The Phillies Get Nerdier

Well, this is encouraging. From David Murphy:

But yesterday a new item appeared [on the bulletin board]. It is a photocopy of a graphic from a publication — it looks like Baseball America, although I’m not positive — that breaks down the major league batting averages on balls in play on swings in certain counts. The graphic illustrates what every hitting coach preaches: get the count in your favor, and you’ve got a better chance of getting a pitch that you can turn into a pitch. The moral: work the count. 

In Eric Longenhagen’s conversation with Keith Law, posted a few weeks ago, Law talked about the Phillies’ notorious aversion to statistical analysis:

I still can’t quite fathom their pride in their refusal to use any kind of analytics in their decision-making. When your competitors are operating 12-man analytics departments, why would you brag about how you don’t have one at all?

No, posting a BABIP chart (found here, by the way) does not yank the Phillies into the 21st century, but it is refreshing. Let’s hope their next move is to hire Matt Swartz.

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34 comments

  1. jim lozenski

    March 19, 2013 09:27 AM

    When was the last time Keith Law got a hit? Sometimes the suits think they know more about the game than the ones who have played it.

  2. Cheesecrop

    March 19, 2013 10:20 AM

    The sabermetric propaganda machine is operating at full force here.

    Call it “Invasion of the Baseball Snatchers”, if you will. Eventually the pod people will place the pods under the stands as we all watch the games. By the 7th inning stretch we’ll all be babbling about BABIP & FIR & WAR, & all the other jargon that they presume we should be speaking, instead of debating whether we should get another hot dog & soda.

    I believe it’s called a “game” – you know, fun…

  3. Richard

    March 19, 2013 10:41 AM

    Oddly, I find knowing the slightest thing about something I’m interested in (in this case, “baseball”), to be more “fun” than not knowing shit about it. But, as the kidz have been known to say, your mileage may vary.

  4. hk

    March 19, 2013 10:44 AM

    Cheesecrop,

    I agree. We’ll all long for the days when we watched the game babbling about ERA & RBI & Batting Average & Fielding Percentage.

  5. LTG

    March 19, 2013 11:00 AM

    “FIR”, I believe, stands for Fielding Independent Replacement…, aka Michael Young.

    BOOM!

    (Bring on the huffy objections.)

  6. pedro3131

    March 19, 2013 11:06 AM

    I’m sorry I didn’t realize we could start the debate over which vendor we go to for dollar dog night on march 19th on the internet…..

    I get the point, but like Richard said, a statistical understanding of the game only enhances your experience. And it’s not like I take my ti-83 with me to the ballpark. Despite going to dozens of games over my life and only a handful of times coming remotely close to a foul ball / home run I still dutifully bring my glove to every game

  7. nik

    March 19, 2013 11:21 AM

    Do we really think the Phillies don’t use analytic analysis? I call bunk on that and who gave Keith Law a tour of the Phillies operations in the first place? He should stick to his prospect lists.

  8. LTG

    March 19, 2013 11:55 AM

    No, the Phillies use synthetic analysis instead.

    Uncharitable jokes aside, Eric provided the anecdote that the only scout he’s ever heard brag about an organization for not using advanced stats was a Phillies scout. That’s first-hand evidence, if we trust Eric’s testimony.

    We also should distinguish using sabery type statistics, like BABIP, from using statistical methodology to make decisions. If the Phillies don’t have an analytics department then they don’t do the latter even if they use the former for some purposes.

  9. Jonny5

    March 19, 2013 12:02 PM

    Although it’s quite obvious the Phillies as an organization don’t have the most statistically minded staff, I’d take it with a grain of salt when K Law says ” I still can’t quite fathom their pride in their refusal to use any kind of analytics in their decision-making. ”
    That’s just a flat out presumptuous and false statement to just blurt out. “refusal to use any kind of analytics”? Really? So they built their team by picking the coolest sounding names? Even that takes analysis. I know he was referring to in depth statistics, I just think the statement posed as it was could paint the wrong picture here. Amaro isn’t an idiot and he is going to use the tools provided him by many different outlets. Most tools will undoubtedly be statistics.

