On this page, I'll share my thoughts, and any articles or information I think are of interest. Feel free to use the comments section to join in the discussion!
Why the sudden upheaval among scouting directors?
Eight teams make changes at the important front-office position this offseason
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com | @JonathanMayoB3 | December 17, 2014
Working as a scouting director inherently brings a certain amount of job instability. Baseball is a results-based industry, after all, and if an organization feels a scout isn't identifying and helping to bring in enough talent, it might go in a different direction.
Or perhaps a scouting director was hired by a certain general manager. Fast forward a few years and ownership wants to make a change at the GM position. In all likelihood, that means a new scouting director is coming.
Uncertainty is simply a part of the game. But this offseason made the scouting director's chair a true hotseat. There were eight new scouting directors named, making drummer for Spinal Tap a slightly less volatile career choice.
"If you go back and look at it over the past five years or so, there hasn't been a whole lot of change," said Brian Bridges, who started this offseason of change when he was named scouting director of the Atlanta Braves on Oct. 6. "Then, all of a sudden, it's one department of baseball that the heads just started moving around. I didn't expect it to be that much. Eight? That's a lot."
SCOUTING DIRECTOR CHANGES
Bridges is one of four who were promoted from within. He got his chance after the organization relieved Tony DiMacio of his responsibilities. Mike Rikard received his new title in Boston when Amiel Sawdaye was promoted. When Billy Gasparino left San Diego to take the Dodgers' scouting director gig, Mark Conner was bumped up. A similar situation occurred in St. Louis, with Chris Correa earning a promotion after Dan Kantrovitz left for Oakland.
In the non-internal hire column, Johnny Almaraz was hired to replace Marti Wolever in Philadelphia, Gasparino moved up the coast from San Diego to Los Angeles, Ray Montgomery moved from Arizona to Milwaukee, while Deric Ladnier was hired to take over from Montgomery.
"Moving up from being an area guy, getting a chance to cross-check, then they value your opinion enough to get that opportunity to get this job, it's that sense of loyalty in the organization," Bridges said. "You know the staff, you know the guys you're working for.
"It's a lot of responsibility, but you want to take everything you've learned from a great organization and give it back."
Montgomery wasn't promoted from within, but he is going to a very familiar situation, albeit under unfortunate circumstances. Montgomery cut his teeth as a scout with the Milwaukee Brewers before moving to Arizona in 2010 for his first scouting director gig. When friend and mentor Bruce Seid suddenly died in September, it left a hole in the Brewers' front office. Montgomery didn't leave the D-backs because of job dissatisfaction, but rather because he felt he belonged back in Milwaukee.
"It's bittersweet because I left a lot of quality people in Arizona and they treated me well," Montgomery explained. "But I know everyone in Milwaukee, from [GM] Doug Melvin on down to 85 percent of the scouting staff. That's really what was intriguing about it. There are very few opportunities to get that type of promotion, but this wasn't a bad situation. It was an unfortunate situation. That was a big piece to it."
Montgomery's departure created a vacancy in Arizona, and the D-backs were the last of the eight teams to officially make a new hire. Rather than promoting from within, they went with someone with a track record, though Ladnier hadn't been a scouting director since the Royals let him go in 2008.
A special assistant to GM Mike Rizzo in Washington for the past six years, Ladnier has received deserved credit for helping build the Kansas City team that made it to the World Series this year. Like Montgomery, he knew he was leaving a pretty solid situation, but he couldn't turn down the chance to get back in the game.
"When you get a chance to do it and then you see your product, like we did this year, from the efforts of your scouts, the people you had working for you, and then you see that town get so excited about it, you realize that it's from the players that you drafted, the vision that you had," said Ladnier, who also pointed to the people in Arizona's front office as a key selling point. "Then you get out of it and then you realize how much you miss it. The challenges of picking No. 1, the competitive nature of myself, it's kind of like a dream come true to get that opportunity. When it presented itself again, I thought, 'God, I would love to be able to do that again.'
"I was talking to Mike Rizzo the other day about the irony that I worked for him and Arizona was one of the teams that he built that won a World Series. I've got some big shoes to fill."
How long any of these new directors will be able to fill those shoes remains to be seen. They obviously hope that the 2014 offseason was an aberration, something that had no real rhyme or reason behind it, though they know that change is something they'll always have to be prepared for.
