Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Driveline Hiring: Giants Hire Matt Daniels to be Coordinator of Pitching Analysis

The Giants just hired Matt Daniels of Driveline Baseball to be their Coordinator of Pitching Analysis.  As Eno Sarris of The Athletic wrote,
...his hire as the coordinator of pitching analysis for the Giants is less about data and analytics and more about the growing need for middlemen, translators that can stand between the analysts and the players on the field, and bring the two sides closer together. 
“I’m not a mathematician or a SABR nerd,” Daniels told The Athletic this week. “I’ve read all that stuff but at heart I’m a baseball guy that knows data, not the other way around.” 
It’s an important distinction. 
“There’s an internal civil war that exists and doesn’t need to exist,” Daniels admitted.

ogc big picture thoughts

This is the hire I'm most excited about since Zaidi was hired (though I'm plenty excited over Derek Holland re-signing). This is what I've been imagining what would happen when Farhan took over. Players come and go, but organizational philosophies will be long lasting and hard to replicate. Especially since pitching has been so successful to the Giants success, due to its park.

Pitching for Efficient Roster Improvement

But as I've written before, pitching focus is actually the best strategy for a team to take. As Zaidi has noted, flexibility is very important to a team's success. And pitching has the most flexibility on the roster. If a team develops 3 All-Star firstbasemen, they then have to trade off two because they all can't play 1B. We saw that with McCovey vs. Cepeda, Rangers with Teixiera, Hofner, and A-Gon. And as studies have shown, most teams trade players who are lacking in some way, as they generally keep all their good players, so this team is forced to trade a good asset for assets that are lacking in some way, most likely.

Pitching is extremely flexible, however. You develop 3 All-Star SP, you now have a great rotation. Your pitching prospect failed as a starter? Many often move on to become relievers, some great relievers, like Isringhausen or Affeldt. And most teams can hold up to 12-13 pitchers on their roster, so the cream rises high here.

True, pitching is TINSTAAP, but that's why you then go all out to focus on pitching like Sabean and Tidrow did when they were in charge of the draft, you have to go the volume route to help mitigate against the fragility of the prospects. Barr brought in a good knowledge into hitters, but the pitchers have been lacking since them, until recently, hopefully Suarez and Stratton will show fruits this season, they have a lot of good qualities.

Baseball First Orientation

I'm also excited because Daniels is pitcher first, analyst second. The connection between analytics and any business will be driven best by the people who understand the business more than the analytics. They are the ones who understand what the key success factors are in the business, and that's where competitive advantage is attained.

That's why a lot of companies are recruiting from within, and training their business process experts to become data analysts, and why the analysts are often tied to business process people, so that they can learn the right things. Matt can be the translator of what the analytics mean, in terms that the pitchers can understand.  More importantly, analysis might show a pitch has good qualities, but if it doesn't fool the hitter, as he noted in the article, it's worse than useless.

Spending on Coaching and Analytics

This is something I've written about before, and I'm surprised I have not put it into my business plan yet (I will with my update):  spending on coaching and analytics.  With 1.0 WAR being priced at an estimated $11.7M for 2019, if you can hire a coach at $50-100K that can help a player improve even just 0.25 WAR, the return is still 30X the cost.

Or viewed another way, teams can spend $1M on hiring 10-15 coaches, and if they collectively help players add 1.0 WAR in a season, that's a 12 times return on investment.  A huge ROI!  Or $1M on 10 analysts, and if they can find a 1.0 WAR player every season at low cost (like a Uribe or Huff or Torres or Casilla or Blanco or or Strickland or Petit or a Holland) every season, they are worth every penny (and Zaidi had added players like Taylor and Muncy for the Dodgers).

Seems like a business no-brainer, assuming you believe that analytics and coaching can add great value to existing players and prospects.

Example of MLB Coaching:  Stratton

That can work in a number of ways.  Obviously, a coach at the major league level would be a way towards this.  Let's take a look at Chris Stratton.

He ended 2017 with a great 2.42 ERA in 9 starts after he was placed in the rotation full-time.  He continued that into 2018 with a 2.32 ERA in his first 5 starts.  He had 4 starts with zero R/ER in those 14 starts.

But after a paternity leave, where he decided to take his next turn in the rotation anyway without extra rest, he got bombed, and he lost his mechanics that he was using for success, and over his next 14 starts (15 games), in which he had a 6.94 ERA, where he only had one shutout start, while going up and down from the majors.

