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updated: 8/12/2017 6:34 PM

Benetti: We can learn a lot from baseball's numbers game

Saberseminar a truly enlightening experience for baseball fans

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  • Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn was among several key speakers taking part in a Saberseminar in Boston.

    Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn was among several key speakers taking part in a Saberseminar in Boston.
    Associated Press/file

 
By Jason Benetti
Special to the Daily Herald

While the White Sox were spending a weekend at Fenway Park, I was less than half a mile away on the campus of Boston University with a few hundred baseball fans. Some were dressed as front office members, some as bloggers, some as physicists, and others as former players.

Dan Brooks, who runs the superb baseball data website brooksbaseball.net, is part organizer of something you may not heard of called Saberseminar, which is in its seventh season. No, Pat Lafontaine wasn't there. Yes, that joke bombed in person, too.

I had never been to Saberseminar until this year when Dan asked me to emcee. So I was privy to most of the two days of conversation. Here's a small sampling of the guest list:

• Former Devil Ray Fernando Perez;

• University of Illinois physicist Alan Nathan;

• White Sox general manager Rick Hahn;

• Tufts Chief of Sports Medicine Christopher Geary; and

• Yankees assistant general manager Jean Afterman.

Saberseminar has a daunting name because it seems to suggest a gathering of those who are solely interested in numbers. That's an overgeneralization in two ways:

1) The speakers, as shown above, are not simply math wizards.

2) Math is a major part of baseball anyway, so it's difficult not to include some of it.

The topics ranged from physics to trade-deadline stories to life in the minors to chemistry. Some science, yes. Some math, yes. But not all. There's a place for numbers in baseball. That place, to me, is in helping to tell a story.

One of the speakers at the event was Brian Bannister, the Red Sox assistant pitching coach and analytics guru. I asked him how many of his players have truly bought into concepts such as spin rate.

His response was enlightening.

There's nobody, Bannister said, on the Red Sox pitching staff who doesn't speak that language.

The Boston Red Sox, in first place in the American League East, have only pitchers who care, in some way, about analytics.

The reason is very simple. When players see a possible advantage, they choose to learn about it. If it can make him better, he'll investigate.

Same goes for people who work in the front offices. If they can get better as a team, they are going to try.

My point is simply this: Numbers aren't invading the game. They're sharpening our understanding of the game. New numbers, like Defensive Runs Saved, told us exactly how great of a season Adam Eaton had in right field last year for the White Sox (22 DRS, second in baseball at all positions, only behind Mookie Betts), rather than simply relying on the fact that Eaton committed only three errors last season in right field.

If you're a baseball fan and can go to this event or one like it, I suggest you do so.

If you're a "math person," you'll enjoy the stats and you'll hear some new stories (like one Rick Hahn told about fatherhood and the trade deadline).

If you're not a "math person," you'll learn some new stats and enjoy the stories.

Isn't exposure to new things the reason we go to baseball games anyway? The goal is to see something new every day.

All of us should try to learn something new about the game, as a whole, too, from people whose backgrounds are unfamiliar.

• Jason Benetti is a play-by-play broadcaster for the Chicago White Sox, as well as ESPN. Follow him on Twitter @jasonbenetti.

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