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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

FanGraphs: Q&A: Kevin Towers, Diamondbacks GM

DL: Do park factors play a role in your personnel decisions?

KT: Yes. That’s something that was brought to me by Theo Epstein, years ago, when we were in San Diego. I never used to look at park factors. Back in the mid-90s, when I looked at the Atlanta Braves short-season-A club, they all had ERAs under 2.00. I remember Theo saying, “Don’t get deceived by that; that’s one of the best pitchers’ parks in baseball.” The parks they pitched in made those prospects look even better. That weighs heavily with position players as well.

Chris Young was pitching in Arlington Stadium when I acquired him in the Adrian Gonzalez deal. I looked at his FB/GB rate and he was more of a fly-ball pitcher. Coming to us, that would play better in Petco than it did in Texas. Conversely, here in Arizona, ground-ball pitchers are probably more effective. That played a lot into the Trevor Cahill acquisition.

Between LA, San Francisco and San Diego… all three are pretty good pitchers ballparks, but we play 81 in Chase. We probably lean more toward an offensive player, but we also wanted to build this team around bullpen, defense and pitching. When you look at the NL West — and I’ve spent almost my entire career in this division — it’s usually won with arms. It hasn’t been won as much with offense, unless you go back to 1995-1996 Colorado Blake Street Bombers. It’s usually won with pitching, so to win in the west, you have to pitch in the west.

...DL; If a Gregorius, or a Jose Iglesias, provides the same level of defensive value as a Brendan Ryan, do they need to hit?

KT: I think it just depends on the makeup of your club. If you’ve got an offense like Texas, you can live with an Elvis Andrus who doesn’t hit for power, or even a huge average, but has ability to get on base. He can obviously play quality defense, For a club that lacks offense in your outfield, or your corners, then maybe it becomes a little more difficult.

I think there’s always a place for those guys. In a perfect world, you’d like to have a team where you don’t have to worry about getting a lot of offense from your shortstop. You just want somebody to save runs for you. You want them to save outs, as well as pitches for your pitcher out there on the mound.

Thanks to Los.

Repoz Posted: December 26, 2012 at 09:26 AM | 15 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: diamondbacks

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   1. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: December 26, 2012 at 11:08 AM (#4332409)
If it is the mid-90s, and Kevin Towers was unaware of park effects and their impact on statistics, then what does that mean for, say, the 1970s and player evaluation? Were people looking at the Astrodome vs., say, Fenway, and routinely comparing them apples-to-apples?
   2. AROM Posted: December 26, 2012 at 11:20 AM (#4332412)
KT: I think it just depends on the makeup of your club. If you’ve got an offense like Texas, you can live with an Elvis Andrus who doesn’t hit for power, or even a huge average, but has ability to get on base. He can obviously play quality defense, For a club that lacks offense in your outfield, or your corners, then maybe it becomes a little more difficult.


I'm having a hard time thinking of any team that couldn't live with an Elvis Andrus. Decent OBP, defense, and speed. He's a contributor on offense (though a bit below average by OPS+) and not really relevant to the question of what the minimum bat would be required to play an all field, no bat type of player.

But then the rumors all winter have been that KT wants to trade Justin Upton for Andrus, so maybe he's trying to talk the value of Elvis down or something like that.
   3. Avoid running at all times.-S. Paige Posted: December 26, 2012 at 11:22 AM (#4332415)
But then the rumors all winter have been that KT wants to trade Justin Upton for Andrus, so maybe he's trying to talk the value of Elvis down or something like that.


I've thought he has been aiming for Profar and the Rangers have been willing to part with Andrus. In any case, I am expecting the Rangers to have Upton before the season begins.
   4. Transmission Posted: December 26, 2012 at 11:53 AM (#4332428)
1 - My first thought as well. Towers' comment just doesn't sound very impressive, like he either lacked basic observation skills (Fenway vs. Astrodome) or basic reasoning skills (what is true of MLB stadiums is true of minor league stadiums). Surely analytical work can't have been that bad by the mid-90s, right?
   5. billyshears Posted: December 26, 2012 at 12:20 PM (#4332439)
If it is the mid-90s, and Kevin Towers was unaware of park effects and their impact on statistics, then what does that mean for, say, the 1970s and player evaluation? Were people looking at the Astrodome vs., say, Fenway, and routinely comparing them apples-to-apples?


