what's in his pants, or, pork WHAT?
royal rumble 1993

fan sabermetrics

Clubhouse Confidential is a television show on the MLB Network that “discusses and debates the day's news and moves using modern statistical research and value projection.” It’s a sign of progress that such a show exists on the official MLB Network, although there’s still a bit of ghettoization going on (why does modern research need its own show? shouldn’t it be part of every show?).

Today (or yesterday … I think I caught a rerun), they had a segment on the best-run organizations in baseball. The Giants were #3 on one person’s list, and the other panel member didn’t disagree. Back in the spring of 2006, I was interviewed by Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle for a piece he was running about GM Brian Sabean’s future, after ten years with the Giants. My contribution was a mostly negative analysis of Sabean’s work. Nonetheless, I returned for the very last paragraph, which read, “’The average fans think he's doing a great job,’ Rubio said, ‘and with that record, why shouldn't they?’”

Of course, since then, Sabean has helped the Giants to two World Series championships in the last three years, which is one definition of a well-run organization. As part of the Clubhouse Confidential presentation, host Brian Kenny interviewed Giants CEO Larry Baer. (I still remember Baer in the late-70s, when he was an undergrad at Cal who finagled a famous deal to have the 10-watt campus radio station, KALX, be the official broadcaster for the Oakland A’s.) It was interesting to hear a top Giants executive talk about the club in the context of a sabermetric program, since my own complaints were usually about the old-school way Sabean and the rest ran the club.

Kenny asked Baer what were the key points to a good baseball organization, and Baer noted about what you’d expect: winning a couple of World Series helps, establishing a good farm system makes it possible to compete against the richest teams, blah blah blah. But then he talked about the ballpark, and more specifically about the fans. Kenny asked some oddball question like “how do you decide what music to play at the park”, and Baer ran with it. They study these things, just as they study everything about maximizing the ballpark experience for the fans. He mentioned the way a Friday night crowd acts differently than a Wednesday afternoon crowd, with the team matching the ambiance of the particular day with the particular crowd. They’ve mastered the art of making the fans happy … there’s a reason even nationwide journalists like Kenny refer to China Basin as the best place in America to watch a baseball game.

Kenny locked into Baer’s description of the organization analysis that went into the fan experience, saying that it sounded as if the Giants practiced fan sabermetrics. Baer agreed.

That was pretty much the only time the word “sabermetrics” appeared. And it was quite appropriate. An organization that has reached the pinnacle of success over the past few years, despite seeming to give short shrift to "modern statistical research”, has been using modern research all along. The two World Series titles are peripheral to this … what proves the efficacy of their research is the long run of proclaimed sellout crowds at the ballpark, and the way the Giants have become “cool” beyond just the loyal fan base. (There were reports that school attendance was down significantly the day of the 2012 celebratory parade in San Francisco.)