Orioles beat writer Jon Meoli sits down with Orioles general manager Mike Elias. (Jon Meoli / Baltimore Sun video)
In the middle of his first winter meetings in charge of the Orioles, one that that included the hiring of manager Brandon Hyde as he continued to build the organization in his image, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias had to do a lot of explaining on his philosophy regarding coaches and player development.
A month into his time with the Orioles, Elias is doing just as much answering about overall philosophy as anything specific. Who he is has been hard to separate from what he was a part of in Houston, and the idea that the Orioles are going to try to replicate that success doesn’t do much to distinguish him from the Astros.
The time for all that will come, but in an interview with The Baltimore Sun this past week, Elias addressed some of his hopes for the organization in the context of analytics, his baseball background and the way he views the game, as well as how he feels the organization he's inherited will take to the concepts he expects to introduce.
So much is made of bringing in [assistant general manager Sig Mejdal] and replicating a lot of the things that made you successful with the Astros, and before that in St. Louis. But what are some of the things that you think once you guys get up to speed and join that arms race in the way that other teams are, what are some of the things that you're hopeful that he can do and you guys can do as an organization to make it so that in three or five years, people who are looking for their own general manager are looking to replicate the Oriole Way instead of the Astros Way?
It's a great question, and I think your analogy about an arms race is an apt one. Are we behind right now in the analytics arms race? Yes. We're going to get up to speed as quickly as possible, and really, the challenge for us and the onus on us as baseball executives is to figure out ways to get a little bit ahead. And that's tough, because all other teams are doing that as well.
Meanwhile, there's talent and [intellectual property] crossing over from team to team. It's tough. But I know of no one better than worrying about that than Sig. I'm happy that we have him. I'm confident that once we get our infrastructure built out, we will become a team that other clubs are looking to learn from.
Now part of [that], you were asked about the Astros’ way of hitting, and I used those words again — analytics were a big part of that success. But you were a baseball player, you were a scout. Just because you went to Yale, you might get lumped into the “Moneyball” era, but do you see any differences that someone with your background specifically might have from someone who is running something solely analytically, or like a business?
Look, this is still a sport that human beings play, so first and foremost, we must always remind ourselves that we're in a business of people. But also, hitting in particular is a really complex endeavor, and it involves physical characteristics, traits that are intrinsic to the person's body, their genetics, the condition that they're in and then the shape of their swing, the speed of their swing, and then a whole bunch of stuff that happens from the neck up.
It's really hard to quantify all of that, at least right now, in such a way that outperforms the judgment of an experienced talent evaluator, somebody who knows a lot about baseball, has accrued a lot of experience watching baseball and can envision changes happening in the future. I think we're a long way off from that perspective losing value, and for me personally, my scouting experience allows me to participate in that process pretty well.
Now both when you were hired and speaking to you here, when we talk about all those things kind of melding together into — I think the words we've all come to hear a lot are the “elite talent pipeline” that you've referenced. To rephrase the question — you were talking about coaches yesterday and it's not that you have a coach who's versed in analytics, one coach and that's his job. That's everyone's job. Is that a transition in staffing and teaching people who you do have [on staff] that this is all one job description now?
It's a big management challenge, and I think a lot of the success [Astros general manager] Jeff Luhnow had in his career in Houston when all of us were there in Houston is we were so successful of getting staffs in place like you're talking about — somebody for whom the use of advanced information, the use of technology is part of their day-to-day approach of being a coach.
That input is not coming from a third person, or some angle that is made to reach around the coach, or must be filtered through the coach. It's the coach themselves that wants the information and knows how to use the information and translate it to the players that he knows best.
It's a big management challenge to educate the coaches that have not been exposed to that experience, but many of them do a great job of picking up on it and incorporating it into their work.
And lastly, when you talk about the scouting and how this is still a game of people and players, is the situation you found — I know you're looking for players who are adaptable and can be susceptible to things like this — but if you walk into the clubhouse in, say, Bowie, how apt are modern players to picking up concepts they might not have gotten before? How willing are they, and do you think there's a uniform willingness to embrace this?
Even before all this information and technology exploded onto baseball, a player's makeup, which is a term we use for kind of his mental characteristics, was always important. Them having the mindset of getting up in the morning of, “What can I do to make myself better?”
Now, that does involve having the ability and the willingness to study some of the information that arms them with very specific paths to improving their skills. So the players that understand this and seek it out, I do think see an advantage. But this generation of players, this is very normal for them.