White Sox bloggers recently had a chance to chat with White Sox Director of Baseball Operations, Dan Fabian. As you can imagine, he had a lot of interesting things to say about America’s ever-changing pastime and the White Sox’ organization.
South Side Sox: We’ve seen a lot of the tracking software from MLBAM and Bio Effects coming out. Have you seen anything more than we’ve seen from the baseball prospectus article and what do you make of it?
Dan Fabian: Yeah you know what, we haven’t seen a whole lot more, obviously MLB BAM kind of sprung that on all of us a little bit when they did all that stuff earlier this month, we are obviously very curious, there’s going to be some more testing with the whole expanded data that they are going to be collecting.
The article from Prospectus on the catcher framing was obviously very interesting. We’ve done some stuff on that in house as well so it’s an exciting time on defensive stuff. It’s always been my feel that that’s the stuff that has always kind of lagged behind a little bit. The field Fx kind of never quite got to the point where there was a lot of data so we’re hoping that this latest effort from BAM (MLB Advanced Media) will pay off we’re hoping within the next year. It’s going to be exciting for both us and the general public to be able to break that information down.
SSS: You mentioned catcher framing. I think a lot of people grasp the idea of stealing strikes but struggle with run evaluation as far as the amount of runs are actually valued at. Do you think that is about the proper scale of catchers as valued in that regard?
DF: Yeah I think definitely some of the stuff that has been out there publicly we felt has been fairly high too. Some of our internal runs we feel is more in line with perhaps the reality of it. Some of the stuff that’s been out there you look at it and go, “wow that’s a lot of runs for 40 pitches.” I think the prospectus article is more in line and some of the stuff we’ve done internally too we feel pretty good about where we are going with it.
Future Sox: Just kind of wondering since Rick has taken over the General Manager responsibilities has there been any shift towards more of the advanced analytics as opposed to the on field scouting which your scouts do?
DF: It’s always been both. We are always going to line everything up with the scouting reports first. We have nine professional scouts that do our minor league coverage and two major league special assistants as well. All 11 of those guys are out there writing reports. We are always going to start with the scouting reports and we are always going to go to the statistical information when we are trying to put things in order.
I think that Rick may look for things a little deeper, perhaps than the past but he still is going to look at the scouting report first. If we don’t have a scouting report that tells us a guy has got the ability to play at the big league level then we are going to have concerns on just going on a number of situations. We’ve always been a hybrid between the two and I think that we will continue to do that going forward.
Catbird Seat: I’d just like to know a little more about the Jose Abreu signing, he’s kind of a stats versus scouting player with his stats in Cuba obviously being insane. I was wondering what the value was in that compared to just traditional scouting when the White Sox decided to pursue him and commit a lot of money to him?
DF: It was both actually.
Marco Paddy, who does our international scouting, and Ken Williams both saw Abreu in his workout situation. Marco had also seen him in games for Cuba internationally over the years so we had very good scouting reports to go with the obviously extremely strong statistical information.
Again like most of our acquisitions we’re involved and both were key parts in identifying him as a potential middle of the order, big, powerful, as you guys have probably seen in spring training he’s an amazingly strong man. Like everything else when a guy comes out there you will read stuff but our stuff was also very strong on the scouting side and Rick wouldn’t have made that signing if it wasn’t. So it was both parts, once again, were involved.
SSS: You mentioned that the scouting reports came first, have been any cases where a scout maybe wasn’t that impressed with a guy but then you went and looked at the numbers and that caused the scout to give the guy another look?
DF: There’s been times I have gone and assigned, “Hey let’s get another look at this player” trying to get a feel for it, maybe there is an adjustment here, we’ve done that. So yeah, there have definitely been cases like that over the past but we’ve been running numbers for a long time.
I know the perception is that we are a scouting organization; I’ve been here since 1993 and I’ve been part of various things all through that period but its always been part of the process.
Like anything else as more information has become available we have certainly expanded the things that we look at and that’s just because there is so much more available now.
I look back on the 1990s, if you wanted information you kept a box score book because it was before the internet and there just wasn’t the kind of stuff available that is today. I am so amazed at how much stuff is just absolutely available so quickly compared to what there was 20 years ago. Sometimes I don’t know how the heck we did our jobs back then.
The game is older than all of this but at the same time its great that the stuff is out there and even the stuff that’s done outside the clubs that’s just available for us to look at as well.
GSB!: With the draft coming up and the White Sox having a top five pick for the first time since 1990, how does that maybe change the way the organization looks at, approaches and attacks the draft?
DF: It’s definitely been an ongoing process. We have our list of about the top five guys that Doug Lauman and Nick Hostetler and all of our cross checkers have been really focused upon.
On our primary targets we basically have a scout at every one of their games. We are an experienced group so I think Doug is definitely focused on picks, you know it was Alex Fernandez back in 1990 the last time we’ve been that high, so we are making sure that we are really focused and trusting our staff as we get deeper into the draft. We’ve got good scouts that have gotten good players later in the draft too. The last couple drafts we’ve been really happy around here with the players we’ve gotten even into the middle and later rounds.
It is a different process. When you are picking 20th there’s a lot of guess work on who is going to make it but when you are picking third you kind of have a good idea of who the playing field is and you are able to focus down on it and that’s what Doug and his staff have been doing so far this year.
FS: Going back to scouting versus numbers, first round pick from two years ago Courtney Hawkins just struggled like crazy last year but the talent is obviously there. Is he a guy that you believe can just make a few adjustments or is he a guy that needs to overhaul his swing to get to the numbers that he can put up based on his talent?
