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.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Ready for the Weekend! 

My parents are coming out to visit this weekend, which I am really looking forward to. A few random thoughts:

-Eagles – Redskins on Sunday Night football. Call it Eagles 24, Redskins 14. I think the Eagles will go 14-2 this season, probably losing the Bengals game after wrapping up homefield advantage after beating the Rams on MNF on the 27th. Someone said that the Eagles get a first-round bye if they beat the Redskins, but don’t they already have that? They won the NFC East, and while the Falcons can catch them for the conference crown, the Packers, Vikings, Seahawks and Rams all can’t: the Rams and Seahawks can’t do better than 10-6, and while the Packers and Vikings could equal the Eagles at 11-5 (provided they go 4-0 and the Eagles go 0-4), the Eagles own the tie-breakers on them because they beat them. So, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t second the worst the Eagles can do?

-USC’s Matt Leinart will win the Heisman Trophy tomorrow. I think that the dual Petersen and White will split the vote and allow Leinart to become the second USC QB in three years to win. If I were voting, I’d go with Cal’s Aaron Rodgers, whom the 49ers will take with the first pick in the 2005 Draft.

-Someone will get naked this week on Desperate Housewives.

-I wore my McNabb jersey to a get-together our condo complex held last night. I always love seeing the reactions I get in Steelers country: our maintence guy asked me where my Steelers jersey is. Later we went to get ice cream and I had two people tell me that they root for the Eagles. My wife was doumbfounded to see so many Eagles fans in Western Pennsylvania.

-I saw today in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Lynn Swann is thinking of running against Ed Rendell in the 2006 Governor’s race as a Republican. The Republican Party has embrassed themselves plenty of times by drafting actors (Arnold) or athletes to run for office (Steve Largent, J.C. Watts, Richard Petty, Tom Osbourne), but Swann might be the worst pander yet: the Republican Party knows that their ability to win a statewide contest hinges upon their ability to win over Democrats in Western Pennsylvania to counter the Democratic Party’s stength in the Southeast. Running a Steeler from the glory days, whose job for the last decade has been as a sideline reporter, strikes me as being a pretty sad pander.

See you, Monday!

(11) comments

Chasing the Braves 

I was looking over Yahoo! Sports yesterday when I saw an article about the continued decline of the Atlanta Braves, who look set to depart company with J.D. Drew, Jared Wright (now a Yankee) and Russ Ortiz. I was reminded of the story of two guys in the woods whose campsite is attacked by a bear. One man is lacing up his sneakers while the other, panicked, watches. “What are you doing?” he asks. “You can’t out-run a bear!” The man responds: “I don’t have to out-run the bear. I have to out-run you.” The Phillies don’t have to get much better than they were in 2004, they have have to stay where they are while the Braves decline.

We all predicted that the Braves would hurt from losing players like Gary Sheffield and Greg Maddux, but they've continued to roll on and accumulate division titles. This free agency cycle might be different: here is what Ortiz, Wright and Drew did in 2004:

Ortiz: 4.83 FIP ERA / 6.3 K/9 / 11 Win Shares (1 above average)
Wright: 3.31 FIP ERA / 7.7 K/9 / 13 Win Shares (4 above average
Drew: .342 GPA / .264 ISO / .436 OBP / 126 Runs Created / 34 Win Shares (17 above average)
Total: 58 Win Shares (22 above average)

Losing Drew is going to hurt. 2004 might have been Drew’s unrepeatable career year, but I doubt the Braves are going to find anyone who can come even within .100 of Drew’s GPA stats for 2005. Let’s say these losses cost the Braves 22 games: they’d take a tumble to 74-88. Now, that isn’t likely to happen, but I can’t see the Braves winning 96 games next year. I think they could lose about 10-15 games off their season totals for next year. That would leave the gate wide-open for the Phillies to walk through.

