Live To Inspire: Daren Willman ’04
October 26, 2015
“Baseball fans love numbers. They love to swirl them around in their mouths like Bordeaux wine.” – Novelist Pat Conroy
Though it’s true not every baseball fan devotes hours to poring over statistics, most sports enthusiasts will agree that baseball is quite unique in the amount of data that’s available to analyze. Behind teams like the New York Mets and the Kansas City Royals—this year’s World Series contenders—is an abundance of statistical information about every aspect of the game. People like Daren Willman ’04 are combining their love of sports with their love of numbers.
Willman, a computer science major, is the founder of Baseball Savant—a website designed to give fans a simple way to view player matchups and advanced statistics. Willman also takes all box scores for every professional major and minor league team and presents them in one user-friendly page on MLBFarm.com. In addition to his baseball sites, Willman also manages NFL Savant and NBA Savant. While his repertoire of sports analysis sites continues to grow, he said it began with two things.
“It all started because of my curiosity of advanced statistics and my love of baseball,” Willman said. “Baseball has always had a huge statistical following. Back in 2007, Major League Baseball (MLB) released a huge data set called the PITCHf/x that tracks every pitch every pitcher has ever thrown. Even in 2012, when I started Baseball Savant, that data was still relatively new. There still wasn’t much research on it. I decided to grab all that data so any ordinary fan could see and understand it.”
At the root of his work, it’s about making things easy for the average person to use. Willman takes super technical stuff—like using a spray chart to show player tendencies of where they hit the ball—and makes it visual and easy to comprehend.
“You need to have a pretty technical background to utilize the data and create these sites,” Willman said. “I enjoy taking suggestions and ideas from users. It’s awesome to me that my websites can appeal to such a huge community of people that don’t have the computer background like I do.”
But it’s not just average fans looking at his pages. Willman has been hit up by some of baseball’s biggest names, looking to him for advice. Industry leaders in the NFL and the NBA have also come knocking. For right now though, Willman said he’s happy doing what he’s doing.
And it really is all just for fun. When the proud Astros fan isn’t moonlighting as the “Savant of Spray Charts,” he spends his days as chief software architect for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office in downtown Houston. He and his team manage all web development and programming for the entire city’s law enforcement.
Willman always knew he would be working with computers; however, the fact that he gets to put his techie knowledge to the test with sports is a bonus. At Texas Lutheran University, when he wasn’t in front of a computer screen, he was an outfielder for the baseball team.
“I had a great experience at TLU,” Willman said. “I learned so much and I think it prepared me well for when I got out in the real world and for a lot of what I do now. I’d tell college students that you have to work hard for things just like anything in life and you have to really have a passion for what you do. TLU is a great place to go and find out what that is.”
With current market trends, he encourages students to explore the field of technology.
“It’s a field that’s always growing,” Willman said. “There are so many cool things you can with a computer science background. I’ve turned one of my passions into something I never expected because I had an idea and came across the right data. I’ve always been passionate about computers and sports, and my TLU education helped me combine the two.”
Follow Daren on Twitter @darenw.
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