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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.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

House-keeping... 

I cleaned up my blogroll today. People have suggested in the past that mine was too big, too many choices. I tend to agree with them, so I eliminated any and all blogs that haven't been updated this year. I also did some consolidation: because the Mariners, Red Sox and Cubbies fans have the largest contingents on the blogfront, I'm keeping the separate headings for them (and of course, my fellow Phillies bloggers), and I'm splitting everyone else up by league. The reduction was pretty small, so I might go ahead and remove some more in a few weeks.

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Friday, May 21, 2004

Quick Pre-Weekend Update 

I only have a minute or two, so I apologize if this is too fast to be coherent. I'll be back on Monday:

This Padres-Phils series promises to be really interesting. In the last four series the Phils have played the other four NL West squads and have come away with a 10-3 record, including two series sweeps. Can they did it against the Padres? Tougher task, I think, because I think that they (the Padres) are the best team in the West.

This series, however, will be a real change from what the Padres have been used to: Petco is a real pitchers park (if I remember correctly, Barry Bonds- Barry Bonds -didn't homer in any of the three games he played there). The Padres are actually hitting for a higher OBP and a higher number of home runs on the road than at home. (Seeing the impact on the home team's power, I certainly wouldn't want the the Phils to play San Diego in the playoffs, especially as the visiting team.) The Phils, in contrast, are slugging the ball at Citizens: 33 homers in 17 games. I'll be interested to see how good the Padres pitching is, and to see if the Padres can adjust their playing style in a park so unlike their own.

Also, let's see how Byrd does in getting on base to set up the middle of the order.

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Thursday, May 20, 2004

Statistically Speaking... 

Okay, we are in first place for the first time this season, but today I went looking at Hardball Times trying to catch up on some statistical information about the Phillies: are they doing well, or are there warning signs in their statistical profile that Phillies fans should be aware of?

Depressingly, yes. The Fish are going to be a threat. Here's why.

Using stats accurate up until May 15, the team comparison graph page yielded some interesting information:

In terms of fielding / pitching, the Phils look to be stronger in terms of their pitching than their fielding. I suspect this is mostly due to David Bell's defensive miscues so far this year (9 E's in 35 games, a .913 fielding average). The Marlins, I note are playing equally good in their pitching and their fielding is considered to be better than the Phils. What I derive from that, as statisically small as the variations appear to be, is that the Marlins are playing defense a bit more consistently than the Phils. It is a truism of sports that it is better to play defense well because those sorts of things are constants that you can count on come crunch time. Offense is inconsistent. Defense is a constant. The Fish are going to be playing irritatingly constant baseball, just like last year when they held together in the clutch and the Phils imploded.

The Bell problem is that while he's hitting better in 2004, his glove looks like a real liability at the hot corner. I wonder about Mr. Utley's glovework (any stats on that out there?) and whether the Phils would be better off installing him as their third baseman sooner, rather than later. (i.e., before Polanco comes off the DL.)

Meanwhile, on the offensive side of the ledger, the Phils are hitting well. Their ISO (isolated power: SLG - BA = ISO, which indicates how many extra-base hits the team gets) is lower than just four NL teams (Arizona, Colorado, Chicago and St. Louis), which means that they are really getting the big hits. I know that there is a lot of hand-wringing (by me too) about their inability to play "small ball", but I guess that can be compensated by some success at getting on base. That is this team's achillies heel: they score runs by the bushel, but they need their leadoff and No. 2 guys to get on. I'm comforted by the fact that Abreu, Thome and Burrell are off to a strong start: 32 home runs in 38 games. (In many respects it has been a remarkable six weeks for Thome and Burrell: no April slump for Thome and a return to 2002 form for Burrell.) With that kind of production in the middle of the order the Phils are going to be deadly if/when Byrd starts hitting with some consistency.

A word on "small ball": I'm torn on the whole small ball approach. I know that sabremetics people have laid out an imposing case for the proposition that base-stealing is vastly over-rated, but I've always thought that teams with speed triumph: The Marlins last year stole 150 bases to the Phils 72. Remember the 80's Cardinals? They went to the World Series three times. (Those Cardinals teams had mind-blowing stats. Consider: 1982: 200 steals; 1985: 314 steals; 1987: 248 steals.) Speed is vital.