  10. Jonny5

    March 19, 2013 12:08 PM

    LTG, you and I don’t have analytics departments yet we use BABIP to make decisions regarding opinions and maybe fantasy teams (I do). What’s stopping Amaro from using Fangraphs or BR to do most of it for him? I’m not arguing the point, but I do wonder why you think Amaro himself can’t analyse the numbers by what’s easily available to everyone for free?

  11. Bill Baer

    March 19, 2013 12:08 PM

    What Law meant by “any kind of analytics” was an actual, official analytics department, like the ones the Indians, Rays, Astros, Athletics, Cardinals, etc. have. The Phillies might have a consultant or two but they don’t have official employees on the payroll doing analytic work.

    EDIT: Gonna cite my sources. Team names are links.

    Indians: Keith Woolner, Sky Andrecheck

    Cardinals: Christopher Correa

    Astros: Mike Fast, Darren DeFreeuw

    Athletics: Michael Schatz

    Rays: Josh Kalk, Leland Chen

    Blue Jays: Joe Sheehan

    There are probably more but that’s all I feel like doing right now.

  12. Richard

    March 19, 2013 12:11 PM

    “Uncharitable jokes aside, Eric provided the anecdote that the only scout he’s ever heard brag about an organization for not using advanced stats was a Phillies scout. That’s first-hand evidence, if we trust Eric’s testimony.”

    Uh, I believe this sort of conflates two separate things Eric said. It was Law who said the bit about the Phillies supposedly “bragging” about not using saber-analysis. Eric related a story about the dumbest scout he knew, who seemed proud of it, and who happened to be a Phillies scout.

    In fact, here’s the relevant bit from the conversation with Keith Law:

    Keith: In general, I think the front office’s decisions have been below average – some good, but more that ended up hurting the team somehow. I still can’t quite fathom their pride in their refusal to use any kind of analytics in their decision-making. When your competitors are operating 12-man analytics departments, why would you brag about how you don’t have one at all?

    Eric: Do you think that stems from one source, be it ownership or Amaro himself? Or do you think there’s a thread of anti-intellectualism that runs through the whole organization? (Eric’s note: I’ve only ever talked to one scout that I thought was a complete dolt, and he proudly wore it on his sleeve. I asked him who he scouted for. His answer? The Phillies. That’s why I asked Keith this question.)

    Keith: I couldn’t begin to answer that question.

  13. NavyJoe

    March 19, 2013 12:19 PM

    In all seriousness, I think we had that same chart posted in our Babe Ruth league dugout. If I recall, the best hitter’s count was 2-0.

  14. LTG

    March 19, 2013 12:53 PM

    Richard,

    Whoops. I think I took wearing his doltishness on his sleeve for bragging about not using advanced stats. So, I take that part back, then.

    Jonny5,

    I don’t consider what I do using statistical methodology. I don’t develop projection systems. I don’t run correlations. I don’t regress data. I don’t come up with maximization models. And I don’t try to develop my own metrics. All of these things are going on in those analytics departments.

    So, basically, I agree with you. It is at least plausible to think that Amaro and his staff look at advanced stats and metrics (despite his, often disingenuous, public persona). But I also think there is something else the Phillies are not doing because they don’t have an analytics department. If the Phillies are only using the advanced stats that are publicly available then they are not getting any advantage in that area against their opponents. This might be what Law was getting at.

    BB,

    Aren’t you ripping the second half of Law’s quote away from the first? He makes it sound like they don’t even have a consultant doing what those departments do.

  15. Rob

    March 19, 2013 01:12 PM

    I think the chart is probably batting average by count, not BABIP by count.

  16. Jonny5

    March 19, 2013 01:50 PM

    LTG, right on. I couldn’t agree more. Eventually the obvious will have to smack them in their heads and they’ll come around. I don’t think it’ll be too much longer before every MLB team employs their very own statistical analysis departments as well. I hope for the Phillies sake, it’s sooner rather than later in their case. To ignore any performance indicators whether they be statistical or by the scouts eye is a mistake imo.

  17. Chris S.

    March 19, 2013 02:07 PM

    I want to know how a walk happened on a 2-2 count… REPLAY IS NEEDED!

  18. Cheesecrop

    March 19, 2013 03:43 PM

    Richard:

    Technically there’s nothing wrong w/using advanced scouting w/in the organization. That I’m all for. I just happen to believe that the entire sabermetric community has attempted to dump a pile of numbers in the laps of the avg. fan, & basically piledrive them into accepting it.

