Tracy Ringolsby Q&A: Part 2

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Q: Statistics are not the only things being revolutionized. With the new Pitch f/x data available, scouting can be digitized as well. Do you think this sort of technology has been helpful to teams looking to gain an edge?
A: You can’t have too much information. I think where you get in danger is when you decide to replace things. Like advance scouts, is that what you’re talking about?

Q: Yes, exactly. Is all of that data taking away the advance scout?
A: Well, I think if you do that, you’re setting yourself up for problems, because what the advance scout finds out for you is information. They can pick up on things by really listening and being around – ‘this guy’s got a little bit of a soreness here,’ or ‘this guy might not be available.’ Or they can find out who’s mad at who, and who might be available. I mean, Hugh Alexander picked up Paul Assenmacher for the Cubs. He was an advance scout in Atlanta, and found out that Assenmacher and the manager were at odds with each other, and quickly called the people up in Chicago and said ‘I think we can get this left-hander, they’re having a pretty good feud down here.’ So I think the human element is still important, but I think the statistics help. I think everything supplements each other. Neither one of them is the answer.

Q: You were a vocal critic, or were accused of being a vocal critic, of Moneyball. Do you think that your points got unfairly simplified into a “scouts vs. stats” storyline?
A: Yeah, because my point was the book was an oversimplification of a complicated process. And out of that book all these people put an extreme that it was so important. If you talk to Billy [Beane], he’ll tell you that the only thing he was looking for was what was the most price-effective. By the time Moneyball came out, on-base percentage was not a value to him, because people had gotten so excited about on-base percentage that it was no longer under the radar, and the price had gone up. And I think that when you start to say that you have to take a college guy, you can’t take high school guys, you start to put limits on things and you really put yourself in trouble. You know obviously the Mets made a major mistake when they drafted Nolan Ryan, right? He was a high school guy. You know, George Brett should have never signed with Kansas City, he was a high school guy. Robin Yount was a high school guy. Even most of the college guys who are picked high were drafted out of high school too. So, you get into that and you try to say statistically that this guy’s got a good on-base percentage in college, so therefore he’s going to be a good player in the big leagues. The real world’s different, you know?

Jeremy Brown unfortunately became kind of the symbol of the Moneyball draft. But the A’s, the guys that they took early in that draft were all drafted higher than Baseball America projected they would be drafted. And the only guy they took out of whack was Brown, and Brown, if he was a $5,000 sign, you didn’t save any money by drafting him high and paying him $350,000. You know, you cost yourself $345,000 by drafting him. And unfortunately, he became a symbol and that wasn’t fair to him. But my basic thing was that the guy who wrote the book tried to make something very complex into something very simple because he was enamored with the personality he was talking to, and he did not know his subject very well, to fully understand what was being said. Because Billy and I still talk to this day – that will probably surprise people. Billy and I once talked about him buying some land in Wyoming, and I think he wound up buying it in Idaho. I mean, I’ve known Billy forever and ever. I respect him, but that doesn’t mean I agree with everything he does. Billy’s another one of those guys, he puts very little stock into how a team fits together, how the personalities fit. He’s had success, so I’m not going to say it’s wrong, but I just think that makeup in the clubhouse is huge.

Q: What is the appropriate balance between scouting and statistical analysis?
A: I don’t know how you balance things like that. I think you just have to put them together. I mean, people have different comfort levels.

Q: You had a role in the development of Baseball America, but I’ve never heard what that role was thoroughly described. Can you expand on that?
A: Allan Simpson came down, and we sat down and talked about creating some type of a baseball magazine. And, so I said to him, ‘There’s a lot of people coming out with different newsprint magazines right now, and to me, if you want to get attention, you want to be successful, what you’re going to have to do is become a niche.’ And Sporting News was getting away from covering the Minor Leagues, and nobody had ever covered scouting, and Alan had a background in scouting. He’d been the general manager of a Pioneer League team, and had been the general manager of an Alaskan team in the summer. And so I thought that should become the focus. And then I helped him with putting together people to do things. Because he didn’t really know people and didn’t have a certain credibility, and there were a lot of publications coming along at that time, and you would do something for them and you wouldn’t get paid.

