ANDY ANDRES: Joe, we're here in Phoenix at the SABR Analytics Conference in 2014. And there's a lot of folks here talking about baseball analytics, how it's grown up, where it is today, where it might go forward. One aspect of that is that we've got this huge course coming up at BU offered to thousands of people to understand sabermetrics better. But you were there a long time ago. You've been in baseball for a long time. Can you talk about the arc of the change in sabermetrics and analytics over that time?
JOE BOHRINGER: It's changed drastically.And I think it's something-- it was slow to be embraced and then caught on very, very quickly. I think it's something that clubs once they realized that it could help them make decisions, it was something that everyone wants the competitive advantage. And we all realize this the pressure we're under to pick the right players and build the right teams. And once people realized the usefulness of the tool, it took off like wildfire. But I do think early on, it was really the complexity of just taking the old school or the people that had been in the industry and educating them on how sabermetrics could help them. Even in the in the old days, when guys walked in the press box is the first thing they did was grab stat sheet. It was just that they looked at the triple crown statistics, at the batting average, home run and RBI. They looked at pitcher wins, ERA, and strike out. So it wasn't necessarily that there wasn't the use of statistics. It was just that which statistics became valuable and how to wait those. That's really what changed in the industry. I think no matter how quote unquote "old school" you might think that scout is, they've always relied on the stat sheet that was available to them. It's just that the complexity and the depth of the statistics has changed immensely over the years.
ANDY ANDRES: So you started out with the Dodgers pre-Moneyball, right?
JOE BOHRINGER: Yeah, I actually started out-- my first job was with the Yankees as an intern. And then worked for the Buffalo club, which was a Triple-A club for the Pirates at the time. I worked in Ottawa, which was a Triple-A club for the Expos at the time. And neither Ottawa nor the Expos exists, so I might be starting to date myself a little bit. But what it was pre-Moneyball or least the book. And I did get a chance to see it beforehand. I was kind of raised in that era, cut my teeth from a pure scouting standpoint in that era, and then was fortunate enough from a timing standpoint to see the evolution of how people used information, and was fortunate enough being of that generation and being in a situation where I could understand some of those things and be conversant. It really worked out well for me, in not only conversing with analysts, but also be able to converse with scouts, as far as how those tools could help us make better evaluations. Because at the end of the day, regardless of the information you have at hand, every evaluator, whether it be a scout or an analyst, just wants to try and get the best opinion on the table. So that their voice can be heard. And they can make the best call on the player.
ANDY ANDRES: So let's just talk just briefly about scouting pre-Moneyball publication 2003, '04, post-Moneyball, the book, what's scouting look like today versus-- not the analytics, of course, analytics has gotten a seat at the table now-- but what's scouting look like today?
JOE BOHRINGER: I think scouting has evolved over the years. And I think that the phrase you've often heard is you know as scouts we don't want to leave any stone unturned. And the statistics was such a foreign stone. It was something that scouts just really didn't have much feel for it. They didn't know how to identify it. They didn't know how to incorporate it. They didn't know how it could help augment their decisions. And I mean, one of the things, I actually was right in the Moneyball phase. And in the first chapter of the book, when they talk about Billy Beane as a young player, a gentleman named Roger Jongewaard, who was a Hall of Fame caliber scout, was the scouting director of the Mets that drafted Billy Beane. And in the book, Billy talks about-- or I should say Michael Lewis talks about through Billy how he didn't really fit the mold, and the good face, and all the phrases you hear come out. And oddly enough, when that book first came out, there were two excerpts. There was one Sports Illustrated and one in Baseball America. And I had read both excerpts, but not yet read the book. And I was a scout for the Mariners at the time, seeing high school and college kids doing amateur scouting. My phone rings one morning and it was Roger Jongewaard, who at the time was our vice president of player development and scouting, who oversaw both those arenas. And Roger first picks up the phone, hey, Joe, it's Rogers Jongewaard. And I'm like, great, I'm the area guy. And here's Roger. And you know, what did I do wrong? And he says, you know, do you have a minute? And I'm thinking it's probably my best interest to give him at least a minute. So I said, sure, you know, what do you