Red Sox VP/Assistant GM Zack Scott on the evolution and use of analytics
By Jason Ward
A lot more goes into winning championships than what happens on the field. Senior VP & Assistant GM Zack Scott explains how the Red Sox use analytics.
Statistics and analytics have never been more important in the game of baseball. We see them used all the time with strategic defensive shifts and positioning, using openers, launch angle, and the rising popularity of sabermetrics. Analytics departments have become a necessity within the front offices of MLB clubs.
Zack Scott is the mastermind behind all the statistics used by the Boston Red Sox. Recently promoted to the Senior Vice President and Assistant GM of the Sox, Zack oversees the baseball research and development department as well as advising Dave Dombrowski from an analytics point of view.
He first joined the Red Sox as an intern in 2004, so he’s seen first hand the evolution of statistics over the years. When he first started, he said their data was mostly “box score level” but now they can understand what makes a player succeed beyond the everyday stats.
He’s also seen home runs take over the game and the new acceptance of strikeouts for power hitters.
When asked how they value power hitters that hit 30+ home runs with low batting averages compared to players that hit for a high average and get on base but with few home runs, he explained how the team values these skillsets.
"“We’re putting values on each event that we expect a player to create, and understand how that contributes to run scoring so we can value those individual events properly to get to an aggregate measurement of that player’s contribution,” said Scott."
Then I brought up how J.D. Martinez is almost the perfect combination of both – a player who can hit for high average and many home runs.
"“J.D. is someone who we’ve always evaluated as one of the best hitters in the game”, Scott said when talking about how the Red Sox knew they wanted to sign him. “He hits the ball so hard, and so frequently so hard”."
He also explained that they didn’t care about his strikeout numbers since Martinez was making good decisions at the plate, “swinging at the right pitches” as Scott put it.
"“One guy might be chasing and swinging at all the wrong pitches, and the other guy, like a J.D., it might be that he’s swinging through some pitches but they were good decisions,” Scott added. “If his approach is to really drive the ball, you’re willing to take more of that swing and miss to get that damage that’s done on the balls he does connect with”."
But the Red Sox hadn’t always been using stats and analyzing data as often and effectively as they are now.
"“Last year was a big transition for us when Alex Cora was hired,” said Scott. “I was fortunate enough to be part of the interview process and one of the primary reasons for that was to be able to ask questions about how [Alex] planned on utilizing analytics in his job”."
He said they talked a lot right away about integrating a bunch of new things for that season, one of which being the notecards in players’ back pockets or hats. Those notecards players are seen looking at in between batters lay out defensive positioning in certain situations.
Scott explained what’s on those notecards the players are always looking at.
"“It’s just a visual. If you’re an outfielder, it’s just of all three outfielders. There are a couple of markers that allow them to figure out where the spot is [to stand]”."
Scott is the main person responsible for designing these defensive positions, and so far he’s been rather successful. A moment that stands out is last June against the Twins when the outfield was in a somewhat extreme shift for Joe Mauer. Mauer hit the ball almost directly to where Mookie Betts was positioned and caught it, and Mookie took out the notecard waving it in the air and smiling.
The Red Sox also use statistics for pitchers too, not just position players.
"“We do a lot of work on analyzing the opposing hitters along with our own pitchers to figure out the strengths and weaknesses… The starting pitcher, he’s going to go through a lineup multiple times, doesn’t want to become too predictable, so we give them pitch types and locations that are recommended as the most effective against certain hitters”, said Scott."
He emphasized that their main goal is to help the pitcher improve and obviously to win as many games as possible.
Zack Scott was a major contributor to the 2018 World Series team, and all the work he did behind the scenes was vastly important. To hear my full interview with him, listen to episode 6 of the ‘In The Dugout Podcast’ on iTunes or Spotify!