FanGraphs Live

Saturday morning FanGraphs held its first Live! event in New York City, and I had the honor of attending as the official THT delegate. Carson Cistulli has written his recap of the event and Mr. Studenmund has asked me to do the same here at THT. I really enjoyed the whole experience. I even took my wife, which in most circumstances might be a gamble, but she honestly said she enjoyed it very much as well. Of course, I did have to treat her to a horse drawn carriage ride around Central Park immediately after.

We had already planned a few days in New York to celebrate my and our son’s birthday. Upon hearing about the FanGraphs event, I was pleased to discover that it was the same weekend and quickly paid online for two admissions. We arrived on Thursday, and I proceeded to eat and drink too much at a very nice Italian restaurant in the East Village. The next morning I didn’t feel so well, but I had promised my wife we’d go to see “Fox & Friends,” where she could get a free breakfast burrito. Unease turned to pain, and by 9 o’clock I was calling 911 from the bathroom floor of Wendy’s. I then found myself inside the Fox News building, enjoying what I could while bent over, being led out by FDNY paramedics. The CAT scan at Bellevue revealed a small kidney stone. After a bag full of morphine, I was feeling much better, and we were on our way. My wife doesn’t like heights (closes her eyes going over high bridges) and I have always teased her about the Empire State Building. I finally got her inside—to the basement to pick up my hydrocodone from Walgreens Pharmacy.

Finally Saturday morning arrived. We packed our belongings in the minivan and took the subway over to West 57th Street, walking the rest of the way to the theater on East 59th. The young man at the door asked me for our tickets, but I hadn’t seen a place on the website to print tickets (I later found an email sent Thursday, after I was on the road, with a button to print said tickets). I was pulling out my credit card and photo ID when I heard “Brian!” from inside the doorway. It was David Appelman, who told the greeter we were good and led us in. After collecting our complimentary FanGraphs t-shirts at the sign in desk, David showed us the way to the seats and invited me backstage to meet the guys.

I was greeted by the very posh David Cameron, who quickly introduced me to maybe a dozen guys lounging around the room. My always fashion conscious wife had asked me several times how she should dress for the event, and I told her not to worry as mgl said he was buying some shorts in Bermuda to wear there. Much to my surprise, Mr. Lichtman was very dapper, the only panelist appearing in suit and tie. I found it hard to remember all the names, but soon was in a conversation with Craig Glaser, who would later do a demonstration for Bloomberg Sports.

Show time, and I was back to the front row seat beside my wife. Several of us had wondered if Tango would show up, but how would we know? No one, even mgl, has ever met him. He could have been hiding in plain sight, or doing his best Simon Templar impression.

The first panel was on the state of New York baseball, moderated by Carson Cistulli, with panelists Joe Pawlikowski, Mike Axisa and Benjamin Kabak from RiverAveBlues.com, Matthew Cerrone from MetsBlog.com and Mark Simon from ESPN. The audience was likely very heavy on New York residents, but even for the out-of-towners like me who likely cared little about the Mets or Yankees, it was very informative and entertaining, with the lowly standing of the Mets being compared to that of the Evil Empire. Even if the thought of Yankee fans fretting over losing five of six despite remaining in first place drew lots of chuckles. I thought that in a division with the Rays and Red Sox, it’s likely the season could end with a gap of only a game or two among the leading teams. Therefore, any loss anytime during the season hurts and could potentially lose a division title. Pawlikowski (did I hear someone say Pavlovkowsky?) and Cerrone led the discussions and were both well spoken and entertaining.

Jonah Keri then moderated the second panel on baseball media, with Will Leitch, Michael Silverman, Alex Speier, David Biderman and again Matthew Cerrone. Keri was genuinely funny, introducing all the panelists and directing the discussions. He started it off listing the Twitter addresses of all the panelists, leading into a discussion of should sports writers be Twits? How does that mesh with their paid employment as sportswriters? And is number of followers just something to stroke your ego? Despite things I had previously read about him, I really enjoyed Will Leitch. Other than Keri, he commanded much of the discussion, and didn’t seem interested in the BS we can get caught up with (although Silverman did several times utter the s-word).

Craig Glaser and Ben Lindberg did a video presentation of Bloomberg Sports’ Pro Tool, which at this time is primarily a catalog of plays that teams and agents can use to organize stats or to call up video clips filtered by multiple criteria. For example, they showed how to select Jeff Francoeur, three-ball count, pitch is a ball to see a slide show of videos of every time he has drawn a base on balls this season (it only took about 30 seconds). The first two panels likely went long, and by this time Mr. Cameron was trying to quicken the pace (they had a check-out time) and this segment appeared rushed to an early conclusion.

Next up was the nerds of the baseball stats panel. Moderated again by Carson Cistulli, the panel included David Appelman, Sky Kalkman, Jon Sciambi of ESPN, Mitchel Lichtman and Dave Cameron. mgl started his introduction letting us know “I am not a prick!,” but as reassuring as that was, and as much as I know and like these guys, the panel was dry. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that probably “Boog” Sciambi was the only one to do much public speaking. He explained how, like us, he is interested in finding the truth, but has to decide how to package that for the mainstream audience. Instead of teaching xFIP, perhaps it’s easier to just downplay RBI and not refer to batting average with runners in scoring position.

Another topic was on what to expect next. We’ve heard about HITf/x and FIELDf/x, but it seems likely the public won’t be seeing that data. My thoughts were that especially with topics like fielding, we have identified what pieces of information we need to do the analysis, but not all that data is yet available. Perhaps if we can get our hands on the f/x products. But meantime, we have to estimate the missing information. Can we get to a time when we can have a dialogue with MLB, communicating our data needs?

Last up and running late was a panel of current FanGraphs authors. I’m a former one, as Dave Cameron asked “You were with us for what, five minutes?,” but actually it was seven pieces in four months (but who’s counting?). Still, that and $15 qualified me for a seat in the audience. By this time my kidney stone was flaring up and I was fumbling for my narcotics, so I honestly don’t remember any topics as I write this.

Once the panel concluded, my wife and I headed to the floor to say hi to Sky Kalkman and Ben Lindberg, and I got a chance to again express my pleasure at meeting mgl. At this point Cameron was literally pushing Lichtman and me up the steps and out of the building as we discussed the finer points of measuring defense. Once on the sidewalk, it was my last chance to meet Jonah Keri, and I told him I felt “almost famous” when he said “Are you Brian? I thought I saw you…like your work”.

The after party at 3:30 was already not doable, and then I had to turn down an offer to lunch with the gang as we were meeting our son Ben for a Korean lunch in the East Village (after the carriage ride). He was already in a lower Manhattan bar with some friends, but Donna’s cousin Michael, who also came with us, couldn’t be found on the cell phone. I said “We can’t leave him in New York” to which she replied “He’s an adult!”

Michael must have been in the subway, as he later showed up in the bar with Ben. Donna and I were the designated drivers so didn’t indulge any of the so ju (Korean vodka) or a pitcher of Hite beer, but by time we and Ben’s friends downed the kim chi, be bim bap, bul go gi, and other delicious entrees, it was 5 p.m., and an hour line to get into the Holland Tunnel awaited us. It was 1 a.m. when I finally hit the bed at home and could take another hydrocodone.

Scheduling inadvertently put this event at the same time as the SABR convention in Atlanta, and it was only one day, but I did feel like this was where the cool kids were hanging out. The hosts at FanGraphs have promised online audio of the panels as well as photos. I look forward to doing it again.

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