got? He said to me, have you read this Moneyball book yet? And I said, no, I haven't. I've read the couple excerpts, the couple chapters, but not yet read the book. He said, well, you understand this number stuff, right? And I said, I have a working knowledge of it, yes. I don't know that anybody really understands it completely. And he said, well, how do you think it helps from a scouting standpoint? And I actually walked him through. And I said, you know, as an amateur scout, if I see a college pitcher and he throws six innings and walks one batter. To my eye and what I saw on my particular day. He threw strikes. It makes me feel good about my command and control grade that this pitcher, yes or no, is a strike thrower. Then I can go back and look. If he's a college junior. And he's thrown 250 innings. I can take a look at how we walk he has and look at his walk rate. And if in his 250 innings, he's only walked 50 batters. I feel pretty comfortable that my look was indicative of what he would normally do on any given day. Because we know we can see good appearances and bad appearances, I probably got a normal appearance for that pitcher. If he's thrown 200 innings and he's walked 150 batters, now I need to dig deeper as a scout. Did he take a away pitch? Did he change his delivery? Has his strike throwing gotten better as he's progressed? Is his walk rate better now as a junior than it was a freshman or sophomore? I might talk to the pitching coach. I might talk to the pitcher, find out what it is that's allowing him to throw strikes. It might even be it's not even the pitcher. He might be facing a team that just swings at everything. And maybe I really didn't see guy throw strikes, as much as I saw a team that couldn't let the pitcher walk them, because they were all so anxious to swing the bat. So when the numbers don't equal what you see. That's when you need to dig deeper as an evaluator to try and make the best you can on a player. And I explained that to Roger and walk them through that. And as I got done, he said to me, who, that's extremely interesting. He said, you know, I don't understand a lot of this about this book, but I've been doing this a long time. Anything that I can do that makes me better I want to know. And I thought that for me was a great portrait of why Roger was who he was. Even though he was the ultimate non Moneyball scout in that particular book or in that part of the book, Roger had the number one pick in the draft three times. And he took Darryl Strawberry, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Alex Rodriguez. So he did OK as a scouting director. But the thing for me, long-time veteran scouts, guys like Roger Jongewaard, Pat Gillick, Jerry Krause, who's done basketball and baseball. These are historic figures from an executive standpoint. What drove them was that they wanted to get better each and every day. So Roger was definitely of the pre-Moneyball era. But at the same time, being willing to learn, he at the later part of his career actually did start to transition into some of that. Maybe not as far some scouts do today, but you did see that transition. So yeah, I've been very fortunate. I've seen the older generations start to incorporate it. I've seen the younger generation try to make advances with it. And now most scouts are conversant in both the scouting area and the statistical areas. The stats versus scouts dichotomy, I guess, that sold books for awhile, really has very quickly turned into stats and scouts. It's just finding the right balance between the two.
ANDY ANDRES: Did you notice at all, pre-Moneyball, this idea of stats versus scouts in any way, shape, or form? I mean, it's hard to do because, there weren't many analysts in the game. But did you notice anything at all that would lead to Lewis's basic thesis about trying to create this stats versus scouts thing in Moneyball?
JOE BOHRINGER: Not necessarily, and I probably would not have seen that because of the part of the player pool that I was swimming in. s an amateur scout and focusing mostly on high school and college players, I don't have very reliable data to help me make decisions on players anyway. So the first initial kind of advantage of statistical analysis was the low hanging fruit, what big league players were doing. And being that I wasn't sitting in big league ballparks every day, it didn't really help me make my valuations. But I also think that almost magnified the narrative so to speak, because it was the older veteran scouts that had been doing it for years and years and decades and decades. Those were the guys sitting in major league ballparks. So you had a group of scouts that really hadn't been raised that way and were still making evaluations in a part of the player pool where you could actually rely on statistics to help you make better evaluation. So on a day-to-day basis for me, because of the part a player pool I was swimming, it wasn't as big of a deal. But I definitely can see why there was the, I guess, the transition phase, while everyone was trying to figure out exactly what the right balance was between the two.
