Saturday, April 03, 2004
The A’s, before they were in Oakland, and before they were in Kansas City, were the Philadelphia Athletics. From 1901-1954 the A’s were the top Philly baseball team, the natural rivals of the Yankees when they emerged with Babe Ruth in the 1920s. In Philly, the A’s won the World Series five times (1910, 1911, 1913, 1929, & 1930) under the leadership of Connie Mack. The Phillies aren’t the whole book on baseball in Philadelphia.
There is quite a bit of interesting material on the ‘net about the old-time A’s: The Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society has done a great, and unique, job preserving the A’s history. Ted Taylor, a historical buff, evidentially published a piece back in 1995 about the interest in the Philadelphia A’s. (Check out his site, here.)
As an aside, I root for the A’s because they are the team that has made the greatest use of Sabermetics in building a contender. It is impossible not to be impressed by the A’s ability to put together four straight 90+ win seasons despite a payroll that is a fraction of the Yankees. Most fans are aware of Michael Lewis’ Moneyball and the negative reaction from Major League organizations angry with the A’s contemptuous view of traditional scout-centered baseball evaluations, but whatever your opinion of Beane, et al., I think the results speak for themselves. (I say this as I watch, here in the Three Rivers City, a small-market Pirates team with utterly no hope for 2004 or the foreseeable future take the field against the Phils on Monday.)
Root for the Phils! ... And root for the A’s!
Friday, April 02, 2004
Gwynn’s career is almost the anti-Rollins: 790 walks to 434 strike-outs. Read that again. Gwynn's BB-K ratio is almost the exact inverse of Rollins career numbers. Check out 1994: when Gwynn flirted with hitting .400 (his OBP was .454) he struck out just 19 times in 110 games! Gwynn had a phenomenal eye. If Gwynn can teach Rollins something about being selective in his pitches, and teach him to banish the thought that he’s Ricky Henderson (a power threat in the lead-off slot), Rollins could do some big, big damage in ’04. Maybe get his job back too.
44 saves of 47 attempts, 1.78 ERA in 2003. Hard not to be impressed by those stats and compare them with Mesa’s 6.00+ ERA and 12% failure rate (24 of 28). (Mike Williams was 3 of 5. Overall, the Phillies converted just 33 of 51 save opportunities in 2003.) The Phillies bullpen last year really hurt the team and put the strain on the starters to go deep and try to be perfect. I think that showed up in the late-season collapses of Millwood, et al.
I think the Phils ’03 Pythagorean win-loss record says it all: 90-72, which would have yielded a better record than the Marlins 87-75. I've noticed that teams that tend to exceed their Pythagorean win-loss records tend to have outstanding closers. (I'm thinking, specifically, of the A's in 2002: Billy Koch had a great year and enabled the A's to finish with 103 wins, instead of the 96 Pythagorean wins they should have gotten. In 2003, the more-mortal A's roughly tracked their Pythagorean wins totals.) With Wagner closing, that might be worth an extra 4-6 wins for the Phils. Add a few more games if Burrell hits with consistency, and we could be talking about 95-97 win team at Citizens this year.
Welcome to town, Billy!
Thursday, April 01, 2004
SI focused, in part, on the concerns about Manager Larry Bowa, and I agree that he is a big concern, maybe the biggest concern for the team: if these guys are locked in a tight race for the pennant and the Phils lose two or three games in a row, is Bowa going to ride them too hard? With 2003 in mind, I immediately flashed back to the Phillies collapse in 1964: the team that blew a six game lead with twelve to play. Manager Gene Mauch, a fiery leader a lot like Bowa in some respects, mismanaged a slumping team and watched an enormous, seemingly insurmountable lead crumble away to nothing. (The Phils finished a game behind the St. Louis Cardinals.) A ten-game losing streak in the middle of a pennant race. (The Phils went from 90-60, to 90-70 and finished 92-70.) Seems hard to believe!
