Tag Archives: baseball

The Dangerous Intersection Between Hobby and Work

I don’t usually write about baseball here, since I have a blog dedicated to it, but this is about business, entrepreneurship, and my identity.

Ever since I moved to Seattle and started coaching baseball players, I knew that I would want to do this for the rest of my life. Like most people, I thought: “Wow, wouldn’t it be great if you could do this for a living?” Unlike most people, I was stupid enough to go down this road. I worked full-time as a professional gambler, software developer, systems analyst, and other IT jobs, but I always set aside money and time to focus on growing my business – nevermind the fact that my business only ever had two or three trainees at any given time.

I was able to identify a niche in my hobby – training baseball pitchers – and knew that I could eventually dominate it if I just studied and experimented enough. And I did. While I don’t dominate the market, I command a small but fair amount of respect amongst people who care to put one ounce of thought into training baseball players, and that’s a huge leap for me. Being invited to speak at the Ultimate Coaches’ Bootcamp was a tremendous honor, and one I will never forget.

Wolforth Roundtable

Wolforth Roundtable

However, as I progress further and further down the golden road where I can see my full-time income being derived from my hobby, I come across increasingly more difficult choices that force me to sacrifice or accommodate parts of my beliefs. On one side of the coin, I start to understand that to make money, I actually need to apply all those lessons I learned in sales, marketing, and entrepreneurship – and when I was doubling down against a paint card, yelling “CHECKS PLAY” at the top of my lungs, drinking a gin and tonic, and playing the part of degenerate gambler along with my Korean friend, I didn’t have a care in the world. But when I started to realize that I was going to be taking money from people – and that some people will be unhappy with my service/product (and there’s nothing I can do about it) – it becomes… scary.

In this industry, you have a paradigm where the extremes can be seen as Pure Sales and the other extreme is Pure Integrity. The Pure Sales people don’t actually offer a good product or service, they’re just good at separating people from their money who are looking for a solution. The perfect example here is a guy named [name redacted], who has OptimizePress installed on a million servers and just sells crap eBooks and a membership where the information is simply parroted from various other sources. Close to the end of that scale is [name redacted], who has spurious “research” backing him up, but nothing really scientific that actually verifies his claims – and he, too, is excellent at Internet marketing.

The Pure Integrity people are the ridiculous outcasts who may have excellent information, but are laughably unapproachable. Perfect examples here are Dr. Mike Marshall and Fritz Outman (father of major leaguer Josh Outman), both of whom have important things to contribute to baseball, but are ignored by the public because of their personas.

Blending Integrity and Sales

To make it in this business with some sense of integrity, I understand the importance of sales/marketing, but it cannot ever intrude on my integrity or my methodical approach to training baseball players. This is how I carved my niche, and I will be damned if I lose it for a few thousand dollars. I do not want my legacy to be known as a good marketer who contributed nothing to the field of research that he so loved. People who I look up to and seem to balance on the middle of the paradigm are Eric Cressey and Ron Wolforth. Eric undoubtably does a better job marketing himself than most, but he is incredibly intelligent, educated, knowledgeable  and experienced. Ron runs his fair share of services in an attempt to make money, but his meta-approach to understanding how to train pitchers so closely parallels my own.

And so when I get further and further into an integrated approach – selling products, services, supplements, and the like – I always check myself to remind myself where I came from. Most of my teachers in this industry were complete assholes who were wrong about a great many things – which I guess is a great analogy for baseball in general – but I will never forget the lessons I learned from them.

The Nagging Voice

I am an unabashed capitalist with a lot of libertarian sympathies; I will never lie about that.

But my love for this game transcends the logical. (Indeed, any person’s love for this stupid game does.) So anytime I start to evaluate how to expand my business, there is the nagging voice in the back of my head reminding me not to exploit it, not to leave it in worse shape.

There are some interesting life lessons to be learned on this path. I look forward to traversing it over the coming years, even if it is uncomfortable from time to time.

* I redacted two of the negative names. There’s no reason to point them out, and anyone familiar with the industry will know who they are without naming them.

Done with Full-Time Software Development (for now, anyway)

I’m done with software development. It feels like this to say that.

To be honest, I’ve been fighting this for years. The first few classes in my undergraduate should have indicated that this would have been the natural end to it all – taking Computer Science 101 with Professor Molmen, while really quite interesting, made it clear that I would never sit in front of a computer and bang out code for a living. Sure, I really liked the class layout – competitive programming with timed exercises and separate written theory portions – but despite the fact I can be asocial for long periods of time, I just didn’t identify with the CS lifestyle.

