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Middleton notes discipline important for Phillies

As GM Klentak is introduced, partner at forefront of team's new direction

PHILADELPHIA -- Things are changing for the Phillies.

John Middleton's visibility over the past four months is perhaps the greatest indicator of that. Ownership remained in the background for years, even to the point the Phillies had no information about it in their media guide. But Middleton, one of the club's partners, made the announcement in June that Andy MacPhail would replace Pat Gillick as team president after the season. He and MacPhail held a news conference last month, when they announced Ruben Amaro Jr. would not return as general manager. He sat on the dais again Monday, when the team introduced Matt Klentak as the next Phillies' GM.

Middlelton has a clear vision about where he wants the Phillies to go in the future.

"One of the criticisms the fans have leveled on the Phillies, and I think it's justifiable, is that we didn't recognize early enough and act upon that recognition that the window had closed and we needed to move on," Middleton said. "That we were trying to extend guys that were older and trying to create a bridge, and we needed to realize that the bridge didn't exist and we needed to move on."

Perhaps the Phillies were too sentimental and nostalgic about the core that helped the club win the 2008 World Series and five National League East championships from 2007-11?

"The word that Andy has talked about and the word Matt has talked about today is 'discipline,'" Middleton said. "So I think you're right. I think you have to have a goal and you have to have a road map to achieve it, and you have to be disciplined to know where you are on that road and therefore use that to dictate your decisions and what you do. That's what I think is going to be the key to success. The other part of this is being objective about yourself and your performances."

Middleton noted how the Phillies had perhaps the best Drafts in baseball from 1995-04, but arguably the least productive Drafts from 2005 until recently, based on WAR. He said the Phillies did not use analytics like other teams, which contributed to their fall.

Asked if the Phillies were late to the analytics party, Middleton's eyes widened and he shook his head like the question was too obvious to even answer.

"Yeah," he said.

But why were they late to the party?

"It is kind of a cultural thing," Middleton said. "It's just the way people viewed their jobs."

Now the Phillies are trying to catch up. Middleton and the Phillies intend to make sure it happens.

"It's like Alice in Wonderland," he said. "You keep running faster and faster and stay in the same place. ... So the teams that are ahead of us, they're not sitting still. The aggressive ones are trying to improve and get better. We have to run faster and faster."

The Phillies of the past talked about winning being cyclical. Organizations will have good runs. They will have bad runs.

Middleton sees things differently.

"Our objective is to challenge that," he said. "If you look at St. Louis, they found a way to sustain it. And if St. Louis thinks they're cycling down, if you look at their down years, their down years aren't our down years. So we need to figure out what they're doing, so if they're not in the playoffs or if they're not a legitimate contender going into a season, how do they stay up at a higher level of being down than we have?"

Middleton understands the allure of building via free agency, but he looks at teams like the Cardinals, Astros and Cubs, and how they built from within, while also augmenting with outside talent. He thinks that is how they should model themselves.

"I don't think you can buy a winner," he said. " … You have to build sports teams. Specifically, you have to build baseball teams from the ground up."

Middleton believes MacPhail and Klentak are the team to do it.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast.
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