The Phillies haven't had the sort of losses that the Braves have suffered:

Phillies Leaving…
Milton: 8 Win Shares (-1 above average)
Millwood: 5 Win Shares (-2 above average)
Polanco: 17 Win Shares (2 above average)
Byrd: 5 Win Shares (-5 above average)
Total: 35 Win Shares (-6 above average)

(I’m assuming that Byrd will be dealt and that Polanco won’t stay…)

The Phillies replaced them with …
Lidle: (as Red) 3 Win Shares (-4 above average)
(as Phillie) 4 Win Shares (1 above average)
Lieber: 11 Win Shares (2 above average)
Lofton: 8 Win Shares (0 above average)
Utley: 8 Win Shares (0 above average)
Total: 36 Win Shares (-1 above average)

Not great, but they could still keep Polanco and they might get someone of value for Byrd. If Lidle pitches like he did with the Phillies, then they have improved over last year. 88, 90 or even 92 wins are a possible goal for this team.

Which leaves the rest … the Marlins are losing Carl Pavano (20 WS / 9 WSAA) and are replacing him with Al Leiter (12 WS / 4 WSAA). I don’t see the Fish adding anyone else of value, cash-strapped as they are. I think they’ll equal their 83 wins from last year. The Mets? They lost Leiter and spent a fortune to sign Kris Benson. (Benson's wife recently was quoted in SI as saying that she'd basically sleep with anyone remotely connected to the Mets organization if her husband were unfaithful. How about just divorcing him?) Kris Benson? Good luck. I see a battle to stay in fourth for these guys. The Nats? They certainly signed some guys, but Cristian Guzman (16 WS / -1 WSAA), Vinny Castilla (15 WS / -1 WSAA) and Jose Guillen (21 WS / 6 WSAA) aren’t going to turn things around in our nation’s capitol. Washington: first in war, first in peace, last in the National League East.

Here is my (very) preliminary 2005 prediction:

2005 NL East:
Philadelphia: 88-74
Florida: 84-78
Atlanta: 80-82
New York Mets: 73-89
Washington: 71-91

The Phillies are fairly lucky: they compete against a team in a New York market, but that team is arguably the most incompetent in baseball. The Nats seem intent on spending money to show they are serious about something, but what that something happens to be is unclear. The Fish? Too cheap. The Braves? Becoming the Fish. I wonder if this is why the Phillies didn’t feel a need to sign a stud pitcher in the off-season: even doing nothing there is an opening here for the Phillies wide enough to drive a truck through.

More on Monday....

(20) comments

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Escape from the Bronx... 

I heard the news about the Phillies signing Yankees hurler Jon Lieber to a three-year, $21 mil deal on ESPNews last night before I went to bed. My reaction? A shrug. Ed Wade & Co. probably over-paid for Lieber, but I think they might be getting a decent-to-very good pitcher for next year. Here’s what Lieber did in 2004:

14-8 W-L / 4.33 ERA / 1.32 WHIP

Not great, but a closer look into the numbers reveals some interesting stuff … Lieber’s FIP ERA declines to 3.94 due to the fact that the Yankees didn’t play good defense behind him (.677 DER, vs. a .686 team average). Lieber’s control is pretty impressive too: a roughly 5-to-1 career strikeout-to-walk ratio. Last year he walked just 0.9 batters per 9 innings. This guy doesn't give free passes batters, which is a quality I like seeing in a Phillies pitcher.

Can he pitch at Citizens? Sure: his 1.43 G/F ratio is better than any ’04 Phillies starter aside from Cory Lidle. He only gave up 20 home runs in 27 games in 2004: 1.0 per nine innings pitched. Pretty manageable stuff: a solo shot here and there won't hurt him.

That said, I’m not wild about how much the Phillies committed to a guy who didn’t even pitch in 2003: $21 million bucks? It seems like a lot of dough to toss around for a 35 year-old pitcher, but Lieber might be worth the risk. He pitched well for the Yankees in 2004 and if his arm holds up he could be a great money pitcher.

With Lieber, I'd say that at a minimum the Phillies 2005 rotation will be more economical than it was last year. Lidle and Lieber will make about $10 million in 2005, compared with the combined $20 million Millwood and Milton made in 2004. How do the old and new rotations stack up?

