Phillies Owner John Middleton Talks Analytics, Rebuild, Future

Phillies owner John Middleton recently took a part in an interview, discussing his emergence from the shadows along with numerous other topics.

For the majority of my time as a Phillies fan, I had no idea who owned the team. I knew Pat Gillick and then eventually Ruben Amaro, Jr. handled the player-personnel, but who actually pulled the strings was beyond me. However, the Phillies ownership group – John Middleton and the Buck family – have started to emerge from the shadows in the past year.

Middleton and the rest of the ownership group made their first step into the spotlight when they formally introduced now-team president Andy MacPhail in June of 2015. Middleton recently did an interview with Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly, and you can read the full transcript here and here.

Salisbury’s first question to Middleton was in regards to why Middleton stayed in the background for so long. Middleton stated that the MLB wants just one person on the forefront for each team, not a group of partners. He also stated the ownership ground introduced MacPhail “to make people understand that it was our decision to hire Andy and that we were going to own that decision.”

Middleton also wanted fans to know that he is just as invested in the team’s performance as they are. Salisbury brought up the notion “that the Phillies are owned by a bunch of genteel main-liners who don’t get all that ruffled by losing”.  To Middleton, losing is only acceptable when “it’s only because you put forth the very best effort and you simply met a better competitor.” Middleton also put himself in the category of Philadelphia “sports nuts”, and that he lives and dies with Philadelphia sports.

One of the biggest and most interesting topics Salisbury and Middleton discussed was the Phillies newfound use of analytics. According to Middleton, the team had “zero” analytics in 2013, and just “one full time person and one intern” in 2014. However, Middleton said they will have “a minimum of six full-time people, a number of interns, and a budget measured in the millions” next season. Middleton said the team has come “light-years” in regards to analytics in the last year.

Despite the Phillies increased use in analytics, Middleton also noted the necessity of “human intelligence” along with the analytics. Per the owner:

“We have to invest time, effort and money into making our scouting and analytics departments the best they can possibly be. From nutrition to sleep studies, we have to be ready to do whatever we can behind the scenes to help us perform better on the field. We have to build up our capacity and our expertise, and we’re getting there quickly.”

The second half of the interview began with Salisbury asking for the “progress report” on the rebuild from Middleton. He said he is “excited” and believes the team is “on track, on schedule.” Middleton noted several of the Phillies young players he is excited about, including Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera, Aaron Nola, Vincent Velasquez, and Jerad Eickhoff. Middleton also mentioned the success of the Phillies minor-league teams, which had a combined .595 win percentage, as well as 27 minor-league All-Stars.

Middleton believes the Phillies are close to contending again. He said Phillies general manager Matt Klentak went through and studied the rebuilds of the “Royals, Pirates, Mets, Orioles, Cubs and Astros.” Klentak reported, according to Middleton, that “no one has done it faster than three [years] , and the longest was six or seven with the Royals” and that the Phillies are on the “lower end” of that scale.

Looking towards the future, Middleton preached patience, saying there are “limited options” in this year’s free-agent class but that future classes could “get really, really good.” In the short-term, Middleton said the team will look to improve their offense this offseason, particularly from the corner outfield positions.

Despite looking towards future free agency classes, Middleton remained adamant that the team needs to build from within first. He said the team needs to build a core, like they did in the late 1970s and mid-2000s, before tapping into the free agent market.

Middleton stated that once you have that core, “You can look at your roster and say, ‘OK, we have all these talented people but we need this, or we need that.'”

Towards the end of the interview, Middleton noted that the Phillies had slightly higher attendance in 2016, but Salisbury also pointed out that “it’s not 257 sellouts.” Middleton agreed, saying the team “won’t get there until we have the team that warrants that attention.”

Middleton finished off the interview saying “we need to build this the right way.” He also noted the trajectory MacPhail laid out in his initial interview, saying “teams that are willing to stay the course and do it the right way, they get rewarded – and that’s what we need to do.”