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.