One of the things I have begun to appreciate more from having access to Pirates’ players, coaches and front office personnel is the degree to which Major League front offices operate at whole different level than those of us on the outside in terms of the analytics they employ. This is a point that others who have crossed over the line and been exposed to inner workings of front offices have long observed (Kevin Goldstein first drew my attention to this point on his podcasts). We saw one example of this on Thursday (May 16) when Pirates manager Clint Hurdle explained the sophisticated pitcher / hitter matchup data that the team compiles.
In an interview with David Todd Friday evening, Baseball Prospectus' Ben Lindbergh said that one of the black holes in modern baseball research is the effect that clubhouse character has on player performance. However, he observed that if you look around the league it is hard to ignore the fact that teams are making some roster decisions based on this seemingly unquantifiable quality. The situation amounts to this: major league front offices value something that baseball researchers who work from the outside are unable, as of yet, to get a handle on. Indeed, what is likely going on is that teams are ahead of the rest of us and have developed analytics that factor in things like player character, and are already examining its relationship to on-field performance.
During this afternoon’s pregame meeting with the media, Clint Hurdle talked about the issue of character and how it factors into player performance and front office decision-making. Of particular interest, the Pirates manager gave some very interesting insights into how during his time with the Colorado Rockies' "character" was turned into a quantitative measure. Moreover, he suggested that it is somewhat of an open question within front offices just how much weight to place on character. In other words, how exactly should it be added to the other quantitative data?
One of the things that those of us who study baseball from the outside are trying to get a handle on is how much clubhouse character matters when it comes to player performance. It seems clear that teams are making roster moves based on this quality. Without giving anything away in terms of what the Pirates do, I was curious based on your personal experience how much a clubhouse can affect player performance?
It plays in. Character counts. Counts in your home; counts in your workplace. … Integrity counts. I’ve actually been in some clubhouses where I’m not sure we had much of either one and were a pretty good team. We’ve actually gone different ways and I’ve played with different systems to just try to quantify character. In Colorado we started that process, we broke down character into fourteen categories and they were small ones, like "makes teammates better," "serve" and "attitude" and then we’d rank them and grade them. And we’d do it periodically throughout the season because numbers will change, and we found out from a coach's perspective that those numbers might change based on performance. Hard to believe isn’t it? [Laughter.]
But what that does is settle the room. Also gives you a better idea on your quantifier, "Now can we do this, how is our character going to come into play?" Can we really do this? Or are we still going to be performance-based?
We do spend time on getting to know the guys out there. It is important to me who is in that uniform, more than just the name on the back it. … because at the end of the day you want men who rally around one another and they’re going to be selfless. Play for something bigger than themselves.
Can you carry a couple guys that might not have that similar mindset? Yes. But over the long haul, you model behavior properly, the people around you end up modeling the same behavior. I mean, I see it in my household. I start acting like a you-know-what, I got two little kids following me right up the flag pole. And when I talk to their mother and I talk to her respectfully and politely, they do the same thing.
I’ve got the perfect laboratory in my home. And it works out here with these guys. You treat them like men, let them know you care about them, then they’ll find out and care about how much you know and where you can end up taking them. Before you know it, they’re coming in here about topics that have nothing to about baseball. And one of the challenges I give all my coaches is, "Are they coming to you for things other than ball?" Because the day they aren’t, and the day this office is empty, is the day I’m not leading properly.