Or is it? The A's have little-to-no speed and they've gone to the playoffs four straight years. The Red Sox don't have much speed and they are scoring runs by the bushel. I understand the argument that base-stealing is counterproductive: you could get caught, you take up time in trying to move the runner, etc. It takes a lot of work to advance the extra 90 feet, and even then you are only half-way. Better to wait for the 400 foot blast to get you those 270 feet you need.

I'll say that I'm an agnostic on the subject of small ball. Until someone shows me a little proof.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Meanwhile... 

Lost in all of the hubbub about Johnson's perfect game was last night's 8-7 win over the Dodgers. Rob Maaddi of the AP described Citizens as a "hitters park" and quoted Larry Bowa as saying that even in damp, cold weather the ball flys out. (Read the article here.) Uh-oh.

Everyone who reads A Citizen's Blog knows that I hate hitters parks because they make playing defense difficult (if not impossible) and inflate scoring. The Phils clubbed five home runs against what I thought was some pretty decent pitching, and the Dodgers got three against Padilla, who I thought had some good stuff.

Hey, I'm happy that these guys are scoring runs, but I worry that when crunch time comes we'll be like a lot of home-run happy squads that can't hit the ball out of the infield against decent pitching: I'm reminded of the 1999 Texas Rangers, who nearly had five guys with 100+ RBIs and clubbed 230 home runs in the regular season but were completely shut down and swept by the Yankees in the ALDS. (They scored one run.) I can see that happen to the Phils against a team with good pitching: that sudden inability to get anything going...

Remember how flummuxed the Phils were after facing Kip Wells in the season opener? Facing a dominating pitcher can screw a team up for days. The Phils need a bit more consistency.

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27 up, 27 down.... 

Hard not to be impressed by Randy Johnson’s perfect game last night: at the age of 40 Johnson is still as dominating as ever. I was struck, looking at Johnson’s stats that he had a 5-to-1 K/BB ratio in 2002 and 2003, and he’s on track for basically the same this year. Going into last night’s game his BAA was a measly .178 … How does a guy like Johnson or like Roger Clemens maintain that kind of dominance, that kind of skill?

People talk about the golden age of pitching in the 1960s and speak wistfully of duels between Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson. I think it is even more impressive, in this era of Playstation-hitting stats, to see guys as dominant Clemens and Johnson. They are truly great players.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Survey of the News... 

CNNSI’s John Donovan thinks the Phils have done a terrific job closing the gap with the fish, but more importantly he declares the Braves twelve-year stranglehold on the playoffs done. I'm still wary: even the Yankees rebounded from the apocalypse after the 1964 World Series (though it took them time). Still, it looks like a two-horse race between the fish and Phils.

Who is the best team in the NL right now? I would have said the Marlins a few weeks ago, but it looks like the Astros to me: Clemens has been phenomenal so far this season. Their offense has played well: 2nd in NL in BA, 2nd in NL in runs, and 1st in the NL in OBP. They will be tough to beat, a lot better than the Cubs, who I really thought would be the top team in the NL.

I would like to point out that the Phils are 2nd in the MLB in ERA after (astonishingly, an AL team) the Red Sox. Not bad. This team just needs to jell.

Alright. Enjoy the flurry of commentary!

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Da Dodgers!  

Rockies series retrospective: it certainly was a nice week for the Phils offense. Thirty-four runs in four games was prodigious production on their part. However, Byrd & Rollins continue to fail to produce: between Sunday and Monday they went a collective 0-for-18, with two walks and three strikeouts. It is miraculous that the Phils managed to still score twelve runs in those two games. But the bottom line is that the inability of Byrd and Rollins to produce hangs over the Phils collective heads like the sword of Damocles. They can't keep two guys up front who aren't getting on base for Burrell, Abreu and Thome.

My suggestion:
Why not Mr. Utley in the lead-off slot? He's developing as a contact hitter and I think he'll start hitting for a decent average fairly soon. Sean Burroughs in San Diego has shown that the key to being a good leadoff man is OBP, OBP, OBP. According to the always knowledgable Bill over at Phillies Fan, Utley had a very good OBP (.360) up there in Scranton.

The Dodgers series: this will be an interesting test to see how good the Phils are. Home after a very successful 7-3 road trip ... just a game and a half back of the fish ... now is the time to shine. Unfortunately the Dodgers look surprisingly good this year. Gagne is always unhittable, but the Dodgers are hitting a lot better than they did last year due to the addition of Milton Bradley and the team's emphasis on OBP. It will be a good series but I give the edge to the Phils: they still hit for a higher clip than the Dodgers and the Phils pitching is better. I think the Dodgers have been profiting from weak competition over there in the NL West. A good sweep will probably propel them within a half game of the fish, or out in front.

