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Friday, March 29, 2013

Gelb: Phillies continue to rely more on scouting than sabermetrics

Creepin’ Costen Shockleys my head hurts! BTW…I’ve just changed my punk band’s name to Anti-Proefrock.

Baseball is awash with more knowledge than ever before. The Phillies generated success with willful ignorance of that information. Fewer and fewer teams value their scouts’ evaluations as much as the Phillies do. That is where the Phillies seek their competitive advantage.

“We think we have one of the best, if not the best, group of scouts in the game,” said Proefrock, an assistant general manager. “We lean very heavily on their experience, their contacts, their different expertise.”

There are countless ways to succeed in this game, with no right or wrong method. As the Phillies embark on what could be a transitional season after the disappointment of 81-81, has a lack of statistical curiosity contributed to their precarious position?

...Proefrock would not say whether the Phillies use a proprietary system or metric, the burgeoning trend in baseball, to evaluate players. He insinuated one does not exist.

“I’m not trying to be evasive,” Proefrock said. “We are very aware of the advanced metrics. We don’t have a formula that spits out a number on every player as part of the decision-making process. We’re going to go with the scouts and their opinions.”

...When Proefrock worked under Atlanta Braves general manager John Schierholtz in the early 1990s, he was shown a diagram of a circle. The top half was labeled “physical ability.” The bottom half was “makeup.”

“And that makeup is, in my opinion, truly the black box of this game,” Proefrock said. “There is no formula that tells you whether the guy has good baseball makeup. That’s different from being a nice guy. To me, that is the thing that allows a player to get the most out of that physical ability.

“If you can find a way to quantify it, who knows? That’s why the human intelligence aspect of this game is truly the most important part. It’s one that is not paid enough attention to, in my opinion.”

Repoz Posted: March 29, 2013 at 08:52 AM | 29 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: phillies, sabermetrics

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   1. Edmundo got dem ol' Kozma blues again mama Posted: March 29, 2013 at 09:24 AM (#4398995)

“And that makeup is, in my opinion, truly the black box of this game,” Proefrock said. “There is no formula that tells you whether the guy has good baseball makeup. ...
“If you can find a way to quantify it, who knows? That’s why the human intelligence aspect of this game is truly the most important part. It’s one that is not paid enough attention to, in my opinion.”


Have the Phils shown any abililty in this area? Maybe you could point to Utley, Ruiz and Rollins as makeup guys but that is old news. The current administration still basks in the reflected glory of that era but it ain't looking pretty from here on out.

There is still no young player who has shone at the major league level from amongst that group who have been traded. Maybe some combination of Gose, D'Arnaud and Singleton will change that; we'll see.
   2. Famous Original Joe C Posted: March 29, 2013 at 09:51 AM (#4399023)
Matt Gelb writing for the Inquirer? I remember him hanging out here as like a High school junior or senior. Good for him.
   3. Edmundo got dem ol' Kozma blues again mama Posted: March 29, 2013 at 09:57 AM (#4399025)
He's been writing for the paper for 2-3 years now. Doesn't get terribly sabrery in his writing.
   4. Tricky Dick Posted: March 29, 2013 at 09:59 AM (#4399027)
“We think we have one of the best, if not the best, group of scouts in the game,”

Hmmm. I think I have read a quote like that from almost every team in baseball. That's not to say it's untrue, just that it's hard to validate.
   5. bobm Posted: March 29, 2013 at 10:06 AM (#4399030)
FTFA:

No current general manager in baseball played the game at its highest level more than Ruben Amaro Jr., and it molded how he evaluates talent. For eight seasons, he was a bench player. He earned $1.25 million in salary.Before that, he was a 23-year-old prospect at single-A Palm Springs. Amaro walked 105 times in 115 games during the 1988 season. He led the California League in walk percentage.

"I don't care about walks," Amaro said in January. "I care about production. To be frank with you, I've said this all along. All of the sabermatricians and all of the people who think they know exactly what makes a good club . . . to me, it's more about run production and being able to score runs and drive in runs."

Amaro said those words during an interview with 97.5 The Fanatic in response to his signing of outfielder Delmon Young. To evaluate him, the Phillies relied on seven-year-old scouting reports from the outfielder's days as a Tampa Bay farmhand. Two of Amaro's assistants, Scott Proefrock and Bart Braun, were members of the Rays organization when Young was selected first overall in the 2003 draft. They vouched for Young's ability.


