PEORIA, Ariz. -- If you want to discuss defensive runs saved, Andy Green will go there. He’s comfortable with spin rate, fielding independent pitching and catcher framing, too. You may have read his thoughts on infield and outfield shifting in a recent interview with Fangraphs.com.
The new language of the game is not lost on the 38-year-old, first-year San Diego Padres manager, who will likely be a favorite of the analytics community this season.
Green is the only current skipper whose career began after the book "Moneyball" was released in 2004. He hit .200 in a 140-game run as a utility infielder with the Diamondbacks and Mets, then spent four seasons as a minor-league manager in the D-backs organization, where he was twice named the Double-A Southern League's top managerial prospect by Baseball America. He spent last season as a third-base coach in Arizona, where he was also in charge of positioning infielders. Along the way, he came to realize the importance of data in decision-making.
“It’s wise to be aware of everything, of what comes down to you and what you can utilize,” Green said Tuesday.
“I saw him instinctively moving around the diamond,” Green said. “Every time a ball was hit, he was right where the ball was hit. I started wondering what he was doing. I asked him questions and [his answers] all made sense to me.”
It wasn't all instincts. It looked like it was, but Counsell's decisions were largely data-driven.
These days, Green’s challenge is taking the mountain of information now available and making it actionable.
He cited the Padres as having done a great job in working with catcher Derek Norris to make him one of the game’s top pitch-framers in the second half of the season (by ESPN's measures, Norris ranked 36th in strikes above average before the All-Star break and 13th after it).
One practical analytic application for 2016 could be with right fielder Matt Kemp, who ranked last in defensive runs saved among the 35 who played the most innings last season.
“I like defensive runs saved and I pay attention to that a lot,” Green said. “You look at his defensive runs saved and I think there were some positioning difficulties with him last year, understanding his range and where he moves best. There are certain breaks that he has that are in line with some of the better right fielders in the game.
“I don’t think that information was utilized last year to put him in the best position to succeed. Where should he be positioned? It should be to cover his weakness and accentuate his strength. That’s for him and for everybody else. Matt has bought in. Everyone has. Everyone is doing what we ask them to do.”
Green is trying to cultivate a culture of open-mindedness. He’s looking for input from the players, hoping they’ll ask questions and offer suggestions related to some of the things he wants to try. That process has started to come along as the players have gotten to know him.
“[Accepting and encouraging input] is probably more my leadership style,” Green said.
And though Green may have the numbers top of mind, he will be careful not to make them a be-all, end-all.
“There will be moments when my gut overrules the numbers,” Green said.