Ted Simons: Spring training baseball is back and once again the valley is the envy of the baseball nation as major league players try to shake off the rust under sunny Arizona skies. Climate is one of the many reasons the valley has grown into a year-round hub for baseball operations. And that's why just last year, SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, moved its headquarters to Phoenix from Cleveland. Here to talk about the move and the organization is Marc Appleman, Executive Director of the Society for American Baseball Research. That's a lot of acronyms, a lot of things going on, and a lot of numbers, which we'll get to. But give us more of an idea of SABR. Nonprofit?
Marc Appleman: Yes. SABR is a nonprofit organization, we've got about 6,000 members across the country. We have 60 chapters all over the place, we have 26 committees so people who are interested in studying everything from history, to statistics, to movies and baseball, to the negro leagues, to women in baseball, it's basically sort of goes into three groups. We've definitely got the statistics, the people very much into the analytics, the statistics, then the research and the history, and then just the passionate baseball fan. We have a lot of fans who just love the game, want to be part of it, want the camaraderie of being part of a group like SABR.
Ted Simons: So SABR, if you join SABR, you can be into history, into numbers, you can just be into baseball.
Marc Appleman: Exactly.
Ted Simons: OK. Why did you move to Phoenix?
Marc Appleman: It's been a great move. The main reasons were because Phoenix is really becoming like a baseball capital. You've got 15 of the teams now train in Phoenix. In the Phoenix area, at least. You have the Arizona fall league, of course you've got the Diamondbacks, major league baseball even moved their western operations here. They're off Camelback, you've got a strong college baseball program, there are about 400 former major league ball players who have retired and live in the greater Phoenix area. So for so many reasons, we just felt like being baseball, and that's who we are, this was really the place to be.
Ted Simons: As far as baseball being what you are, and who you are, I know one of the lines I've read is that to search for objective knowledge about baseball. How important is that? There's so much nostalgia, so much memory that may not be quite accurate. You're looking for objective knowledge? Is that -- talk to us about that.
Marc Appleman: A lot of our members are very much into -- they really want to know either the historical, exactly how many hits, so it's not like he had about 4,000 hits. It's he had 4,212 hits. And sometimes it's taken to the extreme in terms of how many hits did he have at night, during the day, on a Thursday, on artificial fields, it really does go to an extreme like that. But then we do have baseball fans who just want to really enjoy the game and, you know, come out to Cactus League games or just sort of talk baseball like you were talking at a bar when you're just watching a game.
Ted Simons: For those into the analytics, have you a conference coming up?
Marc Appleman: Yeah we have a conference, it's our first one in Phoenix, and this is one of the reasons why we also moved out here. March 15th-17th, and it will be held at the Hilton Phoenix in Mesa. And this is really a little different than the annual convention that we hold each summer, which is held in a different part of the country. This summer that will be held in Minneapolis at the end of June. But this is more an industry wide conference, where it's both fans and a lot of people from the industry. So, for instance, we have general managers panel, where we're going to have Chris Antonetti from the Indians, Doug Melvin, Jerry Dipoto, they're going to be on a panel, Derrick Hall, Diamondbacks is going to give the welcoming address. Tom Ricketts, the Chairman of the Cubs, is going to be speaking, Mark Shapiro of the Indians will be speaking, and then we have a lot of player ops people. One of the things now that's really changed over the years is that every team now has employed people who really look at these analytics and statistics.
Ted Simons: I want to talk more about the SABR metrics if you will.
Marc Appleman: Sure.
Ted Simons: There's so many questions regarding this. And how did it get started? Was Bill James like one of the gurus of this back in the '70s, getting this thing started?
Marc Appleman: Bill James was definitely instrumental in that in terms of really sort of saying that you could analyze things in baseball through statistics. And really sort of breaking them down. We all sort of grew up, and I know I learned math basically through batting averages and ERA, I'll admit that. And then he just really took it to extremes. Saying that, you know, there's a lot more than that, it's like how important it is for somebody to get on base. And is it enough just to be a good hitter, or if you walk a lot and you actually result in a lot more runs for your team, that that's going to be a lot more advantageous than maybe if you just hit a certain number of home runs.
Ted Simons: With "Moneyball" both the book and the movie being very popular, we kind of saw that in action with the Oakland A’s and with Billy Bean being the manager there. Is there a thought that maybe the intangibles can be lost when you're looking at too many numbers? Is there a thought there may be too much looking at numbers and not enough what's happening on the field?
Marc Appleman: Absolutely. What you've just described is a little bit of the old school versus the new school. And actually one of the panels that we're going to have at our analytics conference is a scouting analytics panel. One of the things that will be discussed that will become an interesting sort of discussion is the sense of a lot of the old scouts and many of whom unfortunately lost their jobs around the time when the whole money ball was coming about, they claim that it's much more of a gut feeling. So you go out to a high school field or a college field, you watch a guy and after a couple of days you get the feeling that under pressure, or if this guy has to perform in certain ways, that he's really going to come through and despite the fact that the numbers may say one thing, they get that gut feeling. The younger more analytics-based guys are there saying, look, he's going to reach base this many times, it's going to result in this many runs, which is then going to result in this many more wins. Now there's a statistic which basically is how many more wins you would get with one player over another. So, for instance, if Albert Pujols was on your team, how many more wins just having him at first base, versus if you had, say, an average first baseman? And that's taking it to a very different level than we used to have.
Ted Simons: No kidding. But how has the steroid area, how has that variable messed with the numbers? Not only current numbers when you go back, historic numbers, and trying to get them to mesh?
Marc Appleman: That's a real difficult thing that is something that obviously the Hall of Fame is dealing with a lot. The baseball writers are dealing with a lot, because it's really hard to sort of say, OK, they did this in this era, and now how do they compare to guys who didn't have the enhancements that everything like that. And that is -- that's something that's a debate, people are debating it all the time. In terms of the Hall of Fame, at least for a while, it's definitely going to keep a lot of the top players I think out of the Hall of Fame.
Ted Simons: But it also I would think would mess around with the metrics. Mess around with the graphs. You got certain things happening that aren't natural and you can't really base what's going on now with what went on then.
Marc Appleman: Right. Exactly. It's true. We've had that to a certain extent in other-- there have been a number of SABR members who have broken things down, how can you compare statistics before there was night baseball, or before, say, baseball became integrated. Or before the relief pitcher and the closer became a really instrumental part of the game. So there are always ways in which they say we can't really compare this with that, but you're exactly right, the steroids era is a real situation.
Ted Simons: It's good having you guys in town. It really is a baseball mecca, and it's the best time of year right now for a lot of folks. Good to see you.
Marc Appleman: I appreciate it. Thanks.