Jeff Bridich looks beyond baseball when he brainstorms how to better build the Rockies. The Colorado general manager — a diehard Packers fan — pays attention to how NFL teams go about their business. He’s been especially impressed with how the Atlanta Falcons — the team that vanquished Green Bay on Sunday — went from sub-.500 also-rans to Super Bowl bound in two years.
The Rockies have been chasing a winning record for the past six seasons. Fortunately for their fanbase, hope is on the horizon. Since assuming his current role 27 months ago, the forward-thinking Bridich has helped grow the analytics department, while maintaining the scouting-and-development philosophy that has been the club’s backbone. The result is a promising, young core on the verge of contention in the NL West.
Bridich shared his thoughts on team-building — with one eye on the NFL— over the weekend.
On admiring the Falcons: “We try to draw information and glean what we can from [other sports]. I read an article the other day praising the Falcons’ ability to build their roster from where it was two years ago. There are elements of team, and elements of winning in professional athletics, that cross over from sport to sport.
“We try to combine that with honest evaluations of who we are, right now, in the moment. That sort of thing goes on in all professional sports. You have to combine evaluation — who you are, and what you have — with what your needs are, and what you want to do.
“It would be tough for me to speak intelligently on [the Falcons’ philosophies and schemes], because we don’t live in their walls. But in terms of their personnel — how they’ve gone about that — the article I read was very complimentary of how they targeted specific things, and specific people, in free agency. They’ve also focused a lot on defense, and on getting faster and more athletic defensively, through the draft.
“You have to tie all those things together. That’s all part of what I mean by ‘Who you are.’ What is your draft position? What is your relative chance of having access to some of the best players that you would want in the draft? Decisions like that are interwoven into the bigger picture of, ‘Do we have to try to add somebody in free agency, or do we have to try to make trades?’ They’ve done it in a bunch of different ways, which is similar to how we look at the world.”
On the Packers’ building primarily through the draft: “In terms of a very narrow viewpoint of how to build a team, and a foundation for a team, the Packers are probably the gold standard in the NFL. The percentage of players on their roster who were drafted and developed by the organization is extremely high. I think it’s the highest in the league, and it’s like that year in and year out.
“It takes a lot of discipline to commit yourself to that, and actually stick with it year after year, year after year, year after year. [General manager] Ted Thompson, [president and CEO] Mark Murphy and [head coach] Mike McCarthy, and everyone else, have been able to stick to that. It doesn’t solve all your ills, right? It’s almost impossible, no matter the sport, to only do one thing.
“The Packers have chosen, when they do go outside to get a free agent… it’s not a slew of free agents. They seem to be targeting one, or maybe two, per offseason. They’re saying ‘This is how we’re going to fix this problem we have.’ In a lot of ways, they’ve been very successful doing that. The big ones have been Reggie White, Charles Woodson, and Julius Peppers. But there are others. You could make an argument that Jerad Cook is one. And there are a couple of others, but they definitely do not live and die by free agency, or by trades.”
On being flexible while staying the path: “Again, you have to pair [a particular philosophy] with honest evaluation. Over time, if your methods aren’t working, you can’t just sit by blindly and say, ‘Well, we’re just going to wait for another three, four, five, six years, and it’s all going to work out for us.’
“That’s where your internal process is important — how you evaluate, and not only the players you have, but also the type of development process you have. You’ve got to have people that don’t think alike all the time. Group-think isn’t always a good thing in an organization. You want people who are willing to play devil’s advocate and push your internal convention. If you’ve got that, you’re hopefully setting yourself up to make good decisions.
“It’s important to have principles, and it’s important to have a plan and a strategy, but you also need to have a common-sense approach. And there’s only so much you can do during the season. Unless you have completely unlimited funds, which maybe one or two teams in the league have, it’s very difficult to change your stripes in any one season.”
On having a cohesive organizational plan: “I don’t think there is necessarily only one right way of doing things. But I do think it is very important to create that plan, and to be able to communicate the most important elements of that plan to key stakeholders in the organization. A plan at the major-league level, whatever it might be, does not exist in a vacuum. If it’s done well, it completely manifests itself down at the developmental levels, as well.
“The major-league level can’t be separate from development or scouting. Those elements of a ball club are supposed to work hand in hand, as much as possible. And if you’re constantly changing plans, that doesn’t just affect the major-league side, it affects the development and scouting side as well.”
On flexibility, athleticism, and interjecting youth: “Over the last few years, we’ve been talking a lot about athleticism and positional flexibility. Being in the National League, and being an organization that often carries one more pitcher than position player on its active roster, that’s essential for us. Bringing in a player with the versatility and athleticism of an Ian Desmond… we felt he was a great addition to an already strong position-player group. Alexi Amarista fits into that.
“I think there’s going to be a combination, on this roster, of young veterans and some younger guys — players who are going to have to grow at the major-league level, like Trevor Story did, like Tony Wolters did, and Carlos Estevez and Jon Gray did. We had a bunch of guys do that last year. There are probably going to be a handful of guys doing that for us every year, including David Dahl this coming year.”
On looking at the bigger picture: “A lot goes into [year-to-year personnel decisions]. You have players with ticking clocks in terms of their service time. You’ve always got the unknown of injury — that can happen at any point — and player development occurs at its own rate, no matter what you do. If you lose sight of those things and try to take shortcuts, you’re probably setting yourself up for some failure.
“This will be year 13 for me in the organization. We’ve basically been a drafting, signing, scouting and development organization. That’s been a belief of this team since I’ve been around, and we’re going to continue to believe in that as a part of our foundation — how we build, and how we’re able to maneuver in this industry.”
On saying a year ago that it was an organizational goal to grow the analytics process to a point where the club feels as strongly about it as they do their scouts: “We’ve worked in leaps and bounds to do that, but it’s probably unfair to say we’ve brought our analytics process up to par with our scouting process. That’s because of the experience and the know-how, and all the years we’ve been doing it a certain way in the scouting world. But in terms of the human capital, in terms of the financial capital, and the time spent in the growth of the analytics over the last year, year and a half… it’ real. We’re starting to really see some movement there.
“We’ve been hiring people. We’ve been creating a leadership structure for our analytics process. We’ve been actively trying to interweave our analytics folks and scouting folks. We’ve been goal-setting, and pairing that goal-setting with investment in technology, so that we truly have as much of an internal process — a fully-functioning internal process — as we can. We’re not fully there yet, but we’ve made incredible inroads.
“We’re really still building foundation in terms of information management. With all the information that’s out there… we want to make sure we feel we know what we know. It’s not like we were working from scratch completely on this. We’ve been involved in analytics for years, but not all of it had been our own internal process. We’ll see what comes. It’s fun to be able to build something like this, and have the department, and the organization, grow.”
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.