Sports

Alex Speier

Red Sox are not abandoning analytics

John Henry said Wednesday the Red Sox may have relied too heavily on analytics in recent seasons.
AP
John Henry said Wednesday the Red Sox may have relied too heavily on analytics in recent seasons.

The Red Sox aren’t retreating from analytics. To the contrary, the team is expanding its commitment to that aspect of its front office.

One day after Red Sox principal owner (and Globe owner) John Henry suggested that his team had “perhaps overly relied on numbers” amidst the stumble to three last-place finishes in four years, it quickly became apparent that his statement was not meant to imply a diminished belief in the value of being at the forefront of statistical analysis.

Based on their actions, the Red Sox remain as committed to the pursuit of competitive advantages through statistical analysis as they’ve been since Henry’s group gained control of the team in 2002. There has been no drawback in the resources committed by the team to quantitative analysis.

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Indeed, according to president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, the team has expanded the budget of its analytics department and plans to add staff to that department. Its belief in the ability of analysis to create an edge remains very much intact.

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In Dombrowski, the team has a decision-maker who might assign a different weight to analytics in his decisions than predecessor Ben Cherington, but who is anything but dismissive of them.

In a way, Henry’s remarks, which were based on what he described as his look “under the hood” last summer, represented not an indictment of numbers, but instead in how they were being applied by Cherington.

At the time Henry conducted his organizational review last summer, the team’s run of deals gone bad included the trade of John Lackey for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly; the signings of Rusney Castillo, Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, and Justin Masterson; and the trade of Yoenis Cespedes for Rick Porcello.

“It wasn’t just [Sandoval and Ramirez who underperformed],” Henry said on Wednesday. “It wasn’t a coincidence we finished last two years in a row. By midseason I was convinced what’s happening here is not just chance, and it was not just two players.”

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The team’s evaluative framework appeared to have faltered. The Red Sox reached the conclusion that it needed to be changed, resulting in the decision to entrust baseball operations decisions to Dombrowski.

Dombrowski will be guided by different decision-making criteria than Cherington, but the fact that he left the front-office structure and personnel of the Red Sox virtually unchanged suggests that it would be inaccurate to say the Red Sox have adopted radical changes to how they do business. Henry’s suggestion that the team’s altered approach is “evolutionary, not revolutionary” points to the idea that the team isn’t eliminating a form of information, but instead viewing that information through a different prism.

Just as Cherington did, Dombrowski will seek the input of his pro scouting staff as well as his analytics team. Indeed, members of the front office have spoken appreciatively of Dombrowski’s open-mindedness and interest in hearing from a wide array of personnel and departments, something that was evident in how the organization approached the signing of David Price.

As someone whose entry into the game came from a very traditional scouting worldview, Dombrowski might assign a different weight to types of information than did Cherington. But if one follows the money and traces what the team deems worthy of investment in its baseball operations budget, it quickly becomes clear that the Red Sox have not stopped being an organization that values its analytics infrastructure.

Henry reached the conclusion that other elements aside from metrics deserved more weight in the team’s decisions, but his arrival at that point did not imply an abandonment of a belief in the potential value of analytics.

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In fact, the Red Sox’ baseball operations budget suggests that the team very much believes in the merits of all forms of information, whether through more money for the analytics department or the addition of more talent evaluators in the front office such as VP of baseball operations Frank Wren, the creation of the positions of a director of pitching analysis and development (Brian Bannister), and a pitching cross-checker in the pro scouting department (Chris Mears).

John Henry says Red Sox will rely less on analytics

Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.