The Sixers Are Good at Math. The Phillies Aren’t.

Philly's struggling clubs come in first and last in an ESPN ranking of how teams use advanced metrics.

sixers phillies
We already know that the Sixers stink. We expect that the Phillies — barring a miracle — will do the same during their forthcoming season. But it turns out they stink in vastly different ways.

The Sixers stink in a very futuristic way, you see, while the Phillies stink in retro fashion.

ESPN did an analysis of all teams in the major professional sports — football, baseball, basketball and hockey — then ranked how committed each is to using advanced metrics (mathematical analysis of everything about a sport that can be quantified) to improve the team on the field.

The Sixers ranked first. The Phillies: Dead last.

ESPN’s analysis of the Sixers:

When Philly hired Sam Hinkie in May 2013, the team became a test case for the GM’s plan: dump overvalued mediocrity, lose (a lot) with cheap role players and load up on picks. With five staffers devoted to picking apart the CBA, mining player health and minting theories on roster construction, Hinkie has topped his former boss, Rockets GM Daryl Morey, as the NBA’s most ardent analytic master. “He has a vision,” says Sixers forward Robert Covington. “We’re going to turn this around.”

And the Phillies:

The Phillies famously disdain analytics: GM Ruben Amaro bragged in 2010 that his team is “not a statistics-driven organization by any means” and would likely never have “an in-house stats guy.” Emblematic of their innumeracy, the Phils then signed Ryan Howard, already under contract for two more years, to a five-year, $125 million extension. Howard’s production and Philadelphia’s fortunes have suffered in the years since, and his contract now has the team in a bind, with the former MVP at age 35 and no longer a productive player — projecting to be worth minus-1.8 WAR through 2016. Despite that failure, the Phillies still don’t seem to demonstrate any real faith in the analytic approach.

Among other Philly teams, the Flyers were judged as having barely dipped a toe into the trend, while the Eagles ranked highly for their embrace of such metrics — no surprise given Chip Kelly’s penchant for innovation. “Under Kelly, who consolidated control of the football side of the organization in January, the Eagles will consider any technology, data or strategy on the market,” ESPN said.

What does all this tell us about the trend towards advanced metrics in sports? Maybe not a lot. You don’t need a math PhD to know that giving a giant contract to a slugger in his early 30s is probably going to end in tears. And all the study, analysis, and asset stockpiling in the world doesn’t mean a damn if you don’t eventually commit to using them to build the team that you’re going to war with. Analytics can be a very useful tool, but (as with any tool) only if they’re used well. As for the Sixers? ESPN’s ranking will be of cold comfort if the fans finally revolt and Sam Hinkie finds himself in a McDonald’s a year from now, putting his skills to work on a Sudoku puzzle over coffee.