The baseball analyst who's mapping the war in Ukraine

Getty Images, Andrew Perpetua

Andrew Perpetua loves maps, charts, and graphs. He's always been drawn to them.

"All of my baseball stuff is usually in graphs and charts. I'm just a visual person," he said. "The reason I do maps is it helps me remember."

He began a decade ago, charting home runs and batted balls at Citi Field, and later worked for the New York Mets as a consultant. He uses maps and visualizations for all sorts of purposes, including hobbies like demonstrating batted-ball trajectories or making the case for widening fair territory on major-league fields.

Perpetua has also written for sabermetric outlets, and in 2015 created his xStats metrics, which employed Statcast data to evaluate and project batting and pitching performance.

He got into baseball because his dream of going to medical school was derailed after an accident in which he lost the ring and pinky fingers on his dominant left hand, although they were reattached. He now works as a consultant for a variety of companies that have data-based research needs. Currently, he's helping a women's clothing line optimize the timing of its advertising spending.

"This is kind of how I calculate aging curves, except it's the aging curve of a dress," he said.

Since March, he's used his research and data-viz skills to cross over to another area: mapping and detailing the war in Ukraine. It's helping keep the baseball world, at least a portion of it on Twitter, informed about the ever-changing front lines. Media reports are spotty about these logistics, and it's difficult to know what exactly is happening on the ground.

Perpetua became interested when the war first began - not in late February but during Russia's initial hostile actions in 2014 when it took over Crimea and fighting began in the Donbas region.

Perpetua is an avid gamer and some of the games he enjoys playing are more popular in eastern Europe, like Red Orchestra, which depicts battles on the eastern front during World War II. Over the years, he befriended fellow gamers who lived in Ukraine. He says some of his friends were displaced during the fighting that began eight years ago.

When the 2022 invasion began, he shared what he was learning about the war on the social-media platform Discord. While he knew major Ukrainian cities, he needed a way to keep track of the action unfolding around smaller towns and locations.

"I started making the map to keep everything straight," Perpetua said.

He was encouraged to share what he was finding on Twitter.

Most every day now, Perpetua scours various channels on Telegram, the secure messaging platform that also allows users to post info to communities of followers. All sorts of groups are posting info about the war: official Ukrainian military units, paramilitary outfits, Russian groups for and against Vladimir Putin, and civilians sharing details. "Some of the channels are toxic and awful," he warns. "I suggest no one look at it."

He's looking for information, trying to understand where the front lines are, the supply routes, who is advancing, who is retreating, and what is being blown up. He reads horrific accounts. He studies Ukrainian newspapers as best he can, checks in on a Russian propaganda YouTube channel, and hears individually from people he knows in Ukraine, including military personnel.

Here is one of Perpetua's interactive maps from April 15:

And from one of his latest map updates on May 24:

He takes what he's learned and puts it all together in nearly daily map updates. The blue lines and thrusts are Ukrainian. Those in red represent Russian positions and pincer movements. He doesn't give exact coordinates of where he thinks Ukrainians are positioned for their safety.

He's interested in any detail and tries to verify them. For instance, he heard from a friend through Telegram about how she rescued her parents from a village near Kharkiv with the help of a police officer. After Ukrainian troops recaptured the town, though much of the area was still being contested, they entered the area in a pickup truck, traversed the river, and extracted her parents from their basement - all under the cover of darkness. Perpetua was glad to hear they returned safely, and their journey also told him that a bridge that was damaged by retreating Russian troops had been repaired. He updated his map. He's especially interested in where Russians are shelling.

"Where the Russians are blowing up stuff tells me the most," he said. "The Russians only blow stuff up when they have no control over it."

He said his computer coding skills aren't too critical for what he's doing. More important are the other skills he used as a baseball analyst: patience and curiosity.

What's his motivation in doing all this?

"People like hearing a story for a day or week and then they move on," Perpetua said. "I don't want people to forget about the war."

Russia's war is shrinking in scope, a trend apparent in media reports and his updates. Ukraine has impressed the world with its resolve and fighting prowess, an effort bolstered by Western arms, but Perpetua says Ukraine is still in a precarious position. It remains outnumbered and needs more arms and more support. He believes the only way that will happen is through the continued attention of the Western world.

He reasons he can play a small part in that. He's not sure exactly who is looking at his work but viewership of his maps has grown from hundreds to several thousand. His support also extends to donations to Mriya Aid, a nonprofit charity led by Canadian experts that supports Ukraine with nonlethal aid like surveillance drones, body armor, and medical equipment.

"I'm just trying to offer information people can absorb in a glance," he said. "I try to make it so you can look at it for a minute and you can move on. … I have had a lot of baseball people message me, thanking me for it." That includes some pitching and hitting coaches in major-league organizations.

He provides context and analysis, too, on what he's found, like any good analyst:

He cross-checks his work with public analysis from the French Ministry of Armed Forces and the Austrian government, which are thought to be excellent sources. He fills small gaps of the bigger picture of the war being pieced together in real time on social media. That effort is what he calls the "open-source intelligence" community. Bits and pieces of the war, of equipment and troop losses, of who is in control of a village's square, are shared everyday on social media.

"I don't want to say I'm part of the open-source intelligence movement. I'm not. I'm just an idiot," he said. "Open source is a thing that's been around for a long time and a lot of people that are professionals at it. It's literally their full-time job. I just figure I am a little tiny piece of it. There are a lot of people who are bigger pieces of it."

There are members of this community who can identify from a fuzzy video the combat unit a soldier belongs to by his uniform insignia. Perpetua can't do that. He can meticulously read reports and correspondence, though, and organize the information in a coherent fashion. He's found that some of his baseball-honed skills - a passion for detail, research, and presentation - cross over to something bigger than baseball.

"A lot of people are sick of having a war," Perpetua said. "Now it's causing international famine and the entire world economy is collapsing. The war has to end. People can't forget about it. This is the most important thing going on in your life right now whether you like it or not. It's just a fact."

Travis Sawchik is theScore's senior baseball writer.

Comments
The baseball analyst who's mapping the war in Ukraine
  Got something to say? Leave a comment below!

Daily Newsletter

Get the latest trending sports news daily in your inbox