When it comes to Phillies, don’t let age fool you … in front office
Shortly after the news broke that the Phillies were considering Andy MacPhail for a high-level, front-office position, I asked a rival executive what he thought of the idea.
Over the phone, I could almost see the exec frown.
The Phillies, he said, already paid too little attention to analytics. The expected hiring of MacPhail, who previously served with the Twins, Cubs and Orioles, would represent not a break from the past, but an extension of the old-school, status quo.
For the Phillies’ sake, the exec had better be wrong. And actually, I think he is.
The Phillies, in the words of one club official, recognize that they were “tardy” on analytics, waiting too long to incorporate data in their evaluations and develop their own proprietary information system. They now have three full-time analysts and two interns, according to major-league sources — significantly less than many other clubs, but a step in the right direction.
Yes, club president Pat Gillick is 77, while MacPhail, his likely replacement, is 62. But Gillick, in his heyday, was one of the great information gatherers the sport has ever known. MacPhail, meanwhile, is smart enough to know that the use of data by clubs has evolved even since he left the Orioles in October 2011.
Phillies officials, including Gillick and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., have at times taken pains to emphasize that the Phillies are less reliant on analytics than most clubs.
By now, the Phils surely realize that such views are antiquated — almost every club employs a team of analysts who work in tandem with on-field personnel to secure every possible edge.
Thus, no one should be surprised if MacPhail ultimately hires a statistically savvy GM to replace Amaro, and if the Phillies ramp up their analytics department to the level of other clubs.
Shame on them if they don’t.
MATZ? METS? MESS?
The promotion of a top prospect is the baseball equivalent of the birth of a newborn. Fans generally respond with pure joy, eager to see their new baby, watch him grow.
Yet, when news broke Thursday that the Mets planned to promote left-hander Steven Matz, it prompted a cynical reaction that, for this team, is well-earned.
At least on Twitter, the response boiled down to, “We’ve got enough good young arms. Trade for a damn hitter.”
The Mets deserve the heat; too often in recent seasons, they’ve found reasons to avoid making a move, raising suspicions that ownership is unable or unwilling to spend.
The problem for the Mets is that the trade market continues to be slow to develop. Consider the Athletics, who appear in no rush to move super utility-man Ben Zobrist.
Oh, the A’s may very well trade Zobrist by the July 31 non-waiver deadline. But right now, they’re on their first true roll of the season, a 9-2 run that has moved them out of last place, past the Mariners, in the AL West.
The deficits for Oakland are still daunting – 6 games in the wild-card race, nine in the West. But computer-generated simulations forecast regression for the division-leading Astros. Meanwhile, the Athletics’ plus-46 run differential is the fourth-best in the AL — and, it can be argued, an indication of the team’s underlying strengths.
Put it all together, and the Athletics aren’t bailing so quickly, and the same can be said for several other clubs. The true test for the Mets will come later in July, when the market is more clearly defined. At that point, assuming they are still in contention, there will be no acceptable excuses.
And yet, I can hear the Mets already: “We wanted Zobrist, but the price was too high.” Fair enough if the ask for Zobrist, a potential free agent, is Matz or Noah Syndergaard. But what if it is someone at the level of Rafael Montero, a lesser pitching prospect?
The question, for now, is theoretical — Montero is out with a shoulder injury. But this is not simply about Montero. The Mets can rationalize that they cannot trade this prospect or that one. But at some point, they need to prove that they truly are serious about winning.
Until then, all skepticism is warranted.
ON THE NORTH SIDE . . .
Here’s something to keep in mind when assessing certain Cubs hitters: The team entered Thursday with only 477 plate appearances against left-handed pitching, by far the fewest of any club; the Mets had the next fewest at 523.
Among the Cubs’ right-handed hitters, rookies Kris Bryant and Addison Russell were adjusting just fine despite facing mostly righties. But Starlin Castro had only 44 plate appearances against lefties compared to 253 against righties. Dexter Fowler, a switch-hitter who historically hits lefties better than righties, had a similar ratio. Cubs officials believe that the discrepancy is influencing the performances of both hitters.
The Pirates’ Francisco Liriano and Jeff Locke opened the season as the only opposing left-handed starters for the Cubs in the NL Central; they since have been joined by the Cardinals’ Jaime Garcia. The Cubs currently have two lefty starters, Jon Lester and Tsuyoshi Wada.
AND ON THE SOUTH SIDE . . .
The problem with the White Sox trading off veterans is that it will send them teetering toward irrelevance at a time when the Cubs are reclaiming their grip on Chicago.
Attendance at U.S. Cellular Field is an enduring concern — the White Sox this season are averaging 21,910 fans at home, up more than 1,000 fans per game from last season, but still only 27th in the majors.
