New Phillies president Andy MacPhail (right) says he’s been using sabermetrics since the mid-1980s, when he architected a pair of World Series-winning Twins teams. (AP)
It was a turning of the tides for the Phillies who announced that Andy MacPhail will become the teams next president following the 2015 season.
Pat Gillick, who has served as the president since last August when he took over for David Montgomery, will be handing the reigns to MacPhail in October. Until then, MacPhail will join the club as a special assistant to Gillick and will begin to evaluate the staff.
At a press conference on Monday, Phillies ownership partner John Middleton introduced MacPhail will Gillick on hand.
“Andy brings an uncommon blend of old school experience and new age thinking,” Middleton said. “Old school because he has been building winning teams for over three decades. In 1986, Andy was the youngest GM in the history of Major League Baseball when he served in that role for the Twins. The following year, he became the youngest GM to win a World Series title. When the Orioles hired him eight years ago, Andy became the first president of baseball operations in Major League Baseball. During his tenure in Baltimore, he greatly expanded the use of statistical analysis in player evaluations. That’s the new age thinking. These qualities, combined with his positive leadership style, make him the ideal candidate to lead the Phillies organization.”
“Needless to say, I am very flattered,” MacPhail said of being hired by the Phillies. “This franchise has been around a very long time, and this is the first time (the organization has) ever gone outside of the organization for something like this. Little bit surprised you hired me because I have been out of it for three years, but anyway.”
“The hope is MacPhail can hit the ground running when he assumes control (in October),” Middleton expressed.
MacPhail was an integral part of the Twins teams that own the Series in 1987 and 1991. After departing from Minnesota, MacPhail went on to serve as the President/CEO of the Chicago Cubs from 1994 to 2006.
MacPhail then severed as the president of the Baltimore Orioles from 2007-2011 and helped to rebuild the Orioles organization into an AL East contender, trading for players such as Adam Jones, Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy and Chris Tillman. MacPhail left the team before he could see these players help the team to success.
“I was asked to go back, but I didn’t go back,” MacPhail said. “I wasn’t having any fun.”
The 62-year-old has spent the past three years traveling the world and now he is ready to recommit himself to baseball and bring a championship to Philadelphia.
“Andy is a perfect combination of new age thinking with old school success,” Middleton said. “Old school, because he has been doing this for a very long time.”
Both MacPhail and Middleton emphasized that the Phillies will be making an effort to include saber metrics into their rebuild, something the Phillies have been criticized for, being one of the slowest organizations in all of sports to adapt to this new era of advanced stats.
According to an ESPN feature in February, the Phils were ranked dead last, 122nd, which compared teams in the four major sports in strength and commitment to analytics.
“It was hugely important. There’s just no way we were going to hire somebody who isn’t open-minded and willing to look at every piece of information,” Middleton said when asked what role MacPhail’s willingness to embrace saber metrics played in his hiring.
“You have to be comfortable looking at anything you possibly can look at to get an edge competitively and make a better decision. It’s just inconceivable to me that you’d hire somebody who would just shut out a big chunk of valuable information.”
MacPhail, who at one time was the youngest general manager in major-league history and when the Twins won the World Series, the youngest GM to win a title, has been using saber metrics as far back as the mid-1980s, though he admitted the movement has exploded over the last 30 years.
“I can assure you, as you probably already know, saber metrics is something of intense interest to ownership,” MacPhail said. “When it comes to that sort of thing, I believe you look at everything, absolutely everything. Why would you exclude any information? You’re gonna try to do every piece of homework you can to push the odds of being successful in your favor — every stat, every formula. I am hardly the guy that is a saber metric genius, so you go out and hire people. You have the young kids come in and explain to you why it’s important and then you make the judgment how much weight you’re going to put on it. And the more experience you have with it, the more sense you have of which formulas really are predictors of performance and which ones aren’t.”
MacPhail says the key is to combined scouting with advanced stats and trends to always be ahead of the curve, not behind it.
“I think it’s absolutely essential that you marry [saber metrics] with the best human intelligence you can,” MacPhail said. “Bodies change, weaknesses get exposed and then they get exploited. People make adjustments. Maybe they can hit a curveball that they couldn’t a year ago. You need to look at every single facet when you’re making player evaluations. No stone goes unturned.
“You’re hoping that it all tells the same story, that they’re all pointing in the same direction, all leading you to the same conclusion. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happens that way. You’re going to get a scouting report that doesn’t mesh with the analytics, or you’re going to get a red flag in one of the four analytics that are used and you’re just going to have to choose which one weighs more.
“I think you need to do everything you can to understand where that trend line may be with players. Is the trend line going up? Is the trend line staying even? Or can we expect a diminishing performance in the not-too-distant future? These are things that are important. They worked for us in Baltimore, and it’s important we use them here.”
The Phils’ private, custom-made saber metrics system called PHIL is supposed to launch in September.
“Nobody’s got all of the tools. You have to hire people around you that are good at things that maybe you don’t have that background. For all I know, that person’s already here, we’ve just got to figure it ou
Now that MacPhail will begin to run the ship, he has quite a few big decisions to make.
Said MacPhail, “I’m not coming in with any preconceived notions of what needs to be done.
At the very top of the list has to be current general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., whose contract is set to expire at the end of the season. Although Gillick and Ed Wade did most of the work, Amaro is credited with helping to build the 2008 team that won the World Series and the team that was atop the National League for the new few season.
But with many bad contracts and horrible trades, the Phillies are now on pace to lose over 100 games, already at 50 losses going into tonight’s game against the Brewers.
One other takeaway from the press conference was details about a new manager for the club.
Gillick confirmed that Pete Mackanin will continue as the interim manager for the rest of the home stand after Ryne Sandberg, who resigned last Friday. Gillick also stated that an announcement will be made later this week regarding who would manage the team for the rest of the year.
Mackanin spent four years at the Phillies bench coach under Charlie Manuel and stayed around to play the role of third base coach under Sandberg. Mackanin has publicly expressed that he has no desire to be a major league manager any longer.