The Phillies suffered through what has become hysterically normal at Citizens Bank Park last night, committing two errors and watching their starter get wailed on for eight runs in two innings by a last place opponent.
So it was a courageous David Montgomery who stepped out of the car this morning to attend the Society of American Baseball Research conference at the Downtown Marriot on 12th and Market.
“Normally, I don’t go out in public when we’ve lost the day before,” the president of the Phillies confessed, “let alone eight out of the last nine. But I committed to this a long time ago.”
He then pointed out a man in the crowd who had chosen a shared moment in the bathroom as a chance to tell Montgomery how the Phillies should proceed after a dormant trade deadline.
“That man has the passion that we’re looking for and the interest in the club,” he said. “This is a hard core group of baseball fans, sitting here in front of me.”
The crowd at the SABR conference this morning didn’t care particularly about last night’s monotonous suckitude at the Bank; most of them probably weren’t even Phillies fans. The Society for American Baseball Research had gathered downtown to talk shop on a variety of analytic and statistical baseball topics, but Montgomery’s presence proved there really isn’t a dividing line between these fans and those who believe in pitcher wins, as he gave history lessons and inside stories on topics far beyond the reach of sabermetrics.
Most of Montgomery’s talking points dealt with his personal history of the game: the series of Kite Men who came through Philadelphia, the 1964 collapse, the Phanatic’s origins, the odds of baseball being reinstated in Montreal, his personal fandom of Andrew McCutchen, and readdressed the 2009 acquisition of Pedro Martinez for a grateful Red Sox fan.
Moving onto the Q&A portion, Montgomery offered his most interesting rhetoric of the session, addressing a plethora of issues plaguing baseball, as well as the suspicion that the Phillies tend to wave off statistical analysis in their management of the club.
“How do I say this?” one inquiry began. “We don’t have enough… uh, hitting.”
“We don’t,” Montgomery replied quickly. “I’ll say it for you: We aren’t scoring enough runs. Don’t worry about insulting me.”
Ruben Amaro’s infamous “I don’t care about walks, I care about production,” statement earlier in the year gave the impression the Phillies don’t use as much of an analytic approach as the Beanes and Epsteins in the league, which Montgomery used as a lead-in to give a brief window into the inner workings of the front office’s thought process.
“I think there’s a misconception, I think we have a lot of emphasis on statistical analysis. But we’ve known to be a club that believes in scouting. And I don’t see those two things to be mutually exclusive. That’s not how we operate. If there was one stat we used, it’s weighted on base percentage (wOBA) in other words, taking into account extrkna base hits and weighting accordingly as a primary tool.”
Montgomery explained how these calculations, along with character evaluations (Pat Gillick used to take potential Phillies out to lunch prior to any signatures), assemble the team you see on Opening Day.
“People can’t always judge our desire by our acquisitions; do you see what I’m saying? People say, ‘well look at that, look who they took. Don’t they know this player can’t do X and Y?’ Yeah, but we have to think he’s better than who we have playing there. He doesn’t have the tools that fit some of the people in the room, we know that, but we see that player to be maybe a defensive player that’s better. Ben Revere is a good example of that. We are using those tools along with scouting.”
“All the good young players are being locked up a lot earlier, so the ability to go through free agency and acquire big name free agents, I don’t think exists as much.”
“We have morphed into a pitching dominated club,” Montgomery explained. “We’re not pitching particularly well this year, but we got the starters to position us to do that because we thought those starters would be helpful, given the success in a short series. The goal for most franchises right now, to be in a position to get in [to the playoffs], and once you get in, anybody has a chance.”
Finally, Montgomery spoke of being on Bud Selig’s ‘on-field’ committee with Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Jim Leyland, Mike Scioscia and four GMs, whose primary focus is on developing solutions for the game’s chief issues, like instant replay and the nine inning tempo.
“We are constantly concerned. The real fear of instant replay is that to get everything right in the game is going to take time and we’re just not sure to go to that degree it’s a good cost-benefit analysis. We’d love to get hitters, as they used, to never step out of the box; we talk about it incessantly. But players when they get to the big league level have developed habits and, boy, those habits are tough to break.”
Montgomery departed, hoping the Phillies break a few of their nastier habits in the coming days. Otherwise he won't even have a SABR convention as an excuse to leave the house.