to rise above his team's performance. What players did rise above their circumstances and deserve more respect for their individual skills?

James: Two come to mind: Dutch Leonard (1913-1925) and Bobo Newsom (1929-1953). Like Bob Friend, they both won at least one title, so found success during their careers despite the losing records.

Rob Neyer (writer for SBNation)

Question: Bill James recently published a true crime book that he'd been working on--by his estimate--"since the 1970s." If you weren't writing about baseball full-time, what would you cover instead?

Neyer: I enjoy bird watching and wouldn't mind publishing something in that vein. Don't have time for it in the near future, though.

Drew Carey (Seattle Sounders FC co-owner & The Price is Right TV host)

Question: You talked (at the conference) about Seattle's love for soccer stemming from a franchise willingness to involve fans in major decisions, such as naming the team and organizing social activities. Who created traditions like the stadium march before every home game?

Carey: Ideas like the march came from [co-owner] Joe Roth and others in the organization. I love the march and it's such a step up from teams that take a hands-off approach. (He compared it to L.A.'s "lackluster" fan feel in a 2009 Time article.)

Andrea Kremer (NBC/HBO reporter and writer)

Question: Do you collect anything connected to the events or sports you cover?

Kremer: I like to save my media credentials and I've got all of Mel Kiper's football draft guides, a decent stack of books. There's also a trunk somewhere at home with every issue of Sports Illustrated since 1971.

Shira Springer (Boston Globe special projects reporter)

Question: How does the New England fan reaction of losing the 2012 Super Bowl to New York compare to the same outcome in 2008?

Springer: New England took it better this time, as the game felt very different. First, and most importantly, there was no perfect season at stake. It was just unthinkable to fans that the Patriots would lose in 2008. New York came in balanced and the Patriots looked vulnerable on defense, so more people expected the close game we ended up with.

If you're a fan of fantasy sports, check out my interview with Jeremy Levine, the conference's "business pitch" winner for his daily fantasy sports matchup site,

Jeremy Levine ( founder)

I'll post another set of Q&A later this week and am already looking forward to the next conference in 2013!

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