Last month, the Phillies officially hired analytics "extern" Scott Freedman as a full-time employee. Then last week, the Phils announced it was looking to hire paid "interns" to join the analytics team, seemingly more proof that the front office is in the process of creating a real analytics department.
For fans who have been clamoring for something like this for a while now, it's been an exciting few weeks. With that in mind, I spoke exclusively to Scott Freedman, the Phillies' new Manager of Baseball Analytics, regarding his hiring, the ongoing intern search, and his overall role in the front office.
This is Part 1 of our two-part interview (Part 2 will be posted on Monday).
You were initially working for MLB and were brought to the Phillies as a temporary employee, an "extern," I believe is the phrase that was used. What was it about this opportunity with the Phillies that appealed to you when you were approached at the end of last year?
Freedman: "First and foremost, my career goal has always been to work in the Baseball Operations Department of a Club. The chance to achieve this while bringing a different perspective seemed unique and exciting. During my time at the Commissioner's Office I had the opportunity to communicate with officials from all 30 Clubs on a fairly frequent basis. The Phillies people were always particularly pleasant to interact with which made the possibility of working alongside them all the more appealing. Also, in my conversations with individuals at other Clubs and within the Commissioner's Office, everyone consistently spoke glowingly of David, Ruben and this organization in general. The prospect of bringing this different perspective into a front office filled with such highly regarded people in an organization that has enjoyed so much recent success struck me as an extremely special opportunity."
When you got here, what kind of attention was the organization paying to "sabermetrics" and advanced metrics in making baseball decisions?
Freedman: "I can't speak to the decision-making process prior to my arrival but Ruben and everyone immediately folded me into many of the decision-making conversations once I started. Ruben is an inclusive manager and he often asks for my opinion as well as those of everyone else in the Department. Predictably, my opinion typically has more of a sabermetric twist to it."
Can you give us some idea of what you do for the Phillies? Can you perhaps give me an idea what an ordinary day consists of for you?
Freedman: "Much of what I've been doing is ad-hoc analysis for decision-making. I shouldn't discuss specifically what these analyses have been, but they've been related to offseason decisions and general strategy. Additionally, I've been supporting Scott Proefrock through my involvement with salary arbitration and 0-3 negotiations, transactions, payroll management, rules compliance and Major League administration. I've also been tasked with leading our internal evaluation of our needs and capabilities with respect to our IT infrastructure."
You came to the Phillies with a background in arbitration. What analytical support are teams generally looking for in those situations, and how has your experience in this area played a part in your role with the Phils?
Freedman: "Salary arbitration negotiations are typically driven by comparables. An understanding of the different arbitration markets, the Basic Agreement criteria and what constitutes "comparability" is essential. Scott shared the negotiation responsibilities with a group of us here and we collaboratively strived to reach fair and reasonable settlements. Fortunately, we were able to do so this year and avoid any salary arbitration hearings, which are inherently unpredictable to a certain extent. My experience in this context has also been transferable to much of our analytical work which often involves the organization and presentation of various conclusions in a coherent manner."
It seems to me as if the Phillies, aside from the Marlon Byrd signing, have had a "do no harm" approach to the off-season, which makes a lot of sense. Understanding that all personnel decisions are done collaboratively to some degree, how have you helped the team with regards to deciding on which free agents to select, which trades to pursue and the signings the Phillies have made this off-season?
Freedman: "Like I said earlier, Ruben is an inclusive manager and he often seeks out the opinions of everyone in the Department during the decision-making process. He has also shown interest in much of the analysis that I've put together and some of that has been related to free agency. We obviously had some holes that needed to be filled externally and, like any other similarly situated team, we were at the mercy of the market forces. Our decisions within this context were consistent with our current short- and long-term strategies at the Major League level."
I must admit, I was skeptical that your hiring would bring real changes to the organization at first. I, and many others, have long been clamoring for the team to move towards embracing sabermetrics a bit more, so I was excited when I heard they had hired you full-time. What made you decide to take the full-time gig?
Freedman: "David, Ruben, Scott and everyone else both in Baseball Operations as well as the other Departments here have been kind, welcoming and supportive. As I said earlier, the chance to bring a different perspective into this front office seemed unique, fun and exciting and to do it with such a solid group of people made it all the more appealing. Philadelphia is obviously a terrific city as well."
You're currently conducting a search for interns, and it seems as if the team is going about the process of building a real analytics department. Is this a fair assumption? And if so, what kind of people are you looking for right now as you build this team?
Freedman: "Yes, we're looking to add someone to assist with much of this analytics work in an internship capacity. We're hoping to find candidates with strong technical and analytical skills as well as an ability to take initiative and work collaboratively. General baseball knowledge would certainly be a plus too."
Coming up on Monday, Part 2 of our interview with Scott Freedman, where he discusses the future of the Phillies' analytics department, his interactions with Ruben Amaro and Ryne Sandberg, his take on the value of "traditional" stats vs. sabermetrics, and the Phils' chances for a playoff push in 2014.