Orioles fans haven’t received much good news lately. The Birds just completed the worst season in franchise history. Their popular manager was let go. The Winter Meetings start in three weeks and they don’t officially have a front office. Players we spent years rooting for are gone. (Anybody else’s bobblehead collection ruined?) There has been little joy in Birdland.
But the Orioles’ expected hire of Mike Elias to run their front office is nothing short of fantastic news. While this hasn’t been officially announced, I’m extremely bullish on Elias for the following reasons.
He comes from winning organizations
During the last O’s executive search, I remember hearing many fans say “why don’t we hire somebody from a winning organization?” Makes sense, perhaps more sense than hiring a guy who was out of professional baseball for a decade. Elias started his front office career with the St. Louis Cardinals, where he worked from 2007 through 2011. The Cardinals won 78, 86, 91, 86, and 90 games in the years he was there. They have not had a losing season since. The Cardinals may be one of the best-run organizations in Major League Baseball.
When Elias was hired in Houston as Special Assistant to the GM- Scouting prior to the 2012 season, the Astros had just completed the first of three consecutive 100-loss seasons. He played a major role in stockpiling the talent that has led to consecutive 100-win campaigns, a World Series title, and a future that remains bright.
Elias has been around winning organizations and has seen what makes those organizations successful. That experience in any job is invaluable. Contrast it with what an upcoming executive would have learned in Baltimore over the past several years. (I’ll refrain from listing Duquette’s failures.) I’m thrilled that we are getting an executive who cut his teeth in organizations that are well run, stable, and consistent winners.
He went through a major rebuild
The Houston Astros are the poster child for what a successful rebuild should look like. They took their lumps, hired a good young manager, stockpiled talent, executed smart trades, and have built a club that will compete for several years. The Orioles are coming off a 115-loss season and don’t have a great farm system. A Houston-level rebuild is necessary in Baltimore. Who better to lead it than a guy from Houston?
Steve Melewski recently spoke with Jim Callis, who agrees: “If you are in a situation like the Orioles are now, one of the clubs you want to emulate is the Astros. Mike was a big part of that.” Elias saw what this type of rebuild takes and was a major player in it. I’ll take that over a guy who never faced that type of challenge.
He brings the Orioles into the 21st century
Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter led the Orioles to the most wins in the American League from 2012-2016 and we can’t take that away from them. They are characterized as “old school” baseball guys and Showalter often chided the use of analytics and advanced metrics during his tenure in Baltimore. Hey, it worked for a while, and it was fun attending playoff games at Camden Yards. But the game has changed drastically in the past couple years and front offices have changed with it. As other teams ramped up their dependence on analytics in what Ken Rosenthal calls an “intellectual arms race,” the Orioles fell woefully behind.
Last season, the Orioles employed five research and development employees in their front office, tied for fifth-smallest in the majors. Their AL East rival Yankees employed 20. Zach Britton got the opportunity to see how both organizations operated in 2018 and noticed a difference. “There’s a gigantic difference in how we use analytics here compared to Baltimore... It kind of opens your eyes to things you maybe didn’t think of when you didn’t have that information,” said Britton. His ERA in 2016 was 0.54! How much lower would it have been if he had “information”?
Other departed Orioles also noticed differences. Manny Machado’s defense at shortstop improved drastically after being traded to Los Angeles. Brad Brach said that one of his first meetings after joining the Braves was with the analytics staff. Kevin Gausman said he was shown statistics in Atlanta that impressed upon him the importance of getting ahead in the count.
The hire of Elias means that ownership recognizes the changing game and is going along with it. Houston is considered one of, if not the most, analytics-friendly organizations in the game. Elias surely sold the Angelos brothers on its importance in his interviews. Even better, he could be bringing an analytics guru with him.
I’ve heard Mejdal will indeed come join Elias to build an R&D department in Baltimore. https://t.co/za2SDn0pek— keithlaw (@keithlaw) November 14, 2018
Mejdal, a former NASA employee, is credited with building Houston’s analytics program. This would be a game-changing addition to the staff, assuming you are tired of hearing former Orioles say they were given a better chance to succeed with other clubs. Welcome to 2018, Baltimore Orioles.
He isn’t just a brainiac
Elias is young, Ivy League educated, and understands the importance of analytics — all qualities of a new-age executive. But he isn’t just a number-cruncher. He was a pitcher during his college years and his first job with the Cardinals was as a scout and he rose through the ranks of the scouting departments in St. Louis and Houston. So Elias has been to actual baseball fields to use the good ole’ eye test in evaluating players.
The success Showalter has had indicates that advanced metrics aren’t the end all, be all in baseball. Baseball players aren’t computers, they are human beings and some aspects of their performance can’t be measured by analytics. Successful organizations see analytics and traditional scouting as vital partners in evaluating players and building game plans, not enemies. Elias seems to recognize that.
He will call the shots
For all the reasons listed here and more, Mike Elias has a very bright future as an MLB executive. He has the luxury of picking a new job that is right for him and gives him the ability to put his stamp on a franchise. It is unlikely that a person in his situation would have accepted Baltimore’s offer if he or she wasn’t guaranteed complete control.
The Orioles hired Dan Duquette in 2011 because other executives rejected their advances. Peter Angelos has always been seen as a meddler and an owner who requested the final stamp of approval on decisions. John and Lou Angelos seem to understand that it is better for a bright baseball mind to do as he sees fit. Elias wouldn’t have taken this position unless he was promised that. That should be welcome news to all Orioles fans.
It will take many years to know if this is the right hire. But this rebuilding process will be lengthy and painful, so I’m taking what I perceive as good news and enjoying it.