Old Rotation:
Wolf: 4.58 FIP ERA ; 0.81 G/F; 1.3 hr/9
Padilla: 4.65 FIP ERA; 1.16 G/F; 1.2 hr/9
Myers: 5.21 FIP ERA; 1.39 G/F; 1.6 hr/9
Milton: 5.39 FIP ERA; 0.57 G/F; 1.9 hr/9
Millwood: 3.83 FIP ERA; 1.12 G/F; 0.9 hr/9

New Rotation:
Wolf: 4.58 FIP ERA ; 0.81 G/F; 1.3 hr/9
Padilla: 4.65 FIP ERA; 1.16 G/F; 1.2 hr/9
Myers: 5.21 FIP ERA; 1.39 G/F; 1.6 hr/9
Lieber: 3.94 FIP ERA; 1.43 G/F; 1.0 hr/9
Lidle: 3.70 FIP ERA; 1.48 G/F; 0.4 hr/9

I think the new rotation is going to be better in 2005. They’ve added two groundball pitchers to the staff in Lidle & Lieber who are cheaper than the guys they are replacing. Better, more economical … can’t beat that …

Naturally, the Phillies decision to sign Lieber means that David Wells, Carl Pavano and the rest of the top-flight starters aren’t possibilities anymore for the team. I’m slightly disappointed that the Phils won’t be signing a “stud” pitcher to be the team’s ace, but I’m also thrilled they didn’t do something stupid like throw $12 million at Eric Milton. The decision not to offer Milton arbitration was crafty and took real guts. Regular sports columnists called Milton the Phillies best pitcher in 2005, a statement that is outrageous to make to the bloggering community, but generally accepted by most fans as conventional wisdom. I would have figured that the pressure to bring Milton back would have been overwhelming for the team. That they let Milton and his fourteen wins walk to the Bronx (probably) is heartening to see. Wade & Co. haven’t made decisions we in the blogging world have always liked, but these few deals (Lidle, Lieber, Cormier, etc.) have been savvy work. It almost makes you have optimism for next year.


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Wednesday, December 08, 2004

December 7, 2004: a date which will live in infamy ... 

Yesterday was truly a black day for Philadelphia sports, an infamy perpetrated upon the fandom that will have reverberations for decades to come. I’ve lived through the Eagles losing the final game at the Vet, the Phillies losing the ’93 World Series, the Charles Barkley trade, and the fog bowl in Chicago, and I can say, without hyperbole, that this is a 1,000 times worse …

… I refer of course to the Phillies decision to give Doug Glanville salary arbitration. More on that later…

The Phillies made decisions on whom to offer salary arbitration to yesterday and the results were mixed:

Offered arbitration: Doug Glanville & Placido Polanco
Not offered arbitration: Eric Milton & Kevin Millwood
Re-signed: Rheal Cormier

Offering arbitration to Polanco means that the Phillies are somewhat serious about keeping him around, and it also shows that the team isn’t entirely out of its mind (see, infra, my discussion of Glanville). I want Polanco to stay around: he’s capable of playing 2B, SS and 3B, so he’s got some range. He isn’t just some light-hitting utility infielder either: .260 GPA / .345 OBP, decent power (.143 ISO / .441 SLG). Polanco has some clutch ability too: .270 BA w/ RISP / .363 OBP leading off an inning. He’s a good glove too: 5.6 Fielding Win Shares per 1,000 innings. Jimmy Rollins had 3.6 Fielding Win Shares per 1,000 innings.*

* Many thanks for Tom at Balls, Sticks & Stuff for putting fielding stats in perspective with his Fielding Win Shares per 1,000 innings stat. I promise only to borrow it for this piece.

I want to see Polanco re-signed and I want to see him manning second base for the Phillies in 2005. I think this decision to offer him arbitration is good news that the organizations realizes what a critical cog he really is.

Good move.

Not offering arbitration to Millwood … well, I understand why not: there is a lot of mileage on that arm and he didn’t particularly pitch well for the Phillies since the ’03 All-Star break. But I’m not convinced that his rough time in 2004 was his fault: true, Millwood had an ERA of 4.85 in 2004, but his FIP ERA is 3.83. The problem Millwood had in 2004 was that the Phillies didn’t field well behind him: his .673 DER was terrible (in contrast, Milton had a .737 DER) and well below the team average of .700 … Millwood generally pitched well: 8.0 K/9, just 0.9 home runs per 9 innings. Millwood also kept the ball down: 1.12 groundball-to-flyball ratio. Because his salary was $11 million in 2004, I understand if the Phillies don’t bring him back, but I think Millwood could pitch well for another team.

