At SABR 44 on August 2, 2014, the Decision Sciences Panel at Minute Maid Park discussed the Houston Astros’ innovative front office and the future of the organization. This panel was part of our special SABR 44 ballpark session, which the Houston Astros hosted in the Union Station terminal at Minute Maid Park.
The panelists included: Jeff Luhnow, General Manager of the Houston Astros; Sig Mejdal, Director of Decision Sciences for the Astros; and David Stearns, Assistant General Manager of the Astros.
- Video: Click here to watch the SABR 44 Decision Sciences Panel at Minute Maid Park (YouTube)
- Audio: Click here to listen to the SABR 44 Decision Sciences Panel at Minute Maid Park (53:43; 51.6 MB)
Here are some highlights:
ON THE HOPES OF HOUSTON FANS
- Luhnow: “We do feel the pressure. One of my formative baseball experiences, as an executive, was in my first full year with the St. Louis Cardinals, coming here [to Houston in 2004] for the National League Championship Series and seeing this place filled to the rafters, white towels waving, and the passion and energy of the Houston fans, then coming back the next year [in 2005] and seeing the same thing all over again. That’s what we want for Houston, and what we’re well on the way to accomplishing.”
ON KEEPING PLAYERS HEALTHY
- Luhnow: “We have much more of an understanding of a human being now. It’s really critical for us. Not just understanding the human body, and this has a lot of branches to it, like nutrition. … We have a full-time nutritionist on staff, we have nutritionists at various levels throughout the minor leagues. We really control and invest quite a bit in feeding our players, because we know that can be a key success factor. … [Also] in terms of injuries: How do we prevent injuries from happening? How do we make sure that when they do happen, the players get fixed … in a way that ensures they return to their peak performance? That’s all in the medical science that’s exploded in the last few years. … There really is a lot of collaboration [in MLB in the last five years] … that allows us all to share information about what body parts are getting injured, so we have a lot more history and much more granular understanding of [injuries].”
ON DEFENSIVE METRICS
- Mejdal: “While it’s true that we have a lot more specific information about [every pitch], much of the data on defensive positioning has been around a decade [old], and it’s not until recently that I think the teams are getting the confidence to position differently. You’ll see the Astros and Blue Jays [tonight], neither team is shy … and you’ll see a defensive positioning game that is a lot different than what went on just three of four years ago. And I think it’s representative of a paradigm shift that’s going on in baseball.”
ON SCOUTS VS. STATS
- Mejdal: “For all the wonders that came out of that book [“Moneyball”], one of the disservices, I think, was how they framed the questions. Perhaps it was for dramatic purposes, but either you have your scouts, your experts, your veterans in one corner of the room, and you have your quantitative analysts, your nerds, in the other corner of the room — and you have to choose between one. And since day one in St. Louis, in my experience, that has just been inaccurate. Jeff has supported a system where the question really is, how in the world do we make sense of all this information? … So it’s really an exercise in combining information. It’s never been that either-or question. It’s been an ‘and’ question.”
ON THE ASTROS’ SCOUTING DEPARTMENT
- Stearns: “What Kevin [Goldstein] brings to us is a tremendous understanding of both sides of the coin. He understands advanced statistics … but the reason why he was hired as pro scouting director is that he’s a tremendous evaluator. He goes out to the field, he works his butt off, he can break down a hitter or pitcher as well as any scout in the game. So we trust him to do that. … He’s involved in every decision we make.”
ON BREAKING INTO BASEBALL
- Mejdal: “It almost seems like some people are kidding, that Baseball Prospectus is the minor leagues to enter the Astros front office. And while that may be an exaggeration, I think that’s the perfect place to do it. … You can demonstrate your expertise, you can demonstrate your inspiration. … It’s a large amount of data that you’re dealing with, and in order to do the first thing with it, you have to have SQL skills … expert SQL skills. You have to have statistical analysis skills in order to do something with the data afterward. … You’re in an industry that in some ways is changing, and I think the sensitivity to the experts whose pie is being asked to be shared, to the changed management that’s going on, is also an important skill. … So many industries are turning into big data industries. And while it’s very hard to get into baseball, these skills that you need to get into this aspect of baseball are the same skills you need to ensure your chance of making a living in this world.”
For more coverage of SABR 44, visit SABR.org/convention.
Originally published: August 15, 2014. Last Updated: April 16, 2020.