Updated: Dec 10, 2021
How do I get a job in baseball is one of the most popular questions I've gotten since starting Simple Sabermetrics in 2019. The real answer is - it's hard! But that doesn't mean it's impossible. In today's post, Sam dives into his advice on how you can go about setting yourself up for success before you even start applying for a job.
To close out Season 2 at Simple Sabermetrics, I’d like to shift the focus from my previous articles on data analytics. Instead of writing about different stats or providing code tutorials, I’m going to take a step back and offer some insight on how you can apply the material you’ve learned from this site and strengthen your candidacy for a position in the baseball industry.
As a disclaimer, none of this advice should be taken as gospel. There is no single blueprint to break into the baseball industry. This article does not have any magic secrets that instantly pushes your resume onto the top of an MLB executive’s desk. It’s intended to provide a guide for high school and college students on how to maximize their potential as they spend the next few years of their life preparing for the next steps in their career.
Let’s cover our bases before we begin. Your first and foremost priority should be developing the technical skills relevant to the position you are working towards.
For an analyst position, for example, you need to be a proficient programmer. Sure, meaningful experiences and a strong network of connections are important, but the best thing you can do to prepare yourself years ahead of applying for your dream job is to start developing the technical skills listed on the job description.
Qualifications for a Baseball Operations Analyst role in 2020
These skills are not learned overnight or even through the course of just one semester. Just as it takes repetitions in practice for an athlete to master a certain movement pattern or adjustment in their swing, it takes time and effort for an analyst to become comfortable with statistical concepts.
Hopefully this introduction did not come as a surprise to you. It should be implied that you must have a toolbox of skills for a technical position. Now, let’s dive into tangible and intangible ways to build valuable experiences with your technical skill set.
We can begin by covering the practical routes chosen in recent years by people seeking a career in baseball. The evolution of the analytics era has brought out many new ways for people to get involved and share their creativity with like-minded individuals. Whether it’s working for your college’s baseball program or writing independent research, there’s no excuse for someone not to have some level of experience by the time they graduate college.
The College Student Manager Route
It would be remiss of me not to mention the role of a student manager, given that all Simple Sabermetrics blog writers have held that position during college. We are biased, of course, but it seems that this route is becoming more popular and we are seeing many college student managers make the leap into professional baseball.
Professional and college baseball are unique in their own ways, but at their base, similarities exist that make the experience as a student manager extremely valuable. The clear differences between the two revolve around the acquisition of players. There is less “business” involved at the amateur level, as there are no trades, free agents, contract negotiations, or amateur drafts.
Therefore, we can identify three main pillars of similarity between both levels: player development, player evaluation, and advance scouting. These three areas fall under the umbrella of research and development, in that research is completed to build better principles throughout an organization and applications or other methods of deliverables are developed as a means of communicating these insights to others.
A few tasks under these pillars include scripting individualized plans for players, creating metrics to evaluate performance, building an all-encompassing pitch-grading model, assessing opposing players for upcoming games, and proposing a new in-game strategy to a coaching staff. Because of the landscape that this new analytics era has created, the experience in college baseball is directly applicable at the next level. You’re essentially taking advantage of an internship opportunity that allows you to develop both your technical and interpersonal skills.
As a reminder, the experience only takes you so far; the sought out talent in this industry remains an analyst’s skill to interpret data and provide unique and valuable insights as a member of a team. It’s great to learn how to operate technology with a college program, but in every job in life, skills like that can be taught during an on-boarding period. The true value one can bring to an organization is their unique perspective to drive decision-making.
Lastly, teams strongly value those that possess the ability to communicate technical concepts to non-technical people. All the data in an organization could be analyzed, but it doesn’t become valuable until it has been integrated directly to the on-field product. Not all athletes and coaches think the same way as analysts, so it becomes the analyst’s responsibility to communicate their insights successfully and bridge the gap between their work and the ones using it. The college baseball environment is a great place to practice these soft skills when there is a staff of about five coaches and a roster between 35 and 40 players.
The Independent Route
There are plenty of reasons for someone to choose not to join a college student manager staff. For some, that could be because their college does not have a baseball program or that their baseball program lacks all the tools necessary to extract the most value from the experience. For others, they are more fascinated by the prospect of analyzing MLB data and spending their time completing independent research and writing blogs.
There is tremendous value in creating a part-time job out of independent research. It has paid off for so many people, landing them analyst positions in MLB or as staff writers for publications like FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus, or The Athletic. Most of these writers started by publishing blogs on their own. Like the music industry, you’re guaranteed to start off with very little impressions, or views. Your second article will be better than your first, your third better than your second, and so on. It’s how it works; over time, and with the development of your analysis, an audience could begin to grow.
