Fans of Michael Lewis' Moneyball may remember him as the Harvard economics graduate that could seemingly pull any prospect out of the air with the aid of his trusty laptop. This fueled the popular perception of DePodesta as a brilliant young statistician locked in the corner endlessly running a variety of computer programs to build the optimal team.
While to some extent there is a certain level of truth in this amusing caricature, DePodesta has spoken before saber-metric audiences, including Baseball Prospectus, and is very comfortable with statistical analysis, it also falls far short of describing the variety of skill sets he brings to the Padres. He is a former collegiate two-sport athlete in football and baseball, in addition to beginning his career as a scout with the Indians for his first two years.
DePodesta believes that before any type of statistical analysis can be performed on a player, it's important to do things the way they have always been done in baseball: go see the guy. While he may not be the one to actually go see the player, one of his scouts will, then possibly another one and then maybe even a cross-checker. Then they begin to see what the statistics may or may not add to the picture.
In essence, DePodesta is more of a traditional baseball man that is comfortable using numbers to substantiate what he sees with his eyes.
A week before the end of the minor league season, DePodesta was gracious enough to carve out a significant chunk of his day to discuss his role in the organization and his views on many of the prospects within it.
Your title is special assistant to the GM. Can you give us an idea of some of the projects that you have been working on this year?
Paul DePodesta: I work on a handful of different things every year, so it really depends on the baseball calendar what I am working on at any given time. I get involved in the draft, the major league club and go around and see a handful of our affiliates mainly for my own edification. I really dabble in all areas. As far as specific projects, we are always engaged in some type of research project, we are always working on different things.
How much of your time has been spent on the minor leagues and the draft?
Paul DePodesta: Again, it really depends on the time of year. In April and May, I'm spending the bulk of my time on the draft and during the course of the season June, July and August is when I will try to get out and see a handful of the affiliates. That is more for my own edification though.
When you are putting together a hierarchical ranking in the draft there seems like such a huge difference how high school players and college players are evaluated – a kind of apples to oranges comparison. How do you go about ranking a high school player above a college one or vice versa on your draft board?
Paul DePodesta: It's a complex puzzle, no doubt about it. We mix everyone in together, college and high school. There is certainly no exact science to it. We spend quite a bit of time on every guy, and people would be surprised just how much time we do spend on the players. We get a number of different looks on all the players, and we get a number of our people that will have seen someone not only over different parts of the year, but the previous year and summer to weigh in on each of these players.
One of the things we do in San Diego is all of our scouts head for the draft, as well as all of our cross-checkers and area guys. The five days leading up to the draft, everyone has a say and there is an awful lot of first-hand knowledge in the room. By the time we put our board together the morning of the draft, all of our people have had a tremendous impact on what we are going to do.
So, you are saying it's kind of a blend of what the numbers say and what you're guys are seeing when they see the player in person to verify how much a player could be better or worse than what the statistic to show?
Paul DePodesta: To be honest with you, we start with the scouting evaluation, when we are talking about amateur players, and that is with both the college and high school players. The college performance gives us a little more information and helps us fill in the picture a little bit more. If a player is three years older there have been more people that have had an opportunity to see him so you just have more on him. But, at the end of the day, they all start from the same place and that is with the scouting reports.
In the recent trade of Greg Maddux for either prospects or cash the Padres will have a choice of two of five minor league players in the Dodgers' organization and are sending their scouts to evaluate them. I know you can't talk about which players you are looking at but what types of things are the scouts looking for since I assume you already have pretty good information on them?
Paul DePodesta: We've gotten looks in the past at some of these guys, but when you are asking scouts to file a report on another organization's team, you are asking them to file reports on every single player. Sometimes, we might miss a guy, say a pitcher misses a turn in the rotation or if a bullpen guy doesn't pitch for the days our scout is there; player movement can give you pro player staff headaches because you can have a scout assigned to see a team in July and the player moves up and that team has already been covered earlier in the year.
In this particular case, when there is an actual trade that is going to go down, there is a little bit more invested in the situation. We always try to be very thorough in our reports. But the reality is less than one percent of the players that we report on will be acquired by the Padres. However, in this case, there are a handful of players that will be acquired by the Padres, and we almost want to treat it as an amateur situation where we get some cross-checking and have two or three scouts have a look at the players so we can make as informed a decision as possible.
How much does the organization keep in contact with Bud Black and his coaches on the development of players within the system?
Paul DePodesta: Sure, absolutely. They not only get the daily reports from us in the office, the box scores and other things, but they also keep in regular contact with our Triple-A and Double-A staffs to keep tabs on how our players our progressing. A lot of those players were in major league camp in spring training and they have an interest to continue monitoring what they are doing.
In Part II, DePodesta answers whether the Padres think Will Venable can be an everyday centerfielder in the big leagues, Matt Antonelli's tough year in Portland, and if San Diego will ever move Kyle Blanks to the outfield.
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