"We are held to pretty high expectations," Montgomery said. "Player development and scouting are held to high standards now. The timeframes are finite and short-lived. The expectation being what it is, there can be casualties from that, though it's not always the case of it being a negative changing of the guard.
"It is odd that all that happened in one offseason. The teams that have continuity, they often have success at the Major League level. I think everyone is shooting for that. It's just hard to get there."
“Without exception, really, the earlier a player has debuted, the more wins he’s produced on a rate basis.”
by Carson Cistulli - December 17, 2014
Generally speaking, in such cases as a prospect — or any player, really — possesses a combination of power and speed, said player is regarded with some interest by what is referred to broadly as the “scouting community.” While sabermetricians have (in the past, at least) cultivated a reasonable suspicion about such players — or, at least the level of enthusiasm exhibited on their behalfs — it’s also true that those players who’ve both (a) demonstrated power and speed have also generally (b) developed into above-average major leaguers.
Consider: over the 10-year period between 2004 and -13, 96 players recorded both 20 home runs and also 20 stolen bases in the same season. (Or, that is to say, there were 96 such player-seasons during that interval. Some players were responsible for more than one of them.) The average WAR figure among those player-seasons? 5.0, exactly. The number of those players to record worse than a 2.0 WAR (i.e. an average season)? Just four. One find, in other words, that in almost every case where a batter met generally accepted thresholds both for speed and power, that same batter was almost guaranteed to produce wins at an above-average — and frequently a star-type — rate.
Among the 4000-plus projections that have been produced by Steamer this offseason, only three of them call for the relevant player to record a 20-20 season (prorated to 600 plate appearances) in 2015: those for Carlos Gomez, Joc Pederson, and Steven Souza. Gomez, of course, has become of the the majors’ best players. His credentials are beyond criticism at this point. Pederson is a 23-year-old who lacks major-league experience, but also probably would have had a job last spring were he not blocked by the Dodgers’ surfeit of outfielders. Souza, meanwhile, has a decidedly different resume, insofar as he enters his age-26 season this year having recorded merely 26 major-league plate appearances in his whole life — all of them in 2014.
This is odd, insofar as (a) a 20-20 profile strongly suggests the probability of star-level performance, while (b) players who debut in their age-25 seasons rarely become stars.
The latter of those points isn’t a particularly controversial one. To test it, however, I looked at all the players who debuted between 2000 and -04 and proceeded to record at least 1000 major-league plate appearances over the course of their respective careers (mostly to remove pitchers from consideration). I used a sample from the earlier part of the century to guarantee that each player would have had the opportunity to produce roughly a career’s worth of data from which to draw. I then prorated the WAR totals for all players in the relevant sample to 550 plate appearances (denoted as WAR550 below) to get a sense of their per-season talent.
Here are the results of that work in graph form:
Without exception, really, the earlier a player has debuted, the more wins he’s produced on a rate basis. The correlation is pretty strong (r = 0.85). Nor does this fact run contrary to accepted wisdom: promising young players generally ascend through the minors more quickly than not-as-promising ones and also remain productive past their peaks longer than more marginal players.
One finds a similar trend among the game’s most recent and excellent players. For example, over the three most recent seasons only 12 batters have averaged five wins a season or more (which is to say, the average number of wins produced by a 20-20 player, as noted above). The average major-league debut age among those players? 21.8 years old. And the standard deviation? Below two.
That same sample rendered into histogram form:
Only one player who debuted at age 25 (or older, for that matter) has produced 15 wins over the last three seasons. That player would appear to have some relevance to this conversation, however, insofar as it’s Ben Zobrist, a person also employed by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Zobrist’s and Souza’s cases aren’t entirely parallel. Zobrist was drafted three rounds later than Souza (although there’s actually little substantive difference between those two in terms of expected future WAR). Zobrist was a little younger than Souza at the time of their respective trades. And Zobrist hadn’t played above Double-A when he was traded from Houston to Tampa Bay, while Souza has at least appearedin the majors.
There are similarities between the two, as well, though. Among the greatest of them: Zobrist and Souza are both players upon whose weaknesses it’s possible to dwell to the exclusion of their strengths. With regard to Zobrist, for example, there were reasons to dismiss him as an infielder who lacked the ability to play an average defensive shortstop and possessed below-average power. There are, of course, a number of players like that. What the Rays appear to have seen in Zobrist, however, is a versatile defender with elite command of the strike zone. What they’ve ultimately gotten is the second-best player in baseball since 2009.
