The sky turned blue Saturday afternoon and the sun began to shine shortly after Orioles fans filed out of Camden Yards at the first Winter Warm-Up.
There’s some symbolism at work here. The dark clouds, the dreary conditions.
If it’s got to rain, let it be on a World Series parade.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias spoke again about the need for patience, how the process can’t be rushed and the reward will make it worthwhile. And he’d appreciate fans spreading the word so he isn’t one of the lone voices.
The interest in and curiosity over the analytic side of the operation became evident again at the Winter Warm-Up, with multiple questions directed at assistant general manager Sig Mejdal relating to the process of grading players and the balance struck between trusting what shows up on a computer and in a scout’s reports.
“Since ‘Moneyball,’ while that was a wonderful book and it enabled persons like myself inside of baseball, it sort of portrayed the decisions that decision-makers have as sort of this either/or,” Mejdal said. “You’re either listening to the grizzled veteran scout or the nerd in the corner of the room, and that’s never been the case.
“It’s really an exercise in combining information. After the hardest-working, most experienced scouts have evaluated the players, the numbers squeeze a little bit more predictability out of it, and vice versa. After the analysts have taken a look at everything, the scouts’ opinions, expertise, really move the needle a lot.”
More hires are coming and Mejdal noted how there isn’t a shortage of people interested in joining the organization. He’s asked about openings practically every day.
“With the notoriety that’s come with baseball and analytics and Sabermetrics, we really get to choose who we want,” he said. “There’s close to a thousand resumes every time there’s a job opening.
“Typically, it’s a computer science background, often a masters in analytics or applied statistics skills with manipulating databases SQL, statistical analysis and R skills. And beyond that, I think just a pragmatism in the model-building that ... It does you no use to create the most complex model in the world if the decision-makers can’t understand it and aren’t going to use it, and so I think somewhere in there is the balance. But the universities are producing these skilled people like crazy and so many are coming to baseball, so it’s a lot different than it was 14 years ago.”
Are the people with deep backgrounds in baseball being forced out of the game? It’s a concern and criticism that’s echoing throughout ballparks, including Camden Yards, where some long-time executives and scouts have been fired.
Asked whether it’s true, Mejdal replied, “No, it’s not.”
“The analytics are growing, undoubtedly,” he said, “and with technology and data coming, I think the skills required for a coach or a scout of course are changing, and many are able to change with the times and combine both that experience - that old school, if you will - and new-school abilities to take advantage of whatever else is out there. It really leaves us no choice. Our competition is looking at those types of persons and we have to, also.”
The Orioles will need to use every resource at their disposal because they aren’t going to outspend teams for prime players. The prices keep going up and the Orioles’ reach becomes shorter. They don’t bother raising their arms.
Elias indicated on Saturday that the checkbook will open again, though probably not with the same regularity and aggression as the bigger-market teams.
“I think it’s healthy for the game that that money’s out there, that teams are going for it. I think it’s good overall for the sport,” Elias said.
“I think teams, when they’re going after the really elite, top-of-the-market talents, they’ll make those moves. And obviously, not every team has the ability to win one of those bidding wars. Baseball’s got a lot of inequity among teams and markets, but that’s not a necessary way to compete and the important thing from our standpoint is laying a proper foundation across the entire organization before we jump back into being big players in free agency, and we’re in the midst of doing that right now. And eventually that will come and be a part of our plan.
“But right now we’re building the organization the right way. We’re building up our minor league base and giving young players an opportunity to play up here in Baltimore.”
The construction won’t extend to the outfield fences, though a fan suggested they should be moved back to assist the pitchers.
“I don’t know if our hitters would like that too much,” Elias said.
“This isn’t my area, but I don’t see a lot of room to move them back right now. But I do know that the organization is planning a lot of work around the stadium in a lot of ways over the next few years, and we’ll see what all that entails.”