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FEATURE/Rebas hoping to bring revolution to baseball analytics in Taiwan

03/23/2024 03:56 PM
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Screenshot taken from Rebas's website
Screenshot taken from Rebas's website

By Chao Yen-hsiang, CNA staff writer

Two decades after Michael Lewis unveiled the statistical magic behind the Oakland A's 2002 season in "Moneyball," websites such as Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant and FanGraphs have made advanced baseball metrics readily accessible to fans worldwide.

It was not until 2021, however, that Taiwanese baseball enthusiasts began to gain access to sabermetrics for their domestic league, the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL).

Today, the CPBL provides a database exclusively for use by accredited local media featuring advanced metrics such as weighted runs created plus (wRC+) and each pitcher's wins above replacement (WAR).

The CPBL policy, however, has left a large contingent of baseball fans and new media, such as bloggers and YouTubers, without access to numbers that are commonly bandied about on sports talk radio and podcasts in the United States.

That is, until now. Rebas (野球革命), a baseball data analytics startup that "aims to become the Taiwanese FanGraphs," is poised to fill the gap, Rebas co-founder and COO Cheng Kai-chun (鄭凱駿) told CNA.

Unlike the publicly accessible part of the CPBL's website, which offers only basic data such as ground ball/fly ball ratios, Rebas offers advanced sabermetrics such as batter's whiff percentage, weighted on-base average (wOBA) and pitcher's fielding independent pitching (FIP), for free.

Users can also get a monthly subscription for NT$149 (US$4.73) to unlock more metrics, including a batter's whiff percentage against different pitches, first-pitch swing percentage and batted ball distribution.

From left, Rebas co-founder Chiu Kuan-jung, COO Cheng Kai-chun and analyst Henry Fan. CNA photo March 6, 2024
From left, Rebas co-founder Chiu Kuan-jung, COO Cheng Kai-chun and analyst Henry Fan. CNA photo March 6, 2024

According to Cheng, the name "Rebas" combines "revolution" and "baseball," symbolizing its goal to "provide domestic fans with something they've never had."

That goal was clear from the beginning, even before Cheng and his high school classmate and business partner Chiu Kuan-jung (邱冠融) figured out the type of service they were going to offer when they reunited in 2019.

Moneyball

Rebas initially focused on building an online statistics platform for regional amateur leagues when it was founded in 2020, but the outbreak of COVID-19 prompted them to start collecting CPBL data, leading to the creation of a semi-automatic system using AI to import and verify data from CPBL games.

AI completes about half the job automatically, enabling the company to finish uploading data within an hour after a game ends, Cheng said.

In early August 2021, Rebas made its website public for the first time, and website traffic quickly increased 50- to 100-fold, Cheng said.

Many of the new supporters were CPBL commentators, who then asked Chiu and Cheng to develop more functions and specific data they needed, helping mold Rebas into its current form.

That response led Chiu and Cheng to devote their company to the CPBL, and it kicked off its subscription-based online database in early October 2023, just as the CPBL season was winding down.

"We didn't target fans at first," Cheng admitted. "But the support far exceeded our expectations, and that gave Rebas faith to feed on the support of the local fan base."

Rebas work with Wei Chuan Dragons and publish online guide for the 2023 CPBL final series to show fans insight into the game. Screenshot taken from Rebas's website
Rebas work with Wei Chuan Dragons and publish online guide for the 2023 CPBL final series to show fans insight into the game. Screenshot taken from Rebas's website

As of March 21, Rebas was collecting about NT$70,000 per month from nearly 500 subscribers, but Cheng expected the number could go higher with the 2024 CPBL season just around the corner.

There are metrics Rebas is not yet able to provide, such as launch angle, exit velocity, and horizontal and vertical break, that are dependent on high-speed photography and advanced techniques like TrackMan that only the clubs may have and don't necessarily share.

But others, such as advanced fielding metrics, weighted runs created plus (wRC+), and wins above replacement (WAR), will be available for subscribers for the 2024 CPBL season opener.

Rebas has also initiated discussions with CPBL franchises on potential partnerships in which the clubs provide the cameras and sensors and Rebas uses its analytical capabilities to turn images and measurements into usable data.

A different industry landscape?

Videoland Sports anchor Jacky Bing-sheng Lee. CNA photo Feb. 24, 2024
Videoland Sports anchor Jacky Bing-sheng Lee. CNA photo Feb. 24, 2024

Videoland Sports anchor Jacky Bing-sheng Lee (李秉昇), a sabermetrics enthusiast who also cohosts the podcast "Hito MLB," is one of the broadcasters happy to have the Rebas data at his fingertips.

"There used to be a huge difference between broadcasting an MLB game and a CPBL game. I know where to find the MLB data I want and can do it even during the broadcast, but it was way harder for a CPBL game," Lee told CNA.

He felt the data will enable chroniclers of baseball in Taiwan to bring new narratives and perspectives to the national pastime, especially as basic data has been missing from similar accounts in the past.

Another example is Tainan Josh, a well-known Taiwanese baseball YouTuber who shot a video to share how Rebas has helped him garner the data he wanted to discuss different CPBL topics.

"Rebas has realized what I wanted to do and has done it even better, and I have profited from it as well," Josh said in a YouTube video.

Cheng, who described what Rebas is doing as "infrastructure work," said its comprehensive database will help foster analytics talent in the near future, with CPBL clubs likely to fight to recruit them within a few years.

Around 40 baseball enthusiasts attend the inaugural Baseball Data Analytics Competition at National Taiwan Sport University in Taoyuan on Sept. 2, 2023. Photo: StatsInsight
Around 40 baseball enthusiasts attend the inaugural Baseball Data Analytics Competition at National Taiwan Sport University in Taoyuan on Sept. 2, 2023. Photo: StatsInsight

Last September, Rebas held the inaugural Baseball Data Analytics Competition in conjunction with rival StatsInsight and the Taiwan Society of Baseball and Softball Science and saw 30 teams -- 50 percent more than they had expected -- register for it.

Rebas confirmed that the competition will be held again this year, courtesy of a sponsorship it has received.

From just two high school baseball players to a company of four staffers, five interns and a recording team of around 10 people, Cheng said he never dreamed four years ago that Rebas would come as far as it has today.

That has changed his mindset from "trying whatever we can" to "having a sense of responsibility to the industry," but forcing the company to evolve remains the goal.

As Cheng said: "Rebas is far from reaching its ultimate form. The revolution will never stop."

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