I wasn’t alive then. (I wouldn’t come into the world for another thirteen years.) My understanding of the event derives from reading David Halberstam’s outstanding October, 1964. It is an event, though few of us remember it (and even fewer were alive for it) that haunts Phillies fans. Lurking in the undercurrent of a good season filled with hope and optimism is the fear of 1964, redux. Specifically, during the 1994 season I remember the panic and fear that set in after a sudden losing streak: a flurry of articles by Inquirer sports writers worrying that the ghosts of 1964 were revisiting the team a year removed from the World Series.
So as I read my SI today, looked over a favorable assessment of the team (the first time in a long time I can recall SI actually being optimistic about the Phils), and thought about the future, I thought of what I read in Halberstam’s book – shattered confidence, wasted opportunities … Not this year!
Not this year!
What to do about Glanville? The decision to bring him back wasn’t the best decision. His career 2.4-to-1 K/BB ratio is much too high. I worry that he’ll take playing time away from Utley.
Since I’ve been here the Pirates have wallowed in mediocrity (no winning season since 1992), the Penguins have declined to be the worst team in hockey (although, starting with the Stars game I went to, they’ve been red-hot of late), and the Steelers lost the Super Bowl and went through the Kordell saga. It’s been sad and disappointing to see the Pittsburgh sports teams struggle. Going to a baseball game is a lot more fun when you are watching a team contending for something.
Which is why the Pirates foibles have been painful for me to watch: the fans here simply don’t care. Pittsburgh sports fans are passionate, but even with the Steelers and their struggles, fans were already looking forward to the Steelers 2004 season rather than the Pirates (and Penguins). With the city’s financial woes and the continuing flight of educated professionals from Western Pennsylvania, people are apathetic and cynical about Pittsburgh’s future. Back during the 1970s, when the steel industry went belly-up, people could root for Bradshaw and the Steelers in the Super Bowl, or Roberto Clemente and the Pirates to take their minds off Pittsburgh’s decline. Today? The failure of the construction of PNC Park to build the Pirates into winners like the Indians or Orioles has made people cynical about the future.
So what’s right with the Pirates? Well, it is a short list:
That’s about it.
PNC is a terrific place to watch baseball: as I’ve said, it offers a spectacular view of the city and the view of the game itself is equally wonderful.
So what’s wrong about the Pirates? Basically everything:
The team’s strategy of signing low-price veterans to field a competitive team is killing fan enthusiasm because people know that these guys aren’t going to be hanging around after this season. Talent, people feel, is just on the payroll until management deals them in July to contenders: e.g. Loften, Ramirez, Simon, et al. in 2003. The team’s veterans fetish, which led to their decision to re-sign Randall Simon to take playing time away this year from a talented player like Craig Wilson at first base, hurts the development of potential future stars. (Click here for an a-typical Post-Gazette article analyzing the Pirates from a Sabermetics POV.) The team’s decision to sign big-time contracts for players that turned out to be lousy players (Derek Bell), or good but not worth the price (Jason Kendall) has crippled the team. They simply cannot make personnel moves because they have too much money tied up in too few players.
My solution is one that every fan of sabermetics baseball would embrace: ditch the vets and build with defense, pitching, and home-grown talent. No long-term contracts. No more veteran players trying to be traded to a contender. (That means you, Raul Mondesi!)
What is sabermetics? I'm glad you asked. This article from Baseball Primer.com outlines what Sabermetrics is.
Red Sox 4
I think the Red Sox are the best team in baseball. Forget A-Rod. What gives them the edge over the Yankees and the Cubs is their consistency and pitching depth. The Cubs are very good, but streaky at times. The Yankees are shallow on pitching. I think that the Sox are brutally consistent and lack any real flaws. The Pedro-Lowe-Schilling-Wakefield rotation is the best in baseball, and the Sox can score runs in a hurry with Nomar, Mueller, and Manny behind the plate.
Forget 1918, Sox fans. 2004 is your year.
