LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Having once again failed to reach the World Series with the biggest payroll in Major League Baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers have gone ‘Moneyball’ with a progressive, high-tech transformation of their front office.
‘The Boys in Blue’ won the most recent of their six MLB championship titles 26 years ago, prompting club president Stan Kasten to make sweeping changes to the team’s baseball operations department.
With an emphasis on data-driven, sabermetric principles to re-energize the Dodgers’ scouting and player development, Kasten has hired Andrew Friedman as president of baseball operations and Farhan Zaidi as general manager.
The two men spearhead a group of young ‘Moneyball’-style executives that also includes senior vice president Josh Byrnes, formerly general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres, and scouting director Billy Gasparino.
Sabermetrics, an empirical analysis of baseball through statistics that measure in-game activity, was pioneered in the 1980s by Bill James, who was hired by the Boston Red Sox in 2004 before they ended an 86-year World Series championship drought.
Those principles were famously applied by Billy Beane with the successful but low-budget Oakland Athletics, and chronicled in Michael Lewis’ best-selling ‘Moneyball’ book before later being portrayed in an Oscar-nominated film starring Brad Pitt.
“My background is scouting, but I wanted more analytics when we came in,” said Kasten, who is part of the ownership group that bought the Dodgers for an eye-popping $2.15 billion in 2012.
“Now we are on the way to proficiency in analytics, so I‘m reminding everyone of the importance of the wise-old owls, more scouts, more scouts. We require all of the input to be the best we can be,” Kasten told the Dodgers’ website.
Friedman was a devotee of sabermetrics as general manager of the Tampa Bay Rays while Zaidi was an assistant GM of the Oakland Athletics, where he spent 10 years working under Beane of ‘Moneyball’ fame.
Beane’s A’s keep defying the odds by building playoff teams out of a tiny payroll while the Pittsburgh Pirates, another relative underdog, have succeeded by including in their team’s so-called “brain trust” mathematics graduates in their 20s.
“I know how we are going to be judged, by how the team performs on the field and subject to the high expectations of Stan and ownership and the fans,” Zaidi told reporters.
“We’re going to judge ourselves by the very same high standards.”
The Dodgers spent a staggering $238.8 million on their payroll for 2014 and won their second straight NL West championship before losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in the Division Series.
Zaidi, who has established a reputation for blending old-school scouting methods with advanced sabermetrics, is wary of being viewed as merely a ‘stats’ man.
“Every mathematical model is a gross simplification of reality,” said the 37-year-old, who earned a Ph.D in economics from the University of California, Berkeley.
”So every time you see a metric, you’re asking yourself not only what it’s telling you but also what it’s missing, because there’s always something that’s missing.
“That’s why you need this holistic approach in baseball operations.”
Editing by Gene Cherry