H@H: Ep 14 – On this episode, Ray talks with Trevor Ryan about Trevor’s background and career as a professional baseball scout. Trevor tells us how he got interested in the profession (1:58), and shares with us his day-to-day responsibilities throughout the year (5:42). Trevor also mentions an impressive array of current MLB stars (10:56) he’s crossed paths with at UCLA and through scouting. Finally, we wrap up the interview with why Trevor chose an MBA (12:56) & advice he’d give to others from untraditional backgrounds (21:52).
On when Trevor realized he wanted to work in professional baseball – “It was just this ‘aha’ moment, where I read the book (Moneyball), looked at the characters and their background, and said, ‘Hey, I think I could do that.”
Comparing building a sports team to investing – “I always compare it to running a hedge fund, to picking stocks. The key, just like not everybody can outperform the stock market, not everyone can win in pro sports without learning how to use data and create good, qualitative, analytical frameworks.”
On the value of an MBA – “Anybody can get a lot out of it. It’s a tremendous curriculum, teaches you how to think and then you can specialize and make it whatever you want once you get into electives.”
[00:00:19] Ray: Today we’re joined by Trevor Ryan, an evening weekend student who is also a pro and international scout for the Oakland A’s. Welcome to the podcast, Trevor.
[00:00:27] Trevor: Thanks for having me, Ray. Happy to be here.
[00:00:30] Ray: You have such a fascinating background. It’s a little untraditional, not only for Haas but also for the MBA. And we’ll get to that. But first, tell us about growing up, how you got into baseball, and eventually scouting.
[00:00:49] Trevor: Sure. Well, I grew up in Chico, up in North Valley, California. For people that don’t know it, it’s about a hundred thousand people college town. My parents had nothing to do with sports. They’re both accountants. They run their own financial services firm. But, I was a big sports fan growing up. My dad likes sports. We’re about three hours drive from the Bay area, so we’d normally go to one As and one Giants game every summer. I always got the pick. I always, the first day the schedule came out, I always said, all right, they’re playing the Yankees on April 24th, that’s the day. Yeah. So, I was just a big fan growing up.
[00:01:32] Ray: Did you go to any of the inner league games between the A’s and the giants?
[00:01:36] Trevor: I think, yeah, maybe once or twice growing up.
[00:01:41] Ray: So, was baseball your favorite sport growing up?
[00:01:44] Trevor: I was really into all of the big three sports. Big football, basketball, and baseball guy depending on the season. I really just got drawn to working in baseball at a really young age. After I read the Moneyball book, it was just, it was kind of that like, AHA moment where I read the book, I looked at the characters and their background and what the A’s were doing and I said, Hey, I think I could do that. And you know, I was probably in like eighth grade or so at the time.
[00:02:23] From then on, I really just chartered my path and started making every move about finding a job in professional baseball.
[00:02:34] Ray: Yeah. That’s crazy. You knew what you wanted it to be in eighth grade. That’s amazing.
[00:02:41] Trevor: Yeah. I was super driven, high achiever, super type-A kid. So yeah, I did. I decided that’s what I wanted to do. I had super supportive parents. And so they just told me, if that’s what you want to do, figure out, you know, how you’re going to get there. So, what I did was I started going online and looking at profiles of GMs and anyone else that I could find. And just researching their background and for anyone that didn’t play professionally, cause that’s obviously a pretty common background. But for anyone that didn’t play, I just started working backwards and figuring out what their past was and seeing if I could emulate it.
[00:03:26] Ray: So, yeah. I think you mentioned Moneyball. Were you surprised/impressed by the background of Billy Beane?
[00:03:34] Trevor: Yeah. Obviously, Bill is a brilliant guy. I mean, he’s a true innovator in the sport. So he, I mean, honestly, he was kind of a hero of mine growing up. Uh, just off that book, I always admired the A’s approach to putting together a roster and really how they were able to be so competitive with such a small payroll.
[00:03:58] Ray: Yeah. And then you see a lot of teams later emulating that model, and not all of them were as successful as the A’s because really, you look at the A’s and you see they’ve consistently made the playoffs. I mean, I know they had some rebuilding years here and there, but really the last 20 years they’ve operated in the same small market and have made the playoffs more often than not, which is very incredible.
