M’s Hire Tom Tango

Dave · January 5, 2009 at 7:16 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Derek noted it in passing in his thread on Blengino’s BP interview, but it deserves its own post. The Mariners have hired Tom Tango as a consultant to assist them in pushing forward their advancement into the 21st century of statistical analysis. If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you know who Tango is – we’ve learned/borrowed heavily from his work over the years, and he’s stopped by to comment once in a while as well.

I think it’s fair to say that, right now, Tom is the leading analyst of the day in public advancement of statistical analysis. If you wanted to know what the best practice for current analysis is, you wouldn’t go to Bill James or Nate Silver, you’d go to Tom Tango. He’s the gold standard of analysts publishing their work, and he’s made significant strides in pushing forward the understanding of baseball through his writings.

Seriously, if you had given me a magic lamp before the new GM search began and said “you get three wishes”, one of them would have been “Let the new GM hire Tango”.

Really, we all wanted the M’s to hire someone like Chris Antonetti because we believed the organization needed a GM who understood the value of both scouting and statistical analysis, would place emphasis on technology, and create an organization that actively recruited intelligent people to develop a front-office talent pipeline that would push us forward for the next 10-15 years.

That’s all being done, and it’s being done without having to endure all the crap that comes along with hiring a “stathead GM”. Seriously, we’re getting everything we could have possibly hoped for, and our new GM even comes in a media-friendly package that keeps them from yelling “nerds!” every 30 seconds.

If you weren’t already completely convinced, this should do it – the M’s are now one of the best run teams in baseball. They’ve implemented processes based on logic, reason, and evidence that will lead to positive results. They understand good analysis from bad analysis, and are pushing forward the organization’s ability to create new information and exploit their resources.

Seriously, there’s never been a better time to root for the Mariners. After years of pounding our heads against a wall, we’ve got a front office in place that knows what they’re doing. We’ve got the organization we’ve always wanted.

Comments

64 Responses to “M’s Hire Tom Tango”

  1. galaxieboi on January 5th, 2009 7:24 am

    Ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod!!! This may be my most favorite baseball hire ever!

  2. Gritty Veteran Poster on January 5th, 2009 7:31 am

    With some of the things that Lincoln and Armstrong were saying after the season I was expecting new faces on old ideas. I was fully prepared for a new version of Bavasi, Hargrove and Bloomquist.

    Instead we get this. What a shock. A pleasant one. So nice to be genuinely excited about this team again. Not to mention I think it will make this blog a fun place to be.

  3. JWay on January 5th, 2009 8:00 am

    I’m excited about this a lot! Knowing that the front office will give me things to cheer for, is very exciting. I’m sure this will effect Tango’s availability to the public, which is kind of a drag, but since his work is going for my team, I’m going to be better than ok with that!

  4. Colm on January 5th, 2009 8:03 am

    This is nice – but is he only the new, hired-to-be-ignored-when-Howard-and-Chuck-say-so, “consultant”? (It’s hard for me to imagine why you’d pick Tom Tango for such a role, but I’m playing devil’s advocate here).

    So, what I’m wondering is:
    1. Have they hired him on a permanent basis (as permanent as anything else in the business of sports) to work only for the M’s and develop a Seattle version of Diamond Mind?
    2. Or are they retaining him as an occasional consultant as they did with Matt Olkin? (Which would only be as useful as the team allows him to be).
    3. Or are they just bringing in Tom from time to time to perform some sort of statistical audit of their decisions, in the same way that a larger corporation might hire McKinsey & Co? (Which would offer no competitive advantage over our rivals at all).

    If it’s the first, then “whoopee”, but if it’s the second or third situation… then I’m looking at Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong and thinking we’re still not able to say M’s are now one of the best run teams in baseball.

  5. adroit on January 5th, 2009 8:05 am

    WOW! That is beyond encouraging. Tango [Tiger] has been the most-respected analyst I’ve followed since I started listening to sabermetrics. I remember stumbling upon his work when I started to think to myself that maybe Bill James’ Win Shares and Runs Created weren’t as scientific as they should be. Tom proved this conclusively, as it relates to linear weights.

