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Some Thoughts on Amaro’s Thoughts

Posted By Bill Baer On June 10, 2013 @ 3:22 pm In MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Sabermetrics | 94 Comments

CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury has a very informative article up today with plenty of quotes from Phillies GM Ruben Amaro. He discussed the production of the core players and the state of the team going forward. I’d like to parse through Amaro’s thoughts and respond to them with some of my own.

On Ben Revere:

“Listen, we got what we thought would be good complementary players, especially in center field,” Amaro said. “We wanted to make sure we had someone who could defend and stabilize the position. It’s so important to have that in the middle of the field.

“Ben has been OK. I was hoping that he’d be playing better. He hasn’t played up to expectations yet. He’s still a young guy. He’s still adjusting to a new club and he wasn’t an everyday centerfielder in Minnesota. Unfortunately people expect a lot from a guy when you trade for him. We still need to be patient. Hopefully he’ll be the player we think he can be, but you always run a risk with a young player.

“From what we saw [when he was with Minnesota] we felt he’d be an above-average defender. He’s had some issues with routes. Again, he’s still learning. People wanted young players. We wanted young players. Sometimes it takes a young player time. You can’t expect them to all be stars right away.

I think I might be one of the few people left who still views the Revere trade positively, and it has nothing to do with how poorly Vance Worley has fared with Minnesota. Revere will never hit, that’s just a fact of life. Anyone expecting him to slug .350 will end up broken-hearted. Revere also certainly has some work to do in the outfield in terms of reads and routes.

That said, the best feature of Revere’s is his arbitration-eligibility through 2017. He is earning $515,000 this year at the age of 25 and enters his first year of arbitration after the season. There are two possibilities: 1) Revere continues to perform as he has, which makes him relatively cheap going forward; or, 2) he exceeds expectations, in which case the Phillies will gladly pay him an escalating salary. They are in no way bound to Revere the way they are bound to Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, et. al. so they could even non-tender him if a better option comes along.

On Domonic Brown:

“Look at Domonic. People said, ‘What’s with Domonic Brown? He’s never going to be a player. Trade him.’ I see that stuff. The fact of the matter is it takes time for guys to develop. What Domonic has done has been great. I didn’t expect this type of success this early. But he’s always had the ability and the talent and now you’re seeing what can happen when it comes together.”

Amaro deserves credit for holding onto Brown when other teams were knocking down his door trying to convince him to throw him in a trade. However, let’s not forget the poor way the Phillies handled Brown. In 2010, they called him up for the first time and let him start every day for two weeks. He posted a .607 OPS in his first 42 plate appearances through August 11. From the 12th through the end of the season, Brown started four times and appeared in 24 of his team’s final 48 games. Raul Ibanez, despite hitting well, shouldn’t have been taking away crucial playing time from the Phillies’ best prospect, who had dominated Triple-A pitching that year to the tune of a .951 OPS.

Brown was hit on the hand with a pitch during spring training prior to the 2011 season, breaking his hamate bone. While the recovery period for such an injury isn’t that long (Brown was back in the Minors by the end of April), it takes a while for players to get back their power. Keith Law estimated that at 12-18 months. It took Brown about 18 months to get his power back. In the meantime, he hit reasonably well in the Minors. The Phillies called him up again in mid-May. Between May 20 and July 29, after which they demoted him again, Brown posted a .729 OPS but with a sub-.400 slugging percentage. He started regularly but it was out of necessity, not choice.

Going into 2012, many expected Brown to earn a starting job out of spring training, but Juan Pierre took that honor. In order to get regular at-bats, Brown started in Triple-A. There, he hit .286 with a .335 on-base percentage, but not enough power. The Phillies called him up at the end of July after trading away Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence. In the final two months, playing every day, Brown hit .235 with a sub-.400 slugging percentage.

At no point did Brown get more than two months of consistent playing time in the Majors. The Phillies expected him to hit for power after an injury that specifically saps power, and they expected him to do it while moving back and forth from the Majors to the Minors. That is not how you develop talent. Judging by recent comments from Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, that is not an uncommon sentiment.

