The Miami Marlins have already changed a good deal of their lineup in the last few weeks before the trade deadline, and there is a chance (albeit small, as far as I can tell right now) that there would be more roster departures in the winter months. But one thing that owner Jeffrey Loria and team president David Samson are likely to also consider is changing the front office as well, according to Danny Knobler of CBSSports.
The strong belief around the Marlins is that this season's failures will lead owner Jeffrey Loria to shake up his long-stable front office. The moves could be drastic, and could extend to the top of the team's baseball structure, where Larry Beinfest could be replaced.
Beinfest has run the baseball operations department for all 11 years that Loria has owned the Marlins, first as general manager and more recently as president, baseball operations.
Loria declined comment Tuesday. Samson would only say that "we're all worried [about jobs], and we should be."
The Marlins appear to be so incensed about their supposed errors from last offseason that the team would consider removing the head honcho of player personnel, Larry Beinfest, who has run this organization from the time Loria purchased the team.
Of course, rash decisions are not something new to Jeffrey Loria, and we knew that. And it is not as if the front office was fully to blame for the failures of the Miami Marlins this season after a good plan went terribly wrong. So if the team's front office has been doing just fine and it has done an excellent job building contending ball clubs on a budget in the past, then why would now of all times be the time to get rid of Beinfest, Michael Hill, and the rest of the cast?
I cannot be certain whether the answer is "yes" or "no." But the one reason I can use to endorse the Marlins making a change is that, no matter the record of success or failure of this group, it is time for the Marlins to enter the 21st century and begin a more balanced approach between statistics and scouting in their front office.Sabermetrics and the Three-Pronged Approach
Earlier this season, Bradley Woodrum of FanGraphs wrote an excellent article that details his thoughts on sabermetrics and the three branches of analysis in baseball. Particularly, he broke down that use of sabermetrics to three distinct categories, or branches. From the article:
In words: Sabermetrics the study of baseball statistics, baseball scouting, baseball business, and anything yet-known or missed by myself (which is the "ε" epsilon).
I think this is an appropriate breakdown of what the analysis of baseball is truly about for a front office. With the branches of scouting, statistics, and business, you can analyze and break down any move made in baseball. And many teams can be seen using a variety of these branches to analyze their moves. We have seen the impact that scouting and statistics have had int he analysis of players for a long time. Moneyball famously supposedly dug out on-base percentage from the depths of numbers-riddled annuals and into the front office of teams (the truth to that is up to the reader). Scouting has long since determined the types of players who play in the majors and don't. And now, with TV deals for teams like the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels reaching new highs and buying teams a lot of money, that "business" branch is becoming even more important.
The Marlins have an extensive scouting background in their front office, led by Beinfest's history in the business. After years of having to skimp on money for a cheap ownership, you have to figure the Fish have honed some of their contract-making (the Heath Bell deal begs to differ). But there is undoubtedly one branch in which the Marlins are sorely lacking, and that is in the statistics department. While Beinfest and company have not mentioned an outright rejection of advanced metrics and that branch of analysis, it is hard to believe that the team uses that side at all in their front office work.
The Marlins' Lack of Branches
How can we tell? Bradley Woodrum's article guessed that the Marlins were one of the numerous two-branch teams, with the implication that statistics were the missing branch that was rarely used. What other teams were listed alongside the Marlins in that group?
2 Branch Organizations
This list of teams sounds extremely similar in statistical philosophy to the Marlins' own. It is also a set of teams that is well-renowned for their lack of interest in advanced statistics. The Angels famously traded for Vernon Wells despite him being the worst asset in baseball. The Royals spent years acquiring low-OBP hitters like acquiring Yuniesky Betancourt and Jeff Francoeur without seeing issues with it. The Tigers moved Miguel Cabrera to third base to accommodate Prince Fielder defensively at first base. The Twins have publicly said things regarding the value of "advanced" analysis like "home-road splits."
None of those things would be surprising coming from the Miami Marlins. I've made this observation before, and every year it seems the team does something to confirm it. The Fish have long said defense was their focus, yet they have failed to move Logan Morrison from left field. The team has never once responded with the use of a statistic to grade out a player transaction for the team. In the numerous interviews I have heard involving Larry Beinfest, I have not once heard him quote a statistic of any kind, worthwhile or otherwise. The Marlins have wildly overestimated players with raw tools like Emilio Bonifacio when they lacked the skills to compete at the major league level.
Of the people we have heard who have the ears of the front office and ownership, things have not been pretty. When Jorge Cantu had a long RBI streak of games in the early part of the 2009 season, Jeff Conine, a special assistant to David Samson, defended the use of RBI by claiming it was the "most important statistic." When a person who is that close to the organization's ear is saying things about the use of RBI as the most important statistic to look at, it is hard to believe that this sort of thought process is not pervasive in the organziation.
Following Models of Success
Of course, success can come without the use of statistics in your analysis, especially if your personnel's scouting background is immaculate. But it never hurts to have another perspective and another set of voices in the discussion to open it in a new direction. And a number of teams who have found long-term success at the major league level have embraced all three prongs of sabermetrics. Here are the teams Woodrum lists as three-branch organizations in his opinion.
3 Branch Organizations
Toronto Blue Jays
San Diego Padres
Tampa Bay Rays
Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees
Is it any surprise that a number of those teams are either competing right now (Rays, Yankees, Red Sox, Pirates, etc.) or in the process of breaking down and rebuilding their franchise infrastructure (Astros, Cubs, Padres, etc)? Only perhaps the Indians are truly "spinning their wheels" in a similar sense that the Twins have in the last two years or the Orioles did for all of the 2000's. These organizations have two different voices talking about players, not only the talent evaluators and the mental staff discussing a player's makeup and skill, but also the stats guys evaluating their performance and looking to the future. Both sides can work together, and when they do, it is often more likely to yield success.
But the Marlins have not looked to this as a model for success. The team's in-state neighbors the Rays have competed consistently for multiple seasons and made the World Series on a similar shoestring budget and with similar stadium concerns. They have done this with a forward-looking front office led by Andrew Friedman. Under his guidance, the team has struck gold with extensions for young stars like Evan Longoria before they even arrived in the majors. Long before the Marlins signed Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson, the Rays were getting early discounts on Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, Longoria, and others whom they thought would be the organization's future. Instead of following this model, the Marlins have scuffled their feet on extensions in the past and waited until arbitration, when the prices were better set and higher. The team could lose this very opportunity with Giancarlo Stanton still.
New Voices, New Heads?
Maybe the heads of the front office are doing a good job. But it cannot hurt to get fresh voices into the conversation and to use all of the available tools for success. Why should the Marlins limit themselves to two pillars of analysis when hiring just a few stathead interns would help to improve the team's chances of future success? A number of losing teams like the Pirates and Astros felt the need to update their front offices to the future of industry analysis, and they are undoubtedly better off for it. Why wouldn't the Marlins, who have not been losing until recently, looked to do the same?
Perhaps it is the heads of the organization, Larry Beinfest the foremost one, who have rejected the notion of using statistics. With the lack of discussion of stats or stat departments and the mind-numbing discussions that have occurred, it is likely that this regime simply is uninterested in numbers-based analysis. If so, perhaps a changing of the guard can introduce an advancement in sabermetric analysis to the Fish, a three-branch approach that may help squeeze even more talent out of this team's budget. If it means that Beinfest and company need to be let go, then perhaps it is something to consider.