DF: Those adjustments are already happening. This spring you are already seeing those adjustments in place for this year.
Courtney is a young guy and last year was a challenge for him but at the same time we are seeing him stay back better at the plate this year, we are seeing him working to the opposite field more. The big time power is still there, he can still crush a ball with the best. Our pro scouts were down this week and a couple came in going on and on about how he hit a ball way out to right center field.
Courtney has the ability and with young kids its all about adjustments and it’s a learning curve and it comes easier for some than others but we’re seeing the positive with him this spring, like I said. Staying back at the plate, letting the ball get deep, working the opposite field, keeping the front side in, things that last year at times became a bit of a concern for him
CBS: Todd Steverson hired and hoped that the hitting organization could get to the place where the pitching is with Don Cooper how it trickles all the way down through the organization. What steps throughout the organization has the team made in progressing and developing hitters to get it to that point?
DF: There is definitely new thoughts that come in with his philosophy that have been put into place and that’s also Rick’s (philosophy).
We all know we’ve had on-base issues with our teams over the years. We’re trying to build that from the ground up, looking for hitters that understand what it needs to take to be comfortable hitting deeper in counts. If you are more comfortable hitting deeper in counts you are going to draw more walks because you are deeper in the count. The philosophy is definitely something that is starting out with Todd and with all on our minor league hitting side, they’ve been working together and working hard to make those improvements and hopefully we’ll start seeing it as the players make it to the major leagues and develop.
FS: Since the steroid era has come to an end and offensive numbers have started to dwindle a little bit does that change your outlook on how you evaluate hitters and what you’re trying to do with the offense?
DF: I don’t know if it changes the way you evaluate hitters, even in the steroid era on-base percentage was one of the biggest drivers of overall team offense and we still feel that is the case. It’s trying to make that development to make that progress. Our ballpark in Chicago is always going to help our home run total, we all know it plays small in the summer. That’s obviously something the way we’ve approached our pitching staff too, you look at our major league bullpen some of the guys we’ve brought in this year, trying to get some guys the last couple of years, like Lindstrom and Belisario and with Webb coming up, who have the ability to be power sinker guys. Late in the games, keep the ball in the park and not let our ballpark work against us.
SSS: Now that replay is starting up do you have any role in assessing where some flaws in the system might be or what might be the best plays to challenge?
DF: We’ve had some of our guys run some stuff looking at what the appropriate time to challenge is and looking at the best percentages. The one thing we’ve found out is it just doesn’t happen that often, your first thought is “well you don’t want to use it in case you need it,” but there just aren’t that many cases.
There haven’t been a whole lot of calls overturned in spring training. I’ll be interested to see when the season starts to see how that all develops. Once you get a feel for how the process is working then we will have to adjust there as well.
SSS: When you’re watching a game do you have individual tasks or homework that you are working on when you watch a game?
DF: I do have my own little things, I have my routine that I do on a daily basis. During a game I like to keep score because I find I remember a game better. I also keep a box score for myself. Mostly I have found that more I pay attention during a game the more I can recall later. Over a long season the more things you can pull up quickly the better off you’re going to be.
When I’m out doing minor league coverage or the fall league I am in more of a scouting mode than if I’m just watching a White Sox home game or if I’m watching other teams on TV. I will go through the process of actually attacking it as a scout attacks it mostly to keep the skills there but also to try and understand what our guys are seeing.
FS (I think): When you are compiling scouting reports in your system is there a way you can quantify the character of a player?
DF: We talk about that a lot. We just had our pro scouts down here this week and we had a meeting earlier in the week and we spent quite a bit of time on that. Our guys do a good job as best they can talking with the pitchers in the stands you learn something about their teammates from them and talking to the coaches and other rovers in other organizations. It’s definitely an important part of what we do trying to understand.
You know with Adrien Nieto, the rule five pick from this year, we spent a lot of time with both our scouts and talking to our amateur scout. We even talked to Jose Ortega down in Miami to try and figure out what the kid was about. We spend a lot of time on that trying to gather as much information as possible when we’re looking at a guy.
CBS: How does the team view the value of relievers and closers as opposed to in the past?
DF: The depth of the bullpens are what is so critical. Closers are pretty much coming into the 9th inning clean at this point, they are coming in with mostly two and three run leads in the majority of their saves and the average conversion rate is really strong in those. A lot of your really tough outs come more in the 7th and 8th innings where a guy comes in with inherited runners. If you have a deep bullpen, if you have three or four relievers that can come into the roles it really helps.
You flash back to our 2005 team that won it and we had three different closers that year. Bobby Jenks didn’t become the closer until late September and it was the work that Neal Cotts and Cliff Politte and people like that did in the middle and set up innings that really set us up that year.
I think it has evolved and we feel we have a bunch of guys that can do that role. Lindstrom got a little bit of experience, Belisario has the arm for it, Webb has the tools down the road for it, Nate Jones too. Robin and his staff and Coop are going to let it evolve here and see what works best, let people fall into the roles that they can handle and all of them are certainly capable of it.
Addison did a really good job for us but we felt that with the opportunity to get a hitter like Matt Davidson, three different of our scouts saw him last year and really liked him, was too strong an opportunity. We’ve got some quality arms here, we’ll get some more quality arms in the bullpen and we’ll figure out closing but we certainly couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to add potential long term third base power in Matt Davidson to the organization.