By Shannon Drayer
Two weeks ago when Jack Zduriencik was a guest on the Cactus League Report he talked briefly about the group he takes input from in the front office. There are the special assistants including Ted Simmons, Pete Vuckovich and Jim McIlvaine that we see frequently both in spring training and on the road during the regular season. He also mentioned the nine members of the baseball operations staff who work in the Seattle office on baseball analytics. We did not have time to get into the subject of how this all comes together on the show but I did sit down with Zduriencik earlier this week to get a better picture of where the information comes from and how Zduriencik uses it.
While we often see the special assistants out on the fields or sitting behind homeplate at the games, those on the numbers side are more likely to be seen inside. A steady stream of mostly young, recently out of college (Cornell, Harvard, Vanderbilt to name a few schools) folks in collared shirts with papers in hand can be seen walking into Zduriencik's office or the coaches room in the clubhouse or into conference rooms throughout the day.
"It is an integral part of everything we do," Zduriencik said."We have got some very bright guys, nine baseball operation guys from some great schools, and we have good discussions of what they see from a statistical standpoint and how it fits in compared to what are scouts are telling us."
Zduriencik encourages dialogue and opinions when it comes to talent evaluation and although his background is based heavily in scouting he understands the value of statistics and advanced metrics.
"It's a big part of what we do here," he said. "I have always felt you cannot be black and white. You have got to look at it at both angles and realize there are gray areas and you have got to realize that sometimes one or the other completes the picture."
While preferring not to name names at this time Zduriencik said that there are few players who were brought in this year on the recommendation of the analytical team as they felt these players would work well in Safeco Field.
There were other players who were brought in that did not make sabermetric sense. These moves were not a departure from statistical influence or even WAR (wins above replacement) which Zduriencik says he believes is very important to roster construction.
"No doubt about it," he answered when asked if he took WAR into consideration. "Absolutely. You look at all these aspects and that is certainly a big criteria for us."
He pointed out that the biggest consideration in roster construction however, is what is actually available to you as an organization. He also believes that this year's team is tougher to evaluate in regard to WAR because so much of it is still very young and developing and significant pieces are coming off injury. Then there are the intangibles, something that isn't factored into WAR. Zduriencik believes that with Raul Ibanez for example, numbers do not give the entire picture.
"Your experience tells you his contributions go beyond whether or not his WAR is a great WAR but certainly sitting in that locker room there are going to be a whole lot of other ramifications that are positive from him being here."
Ibanez is a special case as he filled a very specific need. My guess is the bulk of the dialogue on him was held between Zduriencik and Eric Wedge rather than the scouts and baseball operations staff. With other players however, Zduriencik relies on both eyes and numbers.
"All of those that I put around me to gather the information and decipher the information, is what is important," he said. "My background is obviously scouting, I've seen all facets of it. Then you look at the numbers. I have added to baseball ops. We are flexible. We are wide open. I know that there are guys that work with me that are very good at this and I tell them all the time, 'you come in and tell me if you think I am wrong, or come in and give me your opinion of it.'"
"It's ongoing, and it continues to evolve," Zduriencik continued. "To sit here and say that we have arrived? I don't think so. Nobody has because the game keeps changing but I think we are well versed in both."
In the end the decisions are his and he ultimately is responsible for bringing each and every player into the organization. His own experience and instincts come into play but there is also a trust level with those who bring him information from the outside, be it statistical or scouted.
"I do believe that I am smart enough to realize that I do not have all the answers," Zduriencik said. "I have got guys working for me that have won Cy Youngs or been GM's. I have guys who work under me who are very, very bright. I hope that I am flexible enough that when I look at this thing that my job is to gather all of this information. I've grown, I've learned, I am much better at analyzing things than I was five, ten years ago and I hope to continue to get better at it but the biggest thing is I think that anybody that runs an organization, the biggest component that you should have is that those that you bring in with you are good at what they do and when they tell you something you have to be smart enough to understand, and it is my job to decipher."
"The more information you have had, the more you have sat down and had different opinions, the more you look at it from different angles, the better chance you have to make a better decision."