    There’s nothing wrong w/wanting to learn more about the game. However, outside of fantasy baseball, where are you really going to use these #’s?

    I guess I’ve always felt that there was something that smacked of con artist greed when it came to sabermetrics. It seemed as though a bunch of guys in a backroom invented a bunch of numbers & then tried to sell it to the avg. fan by ridiculing the basics. I don’t mind the OPS. stuff, but there are uses for the basics, like Wins, RBI’s, Batting Average, etc.

  19. Eric Longenhagen

    March 19, 2013 05:20 PM

    Lots of scouts don’t care for advanced analysis. Some carry BP annuals with them in their bags. It doesn’t matter. Just like Mike Trout doesn’t have to know what WAR is as long as he keeps raking, Joe Ivoryhunter doesn’t have to know a damn thing about BABIP if he can mine talent.

  20. Eric Longenhagen

    March 19, 2013 05:21 PM

    Oh and I should say that I’ve met four Phillies scouts and three of them were perfectly normal, intelligence wise.

  21. Cheesecrop

    March 20, 2013 05:32 AM

    Scott G – You ask what a win tells you. Very simple. A Win is a measure of a pitchers ability to sustain his E.R.A. in the immediate short term.

    The absolute beauty of the sport as a whole is that every game is individual unto itself. In order to obtain a win, a starter has to go at least five innings, & be on the good side of things at the end of those five. Since the variables change all the time, it can be said that the pitchers who amass the most wins are those who’ve mastered these changes the best, over the course of a season.

    Lots of people think it’s cooler to use some long-winded technology-driven term to get at the heart of the game. Nobody ever seems to want to take a second look at whether the basic stats might have more to say than first imagined.

  22. hk

    March 20, 2013 07:00 AM

    Last year:

    Barry Zito won 15 games with a 4.15 ERA
    Bruce Chen won 11 games with a 5.07 ERA
    Ricky Romero won 9 games with a 5.77 ERA
    Cliff Lee won 6 games with a 3.16 ERA

    Which of those pitchers had the best season? Which had the worst? What do their wins tell you about how they each pitched (as opposed to what it tells you about how they were supported by their offenses, defenses and bullpens)? If they all had the same salary, how would you rank them in order of who you would most and least want on your team for 2013?

  23. Richard

    March 20, 2013 07:34 AM

    I’m curious what Cheesecrop thinks might be the purpose of this “propaganda”. Where does the “con artist greed” come into play? And what does he mean by “technology-driven” terms. How does technology drive it?

    I suppose it’s inevitable that people would be confused by a lot of the newer metrics. Many of them are, on the surface, confusing.

    But what would be the point of this?: “I just happen to believe that the entire sabermetric community has attempted to dump a pile of numbers in the laps of the avg. fan, & basically piledrive them into accepting it.”

    If you think it’s ok that the organizations use advanced metrics (which you admit above), and we as fans want to understand what the teams do (or argue about what they should do), how would better information not help us?

    Have you ever looked into sabermetrics? At its heart it’s about asking questions about the game and then trying to find answers (for example, “How much do wins really tell us about a pitcher’s performance?”). Pretty simple.

  24. Scott G

    March 20, 2013 07:46 AM

    Thank you, hk.

    I’d like to add this since Cheesecrop mentioned the “short term”:

    On April 18, 2012, Cliff Lee pitched 10 scoreless innings while allowing 7 hits and 0 walks while striking out 7. He got a no decision. Did he not pitch well enough to get the precious W?

    On August 20, 2012, Roy Halladay pitched 7 innings and gave up 5 ER. He walked 1 and only struck out 3. He also gave up 10 hits.

    In 3 more innings of work, Lee gave up 3 fewer hits, 1 fewer walk, and stuck out 4 more batters.

    10 IP, 7 H, 0 BB, 7 K, 0 R
    7 IP, 10 H, 1 BB, 3 K, 5 R

    Looks pretty clear to me that Wins are pretty effed up.

  25. Richard

    March 20, 2013 07:57 AM

    Note that no “advanced metrics” are necessary for us to conclude that pitcher-wins is not a very useful statistic.

  26. Cheesecrop

    March 20, 2013 04:56 PM

    If anything, what many of you have done is answer my argument FOR me, here.

