What Takes Place Beneath the Arch

Earlier this morning, David Laurila of Fangraphs posted a detailed interview he recently conducted with Michael Girsch, the 37-year-old assistant general manager of the Cardinals. It’s a fascinating read for St. Louis fans and foes alike.

For example:

Girsch on being hired by the Cardinals: “I had finished business school and was working for a consulting firm in Chicago. I always wanted to be the GM of a baseball team when I grew up, and I was pretty well grown up, so I decided to at least give it a shot. I wrote a research paper on the amateur draft, putting a dollar value on draft picks, based on recent history. I sent this out to a bunch of teams.

“I got lucky. Mo [John Mozeliak] opened my email, and I ended up talking to him a couple of times. When they had a job opening that fall — coordinator of amateur scouting — I interviewed for it. It was an entry-level position, and while my background was in finance and economics — analytics-related stuff — it was a step toward doing what I’d always wanted to do. My lovely wife, who was pregnant at the time while raising 18-month-old twins, somehow agreed that moving, and taking a big pay cut, so I could chase my dream, was a good idea.

“At the time, I didn’t know very much. I was an informed outsider. I read Baseball Prospectus, Rob Neyer and Baseball America. I wasted probably too much time reading baseball stories when I was supposed to be doing consulting work. But I didn’t have any inside knowledge. I hadn’t played in college, and didn’t know anyone who played in the minor leagues. I didn’t know how things really worked until I got a job in baseball.”

On becoming director of the newly-formed Baseball Development department: “When Mo became GM after the 2007 season, he wanted to create a more formal group to do analytics. There were a few of us embedded in other departments, doing analytic work, but not as a dedicated group.

“We formed a separate department, called Baseball Development, that focused on analytics and web development. We built the scouting report structure we use, the game report structure our minor-league coaches use, and the dashboard our front office uses to review everything. I became the director of that department.” . . .

On the Cardinals’ organizational hitting philosophy; “Is there one? Yes and no. We have some philosophies, but I don’t think they’re all that unique in baseball. For instance, there are times with two strikes where you need to shorten up and put the ball in play. You need to battle the pitcher and have a competitive at bat. There are also times in a game where, even with two strikes, you should focus more on just playing to your strengths. There’s nothing really unique, or dynamic, about our approach.

“As for our low strikeout rate, some of that is the type of hitters we have. A guy like Yadier Molina is simply hard to strike out. Regardless of what his two-strike approach is, he has great hand-eye-coordination.

“We have what you’d call an aggressive-in-the-zone approach. We don’t take a ton of pitches and go particularly deep into counts. If there’s a pitch to hit, we try to hit it. I don’t know off the top of my head if we’re more successful with two strikes — avoiding the strike out — or whether we avoid strikeouts because we don’t get into two-strike counts as much. I’m not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg there.”

On the team’s high BABiP and RISP: “Will we repeat our RISP next year? Almost certainly not. We set a big-league record, so we’d be naive to think we could do that two years in a row. Will we continue to have a high BABiP? I think so. We have a team of predominantly line-drive hitters, and line drives drop for hits more often than fly balls. Conversely, fly balls tend to go out of the park more than line drives, so there is some trade off there.

“If a ball goes off the wall, you look lucky, and if it goes over the wall, your BABiP doesn’t get affected. Maybe a few of our doubles will go over the wall next year, so our home runs will go up and our BABiP will go down. Would the narrative be that our luck regressed or that we added power? It kind of depends on how you choose to categorize performance data.

“I expect us to have a very good offense next year. I expect the shape will change a little bit. We’ll probably hit better with no one on base and not as good with men on base — compared to this year — and I suspect we’ll hit a few more home runs. We have some really good hitters. Of course, it’s still early in the off-season. Who knows what kind of team we’ll put out there on opening day.”

More here.

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