How To Get A Job In A MLB Front Office

Jul 02, 13 How To Get A Job In A MLB Front Office

At the 2012 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was asked his advice to college students and graduates who want to break into the sports industry. His answer was short, simple, and quite striking: “Don’t.”

Cuban cited factors such as ridiculously low pay and saturation of the market among other reasons why graduates should not seek entry level positions in sports. While his response seemed like a candid remark that came off as a joke, there definitely was truth to his words.

I laughed when I first read the story of Cuban’s response. I thought, well of course, it is easy for a billionaire and owner of a sports franchise to say that. What about the students who are passionate about sports? And the die-hard fans that just want to get into the game? I was one of those students. I was doing everything possible trying to crack into a baseball front office.

A month after the 2012 Sports Analytics Conference, I received an offer to join the LA Angels. I would spend one full season, offseason, and spring training with the Angels before deciding that it was best to leave the position.

Although I am out of the sports industry and I do not wish to get back into it, I continue to receive LinkedIn messages and emails from students and recent graduates who are trying to break into the baseball industry – specifically into the baseball operations or player development part of a front office. I have the same advice for almost everyone who contacts me, so I decided to take the time to write an extensive and concentrated post on what I learned from breaking into the industry and being a part of the game.

Before I begin, here are a couple important items to understand before beginning your search for a job in a front office.

1) Being a “die-hard” fan is not a good enough reason to want to work in sports. It takes just a couple months on the job before you realize that it’s just a job and you can no longer be a real fan of the game anymore. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome to wake up and roll into a ballpark every morning for work. It’s surreal to have conversations on the regular with current and former players and coaches, especially when they are all-time greats or guys you grew up watching. But what happens after some time is that you become desensitized to the awesomeness, the same way your brand new car becomes simply a means for transportation after owning it for a few months. Be prepared to lose the ability to sit back, relax, and enjoy yourself while watching a game.

2) Why should you be hired by a MLB front office? Does your answer have anything to do with the fact that you are extremely passionate and hard working… you are willing to work for free… you are willing to work an unlimited number of hours per week… et cetera et cetera? Well good for you, because none of that makes you special. All those points are minimum requirements that are expected for anyone who works in the front office. So it is in your best interest to never mention any of those points in an interview because it just makes it sound like you don’t have any unique skill sets or knowledge that will add value to an organization.

Becoming A Unique Candidate

First of all, never settle. Understand what your worth is. This isn’t just for sports, but it is important for life in general. People will tell you to do whatever it takes to “get your foot in the door”. I really don’t like that phrase for a number of reasons, most importantly because majority of the time that phrase is simply another way of someone telling you that you should settle for the easiest and quickest option.

When people tell you it’s tough to get a job in baseball – they aren’t lying. It’s really difficult to get a front office internship. And I say internship because the majority of people will have to start off as an intern unless you can show that you are extremely unique. To be categorized as extremely unique, you either need to have extensive work experience in an analytic or baseball-related field or you need to have a really good connection in the game.

Either way, you need to distinguish yourself in some way in order to truly be considered as a candidate for a front office internship. There are many ways to do this but the general idea is that you NEED to show a team exactly how you can add value to the organization the first day you step into the office.

How To Add Value

If you want to work in the front office, make sure you understand the rules and regulations on how the front office operates. That means, read, re-read and analyze the MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement. This is extremely important for both baseball operations and player development.

Focus on the transaction-related elements of the CBA. You should understand exactly how every single transaction (trade, free agent sign, amateur sign, international sign, waiver claim, etc.) works. What are the basic rules of the transaction? Is there a grey area in the rule that teams can take advantage of? Become an expert on this.

Next, you need to prepare yourself to create an analysis report which shows you identifying an issue a team is dealing with and gives a detailed solution on how you can solve that issue. This is tough, but it will nearly guarantee you a job if executed correctly.

