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Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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United States, Pennsylvania, Wexford, Christopher Wren, English, Michael, Male, 26-30, baseball , politics.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

A few random thoughts…on baseball… 

The story of the Phils last two weeks has been the play of Mr. Utley. I know that the blogging community has been very supportive of his ascension to the starting lineup and it is easy to see why: since being called up he’s hit .310 (.326 OBP), with some power: nine of his fourteen hits have been for extra bases (including four home runs), which gives him a fearsome .714 slugging average.
What is impressive about Utley's stats thus far, to me, have been his consistency at the plate: he has gotten a hit in his last seven games, including today against the Padres.
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In addition to Utley's impressive stats, Utley's reputation as a tough, blue-collar kind of ballplayer also works in his favor for fans and fan-bloggers: here is the kind of guy that Phillies fans can really identify with, the kind of guy we want turning double plays at Citizens for years and years to come.
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Naturally, of course this becomes a bit of a conundrum for Larry Bowa: what do you do now that Polanco might be ready to return? Matt Lombardo at PhillyBaseballNews.com has suggested that the best solution would be for Bowa to start platooning Polanco and Utley and prepare to deal Polanco later in the season. (More on that later.) Lombardo dismisses the idea of removing Bell from third, noting that Bell has (like Burrell) decisively bounced back from last season's hellish campaign. Indeed, lost in all of the talk about Burrell and Thome and Utley has been the fact that, quietly, Bell is having a terrific season: .286 BA .363 OBP .471 SLG, with 20 RBIs, 11 doubles and five home runs. What has really impressed me about Bell in 2004 has been his ability to control the strike zone: 22 K's, 16 BB's. Aside from his defense, Bell has been playing well and in a reason why the 2004 edition of the Phillies is so much better than the 2003 one.
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But what about Polanco? I'm not convinced that he deserves to be uprooted from his perch at the pivot at second base: he is only batting .223, but his OBP is a more respectful .304 (I note that Polanco has controlled the strike zone well: he has 9 BB's and 7 K's, two fewer strikeouts than walks.) Polanco is in a slump, but he'll most likely break out of it. Polanco's real problem this year has been that he simply hasn't been hitting with any power this season: his .313 SLG average is about eighty points off his career and well over one hundred off 2003. Polanco has contributed just one RBI to the Phillies offense (partly explained by Rollins and Byrd's failure to get on base, but still) in 27 games.

But could the Phillies make do with Rollins and Byrd leading off? Could Utley hit in Polanco's second spot in the order? I broached the subject of Utley hitting in the two slot and several people have pointed out that it would be a square peg in a round hole: Utley is a classic #5, #6 hitter, a guy to protect Burrell and Thome and Abreu in the here and now. He probably isn't enough of a contact hitter: his power belongs lower in the order to take advantage of having runners on.

Of course the flip-side of that is that Byrd and Rollins haven't been consistent all this year and for most of last year. In fact Rollins and Byrd have been the model of inconsistency (although, in all fairness to Rollins I note that he has improved on his control of the plate: in the past he's had a 2-to-1 K/BB ratio, and thus far in 2004 he's at 16-to-13, a marked improvement): the Phillies keep hoping that both will begin laying down the hits but (so far) it hasn't happened. (Rollins: .240 BA / .298 OBP; Byrd .248 BA / .329 OBP. Byrd in particular has me disapointed: he has struck out over twice as much as he's walked in 2004.) When Thome and Abreu and Burrell come up to the plate they've had few baserunners to take advantage of: I note that Thome has a ridiculously low number of RBIs (22) for as many home runs (11) he has and how high he hits in the order. Burrell and Abreu have been batting Thome home, not Byrd and Rollins. Maybe having a doubles machine like Utley in at the two slot will help Thome a little: having a runner on second is a heckuva lot better than having one at first and not having one on at all, isn't it?
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Sidenotes. I'm still amazed by Bobby Abreu: he hits with power (.605 SLG), for a high average (.299 BA / .414 OBP) and he controls the plate with amazing ability (32 K, 30 BB). This guy is going to go down as one of the Phils greats.

Anyone catch that bit in Sports Illustrated about how little opening a new ballpark helps a team in the standings? (p. 88; May 17, 2004) The article noted that, on average, a team improves just .011 in the standings, or just two wins. I think that this year is proving to be an exception to that rule: I think that the Padres look pretty darn good (best in the NL), and the Phillies are playing better than last year.

Next up: two in Shea against the Mets. Should be a pleasant trip. These next two or so weeks the Phils get to face-off with the Braves and Mets, then enter interleague play.

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