Wall Street Journal: Team Building By Paul DePodesta

February 26th, 2011

Mets Scouting Director Lays Out a Plan

FEBRUARY 26, 2011

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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.—Before he became a folk hero for the statistically inclined, before he was even working in baseball, Paul DePodesta found inspiration in Sandy Alderson.

He was working in an entry-level job for the Baltimore Stallions, a Canadian Football League team, in 1995 when he found an Oakland Athletics media guide in his boss’s office. Inside was a short biography of Alderson, the A’s general manager who, like DePodesta, began his career as an Ivy League-educated, baseball outsider.

“When I read his bio,” DePodesta said, “I thought, ‘This is my kind of guy. Maybe this has a chance to be more than something fun to do for a couple years out of college.'”

It was that revelation that led DePodesta into baseball. And it was his reverence for Alderson that led him to the Mets.

Just as DePodesta was a central figure in “Moneyball,” the 2003 best-selling book that celebrated the principles Alderson helped bring to Oakland, he is now a key character in Alderson’s attempt to revitalize the Mets.

As the vice president of amateur scouting and player development, DePodesta’s job is to help Alderson do what his predecessor couldn’t: build an organization from the bottom up. And he represents perhaps the most radical change from the previous regime.

The last person to hold an equivalent position with the Mets was Tony Bernazard, the player development czar who was fired in 2009 after a series of heated confrontations with players and colleagues.

DePodesta, a wiry, bespectacled, 38-year-old Harvard graduate, is unlikely to challenge anyone to a fistfight. But he will bring a more cerebral, analytical approach to the job.

In a wide-ranging interview this week, DePodesta emphasized the need to bring “organizational consistency” to the Mets’ beleaguered farm system.

“It’s a little hackneyed now to say this, but we want to create sort of a Mets way,” he said. “We want to have sort of a core organizational philosophy in pitching, in hitting, in defense, in base running…so there’s no confusion when a player moves from A-ball to Double-A and a coach is now telling them something different. That shouldn’t happen.”

Alderson said those philosophies will be laid out in a manual he called a “Mets Bible,” which will be distributed to scouts and coaches at every level of the organization. Team officials are still discussing what those philosophies will be.

None of this will have much bearing on the 2011 Mets, but it is hard to imagine them becoming a consistent contender in the years ahead without a stronger farm system. They ranked 25th out of 30 major-league teams in Baseball America’s farm system rankings in 2010.

Only one team has spent less money on signing amateur draft picks over the last five years. But despite the Mets’ financial problems, DePodesta said they will look to be “aggressive financially” in this year’s draft.

“When our turn comes to pick in every round, we’re going to take the guy that we think is the best player on the board and not worry so much about the signability portion of it,” he said.

DePodesta was already preparing for the draft this week. On Tuesday, he drove to nearby Jupiter to watch the top-ranked University of Florida baseball team.

The image of DePodesta on a scouting trip, rather than sitting in front of his laptop, runs counter to the perception of him created by “Moneyball.”

The book portrays him as a strong advocate of statistical analysis over traditional scouting in evaluating players. As much as it highlighted his intelligence, it also made him look like something of a robot.

During his stint as the Dodgers’ general manager, in 2004 and 2005, a prominent local newspaper columnist referred to him as “Google boy.”

“He’s had to fight that,” Alderson said. “I think he’s a more down-to-earth guy [than people think]. I don’t think he’s this intellectual nerd running around who doesn’t have a lot of common sense.”

Nonetheless, DePodesta remains sensitive to that perception. In the movie version of “Moneyball,” which will hit theaters in September, the actor Jonah Hill will play a character based on DePodesta. But at DePodesta’s request, he will go by a fictitious name.

At one point, one of the writers of the screenplay told him, “Be careful, the book makes you look really smart.” But DePodesta replied, “I’m more interested in being real.”