There are many ways to do this, especially if you already know a topic that you are interested in researching, but here is a rundown of what this process might look like if you are starting from absolute scratch.

Try to categorize each team into general groups based on the way their front office operates. Do this by studying each teams’ payroll initially to get an idea whether they are a big spending team (NYY), small market team (PIT), or somewhere in the middle (ATL). Next, study the GMs of each to get an idea of their strategy and biases. Example – the Angels are a big spending team but their front office is composed of folks coming from smaller market clubs (GM Jerry Dipoto from Arizona and AGM Matt Klentak from Baltimore). Therefore you can understand that comparing the Yankees front office to the Angels simply based on payroll is not necessarily accurate. You getting the point?

After getting a general understanding of each team in baseball, you can start identifying the common issues that teams face each year. Maybe you find that big market teams are busting on blockbuster free-agent signings at an abnormally high rate. Why is that happening? Is there difference in performance between players who sign long term contracts with new teams in free agency versus those who sign long term extensions with their existing teams? If your preliminary research shows that there may be something interesting here then run some numbers to do a full statistical analysis comparing the historical results between free agent contracts and contract extensions.

Another example is performing an analysis on spending in the MLB draft vs spending on amateur free agents in Latin America. You can start by filtering historic comparisons based on position, age, signing bonus, and stats. Does any of the data show statistically significant correlations?

There is a lot of leeway here of course. You need to be creative to come up with a relevant problem to solve and a statistically significant answer the that problem. Even if your solution isn’t perfect, what’s important is the process you went through to find that solution and what you learned through your experience.

You will succeed with this step if you find a topic that you are really passionate about, whether it is the amateur draft, rule 5 draft, international signings, waiver wire, DFA, minor league free agents, injury history and prevention, defensive metrics, catcher defensive metrics, etc. There are hundreds of areas in baseball that are in need of far more research and analysis.

Statistical Analysis

I’ve thrown this term around a lot and I understand that it sounds scary for people who don’t have confidence in their math skills. Good thing is, you can have average math skills and still conduct valuable statistical analysis. What’s even better is that there are plenty of ways to master programming skills and analysis tools for free online.

Start by understanding what stats are important and why they are important – You should be familiar with everything on the Fangraphs Library and start reading as many Baseball Prospectus articles as possible.

Beef up your Excel skills. Knowing how to make pivot tables and how to use vlookup is cool but if you are serious, get your hands on a VBA book and learn how to program macros.

Get an understanding of what SQL is. If you are going to start anywhere, this is probably the best way to go because nearly every team in baseball employs people with SQL skills in the front office.

Test out your skills by downloading free raw statistical data from Sean Lahman. You can also purchase various data including minor league stats and college stats from The Baseball Cube.

Learn How To Program

Need to learn SQL or VBA from scratch? Start with YouTube. You will be amazed at what you can learn on YouTube.

Other places to learn programming for free: Udacity, CodeAcademy, and Udemy.

In short, the more programming you know, the better off you will be. But please, MAKE USE OF YOUR PROGRAMMING SKILLS. What I mean by that is exactly what I have stated throughout this post – find a problem on your own and solve it using your skills.

Example – Victor Wang of the Cleveland Indians

Victor Wang is a prime example of exactly what I am talking about in this blog post. Long story short, he never played baseball past Little League and now just a year after graduating from college, he is the Assistant Director of Pro Scouting for the Cleveland Indians. Listed below are some of his writings which showcase his analysis on prospects which was good enough to catch the eye of the Indians front office while Wang was just a freshman.

Prospect Evaluation

Hidden Value of Prospects

Valuing the Draft

Prospects and Imperfect Information

Get People To Know You

Send your resume and sample work to everyone. You never know who is interested and who can get you a job. This may seem daunting because you will have to send (literally) hundreds of emails out, but it is actually not that difficult. Just a little time consuming.

