« More articles in Uncategorized   |   Go Home

Great interview by R.J. with Paul DePodesta over at Beyond the Box Score. I’m sure it will get great play around the blogosphere the next few days, as DePo always makes for pretty good reading. Here’s one part that caught my eye:

QUESTION: Not too long ago the new Pirates’ general manager Neal Huntington did a Q&A session with MLB.com and answered a question about the metrics they use to judge players, I’d like to pose that same question to you: what are some of the statistics you to evaluate potential targets?

DEPODESTA: This reminds me of the old SNL skit with Phil Hartman playing then Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, holding a press conference. The questions posed about the Gulf War went something to the effect of: “When are we going to start the ground attack?” and “I understand there are passwords being used by our troops on the front lines. What are some examples of those?” I’m kidding of course, especially as it relates to the sensitivity of the material. That being said, we have a number of proprietary measures of performance that I’m not going to share.

To backtrack, here was the response in question:

The Pirates upper management has widely ignored OBP (on base percentage) in the past. How important will OBP be in player evaluation under your leadership?
- Eric S., Pennsboro, W.Va

We are going to utilize several objective measures of player performance to evaluate and develop players. We’ll rely on the more traditional objective evaluations: OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage) , WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched), Runs Created, ERC (Component ERA), GB/FB (ground ball to fly ball ratio), K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings), K/BB (strikeouts to walks ratio), BB%, etc., but we’ll also look to rely on some of the more recent variations: VORP (value over replacement player), Relative Performance, EqAve (equivalent average), EqOBP (equivalent on base percentage), EqSLG (equivalent slugging percentage), BIP% (balls put into play percentage), wOBA (weighted on base average), Range Factor, PMR (probabilistic model of range) and Zone Rating.

Lots of bloggers credited Huntington with (I guess) knowing that these stats exist, and some went over the top with their praise.

I’ve given Huntington the benefit of the doubt in the big picture, but that answer baffled me two months ago and still does today. Besides the fact that a few of those stats aren’t my favorites (Component ERA, WHIP, range factor, VORP, etc.), this didn’t seem like a savvy executive-type statement. DePo hit it right on the head; Steve Jobs might tell you what Apple’s core values are, but he’s not giving away the code base for the next iPhone.

I think this is one of the issues we have in evaluating general managers. Fans of sabermetrics love it when one of “our guys” gets a job, but there’s a lot more involved than being able to list a number of stats. Being able to properly utilize them, for starters.

That’s not to say Huntington can’t; he may be as proficient as they come. We just don’t know yet. But I also wouldn’t suggest divulging organizational strategy in an MLB.com chat session. So I guess we’ll see.

Feedback? Write a comment, or e-mail the author at shawn(AT)squawkingbaseball.com

9 Existing Comments

Add New Comment

  1. on January 5th at 05:09 am
    W said:

    I think Huntiington was sending a message more than he was providing the Da Vinci Code to the new Pirates. “Here’s things we look at, things you probably haven’t heard before!” He was also speaking to an online audience who is likely more saber-savvy. I’d bet he sings a different tune when speaking to a local VFW, but all on the same key … not the same ol’ sucky Pirates.

  2. on January 5th at 08:41 am
    David Chase said:

    Love the commentary. Keep the posts coming shawn!

  3. on January 5th at 04:38 pm
    robustyoungsoul said:

    Which stats DO you prefer? A post about that would be interesting I think.

  4. on January 5th at 10:52 pm
    JE said:

    I respectfully disagree, Shawn. (It was bound to happen sooner or later, I guess.)

    Nothing that Huntington said in the interview is comparable to giving away the IPhone’s code base. I am confident that his sabermetric-friendly views were already well known inside the game. And compare with what we learned about Beane, DePodesta, and the rest of the A’s front office in “Moneyball”, and has that book’s popularity hindered the organization as a result? (One example: even though the book detailed how Beane made fools out of some of his trading partners, it had little to zero impact on his ability to make future deals.)

  5. on January 5th at 10:58 pm
    dan said:

    I’ve kinda been reading the blog for a little while now, the previous post was my first comment…. good work, it’s rather enjoyable reading.

  6. on January 6th at 03:01 am
    squawkingbaseball said:

    I think a key part of this argument that I should have highlighted more is how much of a mixed bag those stats are. I think W is right in the sense that he was playing to the crowd a bit. That’s fine, I guess (although I can’t picture Beane/Theo/Shapiro/etc doing it in this fashion). But if you’re going to do it, may as well do it well. Do any Pirates fans want their front office evaluating pitchers with a defense dependent stat like WHIP?

    robustyoungsoul - I have entered that into my queue for next week

  7. on January 7th at 05:07 am
    moo said:

    I’m not sure I see any important parallel between the two sets of comments. DePo refused to say anything about proprietary metrics. Huntington said nothing about proprietary metrics. Giving away the iPhone code is giving away proprietary stuff. Neither exec did any such thing.

  8. on January 8th at 02:49 pm
    Andrew said:

    Huntington’s response never baffled me - I’ve always assumed that he was simply name-dropping some sabermetric buzzwords to place himself among the new generation of GMs in the eye of the casual fan. Perhaps more important is that he did not answer that question by saying: “We’re looking for proven winners who know how to play the game the right way.”

  9. on January 8th at 05:52 pm
    squawkingbaseball said:

    I think you’re making a great point Andrew, and this is something I should’ve touched on in the post. That seems to be the clear motive, and I should have written that. But again, would Billy Beane or Theo Epstein ever feel the need to “place himself among the new generation of GMs…”? In fact if anything, both avoid that subject like the plague. Most GMs (and executives in general) never try to classify themselves. You are tipping your hand if you do.