When Evan Eshleman first saw the movie, “Moneyball,” he was captivated. Sure, he thought Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill were great in the 2011 film, which depicts the unorthodox methods the general manager of the Oakland Athletics used to assemble a winning baseball team in 2002. But Eshleman, a business information and analytics major who will graduate this May, was more impressed by the role sabermetrics played in the movie than by any actor’s performance.
“I thought ‘This is a really interesting field but you know, like, 20 people in the world have that job,’” he said of sabermetrics—or the statistical analysis of baseball that is used to evaluate players’ performances. “So I thought, ‘That’s okay, I can follow it from a more casual, armchair perspective.’”
Little did Eshleman know that six years later, he’d land his dream job as a baseball research and development analyst for the Colorado Rockies before he even graduated from the University of Denver.
The first time wasn’t the charm for Eshleman and the Rockies, however: He had applied for a baseball analytics internship with the team in 2016 but was turned down. “That was kind of a bummer, but then I did an independent study with Dr. [Ryan] Elmore,” said Eshleman of the assistant professor of business analytics. Elmore just so happens to volunteer with the Denver Nuggets as a sports analyst, running complex predictive algorithms for the team. “So because of my interests, Dr. Elmore structured my independent study in a way where I was gaining the skills needed for sports analysis and at the same meeting course credit. It was a lot of work and a lot of learning. It took a long time to learn this stuff.”
The hard work paid off, however, when Eshleman was reading the Rockies’ job posting for a full-time research and development analyst. “I kept thinking, ‘wait a second, I learned that skill. Oh, I learned that as well … I know this,’” he said.
While sabermetrics was revolutionary at the turn of the 21st century, it’s now a common—if unspoken—practice of most professional teams, in baseball and beyond. “It’s almost like the elephant in the room where every team knows everyone else is doing this,” said Eshleman. “And I’m sure there’s a large overlap—in basketball, for example, I’m sure the Nuggets are doing a lot of things similar to the [Cleveland] Cavaliers or the [Golden State] Warriors—but any small, competitive advantage you can get, you hold onto that as much as possible.”
In many respects, Eshleman feels like DU gave him a competitive advantage in getting the job with the Rockies. “The biggest thing is how my education equipped me with useable skills,” he said. “The classes have translated really well into the work I’ll be doing and I definitely appreciate that. That’s what I was looking for when I chose a major that focuses on applied numbers and data.”
As someone who uses statistics to predict future performance, where does Eshleman see himself in five years? “Obviously, still working for the Rockies. Now that I have this job, I can’t let go of it,” he said. “I also hope to work with the sports statistics class Dr. Elmore is starting at Daniels, helping to grow this field and teach the next group of people.”
In the meantime, however, this lifelong sports fanatic and former baseball player is focusing on his new job, which he started in March. “I’ve always been a huge Rockies fan. Growing up in Colorado, I went to Rockies games all the time,” he said. “I’ve been counting down the days till I start. I just got a tour of the office and it’s kind of unreal.”