He majored in economics and wrote a junior thesis called “Down on the Farm: An Examination of Competitive Advantages For Minor League Baseball.” He earned a master’s degree in sports management from the University of Massachusetts and worked at Baseball Info Solutions for the summer of 2006.
He came to the Nationals as an intern under director of minor league operations Mark Scialabba. As the Nationals ownership transitioned from MLB to the Lerner family, Cromie saw an opening. The Nationals lacked any kind of analytic systems.
“Every moment I was awake,” he said, “I was starting to build some database infrastructure and do things that would help us make decisions.”
Cromie taught himself the necessary skills and got to work, mostly by himself. After the 2009 season, with Rizzo now the full-time general manager, the Nationals hired analytically inclined executives Jay Sartori and Bryan Minniti. Ownership poured more money into the database. The additions ramped up Cromie’s project and brought the Nationals’ analytic operation up to speed.
“Up to that point, it had really been me in a corner plugging away on a computer,” Cromie said, laughing.
As Cromie was building an analytics department from the ground up, Mondry-Cohen’s fandom was sparking his interest in how baseball and numbers interact. He grew up in San Francisco, a rabid fan of the Giants. His father taught high school calculus and kept Bill James’s Baseball Abstracts on his bookshelf.
Through a family friend, Mondry-Cohen landed a job as a clubhouse attendant in the Giants’ visiting clubhouse. During the 2003 playoffs, he skipped class so he could sneak into the stadium and fold laundry. He read Tom Tango’s “The Book” and perused FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus on the clubhouse computer in front of players, hoping someone would notice and ask him about it. He once showed Carlos Delgado the FanGraphs player page for Tim Lincecum. “He said it was too much information,” Mondry-Cohen said.
Mondry-Cohen went off to college at Penn, where he majored in English and hung around the statistics department. He met Abraham Wyner, the professor who developed the Spatial Aggregate Fielding Evaluation, or SAFE, a leading advanced defensive metric. (“A very elegant model of defense,” Mondry-Cohen says.) He landed an unpaid internship with the Nationals after his junior year, and after the 2010 season, the Nationals hired him full time.
The addition of Mondry-Cohen allowed Cromie to focus more on broader strategic issues. Mondry-Cohen handles more granular items, either answering or doing research to prepare for the day-to-day questions Rizzo or another member of the Nationals may have.
Both Cromie and Mondry-Cohen sit next to Nationals’ scouts and decision makers at games, simply to see the game through their eyes.
“No joke, I’ve stood there with Mike as he goes through information looking at a player, just to understand what it is he’s spending the most time with,” Cromie said. “Because those are the things we need to focus on.”
The Nationals’ next need will arise soon. Rizzo will trust his scouts and his gut to make the best choice, but not before asking the English major and the tight end.