When Michael Lewis’ Moneyball hit bookstores in 2003, it revolutionized how people thought about sports and evaluated athletes. Eighteen years later, the revolution finally made it to Marist with the founding of the Sports Analytics Club.
Moneyball follows Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane’s quest to build a contending team as cheaply as possible, using an analytical approach. It is the sacred text of the new-school method of understanding sports and has inspired many conversions to the numbers-based way of doing things.
“I think analytics have changed sports completely,” said Dr. Zach Arth, Assistant Professor of Sports Communication at Marist and one of the club’s faculty advisors. “What’s happened since 2002 is amazing. Depending on who you ask, it might not be a good thing, but I think it’s exciting to see how things will continue to evolve.”
The seeds for the Sports Analytics Club were planted last year when then-seniors Tyler Webb and AJ Cola formulated the idea. They couldn’t make the club come to life in time for last spring, so current senior Amanda Poor took the lead and got things up and running.
“This summer, it was my mission to get this club started,” Poor said. “Thankfully, SGA was able to help out this semester. It’s a brand new club and it’s been running pretty smoothly.”
Poor studies applied mathematics and data science and is a member of the Marist swimming and diving team. She has made the MAAC All-Academic Team the last two years and has balanced the demands of being a Division I athlete with presiding over the club.
“I knew it would be a struggle, but I said yes,” Poor said. “I’ve learned how to maximize my time, and I’ve found a way to make things work. I try to put my full attention into [the club] and though there’s still swimming and schoolwork.”
For running a sports-centered club, Poor isn’t the type to glare at the TV all weekend long watching her favorite teams. But coming from a big baseball family, and given her area of study, the attraction to sports analytics makes sense. She hopes her understanding of advanced stats grows along with the club.
“I’d like to learn more about how analytics are used in sports because that’s something I want to pursue in the future,” she said. “It works hand-in-hand because I’m learning this along with the club members and trying to navigate this club as well.”
The club itself is off to a solid, baseball-focused start. Along with a viewing of the Moneyball movie, the club has met to do player comparisons, watched a Red Sox-Astros playoff game, and evaluated free agents using advanced metrics.
At their most recent gathering, which Arth attended, the club looked at websites like Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs to gauge which players were the best at their position. While some clubs might feel pressure to impress their faculty advisors, Arth was just another voice in the discussion, exactly the way he prefers.
“It’s a perfect fit,” junior club treasurer Nick Vajtay said about Arth. “Zach has such an analytic mind and he knows so much about analytics, baseball, and sports overall.”
Arth, who teaches a sports analytics class, is excited about what the future holds.
“It’s so cool to be a faculty advisor for this club,” he said. “It’s amazing that it happened like this. The sports analytics class was a dream of mine that I didn’t think I’d be able to teach so early. Now, I get to be a part of this club that has some big dreams.”
The club hopes to get involved in doing analytics for some of Marist’s Division I athletic teams. In a world where the numbers indicate where to shoot from, how to shift for a hitter, or when to go for two, members hope to offer Marist teams a more empirical way of looking at their respective games.
“We do want to get involved with Marist sports, especially baseball,” Vajtay said. “Looking at their website and their stats from last year, they don’t have any advanced stats. You can go back a few years and there’s nothing. I think we could get involved with them and some other teams.”
More and more teams in the college and professional ranks are using analytics to the point where it’s not new anymore. Still, the prospect of using the numbers to potentially win more games, and getting that information for free should have Marist coaches salivating.
“I don’t see why we can’t make Marist a sports analytics-driven powerhouse college sports program,” Arth said. “I mean, the opportunity is there.”
Will Moneyball come to Marist? Only time will tell. In competitive leagues like the MAAC and PFL, it could make a critical difference.
Edited by Isabella Cicenelli & Ricardo Martinez
Photo: Jonathan Kinane