Thursday, January 31, 2008

The San Diego SABR meeting - Part 3

If you missed the first two parts, they are here and here. This entry will wrap up the question/answer period with Paul DePodesta.

Question (Q): We haven't talked about the elephant in the room - steriods. What's the Padres corporate opinion?
Paul DePodesta (PD): We wish we had full knowledge.
Q (interrupts): Would full knowledge change your evaluation standards?
PD: There is no proof steroids helps players. If it does help, that makes the job of evaluating players much more difficult. You have a projection of what a player is expected to do. If his performance goes way, way up or way, way down you have to ask why? Is he working hard or is there something else? Steroid use does screw up the models we're using, which is why it's so much more difficult to evaluate. Paul said he's all for getting Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) out of the game.

Q: Why are minor league penalties for steroid use heaver than at the major league level?
PD: MLB was able to impose stricter penalties and testing on the minor leagues. At the major league level, they have to negotiate with the union, which makes the process much slower.

Q: Are the Padres pursuing player development in the Dominician Republic and China?
PD: Sandy (Alderson) is a big believer in development. The Padres now have 2 complexes in the Dominican, oustide the capital city; these facilities are as good or better than MLB spring training complexes.

Q: What process are you following to find an heir to Hoffman?
PD: Right now we think Heath Bell is a good candidate to be Trevor's successor at the back of the game. We're not overly concerned about finding the next closer, because middle relievers are a little bit easier to find on the open market - they're more available. As we find candidates that we think can do the job, we'll give them a chance at the end of ball games to see how they hold up in pressure situations (7th and 8th innings), and evaluate from there.

Q: Heard a lot about the salary cap. What are the repercussions for going over?
PD: There is no hard salary cap in baseball, there's a target amount that clubs should try and stay under. If your payroll goes over, you pay a tax which goes to MLB for distribution to all other teams. So far only the Yankees and Boston have gone over, and they don't seem to care what they have to pay as a tax. Basically if they pay a guy $10 million, and have a 30% luxury tax imposed, they're signing him for $13 million.

Q: How do you determine what salary to pay a foreign player?
PD: We have lots of information now on how Japanese players will perform in the majors, and that information has really expanded over the past 5-6 years. We also have more data on how they played over in Japan (statistically speaking) then we used to. So we can use that data to come to a determination on what the player's value is.

Q: How many scouts do you employ? Is the number driven by cost, and how does it compare with other teams?
PD: Most teams are consistent on how many scouts they employ. (He then went into a description of the organizational structure of the scouting department of the Padres that I didn't write down). It's also important to cultivate relationships with college coaches, and each scout does do that in his particular area of responsibility. Some coaches are very good about giving honest evaluations of their players, some not so much. But remember - they're trying to win to and run a successful program, so their evaluations may be driven by their own selfish needs, which is understandable.

Q: What is the Padres minor league philosophy - win now, or develop players?
PD: Obviously the minors develop players who can contribute at the major league level. But we don't just focus on player development. Its also important to win, and to teach players how to win. Its not the only thing, but it's important. We've had success recently in the minor leagues with successful teams (division winners, champions, and the like).

Q: One of the things that the Padres struggled with last year was holding on runners and throwing out baserunners. Has the team considered teaching all their pitchers a slide-step to speed things up to the plate?
PD: We're looking at that. And we evaluate whether to teach that to pitchers based on their capability to hold runners. Greg Maddux, for example - he's not very good holding a guy on, and never will be at this point. But he believes it's more important to concentrate on the hitter, because the hitter can hurt him much more than the baserunner. That guy on base doesn't hurt him until he touches home plate. That's his philosophy and he's been successful with it. A guy like Chris Young, well, he's 6' 10" - he's not going to be very fast to the plate in any situation, and the thing we worry about is the effect on his stuff if we try to speed up his motion with a guy on. So we decided, during the season we're not going to try and change him, let him focus on what's made him successful. There's no doubt our struggles last year with baserunners was more based on our pitchers than our catchers. Our two guys aren't Pudge Rodriguez, but they certainly are both capable.

Q: How is the luxury tax distributed, and are there requirements for the teams to actually spend them on their payroll?
PD: Not 100% sure, but believe it goes to a central fund at MLB and is distributed from there. It's not part of revenue sharing right now. Its actually a relatively small number in the grand scheme of things. I doubt it would make a large difference. There are no guidelines on how teams have to spend that money. Some teams hoard it - we don't; but they may keep it for some later time when they are more competitive.

Q: MLB publishes a suggested bonus to pay players drafted in the first round based on what slot they are taken. Some teams follow it, some don't. If you had a player you wanted, would you violate the pay scale to sign him? (Angry Rant question)
PD: We're willing to do that if its needed, but depends on the individual, and if we thought it was the right thing for the Padres. Those are really recommendations - you don't have to follow them. Typically we try to remain within the structure given by MLB, and I think we've done a great job of doing that. Part of the reason those recommendations are in place, about fifteen years ago there was a team that blew the structure out of the water. One player was asking for a lot of money, much more than most clubs thought he deserved based on his ability. He had been forecast as a very high first round draft pick, but his asking price scared team after team away and he fell in the first round. Then one team stepped up, drafted him, and paid him what he wanted - which angered a lot of other teams. The player was Todd Van Poppel, the team was the Oakland A's, and the GM was Sandy Alderson. So yes, we're willing to break the scale if needed. But not to that extent again.

Q: If you have a player you're considering drafting, who has the tools, but his personal life has some issues, does it count when considering who to draft?
PD: Significantly for us. We use various tests over the years to measure their 'mental make-up', and I think we've had decent success with hit. The minor leagues are a real grind, even for the really talented; so we strive to draft players who are capable of thriving in that environment. We think players like Chad Hutchins and Mark Antonelli, they're high character guys, and we think they're having success not only because of their physical skills but also their mental toughness. Obviously the tests aren't fool proof, but we think we've been successful using them.

Q: How has Scott Boras affected the draft, if at all? Has it affected the competitive balance of the league?
PD: Hasn't affected us all that much, but has affected the draft. There are certain players that Scott says, he won't sign unless he gets 'x', and that guy will slide through the draft until there's someone willing to pay 'x', and he does that with a number of players. He doesn't do it all the time, but when Scott feels he has a special player, he lets people know what that is. Competitive balance - it does work to a degree. But it certainly is a far from perfect system. And it's something that we've tried to address in the collective bargaining agreement; it's an area of concern for some of the small market teams. It hasn't affected us, but some of the big market clubs have access to some of the better players.

Q: How do I get your job? (Angry Rant Question)
PD: Start as a van driver? (laughter). Get very, very lucky, in all honesty. I was ridiculously lucky at several points in my life. Have to be willing to go anywhere and do any job just to get your foot in the door, then once your foot's in the door do as good a job as you possibly can. Because so many people want to work in sports, and once they get jobs they typically don't leave them, unless they're asked to, which also happened to me (laughter), it makes for a situation with very low turnover, so it can be a frustrating process. Sorry, I wish I had better advice.


End Session.

As you read, a lot of good information there. These are the kinds of things SABR tries to bring to what I would call the serious baseball fan (yes, this is a shameless plug for SABR). I would encourage you, if you're interested in broadening your horizons beyond just the Cardinals, to look up your local chapter and see what they've got going on. For me, over the past year, its been time well spent.

Even if the local chapter here teems with Padre and Cub fans. :)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Would that be Chad Huffman and Matt Antonelli?