A Chat with Red Sox Assistant General Manager Jed Hoyer
Jed Hoyer is a graduate of Wesleyan University, where he played shortstop and still holds the school record for career saves. After stints as a college coach and a few years working for a tech start-up and a management consultancy, he joined the Red Sox in 2002 after Boston's new ownership bought the team. Until 2005 he worked as Assistant to the General Manager and now has the title of Assistant General Manager. We are grateful that he took some time to chat with us.
Pat: Jed, thanks so much for taking time to answer some questions. It would be fun to start out by hearing a little about your playing days at Wesleyan. What position did you play? Were you any good?
Jed: When you spend most of your time around the best players in the world - and in our case, we've had two of the best of all-time in Pedro and Manny - your own playing talent gets put in perspective very quickly. I think the best thing that I can say for myself is that I was versatile. I started in LF as a sophomore because our captain was the starting shortstop. As a junior and senior, I played shortstop and I acted as our closer. In Division III, you see a lot of things you don't see in pro ball - and having someone jog in from SS to close a game is certainly one of them.
Pat: Sounds like we can finally squash the Julio Lugo as closer rumors. Playing ball really sounded like a positive force in your life.
Jed: Playing in college was a great experience for me. We had a terrific manager, Pete Kostacopoulos, who was at Wesleyan for more than 30 years. I played for him for four years and coached with him for three more (I coached at Wesleyan while I was working there) and he taught me so much about the game. Also, my sophomore year we had a really good team. We won the New England title and then went to the Division III World Series. We lost in the National Championship game to Wisconsin-Oshkosh and their fairly good Division III pitcher, Jarrod Washburn. The camaraderie of those three weeks of tournament games is something that I will never forget. Wesleyan treated us so well when we returned from the World Series. Our seniors had missed graduation and the school had all the professors come out for a "private" graduation ceremony at the President's House. The President announced everyone's name, academic major, and relevant baseball stats from the season.
Rich: It sounds as if you had a terrific time at Wesleyan. When - and in what capacity - did you make the move from the college ranks to professional baseball?
Jed: I worked and coached at Wesleyan for three years and then moved to Boston to work for a start-up company called Darwin Networks in the fall of 2000. I worked at Darwin until it went out of business and then worked at a management consulting firm called Seurat. I learned a ton working in the business world, but I quickly realized that I wasn't particularly passionate about it. About that time, I found out from a friend that Ben Cherington was looking to hire an intern with the Red Sox. Ben and I had played against each other in college and we had a bunch of mutual friends. I called him right away and he told me about the position. I think he was a bit reluctant to hire a 28-year old intern at first, but I guess I wore him down. I was officially hired the day the new ownership took over.
Pat: From intern to Assistant General Manager, how have your duties evolved over the years?
Jed: My timing was really good. When I started, Theo needed someone with good quantitative skills to help him out with some of his duties. Coming from consulting, where I used Excel and PowerPoint and did business models everyday, I was able to assist him pretty often. We really got along well and he basically grabbed me away from the scouting department and took up all of my time. From 2003 through the 2005 season, my job was to help Theo and Josh Byrnes with all of their duties. Over the course of those three seasons, both of them taught me a ton and gradually increased my managerial and negotiating responsibilities each year. Now, as Assistant GM, I still look at my job the same way - help Theo with anything and everything - but now I handle many of the negotiations and help oversee the office staff and professional scouting department.
Pat: So from the day you were hired until now, can you share the most mundane task ever assigned to you and the best, most impactful and high-profile work you have done?
Jed: The other night Brian O'Halloran, our Director of Baseball Operations, and I were at a Kinkos in Phoenix putting together arbitration binders until 4:30 in the morning. It doesn't get more mundane than sticking each individual number on a divider while the guy behind the counter is listening to a sci-fi book on tape - and somehow trying to stay awake. That task is up there on the list - and is certainly the most recent. As an intern, I spent a lot of time making "name" magnets for the draft room. That's pretty monotonous. I have had a ton of great projects too - heading out to Arizona to try to sign Schilling and spending two days in NYC with ARod in December 2003 were great experiences because it is so rare to negotiate without the filter of an agent. I think the most fun I have ever had working for the Red Sox has been preparing for the post-season advance scouting meetings. Every single time I wind up nearly pulling an all-nighter to get all the materials and video ready for the meeting - and it never feels like work. Preparing for a playoff series - and watching how Varitek devours the information and asks incredible questions - is an amazing experience.