I switched into CIS/MIS and took Information Theory I, which ended up being a COBOL class (yeah, I’m 29 years old). Then I took the Discrete Mathematics branch of classes and found out that it wasn’t just 16 year old me that hated geometry; 19 year old me really hated writing board-length proofs, too.

So, I switched into Economics, since I had a passing interest in monetarism and civil libertarian theory. While I enjoyed it enough (classes were the standard neo-Keynesian stuff), the standard 20-something college-age depression kicked in before I could complete my degree, and so I ended up rushing myself into Philosophy courses in hopes of graduating with something to show for my four years in the system. I failed miserably.

Laying the groundwork to misery

I could only find work as a server, since I hadn’t had too many marketable skills (being “good with computers” didn’t mean anything since I never received adequate tutelage, and Cleveland isn’t exactly a booming employment market). Eventually, I began gambling for a living, and then applied to PokerStars via email while high out of my mind on Ambien (for legitimate use, not recreational use – his time, anyway). Somehow, they thought something of me and sent me some employment tests, all of which I passed. They instructed me to get my passport expedited, and I flew down to San Jose, Costa Rica to train as a poker specialist – mostly investigating collusion, possibly money laundering, and responding to bad beat “your site is rigged” emails.

After a year, I quit to pursue gambling full-time, which was both an exciting period of my life and really stupid. The amount of money I lit on fire on meals and entertainment makes me want to vomit; though I lost very little to degenerate gambling in the pit (hard to when you count cards on a regular basis and the only guilty pleasure you have is shooting dice, which has low churn).

I actually felt I could gamble for the rest of my life, but the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was passed, which sounded the death knell for U.S. based online gamblers. I somehow lucked into a job as a Systems Analyst at Microsoft (after applying to about 150 jobs with a giant black hole in my resume), and worked graveyards for a year. I enjoyed the work, which is to say we didn’t do anything in your typical 10 hour shift except play a lot of unreleased video games for the XBox. Shockingly, our department underwent layoffs, and my contracting firm was the first to get axed, which meant collecting unemployment until I landed somewhere else.

The bad road

My father-in-law shot me a job under his command, where I was exposed to PHP for more or less the first time in my life, writing a lot of translation/posting scripts for lead generation. I eventually got fed up with the stupidity of the tools we had to use, and this was the genesis of a bad road. I attempted to learn how to use CakePHP (a massive failure) and switched into CodeIgniter to develop some front-end tools that utilized a read-only MySQL replication. My father-in-law blessed my efforts, and I was learning at a breakneck pace – hacking stuff together was a lot of fun! It was way more engaging than my C++ and Turing Machine classes in college (though I enjoyed those as academic exercises), but I still knew I didn’t want to do it for a living.

However, the only full-time position that I could move into was in development. When I was told that I would be getting a FTE offer, I said “FUCK” while standing outside for a bus in the winter. I remember it vividly, actually – standing there in the bitter cold with my father-in-law and our co-worker Steve. He was surprised and asked why I was unhappy; I told him that I knew I didn’t want to do it for a living and that the development team at this company was full of idiots (choosing to go to Java over PHP5 on their legacy PHP4 platform, bad caching ideas, no concept of DB architecture/maintenance, etc – I didn’t even know these problems specifically existed, but I could ascertain them from simply interacting with the other devs). Still, I needed the money, so I took the job, which lasted all of a few months.

From there, “I needed the money” dominated my life. I took contract after contract, making more and more money, hating life at every stop despite saying: “This is going to be the one. It’s going to be good. We have free lunch, free beer, and free dinner three times per week. I get a free MacBook. This is awesome.”

It wasn’t. It never was. These companies lacked purpose, lacked soul. At the end of the day, I would go home and think: “What am I doing with my life?” I was working on Web 2.0 bullshit portal sites that I was not proud of. When I ventured into fields that I actually enjoyed, like data analysis or machine learning, I was rebuffed at all corners.

I wasn’t a developer. I was a bad hacker – one with a handful of good skills in social engineering and data analysis (a holdover from my professional gambling career), but nothing very strong in tech.

