In an article from ESPN about Billy Beane and the Moneyball concept, Brian Cashman shines with a number of interesting quotes, including the following (h/t NSI):
“Essentially, the decision-maker needs to have a very successful management team that exposes him to all sides,” Cashman says. “I think you have to have a team that scouts, because the bottom line is players with big tools win championships. Statistical analysis comes into play in defining the reality of the performance. Trends that show risk, injury, regression — maybe you can catch that earlier because it’s definable … But I don’t think you need a former player or an Ivy Leaguer. You need someone with a high degree of common sense that surrounds himself with a strong team to run an efficient business. You have to have a blend, and he’ll gravitate toward the best possible solutions.”
I think that this is about as perfect as a job description for a GM can get, and it is heartening to see that Cashman has a good grasp of his role. He needs to use statistic analysis in conjunction with traditional scouting, so as to properly evaluate all aspects of the sport. I think that as fans, we can glean a number of lessons from this as well:
1) Statistics are best used in telling us whether our eyes are lying to us or not, or as Cashman states, “defining the reality of the performance.” A player could have a great two months, and your powers of observation might tell you that he would be a worthwhile addition to your favorite club. However, if the player has a sky high BABIP and an unchanged LD rate, a smart GM may pass or wait until the cost comes down. Ultimately, the game is played on the field rather than on a computer or at Fangraphs. However, the numbers are vital in telling us whether we can believe what we just saw is the norm, or whether it is an anomaly due for a correction.
2) We do not have all of the information. Knowing how to use the numbers on BB-Ref and Fangraphs does not make us experts regarding every decision that a GM makes. If we are trying to reflect upon past performance, statistical analysis is likely to be sufficient, as the numbers quantify what happened. As a predictive tool, however, sabermetrics are more limited, and scouting can be vital to the decision making process. Scouts can pick up on changes in a delivery or swing that may indicate injury or an impending change in performance level, and can often discern things about a player’s makeup and ability to cope with failure. Using the numbers exclusively will often lead to incomplete picture.
Of course, using scouting almost exclusively and utilizing the advanced metrics now freely available sparingly is an even more dangerous method of management. As Beane notes:
“It’s all about evaluating skills and putting a price on them,” Beane says. “Thirty years ago, stockbrokers used to buy stock strictly by feel. Let’s put it this way: Anyone in the game with a 401(k) has a choice. They can choose a fund manager who manages their retirement by gut instinct, or one who chooses by research and analysis. I know which way I’d choose.”
Relying solely on scouting is essentially going by the gut instinct of your scouts. Thankfully, Brian Cashman inhabits a middle ground and utilizes a marriage of scouting and statistical analysis. It is a strategy that has clearly been borne out in his decision making, and has lead to plenty of success for the New York Yankees.
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