On May 3, the Texas Rangers issued a press release offering a scholarship for “innovative baseball analytics.” The gist of the program is that if you can offer them an original formula or statistic that would provide useful information on something previously deemed immeasurable, you can win yourself a prize. The reward for all this hard work is a $5,000 scholarship.
I imagine somewhere in Arlington there exists a windowless room where a herd, a pod, a gaggle — or whatever you call a bunch of underpaid and overworked mid-twenties stat nerds — toils away to provide the type of information the scholarship elicits. But someone in the front office probably came up with this bright idea to see if they could gain something valuable from someone they don’t have to put on the payroll or provide benefits to, and can compensate with an award that is the equivalent of a used 2005 Buick Rendezvous.
I am a 41-year-old man with a law degree and a deeply rooted aversion to mathematics that can be traced back to my junior high years, where a math teacher whose teaching method could best be described as a mixture of equal parts public humiliation and open disdain for students who didn’t catch on fast, destroyed any faith I had in my personal abilities. She could smell weakness, and I may as well have been a fat, legless gazelle dropped into a pride of lions. I didn’t stand a chance.
Having completed my formal education and being as good at math as Delmon Young is at defense, I really don’t have much business entering this little contest. That said, I could use the scholarship. I’ve been thinking about taking a creative writing class, or maybe going after that Masters in Community Planning that would allow me to propose dumb projects like taxpayer funded stadiums. So, I figured I’d see what I could come up with. I know it’s the Rangers, and providing them with an advantage over the Tigers would seem like betraying my team. But I feel a certain kinship with the Rangers, as we Tigers fans are also now in the position where we spend quiet nights drinking alone in the dark and wondering what Ian Kinsler is doing. Maybe that’s just me.
Anyway, here’s the press release, if you’re interested. Below, you will find my official entry. It’s something I’m calling The Right Way Algorithm.
NOW, this is way cool from #TexasRangers for y'all who want to go into baseball pic.twitter.com/53G244Pgnt— Evan Grant (@Evan_P_Grant) May 3, 2018
Dear Texas Rangers,
I hope this letter finds you well. I was recently informed of your scholarship contest wherein you are offering a ridiculously small amount of compensation and no guarantee of employment or further future benefit to some lucky individual who develops a formula that you find useful. While I have little to no mathematical acumen, I thought I’d take a run at it because it’s a better option than sitting on my couch and drinking while I watch my Detroit Tigers fart away another winnable game against middling competition. Yes, I’m a Tigers fan, and it would stand to reason that any help I give your club would be at a detriment to the team I follow, but y’all were kind enough to solve our Prince Fielder problem for us a few years back so I figure I probably owe you one.
I went through a few different formulas before I settled on the lucky winner I’m about to share with you. Without getting into too much detail, I had gotten pretty deep into an equation that would calculate how many years it would be before you fleeced the fine folks of the greater Dallas area into building you another completely needless new stadium, but I ran into a snag with the numbers. See, the answer had you breaking ground on the newest park before Globe Life Park even opened. While it seemed logical based on your recent track record, I didn’t want to submit an entry that would piss you off more than anything else. So, much like you’re doing with your current stadium that is a shade over 20 years old, I scrapped a perfectly workable model in favor of something new: I call it the Right Way Score.
Since the beginning of the game, scouts and front offices alike have been searching for a way to quantify the intangibles, both good and bad, that can make or break a young ballplayer. It has been an unsuccessful endeavor up until now. A few nights ago, I built an altar in my basement, the focal point of which was a David Eckstein bobblehead. I lit 162 candles and burned a Nick Punto Topps rookie card. I then mixed the ashes of Punto with a vial of sweat collected from Joe Morgan’s brow as he argued against allowing PED users into the Hall of Fame. This created a black paste I placed on my tongue, and I wish I could be more clear on the details here but all I can say is when I emerged from my basement three days later naked and covered in blood that may or may not have been my own, I had the following formula somehow burned onto my chest:
((Grit score + Determination Grade)/hustle factor) - ((batflip hangtime + lollygag percentage) x unwritten rule rating) = Right Way Score
If I went into complete detail here, I’m afraid I would write something close to a book in length. For now, I’ll give you the broad strokes. If you’re interested — which I’m sure you will be — I can break it out into greater detail.
Grit Score: The proper calculation of this score involves a process where you allow no fewer than two dozen old school scouts to watch the player to be evaluated play a three-game series. You then interview each scout and calculate the score by how many times a variation of the word grit is mentioned. Bonus points are added anytime the phrases“will to win” or “high motor guy” are uttered.
Determination Grade: This is a fairly simple skill to evaluate. Place the player in front of a solid brick wall. Give him the simple instruction that successfully completing the drill requires he run through it. The range is calculated based on how many attempts he makes before he quits. For a frame of reference, the record for fewest attempts is held by Manny Ramirez at zero. To be fair, he wandered off before the evaluator could finish giving him the instructions. The record for most attempts is held by Tim Tebow. I’m told he continues to try despite multiple concussions.
Hustle Factor: This involves a complicated measurement of how much dirt is shaken out of a players uniform multiplied by the total area in square inches of fabric that is covered in grass stains after nine innings of baseball.
Batflip Hangtime: This one is self explanatory.
Lollygag percentage: There are a few factors that go into lollygag percentage, but there is one primary factor we measure here. For hitters, we take measurements of their home-to-first times. We’re not looking for overall speed here, but consistency. Are they giving max effort all the time? If not, you may have a lollygagger. Same goes for relief pitchers. Do they sprint from the bullpen to the mound like Phil Coke on amphetamines? If not you’re looking at a lollygagger.
Unwritten Rule Score: Finally we take the Unwritten rule score into account. This is the most subjective of the calculations. Every player goes in front of a three-man committee made up of Brian McCann, Bob Melvin, and Goose Gossage. The three of them fire hypothetical questions at the player regarding home run trots, when to steal, when to bunt, and general respect for the game. After this interview the panel comes up with a score they feel is appropriate. There is a snag with this calculation in that you can’t do too many evaluations at any given time because the review panel quickly devolves into a conversation that is focused entirely on the three of them vigorously nodding while self righteously telling each other how right they are.
After you have collected all of your data, you simply plug it in and you have your score. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how accurate the formula is. I hope you find this useful, and I look forward to hearing from you regarding my submission. If chosen I intend to put my scholarship money towards an MBA in the hopes that I can land a front office job for a Major League Baseball team that will allow me to completely ignore my analytics department while running my team into the ground.