Souza has also exhibited conspicuous flaws. After playing third and short almost exclusively over the first three years of his professional career, he was moved to first base in 2011 and then, after that, right field. Not an entirely typical path, that — especially for a player who’s averaged 33 steals per 150 games in his minor-league career. Souza hasn’t always made excellent contact, either — and, indeed, that will remain a weakness in his game. What Souza offers, however — the speed, the power, presumably above-average corner-outfield defense (based on his ability to cover ground, if nothing else — is an encouraging package. Steamer agrees: as Dave Cameron noted earlier this afternoon, Souza is projected as a two-win player — roughly equivalent to Wil Myers, for example.
Ultimately, while debut age is a pretty strong indicator of future major-league performance on a macro level, it’s also true that individual players face individual, specific circumstances. Playing on a club that employs Bryce Harper, Denard Span, and Jayson Werth, Souza will have naturally found it difficult to find himself a starting role even this year, as a 26-year-old. As Oakland general managerBilly Beane recently said to Eno Sarris with regard to how new acquisition Joey Wendle had failed to move beyond Double-A in his age-24 season: “That’s not his fault.” Debut age generally is a meaningful indicator of a player’s true talent — except, that is, when it isn’t.
ARE WIL MYERS' FLAWS FIXABLE?
5Two years ago, the Tampa Bay Rays traded James Shields and Wade Davis to the Kansas City Royals for a package of talent centered around outfield prospect Wil Myers. The deal was divisive to say the least, primarily due to Myers' inclusion; teams generally just didn't trade prospects of his stature. When you have a 22-year-old major league-ready slugger who rates as the fourth-best prospect in the game and you have an opening at the position that he plays, you generally build around him instead of using him to acquire an upgrade elsewhere.
But the Royals didn't keep Myers, preferring the short-term boost of adding a frontline starting pitcher and another talented arm who would become one of the game's most dominant relievers. So, instead, the young right fielder went to Tampa Bay, where he was quickly anointed as the next big thing; he then justified the hype by being named the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year. But after Myers' miserable 2014 season -- including a two-month stint on the disabled list due to a broken wrist -- the Rays are reportedly on the verge of shipping him to the San Diego Padres, being the second team to sell off his future in 24 months.
So what's the deal? Why is a promising young talent like Myers about to join his third organization before turning 25? Is there a concern about his future that has caused teams to sour on him more quickly than we'd expect, given his performance and pedigree? Let's take a look under the hood and see if we can identify any potential red flags.
Certainly, his 2014 performance could be seen as a serious problem if it weren't for the mitigating circumstance of the broken wrist. After Myers returned to the lineup in August, he hit just .213/.263/.268 the remainder of the season; that's the kind of offensive performance you expect from a lousy backup shortstop, not a slugging corner outfielder. Wrist injuries are notorious for sapping power, and it seems pretty clear that Myers shouldn't have rushed back as quickly as he did. It seems unwise to hold that performance against him when he probably should have just remained on the disabled list.
However, before we throw out all of his 2014 performance, we should remember that he didn't get hurt on Opening Day. In fact, he spent the first two months of the season playing with presumably no health issues, and his .227/.313/.354 batting line before the injury isn't exactly inspiring either. While it's tempting to simply ignore Myers' 2014 season as a lost year due to health problems, he did step to the plate 224 times before the wrist injury, and he didn't hit for much power in those at-bats either.
Which could be something of a real problem for Myers, given that the rest of his skillset essentially demands that he hit for power in order to be an above-average big leaguer. Even as a prospect tearing through the minor leagues, Myers always struck out a lot, and questions about his contact abilities have often been the big negative for skeptics to point to. His big-league performance has done nothing to dissuade those critics, as he's made contact on just 75 percent of his swings in the majors.
That's not Mark Reynolds or Adam Dunn territory, but it's a low enough contact rate that the total package only works if it's offset by hard, run-producing contact when Myers does put the bat on the ball. And even if we throw out all the numbers from after his wrist injury, his big-league performances have raised some questions about whether the power he showed in the minors is going to translate as well to the majors.
