At the SABR Analytics Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, I learned from a number of general managers that running an MLB team takes a lot more skill and tools than the typical baseball fan might think. The GMs who spoke were Jerry Dipoto of the Los Angeles Angels, Jon Daniels of the Texas Rangers, Rick Hahn of the Chicago White Sox, and Jed Hoyer of the Chicago Cubs. They talked a lot about metrics, transactions, and how they run their teams.
Hahn (that's him in the photo on the left) recently signed lefthanded starter Chris Sale to a five-year contract extension worth $32.5 million. Sale will likely be the ace of a rotation that includes top righthanders Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd, and lefthander Jose Quintana. This was the first of likely many smart transactions that Hahn will make in his tenure as Chicago’s new GM. Hahn noticed that Sale was doing well if you looked at both traditional stats, such as ERA and wins, as well as by metrics, such as WAR and BABIP.
Dipoto, who said that he tries to use these new metrics whenever he can, uses a special program called Bloomberg Sports Pro 2.0 that allows GMs and team representatives to find matchups from the days of Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb as well as with modern-day players like Prince Fielder and Buster Posey. Dipoto and all GMs can find how their hitters are competing against other pitchers and vice versa. This helps him decide what pitchers and hitters to start or keep on his bench. Dipoto helped draft Mike Trout and said that he always tries to go beyond metrics and get to know his players by sitting down with them and their families. They try to figure out if the players are happy, healthy, and excited to join the team. He and Cubs GM Hoyer are very much alike, as they both love math and metrics. Hoyer is helping Cubs president Theo Epstein, who was the GM of the Boston Red Sox when they broke the Curse of the Bambino and won the World Series in 2004 and 2007, snap the Cubs’ World Series curse.
Texas GM Daniels, one of many rivals of Dipoto in the AL West, has made many trades and free agent pickups that have helped manager Ron Washington take the team to their first two World Series, in 2010 and 2011. However, he said that the Rangers organization doesn’t have an analytics development department, so they look at old-school stats instead. He has helped the Rangers acquire superstars such as Yu Darvish, Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli, Matt Harrison, and Elvis Andrus. Although his team is strong, Daniels will have lots of work to do this year, as Oakland, Seattle, and the Angels all have revamped rosters. Texas, however, suffered many blows in the offseason, losing stars in outfielder Josh Hamilton and catcher Mike Napoli. They will look to new acquisitions Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski to make up for these two losses. I learned from this panel that analytics, along with traditional stats, play a big role in the decisions that GMs make.
Max Mannis is an 11-year-old special correspondent for sikids.com and a member of SABR. Catch his posts on advanced baseball statistics. To learn more about SABR and to join, visit www.sabr.org.