Alumnus Looks at the Economics of Baseball with the LA Angels
In his final year as an undergraduate majoring in economics, Walter King (BA, economics, 2016) was selected to attend the prestigious MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference to present his own original research, Wins, an Alternative Calculation of Wins Above Replacement in Baseball. The day after King graduated, he headed off to Anaheim California for a six-month internship with Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Angels, where he learned to apply data analytics to player development and the art of scouting.
At the end of his internship, King was offered a two-year contract with the LA Angels to work as a baseball operations assistant. A native of Berea, Ohio, King is quickly becoming a part of baseball’s analytic revolution.
What about your experiences as an economics major got you interested in data analytics and sports research?
I first became interested in sports research as a kid after reading the book Moneyball, but an economics degree exposed me to math and research methods necessary for methodologically sound work. Economics is about trying to answer questions with evidence, learning what confounds your conclusions and analyzing costs and benefits.
Explain your research paper that you presented at MIT
I modeled how many wins each player contributed to their teams, derived from the number of runs that they produced relative to their peers. I used traditional statistics as inputs to estimate output measured in runs. The metric is meant to represent each player's marginal productivity.
What did you do in your internship with the LA Angels?
I made it a focus to improve my technical skills - automating tasks and establishing live data feeds in Excel, manipulating/modeling/plotting data in R, querying huge datasets and applying simple machine learning techniques.
Part of my internship was being aware of what was happening in baseball and figuring out if we could stay ahead of breaking news or notice something before other teams, so that we could create a competitive advantage.
In our department, we have 2 Ohio State grads, 2 Michigan grads, 2 Penn State alums, and an Illinois graduate, so Big Ten football will bring out some friendly rivalries!
What is performance-tracking technology and how does it help players and management?
The past few seasons, Major League Baseball has been pushing a new technology called Statcast, which combines radar systems which track the velocity/spin/movement of all balls and cameras meant to track the movement of all players. This combination quantifies everything, and we use it for everything.
What will you be doing in your new role as baseball operations assistant?
I'll play a role in analytics, scouting, arbitration and player acquisition. It's a very open-ended title meant to allow me to develop and learn a bit of everything. My hope is that I'll be qualified for a more specialized director role after two years.