SARASOTA, Fla. - Sig Mejdal is the Orioles’ assistant general manager, analytics. He was hired by Mike Elias in November, five days after Elias was named the Orioles’ executive vice president and general manager. Mejdal was hired by the club to build an analytics department, and also to advise Elias in all baseball operations decisions.
Upon his hire, Elias said: “Sig Mejdal is one of the most experienced and accomplished analysts working in baseball today. To have him join our Orioles organization is a major moment for this franchise, and I look forward to him charting the course for all of our forthcoming efforts in the analytics space.”
Before his baseball career, Mejdal worked for NASA as a biomathematician. He began what is now a 14-year-career in Major League Baseball as a quantitative analyst for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2005. After working with the Cardinals for several seasons, he joined the Houston Astros in 2012 and was a key figure in that front office as the Astros went from losing 100 games a season from 2011-2013 to winning the World Series in 2017.
Now he’s back with Elias, working to turn the Orioles back into a winner that can contend for the postseason and maybe one day make it to the top, as Houston did when he was there.
During my Orioles.com broadcast on Tuesday at Ed Smith Stadium, Mejdal sat in for an inning and answered my questions.
What has happened in your department since your hiring?
“In a general sense, we are trying pretty much to bring the Orioles up to speed analytically. I think a typical team might have 10 or 12 analysts, and the Orioles had one when we showed up. So that is the first thing on the docket. When I talk about bringing us to speed, it’s probably state of the art of 2018 we will be putting our efforts to. And by the time we get there, we need to then do state of the art 2020.”
During your time with Houston, you served as a coach in 2017 in the short-season, Single-A New York-Penn League with the Tri-City ValleyCats. How did that help you as you got to see in the field how very young players deal with analytics?
“You can imagine we have all sorts of ideas in the front office and we don’t know what a minor league coach does. We don’t understand the constraints. So we can come up with all sorts of wonderful ideas, and we have. Some have flopped and some are successful. We weren’t very good at predicting which was going to be which.
“So obviously we were ignorant to some degree about some of the constraints that coaches and players experience. So what better way than to send someone from the front office for 82 days of bus rides, bad hotels, bad food, in order to learn a lot more about it?”
To read more about Mejdal in the minors, click here.
Is it more important to implement analytics in the big league clubhouse or on the farm?
“I think it’s both. At the major league level, obviously, the changes you make immediately impact what we care about - wins and losses at the major league level. But the players we have, the developing players, they are there in our minor leagues year after year. So, the process you can introduce there, they just accumulate and eventually they lead to major league wins also.”
What should the average fan understand about analytics and about how the Orioles will use it to help players and make front office decisions?
“I would describe it as, anytime a human being is making a decision, he or she is using analytics and information. But they’re using it based on their experience, based on their memory and mental math. And so much that goes on on the baseball field has been recorded. Our goal is simply to accumulate that past data and do what that human being would try do in his head, but do it a little bit better with a computer. And share it with him and really get him to anchor his decision. Anytime there is a decision going on, I would argue it could be helped by analytics.”
What if a player is reticent to use the data?
“Yes, finding opportunity is only the first step. If you fail to convince the coach (who must implement some of this) or the player that this is to his advantage, you failed. You need to be sensitive. You are asking someone to change, and that is a request not to dismiss or think lightly of.”
When I interviewed Mike Elias recently and we talked about Dylan Bundy, we discussed if analytics could help Bundy reduce his homer rate. Is that an example of how this could be used for the Orioles?
“Yes, and it’s well known, I think, with (Justin) Verlander and (Gerrit) Cole speaking out a bit about what they experienced when coming from another organization into the Astros and how that helped them. There is a lot you can learn from the technologies in how to help a pitcher. And if Verlander and Cole were interested, it’s most likely going to be an opportunity for Bundy and every one of our pitchers in the minor leagues too.”
Mejdal said analytics will help with player evaluations in making decisions about which players to try to add, trade for or sign.
“Some of the obvious things is just incorporating the performance stats into the decision-making. That a wonderfully experienced and skilled scout can pick up much of the means to an end. The mechanics of the swing or delivery, but there still is something to squeeze out after that from the performance data.”
Have Orioles players been receptive to this data and information?
“Yeah. I think in this day and age it’s hard for a player to not be receptive. It’s permeated every level, every part of baseball. The front office, the coaching staff, the scouts and now the players. I think they are aware of what other organizations and teams are doing. They all have friends on other teams and they talk a lot, so I think that has led to the welcoming behavior and interest that many players have shown.”