At the majors prospects come and go
Walking like Ruben Amaro


   6. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 29, 2013 at 10:10 AM (#4399033)
Hmmm. I think I have read a quote like that from almost every team in baseball. That's not to say it's untrue, just that it's hard to validate.

And I don't know why it would be sustainable. If your scouts were the best, wouldn't other teams be poaching them like crazy?
   7. The District Attorney Posted: March 29, 2013 at 10:15 AM (#4399038)
No current general manager in baseball played the game at its highest level more than Ruben Amaro Jr.
Wonder how this is defined. Amaro and Dipoto both played eight seasons. Amaro played 485 games to Dipoto's 390, but of course he was a position player and not a pitcher. Dipoto had 2175 PA against; Amaro had 1051 PA as a hitter.

Anyway, I kind of expect even stat-friendly GMs to publicly downplay stats and praise "judgment" just as a macho, "I make the decisions around here, not some computer" thing. But the quotes in #5 seem to be going well beyond that, and would be scary to me if I were a Phillie fan. Much more scary, of course, is not words, but results, i.e. the Phillies have advanced less far every year Amaro has been GM; are clearly seeing their stars begin to drastically decline due to age; and don't seem to even notice that that's happening, never mind trying to find potential replacements.
   8. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: March 29, 2013 at 10:19 AM (#4399043)
Have the Phils shown any abililty in this area? Maybe you could point to Utley, Ruiz and Rollins as makeup guys but that is old news.

They seem to do a good job of bringing in really old guys to be really good backup catchers.
   9. Textbook Editor Posted: March 29, 2013 at 10:29 AM (#4399055)
I'm sorry but Amaro is an idiot. A smug, snide, thinks-he-knows-it-all idiot. While I feel sad for family and friends who are Phillies fans, I will certain enjoy the crashing and burning of this idiot's GM career whenever it happens.
   10. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 29, 2013 at 10:32 AM (#4399056)
I'm sorry but Amaro is an idiot. A smug, snide, thinks-he-knows-it-all idiot. While I feel sad for family and friends who are Phillies fans, I will certain enjoy the crashing and burning of this idiot's GM career whenever it happens.

Stop pulling punches; tell us how you really feel about Amaro.
   11. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: March 29, 2013 at 10:34 AM (#4399058)
It's hard to remember sometimes that Amaro has actually never made a good decision as Phillies GM. Even at the beginning of his tenure. People sort of give him credit for an unspecified amount of the Pat Gillick era. But once he took over for good, he started making sure the team consisted of two types of players - veterans making 250% as much money as they're worth, and marginal players continually engaged in competitions for lineup spots that are never actually resolved. And Carlos Ruiz.
   12. NattyBoh Posted: March 29, 2013 at 10:43 AM (#4399070)
I'm sorry but Amaro is an idiot. A smug, snide, thinks-he-knows-it-all idiot.


I disagree. He went to Stanford. Foolish, incompetent, rigid, preening, self-absorbed, delusional, hubristic, daft maybe, but not an idiot. He's this generation's Syd Thrift or Cam Bonifay or whichever incompetent GM boogeyman you prefer.

The Howard extension is arguably one of the worst baseball contracts ever.
   13. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 29, 2013 at 10:47 AM (#4399076)
He went to Stanford. Foolish, incompetent, rigid, preening, self-absorbed, delusional, hubristic, daft maybe, but not an idiot.

You can be very intelligent and still an idiot. To me being stupid is about intelligence, being an idiot is about judgement.
   14. Fernigal McGunnigle has become a merry hat Posted: March 29, 2013 at 11:12 AM (#4399102)
No current general manager in baseball played the game at its highest level more than Ruben Amaro Jr.

Wonder how this is defined. Amaro and Dipoto both played eight seasons. Amaro played 485 games to Dipoto's 390, but of course he was a position player and not a pitcher. Dipoto had 2175 PA against; Amaro had 1051 PA as a hitter.


You could look at the maximum number of games a player in his position could have played and then take a percentage of that. What I mean is adding the totals for the MLB leader in games pitched for each year of DiPoto's career, and adding the MLB leader in games played for each year of Amaro's career. Then take a percentage.

Dipoto appeared in 390 games. Over the length of his career, the MLB leaders in pitching appearances totaled 643 games. So Dipoto appeared in 60.6% of his theoretical maximum number of games.