From his debut on June 18, 2013, through the wrist injury on May 30, 2014, Myers played something close to one full season of baseball. In 141 games and 597 plate appearances, Myers posted an Isolated Slugging (SLG minus BA) mark of .163, a little bit north of the league average, but certainly nothing special. For comparison, here are the three players who also posted a .163 ISO over the last two years in a similar number of at-bats: Will Venable, Kelly Johnson, and Jedd Gyorko. Failed prospect Justin Smoak -- who mostly failed because he didn't hit for enough power to offset his strikeout rate -- had an ISO of .161. This is not the company of big-time sluggers.
Realistically, if Myers is going to become the hitter that he was projected to be, he's either going to have to make more contact or hit for more power. One of those two traits has to improve, and unfortunately for Myers, improving your contact rate has historically proven to be quite difficult. To look for potential contact rate improvers, I isolated hitters with 500 or more plate appearances who made contact on between 72 percent and 78 percent of their swings through their age-25 season; essentially, this creates a list of guys at a similar age with similar contact skills to Myers.
Those 28 players had an average contact rate of 76 percent through their age-25 season. From their age-26 season on? 75.2 percent. Contact actually appears to regress slightly -- not improve -- as players age. That isn't a hard-and-fast rule, but of the 28 players with similar contact rates to Myers at an early age, only one -- Cleveland's Carlos Santana -- managed to improve his contact rate by at least three percentage points. But Santana simultaneously saw a bit of a drop in his power production, suggesting that he made a trade to reduce his strikeouts at the expense of driving the ball less often. The overall effect was for Santana to essentially remain as productive as he was earlier in his career, not improve upon that level.
That's not what Myers is looking to do, but if the ceiling is adding a percentage point or two to his contact rate -- and even that seems unlikely -- then he's never going to put the ball in play enough to be an impact hitter without hitting for power. If you're making contact even 77 percent of the time, you have to do damage on contact in order to be an offensive force. Put simply, Myers is going to have to hit for power.
His minor-league track record suggests that he can. He launched 37 home runs in 2012, performing well at the two highest levels of the minor leagues despite being just 21 years of age. He posted a .234 ISO in Triple-A prior to being called up to the big leagues in 2013. Scouts have long praised Myers' power as his carrying skill, and so projecting significant improvement in ball-striking doesn't seem so far-fetched.
And there are some recent examples of young players who failed to show a lot of power early in their career but developed more as they got older, turning into the players they were projected to be as minor leaguers. Adam Jones is a great example of this, and his career ISO through his age-25 season was .164, right in line with what Myers put up before his injury.
But it's somewhat telling that Jones stands out from the crowd, because most of the young players who posted an ISO in the .160 range at this stage of their careers did not go on to become prodigious sluggers. Mostly, players who hit for this much power at a similar point get by with their contact skills. In this range, we see a lot of guys like Andre Ethier, Billy Butler, James Loney, and Daniel Murphy, all of whom are primarily contact hitters who happen to hit home runs sometimes. This is what players who hit for this kind of power usually turn into.
But it's very unlikely that Myers can cut down on his strikeouts enough to make that kind of offensive profile work. And to be honest, it's not like any of those guys are the kind of hitters that Myers was projected to be as a prospect. Myers was supposed to be something like a right-handed Jay Bruce, but through his age-23 season, Bruce had a .217 ISO in the big leagues, 50 points higher than Myers pre-injury number. Even with a spike up to a .263 ISO in 2012 -- the sixth highest mark in the majors that year -- Bruce only managed a 120 wRC+, because his 74 percent contact rate made it difficult for Bruce to be a great hitter even while launching 34 home runs.
And if you want to see how well Bruce's skillset works without power, look no further than his miserable 2014 season, where he posted just a .156 ISO and was one of the worst players in baseball. If Bruce is what Myers was supposed to be, then he's also a reminder of how critical power is to his success. And to date, Myers just hasn't shown enough power in the big leagues to even live up to the comparisons to Bruce.
While it is far too early to write Myers off, I think it's probably fair to say that the last couple of years have provided some legitimate reasons for concern. Even throwing out all the data that happened after the wrist injury, the lack of power and low contact rates are a problematic combination. As mentioned, this is was the set of problems that doomed Smoak, as well as Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown, both of whom were similarly ranked as low-risk hitting prospects.
There's certainly still upside with Myers, but there's probably more risk there than was previously acknowledged. Perhaps the Rays might eventually regret selling low on Myers coming off a wasted season, but at this point, I might be more inclined to believe that the Royals saw this coming and sold high on Myers two winters ago in a trade that I crushed them for making at the time.
