In the latest pit stop of their baseball sojourn across the country, the fine, upstanding gentlemen of Baseball Prospectus and Jason Parks came into our nation’s capital to host Baseball Prospectus Day at Nationals Park on Sunday July 7, while also making a stop at independent bookstore Politics and Prose the night before to discuss the latest iteration of their Essential Guide series of annual previews, along with any other baseball related minutiae that the attendees wished to confab about.
Presented with the help of the Washington Nationals, the two events presented an opportunity to
bribe with beer pick the brains of some of the best and brightest of writers, evaluators, and gadflies that cover the game, and appreciate the under-appreciated and oft-overlooked aspects of baseball evaluation and operations. It also provided a rare opportunity to talk shop with some of the decision makers in the Nats organization, and to gauge the intricacies of how the front office puts together the on-field product.
Much like I did in my HDIB? post for Nats Blogger Day, I’d like to take some time and give some ink to the people who made both events a great time and also provide some insight as to what went down for those who didn’t get the chance to participate.
First, here are the BP guys, with Twitter handles and general roles at BP. I am not doing complete justice to the many hats these guys wear at BP and in the baseball community in general, but hopefully this is enough of a start for you fine HDIB? reader(s) to give them a follow and read up on their contributions. I present them in the order they were standing at the Politics and Prose event from where I was sitting, just in case you were wondering.
|Joe Hamrahi||@JHamrahi||President and writer|
|Mike Ferrin||@MikeFerrinSXM||Fringe Average Podcast (@FringeAverage) co-host, Roundtrip with BP/Perfect Game on SiriusXM/MLB Network Radio|
|Jason Parks||@ProfessorParks||Texan, prospects/player development writer, Fringe Average podcast co-host|
|Ben Lindbergh||@ben_lindbergh||Editor-in-Chief, co-host of Effectively Wild podcast, writer|
|Jay Jaffe||@jay_jaffe||Writer Emeritus, quaffer of good beer|
|Mike Gianella||@MikeGianella||Fantasy writer|
|Jason Cole||@LoneStarDugout||Prospects contributor, also Texan|
|Zach Mortimer||@ZachMort||Prospects contributor|
|Chris King||@StatsKing||Prospects contributor, owner of an awesome Twitter wallpaper/background|
Overall, the Politics and Prose event was very informal – it was essentially a free-form Q&A session – while the BP Day at the park was a little more structured. For BP Day, about an hour and a half was dedicated in the (delightfully air-conditioned) Roosevelt Room before the game, and was split between the BP staff and two members of the Nat front office for taking Q&A, which was then followed up with some seats in Section 110 to take in the game against the San Diego Padres. From the Nats, Assistant General Manager Bryan Minniti and Director of Baseball Operations Adam Cromie stopped by to answer
any and all most questions related to the team and their roles in the organization. Lunch was served. Guffaws were had. Mr. Minniti told us unspeakable things that I can’t repeat here; OK, not really. In a delicious twist, Director of Player Development Doug Harris was unable to make it, due to a last-minute change in schedule – now knowing that hours after the game, the Nats traded for Chicago Cubs OF Scott Hairston, well… who knows.
So I’ve set the scene, we have our players (non-uniformed), what was said?
While I did the best to recall as many tidbits as I could, even with quick notes typed into my phone, I know I am missing a lot and might also be misattributing something said to the wrong person. Mea culpa – I hope you enjoy my version of the outing, nonetheless.
Nats prospects – Parks gushed about the future of Lucas Giolito, going as far to say he seriously considered putting him in his Top 50 Prospects list without even throwing a pitch in the minors (Giolito is currently rehabbing back from ulnar collateral ligament replacement – Tommy John – surgery). He projects him to be a legitimate #1 starter prospect, should his recovery and minor league education not be too bumpy of a road; Parks also commented that aside from Giolito and Brian Goodwin, the Nats cupboard did look at little thin, given the graduation of prospects like Anthony Rendon, Taylor Jordan, and Nate Karns to the bigs. He also really liked Rendon as a pure hitter and discussed the nuances of hitting and the neuroscience and psychology behind it, which as a neuro-dork, I lapped up. He did not like Rendon at second base as a long-term solution, given the stresses of the position and Rendon’s lower body health history a bit of a red flag.
