Talking with Paul DePodesta

After a day of stalking, I managed to track down Assistant GM Paul DePodesta as he was hanging around minor league camp today. Here’s what he had to say about scouting, defensive metrics, and the Moneyball movie:

Patrick Flood: First off: What’s your official role in the organization?

Paul DePodesta: Really just to help oversee player development, and scouting — both domestic and international. And really just to make sure those three areas are really working hand in hand.

PF: Is that what you’re doing right now watching the minor league guys?

DePo: Well, right now I’m trying to get to know all these guys. Today’s actually my first day of live BP, so it’s actually my first opportunity to see a lot of these pitchers. I’ve read a lot of reports this winter, but this is the first chance I’ve actually gotten to see myself, and put a name to a face.

PF: What are you looking for?

DePo: You know, more than anything, I’m just trying to get to know the guys’ deliveries, and maybe just their repertoire. It’ll still take a while for me to remember all of it, but if I can just remember a little bit about every guy early on, it starts the database.

PF: You have a little bit of a reputation – perhaps undeserved – as a computer guy, a numbers guy, that sort of thing. How much of a balance do you strike between the scouting and the numbers?

DePo: Well, a huge part of my job right now is scouting, and it really has been for the last four or five years. I think they’re all pieces to the puzzle, and you try to put the puzzle together as best you can. I’ll say this again, as I’ve said before: One of the principle aspects of our job is dealing with uncertainty. Whatever we can do to get our arms around that uncertainty will help us make better decisions. Some of that will be through analysis, other times it’s just getting out and not only seeing a player, but even getting to know a player. We’re trying to predict the future performance of human beings, you know? We can’t forget that they’re human beings. So I think [scouting and numbers] really go hand in hand. Ultimately, when we’re out scouting, what we try to do is to try to explain the performance, rather than just observe the performance, if that makes any sense. The stats help us do that.

PF: Is there anything in terms of metrics — I know a lot of teams have their own – that you use?

DePo: Not necessarily. Certainly not at the high level [in player development and scouting.] We’ll talk about a handful of things, but I think we’re more interested in general concepts. If there are metrics that we use, they won’t really be widespread. It’s not something we’ll preach to the players or anything like that.

PF: But in terms of general metrics, do you have your own system you’re bringing in? I don’t know what is in place here already.

DePo: I mean, I have my own things I look at. Some of the guys here in the past have done some real interesting stuff, they’ve got some of their own metrics. Again, I think we’re all on the same page philosophically. The metrics might be a little bit different, but they’re all attempting to measure the same thing.

PF: About defense. There are numbers available on the internet, and just last year, [Red Sox GM] Theo Epstein talking about Jacoby Ellsbury sort of said, “We know those numbers are out there, but we have our own.” How do you feel about those numbers?

DePo: Yeah, we have our own. As an industry, we’ve made a lot of progress on that front the last ten years. I still don’t think we’re completely there yet. I think sometimes, when you create a new metric – or, actually, not even a metric. As soon as there is something you can measure, sometimes you tend to overvalue that thing. I’ll bet you when, however many years ago, they introduced the radar gun, my guess is that we started overemphasizing fastball velocity. So I think maybe some of that has gone on with the defensive side. That being said, we’ve definitely made a lot of progress. But we’re not all the way there yet.

PF: Specifically, do you feel the defensive numbers you have are better than the freely available ones?

DePo: [laughing] I certainly hope so!

PF: Well, right.

DePo: But we don’t have it yet either. We’re still working at it, we still have a ways to go, too.

PF: How much do you try to balance that with the visual information?

DePo: On that side, quite a bit. I think what we can see over the course of time with a player is still really important. Like I said earlier, I think our scouting perspective, we’re not only trying to predict what [the players] are going to have, but we’re trying to explain how they do what they do. So I think it’s really important on the defensive side, where we’re not 100% confident in the metrics.

PF: What about in terms of injuries? Because that’s been a big thing around here the past couple of years. That also seems to be a sort of front for attempting to quantify that information. Is that something you guys are interested in?

DePo: Yeah, you know, it is difficult again, there’s only so much we can do to stop those, prevent those.  It is an area of interest, an area of focus, going forward – and it has been before I got here. But it’s certainly something we’ll continue to work towards.

PF: I guess my last question has to be about Moneyball, the movie.

DePo: [laughs] Yeah.

PF: Is there a particular reason you didn’t want your character in it?

DePo: I think more than anything else, the idea of sort of allowing someone else to portray you to the rest of the world was just a little unsettling. And I really wasn’t interested in the attention, you know? But everybody at Sony was tremendous, they were great. They were actually under no obligation to honor my request, but they did.

I think [not wanting to be in the film] was more of a recognition that, at the end of the day, they really were portraying the idea of me, and that there are a lot of like “me”s in the game. I think it was more that than anything else.

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