In 2016, I decided I wanted to pursue a career in a Major League Baseball front office. I was a senior in high school enjoying AP Statistics with a passion for thinking about baseball and a mind for numbers. Since then, I have met countless other people with similar stories and the shared goal to help a team win games however they can.
Throughout the last few years, I have been asked for my advice for those wanting to pursue a job in a front office so often that I am organizing my thoughts on the topic here for anyone who is interested. I want to note that I am far from an authority on this topic, but I feel that my 3 years going through the hiring process with numerous teams and receiving multiple job offers has given me a perspective that others may not have.
Everything that follows is a synthesis of my experiences and my opinions and is not intended to be one-size-fits-all advice as there are many paths into front offices! People who may be able to best relate to my path so far might include college student managers and those on the analytics/R&D/statistical modeling side of things.
Most of my experience hunting for MLB jobs has been in pursuit of entry-level internships (sometimes called fellowships or apprenticeships, I believe these are typically all similar in structure). These positions are typically either offered for a summer (~12–14 weeks in length) or for one full season. I have not encountered an internship opportunity that lasted longer than one year. These positions typically pay around minimum wage and the responsibilities of the job can vary wildly.
Teams typically post these positions publicly which is great news for you, the reader, because that means you can apply! I typically found these postings on FanGraphs’s Job Postings board or on TeamWorkOnline.com. The application process can vary team to team, but every job I have applied to required a resume and most had space for submitting a cover letter and an example of your previous work.
I have been told that some of the jobs I have applied to in the last few years have had between 700 to 900 applicants. It is no secret that working in an MLB front office is an extremely sought-after job, and therefore the application process is extremely competitive. Of course, to put yourself in a position to be offered one of these jobs, you need to have a strong application!
The rest of this post will be about how I went about improving the quality of my application for these entry-level positions and how you can too.
DEVELOP TECHNICAL SKILLS- Learn to Code
Computer programming skills have simply been a prerequisite to the jobs I was applying for (typically jobs with “analyst” in the title or in the analytics/R&D department). It seems to me that teams mostly use R or Python and SQL. R and Python seem to be viewed almost interchangeably, so I found it more beneficial to specialize in one (R in my case) rather than be only adequate at both. I assume some front office jobs exist that do not require coding skills so strongly, but having those skills seem to open enough doors to be worth the time.
The obvious follow up here is “how can I start coding?” Coming out of high school, I knew this was the number 1 thing I personally needed to work on to be a competitive candidate for these jobs down the line. I was lucky enough to be a part of a Statistics undergraduate program that emphasized statistical computing as soon as I got to campus. I went out of my way to take my school’s R course as soon as possible and began taking classes to fulfill a Data Science minor very early (which was mostly Python).
I realize that most people are not in a situation to have these resources immediately available to them. Luckily, there are *tons* of resources online for introductory coding in R and/or Python. Not having used any personally, I am not going to make a recommendation here on which site to use, but it seems to me that they will all cover fairly similar material. If you choose to learn R, I would specifically recommend learning the package called ‘dplyr’ and other packages within the ‘tidyverse’.
One of the most important skills under the “coding” umbrella, in my opinion, is data visualization. People who are able to “tell stories” with data with graphs and charts will certainly have a leg up. My preferred R package for this is called ‘ggplot2’ which is somewhat of an industry standard.
An example of a not-so-great visualization could be one where the viewer asks themselves “what is this showing?” like this graph from one of my articles in 2018.
A better graph could be one that tells a story that is easily understood by the viewer. I made this plot more recently at the end of 2020 and think it does a much better job of engaging the viewer and standing alone without requiring much explanation.
Once I got familiar with the basics of both languages, I found that the next important step was to learn how to make predictive models in these languages. Getting intimately familiar with the model building process has been very helpful to me, especially later in interview processes. I am not going to get into too much depth on this, but if you are interested, here are some of the best machine learning algorithms to focus on learning, many of which have been very helpful for me so far.
Finally, sharing your code publicly (on GitHub, for example) can allow potential employers to evaluate your code and see how you go about solving problems firsthand.
PRACTICE — Do Projects, Get Feedback
In my mind, the best way to be competitive for a job is to demonstrate that you can already do the job well. When I was starting out, I made sure to read the Job Description and Responsibilities sections of every posting I could find. This gave me an understanding of what types of things I would need to get very good at in order to rise to the top of these candidate pools later on.
As I have heard many times while job searching, it does not matter how good your resume is if you don’t have the ability to perform the duties of the job well. For this reason, I decided to focus on developing my skills rather than spending time on things that will only improve my resume.
During my Freshman year of college, I thought it was extremely important to get an internship in the baseball industry to improve my resume. I completed one the following summer with a baseball data company, but it was something else I did that summer that helped me more than the internship.
I started blogging.
My blog, which you are reading right now, is called Something Tangible because I felt that I was lacking something tangible in addition to my resume that I could show potential employers! A blog (or personal website) can be a central place to put independent work, creating a record of the work you have done and how the quality of the work has improved over time. Though my first posts were pretty brutal looking back, just getting started was very important. I found that posting somewhat consistently made it almost impossible not to improve as an analyst over time.
