Red Sox owner John Henry spoke to the media yesterday about the team’s offseason moves and last year’s hiring of Dave Dombrowski. Henry says that those moves and other, less-visible shifts inside the Sox’ front office are something of a correction. That they are a function of his realization that, perhaps, the team’s thinking had gone too far in one particular direction:
“We have perhaps overly relied on numbers. Over the years, we have had great success relying upon numbers. That has never been the whole story, as we’ve said over and over again, but perhaps it was a little too much of the story, too much reliance on on past performance and trying to project future performance. That obviously hasn’t worked three out of the last four years.”
I’ve seen this getting some play as “the Red Sox think they went too far with sabermetrics!” but as the quotes in the article from John Farrell and even John Henry himself demonstrate, this is not some sort of repudiation of stats or analytics, however you define it. All clubs, even clubs who were early adopters of statistical analysis like the Red Sox were, take in all sorts of information and use it to make decisions. There are variations in balance and philosophy which make the question of “scouts vs. stats” an utterly obsolete and distinctly false choice. There is no referendum on sabermetrics going on in baseball like it still is to some degree among a certain subset of fans and members of the media.
It’s also the case that saying bad decisions in the past were based on “numbers” are counterfactual. This article attempts to say that the Pablo Sandoval signing was a “numbers” choice and, frankly, I find that ridiculous. There were a lot of pros and cons to giving Sandoval $95 million, but the people who are most concerned with projections and aging curves and hardcore statistical analysis were far less bullish on that move, I presume, than people who were impressed by small sample sizes in the postseason and raw star power.
None of which is to impugn either the numbers or the non-numbers people. It’s simply to say that there are always competing voices and philosophies, even within organizations. Sometimes one side of the conference table is listened to more closely than the other. Henry is merely suggesting, I think, that his attention has been turned to one side a bit more and way from another than in the past. It’s interesting, but not necessarily shocking or meaningful in ways some are likely to portray it.