    The Lee/Halladay comparison only goes to highlight my point about each game being individual. In the Lee game, he did not do enough to win, as it stands. As much as I hate to say it, Matt Cain held our hitting down – nothing Lee could do about that.

    Allow me to say something right off – I am not knocking All metrics here. I do think some of the basics like OPS really do help. My point comes when certain stats are introduced that aren’t really necessary.

    An example – BABIP. In a magazine I have, it notes that babip records how often a player is credited w/a hit when the ball is put in play.

    You don’t need a special number for this – all you need is an old-fashioned scorecard. Since every position is numbered, & we can all fill out a scorecard properly, & basic old batting average is telling us the rest, there is no need for something like this. A hit is a hit – an error is an error – a wild pitch, passed ball, etc. etc., – this is a completely useless stat, but w/a slick sounding name that goes beyond working w/Henry Chadwick’s basic 19th century invention.

  27. LTG

    March 20, 2013 05:56 PM

    “If anything, what many of you have done is answer my argument FOR me, here.

    The Lee/Halladay comparison only goes to highlight my point about each game being individual. In the Lee game, he did not do enough to win, as it stands. As much as I hate to say it, Matt Cain held our hitting down – nothing Lee could do about that.”

    There’s no arguing with crazy.

  28. pedro3131

    March 20, 2013 10:25 PM

    Here’s another example to help you understand cheese.

    www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1964/B04230HOU1964.htm

    Ken Johnson threw a NO HITTER and still was credited with the loss. Now you could say that “well he wasn’t the better pitcher that day because he walked a few batters” but if your standard for pitching a good game is pitching a perfect game you’re going to have a pretty hard time finding pitchers you like.

    The point people are trying to make is things like the sometimes blind luck (that’s what BABIP suggests) that comes with where a hit lands relative to a fielder, or that fielders inability to field the ball, are not good indicators of a pitchers ability. Wins include these random events, so they to become bad indicators of a pitchers true ability. To suggest that Ricky Romero and his near 6 era is in any way shape or form better than Cliff Lee because he had more wins is just silly.

    Again you could say that, well the pitcher should have struck him out, thus taking luck out of the equation. But we’ve yet to see a 27 strikeout game so that’s a bit unrealistic.

  29. Scott G

    March 21, 2013 10:48 AM

    The Lee/Halladay comparison only goes to highlight my point about each game being individual. In the Lee game, he did not do enough to win , as it stands. As much as I hate to say it, Matt Cain held our hitting down – nothing Lee could do about that.

    In the Lee game, he did not do enough to win – nothing Lee could do about that.

    That about do could Lee nothing – win to enough do not did he, game Lee the In.

    nI eht eeL emag, eh did ton od hguone ot niw – gnihton eeL dluoc od tuoba taht.

    Nope, still doesn’t make any sense.

  30. Scott G

    March 21, 2013 10:53 AM

    To put it another way (not at all stolen from FJM):

    Let’s imagine I am part of a 25-man team that makes frozen 4-cheese ravioli dinners. And every time I’m on a shift, I take my syringe and I expertly inject the pasta with goat cheese (my task) and I have like a 99.4% success rate of successful goat cheese injection, and when my raviolis go on to the next man on my team, ready for edam infusion, they are just perfectly formed and looking tasty and delicious. And by the time they reach the end of the assembly line, they are torn to shreds, leaking gouda, and somehow covered in bat feces — so bad are the other men on Team Ravioli.

    So my boss, Hunt Sperkleman, C.E.O. of Sperkleman Four Cheese Ravioli and Penne Arrabiata, Inc. (NASDAQ Ticker: SFCR: 92.50, +10.68, +13.1% as of Monday, 12:02 PM EST, thanks to rumors of a takeover bid from Sheinhardt Wigs), comes down to the assembly line, and he looks around and he sees all the morons on my team. He sees W.K. Horflitz, whose nose is running directly into the pasta cutter. He sees Janet Przyblr, who’s on the phone, gabbing with her new husband, as chunk after chunk of unmelted brie just goes rolling by on the assembly line. He sees them all, and he says: “Ken! You’re disappointing me!” and I say: “Why, Hunt?” and he says, “Only 8 out of 15 people who eat these raviolis like them!” and I say, “But I did my job!” and he says, “You can go ahead and end this metaphor now — I think people get the idea.”

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