An important part of putting work on a blog is making sure to get feedback. I found feedback to be a very effective and necessary part of the learning process, because there are plenty of people out there who have been doing this much longer than you and who likely have great ideas for how you can improve your work. Don’t be afraid to put your work out there and seek improvement opportunities.
If you were hiring someone to do something important, you would want to have evidence that the person is going to get the job done well, right? I bet that teams want this assurance when hiring new employees as well. For that reason, having a strong body of previous work should help hiring managers evaluate your skill level more so than candidates that don’t have any work to show. Also, from what I have heard, a candidate’s previous work does not have to be revolutionary or game-changing. Simply showing how you think about the game in a creative way can go a long way.
This whole section is to say that practicing for the job you want is a great way to improve your skills and separate yourself from the hundreds of other candidates. If you can show that you can do the job well, you should find yourself at least getting to the next round of interview processes.
If you are struggling to find data to analyze, Baseball Savant’s Statcast Search should be a great starting point! (My favorite source of non-baseball data is Kaggle, which provides a wider variety of data with which to hone your data science skills.)
COMMUNICATE — Get Experience Working With Baseball People
I have found that a very important part of being an analyst, or working with numbers of any kind, is being able to communicate your findings to a non-statistical audience. Most people do not have the same background as you, so to get your point across, it is essential to be able to translate your numerical conclusions back into the language that the recipient of the information is most comfortable with. In baseball, this typically means being able to talk to coaches and players about the results of your projects.
Although I found independent projects as a great way to improve my technical skills, I think I benefited more from the process of writing up my results when the project was finished. This forced me to condense my procedure, methods, and results to the bare essentials and consider who the audience was for each post. In my eyes, it did not matter how good my project was if other people were not able to understand it! It is no coincidence that many people who currently hold front office positions with teams started out by writing about baseball publicly.
Aside from writing, another great way to get experience communicating technical material to a non-technical audience is to get in touch with baseball coaches or players and have conversations about analytical topics. I did this by getting involved with my college’s baseball program as an undergraduate student manager. Among many other things that I learned, this provided me the opportunity to describe the findings of my projects to several members of our coaching staff and even some players on the team. Everyone I talked to had a much different background and baseball experience than myself, so they had many great questions that I had not thought about before, improving my work even more.
One of the most helpful lessons I learned about communication during this experience was that the first question about any work is typically “How can we use this analysis to get better as a team?” After getting this question so many times, I was able to anticipate it and gear my work towards more actionable outcomes rather than just writing about cool stuff that was not very helpful to the team.
The more experience I got with talking to lifelong “baseball people,” the more I understood the role that an analyst plays within a team and how I may be able to contribute most going forward.
NETWORK — Talk With The Experts
For me, one of the more fun parts about job hunting is getting to talk to people who already have the job that I was interested in. I met so many amazing people in the industry and learned so much about the job and about baseball in general just by reaching out and having conversations.
My first time doing something like this was in high school when I mailed a letter to every stadium addressed to the team’s General Manager asking how to get a job in baseball. Although I did get some very helpful responses, I would recommend against this “copy and paste” strategy of sending one message to a bunch of people in the industry at once.
In my experience, a better process is to identify individuals that you genuinely want to talk with (mainly via LinkedIn and Twitter for me), and reach out asking for a small amount of their time to talk (15–30 minutes). There will be plenty of people who say no or who do not respond which is fine! They’re busy! But for the ones who do say yes, come prepared to your “informational interview” with good questions and be ready to listen. A good question is one that you cannot simply google!
I want to reiterate that nobody owes you anything and great connections with people in this industry will not just happen on their own. This is something I had to be intentional about throughout, and even before, the job hunting process but it has absolutely paid off for me, so I recommend trying it out for yourself as well.
If you have the means, I would also recommend attending or even presenting at a sports analytics conference (i.e. SABR Analytics Conference, Saberseminar, and the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference). Many members of MLB teams attend these conferences and can be actively seeking out qualified candidates. I had the opportunity to attend Saberseminar in 2018 and present at Saberseminar in 2019 and both experiences were well worth it. Even if you may not have the means, these conferences make an effort to provide scholarships to potential student attendees and presenters, making it a great networking opportunity for all.
I have been warned countless times that the realities of working in an MLB front office may not match everyone’s expectations of the “dream job,” so I want to pass along that point here. Before immersing myself in the world of job hunting, I definitely had a rosy idea of what working in a front office would probably be like, as I think many people do. In reality, those who work for teams have emphasized to me that their jobs are jobs, not play. These jobs are often demanding, being described as a “lifestyle” due to the fact that often these employees exceed 40 hours of work a week…by a lot.
In addition to the demands of these jobs, it is well known that they do not pay very well compared to other jobs that qualified candidates could likely get in another industry. In my experience, internships are typically minimum wage and entry-level full time jobs are often in the range of $45-$55k per year. It seems like this is simply a reality of the industry that candidates have to accept in order to get their foot in the door, so fair warning.
The way I think about it, being an analyst for a team is going to be somewhat similar to being an analyst for a non-baseball company. If I didn’t think working as a non-baseball analyst sounded doable, then I would have to reconsider a career as a baseball analyst.