[00:04:25] Trevor: Yeah, for sure. Billy and David Forst, and Dan Feinstein, his assistant GM, my boss, have all done really just an outstanding job fielding a competitive team on that shoestring budget. The A’s don’t have big-time resources and it’s certainly a disadvantage.
[00:04:44] But there are also advantages to being in our position as a smaller market team. We really, you know, can make daring, bold decisions. We can rebuild teams on the fly, cause there’s not, you know, there’s not really that fear a fan backlash of trading a star player right when he’s at the tip of his prime because our attendance isn’t great anyway, and you know, that’s just, and people expect us to do that. People understand the reality so that gives our front office a lot of latitude to do some daring things as well.
[00:05:26] Ray: Right. Okay. So, let’s talk about your job and work as a baseball scout. Can you tell us what you do on a regular day to day basis?
[00:05:41] Trevor: Sure. I generally start the year in spring training because I don’t have really any office responsibilities. So, in the offseason, I’m home. But when the year starts, I’m going to Arizona. So, I travel down there. I’m assigned three or four teams to cover throughout spring training. And my job really is just to be the Oakland A’s expert on those teams.
[00:06:10] Ray: Sorry, you’re talking about opposing teams.
[00:06:12] Trevor: Correct. Yeah. So, I would have, so this year, before we got sent home with the shutdown, I had the Giants, the Rockies, and the Diamond Backs. So, a typical day, I will just, in spring training, I’ll see which of those teams has the most, you know, appealing game for me that day.
[00:06:33] I will go to, you know, I’ll go to the Giants game, nice and early, watch batting practice, watch them do drills and all that stuff and then watch the game. When I get back to my hotel at night, I’ll type up my notes, put stuff into our scouting system, and send my observations and updates to the front office to help them in their decision making.
[00:07:01] Ray: So, for our listeners who aren’t familiar with baseball, spring training happens before the season, so it’s in February and March. So, that’s what you do, I guess, scouting them in spring training. What about after when the regular season begins.
[00:07:19] Trevor: Yeah, once the regular season begins, my job gets crazy. So, most Scouts are, you know, in one defined area. So most Scouts will either be a pro scout, which means you watch other teams, minor league, and major league players just in the US or an amateur scout, which means you’re watching junior college, college, and high school players to prepare for the draft, or just an international scout, which means you’re traveling internationally preparing for those signings. But I do a hybrid role for the A’s, so typically, I’ll be assigned different minor league teams around the US so, you know, I’ll travel, I’ll hop on a plane and go to Montgomery, Alabama for five days, and then go to Charleston, South Carolina for another few days, you know. And then, I mix in the international duties as well during the season. So, I might stay in the US for a couple of weeks, then go to the Dominican for a week or Columbia or Mexico or somewhere like that. So, it really gets pretty hectic once the season gets going.
[00:08:33] Ray: Yeah. So, there’s lots of travel involved. What are your most favorite parts of the job?
[00:08:39] Trevor: I think my favorite part of the job has gotta be just seeing the world with someone else paying for it.
[00:08:48] Ray: That’s nice.
[00:08:49] Trevor: I mean, yeah, it is really cool because, you know, you get to go on vacation, you know, you might travel, you might go to Europe, go to New York or Chicago and see some locations. I am really thankful. I’ve been all over the country and to multiple places internationally that I never would have gone on my own. It’s really awesome to be able to see the world that way.
[00:09:15] And then also the access is pretty fun just as a fan of major league baseball growing up and now to be able to go to games at the Coliseum and, you know, walk in the clubhouse and go on the field for BP. And, all that stuff is pretty outstanding.
[00:09:34] Ray: So, how did you, I guess, get to this point in your career and how do you advance in your career? Like as a scout, did they have KPIs, key performance indicators, or metrics that you’re judged upon? How much of your career depends on your success versus the team success? I’m just curious about the career growth as a scout and how you move onwards and upwards.
