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Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Daily Pennsylvanian: Sandy Alderson talks Vietnam, stats and baseball

Knowledge@Wharton continues…

DP: So how do you adapt to the fact that it is a copy-cat league with each team talking about these kinds of analytical decisions? How do you, once again, try and be innovative?

SA: One of the things that’s happened is that there is an explosion of data. When you look back at the 1980s when we were doing this, there really had very little beyond the box score information. Then, a little bit later, a company like Stats Inc. would hire people to watch a satellite transmissions of games and calculate certain things just by observation.

Today, everything is measured by laser or camera or radar so we have not just hit vs. out. We have location. We have velocity. We have angle off the bat. We have a whole host of things that can be analyzed simply because there is so much information out there.

So then the question becomes what is useful and what’s not. I think there are a couple of things that I’ve found. Number one is you have to be wary of simply being contrarian. It’s one thing to analyze the merits and make a decision accordingly. You’ve got be careful when you are just trying to be different without any substantive foundation.

The other thing is that sometimes the most important thing is the ability to translate concepts into executed programs. So here’s an idea, but how do you implement it on an organization-wide basis? It’s the difference between saying ‘Hey, Robinson Cano is a great player. He’s worth $250 million,’ but there aren’t many teams that can afford to pay a Robinson Cano $250 million so what you really try to do is create your own Robinson Cano.

‘So how do I take the concept?’ I know he’s a good player, why he’s a good player but what I need to do is grow my own in a way. So the question is, how do you take what everybody understands to be paradigm and implement those ideas in such a way that you are continuing to produce those kinds of players instead of having to buy them off the market.

DP: Obviously the business of baseball has changed a lot over the last few decades. How have you changed over time and how has the business of Major League Baseball?

Repoz Posted: January 30, 2014 at 06:47 AM | 11 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: mets

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   1. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 30, 2014 at 11:10 AM (#4648549)
I like hearing how people got in the biz. Interesting stuff.
   2. Bourbon Samurai Posted: January 30, 2014 at 11:40 AM (#4648574)
This piece was really interesting and people should read it.
   3. Shooty Survived the Shutdown of '14! Posted: January 30, 2014 at 12:15 PM (#4648596)
It's interesting that he credits Moneyball with exposing their trade secrets. It's weird that it hadn't already filtered out to other organizations as it's not like there isn't movement of front office staff between teams. I just find it weird that other MLB team presidents and CEO's would pick up a bestseller and think, "Ah, that's what they're up to!"
   4. Accent Shallow Posted: January 30, 2014 at 12:23 PM (#4648607)
And then a couple of years later, I became General Manager and largely because we hadn’t, during that two year period, networked enough to know anybody to perhaps interview and offer the job, so I got it almost by default. There was a lot of on-the-job training but as a result, I was very open-minded about things. I didn’t have conventional theories about the game and there were several innovative things we were able to do as a result of simply being open-minded and not constrained by conventional wisdom.

Also interesting: the above (and the other paragraphs that precede that). General counsel to GM? Because they didn't know anyone else to interview?

#### the heck?
   5. Shooty Survived the Shutdown of '14! Posted: January 30, 2014 at 12:27 PM (#4648611)
#### the heck?

I think the Haas family bought the team as a kind of public service so they probably didn't have much acumen/experience running a sports team. They probably were just familiar with Alderson and liked him and so thought, #### it, let him run this thing. It was a simpler time! Around the same time period the owner of the Golden State Warriors handed the keys to the club off to an associate of his and then went for a two year trip around the world on his sailboat. Actors and used carsalesmen used to be able to buy teams and the revenues were a small fraction of what they are now.
   6. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: January 30, 2014 at 12:31 PM (#4648615)
#### the heck?

It worked out.
   7. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 30, 2014 at 01:08 PM (#4648653)
I got to listen to former Royals President Mike Herman speak and he got his job because he had been a corporate exec at the drug company Ewing Kauffman owned, so Ewing said he had a "smaller project" for him - run his ballclub.

Club President is a bit different than GM, but yea, it was a different time.
   8. Rough Carrigan Posted: January 30, 2014 at 02:15 PM (#4648733)
From the truncated title on the front page, ". . alderson talks vietnam stats" I though we might be getting a comparison of how well Westmoreland and his successor led the troops. What's the WAR of a war anyway? Curtis LeMay says, "My **** doesn't work in an asian land war! It's a crap shoot!"
   9. PreservedFish Posted: January 30, 2014 at 02:23 PM (#4648743)
It's interesting that he credits Moneyball with exposing their trade secrets. It's weird that it hadn't already filtered out to other organizations as it's not like there isn't movement of front office staff between teams. I just find it weird that other MLB team presidents and CEO's would pick up a bestseller and think, "Ah, that's what they're up to!"


It really is amazing to what extent Moneyball has become the touchstone for the whole movement. I remember, in the lead-up to the release of the book, thinking that the stats stuff contained inside was going to be old news. That was a strange moment in time when us internet dorks really genuinely understood a lot about baseball that a huge percentage of the people running the game did not.
   10. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 30, 2014 at 02:28 PM (#4648749)
From the truncated title on the front page, ". . alderson talks vietnam stats" I though we might be getting a comparison of how well Westmoreland and his successor led the troops. What's the WAR of a war anyway? Curtis LeMay says, "My **** doesn't work in an asian land war! It's a crap shoot!"


I did actually think the article was going to get into some of that. Sec of Defense Robert McNamara was a very data-driven guy, and many of the decisions he made were based on statistical analysis.
   11. vortex of dissipation Posted: January 30, 2014 at 03:02 PM (#4648806)
Sec of Defense Robert McNamara was a very data-driven guy, and many of the decisions he made were based on statistical analysis.


Too bad that his data couldn't tell him that it's a bad idea for a low-level USAF attack bomber and a long-range carrier-based USN interceptor to share the same airframe...

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