John Henry says Red Sox will rely less on analytics
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox principal owner John Henry revealed a major shift in organizational philosophy Wednesday when he said the team was de-emphasizing its reliance on analytics in making major decisions.
Henry sat on a bench near the Red Sox clubhouse and spoke to the media after he and chairman Tom Werner watched manager John Farrell address the team before its full-squad workout. He said he made his decision on analytics based on the Red Sox’ poor results in three of the last four seasons.
“I spent at least two months sort of looking under the hood, and came to the conclusion that we needed to make changes,” said Henry, who also owns the Globe. “One of the things that we’ve done — and I’m fully accountable for this — is we have perhaps overly relied on numbers, and there were a whole host of things.
“We have a very hands-on president of baseball operations [Dave Dombrowski] and a general manager [Mike Hazen] who worked extremely well together. We have made significant changes. The biggest thing is players on the field have to perform.”
Henry, who made billions in hedge funds by relying on analytics, added, “Over the years, we’ve had success relying on numbers, but that has never been the whole story, as we’ve said over and over again. But perhaps it was too much of the story.
“Perhaps there was too much reliance on past performance and trying to project future performance. That obviously hasn’t worked in three of the last four years.”
Asked how he came to this conclusion, Henry simply said, “Results.”
Many teams in major league baseball are shifting in the opposite direction — adding to their analytics departments. While Henry is not eliminating that aspect from the process, he is de-emphasizing it. He said the acquisitions of David Price, Craig Kimbrel, and Chris Young this offseason were based on the new philosophy.
“The whole industry has learned signing players 30 years and older — and I’m a broken record about this — generally isn’t putting your best foot forward,” he said. “That’s been proven time and time again.
“We’ve been committed to growing our resources and putting those resources to work. It’s difficult to go out and find a [Yoan] Moncada who is 19 or 20 or 22 years old. It’s an issue. I think everyone has learned from it.”
Part of the new approach apparently comes with the hiring of Dombrowski, who was never into analytics in his time with the Marlins and Tigers. When he got to Boston, he inherited one of the largest analytics departments, if not the largest, in baseball.
Henry, who employed Dombrowski as his general manager in Florida from 1999-2001, said, “He’s hands-on. We worked three years together in Florida. When I bought the team, I held up a sign, ‘Trust In Dave.’ He built a team from scratch while I was there.
“I have tremendous confidence in him and Mike Hazen and baseball ops. He has made adjustments. It hasn’t been a revolution, it’s been an evolution. He has a different style than we’re used to here, and he’s melded very well with the front office.”
The Red Sox still employ Bill James, considered the father of analytics, as a senior adviser, and they have not reduced their analytics department. But the shift is toward using it as just a tool rather than the be-all-end-all.
“I will say this: Sabermetrics is always going to be a tool that is in the game to stay,” said Farrell, who wasn’t as involved in the offseason moves as Henry, Tom Werner, and Dombrowski. “What the right balance is, that’s probably dependent upon the person that’s making the decision. How much are they going to rely on that vs. a traditional approach to scouting or traditional approach to evaluation?
“So I can’t say it was abandoned, by any means. It certainly wasn’t abandoned. But that’s where art meets science, and how much do you weigh that information?”
“We were never as far toward analytics as people thought we were,” added Henry. “And even now, I’m an analytics guy, I think we needed more of a balance. I started reaching it last season.
“I won’t go into all of it, but there were various aspects of our overall philosophy that needed tweaking, and we did.
“Baseball is a complex, dynamic, living thing that has to really be nurtured on a daily basis, 12 months of the year. I think we were reliant too heavily on analytics.”
Summing up the new approach, Henry said, “I would put it that we’re more holistic and with a broader approach. These aren’t revolutionary but for us call it evolutionary.”