Unlike their ALCS opponents, the New York Yankees aren’t widely known for being at the forefront of analytics. According to their longtime general manager, they should be. When I asked Brian Cashman about the team’s not-as-geeky-as-the-Astros reputation, his response was, “I would put our analytics in the top five in all sports.”
Regardless of where they rank, any suggestion that Cashman’s club isn’t cutting edge would qualify as folly. Under the direction of assistant general manager Mike Fishman — his previous title was director of quantitative analytics — their reliance on data has grown exponentially over the last decade.
“It started as a department of one — Mike was the director and the staff — and now it’s a major part of our operation,” said Cashman. “And it should be. This is the New York Yankees, and we want to use every tool in the toolbox. One of those important tools is analytics.”
Joe Girardi doesn’t disagree. As a a matter of fact, the Yankees skipper seemed almost taken aback when I asked the following question at Tuesday’s pre-game press conference:
The Astros are known as a team that incorporates analytics in their decision-making process pretty heavily. Your team isn’t really seen that way. Should you be?
“Well, then you don’t pay attention to our team,” Giardi retorted. “Our analytics department is probably bigger than any analytics department in baseball, and we use it a lot. We take the information they give us and we decipher it.”
They’d be fools not to. Nearly a decade and a half after Moneyball was first published, analytics have become, as Cashman put it, “basically old school.”
Which isn’t to say there aren’t lessons to be learned.
“There are all these new undiscovered countries out there that we’re still trying to conquer,” said Cashman. “And sometimes your eyes and your mind can trick you. Analytics are there kind of like bumpers in a bowling alley to keep the ball in play, rather than have it go in the gutter. For me, it’s an important piece to help make sure that as I’m plotting a course we get can get from point A to point Z in a proper, safe, and efficient way.”
A.J. Hinch was hired to manage the Houston Astros at the conclusion of the 2014 season. A few months earlier, he’d been talking trade with the man who gave him the job. Two years before that, he was an also-ran for the position he now holds.
“He was on our first short list,” Astros GM Jeff Luhnow told me prior to ALCS Game 3. “He interviewed for the job that Bo Porter got after the 2012 season. We bought about half-a-dozen people to Houston to interview in person and he was one of them. But we offered the job to Bo, and A.J. stayed in San Diego where he continued to work in the front office.”
Hinch’s front-office experience played a role in him getting hired the second time around. It was also one of the reasons he was bypassed the first time.
“He had options to maybe become a general manager some day, or a manager, and the first time we interviewed him I’m not sure he knew exactly which one his heart was set on,” explained Luhnow. “The second time we interviewed him, it was clear that he wanted to be in the dugout. That was enough for me, because the rest of the stuff is easy. He’s a smart guy, he knows to motivate people, and he works his tail off. He checked off all the boxes.”
The candidates who fell short — four people were interviewed — merely checked off most of the boxes. Unlike Hinch, they were “more traditional” in terms of managerial qualifications.
“We were actually negotiating a trade, which we didn’t consummate, three months before I hired him to be our manager,” said Luhnow. “A.J. was the interim GM for San Diego. His ability to understand and appreciate what happens in a front office is incredibly valuable to me. In this day and age, front offices and coaching staffs have to be more aligned than ever in order to succeed. He’s a huge benefit for our organization.”
A.J. Hinch on Sunday: “We control our own destiny. We control our own adrenaline level. We’re believers before anybody else will be.”
“I think they adjust,” said the catcher-turned-manager. “I look at it this way: I think left-handers always have more strikes called on them than right-handers, for different reasons. But if you’re an umpire that sees 500 pitches a week, or whatever it is, because they… week after week, year after year, in your mind you’re going to have an idea of what’s a strike and not a strike.
“The bodies change, and the rare bodies are the Altuves and the Judges. So a lot of times they might get more or less strikes called on them because it’s different. If I were to guess, a guy like an Altuve or a Torreyes might get more high strikes called on them than other hitters, because in their mind an umpire sees a pitch and it’s a quick reaction. Think about how little time they have to make up their mind.”
Hinch is a former catcher himself, and he had an equally interesting answer when asked what prepares backstops for managerial roles.
“We deal with every part of the game. One of the most difficult parts of this job is really handling your pitching staff, whether it’s the psyche or the usage, or being able to relate to them. This job has turned into a how-well-can-you-relate-to-your-players type of job. How do you extract the most performance out of them?
“The one position on the field [where] you have to deal with 24 other players the entire season is catcher. It’s a leadership position. We call pitches, we run the field, everybody is looking at us. Naturally, it evolves into being comfortable in our own skin, whether it’s running a game or running a team.”
On Monday, Hinch called Alex Cora (a former infielder) “the hottest managerial candidate on the planet and deservedly so.” Shortly before he shared that hard-to-argue-with opinion, Carlos Beltran weighed in on the Astros’ bench coach:
“Alex brings a lot to the table. He’s a guy that always is looking for information that he could use against the opposite team [and] he provides that information to the players. He has good communication with the guys, he respects the guys. He’s always in the clubhouse getting to know the players, getting to know which buttons he could push on each player to make them go out there and play the game hard.
“Sometimes managers draw a very defined line between players and the manager. Sometimes they get caught up not going to the clubhouse because they don’t want to feel like they’re invading their space. But as a player, I love when managers come to the clubhouse, sit down, talk to us, get to know us, ask about our family, about everything. That, for me, means a lot. Alex does that real well.”
After the game, Frazier explained why he looked down at his wrist while rounding the bases:
“Pretty much every home run, I’ve done that with my hand. I put my arm out and say, ‘What time is it?’ I’ve been doing it forever. I guess TV just finally caught on to it… [I’m saying] ‘It’s my time.’”
Aaron Judge’s home run in Game 4 had an exit velocity of 111.6 mph, making it the hardest hit home run so far this postseason (per Statcast).
GAME 4 POSTGAME QUOTES:
Chase Headley: “That would have been terrible, to be out there, so when I finally knew I was just relieved.”
Aaron Judge: “If I slide in safe and they try to tag me, they can’t appeal the previous play. That’s the only option I had.”
Chad Green: “Any time [Judge] comes up to the plate there’s a little buzz in the stadium. And the crowd was great again. So especially with him coming up, he’s got a chance to put it off the eye drops.”
Sonny Gray: “I was in here by myself. You know how superstitious baseball players can be. So I didn’t leave my seat. It was a great win for us. When I came out, guys coming up saying, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to get this game, we’re going to get this game, we’re going to get these guys.’ They came back and did.”
Didi Gregorius: “What’s the key? I mean, just try to play one game at a time. Focus on one game and then let it be.”
A.J. Hinch: “The series wasn’t over after two games; it’s certainly not over after four.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.