Stay with me here. This is going to be short and to the point. Brad Ausmus is pulling an Abraham Lincoln move right now and it’s worth noting. I’m not comparing the two, I’m saying Ausmus is borrowing a leadership tactic at which Lincoln was very skilled. This week, after hiring Matt Martin to be his defensive coordinator, Brad Ausmus told the Free Press that Martin is “a baseball guy” and “not a number cruncher” and “not a sabermetrician.” The manager doth protest too much.
There are two obvious points here, ones that Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller argued on today’s Effectively Wild Podcast. First, Ausmus is going out of his way to sell Martin as “one of the guys.” This is Ausmus wrapping serious changes in a conservative cloth. This is Ausmus channeling Lincoln.
The key is that Martin’s job is weird and new and baseball players as a group tend to be slow to adapt. Columnists and writers tend to be slow to adapt. The Detroit media environment as a whole has been slow to adapt. If you start seeing the Tigers shake up defensive positioning – as Martin is likely to do – then Ausmus has already set the table to answer the questions. Martin isn’t some nerd who looks at spreadsheets, he’s a baseball guy with lots of “real” credibility. Lincoln was a master at this. Instituting massive change and convincing people it wasn’t massive change. That’s what this is. This position didn’t exist as a coaching position until three weeks ago when the Nationals created it. Now the Tigers and Angels have one too. More are likely coming.
What’s so great about the sales job is that it’s so obviously a deke. I doubt that Martin is programming is own algorithms, but he’s obviously going to be looking at the sabermetric data we’ve all been talking about for a while now. There simply isn’t another way to do that job. You can’t watch the last 100 at bats of every player on the opposing team and eye-ball the shift you need to employ. This requires batted ball data – the kind of data that sabermetricians use all the time.
I don’t know if Martin knows how to run and interpret regression analysis, but I’m fairly confident he knows how to employ the information readily available to all major league front offices. You don’t have to crunch the numbers to use the numbers, but you do have to get the players and local media to go along with it. That’s Ausmus’ job. Ausmus is selling the idea and Martin is implementing it.
They’re wrapping a newfangled position with fancy numbers in the cloth of an old set “of baseball eyes,” as Ausmus put it. The Tigers didn’t have this position a few days ago and no one had one in 2013. To suggest this isn’t a analytic innovation is silly, but that’s exactly how you have to sell it to get most people to buy in. That’s how you effectively institute change – by convincing people it isn’t really change at all. The hiring of Brad Ausmus looks better and better every day.