David Forst, From Harvard Baseball to Moneyball | sports

David Forst, From Harvard Baseball to Moneyball | sports

The journey of former Harvard baseball captain and shortstop David Forst saw him go from an exciting point in Harvard baseball’s success to being on the front lines of one of MLB’s most influential front offices of recent memory.

Let’s take a trip in time. The day is May 23, 1998, about a week and a half after Harvard baseball claimed an Ivy League championship from Yale.

On this day, the Crimson traveled to Baton Rouge, LA to face California State University, Fullerton in the South II Regional Round of the 1998 NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament. A win would propel the Crimson to the regional final, where a team would fall short of a berth in the College World Series for the first time in 24 years. But those aspirations quickly faded, as Cal State Fullerton demolished Harvard, by a final score of 11-3.

It was a tough way to end the season, but the show was the best it had been in decades. After a third consecutive trip to the NCAA regionals, the Crimson capped its deepest postseason run since 1983.

For senior captain and shortstop David Forst ’98, the loss marked his last time playing for the Crimson. In his final season, Forst slashed a .406/.437/.624 line, earned a third-team All-American selection and was the common denominator of the Crimson’s recent success.

A year later, Forst attended the Boston Red Sox’s 1999 spring training camp, followed by stints in the Independent Baseball League later that summer, with nothing materializing. By the end of the year, Forst’s playing career was over, but his career in the baseball world was just beginning.

“I think playing baseball at this level solidified the passion I always had for the game,” Forst said.

Instead of looking for work in other industries, he made a change, as any shortstop would, when the batter at the plate changed. But this time, instead of going from shortstop to second, he took a slightly different route: from the field to the front office.

“I think we all dream of playing [professionally]” said Forst. “When someone else makes it clear [that you no longer can]then it’s best to try to make it your everyday life.”

In 2000, Forst joined the Oakland Athletics as a front office scouting executive and began a journey that would change the face of modern baseball. Under the guidance of fellow Harvard alum and current Cleveland Browns Chief Strategy Officer Paul Depodesta and then-General Manager Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s front office created the “Moneyball Approach” to operations of baseball

Moneyball is a method that incorporates sabermetrics (or a type of analysis that takes into account physical scouting, statistical analysis and financial management) into baseball reception planning. The latter two aspects of sabermetrics became Oakland’s forte. By downplaying the importance of the “eye test” and focusing on underutilized stats like on-base percentage (OBP) and walks (BB), Oakland found immediate success and made the playoffs in the first two years of Moneyball implementation.

Forst joined the Athletics front office in 2000, as the “Moneyball” approach, featured in the book and movie of the same name, was coming to life. For Courtesy of David Forst

Since 2000, Oakland has had the sixth-winningest record in all of baseball. They did all of this while having one of the lowest payrolls in the MLB. The Moneyball system succeeded under tight fiscal restrictions and became the model for MLB teams.

“We were considered different simply because of taking college stats into account when evaluating players for the draft, and we’re not talking about advanced stats either,” Forst recalled. “We were talking about on-base percentage and walks. Whereas now, if you have no way out [velocities] and the launch angles and spin velocities of almost everyone on your draft board, you’re falling behind, so it’s a whole different set of measurements and numbers that we call ‘analytics’ today than we were 20 years ago” .

Free agency and the MLB draft, the two most important facets of the game related to roster construction, felt the impact of the league-wide adoption of sabermetrics the most.

Using these metrics gave smaller market teams, who don’t have the same spending luxuries as bigger market teams, the ability to excel in free agent signings on mid-level contracts, as well how to find a reliable and specific writing strategy. In many ways, the MLB draft, which looks for both high school and college athletes, is a black box, but sabermetrics provides a means to identify and acquire college players who were most likely to succeed in the MLB.

For Forst, it all started in a room with Beane and Depodesta.

“The luckiest thing that happened to me was working with her [Beane] and the fact that he brought me almost everything from day one,” said Forst. “When I started we had a small group. It was basically [Beane], [Depodesta]and myself at the reception.”

The Athletics made the playoffs for the next four years, reaching the American League Division Series (ALDS) from 2000 to 2003.

In 2004, Forst was promoted to Beane’s assistant general manager after Depodesta left Oakland to run baseball operations for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

For the next 11 years, Forst held that title, acting as Beane’s second-in-command. During that time, Beane deferred more leadership responsibilities to Forst, which perfectly positioned him to transition into his role today as de facto president of baseball operations.

“[Beane] “It was kind of shared leadership responsibilities with me, which was incredibly generous of him and also the best way to learn on the job because he’s now the leader of our baseball operation,” he said. forest

In 2015, Forst was promoted to General Manager of Athletics, where he filled Beane’s role as Vice President of Baseball Operations.

In November 2022, Beane left the scene of day-to-day baseball operations and moved into an advisory role, making Forst the de facto head of athletics operations.

Forst gives a lot of credit to Beane for guiding him throughout his career and helping him get to this point.

In the time it took Forst to rise to the top of Oakland’s receiving hierarchy, the world of baseball completely changed as a result of the A’s strategies in the early 2000s. The introduction of technology and the widespread adoption of statistical analysis revolutionized the way front offices operate.

The technological revolution also affects the efficiency of the game and time management. In recent years, many fans have labeled America’s pastime as “boring” or “slow,” but MLB is actively pushing to change those associations. In support of this, Forst holds up the pitch clock as an example of a positive change that only improves the game.

“Honestly, [the change that was needed] it was the pitch clock, and now that we’re doing it, I’m excited,” Forst said. “A lot of us have talked for years about wanting to speed up the pace of play. That’s (positive). I’m really glad we’re doing it.” .

Minor league baseball serves as a testing ground for future changes, including the addition of second base runners at the start of extra-inning games and, potentially the biggest change of all, robotic umpires . Traditional umpires are frequently the subject of controversy, primarily due to arguments over strike zone calls, but are also considered a key part of the game and its history. Forst leans towards the former and welcomes innovation in this regard as well.

“I think we have an obligation to our fans to fine-tune the product and make it as entertaining as possible,” Forst said. “I think automatic balls and hitting will be a part of that as well. I think there’s a lot of emphasis on the strike zone right now.”

Technology as a whole has tried to turn a rather subjective sport into a quantifiable and objective endeavor. Thus, the foundations that the Oakland A’s laid in the early 2000s seeped into other aspects of the game and will continue to innovate baseball well into the future.

Forst, now leading the A’s to a rebuild for the first time in decades, will have his work cut out for him at the winter meetings in San Diego. For the first time, he will have full reign in the management of A, with a difficult task at hand.

“Our goal now is to make the major league team,” Forst said.

For a front office that set the precedent for such circumstances, the Athletics will get their first real test in a tech-influenced rebuild.

– Writer Jack Canavan can be reached at [email protected]

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