Baseball, Spencer Manners says, is like no other game.
One person -- the pitcher -- dictates everything. The defense initiates every play. There is no time limit.
But he loved statistics. And when he got to Bedford Middle School, he and his friends played fantasy baseball. They used "primitive" stats: home runs, RBI, ERA, saves. "I thought that was how you evaluated players," Spencer recalls.
Two years ago, as a Staples High School freshman, he heard his friend Mike Moritz talking about sabermetrics. That's the computerized measurement of baseball statistics. Spencer dove into books like Bill James' "Historical Baseball Abstract" and Michael Lewis' "Moneyball." He found websites like Fangraphs.com -- an interactive community for stat-obsessed baseball nuts -- and he read statistics blogs.
As he looked for patterns in the numbers he saw, Spencer got hooked.
Soon, he began writing his own articles. "They were pretty basic," he admits. "I basically just relied on statistics at first."
But it did not take long for his work to evolve. "I saw that the top writers in the field didn't fill their pieces with stats. I realized if I laid out three key statistics, and explained how I evaluated them and how they fit into a particular organization, I could really get my message across."
Spencer created his own blog, Baseball-Sciences.com. But his passion really took root when he found Mets360.com, an independent site covering his favorite team.
The editor had written for Fangraphs, so Spencer felt confident applying to work as a writer.
They asked for a quick submission -- that night. Spencer evaluated some of the Mets' holes, focusing on areas that had not previously been written about. He concentrated on the bullpen, and how the pitching staff was affected by the team's financial constraints.
Mets360 posted the piece. Now, Spencer has a regular Sunday column.
It's the first time he's worked with an editor, and he's learning to write in a particular style. He's also learning how to deal with feedback -- including criticism. One fan asked whether Spencer was insane or blind. However, most comments have been helpful.
Right now, the Staples junior is writing about the team's needs. As spring training continues, followed by the regular season, Spencer will evaluate players' performances. For example, he says, "I can see if a pitcher is throwing too many fastballs."
Interestingly, Spencer has not taken a statistics course at Staples. "I'm not really a math student," he says. However, English courses -- with their emphasis on writing, analysis and vocabulary -- have helped him greatly. His English 3A teacher, Jesse Bauks, is a baseball fan too. He and Spencer talk about the sport often, after class.
Spencer also likes Advanced Placement Government.
Outside of Staples -- and his Mets360 assignments -- Spencer volunteers at the Gillespie Center.
Like many 11th graders, he is not yet sure if he will turn his current writing gig into a career. But, he notes, "I'd love a job in baseball. Maybe something on the business side."