A Few Minutes With… Episode 36 | College of Applied Health Sciences at Illinois
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A Few Minutes With… Episode 36 | College of Applied Health Sciences at Illinois


VINCE LARA: This is
Vince Lara at the College of Applied Health Sciences at
the University of Illinois. Today I spend a few minutes
with Charlie Young, an Illinois physics student who created
the Illini baseball analytics system and will start working
for the Astros upon graduation. All right, so I’m talking
with Charlie Young who is going to be joining
the Astros upon graduation. Now Charlie built essentially
the analytics program for the Illini baseball team. And Charlie let me just ask you,
how’d you get into baseball? CHARLIE YOUNG: Yeah, so I mean,
I played tee ball [INAUDIBLE] all the way through a
few years of high school. And after I stopped
playing, I got relegated to being just
a fan like everyone else. But once the Cubs, my
former favorite team, won the World Series I
knew their front office was very analytics dependent
with [INAUDIBLE] what they were doing. So I bought a few books. I wanted to see if my love
of math and computer science could intersect with
baseball in any way just to pick up
a cool new hobby. And I was reading a few books
and Professor Emeritus Alan Nathan popped up in
one of the books. So I knew he already
taught Illinois, so I figured I
reached out to him. And he was very
happy to talk to me. I wanted to just ask him so
many questions about analytics, about physics. And actually the same week
the Illinois baseball team asked Allen if he
knew a student would be willing to help them set up
their new FlightScope machine they just buy it. So if you’re not familiar
with FlightScope, it’s similar to TrackMan
where someone sets it up and records pitch type,
that kind of thing. So it all worked out. In the span of a
couple of weeks, I went from talking to
Allen, having a hobby, to working with
the team because I told Allen I was 100%
committed, and I really wanted to help the team win. And I never would’ve
thought it would come to having a team
of five analysts, working as much as
I can on the team, having multiple
internships and a job. It really took off pretty quick. VINCE LARA: Yeah,
I was gonna ask, you didn’t you didn’t think this
would build a career for you? CHARLIE YOUNG: No,
I just wanted it to be just a hobby I
could do on the side of my astrophysics research. I was thinking about going to
grad school or something, so yeah. It just exploded really quickly. VINCE LARA: That’s neat. I’m wondering, what
was Illinois looking to do when they were asking
for somebody to build an [INAUDIBLE] program. Were they– I mean, how much did
they know about what they were looking for when
they came to you? CHARLIE YOUNG: So
as far as I know, they were looking for someone
to operate the FlightScope, calibrate it, set it up, record. I don’t know– I wasn’t, obviously,
when they decided to buy FlightScope or anything. So I can’t I couldn’t
tell you that. But when I told them
I set up my first– I actually came into
the first meeting– I scraped some box score stats
off the internet, and said, hey I think this lineup
would work really well against this team. And they had no idea I
was going to even do that. So I think I kind
of put it on myself to really start the program. And once I started giving them
reports, they liked it a lot, and just wanted more and more. VINCE LARA: Had you known about
a TrackMan and these other kind of tracking programs
that baseball teams used? CHARLIE YOUNG: Not really. I was only familiar with
Statcast just watching games. They’d say the exit
velocity, launch angle. But yeah, no, ‘ I didn’t know
anything about the industry of tracking it all. VINCE LARA: So were you
a baseball fan first or did you have your physics
stuff in mind before? What came first, the
chicken or the egg? CHARLIE YOUNG: Yeah,
I mean like I said, I wanted to go to grad
school, and maybe teach, go to get a postdoc. My dream was to
work at Nasa to be an astrophysicist of some sort. But I think when I started
working for the team, and it was for those
first couple of months when I was talking to
Allen, he recommended I go to Saber Analytics, which
was a conference in Phoenix. I went there and I met a bunch
of front office analysts, and I think that was the
point where I actually realized that this could
be a viable career. Because it was just
a hobby until I started working for the
team, and it really just took off after that. VINCE LARA: What
differences did you notice with the Illini baseball
team after you took over? Were their tangible things that
happened from your programs? CHARLIE YOUNG: Yeah,
so something outside of FlightScope, we generate
pretty serious scouting reports based on NCAA play-by-play. So like how traditional like MLB
teams would shift all around, we started doing
that more and more. And it was just
awesome to see when we shifted our
in-field and the ball as [INAUDIBLE] up the
middle and we got it out. I mean, that was one of
the greatest, I would say, the happiest I’ve ever been
on a baseball field seeing that happen. But yeah, when I’m
recording FlightScope, some of the players
are behind me. They talk to me, ask questions. Some of them ask me personally
hey, can you send me this. So the players see
me buying in a lot, and, obviously,
the coaching staff is too because they
were the ones bought this in the first place. They’ve been wanting
more and more, they keep asking me for reports,
which I’m always happy to give. And it’s been a
good collaboration between me trying to
flex my analytics muscles and trying to make the best
support that I can, but also to help the team win. It’s just been a
really good mesh. VINCE LARA: I was
good ask you what the buy-in was for
players, but it sounds like it was pretty good
from the very beginning do you think? CHARLIE YOUNG: So I mean,
I went in as a freshman. So I was kind of shy anyway. And I still was
under the impression that oh, these are D1
college sports guys. They want nothing to do with me. But once I started working
more with the team, and I started
talking a little bit, I started to get more and
more buy-in from guys. They’d start saying hi
and things like that. But then it transformed into
now I know most of the players, if not all. Some text me, have
my phone number. They text me for reports. And it’s really been awesome. They jokingly, Michael
Massey, started calling me the analytics. Ryan Heff along with that. And I guess that might still
stick for the returning guys, but yeah it’s been
pretty awesome working with the players. VINCE LARA: Did you notice
that other Big 10 coaches– did anyone ever reach out
to you from another program within the Big 10 to say,
hey, how did you do this? How did you build this program? What can I do to build
something similar? CHARLIE YOUNG: Not
really in the Big 10. I’ve talked to the Iowa
student managers a few times. They have a good
team over there. But when I went to
Saber Seminar in Boston, which is a separate
conference co-run by Allen, I gave a talk titled, How To
Start A D1 Baseball Analytics Program. So I got a bunch of
people emailing me, DMing on Twitter about, hey,
how do I get started with this? So I’ve been responding
to everyone telling them my game plan, and it’s hopefully
I mean creates more programs. So in the end, I
think anyone who wants to go into
the industry, this is a great way to
get involved goals, build some projects, for
yourself, for interviews, but also help a team win because
I think every college team can really benefit by having
technology like this. [MUSIC PLAYING] VINCE LARA: My thanks
to Charlie Young. This has been A
Few Minutes With.

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