March 12, 2019

"The MLB Coach Who Played Only T-Ball — Jonathan Erlichman hasn't played baseball since the age of 5."

From the Wall Street Journal.
Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Tommy Pham wanted help with his defensive positioning one day earlier in spring training, so he sought guidance from... a 28-year-old with a math degree from Princeton whose entire playing career consists of T-ball in Canada at the age of 5....

Some teams even have a numbers guru travel with the team as a member of the front office. But those people wear polo shirts and khaki pants and watch games from a box high above the field. [Jonathan] Erlichman has a uniform —No. 97 — and will see the action from the angle of the players....

"I wanted him to see the trajectory of the bat and how the ball comes off the bat," Pham said. "Other teams' analytics guys, they just see the numbers from a computer, from a piece of paper. He's seeing it in-game, in-person, and he can apply what the numbers say on the computer and on paper to what he's actually seeing."...

39 comments:

Henry said...

This is actually part of a large-scale trend of MLB teams hiring batting and pitching coaches with specialized backgrounds. You see guys that have built up successful, video and analytics-based systems that focus on teaching specific physical techniques.

traditionalguy said...

That's who they need in the new 737 Max's cockpit. Think fast or die.

Ralph L said...

You can learn a lot working in the White House.

AJ Lynch said...

What a joke Sabremetrics is becoming. I bet wunderkind Ivy League grads have screwed up more organizations than they've helped [for proof take a look at at our last 4 presidents and the halls of Congress]. Perhaps, MLB should just replace managers with a laptop in the dugouts.

mockturtle said...

Speaking of MLB, KC has a relief pitcher named Scott Blewett.

JAORE said...

Diminishing returns, next stop.

Bay Area Guy said...

It certainly is rare to be an expert in some field (baseball hitting) without having any experience in the field (5 year old T-ball).

But hey, let's see if it works!

Nonapod said...

That's who they need in the new 737 Max's cockpit. Think fast or die.

To be fair, a "safety feature" that can suddenly take control away from the pilot that is not easily overridable is pretty awful design.

Fernandistein said...

so he sought guidance from...

...a guy who'd been working for the team for five years. That is very creative!

"Erlichman, 28, has worked five-plus years in the Rays front office, the last two as director of analytics, but now will don a uniform as an additional member of Kevin Cash's coaching staff."

Ralph L said...

To be fair, a "safety feature" that can suddenly take control away from the pilot that is not easily overridable is pretty awful design.
Perhaps it's designed to give the co-pilot a few extra seconds to subdue the crazed Muslim terrorist pilot. Naah!

Michael K said...

A friend of mine, a retired surgeon who was a pitcher for the Stanford U baseball team, has been doing analytics for baseball and football quarterbacks. They put strings of small lights on arms and then shoot videos in darkened rooms to record the motion of the arm throwing. They have done the same with certain stars like Nolan Ryan who function as examples of perfect technique.

Earnest Prole said...

I presume Mike Krzyzewski has never dunked a basketball.

PM said...

Launch angle or strikeout. The base hit has become irrelevant. Too bad for baseball.

The Drill SGT said...

The larger field is called operations research. Applied math. For example, a couple of the early and important uses of OR during WWII were in working ballistic firing tables and designing search patterns for ASW destroyers. The ballistics of a baseball and the positioning of a player to cover the most likely striking points seem very amenable to statistical analysis.

rehajm said...

He’s seeing it in-game, in-person, and he can apply what the numbers say on the computer and on paper to what he’s actually seeing

The headline is deceptive. In the article he's helping with defensive positioning- where to stand on the field based on the tendencies of the batter. No advantage to be gained from 'seeing'. He already knows the optimal answer.

I'm not sure it makes much difference if you have the numbers come from the guy in a uniform or from the guy upstairs talking to the guy in the uniform. Last year's world champions had a former player in the uniform utilizing the data form the guy upstairs to make game decisions. Seemed to work pretty well.

donald said...

I don’t know if K can dunk, but he did play college at West Point.

donald said...

Could dunk!

rehajm said...

They put strings of small lights on arms and then shoot videos in darkened rooms to record the motion of the arm throwing.

They used to do that for batters, too. Now they don't need the dots anymore.

Mike Fuller said...

Fortunately the NFL has many college graduates playing for them and they can do the math analysis all by themselves.

Yancey Ward said...

It isn't completely or even partially crazy. There are surely optimal mechanical processes to all aspects of playing baseball that can be studied and characterized by high-speed photography/video. Someone like Erlichman doesn't have to be proficient himself to be able to describe these processes, he just has to be able to figure out what they are by studying the videos those who are.

Bob Boyd said...

I watched a limited series on Amazon Prime about the 24 hour race at Le Mans.
Team Nissan tried an experiment where they used drivers who were video gamers. They selected 3 kids who had never driven a race car before in their lives, but were experts at a driving game and put them behind the wheel of a Le Mans race car. The Nissan car had lots of mechanical problems and IIRC, Team Nissan didn't complete the race, but the kids did well when they were on the track.