I found company after company who professed to want “hackers.” They couldn’t adequate interview me; I crushed all interviews because I steered them into the answers I wanted to give, not the answers they should have been looking for. Only one or two companies could see through my shit and quashed me early in the processes; the rest were more than willing to fork out a lot of money to acquire this statistics/economics/developer genius. (In hindsight, this should have been the first sign things were wrong.)

A firm grip on reality

What I knew then – and what I know now – is that I wanted to work in baseball. I always did, ever since I shared a shitty apartment with my best friend Chris and our mutual friend Dave when I was 21 years old. What I needed then was a tutor – I needed Coursera, or a hacker space – to show me what I needed to learn to succeed as a data analyst. I wouldn’t get this training until I was well past my mid-twenties.

I started training pitchers after having a little success working with youth athletes. I poured my heart, soul, and brain into understanding pitching mechanics. I thought that if I could build a biomechanics lab that was capable of performing inverse dynamics to get the kinetic loads on a pitcher’s shoulder and elbow that I would be swimming in money and fame. I spent four years doing this and completed my seminal work in 2011.

No one gave a shit. (take note, Lean Startup followers)

I have still yet to sell a kinetic analysis package, not that I am even offering it anymore. I have brilliant ideas on how to fold it into a pro team’s stadiums – I call it BIOf/x – but no one is interested.

Oh, they say they are, and I tell them how much it will cost – two orders of magnitude less than the competition, no less – but no one is willing to pull the trigger.

I turn my focus to training pitchers. My guys strap on 10 pound wrist weights like Dr. Mike Marshall’s pitchers; they are seen as pariahs. But they believe in me, for whatever reason.

They throw weighted baseballs. Their coaches tell them they will screw their arms up, that Kyle never played professional baseball – what could he possibly know? He was fired as a high school freshman coach, for god’s sake.

Now, they hit boxing bags – like Dylan Bundy does. “Are they preparing for a fight, or are we training pitchers?” They snicker. Former first round draft picks and pro ball players look down on my training methods – “Why are guys squatting below parallel? That’s bad for your knees.”

I used to pick fights with these people. But you learn to accept it – and eventually, love it. I know now what Bill James (the father of sabermetrics) went through. A guy who was a security guard at a pork and beans factory, some moron who played roto baseball. His work would take 20+ years to gain even the slightest traction until it was popularized by Moneyball.

The training methods have solid ground in both research and development. The list of clients I have successfully rehabilitated and trained is extensive and getting larger by the passing week. Kids with chronic pain in their elbows throw five days per week at maximum intensity. They can’t believe it. Sometimes, neither can I – seeing a kid go from 77 MPH to 90 MPH in five months made me question a lot about what I believe when it comes to the upper limit of human physical achievement.

My work will not be accepted until I “produce” some first round picks, or a slew of college scholarship guys who are willing to defend me in front of my harshest critics. Most won’t go to bat for me. That’s OK. It’s not their fight; they should not be unfairly persecuted. Some don’t tell their parent organizations that they are ignoring their pitching coach in AA and are instead listening to an overweight kid with a bad back who cracks 79 MPH on a good day with his fastball. Some do champion the banner, because they believe. They want me to have some notoriety, despite my assertions that I really don’t care about getting fame and recognition through a logically flawed chain of events.

Future plans

I am fortunate enough to get out of the software development industry alive, and am happy to report that I’ve found someone willing to employ me who doesn’t care about what others think. At his yearly scout night, where 30+ college and pro scouts will show up, his best pitchers will throw in the mid-eighties. It doesn’t take much for him to understand that he needs to find someone else. A mutual friend pairs us, despite my apprehension of working with a select team, and we hit it off on the first meeting.

Aaron and I speak for hours and hours on end about training. He doesn’t understand any of it, but it fascinates him all the same. He loves to talk about all the guys he coached through Area Code games, through his organization, and through other teams he’s been with. He always wants to talk about a kid’s work ethic first; never his ability. His favorite player to date remains a kid who was drafted in the third round out of high school – a kid who just a year prior was thought to be a “midget” with no hands, no bat, no tools.

He says “Anybody can play them. Let’s see who can develop them.” He loves seeing the kids struggle with wrist weight exercises, loves hearing the crack of the heavy bags as guys throw straight punches into it, and watches with interest as the kids throw 9 ounce baseballs into a net from a crow-hop. Not because he believes in the methods; he has no idea if they work. And not that he believes in me, either. He believes in his judgment of me. He knows I’m a weird guy and that I don’t care what others say about my training programs, my ideas. That’s the bond we share.

