Blue Jays Mark Shapiro brings DiamondView analytics history


The sudden departure of Alex Anthopoulos has left many Blue Jays fans shocked and saddened. Their fearless leader, the man who pulled off a dethroning of the Kings in the AL East and made Blue Jays baseball fun for everyone again — was suddenly gone. Now a new leadership takes the reigns, and with Tony LaCava being named as “interim” GM, it will be Mark Shapiro leading a new generation of Blue Jays fans into, hopefully, a winning future.

Year-to-year, every avid follower of a sports team feels excitement and nerves heading into an offseason, with the chance of a new beginning around the corner and the potential fear of losing your favourite players. The Blue Jays have a lot of questions going into 2016: What will the starting rotation look like? Who’s coming back in the bullpen? Ryan Goins, Devon Travis, Ben Revere, and Michael Saunders and who’s going to play everyday? With Mark Shapiro making the future decisions, Blue Jays fans, more than ever, are wondering what the future holds.

The book “Big Data Baseball” by Travis Sawchik documents the recent rise of the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the early 90’s, Cleveland Indians general manager John Hart hired Paul DePodesta, Neal Huntington, Josh Byrnes, Chris Antonetti, and Mark Shapiro to become “part of baseball’s first wave of data-savvy lieutenants”. All four had never played professional baseball, nor had much playing experience at all. Under Hart, they would enter the forefront of modern baseball analytics. Remember that famous scene in Moneyball, when Brad Pitt walks into the Indians office and is unable to make a trade because someone in the room was advising their GM not to? That man advising was Paul DePodesta(played by Jonah Hill).  “The first guy we lost was Paul DePodesta. He was like number three or number four on our depth chart”, said Hart.

Cleveland would create scouting reports, with some of the beginning stages of advanced analytics in them, on every player in the league. They would carry around huge three-ring binders everywhere they went! (There had to be a better way.) In 2000, Mark Shapiro would begin the ground work on DiamondView. This was a “well before it’s time” stat database, updating new data daily including injury reports, videos, and contracts. “It was essentially a computerized and enhanced extension of the reports Hart had asked to be produced for Winter Meetings.” This database would be developed before Moneyball, and before any other Major League organization began to use this level of advanced scouting.

Shapiro’s DiamondView system provided guidelines for the Indians. “DiamondView revealed Barry Bonds was the only hitter in the prior twenty-two seasons who produced at an elite level after the age of thirty-five… No Major League club, dating back to 1985, had won a World Series, when committing 15 percent or more of its payroll to one player…helping the small-market Indians avoid making an emotion-based mistake in signing.”  The Indians would follow these rules strictly, not signing the aging Jim Thome to an extension. After Thome signed with the Philadelphia Phillies, DiamondView was proved correct and Thome’s play would eventually begin to decline.

The Indians’ transaction history under Shapiro shows them trading away top-tier talent before they hit free agency for handfuls of prospects (ie. the CC Sabathia deal). Shapiro may still live by these rules, and they are not bad rules to run your organization by. (Spending money on younger talent, spreading spending throughout the organization). You might be thinking that, “these rules might be under the mindset of a small market team only”, and it has been noted that Shapiro understands that he is entering a larger market than the one with the Indians. “If you have a larger payroll, you have a greater tolerance for risk” said Shapiro during his opening press conference yesterday. But in the wild and crazy American League East, the Blue Jays are a relatively small market team.

The Jays might not be classified as a “small market team” in the league-wide picture, like the Tampa Bay Rays or Oakland Athletics where the thought of a $100,000,000 payroll is completely out of the question. Compared to the Yankees and the Red Sox, however, the Blue Jays will not be able to buy their way into the playoffs. The Jays will always have to outthink their competition at some level. Perhaps the Shapiro regime will be more inclined to save money where we thought Anthopoulos wouldn’t. For all the good Anthopoulos did during his tenure leading up to bringing this city a chance of a championship, it was done inefficiently. The Blue Jays never ranked outside the top ten in payroll spending since 2013, owning a .514PCT in that time. They only ranked higher than third in their division once, this year – their one lone playoff run in that time span.

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The Blue Jays moving forward may look different if Shapiro sticks to his DiamondView rules. If they follow the DiamondView rules, these scenarios could play out:

  1. David Price resigning for 7 years, $160 million plus, is probably not a possibility.
  2. This might be Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and R.A. Dickey’s last year as Blue Jays.
  3. A Troy Tulowitzki trade might be a possibility due to payroll and depth in the middle of the infield.
  4. Marco Estrada might only be signed on a shorter term basis

These are not for sure things, by any means. But they are certainly possibilities under Shapiro’s DiamondView system, as these situations would fit under the guidelines of what DiamondView warns GM’s to not bother with.

There is a lot to say about Shapiro’s analytics background. If you’re still a believer that Shapiro’s ideas forced Anthopoulos out, then maybe these DiamondView rules were a reason. If you’re a believer that Anthopoulos left on his own terms, then you’re probably correct. We are, without a doubt, entering into a new era for the Blue Jays. Shapiro’s past suggests that the new identity of the Blue Jays front office will change to an analytics powerhouse, rather than a spend now, forgive later mentality. Only time will tell.