Battle between scouting and analytics continues
The general managers meetings take place this coming week in Boca Raton, Fla., and we'll see, in person, the changing face of baseball front offices.
Formulas, calculations, models, concepts, and projections have overshadowed in some cases instincts and scouting. Smart has replaced street smart.
This is baseball 2015, except in Kansas City and San Francisco, the homes of the last two World Series champions, where traditional baseball lives.
"I've seen so many good baseball men who will be pushed out of the game, and never be allowed back, to make room for some of the huge analytical departments that these teams employ now," said an American League GM. "And the question we all have: Has this made the game better? I'm not sure the answer to that is yes."
Fundamentals have slipped throughout the game. Pitchers can't throw to bases. Few players can bunt. Hitters don't even know how to beat shifts by slapping the ball the other way. Outfielders are consistently unable to hit the cutoff man. Base-running blunders are the norm.
Has all this occurred as a result of a shift in philosophies? If not, what a coincidence.
Every team has power pitchers who can't get past six innings; only 28 pitchers managed 200-plus innings in 2015, one of the lowest totals in years. And power pitchers are getting hurt at an alarming rate. Tommy John surgeons are getting rich.
There's more dependence on bullpens, which in most cases comprise pitchers who aren't good enough to be starters.
It was interesting to watch the free-and-easy nature of the game from the 1950s to the '80s, when players such as Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Roberto Clemente just went up to the plate, saw the ball, and hit it, as opposed to the robotic nature of today's game, where everything seems programmed and where data dictate whether a player swings or doesn't.
And so, what we'll see at the GM meetings is a cast that is changing to reflect baseball 2015 and beyond.
All teams will tell you they are hybrids of analytics and traditional scouting, but they all lean one way or the other. Does data support scouting or does scouting support data?
In the AL East, Yankees GM Brian Cashman tilts toward analytics. The Blue Jays will have a new look with Alex Anthopoulos leaving after incoming president Mark Shapiro decided he wanted to have the final say on baseball issues and criticized Anthopoulos for trading top prospects. While Anthopoulos leaned toward traditional, Shapiro is more analytical.
The Rays always have been more analytical. The Orioles are more traditional, yet Dan Duquette was one of the first GMs to use analytics, when he was in Boston.
Dave Dombrowski remains a traditionalist, so the Red Sox will trend that way, but new GM Mike Hazen embraces analytics.
In the AL Central, the Tigers' new GM, Al Avila, is a scouting guy, so he leans traditional. The Indians are more analytical. The White Sox are more traditional, with a host of scouts who have been together for years. The Twins are definitely traditional.
In the AL West, the Astros were always more analytical, but they've acknowledged scouting is still important. Billy Eppler, Cashman's longtime assistant who is the new GM of the Angels, leans analytical, though he embraces scouting. Now the question is, can Eppler and manager Mike Scioscia co-exist? Scioscia may be the last of the old-fashioned managers who consider analytics taboo. Scioscia will eventually lose this battle.
Former Angels GM Jerry Dipoto, who quit over an analytics battle with Scioscia, is now the GM in Seattle and is definitely analytical, as is his new manager, Scott Servais, his former assistant GM in Anaheim who has no prior managerial experience, also a trend among the analytics folks.
The Rangers really are a balanced team, but they lean analytical. The A's lean very much analytical.
In the National East, the Braves and Nationals lean traditional. The Mets use analytics, but they also lean traditional. The Marlins are traditional but are developing their first analytics department this offseason.
The Phillies were always more traditional under Ruben Amaro Jr., but with Medfield's Matt Klentak hired as GM to help president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, who is also more traditional, the Phillies' approach could change.
In the NL Central, the Cardinals lean toward analytics. The Brewers have hired Harvard-educated Dave Stearns, 30, who is heavily analytical, based on his Astros background as the assistant GM under Jeff Luhnow.
The Cubs will remain a mix of analytics and scouting with the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer/Jason McLeod troika, but Epstein leans toward analytics.
The Reds, a traditional team, are also changing. While Walt Jocketty moves up to president of baseball operations, the new GM is Dick Williams, who has been a business executive with the team and is the son of one of the minority owners. It's unclear which way Williams will lean.
The Pirates have great scouts, but they lean toward the analytics side.
