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Bob Sproule – Society for Baseball Research (SABR)

October 13, 2011
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Bob Sproule, Society for Baseball Research (SABR) (July 11,  2011):

First, How did the association and your chapter start?

SABR began as an organization in 1971.  To my knowledge the Pittsburgh Chapter, or Forbes Field Chapter, has been around since the early1990’s.

How did you get interested and involved?

I first joined SABR sometime in the 1980’s.  This was pre-internet days and everything was done via mail.  I had joined primarily to receive the publications that SABR produces.  I never really got involved, and I had other things going on in my life, so I let the memebership lapse.  

I rejoined in 2001, and I can’t really remember why.  By then, though, I had discovered that there was a fairly active Chapter in Pittsburgh.  The Internet also expanded the world of SABR.  My first true involvement came in 2003 when Ed Luteran and I did a presentation at the Pirates FanFest that year on the first World series in 1903 between the Pirates and the Boston Americans (they were not yet the Red Sox!).

Who uses your data and how?

Not sure I can fully answer that.  I know that SABR as a national organization does work with MLB teams in sharing some statistical data.  An arrangement is in place with the Pirates to do so, for example.

There’s occasional pushback by some on the overemphasis of statistics  in baseball. How so you respond to that concern?
 
I suppose that I am old school to the extent that I believe that there is indeed too much emphasis on SABRmetric type stats.  For example, we had a member a few years back present some stats that “proved”  that Ronny Paulino was a better catcher than Jason Kendall.  Really?  

I also think that when SABRmetrics are used as a basis to award a Cy Young Award to Felix Hernandez with 12 wins then I think that the obsession with these stats has run amok.   But that’s just me.

Why do you think statistics hold such an overwhelming appeal for baseball fans, even compared to other sports?
 
I think that stats in baseball are important because they are a way to measure, compare, and argue about players from different eras.  How does Greg Maddux compare to Sandy Koufax to Warren Spahn to Lefty Grove….you get the idea.  

Of course, the steroids era has put a whole new spin on such arguments, but that is a whole other issue.

Any examples of how your statistics  have made a difference with a player or team- especially with the pirates?
 
You only have to be a casual fan to realize that Neal Huntington is a “SABRmetric” guy.   

I think that the Pirates, and all of baseball, are using these newer statistical models in conjunction with older style of scouting methods, if only to get every possible bit of information before them as they comtemplate making decisions that could and often do involve multi-millions of dollars, which the signing of Gerrit Cole will mean.

Any last thoughts for readers?
 
People should realize that SABR is a number of things.  

The image is of a group of stats-freak, baseball nerds who sit in front of computers all day and come up with all of these arcane statistics.  Do some of these people actually watch a ball game?

There is that element to it, of course, but SABR is also, primarily, I believe, a group of baseball fans.  Men and women who love to watch a ballgame, argue about it, compare different eras, and simply enjoy the game and its history.

The Pittsburgh Chapter is primarily comprised of those kinds of fans.  We meet on a formal basis twice a year – in the Spring and the Fall.  We also gather for two informal “hot stove” sessions in the winter and summer.

At our formal meetings, we do have members give presentations on any topic that they may have researched on their own.  Topics have ranged from locating home plate at Exposition Park to the history of Greenlee Field to the 1909 World Series to the Hollywood Stars as a Pirates farm club to…well, you get the idea.  

We also like to try to get guest speakers (Bob Friend, Chuck Tanner, Steve Blass, Dave Littlefield, and Frank Coonelly have been our guests in the past) and visiting authors.

Our informal hot stove sessions are just that – informal.  No agenda, no speakers, no presentations…just people gathering together to have a sandwich and beer or soda to talk baseball.  Our next session is set for Wednesday, August 10 at the SoHo Restaurant in the Springhill Suites across from PNC Park.  Anybody should feel free to stop on down and join us.
 
I would also use this forum to appeal to anyone to join SABR and become a part of the Forbes Field Chapter.

Info on joining can be found at www.sabr.org, or please feel free to drop me a note at rfsmms@verizon.net

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