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The Statistical Devolution



    I've talked about it a few times here before, but there is a revolution currently taking place in baseball, and one that could have (and has) a profound effect on how the game is played, and how teams are run by general managers.

    The revolution, which is one of a statistical nature, is commonly referred to as Sabermetrics, which comes from the Society for American Baseball Research, or SABR. While most of this stuff is still underground, at least to the layperson, the success of the movie (and book) Moneyball, which chronicles one GM's fight against traditional statistics and operating styles, has brought a lot of attention to stats like WAR and xFIP, as well as the methodology behind scouting players.

    So, it was only a matter of time before we learned how the Phillies front office feels about all this newfangled information, thanks to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Bob Brookover. Ordinarily, a piece about how a baseball team is keeping up with the times would be interesting, but in this case, it comes off like a hit piece, in which the principle actors (Ruben Amaro Jr. and company) sound uninterested and unwilling to adapt to the changing times.

    Now, I understand that not everyone is in with the whole statistical revolution thing. Like most industry-changing ideas and theories, it's an acquired taste because it flies in the face of what has been considered commonplace, such as the eye test, traditional scouting practices, and so on. And it's not as if stats have not been used in the past -- most players can be more-or-less summed up by what's on the back of his baseball card.

    But there are greater things at play here, and it's wrong to outright ignore them or summarily dismiss them. In any other field, if you willfully ignored a set of data that would improve your job performance or end up in you creating a better product, you'd be called an idiot at best, and you'd be fired at worst.

    That's not to say that the brass in Philly aren't paying attention to it, but to dismiss it like it appears that they have done -- at least based on what Brookover wrote -- is foolish. It's one thing to be skeptical, but it's another thing to ignore it altogether.

    The naysayers of the statistical revolution -- they are many -- will point to the fact that the Oakland A's haven't won a World Series under the Moneyball Regime, and that it's alchemy and black magic that doesn't mean anything. But, it is worth noting that the winning the World Series isn't the only sign of success, because baseball -- like everything else -- is beholden to chaos and randomness, and the best team doesn't always win. Underdogs crop up, balls take bad bounces, and Cody Ross can own Roy Halladay in October.

    Advanced stats are not a one-size-fit-all solution, but they are not intended to be. Their purpose is to compliment the traditional stats so that we may fully realize and understand the game in greater detail. If a team chooses to ignore a new tome of information, then that's their decision. And if they can succeed without it, more power to them. But in this blogger's opinion, you can only benefit from having more information, not suffer from it.

    Are the Phillies more tuned in to the same team-building methodologies that have been embraced by teams like the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox? It certainly doesn't sound like it, but with an aging team and a bloated payroll, we can only hope that, going forward, they will be more proactive, not reactive.

    *If you're interested in a more thorough fisking of Brookover's piece, as well as some great columns on advanced stats -- the very same that the Phillies don't pay attention to -- then be sure to check out Crashburn Alley. They've got a crew of great writers, and enough information to keep you entertained for hours on end.