In the NL West, the Dodgers are analytics all the way. More than 40 of their scouts and baseball operations staffers have been fired. The Padres are continuing to figure out who they are, but they lean toward analytics, as do the Rockies.
|AL East||Yankees, Blue Jays, Rays||Red Sox, Orioles|
|AL Central||Indians||Tigers, White Sox, Twins, Royals|
|AL West||Astros, Angels, Mariners, Rangers, A's|
|NL East||Braves, Nationals, Mets, Marlins, Phillies|
|NL Central||Cardinals, Brewers, Cubs, Pirates||Reds|
|NL West||Dodgers, Padres, Rockies||Giants, Diamondbacks|
We'll see how trades evolve as the faces change. You won't see two GMs sitting at a bar over a few drinks and making a deal. Some of the greatest deals in baseball history were made that way.
Now there will be enough data shared to choke a horse. And in the end everyone will likely have the same, or pretty close to the same, data.
What has always separated teams is how their scouts evaluate players. Their job is not only to evaluate talent, but to recognize heart, desire, makeup, toughness, resiliency, adaptation to the team culture and the city. All of the things that can't be quantified but may be the most important traits.
Dipoto offered opinions on Sox
Before he left to become the GM of the Mariners, Jerry Dipoto took his temporary role with the Red Sox very seriously.
According to Dave Dombrowski, Dipoto turned in a detailed report on the Sox organization from top to bottom, and Dombrowski said he found it helpful.
Given Boston's minor league talent, the report was mostly positive, but coming into a new situation, the information was valuable to Dombrowski. Former GM Ben Cherington had hired Dipoto before walking away when Dombrowski came aboard.
It would make sense to watch for Mariners/Red Sox trade talks, as Dipoto's knowledge of the Red Sox is likely higher than any other GM's.
Dipoto already has struck with the first major deal of the offseason, acquiring hard-throwing righthander Nate Karns from the Rays for utilityman Brad Miller, first baseman Logan Morrison, and reliever Danny Farquhar, as well as lefthander C.J. Riefenhauser and minor league outfielder Boog Powell.
Obtaining Karns was considered a coup, though the Rays were likely to make one of their starters available in an effort to improve their offense.
The Rays hope Miller can be their new Ben Zobrist. Karns protects Dipoto in case he can't re-sign free agent Hisashi Iwakuma, who will likely receive a qualifying offer.
Not clear where Morrison fits, and the Rays may now try to move James Loney and be rid of his $9.67 million salary. Farquhar gives the Rays another big arm in the bullpen.
Powell has been a productive prospect and could emerge as a starter for Seattle. A lefthanded-hitting center fielder and former first-round pick, he batted .295 with a .385 on-base percentage, 16 doubles, 9 triples, and 18 stolen bases over 117 games between Triple A Durham and Double A Montgomery in 2015.
But Dipoto has made building pitching depth his No. 1 priority. It's expected he'll be active in the free agent market, targeting pitchers such as Yovani Gallardo and Mike Leake, and others in that second tier.
The Mariners were picked by many to make the World Series in 2015, but they fell far short. GM Jack Zduriencik and manager Lloyd McClendon lost their jobs as a result.
Apropos of nothing
1. As expected, Pawtucket Red Sox owner Larry Lucchino opted for Dr. Charles Steinberg and Dan Rea to run the team over Jeremy Kapstein. Lucchino also persuaded Mike Tamburro to accept a vice chairman title, even though Tamburro won't be that involved. Some of Lucchino's investors weren't happy with the choices.
2. It was great to see the Royals recognize the scouts who did such a great job preparing for the teams they beat in the playoffs. The Royals invited the scouts into the World Series celebration, so Tim Conroy, Lynn's Mike Pazik, Mike Toomey, Paul Gibson, Mitch Webster, Dennis Cardoza, and Alec Zumwalt got to revel in a championship they played a part in.
3. Roger Clemens will be honored at The Sports Museum's 14th annual The Tradition, at TD Garden on Dec. 2. Clemens's award will be presented by Red Sox radio voice Joe Castiglione. Also honored will be Danny Ainge, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Richard Seymour, Gerry Cheevers, and Don Rodman. For tickets, visit www.sportsmuseum.org or contact Renee Quinn,at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-624-1231. Reserved seating is $300 and general admission is $200. Net proceeds benefit The Sports Museum.
4. We're likely to hear by the first of the year whether Pete Rose will be reinstated by commissioner Rob Manfred. Signs point to the status quo, but with Rose being allowed to take part in more MLB-related activities.