(Sorry Cubs fans.)
Wednesday, March 31, 2004
2004 NL Predictions:
New York Mets
Houston Astros (wildcard)
St. Louis Cardinals
San Francisco Giants
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Diego Padres
Chicago over Houston, 3-2
Philadelphia over San Francisco, 3-1
Chicago over Philadelphia, 4-3
Bottom-Line: In the NL East I think the Phillies are the best of the bunch. I know that people have been predicting the end of the Braves dynasty for years, but this finally feels like the year: new stadium, pitching upgrades, a Burrell rebound … this team is posed to do some damage. I just worry about Bowa will burn them out if they get into a pennant race in the fall. I think the Braves will be decent, but they feel like they’ve lost a step. This isn’t like the past: it doesn’t look like they’ve found players to replace Maddux and Sheffield and Lopez. (Although I worry that a healthy J.D. Drew could do some damage – the man’s career .377 OBP ain’t bad. Plus he has an axe to grind against the Phils.) The Marlins were an enigma in 2003. Were they really that good? I refuse to believe it. They strike me as a team that got hot at the right time, while the Phils imploded (I note that the fish's 2003 pythagorean won-loss record was just 87-75, behind the Phils pythagorean won-loss was 90-72.) The Mets are rebuilding, and the Expos haven’t a home.
The NL Central is probably the best division in the NL. This isn’t necessarily praise, mind you: the AL has the two best divisions (the West and East). They are the best because the Cubs are the best team in the NL. This team is good. They are stocked with pitching, hitting and look motivated to erase last year’s NLCS. This team is going to the World Series. I like the Astros too. In fact, they are probably the second-best team in the NL. In a seventh game or pennant race they’ll be tough with money pitchers like Clemens and Pettite on the mound. I like the St. Louis Cardinals personally: everyone says that St. Louis baseball fans are the best, the most knowledgeable, etc. I like them offensively, but they have no pitching. They need to win a lot of 10-8 games to stay in it. The Pirates are a special case for me because I actually live in Pittsburgh: I want them to succeed, but the Pirates management seems committed to not allowing that to happen. Honestly, this building a team by vets-on-the-cheap is ridiculous. Still, I think these guys have talent (or they will, until their annual fire-sale in July) and they can get to fourth because … The Reds have little talent (and might I just say: I think it is time to declare the Ken Griffey Jr. experiment a failure) … and the Brewers have none.
I don’t know what to make of the NL West. I still think the Giants are best of the bunch. The Diamondbacks are a close second though, even without Shilling. The Dodgers are better than they look, and the Padres are improving. The Rockies? I think they are perpetually befuddled by what to do about Coors Field. This race is wide-open.
That’s it: I see a World Series of the Damned between the Red Sox and Cubbies.
I’ll tell you who wins tomorrow.
Tuesday, March 30, 2004
Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees (wildcard)
Toronto Blue Jays
Tampa Bay Rays
Kansas City Royals
Chicago White Sox
Boston over Twins, 3-0
New York over Anaheim, 3-1
Boston over New York, 4-3
Bottom line:I think that the Red Sox have massively upgraded themselves. More so than the Yankees because the Red Sox kept their offensive nucleus intact and upgraded their pitching with Shilling and Foulke. This is the best team in the American League, bar none. I think the Yankees look a little stronger on offense, but have fallen behind the Red Sox in pitching now that Clemens, Pettite and Wells are gone. I like the Blue Jays and Orioles, I think both teams are better than they were last year, but I think that the Red Sox and Yankees are still way ahead. Tampa Bay? Wait ‘til next year, I guess.
In the Central, I think that the Twins are the best of the worst division in baseball. I think that the Royals can give them a run for their money, and that the Tigers are a lot better than they look, but the Twins are still it. The Indians and White Sox both have a ways to go to restock for future pennant races.