As mentioned, Amaro deserves credit for protecting Brown from inclusion in trades several years ago, but also deserves criticism for the unprofessional way with which he was handled in more recent years.

On Delmon Young:

“Delmon has had success in fits and starts,” Amaro said. “By this time I had hoped for a little more consistent offensive production. How patient can we be? I’m not sure. But we’ll be patient until he improves or somebody produces more than him.”

Young’s production over the last three years:

  • 2011: .268 AVG/.302 OBP/.393 SLG (503 PA)
  • 2012: .267 AVG/.296 OBP/.411 SLG (608 PA)
  • 2013: .232 AVG/.290 OBP/.438 SLG (124 PA)

Considering the sample size, Young is hitting almost exactly how he hit over the last two years. Young is one of the least-difficult players to project. That the Phillies had hoped for better production out of Young speaks to a poor talent evaluation process. That his inclusion on the roster came at the cost of non-tendering Nate Schierholtz only speaks further to that point.

On Darin Ruf:

“People think because the guy hit 30-plus homers in Double A … ,” Amaro said. “Again, it’s Double A baseball. Yes, he has ability. But there’s a whole road of adjustments to be made at higher levels. He hasn’t gotten on a roll yet, but we do believe he’s going to come around and get hot. Hopefully he pushes us so we have to make a tough decision.”

I tweeted this earlier:

twitter.com/CrashburnAlley/status/344148315560087552

People got way too excited about Ruf last year when he was a 25-year-old beating up on 22- and 23-year-olds, most of them in Double-A for the first time. Ruf had actually spent his previous three years at various levels of Single-A. Eric Longenhagen sees teams employing a right-handed shift on him if he ever has an extended stay in the Majors. Ruf’s status in the organization is a reflection of how little top-level talent there is.

On the team overall:

“The best chance we have to be a winning club now and in the future is to have the top of the rotation we have with those two big lefthanders,” he said of Lee and Hamels. “That’s our best chance to win games. That’s what we’re in the business of doing.

“People think we’re going to blow up this team. We’re never going to be in the position of blowing up. There’s no blowing up. There might come a time when we make changes to improve for the future, but we don’t have a reason to blow it up. Boston didn’t blow it up last year. They retooled. That’s the challenge we have whether it’s July 31 or November 1.”

The difference between the Red Sox and Phillies is that the Red Sox had a decent farm system from which to extract talent. They were also lucky enough to find a team willing to take on $250 million in salary.

The Phillies tried retooling for the 2013 season. It’s not working because the roster is heavy on old, injury-prone veterans. Among players with 150 or more plate appearances for the Red Sox this year, David Ortiz is the only one older than 31. For the Phillies, five of the seven players to accrue 150 or more PA are 33 or older.

For the Phillies to do what the Red Sox did, they would have to do the following:

  • Find a team to take on Howard’s remaining contract the way the Red Sox did with their trio of stars, and the Angels with Vernon Wells
  • Make a series of trades (Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, Michael Young, Delmon Young, Jonathan Papelbon) to acquire top-level Minor League talent that can be plugged into the starting lineup either immediately or in the near future
  • Fill in around the edges with smart, low-risk free agent signings (e.g. Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew) and risk-free trades (Mike Carp)

The Red Sox, though, have one thing the Phillies have not had, do not have, and most likely will not have for the foreseeable future: a willingness to embrace modern analysis. Rather than wed analytics with scouting the way most teams around baseball have done, the Phillies remain one of the few teams that still relies almost exclusively on its scouts. For this reason, the Phillies have whiffed big time on no-brainer free agent signings, selecting talent in trades, and identifying existing talent within the system. The Phillies can mimic the Red Sox all they want, but until the GM and the organization at large remains in the 20th century with the way they evaluate talent, they will continue to repeat the mistakes that put them in this position in the first place.


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