May 3, 2011

MLB.com Stat Stringer

   I’ve wanted to write a post on this for some time, but I also wanted to have some experience to base if off of. We’ll we’re a month into the season and I’ve now worked 5 games (3 by myself). It’s time!

   Anyway, as you may or may not know, I was hired in the offseason to join MLB.com’s Advanced Media team to be one of their Stat Stringers for the Cleveland Indians. The data I enter is used on MLB.coms Gameday application (which is greatly improved this year), ESPN and a few other sources. People’s first question is “how did you get that job”, so I’ll start there. I saw a posting on my Twitter feed from the Society for American Baseball Research (better known as SABR) that said there were openings in some cities. When I got to the webpage I noticed that one of the openings listed was in Cleveland. Maybe not a surprise to some considering how bad they were projected to be, but either way there are only about 100 people that do this for MLB so I decided to brush up my baseball resume (yes I have one of those) and apply.


My View in the Press Box
    I got an email about a week later with some additional information on the position to review and an invitation to participate in a phone interview. You can imagine how excited I was at this point, but there were still some hurdles. First was the commitment to learning their scoring system and user interface ( this is what the additional information in the email was about). Now, I thought I knew how to score a ball game, but their system is unlike anything I’ve ever seen (more on that later). Next was understanding the time commitment that would be needed. MLB does pay you for scoring the games, but if I still wanted to eat and provide for my family I’d have to keep my day job. That brings me to the last hurdle, though certainly not the least important. I figured at this point it was time to tell my wife about this and ‘discuss’ how great of an opportunity it would be for ‘us’ if I was selected. I wasn’t sure how it would go over, but when she realized she would have to (get to) take a couple more days off work herself it was a go.

   The phone interview went pretty well. I asked some questions about the job; how many current stringers there were (2 others in the Cleveland market), how would we choose who did what games, how many people applied for the job (roughly 60), etc. He asked me some questions about my current job and work schedule, how far away I lived and how well I took criticism. He said the practice/training period would be tough and that early on you would make mistakes and the support folks would be pretty tough on you (just 5 games in I’m starting to feel that, but I also understand how important the data is and why they are so tough). Anyway, I left the interview thinking I had a shot at getting the position, but unsure due to the number of applicants.

   After a couple anxious weeks, I finally got a call saying I’d gotten the job. Shortly after, I received an email with the scoring manual and the first practice game. At that time I thought “wow this is pretty tough”. I know now that those first couple practice games were actually meant to be pretty easy. Here’s a taste of what some simple codes look like;

-Wilfredo Cordero grounds out, third baseman Chris Stynes to first baseman Brian Daubach. Roberto Alomar out at home, Daubach to catcher Scott Hatteberg. Double play. Code; 53/G/DP.3XH(32)

-Kenny Lofton hits a fly ball double, fielded by left fielder Manny Ramirez. Russell Branyan scores. Jolbert Cabrera scores. Code; D7/F.3-H;1-H

-Roberto Alomar hits a pop single, fielded by shortstop Lou Merloni. Jolbert Cabrera advances to 3rd. Ellis Burks advances to 2nd. Code; S6/P.2-3;1-2


   I did about 10 practice text games and then 5 practice DVD games in which we were introduced to the user interface that’s used at the ballpark. Finally, there was a test to ensure you were ready to head to the real games. Here’s a sample of some of the tougher codes (I’ll admit these are rare, but they do happen and one misplaced character results in an invalid code);

-Juan Encarnacion reaches 1st on a fielder's choice out, third baseman Eric Munson to catcher Brandon Inge to third baseman Eric Munson. Dave Roberts out at home. Juan Encarnacion advances to 2nd on the throw. Code; FC5/G.3XH(525);B-2

-Jason Giambi singles, fielded by left fielder Rondell White. Double play, left fielder Rondell White to third baseman Eric Munson to catcher Brandon Inge to third baseman Eric Munson. Alfonso Soriano out at home. Derek Jeter out at 3rd. Code; S7/G. 752(3)5(2)/DP

-Aaron Boone singles, fielded by left fielder Rondell White. Hideki Matsui scores on a dropped throw error by catcher Brandon Inge, assist to left fielder Rondell White. Kenny Lofton advances to 3rd. Aaron Boone advances to 2nd on the throw. Code; S7/G. 2-H(7E2)(UR);1-3;B-2


   Well, I made it through the practice games and was ready to score a live game. My first game was April 2nd. The Indians were playing the Chicago White Sox. I get to the park about an hour and a half before game time. Prior to the first pitch I have to get the computer set up, check, double check and enter the lineups (players, umpires, scorers, etc.) and confirm the weather before connecting to the master system. Then I usually have some time to grab a bite to eat, watch some batting practice and absorb the vast baseball knowledge of the writers, bloggers and statisticians around me. I knew sitting in the press box would be a great experience, but sitting with some of the guys I respect as writers and follow on Twitter was pretty incredible. Back to the fun, as the pitchers start warming up, the real work begins. Because of the attendance it was tough to tell I was at a real game. The weather was terrible and the Tribe was down big early after getting trounced on opening day. I had help the first two game, which was great! Frank has been doing games for 13 years so learning the in’s and out’s (parking, elevators, who’s who up in the box, etc.) from him was invaluable. It was a high scoring game so I was able to experience many of the codes on day one. We made a couple post game edits to the file before submitting the final game data, but overall my first two games went rather smoothly.

   Then it was time to score games by myself. After being off for nearly a month, I worked three games in four days from April 27th-30th. I definitely messed up more codes scoring games on my own. The first game I missed a couple pitches (not good) and had some code errors, the second game I was better on the codes, but did miss some runners going on the pitch, balls in the dirt, etc – the third game I did pretty well. I missed some trajectory details (line drive vs. fly ball) but was cruising along. That is until the 7th inning. About 3 batters into the bottom of the 7th my support/backup person in New York instant messages me and asks “hey, who’s pitching right now”. Thinking nothing of it I said “Joe Smith, why”. Well, Joe Smith was pitching, but I had failed to make the change in the system and still had Adam White in the game. We made the update quickly, but needless to say the bosses weren’t happy. Later that night I got an email saying that ESPN wasn’t too happy either! I don’t think I’ll make that mistake again.

   So, I’m through 5 of about 25 games that I will score this year (hopefully the first year of many). It has been a great experience thus far and I believe I am improving. After being a little nervous for my first game, I’m now counting down the days until my next (May 12th!).


For more information about what a MLB.com Stat Stringer does, check out this link;


My 'Perch'

3 comments:

  1. Very cool, Jeff. Sounds like a lot of fun...and a dream come true too.

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  2. Very interesting, much tougher than I thought that job would be.

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  3. Great article, Jeff. I spent some time in the press box at Phoenix Muni during the Arizona fall league. I watched over the shoulder of the MLB/ESPN guy doing what you now do. It looked all greek to me and he couldn't stop to talk to me. Thanks for the explanation. Best of luck to you in this new venture.

    Bee
    Author: "Contract Year, A Baseball Love Story" to be published soon.
    http://contractyear.mlblogs.com

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