    And with his out-of-the-box approach to evaluating talent, including defensive skill, this is… an extremely impressive and encouraging hire.

    Has there ever been a more optimistic day for the future of the M’s?

    Z is to scouting what Tango is to statistical analysis. This is the best of both worlds.

  6. CCW on January 5th, 2009 8:17 am

    This is similar to the 180 degree turn the Rays made when they brought in new ownership and their new multi-headed management team… except the M’s have cash. Should be fun to watch.

  7. abender20 on January 5th, 2009 8:23 am

    I feel like George Michael Bluth when the Bluth Company is upgraded to ‘Don’t Buy’. It’s happening, isn’t it?

  8. Pete Livengood on January 5th, 2009 8:27 am

    Colm – The best answers to your questions come in the BP interview itself. It’s well worth the read, as Derek said earlier, If you’re not a subscriber, I think the short answers would be:

    (1) No, he’s been hired only as a consultant. And
    (2/3) they expect to use both Tango and Olkin differently than the previous administration used Olkin. Blengino believes it is part of his skill set to perform much of the basic kinds of statistical player analysis that Olkin provided to the Bavasi regime, and therefore expects to use his consultants to address “more long-range, big-picture-type projects” than they were previously asked to. There is a lengthy discussion of the value (and current maret undervaluation)of defense and defensive metrics, and teams’ use of both proprietary and non-proprietary defensive metrics, so I think it is safe to assume that there is work being done on that. I wouldn’t assume that is ALL they are working on, though.

    I don’t see how this can be spun as anything but a major positive. Perhaps hiring Tango (and Olkin) on something more than a permanent basis might indicate more of a commitment to their kind of analysis, but I think that might be reading too much into it. There is every indication in that interview that they intend to go a long way down this road.

  9. The Ancient Mariner on January 5th, 2009 8:40 am

    From Tango’s own comments, it seems clear to me that he doesn’t particularly want to be a team employee — that being a freelancer, consulting for teams but not being locked down by any of them, is how he likes it.

  10. Secret Agent Man on January 5th, 2009 8:53 am

    This is so ridiculously awesome.

  11. M's Fan in Red Sox Nation on January 5th, 2009 8:53 am

    I’ve been pretty quiet on the new GM, but watching developments with interest. I’d really like to know how this situation arose, though. Before the GM choice was made, there were a lot of discussions (some here, iirc) that seemed to suggest that change, especially of the variety we are seeing so far, wouldn’t likely have that high a ceiling due to the presence of Lincoln and Armstrong. I frankly am amazed at how much more has been done to the team that I thought would be possible going in. I’d really really like to know what the interviews with Zduriencik were like!

  12. Jeff Nye on January 5th, 2009 8:54 am

    Awesome news.

    Congrats, Tango, and bigger congrats to the M’s for being smart enough to make this move.

  13. Colm on January 5th, 2009 9:22 am

    I prefer the freelance/consulting role myself. Power without responsibility – hurrah!* However, as a Mariners fan I’d rather we owned his immortal soul.

    *I know: The corollary is that a consultant must produce results or risk not working. “You’re only as good as your last job”.

  14. khardy on January 5th, 2009 9:32 am

    [ot]

  15. Pete Livengood on January 5th, 2009 9:51 am

    Exactly, Ancient Mariner. There is a blog entry from yesterday on Tango’s site where he is fielding a few questions about this hiring. In it Tango says that:

    * he has had other consulting gigs with MLB teams in the past but that this his role with the M’s is larger than he’s previously experienced;

    * he turned down a full-time offer from the Pirates last year and is about to similarly turn down another full-time offer from another club;

    * he is pleased with the Mariners’ direction under the new regime;

    * that ne has previously worked with one of the M’s minority owners, and asked him to put his name forward (who graciously did but Tony B. was already pretty familiar with his work through The Book, which he says acts as something of a “brocharue” for the kinds of things we should expect he’ll bring to the table)…this makes me wonder if a guy like Chris Larson is taking a larger role now; and

    * he is considering ways to incorporate input from the M’s blogoshere/fans in a “Wisdom of the Crowd” approach, perhaps similar to his Fans Scouting Report series.

