Astros Turn Up Heat on Interchangeable Parts View of Game

In Modern Times, Charlie Chaplin played one of our first decision-making scientists.

It figures that new Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow and the club’s new “Director of Decision Sciences,” Sig Mejdal, are both trained engineers by academic training. You see, this newly identified field of “Decision Sciences”  is all about organizing all usable information into comparable variables and measurable patterns in all areas of the team’s organizable decision-making. Think of it as “Money Ball” or “Billy (Beane) Ball” to the nth degree – a structure which brings the design concept of interchangeable parts down to even such specifics as “how does the presence of staff who steal paper clips and post-em pads effect the overall goal of the club’s financial stability and morale for reaching the World Series.

Perhaps, I reach too far on that last one, but that’s how measurable systems go. When they succeed on the gross level of things, it becomes the property of their nature and the impulse of the egos of those who run and build them to look for new objective credit-dispersing areas to measure.

Given the logistics-driven background of new Astros club owner Jim Crane, it is not surprising that he and his on-site alter ego, CEO George Postolos would put themselves shoulder and wheel behind this fairly new to baseball approach way of doing things. I don’t have any problem with them trying to do these things beyond the one element that was never fully developed and explored in the Brad Pitts movie version of the Money Ball approach – and that one thing does trouble me.

“Money Ball” made the old-time scouts and the player-centered manager, Art Howe, seem like the bad guys for relying too much on hunches and impossible to measure qualities about a player’s heart for winning. If decision science takes things to that extreme, it really won’t matter who wins the World Series. There won’t be anyone around left to really care.

Nevertheless, SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, stands as an example of how both the engineering and emotively driven narrative elements of architectural interest in the game may co-exist in one organizational form. Some of us in SABR even find ourselves bearing a dual attraction for things that are both measurable and mysterious. It is in the nature of human attraction that we are most magnetized by subjects which continue to mystify us for a lifetime. If not, how else do you honestly explain the fact that so many of us are still married?

Welcome to Houston, Sig Mejdal. Hope this isn’t your first rodeo, but if it is, don’t worry. The Houston version of the real rodeo takes place at another venue far away from Minute Maid Park. No decision scientists need apply.

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7 Responses to “Astros Turn Up Heat on Interchangeable Parts View of Game”

  1. Steve Bertone Says:

    I have often been accused of playing “Saloon Bridge”, in other words I do not always follow the rules when playing the card game. I think everyone has to follow their gut feeling from time to time. As an Astros fan for one more season (before they make the switch to the other league); anything is better than what has been going on in that front office for way to long. Best of luck to the new leaders!

  2. Shirley Virdon Says:

    Statistics have been a part of baseball for a very long time, but to rely on them all of the time is improbable. What happens to the human element? That is the part that will always be unpredictable no matter what stats you use!!!!! Lots of things can look feasable on paper, but in actuality they just don’t work. This is a baseball game, not a business!!!

  3. gary Says:

    Not that I care anymore, but if I were still an Astros fan I would be encouraged by this, Certainly the Good Ol Boy Network of the Smith-Wade Era succeeded only in making the Astros a national laughingstock.

    • Shirley Virdon Says:

      Obviously, You haven’t been a real Astros fan or you would know the history of what Tal Smith has done for the Astros the last 40+ years! When owners control the “purse-strings”, it makes it difficult to put winning clubs on the field with consistency in this era of high player salaries!

  4. Anon Says:

    ‘Money Ball’ made the old-time scouts and the player-centered manager, Art Howe, seem like the bad guys for relying too much on hunches and impossible to measure qualities about a player’s heart for winning. If decision science takes things to that extreme, it really won’t matter who wins the World Series. There won’t be anyone around left to really care.

    First, I see a similar claim repeated often, that mystery is needed for enjoyment. The beauty of baseball is not a magic trick. It is not an illusion. It is real. I’ve never enjoyed the game less for having learned more about it.

    Second, Money Ball (the book and even more so the movie) are both sensationalized accounts of actual events. The evidence you have for suggesting Luhnow and Mejdal are going to disregard the opinions of their scouts and micromanage Brad Mills is… Michael Lewis or Aaron Sorkin told a story about some other people doing so in the past?

    Third, Mejdal spent five years in the World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals front office. It is not his first rodeo.

    If “that one thing” does “trouble” you, there is a psychological term for it: projection.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Dear Anon:

      I wish nothing but the best to Misters Luhnow and Mejdal. There will always be room in this world for science and art in all areas of human endeavor among those who understand that human life is built around both cognitive and affective experience.

      We learn and perfect things from our building knowledge of facts and how they best work together. I’m all for that and learning better how to get there. I’m all for mystery too. Mystery is the enchantress of all human endeavor and it is a quality that thrives at the heart of baseball. The Chicago Cubs have not won a World Series in 103 years and counting, yet their fans hang in there. I know there is a parade of facts as to why they haven’t won, but none of these erase the mysterious relationship that the Cubs and their fans have with World Series failure as an almost institutionalized form of annual disappointment. I don’t mind the the continuation of that “mystery” at all. It’s why we play the games and look for facts that alter fates. Who knows? Maybe Theo Epstein is answer on the North Side.

  5. Shirley Virdon Says:

    So we still end up with the Human Element in baseball and everything else!

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