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Interview with Jin Wong, Director of Baseball Administration for the Royals (Part 1)

I would like to start out by thanking the Jin Wong and the Royals media relation staff, Mike Swanson and David Holtzman in particular, for giving me the opportunity for the interview. The interview was conducted on 11/17/11 and here is the first half of the interview.

How does a Group Sales Manager for a AAA team become a Director of Baseball Administration for a major league team?

I went to a small school in Virginia, played baseball there and didn't know what I wanted to do. One of my advisers, that had a lot of influence on where I am today, Larry Pinwell, found an internship with the Atlanta Braves and few other jobs. I only applied for just one baseball internship. I did eventually get a call back from the Atlanta Braves.

The internship was started by Hank Aaron, so my first job interview for a full or part time job was with Hank Aaron in Atlanta. They offered me the baseball internship. Dayton Moore was my immediate supervisor at the time. He was the assistant to player development and scouting director. Derick Ladnier was the Farm Director. Dean Taylor was the assistant GM and John Schuerholz was the GM. Paul Snyder was the scouting director.

I did the internship for the summer. It was a lot of grunt work. I must have made a good impression on one or more of those guys. At the end of the internship, there was no full time position open with the Atlanta Braves front office. They presented me with the opportunity to go to their AAA farm club in Richmond. They had quite a bit of say on what could and could not happen at Richmond since they owned the club.  They created a position for me there to apply my business degree and stay connected to the game.

During my second season there, Dayton was in town seeing the club and said Kansas City has a job open for a scouting coordinator. I was interested and Dayton made a couple of calls. He [Dayton Moore] recommended me. Derrick Ladnier recommended me. Dean Taylor recommended me. That is how it worked out.

I got an entry level position as a scouting coordinator helping with the amateur side of things. I worked my way into getting more exposure to the major league side; getting more responsibilities.

Your personal profile on the Royals website makes it seem like you have many different jobs and titles. What exactly do you do for the Royals?

A lot of things. My job biography is pretty accurate. There are many things that I juggle. For example, we just went through budget season. A lot of my time and effort was spent preparing the entire budget for the baseball operations department with some of the other department heads. Also, I keep Dayton and Dean in the loop where we are with payroll ... in terms of current major league payroll, projections for the next 5 to six years. Rules and regulations. Roster moves. Trades. I manage our stats department which I am sure everyone wants to know about. I am a sounding board for Dayton whenever we are looking at a potential deal. Dayton will go to a lot of people to get their opinions.

I work very closely with our scouting coordinator in identifying players from other organizations that we would have interest in. I do a lot with depth charts. Organizational summaries. I can give Dayton a sheet that gives an organization in a nutshell. What does their payroll at the major league level look like? What does their prospects at the major league level look like? What does their depth chart at the major league level look like. What are they paying each player? Who is out of options? Who is a potential free agent? Who is a potential arb[itration] eligible? A lot of that information needs to come from different sources and I figured out a way put in a format that is easily legible and understandable.

Another thing , I do a lot of work with our major league coaches on the advance scouting information.  [I] sort of coordinate that and see that the major league coaches have what they need. A little bit of everything, but it always keeps me on my toes. It is always interesting.

How does your job change depending on the time of year? For example, when do you begin preparing for arbitration cases?

It is very cyclical, for example this time of year we have 7 arbitration eligible guys off the top my head. There is not much going on right now until you tend to those guy's contracts. Then you start negotiating contracts in earnest. The thing that takes most of my time is speaking to agents on their clients, whether it is major or minor league [clients]. Making sure Dayton is in the loop about what it would require for a certain player to sign and come to Kansas City. After that, making the final decision based on his input on what we are going to do with those players. During the winter, that takes up most of my time. I am on the phone a lot. It is my busiest time of the year.

Heading to Spring Training, we need to get the coaching staff up to speed on who we have coming in. We make sure we have the players we want heading into Spring Training. During Spring Training, I make sure I know what is going on with the team on a day to day basis. Who is playing well. Who is not playing well. What can we do with these players during certain time frames? Are they hurt? What are the financial ramications of a keeping certain players on?

When you get into season, for me it is a little more maintenance. There is a lot of things that come up. Fires I have to put out .. in terms of players, staff. I do have to travel with the team quite a bit; making sure Dayton knows what is going on with the team from my perspective.

As you get into the spring, you have the amateur draft. I help with the draft even though I am removed from that now. There are other people in our department that help with that.

Then as you get into the fall, you keep your eye towards who is going to be a free agent, the trade deadline, who's available and acquisition costs. The whole year I am constantly on the internet reading rumors, reading news that potentially affect our team, other teams in the division, with the new CBA and how it relates to the market place with players. What salaries are being tossed around? Who is signing for what and how it would affect a player on our club, a free agent or another player on another club we would have interest in acquiring. That is pretty much my cyclical year.

Two aspects of your job description I would like to go into more detail. What exactly do you have to do for: major league rules interpretation and compliance?

It is 'what can you do with a player'. When can you send him down? When can you bring him back? What are the procedures for dealing a player? Whether it is a 60, 15, 7 day concussion DL. Paternity leave. Family emergency rules. What has to be done with waivers? Basically knowing what is in the CBA and the Major League rules handbook.

What entails being the video coordinator for the players?

I oversee that department. We have a gentleman by the name of Mark Topping in charge. It basically runs itself. When I came here '99, we were still using VHS to video tape players and show them their at bats. As you can imagine, it was very time intensive. Just a pain to be quite honest. We implemented a digital system which everyone has now. I just oversee that department, making sure the video is getting to our players and staff as needed. It just runs itself. Mark is good at what he does and is on top of things.

Speaking of looking at video, a fellow writer, Connor Moylan, and I examined why some mainstream defensive stats show that Eric Hosmer was not a good defensive 1B. We looked a little further and found that he might be playing too close to 1B compared to other 1B. Did you the see the work and what is the Royals stance on the study?

I did, but I didn't read the entire post. It certainly makes us think a bit. Our defensive positioning is handled by Eddie Rodriguez. He is the infield coach on our major league staff. He gets detailed spray chart on each hitter versus right handers and left handers prior to each game. He places those guys defensively according to his charts and what he has seen. It is something we will probably have to ask Eddie about in terms of specifics. We did see it and made us think a little bit.

Are there any good publicly available defensive metrics? How does it compare to the Royals in house data?

Defensive metrics is the holy grail of statistics right now. We don't put a lot of emphasis in the defensive metrics. We are aware of them. We take them into consideration when talking about players. We will definitely lean more to the subjective when talking about defense, but know there will be a lot of ground made up with the Field FX system. Once we get and understand the data; create our own metrics, then we will be a lot closer to quantifying defense.

Do the Royals do much analysis when the eye test and the stats don't match up? If so, do you have an example from the past?

Sure and a good example for a long time was Alex Gordon. He had the tools to succeed. He wasn't having the results that everyone would have liked. Everyone from a scouting perspective was very optimistic that it would eventually come ... the results would be there and it would happen. It took a lot of time and effort from Alex and Kevin Seitzer.

Well, that is it for today.  The second half of the interview will be available Monday.