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SSS meets Dan Fabian, Chicago White Sox Director of Baseball Operations

Dan Fabian, being more knowledgeable than most.
Dan Fabian, being more knowledgeable than most.

Noticing that it had been far too long since granting us the pleasure, our old friend Marty Maloney sent out the usual invite to the White Sox blogosphere. This month's subjects include Dan Fabian (Director of Baseball Operations/MLBN game show contestant) and Brooks Boyer (Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing). Obviously, this is not the post you want to be reading to hear what Brooks said. That transcript will be up in the morning. But if you're like me and had little to no idea what the DoBO (I like this acronym) actually does, you should keep reading.

Mark Primiano: Could you run us through what a typical day for the DoBO is like?

Dan Fabian: Well it depends on the time of year. My typical day during the season is I go through a process of things I do every day, I go through my daily charting (just the way I read my box scores), then it is also a lot to do with the pro scouts. We have eight pro scouts cover the minor leagues, catching up on their reports that come in along with the general organization of those. Scheduling where we want to send scouts to. Those are probably the two things during the season that sort of take up the majority of my time. And then it's just various projects, making sure we get all the information we need to get to our coaching staff. Daniel Zien, one of our assistants, handles the video portion of the advance scouting, but I assist with him there as well. Things come up during the year.

Jim Margalus: With such a large turnover on the coaching staff, how has that changed your offseason preparation and what you need to do?

DF: Well, it's still kind of evolving at this point. We're here to provide them what they need and we're still all getting started. We're letting them know what we've done in the past and they're asking for things they've had at other places. It's still evolving at this point, so I don't know if there's been a great difference, but as we get into the season we'll all settle into the routine.

MP: According to your bio on the team site, you were instrumental in developing the White Sox Scouting Portal. What exactly is that?

DF: The scouting portal is a site where you can go to see any of our scouting reports or statistical information online. It's something that started about ten years ago. It was just trying to make it so where ever you were traveling to watch a game in the minor leagues, you could get whatever you needed to see. It worked in improving the way the information flows.

Frank: What is it like around the major league trade deadline for you?

DF: The major league trade deadline is extremely busy. Really, we try to anticipate things as much as we can and have a bunch of material before hand, but things do pop up. There's two kinds of the trade deadline: the buying trade deadline and the selling trade deadline, but you still have to be prepared. Basically, we've gone through the first and second waves of our coverage at that point, combined that up with various statistical information, try to have it and hand and ready to go so that when something comes up, we can very quickly pull it together. When trades come up, I'm sort of the first wave of compiling sort of a packet of players that are "Hey, here's the ten guys from organization X that we should be thinking about. Now let's look at the top four for the first guy and the next six for the second guy" and then that's where Ken Williams or Rick Hahn obviously make the final decision. It's trying to get the information in front of them to help facilitate the conversation.

JM: To follow up on that question, what percentage of the players that you come up with are players that were requested that you look up and how many were ones that you saw that might be of interest to Kenny and Rick?

DF: It's all both. They'll give you parameters on what we're looking for at what levels and obviously there's different levels of trades, but I'm really the first wave of information, I'm the guy sort of relevant. This offseason we've had a few of those. You get the information there and then the other organization obviously gets to say no to players too, so you have to react to that and try to find the right match.

JJ Stankevitz: When you put together these lists, a lot of times it seems that a rumor comes out that team X is looking at player Y, do a lot of these rumors come out of the preliminary lists that you put together?

DF: I wouldn't think any of them come out of our information. We're very tight-lipped and closed with what we have, so I think that very rarely do we see players that we're discussing come out. Honestly, things do come out from trades, but we keep it in a pretty small group and we feel pretty good when we do things and there wasn't a lot of feelings out in the world that this is what we were doing. We don't want to get things ruined by having information get out before it's ready.

Paul Banks: Looking at different players, how much do you weigh with the eye test and how much do you weigh with statistical analysis?

