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Failure in Philadelphia

Posted By Bill Baer On January 24, 2013 @ 1:23 pm In MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Sabermetrics | 104 Comments

Four years ago, the Phillies had a relatively stable Minor League system with high-upside talent, one of the most formidable offenses in baseball, an incomparable starting rotation, and enough payroll space to purchase a small tropical island. Now, the organization is bereft of young talent, the offense has withered away, and this season will be paying $120 million to seven players over the age of 30, all locked up to long-term contracts.

Since winning the World Series in 2008 — after which Pat Gillick resigned, opening the door for Ruben Amaro — the Phillies’ playoff success has trended downward, from losing the World Series in 2009, losing the NLCS in 2010, losing the NLDS in 2011, to missing the playoffs entirely last year with a .500 record. Having once lauded Amaro for his craftiness in signing Cliff Lee in the silence of night two winters ago and trading for the likes of Lee (the first go-around), Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Hunter Pence, the city has now turned against him after a disappointing off-season.

The Nationals bolstered their already-potent outfield by trading for Denard Span. The Atlanta Braves signed free agent B.J. Upton and today acquired his brother Justin in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, creating one of the most deadly outfields in the game. The Phillies? They traded for the slap-hitting Ben Revere and signed noted drunk and racist Delmon Young, neither of which portend to fix any of their previously-existing problems in terms of offense and outfielders specifically.

There is no other way to look at Amaro’s tenure at this point in time as anything but an utter failure, and it isn’t as if this failure came out of nowhere. The disaster that was the Ryan Howard contract extension (five years, $125 million) could have been seen from outer space; relying on a left fielder and third baseman (Raul Ibanez and Placido Polanco, respectively) in their mid- and late- 30′s to stay healthy and productive was a fool’s errand; and trading the farm for an incremental-at-best improvement in World Series-winning odds was deplorable from the beginning.

Yesterday, Paul Boye responded to some comments Amaro made yesterday defending the Delmon Young signing. Referring to Young’s lack of plate discipline, Amaro said (paraphrasing): “I don’t care about walks; I care about production.” The comment does not stand by itself as illogical among those made by members of the Phillies organization over the years. The Phillies are known as one of the least forward-thinking organizations in baseball, still relying heavily on the observations of scouts and little on those utilizing statistics. While organizations like the Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland Athletics, and St. Louis Cardinals have thrived with the marriage of stats and scouts, the Phillies have gone nowhere fast by relying on antiquated theories and tools.

At some point in the near future, the Phillies will fire Amaro, ending a disappointing era of Phillies baseball. They must use this opportunity to join the 21st century of baseball by hiring a GM who knows that platoons are useful, corner infielders aren’t as valuable as their middle infield companions, and bullpens are best done on the cheap. And that GM should hire a manager who knows that sacrifice bunts are often more hurtful than helpful, that matching up players in situations of favorable handedness is ideal (i.e. not Ryan Howard vs. lefty relievers), and leaving starters in to pitch a meaningless eighth inning of an 8-1 game is extremely risky. The Amaro era is Exhibit A that overseeing baseball teams, as it operated previously, is inefficient at best and actively destructive at worst.


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