Ruben Amaro Is Unimpressed by Your Fancy Numbers

Ruben Amaro Is Unimpressed by Your Fancy Numbers
March 2, 2012, 8:40 am
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Regardless of their impact on baseball, there's little debate that WAR, VORP, and WHIP would have all made viable names for 80's bands.

Bob Brookover has a piece in this morning's Inquirer about the Phillies' front office and their take on Sabermetrics.

In short, the club is aware of advanced statistics, claims to understand them, and, apparently, rarely discusses them in evaluating talent.

From Phils GM Ruben Amaro:

"We do utilize some of the information," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said during a recent workout at the Carpenter Complex. "There are times when I think maybe we should use it some more, but, frankly, I have a great deal of confidence in the people that we have hired to help us make some of the scouting and personnel decisions. I err on that side probably because I believe in our people."

And from assistant GM Scott Proefrock:

"I honestly can't tell you the last time WAR or VORP or any of those things were brought up in a conversation," assistant GM Scott Proefrock said. "We're aware of them, and we understand what they are. It's just not something we find relevant."

These approaches are, respectively, reasonable and alarming for a team with a $170 million payroll. Intangibles and requisite numbers of "tools" are great to talk about, but shouldn't you want the complete picture of how a guy is going to complement your ball club when when you're rapidly approaching the luxury tax?

On the one hand, there is a human element to baseball just as there is any sport. Averages are called averages for a reason and good scouting and coaching will allow a team to know to take or not take a risk when they have an inkling that a player might buck a certain trend. For example, manager Charlie Manuel shares a story in Brookover's piece about how Shane Victorino was 2-for-10 off Derek Lowe last year before Manuel and Victorino made some adjustments that allowed Shane to rip off three hits against Lowe in his next appearance.

On the other hand, 2-for-10 is a small sample size and and an everyday centerfielder versus a specific pitcher is different than, say, Victorino's lifetime numbers against as a switch hitter who bats righthanded against righthanded pitching. And as we'll address in a second, those stats are somewhat less than "advanced."

To his credit, Charlie has been paying attention to OBP and OPS for years, but has also said he has no understanding whatsoever of WAR (Wins Above Replacement). For reference, Jayson Werth had highest the WAR of any position player on the team in his final season with the Phils. Whether those 5.2 wins were worth $126 million is another story.

We're not pining for the front office to take a SABR class, we're just begging Manuel to start using ordinary statistics in his in-game decisions. Hunches are hunches, but statistics are calculated for reasons beyond who has the most stolen bases in history. More often than not, you don't need don't need sabermetrics to tell you not to pitch J.C Romero against two righties in the middle of the order just because he's your "eighth-inning guy" or because he looked really good against that lefty in the two-spot. You just need to study your own personnel a little harder than "well, he was throwing hard in the pen yesterday."

We love you Charlie. We get confused by acronyms, too. But we also have
computers -- so we can tell when you should have known better.

Back to the broader issue, sabermetics: an attempt by the unathletic to make themselves seem important, undervalued realities overlooked by dated "baseball men," or, you know, relevant when relevant?

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