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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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Saturday, November 20, 2004

From the margins... 

Yesterday I had published my comments about how poor the Phillies marginal dollars / marginal wins ratio was for 2004 and I saw that Baseball Prospectus had published their own analysis, which is more exhaustive and a little more accurate. My numbers are basically on-point but Prospectus makes some interesting points.

(Remarkable that the Mets improved in 2004 on their marginal dollars / wins despite still shelling out over $2mil a win.)

Monday: some more thoughts on defense. I plan on responding to some comments made about Part 1 of my season-in-review.

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Friday, November 19, 2004

Rumors ...  

Hardball Times is reporting that the Red Sox have evidenced interest in Placido Polanco, presumably as a backup if their plans to re-sign Cabrera or sign Renteria fall through. What in the heck are the Phillies waiting for? Re-sign him now!

Look for some content Monday ...

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Money, Money, Money... 

In the foreward to Michael Lewis’ Moneyball the author starts by talking about the A’s interest in market efficiency, making the most of their limited dollars and cents. Lewis’ references the work of Doug Pappas, who has studied major league payrolls and made two observations: most teams can expect to win 49 games in a season and all teams are required to expend a minimum of $7 million on their payrolls. Thus, Pappas says, any dollar over the $7 million mark is going to the team’s “marginal wins”: wins over the 49. How did the baseball world do in 2004?

The Phillies spent over $93 million to win 86 games. Their marginal wins cost them $2,350,247.00 That’s pretty poor: most teams don’t spend over $2 million. At least it wasn’t the worst: the Diamondbacks shelled out over $31 million each for their two marginal victories.

The Yankees are profligate spenders at $3,391,067 per victory, while the Red Sox did it with a “mere” $2,412,419.00 …

Who were the most efficient spenders?:

1. Cleveland: $889,332
2. Florida: $1,032,883
3. Tampa Bay: $1,033,650
4. Minnesota: $1,083,372
5. Oakland: $1,257,742

I should note that the Indians and Marlins were .500 teams and that the A’s and Twins won 90+ games. (And, I should note, the A-Rod-less Rangers weren’t far off at $1.3 million a win.) You can be a winner in MLB on the cheap.

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Thursday, November 18, 2004

Season in Review, Part 4: Conclusions 

When the 2004 baseball previews came out the Phillies were the consensus pick for the NL East championship. The team, bolstered by Thome, Bell and Millwood in 2003 had added Worrell, Wagner and Milton in the off-season and looked like a lock to win the division and finally end the Atlanta Braves decade-long lock on the division. Instead the Phillies faltered, were rarely in first, and imploded spectacularly in late July against the Florida Marlins. The Phillies spent the final two months of the season attempting to restore a little respectability to the season. They finished second with an 86-76 record (remarkably, the third time in four years they posted an 86-76 record). Manager Larry Bowa was fired and the team hired ex-Indians skipper Charlie Manuel to helm the team. As we speak the Phillies are in the thick of the free agent market, attempting to bolster the roster for another run at the Braves in 2005.

Since the imposition of the three-division format in 1995, the Phillies are one of just four NL teams to fail to make the playoffs (our friends in Pittsburgh and Milwaukee can join in our torment, while fans in Montreal probably don’t care anymore). Why? The Phillies don't suffer from small-marketitis like the Expos, Pirates and Brewers. Philly is a terrific place to play and a terrific place to live. The Braves have been losing players for years and should have been a good deal weaker in 2004. This team is too talented to fail to reach the playoffs.

NL East: Record / Payroll
Atlanta Braves: 96-66; $88,507,788
Philadelphia Phillies: 86-76, $93,219,167
Florida Marlins: 83-79, $42,118,042
New York Mets: 71-91; $95,754.304
Montreal Expos: 67-95; $43,197,500

So what went wrong? I can pin-point a few things:

-Bowa. I was never a big fan of Larry Bowa. While most rank-and-file Phillies fans love him for his firey temper and old-school temperment, Phillies bloggers just roll their eyes at the sight of the close-minded skipper running a talented team into the ground with his yelling and obsession with "manufacturing" runs. As I said in Part III, the Phillies were the perfect National League Moneyball team, a collection of OBP machines and sluggers. So why did they waste so many outs? The example I remember most, in a game between the Red Sox & Phillies, Bowa sent Placido Polanco to steal second with Bobby Abreu up and Jim Thome on-deck, costing the Phillies an out at a decisive juncture of the game. Bowa's petulent off-season whining that Citizen's Bank Ballpark hurt the Phillies and cost him his job was the surest indicator to me that Citizen's Bank Ballpark didn't hurt the Phillies in 2004, and that he would have been fired regardless.

Bowa was an old school yeller and screamer motivator. On a team full of veterans, many of whom have been to the playoffs several times, I can't imagine this going over well. To a man they probably rolled their eyes and tuned him out. When the troops feel contempt for their leader, the battle is over.

Recently I re-read parts of Moneyball, and in particular Michael Lewis' complaints about the baseball establishment closing their minds to the A's brand of baseball. I couldn't help but think that Lewis was trying to talk to "old school" guys like Bowa, to try and convince them that their strategies were doomed to failure, but find that his words fell on deaf ears.

-Wade. At the All-Star break I was wondering who the Phillies planned on acquiring for the stretch run to jump-start the team. The Dodgers added Steve Finley. The Cardinals got Larry Walker. The Cubs added Nomar. The Astros got Carlos Beltran. The Marlins made a trade with the Dodgers that was widely panned by bloggers, but praised by baseball writers.

Who did the Phillies add in their race for the pennant? They depleted their minor league system to add a few bullpen guys. Then the Phillies sank like a stone.

Call it a failure of imagination. I give Ed Wade credit for being a good GM. I think that the Phillies have drafted well (look at how many players are home-grown: Burrell, Lieberthal, Rollins) and have made some shrewd moves. The Rolen trade wasn't as bad as everyone thought. But I simply cannot figure out why Ed Wade doesn't make any bold moves. I say give the Marlins credit, because they at least tried a trade with the Dodgers to jump-start their season, even though it backfired. The Phillies were like bad poker player, glumly glaring at the mediocre hand they were dealt, unwilling to deal it for fear someone will steal their cards and actually make use of them ... When the team struggled, management did nothing. I remember when Billy Beane dealt Jeremy Giambi to the Phillies in 2002: we all thought that the A's had made a bone-headed deal, but it sparked the A's to a big second-half. It shook the team up.

Make a big deal at the 2005 deadline Ed.

Milton, Millwood, Myers, Padilla, Wolf, Abbott, Lidle ... more generally, the failure of the Phillies pitching staff to develop into the top-flight rotation they could be. The Phillies pitching saw their ERAs spike during the summer, a time which coincided with the Phillies collapse:

Team ERA:
April: 3.33
May: 3.86
June: 5.84
July: 4.79
August: 5.08
September: 3.74
October: 3.33

Team Record:
June-August: 38-45
Rest of year: 48-31

As I outlined in Part II, the Phillies need to let deadwood like Milton walk and avoid bringing in expensive flyball hurlers. The rotation needs to improve next year and put 2004 out of their minds. Repeat after me fellas: "Citizens Bank Ballpark is my friend ... Citizens Bank Ballpark is my friend ... Citizens Bank Ballpark is my friend ..."