Q: So you were more like a consigliore than an actual founder, would that be fair?
A: Yeah, I don’t know what you’d call it. But I’ve always said I’m from Baseball America. I think there’s a lot of people in the scouting world that think that’s where I work full-time.
Q: Speaking of the scouting world, did you ever consider trying to get a job as a scout, or a scouting job in a front office given that you know so many people in that realm?
Oh, it’s been talked about every now and then, but it’s never been anything that’s been serious. It’s been more in passing. There’s never been a serious effort on either side.

Q: Have you started to hear chatter about the upcoming CBA negotiations? What do you think will be the biggest points of discussion?
A: Probably the amateur draft. But I think it will all be pretty calm, just like the last time – they did it and nobody really even knew about it. I think it helps that [Robert] Manfred and [Michael] Wiener have handled most of the negotiations for the last three or four, and so they know each other. So we don’t have to waste a lot of time with public posturing over whose grandmother’s tougher than the others.

Q: Would it be fair to say that between your gigs with FSN Rocky Mountain,, and Baseball America, that you’re working even harder now than you ever have?
A: Well, my wife said she’d like to me get a job so I could take a day off. You know, it’s just one of those things where I’ve been fortunate, where a lot of things have fallen in place pretty well. But you’re also at a point now where you don’t really say no to a lot of decent situations, because you don’t really know when there won’t be anymore. You know, that feeling of security that you had at the newspaper, you got to put a reality check on that.

Q: You do a lot of work with the Hall of Fame. Can you describe that?
A: I’m on the oversight committee, which basically is in charge of creating the ballots for the various Veterans Committees. And traditionally, we go up every other January, and address the issues on the ballot for the next couple of years. Then we will several conference calls in between to discuss any changes of opinions we might have had or anything we think needs to be adjusted before we finalize it. But they decided that every other year we should go up face to face, and that we’d probably have better discussions than if it was on a phone call.

Q: So you’re helping to put those ballots together, but you’re not voting on the Veterans Committee?
A: No. There’s usually a member of our committee who winds up on the committee that does the actual voting. And I think it’s designed that way so that if there are questions as to why somebody was put on the ballot or why somebody was left off, we always have someone there that can try to discuss the thought process that went into it. And that doesn’t mean they should all be voted for, because they shouldn’t all be voted for. Because let’s face it, particularly when you’re dealing with players, I think this is one of the things that the Veterans Committee over time has gotten a bad rap for, is that in dealing with the players, the Veterans Committee is more of an oversight body. You know, the players that they get to look at are guys that were on a ballot for 15 years and didn’t get elected. So, it’s not their only chance to get in. Personally, I think for the executives, managers and the umpires, the Veterans Committee is a much more significant thing, because it’s the only way that they could ever get elected. Does that make sense?

Q: With the normal voting process, do you think writers should conduct the Hall of Fame voting?
A: I think it’s the process they’ve used and it’s fine, but it’s not our decision, and it’s not my business to tell the Hall of Fame what it should or should not do.

Q: Sure, but is there a voting body that’s better qualified, or do you think that the writers do pretty much as good a job as anyone else would do?
A: I think they do a pretty good job. Most of the arguments you hear about the Hall of Fame are generally concerning guys that weren’t elected. And I don’t think that’s as big of a problem as when you start to look at Hall of Fame’s and wonder how guys got elected. It’s the Hall of Fame, not the ‘Hall of Really Good Players.’ Also, with any voting body, you end up maybe having gray areas of who’s eligible and who’s not eligible to vote, but in general, who sees more baseball games in a year than a ball-writer? And you can’t vote until you’ve covered baseball for 10 years, and part of that is that if you’ve covered baseball for 10 years you start to have a feel for the people who are coming up for their first-time eligibility on the ballot, because those guys had to play at least five of the years you’ve been on the beat. So I think that enters into it too.

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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

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Nice interview.