Advertisement

Dodgers' Farhan Zaidi tries to show geeks how to laugh at themselves

Dodgers' Farhan Zaidi tries to show geeks how to laugh at themselves
Dodgers General Manager Farhan Zaidi speaks at Dodger Stadium on Friday. (Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

OK, listen up geeks, all you data-loving, worship-at-the-feet-of-Nate Silver types. I can only perform this public service for so long. At some point you must walk on your own.

As some may have noticed, the Twittersphere got all worked up -- or at least the small portion that's home to sabermetric fans -- when I wondered if the Dodgers front office might be going a tad overboard with the hiring of so many analytic types.

Advertisement

This came after Farhan Zaidi, who has a bachelor's from MIT and a doctorate from Cal in economics, was hired from the A's to become the Dodgers' new general manager.

The Nerd Army was at the gates!

So the Dodgers have a news conference to introduce Zaidi and he opens it by asking if I'm in attendance.

"I brought my mini-screwdriver in case you want to leave your laptop with me after we're done," he said.

Zaidi and everyone laughed, which of course, was his objective. Besides, I don't really own a laptop. Never saw reason to upgrade my nifty Commodore 64.

But the Nerd Army got giddy for all the wrong reasons, which can happen when you spend 16 hours a day crunching numbers.

Somebody on Twitter sent me a picture of a guy who had been burned. Mark Townsend posted on Yahoo Sports that my post had been insulting (to geeks, I guess), and then wrote: "Farhan Zaidi 1, Steve Dilbeck 0."

I'm not sure what Craig Calcaterra thought, but given the HardballTalk blogger called me ignorant and suggested my job should be in jeopardy, I'm thinking he was air high-fiving.

I have no idea why geeks are so thin-skinned, but maybe it goes back to all those high school wedgies. They couldn't see a tongue-in-cheek if it was tickling their keyboard. They're kind of a tight-knit group, all gravitating toward each other on that natural outlet, the Internet.

But fortunately for the Dodgers, Zaidi doesn't take himself too seriously, which was one of the first things he wanted to demonstrate. Geeks take note: He can laugh at himself. Such a concept.

Zaidi came across as extremely personable, even if he was the smartest guy in the room. A room -- and I hate to break this to Zack Greinke -- that included team President and CEO Stan Kasten.

None of which eliminated the concern that the Dodgers could be at risk of loading the front office with the analytic-driven to the point of making the more traditional baseball mind an endangered species.

Remember the scene in "Moneyball" in which A's General Manager Billy Beane is leading a staff meeting filled with traditional, old-school baseball types and the lone sabermetric voice at the table is the Paul DePodesta character?

The Dodgers have added President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman, GM Zaidi, Vice President of Baseball Operations Josh Byrnes, farm director Gabe Kapler and scouting director Billy Gasparino -- all with strong sabermetric and economic backgrounds. See, their very own Geek Squad.

Advertisement

Which naturally -- you statisticians try to stay with me on this -- leads to the question, could there become too many analytic voices at the table and not enough traditional baseball minds?

"I suppose if they were all sabermetric people, that would be too many," Zaidi said. "This is something Stan has preached to us and something we're taking to heart. We need a balanced approach."

Kasten, who had sat quietly by throughout the lengthy news conference since initially introducing Zaidi, chose this moment to interject.

"I think we are now developing, or on our way to developing, a proficiency in analytics that will require us to remember the importance of the wise-old owls, the experience of baseball scouts and I'll be continuing to remind them, 'More scouts, more scouts, more scouts,' and more of that kind of input because it does for sure require all of that kind of input," Kasten said.

This is all very logical, which you'd think would be right up the analytic alley. Instead when I previously raised the question, they offered outrage and overreaction. I feared my Commodore would suddenly come down with a virus. The general theme was I had been dismissive and insecure, and this war had been fought and won by the calculator group the previous decade.

If the war was to raise the level of sabermetrics awareness, victory to the nerds. If it was to increase the input of the analytic minds throughout baseball and every club, conquest!

But if the perceived war was to make sabermetrics the driving force in every baseball decision, sorry, that was never the battle. They are a tool widely used and respected now, but a tool.

"We're the Dodgers, we have incredible resources, we have high expectations," Zaidi said. "We need to be the best at everything. I don't think we're in a position to make trade-offs of saying we're a stat organization or a scouting organization. We want to do everything at the absolute peak level."

His background may be in behavioral economics, but Zaidi clearly does not appear to be someone easily pigeon-holed. If sabermetrics still seems in its relative adolescence, at some point all teams will be on an even statistical playing field.

Baseball has always been about numbers, but this whole advanced metrics thing kind of started with a quirky metallurgist who wanted to prove Ty Cobb was a better baseball player than Babe Ruth. He was Earnshaw Cook, whose slide rule is in the Hall of Fame.

Which even the geeks would have to admit, is kinda funny.

Advertisement
Advertisement