[00:10:07] Trevor: So, getting a job in majorly baseball, it’s really hard. It’s really competitive. Like I said, I knew early that I wanted to do it. So, I went to college at UCLA, was not good enough to play there, but I figured the next best thing, you know, to be able to be involved with the team was to get a job with the baseball team at UCLA. So, one thing led to another. I went from doing the laundry and clubhouse duties when I first, when I was a freshman, to being their office guy, the director of baseball operations by my senior year. So, I’d run team travel and recruiting and while I was there, we had a lot of players that ended up being high MLB draft picks. We had Brandon Crawford, Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer. So, through that, you know, I was really able to work that network with Scouts and GMs and people that were coming in to see these guys. And really just kind of build those relationships. Eventually, the A’s hired me. So, I started with them in 2011. I was an area scout. I was in charge of the Southwestern part of the US for the draft. I would go watch college, high school, junior college players to prepare for the draft as one of many Scouts across the United States. I did that for four years and then they asked if I wanted to do my current job which gives me a little bit more influence and lets me do a little bit more interesting stuff. So, I’ve been doing that for the last four years. And then as far as career progression goes, it really depends. For a guy like me, the next thing would either be moving up in the scouting world. You know, becoming either a special assistant, which is like kind of just a way to recognize evaluators on your staff that are really important to your operations and to compensate them better. Also, without making them a director of a department, which would be another potential next step. Because there’s only, there’s only so many departments that people can oversee.
[00:12:39] Ray: So, Trevor, you’ve mentioned a few potential roles that you would be, could be pursuing in the future. Why an MBA? Why Haas? Just tell us about why you decided to pursue an MBA.
[00:12:56] Trevor: Well, as we discussed earlier, a pretty driven, ambitious guy. And, I get very restless in any particular role for more than a couple of years or so. I’d gotten to the point where I didn’t know a hundred percent what the next steps were going to be, but I knew that I needed to change.
[00:13:24] And I looked at the MBA. I looked at friends that I had in the business world that come out of business school. And I was just really impressed with how my friends had changed. I noticed how polished they become. They all raved about this incredible network they built, the great professors that they had.
[00:13:48] So, I started researching it and what I really wanted to work on was developing more managerial and leadership type skills because right now, I don’t manage people. So, I don’t really have a lot of real-life experience doing that. I thought that would be something to add to my, make me a more well-rounded. And then also add some real hard skills, some technical skills.
[00:14:17] You know, it’s not just baseball, every other industry in our economy really is going more data-driven, more analytical. And while I come from Econ undergrad background, I didn’t feel like I had really strong training in a lot of those analytical disciplines. So, I just felt like coming to Haas would be a good opportunity to round myself out from a professional level moving forward in baseball and also give me options if, you know, baseball wasn’t in the cards moving forward. It would give me a good launching pad for something else if that ended up being the path
[00:15:03] Ray: Right. And I think as we discussed earlier, the Oakland A’s a very progressive organization, they’re probably at the forefront of utilizing new methods to, whether it’s to evaluate players or just develop certain processes. I think Paul DePodesta, who is one of the AEs originals on Moneyball and right now I think he’s with the Cleveland Browns and he’s the Chief Strategy Officer. So, on that note, can you compare maybe some of the skills required to be a good baseball scout and how that can translate to other industries?
[00:15:43] Trevor: Yeah. Well, when you’re looking at running a baseball team and evaluating players, it’s really similar to any strategy role in a big company where you’re evaluating the different options that are in front of you. You’re gathering data, you’re using that data. And also, you might analyze from a qualitative standpoint to go into that decision. And, I always compare it to, you know, to run a hedge fund to pick stocks really, because you know, the stock market now, I mean, there’s a lot of, you know, quants out there. Everyone has the same information just like baseball. Every team has some deep analytical processes that they go through. And, really the key, you know, just like not everybody can outperform the stock market, not everybody can win in pro sports without learning how to use that data and creating good, qualitative, analytical frameworks on top of that to move forward.
[00:16:57] Ray: Yeah. And you talk about contracts, right? You see tons of, not just baseball teams, but sports teams dole out way too much for a player. Or on the flip side, they get a player at a bargain basement deal. And so, these are all, I guess, decisions that are made just as an organization, right? For most successful organizations, they mostly hit on their free-agent signings or draft picks. And the ones that are maybe not so successful are the ones that are failing on those.
[00:17:36] Trevor: Yeah. And I think the most successful teams, just like any business, are the teams that have a process, that have like an identity. With the A’s, our processes that we’re going to stick to, our numbers to what our evaluation says, and go with that decision. You know, even if we look silly. It really allows us to stick to our process and make the best decisions we have, make bold decisions knowing that they’re not all gonna work out.
