BUSINESS

How data analytics has changed the Ole Miss Baseball Team

Doug Nikhazy
Oxford Stories
dsnikhaz@go.olemiss.edu

The Ole Miss Baseball Team includes a tight-knit group of coaches dedicated to 27 young men and their goal to get to the biggest stage in college baseball – the College World Series.

But as the game evolved, Assistant Coach Carl Lafferty needed someone on staff with a strong discipline in baseball analytics to coach players at a higher level. This is where Chris Goudoras, director of operations and analytics expert, found his role.

“I fell in love with baseball when I was 3 years old, and my parents took me to a Mets game,” Goudoras said. “Unfortunately, I was pretty awful as a player, so my only hope was to be a front office/numbers guy. When I was little, analytics started to become a major part of the game, so I gravitated toward that.”

baseball
Baseball illustration

Goudoras got into the business of baseball analytics with the Mets organization, where he worked as an intern his junior and senior year of college in 2014. From there, he worked his way up to the big league clubs, then landed a job at Ole Miss in 2018 thanks to an old friend.

Goudoras immersed himself in the team and taught them the new wave of baseball.

“Trackman and Rapsoto were two of the first things I had installed when I got the job,” he said. “Trackman essentially tracks everything moving on the field. The total distance a ball was hit, a runner’s angles and speeds, or even the amount of revolutions a baseball has when a pitcher pitches the ball. Rapsoto is a tool that specifically is used by the pitchers in bullpens to track their body and how efficient he is moving when he delivers a pitch.”

With these new tools, the Ole Miss Baseball Team immediately saw a dramatic change in their performance on the field. In the 2018 season, the year that Goudoras began the job, the Rebels had one of the most historic regular seasons winning 48 games and only losing 17. They also won the SEC Baseball Tournament.

Assistant Baseball Coach Carl Lafferty at Ole Miss had nothing but gratitude for Goudoras coming when he did.

“Who knows what that season would have been like without him,” Lafferty said. “Certainly wouldn’t have been that good. Without bringing Goudoras on the team when we did, we would be miles behind all the other teams as far as analytics goes.”

One of the most specific examples of analytics playing a direct role in a successful mechanical adjustment was with Ole Miss’s starting pitcher the following year. Will Ethridge in the 2018 season was somewhat of a generic right-handed pitcher, but he had an elite mindset.

So coach Bianco tasked Goudoras with improving Ethridge and getting him ready to become the starting pitcher in 2019. After dedicating an entire week to analyzing analytics about Ethridge, he found the cure.

“One of his weaknesses was that his four-seam fastball had a very generic movement profile and didn’t move off his slider enough,” Goudoras said, “so I suggested switching to all two seams, which he did to great success and had a very good year as our Friday starter.”

This correction made to the fastball led to a breakout year for the right-hander. This great year even helped Ethridge make some money later in the season when the MLB draft came. Ethridge was drafted in the fifth round by the Colorado Rockies and continues to have a great career. He said he could not be more thankful for the help given to him.

“You know when Chris helped me make that adjustment with my fastball, it really made the ball run a ton,” Ethridge said. “It just made it so hard on hitters, and I would have had no idea if he didn’t figure it out.”

Undoubtedly, Ole Miss Baseball, along with the rest of the NCAA, is forever changed from the way it is played, to the way that teams scout talent, to the way that they evaluate players and improve performance.

Certainly, it is not the same game where coaches had the eye test, and players were built around myths. But soon fans may see the beauty in the new wave baseball the same way Goudoras sees it.

“Baseball has been enormously affected by analytics over the last 20 years,” Goudoras said. “It went from a sport where teams emphasized hiring people with playing experience and clung to strategies adopted in the late 1800s/early 1900s, to one that looked to hire innovative thinkers.

“It transformed baseball from a regular sport where everything was about talent and mechanics to one with a lot more strategy that is data-driven. It has become a game that I can enjoy.”

Doug Nikhazy is a member of the Ole Miss Baseball Team.

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