Yankees’ Michael Fishman talks analytics, communication

Yankees’ Michael Fishman talks analytics, communication

NASHVILLE — While the Yankees didn’t have any scheduled media availability at the Winter Meetings on Monday, assistant general manager Michael Fishman answered a few questions regarding the team’s analytics department.

Fishman, previously the club’s director of quantitative analysis, has come under scrutiny recently, as there is a perception that the Yankees are too reliant on data. The organization has combatted that narrative this offseason, with the most notable example coming in the form of Brian Cashman’s fiery media scrum at the GM Meetings in early November.

“I appreciate that,” Fishman said when asked about Cashman’s defense of the analytics department, though he understands the public criticism. “He recognizes the work the analytics department has done. I think he understands that the analytics department has created a lot of really good information, tools and recommendations over the years.”

However, Yankees past and present — including Aaron Judge, Gerrit Cole and Zack Britton — have discussed how the team needs to do a better job at using, understanding and communicating analytics. Judge went as far as to say that the organization “might be looking at the wrong” numbers at the end of the season, which saw the Yankees miss the playoffs for the first time since 2016. He also suggested that the Yankees need “a better process” when relaying information to younger players.

Britton, who just retired, recently told the New York Post’s “The Show” podcast that, “There was this disconnect between some of the things we were presented with and what we were seeing on the field.”

“That’s something we’re discussing and looking at,” Fishman said of improving analytical communication with players. “I think we welcome the feedback. We’ve had discussions with players to get their perspective on any issues they have, as well as some internal discussions of potential adjustments we need to make or not.”

Fishman wouldn’t say which Yankees he’s spoken to, but he added that the team must do a better job of teaching players why certain metrics are important and useful.

“We’ve never done a good enough job,” Fishman said. “We always could have done better. I think there were definitely some things that we could have explained better or educated better on.”

Meanwhile, the Yankees’ analytics department is in the midst of its own schooling session.

The team recently hired Zelus Analytics, an outside firm, so that it could review what the company does. That process is still in its early stages, as Fishman said the Yankees will spend months looking at Zelus’ work and comparing it to what the team does.

Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner have noted that it was Fishman’s idea to work with Zelus, whose co-founders include former Dodgers officials. Fishman said he wanted to get “outside perspective and unbiased opinions and unbiased approach,” as there are different ways to create the statistical models that MLB teams use.

“There may be something you haven’t thought of,” Fishman said, “and it’s an opportunity to see what somebody else might have thought of because it might make you better.”

Fishman went on to say that the Yankees “are not opening our books at all.” In other words, the Yankees’ models and analytical operations will remain proprietary during the Zelus review.

“We’re getting access to what they’ve done; they’re not getting access to what we’ve done,” Fishman said. “It’ll be on us to determine how to use their work and how to use our work and decide what to use and when and adjustments to make. But they’re not doing an audit of us.”

Because of the timing, it’s possible that changes stemming from the Zelus review won’t be implemented until next offseason.

“It’s not something we’re going to have answers for right away because a lot of the work we’ve done internally, it’s taken many years to develop and test,” Fishman said. “It’s a long process and not something that we want to rush into.”

However, Steinbrenner has promised changes this offseason. The team has yet to publicly announce the dismissal of any coaches or executives, leaving some to wonder if those changes will only come in the form of new players.

Fishman said that some changes have been discussed and planned within the analytics department, but that they haven’t been “fully implemented” yet. He declined to get into specifics, but he noted that “there are some cases where tweaks are needed and some cases where overhauls are needed.”

“Big changes in a smart way,” Fishman continued. He also said that the Yankees are always trying to develop, adjust and test their models, even in the years that they’ve yielded successful results.

For all the analytical talk, Fishman insisted that the Yankees have a balanced approach when it comes to new-school and old-school. He said that Cashman does “a great job of using all information” and surrounds himself with people of various backgrounds.

Still, Fishman recognizes why the Yankees’ analytics department has come under fire. He just doesn’t want to act too rashly in response.

“I understand and get it,” he said. “We have high standards. We haven’t met those high standards. We’re just going to continue to do our best to get better.

“You’re just trying to put the best roster in place. You can’t overreact and make a bad move because of the pressure. You still have to kind of make the best decisions for the franchise.”

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