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Brandon Taubman worked in finance with a side gig in daily fantasy baseball when he applied for an analyst role with the Houston Astros in 2013.
Taubman’s skills in valuation have been crucial to a rising team that boasts a “Moneyball”-esque approach.
Taubman has risen through the organization to Senior Director of Baseball Operations, playing a major role in the front office.
The Astros’ 2017 World Series win saw the team reap the benefits of a dramatic rebuild that Taubman helped oversee.
When an analyst position with the Houston Astros opened up in 2013, Brandon Taubman had an idea he might be a fit.
Taubman had grown up playing baseball and admiring the tactics of the game. As an Ernst & Young employee, and later with Barclay’s, Taubman also had a background in valuating derivatives. He could surely put his knowledge of finding value in commodities and running through complex formulas and equations to find answers.
But it was actually a side gig that sparked Taubman’s interest in the position. Taubman and his friend had created a projection model for daily fantasy baseball and were seeing regular success. Taubman described the business as a “hacked-together, Excel-spreadsheet, SQL-server-sourced” optimizer. They were pioneers in a business that had not yet taken off into the mainstream.
To improve their model for predicting the best lineups, Taubman began reading analytical baseball sites like Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs when he stumbled upon the position, and it caught his eye. Jim Crane had bought the team only two years before and GM Jeff Luhnow was in the second year of an intense rebuild – “unwinding” as the Astros refer to it, but tanking to most others.
“I started reading about Jeff and found out that his background was similar to mine,” Taubman told Business Insider. “He came from the business world as a management consultant and he was one of the people primarily responsible for all of the success that the [St. Louis] Cardinals had in the draft. And the more I started reading about him, the more the idea of being a part of this sensational rebuild became very attractive to me.”
Taubman applied and went through a lengthy interview process that included interviews with scouts and player development personnel. It also included a “robust” set of essay questions, asking everything from baseball philosophy, thoughts on signing premium free agents to big deals, to case studies where Taubman had to evaluate what kind of contracts to give to players based on their age and performance.
Taubman got the job.
“I got really lucky that Jeff was looking for someone with banking background and valuation background that could help us,” Taubman said. “And we really started to put together the roster that would get us to this point.”
‘Impervious’ to the outside noise
- Astros GM Jeff Luhnow initiated a radical rebuild in 2011.
- Bob Levey/Getty
While some in the baseball world doubted the Astros’ plan to rebuild their entire operation, Taubman said he was too thrilled to be concerned. The Astros won just 51 games in Taubman’s first year, but he was unfazed.
“I was just so happy to be doing something I was passionate about,” Taubman said. “I was always on the finance fast-track with the impression that being successful in finance was about having the best job at the best institution making the most amount of money. And here I was working for a Major League Baseball team and seeing star athletes and sitting next to Craig Biggio in the box. Just elements of the new job that made me so excited to be there that there was no need for a real coping mechanism.”
Taubman began as an “economist” for the Astros, working as an assistant to then-assistant GM David Stearns, who is now GM of the Milwaukee Brewers. Taubman’s day-to-day duties included things like contract valuation and generation, helping to answer questions like whether the Astros should extend Jose Altuve – one of the team’s all-time wisest moves.
Analytics play a huge part in the Astros’ operation which is where Taubman’s skill set comes in handy. But Taubman says in an age where teams continue to invest more and more in analytics, the Astros seek only to use analytics to help inform their decisions.
“In the early going when we were a bad team, we were constantly criticized for being, like, these soulless, computer-driven people,” Taubman said. Instead, analytics are just part of the equation.
“There’s this question, like, ‘Well, what do you do with what you find?’ And that’s where we think our competitive advantage is. We think that we can be the most aggressive and effective in taking the things that come out of [research and development], and applying them in a practical and digestible way so that our players and coaches can continuously get better.”
Taubman’s background in finance has worked in lock-step with the Astros’ operation. Everything is about finding and understanding the value of a specific entity. What makes a good pitch? What makes a good hit? Can those things be found in specific players, and if so, how do they value those players? Furthermore, if a player lacks certain skills, are they adaptable, and how do the Astros help get those players to the next level?