Don't blame Citizen's Bank Ballpark and don't blame the Phillies offense. This is a talented core of players and I think they could ... I think they should win the NL East next year.

The decline and fall of the defense ... I complained in Part I that the Phillies defense has been declining for some time. I think that the decline of the Phillies from top-tier to middle-tier defensively has hurt the quality of the Phillies pitching. The Phillies should think about their defensive alignment a lot more in the future.

Ten Solutions:


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone...

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Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Season In Review, Part 3: Offense 

And so it comes to this ... I've gotten a lot of great feedback about Parts 1 & 2, so I hope that everyone appreciates Part 3. It means a lot to me that so many people like what I have to say, or don't like what I have to say but still read me ... A Citizen's Blog takes up lots of time out of my life, but I like it because I love the game of baseball so much. So let's get down to it ... first, the offense, and then the overall conclusions about the Phillies march to mediocrity in Part IV:

I. The Offense: The 2004 Phillies offense rebounded quite nicely from 2003, scoring 49 more runs and increasing the team BA by .006 points. The Phillies were one of the top three or four teams in the NL offensively, a combination of improved performances from players that slumped in 2003 and the team's move to cozy Citizen's Bank Ballpark.

Let's start by remembering the 2003 campaign. The 2003 season left us all a little shocked: after adding Jim Thome to the lineup during the 2002-2003 offseason many Phillies fans had high hopes for the Thome-Burrell twosome. Phillies slugger Mike Schmidt speculated that the two could combine for 100 home runs. Instead they hit 68 home runs in 2003 and 66 in 2004. Far from being an offensive powerhouse in 2003, the Phillies struggled. Stellar performances from Jim Thome (.385 OBP) and Bobby Abreu (.409 OBP) rescued the team.

This season Burrell rebounded from '03, along with third baseman David Bell, and enabled the Phillies to slug their way to the top offensively. However, I think that it's time to have realistic expectations about what this team can and cannot do. The Phillies have a potent offense and they will be dangerous in 2005, but this team probably won't have the firepower to win games by themselves. The Phillies must improve their pitching and defense to survive in the NL East in 2005, even if that means sacrificing a little of their offensive firepower. The Phillies shouldn't turn into an East Coast clone of the Colorado Rockies, which is something that management seems resigned to becoming.

Let's start by looking at how the Philles stacked up against the rest of the NL:

Team v. Team: (GPA)
1. San Francisco: .270
2. St. Louis: .270
3. Colorado: .269
4. Philadelphia: .266
5. Atlanta: .263
6. Houston: .263
7. Chicago: .262
8. San Diego: .257
9. Los Angeles: .255
10. Cincinnati: .253
11. Florida: .250
12. Pittsburgh: .245
13. New York: .245
14. Milwaukee: .241
15. Montreal: .239
16. Arizona: .238

GPA (Gross Productive Average): (1.8 * .OBP + .SLG) / 4 = .GPA. I use Gross Productive Average as my mainstay stat because it best meters a team's offensive efficiency. GPA favors On-Base Percentage because it is perhaps the most crucial stat in the game (preserving one's outs), but it also includes a team's raw power. Better than runs scored or even Runs Created, I think that GPA is the best stat for measuring a team and a player's offensive abilities.

The Phillies were the fourth best offense in the NL in 2004. That's not bad: they did better than the Astros and Cubs and finished behind the Barry Bonds-led Giants, the Coors Field-influenced Rockies and the powerhouse Cards. No shame there. How else did the Phillies rank? 7th in Batting Average at .267; 2nd in On-Base Percentage at .345; 4th in Slugging Percentage at .443; 3rd in Runs scored with 840; 3rd in Runs Created with 877.2; 4th in Isolated Power (slugging percentage - batting average = isolated power) at .176; 3rd in RBIs with 802; 2nd in walks per plate appearance at .100 (after the Giants Barry Bonds inflated .109); 4th in walk to strikeout ratio at 0.57; 4th in OPS (On-Base Percentage plus Slugging Percentage) at .788; 4th in extra-base hits with 541; 7th in doubles with 303; 15th in triples with 23 (interesting;y, Rollins tied for the individual NL lead with 12); 2nd in home runs with 215; 3rd in home runs per at-bat at 26.2; 6th in stolen bases with 100; 2nd in stolen-base percentage at 79%; 4th in total bases with 2,499; 6th in strikeouts 1,133; 2nd in walks with 645.

That is a staggering amount of data and I repeated it like this instead of a list to impress upon you all about how complete the Phillies offense was: consistently the Phillies were in the top three or four in every category. Offensively this team was very, very good: they got on base, knocked the ball around the outfield for lots of extra-base hits ... intentionally or not, they were the perfect Moneyball sort of team. That's a statement that would horrify an old-school, "small ball" proponent like Larry Bowa, but it is true: the Phillies batters were very good at getting on base and waiting for the three-run homer. The Phillies park is ideally designed to getting on base and bashing the three-run homer. If this team cut out self-defeating tactics like stealing bases and bunting (27 baserunners caught stealing and 18 sacrifice bunts*) they'd have probably scored more runs than they did in 2004 ... Readers of Moneyball know that much of the book is dedicated to derriding old school thinking and "small ball" tactics. Despite the fact that the Phillies were suited for a walk-and-slug strategy in '04, the Phillies were 13th in the MLB in "Productive Outs", according to ESPN, in 2004.

*(ESPN's website is cryptic on sac bunts: they list sacrifice hits and sacrifice flys as separate caregories. I'm guessing sac flys are part of sac hits, so if you subtract the two, you get 18 non-fly sac hits, a.k.a.: bunts.)

Citizens Factor, Part 2: As I noted in Part 2, the fact that it is much, much easier for teams to hit home runs at Citizens than at the Vet is undeniable. Opposing teams hit 115 home runs at Citizens in 2004, compared to 65 at the Vet in '03. Ironically, the Phillies hit two fewer home runs than the opposition at Citizens in '04:

2004 (Citizens): 113
2003 (Vet): 83
2002 (Vet): 79

But as I also pointed out in Part 2, the idea that Citizens is a hitters park like Coors Field is bunk: it is easier to hit home runs there but it isn't any easier to get regular hits. Consider home batting average from 2003 & 2004:

Batting Average: (Phillies / Opposition)
2003: .264 / .238
2004: .266 / .260
Citizens Increase: +.002 / +.022

.002? Negligable difference. And chalk up the opposition's .022 to the decline in quality of the Phillies pitching (2003-2004). Now check out the difference in doubles between 2003 and 2004:

Doubles: (Phillies / Opposition)
2003: 166 / 153
2004: 144 /144
Citizens Increase: -22 / -9

So here is my point: most of that increase in batting average (especially with the Phillies) is attributable to a few more flyballs sailing over the fence for home runs instead of being caught for outs. The fact that doubles have declined somewhat between 2003 & 2004 is what strikes me as significant: those extra home runs being scored are mostly solo shots. It isn't easier for batters to get singles and doubles at Citizens. Thus, Citizens isn't that much easier to score runs in than the Vet: the Phillies scored 394 runs at the Vet in 2003 and 424 at Citizens in 2004. That's a thirty run difference. That's the same number of extra home runs the Phillies scored this season at Citizens. Does a solo home run change the outcome of a game that much? A solo shot in a 5-3 game doesn't change the outcome. A three-run bomb in a 5-3 game changes everything. Getting baserunners is still the key to success at Citizens Bank Ballpark.

