By Steve Krause
According to Jay Sartori, baseball analytics has no hard and fast definition. It may not be a case of “if I told what I did, I’d have to kill you,” but it may be close.
“It’s not easy to do,” said Sartori. “Essentially, at its simplest level, what we’re doing is taking any and all information that we can get our hands on and, through the use of various tools—and a lot of them happen to be technical computer tools—we can improve our decision making.”
Got all that? The Detroit Tigers can only hope Sartori and his crew do. Sartori is senior director of baseball operations and analytics, and general manager Al Avila’s right-hand man. Still, if you ask Sartori what that actually means, he can’t, or won’t tell you.
There’s the general definition, which comes down to assisting Avila and overseeing the team’s day-to-day operation. But then there’s the other aspect of his job, which is to use rigorous statistical analysis and data to make personnel and in-game decisions easier.
But what does that mean?
“There are all kinds (of analytics),” he said. “All different things. I am sort of hesitant to point to any one stat metric. It depends on what we’re trying to do.”
Bautista (Sartori worked up numbers for both).
Sartori grew up in Lynnfield and attended St. John’s Prep, graduating in 1998. He played baseball at the Prep for a year, in addition to playing football and running track.
“But it became fairly obvious,” he said, “that my athletic career wasn’t going to take me anywhere. I learned early on that I had to focus on the books.”
This doesn’t mean he stopped playing. It just means that it became more of an avocation for him. He played summer ball for a season for the Boston Men’s Baseball League, mainly as a pitcher.
“But I played all over,” he said. “I even caught a few times. I considered myself a utility player.”
He was also a fan. He recalls attending a 1988 playoff game at Fenway Park against the Oakland Athletics.
“That was a huge deal,” he said. “I remember being taken out of school for that one.”
The Red Sox lost that game, during which Spike Owen, who had been acquired midseason to solidify the shortstop position, made two errors.
He matriculated to Boston College, where he majored in finance and management information systems. After earning his degree, he began his career in the banking industry.
Then, he read the book “Moneyball,” about Oakland general manager Billy Beane, and how, through the use of Sabermetrics and other esoteric working of numbers— all of which comprise the term “analytics”—the A’s managed to win with one of the skimpiest payrolls in baseball.
Sabermetrics is defined as the application of statistical analysis to baseball records, especially in order to evaluate and compare the performance of individual players. The term comes from the acronym “SABR,” which stands for the Society of American Baseball Research, and it was coined by Bill James, who is a pioneer in the move toward using computers to enhance the study of baseball tendencies.
The book, and the methods, fascinated Sartori.
“I was working, and hadn’t started grad school yet,” said Sartori. “And I thought ‘hey, that would be great.’ That sparked it my interest.”
Then, he ran into an old friend—Swampscott’s Peter Woodfork—and told him of his burgeoning interest in parlaying his love of statistics and computers with baseball. Woodfork, who is now an assistant for Joe Torre in MLB’s New York offices, passed Sartori’s resume around, and Sartori began work in the labor relations office, where his expertise in PowerPoint presentations was put to good use.
After a stint in the MLB office, Sartori left the industry for a time to work for Apple. (He still has an affinity for working with Macs instead of PCs, and one of his stipulations when getting the job with the Tigers was being able to use a Mac).
But he got itchy feet, and before long he was back in baseball, first as an assistant GM in Toronto, and now in Detroit.
And in baseball he hopes to stay. When asked whether he would like to work in baseball for the rest of his life, he said, “that’s the plan.”
And what’s not to like? He goes to every Tigers home game and monitors them when they’re on the road.
The team flirted with the playoffs this year, but finished out of the money as both the Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles snuck in ahead of it.
“We had a good run,” he said. “We came up a little short. We were in it until the last weekend of the season. We have some good established players— (pitcher Justin) Verlander, Miggy (Miguel Cabrera), (Ian) Kinsler. The goal is to remain competitive and try to make the playoffs every year.”
So, he’ll crunch those numbers to his heart’s content and be forever reluctant to share just exactly which numbers he crunches.
His ultimate goals are a bit clearer.
“It’s to win a World Series,” he said. “That’s most important, whatever part I play in that. My goal is to have a nice, big ring.”