California Institute of Technology's Alumni of the Decade

V31 #2 1997

Like all die-hard baseball fans, Ari Kaplan is into statistics, with one big difference - he invents them and, in the process, is changing the way baseball conducts its business. As a high school student in New Jersey, Kaplan hypothesized that baseball statistics often didn't tell the truth about a player's effectiveness. At Caltech, he decided to do something about it.

Following his freshman year in 1989, Kaplan was awarded a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship to develop better baseball statistics. The most notable result was his Reliever's Effectiveness ratio, which better reflects a relief pitcher's performance than the traditional gauge called the Earned Run Average.

In short, Kaplan divides the number of runners on base when the reliever enters the game and who then score, by the number expected to score. The resulting ratio better reflects a relief pitcher's performance than does the ERA, in which all inherited runners who score are charged to the pitcher who put them on base in the first place.

President Tom Everhart attended Kaplan's presentation of his results on SURF Seminar Day in 1989, and invited him to discuss his research with the Institute trustees at their annual retreat. Trustee Eli Jacobs, then owner of the Baltimore Orioles, was so impressed by the presentation that he hired Kaplan on the spot to work for the team the following summer in 1990. Kaplan developed statistics and improved the team's computer system so that the manager and coaches could immediately access information on players rather than wade through piles on scouting reports. Kaplan worked for the San Diego Padres in the summer if 1991 and, after he graduated from Caltech in 1992, he was hired by the Montreal Expos, developing its computer system from scratch, and helping the team improve the way it scouts and drafts players.

Kaplan, 27, now divides his time between his job as an Oracle database designer and as a consultant to six major-league baseball teams. Most teams, Kaplan says, are in the Dark Ages when it comes to using technology and information to run their operations. "When you base trades and multi-million-dollar decisions on players' statistics, you had better have the best information," Kaplan says.

Kaplan is quick to note that his computer work for baseball is actually just one stop on his way to his lifelong dream - to become the general manager of a major-league baseball team. As Kaplan pursues that goal, he says, he is looking forward to continuing to advance the field of major-league baseball, and is excited about meeting the challenges that lie ahead.

On June 13, 1997, Ari Kaplan was awarded the prestigious Caltech Alumni of the Decade Award. Here are all of the alumni of the decade(s):

1900's: Franklin Jewett, Founder of Bell Labs

Joseph Grinnell, Noted Ornithologist

1910's: Frank Capra, Noted film director

Earl Mendenhall, Over 200 patents in electric motors

1920's: Arnold Beckman, Founder Beckman Instruments

Linus Pauling, 2 Nobel Prizes - Peace, Chemistry

1930's: Charles Townes, Nobel Prize, development of laser

Bill Pickering, Founded Jet Propulsion Laboratory

1940's: Paul MacCready, Inventor and automotive/aircraft developer

Gene Shoemaker, Pioneer in astrogeology

1950's: Harrison Schmitt, Apollo 17 astronaut, former US Senator

Moshe Arens, Former Israeli Defense Minister

1960's: York Liao, Co-founder and Executive Director, Varitronix

Joseph Rhodes, PA Public Utility Commissioner

1970's: David Ho, Time Magazine 1996 Man of the Year

Erik Sirri, Chief Economist, SEC

1980's: Arati Prabhakar, Director of NIST

Bill Gross, Founder, Knowledge Adventure

1990's: Lounette Dyer, Co-founder, Cogit Corporation

Ari Kaplan, Baseball statistician

SRC="redball.gif" ALIGN="LEFT" > 1990's: Lounette Dyer, Co-founder, Cogit Corporation

Ari Kaplan, Baseball statistician


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