CLEARWATER, Fla. — It’s a whole new ballgame with the Phillies. Has been for a while now. The information age has gripped a franchise that not long ago was considered as old school as it gets, not that there wasn’t merit in that way of doing things; there was, and those five division titles, two National League pennants and one World Series title from 2007 to 2011 are proof.
This is not a debate over new school vs. old school, not a debate over analytics vs. scouting. It’s just a reminder that there’s a new way of doing baseball around the Phillies. The ground-up building of a research and development department that now numbers more than a dozen is an example of the change. The hiring of progressive thinker Gabe Kapler as manager is an example. On Tuesday, Alex Nakahara, a senior quantitative analyst from the team’s R & D wing, was in uniform and on the field (see story). That was another example. The Phillies still have a scouting force. But they also have so much more.
The wealth of information that the team is now collecting on players has resulted in the initiation of morning meetings with each player during spring training. Kapler called them “player plan” meetings. Now, managers and coaches have been meeting with players to cover strengths and weaknesses for a century. These are a little different, a little more detailed and data driven as the Phillies look for what Kapler is always talking about — value at the margins.
Kapler said the meetings, which can include coaches, front office people and members of the R & D department, are designed to highlight strengths that sometimes a player did not know he had. Areas that need "focus" or improvement are also covered.
“We’re digging in together, learning about the players and giving them information so they can be the best version of themselves,” Kapler said. He added that he tells players, “We’ve been thinking about you and paying attention to all of the details of your performance and your career and here are the things that you kick ass at and maybe some things that you can focus on.”
Data and other visuals are presented to players.
“We use images, some heat maps and things like that to give them a feel for what we look at when we evaluate them independent of our scouting way of looking at them,” Kapler said. “We’ll show them, ‘Hey, you have elite command of your slider to the outside of the plate.’ And then we’ll give them a little context, where they stand versus the rest of the league. ‘Did you know that this was one of your strengths?’“
In these meetings, a hitter might learn that he hits a particular pitch in a particular location very hard.
“So the thought process is now, ‘Go attack that pitch because you’re good at it and you crush it and it might help you lay off a pitch that is the opposite of that,’ Kapler said, adding …
“Does that make sense?”
These are the new Phillies.