So there we are, Dex and I are killin' fish tacos at the Tin Fish and DePodesta is hitting everything we throw at him. Trolleys, trains and the cackling women at the next table can't distract DePodesta. He's in a zone, we continue...
GLB: One thing that we always joke around about on the blog is the five tools. The way we see it, you have hitting, speed, arm strength, fielding ability and looking good in baseball pants. In your opinion how close is that? When you hear someone described a tools player, how much of that is them just looking good? Looking like a baseball player should look?
DePodesta: You know, it's hard to say. We try to look at players both in terms of tools and skills. Ultimately tools without skills don't get you very far. Those are the guys that do just look good in uniform. We all want players to have the skills and the tools. Those are the super stars. Those are the best players at every position. The Albert Pujols of the world, those kind of guys, they have tools, in addition to the skills. I do think we try to separate. We try to get the best of both worlds as best we can, but in general the tools without skills, those are the guys that leave you hoping, more so then the guys that are just really good baseball players that don't necessarily have the best tools in the world.
GLB: With offensive statistics being scrutinized all the time, how much focus is put on the defense in today's game?
DePodesta: Well there's no question that defense is important. Relative to offense, offense is probably more important. I know a lot of people out there say, "If you can't hit, you can't play." I think there's something to be said for that. That being said we're trying to create as balanced team as we possibly can here. We are proud of the defensive teams that we have had. We plan on being a good defensive team again this coming year. I think there is a lot of work being done in general with defensive metrics. I don't think there are any that people are perfectly happy with. There is a lot more subjectivity with defense. It's also just a lot tougher to measure. The primary reason being, as of right now, we can't measure where every single player starts. So just measuring ultimately the outcome deprives us of the beginning context of the play, which is critically important if you are going to use it as a reliable metric. So we're all going to keep trying because it is a critical element of the game and can't just be overlooked.
GLB: One of the things I've heard the Padres are doing is looking at some of the motion analysis technology. Mainly it is being used with the pitching, but with the hitting and fielding as well. What are some of the new ways to potentially measure baseball players?
DePodesta: We're always going to be looking for better way of doing things; a better way of making decisions; a better way of making evaluations. We know we don't have this game figured out. That's kind of the beauty of baseball is that we know we never will. These are human beings and they're playing against each other in highly stressful situations under much scrutiny. It's virtually impossible to predict exactly what is going to happen. We're always going to be trying to figure out everything we can to maybe decrease the deficiencies in our decision making. About twenty years ago, virtually no team even had a strength coach. Thirty years ago no one had an academy in the Dominican Republic. Clearly the whole game is going to continue to advance as we all try get closer and closer the ultimate answers [laughs] which as I said will probably always elude us. I think things like mental preparation, maybe biomechanical analysis, which people are doing now. These are definitely some things that other people have already started looking into that we will certainly being looking into as well. . . We certainly don't want to be behind the curve, but we also more importantly and more positively, we want to be on the cutting edge as much as we can. Sandy has a reputation and history of being on the cutting edge.
GLB: Talk about conditioning. The success of so many teams is dependent on staying healthy. Why do injuries plague a non- contact sport such as baseball? Are players not being conditioned properly?
DePodesta: It's definitely something we've discussed. Some injuries are unavoidable, meaning that no matter how much you train they are still going to happen. Like getting hit by a pitch. There are certain things that just happen that you can't do anything about. Other ones, especially in respect to the arm, the shoulder and the elbow. . . Throwing a baseball overhand is a debilitating exercise. Some people are just innately better qualified to handle the stress that it put on your arm than others. There's not always a direct correlation with physical size either. Some of it's certainly biomechanics; some it's body chemistry in terms of how they react to the stress or how their body reacts to the stress. For instance, in Japan right now they train much differently, especially the pitchers. They throw a lot more than our guys do. I think it's important for us to continually explore different training methods. To find out if there is a better way of doing things. Jim Malone is our strength coordinator and has done a great job with our guys. The Padres in general have been a pretty healthy team as far as the league goes in the last couple years. I think it's a credit to the training staff. Todd Hutchenson's the head trainer who's been here for a long time. I think it's a real credit to the work that those guys have done. An injury to the wrong guy at the wrong time can cripple a team's season, even though it's a team sport. It's virtually impossible for any team to be deep at every spot. Where if some player gets hurt you bring up the next guy and you won't miss a beat. You might be able to do that at a handful of positions, but it's unrealistic that you can do that everywhere on the diamond. Everyone is vulnerable in certain spots and you just hope that you can keep those guys as healthy as possible.
