Sean Forman has made life much easier for baseball beat reporters. These scribes no longer lug around a heavy encyclopedia to find answers to their statistical questions. Everything they need now requires only a few keystrokes on their laptops, thanks to this former University of Iowa graduate student.
Forman, 37, launched Baseball-Reference.com in 2000 while working on a doctorate in applied mathematical and computational sciences at the UI.
Nine years later, his five websites patented as Sports Reference LLC – baseball, basketball, pro football, hockey and the Olympics – average half a million page views and over 100,000 unique users per day. Barry Bonds, Major League Baseball's home run king who is currently a free agent, receives the most hits of any baseball player.
"The baseball site has been around nine years, and it has a lot of credibility in the field," Forman said. "The media feel comfortable citing us as sources for data. I've been to the (Major League Baseball) Winter Meetings and seen people using Baseball-Reference. You're proud of what you've done when you see the pros using it. It's one of those things where a lot of work has accumulated over a long period of time."
In May 2006, Forman took a leave from his position as an assistant professor in mathematics and computer science at St. Joseph's University to work full time on the website. He has since resigned from his academic position and works as the president of Sports Reference LLC and lives in Philadelphia.
As a long-time baseball fan, former high school catcher and self-professed Rotisserie baseball addict, Forman saw a need for people like him. Want to find out the Triple Crown winners or the 1980 American League Rookie of the Year? Baseball-Reference.com is just the place. The website has stats for every player and every season in major league history.
Forman got the basic data in 2000 from the Lahman Database. Some data has been donated, some he has entered himself, and some has been purchased. Daily updates are performed using data bought from a third party.
"Mostly, there wasn't a place to get stats online," said Forman, a native of Manning, Iowa. "It was the peak of the Internet boom and there was no place online to look up Ty Cobb's or Rogers Hornsby's stats. I thought the Internet would be a better form for this data than a baseball encyclopedia. We aren't confined by space. If you would print (my website) out, you couldn't carry it around. There is so much data on there."
Forman's desire for more data isn't stopping. His staff of three full-time employees isn't overwhelmed by the numbers yet since the data entry is an automated process.
Expect a few more sites to pop up in the future. Forman is exploring adding Negro League baseball, soccer and college sports pages.
"There's always more data to be had," Forman said.
Forman had good times in Iowa City while attending The University of Iowa. He graduated in December 2001, and his thesis title was Torsion Angle Selection and Emergent Non-Local Secondary Structure in Protein Structure Prediction.
Not only did he earn his doctorate, but he met his wife, Sylvia Forman, in a numerical analysis class.
"I loved Iowa City and loved living there," Forman said. "We still talk about moving back to Iowa City some day. I have fond memories of going to school there and getting a high quality education."
University of Iowa graduate student Dan Brooks has created brooksbaseball.net. His site offers data in eight pitching categories from every Major League Baseball game since 2008, including average speed, strike percentage and average pitch movement. Brooks is pursuing a doctorate in behavioral and cognitive neuroscience, but started the site as a hobby in 2008.
The site averages about a thousand unique visitors per day, many of whom are journalists who cover Major League Baseball. The site's data is from Sportvision, a company whose cameras track the ball's starting position, velocity, and acceleration in three dimensions. Sportvision provides the data, called PITCHf/x, for free.
"My website grabs that data and puts it on the screen in a way people can do something with it," said Brooks, a die-hard Red Sox fan from Boston, Mass. Brooks is partnering with Sean Forman, an alumnus of the Graduate College, who runs Baseball-Reference.com.
Brooks doesn't consider building and administering baseball websites his calling; he's more interested in academia than athletics. At the UI, he studies animal learning in psychologist Ed Wasserman's comparative cognition lab.