- By David O'Brien The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Alex Anthopoulos got something akin to a doctoral degree in analytics while working in the Dodgers’ statistics think-tank/front office the past two seasons. Now that he’s general manager of the Braves he plans to bring that knowledge and put into practice in Atlanta much of what he saw work successfully in Los Angeles and some of what he learned before that as Blue Jays GM.
“It was eye-opening for me,” Anthopoulos said of the Dodgers’ use of analytics and as much data as available, boiled down for players to consume if they so chose. “Look, it’s not a panacea for anything. You still need great players and obviously Los Angeles has great players and great acquisitions. Most of all, this stuff, it’s up to the players. Chris Taylor made a lot of great changes in L.A.; he made those changes. He wanted to do that, he had a willingness to do it.”
Last week Anthopoulos hired Alex Tamin away from the Dodgers to serve as Braves director of major league operations and bring the advance-scouting work Tamin did in L.A., and Alex Pare from the Marlins to be his assistant GM in charge of research and development, Pare’s bailiwick in Miami and before that in Toronto.
He already had his former Blue Jays scouting director Perry Minasian on the Braves staff and promoted him to assistant GM.
The group has begun to look into the Braves’ performance last season and gleaned that some players are more talented than their performances suggest. In other words, the team had some underperformers, particularly young pitchers but also others at various positions.
That’s where all the data and statistical analytics could come into play, if players decide to utilize it. Anthopoulos has made requests of Braves CEO Terry McGuirk to spend money to hook up the Braves with data services and fill positions that didn’t exist in the organization before now. He said McGuirk has been entirely supportive and granted every request thus far.
“The philosophy is, all 25 guys on this roster, can we make them better?” Anthopoulos said. “Even star players, guys like (Cody) Bellinger or (Corey) Seager (of the Dodgers), they’re great players; can they get better? At the end of the day it’s up to the player, and we’re not doing our job if we’re not doing everything we can to improve their performance, if they want.”
He saw it happen with those two and with Taylor, Justin Turner and other Dodgers.
“You sit back and you wait, sometimes the player may want to come (to you) in a few instances,” Anthopoulos said. “A player may have scuffled, he may say, ‘Hey, what do you guys have for me?’ And at that point, you’re ready. ... It’s a player’s career; the manager there’s to manage him, do his job, coaches as well. We don’t want them necessarily sitting in front of the computer trying to run through reams and reams of data and spending hours doing that when they can spend actual time doing work in the bullpen, work on the field, connecting with guys, spending time with them. We can help take some of the load off.”
Anthopoulos stressed that he and his front-office staff won’t in any way interfere with field instruction or determine in-game moves. He said they are there only to provide information. They’ll give it to manager Brian Snitker, who will decide with his coaches what to use and how to pass along the knowledge and info to players.
“Snit is the manager of the team,” Anthopoulos said. “We don’t pull players aside on our own. Things go through the coaching staff. I’m not (hitting coach) Kevin Seitzer. I’m not going to go down to the cages, nor is anybody on our staff going to do that. We give the information to the staff. They’ll have their input and shape it. Maybe we have two or three items that after discussing, they say, ‘You know what, this one item is something we should try to talk about.’ And it’s up to them to deliver it to the player.
“The coaches are there to coach, we’re just there to help take off the load and maybe provide some information for them. And again, we’re not re-inventing the wheel, this happens at all levels. Thirty clubs are doing this – to varying degrees – but things go through the staff.”
Anthopoulos has met several times with Snitker and said he talked Tuesday again in his hotel suite at the Winter Meetings with Snitker, pitching coach Chuck Hernandez and new bench coach Walt Weiss.
“At the end of the day I think some of that stuff is overblown,” Anthopoulos said of all the discussion and stories such as this one about using analytics. “I think it’s providing information. But the manager is the one (to apply it). There’s information there, we can talk about things, debate things, but at the end of the day it’s their decision. We just felt looking at this that there’s some really good people that are here, my view of it is, from my experiences being in it in L.A. and Toronto as well, we can add to that.
“Talking to Snit, Walt and Chuck, I mean, we’ll provide information as a front office. But look, at the end of the day, Snit’s going to manage the game, and it’s up to him what he wants to apply and doesn’t want to apply. And the same way with players. You can produce all kinds of stuff internally; there’s only so much that may get down there. You do it as a team, so we may have some ideas and information that, hey, someone should throw four-seamers in, and Chuck may tell us, ‘Hey, he has a tough time getting glove-side’ or whatever it might be, it just doesn’t work.
“So you need to have that dialogue and that communication, so the information and data may tell you ‘X,’ but maybe it doesn’t work because the guy has a hard time doing certain things, maybe he can’t get ahead (in the count), that kind of thing. So it’s collaboration, it’s a team thing, but at the end of the day, we’re going to provide information to them, they’re going to use what they feel is appropriate, we’re going to do it as a team. Players as well. You give input, at the end of the day it’s up to players whether they want to apply it.”