“Why did you become a statistician? Because I found accounting too exciting…”
Aleph Sample never gets tired of hearing Uncle Sherwin tell that joke. Every Sunday. At his mother’s weekly dinner. Nope—it never grows old; Aleph is sure it will be carved on his tombstone so he’s learned to accept it as a fact of his life. No one really understands what Aleph does but that’s okay; he’s used to it. He’s used to people never quite knowing what to say after he answers their questions about what he does for a living.
Aleph is a numbers guy with a letters guy name. Both his parents are English professors (his father with an emphasis on the classics) and it only stood to reason that Aleph would be a bookish boy, devouring Dickens, ogling Orwell, being haunted by Hemingway. But instead of classic writers, Aleph was drawn to Pythagoras, Euclid and Fermat. Of course, it stood to reason that Aleph, being an all-American boy who loved baseball, would come to know how to use statistics before he could even put a name to it. And when he got older, while other boys were reading Hardy Boys or The Adventures of Captain Underpants, Aleph was soaking up the works of Karl Pearson, Frank Yates, John Tukey and Gertrude Mary Cox.
After finishing college with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and a minor in psychology, Aleph worked as an intern for a pharmaceutical company for a year. He then went on to graduate school, where he earned a Master of Science in Statistics. Although the pharmaceutical company told him he’d have a full time position there when he was out of school, Aleph knew that he didn’t want to work in biostatistics. With his experience in both statistics and psychology, as well as his love of baseball, Aleph went to work for the Colorado Rockies.
When Aleph first started, the team manager wasn’t sure why he’d been hired. He ended up sitting, day in and day out, at a beige desk in a beige office in a downtown office building about eight blocks from Coors Field. Aleph understood that the manager had simply thought statistics=numbers=boring and that a numbers guy belonged away from where the real action was taking place: on the field and with the players. That didn’t phase Aleph; he understood that hiring a statistician for a pro sports team was still a new concept. He made it a point to go to as many practices as he could, travel with the scouts on his own time using his own money and keep meticulous notes on what he saw, read, heard or felt about any game, player, practice or trend.
In a few months, the manager noticed that Aleph seemed to be around all the time and that he was always carrying a very thick notebook crammed with ticket stubs, sticky notes, and whatnot. When the manager approached Aleph one day, Aleph gave him a rundown of the statistical work he’d been doing. It was real education for the manager, who had no idea what the team had been missing:
Basic outcome data (how many hits, walks, runs, errors, homers, etc.)
Where on the field each ball was hit
What kinds of pitches were thrown
What situations each batter and pitcher faced
Measures of player value
Forecasts of future performances
Game strategy and tactics
A light went on in the manager’s head and now, years later, Aleph manages a team of analysts and programmers who support baseball decision-making by organizing, analyzing, and presenting information. He’s developing scouting reports, physiological tests, medical histories, psychological profiles, coaching assessments, contract data, service time records, arbitration case histories and negotiation records for every player, every would-be player and every team.
Sometimes Aleph still works in his office, eight blocks form the field. And sometimes he’s on the road with the team or with the scouts. But wherever he is, Aleph has his notebook, his laptop and a ticket stub for every game he’s ever attended.