Jerry Dipoto has a plan. Importantly, he also has the autonomy to implement it. Free from the shackles of Anaheim, he’s now able to do his own thing, with his own people, in Seattle. That’s good news for Mariners’ fans.
Dipoto is doing more than simply replacing Jack Zduriencik as Seattle’s general manager. He’s enacting philosophical change. The erstwhile Angels GM is a former player with a scouting background, but he’s also one of the most analytically inclined front office executives in the game. The Mariners will be many things under Dipoto’s leadership; backwards isn’t one of them.
Dipoto shared his vision for the team during this week’s GM meetings in Boca Raton.
DiPoto on the organization’s change of philosophy: “The philosophy I’m bringing over here is pretty different. I respect Jack Zduriencik – he’s had a wonderful baseball career and I’m sure he’ll continue to have one – but we’ll do things differently than he did. We see things through a different lens. I’m not going to tell you exactly how, because then it’s no longer an advantage, but it is significantly different. Regarding [the Angels], it would be fair to say that this is a different environment for me.”
On having a philosophically aligned coaching staff: “I’ve worked with (manager) Scott Servais on and off for the last 15 years, and there’s a reason why he’s here. Scotty sees baseball the way I do. We have a different style and way, and we don’t always agree on everything, but I wouldn’t hire somebody who sees things through an entirely different lens, That wouldn’t be sensible.
“(Bench coach) Tim Bogar is similar. Tim is more quiet, very player-friendly; he’s a great relationship builder. But when it comes down to nuts and bolts, particularly understanding how team defense works, he is among the best I’ve ever met.
“(Third base coach) Manny Acta has a great background of understanding analytics and how to apply them on the field. He also has a great feel for the game as it develops. Edgar Martinez… just sign him up. I don’t know that you’re going to find a better, more prepared hitting coach than Edgar Martinez. The organization in general – we’re building it with the idea that we want everybody to have similar baseball tenets, yet have slightly different views.”
On implementing a run-prevention model: “We see ourselves as a run-prevention club. You can create a lot of advantage playing good defense. We also see our overall team defense as our biggest area in need of improvement. We want to get more athletic and more defensive-oriented in the positions where we can.
“[Statcast] creates a different target list in what we’re looking for in free agency, and in trades. A few players have crawled up my leaderboard of appealing players. You still have to be able to play some offense in order to play every day, but we’re learning more and more about [defensive] value, because we’re able to carve the data.
“The unique thing about defensive data is that it’s very hard, in a one-year sample, to truly define what it means. You need sample size. Is it years of data? Probably. But we’re to the point now where we have some real numbers, and that’s why we’re starting to see trends. Player value is going to change as a result.
“Most teams have a run-prevention model, it’s a matter of how much they subscribe to it. Most of it is going to be predicated on ballpark. You’re much more likely to build a run-prevention model in a park like ours, or Dodger Stadium, or the Big A, than you would in say Baltimore. It’s a different model.”
On the Mariners’ earlier, unsuccessful defensive model: “It was fairly short-lived. The information available to us now is much greater than it was back in 2008-2009. The Mariners did approach things from a run-prevention model, but they did it with less information, and when it didn’t reach the optimal results quickly, they went in a different direction. I think we’re going to be a little more committed to it, because we have more information telling us that it’s a viable animal.”
On pitching philosophy and park effects: “(Pitching coach) Mel Stottlemyre, Jr. has a great plan with his pitchers. More importantly, they have trust in him. This is the guy you want to go into battle with. He’s a trenches guy. Stot has been on major league mounds almost since he was born. He grew up in a great baseball family. His dad was not only a great major league pitcher, but then a fantastic major league pitching coach.
“Ground balls aren’t as critical to us as they would be to a normal team, because our ballpark absorbs fly balls a little better. I do place high value on a sinkerball-strikeout guy – what we internally call a quadrant-four guy – but that’s maybe less critical to us.
“With Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker, Nate Karns, James Paxton, and Roenis Elias, we do have starting pitchers who miss bats. Carson Smith, Tom Wilhelmsen, Charlie Furbush. A premium for me is going to be guys who can miss bats and suppress walks. You can’t give away free bases. At the end of the day, I would trade some of the strikeout ability for the ability to suppress free bases. But when you’re talking about top-half-of-the-rotation starters, you want them to be able to miss bats.
“The group that we have… and you can look at my last stop, with Anaheim. Similarly, we were in a ballpark that allowed for fly balls to be absorbed a little differently than in many places. Safeco is a step further up the food chain in terms of fly ball suppression. I don’t walk away from fly ball guys, understanding that you might have a rough three-game set when you play in Baltimore. By and large, in the western ballparks – Anaheim, Oakland, Safeco – and when we play our inter-league in San Diego and San Francisco, much of our time is going to be spent in pitcher-friendly, fly ball ballparks. And those guys are generally more accessible than the ground ball-strikeout model.”
On offense and Edgar Martinez: “I think our offense, right now, is as stable as the Mariners’ offense has been for years. The middle of the lineup is very good. I don’t care what ballpark you play in. Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Nelson Cruz – that fits anywhere. What I’d like to do is make the lineup a little longer at the top, and a little longer at the bottom. I’d like to find a way to boost our ability to get on base. We want balance in the lineup.
“Controlling the strike zone is a combination of controlling your strikeouts and drawing your walks. It’s forcing an opposing pitcher to throw pitches, but if you go up and single, I don’t care which pitch you hit – it’s a productive at-bat. Making an out on eight pitches is also a productive at-bat.
“Edgar is a difference-maker as a hitting coach, and he’s 100-percent on board. Few players in the history of the game have controlled the strike zone, and managed at-bats, better than Edgar.
“We’ve defined a nine-point criteria of what we believe a quality at-bat consists of. If you do those things, you can play here. The nine-point criteria is something I’ve worked on through the years, with guys like Scott and Tim Bogar. It’s something I’ve taken a little bit of from the Red Sox, a little bit of from the Rockies. I’ve stolen a little bit from Clint Hurdle. You pick up pieces at all the places you go. That’s how your theories are built.”
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.