Chris Long’s official title on the Padres’ Web site is Senior Quantitative Analyst. Since he was gracious enough to let me pester him with a few questions, I will let him explain the rest:
Friar Forecast: Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into this position with the Padres?
Chris Long: I had just finished graduate school, where I had studied statistics, mathematics and biostatistics, and I passed copies of my resume along to nearly everyone I knew. A copy eventually made it into the hands of the owner of the Padres, and he was looking for someone with my background. He happened to be in my area for an MLB owner’s meeting, and so I had an impromptu interview with him, the president and the CFO of the Padres. Low pressure!
FF: When did you start to discover the relationship between statistics and baseball?
Chris Long: After I was contacted regarding a potential job. The Padres were looking specifically for someone who didn’t have any preconceived ideas. I *was* a baseball fan, I hadn’t spent any time working in the field statistically, and I had an unusual background that was strong in several areas. I was expecting to work for a company like Google, RAND or Decode Genetics in Iceland.
FF: How would you describe a typical workday with the Padres? How does it change as the season changes focus from the draft, to mid-season, to the free agency period, and so on?
Chris Long: There really isn’t a typical workday. I’m always working on a large number of projects at any given moment, but of course which projects I’m working on will vary depending on the time of the year. The draft is my personal favorite, incidentally. My top two for 2005 (among players with a realistic chance to fall to us) were Ellsbury and Headley, and it’s nice to see them develop over such a short period of time. I nearly cried when Headley got his first big-league hit.
FF: What is it like working with such a diverse, intelligent staff in San Diego?
Chris Long: It’s fantastic to exchange ideas and approaches with the people here, and it’s great how well they tolerate listening to my crazy suggestions. No matter how skilled or creative you are, it’s always beneficial to talk to other people. And, in fact, necessary for personal growth. I’ve even started to work on some projects with people outside of the Padres, with the goal of publishable works, for exactly this reason. I’m always open to project proposals.
FF: From your perspective, how are both statistical and scouting data utilized in the Padres front office? Is the divide between stats and scouts overblown by the media/blogosphere?
Chris Long: Both are utilized, of course, to varying degrees depending on the situation. I can’t say too much about what we do, but it’s obvious that you can only use scouting data for high school players, but that for major league veterans you could do very well using only statistical information. It’s not an either/or choice, of course. You’ll get the very best results if you have a deep and complete understanding of the value of your scouting and statistical information, and how best to combine the two. The goal is to make the best decisions based on what you know and what you believe to be true. So the divide isn’t really about which data to use, but about understanding how best to utilize and integrate the data. Anyone who ignores one side or the other isn’t doing a very good job.
FF: Do you keep tabs with sabermetric websites such as Baseball Prospectus, The Hardball Times, The Book Blog, etc …?
Chris Long: I do try, but I can get quite far behind in my reading, depending on my projects at any given moment. There’s some really great stuff that does get written, so I do make a real effort to read as much as I can. I also need to keep up with developments in the areas of pure and applied statistics as well as applied mathematics. Between the web, books, papers and journals, the demand on your free time can get absolutely brutal, but it’s something you need to do in a competitive environment.
FF: What do you think is the main difference between what you do with the Padres and what is being done on the ‘net?
Chris Long: Much of what you see on the internet, which interesting and entertaining, isn’t necessarily applicable to actual baseball decisions. It’s cool to read about how Babe Ruth would have hit if he was a member of the 1986 Mets, but it’s not particularly relevant to the 2008 Padres. I believe people would be genuinely shocked at how sophisticated the analysis within some clubs has gotten. Whether or not it gets used, however, is entirely a separate issue.
FF: On a related note, do you ever find yourself reading any of the major Padres blogs or message boards to see what the fans are thinking?
Chris Long: Definitely! I love to see what our fans have to say after I think we’ve made a particularly good trade, or if we just won a great game. Everyone loves a little confirmation bias now and again.
I couldn’t say thanks enough to Mr. Long for allowing me to do this. It was a truly an honor. I will let him get back to his job for a while, but I may try to catch up with him again sometime down the road to discuss the amateur draft (his favorite), this current Padre club, and a few more sabermetric topics of interest.
Finally, a big tip of the hat to Tangotiger for helping me get this off the ground.