Rich: Speaking of the playoffs, Boston missed out last year for the first time since 2002. What went wrong last season and what gives you hope for the coming year?
Jed: I guess the simple answer is that we weren't good enough in 2006. When we were relatively injury-free through July, we played well. But once we started getting banged up, we fell quickly. That's not an excuse at all, because the mark of a good team is one that is deep enough to overcome injuries. In 2005, we made the playoffs without Schilling or Foulke for most of the season. In 2004, we didn't have Nomar or Trot for long stretches. Last year, we weren't deep enough in the rotation or the lineup to sustain injuries. This off-season we tried to add more bats, with Drew and Lugo, to take some of the pressure off Ortiz and Manny. We were last in baseball in OPS out of the #5 hole in the lineup (.683) and we felt that we couldn't endure that again. Also, we added Matsuzaka and Papelbon to the rotation, and we have a number of solid options behind our top 5. Our team is deeper offensively and deeper in starting pitching and I think that will allow us to endure the bumps in the road that inevitably crop up during a six-month season.
Rich: There has been speculation that Papelbon's role will once again be as a closer this year. Is there any truth to that rumor? If not, are you prepared to go into the season with Joel Pineiro as your closer?
Jed: That speculation is simply people parsing words and over-thinking Theo and Tito's comments. We aren't ready to name a closer yet. We have a number of internal options and will spend our time in Florida , and possibly even into the regular season, making that decision. If a Wagner or Ryan had been available this winter, we certainly would have attempted to land such a proven closer. But since that type of pitcher wasn't available, we tried to acquire as many good relievers as possible and we are confident one of them will emerge as a solid closer.
Pat: OK Jed, let's do a quick case study. In 2002 as a 31-year-old, Bill Mueller hit .262/.350/.393 in 111 games between San Francisco and Chicago . In 2005 with similar playing time as a 29-year-old, Jason Michaels hit .304/.399/.415 for the Phillies. Prior to these seasons, they were virtually indistinguishable from a qualitative standpoint. The two important differences to point out is that Mueller was a switch-hitter and played more as a regular when healthy. Here is how they fared in 2003 and 2006 respectively:
Mueller '03: .326/.398/.540
Michaels '06: .267/.326/.391
What made Mueller such a good move and Michaels such a bad one (at least in his first season)? Scouting? Superior performance analytics? Use of spray charts? Dumb luck? Explain the anatomy of both a good and bad acquisition against the backdrop of these two guys.
Jed: While it's inappropriate for me to comment on other team's players, I will say that I certainly don't think that Jason Michaels was a bad acquisition. He played far more in 2006 than he ever had in his career and the Indians thought enough of him to sign him to a multi-year deal this winter. Comparing anyone's stats to Bill Mueller's 2003 season is pretty unfair. We had very good scouting reports on Bill Mueller and we loved the fact that he had always controlled the strike-zone so well. In Mueller's case, he was a pull hitter from the right-side and had a good opposite field approach from the left-side. That's pretty much ideal for Fenway Park.
As boring as it sounds, I believe that the most important thing is to have a well-constructed, well-thought out process to player acquisitions. As long as you have a plan, which the Red Sox certainly have, and you try to turn over every rock to find answers, you give yourself the best possible chance to be right more than you're wrong. For every Ortiz or Mueller or Schilling there are other guys that we have brought in who didn't succeed in Boston . Every time that happens we try to figure out if there was anything we could have done to avoid it.
Rich: Obviously Boston is different than most baseball cities. To what extent do you take this into consideration when evaluating a player's make-up?
Jed: That is definitely an important consideration for us. There are players who thrive in this environment and players who don't enjoy this kind of scrutiny at all. We gather as much information about a player's character as possible when we are considering an acquisition. We have been right a number of times, but we have also made some key mistakes in this regard. This is an area that we continue to study and learn about and hopefully we will continue to get better and better at making that evaluation.
