New Astros GM Jeff Luhnow participated on the baseball analytics panel today at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. A few highlights:
- After the panel, I mentioned to Luhnow that his decision to move Brett Myers to the Astros' closer role has raised a few eyebrows. I asked if he thought Myers will have more impact in the bullpen than the rotation, and the GM replied, "I think for our team, right now, where we are and what we need, Myers in the bullpen is going to help us. We've got some options in the rotation and we really didn't have good options for that [closer] role. He's excited about it, and I'm excited to see how it works out. If it doesn't work out, we can always go back to the other way." As to whether the two parties would "re-restructure" the contract in that case, Luhnow said that would not be necessary because it's currently structured so it can go either way.
- During the panel, Luhnow explained what it's like to make a move that is not well-received. "It's frustrating, because you wish you could tell the fans everything that went into the decision. You go on FanGraphs and you read stuff about the player, and if that's all the information you had, you might make a different decision. But you've got a lot of information from the clubhouse, medical information, you have a lot of other pieces that are relevant that you really can't discuss. You're going to be second-guessed no matter what, so you just have to take it and move on."
- "You can't go wrong" with the first overall pick in the draft, Luhnow told me. He's never picked higher than Brett Wallace at #13 in 2008 for the Cardinals. He says there's already a short list of candidates for the Astros' 1-1 pick in 2012. I mentioned the huge expectations for such a pick, and Luhnow replied, "No question about it, there have been 1-1s that have not worked out well and we hope that we're one of the 1-1s that turns out to be a franchise player. That's the
expectation, that's the goal. There's risk in any player you select in the draft, but hopefully we'll take one that will move quickly and be an impact player."
- "There's no question that sports analytics helped the St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series last year," said Luhnow on the panel. He said the Cardinals didn't have much with respect to analytics when he arrived in 2003, and the Astros are similar nine years later. He considers a blank slate "a huge opportunity to gain an edge." Luhnow says he's hired ten people since being named Astros GM, and "four of them were geeks, nerds, computer guys."
- Luhnow says the Dominican amateur market is almost inverted from the bargains of 10-15 years ago, and likes the limitations imposed in the new collective bargaining agreement.