    All of this is almost too good to be true….

  16. Mere Tantalisers on January 5th, 2009 9:52 am

    Wonderful wonderful.

    Not only are the Mariners an extremely well-run organization now, but they are in a great position to compete. The division is weak enough that with a few smart moves they can be on the cusp of contention for a couple of years, and come 2011 or so the current strength of the low minors will start to show. I couldn’t be happier about being a Mariner fan right now.

  17. Carson on January 5th, 2009 9:54 am

    [ot]

  18. JLP on January 5th, 2009 9:56 am

    The M’s continue to re-earn(?) my patronage. I boycotted games last year, as I couldn’t justify traveling the six hours to see the atrocity that was on the field night in and night out. This year looks to be different, and I look forward to enjoying some games again.

    Great hire.

  19. LA M's Fan on January 5th, 2009 10:05 am

    Discussion: Is Tom Tango the best Mariner Free Agent signing since Ichiro?

    Put it another way, how many wins is Tom Tango worth? (And I’m sure he’s cheaper than any Mariner free agent signed since, oh about, 1981…)

  20. galaxieboi on January 5th, 2009 10:22 am

    [ot]

  21. Colm on January 5th, 2009 10:27 am

    [ot]

  22. tangotiger on January 5th, 2009 10:33 am

    Thanks for the sentiment guys. My NDA prevents me from disclosing any of my work that is specific to the M’s. However, think of me as Tony B’s big toe. (Am I dating myself with the Stripes reference?)

  23. SCL on January 5th, 2009 10:34 am

    [ot]

  24. Steve Nelson on January 5th, 2009 10:43 am

    * that ne has previously worked with one of the M’s minority owners, and asked him to put his name forward

    That could as easily be Lincoln or Armstrong; in fact, because those two have been most heavily involved in baseball operations they would have the highest likelihood of having previous contact with Tom.

    Many of the comments made about Lincoln and Armstrong presume that whenever words such as “stats” and “sabermetrics” are uttered in their presence they stick their fingers in their ears and start screaming “LA LA LA LA – I can’t hear you!”. They really are not that obtuse. It’s totally plausible that at times they might have engaged someone such as Tango for some additional perspective at certain times.

    Further, I think that would particularly be likely during a season such as 2008, when they were seriously looking to understand what went wrong. The Mariners made clear during the candidate search that they were looking at all possibilities (which comments were met skepticism by many, including me).

    But by the accounts that I have seen, Lincoln and Armstrong devoted quite a bit of effort to the task. It’s also clear now that the search was not as biased towards finding an “old-school” guy as many of us believed. Accordingly, to me it makes perfect sense that Lincoln and/or Armstrong might have engaged someone such as Tom to help them better understand sabermetric concepts and give them a better handle on assessing the sabermetric capabilities and responses of candidates.

  25. Pete Livengood on January 5th, 2009 10:50 am

    Steve – I agree with much of what you say, and I hope that my comment did not come across as an implied slap toward Lincoln or Armstrong. I think it well could have been Armstrong, who IIRC is a SABR member (and in my judgment, more likely than Lincoln to have reached out to a guy like Tom, but who knows?). I just think that it sounds more like Larson, both because of his reputation and because if it was Chuck or Howard, there may not have been as much need to write a letter of recommendation to Tony B.

    Still, all points well taken.

  26. Rockymariner on January 5th, 2009 11:07 am

    Not only is this great news but we also get an Arrested Development and a Stripes reference in the comments. Nice!

  27. ThundaPC on January 5th, 2009 11:16 am

    At some point, I think we simply need to give credit where credit is due. How often do see a complete organization shift under the same ownership?

    None of this happens without Lincoln and Armstrong giving the okay to allow it. Now, I’m not saying we should suddenly become fans of this ownership but these guys could’ve EASILY intervened to the point where we would’ve had Joey Cora as the Manager and Ken Griffey Jr. signed by December.

    I’m thrilled that ownership has turned Jack Zduriencik loose. Armstrong said that they were blown away by his presentation (which included statistics). Now we’re blown away at how much this organization as changed. And it’s only Z’s 3rd month on the job….