Each team has a specific format for the emails of their front office employees. You just need to find out the format each team uses and then you have the email address for everyone in the front office. Here are some examples for the name Matt Smith: matt.smith@team.com msmith@team.com mattsmith@team.com

Using the front-office information pages on each team’s website along with a little research on google, you should be able to find out the email-address format for every team in the league.

Some teams change the format just for the GMs, Presidents, and Owners but that is fine because you really have no business sending them emails anyways. So who should you email?

I found the most success emailing people with the title Director of Baseball Operations and anyone below them. Very rarely (almost never) is the Assistant GM the right person to email. Don’t be shy to email multiple people in the same front office. I would suggest going for the Director of Baseball Operations, Director of Player Personnel, Coordinator of Baseball Operations, and any Assistants of Baseball Operations. These are usually the people who are reviewing resumes.

Don’t just email. Using snail mail can definitely be a winner. Some front offices have old school folks who will actually open up your mail and read what you have to say. It’s too easy to delete one of hundreds of emails that these folks are receiving on a daily basis. I recommend emailing at least 2-3 people in each front office and sending mail to at least two people in every front office.

Don’t Fall For The “Sport Management” Nonsense

What I mean by this is: There is never a right reason to get an undergraduate degree in sports management or even worse (dare I say) graduate degree in sports management. No degree can teach you what it is like to work for a front office, you simply just have to do it to learn how to do it. If that makes sense. The sport management degree is a waste of time and isn’t even respected by front offices these days. The only team I know that specifically targets sports management majors is the San Francisco Giants. They hire interns specifically from sport management programs in the Bay Area. Trust me though, those internships are not quality ones that you want to get.

Also, please don’t go to law school just because Theo Epstein did. If you want to add a degree or add skills to your arsenal, the best thing to do is study computer science and engineering with a minor or double major in Spanish. Every team needs statistical analysts who have love for the game, a thorough understanding of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, mastery of sabermetric statistics, and programming knowledge to manage and manipulate data. Law school or sport management degrees won’t directly help you with that.

Assumptions

You do not come from a professional playing background: Typically players fresh off the field are able to jump right into a player development / scouting role with a front office.

The hiring team is in the 21st century and embraces advanced statistical analysis. This is the case with almost all teams with some exceptions being Philadelphia, Seattle, and Miami (I believe). Possibly Atlanta as well.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Please send me a message if you currently work in baseball and feel that I left something significant out of this post.

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Dontrelle Willis is Still Valuable

Mar 21, 12 Dontrelle Willis is Still Valuable

Just days after being released by the Philadelphia Phillies this spring, Dontrelle Willis signed a minor league deal with Baltimore Orioles. You may be wondering why teams keep signing Willis, who has been with six teams (Tigers, Giants, Diamondbacks, Reds, Phillies, and Orioles) since 2010. I wonder the same because all of these teams (with minor exception to the Giants) did not try Dontrelle out as a lefty specialist in the bullpen – he continues to be placed in the rotation, where he has been atrocious since 2007.

Here is why Dontrelle Willis is valuable if he is used exclusively as a lefty specialist.

Take a look at Dontrelle Willis‘ splits for key statistics in 75.2 innings last year and in his career as a whole underneath. The main numbers that pop out are his BAA (Batting Average Against) and K/9. Lefty batters have hit just .196 against Willis throughout his career, while RHBs have hit a respectable .276. Even more astounding – Willis’ strike out rate for LHBs is nearly doubled that of RHBs in his career (10.5 K/9 vs 5.72 K/9).

BAA vs L BAA vs R K/9 vs L K/9 vs R Strike% vs L Strike% vs R GB% vs L GB% vs R
2011 .123 .298 10.59 5.68 71.10% 60.60% 58.30% 53.80%
Career .196 .276 10.5 5.72 65.70% 61.10% 51.0% 45.0%

 

Two reasons for his success vs LHBs: 1) He throws strikes significantly more often to LHBs than he does to RHBs and 2) He induces ground-balls more often vs LHBs than he does vs RHBs.

