So when Mozeliak succeeded Walt Jocketty as general manager, he already knew what Abbamondi could do. Abbamondi joined the club in December 2007, and his network of relationships paid almost immediate dividends. “I’d only been there for a month or so when we traded Scott Rolen to the Toronto Blue Jays for Troy Glaus,” he says. “Since I had helped the Blue Jays’ assistant GM out in the past in my role at MLB, we already knew each other. I like to think I’d built a reputation as a straight shooter, so they knew that a guy who was helping them a month ago wasn’t going to screw them now.”
Being a straight shooter is a major asset in baseball. Although it may be a simple game (as the irascible coach in Bull Durham put it, “You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball”), the work that goes into building a baseball team is anything but simple. While it used to be mainly a matter of conferring with scouts and drafting and assembling the best players you could afford, today’s baseball executives must evaluate and integrate information from a flood of diverse sources–scouting reports, statistical analysis, medical data, and contract and payroll figures. “It’s all about looking at all the information you can find and putting it together in a way that makes sense to help you make the best decisions,” says Abbamondi. “How can we give ourselves the best possible chance of doing something nearly impossible: predicting the future?”
If a club is weighing whether to acquire a particular pitcher, for example, one of the first questions is whether he’s likely to stay healthy. “Of course we’ll lean heavily on medical-staff opinion, but we also want to know what our scouts think of his pitching mechanics,” Abbamondi says. “Do they see any red flags that might lead to injury? Meanwhile, the stats guy may look at the track record of other pitchers who have thrown this many innings by this age.” The trick is to blend qualitative and quantitative analysis.
“The foundation of all analysis tends to go back to scouting, but that’s one guy sitting in a ballpark, and you can’t have people at every game,” he says. Statistical tools like Pitch F/x, which delivers data on every pitch thrown, can help confirm or refute the more subjective analysis. “Say a scout went to see a prospect and wrote a glowing report,” says Abbamondi. “We can check that game data to see if it’s consistent with this pitcher’s other games. If the data shows us that the pitcher was doing something a little different that day, maybe the scout caught him on a very good day. We might not realize it was an outlier without that data.”
Abbamondi has also helped lead an effort to make the club’s information much more accessible–and easier to slice and dice. For example, scouts now submit player evaluation reports to a Web-based database that’s integrated with the Cardinals’ statistical systems. “Fifty years ago, if you wanted to know about a player, you pulled a written file,” he says. But now, “I can go to one system and ask for all the left-handed relief pitchers with scouting grades above a certain level and statistical projections at or above a certain number.”