Probably a good move.

Re-signing Cormier … I hadn’t realized how good Cormier was until I looked at his stats. He threw 81 innings for the Phils in 2004 and pitched well: 3.56 ERA (higher FIP: 4.21), a sterling 1.76 g/f ratio, just 0.8 home runs/9. Cormier benefited from a good defense (.744 DER), but some of that was his work. Just 16% of Cormier’s pitches put into play were line-drives: most looked to be boring 6-3, 5-3, and 4-3 groundouts. Just what the Phillies needed.

Good move.

Not offering arbitration to Milton means that he can’t re-sign with the Phillies until May 1, and that essentially means he’s gone, gone, gone. Most likely we’ll see Milton in the Bronx in 2005, trying to help buy Steinbrenner another pennant. As far as I am concerned, there is no downside here … Milton was an awful pitcher in 2004. 4.75 ERA. 5.39 FIP ERA (team: 4.55). Milton can’t blame poor defense for his poor pitching either, because the Phillies had a sterling .737 DER behind him in 2004. His 0.57 G/F ratio was worse than any other pitcher on the Phillies staff. His 1.9 home runs per 9 innings was the worst amongst the starters after Paul Abbott.

The best move made so far.

Offering arbitration to Glanville … I applauded the Phillies decisions to this point. Let’s review Glanville’s 2004 stats, shall we?

.210 BA / .244 OBP / .172 GPA / .265 SLG / .056 ISO / .243 BA w/ RISP … -0.4 Batting Win Shares (yes, a negative win share) and 1.8 Fielding Win Shares (5.12 per 1,000 innings). I don’t think his glove justifies keeping him around. He’s a terrible bat off the bench, very impatient at the plate (3.68 pitcher per plate appearance: well below the 3.84 team average). If the Phillies are forced to start him in centerfield because of injuries, he’s a guaranteed 0-for-4 with two or three strikeouts. If the Phillies want a decent fifth outfielder, keep Byrd. Glanville isn’t the answer.

So will we survive this infamy? We can but hope. But on the balance I’d say that I liked four of the Phillies five personnel decisions that were made Tuesday. So far management has been savvy in their decision-making. Let’s hope that continues.

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Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Enter Mr. Wells... 

The Phillies signed Todd Pratt to a one-year deal yesterday, keeping one of the better backup catchers in the MLB on the roster for 2005. I know Pratt's stats don't seem impressive: .244 GPA, .109 ISO, .367 SLG, but he's a dependable catcher (he played in a quarter of the Phillies games last year) and a tough out (.351 OBP, 4.08 pitches per plate appearance, compared with the league average of 3.75).

It's interesting how little the Phillies roster continues to change: I was comparing Win Shares from the 2003 and 2004 seasons and I was struck how nearly all of the players who were on the '03 squad played on the team in '04. I think Tyler Houston and Nick Punto were the sole players who left. With Pratt coming back again, the Phillies look set to return the same basic team that took the field in 2004, though hopefully with some improvements. The team stability is impressive, although you have to worry that the Phillies are poised to become the NL version of the Mariners, a team that seemed to get old overnight because management tinkered little with the team's roster.

Aside from adding Loften to centerfield, the big addition the Phillies are poised to make in the off-season is to sign free agent pitcher David Wells. The Phillies are apparently in the process of signing Wells to a contact to round out the starting rotation in the post-Milton / post-Mill wood era. I have always been struck, watching Wells, that in terms of his personality he might be best suited to play on the ’93 Phillies, that loveable collection of goofs and castoffs who went to the World Series. In the new post-Bowa era I think Wells personality will mesh well with the team. These guys are veterans of countless campaigns, like Wells. Wells will fit in well.