Even though Willis has lost his overpowering velocity, he is able to succeed vs LHBs because of his off-speed pitches (slider and curve) which he has become more reliant on in recent years.

Another interesting note is Willis’ swinging strike percentage, which jumped up to 15% last year – the first time it reached such high margin since leaving the Marlins.

If Baltimore puts Dontrelle in the bullpen as a lefty specialist, the team will have a valuable asset.

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On the Road

Mar 19, 12 On the Road

Apologies for not posting over the last three days. I have been on the road from Sacramento to the Bay Area to Los Angeles to Arizona, where I will be for at least one week. I will be back with the analyses tomorrow but for now, here are some quick thoughts from the Diamondbacks – Athletics game today.

  • Gerardo Parra is making a strong case to start in LF, even with the Jason Kubel signing. Parra made two spectacular diving catches today while finishing 1-3 at the plate. His named has swirled in trade talks with the Nationals (as they search for a CF) but Kevin Towers is reportedly asking for a lot in return.
  • Both starters, Jarrod Parker and Josh Collmenter had rough outings. Collmenter left too many pitches up in the zone and subsequently, gave up two home runs in three innings of work. Parker allowed just one hit but struggled with his control, walking seven in three and two-thirds innings pitched.
  • Manny Ramirez launched a ball to deep center for his second home run on the spring. I am confident he will be a stud once he comes back from his 50-game suspension. Manny showed great patience at the plate (as usual) – his swing will come along.
  • Yoenis Cespedes is definitely a physical beast. Word is that he will be starting in CF opening day as he has a much better arm than Coco Crisp who will be pushed over to LF. I worry about Cespedes’ patience at the plate – he loves to swing and takes big hacks. I would like to see him learn some patience from ManRam.

That’s it for now – look forward to being back on the analytic grind tomorrow. Keep an eye out for posts on defensive metrics and Jose Reyes’ contract – coming soon.

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Offseason Overview – Pittsburgh Pirates

Mar 15, 12 Offseason Overview – Pittsburgh Pirates

Previously: San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves

Pittsburgh Pirates

2011 RECORD: 72-90

PRESIDENT: Frank Coonelly GM: Neal Huntington

KEY ACQUISITIONS: Clint Barmes, Erik Bedard, Rod Barajas, A.J. Burnett, Nate McClouth, Casey McGehee, Doug Slaten

KEY DEPARTURES: Derrek Lee, Ryan Ludwick, Paul Maholm, Joe Beimel, Ryan Doumit, Nelson Figueroa, Ross Ohlendorf, Chris Snyder, Jose Veras

1992 was the last time the Pirates finished a season with a winning record – the club posted a 96-66 record. It is possible that the Pirates snap that streak in 2012.

The highlight of the offseason was undoubtedly Andrew McCutchen‘s 6-year $51.5MM extension with a 7th year club option. I won’t analyze the brilliance of this deal too much and instead will hand it off to Dave Cameron of FanGraphs who explains why this deal is a major win for the Bucs.

The fact is that the Pirates locked up McCutchen to essentially the same contract that Juston Upton signed two years prior and Jay Bruce signed 15 months prior – and McCutchen is a far more statistically achieved player than either Upton or Bruce from the time they signed extensions. It’s not even close.

Length Value Date Signed Age MLB Service Career WAR
Andrew McCutchen 6 + 1/club $51.5MM 3/6/2012 25 2.123 12.9
Jay Bruce 6 + 1/club $51.25MM 12/10/2010 23 2.125 8
Justin Upton 6 $51.25MM 3/4/2010 22 2.060 5.2

 

This table graphically depicts the brilliance in the Pirates extension of McCutchen. When comparing McCutchen to his counterparts (at the time each signed their respective extension): McCutchen is slightly older and more experienced  than both Bruce and Upton. He also has provided nearly five more wins above replacement than Jay Bruce and more than doubles Upton’s WAR. WOW!