DF: It's obviously both and my background is in both areas. Back in the 90's, I spent a lot of time as the Assistant Scouting and Farm Director. When Kenny came up, I worked the statistical research I'd done on the farm side on the major league side as well. I'm an old lion stathead going back to the Bill James Abstracts in the 80's and ELIAS and all that, so I've been doing a lot of the years on both sides. The scouting reports are going to be first, but the statistical analysis is another piece to try and determine which players are the best fits. Everyone one of our summaries has both those things on the page. It has the most recent scouting reports along with the statistical analysis with the basic numbers and some of the higher sabermetric numbers as well.

PB:Did you see Moneyball and how true to life did you think the movie was?

DF: I haven't seen the movie, but I've read the book. I just haven't quite gotten to it yet. I thought the book, at the time, there were some pieces that were true and that the book over exaggerated how much only they were doing at the time. There were some pieces that some others of us were also doing, but they made it seem a bit like they were the only club doing any of that stuff, which is always a bit of a stretch of the truth.

MP: So with the popular narrative that the White Sox are one of the least sabermetrically friendly organizations, you would say that's generally untrue?

DF: We're glad that people think that. But we use all kinds of different pieces. Kenny's very straightforward that he's going to look at the scouting report first, but at the same time I know that he'll also look at the statistical information. We have discussions about various profiles we like to see, things that have evolved over the years. There are always two sides to the coin and I think we've always been more in the middle and there seems to have been more of a correction in the industry towards the middle at this point. It got very stat heavy for a while there and I think everybody's realized you need both pieces there.

Sorry, people sounded very alike this time: The White Sox offseason has focused on the acquisition of pitching. Is there anything you could share with us about the farm system and the retooling efforts going on in regards to restocking the pitching game or are you going to be going after any fielder additions as a higher priority in the draft or other acquisitions?

DF: This question is more for Nick Capra or Buddy Bell than me. Kenny has always put a priority on pitching. His feeling is that if you have pitching, you can go out and get what you need. We're always going to be looking for pitchers as a high priority through trades and the draft. He wants to have as much pitching on hand as possible as a general philosophy. When there's a positional player that works, we jump on it. For the trades this offseason, the pitching was what just happened to work out best.

JM: There were reports that the previous regime became increasingly closed off to the number crunchers. Are you seeing a big change in how ideas are received or are you anticipating a different kind of discourse?

DF: We had meetings through this offseason and the coaching staff has been very open to hearing things and that's all you can ask. Ultimately, it comes down to Robin and his coaches to make the decisions and we just provide the information. As we evolve, we'll find out what works for them. We're here to help provide them with what we feel helps win games.

JM: Was there kind of a breakdown between the management staff and the baseball ops staff?

DF: I just want to look forward to 2012. We're going forward and we're happy with where things are set up right now.

Frank: What are some of the intangibles you look for in the scouting reports?

DF: You like to see the way a player carries themselves on and off the field. With the amateurs, you get to know the kids through home interviews. There's so much failure in this game that we definitely pride ourselves on our scouts getting to know these kids as best they can. If you can't deal with the failure, it's obviously not going to work out. We put a focus on that.

JJ?: Do you feel that with the new rules in the CBA about draft spending that scouts will become more important to determine later round talent that may be more effective?

DF: I think that's always been important. Your scouts are always going to be critical to finding players. You're always going to have guys that are better at that than others. I don't know if that's really changed. We'll see how it evolves this year. I don't think out scouting method is going to change at all. Obviously the first round guys area different world than an eighth-round guy, but you're always trying to find sleepers. Your Santiagos and Kuhns, later round guys that are now moving their way through the minor leagues.

JM: Are you seeing any new developments in data and the way teams are going to see the game?

DF: There's so much more information than there used to be. I laugh that I have a box full of old box scores in my basement back home because back then that's the only way you got information. It cracks me up now how easily everything is available, like the pitch f/x data, and everything out there that guys like yourself are putting out there. I think stats on defense have the most work to be done. The pitcher and hitter analysis has made a lot of progress. We work with Baseball Info Solutions on their Fielding Bible information and UZR. I think defense is still the great unknown.

Tomorrow's post will cover the Boyer interview, with such topics as dynamic pricing, marketing in down years, and the return of Free Bat Day.