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I’ve got a secret. Actually, I don’t.

February 8, 2017

Good, big article by Ben Lindbergh on how MLB teams try to keep their Intellectual Property private. Read it:

https://theringer.com/mlb-cardinals-astros-hacking-scandal-front-office-secrets-144dbe8fac32#.85kfmwa2s

TL;DR:

  1. The biggest problem teams face isn’t hacking; it’s staffers moving to other teams.
  2. One way teams try to get around this is with information silos–not letting employees see stuff that’s outside their own narrow job responsibility.

Now here’s what Lindbergh doesn’t hit you over the head with:

First, there’s so much staff turnover in analytics departments for one overriding reason: ownership is fucking cheap. Three years ago I thought I convinced a mid-market front office that I was worth 0.1 WAR in improvements to them. They offered me the job of leading/building their analytics outfit. OK let’s see … $6M/WAR for a free agent… 0.1 WAR is $600K… OK cut that in half because I’m not actually a baseball player and my salary is $300,000. Well, no. $200,000? No. I was offered $66,000. Well, only $33,000 guaranteed on a six month deal. And I had to move myself down, and take care of my own visa fees. Oh, and I was supposed to hire five more people for $150,000/yr. total budget (also $75K guaranteed on six month contracts), at least a couple of whom were supposed to be computer programmers, preferably with graduate degrees.

I thought that’d be impossible. We went back and forth, but no.

So I guess I came off as José Bautista before José Bautista came off as José Bautista.

Somebody else took that job… took all those jobs. Money isn’t everything; people do this for the love of the game. But when the Dodgers or Sawx or Blue Jays (the Blue Jays are among the higher paying joints I’m told) come along and offer you a 20% raise, poof, you’re out of there–and you won’t unlearn your prior employer’s methods. And the year after that, you’re onto another office. And the ‘secrets’ become common knowledge quickly.

One reason they couldn’t figure out right away which of the Cards’ employees hacked the Astros was because there were EIGHT of them living in the same house to try to keep expenses down. Salaries were so low they couldn’t afford their own apartments… in St. Louis!

Second, the information silo stuff, at least inside the analytics department, doesn’t work. Lindbergh says it saps morale. Undoubtedly, but as anyone who’s ever done any serious research will tell you, there’s something else: a collaborating team is much more than the sum of its parts. Refining a formula, or putting together a concept (say, quantifying Weak Contact) involves everyone standing around a whiteboard saying what-about-this, what-about-that? The more silos, the less productivity.

But it comes back to the first point: pay your people well, so they won’t want to leave and you can trust them to work as a team.

I’m not bitter–I did a special project for a different team the next summer. I’d do it again. But I’m stunned that teams who routinely spend $3-$5 million on a high school prospect who may never see the high minors panic at spending, say, $1 million a year total on a few sharp minds with track records.

Who knows.

They might even be able to keep a secret.

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