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Phillies LEAP Into Analytics, Make "Extern" a Full-Timer

The Phillies have chosen to dip their toe in the pool of analytics, but at least they're in the swim club now.

David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Back in November, the Phillies hired a gentleman by the name of Scott Freedman, an MLB employee, to work with the team as an "extern" on things related to baseball, analytics, numbers, and other nerdy-type things that require a lot of counting.

When the hire was first made, let's just say I wasn't too sure Mr. Freedman's stay in Philadelphia was going to be either long or fruitful.

...the Phillies hired a guy to tell them all about the statistics that they're not going to use. Although, I do hear he knows a lot about Microsoft Excel, which will come in handy when Ruben wants to rank potential free agent acquisitions according to RBI totals.

My guess is Freedman is very good at his job and everything, but that this hire also appears to be nothing more than window dressing and a response to criticism. How much is the team really going to listen to Freedman? How much information is he going to actually provide? Is he just going to be some guy who sits in his office throwing pencils in the ceiling while he tries to get Ruben Amaro on the phone for the 40th time this week?

Kinda snarky, huh? Yeah, I admit, I wasn't too sold on this guy matching up with an organization that had long eschewed analytics and advanced metrics when making baseball decisions. But as ESPN's Jerry Crasnick pointed out in his piece on the 2014 Phillies today, the front office appears to understand they've been behind the times in this area.

"We're trying to move that piece of our organization forward a little bit," Amaro said. "It's an area that hasn't necessarily been abandoned, but it hasn't been developed as much as some other organizations. I think we're somewhere in the middle. The important thing is to understand what's really important and what's minutiae. What data can we use to change some things for the better?"

To that end, the Phillies made some news today.

So it seems as though the Phillies have liked what they've gotten from Freedman, enough to make him a full-time employee.

Sure, the Phils are still way behind the times. Sure, other teams have entire departments devoted to this stuff. And it's still not entirely clear what Freedman has done with the Phils, although this off-season has been much different than some we've seen in years past.

It seems as though the Phillies have a clear sense of what they are. They are a team that, if EVERYTHING breaks right could POSSIBLY be a playoff team. However, past history also shows that it's more likely they are a 75-80 win team.

It appears as though Freedman has helped the Phils realize that signing Jacoby Ellsbury or Masahiro Tanaka or Robinson Cano for ungodly amounts of money wouldn't really add the necessary wins it would take to make them a playoff team.

So what have the Phillies done? They've gone after low-risk, high-reward-type deals with Roberto Hernandez, Bobby Abreu, Chad Gaudin, Brad Lincoln and Wil Nieves. They've taken on absolutely no risk the next couple of years, hoping the aging, expensive core would be healthy enough to get this team where it needs to go. And if it doesn't, they've given themselves the opportunity to truly blow this thing up without too much collateral damage.

There seems to be, for the first time, a recognition that spending lots of money for very few wins added is a loser of an idea. So, maybe Freedman is earning his lunch money after all.

It remains to be seen what else the Phillies will do this off-season, but it appears they're mostly done. It also appears the Phils are listening to their new analytics guy enough to make him a full-time employee.

So, bravo to the Phillies. Welcome to the 21st century. And here's hoping a few more Freedmans are welcomed in the near future.