His kids are already throwing harder; already getting stronger. They self-report that their arms feel tired the day after the strenuous exercises and protocols – “Kyle had us doing over 120 reps of baseball throws!” – but they never quit. The radar gun doesn’t lie to them.

Our 2014 draft class promises to have a few guys who will go in the top five rounds as well as others who will sign large scholarship deals. Despite their lofty statuses, they still strap on wrist weights and do unorthodox exercises to strengthen their arms, since a strong arm plays at any position. The kid with the most ability is expected to do the same weird stuff as the kid with the least.

The kids like me, from what I can tell. They start to believe. I tell them: “Never put your blind faith in me – or anyone. Always question me if you feel the need. I don’t want your trust because of my status. I want your trust because you believe in the product.”

I really do love scouting and player development. I hope to do it with a professional organization in some capacity, but I’m not married to the idea of working in professional baseball just to put it on my resume. I think that I have a lot to give to pro ball, and with each passing week, I learn more and more about how to apply what I’ve learned. (I keep up with research journals, too.)

But most of all, I’m no longer a full-time software developer. 

And that’s truly something to celebrate.

My 2012 Baseball Season Wrap-Up

On the same day the  2012 World Series wrapped up, my amateur baseball season came to a close. My fall ball team – the Cardinals – lost in the championship game in a rout, 12-1. I contributed to the loss by booting an easy double play ball at third and later overthrowing first at the pivot at second base which allowed a runner circling third to score.

However, this season was mostly positive for me on an individual level. In my PSSBL season, I led the team in batting average (.500, 10th in the division) and innings pitched (62.0, 5th in the division) with a 5.37 ERA (league ERA is probably quite a bit higher than that, though I’m not gonna crunch the numbers). I also recorded 54 PAs without striking out once (six walks), but my production at the plate was mostly empty, only hitting three extra base hits (all doubles) over 24 hits. While the Rocky division has pitchers that would struggle to make HS varsity teams, when I played in the Adams division (competition much better), I still hit .500 over four games with my old team, including a pair of doubles.

In my other summer league – Seattle City League, White Sox – I hit close to .500 (don’t have my official stats) with way more power, hitting my first home run of the year off a Pierce CC pitcher at Steve Cox Field. I also recorded what has to be my first career triple at a field with no fences (hit a liner into RCF), though I may have hit one or two 100 pounds and 14 years ago (doubtful, I was a godawful hitter when younger). I threw about 20 innings of unremarkable baseball, putting together mostly good outings and no blowups that I can recall.

In the fall league – Cardinals – I hit just above .500 with my second home run of the year off a former JC pitcher at Interlake HS, along with a bunch of doubles. My power improved significantly when I made a few tweaks to my swing and took a slightly different approach than I had at the beginning of the year. I led our team in innings pitched with 23, with my season-high appearance of innings in an appearance when I started against the PSSBL Cascade Dodgers + Rocky Blue Rocks team, throwing 8 innings and picking up the win.

So, overall, I hit just about .500 with the same amount of power I had in 2010 (three HR, a bunch of doubles – 2011 I had my back injury which really impaired my swing). I can definitely say I’m improving as a hitter at a reasonable pace. Pitching-wise, I had a good year, setting a career high in innings pitched, but my velocity was very inconsistent. Prior to the PSSBL season, my teammates came to watch a bullpen session of mine and were astounded at how much velocity I had added between 2011 and 2012. I was routinely throwing pulldowns in my long toss / high-intensity sessions at 80-81 MPH and was consistently 77-79 MPH off the mound. As a heavily-leaned on starter (and reliever) for the PSSBL Mariners, my velocity dipped as I paced myself through long starts – an average 6 inning appearance would have me at 110+ pitches easily – and I made unconscious mechanical changes as a result. I also wavered between a curve ball and a slider, and didn’t consistently throw my sinker for strikes until fall ball.

My first appearance with the fall ball Cardinals was better, coming in as a setup man and striking out two batters in my first inning, then getting all three batters to weakly ground out in the second inning of work. However, I was not consistent with my arm care / arm strengthening program, and my velocity dipped and my arm was sore at times – though I never skipped a start or was unavailable in the bullpen, I had to come out of games early from time to time.