McCutchen is THE stereotypical 5-tool player. He hits for average and power, gets on base, steals bases, and he even drastically improved his defense in 2011. His career line is .276/.365/.458 with a stellar .363 wOBA – he has also stolen 78 bases.

The 7th year club option at $15.75MM is the real winner in this deal. Assuming McCutchen keeps at his pace (or close), he will be worth for more than $15.75MM in 2018, thus; with the option, the Pirates get McCutchen from ages 25-31 for $64MM.  Let’s be real, this is one of the best moves the franchise could possibly do.

Clint Barmes will be the new man at shortstop and Rod Barajas will hold down the backstop. These are two guys that will struggle significantly at the plate, however; Barmes is a plus defender. Barajas is a bland move; he brings a veteran presence and some pop but he rarely gets on base and sports a career .299 wOBA. The 7,8,9 spots in the lineup should be a breeze for opposing pitchers.

Two moves I liked by the Pirates: 1) Bringing aboard Erik Bedard and 2) Trading for A.J. Burnett

Both moves are great strategies for a small-cap team as Bedard is cheap because of his injury issues and Burnett is actually undervalued at the 2-year $13MM rate he comes at. Eric Seidman of FanGraphs explains the Burnett move.

Short story on Burnett: His xFIP was 3.86 last year and one of the main reasons for his struggles is he gets torched by lefties in Yankee stadium, where almost any fly ball seems to get over the right-field wall. It’s unfortunate that Burnett is out a 2-3 months after injuring himself while trying to bunt in practice. Otherwise, his presence brings stability to a shaky Pirates rotation.

Bedard is coming off a solid year in which he posted a 3.64 FIP in 129.1 innings, right in line with his career numbers. The catch on Bedard is that he has only thrown 293.1 innings in the last four years combined. But that is exactly why he comes at a low-cost-low-risk one-year deal. I wouldn’t expect more than 120 innings out of him this year. Here is the intuition: If Bedard has another good first-half of the season and 1) the Pirates are in contention – keep him and ride his arm out till it falls;or 2) if the club is not in contention, you move him to a desperate club and receive a low-mid level prospect in return. As I mentioned before, with the changes to the CBA, there will be more buyers at the trade deadline.

2012 PAYROLL

The Pirates are expected to have a league-low $46MM payroll. This is a talented roster and to be at just $46MM is impressive. If the Bucs are hot as mid-season approaches, expect Huntington to make the moves necessary to push hard for a postseason birth — even if it means expanding the payroll constraints.

2012 OUTLOOK

I was definitely buying in for the Pirates to end their losing seasons streak until Burnett was set back with his injury. It will be tough but here is how the Pirates can crack an 82 win season.

1) McCutchen needs to take another giant stride forward and put up a 7 WAR season. He is definitely capable of it.

2) Pedro Alvarez must bounce back and live up to the slugging persona he is expected to have. Alvarez hit below the Mendoza line last year and consequently lost his job (and MLB roster spot) at the hot corner, however; this kid has pop and he has showed it along with patience at the plate in the minor leagues. If Alvarez can post a full season of .365 wOBA, the Pirates will be able to overlook the offensive inabilities of Barmes and Barajas.

Given those two scenarios, I have enough faith in the Pirates working with a patch-up rotation while making moves at the trade deadline to make a serious push for the post season.

Worst case, none of the above happens, and the Pirates get to add another stud prospect to their minor league system next draft.

LONG-TERM OUTLOOK

Pittsburgh has one of the top minor league systems in terms of talent. They are top heavy, led by big-name guys: Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, and Josh Bell. Couple that with McCutchen locked in for 6-7 years, Tabata locked in long term, and Alex Presley budding as a speedy lead-off hitter – the Pirates can have a low-payroll contending team relatively soon.