I have talked to plenty of people who seemed to reconsider this line of work as their “dream job” after hearing these realities of the job, and rightfully so. These are all very important parts of the job that people may not think about too often, so I wanted to make sure to include an honest discussion about them here. RJ Anderson wrote an article that makes for a great resource on the realities of these jobs (especially in the COVID era).
Read Existing Work
This is something I wish I had done better. There are decades worth of outstanding research from publicly available sources like FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus, PitcherList, the Tangotiger blog, independent blogs, etc. that provide a strong foundation on which to base future analysis. I spent lots of time on projects I thought to be novel only to find out that the problem had been tackled earlier, and better, by somebody else. Being familiar with the state of research and “current events” in baseball analytics can be beneficial in your own work and also during interviews. In addition to articles, there are also many books that cover interesting industry trends that could be worth your time as well.
Develop a Plan
It’s no secret jobs in a baseball analytics department, and sports analytics positions in general are a highly competitive field and breaking into the industry can seem daunting. For anyone interested in pursuing one of these positions, one thing I found really helpful was having a plan for breaking into a front office. I began acting on this plan back in high school by setting out to learn how to code, gain an understanding of statistics, improve my communication skills through my blog and as a student manager, while also networking along the way. If landing your dream job seems far off, develop a plan to develop the necessary skills and experience first, and then focus on landing the job once you’ve become a candidate that teams will view as a potential asset to their department.
This is something I have done for a while now. By applying to every reasonably interesting opportunity, I was able to 1) maximize my probability of landing at least one opportunity, 2) become familiar with hiring managers at multiple teams, and them with me, 3) get tons of practice going through the hiring process and see what teams value, improving my candidacy for future opportunities. It can be scary to deal with all of that rejection (and there was a lot) but ultimately it was worth it for me.
In addition to providing my own narrow perspective on this topic, I reached out to some current and former front office members of MLB teams for their wisdom:
“One skill that is valued highly by teams, but never really comes up in conversations about breaking into an office is emotional intelligence, or better known within the baseball world as “feel”. Departments are not only looking for qualified candidates, but they need to be confident that you can handle yourself around major league players, coaches and executives, and recognize that this is ultimately a job. People who I have met and developed relationships with in analytics departments recognize how amazing parts of their job are, but also display an incredible sense of professionalism around people who they potentially looked up to growing up. It’s okay to recognize how fun and unique some of the potential experiences working in baseball analytics can afford you, but it’s important to make sure the fan in you doesn’t get in the way of spoiling them.”
“There is no one way to get into baseball analytics, and that’s a good thing. Analytics departments are looking far and wide for the best talent. Performing well on something like NFL’s Big Data Bowl or contributing to different sports analytics can help contextualize a candidate’s technical abilities. While the traditional ways of applying may still be the main entrance into a front office, paving an alternative way is not a waste of time. Quite the opposite if the quality of your work is strong.”
“Read, read, and then read some more. There are so many books recently published that give incredible insight into what the baseball industry is like (thinking MVP Machine, Swing Kings, Hidden Value, etc.). The year between when I first went to the winter meetings and then became an intern I read as much as I could and I think it was incredibly useful in showing me that there are tons of different perspectives on things. Ultimately the best front offices have a blend of different perspectives that get you to an answer/decision/plan and from reading a bunch of books and articles I was able to apply a lot of what I learned into what I’m doing now.”
“I think the one thing people who aspire to work in baseball can do is to show they know WHY this research is important. I see many people churning out articles that are decent, but without any addressing of how their research could help a team, a front office, or why it is interesting/important, It doesn’t allow teams and companies to fully see their thought process.”
Put Yourself Out There
“It takes 20 seconds of courage to completely change your life. Embrace the vulnerability. Not saying it’s an easy task and it’s completely normal to fear it. But in nearly all cases, it’s worth it. For me, I never truly set out to work for a team, but made a phone call to the sports teams at my university one day and the baseball team called back. Things clicked from there and I backed my way into a front office analyst role. Sometimes all it takes is a brief moment of courage, whether it’s making a phone call or starting a blog like Ethan or just putting yourself out there in general. You’d be surprised at how far it’ll take you.”
A Deeper Level of Understanding
“As said above, there is no one way into the baseball world. Actually, most front offices now welcome different and diverse backgrounds, meaning you don’t have to be a college manager or a stats undergrad student to break in. Sure there is probably a certain level of statistical and probabilistic knowledge that is required (lower than you would imagine), but teams are looking for diverse candidates with mindsets that are open and willing to challenge and push the team forward in a variety of ways. To me, having an interesting backstory in a different field does more than being the millionth kid to use a random forest model in Rstudio. Nearly all candidates love baseball, are well read, and would die to work in a front office. But blazing a unique pathway for yourself is a way that is certain to set you apart and make your resume / previous work stand out. Also, you’ll likely do some pretty cool stuff along the way.”
Thank you so much for reading and good luck on your journey into a baseball front office. If you have any questions, comments, or just want to start networking, please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @Moore_Stats, my DMs are always open!