Citizen's didn't mean that much to Phillies hitters in 2004:

Home: .269 GPA; .348 OBP; .450 SLG; 424 runs scored
Away: .263 GPA; .343 OBP; .436 SLG; 416 runs scored
Total: .266 GPA; .345 OBP; .443 SLG; 840 runs scored

Individual Stats: Here is what the Phillies top performers did in 2004:
Starters: (GPA; ISO)
Abreu: .329 / .242
Thome: .323 / .307
Burrell: .278 / .199
Bell: .278 / .167
Rollins: .270 / .166
Polanco: .266 / .143
Lieberthal: .263 / .176
Byrd: .209 / .092

Bench:
Michaels: .268 / .140
Glanville: .176 / .056
Ledee: .305 / .228
Utley: .256 / .202
Pratt: .250 / .109
Perez: .218 / .199
Howard: .291 / .282

Con't ... (BB/PA; RC27)
Thome: .168 / 8.05
Abreu: .178 / 9.26
Bell: .095 / 5.88
Burrell: .146 / 5.96
Rollins: .079 / 5.99
Polanco: .049 / 5.27
Lieberthal: .070 / 4.89
Byrd: .053 / 2.81

Bench:
Michaels: .121 / 5.67
Glanville: .046 / 1.95
Ledee: .152 / 6.98
Utley: .052 / 4.95
Pratt: .121 / 4.34
Perez: .047 / 3.52
Howard: .048 / 5.83

Phillies Leaders:
BA: Abreu at .301 (17th in NL)
OBP: Abreu at .428 (5th in NL)
BB/PA: Abreu at .178 (5th in NL)
BB/K: Abreu at 1.09 (127 walks to just 116 K's, the sole Phillie to have more walks than strikeouts) (12th in NL)
ISO: Thome at .307 (4th in NL)
RC27: Abreu at 9.26 (6th in NL)
XBH: Abreu at 78 (tied for 7th in NL)
Doubles: Abreu at 47 (tied for 4th in NL)
Triples: Rollins at 12 (tied for 1st in the NL)
Home Runs: Thome at 42 (tied for 5th in NL)
Runs: Rollins at 119 (3rd in NL)
RBIs: Abreu and Thome at 105 (tied for 12th in NL)
BB: Abreu at 127 (tied for 2nd in NL, a long way away from Barry Bonds 232)
Stolen Bases: Abreu at 40 (tied for 3rd in NL)
Total Bases: Abreu at 312 (tied for 8th in NL)

What the stats mean:
GPA (Gross Productive Average): (1.8 * .OBP + .SLG) / 4 = .GPA
ISO (Isolated Power): .SLG - .BA = .ISO
BB / PA (Walks per plate appearance): (BB / PA = .BB/PA Avg)
RC27 (Runs Created per 27 Outs): ESPN’s formula for RC27 is simply too complex for me to replicate easily here. This is their stat based on what a hypothetical team of nine of the same player would score.

The Phillies 1-6 hitters were basically strong, although you'd like to see more production from leadoff hitters in 2005:

Team GPA (by batting order)
Batting #1: .261*
Batting #2: .266
Batting #3: .322
Batting #4: .310
Batting #5: .278
Batting #6: .263
Batting #7: .251
Batting #8: .241
Batting #9: .192
Team: .266

*Marlon Byrd is a big reason why this number is so low: he had a .209 GPA leading off in 2004. Jimmy Rollins had a .285 GPA leading off.

The MVP ... To me, the bottom line after a cursory look at the numbers for 2004 is that Bobby Abreu was the Phillies MVP. He got on base, was the Phils biggest threat to run, and had power to spare. Whatever his faults as a defensive player in right, he was the Phils most consistent player at the plate. Look at the team Win Shares for 2004:

Win Shares:
Abreu: 37
Rollins: 25
Thome: 22
Bell: 20
Polanco: 17
Burrell: 15
Lieberthal: 9
Byrd: 6

Bench:
Michaels: 11
Ledee: 6
Glanville: 1
Utley: 8
Pratt: 4
Perez: 4

Abreu's 37 Win Shares were good for 5th in the NL overall. What's striking about his 2004 performance was how remarkably consistent it was: his home slugging percentage (.552) wasn't any higher than his road (.535), and he got just as many hits on the road (86) as he got away (87). I don't think, looking at the Phillies lineup, there was another player more dependable or more threatening in the Phillies lineup. Abreu has been a remarkably consistent player through his career. In seven seasons with the Phillies his lowest OBP was .393 ... Check out his season-by-season GPA numbers with the Phillies:

1998: .308
1999: .338
2000: .326
2001: .313
2002: .316
2003: .301
2004: .329
Career: .315

Abreu will be just 31 on Opening Day, 2005. No reason to assume he'll drop off any time soon. When his career ends I think he'll be remembered as one of the greats in Phillies history.

The MIP ... The Phils Most Improved Player in 2004 was Jimmy Rollins. I'll start by noting that I'm stunned to make that statement. Even before the 2004 season we all knew how good Bobby Abreu was, but Rollins was on the fence: formerly the Phillies lead-off hitter, he struck out too much to continue in the role and had been replaced by Marlon Byrd late in 2003. Vowing to cut down on his strikeouts, Rollins worked with Tony Gwynn in the off-season and laid claim to his role as the Phillies lead-off man after Byrd faltered. I think Rollins laid any doubts in my mind about his rightful position as the Phillies lead-off man with a terrific season in '04:

Let's start by looking at his GPA numbers:
2001: .250
2002: .233
2003: .240
2004: .270

2004 was a tremenous improvement. Rollins posted career highs in OBP (.340) and slugging percentage (.455). Rollins didn't improve his stats by increasing the frequency in which he walked (his .079 walks per plate appearance was the same as in 2003), but by cutting down on the strikeouts (.78 BB/SO in '04 compared with 0.48 in '03) and improving his power (career high .166 ISO).

Rollins played better at Citizen's than on the road:
Home: .294 GPA
Road: .248 GPA

However the differences aren't that stark. Like many Phillies he hit better at home than on the road, but what struck me as being interesting was that Rollins had just as many doubles at home (22) as on the road (21). He also had twice as many triples (8 to 4) at home and just two more home runs. As I said, Citizens is a slugger's park rather than a hitters park, so Rollins ability to set the table for the Phillies is a valuable talent. Only Burrell, Michaels and Abreu had better home OBP's.

