clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Lessons from baseball: How GMs evaluate players

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

MLB: New York Mets-Press Conference Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

While sports obviously differ in the nature of the games they play, the structure of front offices are becoming increasingly similar. Indeed, General Managers are increasingly being tasked to manage and weight reports from seasoned scouts and data scientists in order to make decisions on which players to acquire. This increasing similarity is part of the reason why a high-ranking member of a baseball team’s front office can jump to a football team to fill a similar role, such as the case for current Cleveland Browns Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta.

An added benefit of this growing similarity is that we can gain some insight into how NFL GMs may operate through illuminating quotes from GMs in other sports when they let their guard down. Recently, New York Mets General Manager Billy Eppler did an interview with Will Sammon of The Athletic, providing insight into multiple aspects of team building from the perspective of a GM.

On considering all aspects of the organization when making decisions:

It’s more like, ‘Let’s talk about the probabilities and band of outcomes here.’ ‘Let’s talk about the opportunity cost here.’ ‘Let’s talk about what the alternatives are.’ Then it’s, ‘Let’s talk about the farm system.’ And then, ‘Let’s think probabilistically about all these things and model this out.’”

Relevance for Jets: I thought the idea of the ‘band of outcomes’ was really interesting here. It’s something that’s been coming up quite a bit in relation to the New York Jets as they openly court a number of QBs coming off down seasons who previously had good seasons. For me, seeing a GM comment on the same thing was pretty cool. While we’ll never see it, I’d imagine the models the Jets have created to forecast the play of Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers), Derek Carr (recently cut by Las Vegas Raiders), and other QBs would be fascinating.

On how emotional components and existing relationships weight into negotiations between teams and players:

For a couple of weeks in November, Eppler juggled concurrent conversations with Mark Pieper, Justin Verlander’s agent at ISE, and Stephen Veltman, Jacon deGrom’s agent. The situation required a delicate approach. For as much as Eppler’s job involves scouting and numbers, the gig comes down to relationships. It matters how he deals with stars and their representatives. If Eppler handled things poorly — for instance, if he had offered one pitcher and then rescinded based on a call from the other — then missing out on a legendary starting pitcher would’ve been just the beginning of the issues he’d face in the future. Good luck getting some big-name talent to call back after that.

Eppler went out of his way to avoid such pitfalls. During his first offseason press conference, Eppler described deGrom as a “future Hall of Famer.” After building a résumé over nine years with the Mets worthy of being called one of this generation’s very best, deGrom deserved some level of respect. As a courtesy, Eppler told Veltman that the Mets were talking with somebody else. This way, in the event of deGrom bolting, the Mets would be positioned to move aggressively with Verlander.

Meanwhile, Verlander’s camp granted Eppler room to maneuver. “You have to make a run at deGrom; he wore that jersey and Justin never has,” Pieper recalled telling Eppler. “We totally understand that. We are not offended by any means that you have to try.”

Relevance for Jets: While not exactly the same situation, I wonder the role emotions factor into a player like linebacker Quincy Williams given that his brother (defensive lineman Quinnen Williams) is the unquestioned best player of the Jets front 7 on defense. The quality of the relationship between the Jets and the Williams’ brothers takes on increased importance as Quinnen’s contract is approaching expiration.

On how the potential up-and-coming players factor into eventual decisions:

When Eppler surveys his major-league depth chart, he also looks at players from Double A and Triple A. Ahead of the offseason, Eppler posed a question to his scouting department, analytics department and player development staff. He also sought input from the major-league coaching staff, which is not a given in other front offices around the league. He asked each group, “We have a lot of things to solve for here. What do we feel inside of our system we have the best chance to provide the major-league team: Offense or pitching?”

They answered the way many would after scanning the Mets’ farm system. Position players like catcher Francisco Álvarez, third baseman Brett Baty and corner infielder Mark Vientos reside atop the team’s rankings and could impact the major-league club in considerable ways in 2023. But the Mets do not have pitching prospects who possess both elite talent and readiness for the upcoming season or even the next. So, the Mets made their offseason priority acquiring more pitching.

Relevance for the Jets: While we as fans operate largely on what we can see (games), teams have access to additional information from practice. Accordingly, while we view a position as a “need,” they may not due to their perception that a player already on the roster is ready to fill that role next season. This is something that may be especially relevant for recent draft picks who did not see a great deal of play time in 2022, such as defensive lineman Jermaine Johnson and Michael Clemons, tight end Jeremy Ruckert, offensive tackle Max Mitchell.

On the role of coaches in the player acquisition process:

Ultimately, Eppler won’t be judged on making the call to re-sign Nimmo or to sign Verlander. Most scrutinized will be decisions like the one to sign Senga, where the probabilities feature wider ranges and the forecasts appear cloudier. Eppler relies on his team. When comparing two players, they examine productivity and availability, with money often acting as a separator. Before arriving at an answer, he polls the lieutenants in his front office, loops in manager Buck Showalter and checks with other major-league coaches. The common process includes messaging someone like Showalter or pitching coach Jeremy Hefner a list of three names in the middle of the night. He’s seeking an independent opinion.

Relevance for the Jets: While we often assign blame and credit to GMs for the success and failures of player acquisitions, the process that leads to those acquisitions are going to involve multiple people. This was recently highlighted by the role of former offensive coordinator Mike LeFleur, who reportedly approved of the selection of Quarterback Zach Wilson in 2021 and was then dismissed following the 2022 season due at least in part to the failures of Zach Wilson in 2022.