Questions & Answers with Jeff Luhnow

The place where GRB members interview baseball authorities.
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Post by longhornbaseball »


Recently Garcia, Hawksworth, Washington, and Scalamandre have been promoted while Hanson, Cali, and Boyd have been demoted. What is the thought process that goes into promoting or demoting players? Are results or reports from coaches and scouts more important? How much does age weigh into the discussion? Does it matter whether a player is a pitcher or a hitter?

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Post by deputyfife »

The early bird gets the worm! I can't believe I got lucky and responded so early in the thread.

Thanks to you for the answers, Mr. Jeff Luhnow, and to GRB for providing the chat forum. There isn't anyone in the Cards organization I'd be more interested in asking questions to. And congrats on signing Pham, etc., from this year's draft.

I have to say that I think the drafting and trading of baseball players is a lot like the stock markets. And I'd imagine that not panicking, and picking a player you really feel strongly about in a later round (such as Jaime Garcia), has to be a great feeling. Were there any players that you were waiting for the later rounds on, in either this year's or last year's drafts, that another team snatched up earlier than you expected?

This would be the question I'd love an answer to most:
Have the Cardinals ever considered, or talked to any media about, carrying the minor league teams in the St. Louis market? I have to think that even if AA or AAA games were carried at 1 am on FSN (or whoever), that it would garner ratings equal to whatever is being re-run at that time. Or would the radio station possibly carry Cards' minor league games? Even if just on off-days, or when the Cards have a day game, etc? From a business standpoint, I would think a radio feed wouldn't be that expensive to get going, might even break even on ad revenues, and would generate a lot of excitement on Cardinals prospects--creating greater demand to watch the big league club when these prospects eventually arrive. (and greater demand for tickets, merchandise, etc....) With 5 affiliates to pick from, there would have to be a game with an interesting pitching prospect starting for the Cardinals every night.
I'm mainly considering the Atlanta Braves model here--for years they had dismal rating with terrible teams, but it eventually paid off and they became the "South's Team", because they had been on the air for so long by the time they got good. Just putting the product on the air, even if it isn't directly profitable, can create future profits. With the proliferation of information today, fans have the desire (and time) to follow the minor league squads along with the MLB team. If only on the internet, from some family that gets free season tickets to Springfield on condition they post video from their digital camcorder to the Cards' internet site after every game.
I know that's a jumbled mess. Too hard to summarize everything I was thinking there into a coherent idea. :oops:

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Post by Michael »

Michael wrote:Here's part II of Jeff's answers. I would like to Thank Jeff again for being so generous with his time.
Continuing on,

When looking at pitchers, particularly college pitchers, how much does pitchability enter the equation? It would seem that a pitcher can have the most electric arm in the world, but if he can't command it, then it's wasted energy.

The simple answer is quite a bit. Many people are confused when the term pitchability? is used and I suspect there are several definitions (and it is not really even a word!). To me, it means being able to get the most out of the stuff that a pitcher has, hitting spots, keeping the ball away from the center of the batter's hitting zone, knowing when to throw each pitch, and so forth. Basically, making good decisions and executing them well. There are many pitchers with incredible stuff that lack the ability to use it effectively. One simple way that we use to identify pitchability? in the college ranks is to study the track record of effectiveness of the pitcher being evaluated. In this draft, we selected several pitchers that had a proven track record, Ottavino, Furnish, Degerman, and Walters among others. We also selected some with less of a track record but great stuff, Perez, Daley, Norick, and Erickson. With those that had a less established track record, we relied on our in person scouting assessments about their future ability to command their pitches. Since many college coaches call the pitches, it's sometimes difficult to distinguish between the decisions about which pitch to throw and the execution by the pitcher. Our scouts at the games develop a good feel for the pitchers abilities and future potential and we rely on that to make decisions.

Is there any sort of correlation that you can draw between a potential draftee's tools, and the likelihood of his reaching his ceiling? Are there certain players that are more likely to reach their ceiling? Along those lines, how much weight does something like a player's makeup enter into the equation when evaluating a draft prospect?

You have touched on some very interesting subjects. Unfortunately, while I know the answer (or at least as an organization we have a very well informed point of view based on historical data) I can't share it with you due to the public nature of this forum. Let's just say that if you study the correlation between stuff, size, makeup, and their probability of making the big leagues, you would find some interesting relationships that would definitely lead to better decision making. The data is hard to get and hard to study properly, but we have been making a major effort over the past two years and will continue to study it going forward. In baseball, there are quite a few myths about who makes it and who doesn't. Some of those myths are essentially correct, some are not. The one general hypothesis that is worth using as a guiding principle is past success is a huge indicator of future success. That seems so obvious.