Don’t be surprised to see the Bucs in the playoffs within the next four or five years (I know sounds like a long time, but remember that 1992 was the last winning season).

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Jeffrey Loria and the Marlins Offseason Splurge

Mar 13, 12 Jeffrey Loria and the Marlins Offseason Splurge

In Baseball Prospectus’ Baseball Between the Numbers, Jonah Keri considers whether former Florida Marlins owner, Wayne Huizenga is a genius. Huizenga bought the Marlins as an expansion club in1993 and later oversaw the club’s first world series championship in 1997, just five years after its expansion. The story of what unfolded after the 1997 season is a fascinating one – one that is hard to swallow for Marlins fans in South Beach.

Throughout the first four years of the Marlins existence, Huizenga ran the club with a low payroll. The 1996 season was a promising one for Florida. While the club finished just under .500, it consisted of promising young stars Edgar Renteria, Garry Sheffield, Charles Johnson, and Greg Colbrunn. The Marlins also boasted a stellar pitching staff headed by Kevin Brown and Al Leiter to compliment star close Robb Nen.

Huizenga realized the slim window of opportunity for his club and decided to splurge in the offseason following the 1996 year, spending $90MM and raising payroll by 68%. The key factor in these signings is Huizenga’s unwillingness to include no-trade clauses in contracts.

The Marlins went on to win the 1997 World Series with this epic hit by Renteria in the bottom of the 9th.

Following the World Series, Wayne Huizenga completely dismantled the club, trading all valuable assets. He understood that the team already capitalized from the World Series victory through season ticket sales, merchandise sales, media contracts, etc., and that it he would be able to capitalize even more by shrinking payroll to a minimal level.

Why do I bring this up?
Current Miami Marlins owner, Jeffrey Loria is known for implementing the same policy of not including no-trade clauses in contracts greater than one-year in length. Ok, so the Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein don’t like no-trade clauses either. Also significant in the Marlins recent offseason spending-spree: The contracts signed by Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell are heavily back-loaded and include bonuses that are deferred with no interest ($3MM for Bell and $4MM for Buehrle).

2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Jose Reyes $10MM $10MM $16MM $22MM $22MM $22MM $22MM club/$4MM buyout
Mark Buehrle $6MM $11MM $18MM $19MM
Heath Bell $6MM $9MM $9MM

 

To put this in perspective, in 2014, the Marlins have $59MM guaranteed to just four players (Reyes, Buehrle, Bell, and Hanley Ramirez). This is just $1.4MM shy of the clubs largest opening day payroll in franchise history. Something doesn’t seem right… and I’m not buying the fact that Loria (the man who kept a $14.9MM team payroll in 2006 and claimed team operating losses in order to get the city of Miami to pay the majority of the Marlins new ballpark) is all of a sudden ready to turn his club into the Yankees.

It can be argued that the heavy back-loaded contracts make trading the players more difficult as they age but that may not be the case if Reyes, Buehrle, and Bell each stay close to their 2011 numbers in 2012.

What to expect? If the Marlins win the World Series next year, I would not be surprised if Reyes and/or Buehrle are moved. Sounds crazy right? But so was the epic dismantling of the 1997 Marlins.

This is actually a savvy business and baseball move by Loria (as it was for Huizenga) if he is able to pull it off. To understand why, you must understand the theory of The Success Cycle. The theory, which has been much debated, essentially states that each team resides on a certain place within the success cycle (broadly: rebuilding, building, and competing) and must act accordingly to its position in the cycle in order to reach ultimate success – a World Series Championship. This sounds fair considering that not many teams can really compete for a championship every year for a decade or more (the Braves and Yankees are two notable exceptions).

If you buy into this theory, then, as Jonah Keri claims in Baseball Between the Numbers, Wayne Huizenga is a genius and Jeffrey Loria may be following those footsteps.

After all, you may criticize the Marlins ownership, but they have brought two World Series Championships to South Beach in just 19 years of existence.

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