A baseball park is awash in data: K (strikeouts), BB (base on balls), ERA (earned run average), RISP (average with runners in scoring position) as well as even more obscure ones like RC27 (runs created per 27 outs) and SecA (secondary average). Anything that ballplayers do on the field is tracked, recorded, and preserved.
But what about what happens off the field? The business of baseball needs data experts, too. That's where Suffolk students Emily Lin and Helen Huang come in. The two candidates for Master of Science in Business Analytics degrees (MSBA) are using their big data skills at Fenway Park to help the Red Sox front office update its databases.
“The Red Sox sell tickets from different platforms, and they purchase data from third parties,” explains Lin. “The database has to be strong enough to process all that information. Over the years, the database becomes obsolete. There’s more to process, and it’s not as efficient as it should be.”
“If we upgrade the system, we’ll reduce the time it takes to load data,” says Huang.
So they’re moving data from the 2012 version of the Oracle database to the 2017 version, altering the structure of tables, adding columns, running validation, and doing testing. (In more technical terms, they’re upgrading the Extracting, Transforming and Loading [ETL] packages.) These are all skills they learned in classes taught by Professor George Hom at Suffolk’s Sawyer Business School.
“With their internships, Helen and Emily are able to learn a lot more advanced skills faster because they already had the foundation skills from the class,” says Hom. “It’s the kind of competitive edge we try to give students: Teach them skills companies are looking for so they can hit the ground running and contribute right away when they’re hired.”
It’s one thing to use classroom skills during a summer internship. It’s another to use them at Fenway Park, the “lyric little bandbox of a ballpark,” as John Updike called it. It's a must-see destination for baseball fans not just in Boston but around the world. Although Lin is from Taiwan and Huang from Shanghai, they quickly understood how much Boston loves its world-champion Red Sox after watching last fall’s Duck Boat parade in celebration of the World Series victory. And even before they attended their first Sox game last spring, they appreciated the opportunity they were being given.
“I feel like we are so lucky because, as Red Sox employees, we have more chance to take part in what’s going on,” says Huang. “It’s really fun to work here.”
But even when they’re off the clock and just watching the Sox play, Lin and Huang still want to analyze data and use what they’ve learned from MSBA classes as well as classes from their additional majors (Lin is also getting an MBA; Huang is also earning a Master’s of Science in Finance).
“When you step into the park, you realize, wow, what we are experiencing as fans relates to what we’re doing on the database side,” says Lin. “You start thinking, ‘How much is that hot dog? How much is that cup of beer?’ Our database has to be strong enough to support all that information to let the Red Sox be able to make better decisions.”
“Big data is everywhere,” agrees Huang.
Even at friendly Fenway Park.