Matthew Leach

Alderson talks baseball data at Sloan conference

Mets GM joined main baseball panel to discuss use of advanced metrics

Alderson talks baseball data at Sloan conference

BOSTON -- Mets general manager Sandy Alderson emphasized collaboration and communication as the keys for incorporating new ideas like defensive shifts and catcher framing at the annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conference on Saturday.

Alderson joined baseball analysts Dave Cameron, Dan Brooks, Ben Lindbergh and moderator Jonah Keri on the main baseball panel, called "Beating the Shift: Baseball Analytics in the Age of Big Data." He acknowledged that things are changing, but made it a point that players must get accustomed to utilizing new information.

"It's one thing to have the data," Alderson said. "It's another thing to actually execute on the field level. There's a lot of translation and communication and education that has to take place."

Alderson was talking about defensive shifts, but he sounded a similar tone when referring to catchers framing pitches. It's clear that front offices are on board with these sorts of developments in the analysis of baseball. The next step is making sure the players are as well.

For example, Alderson noted that catchers who are skilled at framing pitches might have a tendency to allow more passed balls. In such a case, teammates might need to be informed of the value of the less visible skill, relative to the more prominent negative.

"If a guy is doing his best to frame pitches, there can be a correlation between his framing effort and the number of passed balls that end up occurring," Alderson said. "So then it becomes another educational process, making sure the pitcher, pitching coach, etc., understand the relative value."

As far as shifts -- a topic that gained prominence when Commissioner Rob Manfred recently answered a question about the possibility of banning them -- Alderson seemed unconcerned. He noted that any change offers opportunity to a clever club.

"From an operating standpoint," he said, "I take the position [of], tell me what the rules are and we'll figure it out. There's always an opportunity for a competitive advantage."

Still, Alderson's acknowledgement that shifting seems to have reduced the number of left-handed hitters who hit for average and power led to another intriguing observation. Cameron wondered whether that change has affected the relative market value of right- and left-handed batters.

"One of the things we saw this winter was a surge in pricing for right-handed hitters," Cameron said.

"It seems like teams are potentially adjusting and saying, 'You know what I really like is right-handed hitters, who are much harder to shift [against].'"

Alderson even discussed the controversial metric "WAR," or wins above replacement, an attempt to distill the value of individual players into a single number.

"Clubs do look at it," he said. "We have a proprietary way of trying to do the same thing, but it's a generally accepted metric with all of its flaws. … Every player is a net-net of his strengths and weaknesses. You're constantly looking for a way to conclude that with one number so you don't have to make that same calculation over and over again, player by player."

Matthew Leach is an editor and reporter for Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.