Top 10 Research Papers, Where Are They Now?

A quick look at the list of speakers at this year’s event is reason enough to attend the conference. But if you don’t yet have the clout of our resident expert Nate Silver and want to present alongside the best and brightest in the sports arena, the Research Paper Competition is a great way to join the fun. In this week’s 10 for 10, we’re taking a look at the authors of some of the most data savvy, idea driven, groundbreaking research paper submissions since they were introduced to the SSAC lineup back in 2010. Each year, hundreds of papers get submitted by people from a wide variety of fields and expertise, and we’ve talked to some of our favorites to see what they’ve been up to since their SSAC appearances, listed here in chronological order by conference.

10. Dr. Brian Skinner, “The Price of Anarchy in Basketball” (2010)
Back in 2010, Brian Skinner was working on his PhD in theoretical physics when he submitted his first ever independent research project to the SSAC. Since then, he has been involved with a handful more (including a SSAC 2011 submission), and even written a chapter in a book reviewing the theory of optimal offensive strategy in Basketball. After earning his PhD in 2011 from the University of Minnesota, he focused mainly on many-body quantum systems, and is currently a postdoctoral researcher right here in MIT’s physics department!

9. Professor Cade Massey, “Flipping Coins in the War Room: Skill and Chance in the NFL Draft” (2011)
The 2011 SSAC welcomed Professor Massey from Wharton to talk about his research on The Logic of Chance. It revolved around the then-controversial claim that NFL analysts take the main result, “that team differences in NFL draft-pick performance are largely chance – as a given,” which has since been replicated by sports writers Neil Paine and Brian Burke. Building on the logic of chance, Dr. Massey has more recently expanded his research into algorithm aversion, “investigating how strongly people prefer intuitive judgement to algorithms, even when algorithms are better.” In essence, he is trying to build better tools for helping people and organizations faced with uncertainty, with applications in sports and far beyond. This work is taught in his executive education classes as well as other decision-making classes across UPenn.

8. Dr. Arup Sen, “Moral Hazard in Long-Term Guaranteed Contracts – Theory and Evidence from the NBA” (2011)
After winning the 2011 Research Paper competition, Dr. Sen shifted his career to focus solely on sports. He joined the NBA full time in 2014, where he works closely with referee operations and analytics. As the pace of a basketball game continues to quicken, analytics are used more and more to understand and improve performance not only with the athletes, but also with the referees making the calls. Dr. Sen’s group uses analytical tools and sport view cameras to track and interpret referee performance, monitor biases on the court, and inform the NBA how the rules and nuances of the game can be adapted due to trends in the data.

7. James Tarlow, “Experience and Winning in the National Basketball Association” (2012)
After submitting his paper to the SSAC back in 2012, Tarlow enrolled in Northwestern’s Masters of Analytics program, where he worked on a variety of projects across multiple industries. While at Northwestern, Tarlow “built a decision support tool for a professional sports team, brought a quantitative perspective to understanding health and wellness,” and interned at STATS LLC, where he worked with analysts to develop an “advanced basketball metric based on player tracking data.” Sticking with the theme of sports and analytics, Tarlow is now a data scientist with Opex Analytics, an analytics consulting firm, where he is working with a major athletic brand.

6. Mark Bashuk, “Using Cumulative Win Probabilities to Predict NCAA Basketball Performance” (2012)
In one of the most inspiring updates we’ve come across from the SSAC, Bashuk told us via email that his paper being published was the push he needed to switch careers and follow his passion for sports. Shortly after the 2012 conference, Bashuk moved from a retail position to become the Manager of Database Services with the Oakland Athletics. He is now using his analytics knowhow to help support the sales data warehouse and streamline operations across the entire organization.

5. Professor Philip Maymin, “Acceleration in the NBA: Towards an Algorithmic Taxonomy of Basketball Plays” (2013)
Since we came across Dr. Maymin’s work back in 2013, he has continued to thrive in both the sports and analytics fields. He now serves as the Chief Analytics Officer at Vantage Sports and is an Associate Professor of Analytics and Finance at the University of Bridgeport Trefz School of Business. Dr. Maymin has “been working on applications of machine learning in sports analytics, including an automated general manager that outperforms humans in trades, drafts, and free agency that he presented at the most recent NESSIS, and a deep learning market test of dataset values that successfully predict game outcomes better than wagering markets, currently under submission to the upcoming SSAC. He has also co-launched with Eugene Shen the brand new Journal of Sports Analytics with a top group of owners, General Managerss, and analytics directors from teams and leagues across various sports:”

4. Martin Kleinbard, “Can’t Buy Much Love: Why Money is Not Baseball’s Most Valuable Currency” (2014)
Kleinbard was finishing his last semester at Columbia Business School when he presented at the 2014 SSAC, where his research paper was picked up by ESPN the Magazine, Bloomberg, and the Boston Globe. Since graduating, Kleinbard has pursued our two favorite topics: analytics and sports. He spends a majority of his time doing Risk Analytics for American Express, but as if that wasn’t data heavy enough, he is a frequent contributor for CBS, always approaching the trending topics with an analytical edge. In case your team isn’t headed for Super Bowl 50 in a few weeks and you’re still agonizing over it, here are Kleinbard’s stats that may help get you through to next season.

3. Alissa Lieppman, “How Digital Analytics are Changing the Game for NFL Club Websites” (2015)
Since last year’s conference, the NFL Club Digital Strategy group has worked with the 32 clubs to agree to limited data transparency across their digital and social data. To facilitate the sharing of this data, Lieppman’s group has developed and launched interactive, visual dashboards. These dashboards allow clubs to monitor data from both their club and the other 31 clubs on a weekly and monthly basis. By putting this data at the clubs’ fingertips, they are able to understand what clubs are finding success in specific areas, and react with rapid, data-driven content decisions.

2. Dr. Kevin Blue, “’Predictable’ Dynamic Pricing: A More Effective Way of Pricing Tickets for Highly Anticipated Games” (2015)
As the Senior Associate Athletics Director, External Relations at Stanford University, Dr. Blue has been hard at work since his SSAC appearance overseeing the business functions for Stanford Athletics. He continues to oversee business operations, strategy, marketing, ticketing, and fan experiences. Dr. Blue helped Stanford set an all-time record for ticket revenue in 2015, in part due to the pricing optimization work that was discussed in his SSAC research paper, in addition to the team’s success as the Pac-12 Champion and victory in the Rose Bowl.

1. Dan Rosenheck, “Spring Forward: Understanding Spring Training Statistics” (2015)
Last year’s SSAC showcased work by Dan Rosenheck, who has had quite the year professionally. Leveraging his quantitative skills that brought his paper to our attention, Rosenheck became the data editor for The Economist, where he provides editorial oversight for all of the publication’s journalism efforts. This past year, his sports contribution included an analysis on signature significance in a baseball swing. Beyond the sports world, Rosenheck went to all sorts of analytical depths when publishing The Economists’ first ever ranking on the value of universities, and a comprehensive study of property taxes in New York and London.