Data from the 2015 season indicates that the major league organizations most committed to sabermetrics are also the most successful between the baselines. The contrast between clubs that are believers and those that are nonbelievers is so dramatic itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hard to conclude the correlation is a coincidence.
But if you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t trust the numbers, believe the stampede.
With the standings and common sense staring them in the face, organizations that have been sabermetric skeptics are ditching their doubts and joining the analytics party. That trampling you hear is the sound of major league clubs rushing as fast as they can toward young, analytic-minded front offices.
Every day, the white-collar fast break away from antiquated baseball is in the news:
- Atlanta hired John Coppolella (37) as GM;
- Boston hired Mike Hazen (39) as GM;
- Cleveland restructured its organization to make Chris Antonetti (41) president of baseball operations, Mike Chernoff (34) general manager and Derek Falvey (32) assistant general manager;
- The LA Angels hired Billy Eppler (40) as GM;
- Milwaukee hired David Stearns (30), now the youngest GM in baseball;
- Oakland promoted David Forst (39) to the role of GM;
- The Phillies are still looking, but owner John Middleton has made clear his desire for an analytical GM;
- Seattle hired Jerry Dipoto (47), a strong advocate of analytics and the role they play in roster building; and
- Toronto hired Mark Shapiro (48) as their president of baseball operations
The lesson is loud and clear.
And it’s delivered by gigaflops and teraflops, not gramophones. With one or two exceptions, major league organizations are abandoning dated strategies of the past.Ã‚Â Nostalgia for 2005 isn’t a successful operating principle.
When it comes to the front office, intellectual firepower is the currency of winning baseball. It’s a new field on which to compete. Baseball organizations, like other businesses, are searching for young, driven, credentialed hot shots to make sense of the oceans of new data that have become available to every team in the past couple years.
Improving an organization through a stronger analytics department is inexpensive compared to signing free agent players. For example, each of the 10.2 innings that Kevin Gregg pitched for the Reds cost the club $147,000. Enough to pay salary and benefits for a raw data rock star. If instead, the club had hired 10 high-powered, full-time analysts – and listened to them – surely it would have paid for itself by avoided misspending that particular $1.5 million.
The Houston Astros front office has been described as resembling a consulting firm -Ã‚Â full of bright, eager, young, Ivy Leaguers. General manager Jeff Luhnow has surrounded himself not only with baseball experts, but also engineers, consultants, data scientists and a physicist.
The Los Angeles Dodgers recently advertised for a Research & Development Data Scientist. Among the qualifications: A PhD in Computer Science (Machine Learning), Statistics, Operations Research or related field from a top-tier university; minimum of five years work experience in mathematical, statistical and predictive modeling (optimization, statistics and machine learning); expertise in mathematical and statistical programming.
In addition to skewing young and analytical as fast as possible, major league teams are strengthening their brainpower by hiring additional baseball executives. For example, several organizations have added the title of President of Baseball Operations or Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations.
Instead of one person, a general manager, running the entire baseball operation, front offices often now have two or three people leading the club. The Chicago Cubs hired Theo Epstein (41 today) as President of Baseball Operations and Jed Hoyer (41) as Executive Vice President and General Manager. The Red Sox have a President of Baseball Operations, Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations and a General Manager.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“If you look back over the last 10 years, the role and responsibilities in baseball operations have changed,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Chris Antonetti, Cleveland’s President of Baseball Operations and former GM. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The job has become a little bit more complicated. There are more people to manage, more systems to manage, a lot more information to work through.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The Dodgers rebooted their front office last October by hiring Andrew Friedman (39), formerly of Tampa Bay, to be their new President of Baseball Operations. They brought on Farhan Zaidi (38, PhD in Economics from Berkeley) from Oakland to be General Manager and former GM Josh Byrnes (45) to be Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations.
“In addition to keeping track of all your players, coaches and scouts, there’s all this new information for every single one of them,” says Dodgers President and CEO Stan Kasten. “So there’s a need for more specialization and division of labor than there’s ever been. There’s clearly a need for more people and systems and hardware and analysts. Even if you don’t like it, your competitors are using it and you’re going to fall behind if you don’t.”
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Employing three de-facto general managers has allowed the Dodgers to push creative boundaries this season,Ã¢â‚¬Â wrote Alex Reimer for Forbes. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s unlikely they wouldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been able to pull off a three-team, 13-player trade at the deadline if they didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have three decorated executives working the phones.Ã¢â‚¬Â
How about the Reds? You may be surprised to learn they also have a President of Baseball Operations and a General Manager.
Both positions are held by Walt Jocketty (64).