ANDY ANDRES: So a lot of young people at this conference interested in careers in the game like you've created for yourself. What do you look for potentially in some new, fresh set of eyes that might help you in your role as scouting? I know you do pro side, but still what do you see in the young people here at all that might be important to the Cubs?
JOE BOHRINGER: I think it's variety. You know, you're looking for something that's different, something that spurs something in your mind, something that makes you look at something a different way, or think about something a different way. As this has evolved, with the Cubs, we have a research and development department. And as the pro scouting director-- the pro scouting department interacts with the research and development department quite frequently, because we actually evaluate the players that have some data that you can look at. But at the same time how we weight that looking at a player, say Low-A, is very, very different than an established major leaguer who's in his prime. So I think what we look for is more people that can contribute something to the conversation that's new, different, maybe a way to think about something that we hadn't looked at before. I happen to be very fortunate that I was raised on the scouting and then have kind of learned the analytics as I've gone through my career. There are people that I know that have done just the opposite. They start off at the analytics and then migrate over and try and learn the scouting. I think the more people become conversant in both, the more they realize that they actually augment each other. And the more versatile you are in understanding both of them, the stronger evaluator you become.
ANDY ANDRES: Not to speak to anything specific in the Cubs realm, but do you see the advantage of the R&D department coming to you, as a scout or scouting director, to help their own development of the models they use to try to get an evaluation of players?
JOE BOHRINGER: I think that we all realize that we can make each other better. I go to them sometimes. They come to me sometimes. It really, again, depends on the part of the player pool. I think the one thing that becomes difficult from a pure scouting standpoint is if you are taking-- some of things in analytics aren't readily-- they're not practical. I can't pass it to my staff and go, hey, when you're in a rookie ball stadium, watching an 18-year-old kid who was a draft last year or 19-year-old Dominican who has been over here for three months, sometimes you can't really make it something that's practical for the scout in the field. But I do think as, again, you get closer to the big leagues and as the data becomes more relevant, and you can start to tease some trends out, as opposed to-- maybe not equivalences, but you can at least tease trends out, it just helps make you feel more comfortable about some of the statements that you make. Because not only does the part that you've observed tell you that, but the part that you have that you can actually look at to see what the track record tells you, when that matches what you observed, it just makes you feel that much better about your evaluation.
ANDY ANDRES: So not specifically to the Cubs again, but you obviously see R&D helps scouting, scouting helps R&D, and obviously this synergy, this symbiosis of these two groups really is the best place to be?
JOE BOHRINGER: I think so. And I remember-- and obviously this being a college course, I can throw out some academic terms, but I remember in business school, they talked about marketing, R&D, manufacturing. And the sales people get it from the client. They talk to design. Design talks to R&D. R&D makes it. They give it back to the sales person. He hands it to the client. The client goes, isn't anything like what we talked about originally on the front end. And I think what happens is-- the business term is "information gatekeepers.” And its people and organizations that have the ability to speak the same language of two different departments, and make sure that those two departments don't lose something in the translation when information gets passed from one to the other. And what we're trying to do is make all of our scouts in some sort of capacity their own information gatekeepers. We want them to understand the information that's available to them from an analytic side. We want them to rely on their training from a pure scouting side. We want them to merge those two things together at their own comfort levels and based on the age and level of the player they're watching. But we want them to merge those two things together so that their valuation reflects all those things, as opposed to just one specific aspect.
ANDY ANDRES: Excellent, so how would you define sabermetrics. I'm throwing you a curveball now.
JOE BOHRINGER: Well, you know what? I think what happens is from a broad sense-- and I understand what the society does. So sabermetrics has kind of turned into just looking at the back of the baseball card, and making it is fancy as we can, and trying to tease as much things we can. But I also understand the historical aspect to it. That's really what the society's about. You know, it's gotten into statistical analysis. And that's probably the thing that helps us do our job the most. But I think the thing that makes it so interesting to everyone-- because you can analyze anything. You can analyze anything that has data, stocks, the weather, whatever you want to do. And I think why people enjoy this so much is actually the history and the fact that it's a human element and everybody at some point has probably played the game or watched the game. So there's a passion for it where it's not just numbers. But they're actually tied to real thoughts and real people and real feelings that we have some kind of attachment to. So for me sabermetrics is something that the popularity of it makes sense to me, because I understand how it links things that people actually care about. And the fact that people like to talk about baseball helps people like me, because if people weren't interested in what we do, none of us, players, coaches, scouts, front office, whatever it might be, none of us would get to do this for a living. So you know, it's come a long, long way. But I think we all understand the benefits of it, and not only now, but going forward as well. It helps us to put better teams on the field hopefully.