That average only figures to plummet if the White Sox sell, especially after what so many viewed an excellent offseason. That said, the Sox need to be realistic, and GM Rick Hahn likely will take precisely that approach.
Right-hander Jeff Samardzija is the team’s best trade chip; two other potential free agents, shortstop Alexei Ramirez and infielder Emilio Bonifacio, are under-performing. First baseman Adam LaRoche could draw interest, but is owed $13 million next season.
The White Sox, then, probably are limited in what they can do, and they certainly should not trade left-hander Chris Sale, whose club-friendly contract makes him one of the game’s biggest bargains.
Trade Sale, and you torpedo your fan base — a fan base that is tenuous to begin with.
Reds outfielder Marlon Byrd might actually have improved his trade value by missing 15 games with a fractured right wrist.
Byrd, who turns 38 on Aug. 30, is now less likely to reach the 550 plate appearances he needs to vest his $8 million option for 2016 — he entered Thursday night with 205 PAs.
Adding to Byrd’s appeal — the Phillies are paying $4 million of his $8 million salary this season. So, a team that acquired him on July 31 would owe him less than $1.5 million.
Byrd, a right-handed hitter, is batting .223, but with 12 homers and a .755 OPS. He entered Thursday night’s game 6 for 19 with two homers since coming off the DL.
AROUND THE HORN
● Rival executives expect the Dodgers to promote shortstop Corey Seager at some point, particularly if the team’s offensive struggles continue. Some in uniform, though, aren’t so sure; Jimmy Rollins has had better at-bats in the past week and continues to play well defensively.
The more pressing issue for the Dodgers is starting pitching — fill-in right-handers Mike Bolsinger and Carlos Frias each have shown warts in their last three starts.
● The Indians, a trendy preseason pick, are only one game ahead of the Athletics in the AL standings. Their minus-26 run differential is the fourth worst in the league, ahead of only the Red Sox (minus-45), Mariners (minus-50) and White Sox (minus-79).
The team can ask only so much offensively of rookies Francisco Lindor and Giovanny Urshela on the left side of the infield, and an upcoming road trip to Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh could make contention even more problematic.
Could switch-hitting first baseman Carlos Santana become a trade candidate? Statistically minded clubs (including the Indians) love his walk rate, but his slugging percentage is down.
Santana is guaranteed $8.25 million in 2016 with a $12 million club option for ’17. He could appeal to a team such as the Red Sox, who likely will move on from Mike Napoli, a potential free agent.
● For all that is going wrong with the Phillies, rookie third baseman Maikel Franco is providing legitimate excitement and Triple-A right-hander Aaron Nola is not far behind him.
Nola, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2014 draft, threw five scoreless innings in his Triple-A debut on June 18, prompting one scout in attendance to predict that he could develop into a No. 2 starter.
“I don’t throw Greg Maddux comps on guys ever, but I put one on him,” the scout said. “He has a feel for pitching. He changes speeds. He’s very, very advanced for a kid who signed last year at this time — fun to watch.”
● And finally, one more word on right-hander Touki Toussaint, the pitching prospect whom the Diamondbacks traded to the Braves in a controversial deal last Saturday night.
The D-backs, under previous GM Kevin Towers, went above slot to persuade Toussaint to forego a scholarship to Vanderbilt after selecting him with the 16th pick of the 2014 draft. Toussaint signed for $2.7 million; the pick’s assigned value was $2.338 million.
Yes, that’s how badly the D-backs wanted Toussaint just 12 months ago, albeit under different management.
Billy Ryan, the D-backs’ assistant GM at the time, played a significant role in the courtship of Toussaint, according to one source — and presumably in the trade discussions as well.
Ryan is now the Braves’ director of baseball operations.
- Adam LaRoche
- Addison Russell
- Alexei Ramirez
- Arizona Diamondbacks
- Atlanta Braves
- Baltimore Orioles
- Ben Zobrist
- Boston Red Sox
- Carlos Frías
- Carlos Santana
- Chicago Cubs
- Chicago White Sox
- Chris Sale
- Cincinnati Reds
- Cleveland Indians
- Dexter Fowler
- Emilio Bonifacio
- Francisco Lindor
- Francisco Liriano
- Gio Urshela
- Houston Astros
- Jaime García
- Jeff Locke
- Jeff Samardzija
- Jimmy Rollins
- Jon Lester
- Kris Bryant
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- Maikel Franco
- Marlon Byrd
- Mike Bolsinger
- Mike Napoli
- Minnesota Twins
- New York Mets
- Noah Syndergaard
- Oakland Athletics
- Philadelphia Phillies
- Pittsburgh Pirates
- Rafael Montero
- Seattle Mariners
- St. Louis Cardinals
- Starlin Castro
- Steven Matz
- Tsuyoshi Wada