Sitting in the very front row of a packed football analytics panel at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference on Saturday was Detroit Lions' defensive lineman Lawrence Jackson, who one day earlier had been a panelist himself. Like so many other Sloan attendees, "LoJack" showed up early, stayed late, and live-tweeted from panels. I chatted with him about his interest in the conference, how it felt to be traded from Seattle, his thoughts on the Saints' situation, Karl Marx, and Steve Jobs.
So, what made you want to come spend two days listening to stat geeks and nerds? You were on a coaching analytics panel, but you were also here all day Friday, and all day Saturday, attending tons of panels yourself.
I read a report written about me on Pro Football Focus last year. They wrote a story about how there's a difference between, say, a guy with 10-plus sacks — who, in the media and in coaching circles, is thought of as a productive pass rusher and a productive defensive lineman, even if he has way more opportunities to get those sacks — and a guy like myself who might not have as many snaps, but who on a per-snap basis is more productive. That showed me that it's not just what you see, and it's not just the statistics. It's how can you get deep enough to paint a picture of what's actually going on? I think pretty soon we'll get into a time period where athletes will use analytics in great detail to enhance their training and their ability to execute in their sport.
Want to know how big the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference has become? In the middle of the football analytics panel that I appeared on, I referenced the research that has been conducted on the futility of icing the kicker, only for panel moderator Andrea Kremer to quickly note that those numbers probably didn't apply to icing your own kicker, referencing Jason Garrett's gaffe at the end of the Cowboys-Cardinals game from December. While it elicited some laughs from the crowd, there was one person in the ballroom watching the panel who probably managed to stifle his laughter: Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. Awkward.
Rocco Baldelli spent seven years in the big leagues before calling it quits after the 2010 season. Upon his retirement, the Tampa Bay Rays brought their former first-round draft pick into the front office, where he now serves in the role of baseball operations special assistant. We tracked down Baldelli after a panel at this year’s MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, and asked about adjusting to a new role, his early embrace of analytics, and the benefits of working with an open-minded manager.
You work in a front office that’s limited in terms of high-level baseball playing experience. Did you feel that was something you could bring to the table, having played in the majors very recently, then bringing that experience right upstairs?
Maybe Andrew [Friedman] was thinking that. At the time I was just interested in working in the front office. But I’ve always been interested in this aspect of the game. When I was a young player, I would talk with [Rays scouting director] R.J. Harrison about things. This was when I was at A-ball.