As Astros aim to ‘Take it Back,’ Rice expert available to discuss how sports analytics impact baseball


Amy McCaig

As Astros aim to ‘Take it Back,’ Rice expert available to discuss how sports analytics impact baseball

HOUSTON – (Oct. 22, 2019) – As the Houston Astros head into the Game 1 of the World Series against the Washington Nationals this evening, Rice University’s Jimmy Disch, an associate professor of sport management, is available to discuss how sports analytics have impacted the Astros and baseball overall.

Photo credit: Rice University

Disch teaches the popular “Moneyball” course in Rice’s Department of Sport Management, which focuses on the analytics side of the sport. What started with Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics two decades ago has become an integral part of all Major League Baseball franchises, he said.

“The objectives of sports analytics are the same — discover relationships that will provide one team with a competitive advantage over the others,” he said. “But the technological and data science advances have taken it to a level that necessitates teams employing statisticians, computer scientists, biomechanists and the like just to be competitive.”

Disch said early “sabermetricians” studied game data to discover unobtrusive or overlooked variables that were linked to success in the sport. These measures would be used to help teams determine who to draft, who to trade for or how much to pay for a player. Now, he points out, the discipline has evolved into helping improve players’ skills: pitchers changing their style to take advantage of velocity and spin rate, and hitters working on launch angles and exit velocities to increase their productivity at the plate.

“All teams employ defensive shifts to take advantage of hitters’ tendencies,” Disch said. “This has reduced the probabilities of batters getting a hit in the direction of their natural tendencies. One of my former students, Ben Jedlovec ’08, went to work for Baseball Info Solutions after graduating from Rice with a degree in Sport Management and Statistics. He went on to be co-author of the most recent editions of ‘The Fielding Bible,’ which analyze batting data on major league players. Teams use this data to utilize shifts to improve their chances of fielding batted balls in play.”

Disch said the real virtue of this type of information is finding people who can not only analyze the data, but who can convey the findings to the players and coaches.

“The Astros with (general manager) Jeff Luhnow and his staff are blessed with (manager) A.J. Hinch and his coaches who can maximize the use of this type of information,” he said.

But at the end of the day, the game is won and lost with the players, Disch said.

“Players still play the game,” he said. “All the data in the world won’t help if pitchers hang sliders, hitters swing at balls and take strikes, fielders misplay batted balls and runners get doubled off base when underestimating the defensive ability of their opponent.”


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Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 3,962 undergraduates and 3,027 graduate students, Rice’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is just under 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice is ranked No. 1 for lots of race/class interaction and No. 4 for quality of life by the Princeton Review. Rice is also rated as a best value among private universities by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.