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Sunday, April 21, 2024 — Houston, TX

​​Scott Powers: major league analyst acing Rice

Assistant professor of sport analytics and statistics Scott Powers poses after a champagne shower when the Houston Astros swept the New York Yankees in the 2022 ALCS at Yankee Stadium. Courtesy Scott Powers

By Landry Wood     2/13/24 10:53pm

Scott Powers’ office, on the second floor of Kraft Hall, is sparse. It bears a few books on a small bookcase, some panels from the webcomic XKCD in magnet and mug form and, propped against the window, two plaques bearing the signatures of the World Series-winning 2020 Los Angeles Dodgers and 2022 Houston Astros. Conspicuously absent are the two World Series rings Powers himself owns from those teams and seasons.

Powers, an assistant professor of sports analytics and statistics at Rice since July 2023, worked in MLB front offices for six years after earning his doctorate in statistics from Stanford University. The majority of that time was spent in the Dodgers organization, mainly as the director of quantitative analysis. During his tenure, Los Angeles won their first World Series since 1988. 

At the end of 2021, Powers left the Dodgers and became the Astros’ assistant general manager in 2022, during which they won their second World Series in franchise history. According to Powers, Rice seemed the most exciting place to come next as he neared the end of his time with Houston.

“I remember seeing the job posting [for assistant professor],” Powers said. “I was in New York for the [American League Championship Series]. I’ve always had an affinity for Rice, and despite the fact that I had this really cool job with the Astros, I just got so excited when I saw the listing … It wound up being a very easy decision for me.”

According to Powers, coming to Rice was a kind of return to his natural environment of academia. Before eating breakfast with Justin Turner and personally signing Yordan Alvarez’s 2022 contract extension, Powers attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Chicago and Stanford, working as an instructor at the latter two. Powers describes his sojourn in the professional world as assuring him of his ability to educate students.

“[Having worked in MLB front offices] gives me a lot of confidence,” Powers said. “If I went straight from my Ph.D. into teaching, I would be wondering in the back of my mind, ‘But what is it that these teams are really doing behind closed doors?’ But having experience with a couple of the top teams in the game, I’m able to come to class with confidence that what I’m teaching is worthwhile for the students to learn.”

Powers’ students share this trust in his qualifications but put more emphasis on his character and personality. Lou Zhou, a freshman from Sid Richardson College who works in Powers’ lab, praises his approachability, stressing that, as experienced as Powers is, nothing tops his willingness to share that learning.

“Powers is an incredible teacher and person and I’m really lucky to work under him,” Zhou wrote in an email to the Thresher. “He really prioritizes creating a relaxed, collaborative environment where all lab members learn from one another, and he’s always open to help and give advice. My first ever interaction with him was me coming to his office hours, while not even a member of his class, where we talked about soccer analytics for about an hour and a half.”

“He has a teaching background at Stanford, and then he went into the industry,” Brady Detwiler, a freshman from Duncan College, said. “To combine that he knows what he’s doing in the classroom with the practical experience he has, that’s someone you want to learn from.”

In his free time, of which he says he has little, Powers likes to play board games. Having been introduced to the hobby by his brother, Powers now shares his love of games designed by Antoine Bauza, such as “7 Wonders” and “Hanabi,” with students such as Detwiler.

“Honestly, playing board games is not so different from math or making decisions for a baseball team,” Powers said. “I carry around my favorite game, Hanabi, everywhere with me, because you never know when you’ll find some people who will play. It’s actually a really popular game among the Chicago Cubs R&D staff.” 

How does a Rice classroom compare to the rarefied air of MLB? According to Powers, now several weeks into his second semester on campus, adjusting back to academia has brought fulfillment over and above the stress.

“I’ve just been so happy in this job,” Powers said. “It’s been great working with students both in the classroom and on research projects. This job has been a lot more fun than working in baseball. [The MLB] felt more glamorous in some ways, because you’re associated with this vaunted team, but the day-to-day of the job has just been so much fun here.”

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