Baseball is more than just numbers.
Hopefully, even the most ardent sabermatrician would tell you that. Sometimes, there are things about a player that numbers just can't tell you, especially in player development, where statistical data simply isn't available in a large enough sample size to be truly reliable.
The really successful organizations find a way to use a burgeoning analytics department with scouts and more traditional methods to give a well-rounded analysis of potential draftees, minor league players, and big league players on other teams.
But for a long time, the Phillies were admittedly behind the curve on using sabermetrics in the decision-making process. Embarrassingly so. And as the team prepares to hire Andy MacPhail to be the new team president, and as they presumably will be in the process of finding a new general manager, and certainly a new manager, there is concern that the hiring of MacPhail, a 62-year-old baseball lifer, will just be more of the same old, traditional style of thinking.
However, in a piece by Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal out last week, he noted the team appears to finally be embracing the world of analytics.
The Phillies, in the words of one club official, recognize that they were "tardy" on analytics, waiting too long to incorporate data in their evaluations and develop their own proprietary information system. They now have three full-time analysts and two interns, according to major-league sources -- significantly less than many other clubs, but a step in the right direction.
The first step to fixing any problem is to first admit there is one. Hopefully, we've reached that stage with the Phillies.
While a staff of three people and two interns is hardly an analytic powerhouse, it is more than they had a couple years ago, when Scott Freedman was hired to basically be the entire department. In fact, last year the team attributed one free agent signing in particular, Roberto Hernandez, to analytics, noting some sabermetric stats that they felt made him a worthwhile gamble, despite a high ERA.
Of course, to truly be effective, the use of this kind of information has be used throughout the organization, not just with a random free agent signing here and there. And the hope is, once MacPhail is on board, the team will fully embrace what virtually every other franchise already has.
Is there reason to believe MacPhail will do this? Perhaps there is. Back in June of 2011, when he was still an executive with the Baltimore Orioles, he spoke to season ticket holders and was asked about whether the team used sabermetrics in its player evaluations, per MASN's Steve Melewski:
"In terms of player acquisition and player evaluation, we'll have standard reports that has basic information, salary information, basic stats and scouting information. But then we devote about a third of it to things that we think fit into that category.
"We are trying to ascertain trends or hidden value or maybe hidden landmines that we have to avoid. There are certain statistics that we look at and evaluate that help us determine and make a judgement, is the trend line moving up or we do have to be concerned that player might be on the precipice of a real fall."
While he doesn't come across as a numbers geek there, it does seem he was at least aware of and encouraged the use of sabermetrics to some degree.
One of the names linked to MacPhail as a possibility to take over as general manager of the Phils once MacPhail is hired is 34-year-old Los Angeles Angels assistant general manager Matt Klentak. Klentak's name has only been mentioned as a possibility by numerous reporters, including MLB.com's Todd Zolecki.
One source mentioned Angels assistant general manager Matt Klentak, 34, as a possibility to join the organization in the future. MacPhail hired Klentak as Orioles director of baseball operations in 2008, making him one of the youngest executives in baseball.
If Klentak is someone MacPhail would consider bringing in, it's important to note how the Angels handle player development and their use of analytics.
Coming into this year, the Angels' farm system was ranked 28th out of 30 MLB teams by Baseball America, a slight improvement from the year before when they were dead last. The Angels burned first round draft picks for years (sound familiar, Phils fans?) in the pursuit of free agent contracts, and have been paying the price ever since.
In March of 2014, ESPN's Sam Miller took a deeper look at how the Angels were going about fixing their system, and spoke to Scott Servais, the team's assistant GM who oversees player development. Klendak's role is to be the assistant GM of baseball operations. Still, one would assume the two work together to craft the direction of the club, and their model is one that every team should be striving to be like.
Since the Angels have few avenues to acquire impact talent, Servais is left to develop it. So he recently burrowed into his home on 35 acres in Colorado to compile a guide to player development, a manual to be read by everybody from ownership on down. It would lay out the Angels' organizational philosophies and offer step-by-step development strategies for each skill a player must master. It would help modernize the Angels' player development department; it would make the team more like the one every organization in baseball wants to be -- the Cardinals.
Klendak is not quoted in the piece, so we don't know exactly how he feels about analytics and sabermetrics. And just because he graduated with a degree in economics from Dartmouth doesn't mean he's a full-on saber nerd.
But if Klendak is the next GM of the Phils, it's at least good to know he's been working with Servais, who had a lot of success turning around the Texas Rangers farm system (albeit under different circumstances). And it's good to know their model was the St. Louis Cardinals, the quintessential baseball organization (at least when they're not stealing state secrets, that is).
The fact the team had a copy of "The Cardinal Way," isn't a bad thing either.
Admittedly, this is all a lot of conjecture. Klendak may not be the guy, and if he is, he may be just as reluctant to use analytics as the Phillies had been until the last 12-24 months.
But as we wait for the next domino to fall in the Phils organization, there is time to read the tea leaves and hope, maybe this time, it will be the Phillies making progressive moves, out-thinking other organizations, and being on the cutting edge of the future of baseball.
At this point, all we can do, is hope.