Sabermetrics to be a part of MacPhail's Phils
PHILADELPHIA -- Like an eager high school student, Andy MacPhail, hired Monday to become the new Phillies president at the end of the season, was prepared for the pop math quiz his new bosses surprised him with.
Unlike a high school math quiz though, the questions Phillies owners Jim Buck, Pete Buck and John Middleton asked MacPhail weren't about algebra or trigonometry. They were about new-age baseball thinking and the emphasis MacPhail would put on sabermetrics upon becoming president.
MacPhail's answers impressed Middleton.
"Andy is a rare combination of both old-school experience and new-age thinking," Middleton said. "Old school because he has been doing this for a very long time. … New-age thinking because in the five years he spent as president of baseball operation for the Orioles, Andy greatly expanded the use of sabermetrics and statistical analysis in player evaluations."
To MacPhail, that expansion of sabermetric ideology in Baltimore was a culmination of what he had done in his previous stops. MacPhail said he made use of analytics as the general manager of the Twins in the 1980s and '90s, well before the "Moneyball" era in Major League Baseball.
In order to help MacPhail in immersing the Phillies deeper into the analytics movement, Middleton said that the Phils are launching and developing their own sabermetric system, custom made for their needs. Middleton expects this system -- to be called PHIL -- to go live in September.
Despite his history in dealing with statistical analysis and predictive algorithms, MacPhail said he doesn't necessarily understand the math that goes into these formulas but rather tries to surround himself with both people who do understand them and people who are skeptical of them.
"The more experience you have with it and the more you get a better sense of which formulas really are predictors of performance and which ones aren't, it's something that knowledge accrues over time," MacPhail said. "But I think it's absolutely essential that you marry that with the best human intelligence you can. Bodies change. Weaknesses get exposed and they get exploited. People make adjustments. So you need to look at every single facet that is possible when you're making player evaluations."
This attitude out of MacPhail is slightly different than what the organization has been accustomed to from its front office. General manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. has admitted that the Phillies were latecomers to the analytics era, but he maintains that they were only late because conventional wisdom was working for the team.
"One thing that we do have to remember also is that we have a lot of success and put together maybe some of the best baseball teams we've ever put together without necessarily having a proprietary system," Amaro said. "That doesn't mean we didn't utilize some of the analytics that were available to us. But at the same time, we did have success without that proprietary system."
It's there where MacPhail's marriage of metrics and scouting will come into play. Both the Phils of recent memory and some of MacPhail's past stops proved that teams can be successful without a large-scale emphasis on sabermetrics. But in the same way, MacPhail mentioned the reclamation processes the Royals, Rays and Pirates have undergone as an example of how new-age thinking works, too.
So to MacPhail, the two approaches need to be considered equally.
"When it comes to that sort of thing, I believe you look at everything," he said. "Absolutely everything. Why would you exclude any information? You're going to try to do every piece of homework you can to push the odds of being successful in your favor."
"You have to be comfortable at looking at anything you can possibly look at to get some sort of edge competitively to make a better decision," he said. "So it's just inconceivable to me that you'd hire somebody who just shut out a big chunk of valuable information. I wouldn't do it."