Data Science MD August Recap: Sports Analytics Meetup

pitchfx For August's meetup, Data Science MD hosted a discussion on one of the most popular fields of analytics, the wide world of sports. From Moneyball to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference, there has been much interest by researchers, team owners, and athletes in the area of sports analytics. Enthusiastic fans eagerly pour over recent statistics and crunch the numbers to see just how well their favorite sports team will do this season.

One issue that sports teams must deal with is the reselling of tickets to different events. Joshua Brickman, the Director of Ticket Analytics for , led off the night by discussing how the Washington Wizards are addressing secondary markets such as StubHub. One of the major initiatives taking place is a joint venture between Ticketmaster and the NBA to create a unified ticket exchange for all teams. Tickets, like most items, operate on a free market, where customers are free to purchase from whomever they choose. brickman-slide-1

Joshua went on to explain that teams could either try to beat the secondary markets by limiting printing, changing fee structures, and offering guarantees, or they could instead take advantage of the transaction data received each week from the league across secondary markets.

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Josh outlined that the problem with the data was that it was only for the Wizards, it was only received weekly, and it doesn't take into consideration dynamic pricing changes. So instead they built their own models and queries to create heat maps. The first heat map shows the inventory sold. For this particular example, the Wizards had a sold out game.

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Possibly of more importance was the heat map showing at what premium were tickets sold on the secondary market. In certain cases, the prices were actually lower than face value.

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As with most data science products, the visualization of the results is extremely important. Joshua explained that the graphical heat maps make the data easily digestible for sales and directors, and supplements their numerical tracking. Their current process involves combining SQL queries with hand drawn shape files. Joshua also explained how they can track secondary markets and calculate current dynamic prices to see discrepancies.

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Joshua ended with describing how future work could involve incorporating historical data and current secondary market prices to modify pricing to more closely reflect current conditions.

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Our next speaker for the night was , the Player Information Analyst for our very own Baltimore Orioles. Tom began by describing how PITCHf/x is installed in every major league stadium and provides teams with information the location, velocity, and movement of every pitch. Using heat maps, Tom was able to show how the strike zone has changed between 2009 and 2013.

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Tom then described the R code necessary to generate the heat maps.

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Since different batters have different strike zones, locations needed to be rescaled to define new boundaries. For instance, Jose Altuve, who is 5'5", has a relative Z location that is shifted slightly higher.

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Tom then went on to describe the impact that home plate umpires have on the game. On average, 155 pitches are called per game, with 15 being within one inch of the strike zone, and 31 being within two inches. With a game sometimes being determined by a single pitch, the decisions that an home plate umpire make are very important. A given pitch is worth approximately 0.13 runs.

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Next Tom showed various heat map comparisons that highlighted differences between umpires, batters, and counts. One of the most surprisingly results was the difference when the batter faced an 0-2 count versus 3-0 count. I suggest readers look at all the slides to see the other interesting results.

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While the heat maps provide a lot of useful information, it is sometimes interesting to look at certain pitches of interest. By linking to video clips, Tom demonstrated how an interactive strike scatter plot could be created. Please view the video to see this demonstration.

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Tom concluded by saying that PITCHf/x is very powerful, and yes, umpires have a very difficult job!

Slides can be found here for Joshua and here for Tom.

The video for the event is below:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLgqwinaq-u-NLZhSml9VHXVgHEh6l7wQH]