Phillies’ analytics team launches mentorship program with HBCU member schools
The Phillies will give up to 10 students a chance to work on projects, an opportunity that could promote a more diversified talent pipeline for front offices.
When Patrick McFarlane was a graduate student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he took a couple of classes outside of his study of aerospace engineering. He realized those math and science concepts could be applied to other areas, such as sports.
“Not everybody knows that these types of careers are out there,” McFarlane said. “You can work and contribute to a professional sports team or professional sports league, through quantitative skills, probability and statistics, computer science, things like that.”
McFarlane, who now is the assistant director of quantitative analysis in the Phillies’ research and development department, launched a mentorship program Monday that partners with schools in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, which is made up of historically Black colleges and universities, in hopes of increasing awareness for roles in sports analytics, he told The Inquirer.
The plan is to select six to 10 students, who can apply in September, and throughout the fall semester will take on two or three projects based around quantitative analysis and software engineering. The project problems are similar to what the research and development team handles on a day-to-day basis. Students will then have an opportunity to present their projects to people in baseball leadership positions.
McFarlane came up with the idea in May. He was scrolling through Twitter, when he came across a tweet by John Tobias, an ESPN sports statistician, that said he was holding a series of summer camps based around sports analytics for high school students. McFarlane was intrigued by Tobias’ offer to help younger students, so he reached out asking if there was any way he could help.
“John and I bounced around a few different ideas,” McFarlane said. “Whether to do a summer camp in Philadelphia ... We ultimately landed on this idea for the mentorship program, and went ahead and pitched that to the Phillies’ leadership, the R&D, and also baseball operations. Folks were pretty onboard quickly.”
Tobias had previous connections with schools based in the HBCU Southwestern Athletic Conference and recommended to the Phillies’ research and development department that a partnership with the conference’s member schools could bolster the pipeline of diversifying the leagues’ front offices.
“To be able to kind of attack a problem from a lot of different perspectives, I think often leads to better solutions,” McFarlane said. “If you have a lack of diversity in the decision-making process, it could lead to not thinking through a problem completely; it could lead to not exploring solutions, because you don’t have folks with different experiences, different backgrounds and different strengths in the room.”
By July, Tobias and McFarlane were sketching out a plan about what the program would look like. McFarlane looked at other sports leagues that offer a similar initiative, like the NHL’s Boston Bruins and the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, as a foundation to their setup.
“It’s nice to see that the awareness seems to be increasing,” McFarlane said. “People are identifying this as a possible career route, but I don’t think our work is done in increasing diversity and making sure that message gets out to everybody.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.