The AL West is the best division in baseball, and I think that the Angels did the most in upgrading themselves. They have a new management which seems committed to winning and they plugged some big holes. I love the A’s and Mariners, but both teams are a little short of the Angels, Red Sox and Yanks. I think the A’s pitching is impressive (best in the AL probably), but I think they need one or two more bats in the lineup. The Mariners I worry have aged too much to keep up. They’ve slowed down the stretch two straight years now. The Rangers season is over before it began, although they probably made the right decision in dealing A-Rod.
I think the Red Sox are, top-to-bottom, the best team in the league. They are World Series bound for the first time since 1986.
I have a feeling Padilla will do well in '04. He had the lowest ERA of all of the Phillies pitchers in '03. He could be the guy to emerge as the Phillies ace. Maybe contend for the Cy Young? I think he could do it, if he hikes that BB-K ratio from 2-to-1 last year to 3-to-1.
Monday, March 29, 2004
His 2003 article contains a number of interesting facts: Pittsburgh is the rainiest city in the United States in the summer after Miami, Philadelphia is the sixth largest Metro area in America, etc.
His 2004 article has some interesting bits of information: the Oakland Athletics are projected to travel more miles than any other team this season, the Phillies geographic fan base extends into New York State (look at the map!), etc.
Check them out!
Sunday, March 28, 2004
Alas, a new ballpark isn’t a guarantor of success the way Camden Yards helped to propel the Baltimore Orioles to playoff berths in 1996 and 1997, or the Cleveland Indians to a mini-dynasty in the AL Central (six division titles: 1995-1999; 2001). The Pirates opened PNC Park by going 62-100. 2004 could be the beginning of an era of dominance, or it could just be another disappointment like PNC, Miller Park, Great American Ballpark, etc.
PNC (which, by the way, I was in today, sitting in the upper-deck behind home-plate watching the ground crews prepare for opening day) makes Pirates games infinitely more tolerable, I’ve found.
Phun Phactoid: the Phillies all-time record, going into opening day 2004 is 8,505 – 9,729. That is a .466 winning percentage, which is definitely not that great. (The New York Yankees, in contrast, boast an all-time 8996 – 6901 record, with a .566 winning percentage.) It will take the Phillies seven and a half years of playing 1.000 baseball (in other words, having to win 1,224 consecutive games) to get the franchise all-time record to .500 … Somehow I don’t see that happening …
It is a very good article: well-written and insightful. Phanish, but critical. Nice work, Sean:
The final season at Veterans Stadium was a disappointment to Phillies fans. Despite Kevin Millwood hurling a sterling 1-0 no-hitter against the Giants, the Phillies suffered from a disappointing campaign: the acquisition of Bell failed to pan out, the final year at the Vet ended with another third place finish to the hated Atlanta Braves, and Leftfielder Pat Burrell, after breaking into the Phillies line-up in 2001 and having a strong 2002 season, badly slumped in 2003. Much was made of Burrell’s statistical implosion:
HR RBI AVG
2001 27 89 .258
2002 37 116 .282
2003 21 64 .209
It was very dramatic, and Phillies can only hope that their future MVP candidate can weather the storm.
Thus, 2004 dawns with mixture of hope and dread for Phillies fans: will this be another season of botched dreams? Or will the Phillies be the first team to dethrone the Atlanta braves from their perch atop the NL East (which they’ve occupied since 1995) and go to the World Series for the first time since 1993?
A close look at the 2003 statistics yield 2004 clues for Phillies fans:
Pitching: The Phillies had a strong pitching staff in 2003. The starting four of Vincente Padilla, Brett Meyers, Kevin Millwood and Randy Wolf notched a 58-43 (.574) record. Statistically, they weren’t as impressive as they seemed (aside from Padilla, all had ERAs over 4.00 for the season), but the stress of having to hold slim leads without confidence that the bullpen could save the game wore on them as the season wore on. The starting four looks stronger now with the addition of Eric Milton from the Minnesota Twins.
