GMs talk advanced stats at SABR conference
Angels' Dipoto, Tribe's Antonetti, Brewers' Melvin lead panel
MESA, Ariz. -- While it's far too easy to feel overwhelmed by the lexicon of sabermetrics -- xFIP, BABIP, SIERA, just to name a few -- Angels first-year general manager Jerry Dipoto won't allow his head to be cluttered by statistical metrics that would make even Ptolemy blush.
After all, Dipoto has essentially been digesting statistical information for decades, with research he can trace all the way back to his pre-teen years of collecting baseball cards while growing up in New Jersey.
"I think the funny thing about today's generation is we think that analytics is the new edge for value," Dipoto said on Friday. "But I can remember as far back as a kid, flipping over my baseball card to see what Rod Carew hit last year.
"This is a statistically-based game that connects through the generations. It is only going to continue to grow. There's a new edge to it every year."
Dipoto, Indians general manager Chris Antonetti and Brewers general manager Doug Melvin spoke on Friday as part of a panel at the SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) Analytics Conference in Mesa.
The panel, moderated by Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, touched on a number of topics: advancements in statistical data, the different types of metrics, the balance between traditional scouting and quantitative analysis, park factors and the next industry trends in sabermetrics.
If there was one constant theme that emerged from Friday's panel, it was this -- there's no such thing as too much information when it comes to making decision that impact an organization.
"You can break down and analyze it in any way -- and we will," Dipoto said. "But you're crazy if you're not looking at all the information."
No, this isn't Bill James scribbling in his notebook -- though many of the principals that James, regarded as the father of sabermetrics, developed still apply. They are just being done on a much larger scale by nearly every team in the Major Leagues, with player decisions worth millions of dollars riding on their merits.
Move over ERA, there's a new boss in town.
"We use analytics at all levels of our operation, whether that be player personnel moves, Major League team decision-making," Antonetti said. "It's a factor in all of our decisions. Our goal is to make the most informed decisions we can and get information from all aspects of our operation.
"We want to have the best scouts and best evaluators giving us the best information. We want to have the best group of analysts providing us with the best analytic information, and the best medical staff providing the best medical information."
Nearly every Major League front office has someone -- or a group, in most cases -- who spend their time working on quantitative analysis. Some fly under the radar in the baseball operations department. They are young in many cases, many in their 20s.
They have assorted backgrounds, many mathematical. And that you never advanced past junior varsity baseball as a player? That (rightfully) means nothing. A few of them have cool titles, like the Astros' Sig Mejdal, who is the club's director of decision sciences.
They gather and assemble data and, as is the case with many teams, even develop their own proprietary databases that are guarded closer than the Crown Jewels. You'd sooner have luck prying a trade rumor from someone in the front office before the July 31 Trade Deadline than you would getting someone from baseball ops to divulge what metrics they like and use -- or even the ones they don't like and use.
Rosenthal certainly tried on Friday, though the trio of general managers politely passed -- but smiled in doing so.
Melvin said that while traditional scouting has its longstanding five-tool formula for measuring a player -- hitting for average, baserunning, throwing, fielding and hitting for power -- the metrics teams are using and value change constantly.
"From a scouting standpoint, we look at five tools," Melvin said. "But when it comes to metrics, I think the toughest job is to filter all of the noise of the numbers and determine the five or six most important statistical data to help us mesh with the five tools. That's the challenge we put out to our people."
Melvin feels the future of metrics could -- or in his opinion and those of others, should -- expand to the medical side.
"The cost of getting a player and not have him perform can be devastating," he said. "We need to stay on top of that. That kind of information is so helpful to us."
But whereas the NFL has its pre-Draft combine and influx of information that follows -- including medical -- Major League Baseball teams are largely flying blind in that regard entering June's First-Year Player Draft.
So what's the future of these analytics? Antonetti said it's continuing to develop the best predictive metrics, that while giving teams even more data to mull over, will ultimately lead them to making even better decisions on prospective players or ones in their own system.
"The future of analytics can be taking all of those data sources and combine them into a comprehensive, predictive model," he said. "There's a lot of focus on statistics on what guys have done. But ultimately it is what's going to happen, what's most predictive.
"I think that's where there are future opportunities to grow."