In 2013, I’d like to hit 85 MPH in a pulldown throw and consistently be 77-79 MPH off a mound. I think these are attainable goals, and while I’d like to consistently be 80-81 MPH off a mound, that might be shooting a little high. To achieve these goals, I need to be throwing on a regular basis, and fortunately for me, I’ll be working at RIPS Baseball (Tukwila, WA) as the Director of Strength and Conditioning at least four days per week with unlimited access to the cages/gym, so if I don’t achieve my goals, it won’t be because of lack of opportunity.

I need to evaluate where I’ll be playing next year. While my stats imply I’m a well above-average hitter, I am not there as a pitcher yet, and it is my first love. As such, I might need to return to the Rocky division to get enough innings on the hill, though I would love to compete at the Adams or Cascade level. We’ll see how it all shakes out as the off-season progresses. Speaking of, I can’t wait to get back in the gym and start training on a regular schedule again. Playing the games is fun and all, but nothing beats training and getting better…

WiiMote, Motion Plus, Accelerometers, Gyroscopes, Baseball Pitching, and What it All Means

I am working on a much larger post (and page, and even separate website) to detail my work with modeling baseball biomechanics, but I made a post that I want to catalog here on my blog for sharing and archival purposes. This was originally written on a messageboard, so if the formatting is off, I apologize.

Here’s a great video about accelerometers and gyroscopes:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s19W-MG-whE

What do I really care about when I’m using the Wii parts? Well, to build a fully functioning Inertial Mass Unit (IMU) to get 1:1 motion capture/control, I need to do what they demonstrate above. However, this is very complicated and requires 6 DOF. The degrees of freedom are:

Moving up and down (heaving)
Moving left and right (swaying)
Moving forward and backward (surging)
Tilting forward and backward (pitching)
Turning left and right (yawing)
Tilting side to side (rolling)

I really only care about what the forearm is doing in relation to the elbow; this eliminates the first three DOF. Fortunately for me, the first 3 DOF are handled by accelerometers and the last 3 DOF are handled by gyroscopes. What matters the most is tracking:

-Humeral internal rotation velocity rate of change (pitch)
-Forearm pronation/supination rate of change (roll)

And to a lesser extent:

-Ulnar/radial degrees of flexion rate of change (yaw)

So the next step is synchronizing what I see on high-speed two-dimensional frontal plane (side view) video and what I get from the gyroscopes. By doing this, I can nearly eliminate the need to have a four or five high-speed camera system that uses Direct Linear Transformation to recreate a three-dimensional model of a pitcher. This is awesome, because DLT is both ****ing ridiculously time intensive as well as somewhat expensive due to the need for 4+ high-speed cameras ($150 each minimum with current consumer technology) and the software to handle it ($50, but it’s very bare bones).

It’s cool to be the guy doing the most to push low-cost / DIY biomechanical analysis of amateur athletics, but it also means I have no peer groups to work with. The Internet helps, but very few people are working with this kind of technology to produce the stuff I want to make. It’s both exciting to be a pioneer in a field and incredibly frustrating because I have no formal education in physics or mechanical engineering, so I need to read pretty much everything I can get my hands on to understand it all.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that it’s a bit terrifying that I could very well be wasting a lot of my time from an application/technology standpoint. If this product is so good (and I believe it is), then it already should exist given that the underlying technologies have been around for some time, though it can be said that it’s only been affordable since the Wii and smartphones have given rise to cheap small consumer electronics for accelerometers and gyroscopes – not very long. But there’s no proven market for what I want to sell, and it will never be huge.

Fortunately, I see this as an awesome opportunity to learn about science and to contribute – however marginally – to the field. Science and technology are two wholly separate disciplines, and as Richard Feynman famously said about his work: “I do things for the pleasure of finding things out.”

Minor League Splits Redux Launched

I’ve launched yet another half-complete web application relating to baseball sabermetrics! ML Splits is a database of minor league baseball players (batters only for now) that shows their “splits” (performance against LHP and RHP) as well as park effects and major league equivalencies. The data is taken from Jeff Sackmann’s old minorleaguesplits.com site where he made the CSVs available for import as open source.

ML Splits

ML Splits

I leaned on jQuery for front-end display purposes, as I’m getting more and more comfortable with using it for front-facing web applications. Mostly just dynamic div tagging and toggle() to keep the screen clear of distractions and make it easy to see what stats are really important. Wrote the entire thing in PHP 5.3.x, MySQL 5, CodeIgniter 2.0, and jQuery.

Enjoy!

EDIT: Pitchers are up as of April 4th.