What will happen when a trust baby runs a baseball team?

Cobb Field, Billings, Montana (since replaced by Dehler Park)

I enjoy baseball, though my interest was waned in recent years. I far more enjoy a spring training game, passing time with the fans. The games themselves are ho-hum, lacking adrenalin and the latter innings reserved to rookies to showcase their skills. The overall experience of a spring training game is, however, very enjoyable.

The Cincinnati Reds had (and have) a farm team in Billings, Montana, where I lived until 2001. Consequently, I “branded” with that team, and indeed they put up some powerhouse teams, winning the World Series in 75, 76 and 90, and dominating the 1970’s.

The team fell on hard times, but has been re-emergent of late. Their general manager, Walt Jocketty, brought important changes to the franchise, changing the emphasis from high-risk run-scoring slugging teams to pitching. That brought them into contention recently, though they are now in a rebuilding phase again.

They have a new GM, Dick Williams, and Jocketty is being squeezed out the top. Williams will guide the team in the future. He will not be fired, ever, as his name is “Williams,” and that oligarchical family has a major ownership share in the team.

Here are some frightening snippets from a recent interview with Williams, a former investment banker:

“I got into baseball a little later in life. I was in my mid 30s. I had close to a 15-year business career in investment banking and private equity. My background isn’t totally unique in baseball front offices, but it’s somewhat unique, and it’s shaped a lot of who I am and how I think about problems. …”

“The exercise of building a projection model has you asking questions like, ‘What are the important variables?’ Then, over time, you go back and analyze why they maybe deviated from reality. Is there a deviation that can be explained by a flaw in the model? Is there a deviation that can be explained by some experience that a player had? It’s an iterative process over time.

“Whether you’re using aging curves or historical injury experience, your projections should, at a macro level, take into account the possibilities of injuries. If you’re talking about team performance, when you aggregate those player stats for next year – when we’re looking at our projected means – there’s a component that accounts for injuries.

“For one player, it’s a binary… he may miss most of the season, which makes my projections way off for that player. But when taken into context of the team, the fact that I’ve weighted these guys based on their age, based on their positions, based on their injury history – what I think might happen – as a team, those projections should be close to accounting for what happens.”

Are you reading what I am reading here? Yep. We’re screwed for a good and long, long haul*.

But there is always spring training!
*Born on third base, he obviously thinks he hit a triple. (h/t, Barry Switzer)

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