Brady Anderson’s title within the Baltimore Orioles’ organization is Vice President of Baseball Operations. According to the team’s media guide, the 51-year-old former all-star “collaborates with Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter on player development and roster management.”
Anderson, who hit .256/.362/.425 over a 15-year career, isn’t your typical ex-player. He spends a lot of time in the clubhouse – his multi-faceted role includes working with hitters — but he’s equally comfortable interacting with the analytics department. A stat geek for most of his life, Anderson is well-versed in sabermetrics.
Brady Anderson on stats and understanding value: “I’ve always been interested in statistical analysis. From the time I was five years old I was quizzed by my dad and my uncle about members of the 500-home-run club, the 3000-hit club, and a variety of other stats. It was just part of what seemed like normal conversation to me, because that was the environment in which I lived.
“I was drafted in 1985, and remember getting the Bill James “Historical Baseball Abstract.” I used to enjoy his rankings of players and his rationale for his rankings. I also grew up reading Ted Williams‘ “The Science of Hitting.” I used to travel with it and read it frequently while in the minors.
“My dad’s favorite player was Ted Williams. He was my uncle’s as well. I had a poster of Williams’ strike zone, with batting averages assigned, hanging on my wall when I was 12 years old. My dad and his family grew up in Los Angeles and my mother and her family are from Marblehead, Massachusetts. so Ted Williams was a frequent topic on both sides of my family. In retrospect its clear that my family’s love for baseball, with Williams at the forefront, is the reason I determined that getting on base was the only goal a hitter should have. It was why I adopted that philosophy from a very early age
“It’s always bizarre and absurd to me when a hitter looks a bit disgusted and indignant after a walk. I don’t care who you are, a walk is a victory over the pitcher and so is a hit-by-pitch. Hitters like Williams and Ruth and Gehrig and Bonds knew it all too well. Many hitters, past and present, hurt themselves due to their seeming cluelessness of this simple concept.
“There are so many factors that go into walking frequently. I’d never factored in philosophy as one of them, but it’s clear it is. To many, the route to bases on balls is “working the count.” That’s too simplistic. It’s also a good way to ensure hitting with an 0-1 count in many of your at bats.
“The number-one factor in the ability to draw walks is power, the ability to drive to ball into the gaps or out of the park with consistency. A player with power and a good command of the strike zone should get on base at a high rate That’s why Frank Thomas lead the league in walks, while players like Juan Pierre will not. Factor in Thomas’s lack of speed and Pierre’s great base stealing ability and you wonder why Pierre walked as much as he did and why Thomas didn’t walk 200 times a year. At least that’s what I wondered.
“I used to imagine what Thomas would have done had pitchers refused to pitch to him the way they did Bonds. I felt they may have been able to frustrate him in a way that would never have worked with Barry. Barry was never willingly going to chase pitches out of the zone. Not ever. Frank may have, if pitchers had worked around him more.
“I personally benefited from having enough power to keep pitchers honest, which increased my walk totals. Because I was a base stealer, I got good pitches to hit in situations where true power hitters would not have. I knew my 20-homer power was my ticket to drawing walks and my base stealing ability was a way for me to hit 20-plus homers. So it drove me crazy, and almost prematurely ended my career, when I was given the take sign after getting to a 2-0 or 3-1 count during my first several years in the majors. I got to those hitter’s counts by knowing the strike zone and I didn’t need help on what to do after I arrived there.
“I’ve been surprised, since I’ve been back in baseball, by people’s lack of ability to look at numbers and put them into context. I think they understand what the numbers represent, but many don’t seem to fully understand what’s good or bad or relevant. I had a conversation the other day where someone was explaining that Slugging Average overvalues extra base hits. I thought, well, it simply divides total bases by at bats and gives you a measure. It wasn’t until it was simply added to on base average to come up with OPS that it became overvalued, from which wOBA emerged, which is a brilliant idea.
“Sabermetrics continually evolve, and attempt to come up with the best ways to measure production and value. It drives me crazy when people act like there needs to be some division between sabermetricians and those known as “baseball guys.” The metrics — the numbers — give you a glimpse, and it’s a really good glimpse. It’s science, or at least much of it is. People rejecting this are missing the point, and in the process openly rejecting some of the best ideas available.
“Conversely, and sadly, many in the game are adopting statistics as the tell all, and misusing the science to further whatever their particular agenda is. Using small sample sizes to dictate lineups etc. is just as misguided. That’s not science. The thing I love about true science, and true scientists, is the desire and necessity to attempt to disprove their own beliefs. This is in stark contrast to those who cherry pick the data to come to the conclusion they want to be true.”
On Adam Jones winning Gold Gloves despite metrics suggesting he shouldn’t: “I haven’t researched it, although I have heard occasionally that metrics don’t favor him. I’ve addressed that a few times on his behalf. One of the reasons I haven’t researched Adam’s defensive numbers is that it’s unnecessary. We have in Adam the rare player who posts 160 games per year, with a production you can rely upon like clockwork. His offense undoubtedly helps him win Gold Gloves, as has been the case as long as I can remember. He’s solid, he’s reliable, he’s got a terrific arm and he’s into defense.
“There are very few players who play day in and day out, and Adam in one of the few. It’s not easy, it’s a grind. One of the most laughable complaints I hear, and heard during my career, is the part-time players refrain about how hard it is to perform during limited at bats, or how they had two at bats last week and they were both against the closer. Well, its way harder to play every day. The everyday player plays against all the closers as well, and also against the game’s best starters. Anyway, back to Adam: he gathers awards because he’s a gamer and very skilled.”
On the Orioles outperforming their projections: “We have a manager who is a master of managing his bullpen, and a master manager in general. I could go on for quite some time explaining Buck’s uniqueness in the game, starting from his incredibly young start as a manager in the minor leagues. His experience is massive, and combined with his intelligence and obsessive desire to be prepared, it’s easy to see the edge he provides. He’s strategic and tactical. He knows not only what to do when situations arise, he knows how to maneuver the game in a way which makes the match ups he desires more likely.
“Our defense is superb. We have the ability for the spectacular with our personnel, but we also are terrific at the nuts and bolts of defense. The tough double plays get turned, our relays are terrific, our pitchers and catchers control the running game, Our game is tight and maybe those things cant be projected.”
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.