Statistics, baseball go hand in glove for student
As the Hokies gear up for the baseball season opener on Valentine's Day against Youngstown State, there will be more than a few fans eager to see the team try to best its 40-22 season from last year. Among those fans will be Jonathan Ammirati of Arlington, Va., a statistics major in the College of Science, for whom baseball isn't only a passion, but a calling.
Ammirati was one of just five students who earned a scholarship from the Society of American Baseball Research, or SABR, to attend an annual convention involving advanced baseball statistics over the summer.
“I was able to spend about a week in Philadelphia attending sessions about different types of statistics, baseball history, and the science of the game,” Ammirati said.
Attending different presentations, he got to see proof of what he's always known - that statistics and baseball are made for each other. “There are 18 different pieces of data that are collected from each pitch,” he said. Advanced technology makes it possible to make a data point out of everything from where a pitcher releases the ball to what angle his arm is during the delivery. “About 95 percent of all the data collected for professional baseball in the United States has been collected in the last 12 years,” Ammirati said.
The challenge, as with much of statistics, is how to apply the "big data" gained. “A single piece of data isn’t really useful by itself, you have to be able to do something with it. For instance, maybe looking at how pitchers are winding up or releasing the ball will help players avoid injuries,” he said.
Understanding the statistical methods behind the data collection has allowed Ammirati, an admitted Mets fan, to do something at Virginia Tech that few undergraduates achieve – he’s a collaborator with the Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Statistical Research, better known as LISA, an organization run through the statistics department to help Virginia Tech researchers from all disciplines use statistics in a meaningful way.
“We help researchers with everything from experimental design to analysis and interpretation,” he explained. “Those who come in with a question are always helped in some way and I haven’t had a collaboration where I didn’t feel the person seeking assistance wasn’t better off in the end.”
While Ammirati is looking at the possibility of both grad school and a career after graduation, he’s currently preparing for a research project for his final semester with a thesis of whether the changing dimensions of ball parks really enhances player performance, and whether or not smaller parks are really advantageous to home teams.
Whether or not his results are conclusive, with his statistics background, his answer is sure to be in the ballpark.