Things just might be looking up for the Houston Astros. Sure, their roster is bereft of talent and their imminent move to the American League all but spells the end of their playoff chances this decades, but they’re front office is at least taking shape.
After interviewing Keith Law last week, the Astros’ new GM Jeff Luhnow made two bold hires for his growing stable of pencil-pushing nerds yesterday. These are the typical “losers” fresh out of their parent’s basements, one can assume. Or, quite the opposite.
The most prominent name now on the Astros payroll is Sig Mejdal. Mejdal spent the last six seasons with the Cardinals, most recently serving as the director of draft analytics1 and resident egghead.
Mejdal was involved with modeling, analysis and data-driven decision-making throughout all levels of the Cardinals organization and was a key contributor in the Draft decision processes that led to more Major League players than any other organization during that timeframe.
You may also recognize Mejdal’s name if you read the great fantasy baseball tome Fantasyland, in which Mejdal consults author Sam Walker with a mix of informed analysis and ear medicine-soaked wit.
If you’re ever wondering why the baseball establishment could feel threatened by the Geek Creep, take a quick look at Mejdal’s resume. Not only did he earn two engineering degrees at UC-Davis, he later completed advanced degrees in Operations Research and Cognitive Psychology/Human Factors. Mejdal later took his very tall forehead to work at Lockheed Martin and NASA. Worse yet? Mejdal joined SABR in grade school, to his parent’s eternal shame.
With the Astros, Sig Mejdal fills the awesome and not-at-all made up sounding title of “Director of Decision Sciences. Which means…something tangible?
“Really someone to oversee the architecture and ongoing operation of all the systems that we’re going to utilize to make better baseball decisions,”
The Astros also hired admitted woman Stephanie Wilka to serve as the club’s coordinator of amateur scouting. She joins the Astros from the Red Sox front office with prior experience working for the Dodgers. Wilka attended Harvard and graduated from Pepperdine Law before passing the California Bar.
Let’s just say the Astros are going to field a pretty decent Quizzo team during next year’s Winter Meetings. It seems engineers are the new MBAs, which suits me just fine. Hiring and empowering smart, accomplished people just seems like a good idea if you’re a business trying to find an edge. One question, recently raised by Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus, lingers over hires like this: is it enough?
Does hiring a brainy front office provide an edge or is it now the status quo? The Astros hope they can differentiate themselves and discover better talent with their collection of achievers and deep-thinkers. Doing what amounts to the opposite of the previous regime seems like a reasonable enough start to me.
1 – lolwut?