Pat: How do you strike the right balance between scouting and statistical analysis? And perhaps more interestingly, have you been integrating statistical analysis into your scouting work to measure empirically what works and what doesn't, as well as which scouts are more successful than others?
Jed: As we see it, we want every piece of information possible before making a decision. We have spent a lot of time and energy in developing our quantitative methods and we certainly use them in making player personnel decisions. But we also have a lot of great scouts and we read their reports and have lengthy conversations with all of them before making decisions. The idea that teams are either "Moneyball" teams or "scouting" teams is an incredible over-simplification. You need to have both of those components - as well as medical and contractual - to make an educated decision on a player.
Pat: Allard Baird, Bill James, Tom Tippett. Explain their respective duties and how have they helped?
Jed: All three have had a tremendously positive impact on the organization. They each have an impact beyond what I could say in this chat, but to give people a sense of their daily activities, here goes:
Bill: Bill has such an incredible historical knowledge of the game and of the trends of baseball over time. He is always working on macro-level projects for us that generally begin with a question over lunch or something. Next thing you know, Bill is working on finding a real answer to the philosophical question that was asked. His reports on those questions have had a big influence on many of our decisions since 2002.
Allard: Allard is primarily focused on our professional scouting department. He runs that department and is a constant resource for Theo and me on major league transactions. He is a great scout who has worked in almost every capacity in baseball and knows almost everyone in the game.
Tom: Tom was hired to help streamline all of our information. We found that over our first 4-5 years we had come up with a lot of information but it was in different locations or databases and wasn't always easy accessible. Tom has been working for us for about 18 months and has made a huge difference in our efficiency.
Rich: We recently ran a series on Baseball Analysts categorizing pitchers by strikeout and groundball rates. Michael Bowden and Clay Buchholz, both of whom played for Greenville in the Low Class A South Atlantic League, showed up as among the best with the former inducing a few more worm burners and the latter doing a little better job at missing bats. Do you favor these metrics over more traditional stats such as ERA and BAA? If so, are you making a concerted effort to focus on power arms, both in terms of quality as well as quantity in the belief that it's somewhat of a numbers game when it comes to developing pitchers?
Jed: I can't get into which metrics we use to evaluate pitchers, but I will say that quantity is essential. We have devoted a ton of time to studying work loads for young pitchers and we have an excellent medical staff here. But no matter how careful or scientific you are with pitchers, there is a natural attrition rate. You have to draft a lot of pitchers with the size, delivery, and arm action to succeed in professional baseball in order to get a few that can help you in the big leagues.
Rich: Bowden, Buchholz, and Daniel Bard. Are we looking at the Killer Bees reincarnated here? Am I going to get a chance to see this threesome do their thing at Lancaster in the High A California League this year?
Jed: We like all three of those guys a great deal, but we are going to be careful not to overheat the hype machine. All three have a ton of ability, but all three will also have to continue to develop in order to have major league success. As for Lancaster, we haven't made final decisions on where our minor league players will be when the season starts. It is safe to say, however, that there will be a fun pitching staff to watch in Lancaster this season.
Pat: OK, Jed, let's move to the lightning round. Is Jon Lester going to be healthy enough to contribute this year?
Jed: Given what he has been through over the past six months, I am extremely reluctant to put any expectations on him. I will say that he showed up in camp in great shape and he has looked very good thus far in Ft. Myers.
Pat: Do you have any regrets about trading Hanley Ramirez?
Jed: Do I wish that Hanley was still in our organization? Absolutely. But I don't have any regrets about trading him for Josh Beckett. While Josh didn't have the kind of year he had hoped for in 2006, that certainly hasn't changed the way we look at him as a pitcher. Pitching in the AL East is a challenge and the fact that Josh was eager to sign a long-term deal in Boston tells us that he is excited about meeting that challenge head-on. You can't acquire extremely talented 25-year old starting pitchers cheaply. We don't have Josh Beckett without trading Hanley Ramirez. And we are very excited to have Josh Beckett.
Rich: Who has the best fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup in the system?
Jed: I guess my evaluation would be - Fastball (Bard), Curveball (Bowden), Slider and Changeup (Buchholz).
Pat: Jed, thanks so much for taking the time. Rich and I wish you and the Boston Red Sox the best of luck in the coming season.
Jed: Thanks guys.