Sam Fuld

Phillies outfielders fill their pockets with information

USA Today Images

Phillies outfielders fill their pockets with information

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Any highlight recap of the Phillies’ 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays Friday night would include starting pitcher Vince Velasquez’s strong work on the mound, Carlos Santana’s game-tying hit in the sixth inning, Scott Kingery’s crucial one-out double in the ninth and Jorge Alfaro’s go-ahead single two batters later.

There were some subtle elements to the victory that would not show up in the highlights.

For instance, Odubel Herrera’s catch on a line drive off the bat of Adeiny Hechavarria leading off the bottom of the eighth inning. It was a 1-1 game and Hechavarria scorched a slicing liner to the right of center field, approaching the gap. If the ball falls in, it’s a double and the Rays are just a hit away from taking the lead and three outs from winning the game.

But Hechavarria’s ball died in Herrera’s glove. What’s more, Herrera barely had to move. He had Hechavarria played perfectly.

Last week in New York, the Phillies’ defensive methods were sharply criticized when Amed Rosario launched a ball over the head of Nick Williams, who was playing extremely shallow in right field. The Phillies employed that defense because they believed Drew Hutchison could throw a slider that would result in Rosario’s hitting a weak fly ball to right. This wasn’t knee-jerk, gut-feel stuff. It was all based on extensive data study by the team’s analytics department and coaching staff.

Of course, it didn’t work. Rosario belted a tie-breaking, two-run triple and the Phillies lost that game in New York.

But Friday night, data-driven positioning did work and it helped the Phillies win a game.

During television broadcasts, you may catch glimpses of Phillies’ outfielders reaching into their back pockets and taking looks at note cards. On those cards are positioning notes for every hitter on the opposing team. When Hechavarria came to the plate in the eighth inning Friday night against right-hander Luis Garcia, Herrera pulled the card from his pocket and found Hechavarria’s name under the right-handed pitcher category. The guideline said L-17, as in move 17 steps to the left from the normal position. For other hitters, it might say R-8/+2. That would be move right eight steps and in two.

This is all another example of how the once old-school Phillies have gone completely new school.

Sam Fuld, the former major league outfielder who is in his first year as the team’s coordinator of player information, first used the cards as a player with Tampa Bay. Hours before each game, Fuld and other members of the coaching staff go over data of opposing hitters’ tendencies and print out laminated cards for the outfielders to carry in their pockets.

“Sometimes we’ll even round the edges,” Fuld joked. “We don’t want anyone getting cut.”

The cards offer a quicker way to position a player than having a coach wave from the dugout. If an adjustment is needed on the fly, assistant pitching coach Chris Young, who also works on positioning outfielders, will rise to the top step of the dugout and do that. Fuld, a liaison between the analytics department and the players, is not permitted in the dugout during games, though he is in uniform for batting practice and works as an outfield coach.

“The information comes from our analytics department, to us, to the card, to the player,” Fuld said.

Baseball is still a human game so Fuld encourages the outfielders to use the cards as a guideline; outfielders are free to follow their instincts, as well. Sometimes, like in New York, this stuff doesn’t work. But sometimes, like Friday night in Tropicana Field, it does work.

“It was on the card and Odubel was right where he was supposed to go,” Fuld said. “It was really exemplary of the team effort that goes into this from the analytics group, to us, down here to the player on the field.”

Phillies hire Sam Fuld, Ben Werthan to front office roles

USA Today Images

Phillies hire Sam Fuld, Ben Werthan to front office roles

The Phillies continued to retool the front office Friday with two hirings. 

Former major league outfielder Sam Fuld will join the team as major league player information coordinator, while Ben Werthan will serve in the same role in the minors.

Fuld, 35, played parts of eight seasons with four different teams, last appearing in the majors with the Oakland A's in 2015. In 599 career games, Fuld posted a .227 career batting average with a .307 on-base percentage. 

Werthan, 31, served as the Orioles' advance scouting coordinator for the past six years, leading the team's advance scouting process. He previously held internships with the Tampa Bay Rays and Cincinnati Reds.

Both new hires will "help integrate the use of information in all areas of on-field performance and make recommendations regarding the most effective areas of future research analysis," the Phillies announced in a press release. 

The moves continue the Phillies' trend towards analytics, something that general manager Matt Klentak has expanded upon since his arrival in 2015. New manager Gabe Kapler is also deeply rooted in analytics as the Phillies move to a new-school thought process. 

"He has a unique ability to connect with people and I think that bodes very well for our young roster," Klentak said of Kapler during his introductory press conference Thursday. He's a progressive thinker. Look at the teams (Indians, Cubs, Dodgers, Astros) that competed in the last two World Series. These are among the most progressive organizations in baseball. That's where the Phillies need to head and Gabe Kapler is going to be a huge asset to us as we try to progress to the future."