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Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Baird and Sabermetrics

Interesting article on Royals GM Allan Baird on We saw him working the phones during the game when we were in Surprise last week. In the article the author attributes Baird's success to two main factors; "scouting and player development" and hiring Tony Pena as manager. The former factor, the author notes, encompasses the "traditional baseball virtues". However, I would argue that Baird has succeeded by diverging from traditional baseball thinking and leaning toward sabermetric thinking in several areas. These areas were part of the analysis done by Baseball Prospectus as well.

  • Baid has focused on plate discipline since he got the GM job in 2000, hiring Jeff Pentland who was widely credited with turning Sammy Sosa around in 1998. As a reminder of this fact I recently watched a Cubs game from 1996 on ESPN Classic and had forgotten how Sosa used to wrap his bat around his head ala Julio Franco, which produced a very long swing and much less contact. The Royals are steadily improving in the area of walks and Pena has signed on the philosophy - understanding that failure to control the strike zone was one of his (Pena's) major weaknesses as a player.

  • As mentioned in the article Baird has embraced finding talent in non-traditional places. His use of the rule 5 drafts and the independant leagues are two examples. Pena has also bought into that philosophy as Baird notes in the aritcle.."if you don't have a manager who's willing to take a Rule 5 player, who believes that Rule 5 player can get it done, then why take that Rule 5 player, or why bring a young kid up to the big leagues?" Of course, this is a tacit admission that 90% of the players on a big league roster are replaceable by cheaper and often younger players in the minors. This is one of the Cubs problems with Dusty Baker, who doesn't seem to be able to have the patience to deal with younger players. Of course, as a large market team the Cubs don't have to rely on that ability. Baird also recognizes the economic advantage of these players noting that "If you don't have those guys [young talented players] it's not going to work, not only because of on-field talent, but economically. Those guys don't make much money and they won't make much money until they hit those arbitration years"

  • After being burned by high school pitching prospects (one of the mantras of BP is TINSTAAPP or "There is no such thing as a pitching prospect") like Colt Griffin and Roscoe Crosby Baird seems to have focused his drafting strategy more on college players, making his 2003 draft one of the five most college-focused by selecting 19 of their first 23 picks from the college ranks.

  • Perhaps most importantly Baird along with many of his peers has realized the foolishness of spending big money on mediocre free agents. Hernandez, Mayne, Tucker, Knoblauch, Lopez, and Ibanez are all examples of players the Royals signed over their relative value. In the cases of Tucker and Ibanez Baird was even able to drop their salaries and pick up draft picks because the Giants and Mariners continue to overvalue them. By offloading these players and taking advantage of the soft market for middle-talent free agents he was able to upgrade the team with the likes of Stairs, Graffanino, Leskanic, Sullivan, and Stinnet while spending less.

  • With all of that the Royals are still most helped by being in a weak division that has not improved since last year. Yes, the Royals played over their heads last year (their pythagorean winning percentage calculated to 78 wins instead of 83 given the numbers of runs they scored and the number given up) largely because of the fast start and hitting well with runners in scoring position, but this year's team is improved and should again be in the hunt for 80 to 90 wins, likely enough to win their division.

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