According to multiple people with knowledge of the situation, his decision to leave is centered on wanting to gather experience with another team and ultimately advance his career. When he told General Manager Mike Rizzo he was moving on, Mondry-Cohen did not have a next job lined up.
“My time with the Nationals has been a dream come true,” Mondry-Cohen said. “From 59 wins to a World Series ring, intern to assistant GM. But after 13 years in D.C., the best way for me to grow as a baseball executive is to find a new challenge in a new organization. And I’ve been fortunate to have the support and mentorship of Mike Rizzo throughout my baseball career. I never expect that to change.”
Mondry-Cohen is assistant general manager for baseball research and development for Washington. In short, he is head of analytics, but that also oversimplifies his role.
He joined the Nationals full time as an analyst in baseball operations after he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. From there, Mondry-Cohen was promoted to a manager on the operations staff before rising to director for R&D in 2014. After the 2018 season, he signed a three-year deal that runs through this October. Then ahead of the 2019 season, months before the Nationals won a title, he was officially elevated to assistant GM under Rizzo.
While running the R&D team, Mondry-Cohen helped develop the Pentagon, the Nationals’ internal statistics database. And while Washington is known as a scout-first, old-school organization, Mondry-Cohen and his staff were part of a subtle shift toward a more balanced approach. That has shown behind the scenes in player acquisition and in-game strategy. It was, after all, the numbers guys who pushed the Nationals to trade for Howie Kendrick in 2017. Another example is defensive positioning; the Nationals have shifted more aggressively in recent years.
In late October 2019, Rizzo called the Nationals “sneaky analytical.” Around the same time, he told the New York Times of analytics: “There’s good information there, really good information, and I think it helps not only in advancing for a team but also in developing players. We need it, we want it, we embrace it, and we don’t make a decision without it.” Rizzo did not respond to multiple requests to be interviewed for this story.
Phil Rizzo, Mike’s late father and a longtime scout, once called Mondry-Cohen “the smartest guy around” in a 2014 profile for the team’s magazine.
“You know my thoughts on analytics and things like that,” Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals’ longest tenured player, said at LoanDepot Park in Miami on Tuesday. “I’ve known Sam for years, and I think he’ll say this, too: At the beginning, he sort of came in like purely on the analytics side. And he’s learned more of the baseball side as he’s been around.
“For me, it’s the complete opposite. I was only the baseball side and have slowly learned what he does. We’ve kind of gone different ways, and as we’ve gotten to know each other, as we’ve started to talk a bit more, I realized he’s a really smart guy and he knows the game a lot more than he did. That’ll help him a lot in whatever is next.”
Mondry-Cohen’s impending exit is part of an ongoing shake-up for the R&D team. Earlier this season, Isaac Gerhart-Hines, a director of software development, departed after six seasons with the organization. He was later replaced by Jason Holt, who was previously a data engineer for The Washington Post. And in early September, Scott Van Lenten, a member of the department since 2017, was hired away to be Colorado Rockies’ director of research of research and development.
Once Mondry-Cohen departs, the highest-ranking member will be Lee Mendelowitz, whose title is director of baseball research. But because Mondry-Cohen and Van Lenten were both key in translating data to players and coaches, the Nationals could look to hire someone with some blend of analytics and baseball and experience. For Mondry-Cohen, that mix was cultivated over time.
“He really started to understand that you have to relate to the players, that you have to relate to the talent,” Zimmerman said. “The best thing he does is take time to reach out and listen to players, which I thought was really cool. He was good about saying: ‘Look man, I can’t do what you do, I just want to win. And I think I have stuff that can help you win. If you want to have a discussion, great. If not, I think you’re not using everything at your disposal to making yourself better and helping us win.'
“You know, he always circled back to just wanting to win. At the end of the day, that’s what we all want.”