What about his pitching? Well, I think Wells would probably do well with the Phillies: he threw 197 2/3 innings in 2004 at the age of 41, while making 31 starts for the Padres. He averaged six and a third innings per start, not bad at all. (Eric Milton averaged a bit under six innings a start.) Wells 3.73 ERA and 1.14 WHIP were better than his career averages of 4.03 and 1.24 … of course the Petco factor has to be discussed … as we all know the hysteria and panic over the home-run-friendliness of Citizens was perhaps only matched by the hand-wringing over the spaciousness of Petco Park in San Diego, the other ballpark that opened up in 2004. I suspect that time will reveal that Petco isn’t quite as spacious as some would believe, but the data suggests that Petco might be the most home-run hostile ballpark in the MLB: according to ESPN’s Park Factors Page, Petco was the most difficult park to hit a home run in last year. Petco’s 0.691 was 30th of 30 parks. It wasn’t any easier to get a hit there either: Petco’s hit factor was just 0.895, better than just Safeco and Great American Ballpark. If there was ever a pitcher’s park, Petco is it. So how would Wells do moving from Petco to Citizen’s? Pretty well, I suspect. What I like about Wells is that his control of the strike-zone appears to still be good: in 2003 and 2004 he threw just 20 walks and 101 strikeouts, a five-to-one ratio. His 0.9 walks-per-9-innings was the stingiest of the Padres pitchers. This is important stuff because strikeouts and walks are things that a pitcher can control independent of park factors. If Wells is still mowing them down at 41, who is to say he can't still do it at 42?Also, Wells is more of a groundball kind of pitcher: his 1.49 G/F ratio would be better than Myers, Milton, Millwood, Padilla, Wolf, Abbott and even Lidle. This is the sort of pitcher that the Phillies need to bring to Citizen’s if they want to have a successful team. Naturally Wells age is a handicap. He’d be 42 next May and the Phillies would be fools to give him more than a one year deal or a two-year deal loaded with incentives.

You also have to wonder about the defense factor. Wells benefited from very good defense in 2004: his DER was a sterling .726, almost as good as Milton’s .737 and better than the Padres team average of .695. The Padres were third in the NL in ZR (.858), although their infield was just seventh (.822) … An “average” defense wouldn’t have hurt Wells too much though: the variance between his actual ERA (3.73) and FIP ERA (3.91) is pretty small: -0.18.

Provided that the Phillies infield is strong in 2005, I think that Wells would pitch well for the Phillies. I hope they sign him.

(76) comments

Monday, December 06, 2004

Loften for F-Rod 

I had heard of the Loften-Rodriguez deal on Friday morning, but I decided not to comment on it until it was finalized and I had a chance to mull it over. My thoughts:

Brian Cashman may have assembled a flawed team for the 2004 season (as heavy as it was on hitting and weak on pitching), but the man is no dummy. This is a good deal for the Yankees. They got a good relief pitcher for a 37-year old outfielder who played just 83 games for them in 2004. Bravo.

But I'm not inclinded to bash the Phillies management. This isn’t a bad deal on their end either: with Madson, Cormier, Wagner, and Worrell the Phillies have a pretty darn good bullpen and I’m sure they can find a setup man out there to take Rodriguez’s place. They needed help in center and I’m sure they knew they didn’t have a shot of getting Finley or Beltran.

How did Rodriguez pitch?

w/ Phillies: 3.00 ERA / 2.60 FIP ERA / .660 DER / 1.24 G/F ratio / 2.8-to-1 K/BB ratio / 1.33 WHIP
w/ Giants: 3.43 ERA / 3.43 FIP ERA / .739 DER / 0.72 G/F ratio / 1.6-to-1 K/BB ratio / 1.39 WHIP

Not bad. He pitched better with the Phillies than the Giants, but he logged just 21 innings. He was hardly the indispensable man in the Phillies bullpen. I’m sure that he’ll pitch well in the Bronx though and upgrade the porous Yankee bullpen.

What of Loften? Well, he’s 37 and played only half of the year in 2004. I have no idea what his health situation is. He’s still a decent bat though: .346 OBP in 2004. Significantly to me, Loften had more walks (31) than strikeouts (27) last year. He’s still got some speed too: he had 7 triples in just 276 AB’s. What of Loften’s defense?

