The St. Louis Cardinals made the following announcement on Friday: Baseball is changing at an incomprehensibly fast pace, changing in ways we can't even begin to completely comprehend and our front office is going to change as well.That the Cardinals would promote one of the game's best, brightest and most
The St. Louis Cardinals made the following announcement on Friday: Baseball is changing at an incomprehensibly fast pace, changing in ways we can't even begin to completely comprehend and our front office is going to change as well.
That the Cardinals would promote one of the game's best, brightest and most successful general managers, John Mozeliak, to a role designed to understand, harness and utilize these changes tells you that their owner, Bill DeWitt, Jr., gets it.
No surprise there. He always has. During his 21 seasons, the Cardinals have been one of baseball's gold standards for winning, class and innovation. Besides Busch Stadium, which is a model for every other, the Ballpark Village project has become a year-round destination and spurred similar constructions around baseball.
Mozeliak's new job title -- president of baseball operations -- places in front of him a monumental assignment, with assistant Michael Girsch taking over as GM.
"One of Bill's challenges to baseball operations has always been a very simple phrase: 'What's our competitive advantage?'" Mozeliak said at Friday's news conference. "How do we separate ourselves from 29 other organizations? That's something that I do feel over the last four, five years, I haven't focused on."
This probably isn't about catching up as much as it is figuring out the future. Under Mozeliak, the Cardinals have been one of baseball's most data-driven organizations, and Mozeliak has long understood that there are parts of the game that happen "below the human eye," to use the words of an executive with another team.
Baseball teams now have access to millions of data streams. In practical terms, this data assists in pitch usage and location, defensive alignments, bullpen matchups, lineups and other areas.
If you think this would be a good time to reread Michael Lewis brilliant book, "Moneyball," or rewatch the movie of the same name, go for it. Know this, though: What Billy Beane started in Oakland isn't even a sliver of what Moneyball is today.
Baseball's flood of information has changed everything, including how millions of us follow and understand the game. Here at MLB.com, our Statcast™ and Baseball Savant projections have revolutionized the fan experience.
Want to appreciate how good Aaron Judge has been? He hit a baseball 121 mph this season. His average exit velocity is 96.1 mph. He has "barreled" 33 percent of pitches hit.
Want to understand why spin rates matters for fastballs, too? In other words, is there really such a thing as a "rising fastball?" Every Hall of Fame slugger will tell you there is.
But the challenge for the Cardinals -- and every other organization -- is twofold:
1. How to utilize all that data
As Brewers general manager David Stearns said this spring, the sport is still figuring that part of it out -- specifically, how much information can players handle and still play confidently and with a clear mind.
2. What's next?
Many teams believe the next competitive advantage may be related to injury prevention and nutrition. What can we learn from data? Some of the San Francisco Giants wore monitors this spring measuring and analyzing every calorie burned. Some teams, including the Giants, brought in sleep experts to assist players.
"What's next is something we spend a lot of time thinking about," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow.
His solution has been to hire the smartest people he can find -- people with advanced degrees in math and science -- and then challenging them.
Luhnow has what he calls "The Google Rule," in which employees are encouraged to spend a bit of their time thinking completely outside the box. He also hires interns and encourages them to challenge the organization's thinking and to understand that no idea is out of bounds. Most of them may be crazy, but spin rate and exit velocity probably sounded like a waste of time at one point.
When Brewers owner Mark Attanasio was visiting MIT several years ago, he happened upon a young man doing a gaming project. As Attanasio quizzed him, he was surprised to hear him say: "I do some baseball work on the side."
"Yeah, the Astros have me on retainer to research if there's an optimum time to steal a base," the kid said.
When Luhnow was asked about that, he shrugged and said, "Things like that usually don't turn out to be useful, but it's worth exploring."
That's the challenge. Looking under every rock. Driving down every avenue. When there's a new idea, be the first to use it.
"What's the next frontier?" Mozeliak said. "This business is moving quickly. You look at the teams that are having success, the teams that you admire -- and I still think the St. Louis Cardinals are one of them -- it's one of those situations where, when the industry is moving quickly, you have to decide if you want to go with it or chase it. I would like to think now, with this team in place, we can actually hit that fast-forward button."
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.