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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ultimate Astros » Astros’ Luhnow on brain trust, analytics, early struggles, ‘succeed or die’

How do you do? Mr. Brian T. Smith feels it would be a little unkind to present this picture without just a word of friendly warning. We’re about to unfold the story of Jeff Luhnow, a man of science who sought to create a team after his own image without reckoning upon God. It is one of the strangest tales ever told. It deals with the two great mysteries of creation: scouting and sabermetrics. I think it will thrill you. It may shock you. It might even horrify you. So if any of you feel that you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now is your chance to, uh… Well, we’ve warned you.

Jim Furtado Posted: October 30, 2012 at 02:54 PM | 10 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: astros, sabermetrics

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   1. Mike Emeigh Posted: October 30, 2012 at 06:46 PM (#4288750)
This is actually a pretty good summary of how Luhnow operates:

So an example would be, we have a process that combines performance or a player’s résumé with scouting reports, and we do it in a way that makes a lot of sense. It’s derived analytically based off of history and it’s the best match that maximizes the value. It’s a very complicated method of doing that, but we feel like we’ve done it. It needs to continue to get better but we feel like we’ve done it. It’s not a formula that combines things in a haphazard way. It’s a formula that combines things that would’ve worked in the past. So you end up in a discussion and you’re ranking two players, and player A has a better performance track record but player B has better tools, and you’re trying to compare them both. And then when someone starts arguing to put player B above player A because he has better tools, that’s when you need to have discipline in the process and say, ‘We’ve already incorporated that in our decision, so that’s not new information.’ Now, if you’re bringing new information, you’re saying, ‘Player A is sick or has an injury that we didn’t know about,’ then that’s new information and that needs to be baked in there. But to just repeat and sort of disagree with the process and say, ‘Well, I think we should be highlighting tools more,’ or ‘I think we should be highlighting performance more,’ or ‘I think this tool is more important than that tool or whatever,’ we’ve already gone through the discipline of figuring all that stuff out.


-- MWE
   2. Joe Kehoskie Posted: October 30, 2012 at 07:26 PM (#4288778)
But to just repeat and sort of disagree with the process and say, ‘Well, I think we should be highlighting tools more,’ or ‘I think we should be highlighting performance more,’ or ‘I think this tool is more important than that tool or whatever,’ we’ve already gone through the discipline of figuring all that stuff out.

That last part is quite a claim coming from a 107-loss team that hasn't acquired a single impact-caliber player yet.

And then part leveraging the free work that people have done for us. I mean, it’s amazing how many websites and analysts and people are out there. Obviously you have to take all of that stuff with a grain of salt because it’s not your own resources and you don’t have quality control or anything like that. But if you’re ignoring that information, you’re leaving yourself at a disadvantage potentially. So really that, the fact that Kevin was really able to do that as a one-man band covering all 30 organizations for Baseball Prospectus, imagine what he can do when you give him 10 full-time scouts and you give him all the resources to generate this.

The last part of this is also quite a claim. Kevin Goldstein is going from having hundreds of sources spread across all 30 teams to having 10 scouts with one team. How that will mean more information rather than less seems unexplained.
   3. Lassus Posted: October 30, 2012 at 07:40 PM (#4288784)
I suspect this is not going to work out as well as Ultimate Spider-Man.
   4. Joe Kehoskie Posted: October 31, 2012 at 12:50 AM (#4288989)
Ten hours later and still no Lisa. Maybe she really did quit on the Astros.
   5. The Pequod Posted: October 31, 2012 at 09:10 AM (#4289083)
But to just repeat and sort of disagree with the process and say, ‘Well, I think we should be highlighting tools more,’ or ‘I think we should be highlighting performance more,’ or ‘I think this tool is more important than that tool or whatever,’ we’ve already gone through the discipline of figuring all that stuff out.


This is great in theory, but the information has to be really reliable and you have to really confident in your weighting. They have a lot of smart guys, can they make it happen?