ANDY ANDRES: So allow me a definition of science. If science is first and foremost observing something carefully, and considering what you're seeing, and trying to put together models of what you're seeing, and starting to ask questions about what you're seeing, and then maybe even getting to an experiment where actually test some of your question, if that's science-- and we'll assume it is for this question-- how is scouting a science?
JOE BOHRINGER: Well, scouting is a science because you are you're taking data points and trying to make comparisons. The problem is some of those data points are very subjective. We can talk about a player's predictive value is difficult. We can look at the player's track record. I could tell you what Hank Aaron did in his career and slice and dice it. That's not really important to me or as important to me as what a Javier Baez might do for the Cubs at one point. So as we're looking at that, and from a scientific standpoint, you're really trying to make observations and collect data. What we're trying to do is make sure that data is at least consistent. Some of those things are hard to quantify. If we're looking at pitching, we want to know about the medical. We want to know about the arm action. We want to know how those things work. And sometimes, unfortunately, some of the evidence we have or some of the data we have is anecdotal. Hey, I remember somebody who did that with his arm. He hooked his wrist in the back and that guy got hurt. And somebody else could say, hey, I remember a guy that hooked in the back and he didn't get hurt. As we've expanded the questions that get asked, we've started to-- from a scientific method-- start to gather and test and experiment. The problem is in trying to find a controlled environment and making sure that your data is as clean as possible. And sometimes given the environment that you're watching, it's very hard to compare a pristine mound at a complex in Atlanta, Georgia, versus a kid who's mound is two inches high and there's a six inch deep hole in the Dominican Republic trying to pitch. And we're trying to compare those two things. So it's not always apples to apples. It's scientific in a broad sense. But the amount of variables that we have-- although we're trying to qualitatively identify those more and more every day, they're still so many variables involved that the discussion is going take a long time, definitely longer than the time I'm going to be around in the game.
ANDY ANDRES: OK, good, so in my courses over the years, students have always surprised me with either questions that are really smart, insightful, stuff that would have never crossed my mind. Has that ever happened to you as director of pro scouting, where a scout came up and started probing you with different ideas, maybe around analytics or around this idea of qualitative measurement? And you were like, wow, that's a great insight. And I don't know if you can share that.
JOE BOHRINGER: I will say in general, we try and foster that environment on our staff all the time. We have conference calls. We have a wide variety of different backgrounds on our staff. We have we who played in the big leagues. We have scouts who pitched in the big league. We have scouts who have coached. We have scouts who have worked in the front office. We have scouts who have come through the amateur ranks. We have scouts have come off the playing field. So what we really try and do is just rely on everybody's individual experiences with that. Some of the more interesting conversations that we've had are just kind of turning over the microphone to somebody who's done it. For instance, with us one of our pro scouts is Terry Kennedy. And Terry caught for 15 years in the big leagues. And I want to say he was in three or four all-star games. So when we wanted to talk about scouting catching, how do we scout catching? What are some of things that we look for? Terry did it for a living. And he did it for living at an extremely high level. He coached it. He managed it. He's watched it. He knows what works and what doesn't. So really to just sit back and listen to him talk about his knowledge was a big deal for me. Because I feel like, especially when you're in a professional park or major league park that's jam packed and all you can do is sit behind home plate and look at the catcher's number the entire game, it's really hard to evaluate exactly how that player may catch and throw. So I think for us, it's the enlightenment comes from having a variety of people on staff and letting them talk about the things that they are most familiar with. And hopefully the rest of our staff can pick something up through those conversations. And when we've tried to foster an environment that not only allows that, but also encourages it by having our guys periodically talk to each other, in a conference call setting or kind of a skull session setting, to kind of let us work through those things and hopefully get everybody better.