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{By the Numbers}

NASHUA – They sit next to each other in the Holman Stadium press box at every Nashua Silver Knights home game, laptops powered up.

Their pride and joy is a well compiled booklet of statistics for the season and week by week, ready to go every Tuesday. They sometimes meet with Silver Knights manager Kyle Jackson and his coaches to go over the numbers – or they’ll let the stat pack speak for itself.

And yes, they will recommend a lineup based on the numbers.

Gulp.

Meet Josh Tripp and Jared Haight, former high school classmates in Hamilton, Mass. Tripp is the team’s official scorer and Haight operates the stadium scoreboard for home games.

In essence, they are the Nashua Silver Knights analytics department.

Yes, even in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, analytics is gaining a foothold.

Haight, from Beverly, Mass., is a junior at Nichols College. Tripp attends Davidson University in North Carolina. Both have always loved the numbers.

Tripp has played baseball his whole life. In college, he plays in occasional club team games. He lost his high school senior season in 2020 due to COVID.

Haight, who played up until around middle school, says, “I’ve always had a passion for baseball.”

Tripp belongs to a statistics club that handles sports analytics at Davidson; he works with the men’s basketball and baseball teams.

“The goal for me is that analytics is finding the stats that are underneath the surface,” Tripp said. “You can see a player’s batting average on the scoreboard in-game. I’m looking for the type of stuff that can tell a coaching staff how a player is really performing.”

And that has several variables, Tripp said, one of the biggest is, well, luck.

“A little bloop single right over the second baseman’s head at 75 miles an hour, and that counts the same as a hard-hit line drive,” Tripp said. “My goal with analytics is to help the coaching staff. We want to be a resource for the coaching staff in any way we can. Giving them the stats that are beneath the surface, just trying to help them put the best product on the field day in, day out.”

Tripp said he’s always loved numbers and that math came easy for him in school. He and Haight competed in a fantasy baseball league for a half dozen years and he started really, really delving into the numbers as baseball is numbers/analytics heavy.

“I just found that fascinating when I started high school and then started figuring what I wanted to do with my life,” said Tripp, who is a math and economics double major at Davidson. “Eventually I want to be in the front office of a Major League organization doing what I’m doing now.”

And maybe even that could lead to him being a general manager. “That would be a life’s goal for me,” he said.

•••

THE BEGINNINGS

How did this all come about for this season? Of the two, Tripp was the one who was here last year as the official scorer, but there were no analytics involved. He wanted to come back, but wanted more responsibility to help build his resume, and get into analytics. Haight had already talked to Nichols alum and Knights general manager Cam Cook at an event at the school about interning this summer, and Tripp suggested to Cook that the pair work together as an analytics tandem.

“It’s kind of destiny,” Haight said. “When I met Cam, I interviewed for Josh’s job. … I had forgotten Josh had worked for the team.”

Cook emailed him and reassured Haight he’d have a spot, most likely working alongside Tripp. “It’s been a match made in heaven,” Haight said.

“They had a passion for it,” Cook said. “Tripp was here last year, and did (the official scoring) and was into every single pitch, so he sees things. He can like make a mental note of it and go back and see. … They were both like, ‘We’d like to dip our toes into more statistics and get into the coaches room’.

“I just figured it couldn’t hurt, right? Worst case scenario was it would be a packet that the coaches never look at and collect dust.”

•••

REACTION

Do the coaches at school and here agree with what Tripp and Haight are telling them?

“It depends on the coach,” Tripp said. “I respect the baseball knowledge, and there’s a lot more than just stats that goes into putting the best product on the field. That’s just the way baseball works. There’s a lot to be said for intangibles, baseball chemistry, things like that. Especially here. … We’ve seen some changes and they’ve worked.”

One includes Knights third baseman Andrew Jemison. He was hitting in the bottom part of the order during occasional playing time that was limited thanks to a .160 batting average. But Tripp and Haight advocated for him to get more time and hit higher in the order. Why? Because his batting average was in the high .400s. So Tripp and Haight kept pushing for that move, and Jemison, who got more time by necessity due to injury anyway, ended up hitting higher up and hit over .300 when the move was made. He’s now at .292 with 15 RBIs.

“They hit him leadoff for about a week or two and he was phenomenal,” Haight said.

Besides the numbers, Haight and Tripp do employ the eye test, which is what Jackson often uses. “But Kyle is not so set in his ways where he would be like, ‘This is all junk,’…” Cook said. “As the season went on and sample sizes got bigger, he would take more of it.”

“It’s something they’re passionate about,” Jackson said. “I’ve never been a big analytics guy, I don’t look at stats all the time – but to have that in my back packet, where they’re fitting well in, when guys get on, who can get them in, has been helpful.”

