Dave Dombrowski

Dave Dombrowski, Prospects, Stats and Nuance

Since the Red Sox announced Dave Dombrowski’s hiring and Ben Cherington’s departure, the prevailing focus has centered on how much change the move will bring about within the organization.

Indeed, there’s little doubt Dombrowski’s arrival signals the end of a certain chapter in club history. The Red Sox, since Theo Epstein’s rise to GM over a decade ago through Cherington’s sudden departure Tuesday, have taken a uniform approach to team-building. They’ve leaned heavily on analytics and thrown loads of resources into scouting and player development, seeking to amass in-house talent that can be supplemented with one of the league’s biggest payrolls.

In the past couple days, many have focused on Dombrowski’s track record and noted how much his approach to roster construction in Detroit differed from Boston’s traditional tactics under John Henry’s ownership. During his time with the Tigers, Dombrowski was known as a shrewd trader, and someone who aggressively dealt away prospects for major league pieces. Detroit seldom had a good farm system over the last decade, which differs mightily from a Boston organization that has frequently boasted some of the game’s best minor league talent in recent years.

In addition, many have been quick to label Dombrowski as an “old-school” executive far removed from the type of new-school thinking that Epstein and Cherington espouse. On the surface, then, Dombrowski’s arrival appeared to signal a change in philosophy for a Red Sox front office that has long been known as one of the most progressive in baseball.

Yet simply saying that Dombrowski eschews analytics entirely, and that the Red Sox will suddenly alter the strategy that has won them three World Series titles since 2004, feels a bit shortsighted. So too does the notion that Dombrowski will rapidly begin dealing away all of the club’s best prospects for established big leaguers this offseason.

Dombrowski rarely built strong farm systems in Detroit largely because the Tigers were so good and so rarely picked near the top of the draft. Moreover, team owner Mike Illitch has never hid his desire to bring a championship to Detroit, which gave Dombrowski the impetus to make win-now move after win-now move. When the present is ownership’s sole focus, building a strong farm system is never going to top a GM’s priority list.

All of which demonstrates how different a situation Dombrowski now finds himself in with Boston compared to his time in Detroit. Yes, he’ll probably trade away some young talent to help the big league roster this offseason, but any talk of a prospect fire-sale is likely overblown. Yes, Dombrowski may not be a “sabermetrics guy,” but the Tigers also never had the kind of analytics department in place that Boston has spent years building.

In many ways, the labeling of Dombrowski as an “old-school” evaluator is simply a product of the lingering desire to pit stats and scouting against each other.

During his tenure with the Tigers, Dombrowski seldom enjoyed the depth of minor league talent that he now has at his disposal in Boston. With loads of touted prospects and an ownership group that understands the value of homegrown players, something tells me Dombrowski will end up keeping more youngsters than he trades away.

As for the organization’s commitment to analytics, that approach has always come straight from Henry, who originally hired Epstein to employ just such a numbers-driven method. With Henry still in charge and much of the team’s analytics infrastructure still in place, Dombrowski will surely have plenty of reason to use all the progressive information the Red Sox can come up with when making personnel decisions.

In many ways, the labeling of Dombrowski as an “old-school” evaluator is simply a product of the lingering desire to pit stats and scouting against each other. Just as most organizations make use of both scouting and analytics, so too will Dombrowski make use of all the information at his disposal, a notion he stressed during Wednesday’s introductory press conference. And after all, Cherington started out in Boston as a scout under Dan Duquette.

The Red Sox have long been an organization that uses scouting reports to inform their decision-making. But they’ve also found great success by pushing the envelope, seeking new ways in which they can gather and use data as an informational tool.

In Detroit, Dombrowski didn’t have the luxury of an ownership group that invested heavily in finding innovative ways to gain an edge. Boston’s faith in analytics will only give Dombrowski another source of insight as he rebuilds the roster.

To be sure, Dombrowski’s hiring will bring some change within the Red Sox front office. Cherington is already gone, and there will surely be plenty of baseball ops employees who also depart the organization. Boston does seem ready to begin dealing away a few more prospects than it has in the past, though that doesn’t mean the Red Sox are suddenly going to abandon the focus on scouting and player development that has served them so well.

The Red Sox hired Dombrowski because of his player evaluation skills, his strong track record of success and the organization’s need for better leadership. By pairing Dombrowski’s strengths with the same type of long-term approach that has served them well in the past, Boston’s owners are hoping to build the “next great Red Sox team” that Cherington never quite delivered.

Photo by Andrew Weber/USA Today Sports Images

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