Earnest Prole said...

he did play college at West Point

The game white people used to play was a precursor to modern basketball.

mccullough said...

Know your pitcher and your pitchers tendencies. Know the hitter and the hitters tendencies. And know the situation. Position yourself accordingly.

Quants bring the data set that great players figured out by themselves.

Pham is not Betts. If the quant in the uniform was with him in the field he would not be Betts.

Betts has the card in his back pocket like they all do. He makes the plays the others can’t.

Greg Hlatky said...

Meh. Connie Mack waved a scorecard to position his fielders.

Humperdink said...

Advanced stats have invaded the NHL. With the NHL being one of the few neanderthal sports left (MMA and the NFL sometimes), it surprises me. And also tiresome. Fenwick, Zone Starts, and Corsi indices have come to the forefront. Argh.

Curious George said...

"mockturtle said...
Speaking of MLB, KC has a relief pitcher named Scott Blewett."

The Bears just signed a kicker named Chris Blewitt.

Jim at said...

Hey. If the Mets can hire a know-nothing blabbermouth like Jessica Mendoza to be a front-office advisor, anything is possible.

mockturtle said...

Curious George reports: The Bears just signed a kicker named Chris Blewitt.

Love it! I recall there was a local dentist where I grew up named Payne.

Ambrose said...

Maybe his parents paid bribes to get him in - oops, wrong thread.

gspencer said...

"He's seeing it in-game, in-person, and he can apply what the numbers say on the computer and on paper to what he's actually seeing."

And you thought learning about quadratic equations was just so much of a waste of time.

Rick Turley said...

On the other hand, Rick Barry couldn't get anybody interested in underhanded free-throw shooting even though the results spoke for themselves.

mccullough said...

Barry was a great free throw shooter (but not as good as Nash and Curry).

The motion for shooting a basketball is similar on free throws and jump shots. So if you practice he Barry way you are adding a very different motion. That’s incredibly inefficient. I think for big guys like Shaq it might be a good idea since they aren’t shooters anyway (unlike guys like Ewing and Olajuwon who could knock down baseline 15 footers). But it makes no sense for regular players to master two motions.

mccullough said...

Yancey,

You can’t record all aspects of baseball motion. For example, how quickly or much a player’s obliques stretch before contracting. Some movements are under the skin.

Arm angles are fine and interesting. Useful to an extent.

This quant from the article is not a Mechanics/technique coach. Nor is he a vision expert.

He can tell players the highest probability place to position themselves in the field based on data.

JD Martinez got cut by the Astros a few years back. With the help of some instructors he figured out how to move better and turned himself into an elite hitter. No quant did this. Quants don’t understand Mechanics. Most instructors don’t either. But there are some good ones out there.

Guys like JD, Justin Turner, Josh Donaldson found great instructors who had no affiliation with MLB. But these guys understood MLB Mechanics. They aren’t quants. Just very knowledgeable.

Henry said...

@mccullough -- you write as if venn diagrams don't exist.

Rob McLean said...

Geez...compared to this guy, I'm a Hall of Famer. (I played one year of Little League at age 11 and batted .047.)

mccullough said...

Venn diagrams?

It’s athletics. Guys have been doing this long before the latest craze of launch angles and super slow mo video.

Shifts have been around since they used it on Ted Williams. Williams didn’t need a math major at Princeton to teach him that a slight upper cut at contact is optimal and pulling the ball into the right field seats at Fenway is optimal.

The quants are about hard data. Scouting reports have been around forever. Coaches understand tendencies. The data is just more rigorous now.

But coaches and players have been positioning for a long time.

It’s like the launch angle bullshit. Guys have been doing that since Babe Ruth.

These quant stories are so overblown.

Betts is the best outfielder. Not because the Red Sox quants give him the paper he puts in his back pocket and barely checks. He’s a superior athlete with great instincts. And he knows when to ignore the data.


Skeptical Voter said...

There is a lot to be said for going out and seeing how it is actually done. I spent a good part of my legal career working in the Law Department of a Fortune 50 company. We dabbled (and that's the proper term) in owning a lot of small companies engaged in new technology---or certainly at least different from the major activities of the corporation. And many of those small companies were engaged in manufacturing.

I had occasion to send paralegals to many of those small companies, either engaged in document searches of one kind or another or in compliance audits. Our paralegals were mostly young women--college graduates with a year or two of experience. Many were planning to (and did) go on to law school.

But hardly a darned one of them had ever seen any work environment other than a school room or a white collar office. When I sent one or more paralegals out to one of our remote manufacturing locations, I told them that they could not come back to the home office unless they made a trip out on the factory floor. T

Skeptical Voter said...

A follow up; the young paralegals had to tell me what they saw. If they noticed a safety violation or what they thought was an unsafe condition, so much the better.

But the real lesson I intended they learn is that a good bit of the world's work is done in places that are noisy, maybe a bit dirty, around machines that can hurt you etc. Law offices are nice and clean--and not really representative of how much of the world lives and works.

sdharms said...

they don't need a math degree (complex vairables, etc.) they need a physics degree or mechanical engineering.