A lecture from the Jays

There are a few perks in my real life day job. One of which being that I can get some pretty cool access to some pretty cool events.

That happened last week when I was able to sit in on a presentation to sports management students at Brock University by members of the Blue Jays. It was part of their Winter Caravan, and pitchers Esmil Rogers, Dustin McGowan, Todd Redmond and Brandon Morrow were on hand. For the most part what they had do say, while kind of interesting, wasn’t all that relevant.

But there were also quite a few members of the front office there. Among them was assistant GM Andrew Tinnish. And there was one answer he gave to a student question that I want to focus on.

The question, well it was kind of ridiculous. It was about Moneyball and how that has impacted what teams do. The student obviously didn’t realize the Moneyball concept is a decade old and most teams have moved on and evolved from it. However, it did spark an interesting response from Tinnish regarding the organization philosophy, so I guess the question was fine.

For me, the big takeaway was his discussion surrounding when to use analytics and when to use good, old fashioned scouting. Essentially, Tinnish said the further away you get from the majors, the more you should be looking at scouts’ opinions.

And that makes sense, to me at least, for a number of reasons.

One, the stats kept in the minors, college and high school aren’t nearly as in depth as the majors. You simply can’t do that much with the raw data provided at those levels. Not to mention the fact the data may not be as reliable.

Also, I think the further away you get, the less the numbers really matter. It’s not about what they’re doing, it’s about what they can do. Now obviously the numbers tell a part of the story. But if you’re getting down to the lower minors and high school baseball, I think the number tell you less and less of the story. At that stage in the game there is still so much development for the players to undergo before they’re Major League ready. Is a player with power at A ball going to keep getting bigger and bulkier, turing him into someone without the bat speed to be a hitter? Does the raw, toolsy player have the ability to turn those tools into skills and realize his potential? Has this player filled out or is there more physical development to wait for?

Those questions can’t be answered by numbers, for the most part. A scout with a good eye may be better suited to see those things the will turn a prospect into a major leaguer or bust.

The other part of his answer was geared more towards the major league level. He basically said it’s a 50-50 situation between analytics and scouting. This part of the answer is tougher to gauge, but I’m not sure how I feel. Now obviously, Tinnish is a scout first, so that’s his priority. Analytics aren’t really his thing. And while he did say they have a substantial analytics department, and the scouts will work with the numbers guys, bouncing ideas off each other, I just got the feeling that it’s not as progressive as I’d like.

Now maybe it was because he was already getting further and further from the question, or maybe he just didn’t want to divulge exactly the thinking of the organization, but I just get the feeling the team leans more to scouting and less progressive analytics. 

While that’s not necessarily terrible I’d like to see the team be as progressive as possible and continually look for new ways to exploit the market. AA managed to do that with relievers in free agency, but with that gone, the team needs to find something new and get out ahead of it.

People often talk about copying teams like the Rays or Athletics. While that’s not the worst idea, I’d prefer them to instead leapfrog those teams in terms of progressiveness and new age thinking. 

That’s the way you truly set up your organization for sustained success.

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