steve-cohen-to-blow-up-wilpons’-‘archaic’-mets-technology

Motion capture software was still relatively new in 2011 when the Mets considered becoming one of the first MLB teams to implement it.

The technology captures three-dimensional images, allowing pitchers and batters to compare their mechanics when they are thriving versus slumping. If a pitcher has lost his slider in June, images can be accessed to determine when his hip is clearing, as opposed to months earlier when the pitch was sharp.

Cameras were installed in Citi Field for a test trial, which concluded with a presentation to team COO Jeff Wilpon. The price tag was $150,000. The Mets passed.

Nearly a decade later, motion capture software is a standard tool throughout the game — many teams have it installed in their minor league facilities — but remains absent from the Mets, who last spring training hired an outside firm for one day to employ it, creating at least something of a database.

The technology is just one of several improvements to the infrastructure potentially headed to the Mets should Steve Cohen’s $2.475 billion purchase of the club from Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz be approved by MLB owners in the coming weeks.

Cohen, a hedge-fund maven who built his estimated $14 billion fortune on crunching data and hiring the right people for such analysis, is seen as a savior to the Mets for more than his resources to pursue top free agents. Behind the scenes, the Mets are expected to become more analytically driven, perhaps worthy of the nickname the “East Coast Dodgers,” should Cohen receive the 23 of 30 votes by MLB owners to complete the transaction that would leave him with a 95 percent stake in the club.

Cohen has told associates, according to sources, he expects to lose about $400 million on the team in his first two years as the new owner.

“While all these other owners are trying to save money, he’s already spent money,” a major league executive said. “So what’s another $50 million to put together the best front office and [infrastructure] he can put together? These other guys are trying to save money, so [Cohen] is like these guys that try to dominate Wall Street by buying up all the stocks when stuff is going bad. He’s already spent the money and this is his opportunity to really take advantage of a down market.”

Steve Cohen
Steve CohenReuters

Cohen’s handpicked team president, Sandy Alderson, pushed heavily for technological upgrades and a bigger analytics staff during his tenure as Mets general manager, but resources allotted to him were often scarce. When Alderson departed the organization in 2018, citing recurring health problems, the Mets’ analytics staff consisted of three employees. That number grew to six following general manager Brodie Van Wagenen’s hiring four months later. The doubling of the analytics staff still left the Mets well behind much of the competition. It’s not uncommon for teams to have analytics departments with 20-plus employees.

“It was just so archaic,” a person familiar with the Mets operating structure during the Wilpons’ ownership said. “Fred Wilpon walked around and tried to pride himself on being this progressive thinker and he just couldn’t grasp a lot of the stuff. It wasn’t like Jeff or Fred, I don’t want to make them out to be bad guys, I just think they didn’t grasp how to invest in stuff that could help you get down the road.”

The Mets have fought to keep up. Included was the development of a player-facing app on iPads. The app allows players to prepare for an upcoming opponent, helping them share video, communicate with coaches and analyze data. But the app also requires an infrastructure the Mets are lacking.

It starts with a data pipeline, but acquiring the same kind of information from the minor leagues as major leagues has been a challenge for the Mets due to staffing limitations. Likewise, the Mets are challenged in keeping the app updated and receiving proper analysis due to the scarcity of bodies. Another issue that has bedeviled the organization is something as basic as an internal server that can support 30 players using their iPads simultaneously.

But Cohen’s infusion of capital won’t be all about technology and analytics, spending on free agents aside.

Cohen could place the organization, long removed as serious players on the international market, on the path to securing premier talent outside the amateur draft.

Recent GMs under the Wilpons, starting with Omar Minaya to Alderson to Van Wagenen, have been constricted budgetarily from pursuing top international talent. Often the line was drawn on what could be acquired for a certain dollar value, without consideration on what better options might be available.

Much will flow from the GM, whether Van Wagenen remains or a top-flight executive with a proven track record such as Theo Epstein or Billy Beane is hired.

“One of the things Steve doesn’t get credit for over in his business is he recruits the best in breed,” a person with ties to Cohen said. “Then he makes sure they produce. If they don’t perform and produce, he’s not afraid to make a change.”