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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

AA: An interview with former Mets stat guru Ben Baumer, Part 1

Professor Benjamin Baumer. Dig it!

You were brought into the Mets organization in 2004 and left in 2012. What was the adjustment like for your first season? How did your role evolve over the years?

The Mets, like most teams at the time, never really had anyone working full-time on statistical analysis, so there wasn’t any statistical infrastructure in place when I arrived. Moneyball had just been published (in 2003), and so they were probably ahead of the curve in hiring someone to do statistical analysis. However, I don’t think they had many fixed notions of what they hoped to get out of that person. This was great for me, because it meant that I had near-total freedom to do what I wanted. On the other hand, there was nothing in place, so I had to start from scratch. This was both a blessing and a curse…

Like you’ve indicated in the past, there are a bunch of moving parts, and it requires a lot of forward thinking and improvising. I’d imagine that environment would sort of make them converge. I think there is a temptation to paint Minaya as sort of the old guard and perhaps reckless, but there were distinct advantages that he brought to the table. Can you comment at all on how they viewed players on the scouting side? Obviously, Minaya was a phenomenal scout in the Dominican Republic, and Alderson was never a scout.

I’m glad you asked about that! That is probably the biggest difference between the two. Omar is a former player turned scout, and he cut his teeth scouting. Ultimately, his personal evaluation is going to color any decision that he makes about a player. Most people working in baseball are like that—including analysts like me. [I can’t scout, but I do trust my own evaluations of players.] On the other hand, Sandy is neither a scout nor an analyst, so I get the sense that his decisions are really not based on his own personal evaluations. So both Sandy and Omar have a similar process that leads to a decision: They try to collect as much useful information from their advisors as they can; but the way that they weight that information in order to make a decision is different. Omar, like just about everybody else, is going to—subconsciously or otherwise—also include input from his own evaluation of that player. But it always seemed to me that Sandy was able to remain very impartial when weighing the evidence. That may be Sandy’s greatest strength as a GM.

Omar’s greatest strength is his ability to read people and the market. Early in the Johan Santana sweepstakes, when all anyone was talking about was the Red Sox and the Yankees, Omar told us that he was going to fall in our lap, without having to give up our top prospect (Fernando Martinez at that time). Nobody believed him, but over the next few months it played out pretty much exactly as he said.

Repoz Posted: March 05, 2014 at 11:26 AM | 3 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: mets, sabermetrics

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   1. JE (Jason Epstein) Posted: March 05, 2014 at 06:18 PM (#4666932)
Okay, last question in this part, and then we’ll move on to the second of the three, which is openWAR. What inspired the move into academia after eight years with the New York Mets?

There was a lot of thought that went into this. The first thing is that academia was always something that had been attractive to me, but I never had the opportunity to be a full-time professor until I finished my Ph.D., and that didn’t happen until May of 2012. Working in baseball is not for the faint of heart. It can be magical—there are spectacular moments where you are simply dumbfounded to find yourself doing what you are doing (e.g., listening to Willie Randolph tell Rickey Henderson anecdotes, being in meetings with Rickey Henderson, walking to a helipad in the D.R. with Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz, etc.). Feeling like you are part of a winning team that millions of people care about is an incredible feeling that you just can’t get in most jobs. But there a lot of long hours, at nights and on weekends, and everyone who works in baseball pays the "baseball tax."

For me, a big part of it was time and task management. What I like best about my job now is that I have near total freedom over my own time. I basically do whatever I want every day, year round. This is not to say that teaching is easy. Most of those days, that means I’m in the office early in the morning, working and/or teaching all day until late, and then I spend a few more hours at night prepping for class in the evenings. Working on weekends is also now pretty much a given. So the total workload is no lighter (and may even be heavier), but sometimes I’ll play basketball at 12:30 on a Wednesday, or run errands at 10 AM on a Tuesday, and I don’t have to miss work, ask permission, or feel like someone is keeping track of my hours. Most jobs don’t offer that kind of flexibility, and that has become really important to me.

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that the guy doesn't have any kids.
   2. Avoid running at all times.-S. Paige Posted: March 05, 2014 at 06:51 PM (#4666953)
Cool! I went to college with Ben. Nice guy. I'm very happy for him that he no longer works for the mets.
   3. JE (Jason Epstein) Posted: March 05, 2014 at 07:12 PM (#4666959)
By the way, this is an excellent Q&A. I look forward to reading Part 2.

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