‘Best’ front office/organization – by and far, the BP guys loved the things that the St. Louis Cardinals do, but shied away from outright calling them the best, hence the quotation marks. From top to bottom, they, as a majority, felt that things are done in Saint Loo the right way, and with the right things at the forefront of their collective minds. This is not to say that other teams don’t do things the right way, but overall, they felt St. Louis had more talent, top to bottom, in their personnel. It was interesting to hear how they scout amateurs for a particular biomechanical profile* that they feel breeds pitching success, independent of stats or position. Given the horses they have had in recent years – Trevor Rosenthal, Joe Kelly, and Shelby Miller, to name a couple – it’s another interesting approach to drafting talent that has provided the Cards much success. A couple of the BP guys also mentioned how the Cardinals organization is unique because of their scouting and evaluation approach – while they do occasionally go after the Carlos Beltran-type free agent or grab a guy off of the waiver wire as a reclamation project, they tend to makes changes to their roster from within the organization, which is a rare luxury.
Byron Buxton – a question was asked as to who is the best prospect at the moment in the minors and this was Parks’ answer. Go look him up and fall in prospect love.
Catchers and the psychology of a tall receiver – a question was asked about the Orioles (the details escape me), but Ben Lindbergh fielded the question and gave a very thoughtful answer, which then turned to his writing on catchers and their ability to control the game by how they frame pitches. It then went into some of the psychology involved between the catcher and the umpire and how some taller receivers – think Joe Mauer and Matt Wieters – can possibly skew calls against his pitchers, because their height blocks a lot of the ump’s view of the strike zone and can also create additional movement that could skew the umpire’s strike zone. Head over to BP and read more about some of the work Lindbergh has done regarding pitch framing and the effects a catcher can have on the game – it’s eye-opening stuff.
‘Memorable’ minor league parks – An eclectic group of gentlemen – you can read about them over at @CespedesBBQ – were about to embark on a trip to Clinton, Iowa to catch a game, I think Buxton was involved somehow – and they asked what minor league parks were the most memorable, for lack of a better term. Parks and Cole primarily fielded the question, with some input from Ferrin – and it was a resounding vote for Clinton, with special attention given to the smell of the town, due to a dog food plant in the area. Honourable mentions went to Bakersfield, New Britain, Potomac, and Las Vegas. As an aside, I grew up in two of the also-rans – I don’t know whether to be proud of that accomplishment, or to shake my head in embarrassment.
World Series picks – the consensus pick for the AL was the Detroit Tigers, with one vote for the Tampa Rays. The NL participant wasn’t as clear-cut, with votes going to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Cardinals, and one vote for the Nationals (Ferrin). An interesting tidbit to come out of the question was how high the BP guys were on the Tigers, in spite of their closer woes; they all felt the Tigers lack of a solid back-end of the bullpen could be easily remedied in the second half of the season.
Nats front office guys– Minniti and Cromie were relatively candid about life in the front office and the hours they put in on a daily basis. Some high points included some discussion about their approach to scouting international players and the role of the international bonus pool money and how different the international scene is for baseball in general and for the Nats in particular, whose troubles in recent years in the Dominican have been chronicled, but are worlds improved under the Rizzo regime. Parks had discussed previously the scene across the MLB with respect to the murkiness that sometimes can be encountered on the international market, and how difficult it can be to scout and produce talent in the Caribbean, in particular. Briefly, there’s a lot of money, a lot of effort, and a lot of question marks encountered in an effort to have just *one* international prospect to see an MLB roster. Moving away from the future and to the present, Minniti intimated that this trade deadline will not be one of lots of moving and shaking from the Nats, as compared to previous seasons; he said that overall, the team will not make too many big splash, high-profile deals. Overall, both Minniti and Cromie lauded Rizzo’s managerial style and how low stress he makes it upon the front office.
As previously mentioned, these are just a few of the points that were touched upon during the outing; this is just the tip of the iceberg. Overall, it was a great experience and one that gave me a better appreciation of not only how hard these guys work at their craft, but also how menagerie-like the BP team is, in their personalities and their backgrounds. It was an interesting underlying theme of the events – there are so many places to come from – the financial world, medicine, Brooklyn, wherever – but deep down, all roads lead you to baseball, if you want them to.
Or to Clinton, Iowa – but you don’t want that.
*for lack of a better phrase