Amaro appeared in 485 games. Over his career, the MLB leaders in games played appeared in 1235 games. So Amaro appeared in 39.3% of his theoretical maximum number of games.

By this measure, Dipoto played the game at its highest level more than Amaro.

   15. AROM Posted: March 29, 2013 at 11:13 AM (#4399103)
“And that makeup is, in my opinion, truly the black box of this game,” Proefrock said. “There is no formula that tells you whether the guy has good baseball makeup. That’s different from being a nice guy. To me, that is the thing that allows a player to get the most out of that physical ability.


I agree with that 100%. To go from recognizing that to actually utilizing it, that's the tricky part.

Another challenge with scouting is projecting how tools will look down the road. You can look at Jeff Francouer (career 49 SB, 35 CS) and B.J. Upton (232-69), both high school first rounders from 2002. Believe it or not, according to the 2003 BA prospect guide, Frnacouer ran a faster 60. Scouts might have been able to project Upton as having the frame to better retain his speed, but I think if the scouts from 2002 could look into the future they'd be shocked at the magnitude.
   16. jacjacatk Posted: March 29, 2013 at 11:30 AM (#4399123)
I'm sorry but Amaro is an idiot. A smug, snide, thinks-he-knows-it-all idiot. While I feel sad for family and friends who are Phillies fans, I will certain enjoy the crashing and burning of this idiot's GM career whenever it happens.


No need to feel sorry for us, we mostly agree with you. Fortunately, being Phillies fans we're pretty use to them sucking (recent history notwithstanding), so we'll survive.
   17. Jesse Barfield's Right Arm Posted: March 29, 2013 at 11:44 AM (#4399132)
Fascinating how similar Beane and Amaro are in how their biography relates to their philosophy: Beane the toolsy star who couldn't walk; Amaro the okay athlete who had great value in drawing walks. Both seem to want players different from themselves.

It this point, Amaro's strategy would seem to make some sense if you have any belief whatsoever in scouts ability to identify talent. If most teams are leaning more on proprietary statistical information, and that this knowledge is starting to coalesce into a fairly uniform statistical approach to identifying talent*, then the Phils might have an edge in talent evaluation if they can gather better scouts (and I'm assuming the best scouts would want to work where they have the most pull).

*If the evaluation of players truly can be objective and scientific, then this must happen eventually.

It's hard to remember sometimes that Amaro has actually never made a good decision as Phillies GM.

Halladay trade was pretty good, even if the concomitant Lee deal was equally bad. If you count them as seperate "decisions" then that's one good and one bad; if you say it's only one decision, I guess it's neutral.
   18. silhouetted by the sea Posted: March 29, 2013 at 12:32 PM (#4399166)
It's easy to identify who has the makeup to be a star. for instance, last year the players with the best makeup were Miguel Cabrera, Buster Posey, R.A. Dickey and David Price..
   19. Dan Posted: March 29, 2013 at 12:43 PM (#4399170)
The Phillies are one of the only teams that doesn't have at least one statistical analyst in their front office. Most teams have a whole department at this point. In fact the Phillies might be the ONLY team to not have at least one guy by now. They're certainly the most prominent one, and the only one that constantly brags about not having analysts.
   20. The Good Face Posted: March 29, 2013 at 01:59 PM (#4399205)
It's easy to identify who has the makeup to be a star. for instance, last year the players with the best makeup were Miguel Cabrera, Buster Posey, R.A. Dickey and David Price..


That's the thing. I'm perfectly willing to concede that some players may be more successful than others due to their instinctive grasp of the game, their willingness/abilty to make adjustments, their work ethic, etc. But all of that should be reflected in their numbers at the end of the year, and if it's not, then why is it so important?
   21. eddieot Posted: March 29, 2013 at 02:27 PM (#4399224)
Amaro strikes me as one of the luckiest SOBs ever. Born into the Phillies family, milking an extra three years of playing career out of the franchise, going straight to the front office, then inheriting this team when he did and surfing on Gillick's wake this long. No wonder the guy seems so smug and entitled. He is.
   22. smileyy Posted: March 29, 2013 at 02:27 PM (#4399225)
To me being stupid is about intelligence, being an idiot is about judgement.