How valuable was Rollins to the Phillies lineup? His 25 Win Shares were second on the team and tied him with the Dodgers Caesar Izturis for the lead amongst NL Shortstops. We'd like to see him improve his number of walks, but it appears his tutoring with Gwynn has paid off. At 25 Rollins is still in his prime, he's got power and speed to burn and gets on base enough to make him a terrific lead-off man for the Phillies. Rollins might just be the premier shortstop in the NL for years to come.

Pat the Bat ... Here’s a fun stat: guess who Burrell tied with in slugging percentage in ’04? Ichiro! That’s right, the single-spraying Seattle batting champ and the Phillies slugging leftfielder both had slugging percentages of .455 for the season. That is remarkable because Ichiro had just 37 of his 262 hits go for extra bases. 225 singles. Ichiro had four fewer extra-base hits than Burrell, despite playing forty more games and having over twice as many hits! (Jimmy Rollins also tied Burrell.)

Pat Burrell was a major puzzle to Phillies fans in 2003 and continued to be an enigma in 2004. At the age of 25 he had a terrific season for the Phillies, hitting 37 home runs and 116 RBIs. He seemed to be Scott Rolen's heir as the Phillies superstar slugger, but his hellish 2003 season (a .073 decline in BA, .140 decline in slugging percentage) caused fans to worry that Burrell would never regain his footing. Phillies fans waited nervously to see what 2004 would bring. In the season opener, in chilly PNC Park, Burrell was the Phils only bright spot, going three for four and scoring the Phils sole run in a 2-1 loss.

However, while Phillies fans were giddy they should have taken note of the fact that eight of Burrell’s first nine hits of the season were singles. The return of Burrell's ability to make contact with the ball was a relief, but his power noticeably diminished as the season progressed: after a spectacular May (.667 SLG) in which he hit eight home runs, Burrell’s production tailed off when summer arrived … June: .390 SLG; July: .385 SLG … while Burrell improved after his injury-plagued August with a decent September (.467), he still finished the season far from where he was in 2002.

Season-by-season GPA:
2000: .277 (.463 SLG)
2001: .273 (.469 SLG)
2002: .305 (.544 SLG)
2003: .240 (.404 SLG)
2004: .278 (.455 SLG)
Career: .275 (.470 SLG)

While Burrell posted an impressive OBP for 2004 (.365, a .056 increase over 2003), his power hadn't really returned. In his first three campaigns, Burrell's isolated power was always above .200 ... he declined in '03, but what is striking about his '04 campaign was how his power really didn't return:

ISO: [SLG-BA=ISO]
2000: .203
2001: .212
2002: .263
2003: .195
2004: .199
Career: .217

Burrell actually had fewer extra-base hits in 2004 (41) than in 2003 (56), despite getting six more hits.

I don't think any other player benefitted more from the cozy confines of Citizen's Bank Ballpark than Burrell:

Home / Road
BA: .286 / .231
OBP: .399 / .336
SLG: .519 / .399
GPA: .309 / .251
K/BB ratio: 1.33 / 2.02

Burrell needs to regain his stroke on the road. When he does that, he'll be an All-Star.

So why the power outage in 2004? Was Burrell's 2002 a fluke? I doubt it, because his 2000 & 2001 numbers indicated so strongly that he was a power-hitter. I think that the 2003 season still impacts Burrell's confidence and that it will be a while until he shakes the bogeyman off his back. The bottom-line with Burrell is that he is the Phillies most important player. He's young (28), entering his prime and will lead this team in the future. He still is Rolen's heir. This should be his team. If he could return to his 2002 form the Phillies would have a trio (Thome-Abreu-Burrell) just as deadly as the Cardinals Pujols-Edmonds-Rolen combo.

I think that he'll have an impressive 2005 season.

The pivot ... Second base is a big question mark for the Phillies. As of this writing, Placido Polanco is intent on testing the free agent waters and the Phillies haven't indicated that they want to re-sign him. If they fail to re-sign Polanco, the Phillies 2005 infield alignment will look a little like this:

1B Thome: .323 GPA; Age 34
2B Utley: .256 GPA; Age 26
SS Rollins: .270 GPA: Age 26
3B Bell: .278 GPA: Age 32

Utley and Polanco are different players. As I discussed in Part 1, Polanco's contribution to the Phillies defensive alignment is tremenous and not acknowledged to the degree it ought to be. If the Phillies go with Utley they will have to suffer the defensive downgrade that comes with that decision. Is Utley's bat enough of a plus? That's hard to say, because comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges. At the plate the two couldn't be more different:

(OBP / SLG / ISO / BB-to-K ratio)
Polanco: .345 / .441 / .143 / 0.69
Utley: .308 / .468 / .202 / 0.38

Utley is a slugging second baseman, an ideal six-hole hitter with power, adequately manning the middle infield. Polanco is a prototypical two-hole hitter, a contact man with speed but whose top priority is making contact with the ball and turning the 6-4-3 double play. I like them both and I'd like to see them both in the Phillies lineup for 2005. The problem I have with both Utley and Polanco are that they have next to no ability to draw walks. Consistently, Phillies batters have OBPs about 70-90 points over their BA's (e.g., Abreu's OBP was .127 over his BA). Last year neither Utley nor Polanco were able to get on base 50 points over their BA due to their inability to draw walks: both were worse than Marlon Byrd are drawing walks in 2004:

Walks per plate appearance (BB/PA):
Byrd: .058
Utley: .052
Polanco: .049

Admittedly, Polanco has been better at walking in his career (2003: .076; 2002: .061), but he isn't what you would call a walk machine. Utley has had a shorter career so far (267 at-bats in '04 and 134 at-bats in '03), so it is impossible to ascertain whether he'll be a savvy hitter in the future. My gut tells me no.

There's also Polanco's first-half injury to factor into the mix. Polanco had a .287 GPA in the second half of the season. He seemed to get better while Utley wore down a little. To me, the bottom-line is that the Phillies have the best middle infield in the NL with Polanco and Rollins right now and they'd be fools to let Polanco skip out of town. The added problem is that the Phillies don't have a two-hole hitter to replace Polanco. Utley hit well in the two slot in '04 but draw few walks there. If Polanco leaves the Phillies will have a problem filling that hole.

The alignment I'd like to see the Phillies use in 2005 is this:

1B Thome: .323; 34
2B Polanco: .266; 29
SS Rollins: .270; 26
3B Utley: .256; 26

The corners ... so I should say a few words about Jim Thome and David Bell, 2/3 of the Phillies 2003 free agent class. The Phillies are Jim Thome's team for now. He turned in a great year in 2004: 42 home runs, 28 2B's, 105 RBI's, 104 BB's, nearly .400 OBP, nearly .600 SLG. But there was something off in 2004: after a terrific June (15 home runs, .816 SLG), Thome cooled off. He only hit 15 home runs after June, compared to 26 last year.