  28. Steve T on January 5th, 2009 11:24 am

    This is my favorite Mariners move EVER. I mean, drafting Griffey or ARod was just a matter of lucking into the first pick; this is a creative and intelligent move that honestly I never expected. This offseason I have gone from “ugh” to “meh” to “wow” faster than I ever thought possible.

    Hip hip hooray!

  29. Zero Gravitas on January 5th, 2009 11:25 am

    Competent management is something I had almost given up hope for. This is very exciting! Even when we lose games next year, it’s great to know that the organization will be using those losses to learn how to make things better, and will keep things moving forward, rather than ignoring evidence that their ideas aren’t working.I am going to watch a lot more baseball this year, and that is a good thing!
    Also –

    “our new GM even comes in a media-friendly package that keeps them from yelling “nerds!” every 30 seconds”

    – thanks for the reminder of the infamous Q13 appearance. If we’re lucky, the M’s may inspire local media to up their own games a little bit with the baseball coverage next year.

  30. tangotiger on January 5th, 2009 11:38 am

    Chris Larson.

  31. Pete Livengood on January 5th, 2009 11:42 am

    Thanks for confirming, Tom. I don’t want to read too much into that one fact, but I do view increased involvement by Chris Larson as a good thing.

  32. Breadbaker on January 5th, 2009 11:47 am

    I absolutely agree these are excellent moves. A well-run team deserves our support and a lot of slack. Let us not forget, though, that the number of teams using sophisticated analytical tools has simply increased by one, it’s not like the other teams got dumber or less savvy. So this is a good start, but in a more difficult environment. We may no longer get fleeced, but the chances of fleecing others have not increased.

  33. Typical Idiot Fan on January 5th, 2009 11:48 am

    Thanks for the sentiment guys. My NDA prevents me from disclosing any of my work that is specific to the M’s. However, think of me as Tony B’s big toe. (Am I dating myself with the Stripes reference?)

    Tom, thanks for this. I was already wondering if you could tell us what kind of work you’re doing. Too bad you can’t talk about it, because inquiring minds want to know (equally dated reference).

    Though I do have a question: If the Mariners have already done a move, say signed a free agent, are you allowed to discuss it (meaning whether the signing is a good thing or not) after the fact? Obviously you can’t talk about what work you’ve done for them about it, but can you give your opinions on the trade? To go with that, are your opinions limited to only being able to say positive things about the team and it’s moves?

  34. Dave on January 5th, 2009 11:51 am

    You could just ask Blengino on Saturday.

  35. joser on January 5th, 2009 12:24 pm

    With respect to Armstrong and Lincoln: perhaps Leopards can change their spots. And sometimes they do it by hiring Tigers. :)

    Congratulations on the new gig, Tango; as fans we look forward to reaping the benefits.

  36. diderot on January 5th, 2009 12:42 pm

    With respect to Armstrong and Lincoln: perhaps Leopards can change their spots

    I think there’s a misconception among some that the problem all along has been the front office trying to run baseball operations. Other than the obvious issues like the Kenji contract, I just don’t believe that’s the case. I think they hired Bavasi and let him do what he wanted…we actually might have been better off if they had been MORE involved.
    The reality is that they delegated to Bavasi…but now they’ve gotten better at hiring the person to delegate to–much better.
    But in any case, the change does make the head spin…(and it feels good!)

  37. Joe C on January 5th, 2009 12:56 pm

    I wouldn’t call getting the top pick and drafting ARod and Griffey “just a matter of lucking into the first pick”, I’d call it something else entirely. Maybe sucking into the first pick, but there is little luck involved in that.
    And I love what Zduriencik has done so far.

  38. behappy on January 5th, 2009 1:13 pm

    Forgive me for my ignorace, but I am just curious. If this new approach to running a franchise is the BEST WAY, as you all say it is and I agree it makes sense. Then why are so many teams not going in this direction. I do suspect that in the near future more and more teams and then all the teams will be doing things like we are. Wouldn’t that just make everything a even playing field?

