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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Business Week: Houston Astros’ Jeff Luhnow Lets Data Reign

We were selling jeans here!

when [current Astros GM] Jeff Luhnow showed up for his first day of work as the St. Louis Cardinals’ vice president for baseball development, he already had two strikes against him: He was a former management consultant at McKinsey, brought in to shake up the organization. And the sum total of his baseball experience was the McKinsey fantasy league and a business school paper he’d written on how the Chicago Cubs could win the World Series…

Luhnow’s appreciation of the predictive power of data grew out of his experience selling designer jeans. In the early 2000s, with a former president of Levi Strauss, he co-founded an online custom apparel company that made jeans for Lands’ End (LE) shoppers… if wishful thinking led customers to order jeans that didn’t fit, they would send them back. Over time the company amassed enough data to anticipate and correct for these tendencies…

Astros’ analysts noticed that [Collin] McHugh had a world-class curveball. Most curves spin at about 1,500 times per minute; McHugh’s spins 2,000 times… Houston snapped him up… After consulting with the analytics staff, pitching coach Brent Strom altered McHugh’s repertoire. Gone was the sinker… here again, advanced data yielded a useful insight: Major league hitters had become so adept at hitting low pitches that they were vulnerable to high ones. [Billy] Beane had discovered a particularly clever countermove. “Beane stayed ahead of the curve,” says Strom, “by finding hitters with a steep upward swing path to counter the sinking action of pitchers trying to induce ground balls.” It worked: The A’s hit the fewest ground balls and into the fewest double plays in the league. So the Astros began teaching their pitchers how to adapt…  McHugh won a spot in the Astros’ starting rotation and has gone on to lead the team in strikeouts and deliver a sterling 3.03 ERA…

The attacks on Luhnow and the Astros highlight a big difference between his old job and his new one: Turnarounds at McKinsey didn’t play out on as public a stage as baseball’s… Nevertheless, Luhnow insists the Astros’ project remains on track. “I learned at McKinsey how to have a thick skin,” he says, “and that’s carried over into baseball.”

The District Attorney Posted: August 28, 2014 at 07:46 PM | 7 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: astros, brady aiken, collin mchugh, jeff luhnow, sig megdal

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   1. Non-Youkilidian Geometry Posted: August 28, 2014 at 09:39 PM (#4781266)
Luhnow’s appreciation of the predictive power of data grew out of his experience selling designer jeans.

So much for Moneyball.

Interesting article, but I'm still not convinced that picking McHugh off the scrap heap was necessarily a triumph of analytics rather than just one of those fluky things that happen with journeymen pitchers every so often. Luhnow may be brilliant, but can he actually put together a competitive team despite working for a cheapskate owner? We'll see.
   2. Cargo Cultist Posted: August 28, 2014 at 10:05 PM (#4781278)
We're not selling jeans here. Wait, what? We ARE???
   3. Weratych Posted: August 29, 2014 at 01:13 AM (#4781362)
Colin McHugh has had a good year. Solid. As a professional scout for over 30 years I wonder how I graded McHugh's CB as above avg without knowing it spins 2,000 times per minute? This evaluation was made prior to him winning his first ML game. Again, I probably missed it because I thought it was above the avg but not "world class" oh I guess it could have gotten better. McHugh had plus stuff across the board when I saw him early in "14" in the minor leagues. There were other things that on this particular night one could question. Control, command and pitch-ability. Good arm, good stuff. If you were a lousy ML team definitely worth a chance to slide him into rotation and let him pitch and see if he could harness stuff. They did, he has, for now..

And it was genius to consult with analytic's and alter his repertoire. No baseball man alive has ever said hard down CB best with live high FB, please. not often do u hear sinker, world class CB. It's normally sinker, slider. High FB'S and good or world class CB's usually work well together. As that saying go's it is what it is. Game has gone to where everyone wants to be a genius. C'mon man. If you grew up in and around the game and not as a management consultant and winner of fantasy league you wouldn't have to try so hard to be a genius. Humbling game, sometimes you grade out a guy with plus stuff and you are still lite in your evaluation. Analytic's never miss, must be nice.. Curious, what was it J.D. Martinez couldn't hit? Low, high, spinners? Now that Robbie Grossman can cover em all and also draw a walk, wow. Where is Brett Wallace?, man what a draft by STL.. Did they win series that year? Man there are some smart guys in baseball. Some have even worked at NASA..so happens they worked there when shuttle blew up but hey what great experience to have in baseball.

   4. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: August 29, 2014 at 04:55 PM (#4781993)
It was an OK piece, but would have been better without the repeated (and bizarre) comparisons of Luhnow to Mitt Romney. The latter was such a proponent of data and hard analytics that he totally blew his polling last election, and didn't even beta test his GOTV software platform.
   5. Dock Ellis on Acid Posted: August 29, 2014 at 06:10 PM (#4782022)
It's like an Onion article that no one outside of BTF would get.
   6. Dock Ellis on Acid Posted: August 29, 2014 at 06:13 PM (#4782023)
I don't know who Weratych is or where came from but I hope he continues to post.
   7. cardsfanboy Posted: August 29, 2014 at 06:19 PM (#4782026)
seconded post 6.

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