Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The San Diego SABR Meeting - Part 2

First, the answers to the trivia questions from the meeting.

1. Tony LaRussa (I got this one on an educated guess; I remember Art Howe was the manager that replaced Tony.)
2. Milt Pappas (I guessed Ferguson Jenkins; he never threw a no-no, as it turns out.)
3. John Sturm (Guessed Mel Zed; yeah, had no clue.)
4. Phil Nevin (guessed Todd Walker. He played for Chicago in 2005 and SD in 2006. Close.)
5. Mark McGwire (got this one)
6. Gene Tenance (guessed Jason Kendall)
7. Dennis Eckersley (guessed 'Davis'; again, no clue)
8. Sammy Sosa (got this one)
9. Yankees and Pirates (guessed Yankees and Cubs, so 1/2 credit)
10. Bob Welch (guessed Ron Darling)
11. Tim Hudson (got this one)
12. Ryne Sandberg (got this one)
13. Dave Stewart (got this one, although pulled the answer straight out of my ass)
14. Derreck Lee (guessed Mark Grace)
The rest of this post will be a summary of Paul DePodesta's remarks and the question/answer period. Mrs. Rant did record the entire session (1 hr 4 min long), save a couple of minutes at the beginning. I have it as a reference for this post, but I'm not going to post it.

Remarks: Started as a van driver at spring training for the Cleveland Indians (had played ball in college). Charted pitches as his first real baseball job for the Indians. Became interested in the process by which players were evaluated. Remembers quite clearly discussions about Jeff Kent - namely that one of the senior baseball men in the Indians organization referred to Kent (and he quoted) as "Jeff Kent has the weakest frigging hack I have ever seen." - which led to his trade to San Francisco (although the Indians got Matt Williams, so it wasn't a total loss). Now he didn't mean to imply the scouts had no clue - they were a very dedicated group that knew their jobs - but it was a process issue. And as he watched Kent become possibly the greatest offensive second baseman in ML history, he had an epiphany about process vs outcome. Baseball industry is focused on outcome; he would focus on process.

The Padres are finely tuned on process. He discussed process vs outcome on a good/bad scale (ex: Good process, bad outcome). The Padres constantly evaluate their process to ensure it's sound, and change it as necessary.

End Remarks.

Question (Q): Could the Padres process be compared to industry standards like ISO 9000?
Paul D (PD): Not really, although it is similar.

Q: Is Kevin Towers as old school as he projects, or does he use the process?
PD: KT is very focused on the process, although he looks at intangibles too. He's realistic. You're never going to be right on every player. Past performance is not indicative of future effort. Need to look at how a player conducts themselves during adverse times; it may be he has good process but is just suffering under bad circumstances (bad outcomes). Cited Heath Bell as an example of a guy thriving in the right circumstance because his process (how he conducted his day-to-day business) was sound.

Q: Game 163 (playoff at Colorado). The last play. WTF? (liberal paraphrase of the question there)
PD: "Umpire?" (laughter). He didn't really know either. Michael Barrett adamant that Holloway didn't touch the plate at all (although Barrett didn't tag him, either). PD did mention the HR San Diego got credit for earlier in the game that actually hit the top of the fence and bounced back, so I guess it all evens out.

Q: Have teams become more homogenous in their evaluations, or is there still a lot of scattered philosophies?
PD: There's no one good way to evaluate players. Lots of teams do it lots of different ways. He gave kudos to the Braves - whose 14 straight division championships is a feat that hasn't gotten the recognition it should based on its difficulty - for doing a great job during those years drafting high school players who eventually made it to the majors. Related an anecdote about Billy Beane, basically that Beane had over 20 years experience in baseball as a player, scout, coach, and GM, but he couldn't walk into a HS game, point to a player and say 'that guy's a future major leaguer'. Oakland found another way to draft quality talent beyond picking high schoolers.

Q: Is Boston really that good?
PD: The do a great job. They are very process oriented. The difference is they have resources most other teams don't. Epstein (who cut his teeth with the Padres) has done a great job. Also Brian Cashman with the Yankees has done superior work over the past few years.

Q: Can you take us through the anamoty of a trade?
PD: Kevin Towers' charisma, relationships with other GMs helps. Most teams are willing to deal with you based on personal relationships between GMs and if they don't feel they've been screwed in the past. For instance, Texas has basically told the Padres they won't trade with them anymore (and since the Rangers gave up Chris Young (All-Star), Adrian Gonzalez (All-Star), and Terrmel Sledge for Adam Eaton (now with Philadelphia), Akinori Otsuka (elbow surgery, out 2nd half of 2007 and now all of 2008) and a minor leaguer, I wonder why?).

PD did also say that 90% or better of trades discussed don't happen; perhaps 9 of 10 between teams, and 49 of 50 floated as ideas in the organization, are just talk. As an aside, the fellas over at U.S.S. Mariner recently alluded to this fact as why they don't post any old trade rumor on their site; there's just too much uncertainty. Based on Paul's remark, they're very wise men.

Q: Is there conflict between what the process calls for and what individuals can do? (Specific example cited was drawing walks)
PD: People have different abilities at the plate. You have to work with a players strengths, and if his strengths don't fit what your process deems important, well then you modify your process so that player can succeed. Ex: Jason Giambi was the prototypical patience/power hitter when with the A's; he'd walk 120 times a year. Miguel Tejada, however, wasn't going to walk, wasn't going to take a lot of pitches, so the organization put him in a position in the batting order to maximize his ability and potential for success. (Editorial comment: I think this is a very sound business philosophy.)

Q: What do you think about how Bud Black uses his relief pitchers?
PD: Defused the discussion by saying the following: As far as the roster makeup goes, everyone has input, but Kevin Towers makes the final decision. During the game, the coaches have input, but Bud Black makes the decisions. KT isn't going to call the dugout in the sixth and say, "hey get Cla Meredith up." Also decisions in-game are driven by the roster, and the physical abilities of the player on that day in that situation.

Q: How many minor league teams to the Padres have and how many do they own outright?
PD: Seven, which includes teams in the Dominican Republic. The Padres own 2 at the rookie level, and have working agreements with the rest (A through AAA).

Q: Of the Rule V draftees this year, how many have a realistic shot at making the team?
PD: We think 2 of the 3 we took have a shot. Probably one reliever and one other.

Q: What do you look at when evaluating a player
PD: There's so much information - on players, on the organization, on future payroll (which isn't released outside the team), as well as personal data not widely available on a particular individual. (Editorial: It seems evaluation of players goes well beyond the statistics we all use In hindsight this seems obvious.) The Padres are among the top 5 or 6 teams in MLB in spending on players, and the value assigned to a player drives his salary. For instance, they might not feel so bad paying a guy $8 million if his skill set is valued at $12 million.

Q: Stolen bases - what percentage do you use to say a guy is a successful basestealer?
PD: When he's safe (laughter). Actually, 75-80% success rate is considered successful, although he'd prefer some margin (say 85%).

Q: Contract negotiations with Khalil Greene? How's it going?
PD: Slow. It's a dialogue, and both sides are talking. Khalil has removed himself from the process, and that's fine - we're negotiating with his agent.

More questions (and answers) later in the week. Thursday is United Cardinal Blogger Project day, and I'll be a posting as a part of that effort. The rest of the Q&A will be up Friday.

1 comment:

Cardinal70 said...

Funny that Texas won't trade with SD in part because of the Eaton trade, when pretty much everyone knew it was a pretty bad trade at the time. In other words, Texas is punishing SD because of Texas's stupidity. Classic.

Glad to know you'll be UCBing tomorrow!