Joe Madon talks about analytics in baseball: It’s not the information, it’s the hypothesis

“I want analytics,” Joe Madon once said.

“The information is good,” Maddon said at another point.

“So I’m not arguing against analytics and information,” Madon said at another point.

But with every word he speaks in public these days, he’s been a one-time avant-garde manager in the Cubsand rays and Angels He casts analytics and information in a different light than he once did, when life was simpler and he was on the cutting edge of new age information.

almost Starkville latest edition From the “The Athletic Baseball Show” podcast, Doug Glanville and I asked Madon to explain how the world has changed: his world. The world of baseball. The world of information and analytics is rapidly evolving.

Stop. Better get a Richter scale, because Madon is guaranteed to make your room vibrate. This was an insightful and insightful conversation. But more than that, it should get everyone to take a deep breath and think carefully about where baseball is headed.

We’ll give some eye-opening snippets from that conversation in a moment. But let’s start with this important reminder:

Joe Madon is not one of those old men who want baseball back to the way it was in 1967. He’s innovative – and always has been. He is a thinker – and always will be. So if we suddenly live in a world where no one says more strongly from him That the game is out of control, isn’t that a sign that baseball should be paying attention?

“I want all this information,” Madon told us, less than three months after he was kicked out by the angels. “I just don’t like… the way it’s done.

“It got to the point where the pre-game is a meeting every day. And it’s a lengthy meeting. And the players don’t need all that information, quite frankly. They need nuggets. They don’t need theses.”

Then he launched an infographic of the data attack that players now receive from the always useful analytics section. Suffice it to say that it was more complicated than: “Get a good ground to shoot”. It sounded like someone was reciting from a physics book.

“But you only need a solid mass,” Madon said. “I don’t need all of this. People want to tell you how to make a clock. I just need to know the time now.”

So what time is it? It’s time to present the highlights Madonne’s visit to Starkville – He lives from outside his hometown of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where he hits a lot of golf balls these days, but he hardly ever watches baseball.

These quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

About how the world has changed

Madonne: I still like the information. I use the information. The information is good. It is the imposition. I mean, it has now come to the point where our general manager actually has a well-dressed analytical guy in the coaches room. I mean, that doesn’t have to happen. That is imposing. “.

But he imposed that Madonn has no interest in registering again. If he can manage another team, he said, “I want analytics.” But he wants to provide that data to the technical staff so that the staff can implement it. Be warned that this is not the trend in the game.

Madonne: “I want analytical people in my staff. But I don’t want them in the dugout. I don’t want them in the club. I want them to do their job, give the work to the coaches, let the coaches teach the players. I don’t need the pitchers in the dugout, I don’t need the pitchers in the club. … We’ve reached the point where their influence or power exceeds that of the coach. And that’s what I think is wrong.

“So I’m not arguing against analytics and information. I’m arguing against methods and imposition with the coaches. Because right now…every day we’re going to get ready for a game and Harry and Alex will come over and start talking about how to use the bulls that night. Like I haven’t done that in 40 years. When You do that, when these people do it, the game gets cloudy. You’re in the dugout, you know what you want to do. But these people went downstairs before the match, and they provided you with things that aren’t necessarily useful.”

About how the manager’s authority is eroded

Not so long ago, managers were among the most famous characters in the game, but they were also among the most powerful people in the game. The biggest decisions day in and day out were theirs. The games played the way they wanted them to. But those days are fading away. Is sports in a better place? We now know what Joe Madon thinks!

Madonne: “You don’t have the same kind of authority or independence that you had in the past. I mean, back in the day, these people would never go into Jane Mauch’s office, or Billy Martin’s office, or Earl Weaver’s office, and try to tell you how to take advantage of your players and then how to manage The game as it was. In progress. That would never have happened. That’s what I’m talking about. There’s this interference and this way it’s being perpetrated.

“Because these groups – the baseball group – to me, their primary goal should be player acquisition. It’s getting good players in your room. When you get good players in your room, any kind of analysis looks good.”

On Life After Andrew Friedman

For nine seasons in Tampa Bay (2006-14), Madon worked with one of baseball’s most creative thinkers, Andrew Friedman. That was in the early days of the analytics revolution. But as Madon described their working relationship, he painted a very different picture of how managers and front offices operated at the time.

Madonne: “Andrew was really interested in all this stuff, (but) he let me do something. And we argued. It was good. He and I argued about things, and it was healthy. Then even with the cubs for the first couple of years. And then, eventually, he got away. I had my conversations with Theo (Epstein) and Jed (Heuer), especially Theo.Now it happened this year (with the angels), and I saw what happened.

“And I’m not here to hit anyone. But it’s not just the organizations I’ve been with. It’s just a trend. It’s not going to reverse. It’s not going to back off any time soon. Because it’s this front office competition, to get the credit for having the most advanced and progressive methods and making them work and then copying them.” by others. I think that’s part of the competition.”


Joe Madon and Theo Epstein in 2019 (Charles LeClaire / USA Today)

About the evolution of Madon and Theo

The more I listen to Madon speak his mind these days, the more this sarcasm strikes me: Not so long ago, he and Epstein were men at the forefront of using analytics and information. Now both are increasingly vocal about the need to once again push the game in the other direction. So I asked Madon about that sarcasm and tie with Theo that neither of them would have expected a decade ago.

Madonne: “He’s into analytics, and I am. But you need to play real baseball…and you need real baseball people who are louder and stronger. You know, years ago, I was talking to my coaches that I worked with at the minor leagues. And I said to them, at Early 2000s, “You guys really need to understand all this analytical stuff that’s going on. Otherwise, if you don’t, you will consider yourself unemployed. And that was exactly the line I was trying to advise them on.

But what is happening now, What is Theo talking about?, and I know what I’m talking about – I think we’re on the same page – is, again, (people) rely only on numbers, and the human element is subtracted. I’ve been talking about data versus art for the past several years, and this really takes control of the heartbeat. The art of the game is kept secondary, as it is the numerical component that everyone wants to promote. And with those promoting this – this is with all due respect – they don’t understand the game as much as they do math.”

Whether baseball can still develop again

Away from Madon’s former office in Anaheim, the baseball forces seem to be listening. All the minor league rule-changing experiments going on are a sign of that Major League Baseball He sees a lot more than what Madonne sees. So is there enough opportunity for these changes to combine to push the sport back towards a more balanced place? Or is the trend described by Madon irreversible?

Madonna: “I think it’s going to go on. I don’t see it going anywhere. I don’t. Even the players. When it comes to all this information, the players, when you (to throw) the fold, it’s not about throwing the field (or) how you felt when making the pitch.” ?…it’s about running right on the machine.what’s the spin rate?…

“So it’s the actual implementation of the game that diminishes. And listen, I’m interested in this stuff. I want it. But I want it where I basically get the information, and the player just gets bits and pieces of that. … I’ll be here to help you with that. But To totally rely on that all the time, to me, you take away from the core of the game, the ability to play, the ability to make tweaks, the ability to feel what you’re doing there. And I think they’re all interested in that.”

There was a lot of discussion, of course. As soon as Madon rolled over, those enormous thoughts poured out of him. Until you hear the full conversation – Madonna on Angels, on Albert Pujolson me Shuhei Ohtaniin his forthcoming book (“The Book of Joe”), on Rob Manfred, and why he hasn’t seen a game since he was fired – listen to Latest Starkvillewhich you can find everywhere you get your podcasts.

(Top photo: Rick Scuteri/USA Today)