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Interview: Jed Hoyer

I’m Mike Lee and I am the Deputy Editor of American Thinker. I stepped outside the world of news and politics recently to conduct an e-mail interview with San Diego Padres GM Jed Hoyer. That follows below.

Psychologically, we are hard-wired as humans to want to clean house when we take over a position that oversees many others, but are we better off working in conjunction with the existing personnel? By coming in to a new environment, does it make it difficult to properly evaluate incumbent talent- perhaps because employees, unlike players, do not have concrete levels of production from which to draw?

JDH – After getting the job with the Padres, I had a lot of great calls from the existing GM’s around the game.  Almost all of them offered some advice for a new GM.  One theme that was consistent was ‘don’t be hasty in your desire to make changes.’  I have made changes and will continue to add talent to the front office, but I was also fortunate to inherit a lot of very good employees from Kevin Towers.  If I had tried to put my stamp on the office too quickly, I would never have been able to properly evaluate those employees.

How important is discipline by a GM? Can you make an ill-advised decision if you’re tempted by boredom or feel the need to do something?

JDH – The marathon nature of a baseball season can certainly tempt a GM into activity.  For one, you are competing against 29 other teams and you always have a sense that if you’re not doing something to get better, you’re falling behind.  Also, small sample sizes can often mask the real value of a player or a team.  It is really important to constantly look at underlying numbers/metrics to make sure that you aren’t reacting to a meaningless slump.

How important is the attachment level between a GM and a player? If players can be viewed solely as assets, is it fair to say it makes your job easier trading away or releasing players if you refrain from becoming too friendly?

JDH –Viewing players as assets or stat-generating robots would make a GM’s job easier, but the reality is that no set of stats will ever tell us 100% of a player’s impact—both positive and negative—on a team.  Some players offer real leadership value and others can splinter a clubhouse.  If I fail to get to know everything I can about the players, I could be missing an essential ingredient to building a championship team.

As a new GM, do you feel the market opens up or closes to you because you are a new GM? Are rival GM’s more inclined to call you and test your skills?

JDH – I think the market is always open for all teams.  When going through all the organizations to find matches, we always joke about how we must be missing five teams.  I’m sure other teams feel the same way.  I didn’t feel like GM’s were more aggressive with the Padres this winter because I was a new GM.  It seemed like all of the teams with logical matches were in contact.

Do you feel that your age helps or hinders you in negotiations with your peers and with agents?

JDH – In my experience, agents and team officials respect preparedness and directness in all business dealings.  At this point, with the below-40 GM no longer a novelty, it is far more about those two traits than about the age of the person across the negotiating table.

Does it take a certain human skill set to GM a team with a small payroll, for GM’s with a large payroll may lack discipline? Is it interchangeable?

JDH – The way I have answered this question since coming to San Diego is that it is simply a different puzzle to construct.  Without the luxury of a limitless payroll, we are forced to eliminate certain segments of the player population and focus more attention on others.  I suppose that takes some discipline, but so does any budgeting.  I do think there can be a tendency to spend up to your payroll budget number and with bigger market teams that can lead to superfluous spending.  But at the same time, there are some excellent big market GM’s who avoid this tendency and who I’ve got little doubt would be successful regardless of payroll.

As far as monitoring a pitcher’s workload, is it smarter to limit pitches thrown in, say, the bullpen before games, between innings, thereby possibly saving a pitcher, or is this a vital part of habit and conditioning for a pitcher?

JDH – I think this is a vital part of habit and conditioning, much like throwing side sessions between starts.  There are few skills in sports that can be practiced as infrequently as pitching a baseball. It’s probably not much different than practicing live tackling in football.  Taking away those chances to work on mechanics to save a few pitches for the game would not be a good trade-off in my opinion.

Is every pitch thrown by a pitcher counted equally? For instance, if a pitch is thrown in warm-ups at, say, 75% velocity and effort, does this count as a full-thrown pitch on a pitcher’s arm?

JDH – Great question.  Pitch counts have become such a discussion point that I saw one telecast recently had them up on the display next to the score, count, and inning.  I think we have a long way to go as an industry with pitch counts.  Is a pitch out of the windup as stressful as a pitch from the stretch?  Are pitches 1-20 in an inning less taxing than 21-30?  The magic number has become ‘100’ but is that because it’s a legitimate tiring point or just because it has three digits?   It is extremely important to monitor a pitcher’s workload and to try hard to preserve his health.  That said, I think there is a long way to go to find the optimal way to achieve that goal.

