Meisel: Inside the secret world of the Cleveland Indians analytics department

From Zack Meisel at on August 12, 2014, with SABR members Keith Woolner and Sky Andrecheck:

Twenty years ago, scouting reports in the Indians’ offices resided in filing cabinets near general manager John Hart’s desk. Statistics were kept in cumbersome books that rested in executives’ laps as they congregated to debate trade opportunities or potential free-agent signings.

Now, all of the information is stored digitally and the Indians — as well as every team in the league — have their own analytics department. Every statistical projection, used as one of a handful of perspectives incorporated into the conversations that the front office holds before executing or refraining from a transaction, is derived from a three-person team employed by the organization.

Tucked in the back corner of the fourth-floor offices at Progressive Field are a series of cubicles that funnel in toward Keith Woolner’s office. Two desktop computers and a Dell laptop rest on his wooden L-shaped desk. A large framed photo from an Indians postseason victory against the Yankees in 1997 takes up most of one wall.

A giant dry-erase board takes up most of another. Aside from a short note written by his son in the bottom left corner, the board is empty. That is no surprise. No cues or clues can be on display when an outsider visits.

After all, an analytics department is akin to a CIA unit. The Indians won’t let anyone know exactly what statistical programs they operate. They could be using the same methods other teams adopt. Who knows? Everyone involved remains tight-lipped. No one can say for sure how much advanced statistical analysis influences the decisions that front offices make or, a step further, how much they contribute to the product on the field and the overall team results.

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Originally published: August 12, 2014. Last Updated: August 12, 2014.