  39. Dave on January 5th, 2009 1:16 pm

    There will always be market inefficiencies to exploit. If everyone starts reacting to the undervaluation of defense, maybe it will come at the expense of pitching, and you’ll be able to get good arms cheaper than you should be able to.

    10 years ago, OBP was undervalued. Now it’s defense. In 10 years, it will be something else. Teams will get smarter, but there’s never going to be an equilibrium of knowledge among all 30 clubs.

  40. tangotiger on January 5th, 2009 1:22 pm

    I can’t really discuss any moves or potential moves that I was asked about.

  41. DMZ on January 5th, 2009 1:25 pm

    What about non moves? Can you discuss moves that weren’t considered? Moves you suggested, or moves you weren’t asked about?

    Hee hee hee

  42. terry on January 5th, 2009 1:33 pm

    I can’t really discuss any moves or potential moves that I was asked about.

    This doesn’t mean that M’s fans have to start watching hockey does it? :-)

  43. galaxieboi on January 5th, 2009 2:10 pm

    I can’t really discuss any moves or potential moves that I was asked about.

    In other words: Tango could tell you, but then he’d have to kill you.

  44. NickBob on January 5th, 2009 2:17 pm

    “One of the best run teams in baseball”? Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Sure, this is very good news, but there are other aspects to running a baseball club that are outside of analysis- like good HR and contract management. At this very early point those would be graded as incompletes. As a lifelong Democrat and fan of the M’s since their inception, I’m not ready to change my perception of the team based on the early returns, positive though they are. But I will welcome more positive news as time goes on. This is indeed a wonderful time to be a fan.

  45. Dave on January 5th, 2009 2:23 pm

    Uhh, okay. You just keep waiting for that announcement about the M’s new dental plan then.

  46. galaxieboi on January 5th, 2009 2:33 pm

    The players traded the dental plan for more beer.

  47. Jeff Nye on January 5th, 2009 2:38 pm

    Actually, with the amount of donuts Silva eats, a new dental plan is probably a good idea!

  48. Evan on January 5th, 2009 2:43 pm

    I should have thought through this comment more before posting it. Sorry about that.

  49. msb on January 5th, 2009 2:48 pm

    I liked it.

  50. TheMsfan on January 5th, 2009 2:48 pm

    Well, as long as Carlos Triunfel doesn’t need braces and Carlos Silva doesn’t become union leader, that should be a fair trade. Come to think of it, Homer and Carlos have quite a bit in common….

    What a fantastic hiring by the good guys. The amount of progress made in such a short amount of time is really impressive, 180′s are supposed to be hard

    to stick with the theme….Everythings comin up TheMsfan!

  51. Typical Idiot Fan on January 5th, 2009 2:52 pm

    You could just ask Blengino on Saturday.

    Sadly, I wont be there.

    I can’t really discuss any moves or potential moves that I was asked about.

    So anything you weren’t asked about is open season? I guess my real question is how critical can you be of the Mariners going forward? Can you be negative at all or does your NDA prevent you from saying anything bad in public about the franchise?

  52. MKT on January 5th, 2009 3:17 pm

    Agreed, this is a tremendous hire for the M’s (or, technically, consulting contract I guess). There may be some smart analysts out there that I don’t know about, but of the ones that I do know about, Tangotiger has my highest respect and admiration. As Dave says, as wonderful as people such as Bill James and Nate Silver are, Tango’s probably doing more cutting edge stuff (of course, most of the best stuff that Bill James is doing these days is probably kept in-house by the Red Sox).

    Aside from that, I was most struck by this:

    “he turned down a full-time offer from the Pirates last year and is about to similarly turn down another full-time offer from another club”

    The Pirates have finished below .500 for 16 seasons in a row (and counting; I believe that the previous Major League record was 14 losing seasons in a row was held by yep you guessed it your Seattle Mariners, from 1977 to 1990). Have they finally seen the light, perhaps to finally emerge, Bay Ray-like, from their Dark Ages? Even the Royals managed to finish above .500 (once, in 2003) in the past 14 years.

