The colored charts and graphs occupied a corner of Pete Mackanin's desk, and the 64-year-old baseball lifer inspected them on a recent afternoon. Spray charts. Hot zones. Swing tendencies. Pitch percentages. Those items were not always prioritized on the ground floor of Citizens Bank Park in previous seasons.
"Numbers are important. Statistics matter," the Phillies manager said. "The new wave of analytics just delves deeper."
Baseball is awash with more information than ever, although it is still unclear what big data's place will be inside the Phillies clubhouse. The Phillies, under a mandate from co-owner John Middleton, have preached a dedication to analytics. How, exactly, that will translate from the front office to the players and coaches is among Matt Klentak's tasks in his first year as general manager.
Communication is crucial.
"That information can be overwhelming," Klentak said. "There is so much information. The key for our front office and coaching staff and, ultimately, our players is that we're isolating the information that helps players and coaches in the moment without locking them up."
Front offices have executed transactions based on analytics, but more data can be applied to in-game strategy. This season, the data have helped Phillies coaches to reinforce certain notions.
Bench coach Larry Bowa has implemented more defensive shifts based on spray charts and tendencies provided by the front office. Mackanin cited swing percentages in specific counts when advising Freddy Galvis to exert more plate discipline. The manager alluded to catcher-framing metrics as having a role in some playing-time decisions.
Pitching coach Bob McClure and bullpen coach Rick Kranitz thought Charlie Morton should throw his curveball more often. They presented some advanced metrics to convince Morton.
Chris Cashman, the Phillies' advance scouting analyst, is no longer seated behind home plate with a radar gun to chart pitches for every home game. Instead, Klentak said, Cashman is more involved with the coaching staff on a day-to-day basis. His new role is more analytical.
But it is not simple to bridge that gap between a front office and field personnel. An informal poll of Phillies players suggested that few pay attention to advanced metrics. It is not ignorance - more a question of, in first baseman Darin Ruf's words, "What's valuable?" Ruf has studied cards provided to him that show an opposing pitcher's tendencies when behind and ahead in the count.
"Those are great, but you have to figure out what they're going to try to do to you, individually, in that situation," Ruf said. "He might throw a fastball 70 percent of the time on the first pitch, but the situation you're in, there's no shot he's going to throw you a fastball. It's combining all of the things."
Klentak envisions a time when those trends can not only be individualized but easily presented to players. Athletes tend to be visual learners.
Other teams have experimented. The Rays, Tigers, Nationals, and Angels were early adopters of a coaching position that acted as a liaison between the front-office executives, advance scouts, and coaches. The Pirates, starting in 2014, had a quantitative analyst named Mike Fitzgerald travel with the team. He became a respected presence in the clubhouse and a resource for inquisitive players. The Red Sox hired former pitcher Brian Bannister as a director of pitching analytics last September, and part of Bannister's responsibilities is to make analytics relatable for Boston's pitchers.
Klentak, who came from the Angels, could apply Los Angeles' model - which created some contention between the front office and field staff - in Philadelphia. Last season, the Angels used Nick Francona, son of Terry and a former college player, as coordinator of major-league player information. Former player Rico Brogna was the Angels' player-information coach, and he relayed statistical information to the coaching staff.
Francona, a front-office employee, was not in uniform and served as a quasi-advance scout. Brogna wore a uniform.
The challenge in pushing analytics is to gain respect from players and coaches. Balance is required.
"There's a part of this where we want players to be educated on what is available," Klentak said. "But we also have to recognize that certain players are going to want more information than others. And that's OK. We can't force information on someone who doesn't want it, and we can't deprive information to a player who wants it. We have to be flexible in making sure everybody gets what they need."
Mackanin has an open mind. He cited the team's increased use of shifts as simple logic: Why not play the percentages? His staff has utilized the available statistics to justify hunches.
"Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak, they just have said, 'Let's try to use as many tools as we can to make the team better,' " Mackanin said. "To me, the analytics are important."