(I'm pulling for them, but skeptical.)
   6. Ivan Grushenko of Hong Kong Posted: October 31, 2012 at 09:16 AM (#4289087)
Ten hours later and still no Lisa. Maybe she really did quit on the Astros.

Apparently she really really really really hates the DH

This is great in theory, but the information has to be really reliable and you have to really confident in your weighting.

Or you just have to believe in your system. If it's worked in the past with whatever level of confidence you had in your weighting and whatever the quality of information then it's a system worth staking your career on. If it's what you've done in the past successfully, it's probably your best option....maybe your only option.
   7. Shooty Survived the Shutdown of '14! Posted: October 31, 2012 at 09:17 AM (#4289089)
The excerpt reminds me of hedge funds that think they have a model locked down or a gambler with a sure-fire system. They seem to want to come up with a way to exclude subjective judgment from their decision making because, let's face it, subjective judgments are wrong a lot. Still, I'm skeptical they have it figured out. There's just so much chaos in analyzing baseball players and projecting their performances. I'd wish them luck, but since they're now in the AL West, they can go #### themselves, of course.
   8. Ivan Grushenko of Hong Kong Posted: October 31, 2012 at 09:28 AM (#4289098)
The excerpt reminds me of hedge funds that think they have a model locked down or a gambler with a sure-fire system. They seem to want to come up with a way to exclude subjective judgment from their decision making because, let's face it, subjective judgments are wrong a lot.

How so? There's lots of subjective judgments in scouting. The only subjective judgment Luhnow is removing is the ones GMs normally do. He's the only one not making as many as his peers. I think this is something every leader does whether he admits it in an article or not. They go with what's worked in the past most of the time, and when they make an exception, they typically regret it since they remember the times it didn't work more than the times it did.
   9. Shooty Survived the Shutdown of '14! Posted: October 31, 2012 at 10:06 AM (#4289137)
How so? There's lots of subjective judgments in scouting.

The excerpt talks about taking the judgements of the scouts and inputting them into a formula in order to make an assessment on the player. Luhnow isn't making judgments on the end result so much as making judgments on how accurate the inputs are. I'm just not convinced that's the way to evaluate talent, though I'm also not convinced it isn't. I'm just skeptical of these kind of decision making systems especially in regards to drafting baseball players as I think it will skew the Astros into a lot of risk averse decisions. But baseball is a business where if you can find one or two stars, that's worth a lot more than a bunch of ok talent. I'm not really articulating myself well on this point and wish I had more time to get into it--I'm studying for an exam and this is just my procrastination time. I just would rather my gm had more flexibility in his decision making but will happily concede the point if Luhnow gets results. There's more than one way to run a ballclub.
   10. Mike Emeigh Posted: October 31, 2012 at 10:27 AM (#4289160)
If you look at the decisions that the Cardinals made while Luhnow was running the player development side of the business, you'll get a sense of how this works in practice - Sig Mejdal was a key part there and is a key part here, so while I'd expect some tweaks I wouldn't expect there to be significant differences.

The Cardinals always seem to be coming up with guys out of their farm system who were no one's idea of an impact prospect but who make some contribution at the major league level: Allen Craig, Jon Jay, Skip Schumaker, Daniel Descalso, Pete Kozma, Matt Carpenter, Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal. They haven't developed a real star in a while - none of the players mentioned are more than good players (and some are less than that, to be sure). But the Cardinals have had few big holes to fill, and they were usually able to fill around the stars from within.

The Astros don't have stars, so the challenge for Luhnow's team will be to find them, which they did not do particularly well in St. Louis. There are some guys here who already fit the model of the useful complementary piece - Lucas Harrell, Bud Norris, Wilton Lopez, and (I'd argue) Altuve - who in Houston are being force-fed into front-line roles because they don't have anyone else. If the process doesn't allow for taking risks on players who have star potential, however, that's a weakness in the process.

-- MWE

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