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Sabermetrics: Analysts and athletes play ball

A growing academic field uses statistics to study baseball.

Until 10 years ago, Andy Andres drew a line between his passion for baseball and his academic career. But when Baseball HQ -- a popular fantasy baseball site -- asked him to research a few major league players, he happened upon a perfect synthesis of his scientific training and hardball geekdom.

By 2004, Andres founded his own sabermetrics (see sidebar) course at Tufts University, following the Red Sox's first World Series championship in more than 80 years. Now this full-time Boston University biology professor finds himself amidst a growing field of academic study (baseball, not biology). These days sabermetric courses can be found at many universities, with more on the way.

"Students are doing it on their own all over the country, and there's hundreds if not thousands of them that want to do this kind of work for their careers," says Andres. "I think there will be a slow groundswell. It's a niche course right now. I don't think it will remain that way."

But will we ever see a job listing that reads: "Wanted: General Manager of Boston Red Sox. Requirements: extraordinary patience and an M.A. in baseball analytics"?

Likely not. But, in the post-"Moneyball" era, the MLB has certainly warmed to the eggheads in the front office.

"We're seeing the trend now: Baseball teams are hiring very good analysts. They're all college graduates," says Andres. "These people are very good at computer science and statistics. So, already, you need to be very proficient in these areas of your college study to work in baseball."

What is sabermetrics?




Sabermetrics is the use of statistical analysis to study baseball. It is typically used to better understand the value of individual players and the effects of in-game strategy. The term was coined by analyst Bill James and later popularized by Michael Lewis' 2003 book, "Moneyball," which chronicled the implementation of these principles by the Oakland A's.