Phillies Keep Winning Without Your Fancy Numbers

ST LOUIS, MO: Philadelphia Phillies players celebrate after the Phillies won Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St Louis, Missouri. The Phillies defeated the Cardinals with a final score of 3-2. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The Philadelphia Phillies are perennial big winners while eschewing all the newfangled statistical mumbo-jumbo. Just ask them.

So, this story by Bob Brookover is your standard we-have-analysts-but-don't-pay-any-attention-to-them-because-statistics-lie-and-look-how-many-games-we-win-without-them article. You've read it before, about the Twins (before they were terrible) and the Giants and a few other clubs. This one's about the Phillies. Who outspend everyone in their division by a lot, but still you can't deny they win a lot of games, too.

As you might guess, we're not going to award this one a bunch of bonus points for originality. But hey, it's hard to come up with something new every day (trust me).

At the winter meetings in Dallas, Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland told former Phillies manager Larry Bowa that he had zero understanding of WAR.

"I need somebody to sit down and explain that to me," Manuel said. "I admit that there are some things that I don't understand yet. But if I see something that lights me up, I don't care if it's new or if sabermetrics came up with it. I look at it."

Still, Manuel believes most in his own eyes.

"When you're sitting there and a guy brings up sabermetrics, they don't know nothing about that guy, and that may be the biggest thing," Manuel said. "Sometimes a guy will look at you and say, 'Why did you play that guy, he's 1 for 16 against that guy with seven punch-outs?' But when I've watched that guy, he might be 1 for 16, but nine of those at-bats the guy hit about three or four balls hard.

"Shane Victorino last year, for instance, was 2 for 16 or something like that against Derek Lowe, and before I played him we talked about it. He told me he had a plan for going up there against him, and he stuck with it, and he got three hits."

Hey, who's the guy asking Manuel about the 1 for 16 guy? I want to meet that guy. Because I know a lot of sabermetrics guys, and none of those guys would say a guy's 1 for 16 should dictate lineup decisions. Nor should "nine of those at-bats the guy hit about three or four balls hard" ... but at least Manuel's winding up with the right answer, basically. And so is general manager Ruben Amaro, usually. When he's not over-paying Ryan Howard or signing Raul Ibañez, anyway. So we should probably cut him some slack, right?

Amaro said statistical analysis should not be a big part of minor-league scouting.

"It's just too difficult to really project what the numbers will say," Amaro said. "I lived it myself. I was a great minor-league player but a terrible major-league player. If you looked at my OPS and my on-base percentage, it was ridiculous. But I wasn't a good major-league player because I couldn't hit a breaking ball. That's something that the scout will find out and see and then you can exploit that area on a guy."

I would suggest, based on statistical analysis, that great minor-league player is maybe a bit of a stretch.

Amaro did some nifty things in the minors. At 23 in the Class-A California League, Amaro drew 105 walks in 115 games and posted a .421 on-base percentage. He was pretty fast, too. No power, though.

Amaro reached AAA at 25, and did reasonably well, with the caveats that a) he was 25, and b) a lot of hitters seemed to do reasonably well in the Pacific Coast League in those days; it was a hitter's league. He was even better the next season (1991), but didn't fare as well over the next five, during which he played for various triple-A and major-league teams.

Amaro's final AAA line: .301/.377/.440 in 487 games
Amaro's final MLB line: .235/.310/.353 in 485 games

There's a wide gap between those lines ... but not that wide, really. Not considering that much of Amaro's triple-A experience came in hitter-friendly environments.

What I find striking, though, is this ... If Amaro couldn't hit a breaking ball, where were the scouts? He saw major-league action in eight different seasons, with four different organizations. In those days (the 1990s) teams paid little attention to sabermetrics and (presumably) a great deal of attention to "the scout."

It's actually sort of funny, when you think about it. In Moneyball -- a movie for which Amaro evinces no fondness -- Billy Beane supposedly doesn't trust scouts because the scouts were wrong about him. And here we have Amaro flat-out saying he doesn't trust statistics because the statistics were wrong about him.

It's like Faulkner said: "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

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