College sports guzzle subsidies: Column
Goldie Blumenstyk December 16, 2014
Athletics, a growing and steep financial burden for students and taxpayers, need sharper scrutiny.
Of all the ways colleges spend money — research, teaching, administrators' salaries, luxury facilities — the place where expenses are growing fastest is in intercollegiate athletics.
Yet despite all the public and political concern about rising costs, it's the issue very few college leaders or elected officials seem willing to tackle.
Likewise, when the proposed college ratings system from the Obama administrationdebuts this month, you can be sure there won't be any category that grades colleges on how carefully they steward their athletics dollars.
This is more than simply an issue of costs. Athletics spending is a matter of economic equity — perhaps even of morality.
The athletics fees that colleges charge their students don't begin to cover what colleges spend to field those football teams many of us now spend our Saturdays watching. (Nor do they cover their costs for the other teams they support alongside football so they can keep their gender balance in athletics to comply with Title IX, the federal law requiring gender equity in education.)
As USA TODAY has reported, only about two dozen public colleges of 228 in Division Ibreak even on their sports programs, even after counting the millions in broadcasting fees and the loot they make on logo licensing. And as researchers have documented, at many other colleges — many of them smaller public institutions that serve low- and middle-income students and a high proportion of adults — more than $1 out of $5 in tuition revenue goes to subsidize intercollegiate athletic programs.
For the adult students, many of whom also juggling work and child care, that's money for games they will probably never attend. For many of the rest, it's an expense that could add thousands to the student-debt load — a financial burden that will stick with them far longer than the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat.
I've covered higher education for more than 25 years. But it was only in the past year, when I had the chance to dig more deeply into these equity issues while writing a "primer" on the higher-education crisis, that the severity of this little-discussed phenomenon hit home.
If it was new to me, it wasn't to Jeff Smith, a management instructor at the University of South Carolina Upstate who regularly documents such subsidies as part of a broader campaign for more transparency over the trade-offs inherent in colleges' spending on athletics. His outrage bears a hearing: The college population is changing, but too many universities still focus their spending on "traditional" experiences and add-ons not directly tied to education or attaining a degree.
Critics of this spending do exist. Reform groups such as the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics raise alarms about the escalation of college sports spending and the focus on money.
But the realpolitik of college sports can often mute their voices. More than a few observers saw that as the case here in the Washington, D.C., area in 2012.
That was the year the University of Maryland-College Park announced it was shifting to a more lucrative athletics conference, a move derided by some as a crass chase for money and an abandonment of tradition.
Brit Kirwan, chancellor of the Maryland university system, helped oversee the conference shift. He also co-chairs the Knight Commission.
Kirwan says the decision to move from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten arose from the College Park leadership, not the system, and says he never saw himself "on the horns of a dilemma" because of his dual role. To the degree that he did endorse the shift, he maintains, it was because the Big Ten also fosters academic collaborations that would benefit College Park.
To be sure, intercollegiate athletics have value. They promote discipline and teamwork, and in some cases they help to cement alumni spirit and support.
But as politicians, business leaders and other would-be reformers continue to scrutinize all the other nooks and crannies of higher education, for some reason the locker room has been off-limits.
One wonders for how long.
“As it pertains to decision making, a lot of clubs are still going to value very highly what the scouts see with their eyes, as far as the way a player moves, their physical capabilities.”
by Eno Sarris - December 17, 2014
Nick Ennis was recently promoted to Director of Baseball Operations for the San Diego Padres. He signed on with the Padres as an intern in the baseball operations department out of Columbia Business School, and has also been an advance scout since he joined the team in 2010. He agreed to talk at the Winter Meetings in San Diego, where he had a hotel room despite living five minutes from the convention center. How else are you going to finish up work at two a.m. in the morning and be available for brunch?
Eno Sarris: One of the first interviews I ever did was at the winter meetings, with John Coppolella, now an Assistant General Manager in Atlanta. I asked him about defensive stats, and where they were, and if he ever looked at stats like UZR. He said, yeah, we do have some of that stuff in our database and we have our own opinions. When it comes to the stuff that you see on FanGraphs, how far off is the research?
Nick Ennis: That’s a good question because in the realm of their information, the lens through which they view the world — a macro view, bucketing different outcomes of batted balls with the information that they have, that kind of stuff — I think they’re good. With the public information at their disposal, those metrics are good. That’s a testament to the skills and talent of the members of the public baseball analytics community.
