Baseball Prospectus hosted a great event at Nationals Park on Saturday night which brought a statistically significant number of statistically minded baseball fans together. This was the second year they’ve put together this event here in Washington, and the first one I’ve been able to attend. Along for the ride with me were podcast partner Colm and occasional Nats Review contributor Markham.
When we got there, we got to meet a few members of the Nationals baseball operations staff including Mark Scialabba – Director, Player Development, Bryan Minniti – Assistant General Manager, Adam Cromie – Director, Baseball Operations, Michael DeBartelo – Baseball Operations Analyst, and Samuel Mondry-Cohen – Baseball Analytics Manager.
Here are a few highlights from the Q&A session with this group:
- When asked about trading draft picks, they were enthusiastic about the idea
- Who are the best players you’ve ever scouted or seen? Barry Bonds and Andrew McCutchen were named… Schialabba said that Strasburg was, despite all of the accolades, better than he even thought he could be when he first saw him.
- As far as picking injured players in the draft, they didn’t feel like they were exploiting a “market inefficiency” but that now that the team is good, they are able to take bigger risks in the draft. They might not have been able to take a Giolito or Rendon 5 years ago
- With Ryan Zimmerman‘s position changes, they joked that he’ll play every position on the field once Bryce Harper returns. They did say that Zim to second base hasn’t really been discussed in the front office. Someone in the audience (I promise it wasn’t me!) said it was an obvious choice, but Cromie disagreed with that saying specifically that he didn’t think it was an obvious choice. If they do ever talk about it, I’m guessing he’ll be on the “it’s a bad idea” side of the table
- Minitti said the issue of “who plays where” once Harper returns isn’t really such a problem. Yes, they have to figure something out, but when he was working in Pittsburgh, and early days here in DC, the next guy up probably wasn’t a major league talent. The “problem” of having too many good players isn’t nearly as disconcerting
- Continuing with positional changes, AA is when you really start to see whether or not a guy is going to end up on the major league team. That is when they’d like to start making positional adjustments on guys
- As far as the use of public data, such as Baseball Reference or BP, much of what they use from an analytics standpoint is the stuff that we would see publicly, but there is some amount that is proprietary (for example some scouting analysis data)
- The teams goals with analytics are more about predictive data, as opposed to the historical data we tend to see on the baseball websites
- Matt Williams is more engaged with the analytics guys than Davey Johnson was. It’s hard for them to know exactly how he uses the data he’s given, but he is very willing to seek out the information, and is a very open-minded manager, on the analytics side of things
- The players are at the very least aware of the analytics the team uses – Sam was “mildly accosted” by a player (who remained nameless, of course) because his matchup projections weren’t favorable
After the front office people headed out, the Baseball Prospectus staff came up front. There were so many of them there that I won’t even attempt to name them all, but here are a couple of things that came from that chat
- It’s hard to truly name who is an ace in the minor leagues. While there are some guys who project to be a #1 starter-type such as Lucas Giolito, Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey, aces are made at the big league level not in the minors. It’s after guys face players who are good enough to hit even the best fastball if they know it’s coming
- I asked them about Tanner Roark – he can’t be this good, right? Jason Parks said he thought he was a non-prospect when he played in the Texas organization. Roark didn’t project at all in the minors in part because he really wasn’t good in the minors. He’s been proving everyone wrong but they don’t see him as a 1, 2 or 3 type pitcher. But he has been succeeding, he’s been letting players put the ball in play, and he’s been great, so, we’ll see
- Jason Parks said when the next BP Top 50 prospect list comes out, Giolito will be the highest ranked pitching prospect in the league
After the event, we all went to our seats in section 105 where I assume everyone consulted the beer map to find the best places to run off to in between innings. We watched a spectacular pitching performance by Doug Fister, who went 8 innings without letting up a run, and despite only striking out 3, only had to work out of one real jam, in the first inning. We also saw a balk by Teheran that advanced Adam LaRoche which a Zim single turned into a run, 3 balls that were #RendOwned for 2 RBIs, and 2 of the 3 runs scored by Jose Lobaton. It was a great game, Fister got a standing ovation after finishing up the 8th in what was, dare I say, a much needed win for the Nats.
After the game, the BP staff made their way to Blue Jacket, the relatively new brewpup down the street from the park. I really wanted to check this place out, and I went over to join the party. It was pretty darn crowded, a nice postgame scene, so I’d recommend it if you’re looking for somewhere to go after the game. I tried the Imperial Schwartzbier which was great, and an decent IPA.
Despite being a good 4 or 5 blocks away from the park, a (probably little known to most fans entry point) to the Navy Yard Metro stop sits on the corner of M Street and New Jersey Ave just 2 blocks away from Blue Jacket, so it’s easy to get home from there as well. On the weekend, at least, when the metro, you know, runs at night. This part of the evening was arranged by the newest person I’m following on Twitter, Ryan Sullivan of NatsGM.com, so thanks for doing that!
As I said, I can’t even pretend to know all of the guys from BP who helped make this a great event, but a big thank you goes out to Joe Hamrahi for setting up the evening. Also, at Blue Jacket, I got to have some great conversations in person with a few people who I chat with over twitter, like Craig Goldstein and Harry Pavlidis. It was really fun and if you do engage with these guys over twitter or their websites to actually put names with faces and talk to them in person.
A few other notes:
Those of us who attended were treated to a group of fans sitting towards the front section, nattily attired in animal costumes. Through some intrepid investigative reporting, we found out that they were dressing up as the National Zoo, in a brazen but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to get on television. Keep in mind, these people weren’t from the National Zoo, they were dressing up as the National Zoo. Get it? Included in this group were the people below, dressed as “flamingos”
— Céspedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) June 21, 2014
Finally, if you’ve fallen in a vat of whiskey prior to the event and feel the need to comment loudly throughout, you might want to reconsider. There was actually plenty of opportunity to have beers with the guys afterwards, so I’d recommend not pre-drinking. Thanks again to Baseball Prospectus and the Nats for putting this event together, we had a great time!