Speaking of which: the Phillies bullpen was awful in 2003. Closer Jose Mesa had an ERA of 6.52. That is not a misprint. Mesa’s implosion was as dramatic as Burrell’s:
As a result, the Phillies let Mesa depart town and signed Billy Wagner from the Houston Astros and grabbed Todd Worrell to set up the bullpen. With Wagner coming out of the pen, hopefully the starting rotation can enter a game secure in the knowledge that their leads will be safely protected:
Starting lineup: the decline of Burrell and the injury-ridden collapse of David Bell (4 HRs, 37 RBIs, .195 Avg in just 85 games) took its toll on the offense. The Phillies often found themselves in close games and were forced to shuffle their lineup: Burrell dropped to seventh and eighth in the order, from his customary fourth, opening up a huge hole.
Meanwhile Jim Thome, despite a slow start, virtually carried the team: slugging his way to 47 HRs, 131 RBIs, 111 walks, a .266 Avg, and an On-Base-Percentage (OBP) of .385. Thome’s numbers are made all the more impressive by the fact that he had little protection in the Phillies lineup.
The key to the 2004 Phillies, in addition to a return to 2002 form for Burrell, will be finally settling the team’s need for a lead-off hitter: SS Jimmy Rollins, the incumbent leadoff man, held the position at the start of the season but his high-strikeout rate and low OBP led him to be moved to a lower spot in the phillies order. Bobby Abreu, the Phillies right-fielder and No. 5 hitter, agreed to move up in the order and lead-off even though he clearly didn’t enjoy the experience. Abreu moved down after the phillies brought Marlon Byrd, the highly touted centerfielder, back from the minors to lead off. Byrd went on a tear and became a dependable lead-off threat the Phillies have lacked:
BB K Avg OBP
Rollins 54 113 .263 .320
Byrd 44 94 .303 .366
Whether or not Byrd can improve on his equally high-strike-out rate in 2004 remains to be seen: the ability of Byrd and 2B Placido Polanco to get on base and set up the Phillies (potential) murders-row of Thome, Burrell, Abreu and Catcher Mike Lieberthal is vital.
Sabermetrics types take-note: the Phillies led the National League in walks in 2003, with 651. The Phillies ability to draw walks enabled them to finished fourth (.343) in On-Base-Percentage (OBP), despite finishing ninth (.261) of sixteen teams in batting average. The Phillies were also third in doubles and fifth in runs. Despite finishing ninth in home runs with 166 and eighth in slugging percentage (.419), the Phillies had considerable power which didn’t show up in the box scores due to the declines of Bell and Burrell. It is strongly suggested that the Phillies offense will bounce back with a strong performance in 2004.
More Sabermetrics: the Phillies pythagorean Won-Loss record* for 2003 was 90-72, better than their 86-76 record.
* I think this link sums up pythagorean records better than I can.
The opposition: the Phillies excitement is fueled by the fact that the 2004 NL East looks ripe for the plucking:
The Montreal Expos, especially with the loss of Vladimir Guerrero to the Angels, appear to have no shot at contending and seem fated to forever life their life in limbo in Montreal, not knowing if they will call Portland, Mexico City, Puerto Rico or Washington D.C. their new home. The New York Mets appear to be in an extended rebuilding process. The Florida Marlins are the wildcard: a team that jelled after the addition of Manager Jack McKeon to win the World Series, but seems unlikely to repeat the feat.
Which leaves control of the division down to the Phillies and the Braves, the twelve-time division winners (1991-1993; 1995-2003). The once-mighty Braves lost CY Young winner Greg Maddux to the Cubs and MVP candidate Gary Sheffield fled for the New York Yankees, leaving the Braves to replace his production with J.D. Drew, (a man who is to Phillies fans persona non grata). The Phillies 2004 upgrades (Worrell, Wagner, Milton) seem to give them the upper-hand for the first time.
2004 could be a special year, Phillies phans...