I've always wondered if the various tools were weighted by a player's projected position when compiling the player's Current and OFP score. For instance, a catcher's run score doesn't mean nearly as much as the run score does for a SS or a CF. On the other hand, a catcher or RF throw score means a lot more than a 1B's throw score. So, as a purely hypothetical scenario, I'd think an OFP score could be created like so:

C: [(Throw Score * 2) + (Range * .6) + (Hit Average * 1) + (Hit Power * 1) + (Speed * .3)]/5

1B: [(Throw Score * .5) + (Range * .8) + (Hit Average * 1.8) + (Hit Power * 2.5) + (Speed * .3)]/5

And so on and so forth.

Is this a practice that teams employ when grading draft prospects?

Your instinct is correct, the value of different tools varies depending upon the position. We do evaluate players differently depending upon the position we think they will play in the future. That is important, because position changes from high school to pro ball are very frequent, and they also happen after college as well. Now, how you figure out what each tool is worth for each position is not straightforward, but worth the effort.

Much has been made of the Indians' creation and use of Diamondview, which I believe was created in the 90's. Has part of your job with the team entailed the development and use of a similar type of proprietary software? If so, how "up to speed" do you feel the team is right now in relation to other teams? Also if so, which portion of the organization uses it most- scouting, player development, or the higher rungs (Jocketty and Mozeliak)?

We utilize an E-Solutions program called Scout Advisor for all of our scouting reports and game day reports. Many clubs use this program. It is used by everyone in our organization extensively. Beyond that, we have some other tools that we have developed and are currently developing but they are extremely proprietary and I can't discuss them, except to say we have some world class software developers who have had a hand in it. Information availability is not an issue for our organization. I can't speak specifically for what other clubs are doing, although from what I know about Cleveland's system, it's very good.

It seems to me that the Cardinals farm system is in the middle of a revitalization. Kids like Rasmus and Garcia are widely recognized as potential impact players.

What are some other players in the system that haven't gotten as much recognition or press that the organization feels could be big contributors at the major league level? Are there any diamonds in the rough that we should keep our eye on?

I can give you my point of view, but I wouldn't consider it just that and not representative of other people in our organization. I think everyone has specific guys they feel have a chance and a list of sleepers.

In the VSL, keep an eye on Domnit Bolivar (SS), Quincy Martina (OF), Wilmer Alvarado (3B), Eduardo Sanchez (RHP), and Pablo Ortiz (RHP).

In the DSL, I would start looking at Jairo Martinez (OF), Francis Rojas (3B), Gustavo Martinez (RHP), Ivan Castro (C) , and Edgar Lara (OF).

In Johnson City, Pham (SS), Edwards (OF), Mulligan (C/3B) and Mitchell (CF) are going to be exciting, but don't overlook Nelson Lugo (OF), Melvin Puello (2B), and Jose Ramirez (OF). Elvin Hernandez (RHP) and David Peralta (LHP) join Shawn Garceau (RHP) and Blake King (RHP) as pitchers to watch closely.

In State College, the list is long. Besides the top picks, keep an eye out for PJ Walters (RHP) and Donovan Solano (SS).

At Quad Cities, Trey Hearne (RHP) and Adam Daniels (LHP) have continued to perform and should be considered on the watch list. The rest of the guys (Anderson, Martinez, Van Slyke, etc.) you should know by now.

The players in Palm Beach and up are discussed far more often, so I will leave those teams alone for now.

As you can tell, I like players. I believe that every player we sign has a chance to improve and ultimately a chance to help our club.

For years the Cardinals farm system has been ranked among the worst in the majors. Much of the blame for those rankings comes from trading away talented prospects for proven major league talent. For many years that seemed to be the general philosophy of the Cardinals toward the farm system, and it's rewarded us with sustained success at the big league level.

First, do you think that's a fair assessment of the Cardinals philosophy toward the farm system in the past decade? How have you worked to adapt this philosophy since becoming the Vice President of Player Procurement and rebuild the farm system?

I can only tell you about what's happened since I arrived, in the fall of 2003. There are a few reasons for the poor third party rankings over the past five years. First, we didn't have any extra picks for many years until last year and one year we didn't select until the third round. Second, when you win during the regular season consistently, you select at the end of the draft, so it's harder to improve quickly. Third, we have traded many home grown players, we all know the reasons behind those trades, to win now. Fourth, we have had our fair share, probably more, of players injured and thus not able to reach their potential. Of course, we want to and try to learn from any mistakes that we made in the past.

For me, none of that is worth dwelling on, but the focus should be on getting the best prospects into our organization so we can benefit in the future. I believe we are on our way and in five years time (maybe less) we will be ranked with the elite farm systems.

Are there any "untouchable" prospects in the organization right now that you would generally not be willing to trade?

I am not a believer in the untouchable? prospect. I never was when I played fantasy baseball and don't subscribe to it now. Of course, my caveat there is that in any deal you want to recognize what you are giving up and get equal or better value back.

The independent leagues- particularly the Northern League, Atlantic League, and the newly founded American Association- look like a cheap, easy way to fill out the bottom or middle rungs of a system, thereby preventing a team from rushing its true prospects along. Moreover, many of the players in these leagues have at least a few years of experience at all levels of professional baseball amassed before they arrived in the independent leagues, thereby providing a framework of expectation for their performance moving forward based on their prior performance.