Same with the pitchers. Who’s good with runners on and who’s not. Clean innings and non clean innings, that’s a good thing to have.”

Sometimes players also have hidden value.

“The biggest example of that is (Knights outfielder) Shane McNamara,” Haight said. “He was injured, and when he came back he wasn’t getting much playing time. But every one of his outs were loud. You can tell from the sound of the bat if that’s an unlucky out. And that ended up being the case.”

Their faith in McNamara was rewarded when first base/hitting coach Brendan Martin, acting as manager after Jackson had gotten tossed, inserted him as a pinch hitter in the NESN-televised win over Pittsfield with his walk-off hit to deep right field. “He finally got lucky,” Haight said, adding that Martin told the pair afterward “You guys helped us win that game.”

“At least for me, that was the most fulfilling thing,” Haight said. “I had stopped paying attention to baseball for years, I had gotten more into football. But then Josh and one of our other high school friends got me back into the game again.”

The fantasy league that the pair were in was no joke, as you’d have to dive into the numbers of prospects, scouting, etc. That got Haight more interested in the game and when he arrived at Nichols he decided statistics was his thing.

His major at Nichols is sports management, something the school is well-known for, and he’s looking into a minor in sports analytics, a new program. Like Tripp, he wants to work in the front office of a Major League team.

Tripp says the analytical stat that is most important is average with runners in scoring position. “Those are the guys who can hit when we need hits,” he said. “Any good player in this league can hit .300-plus. But only a few of those guys are going to be able to hit .300 plus in the situations when we need them to.”

An example may be Silver Knights first baseman/DH Kyle Wolff. Haight and Tripp lobby hard for him, Jemison and McNamara to hit in the middle of the lineup, the run producing spots. The trio has combined to knock in 63 runs. McNamara at one point had more RBIs than hits. “That’s a tribute to him being able to hit in a clutch spot,” Tripp said. “He had led the team in RBIs (the first half of) July, and since his return he’s been great. … He’s getting runs in at a really high clip and he’s able to do that without getting hits with sac flies, loud contact. Maybe it doesn’t jump off the page at you, but this kid is one of the best hitters that we have.”

The weekly stat pack the pair put together takes about four to six hours. There are others they like as well; for example, mid-season signee Johnny Knox showed hustle and big defensive plays. “Those hidden things you don’t see in the stat pack,” Haight said. Knox knocked in the game winner in a walk-off a week ago over the Suns at Holman.

Another player they like is pitcher Cole Glassburn, who had led the league in wins but all in relief.

•••

THE PACK

What does the stat pack include? A suggested lineup, but more important a summary of what the pair has observed.

“That’s kind of a big thing with the coaches,” Haight said. “They want to hear it. Anyone can just print out numbers. We give our analysis of why the numbers are.”

Besides the league stats, they have all sorts of situational stats, lefty-righty splits, home-away splits, statistics vs. each team, and in a week where the Knights may see a team two or three times, the duo will have that team’s stats vs. Nashua. The pair waited until after the first three weeks of the season or so. As Tripp said, “It’s hard to make an assumptions of a player’s ability after 15 at-bats. As we kept going with the stat packs, they got better and better with the data we had.”

“Some are coming around to the fact that analytics is part of the game,” Haight said. “A lot of people go ‘It’s just baseball nerds.’ For me, I know it’s a cliché, but Moneyball (the story of analytics-driven Oakland GM Billy Beane) is what I feel we’re doing here to some degree. It’s ‘Hey, this guy gets on base at a much larger clip than said guy.’ Analytics are becoming so much more powerful in baseball, it’s inevitable. It’s part of the game.”

Should it be the deciding part of the game?

“That’s tough,” Haight said. “There’s the intangibles. You can tell if a guy hits it pretty hard and might be a better ballplayer, but the stats don’t pick up on that. It should be kind of a 50-50 mix. There needs to be a meet in the middle for everyone. But I think analytics should be more popular than they are now.”

Tripp loves his summer job, says he enjoys coming to work every day at Holman, and the same with Haight. He’ll do the same for Davidson’s baseball team next spring, as he did this past spring. “I just want to be a resource for the coaching staff,” he said. “I want to do whatever I can to help the team win.”

Haight did statistics for football at Nichols but didn’t get a chance to do the same for baseball. This summer has been his baseball fix. “It’s been the best working experience I’ve had so far,” he said. “It’s not very often you get work experience to sit and watch a baseball game, and analyze the game you love.”

“The team wasn’t a spectacular product last year,” Tripp said. “We’ve been much better this year. I’d like to think a lot of that can be attributed to the success we’ve had with our stats and the numbers.”

Are analytics gurus misunderstood?

“Absolutely,” Haight says with a smile.

Just think about it: The Nashua Silver Knights have an analytics department.

“I know man,” Cook said. “It’s wild.”

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