It is hard to say because he played only 83 games in 2004: his ZR was .895, but he didn’t log enough innings to be “qualified” on ESPN’s ZR page. If he had, he would have been third amongst AL centerfielders, ahead of even the A’s Mark Kotsay. He played a full year in 2003 for the Pirates and Cubs, where he was fifth among 12 NL centerfielders with an .873 ZR (just .001 behind Byrd). He was also fifth in fielding percentage at .991. Both marks, I would note, are better than what Finley did with the Diamondbacks that year. Oh, and Loften had 2.3 Fielding Win Shares in 2004.

This isn’t a bad deal for either team. The Yankees can now sign Carlos Beltran to a multi-year deal worth the GNP of a Latin American country, and the Phillies can have a solid platoon of Loften / Michaels and (maybe) Byrd in centerfield. And if Loften flops, the Phillies have lost little more than a relief pitcher. This is a good deal.

Probable lineup:
SS Rollins
CF Loften / Michaels
RF Abreu
1B Thome
LF Burrell
2B Utley
3B Bell
C Lieberthal

Not bad, but I'd prefer:

SS Rollins
2B Polanco
LF Burrell
1B Thome
RF Abreu
3B Utley
CF Loften
C Lieberthal

Odds ‘n Ends … I kinda football’d out thanks to this weekend. I watched way too much football. I had my best man over on Sunday to watch the Eagles game. First, we watched the Falcons get humiliated by the Bucs, then we watched the Eagles make the Packers look like a Pop Warner football team. It was humiliating stuff for a Packers fan. McNabb’s stats looked like something you’d see at the end of the game of Madden football. I was stunned that Andy Reid left the Eagles starters in as long as he did, and I was stunned to see the Eagles were still running their blitz schemes in garbage time: the play that got me was a double blind-sided blitz the Eagles ran on the Packers backup with the score 47-3. What was the deal? Were the Eagles just trying to make a statement by piling on like that? I think they laid any questions to rest as to who is the best team in the NFC and maybe the NFL … wondering why you are reading this on A Citizen’s Blog instead of the Bird Blog? The Bird Blog is finished. I made the decision about a week ago when I realized that I simply couldn’t continue to blog the Eagles and Phillies and try to start my legal career. I’m honestly worried that I won’t have time for A Citizen’s Blog, so how do I think I can adequately blog two teams? Ain’t happening … So from time-to-time I’ll be making comments about the Eagles here … I also watched my alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh, earn a trip to the Fiesta Bowl with a 43-14 whooping of South Florida. There was a lot of bitching that Pitt doesn’t deserve to play in a BCS bowl, but who says? Pitt went 8-3 and lost by seven points in two games. People concentrate on the fact that they nearly lost to I-AA Furman (and did lose to former I-AA Connecticut), but they did beat West Virginia, Boston College and Notre Dame. Tyler Palko is looking like a future #1 draft pick. I think they’ll give Utah a run for their money, and they could even win it. Wouldn’t that lay the nay-sayers to rest? … I wanted to watch Saturday’s SNL because it was the infamous Ashley Simpson episode, but I needed sleep. I did catch the opening, pre-election Hardball sketch, which is my favorite SNL sketch these days: Darrell Hammond does a perfect exaggeration of Chris Matthews (hilariously, I actually watched Matthews interview Hammond on Hardball back in February). I loved their parody of Sen. Zell Miller as a screaming lunatic (“Are you sassing me, boy? PISTOLS AT DAWN, CHRIS!”) because it wasn’t too far from the truth … I see that Aaron Gleeman has a bit of a thing for Eliza Cuthbert. I’m a big fan of 24 and I was thrilled to hear she wasn’t going to be a regular in season four. I’ve sat through too many episodes featuring her character, Kim, acting like a complete bonehead. She’s an attractive girl, but … I watched a little celebrity poker over the weekend featuring Friends Matthew Perry obliterating Alias' Michael Vartan. Who would have thought that Chandler was a card shark? He was as cool as a cucumber and dispatched Vartan with little difficulty at all.

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