This Japanese pro baseball team is breaking new ground in data analytics, thanks to a Northeastern co-op by Cody Mello-Klein September 21, 2023 Share Mastodon Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Reece Calvin created his own co-op to find his dream job, providing data analytics for a professional baseball team. It just so happens the team, the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, are on the other side of the world in Japan. The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images Reece Calvin doesn’t like to lose. It’s why he takes his Northeastern University co-op so seriously — unlike a lot of co-ops, wins and losses are an explicit part of his job. Calvin, a third-year data science and economics student, is currently doing data analytics for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, a Japanese baseball team that, like Calvin, doesn’t like to lose. The team stands in second place in Nippon Professional Baseball’s Central League, a welcome position for a team that hasn’t reached the finals since 2016 and hasn’t won the pennant since 1991. That’s where Calvin comes in. Unlike in the U.S. where data is king in professional baseball, Japan is still catching up when it comes to data analytics. Sabermetrics, the data-based system of analyzing baseball metrics that most people know from the book and movie “Moneyball,” has yet to catch on, but Calvin says he hopes to change that. “They have all of this state-of-the-art equipment, but they don’t know where to start and I get to actually be a part of that,” says Calvin. “They haven’t had anyone that’s had the background that I have, so I’m very much following the path of what’s going on in America in terms of baseball.” Reece Calvin in Mazda Stadium, home field for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. Courtesy photo Originally from Phoenix, Calvin came to Northeastern hoping to turn his competitive spirit and interest in baseball analytics into a career. “Working in baseball on the data side is kind of why I came to Northeastern, to get ahead in the competitive industry of working in sports,” Calvin says. But when it came time to find a co-op, he repeatedly struck out trying to find a data analytics job with a Major League Baseball team in the U.S. But Calvin, who admits he’s a “really competitive guy,” took it on the chin and pivoted. Japan has been a major player in the world of baseball for years, but the national team’s World Baseball Classic victory in March 2023 made Calvin start to consider his options outside U.S. baseball. “I was thinking maybe I could be a part of that somehow, so I just started messaging people on LinkedIn, literally anyone with a connection to any teams in Japan,” Calvin says. Almost immediately he received much more interest from Japanese baseball teams than he had from their American counterparts. Within two days, he had an interview set up and not long after that, he was bound for Hiroshima. “Now, I’m here doing exactly what I want to do just on the other side of the world, which is really exciting,” Calvin says. “It’s not something I expected to be doing but something that I’m really happy doing. It’s an experience I would never get in any other time of my life.” As Calvin quickly realized, the interest he received from teams in Japan had as much to do with the state of Japanese baseball as it did his own skills. Despite the country’s track record on the international stage, Japan lags behind the U.S. when it comes to adopting Sabermetrics and data analysis to improve team performance. “We have not yet been able to use data to make decisions like the United States,” says Tetsuya Iida, head of player development for the Carp. “Sometimes, sense and feeling is thought [to be] more important than data.” Data analytics is becoming more widespread as teams like the Carp invest in data scientists, Iida says, but it’s still nowhere near as ubiquitous as it is in the U.S. Calvin’s co-op is a win-win, providing him and the team with an opportunity to build something new based on his knowledge of American baseball that could produce real results in a different context. “He has the tools to bring American knowledge and culture to Japanese baseball, and he is the one who provides a new perspective,” Iida says. Armed with heaps of raw game data from the team’s high-speed stadium cameras, he is using his data science skills and experience from doing data analytics for Northeastern’s baseball team to bring some “Moneyball” to Hiroshima. “A big thing that I do is team strategy: when to steal, when to bunt, when you should be taking out pitchers, how long you should leave them in the game,” Calvin says. “It’s really hard to quantify just from feel. You have to look at the numbers.” The Carp have found success in recent years after a 25-year cold streak in the 1990s and early 2000s. As the only team in the league to be majority privately owned, the Carp don’t have the same resources to work with as many others. But Calvin says the fans are shockingly committed nonetheless. During his first two days with the team, the Carp had Reece sit in the stands and watch some games so he could better understand the way Japanese baseball works — and the energy of their fans. “I was looking around and everyone the whole time was glued to the field,” Calvin says. “They were doing chants the entire time.” “Coming from Boston I didn’t know if [the fan energy] would be more or less than the Red Sox, but it’s crazy,” he adds. “This is definitely a baseball town.” It’s still too early for the impacts of Calvin’s reports to be measured — his co-op ends in December and the team’s regular season ends in October. But he’s looking forward to how his work will eventually go toward improving a team that is already finding success on the field. “They’re close to first in the league, and I think if I can be a part of that, especially if the things I try to implement actually get implemented and make an impact, that’s all I’ve wanted to do,” Calvin says. “I’m a competitive person — I like to win — so if I can have any part in that, that’d be great.” Cody Mello-Klein is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Proelectioneer.