He is certainly not flamboyant or overstated in his approach, but Dan Duquette has certainly made a very loud impact on the fortunes of the downtrodden Baltimore Orioles since his appointment as executive vice president over the winter. With a career that has seen successful stops in Milwaukee, Montreal and Boston as well as a thriving baseball academy in Massachusetts, the Bay State native is a baseball lifer who has learned from some of the games legends like the Brewers Harry Dalton. So it may come as a surprise to some that the O’s conservative and traditional head has taken to technology to help push Baltimore out of a slump that has seen 14 straight losing seasons, and with Buck Showalter at the helm, has been challenging for both a wild card spot and the AL East Division lead for most of the season thus far.
The changes have been refreshing for the Baltimore faithful, now again filling Camden Yards on its 20th anniversary in numbers that haven’t been seen in some time. Lots of orange and black fill the stands, including three straight sellouts this past weekend, as fans line up to see the power of Adam Jones and the surprise pitching of lively arms like Jim Johnson, Jake Arrieta, Wei-Yin Chen and Jason Hamel. Showalter preaches system and fundamentals and the team has responded on the field.
However it is behind the scenes where the organization is changing even more, not just for now but for the future. Duquette has brought in a strong support team to help coaches and managers best evaluate talent, using the best in class analytics tools developed by Bloomberg Sports, the two year old division of financial analytic company Bloomberg L.P. The baseball ops staff now includes young graduates of Amherst and Harvard to go along with baseball lifers, and also has pitching guru Rick Peterson on board to help implement the use of data, biomechanics and pitching tools throughout the organization. All those pieces are new to the organization, which under Peter Angelos was not known as being proactive in their approach to development until recent years. Duquette and company have effectively changed that approach for the better of the team and its fans.
“Over the last couple of years, the Orioles have been transitioning to take the data we have from Bloomberg (Sports) and PitchFX and leverage that in a way the helps us position our players better and make better pitches at the right time and effectively win games,” Duquette said at a recent speaking engagement with fans and the media. “I think it’s made a big difference in winning the close games. There are two or three or four plays every game that determine the outcome of every game. And if you can leverage the technology to win the game, it makes it a lot more fun for everybody.”
The team has not removed the human element from the game in any way, they have found ways to enhance the roles of their scouts and coaches, taking real-time data and video to give everyone a quicker and more effective snapshot as to what is effective and what is not. While some purists may scoff at the use of technology, there is no doubt that it has helped improve the Orioles outlook on the game and their place in the standings thus far.
“Like in everything, there has to be balance, and Dan saw the need for that balance in his approach to growing the team,” Peterson, who has used technology to help improve the pitching fortunes of the A’s, the Mets and the Brewers in the past, added. “He has the buy-in of ownership and of Buck and his coaching staff not just for the Orioles but for the whole organization, and that is what needs to happen to be successful. You have to be able to use the data to evaluate players in Frederick and Bowie as well as in Baltimore to make it work, and thus far the fans are seeing the results.”
While Peterson’s role has been to consult with Showalter, Duquette and pitching coach Rick Adair on the Orioles and spend more time with prospects like Dylan Bundy, Zach Britton, and Chris Tillman who will be the future stars in Baltimore.
The change in organizational thinking is not new to all of baseball, with teams like the Angels, the Red Sox and now the Cubs taking a “Moneyball 2.0” approach to the game, mixing analytics and baseball knowledge customized to their market to get the best bang for the buck on the field. However it is new in Baltimore where the fortunes of a team once built on tradition and a three run home run had gone south for over a decade.
That new mix of tradition with technology has not been lost at the man at the helm of the Orioles baseball operations, who has quickly helped forge a new vision for the team and is reaping results both on the field and at the box office for the first time in a long time.