Sofia Alcazar sat in a metal folding chair outside the bullpen during a recent Cal Poly baseball game, pen and graphing materials in her lap. She scribbled notes onto a chart: changeups, curveballs, sliders. After the game, the chart revealed insights that casual observation could not.
“That graph is incredibly helpful for the coaches to see,” said Alcazar, a math senior and the baseball team’s pitching operations manager. “I can produce that graph for Coach Jake and he can look at it in five minutes and know that’s where the pitcher’s curveball needs to be.”
Sabermetrics, the empirical analysis of baseball, have become more and more prevalent since historian George William James published several books on baseball history and statistics back in the 1970s. Now, all 32 organizations in the MLB have formed teams dedicated to tracking key metrics such as spin rate, batting averages and launch angles. The NCAA is just behind the MLB and started to adopt student-led data analytics teams as well.
In 2019 Cal Poly Baseball set out to find an analytics squad of its own. “Stangs Analytics” launched with just three members, and loads of ambition to boot.
“They’re all incredibly intelligent people, really down to earth people that want to help,” pitching coach Jake Sliverman said. “They know the ultimate goal is for the team.”
Since its formation, Stangs Analytics has grown into a team of nine. The members collect data during practices, bullpens, scrimmages and games. They track key metrics such as the type of pitch and its location in order to create reports for the coaches. For example, after Alcazar documents a pitch during the games, she is able to relay it to Coach Silverman, who can explain it to the player in coachable terms.
Alcazar was a key player in building up the Stangs Analytics crew this past year to its nine members today. As an applied math major, she has an intricate understanding of key baseball statistics and a passion for improving player performance.
Additionally, Alcazar was the only woman on the squad during its first year.
“I was never treated any differently, so that was amazing,” Alcazar said. I would be one of the only girls out there on the field; it was super empowering.”
The coaches struggled to understand what the technical information meant, how to use it or even how to work with the technology. So, they handed it over to industrial engineering senior Jack Dwyer, co-director of analytics for Cal Poly baseball and one of the original managers with Alcazar on the squad.
Dwyer has been involved with the baseball program for the past three years. The first year he filmed for the team, painted the lines and dragged the dirt until the team and donors started investing in data tracking equipment and needed him to figure out how the machines worked, organize the metrics and implement it to improve players’ performances.
“Although the first time we struggled, we realized this is important to them, we need to get better,” Dwyer said. “So we just tightened down and worked harder.”
The Rapsodo for pitching and the Trackman for hitting are both designed to help the players improve on the field both in their games and in practices. The data that the analytics team gathers from this equipment is crucial for the coaches to see how they should make adjustments to their players’ swings and throws.
Dwyer, Alcazar and the other analytics team’s managers create “spray charts” that show a picture of the field and where each player hits all their balls. In the infield, a right-handed hitter often hits the ball to shortstop and third base. They notice that the coaches start moving more fielders over to that side of the field if that’s what the chart shows. If the spray chart shows they’re only hitting the ball to the left side of the field, the coaches will start to stack that side of the defense.
“The first time we saw that it made us smile so much,” Dwyer said. “We’re actually doing something that’s being used on the field and the coaches are getting use out of it; it was very exciting.”
The Stangs Analytics team is taking the skills they’ve developed from the Cal Poly Baseball Program to their career development beyond college. Ethan Moore, one of the original managers for the squad acquired a position with the Minnesota Twins doing data research for the team. Alcazar said the skills she has applied to her internship at Pacific Life include translating insights to people who don’t have any background knowledge about statistics.
“It is not something you learn in the classroom,” Alcazar said. “Learning that here has helped me so much there and I definitely know I want to do analytics in the sports world [that] would be amazing.”