© Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports activities

Shelley Duncan has a job befitting a longtime FanGraphs reader with deeps roots within the sport. A giant league outfielder/first baseman from 2007-13, the 42-year-old son of legendary pitching coach Dave Duncan is the Analytics Coordinator for the Chicago White Sox. Employed for the in-uniform place in November 2020, Duncan beforehand managed within the Arizona Diamondbacks system and served as each a subject coordinator and a particular assistant of baseball operations with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Duncan mentioned his present function, and the way in which analytics are altering the way in which groups sport plan, when the White Sox visited Fenway Park over the weekend.


David Laurila: Your title is Analytics Coordinator. What does the function entail?

Shelley Duncan: “It’s a place that’s beginning to develop into extra fashionable with some groups, to have anyone within the dugout that may assist different workers members, and gamers, with data. You may translate data and be an middleman between them and the analytics a part of the entrance workplace. You’re not changing any of the relationships, or any of the roles, simply being a supply for everybody.

“There are such a lot of areas of deal with a baseball subject that contain data. Whether or not it’s gamers realizing stuff about themselves, in regards to the opponent, decision-making throughout video games, advance work… half of the advance work is digging into numbers and knowledge, after which mixing video. One man can’t do all that — I can’t do all that — however what I can do is assist everyone with my expertise and data, together with the work I do with the analytics division.”

Laurila: I assume you’re consulting with the analytics division frequently…

Duncan: “As a lot as I presumably can. Whether or not it’s about new concepts, new pondering, clarification of issues they’re bringing to the desk — it’s a relationship that grows day by day. Now we have some actually good folks in our analytics division, and the explanation they’re good is that they’re finding out and studying issues that we’ve by no means finished earlier than. They’ve obtained an excessive ardour for the sport, which is an enormous purpose that I actually benefit from the function.”

Laurila: How do you go about making concepts and knowledge actionable?

Duncan: “Analytics, for me, is analyzing data, and knowledge is what’s occurred previously. It’s each stat, each quantity, that’s offered to you. If it’s not predictive analytics, it’s one thing that has occurred. It’s historical past. So, as an alternative of spending hours watching each single video on anyone, or having tons of individuals on the market scouting, if you wish to get a snapshot of anyone — to color an image of who they’re — you possibly can take a look at numbers. The numbers offers you an image of who they’re. You may take a look at graphs. You may take a look at all types of knowledge.

“You set all of that collectively to attempt to predict moments, predict matchups, predict outcomes. You attempt to put your self ready to be the winner of these outcomes. That’s the place the predictive stuff is available in play. Lots of people depend on their intestine, which is predicated on expertise and knowledge that they’ve saved, however in the event you soak up data that’s extra logical you possibly can mix the 2 and hopefully make a greater determination. You may have a greater consequence.”

Laurila: That sounds so much like advance scouting with an emphasis on analytics…

Duncan: “You might say that. However there’s advance scouting for the opponents, and there’s advance scouting of your self. It’s mixing the 2 to place everyone in the best place for achievement. There’s a distinction between using analytics within the entrance workplace, as a fan, as a workers member… there are utterly alternative ways to make the most of [analytics].

“An instance is WAR. WAR isn’t a statistic you should use on the sector. However you should use it within the entrance workplace. You should use it in participant acquisition. You might use it in fantasy baseball. However as a participant, it’s not going to let you know, ‘Do I match up nicely in opposition to this man or not?’ or ‘What sort of method ought to I convey to the plate?’ However groundball share positive does. Strikeout share and a man’s fastball motion — his metrics — positive do. They usually go a great distance. Not solely who’s the best matchup between which pitcher and which hitter, but in addition what method a man ought to have on the dish, and what pitch a man ought to throw to a hitter. So there are all types of various metrics on the market. It’s about using the best ones that impact the sector.”

Laurila: How motion profiles and bat paths match up are necessary…

Duncan: “That’s precisely proper. What we’re going to see — what we’re beginning to see now — is that a variety of groups are using KinaTrax [and] Hawk-Eye, giving them a capability to essentially analyze the biomechanics of a swing. We’re attending to the purpose now the place we’re not going to be attacking hitters, we’re going to be attacking swing profiles. We’re going to be taking a look at folks’s swings and understanding how one can assault them.

“Hitter are beginning to be taught that they’re going to wish various kinds of swings of their toolkits, and what swings work with what sort of pitches. We’re going to see all-around pitchers. We’re going to see pitchers who grasp two forms of fastballs, and hitters which have the power to hit two forms of fastballs. The sport is rising, and the expertise and knowledge helps it develop at a quicker charge.”