    And, though we’ll likely never know, I wonder who the “other club” is? Living in So Calif, I think the Dodgers could use a big dose of sabrmetric common sense to stop them from making additional expensive Nomar/Andruw/Pierre/etc. mistakes. Colletti rescued their season last year with some late-season moves, but the prime one, acquiring Manny, was akin the the Celtics’ acquisition of Kevin Garnett, a once-in-a-generation gift opportunity. Colletti still had to exhibit the energy and initiative to get him, but let’s face it, recognizing the value of Manny Ramirez doesn’t exactly take a PhD in sabrmetrics. With their big revenue and big payroll, the Dodgers should do better than they have in most recent years. In this respect they’re similar to the Ms’: big bucks, little result, with the exception of 2008 of course (end even in 2008, with the Free Manny, the Dodgers finished 8th worst in cost per marginal win, according to Maury Brown.

  53. Patrick517 on January 5th, 2009 4:24 pm

    Today I wear my Mariner gear with no shame. This is the best Mariner news in a long, long time.

  54. Breadbaker on January 5th, 2009 4:42 pm

    [ot]

  55. SonOfZavaras on January 5th, 2009 4:45 pm

    [ot]

  56. SonOfZavaras on January 5th, 2009 4:50 pm

    And welcome, Tom Tango….a thousand welcomes. I’m just now getting acquainted with your work (as well as SABR in general)….from what I’ve seen of it, I’m now doubly proud to wear my own M’s gear…that light at the end of the tunnel gets bigger and bigger…

  57. NickBob on January 5th, 2009 5:36 pm

    Dental plan? Dang, I’m talking about not sitting young talent for veteran experience, instituting a sensible bottom-to-top philosophy of play (as so often called for here), dealing with the players with respect and not like a piece of meat- stuff like that. Yes, so far all signs are doubleplusgood, but those chickens haven’t hatched yet.

  58. Graham on January 5th, 2009 6:14 pm

    That’s silly.

  59. skipj on January 5th, 2009 6:33 pm

    typical…fan

    One would think that if Mr. Tango’s NDA doesn’t prevent him from publicly discussing a long list of Mariner’s negatives, his native intelligence certainly would.

  60. IMFinksPa on January 5th, 2009 7:03 pm

    Let me add my warmest congratulations to Mr. Tango. Though he probably doesn’t recall, he has been kind enough to respond to an e-mail or two from me throughout the years and, in my humble opinion, this hiring, inclusive of an expanded role for Mr. Tango and Mr. Olkin is as positive a development as I could hope to see for my second favorite team.

  61. pinball1973 on January 6th, 2009 5:21 am

    Um, I’m thrilled but very, very confused. The top management is the same.
    Lincoln still rules, right? What happened? Did he visit OZ and receive all three of Dorothy’s companions’ gifts????

  62. tangotiger on January 6th, 2009 7:03 am

    I guess my real question is how critical can you be of the Mariners going forward? Can you be negative at all or does your NDA prevent you from saying anything bad in public about the franchise?

    Two years ago, the readers of my site labelled Willie Bloomquist the worst player in MLB, and I’ve then called him the ideal example of the replacement-level player. If a new Willie happens to emerge from the Mariners this year, I won’t be making such a bold pronouncement. I’m going to comment on M’s moves as much as Chief Justice Roberts comments on Roe v Wade.

    I can comment on what’s already publicly available, like the Fans Scouting Report. While Carlos Beltran took home the honors for best-fielding outfielder in MLB, the #2, #3, and #4 are listed at the top right here.

  63. tangotiger on January 6th, 2009 7:28 am

    As for the Pirates, Dan Fox is now there, and I told their GM that he was a better candidate than I was, and if he applied to hire him on the spot.

    The only question is how much influence any of the saberists have, and since I don’t even know how much influence I have, then I can’t answer for anyone else.

  64. behappy on January 6th, 2009 1:37 pm

    Did I read that right??!! The Mariner’s have the BEST OUTFILD DEFENSE IN BASEBALL!! I know the two new guys are good just didn’t realize they are the #2 and #4 best in all of baseball. This offseason gets better and better. Even if the M’s have a losing season this is going to be a GREAT year and many years to come.

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