The general manager for the Milwaukee Bucks and general manager for the Milwaukee Brewers chat about sports management.
Sport as Science
Jon Horst, general manager, Milwaukee Bucks
David Stearns, general manager, Milwaukee Brewers
The two GMs are also friends, and patriarchs of young families. Horst, 35, and his wife have a 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son; Stearns, 33, and his wife welcomed baby Nora on the eve of the Brewers’ postseason run. (“I haven’t been getting a lot of sleep,” he says.) Their mid-November conversation began with how sports analytics – once an invisible force shaping the product on the field or court – is becoming increasingly visible to fans. – Moderated by Chris Drosner
Read more conversations in the January 2019 issue of Milwaukee Magazine’s cover story: Let’s Talk It Out.
Read an extended version of this conversation here:
DS: In baseball, we’re fortunate that literally everything that has happened on a major-league field has been documented going back 70 to 75 years or so. And when you start with that trove of information, it can lead to a lot of really exciting discoveries. It’s been a progression over the last 20 years, how information, big data and advanced analytics have informed our decision-making process.
JH: From the basketball perspective, it’s probably like a younger, less mature version of that. The shift that’s happened in the last 10 years, or really the last three or four years, is this tracking data and the ability to get deeper information beyond the base box score stats. Here with the Bucks, we’ve really tried to use it to give the coaching staff data and information to help support their style-of-play philosophy, and to try to find value on the margins in roster construction.
DS: Some of those tracking technologies that have infiltrated basketball also have made meaningful impact in baseball over the past decade. We now have Statcast, which is now in the public domain and if you’re watching a major league broadcast, you’re very much aware of some of the metrics that tracking technologies and camera systems and Doppler radars around the ballpark allow us to capture.
JH: My biggest surprise in having the role [of general manager], without a doubt, is the limited amount of time that we actually have to focus on what we’re really held accountable for, which is the talent that we put on the roster. There’s so much of managing staff, putting out fires.
DS: I’ve been fortunate that so far I’ve been a better executive in baseball than I was as a high school or college fantasy baseball manager.
JH: I played fantasy football for about three years and I’m horrible at it. I just delegated it. One of my guys who’s really, really valuable to me at running the Bucks, I just said, “I need you to run my fantasy football team,” and now we’re like 9-1.
DS: I grew up a huge sports fan in New York City and was a huge fan of all four major sports. Now I just spend my time outside baseball focusing on the local teams, but I try to catch Bucks games when they’re on and I’m at home, and most Sundays I’m tuned into the Packers. I think we all have a respect for what our counterparts in other sports are doing, and it’s fun to see the success that the Bucks are having this year.
JH: It’s fun for the state and for you and [Packers GM] Brian [Gutekunst] and myself to be similar in age, and similar in opportunity with these state-loved franchises. It’s good for the state to have three competitive, successful sports franchises.
DS: I think there’s a mutual respect, to understand the challenges that even if it’s a different sport, we’re all facing some of the similar challenges. It’s unfortunate that our seasons don’t align particularly well, so the time we actually get to spend together or talk is probably limited by the fact that when I have a little bit of down time, you’re going full force and same thing the other way around.
JH: You and I have had some great conversations about analytics and how they use it, sports psychology and just general structures for scouting staffs. The more that we get to know each other, the more we spend time with each other, I think there’s a lot we can learn from each other.
DS: We text fairly regularly, more to just check in and to let each other know that we’re following what the other guy is doing. That support is definitely helpful.
JH: We were really good friends until about six weeks ago [when Nora was born], now I haven’t heard from you. [Laughs]