Yankees partner with analytics powerhouse to revolutionize offseason strategy

Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees in action against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium on May 3.

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The New York Yankees have taken a significant step in their offseason preparations by enlisting the services of Zelus Analytics, a prominent sports analytics company. The identity of this hired company, which will play a pivotal role in reevaluating the Yankees’ approach to player performance, in-game decision-making, and more, has been shrouded in secrecy until now. A league source, who chose to remain anonymous due to a lack of authorization, disclosed this vital development as reported by The Athletic.

Who are they?

Members of the startup Zelus Analytics.

Zelus Analytics, spearheaded by its Chief Operating Officer Inderpal Singh, has refrained from commenting on their collaboration with the Yankees. However, this strategic move aligns with Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner’s previous statements. On August 31, Steinbrenner expressed the team’s interest in bringing an external entity on board to scrutinize their analytics practices comprehensively. The culmination of this endeavor is Zelus, an analytics company with a commendable track record of working with numerous Major League Baseball teams and various professional sports franchises since its establishment in 2019.

Zelus boasts an impressive team of experts, with two of its co-founders previously employed in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ front office. Doug Fearing, the CEO, established the Dodgers’ research and development department, while Dan Cervone, the principal data scientist, previously served as the Dodgers’ director of quantitative research. Zelus employs approximately 70 professionals, many of whom hold titles like “scientist” in their job descriptions. Notably, Andrew Hopen, Zelus’ senior data scientist, brings experience from his time in the Yankees’ analytics department.

Vince Gennaro, the associate dean of the Preston Robert Tisch Institute for Global Sport at New York University, characterized Zelus’ team as a “dream team of analytics.” This sentiment underscores the significance of the Yankees’ newfound analytics partnership with Zelus.

Zelus Analytics has recently announced an infusion of $3.6 million in investments from various companies, including RedBird Capital, an investment firm that partnered with the Yankees in acquiring Italian soccer club AC Milan the previous year. This financial backing further enhances Zelus’ standing in the industry.

The mission of Zelus, as articulated by CEO Doug Fearing, revolves around assisting sports teams in leveraging data to achieve victory. This includes tasks such as projecting and enhancing player and team performance by utilizing intricate proprietary data sources to create models that contextualize historical and future performance. These models aid in strategic decisions related to player acquisitions and extend to tactical and in-game decision-making, including assessing player matchups.

Why did the Yankees make this decision?

The decision to collaborate with Zelus Analytics comes on the heels of a tumultuous season for the Yankees, marked by a series of disappointments. General manager Brian Cashman acknowledged that the 2023 season was a “disaster” as the team finished with an 82-80 record, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2016. This outcome was particularly disheartening given the high expectations the team had set at the beginning of the season, with aspirations of winning the World Series. Notable acquisitions of Aaron Judge and Carlos Rodón during the previous offseason, with lucrative contracts amounting to $360 million and $162 million, respectively, did not yield the anticipated results.

Injuries to key players such as Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo, and Giancarlo Stanton, coupled with underwhelming performances by others, compounded the team’s challenges. Captain Aaron Judge pointed to the need for a fresh approach, suggesting that the team should reevaluate its statistics, potentially incorporating previously overlooked metrics that could provide valuable insights.

In the wake of these setbacks, the Yankees’ leadership and decision-makers convened in early October at the team’s player development complex in Tampa. The discussions were described by Steinbrenner as “dicey” during a Sportico conference in mid-October, emphasizing that no stone was left unturned in the quest for solutions. While personnel changes were a possibility, Steinbrenner also hinted at a broader scope of alterations that could encompass practices and communication strategies, with a focus on enhancing the synergy between minor league and major league coaching staff.

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