Bird Food: Modernize This Franchise

In a Q&A session with Andy MacPhail and Buck Showalter last Saturday, a fan asked how the O's use sabermetrics in the team's decision making. Luckily, MASN's Steve Melewski was on hand to report the lovely totals. Unfortunately, the answers displayed the 20th century thinking that we all know and love. Let's take a look at MacPhail's answers first.

In terms of player acquisition and player evaluation, we'll have standard reports that has basic information, salary information, basic stats and scouting information. But then we devote about a third of it to things that we think fit into that category.

We are trying to ascertain trends or hidden value or maybe hidden landmines that we have to avoid. There are certain statistics that we look at and evaluate that help us determine and make a judgement, is the trend line moving up or we do have to be concerned that player might be on the precipice of a real fall.

I don't think "basic stats" is what the person asking the question had in mind. I suppose in Andy's mind there is a lot of room for play in deciding what counts as using sabermetrics. Perhaps he sees the use of any numbers as a sabermetrics approach. For this reason, I prefer if someone would have asked him if he uses specific stats instead. At the very least, I would love to know if the front office uses defensive metrics like UZR or +/-, FIP, and wOBA and how much weight is placed on these statistics. But more broadly, I want to know if the organization is taking advantage of the wealth of new pitching and hit tracking data available. For example, Buster Olney mentioned one usage of statistics by the Rays that succintly illustrates the difference between a modern, cutting edge organization and the Orioles.

The Tampa Bay Rays are thought to use statistics as extensively as any team, and manager Joe Maddon and general manager Andrew Friedman consult frequently and often use numbers to shape lineups and affect change in the way players do things. At the outset of spring training, for example, a set of statistics were presented to pitcher James Shields, as the team suggested changes in his pitching approach.

Now we don't know that the Orioles aren't implementing the same approach with certainty. But whether it's using pitchFX or scouting under the radar international markets, I highly suspect the Orioles aren't doing anything out of the box in order to gain a competitive edge. I would love to know more about how the Rays uses numbers to "shape lineups and affect change in the way players do things." And whatever that entails, Andy's answer above doesn't inspire much confidence that they are doing similar innovative practices. I'm glad that the O's are looking to find hidden value, but they won't find the broad side of a barn if they don't know how to use the tools of the trade. Luckily, the Orioles do have the inspirational videos that Buck showed the pitchers in spring training so let's move on to his answers.

I think you use all avenues available to you. To say, I'm not ever going to look at that or this - I had a guy a long time ago say to me about scouting that you need to let statistics validate your gut, instead of let your gut be developed by statistics.

This is just a horrible answer. First, Buck essentially admitted that he doesn't pay attention to advanced metrics. And worse, his answer is plagued by the worst kind of confirmation bias ever. What the hell is the point of looking at statistics if you're only using them to confirm what you think.

We are dealing with human beings; these aren't a bunch of robots. There are things I know about in the clubhouse and dugout and things going on in their day-to-day lives that impact their play.

I love this. The ROBOTS! Skynet nods with approval. Overall, the O's need to out think the Rays, Jays, and Red Sox in order to over take them in the stands. At the very least, what I see above concerns me.

As a final note, I saw Camden Depot posted a short tidbit about JJ Hardy on ESPN's Sweetspot blog In case you didn't see it, here's the blurb.

I think at the beginning of this year, the team could have extended Hardy for $7 million a year or so. This offseason will consist of basically him and Reyes at shortstop with several shortstop-hungry teams. I think it has made extending Hardy misguided and may largely be impractical with the Orioles apparent budget. Hardy is a bit of a risk that I would be fine with at $7 million, but not $14 million. I also think we need to consider how much longer he will be capable of playing shortstop as he is not particularly quick; a five-year extension with Hardy might be similar to what we are seeing with Brian Roberts.

Unfortunately, I think Camden Depot is spot on here. I wanted to extend Hardy before the season when I thought 3/$21 was possible. Now Hardy has priced himself out of reasonable range for the Orioles. At the very least, he's lined up for a Brian Roberts type contract this off season, probably more. And as much as I love JJ Hardy, I'm leery of the Orioles paying him that much.

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