However, regardless of the number of explicit impressions your work receives, there are always people that read articles and share with their peers. Many organizations keep tabs on the public blog-sphere and are often assigned to send weekly summaries on recent public research.
The bottom-line is that there is a market for public baseball analytics research that is consumed by both fans and fellow baseball analysts looking to connect with others and share feedback. It’s a great way to become a better analyst and solve baseball problems that are directly scalable to what MLB teams are trying to solve as well.
Standing Out in the Crowd
The baseball industry is a competitive field. If your focus lies in professional baseball, there are only 30 teams. This is much different compared to, say, the business industry where there may be more than 30 companies located in a few square miles in downtown Chicago. Needless to say, you are going against many candidates for a single position. So, what can you do to stand out above the rest?
Without being redundant from the previous section, it’s imperative to understand the value of sharing your work. Building a portfolio that goes beyond your resume and experiences provides your candidacy value. It makes it easier for employers to validate your skills with the long-form publications that you’ve released.
Pairing your independent analysis with a long-form writeup is the main channel of showcasing your analytical and communication skills. It further demonstrates your ability to understand your discoveries and receive feedback and questions from your readers.
Not sure what to write about? Head over to the websites linked above, visit FanGraphs’ Community Blog (also a great place to submit articles), or skim through the topics that have been written about on this blog for over a year.
Twitter is a platform for blogs to be shared with high-level overviews provided to give the user a reason to read the entire article. It’s a place for others to share your work, ask questions, and provide feedback.
While some people may shy away from this, Twitter can be used to your advantage by sharing bite-size insights that require less time to create and less time for your readers to consume. Here’s an example from a friend, Connor Hinchliffe.
This embedded tweet thread from May is a breakdown of Driveline’s In-Season Report for Alek Manoah. Now, most others won’t have access to that, but the way in which Connor shared his insight in the thread is a great breakdown and created a place of discussion on Twitter.
Similar to those that got their start through FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus, or their own blog, there’s also been a recent wave of popular baseball Twitter users making the jump to professional baseball, such as Connor Kurcon and Max Bay.
The same can be said in most industries, but it truly is essential in baseball to build a strong network of connections - not only with potential employers but also with people who can speak on your behalf. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a competitive field. If you’re up against another equally-talented candidate for the same position and you have a stronger reference than that person, you have the advantage.
Networking isn’t just for the purpose of seeking a job from an individual. There’s value in reaching out to people who work in positions you find desirable to learn more about their background. They can share how they got to their current position and offer first-hand advice on how to follow a similar path. These connections come naturally and become more authentic over time.
Networking also includes making connections with those that are on the same path as you. In college baseball, student managers have lots of respect for each other and the amount of work that is required every day. Each program is run differently, so student managers have so much to share with each other.
Stay up to date with analytics trends. No, this does not mean watching Moneyball. The analytics evolution of the past decade has not stopped growing. There seems to be a new competitive advantage every couple years. Recent trends included biomechanics and sports science, but what’s next? The San Francisco Giants could be onto something. Regardless of what is next, there are endless resources available to you to foresee these developments in baseball and learn more about them.
A subscription to The Athletic or Baseball Prospectus is worth it. If something like that isn’t in your budget, there are many more websites with daily articles or podcasts about fascinating baseball analytics topics such as FanGraphs or Driveline’s research blog. If you have trouble keeping up with new articles, Driveline offers a weekly newsletter, titled Sunday Thunder Nuggets, with five or more articles from the previous week.
Finally, Twitter is best used as a professional tool once you decide that a career in baseball is for you. Following the right accounts and people can curate a feed that provides articles and bite-size tweets that grow your knowledge without taking the effort to search for them.
As we wrap this up, I want to reiterate that there is no single blueprint to follow to work in baseball. Everyone follows their own unique path into the baseball industry; there’s value in being different and scripting what you believe is best for your future. If I could leave you with one piece of advice, it would be to avoid being the smartest person in the room. Place yourself in an environment to learn from others.
To prove that there are other viewpoints, I want to share a similar article that a friend of mine, Ethan Moore, wrote where he shares his advice on finding a job in professional baseball. It’s a great read and hits some areas that were not discussed in this blog. Check out Ethan’s article here!
As always, do not hesitate to reach out to me on Twitter or LinkedIn. If there’s anything you’d like me to expand upon from this article, please feel free to ask. I’d be happy to make the connection and offer anything I can. All I ask is that you pay it forward when people reach out to you with questions one day. And with that, thank you for reading and best of luck!