Are the Mets Truly Saber? Part One

Sandyball.


We take it almost for granted that the new regime in New York is a sabermetric one. By that, we mean that they search for undervalued assets through the vigorous study of baseball scouting and statistics. After all, Sandy Alderson hired Billy Beane -- or was it Brad Pitt. In any case, like sabermetrics pushes us to question our assumptions about the game of baseball, it should also push us to question this current assumption about the front office.

Is the current Mets organization truly a "saber" organization?

How would we figure this out? A definition must come first, but it's the hardest part. Calling an organization 'saber' suggests that they use statistics to make decision, but that's not the only part. After all, even the most old-school organizations use statistics -- maybe RBI or wins, but still statistics. What we are looking for are signs that this organization is thinking differently about how to run a baseball team. We want to see that they are looking for undervalued assets and searching for the right structures to put in place for sustained success.

In order to determine if the team is saber or not, we'll have analyze the moves that the team has made at the very least. These moves could be anything from free agent signings, to trade acquisitions, to waiver claims -- but they could also include structural and organizational change. Industry opinions are useful, in that they let us know what the rest of baseball thinks about current leadership. Any sort of indication that the team is pushing the analysis and using research to identify undervalued assets would seem to 'prove' their saber-ness.

We can try to look at each of these phases of the game, but the organization is still a bit of a black box -- as well it should be. After all, they have to try and beat every other organization out there and therefore don't gain much by broadcasting their methods. And we might discover that labeling the Mets is a useless exercise, too.

But let's give it a shot anyway.

In the first part, we'll look at the perception of the team, and any structural change the team might have made that would qualify as 'saber.' In the second and final part, we'll look at the actual moves that the team made and see what we can learn.

Bradley Woodrum recently grouped the organizations in baseball. Using Casey Kotchman's possibly undervalued skill set and the teams he played for as a jump-off point, he issued some massive caveats and attempted to suss out which organizations are more analytical and which are more old school. The Mets placed in the "Highly Analytical" tier.

When asked why, the DRaysBay and FanGraphs author was apologetic, but his response was also interesting:

Well, first of all, I regret ranking the organizations. Ranking them makes me look knowledgeable or certain or intelligent -- none of those things really applies. The rankings were merely me putting my perceptions out there and seeing what others thought -- or, rather, that's what I meant them to be.

My Mets impression sources largely from Sandy Alderson and the fact that their moves in -- at least -- the recent year have seemed to be (if nothing else) not stupid. Being that they are in a really tough position (what with being terrible and all), it is hard to say exactly what their strategy is or how successful they are at it (in 2007, when the Devil Rays rolled out the worst bullpen in recorded human history, they seemed confused, crazy, and stupid; but now we can see their master plan -- and their pattern of bullpen construction -- so it looks more reasonable).

In other words, I think it is too early to say the Mets are not saber, especially given the fact that Alderson is there.

So, this ranking came from the standpoint of outside opinion. The Mets are certainly considered a saber team. There are the "Moneyball Mets" jokes -- some approving, some biting -- and there will forever be the link between Sandy Alderson and the origin of sabermetrics.

This can make us lean 'saber,' but if there's one thing we learned from Jonah Keri's 'Extra 2%, it was that the 'new Moneyball' means finding extra value wherever you can. It means looking forward as an organization. It could mean folding a less-than-useful minor league team with poor facilities. It could mean hiring consultants to streamline budgeting processes. It could mean hiring a hitting coach that preaches patience and selectivity.

It could mean changing the way things are done on the minor league level. Toby Hyde, the proprietor of MetsMinorLeagueBlog.com, pointed out that the team has made some incremental changes throughout their farm system:
The Mets clearly became more interested in teaching plate discipline at the A-ball level in 2011. Alongside basic mechanic adjustments and tweaks hitting Coach Benny DiStefano emphasized approach with his young hitters.

His emphasis on selectivity shows up in the numbers. In 2011, the Gnats drew the most walks (453) by any Mets team in the SAL in the last seven years, finishing in the top half in the League (7th out of 14 teams) for the first time in that span. Obviously, the composition of the team matters, but it's a pretty robust result. In the period from 2005 from 2009, the five years in which the South Atlantic League played with 16 years, the Mets affiliate in Hagerstown or Savannah finished dead last in the league in walks drawn twice, 12th, 14th and ninth. In 2010, the team finished 11th of 14 teams.

This increase in plate discipline is reflected elsewhere in the system. In 2010, under DiStefano, the Brooklyn Cyclones finished 11th of the 14 teams in the New York-Penn League in walks (227). In 2011, second with 280.

Maybe I'm making too much of a one year variation in approach for one of the Mets' farm teams, but I don't think so. Rather, it seems that there was a distinct change in teaching, which was reflected in the Sand Gnats.
Sounds like the team identified a way to get more out of the resources already in hand -- very saber.

Zoom out, and you'll see that the perception of the Mets as a saber organization begins to fit with the reality. Even something as simple as having a GM self-deprecate on twitter (or even a PR department willing to fight rumors on twitter) seems to describe a team that continues to look at best practices and continues to search for an edge in any department.

Once we look at their actual player acquisitions on Thursday, we might really get a sense that the Mets have earned their title.
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