If you were a supporter of the website over on Patreon you would have gotten this entire interview several days ago. If you’re interested in getting early access to content, and once the season begins, daily information from the previous nights games – that includes notes on the players, you can find out all of that information by clicking on that orange Patreon logo just above these words. Your support keeps the site going and allows me to get to more games and provide more, and better coverage. Every little bit helps.
While I was out in Goodyear for spring training I was able to get about 15 minutes to sit down with Cincinnati Reds General Manager Dick Williams. With the limited time (full disclosure – he offered more time, but I wasn’t sure how long it would take for these questions to be answered, so these were what I came to the table with and by the time these five were answered it left only a few minutes remaining to get to the backfields before games began), I tried to ask questions that I was both interested in, and that were more in line with things that are more tailored to the minor league/development side of things that the beat writers who focus more on the Major League side of things don’t. Anyways, enough explanation, onto the interview.
A few years ago the organization brought in Charles Leddon to start up the Sports Science Initiatives Department. Can you tell me a little bit about the progress of the department and how the organization is using it and the benefits for the organization so far?
Dick Williams: It’s certainly a program that we expected to grow and evolve over time. When you get into it, the whole point is to research the different areas and then see where your research takes you. So we’ve all been interested to see how it evolves over time. It’s sort of taking shape in a lot of different areas. Charles (Leddon), we’ve tried to give him all of the resources in terms of people, or financial, or software that he needs to go down these different avenues. But the overarching goal is to improve player performance through anything, any medical, scientific, analytical tool that can help them. It’s a pretty broad mandate, so I expect over the next few years you’ll continue to see us grow in that area and branch out in different directions.
The progress is certainly there. It’s really tough, as you can imagine, to quantify in a short period of time. Some of the areas like injury prevention, injury rehab – trying to prevent injuries, return people to play more quickly, they are fairly subjective, but we think we are making progress there. The sleep studies, the rest/recovery that we think is a huge part of getting the most out of players is an area where we’ve made tangible changes in the program, whether it’s the travel schedules, the players off days and their playing cycles. Nutrition is one area where we have made quantifiable improvements where players are getting multiple catered meals per day that are designed by our nutritionist. We feel real good about the progress there.
There’s a lot of work that we aren’t sharing publicly, but exciting things that we are trying to do on the biomechanical front to get a better sense of what makes a players actions work for them. And that takes time. You have to capture baseline data and then you have to observe players over time, we are rally encourages we have those programs in place, but until you let time elapse it’s hard to know how much progress you are making.
The stated plan with John Farrell was for him to come in and do some internal scouting of the farm system. Is there a plan for what role he will have beyond that once he’s completed that assignment?
Dick Williams: John’s role is designed as a part time role. He’s going to continue to do work in the game. He’s going to do some work with ESPN and have some broadcasting involvement in the game. We’ve done this before, when a guy is let go it makes sense for us to bring him in to get an outside perspective on our players. We have the opportunity to bring him in in a sort of part time capacity while he’s figuring out what his next move is. But it gives us a look at our players that is totally unbiased.
He doesn’t have a vested interest in these guys from either a scouting or player development perspective. So that will give us a scouting report on a Major and Minor League players with a different perspective. That’ll consume a decent amount of his time, watching the players and giving us the feedback. He’s got the kind of personality that lends itself very well to a cooperative relationship with our player development people and we hope he works closely with those guys in terms of passing along what he’s seeing as he travels around to see the players. I’m looking to get to know him better and our organization getting to know him better, and I’m sure in the years to come he’s going to want to get back out there in some capacity in the game.
With the Trackman system set up in all of the Major League parks, and at this point, all of the Minor League parks in the organization, how are the Reds using the information provided from that system, specifically with guys that are closer to the Majors – in that Double-A and Triple-A range, to analyze the players in terms of if they could be ready to make that next step into the Major Leagues?
Dick Williams: We have a daily set of game reports that we get that are from the night before. It’s kind of beyond the box score, all of the commentary on how they played the game, the quality of their at-bats – were they hitting the ball hard?
We get a lot of commentary that way, but we also get a separate Trackman report. It’ll break down every pitcher that threw, what the results were from that night, but it’ll put it in context by comparing it to their long term history, their short term history. It’s interesting to compare it to the game report. This guys curveball wasn’t very sharp tonight might be a coaches comment in the report, and then we can see in the Trackman report that his spin rate on the curve was down significantly and you can start to find those connections. It just gives us an extra tool to analyze how those guys are doing. Even if they are scuffling a little bit numbers wise, if all of his Trackman numbers are where we want to see them, we have confidence that it’s going to even itself back out.
With the investment in the Trackman systems, seemingly everywhere – almost all minor league parks have them now, bigger colleges have them, how do teams go about sharing or gathering that data?
Dick Williams: When you make the investment into the Trackman system, you own your data. You can offer sharing arrangements with other teams and for the most part we’ve had success with other Major League organizations of trading data that comes through our parks for the data that comes through their parks. Those agreements are made between the teams.
The Reds are currently are still in year one of their international signing penalty year, and they will still be in it next year. And the team is also now moving to one team in the Dominican Summer League, down from two. This past year the organization signed about half as many players internationally as they had in years before they were facing the penalty. When the organization gets beyond the penalties there are new rules in place, limiting how much any team can spend. Will all of these factors mean more smaller classes focused on spreading the allotment of money around to say, 20-25 guys instead of the 35-40 guys in a class that we would see in the past?
Dick Williams: I think what we found was that we were spending too much time, money and effort on filling out a second roster (in the DSL). We’d like to spend more of that on getting quality players for that one roster down there. That also frees us up to do a lot more in terms of trying out players – it frees up a field, it frees up bedrooms, to get more players in there for extended looks to get proprietary looks at them. From a scouting perspective there’s a benefit to having just the one team.
I think by adding Greeneville we’ll also give those players a place to go from the Dominican. Instead of keeping them down there for 2-3 seasons you can get them out of there more quickly. So you could still sign, if you stagger it right, you could still bring a decent amount of players through especially if you are getting them out of the Dominican quicker. You’ll just sign more for that one Dominican roster. I do see the addition of Greeneville having a positive benefit there. And it’ll give those players a way to get over to the States and start to accelerate their development over here. We really think we see a difference once the players get over here.