Describe what it’s like when an opposing player hits the waiver wire or trading block. Take us through your organizations thought process.

JDH – We have a specific process whenever we find out that a player is available.  Most players can be eliminated quickly on the basis of scouting reports in our system or with objective measures.  But when a player is worthy of additional discussion, it becomes all hands on deck.  At that point, we dig much deeper into the player – phone calls to scouts, video, deeper objective analysis – to decide if he is still worth the price of acquisition.  Everything our department does is to maximize our ability to evaluate players.  Those discussions and analyses are the fun part.

Why don’t more trades take place between teams from the same division, assuming it’s not a salary dump? If all things are equal, I would think strengthening one’s team while weakening a divisional rival is a market unto itself.

JDH – The challenge with such deals is determining whether or not you are weakening your opponent.  Or are you patching a hole they have and making them better—not just this year but going forward as well?  I do agree that limiting your pool of available players by four teams is not good business practice.  I think that trading within the division is fine—provided, as I alluded to before—that you aren’t giving your opponent the missing link or links.

How much freedom should a manager be given? For example, if you make a transaction for a player with a defined role in mind, do you tell the manager I only want (player’s name) used in the following situation and nowhere else?

JDH – I think the appropriate manager/GM relationship should be collaborative.  It is my job to construct the roster but it would be foolish to do it without consulting Bud Black.  We won’t always agree on player moves but the discussion we have will lead to better decision making and give Bud an understanding of the thought process behind our acquiring the player.

If the new baseball fan is supposed to disregard small sample sizes in the way they evaluate baseball occurrences, then why (if player options had no bearing) are so many jobs won and lost during spring training- even by sabermetrically-inclined-run clubs?  Or does it come down to something more psychological? And that is…If Spring Training is looked upon as an open competition between individuals, should the player who best performs during a designated frame of time be rewarded with the job regardless of the duration of time and small sample size of data?

JDH – I agree with you.  I always say that the fewer decisions/competitions you have going into spring training, the better off you are.   Spring training is a terrible place to evaluate players – it is a small sample and players have different motives.  When there is an open job, I feel like past performance must be a significant factor in the decision-making.  It is easy to make mistakes with spring evaluations and, therefore, you should try to minimize them.

How big is the difference between knowing your own prospects versus a random team’s prospects?

JDH – The biggest difference is information.  Getting to know your own player’s makeup, his work ethic, his motivation is something that comes naturally through time and attention.  With another team’s players, you are constantly digging to discover those things but you will never have the same level of insight.  Anytime you acquire a prospect you are taking a risk because you can’t possibly get to know them as well as you hope.  Your own players you know very well – sometimes, I might add, too well.  It can be easy to over-analyze small flaws once discovered. 

How much do you actually scout an amateur player? Give me an example of the number of at-bats a scout generally sees, say, a prep player take throughout a year?

 JDH – The goal is to get as many looks as possible.  As the financial investment (or draft pick investment) goes up, the number of reports we have on a player rises as well.  The area scout is expected to know the player as thoroughly as possible – not only as a player but as a person. We have cross-checkers and a number of other highly respected scouts in our organization who go in to see the player in one or two games.  They only get a brief look but are adept at placing the players in the context of the entire pool of available players.  With any top pick, we hope to have 8-10 reports from different scouts in our system.

Sample size also begs to trickle over toward scouting. How much can a scout derive from a player if a scout sees them in shorts bursts of playing time?

JDH – That’s really where good scouting enters the equation.  A good scout is able to project a player with few at-bats or innings and, possibly, even if he sees the player perform poorly.  It is more difficult to scout hitters because they may not get a chance to show off their skills on a given night.  A high school hitter may not see a single pitch to hit on the night you scout him.  A pitcher pretty much always shows all of his weapons in a given outing.

Is it necessary for someone in your shoes to try to radicalize the industry in some way, especially since you’re so young- perhaps wanting to leave your mark on the game? Do you think you’re at your best right now as a GM or, provided you’re still running a club, will you be a better GM, say, 20 years from now? 

JDH – I think if you seek to do something radical, you’re probably forcing things.  I hope to run a consistently excellent organization and that is the mind-set I bring to work every day. Through having talented and dedicated employees and a thorough process in every area, I hope I can build a Padres team that competes every year.  That’s the mark I hope to leave.  As for the second question, I certainly hope I am better in 20 years.  In fact, I hope I am better next year than I was this year.  And I hope that pattern continues every year.  I think continuous learning is one of the important features of great leaders/executives.  The minute I get stagnant or think that I have figured it out is probably when I need to find something else to do.