Taubman credits the work environment of the Astros and the people around him that allowed him quickly climb up the ranks. In 2014, he moved up to Manager of Baseball Operations, a position that allowed him to travel the country with the team’s scouts and talk to players, studying the traits found in the best players. He called the role the most fun of all. He then moved up to Director of Baseball Operations and was promoted to Senior Director of Baseball Operations in August shortly before the team’s World Series run.
Some things can’t be quantified
- The Astros celebrate winning Game 7 of the World Series.
- Tim Bradbury/Getty
For all of the Astros’ belief in numbers and the meaning of value, their World Series run defied analytics.
Taubman wasn’t surprised when the Astros made a 17-win leap from 2016 to 2017, becoming contenders just one year after missing the playoffs. But when they found themselves down 3-2 to the New York Yankees in the ALCS this past October, Taubman said the team never lost confidence.
“I saw a cool, calm, and collected demeanor from our players that was well beyond [how] I personally was able to control my own emotions,” Taubman said. “We just had guys that had a lot of confidence who they were and what they were doing.”
Taubman credited players like Alex Bregman and George Springer for staying upbeat and keeping the clubhouse loose. The Astros persevered and won two straight games in Houston to advance to the World Series.
When the Astros’ bats went crazy in a thrilling World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Taubman credited not the team’s explosive offense or “juiced” balls, but a team-wide initiative to rally following the damage of Hurricane Harvey to Houston.
“There’s never going to be any data to support that. … But I can tell you that I feel a connection and a desire for our front office and for our players and staff to make our city proud after what they went through.” He pointed to similar effects with the New Orleans Saints winning the Super Bowl shortly after Hurricane Katrina and the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series after the marathon bombing in 2013.
- Charlie Morton rewarded Brandon Taubman’s faith in him as a pitcher.
- Tom Pennington/Getty
Still, there were on-paper moves the Astros made that boosted their chances. Taubman, for instance, was an advocate for signing starting pitcher Charlie Morton the year before, buying low on a pitcher he believed had the potential to improve. Morton pitched the last four innings in the Astros’ Game 7 win, throwing four scoreless frames.
Likewise, Taubman and the front office advocated for trading for Justin Verlander during the season, citing the need to bolster their starting rotation.
“There was a lot of talk about how this was our year and if we were ever in position to win a World Series, this was it,” Taubman said.
“Having said that, I think there’s also an appreciation, at least for the guys upstairs, about the randomness or variability or luck or whatever you wanna call it, that’s involved in the game. So, what I would say is we felt that we were in as good of a position of any team in baseball to win a World Series, but also appreciated that things had to go right in player development and health and all that sort of stuff for our guys to be as great as they were.”
The work gets harder, but Taubman has never been happier.
Taubman is deferential. He credits those around him breathlessly, praising Luhnow’s vision for the team, the scouts, what he calls MLB’s best RND department. He also credits his wife for allowing him to pursue such a job years ago.
“A lot of people who have valuable skill sets [outside] of baseball don’t get into baseball when they find out entry-level positions pay them out close to the poverty line and the hours succeed 100 hours a week and it means moving away from home,” Taubman said.
“There are a lot of good people out there who could do what I do but they don’t because they don’t have the support around them,” he said.
With one championship under their belt, accomplishing, incredibly, Luhnow’s six-year vision for rebuilding the team, the Astros seek to improve, but the job is harder now, according to Taubman. How do you improve a team with this much talent, upgrade a roster that already boasts top-tier players around the diamond? The changes have to be incremental, and Taubman is excited to dig in deeper and continue learning about what creates success on the field.
“I find myself smiling at random as I walk into the stadium in the morning and get to walk past a baseball field. The ascension to my current role has been an amazing ride,” he said.
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Source : http://www.businessinsider.com/brandon-taubman-astros-executive-journey-2017-12