WHIP? My arm feels great. Thanks for asking!
I want to talk about FanFest for a moment, though it’s not so much about the joy I had watching people rummage through the Padres Garage Sale (to benefit their wonderful Padres Foundation) for Portland Beavers uniforms — even though I do love me some Portland.
Instead, I want to talk about a panel I listened to last Saturday.
The highlight of the day for me was listening to the Bloomberg Sports panel that discussed the Padres used of sabermetics and analytics, one that included radio broadcaster and former Major League pitcher Bob Scanlan as a moderator, assistant to baseball operations/professional scouting Alex Slater, vice president, strategy/business analysis John Abbamondi and vice president/assistant general manager A.J. Hinch.
It should come as no surprise to you that the Padres — like many other Major League teams — have people in their front office who handle the club’s quantitative analysis needs – sabermetics, analytics, whatever you want to call them. The club values this information, integrating it with all of their traditional scouting means (physically watching and evaluating a player) so to make the best informed decision on their own or prospective players.
The Padres have also developed their own proprietary formulas that they use — formulas that they don’t share with anyone, for good reason. How secretive are they? Remember the movie, National Treasure, and the coveted ‘Book of Secrets’? It’s kind of like that only worse. I’m not sure Nicholas Cage could pry these secrets from the team even with the promise of Opening Day box seats and breakfast.
I’ve strayed a little here, but I had a nice conversation with Scanlan about sabermetics on Saturday. Scanlan, for those who don’t know, pitched for six Major League teams in a nine-year career (1991-96, 1998, 2000-01). He relayed to me an anecdote about sabermetrics that I found to be interesting, though probably not entirely unique for a player of his generation.
Here’s what Scanlan told me, in his own words (and thanks for the information Scan!):
“The first time that I was exposed to sabermetics and the use of statistical analytics to evaluate and project players’ performance was in the 1995-1996 off-season. I was a free agent coming off a disappointing and injury plagued season, looking to hook up with a team for spring training. I had several teams interested in my services, and spoke directly with either the GM or assistant GM of most of those teams, with the questions from them being, “How does your arm feel?”, “Can you start, or can you work out of the ‘pen?”, “Can you come out and throw for us to take a look?”, etc. All reasonable and relevant questions from baseball men.
“There was one team, however, that was completely different. I received a call from Anaheim Angels, but it was not their GM on the other end of the phone, but a member of their player statistical analysis department who said he had a few questions for me about my performance last season. His first questions was about my K/BB and K/9 ratios last season, and why they had gone down, and if the changes in those numbers were related to the change in my GB/FB ratio. Up to this point in my career the only stats I ever payed any attention to were W-L, ERA, and if someone really wanted to go the extra mile they would wow me with a report on my OBP against when throwing a first pitch strike.
“I answered the Angels analyst that I had elbow problems early in the season, but that my arm felt better at the end of season and it took me a little while to get the feel of my slider back, but I finished strong at the end. I felt like he ignored my response, and came back with his next salvo of diagnostic questions including, did I know why WHIP was higher last season? I responded that as I just explained my arm was feeling better and I thought my arm had good whip at the end of my release point…which evoked a long silence on the other end. He then asked if that explained why my BABIP (batting average on balls put in play) was also higher last year. Having no idea what my BABIP really was, or how to answer his question I simply said, “I guess so”. He curtly thanked me for my time and hung up. As I hung up my phone I had no idea what had just happened, or what language that guy was talking, but I was fairly certain the interview had not gone well, and that I would not be hearing back from the Angels. I thought about for a few minutes perplexed, then finally concluded within myself how ridiculous that line of questioning had been.”
Well, Scanlan was right. The Angels weren’t interested, though he did end up signing with the Tigers for 1996. That’s not important as much as what he had unknowingly stumbled upon — the sabermetric movement which was essentially in its infancy stage (yes, I realize that Bill James had been doing this for a while, but Major League teams were nowhere near ready to embrace the concept).
Anyway, just a little anecdote that I found interesting.
As for the panel, it was made abundantly clear by everyone involved that the Padres take all of this very seriously (see previous lame analogy on the ‘Book of Secrets’) as well as how numbers can’t tell you the entire story and that there’s variance when it comes to performance because you are dealing with players.
I’m trying to broaden my horizons as far as sabermetrics, taking in what information I can that doesn’t test my shaky grip on remedial math. I’m trying to include them in my daily missives at Padres.com where it’s applicable. I’ve used the Cory Luebke/xFIP analogy way too much during this off-season, so my solemn vow to you is I’ll work twice as hard to find a new stat to run into the ground.
Stick that in your Book of Secrets!
Corey Brock, MLB.com