Mike Matheny is more tuned in to statistical analysis than his predecessor. That isn’t to say that 67-year-old Tony LaRussa was backwards thinking — he and longtime pitching coach Dave Duncan paid more attention to numbers than you might think — but the 41-year-old Matheny is beginning his managerial career at a time when sabermetrics are as much a part of the baseball landscape as the sacrifice bunt. While the new Cardinal’s skipper has a touch of old-school to him, he is more than willing to embrace data if it can help him win ballgames. Matheny addressed the subject during this week’s Winter Meetings in Dallas.
Matheny on using data to his advantage: “Philosophically, the front office has been great. They’ve been very open, and I believe that there are quite a few people in that front office, including the people in statistical analysis, who bring an asset to the table. I believe that one of the biggest jobs I have, and one of the biggest opportunities, is to present resources to [the players]. They’re going to play the game, so what can I put in front of them that’s going to give them a competitive edge to help them on an individual basis?
“For some guys, I think it would probably be paralysis by analysis if I brought everything down that the sabermetricians have upstairs. I’m pretty sure we’d have some guys going numb thinking too much. Other guys would love the data, so you look at it on a case-by-case situation and present that to them as they need it, or as they want it. Fortunately, this organization goes above and beyond in providing whatever resources are necessary for these guys. That is just one of them.”
On his ability to effectively utilize advanced metrics: “I know Bill James. I’ve done my share of research and realize that there is an advantage to it. Now, I believe it’s also a sifting process, and I’ve made it very clear to those guys — overwhelm me at first, bring me what you think is pertinent and I will be able to sift through it and tell you that a lot of this doesn’t matter to me, but this is what makes sense. I want them to have a voice to say that this is what I believe is important, and this is why. If I can filter that through, maybe it can be something that’s passed on to certain guys. But once again, to blanket that over the entire team, I think you’d be setting some guys up for failure.”
On making data-driven decisions and thinking outside the box: “I’m willing to do anything if it gives us a better chance to win. I’ll take whatever information I get. That’s really the long and short of it; it’s really no more complex than that. If something becomes available to me that gives us a competitive edge, I’ll be all over it, and it wouldn’t matter what the repercussions are from the powers that be. I’m going to do whatever I think is right and what gives us the best chance to win.
“For me, first and foremost is gut instinct. Second is understanding the players. There are things that statistical analysis can’t help with, and the state of the individual players is going to rate really high with me. But is statistical data going to play into every decision? I would say yes. I want to make an educated decision with everything I do.”
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.