Joining the Fray

Journalism is necessarily a job in which many need to act as mercenaries, but as mercenaries go, I make a rather poor one. Going back to 2001, there are only two places for which I’ve primarily written: ESPN.com and Baseball Think Factory née Baseball Primer. I joined both of these places not just because they were interested in my work or, in the case of the former, also wanted to give me money, but because I believed in their mission statement.

Starting today, I’ve taken a new role in another project I believe in, joining the FanGraphs team as a full-time, senior writer.

I’ve always been a fan of FanGraphs and, even more importantly, the group of people that David Appelman has assembled over the last decade. (Even Carson, at least until I find the rest of his horcruxes.) I haven’t had the opportunity yet to meet everyone involved — baseball analytics is a much larger world than when I first became involved 20 years ago — but I consider many of the FanGraphs writers personal friends and all of them valued colleagues.

What cemented FanGraphs for me in my mind as a great place to work was at Sabermetrics Day for the Staten Island Yankees in 2016. For those who weren’t around or just don’t remember, the Staten Island Yankees had a special theme day in June of that year, inviting Carson, Dave Cameron, Jonah Keri, Ben Lindbergh, Meg Rowley, Emma Span, and myself for a panel and a barbecue. Apples brought the whole crew along, so while I was familiar with FanGraphs writers, many of whom I had known for a very long time (20 years in the case of D-Cam), I had never seen FanGraphs work together as a unit.

One thing I noticed was how much this group of writers enjoyed working with each other, respected each other, and even if they don’t all come to the party with the same point-of-view, have this incredibly collaborative vibe. My traveling companion, who is not at all into baseball and has never quite figured out what it is I do — a full story for another time, but she was once under the mistaken impression that I was part of a composite of characters that Jonah Hill played in Moneyball — came into that weekend feeling a bit of an outsider. Despite this, the FanGraphs crew made a real effort to make her feel included in the festivities, completely unasked, something which has always touched me.

While I’ve always been around FanGraphs, with my ZiPS projections housed here and the weekly chats I’ve been allowed to do on the site, a quick origin story is in order. If I’m rebooted with a different actor, I don’t promise that this won’t be revised.

Like many of the other writers here, I never expected to have a career as a writer, journalism being something I stumbled into by accident rather than a planned design. Bored without baseball as a 16-year-old during the 1994 strike, I ventured onto usenet, which may be unfamiliar to many at this point, but can best be described as a social-media precursor mainly used by nerdy Generation Xers, disproportionately those in academia.

On rec.sport.baseball, I fell into a rough crowd, one that didn’t accept the conventional wisdoms in baseball. It was alluring to a wide-eyed ingénu, a group of people having great arguments about a lot of the stuff in which I believed. (I owned most of the Bill James Abstracts and Elias Baseball Analysts.) The fascinating arguments were the gateway drug and the numbers were pure sabermetric smack injected into my eyeballs.

I’ve always been a numbers guy, and with my pitching career unceremoniously ending as a teenager (I later went on to major in mathematical science as a lazy student of zero distinction), analytics was my entrance into the world of baseball. Like Dave Cameron, I essentially grew up in the sabermetrics community, first on usenet and later on the internet.

Since early 2010, I’ve written almost exclusively for ESPN Insider. It’s been a great gig for me and I leave it having learned a great deal about the profession in which I’ve found myself and, hopefully, having grown as a writer and communicator.

I was once one of the young guys in sabermetrics and that’s how I saw myself. But in 2018, that’s a label I can no longer honestly affix to myself. For the last few years, turning 40 has loomed large in front of me, a self-assigned deadline for me to find my next challenge in my career. By sheer good fortune, I received my offer to join FanGraphs exactly on my 40th birthday last month — a call I almost didn’t receive, having nearly drowned earlier in the day after getting a leg tangled in my life jacket while kayaking.

The baseball world is very different than when I started my career. We were all outsiders at the time. After years of working in media, receiving my BBWAA card, and providing data for a bunch of major-league teams, however, I can no longer claim that label. I’ve become the veteran, one of the last of the old-timers who still much prefers to work in media full-time than for a team.

Here at FanGraphs, I look forward to writing what I hope will be many solid pieces of analysis and lending my perspective to baseball’s breaking stories. It’s an incredible challenge with such a talented group of individuals already here, and I undoubtedly have to up my game considerably.

I consider myself blessed to be one of the relative few that has had the good nature to be able to cover baseball for a living. The opportunity to connect with a whole new group of readers who may not have read my work behind the ESPN paywall is extremely exciting. And as a veteran in this field, I hope to also be able to use my time at FanGraphs to guide younger analysts and writers along their path into the industry, whether it’s helping them find their voice or assisting in their research.

I can’t think of a better place to start my next 40 years than FanGraphs. I hope to prove I’m worthy of this honor.

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Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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