I think people understood park factors at significant levels, though it wasn't quantified so clearly. I remember everybody being very impressed by Glenn Davis hitting 30 HRs in the Astrodome and thinking he was going to explode when he was traded to the Orioles (turns out, he imploded, so they were close). Stadiums have been referred to as "pitchers' parks" or "hitters' parks" for as long as I can remember, which gets you to the early 80s. I just think there is a better understanding of the effects of every stadium in the majors and the minors now, and of the magnitude of the effects.
   6. djordan Posted: December 26, 2012 at 12:36 PM (#4332447)
Let's not forget the Albuquerque Dukes and guys like Greg Brock in the early '80s. There was much praise for guys like him without the conversation caveat, "Well, he does play in the Fenway Park of the Minor Leagues."
   7. valuearbitrageur Posted: December 26, 2012 at 01:48 PM (#4332484)
Great interview!

KT and I want to give props to the Diamondbacks PR person for finding someone at a sabre site who would let KT talk about inane stuff instead of answering any tough or serious questions. Now that we've proven that every KT move is pure genius and won the little pointy hearts of you pointy headed types, it's on to the next contract exten.. er championship!

Right after KT's next bong hit, of course.
   8. PreservedFish Posted: December 26, 2012 at 02:51 PM (#4332506)
Fun to remember those days that, yes, we Internet dorks were smarter than the professionals.
   9. Joe Kehoskie Posted: December 26, 2012 at 02:58 PM (#4332507)
DL: Do park factors play a role in your personnel decisions?

KT: Yes. That’s something that was brought to me by Theo Epstein, years ago, when we were in San Diego. I never used to look at park factors. Back in the mid-90s, when I looked at the Atlanta Braves short-season-A club, they all had ERAs under 2.00. I remember Theo saying, “Don’t get deceived by that; that’s one of the best pitchers’ parks in baseball.” The parks they pitched in made those prospects look even better. That weighs heavily with position players as well.

Kevin Towers became an ML general manager in 1995 at age 34 out of a scouting (and playing!) background, and he's telling us he wasn't aware of park factors until a 22- or 23-year-old Theo Epstein, who at that point had no more than a year or two of baseball ops experience, mentioned it to him. Awesome.
   10. valuearbitrageur Posted: December 26, 2012 at 02:58 PM (#4332509)
Kevin Towers is smarter than the so-called experts. That isn’t meant sarcastically. The Arizona Diamondbacks’ GM knows what he’s doing, and has both the background and track record to prove it. Skeptics panning his recent moves don’t have his 16 years of experience as a big-league general manager, nor have they been a minor-league pitching coach or scouting director.


I would like to nominate this as greatest opening paragraph for any interview since Mrs. Lincoln was asked how she enjoyed that play.
   11. Walt Davis Posted: December 26, 2012 at 06:32 PM (#4332651)
If it is the mid-90s, and Kevin Towers was unaware of park effects and their impact on statistics, then what does that mean for, say, the 1970s and player evaluation? Were people looking at the Astrodome vs., say, Fenway, and routinely comparing them apples-to-apples?

As noted, the Dome and Dodgers stadium were all recognized as pitchers parks; Wrigley and Fenway were known as hitters havens; etc.

What I think folks didn't realize was how dramatic some of those effects were especially at the minor-league level. Sure, folks knew that Albuquerque (say) was a good place to hit but they still figured that 35 HRs was more like 30 elsewhere which was still a good number for the time. Basically, in those extreme parks, it was thought to be maybe 10% park and 90% player. At the ML level, that works just fine but things vary a lot more in the minors. If that was understood at the time it never made it out into the public domain. But then nobody cared much about prospects in those days.

And, as today, once a park had a reputation one way or the other, it never shook that reputation even if (a) that rep was based on a fluke or (b) other parks were added or dropped.

I'm having a hard time thinking of any team that couldn't live with an Elvis Andrus.

Exactly. Based on the excerpt it's still not clear Towers gets it. For the last two years, Andrus has a 90 OPS+ (at ages 22-23) which is about league average for a starting SS. Add the good glove and he's got 7.5 WAR. Among guys with at least 200 games at SS for 2011-12 (only 18 of them), he's tied for 3rd in WAR. OK, he's also 2nd in PA which means that (a) WAR overstates his quality but (b) he's been durable. Anyway, the guy is almost certainly a top 10 SS not someone you have to "live with" and then only if you have an otherwise good offense.

