Many words can be used ― unprecedented, unparalleled and incomparable jump to mind ― to describe sabermetric wiz Sig Mejdal’s journey to the front office of the Baltimore Orioles. After all, who’s heard of a former NASA engineer who is now a nearly 20-year Major League Baseball veteran who has three World Series rings (two from the St. Louis Cardinals and another with the Houston Astros)?
Mejdal (pronounce it MY-del) helps oversee an organization that Baseball America and MLB Pipeline recently cited as having the best minor league system in Major League Baseball. Though the Orioles posted 100-loss-plus seasons in 2018, 2019 and 2021, he’s optimistic about 2023 after last season’s 83-79 record: That’s when the O’s became the first MLB team since the 1899 St. Louis Perfectos to lose 110 games in one season and post a winning record the next.
How did you transition from a career with NASA into MLB with the Cardinals?
I was a longtime fan of not only baseball, but of statistics and analysis by industry innovators like Bill James before he was even published. Still, I never thought about working in this field until I read Moneyball. Even then I was naive about the difficulty of getting in and it took 18 months to get the job.
What does the flow chart/scouting operations of your department look like?
There are approximately 500 analysts and software developers in MLB, so that’s about 16 per team. We have 12 full-timers and four talented interns. When Mike (Elias, the O’s executive vice president and general manager) came here in 2018, there were zero analysts and one developer.
Do most of the staff in your department have a baseball background or are they mathematicians?
What’s most unusual about them are their analytics and software development abilities, which are the most in-demand skills on Earth. Working in MLB, they make less than they might in other fields, but they love baseball. Some even played collegiately.
What’s the O’s approach to developing players?
We have certain considerations during the draft, including temperament, physical build, work ethic, performance and statistics. But know, however, that when we draft a player, the work is just beginning. We assign the most modern coaches to develop their abilities with all of the information, technology, best practices and latest knowledge.
What do you look for when hiring scouts and other employees?
Beyond their technical skills, modesty and humility. They need to be certain that there is more to learn and ways to improve. Those traits are hard to find along with expertise, so when we do, it’s something special.
What were the current regime’s thoughts about keeping certain longtime employees, such as longtime Orioles minor league coach (and former player) Dave Schmidt?
We give all of the credit in the world to Dave. He adapted to our team’s new approach while providing his valuable expertise. Know that we value people who possess traditional baseball experience; not doing so would simply be masochistic.
What investments has the team made in international operations?
Before Mike came here, the Orioles were not signing international players like other teams do. Today, however, we’re as active as any team. Mike, [Chairman and CEO] John Angelos and [Senior Director, International Scouting] Koby Perez have worked together to build the infrastructure of this part of our operation in the Dominican Republic. We also now employ international scouts who work in various territories.
How are analytics integrated into your Latin American operations?
The further away the player is from MLB, the less the analytics play into our decisions. When any team signs a player from the Dominican Republic, for instance, the available data is limited. Still, it’s not zero. We can access data from TrackMan, a 3D Doppler radar system, for pitching (for velocity and spin rates) and batted ball specifications (such as exit velocity and trajectory), as we do for high schools and colleges, along with other data from various physical tests.
What do you say to critics who feel analytics detract from the emotion of the game and the gut instincts of the manager/coaches?
Gut instinct is still called into play, but with a smaller voice because we generally know more about the merits of a decision in general. Decision makers, be they front office personnel, managers, etc., are forecasters and there are best practices for that. Making decisions completely by your gut is not one of them. Any success or failure in life is going to come from two things: luck and the quality of your decisions. We can’t control luck and we aren’t going to compromise on our decision process.
What do you think about this season’s rule changes?
I think the pitch clock will showcase the best version of our game. Banning the shift is fine with me ― that inefficiency was pretty much gone. The limited pickoff throws should lead to some interesting game theory math and we plan on being ready for that.
What would you tell a student/intern who’s interested in sports management?
Become an expert in SQL (Structured Query Language, pronounced “sequel”), and Python and R languages; have a passion for baseball; and since we’re sort of agents for change, the more you know about Change Management and Human Decision Making Inefficiencies, the better.
Do you have analytics for the success rate of your approach?
We are confident that our decisions are better. Using a subset of the information or combining it unsystematically are not good ideas in this competitive world. That part we can control ― I am certain of that ― the actual results, we can’t, so I don’t dare guess on that.
What’s your biggest frustration in baseball?
We have more projects than we have time to address. Our staff generates information, and thus more questions, faster than we can get to them.
What’s been your biggest eye-opener during your MLB career?
Our species’ resistance to change. We often hold on to our beliefs as possessions to guard against threats. We all say we want change, but in my experience, that often means that we want others to change, as in: “Me? I am good, thanks.” Because of that, without ownership’s complete support, we can accomplish very little. Thankfully, John Angelos has been completely supportive.