Dave Wallace on Analytics and the Minor Leagues

Dave Wallace played several minor league seasons in the Indians organization as a catcher before beginning his coaching career as a staff assistant in Cleveland from 2009-10. He has moved his way through the Indians organization quickly, managing the short-season Mahoning Valley Scrappers in 2011, the Class-A Lake County Captains in 2012 and the High-A Carolina Mudcats in 2013 before joining the Double-A Akron RubberDucks this year.

It’s no secret that, as a small-market ballclub, Cleveland has one of the most sabermetrically-inclined front offices in baseball alongside organizations like Oakland, Tampa Bay and Houston. After reading Alex Kaufman’s great piece on the Indians DiamondView system, I wanted to know how much of that trickled down to the minor leagues and what Wallace’s stance was with regards to analytics. Wallace mentioned he is a regular reader of FanGraphs and that one of his favorite things to do is comb through our glossary and learn about new stats. We talked about advanced numbers, their prevalence and role in the minor leagues and how he uses them as a manager:

On DiamondView and the Indians’ stance with regards to sabermetrics:

“I’m not familiar with specifically DiamondView. I know I am familiar with how much we value analytics and how proactive we are in trying to find the best way to value a player. But also, that’s just a piece of the puzzle. What I see still goes into play, like how a guy takes to coaching and his character. But the numbers, the analytics, the DiamondView and all that is a very important piece of the puzzle.”

On his stance with regards to sabermetrics:

“I like them. There’s not one stat that I just hang my hat on necessarily. But in my development as a manager, the first thing I did was get the Bill James book and those type of things. I knew that this is where baseball is going and where it already is. It’s there. And whether I agree with it or not, I need to know it and be familiar with it. How I use it and apply it in-game isn’t that much right now, but I hope it will be one day. I love having all that information and picking and choosing what I like and I don’t like.”

On what he learned during his time in Cleveland:

“What I enjoyed was, before each series, we get this packet. An advanced report on the series. The fun part is going through and deciphering all this information. There’s so much information, you couldn’t possibly use it all. Well, I guess you could, but for example when Derek Shelton was the hitting coach he would use a certain part of it and Eric Wedge had certain numbers he liked more than others. Manny Acta used a lot of that stuff. For me, it was all pretty new, having just come out of playing. So even OPS was something that was new. Getting away from being just a batting average evaluator to OPS to WAR to all that, that was the very beginning of my process. Since then, I’ve become a regular reader of FanGraphs and that type of thing.”

On his transition from player to manager and the use of analytics:

“As a player, I didn’t pay attention to that kind of stuff at all. I was more focused on our pitching staff and the opposing lineup. But that was more of what my eyes saw. Reading swings, reading timing, that type of thing. And that’s how we attacked lineups. Then transitioning into coaching and seeing so much more information, you have to find out how to give that to a player or a pitching staff without giving them too much. I don’t want our pitchers or catchers out there trying to add and subtract numbers and figure out percentage-wise what’s the best play.

I think the most important thing is, the “old-school” mentality is about what you see. It’s results driven. Like the classic quote “What have you done for me lately?” The old-school seems to stick with a guy because he’s hot or sit a guy because he just looks lost at the plate. I see that side, and I still trust what my eyes tell me or what my gut tells me. But you have to look at the numbers and percentages because it’s important to keep that big-picture perspective. And that’s why I’ll ride out a player during a cold stretch because I know that the odds are a hot streak is coming. I try not to get too short-sighted and remember that with all this data throughout the history of baseball, I can trust that something is eventually going to happen, if it’s not already happening in the moment.”

On the players response and relationship with analytics:

“The majority of the guys really like that stuff. Specifically, with what we’re doing right now. We’re doing a lot of the defensive, what we’re calling “aggressive positioning.” But it’s a little weird for a pitcher to look behind them and see three infielders on one side of second base and this massive hole on the left side of the infield. They’ve all bought into it, but our main points to them were: number one, we’re playing the percentages. And number two, it’s about what we’re taking away and not what we’re giving up. We’re going to give up a routine ball to shortstop and nobody’s going to be there. It’s going to happen. But we’re going to be taking away a lot more. So far, it’s worked out well for us results-wise on the field. There have been a couple go through that we’re not used to seeing go through, but that’s a part of it and our pitchers have been 100% on board with it and the infielders love doing it because they know the guys in the big leagues are doing it.”

On the language used when talking advanced metrics with players:

“I don’t use the specific terms with the guys. Not yet. I try to keep it as simple and basic with them. Like with guys that are hitting balls hard that just happen to be caught, I’ll say ‘Hey man, it’s getting noticed that you’re hitting the ball hard. I know it’s not showing up in the numbers that you might see, but believe me, Cleveland and the front office knows you’re putting together good at-bats.’ And that’s what [hitting coach Rouglas Odor] reports on. Not hits, they can read that in the box score. He basically gives a grade to each at-bat and the quality of the at-bat and the contact. All that gets put into a report that [general manager Chris Antonetti] and [director of player development Ross Atkins] see up top.”

On the balance between using instinct and numbers with regards to in-game decisions:

“To say what the exact balance is, I don’t know. I try to go off of common sense, the numbers and what my gut tells me. I use those three factors and come up with a decision. But sometimes that decision gets overridden. For example, there’s a chance that Francisco Lindor could be in Cleveland and they’re going to ask him to bunt. He needs to have done it before. Even though the numbers say it doesn’t make sense to bunt and I don’t want to bunt, I need to make sure he’s done that and he’s comfortable doing that so that when it happens at Progressive Field it’s not the first time he’s done it.”

On pitch framing and quantifying it at the minor league level:

“I’m looking forward to one day being in the big leagues and seeing that information. For now, it’s mainly what I see but I’ll also have conversations with the umpire after every game. Like yesterday, I was talking to [umpire] Ryan Clark and I said ‘Hey, how is Tony [Wolters] back there with you? It looked like, to me, he was trying to pull some pitches.’ And he’ll say ‘Yeah, he does a good job, but I thought he tried to pull some in instead of just catching them and stopping them where they are.’ Because it’s hard to see from the dugout, that feedback helps me a lot. Then also I’ll try to get a centerfield camera video when I can, because I can see a lot that way, too.”

On defensive evaluation:

“I look for jumps and reads off the bat. There’s really no metrics down here defensively. But with all the best defensive outfielders I’ve ever seen, say Andruw Jones, you see the ball hit and then you go to look to where you think it’s going and the guy is already well on his way. Tyler Naquin shows me that. It’s all just eyeballing, but the good thing is, especially with framing, too, the guys who we thought were the best, are. The Molina brothers, Ryan Hanigan. I was fired up when we were watching video in spring training out in Arizona last year and then reading some of these lists as they’re coming out of who the best and worst framers are and watching the best guys. The numbers eventually back up what we see.”

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August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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Detroit Michael
Detroit Michael

RubberDucks = Akron RubberDucks, the Cleveland Indians’ AA affiliate. They were the Akron Aeros before 2014.

I had trouble following the reference in the opening paragraph, although I now see the reference in August’s bio at the bottom of the article.