5. With Lucchino out, maybe now the Red Sox will properly honor Wade Boggs and retire his No. 26.
6. One of the theories out there on Alex Anthopoulos is that he'll eventually be the GM of the Montreal franchise if the Rays or Athletics relocate, or if there is expansion. Might be a good theory, but Anthopoulos will surely get a job before that.
7. A career well done by Aramis Ramirez, who announced his retirement last week. He played 18 years and hit .283 with 386 homers, 1,417 RBIs, and an .833 OPS. He played in 2,194 games and had 2,303 hits with three All-Star appearances.
Updates on nine
1. Dusty Baker, manager, Nationals — The 66-year-old Baker didn't mind being the second choice to Bud Black for the job. Baker managed 10 years with the Giants, four with the Cubs, and six with the Reds. He managed for 20 consecutive years, from 1993-2013, before a two-year hiatus. He has an 840-715 record and will be the second-oldest manager in baseball, 18 days younger than Terry Collins.
2. Shane Victorino, OF, free agent — Agent John Boggs said Victorino is finally healthy and wants to play in 2016. Boggs also said that Victorino, who hit .214 for the Angels and .230 overall (.245 for the Red Sox) in just 204 at-bats in 2015, would resume switch-hitting with his new team.
3. Mike Napoli, 1B/OF, free agent — Napoli managed to raise his value in the second half with the Rangers. He also added left field to his defensive repertoire. Napoli hit .295 with five homers and 10 RBIs with a .908 OPS in 78 at-bats with the Rangers. There's also some talk about adding catcher back to his tool box.
4. Jeffrey Loria, owner, Marlins — We've been critical of him for his managerial hirings, but Loria is deeply committed to good scouting. He's already hired two outstanding scouts in Paul Ricciarini, previously with the Astros, and Jim Cuthbert, who was the Indians' advance scout.
5. Dayton Moore, GM, Royals — Moore has gone from a man who was consistently ridiculed to one continually praised, after his patience and the lumps he took paid off the last two seasons. Moore is now considered the quintessential GM. And like Brian Sabean, whose Giants beat Moore's Royals in the 2014 World Series, Moore is a traditionalist.
6. Jonny Gomes, OF, free agent — Gomes, 34, was disappointed that he wasn't on the Royals' World Series roster, but said, "I was able to contribute behind the scenes. I helped a lot with the game-planning and the pregame discussions. I wanted to play, don't get me wrong, but it gave me a glimpse of what I want to do when I'm done playing." Gomes, who keeps winding up with postseason teams (he has been on two World Series winners), said he wants to be a manager someday. For now, he wants to continue playing. "They'll have to rip the jersey off my back," he said.
7. Dave Roberts, coach, Padres — Roberts, who made the 2004 Red Sox championship possible, will likely not return to the Padres if he doesn't land the Dodgers manager job, after the Padres did not interview him for their managerial opening. Roberts is waiting to hear whether he has made the second round of interviews in LA. His upbeat nature and embracing of analytics are certainly positives as the Dodgers try to replace Don Mattingly. Roberts is seen as a perfect mentor for Yasiel Puig, who needs that special touch to bring out his talent. Bud Black has entered the picture in LA. There's also Bob Geren, Raul Ibanez, Gabe Kapler, and Ron Roenicke in the mix. Roberts also interviewed for the Mariners job.
8. Frank Viola, Triple A pitching coach, Mets — Behind the scenes, Viola has done a great job grooming the Mets' young pitchers. He did it this year with righthander Noah Syndergaard and lefthander Steven Matz. Viola will now try to advance the next group, which is headed by former Princeton righthander Matt Bowman, who really struggled at Triple A (7-16, 5.53 ERA) but whom Viola sees as someone who could emerge.
9. Dan Jennings, former GM and manager, Marlins — Jennings won't be a manager or GM any time soon, but said he has a few options to join organizations and will likely decide soon. Jennings, who has two years remaining on his contract with the Marlins, will likely take an advisory role.
From the Bill Chuck files: "How good were the Royals in 2015 hitting against fastballs? Very. All teams averaged .275 against fastballs, while the Royals hit .311." . . . Happy birthday, Nick Punto (38), Jose Offerman (47), and Jerry Remy (63).
Roller coaster ride
Unheralded Daniel Murphy was having a historically great postseason before stumbling big time in the World Series. The Mets second baseman homered in a record six straight postseason games in the NL Division Series and Championship Series, winning NLCS MVP honors. The ride came to an abrupt halt in the World Series, but he still joins a list of lesser- known players who did some of their best work in October.