The Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research held its annual Oregon meeting on Saturday, February 14, 2015. The meeting location was in the meeting hall of the Living Savior Lutheran Church in Tualatin. 27 SABR members and their guests attended the meeting.
Chapter President Bob Russon started off the meeting with a thank you to the Church leaders for allowing SABR free use of the facility. In addition, Bob had crafted a pleasantly very difficult quiz as an ice breaker. Presentations were given by Brandon Grilc, Larry D'Amato, Dan Schlewitz, Mike Rice and Ray Dahlgren.
The opening presentation was done by Brandon Grilc, who had received a Yoseloff Scholarship from SABR. For those not familiar with the award, please see http://sabr.org/latest/students-apply-yoseloff-scholarship-attend-sabr-45-chicago). Brandon’s presentation was titled “Stealing Home: How American Society Preserves Major League Baseball Stadiums, Ballparks, and Fields.” Brandon’s presentation was part of his Masters Thesis in historical preservation. He provided a comprehensive overview of the history of the preservation or lack thereof of Major League ballparks. Brandon’s work broke these ballparks down into time periods of their architectural style and identified them as structures that were initially not built to last. According to Brandon, each new phase of development introduced a purging of the majority if not all of the previous styles. He identified of the main reason for the lack of preservation as the absence of a framework for historic preservation within which ballparks could fit.
Brandon’s research tracked the demolition and preservation and identified nine (!) main methods society has preserved ballparks, if not always physically, in memory: memorialization, reuse, reproduction, replication, memorialization of an event or location (Maz in Pittsburgh was an example given), preservation, presentation, dedication in a new context, and reuse in a new structure. Brandon’s presentation was very informative and well thought out. In addition to this work, Brandon is also involved in local efforts in Eugene, Oregon to preserve their WPA-era ballpark (formerly used by the Eugene Emeralds and others).
Our next presentation was from SABR member and longtime baseball scout Larry D’Amato. Larry worked in baseball for 37 years and had great stories about the game. He spent his time with the Pirates, Reds, Yankees, MLB Scouting Bureau, Rangers and, most recently, the Astros. A native of Tualatin, Larry has seen a lot of not just MLB baseball, but Oregon as well. Instead of speaking directly to experiences of scouting in the past, Larry talked about the impact of television money on the draft. He spoke to the way players and their agents have reacted, and how the draft has consequently had to be modified. Larry has been running tryout camps for many years across the US, and said there is a noticeable difference in the high achieving amateur, in the way they approach the financials, as well as things like tryout campus. Regarding agents, one of the stories Larry mentioned was seeing Scott Boras play while at the University of the Pacific.
SABR member Dan Schlewitz has made many contributions to the annual Oregon meetings. For this presentation Dan shared a comprehensive statistical look at Bill James’ Law of Competitive Balance, taking the idea from the 1983 James Abstracts and including information to the present day. In short, the information demonstrates that teams that improve tend to decline the following year, and teams that decline tend to improve the following year. Dan really dug into the numbers, and that was an especially interesting presentation in regards to the prospects for last year’s much improved Seattle Mariners. The research showed that of the 37 teams that had increased win totals by 15-17 games year-over-year, only 9 improved the following season (some had stayed the same, very few, but most declined). It will be interesting to see if the Mariners can but the trend of history and make it 10. One of the key tools Dan used for comparing actual and potential wins was the Pythagorean Win/Loss to show which teams under achieved and over achieved.
That led well into Mike Rice’s annual Presidents Day weekend Portland presentation, the preview of the upcoming Mariners season (parenthetical aside: and review of the off-season, but I was having trouble finding a synonym for review that started with a P). This year Mike started off by giving a solid preview of the measurements he used and what they mean: Pythagorean wins, WAR, slash line. The key theme was to look at the Mariners wins from last year, how they got them, and what are the chances of getting more this coming season. Mike reviewed the current 40 man roster, and looked at the Spring Training non-roster invitees.
One of the main areas Mike focused on was looking at run differential and how that positive from last year may demonstrate how this team has the potential to at least maintain their winning ways (unlike the last two versions of a .500 Mariners). Mike reviewed Cano and of course expectations for Nelson Cruz. He also reviewed Kyle Seager and Mike Zunino, among others. A tantalizing piece of statistics he provided was looking at starting pitchers through age 29 similar to King Felix in IP, Ks, ERA+, and WAR. The only name that came up: the Big Train. At the conclusion of Mike’s presentation there was the annual prediction of Mariner wins. This year there was a range of 65 to 93, with an average of 85.
Before the final presentation, Bob Russon came back to the podium and delivered the answers to the quiz. There was also a reminder from new Chapter Vice President Tip Wonhoff that the next meeting will be May 16, in the conference room of the library at Seattle Pacific University. There is still a need for two presentations. In addition, Rick Solomon announced he has a block of tickets for the May 16 Red Sox game at Safeco (following our Spring meeting at SPU). If you would like to buy a ticket for the group hangout, please reach out to Rick. Also, Neal Traven requested if anyone is interested in reviewing abstracts for SABR45 in Chicago, to please reach out to him. Finally, for anyone going to Chicago, June 24-28, there will be a SABR outing to Wrigley Field and as a special treat; The Baseball Project will be playing at the Convention. The Baseball Project is a supergroup consisting of members of REM, The Dream Syndicate, The Young Fresh Fellows, and others.
The final presentation was from Ray Dahlgren, son of Yankee great Babe Dahlgren. Ellsworth Tenney Dahlgren grew up in San Francisco, learning the game on the fields and sandlots of that great city. San Francisco was a hot bed of talent at that time, with two PCL teams and loads of talent heading to the majors, most famously with brothers named DiMaggio and Waner, but also Lazzeri’s and many more. Ray had great stories of Babe’s time in time in the city growing up, then the minors and finally the years in the majors. Babe was called by many sharp people the best fielding first baseman in the game. Ray also had his own experiences, and shared great stories of the minor leagues and Ted Williams. Ray said Babe got his nickname one day from his mom, when he was called to dinner. Ray’s stories were fantastic, and we thank him for sharing them with us.
Bob Russon closed the meeting out, and as usual, many retired to a local establishment for further discussion and musings upon the great game. The next meeting is an open meeting in Seattle, and all are welcome to attend and bring guests. Please see our chapter website for details. We will be taking in the Red Sox/Mariners game that night.