... ... Physics Graduate Student Lands Internship with Atlanta Braves - Mellon College of Science - Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon University
April 01, 2019

Physics Graduate Student Lands Internship with Atlanta Braves

By Emily Payne

Jocelyn Duffy

When Evan Tucker saw a job posting for a scout with his hometown baseball team, the physics Ph.D. candidate knew it was technically out of his league. On a whim, he submitted his resume anyway and soon landed an internship with the Atlanta Braves — though admittedly not as a budding baseball scout.

“A day after I submitted my resume, I got an email from the head of analytics asking if I’d be interested in an internship with them instead,” Tucker said of accepting the offer to join the Braves’ research and development team last summer.

At Carnegie Mellon University, Tucker’s Ph.D. work is in cosmology. His research focuses on measuring galaxy cluster masses while considering substructure in the cluster environments. This summer, Tucker spent his days researching analytics, writing code, organizing and cleaning data, not unlike what he does when measuring galaxy clusters, but instead his work was focused on what’s known in baseball as sabermetrics. 

Sabermetrics analyzes data that can’t be derived “just from counting how many times you hit the ball when you come to the plate,” Tucker noted. A play on the Society for American Baseball Research acronym SABR, sabermetrics uses in-depth statistical analysis to evaluate player performance and to develop new playing strategies. Take a player’s batting average, for example, which calculates a batter’s value in earning a walk or in their ability to hit doubles, triples and even home runs. In this instance, sabermetrics looks at a much larger picture to show how a player with stronger hitting power can be more valuable than a player who has a decent batting average. 

Today, every team in Major League Baseball has some measure of staff devoted to sabermetric-focused analytics. Teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros have huge analytics departments, which are often credited for their 2017 World Series match up.

For the Braves, both the research and development department and the internship program are a fairly new addition. In fact, Tucker came in as part of the department’s first crop of interns under new assistant general manager and head of research and development Jason Paré.

Over the course of the summer, Tucker helped the baseball operations department develop statistical frameworks that helped the major league club.

He also observed how the Braves could use sabermetrics to better position players on the field.

“This past year, the Braves had an absolutely phenomenal defense,” Tucker said. “If players are in a better position to make the play, they’re going to make the play, which can add to an increased defense,” Tucker said.

“The Braves way out performed all expectations last year,” he added. “It could be a combination of a lot of factors, but I think one of the most important factors was the increased focus on analytics.”

An avid baseball fan, the internship had quite a few other perks — like watching every home game from the department’s right field corner office, meeting the team’s trainers and coaches, shaking hands with legendary former Braves’ players Chipper Jones and Fred McGriff and opening the door to a surprising new career path. 

In the last stretch of the summer, Tucker worked on player development and focused on how minor leaguers might perform when they reach the big leagues. While the summer ended before he could finish his work, the Braves offered Tucker a full-time position after finishing his Ph.D.

“Being able to work in baseball has always been a pipedream for me,” Tucker said. Come June, that dream will become reality when he returns to the Braves as a data scientist for research and development.