Pittsburgh: Hotbed of Operations Research and Baseball

Pittsburgh is becoming the center of the universe when it comes to combining baseball with operations research.  First, there is … well, me! … a Professor of Operations Research whose company provides Major League Baseball with their player and umpire schedules.  And, beginning last year, Pittsburgh has had Ross Ohlendorf, who has converted his Princeton degree in Operations Research and Financial Engineering into 5 wins and a 4.82 ERA (this year) as a starting pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Ross seems a serious OR guy.  He did his undergraduate thesis on the financial return of players from the draft.  Overall, his conclusion was that teams get a pretty good return from the money they put into top draft picks.  ESPN has a nice article on Ross’s OR side.

In his thesis, Ross looked at drafts from 1989-1993.  Some players offered tremendous return:

Ohlendorf determined that the average signing bonus during those years was $210,236, and the average return was $2,468,127. Here are the top 10 players from his study.

“So based on the assumptions I made in my paper, the A’s signing Giambi was the biggest winner in top-100 picks of the 1989 through 1993 drafts because he played extremely well in his first six years of major league service,” Ohlendorf said. “The White Sox did the best job in these drafts, with an internal rate of return of 217 percent. Their best signing was Frank Thomas.”

It is nice to see that Ross’s intelligence does not come at the expense of collegiality:

Ohlendorf is also a popular guy in the Pirates’ clubhouse. “He is so smart,” said Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson. “We give him a hard time about how smart he is, and he’ll come right back at us. We’ll say, ‘Ross, what is the percentage chance of this or that happening?’ and he’ll say, ‘The percentage chance of you winning that game of Pluck [a card game] is 65.678 percent, not 65.667 percent.”’

Starting pitcher might not be a standard job with an OR degree, but with a 2009 salary of $491,000, Ross may have found one of the more lucrative outcomes.

Ross:  if you read this, I’ll be the guy in the stands with a sign “Operations Researchers for Ohlendorf”!

2 thoughts on “Pittsburgh: Hotbed of Operations Research and Baseball”

  1. Great! I was hoping ESPN would return with Ohlendorf. They did a feature on his pitching coach earlier who apparently likes to use charts and statistics. Baseball is a real numbers game!

    My sign will read “Lenny Dystkra has nothing on Edsger Dijkstra!”

    Ok. old reference but…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *