Ruben Amaro on Analytics (and Evaluation)

Ruben Amaro had a reputation in Philadelphia. To many, the only evaluation tools he trusted were his scouts’ eyes. Basically, he was an old-fashioned — if not backwards-thinking — general manager.

The extent to which that’s accurate is debatable. Amaro wasn’t necessarily cutting edge — Matt Klentak, who replaced him as Phillies general manager, is clearly more analytical — but the perception was skewed. Amaro attended Stanford and learned from Pat Gillick, so his intelligence and knowledge base are anything but slight.

That’s not to say he didn’t make errors in judgement over his tenure. He made several, which is part of the reason he was relieved of his duties last September. Amaro is now with the Red Sox, having made an atypical move from high-ranking front-office executive to first-base coach.

On Sunday, Amaro took a few minutes to shed some light on his days as a decision-maker. The role of analytics in the evaluation process formed the crux of our conversation.

———

Amaro on analytics: “You can’t ever deny the numbers. That’s true for every GM and every baseball person, regardless of whether you’re ‘old school’ or ‘new school.’ When a scout walks in, the first thing he does is pick up a stat sheet and look at what the player does and what he’s been doing. The numbers don’t lie.

“I’ve always believed in analytics. I just didn’t make it all public (in Philadelphia). I thought it was more of a competitive advantage for me to keep our thought-process about analytics closer to the vest. We didn’t boast about what we were doing — we didn’t discuss it openly — because I didn’t think it was anybody’s business but our own as to how we evaluated.

“We got a little more aggressive, as far as building our analytics department, probably three-or-so years ago. It did maybe become a little more public then. But that doesn’t mean we weren’t utilizing analytics to some degree earlier than that.”

On balancing analytics and scouting: “I believe in trends. I believe in experience. I think there are trends that can be enlightening, and there are others that aren’t as enlightening. As players get closer to the major leagues — when they’re in the high minors — that’s when you can start paying a little closer attention to the meta-data, the bigger data. You’re getting a lot more bulk as far as information is concerned.

“When you’re making evaluations on players, and trying to build a club, it’s important to always have a combination of scouting, player development, and analytics. You bring them all together. That said, if I were to err, I would err on the side of what our scouts see with their eyes, and what they can glean from our players’ hearts and heads. But that doesn’t tell the whole story, either. There is a whole other story to evaluating players and talent.”

On Statcast and medical data: “(Statcast) is something we paid attention to — there’s valuable information there — although I think there are still some kinks to be worked out. And just like anything else, sometimes things can be overanalyzed a little too much. But there’s nothing wrong with having as much information as possible, so once the glitches are straightened out, we’ll all be utilizing it even better.

“I was a biology major (at Stanford) and my area of concentration was physical therapy and sports medicine, so when I looked at medical reports, I knew a little more about them than most guys would. I was very proud of our medical staff in Philadelphia. Mike Ciccotte and Scott Sheridan were very knowledgeable. They were always learning about, and developing, preventative measures.”

On evaluating different age levels: “For me, it’s always been about progression. You know much more about the player, analytically, as he moves up the chain. It’s always a combination of the two, with more reliance on scouting at the lower levels. What are our scouts are seeing? Where is the player in the lineup? What is his two-strike approach? For a pitcher, along with his ability to throw strikes, is he throwing quality strikes? That’s another element. Are they major-league strikes or minor-league strikes? There’s a difference.

“Older players require more sets of eyes, and data. You see certain trends in a particular player. Is his velocity coming off? Is his spin ratio backing off? Again, it’s a combination of knowing the player — knowing his heart and head — and, obviously, performance. Maybe you’ll take a bigger risk on someone, even though he might be a little older, because of his makeup.

“Taking performance-enhancing drugs out of the equation impacted the evaluation process for GMs. The trends were very different in that ‘steroid age.’ Some difficulties evaluating players has occurred.”

On autonomy and collaboration: “I had a great working working relationship with David Montgomery. I felt I had great autonomy. The same with Pat Gillick. We made decisions… I was one of those guys whose concentric circle was fairly large. I enjoyed getting opinions and thoughts from everyone. That’s how I like to operate. During the course of winter meetings, and the trade deadline, that’s when you get to involve everyone — international scouting, amateur scouting, professional scouting, the whole nine yards. For me, it’s always been a group effort.”



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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.


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Dave Stewart
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2 months 22 days ago

What a dumb ass!

Ruben Amaro Jr.
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Ruben Amaro Jr.
2 months 22 days ago

What a troll!

Johnston
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Johnston
2 months 22 days ago

He was a physical therapy major. You know any of them? You’re not looking at someone capable of mathematical and statistical analysis.

Brians Sticky Sock
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Brians Sticky Sock
2 months 22 days ago

Johnston, I think you might have trouble grasping satire.

Johnston
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Johnston
2 months 21 days ago

You missed what I was doing. But I’m getting used to that around here.

Phrozen
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2 months 21 days ago

He earned a BS in biology, which is not your typical fluff degree. I expect even less so at Stanford.

Johnston
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Johnston
2 months 21 days ago

Physical therapy/sports medicine? Jock fluff degree. Trust me, I used to be an expect in PAC-8/10 jock fluff degrees.

mrmaddness
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mrmaddness
2 months 22 days ago

LOL.

“I’ve always believed in analytics. I just didn’t make it all public (in Philadelphia). I thought it was more of a competitive advantage for me to keep our thought-process about analytics closer to the vest. We didn’t boast about what we were doing — we didn’t discuss it openly — because I didn’t think it was anybody’s business but our own as to how we evaluated.”

In 2010 ESPN reported “GM Ruben Amaro boasted, “We don’t have an in-house stats guy, and I kind of feel we never will. We’re not a statistics-driven organization by any means.”

AP Writer Dan Gelston once tweeted “Ruben Amaro says team does use analytics. First thing scouts do at games is “pick up a stat sheet.””

In+ 2014 Craig Calcaterra on HardballTalk wrote “Amaro noted that Schmidt had nearly 900 more plate appearances than Rollins yet, magically, their batting averages aren’t very different despite the identical hit totals. The transcript of his comments via Crossing Broad:

““Yeah, we were checking it out. In fact Schmitty was in the booth yesterday when we were talking about it, and, um, I think it’s about a thousand difference in, ah, plate appearances. Pretty amazing. But their batting averages aren’t that different, which is kind of… weird. I don’t quite understand it.””

Basically, Ruben was too late to the analytics bandwagon. The contract he gave to Ryan Howard and trading for Michael Young were awful. Analytics would have told you they were terrible deals.

mrmaddness
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mrmaddness
2 months 22 days ago

D’oh, should have read past the opening quote. I double quoted the “stat sheet” comment.

Pale Hose
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Pale Hose
2 months 22 days ago

Also in your haste to LOL at stupid Amaro you failed to realize that the first two quotes are not contradictory. Keep fighting the good fight!

mrmaddness
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mrmaddness
2 months 22 days ago

Yeah I gave myself a negative vote on that one.

Werthless
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Werthless
2 months 22 days ago

http://articles.philly.com/2012-03-02/sports/31117298_1_phillies-manager-carpenter-complex-sabermetrics

“I honestly can’t tell you the last time WAR or VORP or any of those things were brought up in a conversation,” assistant GM Scott Proefrock said. “We’re aware of them, and we understand what they are. It’s just not something we find relevant.”

Proefrock said the Phillies’ primary use for sabermetrics is in determining how other teams may view players.

“From our perspective, it is important that we are aware of those things because there are other clubs that value them more than we do and look at them more than we do,” Proefrock said. “So that can give us an indication of what they may think of some of our players and what guys they value maybe even more than we do because of the metrics.”

Amaro agrees that the human element of the game cannot be measured by numbers.

“I believe you can break down and analyze statistics any way you really want, but when it comes to scouting heart and head, you can’t do it with sabermetrics,” the general manager said. “In our current situation, I feel like talent and production is very important, but I want a player who has a championship-caliber outlook on how to go about his business.”

Runaway Toaster
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Runaway Toaster
2 months 22 days ago

The comment about PEDs stood out to me. To me, he implied that he was aware many players were taking PEDs back then, and then the league cracked down hard and it changed their evaluation processes.

I know this is pretty much common knowledge, but I can’t remember a baseball executive acknowledging or hinting at the widespread PED usage this strongly.

Johnston
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Johnston
2 months 22 days ago

All you need to do is take a hard look at the declining production in players over 30 since MLB steroid enforcement started to see the effects.

Richie
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Richie
2 months 22 days ago

Johnston, Runaway just noted that he’d never heard a baseball executive publicly acknowledge it before. What is your re-comment apropos of?

Johnston
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Johnston
2 months 21 days ago

Who died and made you a mod?

Hank G.
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Hank G.
2 months 22 days ago

All you need to do is take a hard look at the declining production in players over 30 since MLB steroid enforcement started to see the effects.

Of course, the larger strike zone had absolutely nothing to do with that. Plus, offensive production for all players has declined, not just over 30 players. And there is no way that MLB might have deadened the ball to make it appear that their steroid enforcement is working.

Johnston
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Johnston
2 months 21 days ago
scotman144
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scotman144
2 months 22 days ago

I recall Cashman making a similar comment a few years back. May have even been part of him expounding upon the Giambi signing and ensuing PED scandal?

cornflake5000
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cornflake5000
2 months 22 days ago

During the Hendry years as a Cubs fan, I remember hoping they’d move in a more analytical direction. I was hoping he’d be replaced by someone more progressive, but at the same time, I never thought I was smarter or knew more about baseball. I think the same thing can be said about Amaro. I have no doubts that he’s a better baseball man than I. He knows things that none of us will ever know, but when you compare him to other major league GMs, that’s when the short comings show up. Even Dave Stewart… I wouldn’t want him running my team, and I get the criticisms, but I have no doubt that he’s more qualified than any of us.

Johnston
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Johnston
2 months 22 days ago

“Qualified” is not the same thing as “good.”

Runaway Toaster
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Runaway Toaster
2 months 22 days ago

The worst surgeon in the US is much more qualified than I am, but that doesn’t mean I want him to do a procedure on me…

cornflake5000
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cornflake5000
2 months 22 days ago

Nor do I… my point is that these are guys that many of us laugh at (me included), and yet they know more than any of us do.

I don’t think Hendry or RAJ did a good job compared to others in the same position, but to laugh at them like they’re village idiots says more about us that it does them.

Hank G.
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Hank G.
2 months 22 days ago

I don’t think Hendry or RAJ did a good job compared to others in the same position, but to laugh at them like they’re village idiots says more about us that it does them.

You don’t think it’s laughable when GM admits that he can’t understand how one player can have 900 more PAs than another player despite both of them having similar BAs and hit totals?

Or a GM saying that a draft pick is worth exactly $10 million because that is what they paid under MLB rules?

I don’t deny that these guys have talents and abilities that I don’t, but those really are village idiot-worthy remarks.

cornflake5000
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cornflake5000
2 months 22 days ago

Yes, I really do wonder if it’s necessary to treat them so derisively.

The comments are clearly wrong, but so is the treatment.

TKDC
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TKDC
2 months 22 days ago

I didn’t read this article. Personally, I’ve already heard from Ruben Amaro enough in all the comment sections on Fangraphs. Why does he need his own article, too?

Malcolm-Jamal Hegyes
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Malcolm-Jamal Hegyes
2 months 22 days ago

Just another Fangraphs Ruben Amaro puff piece.

Lou
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Lou
2 months 22 days ago

He kept them so close to his chest that he had everyone fooled! Who would’ve guessed from the nonsensical signings of broken players and trading away a high-tier outfielder for broken prospects that his true persona was that of a stats guy??? Hindsight is 20/20, true, but these were the same criticisms while the deals were in progress!

TKDC
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TKDC
2 months 22 days ago

Ruben might want to consider a future in politics. He seems like a natural.

Johnston
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Johnston
2 months 22 days ago

As an incompetent liar? He should jump right in the presidential race with the rest of them. As damned bad as he is, he would still be an improvement over both Hillary and Trump.

dkmin
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dkmin
2 months 21 days ago

This comment gives helpful context to understanding the rest of your comments.

dkmin
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dkmin
2 months 21 days ago

You know what else is 20/20? Peak Jimmy Rollins. That’s what the Phillies organization is looking for.

Shirtless Bartolo Colon says in Serbian to Vietnamese to French and back to John Elway
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Shirtless Bartolo Colon says in Serbian to Vietnamese to French and back to John Elway
2 months 22 days ago

“I have a PT/Sports Medicine BA… Ahem, a Biology major from Stanford.”

