Baseball Writer in the US Discusses the Changing Perception of Analytics in Sports

Baseball Writer in the US Discusses the Changing Perception of Analytics in Sports

We catch up with ‘TC’ who is a Writer for Major League Baseball Trade Rumours and on a freelance basis for other publications in the US. He talks to us the evolution of data and analytics in Baseball and the coverage of the sport. TC’s passion for analytics in sport saw him learn to code himself so his insights are really interesting for both sports fans and tech gurus alike!

Tell us about your background

Sure thing, and thanks for reaching out! I grew up in the Region, the Indiana side of the Chicagoland area. Professionally, it’s the same old story, I’m sure. I was a defense investigator for public defenders, I brewed beer for an American microbrewery in Beijing, I wrote captions for horrible TV shows like Pawn Stars, I ran a neat little improv club in Chicago called Under the Gun, then a bigger, less neat venue in Wicker Park. I went to grad school for playwriting, produced a play, and when that was done, I started writing about baseball. 

How did you get started in the sporting world?

On a lark, really. I’m a diligent baseball fan (tip of the hat to Dad), and an obsessive reader of MLB Trade Rumors, where I now write. Fresh off getting my MFA in Screenwriting and Playwriting from Northwestern, MLBTR posted looking for writers, and I applied. It was the first thing I’d written about baseball. I told my fiancee – naturally – while we were at a Smashing Pumpkins concert in Chicago, and she was like: “Yes! Duh! Write about baseball!”

I felt that in the long run I’d need those technical skills, so I took a data science bootcamp to learn the basics of Python and SQL, got my feet wet with machine learning, did math for the first time in 15 years or so.

How has analytics in sport evolved over the time you’ve been involved?

In short: tremendously. It’s rote now to hear television announcers citing WAR and launch angles, exit velocity, etc. When I was a kid, we had the How Far Did It Fly segment on WGN, and that was more-or-less the be-all, end-all of home run analysis. Call me old fashioned, but I still like knowing how far it flew.

Why and how did you start picking up the technical skills to analyse the data behind the game?

You know, this isn’t the only or necessarily best way to do it, but after the last baseball season ended, I wanted to use the offseason to pick up those skills I felt I was lacking – like Brook Lopez spending the offseason to extend his range. I felt that in the long run I’d need those technical skills, so I took a data science bootcamp to learn the basics of Python and SQL, got my feet wet with machine learning, did math for the first time in 15 years or so. It was an awesome experience: so hard and so fun. Lots of engineers. Really, so many engineers. Who even knew there were so many different types? I had to have everything translated into baseball terms to get it, but some of my fellow students were fluent in baseball and very kind.

How has having the analytical skills impacted the way you follow sport and your writing style?

I’m not sure it has affected my writing style. It’s affected the content, for sure. And it’s definitely been empowering, if nothing else. Like with this project where I wanted to see which pitches might be most hurt by or helped by electronic strike zones. Instead of just wondering about it, I could actually explore the issue and find an answer. 

Tell us about your writing roles for MLB Trade Rumours and Pitcher List

I write every Saturday morning for MLB Trade Rumors, and there’s a fair amount of random coverage here or there, plus writing occasional original posts, Offseason Outlooks, etc. The past few weeks I’ve been covering at Pro Hockey Rumors too. At Pitcher List, I’ve published a couple of articles in a freelance capacity, pitching article ideas here or there. They’re just really great baseball people who love the game. Plus, they’re really into data, and they’ve got a great team of data scientists who are happy to kick ideas around.

Have you received negative feedback on any of your work in sports analytics?

MLBTR readers are savvy, and they don’t appreciate carelessness. For example, despite my best efforts, I routinely confuse Chris Dickerson, Chris Singleton, and Corey Dickerson. Only Corey is active, but for the life of me I cannot seem to remember his name. I want him to be a Chris so badly. And the MLBTR readers roast me for it every time. 

What would your dream role be within the industry?

I’d love to work on more long-form projects. More editorial oversight. More collaboration. I’d love to be at games producing sometimes-sprawling, sometimes-jocular deep dives into baseball minutiae. Zach Kram from The Ringer, The Athletic’s Brittany Ghiroli, and Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post are some of my favorites to read. Lots of what I do now is write write write as fast as possible and all the thinking/research is done in my down time. That said, I do love the MLBTR style, so just doing more of that would suit me just fine. Oh, and keep me away from Twitter. That’s key for any dream job.

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