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Give us the DH, Part 2!  

I liked a lot of the comments that people logged about keeping the DH, but here is my rebuttal:

1. The DH is a relatively recent phenomenon: the National League began in 1876, and DH in 1973, thus people have argued that the NL’s policy of having 9-on-9 is “tradition”. I disagree: it has been thirty years. The DH is de facto tradition now. We are used to it. I couldn’t imagine 1/2 of baseball without it. It began before I was born! When does something become a tradition? When people just accept it as reality, and, with respect to AL fans in particular and baseball fans in general, we just accept the DH. I just think it is time to simply accept the DH as reality in the NL.

2. Tom over at Shallow Center argues that some pitchers hit well. Some do and that makes them terrific athletes. But most couldn't hit a pitch if their lives depended on it. I'd rather see a team's backup outfielder taking cuts than see some pitchers whiff wildly at pitches in the dirt.

3. I know that there is a lot of strategy to deciding when a pitcher gets pulled for a pinch hitter, but I maintain that having an easy / sure out every nine ABs interrupts the flow of the game.

I know that we all hate gimmicky ideas that cheapen the game, that degrade the sacred traditions that we all love. Tradition is what sets baseball apart from the other sports: baseball is basically played the same way for 80-90 years, whereas basketball and football would be virtually unrecognizeable today to fans in the 1920s and 1930s. I love the tradition of the game, and the history of baseball is sacrosanct to me, but I think that the DH has been around long enough that it is accepted and a part of the game.

The Phillies DH alignment:
CF Byrd
2B Polanco
1B Thome
LF Burrell
RF Abreu
C Lieberthal
DH Utley
3B Bell
SS Rollins

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Monday, May 17, 2004

Just Win, Baby!  

I got done reading my Sports Illustrated this weekend and I really hated their article about the richest sports stars: I understand that all athletes supplement their salaries with endorsements, but I hate seeing guys like Shaq and Kobe pile on the cash hawking Reebok and Best Buy and the like. I used to love the NBA way-back-when, back in the 1990s with the Detroit Pistons: there was a team full of warriors, guys who didn’t care a lick about their endorsements, they just wanted to win. I don’t see that when I look at a lot of people in sports now, but especially in the NBA. (Shaq’s mind-numbingly bad rap CD’s, Ray Allen’s efforts at acting in Spike Lee flicks, anything Dennis Rodman does…) There is little respect for the game in the NBA now, no real competition: it is all about maximizing your bottom-line. Thank goodness there was just one baseball player (Jeter) in the Top Ten, but even that is disturbing to me: even with the reluctance of teams to shell out the big bucks for players, you know that guys will always migrate to New York (and L.A.) sports franchises because of the capacity for endorsements in the media capitals of the United States.

In any case, I'm not one of those people obsessed with money (yes, I will be a lawyer in a few weeks, but I'm a public service kind of guy: some of my law school classmates however would slit your throat to pick your pocket. I understand why people dislike lawyers: some people I know I wouldn't trust if my life depended upon it.) I don't see the list and think: "Oooh! I wish I was Shaq!" I thought: "Shaq could really be a Hall-of-Famer if he ever got serious about the game."

What ever happened to winning?

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Well, first was nice while it lasted... 

7-2 on the road trip thus far, and that is pretty darn good. What I liked about these last few days had been the fact that despite having Thome injured, despite not having Billy Wagner and Palanco, the Phils still won. They won because Rollins and Byrd have started hitting, and because they’ve pitched decently well. This Rollins – Byrd duo worked surprisingly well (aside from yesterdays 0-for-9), Abreu in particular looked good swinging the bat with men on ahead of him, although I’d prefer to see Polanco in the two slot.

It is hard to evauluate the Phils based on this weekend since you have to attach a "Coors Factor" to everything. The Phils scored a bunch of runs this weekend, but how many were due to the rarified air? Are the Phils pitchers going to come back to Citizens and be a little off getting used to normal pitching?

If the Phils win today it will be a spectacular road trip: 8-2 is terrific for a West Coast trip like this. Now the Phils can gear up for some games against weak NL West teams and (hopefully) some easy wins against the Mets and Braves before inter-league play in June, and then resuming games against the Fish in July. Maybe this time we can beat 'em!

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