Keith Woolner and Sky Andrecheck, crunch numbers as the two key members of the Indians’ behind-the-scenes analytic department — another way they seek to find a competitive edge to help translate into more wins.
Whether the Indians are evaluating their players, looking to perfect their game-by-game strategy, or pursuing possible trades, Woolner, 45, and Andrecheck, 32, are involved. And with technology playing an ever increasing role in baseball, their statistical manipulation is used in many ways.
[Woolner's] role with the Tribe is far-reaching. His work — anywhere from developing logarithms that produce software that analyzes player performance to developing a new set of criteria that can be utilized in scouting potential draft candidates — makes him essential to a majority of the decisions the Indians’ front office personnel make.
“A lot of the techniques we’re using were developed in other industries,” Woolner said. “The novelty is applying what’s worked in the pharmaceutical, insurance, energy or manufacturing worlds and applying it to sports.”
Appeal of sabermetrics
“I found an online baseball discussion community at rec.sport.baseball that had a number of people who were kind of pushing the game’s [statistical analytic] envelope a little bit,” Woolner said. “It included a guy named Bill James, who I’d never read before, but who began to open my eyes to a different way of thinking about the game of baseball.”
Woolner’s claim to fame before joining the Indians was developing the runs-based statistic VORP (an acronym that stands for Value Over Replacement Player), which is widely recognized by the sabermetrics community as a key component in the analysis of a baseball player’s performance and market value. Woolner’s VORP is a cousin to the current en vogue sabermetric term WAR (Wins Above Replacement).
“They’ve extended VORP in some ways,” Woolner said. “They have some different ideas about certain aspects, but in the end, we’re all trying to get to the same place: not measuring versus an average player. Because an average player is a very valuable commodity in baseball. If you have an average player at every position, you have an 81-win team and there’s a lot of teams that look up at 81 wins every season.”
Oh, how times have changed the past 10 years.
All 30 major-league teams have at least one employee whose job is to focus solely on baseball analytics, with many clubs now operating a multi-person department. The Indians can’t afford to put the kind of resources into the growing trend that say, the Red Sox do, but they have been among the leaders in recognizing and accepting how significant analytic work can be.
“For us, it’s been a continual evolution,” Indians General Manager Chris Antonetti said. “We’ve always looked at the analytical side of the game and tried to use that information by factoring it into our decision making. There have been members of our staff in baseball operations that even pre-dated me doing some of our analytical work. We felt we could take advantage of some data that was out there to help us augment our decision making.”