The M's and Sabermetrics
point counterpoint, Dept.


There is a conversation in the Cruz/Hart thread that we thought we'd bump to the front page, for others' feedback.

Are you all familiar with this LL article and the series following?  It names 6 dedicated analysts as members of a larger analytics department inside the Mariners infrastructure:

  • Jesse Smith
  • Wesley Battle
  • Anthony Aliosi
  • Jordan Bley
  • Kenny Wade
  • Caleb Peiffer


You know that if you walk into an F-500 company and there are 6-12 first level analysts in a department, then that company has built a very robust organization that serves this one area.  The rest of the LL series confirms this.  The Mariners' stats DEPARTMENT is more robust than many entire COMPANIES are.

For example, I've seen temp agencies, serving Weyerhaeuser/Boeing/whoever ... small companies doing very well, having been in business for years, handling serious customer traffic and demands, that were less-developed than the Mariners' sabermetrics department.  

That isn't unusual in Fortune 500.  "Departments" of big companies are very often impressive mini-companies in themselves.  That is the case with the Mariners' sabermetrics area.


You do realize who this M's saber "company" serves, right?   Volt and Access are to Microsoft as --- > the M's saber company is to Jack Zduriencik.   In SAT notation:  


M's SABER COMPANY, -- -- -- --  

"Jack Zduriencik" is the correct answer.  

He is the main consumer of this insourced "product and service company."  You see how boggled I get at the suggestion that Jack Zduriencik doesn't understand anything more than HR and RBI.  It's like saying Microsoft doesn't understand anything about hiring people more than putting an ad in Craigslist.

And yet, it was an ex-M's saber guy who implied to the world that Zduriencik understands no more than HR and RBI, that he's not capable of processing information unless it is simple enough for 6-year-olds to understand.  This struck me as outrageous.  I must have been missing something.  That episode just didn't compute.


Matty is the one among us who worked in MLB; he relays what he saw inside the Yankees' stats group.   It certainly doesn't sound like the Yankees' stats department was first-class in comparison to the Mariners'.

But I'd be very interested to hear SABRMatt's and others' feedback, after carefully processing the entire LL series and comparing it to your own understanding.


As to the question of whether there are some MLB teams with analytics departments that are much less robust, that's another subject.  The Mariners have always been out front sabermetrically, though I doubt in an apples-and-oranges sense.  T-Mobile and Verizon and Sprint and AT&T are seldom apples-and-oranges in the way their infrastructures work.

But the whole question is seminal.  Maybe some pro sports franchises (MLB, NFL, NBA) are still uninterested in the competitive advantage of knowing more about their products?  It's not at all impossible that this would be the case, but ... if Coke did consumer research and Pepsi didn't, that would be pretty weird.  Big-money companies have snake eyes about making money.




bsr's picture

Good read. As someone who works in a somewhat similar capacity in a F500 company, my impression is that this sounds totally normal and unremarkable. I can't speak to how it compares relative to other baseball teams, but having a team of analysts like this is SOP in just about every division of every company in corporate America. And honestly, the level of analysis being done in the average hedge fund, tech company, etc...would likely make the "MLB leading" Mariners look like they are using slide rules.
The fact that they have 6 analysts who do stuff is less important to me, than whether those analysts are really sharp and good at their jobs. And even more important than that, is whether the GM, manager, and head of drafting really care about / listen to their analysis. None of which this article reveals in any depth.
And overall, I doubt that uber advanced numerical analysis makes a huge difference to the success of a baseball team. Like you say Doc, Bill James came up with most of the meaningful innovation in the 1980s...I can guarantee you that Brian Sabean or whichever "scouting oriented" GM is fully familiar with these foundational stat concepts. Hit/fx analytics no doubt can help a team be more successful but I doubt it is more than a small benefit.


Following on your point -- I seriously doubt that having 1 saber guy, vs a department, impacts free agent adds or trades very much.  You don't sign Robinson Cano for $240 M because your #7 analyst found something tiny-but-decisive about him.  But that was the larger context here - whether teams have enough data to know that Nelson Cruz is worth 1/$7M.
Fifteen years ago, the M's had Mat Olkin on retainer.  Then Craig Wright.  More recently, they've had Tom Tango at their disposal.  Tony Blengino, of course.  A single guy like that can help you (almost) as much with a Nelson Cruz decision as a large staff can.
A robust saber deparment would apply more to things like finding Rule 5 guys who might slip through the cracks, and ways to help your own players with pitch sequences, swing holes, etc.  Which is how the LL argument reads - and that is what the M's individual analysts are dedicated to.  Things mostly unrelated to whether Nelson Cruz is worth 1/$7M.
It does sound to me like the M's stats department is actually overkill.  At least with respect to those high-profile roster moves that fans think org's mess up due to lack of knowledge.


Sometimes you see one Application Integration developer whose "heroic action" was more important to the software release, then the entire rest of the department was.  It's not unusual at all.  Interesting that you're well aware of that BSR :- )
The LL series certainly gives you the impression that the M's analysts are very sharp cookies.


The Mariners have a big group too, yes, as I mentioned in my response. They are more stat-heavy than the average MLB a lot, actually. There were two stats INTERNS in my intern pool...they worked for a database administrator who was also an analyst, a pure MLB analyst, a minor league and college analyst, the scouting department modeler, and the analytics chair oversaw that entire operation. The Yankees' statistical analysis budget dwarfs...DWARFS now...about 25 other clubs. :) They are first in their class in video scouting and the analytical tool that fall from it. They are one of only four clubs (and the Mariners are another of those four clubs) to have a complete database that fuses scouting info with analytical tools.
I assure you...the Yankees were first rate. Many...many MLB teams are not. your point...I completely agree with you, Doc, that it's asinine of the Mariner blog-o-sphere to accuse Zduriencik and the Mariners of not being intelligent enough to make good decisions. The problem is not information or intelligence. The problem is priorities - a lack of urgency and a preference for PR-positive media-darlings over winners. Trust me...Seattle has a very good analytics team...they know everything we do.

bsr's picture

You said it much better and more precisely than I did, agreed 100%. Actually I would suspect that the value of having a team of analyst types, above that of having a single stat guru, is in the increased capacity to collect and organize information for the entire organization. It's not that the 5th analyst comes up with an earth shaking insight that the baseball pros (or the lead analyst) wouldn't have - but more that they can help create a centralized digital resource that pulls in all the relevant info the entire org has on players (scouting reports, numbers, video, etc), and keep it updated and refreshed. That is a labor and time intensive thing to maintain, and you gotta have enough nerds :) This sounds like exactly what the Yankees have in place per Matt's reports, and it sounds like the M's are at least somewhat in the same direction.
I would imagine much of the same benefit can be achieved without heavy reliance on tech, by a strong organization with stable hierarchies and good lines of communication and collaboration from top to bottom. I have to imagine that the best non-techie orgs like the Cardinals have this in place.
One thing is for sure though, you don't keep a big analyst team like this if the GM doesn't value their output.
Would be nice if the Geoff Bakers of the world would spend some time reporting on this type of thing, rather than just the dysfunctional aspects of the team.

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