Focused on reaching new heights, Tommy Pham embraces analytics -

Stathead: Focused on reaching new heights, Tommy Pham embraces analytics

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Tommy Pham addresses the media at Winter Warm-Up Sunday, January 14th, 2018. (KMOV) Tommy Pham addresses the media at Winter Warm-Up Sunday, January 14th, 2018. (KMOV)

Tommy Pham is a different kind of ballplayer.

His candor with the media, his openness in sharing lofty personal goals, the detail with which he describes his approach to the game—it’s all stuff rarely seen from modern athletes.

Specific to baseball perhaps more than any other major sport, analytics have taken center stage for decision makers in talent evaluation. Tools like Statcast and sites like FanGraphs have become ubiquitous in baseball discussions for fans and media, too, but hesitance to embrace the stathead mentality has been common among many of the players those statistics place under the microscope.

But it’s worth repeating: Tommy Pham isn’t like many players.

“FanGraphs is my site,” Pham proudly told media Sunday at Winter Warm-Up. “They tell you everything. If I feel like I’m not performing to my expectations, I could go on there and check the difference.”

Where a lot of guys consider boiling down baseball to a series of numbers and formulas an oversimplification of their profession, Tommy Pham sees advanced stats as the key to unlock the door to his success.

“I use all this information to my advantage,” Pham said. “That’s part of being a self-evaluator. If you have an area of your game you need to improve upon, work on it to help the team. If I struggle on the bases, I’m going to work on it to help the team. I want to contribute in all aspects of the game.”

That includes eliminating weaknesses in his swing. If he’s struggling with pitches at the top of the zone, Pham knows he has to learn to hit those pitches, or that’s all he’ll see from opposing pitchers. After establishing comfort in handling pitches anywhere in the zone, the next step is consistently driving those pitches. It's all part of his process and preparation.

Just because Pham’s coming off a .300/.400/.500 season doesn’t mean he’s satisfied.

“We talked about hitting for more power—it’s physics,” Pham said. “Power is, what, mass times acceleration. I don’t really need to gain weight, I need to get faster. I need to work on controlling my body in my swing, and doing certain movements.”

Pham can recite top of mind how his numbers stack up with the rest of the league, and he knows the names of the players who rate better than he does. Even as he executed a breakout season that launched him from a relative unknown nationally to receiving votes in the MVP balloting, Pham has consistently professed the desire to add more of that power and speed to his game. He’s always itching to improve.

And the way he sees it, diving into the analytics is the best way to achieve that goal.

“I know all of them, truthfully,” Pham said when asked about his favorite advanced stat. “Jeff Albert, he was my hitting coach, I remember when he broke everything down to me. He schooled me and educated me on it. I was like, ‘Oh, this is what you guys look for.’ I know if I can keep my strikeout percentage down and my walk rate at a certain percentage and my line drive rate at a certain percentage, everything else will be there.”

While advanced hitting statistics have become widely accepted, metrics on the defensive side are less developed. Pham doesn’t necessarily have a favorite defensive stat he trusts for his self-evaluation; for that, his approach caters more to the old-school.

“That’s very new,” Pham said of the defense metrics. “All I care about is taking away hits. If I take away hits, it’ll all be there.”

So to improve his defense, Pham focuses on his speed. Pham said he requested information from the Cardinals stats department in order to learn where he stacks up against the competition.

“They gave me all this information, defensively, what these guys run, where I’m at,” he said, “and I need to catch up.”

To get faster, Pham has been using a program called overspeed training. It involves short bursts on a treadmill at high velocities increasing over time; as Pham masters one speed, he bumps up to the next.

“On a weekly basis, I know if I’m getting faster if I’m able to run on a treadmill for the desired speed and the time,” Pham said.

At present, Pham says he can sprint the treadmill set at 24 mph for five seconds—when he can make it for six seconds, he’ll bump up to 24.5 mph. Pham named Byron Buxton, Trea Turner and Billy Hamilton as players he’s still chasing in that department.

“Those are the three fast guys that I’m looking at,” Pham said. “That treadmill, it translates to you take 2 mph off—that’s your ground speed. I’m only at 24. So my ground speed is 22. Turner ran 22.7. So you see, I’m behind.”

Dozens of players go through the interview car wash over the course of the Winter Warm-Up, but none of them are quite like Tommy Pham. Watching him discuss what many would consider a dream season like it's a mere footnote in the story of his career, you can tell these aren’t just words to him—he means business.

“I’m different, man,” Pham said of his affinity for the analysis from which some of his peers shy away. “I’m just trying to be the best player I can be.”

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