Is Thome in decline? Answer: probably yes. He's 34 and has played in 1,600+ games in his career. That's a lot of wear and tear and you have to wonder if it's catching up to him. He's an offensive powerhouse, whose impressive play at the plate more than makes up for the fact that he's a pretty poor fielder.

I like David Bell. Nice guy, solid performer in the six hole for the Phillies this season. Good third baseman. 2004 was a pretty great year for him: career high in OBP (.363) and in slugging (.458). After having a season equally as awful as Burrell's in 2003, Bell's resurrection was probably a relief to Ed Wade, who inked Bell to a 4-year deal before the '03 season.

That said, the Phillies should probably trade him at the first opportunity. Bell's '04 was a career high and not likely to be repeated any time soon. He's 32 and has always been a marginal hitter: moderate power, ok discipline. His horrific .296 OBP in 2003 is just a little worse than his career .316 OBP. This is not a player with an aptitude for drawing walks. So if Bell's 2004 was a last harrah, than the Phillies have a big problem at third base. Bell's defense and patience at the plate don't compensate for a reduction in power.

Which brings me back to the 2005 alignment for the Phillies: Utley is six years younger than Bell, much cheaper, as good a hitter (if not a more explosive one) and almost certainly a better defender. Dealing Bell and installing Utley at third makes a lot of sense. I think a Thome-Polanco-Rollins-Utley infield would be very strong.

Centerfield ... I feel bad for Marlon Byrd. He's a talented player and I really thought that he'd be a terrific lead-off guy for the Phillies after the sterling .276 GPA after the 2003 All-Star break, he had a .366 OBP in '03 and appeared to have the job in hand. His 2004 implosion was spectacular. He hit badly before the All-Star break and after it. Even a banishing to Scranton to get his batting eye back didn't work. He finished the 2004 season with an absurdly low .287 OBP. In 106 games he drew just 22 walks. And, as I noted in a recent post, a below-average fielder in center.

The Phillies tried recently to deal Byrd and I think that it was the right thing to do. He's a bust. A very unfortunate bust. That said, the job would have to go to Jason Michaels, unless the Phillies successfuly pursued Steve Finley, which I suspect is a long shot at best. Michaels is a good reserve outfielder, but that's it. He has a talent for getting walks (an impressive .121 walk-per-plate appearance ratio), but he isn't that much of an upgrade from Byrd in center defensively. This is probably the Phillies biggest need area.

Catchers ... being a catcher has to be the worst job on the baseball field: squatting in the dirt as guys hurl 95 mph fastballs at you, getting run over by baserunners heading home, aching knees, mind games with pitchers ... Catchers are probably the most interesting players on the field. In sports movies they are always the grizzled veterans (Tom Berenger in Major League, Kevin Costner in Bull Durham). The Phillies have a terrific catcher: Mike Lieberthal has played as the Phillies everyday catcher since 1997 (although he missed big parts of the 1998 and 2001 seasons). Lieberthal is a tough out (just 69 K's in 476 at-bat's in '04) and a good run-producer batting 6th or 7th: .447 SLG, .335 OBP, 49 XBH's (inc. 17 home runs).

That said, Lieberthal is going to be 33 on Opening Day and has played nearly 1,000 games squatting in the dirt. 2005 or 2006 will likely be his last campaign as a Phillie.

The bench ... the Phillies dealt their best bench player, Ricky Ledee, for reasons that left me baffled. Ledee played well in center, drew walks and had power at the plate. He had a .333 OBP as a pinch hitter in 2004 ... The rest of the Phillies bench is o.k. The less said about Doug Glanville the better: he got half a million bucks last year to play terrible baseball: .244 OBP, .265 SLG, .046 BB/PA. He played better center than Michaels and Byrd, but that doesn't make up for the fact that he was a fairly automatic 0-for-4 when inserted into the lineup. Let him walk. I like Todd Pratt. The perfect backup catcher and a good bat off the bench (.351 OBP). I hope the Phillies will keep him around. Utley played a little from the bench in '04 (.355 BA as a pinch hitter in 35 at-bat's), but he'll be a regular in 2005, as either the Phillies second baseman or their third baseman. Ryan Howard is an intruiging player / issue for the Phillies. With the farm system denuded, he's one of the few prospects that the Phillies have left. In his limited call-up in 2004 he played well: .333 OBP, .564 SLG, .290 GPA. He's a real talent and the Phillies would be fools to deal him. Thome is 34 so Howard could log some innings at first in '05, but for a player of Howard's abilities the Phillies should be able to find a spot on the field. At a minimum they should put him on the bench and utilize him as a DH and pinch hitter for 2005. The Phils bench could be good in 2005.

Odds 'n Ends … has it struck anyone as being odd that Jimmy Rollins (.540) out-slugged Bobby Abreu (.515), Jim Thome (.484), David Bell (.436), Pat Burrell (.407), and Mike Lieberthal (.431) in the second-half of the season? ... The Phillies pitchers batted .165 BA, .198 OBP in 2004. Their .241 SLG wasn't half bad: they actually had 15 XBH, including 4 home runs ... I've complained that the NL should drop their opposition to the DH and Phillies fans should join me: Phillies DH's hit .324 (.390 OBP) and 7 home runs (.919 SLG) in nine games last year ... Ricky Ledee led the Phillies in pinch-hitting appearances in 2004, with 51. Jason Michaels was second with 39, followed by Chase Utley with 34 ... Tomas Perez played every position in the Phillies infield in 2004.

Conclusions. I've run through a lot of stats, but I think that the Phillies 2004 offense can be summed up as thus:

1. The Phillies were one of the 3-4 best teams in tne NL on offense.
2. Citizen's Bank Ballpark didn't help the Phillies offensively that much.
3. The Phillies have a hole at centerfield, but otherwise they look solid, provided they re-sign Polanco and deal Bell.
4. The Phillies settled a lot of issues in 2004, like whether Marlon Byrd is the Phillies everyday centerfielder (no), who should bat lead-off (Jimmy Rollins), and whether Pat Burrell was a lost cause (he's not).
5. The Phillies have a few unsettled issues, like whether or not Burrell will regain his 2002 form (probably) and if Thome will decline (probably).

Expect the Phillies to be a scary team next year, especially if they sign Steve Finley. I know Finley is 40, but he'd give the Phillies a murderer's row of batters to face: Thome, Burrell, Abreu, Bell (or Utley), Finley, Lieberthal, Rollins, and Utley (or Polanco). I think the Phillies could probably finished in the top four or so in most offensive stats, or improve. This could be a great offensive team next year.

Part IV tomorrow ...

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Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Housekeeping... 

I'm pleased to announce that I intend to publish Part III of my Season in Review tomorrow instead of Monday. I've been working hard at it and it occurred to me today that I don't want my carefully written words to be mooted by decisions Phillies management make in the next few days. I intend to publish Part IV, my overall conclusions, on Thursday.

I might post a little more before I leave for Thanksgiving.

Oh, and I intend to do a little name-changing here in the next few days. I'll be changing the title to a far simpler, far more plain, "A Citizen's Blog".

Many thanks to those of you who have been kind enough to log on and click on my Google Ads. I really appreciate it.

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Monday, November 15, 2004

Season In Review, Part 2: Pitching 

What a difference a year makes … going into the 2004 season the Phillies pitching staff was considered to be the team’s strength: ace Kevin Millwood was back after hurling a no-hitter in 2003, Brett Myers, Vincente Padilla and Randy Wolf looked poised to have break-out seasons and management added Twins pitcher Eric Milton and Astros closer Billy Wagner to bolster the rotation and bullpen respectively. All-in-all, the Phillies were expected to have one of the most formidable rotations in the NL & one of the best pitching staffs in the MLB.

Needless to say, that never materialized. The Phillies pitching staff played poorly all season long and was a big reason why the team imploded.

So where does the blame lay? Primarily, on the failure of Padilla, Wolf and Myers to develop into competent starters, but the biggest story of the Phillies 2004 season was Eric Milton’s failure to live up to his promise and his $9 million dollar salary.

Here's how the Phillies did as a team in 2004:

By-the-Numbers: (Team)
WHIP: 1.36 (8th in NL)
ERA: 4.47 (13th in NL)
DIPS ERA: 4.58 (12th in NL)
HR/9: 1.3 (15th in NL)
K/9: 6.58 (9th in NL)
K/BB ratio: 2.13 (7th in NL)
BAA: .264 (9th in NL)
HR allowed: 214 (2nd in NL)


Definitions:
WHIP: (Walks + Hits / Innings Pitched = WHIP)
ERA: Earned Run Average (Earned Runs * 9 / Innings Pitched = ERA)
DIPS ERA: Defense Independent Pitching ERA (see below for more)
BAA: Batting Average Allowed
HR/9: Home runs per nine innings.
K/9: Strikeouts per 9 innings
K/BB: Strikeouts per walks


We’ll divide the pitching staff between the starting rotation and the bullpen:

I. The Rotation: the Phillies utilized a total of 11 starting pitchers in 2004, but they relied chiefly on Millwood, Milton, Myers, Padilla, and Wolf, and then added Paul Abbott and Cory Lidle. How did they do?: (ranked by ERA)

Win-Loss / ERA
Lidle: 5-2 / 3.90
Wolf: 5-8 / 4.28
Padilla: 7-7 / 4.53
Milton: 14-6 / 4.75
Millwood: 9-6 / 4.85
Myers: 11-11 / 5.52
Abbott: 1-6 / 6.24
Starters: 52-46 / 4.84
(Rest of team: 34-30 / 3.87)


Naturally, the Phillies win-loss records only tell part of the story: e.g., Milton’s sterling 14-6 record was actually very weak, and Millwood pitched better than anyone realized. (More on both later.) Significantly, the rotation logged a collective ERA almost a run higher than the bullpen. Look at their WHIPs:

WHIP
Lidle: 1.14
Wolf: 1.32
Padilla: 1.34
Milton: 1.35
Millwood: 1.46
Myers: 1.47
Abbott: 1.80
Starters: 1.395
Rest of team: 1.307


More of the same: the variance between the starters and the rest of the team wasn’t as significant here, but the trend emerging was that the Phillies starters got into a hole early and often in 2004. But the one Phillies starter who doesn’t deserve scorn is Kevin Millwood...

As I said, Millwood pitched much, much better than his record, his ERA and his WHIP indicated. Consider the rotation's FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching:

Starters: (FIP)
Lidle: 3.70
Millwood: 3.83
Wolf: 4.58
Padilla: 4.65
Myers: 5.21
Milton: 5.39
Abbott: 7.89
Team: 4.55

FIP, developed by Hardball Times, measures how a pitcher would perform with an “average” defense behind him. FIP is a variation on DIPS ERA, developed by Voros McCracken, to separate a pitcher’s performance from that of his defense. McCracken developed DIPS after coming to the realization that ERA was often influenced not by the pitcher’s abilities, but by the quality (or lack thereof) of the fielders behind him or simply by dumb luck. (For more on the subject read pages 235-241 in Michael Lewis’ Moneyball.)

With a better defense backing him up, Millwood’s ERA would decline nearly a full run to a very respectable 3.83, roughly comparable to his own 4.01 ERA in 2003.

The trio of Padilla, Myers and Wolf all deviate slightly in their ERA / FIP ERA (Myers actually does better by a third of a run: 0.31), but Milton’s numbers- an increase of 0.64 -are the eye-opening ones: could Milton have won 14 games last year while giving up nearly five and a half runs a game? Not likely. Milton had a lot of help getting to 14 wins in 2004: the Phillies supplied a whopping 6.54 runs per start for Milton, while the average Phillies pitcher got just 5.17 runs a game. Virtually no other starting pitcher got as much support from his team: the Braves Russ Ortiz, for example, was provided 5.17 runs per start on his way to a 15-9 record.

(And yes, that 7.89 FIP ERA means that Paul Abbott would have been worse- much worse -without help from the Phillies defense. Yikes.)

Why the variation between Milton and Millwood’s actual ERAs and their FIP ERAs? Well, there does appear to be variances in the quality of the defense Phillies pitchers had in 2004. Consider each pitcher’s DER (Defense Efficiency Ratio), a stat that measures how often fielders converted a pitcher’s balls put into play into outs:

DER:
Lidle: .741
Milton: .737
Abbott: .735
Wolf: .713
Padilla: .713
Myers: .707
Millwood: .673
Team DER: .703

With a better defense behind him, Millwood would have been the better pitcher on paper. 'Nuff said.

Before I go any further, I should note that collectively the Phillies fielding (which I dealt with in a previous post) didn’t negatively impact the team’s overall pitching. In fact, it probably helped the Phillies pitching:

Team ERA: 4.47 (13th in NL)
Team FIP ERA: 4.55 (12th in NL)
Team DIPS ERA:
4.58 (12th in NL)

(I note that better fielding would have dramatically improved the Pittsburgh Pirates pitching in 2004: their regular ERA- 4.31 -was tenth in the NL, while their FIPs ERA- 4.13 -improved to seventh. Why the variation? The Pirates were dead last in the defensive stat of Zone Rating in the NL in 2004. In short, they had the worst defense in the National League and the second-worst in baseball after the Red Sox.)

Millwood and Milton are both free agents this fall and collectively make $20 million dollars. Frankly, the Phillies would probably be better off subtracting the two from the payroll: Milton’s numbers speak for themselves, and Millwood likely has significant damage to his arm which calls into question his future effectiveness. The phrase "addition by subtraction" comes to mind...

What of Wolf, Myers, Padilla and Lidle? I actually think that the Phillies would be fine with these four and maybe a fifth starter (Ryan Madson?) in 2005. Padilla, in particular, was a hard-luck case undeserving of a .500 record: the Philles scored a total of three runs in his first three losses, so his 7-7 record clearly didn’t indicate how well he pitched. Padilla’s ability to get ground-ball outs suggest he’ll bounce back in 2005. He could well emerge as the Phillies ace next season. In fact, I expect him to. Myers also will likely bounce back with a good season in 2005: he was unlucky to give up as many home runs as he did (1.6 per nine innings pitched) while having such a good groundball-to-flyball ratio. Wolf I am unsure about. He looks like a classic No. 3 starter.

