About five hundred years ago, an astronomer named Copernicus put forth the idea that the earth orbited the sun – since been proven a basic principle of astronomy, but pretty groundbreaking stuff at the time and extremely controversial. As a result of his idea, Copernicus was subjected to much scorn and criticism. Similarly, Thomas Edison’s work regarding the electric light bulb was described as “completely idiotic.”
Sabermetrics is the mathematical and statistical analysis of baseball statistics utilized to make decisions regarding player performance and has been angrily dismissed by many baseball purists who claim it is ruining the game. The term evolved from the acronym SABR, which stands for the Society for American Baseball Research.
In October 2014, the Dodgers hired a really smart guy named Andrew Friedman to run the team. Friedman then hired a bunch of other really smart guys to help him, essentially creating a cutting edge baseball think tank. Apparently, smart guys bringing new, cutting-edge ideas to the management of baseball teams have a tendency to piss people off because there are a lot of pissed-off Dodgers fans. Friedman didn’t invent sabermetrics, but he utilizes sabermetrics in his management of the Dodgers and it has generated quite a bit of criticism and contempt within certain segments of the fan base.
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Am I actually comparing Friedman to the legendary astronomer Copernicus? Yes, I am. That’s why I’ll be referring to him as Friedmanicus for the remainder of this article. And like Copernicus, Friedmanicus is taking heavy fire for his belief in something that will, in time, be accepted by the same skeptics who scoffed at him.
Friedmanicus has been rebuilding with none of the usual accoutrements that come with rebuilding, like sucking and losing.
The way people analyze baseball has changed. Most baseball executives look beyond traditional statistics such as ERA and RBI and utilize sabermetrics when constructing their teams. Sabermetrics is an objective, quantitative approach to evaluating players as opposed to scouting, which is more subjective. Sabermetrics has become so widely accepted in MLB that the vast majority of baseball teams have created analytics departments staffed with sabermetricians.
It shouldn’t be a surprise Friedmanicus is taking the Dodgers in a more analytical direction and utilizing sabermetrics – it works. Here are just a few examples:
- In 2003, the Boston Red Sox had not won the World Series in 85 years. Prior to the 2003 season, the Red Sox hired Theo Epstein, a sabermetrically inclined 28 year old Yale grad with a law degree as General Manager of the team. The following season, the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time since 1918. The Red Sox also won the World Series in 2007 with Epstein at the helm.
- Our very own Friedmanicus was the General Manager of the Rays prior to coming to Los Angeles and established himself as a whiz kid with an analytical bent. The Rays went to the World Series in 2008 with Friedmanicus calling the shots.
- The Cubs had been in serious decline for several years and, prior to the 2012 season, hired Epstein away from the Red Sox. Epstein blew up the entire organization and started rebuilding from the ground up. Currently, the Cubs are considered by many to be World Series favorites.
- The Astros had actually been in worse shape than the Cubs when Jeff Luhnow was hired as General Manager prior to the 2012 season. Like Epstein, Luhnow is sabermetrically inclined and he rebuilt the Astros in similar fashion. Three years after Luhnow rolled into Houston, the Astros were a wild card team and are currently the favorites to win the AL West.
- The Pirates had been a sub .500 team for 15 consecutive seasons when Neal Huntington was hired as General Manager in 2007. Huntington immediately began utilizing sabermetric techniques. The Pirates have been competitive for several years after nearly two decades of futility.
Sabermetrics is valid. It’s not voodoo. It’s not a fad. Superior knowledge coupled with more and better information will never be a fad. Trying to be smarter than everyone else is not a craze that will fade over time. If Friedmanicus is guilty of anything, he’s guilty of grabbing every piece of information about baseball that exists and trying to squeeze victories out of it. And guess what? That’s exactly what Friedmanicus should be doing.
Friedmanicus is widely considered within MLB to be one of the best and brightest. Still, Dodgers fans are wondering what Friedmanicus has done for them. So . . . . what has Friedmanicus done for the Dodgers?
The Dodgers have the top farm system in MLB. If minor league prospects are the currency of MLB, the Dodgers have fat stacks. Friedmanicus has essentially retooled the entire Dodgers organization into a perennially competitive baseball factory that manufactures interchangeable baseball studs. And he did it while remaining competitive. In other words, Friedmanicus has been rebuilding with none of the usual accoutrements that come with rebuilding, like sucking and losing. Pretty impressive actually.
It’s too early for a verdict on Friedmanicus. It takes time, his success or failure cannot be determined after one season. Too many Dodgers fans are like the spoiled little kid who always wants to eat strawberry jam even though it’s not healthy or good for him and his mom is going crazy trying to get him to eat oatmeal with just a pinch of brown sugar and two eggs, scrambled. For dinner, his mom offers grilled salmon and asparagus but he screams for strawberry jam. Friedmanicus is trying to give Dodgers fans oatmeal, salmon, and steamed vegetables – stop asking for jam.