Hello There

© Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Greetings, friends and readers.

My name is Michael Baumann, and I’m the newest full-time member of the FanGraphs staff. If the name rings a bell, it’s probably because you remember the losing pitcher in the first game of Monday’s Orioles-Blue Jays doubleheader. Unfortunately that’s a different, much taller Mike Baumann. (Though I’ve met Big Mike, and he seems like a nice guy. What a fastball he’s got.)

From 2016 until last week, I was a staff writer at The Ringer, where for six years I hosted The Ringer MLB Show. Before that, I worked at D1Baseball, Baseball Prospectus, and Grantland. Over that time I’ve appeared periodically on both FanGraphs Audio and Effectively Wild; if you remember some joker with a Philly accent explaining to Ben how hockey works or ranting at Meg about the lockout, that was probably me. I’m an Aries, and in my free time I enjoy cooking, watching TikToks about seals, and reading nonfiction books about people doing ludicrously dangerous things in the early 20th century.

But what am I doing here?

A couple weeks ago, I was watching a baseball game on TV when a left-handed hitter poked a ball around the shift for a single. The color commentator, a former major league player, coach, and front office executive, responded the way most color commentators do when someone evades the shift: How can The Analytics People think shifting is the right thing to do when it’s so easy to go the other way?

Now, there’s nothing novel about that argument; I’ve been hearing it since I was merely reading FanGraphs while goldbricking at my first job out of college roughly 100 years ago. So have all of you. The commentator went on to bemoan the de-emphasis of advance scouting among big league teams, which he argued would capture hitters’ proclivities better than some nerds with a spreadsheet could (my cliché, not his). An advance scout who sees a game will take notes and mark down tendencies. But put those notes into a database, do a little arithmetic, and like Beethoven on the computer, you have labored to produce analytics — merely the quantification of what we can see and measure.

That was the counterargument 10 years ago, and by and large it still holds water. But an advance scout might have noticed that the batter in question had completely overhauled his approach this summer. He is not the same hitter he was even three months ago. Maybe the scouting report missed that new development, or maybe the people who laid out the defensive alignment knew about the approach change and decided shifting was still the percentage play anyway. The point is this: It’s not enough to go with your gut anymore, or to unquestioningly follow the numbers. Baseball is too smart. Society is too smart. It’s no longer enough to know what happens, but why and how as well.

I’ve never liked “analytics” as a catch-all term; it flattens quantitative research — sound and otherwise, performed for good purposes and evil — into one epistemic monolith. And that’s simply not the case; the smart so-called “analytics” outfits realized early on that the correct approach is not numerical but empirical. They utilize numbers, as well as scouting, interviews, case studies, and so on. That’s why FanGraphs has hosted and cultivated such a variety of methodological viewpoints for so many years. All of that information is not just valuable for a comprehensive understanding of baseball, but necessary.

You have to know everything. Quantitative and qualitative data, stats and scouting, current events and history. And because baseball reflects and interfaces with society, you have to know economics, politics, and philosophy as well. It’s all part of the big picture. My approach, so to speak, is this: To tell the fullest empirically sound story I can, and to treat the game’s human element — from players to fans — with respect and dignity. And to have as much fun as possible along the way. It’s a game, after all.

I’m thrilled and more than a little humbled to be working with such a skilled and intelligent group of writers and editors, several of whom I’ve called friends for years and admired even longer than that. And I’m equally excited to serve such a passionate and well-informed readership, though it’s been a while since I’ve written for a publication that has a comments section, so please be gentle. I look forward to learning with all of you.





Michael is a writer at FanGraphs. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Ringer and D1Baseball, and his work has appeared at Grantland, Baseball Prospectus, The Atlantic, ESPN.com, and various ill-remembered Phillies blogs. Follow him on Twitter, if you must, @MichaelBaumann.

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aglossmanmember
3 months ago

Huge. Love this. You going to podcast?