It figures that new Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow and the club’s new “Director of Decision Sciences,” Sig Mejdal, are both trained engineers by academic training. You see, this newly identified field of “Decision Sciences” is all about organizing all usable information into comparable variables and measurable patterns in all areas of the team’s organizable decision-making. Think of it as “Money Ball” or “Billy (Beane) Ball” to the nth degree – a structure which brings the design concept of interchangeable parts down to even such specifics as “how does the presence of staff who steal paper clips and post-em pads effect the overall goal of the club’s financial stability and morale for reaching the World Series.
Perhaps, I reach too far on that last one, but that’s how measurable systems go. When they succeed on the gross level of things, it becomes the property of their nature and the impulse of the egos of those who run and build them to look for new objective credit-dispersing areas to measure.
Given the logistics-driven background of new Astros club owner Jim Crane, it is not surprising that he and his on-site alter ego, CEO George Postolos would put themselves shoulder and wheel behind this fairly new to baseball approach way of doing things. I don’t have any problem with them trying to do these things beyond the one element that was never fully developed and explored in the Brad Pitts movie version of the Money Ball approach – and that one thing does trouble me.
“Money Ball” made the old-time scouts and the player-centered manager, Art Howe, seem like the bad guys for relying too much on hunches and impossible to measure qualities about a player’s heart for winning. If decision science takes things to that extreme, it really won’t matter who wins the World Series. There won’t be anyone around left to really care.
Nevertheless, SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, stands as an example of how both the engineering and emotively driven narrative elements of architectural interest in the game may co-exist in one organizational form. Some of us in SABR even find ourselves bearing a dual attraction for things that are both measurable and mysterious. It is in the nature of human attraction that we are most magnetized by subjects which continue to mystify us for a lifetime. If not, how else do you honestly explain the fact that so many of us are still married?
Welcome to Houston, Sig Mejdal. Hope this isn’t your first rodeo, but if it is, don’t worry. The Houston version of the real rodeo takes place at another venue far away from Minute Maid Park. No decision scientists need apply.