Rob Neyer commented on the Minnesota Twins and their lack of sabermetric use in the front office, and that definitely got me thinking. First, here’s Rob.
I don’t see any way around this … the Twins are way, way behind most of the other good teams in this area. Hiring “a guy,” however talented, isn’t going to change this. I can tell you stories about other sabermetric-unfriendly teams that have hired guys — smart guys, all of them — and then ignored 95 percent of their advice. You wonder why they even bothered. I think sometimes the general managers sincerely believed the information was valuable but just didn’t have any idea how to use it; sometimes they were just doing what they thought they were supposed to do (“Hire nerd to play around with numbers: check.”)
Yes, the Twins have been successful for a long time, despite an utter lack of sophistication regarding statistical analysis. Wouldn’t they be even more successful, though, if they had even a passing familiarity with some of today’s basic analytical precepts?
As a big fan of sabermetrics, I agree with him. Sure, the Twins have been successful without sabermetrics, but does that mean you can’t be successful with sabermetrics too? Of course not, and in fact, those scouting eyes and spreadsheet numbers should be working together, not against each other, when it comes to analyzing baseball. When GM’s make moves, they should consider both the numbers and the scouts, because the important thing is to get the most information possible and weight it accordingly.
This got me thinking about the Marlins and their relative success in the last decade. From 2000 to 2009, the team managed a .500 record (811-807, if you want be exact) despite consistently having among the lowest payrolls in baseball. Clearly, the club is doing something right, but most people wonder what that is?
One thing I can say is that statistics and sabermetrics are probably not a part of the answer.
Actually, I don’t know that to be true. I’ve never once talked to Larry Beinfest, Michael Hill, or anyone involved with the organization about how they use statistical analysis. But apparently neither has anyone else. Doing a Google News search on “Larry Beinfest” and the words “sabermetrics,” “statistics,” or “stats” yields little to no response. In fact, one of the responses was an article I wrote on a future Hanley Ramirez extension! Not exactly helping the cause there.
Now, part of that is the general lack of media coverage about the Marlins. I started this blog because I felt there was a lack of sabermetric voice in the Marlins’ light blogosphere, and there seems to be an even lighter presence in the mainstream media. The national media has just begun embracing certain sabermetric principles, and it barely covers the Marlins. It would seem quite difficult for us to find out how Beinfest & co. utilize advanced statistics if nobody is interested in asking them about it. In this regard, I’m hoping people like Juan C. Rodriguez, Joe Capozzi, and Joe Frisaro can help, but they too need to know a little bit about the stats/concepts they would be asking about. I know Juan has told me in the past that he has begun to get into that, and some of his recent blog posts have had some interesting analysis in that regard.
The other part may very well be that the organization does not use sabermetrics to their advantage. It’s hard to blame Beinfest/Hill specifically; after all, they do come from strict scouting backgrounds. Again, without hearing directly from them or seeing what they see, we would have no way of telling. But there are some signs, the most prominent being the mistake that was Emilio Bonifacio last season. I have a hard time believing any organization would make such an egregious error if it had looked at the important numbers alongside scouting evaluations. What would the typical scouting book on Bonifacio be?
- He’s fast.
- He has decent contact tools, though he strikes out a bit more than you would like.
I’m sure there was more to it than that, especially since scouts would have been able to grade Bonifacio’s levels of speed and defensive ability better than I probably could have. But if you looked at the numbers, you might see a few glaring problems:
- Career minor league K% of around 17%
- Career BABIP of .365
What does that tell you about his contact skills? It means that they were wildly overrated. The Marlins may have seen him bat .300+ in those minor league seasons, but they also should have noted that doing so with that kind of striekout rate would not have boded well when he moved to the big leagues, where pitchers get tougher (increased K%) and defenses get better (lowered BABIP, especially on ground balls). Well, you and I both saw how that actually turned out. Posting a BABIP of .313 and still batting in the .250′s cannot be a good thing, especially with a complete dearth of power.
Few organizations with a statistical evaluation team in place would have let that slide. A major league organization should be able to tell that that move would have been a blunder barring a spectacular defensive performance. That is just one example, and it comes with “small sample” caveats, but in my opinion, it seems damning. And with little evidence supporting the claim of using sabermetrics, I will go with my gut and say that the Marlins are alongside the Twins among the last teams to jump into sabermetrics. I would love to be proven otherwise, and a chance to discuss this matter with someone like Mr. Beinfest or Mr. Hill would excellent.
What do you maniacs think? How much do you feel the team uses sabermetrics? Vote in the poll and tell me about it in the comments section!