New stats and techs continue to rebuild Nationals


For the second straight offseason, the Washington Nationals’ top priority will be filling some new roles, many of which are designed to modernize an operation that is behind the times.

Of the 18 positions created, 1 was in the major league staff, 5 were in the research and development (analytics) department, and 12 were in player development, spread across the team’s top five minor league affiliates. Based on external recruiting information and various individuals directly involved in the club’s program, here is the full list:

  • For the big league staff: The biomechanics expert who works with pitchers
  • R&D: two baseball systems engineers, two analysts, and a web developer
  • On Player Development: Assistant Director of Player Development Technology & Strategy; Biomechanics Specialist Working with Pitchers; Biomechanics Specialist (Consultant) Working with Hitters; Assistant Athletic Coordinator; Minor League Logistics Manager; West Palm Beach, FL two clubhouse assistants; and five performance assistants (one each at an affiliate in Rochester, New York; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware; Fredericksburg, Virginia; and West Palm Beach )

A guiding motivation for these positions—or at least most of them—is to efficiently process and analyze new information streams coming from Hawkeye technologies.

At the end of last summer, the Nationals equipped six of their arenas with the Hawkeye system: Nationals Park and the teams in Rochester, Harrisburg, Wilmington, Fredericksburg and West Palm Beach facility. Hawk-Eye Data, with its unique ability to track player movement, will be the primary responsibility of each affiliate’s performance assistant. The data is also critical to how three biomechanics specialists operate within the organization, one joined by pitching coach Jim Hickey, quality assurance coordinator Jonathan Tosches and major league strategy manager David Higgins, all of whom are under manager Dave Martinez. Staff.

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When the team began installing the Hawkeye technology, multiple members of the front office worried that there would not be enough manpower to sift through the incoming wave of biomechanical information. In addition to giving the Nationals the latest in player development, the partnership with Hawk-Eye adds them to a data-sharing network spanning much of the league that Washington can use to evaluate opponents and possible acquisitions.

Ahead of the 2020 season, MLB switched from TrackMan radar to Hawk-Eye cameras to collect data for Statcast. By selecting Hawk-Eye’s best available technology across the organization, the Nationals will have access to industry-standard ball tracking information and cutting-edge player motion data for its biomechanics experts, analytics team, coaches, and strength and conditioning staff.

The increase in personnel builds on a facelift that began a year ago. After the Nationals begin dismantling in July 2021, ownership gives the green light to expand the smallest player development team in Major League Baseball. Washington has brought in more coaches, more coordinators, and perhaps most importantly — a new head of player development technology and strategy, David Longley, who will soon oversee a Assistant Supervisor. There are some interesting reasons for this second effort beyond just winning more games, though limited plans to improve the major league roster make it easier to spend on personnel.

The first factor is the potential sale of the franchise. As the Lerner family continues to talk to potential buyers, investing in technology and data-focused positions could help showcase the Nationals’ health and move in the right direction.

That doesn’t mean Washington will be mistaken for the Tampa Bay Rays or Los Angeles Dodgers when it comes to player development and modern practices in scouting. But making those changes — which is far cheaper than running a competitive salary — won’t hurt outside perception and evaluation of the team.

Another factor, then, is how general manager Mike Rizzo accommodates talk of overdue growth. Rizzo, 61, is a hard-core traditional scout who may soon be selling himself and his management to a new owner (or ownership group). If that happens, showing tangible advances in numbers and technology will serve him well, even if they’re mostly about playing catch-up.

According to two people in front office, Rizzo has been “very open” to adding analysts, programmers, biomechanics experts and performance assistants — as well as Hawkeye tech at every minor league site — and over the past few years Here, he may be more likely to back off.

Part of that may be down to recognizing the impact of needing to adapt after three consecutive last-place finishes. Rizzo’s upcoming challenge, however, may be keeping the job he’s held for more than 13 years.

“We’re getting there,” Rizzo answered a question about the first year of player development under DeJong Watson at an MLB general manager meeting in early November. “We’re not there yet. We have plenty of room to get better.”

Any talk of nationals, stats and technology should include familiar caveats. If they want to really improve their scouting, player development and game planning processes, they can’t stop hiring more visionaries. Those forward thinkers must also be empowered by key decision makers, whether it’s Martinez, Watson or Rizzo himself, and not have their work watered down before it reaches the player, or kept from the player at all. Increasing direct contact with players will be a key step.

So far, progress over the past 12 months has not been accompanied by a necessary shift in organizational culture. But there is still a chance to fix this problem.

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