Into the Vault: The Phillies and Sabermetrics

While digging around the internet to find Amaro quotes I came across this article by Bob Brookover in March of 2012.  From the title “Inside the Phillies: Who needs sabermetrics?” you know that this should be a treasure trove of bad Amaro opinions.  The author gets his opinions on the table very early in the article:

VORP means value over replacement player. BABIP stands for batting average on balls in play. PERA is the acronym for peripheral ERA.

The most devout sabermetricians will try to tell you that there is no better way in the world to evaluate players than through their convoluted equations.

But honestly I don’t want to know what author has to say on the subject, I care about the quotes, so lets strip out Bob and then isolate each player in the story individually.  This should give us a much better look at how the Phillies do business and where their mindset comes from.

Scott Proefrock – Assistant General Manager

On the use of sabermetrics

I honestly can’t tell you the last time WAR or VORP or any of those things were brought up in a conversation.  We’re aware of them, and we understand what they are. It’s just not something we find relevant.

“From our perspective, it is important that we are aware of those things because there are other clubs that value them more than we do and look at them more than we do.  So that can give us an indication of what they may think of some of our players and what guys they value maybe even more than we do because of the metrics.

Charlie Manuel – Manager

On what statistics he prefers and how he applies them to the game

“I’ve always been a guy who looked at OPS and on-base percentage.  I definitely think OPS is really good to look at. I think you gather as much information as you can, and that weighs into who you play and what your lineup is. It plays a little part in it.

On WAR

I need somebody to sit down and explain that to me.  I admit that there are some things that I don’t understand yet. But if I see something that lights me up, I don’t care if it’s new or if sabermetrics came up with it. I look at it.

On how he uses statistics to manager

When you’re sitting there and a guy brings up sabermetrics, they don’t know nothing about that guy, and that may be the biggest thing.  Sometimes a guy will look at you and say, ‘Why did you play that guy, he’s 1 for 16 against that guy with seven punch-outs?’ But when I’ve watched that guy, he might be 1 for 16, but nine of those at-bats the guy hit about three or four balls hard.  Shane Victorino last year, for instance, was 2 for 16 or something like that against Derek Lowe, and before I played him we talked about it. He told me he had a plan for going up there against him, and he stuck with it, and he got three hits.

Ruben Amaro Jr. – General Manager

On the utilization of stats

We do utilize some of the information, there are times when I think maybe we should use it some more, but, frankly, I have a great deal of confidence in the people that we have hired to help us make some of the scouting and personnel decisions. I err on that side probably because I believe in our people.

The human element

I believe you can break down and analyze statistics any way you really want, but when it comes to scouting heart and head, you can’t do it with sabermetrics.  In our current situation, I feel like talent and production is very important, but I want a player who has a championship-caliber outlook on how to go about his business.

On numbers in the minor leagues

It’s just too difficult to really project what the numbers will say.  I lived it myself. I was a great minor-league player but a terrible major-league player. If you looked at my OPS and my on-base percentage, it was ridiculous. But I wasn’t a good major-league player because I couldn’t hit a breaking ball. That’s something that the scout will find out and see and then you can exploit that area on a guy.

On Moneyball

I understand Hollywood is Hollywood, but there were a lot of unrealistic things that occurred in that movie.  The thing that bothered me most is I think the fact of the matter was that Oakland had so much success because they had three of the best starting pitchers in the game. I don’t know if that was mentioned more than once, if that. A lot of the movie was based around Scott Hatteberg moving to first base, and I don’t think that was the reason why they had so much success.

