Today, the Toronto Maple Leafs, long heralded as the Philadelphia Phillies of the National Hockey League when it comes to advanced statistics, by me at least, created a brand new analytics department, hiring 3 prominent advanced stats analysts from the interwebs. This series of moves comes almost one month after the Leafs hired Kyle Dubas, also known as a big #FancyStats guy, to be an AGM for the team. Don’t close this page yet, because this really isn’t about the Leafs. What I am writing about is how the Leafs, led by their new president Brendan Shanahan, have been able to adapt to the times. Instead of sticking to their old, pre-historic ways, they have basically cornered the market on advanced hockey statistics personnel. Do they still have a terrible GM and coach in Dave Nonis and Randy Carlye? Yes. But now they also have a foundation on which they can build a winning team the right way. This brings me to the Blue Jays…
You might remember this article, written by Shi Davidi back in May. Shi, who works for a media outlet owned by Rogers, informed the world that the Blue Jays hired a man named Jason Pare away from the Cleveland Indians to join their statistics department, which, until this off-season, was comprised just of Joe Sheehan (no, not that Joe Sheehan). Not only is the Blue Jays analytics department only composed of two men, but it also appears that they don’t have someone pushing for their analysis in the upper echelon of the front office. The last such link between the Jays stats department and Alex Anthopoulos was Jay Sartori, who left to work for Apple this past February. The Blue Jays, still, have not replaced him.
Sartori’s last hurrah for the Blue Jays was completing a statistic database called “The BEST”, which, if it hasn’t done anything else, has allowed the Blue Jays to start shifting again. You’ll recall the Blue Jays were towards the leaders in shifting in 2012 when Brian Butterfield would comprise the data manually. In 2013, after Butterfield bought a one way ticket to Boston on the Farrell Train, the Blue Jays stopped shifting almost all together, sliding down towards the bottom of the league. Why? Because they didn’t have somebody/something to gather the data necessary for them to implement shifts at a high level. When “The BEST” was created, it allowed the Blue Jays to do this again. The Blue Jays actually went an entire year without shifting at a high level, like they used to, because, for a lack of a better term, they were understaffed. Rather than adapting to the loss of Brian Butterfield, the Blue Jays seemed as oblivious as one can be to what creates a successful baseball team; far from an encouraging feeling.
Unfortunately, this obliviousness doesn’t stop there. Many months ago, a source told us at BJP that the Blue Jays had brought in a biomechanics firm to test Brett Cecil and Brandon Morrow in September 2012. However, the Jays thought the testing didn’t provide them with any new, relevant information, so they did nothing with results and have not used any biomechanics testing since. At the State of the Franchise event back in January, when we were talking to Alex Anthopoulos privately after the Q & A session, our own Chris Sherwin asked him about that, and he confirmed every word of it. The Blue Jays have tossed biomechanics into the garbage.
Do you know which teams use biomechanics analysis on their pitchers to try to correct flaws in their deliveries? The Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays, Milwaukee Brewers and Cleveland Indians(at least those are the teams that are publicly known). Look at this picture from Fangraphs of team DL time in 2013, and look at where those teams rank in pitcher days, compared to the Blue Jays. Pitchers get hurt, sure, but maybe, just maybe, a team should be doing everything possible to combat the loss of both wins and dollars to potentially preventable injuries? Just a thought.
Advanced analytics, whether they are stats based, mechanics based, or anything else, are the future of pro sports. In a business this large, any advantage a team can get on their opponent, any way to find and exploit market inefficiencies, is huge. The Blue Jays and their leaderless two man statistics department is a joke. Their outright dismissal of biomechanics? A joke. The Blue Jays 20th century decision-making is…you guessed it! A joke.
If the Maple Leafs, long considered to be the dinosaur of the NHL, can change in a matter of months…maybe the Blue Jays can too? Maybe the Jays haven’t been anything more than mediocre in 21 years because they go with the flow, they don’t try to one up their opponents. For the Leafs, all it took was a new president to bring in this new wave of personnel. With Paul Beeston’s contract up in just over two months, and rumours of his departure flying high, the time is right for the Blue Jays to go against the grain in 2015. I’m not saying that stats need to be the be all end all of decision making, but they sure do help. If the Maple Leafs were the joke of the league until this summer, the Blue Jays should be considered that as well. In one day, the Maple Leafs surpassed the Jays in the analysis department. Think about it. It’s sad. Something has to be done.