While down, he was met up with Forever Giant Ryan Vogelsong, who noticed that they are similar in build and thus should use similar mechanics to be successful, so he taught Stratton what he had learned for himself.  When Stratton came back, he had 2 shutout starts in his next 5 starts, 2.10 ERA, before getting bombed again in his last 3 starts, which one could argue was due to tiredness given that pitching late into the MLB season is not his usual routine.

To recap, Stratton, in 2017, had a 3.68 ERA overall, and produced 1.4 bWAR but in 2018, with all the horrible starts, had a 5.09 ERA, and -0.8 bWAR.  That's a 2.0 WAR swing, and Vogelsong with his mechanics suggestion, changed him from 10.80 ERA in his prior 5 games to 2.10 ERA in his next 5 games.  Yet to be seen, but if Vogelsong did teach Stratton how to fish by learning the mechanics best for him, and he's simply average (which he roughly was in 2017), that's a 2.0 WAR or roughly $24M value add for the next 5 seasons of control for the Giants.

Vogelsong wasn't even being paid, but suppose the Giants had a roving instructor who made it a point to work with and visit every MLB pitcher who showed promise but needed that one great tip that make him consistently good?  How much would such a coach be worth?

Example of MiLB Coaching:  Bumgarner

A coach at the minor league level would also be valuable.  Let's take a look at Madison Bumgarner.  People forget, but even after the season he signed with us, Tim Alderson was rated higher by the prospect lists than Bumgarner was.  Baseball America rated Alderson 84th best prospect overall (AnVil was 33rd, for more perspective), after the 2007 season.  But Bumgarner opened a lot of eyes after his great first pro season in 2008.

By 2010, it was a forgone conclusion that he's making the majors at some point.  But most don't remember that he started off the season with two really horrendous starts:  14.14 ERA, .581 BABIP, 21 hits (3 homers) in 7.0 IP.  Or that Dick Tidrow went down there himself, and helped Bumgarner straighten himself out.  And the rest is history, he pitched well, made the majors mid-season, and then pitched brilliantly through the playoffs, culminating in a 8.0 IP shutout beauty in the World Series.

It was reported that he was ill-prepared that spring, due to dealing with personal issues (wedding, his young sister's death) and perhaps not doing the right preparations.   But then Tidrow went down to AAA, after those two bad starts and helped him tweak his mechanics.  As was noted in Baggarly's book, Band of Misfits, Bumgarner never had to change his mechanics before, and was learning new things mechanically, including a tip from Righetti in Spring Training, and it appears that Tidrow helped him put it all together, as he never looked back.

In an interview, Bumgarner talked about how important that tweak in early 2010 was.  Up to then, he did not know the mechanics that enabled him to be as successful.  He apparently was able to feel his way to be right, as he had done well up to then, but he was lost that spring, lost those first two games of the season.  Then Tidrow went down, taught him the mechanics he needed to repeat in order to pitch well, and from then on, he was mostly good, as he was able to diagnose himself on the mound, in-game, when he was not using the right mechanics.

But he wasn't always on that, though.  During the 2012 playoffs, he had a couple of bad starts, so the Giants skipped his turn in the NLCS, and when he pitched a 7.0 IP shutout, dominating with 8 strikeouts and 2 walks, which was more than the strikeouts he had in his prior two playoff starts that season (6 K's in 8.0 IP).  Since that tweak, in the playoffs, he has a 1.10 ERA in the 10 games (9 starts and his famous World Series relief appearance).

And he learned more as he got more experience, as well.  In his first three seasons, he had a .321 BABIP, but from 2012-2018, he has had a .278 BABIP, which compares very well with the expected mean of .300 BABIP (.298 over his career) for pitchers.  Even with that bad start, he has an overall .287 BABIP for his career.  And this all started with Tidrow teaching Bumgarner what his proper mechanics were to be a successful pitcher.

Hiring Daniels First Step

So I view hiring Daniels as Zaidi's first step towards building up a core group of advisers who is able to marry the baseball side of things with the analytical side.  Not sure why there was a sudden rush to sign Driveline's employees, but luckily we ended up getting one of their pitching  experts, which is key to our park, as well as for efficient success in the playoffs.

Hopefully the Giants will continue spending money to build up an organization who can address a number of different areas, from hitting to hitting with power to hitting with contact to hitting from the bench, from fielding to fielding multiple positions, from pitching as a starter to pitching as both a starter and reliever.  These are the flexibilities that Zaidi said he is looking for from players, the new Giants Way, now that he's in control.  He wants team players who are flexible in how they approach each situation, looking at doing what is best for the club, and not just for himself. 

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