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In new role for Nationals, David Longley looks to get data and numbers to the field

David Longley is the new director of player development technology and strategy for the Nationals. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Titles in a Major League Baseball front office can be instructive or nearly indecipherable. A breakdown of the Washington Nationals’ roles alone could fill a whole article or three, showing the gray areas left by cryptic LinkedIn profiles. If this lockout goes another month, maybe we’ll try it.

But for now, take David Longley, the club’s new director of player development technology and strategy, as a worthy case. Try breaking down his long title like a spelling bee contestant.

Origin: The Nationals needed someone to oversee technology, data and player development strategy — they needed it badly — so they hired Longley this offseason amid a full reshaping of their minor league staff.

Use it in a sentence, please: Longley, the Nationals’ director of player development technology and strategy, comes to Washington after almost six years with the San Diego Padres, during which he had a hands-on role helping players scout opponents with analytics and video.

Definition: Sorry. That’s where this gets tricky.

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“Using the term ‘progressive’ or ‘progressive hire’ is a bit lazy, I think, because it’s not that simple,” Longley said. “Whatever titles mean in baseball, we don’t really know, but I’m helping with a lot of things and making information more accessible. The operative question is: How do you get it to the field? And if it doesn’t … and I say ‘it’ meaning data, meaning tech, meaning adjustments … does it really matter? That is sort of what I ask myself, where I think we can get wrapped up sometimes in everything we have access to, but if we’re unable to make it practicable, relatable and transferrable, and there are a number of reasons you can and can’t do that, then none of it is effective.”

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This is the natural spot to examine Longley’s résumé and why he’s fit for the role. After graduating from Wheaton College in 2012, then from the University of California San Diego with a master’s degree in Latin American studies, he joined the Los Angeles Dodgers as their Spanish interpreter for one year. From there, he spent a year with the New York Yankees as an assistant in amateur scouting and player development. And from there, he began his stint with the Padres, climbing from a coordinator to assistant director in baseball operations (and serving, for a period, as the team’s Spanish interpreter with the media).

When the Nationals overhauled their player development operation this offseason, infusing more data and technology was a must. Ownership committed to closing at least some of the gap between what Washington spends on tech compared with more forward-thinking teams. De Jon Watson, the team’s new director of player development, harped on wanting someone — or multiple someones — to operate technology, interpret data and work alongside coaches with traditional baseball backgrounds. That’s where Longley came in.

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“He’s an interesting cat because he is versed in both sides of it,” Watson said. “He’s been around the game quite a bit and at the major league level. I think he understood, when we had our conversations, how we’re trying to roll this out and really kind of grow and educate our players and staff. He’s been a great listening partner for guys who were just curious. And he’s also been able to kind of lay some things out and show them exactly how it plays and pull video and tie the video into the actual numbers, so we can see how it’s matching up to help grow both player and staff. So it’s been wonderful.”

Watson offered his assessment during the Nationals’ early minor league camp in late February. When Longley spoke to The Washington Post a week earlier, he had been in West Palm Beach for just a few days, making him cautious to state any big intentions for the role. He thought it would be weird for coaches to read about his plans before meeting him in person. He also explained that players and coaches will dictate specifics, which will evolve over time.

Evolution, as a concept, seems critical to Longley’s task with Washington. It’s no secret the Nationals have been slow to adopt data and technology and (insert modern baseball buzzword of your choice) in player development. Hiring Longley now was sort of like stepping into 2016 in 2022. So does he feel as though, given the organizational history, he has a thin margin for error with suggestions on a player report? Does he feel as if an early success rate is paramount to gaining trust among coaches and a front office led by General Manager Mike Rizzo, who was once a longtime scout and built a culture in his image?

“I’d contend to that with another question,” Longley answered. “It’s never one way or the other, right? I think the best teams do a really good job of blending data and scouting, and in terms of margin for error, I don’t necessarily think it’s that black and white. It’s not ‘This is the solution, guys.’ It’s more drawing on everyone’s expertise. … So many of these concepts are not new — we just have a better way of measuring them sometimes. There are definitely a lot of core components that have always made baseball players successful that we can perhaps capture in a different way.”