A Word About Citizens … a lot of ink has been spilled about Citizen’s reputation as a home run haven. I find it difficult to argue with the numbers:

Home Runs allowed at Home:
2002 (Vet): 74
2003 (Vet): 61
2004 (Citizens): 115

Ouch. According to ESPN's Park Factors page, Citizens was the fifth easiest park to homer in during the 2004 season, but interestingly, it just the eighteenth easiest park to get a hit in. Citizens isn't what you would call a hitters park so much as it is a sluggers park. So a word of caution: Phillies pitchers were eager to lay the blame for their bulging ERAs on Citizens' cozy confines. Yes, home runs are more frequent, but the Phillies hardly play at Coors Field East. The ball is no more likely to fall in for a single or a double than anywhere else. A solo home run here or there won't kill a pitcher's ERA.

Thanks to all of the hype, I submit that Citizens effect on Phillies pitching was partly-to-mostly mental: in June Billy Wagner blamed Citizens for the reason why Marlins skipper Jack McKeon left Eric Milton off the NL All-Star team. What Wagner didn't know was that Milton’s road WHIP and ERA were much worse than his home record:

Milton's WHIP / ERA
Home: 1.29 / 4.40
Road: 1.41 / 5.12

Milton actually gave up more home runs on the road (23) than at Citizens (20), despite pitching eight more innings at Citizens.

ERA: Home / Road (road advantage)
Milton: 4.40 / 5.12 (-0.72)
Millwood: 4.95 / 4.77 (+0.18)
Wolf: 4.95 / 3.43 (+1.52)
Padilla: 4.96 / 3.88 (+1.08)
Myers: 5.77 / 5.35 (+0.42)
Abbott: 4.68 / 7.88 (-3.2)
Lidle: 3.06 / 4.80 (-1.74)

Wolf & Padilla struggled at Citizens, but there isn't enough of a difference between all of the starters home and road ERAs to suggest that Citizens was as bad as they thought or Larry Bowa complained about on ESPN radio. Millwood seemed to do as well at home as on the road.

Naturally, though, the key to continued success for the Phillies staff will be keeping the ball down. To state something that should be obvious to an observer, groundball pitchers are less likely to give up home runs. Check out the starters 2004 groundball-to-flyball Ratio:

G/F:
Lidle: 1.48
Myers: 1.39
Padilla: 1.16
Millwood: 1.12
Abbott: 0.93
Wolf: 0.81
Milton: 0.57
Team: 1.09
NL: 1.25


As I said, Milton is a bad bet for the Phillies to re-up with: too many balls into the air. Wolf is a troubling case as well, but Padilla and Myers throw a lot of groundballs. If they can sort things out, I bet they'll prosper. Notice that a flyball pitcher like Wolf had the hardest time adjusting: his Citizens' ERA is a run and a half higher.

II. The ‘Pen: The Phillies bullpen was atrocious in 2003: closer Jose Mesa had an ERA of 6.52 (!) and a WHIP of 1.76. To put it mildly, it was a small miracle that Mesa actually had any saves in 2003, let alone 24. To deal with the situation the Phillies made some smart decisions in 2004, signing fireballing closer Billy Wagner and setup man Tim Worrell. The team's bullpen improved significantly and it actually became the strength of the team, more than the offense, more than the starting pitching and perhaps more than the team's fielding. Here is how the Phillies key relievers did:

WHIP / ERA
Madson: 1.13 / 2.34
Wagner: 0.77 / 2.42
Worrell: 1.23 / 3.68
Hernandez: 1.68 / 4.76
Telemaco: 1.29 / 4.31
Cormier: 1.19 / 3.56
Jones: 1.70 / 4.97
Rodriguez: 1.33 / 3.00

Naturally, there is more to the story than those stats, but I'll get to that ... Like Win-Loss records for starters, Saves are the stat most people look at with relievers. Unfortunately, despite the investment in Wagner and Worrell, the Phillies weren't that good on paper:

Save Opportunities / Saves / Percent: 68 / 43 (63%, 11th in NL) (the 25 blown saves were 4th in NL). The Phillies actually did better in 2003: converting 33 of 51 chances (65%).

So who got the Phillies saves?:

Saves:
Wagner: 21
Worrell: 19
Madson: 1
Jones: 1
Rodriguez: 1
Team: 43

(I tried to find out who had the Phillies blown saves but ESPN only gave me a few: Wagner blew four saves and Worrell blew eight.)

The bullpen's decrease in save percentage coincides with an increase in save opportunities by 17 from 2003. Clearly, the Phillies trusted their bullpen more than in 2003, when calling for Jose Mesa to preserve a lead seemed to shave a year off Larry Bowa's life every time. Just four Phillies pitchers threw complete games in 2004, compared with nine in 2003. Phillies starters didn't go as deep into the game:

Innings Pitched: (Starters / Relievers)
2003: 969.0 / 474.2
2004: 922.1 / 540.1
Difference: -46.2 / +65.2

As I said earlier, as with the starters the bullpen's ERAs and WHIPs are only part of the story. Here are each of the relievers FIP ERAs and the DER each pitcher got from the Phillies fielders:

FIP / DER
Madson: 3.60 / .727
Wagner: 2.48 / .764
Worrell: 3.98 / .717
Hernandez: 5.18 / .678
Telemaco: 5.82 / .759
Cormier: 4.21 / .744
Jones: 4.42 / .624
Rodriguez: 2.60 / .660

As I said in a post last week, Madson probably won't have the kind of season for the Phillies in 2005 that he had last year. He'll be an outstanding pitcher for them next year, but not quite the lights-out reliever he was in '04. (If you subtract Madson's horrific start against the White Sox, his ERA lowers to 1.65 and his WHIP lowers to 1.05.)

What will make Madson a successful pitcher in 2005 is his propensity for getting hitters to ground out to the Phillies infield, rather than hitting fly balls. The Phillies groundball-to-flyball ratio:

G / F ratio:
Madson: 1.92
Wagner: 1.11
Worrell: 1.20
Hernandez: 1.71
Telemaco: 0.90
Cormier: 1.76
Jones: 1.33
Rodriguez: 1.24

Madson was a master at getting the 6-3 groundout in 2004. The interesting thing to note about the numbers above is that they are, as a group, generally higher than the Phillies starting pitching. Given the greater success the Phillies bullpen had in 2004, the path to having successful pitching at Citizens is to sign as many ground-ball pitchers as the Phillies can find.

The Phillies weakest reliever was Amaury Telemaco: while on the surface Telemaco didn't have bad stats (1.29 WHIP / 4.31 ERA), Telemaco benefitted from terrific defense (.759 DER) and was the sole Phillies reliever to surrender more flyball outs than groundball outs. As a consequence, Telemaco was the Phillies pitcher, after Paul Abbott, most likely to surrender a home run: 2.0 home runs per nine innings pitched. Thanks to the home runs, Telemaco's FIP ERA climbs a full run and a half to 5.82. If the Phillies bring back Telemaco in '05, he'll be hit hard.

