The new Houston Astros regime led by owner Jim Crane and general manager Jeff Luhnow isn't merely playing catch up with MLB's post- Moneyball era of statistics, information, and analysis—as MLB.com's Brian McTaggart reported, Luhnow has given his prize new "stathead" hire, fellow former St. Louis Cardinals employee Sig Mejdal, the most MIT-ish title in the game: Director of Decision Sciences.
"I don't even know what that means! But it's awesome!" said David Coleman of the Crawfish Boxes.
Less enthused was the Sporting News ' Stan McNeal: "Don't think this new breed [of statistics-minded baseball people] is not impressed with itself," he sniffed, adding that "some might consider [the title] a bit pretentious for baseball."
Ya think? But what DOES it mean? According to McTaggart:
Luhnow described Mejdal's new role as a systematic method of combining all the information you can collect on players, whether it's using previous performance information, health and medical information and opinions of scouts who have laid eyes on players.
"It's really a systemic approach to combining all the information into a decision-making tool to assist people, whether it's the scouting director or farm director or general manager, in making decisions," Luhnow said.
As a 1989 graduate of the University of California-Davis, Megdal spent the first part of his working life as an engineer for both NASA and Lockheed Martin, but, according to Mark Honbo of UC Davis Magazine who interviewed him recently about the Cardinals' World Series victory, he's also been a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (the organization that is the reason why advanced statistical analysis of the sport is called "sabermetrics") since grade school.
In 2003, inspired by Michael Lewis's book Moneyball, he started looking for a job in baseball. Three years later he consulted with author Sam Walker on a statistically-minded book about fantasy baseball, Fantasyland: A Season on Baseball’s Lunatic Fringe . More than a year after that, wrote Honbo, Luhnow (then a Cardinals vice president) brought him to St. Louis.
"So much of the male population spends a good part of the day scheming for fantasy baseball or football teams," Megdal told that city's Alive! magazine . "I get to do it for a living."
That's not the team's only groundbreaking hire. The 'stros (don't you just love an abbreviation that saves zero characters?) also named Stephanie Wilka as coordinator of amateur scouting, making her one of the rare female front office honchos in the game.
Wilka has previously worked in public relations for the Cardinals and as the executive director of the Dodgers's philanthropic arm. She also has a law degree from Pepperdine University and a bachelor's from Harvard University, where she was a cheerleader, something that the Sporting News 's McNeal chose to highlight in his piece. Hardball Talk 's Craig Calcaterra took exception to this editorial decision, deriding it as "lazy sexism:"
Harvard educated lawyer with major market MLB experience who is going to be in charge of fixing what may be the Astros’ biggest problem and she gets described as “a former cheerleader?” Really? Wow, that’s special.... the fact that McNeal described the Mejdal hiring in rather mocking terms suggests to me that he was looking to mock the Wilka hiring somehow too and settled on this cheerleader comment. Whatever his intention, he comes off as sexist.