What type of focus or effort is placed on the independent leagues? Have you experienced any hurdles in dealing with teams, or in quality of players?

We don't systematically scout the indy leagues, like we do the minor leagues or amateur leagues. I'm not sure if other clubs do this. I do know we have signed players and generally been happy with them. I am intrigued by these leagues and will likely be doing some investigation this summer. I know our player development staff has relationships with several coaches in these leagues and that is how we have found players in the past.

If you were creating a fantasy league that would also help you statistically analyze players, which stats would you include for the hitters and pitchers?

I've been waiting for that question! First, I would absolutely include some measure of defense. Probably Zone Rating since it's easy to get. Second, I would want to add something that rewards walks for position players. I think OBP should replace BA. I would use net stolen bases instead of aggregate. If you had to lose a category to fit in defense, it should be runs. If not, I might replace runs with extra base hits.

Pitching is more complicated because there are fewer easily available stats to replace wins and ERA. I'd try to incorporate holds plus saves to help value the middle relievers. Maybe OBP against and SLG against would be good candidates to consider.

I read an article recently that college hitters are the most likely draftees to contribute in the majors. Does something like that affect your draft strategy?

We don't rely on research done by others, but we do read it. We've done our own research on the probabilities of reaching the majors by every type of segment you can imagine. It absolutely affects our draft strategy. Again, the purpose of the draft is to find big league players who will have an impact early in their big league careers (before they become free agents). Anything that helps us accomplish that we will use.

How many players from the draft have we signed now?

Over 30.

How many draft-and-follows are you expecting this year?

We have some summer D&Fs (Erickson, Canham, Mach, Woodard) and some year long D&Fs (the high school players we have not signed yet). I can't tell you how many we might sign. Last year we signed two prior to this year's draft (King and Carrasco).

That's it for now. I'm off to watch our team in the VSL play now. I'll try to answer the rest of the questions later. You all obviously care about this team and the organization, that is obvious from the quality of questions.

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Post by ghostrunner »

Jeff, thanks for answering these questions.

There's been a handful of Australian players in the major and minor leagues, and the WBC featured a number of countries we don't usually associate with baseball. How much, if at all, do you and the Cardinals look outside of the established baseball strongholds in Latin America and Asia?

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Post by Fat Strat »

Jeff, thanks for the detailed answers!

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Post by G. Keenan »


First, a sincere "Thank You" for not only agreeing to take questions, but for answering them with such detail and candor. Reading your answers, and those of MGL earlier, make it clear, to me at least, that the Cardinals organization's success in recent years is due to good decision making, and not dumb luck, as many would have it.

My question is this: In GRB's interview with Colby Rasmus he mentioned that video was more or less unavailable to The Swing. Does access to video increase as a player rises through the Cardinals' minor league system, or is it primarily a luxury at the major league level only. If players in A and AA ball had more access to video do you think they could improve more quickly, thus offering the big league club a greater return on its investment? Or do players at that level have more important things to learn and skills to refine before they start watching hours of tape to get ready for a game like many big leaguers do?

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Post by mikechamp »

I'd also like to thank you, Jeff, for answering my fantasy baseball question. Didn't know you'd be "waiting for" it, but I appreciate the answer.

I never understood the allure to the 5x5 format. I was alway looking for a league that measured the full (offensive) value of a hitter and a more complete look at a pitcher.

Thanks again for your time. Keep up the good work.

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Post by stewie13 »

Thanks again!!!

Here a few questions for you... some loaded and some not... you decide :wink:

1. You have stated "the purpose of the draft is to find big league players who will have an impact early in their big league careers" which I think everyone will agree with. You have also stated "The one general hypothesis that is worth using as a guiding principle is past success is a huge indicator of future success."

The MLB draft has a much lower *success* rate than say the NBA or NFL draft for numerous reasons with the main reason probably being the gap between the majors and the draftees is the biggest (i.e. it takes 2+ years to make the majors best case). How much focus do you put into drafting players that will be successful in A ball? (i.e. instead of studying correlations between draftees and MLB players, what about keeping things relatively simply and focus more on correlations between draftees and successful A ball players?) With the logic being, on average, the most successful AA players were successful A players, etc.

2. With average MLB salaries increasing by about 70% since 1998 and more than quadrupling since 1990 but protected player's salaries that aren't arbirtration eligible essentially remaining the same, isn't producing cheap MLB players more important than ever? Is this logic recognized throughout the Cardinal organization? Comments/Thoughts?

3. (hint, loaded question, answer at your own risk) Are you surprised by Haren's success? An ERA+ of 120 last year, currently an ERA+ of 129... sure he had good minor league numbers and tons of talent but it seemed like an ERA+ between 100-110 was more realistic for '05 and '06 and if he was ever going to blossom into a top notch starter it wouldn't be for a few years... well he is 7th in the AL in pitching runs right now...

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Post by Michael »

Which is a tougher jump?

low A to high A?


high A to AA?