[00:18:09] Ray: Yeah. Okay. Well, we have some closing questions for you, you know, surprise, surprise, they are sports/baseball-related.
[00:18:19] Trevor: All right.
[00:18:19] Ray: Is just kind of like our lightning round. You can consider this extra innings. First, who is your favorite baseball player growing up?
[00:18:29] Trevor: So, I was a big A’s guy, so I love the Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, and Tim Hudson, that trio of pitchers. That was my, those were my guys.
[00:18:39] Ray: Yeah. And they weren’t featured in Moneyball. That was one thing that most people who don’t follow baseball or sports know is that those three pitchers carry the load for the A’s, but I think they just want to focus on the analytics side.
[00:18:54] Trevor: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. They declined to mention those guys in Miguel Takahata and Eric Chavez and some other pretty good
[00:19:03] Ray: Yeah, for sure. Who is your favorite player that you scouted?
[00:19:08] Trevor: Well, the best player that I scouted that I’m still mad to this day that we didn’t get him was Cody Bellinger, of the Dodgers. He was a high school kid in Arizona when I was covering that area and we really liked him. He was a great kid. His dad played in the big leagues. He was super, super athletic, you know, he was like, you know, he’s a pretty good hitter, but he was just so skinny and weak.
[00:19:40] He was like 160 pounds. He had one home run in his senior year of high school in Arizona. Everything added up. But he was, he was playing first base at the time and he wanted a lot of money to sign and we just, we just kinda chicken out at the end, unfortunately.
[00:20:02] Didn’t get him. And now he’s MVP the league.
[00:20:05] Yeah. For any all-star.
[00:20:07] Ray: What was your favorite sports movie growing up?
[00:20:11] Trevor: I really liked the Original Major League. I mean, that’s not really a kid’s movie. So, I wouldn’t, that wasn’t my favorite movie growing up. But, if you want to, it’s a little bit over the top, but if you, relatively accurate, look at some of the more extreme guys in the league, you know, major league.
[00:20:33] Ray: Like an accurate look at the clubhouse culture.
[00:20:35] Trevor: And you know, it’s all a caricature, but you know, you got all types and clubhouses, you know, so.
[00:20:42] Ray: Yeah. Well, I like that movie cause my favorite MLB team is the Indians. I actually lived in Cleveland in 95 when they went to the world series. So, that’s a perfect movie for me.
[00:20:54] Trevor: That was an exciting time to be an Indians fan back then.
[00:20:57] Ray: What has been your favorite activity while sheltering in place?
[00:21:03] Trevor: I think my favorite thing that I do honestly, is just going for long runs outside. It’s like that one moment where you just feel normal, kind of forget that we’re all in this tough situation and we’re all stuck inside. So, I’m a big runner.
[00:21:23] Trevor: I love getting out in the mornings, throw in a podcast and you know, getting a few miles in.
[00:21:29] Ray: Yeah. What’s your favorite podcast or a couple that you listened to?
[00:21:33] Trevor: I really love Bill Simmons and his podcasts. He’s been doing it for a long time, and he always has great guests from both sports and entertainment.
[00:21:42] Ray: Right. Big Boston guy.
[00:21:44] Trevor: Oh, yeah. Big time. Yeah, he’s a huge homer, but he’s fun to listen to anyways.
[00:21:49] Ray: Okay. The last question I have, if you had a piece of advice for prospective students who are seeking an MBA, especially those from a non-traditional field, what would it be?
[00:22:01] Trevor: Definitely do it. I mean, we have a lot of people from nontraditional fields. Obviously, you have to look at your own situation and, you know, it’s expensive. It’s a lot, a lot of money. You got to determine if that investment is going to be worth it for your career progression.
[00:22:19] I honestly think, you know, an MBA is like the big boy version of a liberal arts education. Anybody can get a lot out of it. It’s a tremendous, tremendous curriculum. It teaches you how to think, and then you can, you know, you can specialize in and really make it whatever you want once you get into those electives too. So, I have nothing but encouragement for anyone out there seeking an MBA.
[00:22:46] Well, thank you, Trevor, so much, for coming on the podcast today.
[00:22:50] Thanks for having me, Ray. It was fun.