(By the way: Paul Abbott surrendered 2.6 home runs per nine innings.)

The addition of Billy Wagner was the biggest off-season move for the Phillies. After the '03 Mesa debacle, the Phillies wanted an automatic closer who would shut teams down the way Mariano Rivera would for the Yankees (before the 2004 ALCS). The fire-balling Wagner seemed a good bet: 118 saves between the 2001-2003 seasons, he had a tiny 1.78 ERA for 2003.

Unfortunately an injury sidelined Wagner for a good deal of the season. He appeared in 45 games, down from 78 in 2003, and pitched fewer innings: 48 as compared with 86 in 2003. Interestingly, Wagner logged a better WHIP in '04 than in his last year in Houston: 0.77 vs. 0.87 ... The key to Wagner's pitching is the velocity he puts on his fastball, which typically is in the high 90's and often exceeds 100 mph. Wagner's fastball helps make him the team’s strikeout artists (11.0 K/9 innings), along with Rodriguez (12.0 K/9 innings). However, Wagner's fastball also means he surrenders lots of flyballs: his 1.11 G/F ratio was low for a reliever, but better than the team average of 1.09.

So is Wagner a bad fit for the Phillies closer? A flyball pitcher in a hitters park? First let me start out by noting that Wagner had a lower WHIP at home 0.70 than on the road: 0.84. Wagner's ERA was 1.00 at Citizens and 4.22 on the road. Why did Wagner have such success at Citizens? Remarkably, despite giving up so many flyballs, Wagner gave up comparatively few home runs in 2004: five in just 48 innings, just 0.9 per nine innings pitched. It is a superior number to Worrell (1.1) and about the same as Madson (0.7). Wagner also logs lots and lots of strikeouts and very few walks: Wagner had nearly ten strikeouts for every walk last season. Wagner's control and velocity are terrific: he gets guys out and doesn't give free baserunners. He's everything the Phillies should expect from a relief pitcher. If he's healthy in 2005, Wagner should log 40-45 saves and give the Phillies a significant boost.

III. Conclusions: I searched long and hard for an adjective to describe the Phillies 2004 pitching and all I could come up with was "disappointing". We all hoped that the Phillies pitching would be as good as it was before the All-Star break in 2003, but while the team hitting improved the Phillies pitching never jelled. Many thought the Phillies Millwood-Milton-Wolf-Padilla-Myers rotation would resemble the Atlanta Braves, circa 1992, but that never happened.

Millwood is probably gone and Milton should be (as I write this, Milton has been made an offer by the Phillies, but luckily for them he has rejected it and appears headed to the Bronx to play in Pinstripes). I had a lot of faith in Padilla. I think he'll still develop into the Phillies ace. I see potential in Myers as well. Wolf and Lidle would make good #3 & #4 starters. The Phillies need a fifth starter, and have four options:

1. Re-sign Millwood.
2. Seek a free agent like the Marlins Carl Pavano.
3. Give the job to rookie Gavin Floyd.
4. Give the job to Ryan Madson.

I like any of those options: Floyd pitched well in his limited 2004 appearances: 4.06 FIP ERA, 1.52 G/F, 7.6 K/9, 0.3 HR/9. He and Madson could split duties as the fifth starter until one wins the job outright. Pavano was very good in 2004 as well: 3.57 FIP ERA, 1.49 G/F, 0.6 HR/9. If Millwood is willing to take a paycut from his $11 million salary, he still has gas left in his tank.

Aside from adding another starter, don't see many needs the Phillies have to address. The bullpen looks well stocked with arms and if the Phillies have a healthy Wagner to rely on in 2005, they should pitch well. The key will be to push thoughts of the hype surrounding Citizens out of their heads. They should ask themselves this: If Citizens was so bad for the Phillies why did a flyball pitcher like Eric Milton log a better ERA at home?

Bowa complained the park was "a joke" and would make it impossible for the Phillies to lure pitching there. That is a load of bunk and the Phillies shouldn't accept that sort of conventional wisdom. Citizens is a sluggers park: a little more likely to surrender a home run or two in, by not a hitters park the way Coors Field is friendly to home run hitters as well as doubles hitters. Groundball hitters can prosper and they will*. And if Citizens reputation makes it difficult to lure big-money pitchers than the Phillies should make a virtue of the necessity to pursue groundball pitchers: other teams like the Yankees want the flashy "money" pitchers. The Phillies should have a leg up in looking for groundball hurlers who don't post the same sort of gaudy numbers.

An improved defense would help as well: Marlon Byrd and Jason Michaels did a poor job as the Phillies centerfielders in 2004. If the Phillies do successfully pursue Steve Finley to man centerfield and re-sign Placido Polanco at second base, they will have a very good defensive alignment for 2005. The Phillies defense could help the team lower their ERA considerably. Defense is the X factor here. The Phillies defense clearly declined last season over what it had been in recent memory, so part of the blame for the decline in the quality of the Phillies pitching must lay there. An improved defense might be a bigger boost than management realizes.

The best tonic for Phillies pitching is winning: too often the pitchers felt the need to be perfect because they needed to win to hang in the division race with the Marlins or the Braves. Phillies pitchers will forget about the impact on their ERAs when they win games with consistency. I think that a confident Wolf / Myers / Padilla / Lidle / Madson-Floyd rotation will do very, very well in 2005. I don't see the Phillies leading the NL in pitching, but I think they can climb to the middle of the pack in 2005.

Coming next Monday, hopefully, is Part III. I'm also working on responses to comments people have made about Part I.

*In the interest of intellectual honestly I will point out a potential flaw with my theory about groudball pitchers: In doing research on pitching stats I glanced at a piece about DIPS 2.0 that Voros McCracken wrote nearly three years ago. I was reading the article when I came across this statement: “It has been proposed for some time that fly ball pitchers tend to have an advantage here over ground ball pitchers. In the end, I’m pretty sure this is right, but the problems currently here are tough to overcome.”

Needless to say, if this is a fact that this information contradicts my opinion that the Phillies need groundball hurlers on the pitching staff. I read a few more pieces on the subject and grasped their point: flyballs tend to be automatic outs, while groundballs greatly depend on the quality of the defense behind the pitcher. So I will say this: take what I say with a grain of salt …

I still think I’m right and here is what I say in my defense: the Phillies are the exception to the rule. They play in a park in which it is easy to hit a home run, but it is fairly average to get a hit otherwise. The Phillies propensity for surrendering confidence-shattering home runs in 2004 strongly suggests that they would be better off with ground-ballers on the mound: true, it might mean one or two extra baserunners a game, but I think the Phillies would be better off surrendering a pair of singles than a solo shot. If the differences are as minor as McCracken says, then the risk is worth it for the Phils … but as I said, I could be wrong.

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