Let’s Unpack This:

  • The Phillies do not use advanced statistics in their personal evaluation of talent, they keep track of advanced statistics to know how other teams evaluate their talent
  • Would they be better if they used their own advanced statistics, YES
  • Does Amaro seem open to that idea, YES
  • As a whole they aren’t close minded about the idea of new information
  • They value scouting above statistics and think the context involved in scouting allows them to get better grasp on a player
  • They have a huge emphasis on mental makeup and value work ethic, you can see this with the veterans they have kept and the FA they have brought in.  Despite the character flaws of someone like Jonathan Papelbon, they value someone who goes about their work professionally
  • The prospects the Phillies have traded include a long list of players with character/makeup questions: Kyle Drabek, Jonathan Singleton, Vance Worley, Jarred Cosart, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor May

The end result is that the Phillies do a lot of dumb things in their baseball department that are counter to what the rest of baseball is doing.  They could make more improvements by moving forward as an organization.  For me this is more interesting in how the overall narrative of a person is constructed.  I have long pondered the question of how Amaro’s lack of public speaking ability and polish, coupled with his normal persona of being a smug, arrogant ass has affected the way he is portrayed in the media.  It is interesting to see that once you strip out the media the quotes are not overly forward thinking, but they are surprisingly informative and give a much better insight into how the Phillies evaluate talent and run their organization.

Image by ElCapitanBSC

Author: Matt Winkelman

Matt Winkelman
Matt is originally from Mt. Holly, NJ, but after a 4 year side track to Cleveland for college he now resides in Madison, WI. His work has appeared on Phuture Phillies, The Good Phight, and TheDynastyGuru.

8 comments

  1. Romus

    Well I hoping things are changing along those lines. Somewhat slow, gradual and relatively small at this point, but a move in the right direction with the following personnel currently in place for metric purposes to assist other baseball ops personnel in decision-making and contractual matters:
    Jay McLaughlin – Baseball Information Analyst
    Scott Freedman – Manager, Baseball Analytics
    Adele MacDonald – Administrative Assistant, Baseball Operations
    Chris Cashman – Baseball Operations Representative

  2. Alex

    I don’t think the media’s assessment of Amaro is at all related to his personality, I get that you have decided to take the positive stance on Amaro and the organization but I believe and many in the media believe Amaro is incompetent. The organization can’t move forward until there is new blood in the front office. You and other Amaro supporters have been citing his good decisions in the rebuilding process, outside of not signing vets to long term contracts what else has Amaro done to rebuild the org, he has not turned assets on the current roster into prospects and he has not utilized the international market to add talent to the organization. I am sure you will continue to defend every move he makes but I see no reason why Amaro should still be running this organization.

  3. allentown1

    They say they value heart and head in their scouting, but their draft performance doesn’t support that. How can any team that values heart, head, and work ethic draft LGJ in the first round? How can they draft to top-ten rounders in the same year and have them change their minds about signing? The point is made that there were questions about Drabek’s attitude. There were and we took him in the first round, anyway. It was still a pretty good pick. There were the same questions about Hamels, yet we took him in the first round and he was a great pick. One year, we drafted a college kid in the top 5 rounds. He had a very good first year in the minors, then just dropped out of baseball. I really see no evidence that the Phillies do an especially good job of evaluating heart, head, and work ethic. You mention the signing of Delmon Young, who really was lucky not to be a felon and who ate his way out of shape. How does he fit that model? I think Phillies FO makes a lot of excuses for themselves. They really can’t articulate a coherent philosophy of whom they draft, what FA they sign, and which of their own players they ship out. They’ve talked a lot about the importance of defense, then they added both Youngs in FA. They talk about teaching the kids to play the right way, but if you watch our AA and AAA teams its quite obvious that our guys are fundamentally weaker than the teams they play against. As an example, go to a few Phillies upper minor league games and compare the success at bunting of our pitchers vs the opposing pitchers. Look at how many of our runners get picked off, vs runners of opposing teams. Look at really bad decisions to try to come home or to hold at 3B. It’s really hard to identify a philosophy/personality of this organization beyond not spending beyond any Selig suggestion on draft or international bonuses and setting realliy low limits on what they will pay for an over-23 international player.

    • allentown1

      I meant to say added both Youngs in the same off-season. We traded for Michael — he wasn’t a FA.

  4. The Original Will

    We can all agree that some players are just bad apples, but “playing the game the right way” or “being a professional” is so often simply a euphemism for playing the game how old, white men think the game should be played. For me, that the Phillies to constantly reference that as a material consideration is simply further reflection of a backwards organization run by people who don’t understand what actually makes a valuable baseball player.