Bryz
Member
2 months 22 days ago

Not true. If this was really back to John Elway, it would have ended with “Just neighing.”

Serbian to Vietnamese to French and back
Member
Serbian to Vietnamese to French and back
2 months 22 days ago

Bartolo shirts stomach says Serbia Vietnam to France and back Tortoise John says:

March 9, 2016 at 11:10

“I went to PT / sports medicine … hm, biology major at Stanford.”

Everything in its place

TKDC
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TKDC
2 months 22 days ago

The Fact that … Bartolo Colon comes back as Bartolo … Stomach is amazing. Tortoise John isn’t bad either.

Johnston
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Johnston
2 months 22 days ago

Finding out that Amaro was actually nothing but an overpromoted physical therapist was the most interesting educational news about baseball since I learned that the notorious Scott Boras is actually a qualified Ph.D. pharmacist.

Andy
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Andy
2 months 22 days ago

As the article mentioned, Amaro’s career path in baseball is fascinating. Say what you want about what advantages he may have had in getting there. When I found out he was now a MLB 1st base coach, I completely dog-eared.

tz
Member
tz
2 months 21 days ago

If you’re going to be a MLB 1st base coach, pretty smart thing to do it for the Red Sox. Any other team, you stand a chance of getting hit by a throw that Hanley doesn’t handle ;)

Bryz
Member
2 months 22 days ago

This sounds a bit like the Twins. On multiple occasions, I’ve heard that the Twins do use analytics but prefer to keep them private. Specifically I was told about four years ago that they didn’t want to be like Billy Beane and the A’s in spilling their secrets to Michael Lewis for Moneyball.

Insert “nobody would want to use the Twins’ analytics anyway” joke here.

Bjd1207
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Bjd1207
2 months 22 days ago

Not sure if you were going easy on him as a thank-you for taking the interview, or if you just didn’t publish certain parts of the interview to save him some face. But how can you not ask him about the quote where he says he doesn’t understand the interaction of batting AVERAGE and plate appearances? That’s what broke the camels back for most Amaro apologists, he just seemed to not have a basic understanding of actual statistics. All of these questions are more “how did you run the Phillies scouting/analytics department or lack thereof” and I think what most people want to ask him is “Do you understand what batting average, OBP, SLG, etc. MEAN?” Maybe it’s not as important as his overarching philosophy, but that’s what had people jumping off the bandwagon and that’s the article everyone was hoping this was.

ice_hawk10
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ice_hawk10
2 months 22 days ago

people forget how large a role ownership probably played in the death of the Phillies by pressuring management to hang onto high risk, declining fan favorites and loading up on veteran talent even after their window of contention was firmly in the rear view mirror.

i wouldn’t say RAJ is a genius among baseball execs, but it is totally unsurprising that teams keep their proprietary information and their evaluation philosophies close to the vest.

dirtbag
Member
dirtbag
2 months 22 days ago

At least this article didn’t start with “Ruben Amaro is smarter than the so-called experts. That isn’t meant sarcastically. The former Phillies’ GM knows what he’s doing, and has both the background and track record to prove it.”

Hank G.
Member
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Hank G.
2 months 22 days ago

I’ve always thought of first base coaches as a way for teams to throw a few extra bucks at someone (usually a former player) whom they don’t think has the ability to be a real coach.

What did Boston think that Amaro brought to the table that made it worth hiring him? Was just the pleasure of sending a former General Manager out to coach first base?

Bryz
Member
2 months 21 days ago

Eh… the Twins made Paul Molitor their 1st base coach two years ago. He was credited as being a significant help for base-stealers. A year later he was suddenly manager of the team.

Anonymous
Member
Anonymous
2 months 20 days ago

It’s a way to have a person hang around the on-field talent. If the players end up liking him, the feel-good ‘hearts and minds’ stuff can play up as a player manager. Just don’t put him in charge of buying, selling and trading the talent.

Ricky Jordan
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Ricky Jordan
2 months 21 days ago

Forgetting the fact that after the first Cliff Lee trade this man didn’t make a single move that any one of us couldn’t have made with money and prospects, he literally said “walks don’t matter.” I’m sorry, but combined with not understanding what a plate appearance is, those are mistakes you don’t come back from. Why am I not surprised that he’s taking a revisionist history position.

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