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Ruben Amaro, Jr. says Phillies’ anti-analytics image was a ruse to gain a “competitive advantage”

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Former Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. is now a first base coach with the Red Sox, which is cool. One doesn’t often see the transition from the field to the front office back to the field. Of course, this comes after a tumultuous tenure in Philadelphia when he went from an evil genius — stealing Cliff Lee in the dark of night from the Yankees and Rangers — to a town dunce.

While the degree to which Amaro failed as GM of the Phillies was overstated, he made a fair share of blunders, especially when it came to speaking to the media. He downplayed Jesse Biddle‘s concussion symptoms, called Andy Oliver “foolish” for seeking a major league job rather than accepting a minor league assignment, said he was tired of Phillies fans who “bitch and complain“, and said that the Phillies would be better off without Ryan Howard.

That’s not even acknowledging any of the analytics-related missteps. Amaro once argued that players don’t get worse as they age. He didn’t know that walks aren’t counted as official at-bats. And before that, he said he didn’t care about walks; rather, he cared about production, as if walks aren’t productive. He once compared Kyle Kendrick to Matt Garza based on their win totals. The Phillies were one of the last teams without a dedicated analytics department. They hired Scott Freedman as a consultant after the 2013 season, but didn’t institute an actual department until later. The organization unveiled an internal database towards the end of the past regular season, after Amaro was relieved of his duties.

David Laurila of FanGraphs caught up with Amaro and asked about the whole analytics thing in Philadelphia.

“You can’t ever deny the numbers. That’s true for every GM and every baseball person, regardless of whether you’re ‘old school’ or ‘new school.’ When a scout walks in, the first thing he does is pick up a stat sheet and look at what the player does and what he’s been doing. The numbers don’t lie.

“I’ve always believed in analytics. I just didn’t make it all public (in Philadelphia). I thought it was more of a competitive advantage for me to keep our thought-process about analytics closer to the vest. We didn’t boast about what we were doing — we didn’t discuss it openly — because I didn’t think it was anybody’s business but our own as to how we evaluated.

“We got a little more aggressive, as far as building our analytics department, probably three-or-so years ago. It did maybe become a little more public then. But that doesn’t mean we weren’t utilizing analytics to some degree earlier than that.”

In an article by Doug Miller for MLB.com back in January 2010, special assistant Charley Kerfeld said, “And since I’ve been here, we don’t have an in-house stats guy and I kind of feel we never will. We’re not a statistics-driven organization by any means.” He added, “I’m not against statistics. Everybody has their own way of doing things. But the Phillies believe in what our scouts see and what our eyes tell us and what our people tell us.”

If Amaro is telling the truth — that this whole thing was about portraying a certain image for a competitive advantage — then his entire tenure in Philly was the longest and most unsuccessful con in baseball history.

Bryce Harper is really just a tiny bit better Adam Lind when you think about it

Associated Press
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Tom Boswell of the Washington Post writes about an important matter facing the Washington Nationals over the next year: what to do about Bryce Harper, who is entering his walk year and will be a free agent a little over 12 months from now.

That’s a fine and important question. The Nats do need to decide whether to offer Harper a long term deal, when to offer it and, above all else, how big that deal should be. Should it be $300 million? $400 million? Should it be conventional or unconventional, with opt-outs and such? It’s not every day that a generational talent comes along and it’s even more rare that the generational talent hits free agency at the age of 26, so the decisions facing the Nationals are not easy ones.

Boswell acknowledges that bit of trickiness, but he also, strangely, spends a whole lot of time trying to portray Harper as an ordinary talent. He starts with health, comparing him poorly with Stephen Strasburg, who is ranked 30th in games started over the past five years. In contrast . . .

In those same five years, Harper ranks 90th in games played, just 126 a season, and now he says he should have skipped quite a few more games in 2016 when he had a balky shoulder. That’s almost six weeks out per season.

Nowhere in the column is it mentioned that the several weeks he missed in 2017 was the result of a freak injury in wet conditions and that, despite that, Harper worked his tail off to come back and be ready for the postseason. Not that Boswell doesn’t mention the postseason of course . . .

Harper, for the fourth time, failed to lead his team out of the first round and has career playoff batting average and OPS marks of .215 and .801. By the high standards of right fielders, he’s Mr. Average in October.

I suppose it’s not Boswell’s job to refrain from insulting a player on the team he covers, but he certainly seems hellbent on insulting not only Harper, but our own intelligence via comparisons like this:

In the past five years, in those 126 games, Harper averaged 26 homers, 72 RBI and a .288 average. Over the last nine years, Adam Lind averaged 128 games, 20 homers, 70 RBI and hit .273. That’s selective stat mining. Harper is much better, in part because he walks so much. But Harper and Lind in the same sentence?

“A person can eat delicious chocolate cake or lead paint chips. The chocolate cake is much better, but chocolate cake and lead paint in the same sentence?” I guess Boswell gets points for acknowledging that it was a misleading comparison, but if he thinks it is, why make it in the first place? If you want to eliminate this one as an outlier, cool, because he makes a lot of other comparisons like that in the piece.

This is not necessarily new for Boswell. Here’s something he wrote about Harper in 2014:

Harper has not driven in 60 runs in either of his two seasons. He has only five RBI this year. He’s never had more than 157 runs-plus-RBI. Ryan Zimmerman has had between 163 and 216 six times. Adam LaRoche, no big star, has had 175 or more three times. Fourth outfielder Nate McLouth once had 207. Can we get a grip? Counting their three top starting pitchers, Harper may be the Nats’ seventh-best player. If forced to choose whether Harper or Anthony Rendon would have the better career, I’d think twice. Harper is in a self-conscious, fierce scowl-off with baseball. Rendon dances with it and grins. Baseball loves relaxed.

That was written 16 games into his age-22 season.

I’m not sure what Boswell’s beef with Harper is. I’m not sure why he’s contorting himself to portray him as an ordinary player when he is fairly extraordinary and, most certainly, a special case when it comes to his impending free agency. In his career he already has 26.1 career bWAR, 150 homers, an MVP Award under his belt and, if it wasn’t for that freak injury in August, would have a strong case for a second one. Guy has a career line of .285/.386/.515 and he turned 26 four days ago. He’s younger than Aaron Judge.

My view of things is that players should ignore the media for the most part, but they don’t always do that. Sometimes the hostility or criticism of the local press — especially from the most respected portions of the local press who have the ability to shape fan sentiment — gets to them.

Which is to say that, if this kind of noise keeps up, I wouldn’t be shocked if Harper puts up a line of .340/.480/.650 in 2018 and then walked the hell out of D.C. for New York or Chicago or L.A. or something. Would anyone blame him?