    For instance, I’m sure they look back at John Kruk and say, that’s the kind of player we love, a real dirt bag who played the game with passion. For that matter, John Kruk almost certainly thinks the same thing about himself, because there is no better way to become ingrained in a culture than to be immersed in it day after day since your are 8 years old.

    John Kruk was actually a very valuable player, but not because he played like a dirt bag, but because he never gave away an at bat, only swung at strikes, and could square up a ball to any part of the ballpark.

  5. biancs

    i think you are missing the point of the article. It is that when a previously developed narrative enters into an article quotes are then bent to support that existing narrative. Matt is by far not an Amaro apologist. And we all know that Amaro has made a number of mistakes as GM. But we, as supposed intelligent fans, need to be able to remove our biases and evaluate moves independent of our feelings on who is making them. This is important because this allso happens when we discuss and evaluate prospects. We need to be able to allow for both to be able to grow in a position and allow for the possibility that they can change. First impressions are only a small part of the overall picture and we need to be mindful of all evidence since then absent of bias. The best example of this was Kendrick who initially looked like a guy who would not last in a ML starting 5, but he was able to add pitches and change how he approached LH hitters to become a good #5. Back to Amaro, when we look at the moves and quotes over the last 2 years we see a trend toward making more wise decisions about player signings and roster construction. There will always be speculation on what orders for keeping older players were handed down to him (Utley and Rollins), but the Youngs were a roll of the dice acquisitions who were hopefully going to be complimentary pieces for a veteran team where hopes were mainly in health/recovery of our core. Once it was obvious that was not happening both Youngs were gone. The move that would have been Amaroesque would have been to throw tons of $ at either BJ Upton or Hamilton and they wisely stayed away. The Bird, Burnett, Roberto Hernandez signings were not that bad considering that they needed to prepare for the scenario where they possible could make a chase at the WC. when that did not happen them tried to move on. And as fan of the Phillies we should want him to hold out for the most return on players that he can and there was no reason to just dump $ for the sake of the owners having a better bottom line. Poor end of the 1st rd/comp rd. pick are to be expected from every organization and they had a good run of them. Poor trades are also something that every GM who has ever made one has been a part of. Remember Gillick traded Gavin Floyd and Gio for Garcia without medicals and he is widely considered a great GM.

    Just remember no one is saying Amaro is perfect or is above criticism lets just keep an open mind.

    • allentown1

      Lots of players can constitute a role of the dice in an attempt to find complementary players to add around the old core (this was also at a time when it should have been clear that the time for winning by doing that was past), but the Youngs brought a ton of baggage. The Phillies had been a team that emphasized defense, but in the YOungs, RAJ went out and acquired close to the two worst available players available in terms of defensive ability. Michael was becoming a DH. Delmon had a reputation as a bad defensive OF and was inexplicably awarded the starting RF job, despite his lousy D having already shunted him to LF. Domonic Brown, the Phillies top position-player prospect was shifted to LF to accommodate Delmon. Beyond that, the Phillies had been a team that emphasized character players. Delmon was the worst character player on the market. He had just come of a year in which he physically assaulted an elderly Jewish man in the lobby of a NYC hotel. He also had eaten himself into roughly spherical shape. The Youngs were awful acquisitions, who went against just about everything the Phillies claimed to value.

      The RAJ move couldn’t have been to sign Hamilton or Upton. He didn’t have the $$ to do that. His plethora of big contracts had finally caught up with him.

  6. philabaltfan

    Matt, your article would have been much better if you mentioned the four people( that Romus pointed out) the Phillies have hired since the article was written and how they use Sabremetrics now. I was told the Phillies have a staff of interns to help these people also when I volunteered to help them with Sabremetrics. This may not be the largest MLB Analysis department but the Phillies are making progress in this area. Lastly, not sure what your opinion of Amaro had to do with Sabermetrics which is surprising as you usually stay on topic.