Where the clubs might have access to information that isn’t publicly available — whether it’s information that’s proprietary to that specific club, or information that’s shared only amongst clubs — then you start to see advantages potentially. Better input, essentially. All these models are going to depend on their inputs as well as the way they weigh those inputs.
Sarris: Is there a general area where you have better inputs right now? A general space, like say defense, where we aren’t seeing the same numbers?
Ennis: As it pertains to decision making, a lot of clubs are still going to value very highly what the scouts see with their eyes, as far as the way a player moves, their physical capabilities.
Sarris: That’s not necessarily something we could ever have access to.
Ennis: That’s not something that a person working on macro-level analytics is going to really be able to integrate because the carriers of that information aren’t large data sets. That information comes from subjective analysis.
Sarris: How much do you change that subjective analysis into data and then work with that as a data set?
Ennis: At its most basic level, scouting reports are data. Some of it is descriptive prose, but most of that descriptive prose, in a lot of cases, are words being used as part of a distinguishing language. It’s meant to provide information how good a player is at something or how bad a player is at something. The words are carefully defined. Say “average,” or “solid-average,” or “plus” — those words mean things.
Sarris: You could turn them into numbers.
Ennis: Absolutely. Those are numbers. That’s 50, 55, 60. Those things are absolutely numbers.
Sarris: I’m also talking about taking that stuff and going macro. It’s great that he has a 50 run tool, but in our estimation, what does that mean?
Ennis: You use it to make sure you are valuing what that players’ defensive contributions are going to be in the appropriate manner. There are things about macro-level defensive metrics that are going to tell you what happened. And then there are things you’re going to integrate about how a player does things, how they did things perhaps because of injury at a certain time, and then what you might know about that player’s physical capabilities and why they were what they were when you captured that data.
Coaching matters too. These guys change. Not to talk about another club’s players, but Nolan Arenado was a guy coming up whose defense was regarded poorly by many in the industry. Obviously through hard work, coaching, technique, and development, he’s become a great defender.
Sarris: I talked to Nolan in particular about that, and how that happened, and how they coached him through it. That’s something for that has really been eye-opening. Coming from the outside and thinking from the macro level and then getting in the clubhouse and realizing that these guys have to do it every day, that they are changing every day, they have to be the best they can be. Some of these things don’t stick and that’s why we generally take their numbers and smooth them out. But some of these things do stick.
It’s made me a better analyst to talk to the players. I wonder sometimes, when I’m in the clubhouse — I don’t see many front office guys in the clubhouse, a few, San Diego, Cincinnati, a few — I wonder if that’s an area that could be improved. Almost data collection from your own players. A link between the macro and the players on the field. Is that something that you think about?
Ennis: Absolutely. Each clubhouse, the particular culture of that clubhouse is going to be governed by all sorts of factors, whether it’s the manager, or the front office, or the players themselves. Some places are going to be a little more unto themselves, some places are going to be a little more open. Everybody else is going to be somewhere in between.
It’s important to know what the people out there doing things intended to do, and why they did what they did, and why they were standing where they standing, or why they threw where they threw, and why they attempted what they attempted. I think intent matters, especially if, along with the data, you know what happened better. Some of those things you can’t change. I can’t tell a pitcher to throw 97 when he threw 90 most of the time. We can’t change what you are physically capable of doing.
Sarris: Let’s say you learn from them that grips did certain things — I use this grip and it does this and when I use this grip, it does this — and that could be subject for further research. That might not be something that occurs to someone that’s looking at the game from a different angle. And in the future, we might be able to suggest different best practices based on this research. Are there times when you’re thinking about things that came upwards from the field?
Ennis: One thing that we have is a coaching staff that is open from both directions. There are always going to be, frankly, the preferred conduit for information. Whether you see front office people down in the clubhouse or not, ideas that they have may touch clubhouses.
Sarris: What I’m talking in particular then, would come from the pitching coach. He’s going to dissect anything that you tell the players to do and then also anything that might come from the players, the pitching coach can bring to you.