So what you're saing is there's no formula to tell you whether a guy has good GM makeup?
   23. silhouetted by the sea Posted: March 29, 2013 at 02:30 PM (#4399226)
That's the thing. I'm perfectly willing to concede that some players may be more successful than others due to their instinctive grasp of the game, their willingness/abilty to make adjustments, their work ethic, etc. But all of that should be reflected in their numbers at the end of the year, and if it's not, then why is it so important?


And if it is reflected in the numbers, then sabermatician are going to see it better than scouts. One thing that i think happens is that all the so called "old school guys" can tell the story of the guy without a lot of apparent talent who made it because of makeup. We never hear about the guys who they draft because a scout said he had the right makeup who were failures.
   24. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: March 29, 2013 at 02:42 PM (#4399236)
You can be very intelligent and still an idiot. To me being stupid is about intelligence, being an idiot is about judgement.


At the heart, this is the whole Intelligence vs. Wisdom thing from D&D.
   25. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: March 29, 2013 at 02:51 PM (#4399247)
I'm actually enjoying this process, since we already won the World Series. How much more clear-cut could it be, if there is exactly ONE franchise that completely ignores stats, that ONE franchise spends tons of money on the wrong players, and EVERYONE CAN TELL that they are making constant mistakes. There is no excuse that they are signing the wrong players for reasons of budgetary cheapness (like the Braves and Brewers in recent years). There is no excuse that they in fact do have stats guys, they just have the misfortune of having the worst stats guys (like the Blue Jays under Ricciardi). They are PROUD of their strategy as it collapses around them. Ruben Amaro Jr. is like the keynote speaker at the 2007 annual suprime mortgage brokers' awards ceremony.

More specifically, the Phillies are acting like the Oakland Raiders did for the last decade of Al Davis's life. But even they had the excuse of getting bad breaks, salary cap, the coaches keep quitting, the QB is addicted to codeine, etc. Here everyone in the organization is on the same page, rowing together in the wrong direction (to mix some more metaphors). And they've actually been pretty lucky with injuries.
   26. Matt Welch Posted: March 29, 2013 at 03:59 PM (#4399292)
Repoz, if you have a personal Costen Shockley story & have been keeping it from me, we're gonna have a problem.
   27. JE (Jason) Posted: March 29, 2013 at 04:26 PM (#4399310)
At the heart, this is the whole Intelligence vs. Wisdom thing from D&D.

All we know for certain, Vlad, is that Amaro has built up lots and lots of hit points.
   28. Walt Davis Posted: March 29, 2013 at 05:41 PM (#4399344)
And if it is reflected in the numbers, then sabermatician are going to see it better than scouts.

Depends. Sabermetrics has virtually nothing to tell you on draft day. It has very little to tell you after rookie league and A ball. It starts to give you useful information some time around AA ball. It contains pretty much all the information you need to know (other than medical) by the time the guy has 3-4 years in the majors ... but then a quick look at a guy's stat line will give you 90% of that.

This is in part why everything is proprietary now. The basic sabermetric info doesn't give you an edge. Teams need to develop new stuff based on video, pitch f/x, etc.

What's so strange about the Phils is that they are making some terrible decisions at the ML level. You didn't need to be a statnerd to know the Howard contract was a terrible idea. Spending a lifetime around baseball, Amaro should certainly have noticed by now that vets fall off in their early 30s. He should have noticed that a lot of the big guys lose durability. What scout would look at Howard at age 30 and not immediately comp him to Mo Vaughn?

Trade for Roy Halladay -- great move. Turn that massive improvement into a tiny one by immediately trading away Cliff Lee -- huh? Change your mind a year later and sign Cliff Lee for big money. What does any of that have to do with scouts or sabermetrics?

Young talent-wise, they've been doing OK on the pitching side -- Hamels, Worley, Kendrick -- but I don't know if any of those are Amaro picks.
   29. jdennis Posted: March 29, 2013 at 08:24 PM (#4399434)
i love how he bashes advanced statistics and then talks about black boxes and trying to quanitfy character like he's doing game theory flowcharts and trees on a whiteboard and talking about workforce optimization. but he's doing it with paudlum generalizations based on observational stereotypes so he's an artist and not a scientist, and to paraphrase the idiot in moneyball, anybody can do science. it's like, uh, maybe anyone can do art because it's judged on a spectrum and there's always some merit to what you do. and you just can't do science.

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