Laurila: What share of hitters would you say are more durable to sport plan for, matchup-wise, as a result of they’ve adaptable swings?

Duncan: “I might say that possibly 25-30% of hitters have the power — a great means — to make the changes on utterly various kinds of pitchers. I’ll throw Craig Kimbrel on the market for example. This can be a man who’s obtained a legendary fastball. The entire world is aware of it. He’s obtained one of many flattest vertical method angles within the zone.

“When folks go up there to face Craig Kimbrel, they’ve his fastball of their heads. You see extra folks change their swing on Craig Kimbrel than they do on anyone else. You see extra folks getting on high. You see extra hitters attempting to tomahawk it. I feel we’re going to start out seeing that increasingly more.

“With guys studying, ‘This man’s fastball does this, this man’s sinker does that,’ it is going to be, ‘I must make any such adjustment.’ And we’re seeing that. The entire launch angle revolution, with a variety of swings going straight uphill, which type of revolutionized the influence of the four-seam fastball within the sport… we’re beginning to see extra guys engaged on getting on high. There are a variety of groups on the market placing an emphasis on pitchers having two units of fastballs.”

Laurila: A pitching coach prompt to me just a few years in the past that the two-seam fastball goes to make a comeback. Do you assume that’s occurring?

Duncan: “I do. One factor I feel we’ve seen greater than something is groups attempting to diversify their pitching staffs with various kinds of pitchers within the bullpen.”

Laurila: The Tampa Bay Rays come to thoughts.

Duncan: “They’re probably the greatest at it. They’ve obtained a bunch of huge sinker guys. They’ve obtained some guys with good journey. They’ve some guys with energy sliders. They’ve guys that they will slot into completely different elements of the lineup. They’re actually strategic about that. I feel extra groups are doing that.

“The following step, as I touched on earlier, is educating pitchers to have two units of fastballs. It’s exhausting proper now. If pitchers have a great really feel of 1 fastball, and so they actually work on creating a really feel for one more sort of fastball, how does that have an effect on their good fastball? Will it take something away? That’s an enormous query they need to battle with. However I feel we’re going to a begin seeing it go from groups having a number of forms of pitchers within the bullpen to pitchers having a number of forms of fastballs. There are some groups on the market that do a great job of taking away the four-seam, and there are some groups the place you want to have a great four-seamer in opposition to them. The sport goes that method. It’s not a stale place, for positive.”

Laurila: Let’s soar to how you bought your present job.

Duncan: “Once I obtained finished taking part in, I wished to handle. I began managing within the minor leagues, with Arizona — this was 2015 — and so they gave us entry to as a lot data as we wished. I noticed the place the sport was going. I didn’t wish to be depending on folks, so I dove into it full bore. I took courses on it within the offseason, and in my spare time.”

Laurila: The place did you do the finding out?

Duncan: “eCornell, and all of the little Udemy stuff for coding. I additionally developed a relationship with an analytics professor on the College of Arizona. I spend time with him within the offseason and realized as a lot as I may. That helped me develop into a greater supervisor. My ardour remains to be the sport on the sector — together with management roles — however I even have an enormous pleasure in understanding [analytics] and bringing it to the gamers, serving to them win each single second that you would presumably win.

“I’ve obtained that baseball nerd in me the place I’ll sit at evening and scroll by way of each little ounce of knowledge, and browse Tweets and blogs. I’m completely fascinated by it. That’s an enormous a part of me.”

Laurila: How lengthy have you ever been studying FanGraphs?

Duncan: “Ceaselessly. For as near so long as the location has been round. My brother [the late Chris Duncan] was on the radio in St. Louis, and it was his most important supply of knowledge. We’d at all times take a look at it. One of many largest issues about FanGraphs is that it’s been an enormous trainer of what each single metric is. I’ve taken a variety of stuff off FanGraphs and thrown Excel sheets along with the formulation I’ve realized there.

“Truthfully, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant are essentially the most unbelievable free websites for those that I may ever think about. I subscribe to FanGraphs, though you don’t need to. It’s unbelievable to have the ability to entry all that data. These two websites, FanGraphs and Savant, are particular.”

Laurila: Does Tony [LaRussa] learn FanGraphs?

Duncan: “I don’t know. Tony is about as old skool as you will get, however he’s introduced so many revolutionary concepts to the sport that he’s new faculty in his personal method. And he doesn’t even comprehend it. Tony may not ever admit it, however he does a variety of studying, and digging into stuff that no one is aware of about. That makes him the genius that he’s. So possibly he does [read FanGraphs].”

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