Ennis: Absolutely. When it works well, you’ve got people in place that can communicate both sides. You’ve got people on both ends that understand and are interested in getting information. You hear Bill Belichick and other coaches in other sports talking about great players craving information. And obviously Belichick wasn’t an accomplished football player, he didn’t have a professional career, he wasn’t an all-pro guy. Many of the players he’s coached can do things he could never do. Why are they listening to him? Because he has good information and can help them. Good players want that. They want to be better. They want that information.
Sarris: Who better to translate some of these concepts than the pitching coach, who has the language of the clubhouse down?
Ennis: That’s why those people are there. They’re good at digesting information — not only information that’s articulated from the player, but also observed by someone else. Good coaching is seeing things that a player might not even know they’re doing.
Sarris: How can you foster receptiveness for information on the field and then also for information from unexpected sources back in the front office?
Ennis: I think it takes a lot of time. Relationships take time. Trust doesn’t happen automatically because my title says this and your title says this. Credibility, commitment — whether it’s players, coaches, front office people — it just takes time to know that the people you are around are in it with you and pulling in the same direction, and to understand that information is coming with good intentions. Nobody is trying to force anything, nobody is trying to imply anything. You build trust, then that information doesn’t come in a way that seems pointed or threatening.
Sarris: Like: your job is on the line.
Ennis: Yeah. It’s tough, every new idea… you bring a new idea down that’s meant to improve something, and there’s the idea that there’s implicit fault in what’s currently being done. People could react that way at least. You build up relationships and trust, so that you don’t have an atmosphere where people receive information as a rebuke to what they are doing. Hopefully once you establish a culture where people take things as in, you’re in it to help them. And then they know they can provide feedback, too, to an idea that isn’t that good that we might have come up with.
When you’ve got that culture, it allows you to try new things. Those relationships are fragile. It’s not just a baseball thing, it’s in any industry. I’m not going to go downstairs with a new idea after we gave up eight runs — here’s how we should do things. That’s probably not the right time. You hope it goes the other way. I know in our case, it definitely does.
If we make a large acquisition or we extend a player, and it doesn’t work out all that well, you expect to hear some feedback about that from players, coaches, and your other colleagues. We’re in a performance-focused business. You can’t hide from that. But you know that everybody is trying to be the best that they can be, and there’s trust that we’re all pulling on the same side of the rope.
Sarris: Lewie Pollis did some research that suggests that you might get more bang for your buck on a team by investing in the front office than the players even, and there is undiscovered potential in the front office. Let me give you $10 million for the Padres front office. Structurally, not necessarily player wise. Is there a place, generally, that you might invest it?
Ennis: I’m happy to make a joke that the front office should all be paid more but specifics… Honestly, from my personal experience, I’m not working in baseball for my highest economic gain.
Sarris: I’m just talking about where you see opportunity. Not personal opportunity.
Ennis: There are only so many people you can have in a decision making process. There’s only so much information that you can integrate effectively in what you are doing. It wouldn’t be a “more” question for me, as far as, I’d take that money and hire 20 more analysts, and we’d do nothing but ideate about all sorts of different topics. This isn’t the primary reason, but you need to have some organizational focus. When you become bloated in your ideation, just implementing and utilizing those ideas becomes more difficult. Which ones are the good ideas?
Sarris: Can we even come to a consensus here.
Ennis: And how do we politically, effectively, and organizationally implement all these ideas. There’s more to learn — no question about that — and it’s going to keep happening. I’m just not sure money is the problem. Especially when I’m standing here and there are a thousand guys in the lobby willing to work for very little and are extremely intelligent and motivated. It’s not really a financial question about whether they would be a good fit for an organization. It does come down to a bandwidth question for decision making in a lot of ways. We’ve got a certain amount of workflow, we’ve got a certain amount of bandwidth for the people in the organization to implement ideas and work effectively.
Sarris: If the GM’s job is to synthesize many voices into one voice, there is a limit to how many voices he can listen to.
Ennis: Especially when you’re talking about new ideas and information. It’s like the old rule. Do you want to be first or do you want to let a bunch of other people be first and be a very close second on the shit that works.
Sarris: Especially when being first and it not working out means being fired.
Ennis: Being first and it not being a good idea, that is not a good outcome. Having a shit-ton of ideas and putting them all in place — they’re not all going to be good ideas. And some of those you’re not going to realize why they are bad ideas until it’s too late. From an ideation standpoint, new ideas is not really the challenge for the industry. It’s just making sure that the stuff that is good that we do develop, making sure that we have the ability to implement it. Which isn’t really a number of analysts problem.