Diamondbacks general manager Dave Stewart seemed to draw a line in the sand against analytics last January, saying the team appealed to free-agent right-hander James Shields because of its old-school ways.
"I think the fact that Tony (La Russa) is here and that we have more baseball people -- (Shields) probably sees us as a true baseball team vs. some of the other teams out here that are geared more toward analytics and those types of things," Stewart said.
Stewart drew widespread criticism for his comments and apparent refusal to embrace advanced statistical analysis. But little did anyone know, the D-backs actually were ramping up their analytics department at the time.
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The team, after hiring former veterinarian Ed Lewis as its director of baseball research and analytics last November, added two full-time employees and two interns in analytics, team president Derrick Hall said.
Hall said the D-backs also are building a proprietary database similar to those developed by other clubs.
"It was clear that we had to do more," said La Russa, the D-backs' chief baseball officer. "There is a lot of helpful information, important information you can use, whether you're talking about drafting players, professional players, decision-making, how you put together a roster.
"We're getting very close. We're not perfect yet. It will take some time. Typically, it's a struggle, one side pitted against another. But it seems like the whole organization is on the same page.
"Some teams do it better. Some have done it longer. But it's nice to see us involved now in the sharing of that knowledge and more importantly in the acceptance of that knowledge."
The D-backs, Hall said, are using data to examine everything from release points to park effects to opponents' tendencies.
Chip Hale, the team's first-year manager, previously was a coach with the Athletics, a franchise that makes extensive use of analytics. The D-backs last season ranked 19th in the majors with 308 defensive shifts, according to STATS LLC. This season, they rank 10th with 608 shifts -- an increase of 300 shifts with 22 games remaining.
La Russa, however, maintains that analytics are most useful in preparation, not game management. The distinction might be subtle -- Hale will incorporate data into his strategy. But La Russa also wants Hale and his coaching staff to employ "observational analytics," based on what they see on the field.
"I really value the stuff," La Russa said. "But once the game starts, you've got to really make sure that you don't let some of the preparation change what your guts and brain are telling you when you look out at the field.
"During the game, you observe. That supersedes what you would have learned from the preparation going in. ... You have to allow your managers and coaches to make adjustments. That's how you can win extra games."
La Russa, who earned election to the Hall of Fame for his work as a manager with the White Sox, Athletics and Cardinals, often is perceived as resistant to analytics. He disputes that notion.
"It doesn't make sense to say I'm anti-analytics," La Russa said. "I was a preparation freak. When I came into managing, I had been a (poor) player. I had only managed a little bit in the minor leagues. The only way to survive was to collect as much information as I could."
His current team also is collecting information, analyzing it, implementing it. Just like every other club.