Sports Inc.

Tuesday, March. 25, 1997

Sean Calebs: (Intro) Keeping track of thousands of baseball scouting reports for minor and major league teams can be very cumbersome. Especially remembering where you filed them. Well, there's a new software program to help sort out all of this mess. Joining us today is Ari Kaplan, the man behind this new program, as well as a consultant for the Montreal Expos Baseball Team. Welcome, Ari. Thanks a lot for joining us.

Ari Kaplan: Thank you

Sean Calebs: Did I get the name right this time, Ari?

Ari Kaplan: Yes, it's Ari.

Sean Calebs: Tell me how you got involved in this. Are you a big sports fan, or are you one of these guys that loves to crunch numbers?

Ari Kaplan: Well actually, it's great since I started out as a sports fan. When I was in college I was watching games and realized that a lot of the statistics they used to analyze players were mathematically misleading. So I came up with a research proposal at Caltech which got a lot of popularity showing that one hundred years of baseball statistics were misleading. And that got a lot of popularity. And during one of my speeches the owner of the Baltimore Orioles heard me and liked me and hired me on the spot.

Sean Calebs: Get out of here.

Ari Kaplan: Yeah.

Sean Calebs: Really. That's interesting. If I think about some of the stats you're probably talking about -- like saves for a pitcher, or wins, loses, ERA, or maybe batting averages or home runs -- what's wrong with those traditional numbers?

Ari Kaplan: Well take for instance the Earned Run Average. The average starting pitcher leaves several inherited runners on base throughout the season, and if they score due to the relief pitcher allowing them to score, they're charged completely to the starter. And the relief pitcher who allowed them to score was not penalized at all. So on the average for a given season the starters Earned Run Average can fluctuate roughly 20 to 30 percent for the whole season. And when you're basing multi-million dollar decisions on these Earned Runned Average statistics, you want to make sure that the statistics are valid for those pitchers.

Sean Calebs: So what kind of numbers did you come up with? Is there something better than an ERA?

Ari Kaplan: Well I have an Earned Runned Average range, which is what the Earned Runned Average could have been if the relief pitcher allowed all of the runs to score versus if he allowed none of them to score. And what I figured out would be a better statistic if the average relief pitcher - the mathematical average relief pitcher would come in - what would the starter's earned runned average be? That way the ERA for a pitcher won't be skewed from team to team.

Sean Calebs: Tell me. The owner of the Orioles. Angeles, is that correct?

Ari Kaplan: At the time, it was Eli Jacobs. He's no longer their owner.

Sean Calebs: Okay. Tell me about your deal that you're working with the Expos now. Tell us why Major League teams should be interested. From a business standpoint. what do you think they have to gain.? I mean, they have a lot of scouts out there looking at players. I'm sure these scouts can argue we can tell you what's inside a guy. Not just the numbers he puts out.

Ari Kaplan: Right. Well what I do is I help them do just that. What I've developed is a computer scouting system that allows tens of thousands of scouting reports from dozens of scouts from each team to organize the reports and allow the management to directly base their decisions on a number of categories that the scouts keep in addition to the statistics. Before the scouting program was developed, baseball would have to basically use a big file cabinet of tens of thousands of reports. And it was a long, manual process to sort through all of these. The computer program allows management to easily access the information they want before trades within a matter of seconds as opposed to weeks.

Sean Callebs: You know, Ari, I have to think that out there is some crusty manager saying, "Get that educated guy out of there. I can tell you if a relief pitcher can do his job or not." Have you run into any of that school from people who have been around baseball since long before you were born. And now you're coming in with this computer disk saying, here's how you can do your job better.

Ari Kaplan: Sure, well, initially there's naturally some resentment. However when you sit down and show them the computer program, these teams already have a scouting process in place. And when they realize that the computer program basically mimics what they have been doing for these last hundred years, then they instantly recognize its importance. And I don't disagree with them that that's what their job is. Their job is not just to look at numbers. Their job is to look more at how the players will perform for their team and to point out any weaknesses that they'll encounter on the major league level. And what I do does not contradict them. It more or less supports them, and helps them organize themselves.

Sean Callebs: Interesting. To think about somebody who maybe comes in after a starter maybe leaves a runner on second and third. And he gives up the run. I have to think that there's some late relievers out there who hate what you're doing because it's going to inflate their ERA and make them look a little less valuable to the team they're working for.

Ari Kaplan: Exactly. Well, it all depends on the relief pitcher. A lot of them, if it makes them look better...

Sean Callebs: Love it. It's the best thing since sliced bread.

Ari Kaplan: Right. But it definitely more realistically interprets how a relief pitcher will perform. If you have a game on the line with runners who are already at base, you want to bring out a relief pitcher who will not allow those runners to score. And that's exactly what my statistic does.

Sean Callebs: Exactly. Quickly tell me what teams are going to use your system, and how we can gauge to see if what you're doing is really paying off for them.

Ari Kaplan: Well currently, as I said previously, I consult with the Montreal Expos. Prior to that I've been with the Baltimore Orioles and the San Diego Padres. And I'm also working with five different teams to try to incorporate all of their computer systems together since each team has their own slightly different values of critiquing players.

Sean Callebs: Okay, Ari Kaplan. Sounds interesting. We'll be following the baseball season to see if you have any luck out there.

Ari Kaplan: Thank you for having me.

Sean Callebs: Thank you. We appreciate it.

(Black to commercial)

Back to Ari Kaplan's Home Page

i Kaplan: Thank you for having me.

Sean Callebs: Thank you. We appreciate it.

(Black to commercial)

Back to Ari Kaplan's Home Page