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New Class Introduces Students to Sabermetrics

Summer vacation is almost here, and the last thing you probably want to think about is more school. But if you're a baseball fan, there's a course being offered by the online learning site edX that you might want to take a look at.

Sabermetrics 101: Introduction to Baseball Analytics is a six-week class that begins tomorrow. It walks students through the fundamentals of sabermetrics and examines some interesting baseball history through stats analysis. But it also provides an overview of the basics of data science and the computer programming languages, like R and SQL, needed to crunch all that advanced information.

"The idea is to gently show interested learners the tools needed to become a very proficient data scientist," says Professor Andy Andres, who teaches Sabermetrics 101. "Now, we don't create proficient sabermetricians in six weeks. What we do is lay the foundation for people to become great sabermetricians if they want to."

Andres is a Senior Lecturer of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at Boston University. But he's also a massive baseball fan. He's been obsessed with the game ever since his grandfather taught him how to read a box score. He played as a kid, and still plays today (usually third base). When he was 8 years old, he would listen to radio broadcasts and calculate batting averages in real time. "I would be very proud of myself when I had the correct batting average and the announcers got it wrong. I was, like, "No no! Tommy Agee is hitting .293, not .292!"" he says. "So that was just me, an 8-year-old baseball nerd."

When Andres grew up, he earned his PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry and Physiology from Tufts University in Massachusetts. Once he began teaching, he still loved and played baseball and thought there might be a way to bring the game into the classroom. So about 10 years ago, he pitched the idea of starting a sabermetrics course at Tuft’s Experimental College. The class was approved, and since 2004 Andres has been instructing students in the basics of sabermetrics, data science, and advanced statistical analysis.

The course is also a deep dive into baseball history. Sabermetrics 101 uses stats from current players, as well as saber-like data from as far back as 100 years ago. One of the cool aspects of the class is discovering that what we call "sabermetrics" has been around for a long time. Writers and statisticians like FC Lane, Hugh Fullerton, and Allan Roth were crunching advanced data in the early 1900s — way before Bill James and SABR, and way before computers. "I'm going to teach my learners all about their contributions to sabermetrics and analytics," Andres says. "It really is more interesting than people realize."

All this talk of history and programming and statistics might make the course sound scary. But what Sabermetrics 101 does is take those really big topics and uses baseball to make them easier to understand. At the same time, it aims to improve the experience of watching the game. By studying the different ways players, coaches, managers, and teams evaluate what happens on the diamond, fans will come at baseball with a whole new perspective.

And if some of those fans want to go on and learn more about data science, even better.

"The game is still beautiful without this, without all this advanced information," Andres says. "But I just think that it adds another layer of ability to appreciate some things and question things like a fan might do. And hopefully a huge cohort from this course will run with it and try to explore whatever they want to, either in just general data science, data analytics, maybe sports analytics or baseball analytics."

Visit the edX website for more information on Sabermetrics 101: Introduction to Baseball Analytics.

Photos courtesy edX

sabermetrics 101 edx
sabermetrics 101 edx