GLB: Here's a question about your competitive nature.
GLB: I heard from a secret source that when you go miniature golfing...
GLB: ...Not only do you bring your own putter, but you'll bring a range finder to line up your shots. Is that true or false?
DePodesta: [quickly] Every edge. Every edge that you can find, especially when you have my skill level, is absolutely imperative. Not just mini-golf, but when you have the Front Office Olympics on the line, where mini-golf is one of the events, then it is of paramount importance.
GLB: Is that something real? You have a Front Office Olympics?
DePodesta: [Long pause] I think I'll plead the fifth on that one. [Laughing] I'll put it this way I don't think any of us like to lose.
GLB: Is there a club philosophy that about the batting order and the lineup? If the team is in a slump, Bochy used to mix things up to try and get things going again. Is there a club philosophy?
DePodesta: I think the manager's feel goes a long way in toward making those kind of decisions. Often times he'll know more about a player's state of mind, than anyone else will at that point to be able to make the right call. Whether a player just needs a day or maybe just needs to move down the lineup a few spots or even if we change around the roles in the bullpen temporarily or something like that. I don't think there is any specific formula you can use, again as I said earlier, these guys are all human beings and you never know what might be affecting their state of mind. Often times it's something completely away from the field and maybe they just need a little pressure taken off of them in a given circumstance. I think the biggest thing - in terms of a philosophy of a batting order in general or a style of play for that matter. I think we're going just going to try and do things that our personnel can do, which seems simplistic, but rather then say we are going to hit and run a lot, or we are going to bunt a lot or going to steal a lot. We're going to do what our personnel dictates what we can do and we are going to try and get the most out of them as individuals and collectively as a team. We may love to hit and run but if we don't have guys that are good at it then we're not going to do it. I remember Bill Rigney, a former big league manager. I used to drive him around in Spring Training. He was a Senior Advisor to the A's before he passed away. I used to drive around to games and just pick his mind as much as I could about baseball. One thing I'll never forget him saying, "The most important job a manager has is to know what his players can't do and keep them out of those situations." Again, it seems almost ridiculously simplistic but there is an awful lot of truth to it. If Termel Sledge is leading off for us we we're not going to ask him to steal 50 bases like Dave Roberts did. It's not in repertoire. We are going to ask him to get on base because we know he can do that. Again, I think Blackie, he'll be the one who has the best feel for all the guys' skills individually, and what makes the most sense for us collectively.
GLB: Do you see any big battles coming up in Spring Training for positions?
DePodesta: I think the bullpen is going to be really interesting the way it ends up turning out. We have a lot of quality arms. We have a lot of guys that we would be perfectly happy with as part of our six or seven in the bullpen. That's probably our greatest area of depth on our team right now. That's what I'm interested in seeing because regardless of how it shakes out the outcome is going to be good for us. We have so many choices. I think it's going to be a really healthy completion. Otherwise, you're always excited about seeing some of the new guys. We're excited about seeing a healthy Termel Sledge, which we really didn't get to see much of last year. Craig Colbert got to see in him Triple A for a couple of months at the end of the season. I know he was excited about it, so that makes the rest of us excited. Certainly, Kevin Kouzmanoff we are very excited to see; Marcus Giles to see him in our uniform. I think it'd be hard for anybody to say that their not excited to see Greg Maddux pitch. This guy is number ten on the Career Wins list right now. Absolutely remarkable with 330 career wins and an absolute artist with the way that he's done it. For those of us who have the great fortune of being able to sit behind home plate to watch some of these games, especially in Spring Training; That's going to be one you can tell the grandkids about.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of our interview when tomorrow we ask why Barry Bonds gets special treatment at Petco Park. Plus what are we going to do with all of those draft picks?
Paul DePodesta Preview, Part I, Part II, Part III