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With Kapler hire, have we finally won the Good Phight?

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We started this blog in 2005 to defend Bobby Abreu’s honor and advocate for a smarter Phillies franchise. That day has finally arrived.

In Abreu we trust.
Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images

In 2005, a ragtag bunch of internet-friend Phillies fans started this blog. We shared a deep passion for our Phightin’ Phils, but also a conviction that the newly-emerging field of sabermetrics was the key to success. The two came together in our utter disbelief that Phillies fans (and team management) did not completely and unconditionally fawn over one of the greatest Phillies to ever play the game, Bobby Abreu.

All of this is right there in the site’s old mission statement, that our inaugural Blog Lord dajafi wrote back in 2005. Here’s an edited version of the relevant parts, with the great Bobby Abreu himself mentioned in the very first paragraph:

There's a certain sentiment among long-suffering Philadelphia baseball fans that the disappointing Phillies and the embittered, endlessly cynical and unremittingly negative community in which the team plays "deserve each other." The argument goes that the team's best players--from Mike Schmidt thirty years ago to Bobby Abreu today--not only don't get the recognition they deserve, but actually become targets for fan and media wrath, usually for lack of "heart" or "hustle," when they fail to deliver in key spots. . . .

We at TGP very strongly want to see both a more enlightened decision-making process from the team and a more appreciative and supportive phan base in the community. We acknowledge a certain . . . well, I guess that "ignorance," "arrogance," and "malice" would all apply from a certain corner of the media landscape, at least where Phillies baseball is concerned. [People in this corner] reflexively rip on Abreu and essentially just seem to lack an understanding of how and why baseball teams win. Through this site, we aim to offer a fun, at times pointed, probably occasionally heated, corrective to this point of view. That's why we Phight.

There were certain things that were undeniable truths to us back then. First and foremost was that Bobby Abreu’s honor and excellence must be defended to the death. Second was that Larry Bowa should have been exiled to East Jabip rather than Scott Rolen traded to St. Louis. And third was that the Phillies were a stone age organization playing an increasingly modern game.

As dajafi wrote, we needed to use this blog to phight to move this fan base and team into a new age. Nearly twelve-and-a-half years later, with Gabe Kapler’s managerial hiring topping the cake, it sure seems that we’ve finally won.

Along the way, not only have we had a fun ride providing content on this blog, but we’ve had some of the highest and lowest points this organization has seen over its 134-year history. The five-year stretch from 2007 through 2011 produced immeasurable fun and excitement for every fan. Our World Fucking Championship (TM) in 2008 will never be forgotten, nor will five straight playoff appearances, the four aces, 102 wins, Rollins to Utley to Howard, the personalities (and performances) of Chooch and Pat the Bat, coming back from 7 games down in 17, and so much more.

What was particularly amazing about that era was that the Phillies played a brand of modern baseball even though they were led by general managers and managers who seemed stuck in the 1950s. With Ruben Amaro constantly pursuing the next great reliever and filling the back end of the roster with players who couldn’t walk if their lives depended on it (and publicly expressing his lack of understanding of walks and on-base percentage), the farm system produced many players who could hit for power and take a walk, two of the staples of the Moneyball era.

But, as the team got older and personnel decisions became more difficult than just putting in the next in the steady progression of future team Wall of Famers (and possible Cooperstown inductees as well), Amaro’s leadership showed its weakness at the major league level. Massive contracts became crippling, the team just didn’t seem to know how to get the most out of available free agents or the trade market, and there was no plan to combat the aging curve for the team’s former superstars. Though the farm system was re-stocked and is now paying dividends, the major league product seemed to challenge itself with how far below .500 it could go.

So how could we have won the Phight? Coming off a season when the team barely cracked the .400 mark? The answer is simple — with the hiring of Gabe Kapler as manager, the team has finally completed its transition to the modern era. And the added bonus is that it’s happening at just the right time, as the heralded youngsters are emerging from the minors.

The transition has taken just over two years. It ostensibly started with Andy MacPhail being hired to be the team President in June 2015. He wasn’t a radical pick, but there was enough in his background to indicate that he appreciated what modern analysis could bring to the game of baseball.

That same day, however, something even more important might have happened. To introduce MacPhail, Phillies owner John Middleton took center stage. Before that day, the ownership group had historically been very quiet, letting Bill Giles or Dave Montgomery speak for them. And if there was anyone more steeped in old-timey baseball tradition than Giles or Montgomery, it is hard to imagine.

With Middleton, the owners now sounded young and brash, ready to do whatever it takes to put a winner on the field. Including thinking about baseball a new way. As Middleton himself put it on that day:

I can assure you that sabermetrics is something of intense interest to ownership. I was quizzed pretty carefully about that. When it comes to that sort of thing I believe you look at everything. Absolutely everything. Why would you exclude any information? You're gonna try to do every piece of homework you can to push the odds of a deal being successful in your favor. You're going to look at every stat, every formula. I am hardly the guy who is the sabermetric genius, so you go hire people that are, and you have the young kids come in and explain to you what it is, why it's important and then you make the judgment just how much weight you're going to put on it. But I think it's essential that you marry that with the best human intelligence that you possibly can.

For this franchise, Middleton was a radical forward-thinker.

Then, after the end of the 2015 season came Matt Klentak. Klentak was made in the factory that produced the mold of the modern general manager - young, Ivy League educated, never played the game professionally, and unquestionably smart. He promised a good mix of traditional player evaluation and analytics, but we all knew what he was going to do: he was going to modernize the Phillies. As he said when he was hired:

We also need to make sure we are gathering and utilizing all of the information at our disposal. The real challenge is taking all of that information -- and it is a ton -- and combining it and synthesizing it and figuring out how that works into our process and making decisions accordingly. But let there be no doubt, we will be at the forefront of every single one of those areas, and we will strive to be the best in every one of those areas and have the best information.

And now finally, we have our new manager Gabe Kapler. Just his background alone is enough to signal a new way of thinking. He has never been a part of the Phillies organization, something that had been unthinkable in the past for a high-profile team hire. He hasn’t managed in the majors and only has one year of managing professionally, for a single-A team. He is a fitness nut, writes poetically online about training and nutrition, and has written columns for Baseball Prospectus. Just ponder that last clause for a minute. Do you think any former Phillies manager or coach even knows what Baseball Prospectus is?

Let’s be clear here. There are reasons to be concerned about Kapler as manager. His lack of experience is a big one. His seeming authoritarian demeanor is another. His role in whatever it was that happened to Nick Francona is a third. There is no guarantee that he’s going to transition this young team into a consistent winner.

But no one here now or when this blog started has ever been of the mindset that modern baseball analytics guarantees winning or even competence. What we have maintained, though, is that a team puts itself at a major (though not insurmountable) disadvantage if it isn’t competing on the same footing as the rest of the sport. The baseball world today is made up of front offices that understand the value of a Bobby Abreu and do not make player personnel decisions just because a Freddy Galvis hits home runs and hustles with a smile on his face.

The Phillies have finally and completely entered this modern world. And in that way, the Good Phight has been won.