Similarly his strange comments that you need pitching to win the West while citing the quite mediocre offense of the early Rockies as a counter-example. Does he get park effects? Does he get that a run on offense and a run on defense are essentially a wash?

The 2012 Giants tied for the league lead with a 107 OPS+ (remember the NL team average is 94 due to pitcher hitting) and were 6th in scoring despite playing in a pretty extreme pitchers park. Meanwhile their ERA+ was just 95. Obviously Cain, Bumgarner and the bullpen were a big part of their success but the Giants mainly won on offense.

And those Rox teams didn't win anything. The 95 team made it as a WC with a 77-67 record and the 96 team finished 3rd with 83 wins. The 95 team had a 94 OPS+ and the 96 team had a 99. (there will be a quiz) The 95 team won with its 108 ERA+ and luck (they were a 500 team by pythag). And who remembers Bret Saberhagen, Rockie?

The Rox showed they didn't really get it as they left their "great" offense alone and kept trying to "fix" their pitching.

Sometime shortly after those years I started playing fantasy baseball. The leagues I was in allowed daily lineup changes (and were usually silly universal leagues). I used to work those Rockie platoons like nobody's business. I built myself a Derek Jeter by playing Neifi Perez when the Rox were at home and my league average guy when they were on the road. Similarly Darryl Kile was a strong starter on the road (in that first year I think it was) and just don't use any of his home starts. I think I had their 2B on the roster. I had Helton and Castilla as well although Vinny was good enough in those days that he was still close to average on the road so no need to platoon. One year I had Jim Edmonds and I'd only play him when the Angels were facing a RH starter. Easy pickings -- fun times.
   12. Bug Selig Posted: December 26, 2012 at 09:35 PM (#4332717)
I don't want to rock the boat too much - the smartest people in the world all post here and anyone who crosses us is but moments from the unemployment line, but...

Kevin Towers became an ML general manager in 1995 at age 34 out of a scouting (and playing!) background, and he's telling us he wasn't aware of park factors until a 22- or 23-year-old Theo Epstein, who at that point had no more than a year or two of baseball ops experience, mentioned it to him. Awesome.


He is saying no such thing. He is saying that he didn't know that a particular short-season park, in somebody else's system, was an extreme outlier. The Theo anecdote is merely an anecdote showing that, as time passed, he gained understanding - as intelligent beings tend to do.

I'm not a huge KT fan. I don't know why he would trade a top-5 pitching prospect for a shortstop who is chiefly notable for inexplicably shortening "Mariekson Julius Gregorius" to "Didi". I don't know why he would tell the world that his previously untouchable franchise cornerstone isn't really all that. But portraying this exchange as if he said, "I thought all the games were played in my back yard" is just short of making stuff up.
   13. Joe Kehoskie Posted: December 26, 2012 at 09:54 PM (#4332722)
He is saying no such thing. He is saying that he didn't know that a particular short-season park, in somebody else's system, was an extreme outlier. The Theo anecdote is merely an anecdote showing that, as time passed, he gained understanding - as intelligent beings tend to do.

This is an overly generous reading of the quote Repoz posted in the intro, almost to the point of being absurd. Nobody expects an ML GM to be able to rattle off the latest park factors for the 200-plus ballparks in MLB and MiLB, but that's not what he said. He said, "I never used to look at park factors."

Now, my comment in #9 might have been wrong in one sense: It's possible that he was aware of park factors but simply chose not to consider them, but that seems like a much bigger sin than not being aware of the concept in the first place.
   14. shoewizard Posted: December 26, 2012 at 10:23 PM (#4332734)
Check out my last comment in the fangraphs thread. Towers' pitching staffs put together the WORST park adjusted ERA in the National League from 1995-2009, and had the second worst park adjusted bullpen ERA of any team in the NL

Pretty much says it all.
   15. Bug Selig Posted: December 27, 2012 at 09:05 AM (#4332825)
It's possible that he was aware of park factors but simply chose not to consider them, but that seems like a much bigger sin than not being aware of the concept in the first place.


On this, we agree 100%. And I can't believe I used the word "anecdote" twice in a span of 5 words. Jesus, it wasn't that late.

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