Saturday, February 05, 2005
I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how much I’ve been able to post since I’m also a lawyer. I post a lot of content. If I were an associate working at a law firm I couldn't do A Citizen's Blog. One of the reasons why I’ve been able to keep A Citizen’s Blog swimming with content is that I’ve been looking for a job since September (and before that I wrote while I studied for the bar exam). I usually take an hour out of my morning to post content before starting on the dreary task of begging people to interview me.
Sadly, I can’t gaurantee every day posts any more: I recently accepted a job as a prosecutor in Pittsburgh and my wife & I are house-hunting, so I’m unsure how this will affect my blogging. I'm committed to making 2005 an even better year than 2004, but I might be skipping a post or two each week.
-To my stunned amazement, I saw that The Bird Blog has been getting twenty and thirty hits a day for the last few days. I shut it down in December when I could no longer find the time to do two blogs, and I’m somewhat regretting that I didn’t keep going until the end of the season. (I think I stopped after week eleven.)
Thank you. I appreciate the interest in The Bird Blog. I’ll try to keep an eye on the Eagles always.
-I also want to say: thank-you Steelers fans. I expected most Stillers fans to be pulling for the Patriots this weekend (wanting to get beaten by the best and all), but I’ve found that public opinion in the Three Rivers area is running heavily towards the Eagles. My wife confirmed this for me the day after the conference title games, telling me that most of the people in the local online forum she frequents were pulling for the Eagles. There is a real sense of wanting to see a Pennsylvania team win the championship around here that I appreciate. Thanks, fellas. If it can’t be us, we’ll always pull for you.
-Here is a nice article from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about Silky’s, a bar in Pittsburgh frequented by Philadelphia-native college students. The author really captured a lot about the sense of community Iggles fans have here in Steelers country.
-Here is a nice article from my alma mater’s newspaper, The Pitt News, about the Eagles defense. The author, Jimmy Johnson, is a Philly native and a real breath of fresh air in the Pitt sports pages: when I went to Pitt I got used to getting vitrolic, lame-brained Philly hatred from the Pitt News sports columnists. Nice to see some balance. Jimmy’s got a terrific writing style. We’ll see his work in Sports Illustrated some day, mark my words.
-I’ve been getting some heat on my prediction for a 27-24 Patriots win tomorrow, but I stand firm. I try to be as brutally honest as I can and I stand by my argument that losing TO, Chad Lewis and Buckhalter are all big blows that will hurt the Eagles offense tomorrow. If the Eagles offense can take the fight to the Patriots and dominate their front seven we’ll win. But I think we’ve got one too few horses to make that happen.
It will still be a good game though, and I couldn’t be happier to be proven wrong.
-Sorry I haven’t responded to some of the comments made about Pat Burrell. I’ll try to get around to it tomorrow. Some good points were made that I need to repond to…
Thursday, February 03, 2005
Eagles Defense v. Patriots Offense
Hard not to be impressed by what we all saw against the Falcons, isn't it? The Eagles defensive unit was aggressive and tough. They'll have to be, facing off with the Patriots offense.
I'm always impressed by Tom Brady. The man has a great arm, makes great decisions and is surrounded by terrific talent. The Patriots may not have great individual performers, but they are smart and solid and they get the job done. The addition of Corey Dillon has given Brady a lot of weapons to work with. His wideouts are never dominating individual players, but they collectively form an impressive whole: they always get open, they always make the catch and they always do little things like block and run precise routes well. And the Patriots line is pretty good too: tough and aggressive. Few flaws here. The best thing the Eagles can do is try and replicate what the Steelers did on Halloween: stuff the run (the Steelers had an easier time doing that: Corey Dillon missed that game), and try to hit Brady as much as possible.
Mission: Impossible? I think the Eagles can stymie the Patriots offense and hold their own defensively. Since Jeremiah Trotter moved to middle linebacker the Eagles have played commanding run defense, so I don't think they will be out-muscled the way the Steelers were. Unlike the Steelers, the Eagles secondary is terrific in coverage and hard-hitting, so the Eagles won't give up the Big Play to Brady. I'd look for Brady to hit lots of short six, seven, eight yard routes and try to control the clock with Dillon. I think the Patriots will choose to manage risk against the Eagles blitz and play conservative against a unit with few weaknesses. This might be the hardest defense the Patriots have seen all year, so it will be interesting to see how they do.
Brian Dawkins will be critical to the Eagles chances: he'll be asked to drop into coverage, pressure Brady on blitzes and function as a fourth linebacker against Dillon. If you are looking for a potential MVP candidate for the game, look at Dawkins.
Eagles Offense v. Patriots Defense
This is going to be the critical matchup of the Super Bowl. Will T.O. play? What effect will he have? Will the Eagles depleted offense be able to move the ball against the strong Patriots unit?
-T.O.: Will T.O. play? Ugh. This is the $64,000 question, isn't it? I worry about the distraction this is having on the Eagles gameplan for Sunday.
I hear that he’s going to play. He says he’s going to play. I can’t see him either playing, or having much of an effect on the game. I know he wants in there, but I think he’s foolish to risk injuring his leg for the sake of getting to play in the big game. I see T.O. as the Eagles #4 wideout, and he’ll probably make a catch or two, but that’s about all.
-I see few holes in the Patriots D aside from some weakness in the defensive backfield. I was impressed watching the Steelers game: time and again the Steelers, one of the NFL's top rushing teams, would pound the line with Duce or Bettis and the Patriots would shoot through the gaps and knock the play for no gain. The Patriots ability to penetrate the line and disrupt offensive timing is what the Eagles need to avoid. McNabb is a great QB, but he's going to need the time to establish a rhythm and get the rest of the team past the initial "we're playing in the Super Bowl" jitters. Controlling the line of scrimmage, stopping the pass rush and attacking the Patriots pass defense is going to be critical. Watch the Eagles offensive line and see if they can hold off the Patriots front seven. That is critical.
The Eagles chief flaw on offense is that they simply cannot establish a power running game, something we've all fretted about, but the Eagles were able to escape. I love Brian Westbrook, but he can carry the ball only 15-20 times a game before running out of gas. And in any case, he's best on the perimeter or in the open field. Dorsey Levens is a terrific B-back, but he's just too slow to be a full-timer. This could be the game where the Eagles finally miss Correll Buckhalter (remember him?).
I also hate seeing Chad Lewis out of the Eagles lineup. One thing I thought might give the Eagles an edge was LJ Smith and Lewis stretching the defense and forcing the Patriots linebackers to play in coverage, rather than blitzing. With Lewis out, this will increase pressure on LJ to be a weapon. If the Eagles can spread the ball around and spread the Patriots defense, I think they'll have success. If the Eagles can make the Patriots linebacking corps play back, they'll win. If they let the Patriots get pressure on McNabb and force him to rely on the Eagles wideouts, the Patriots will have success.
I have a bad feeling about this matchup: the Eagles offense isn't a one-man team, but not having Lewis, T.O. and Buckhalter in the big game is problematic for me: losing each player costs the Eagles an opportunity to do different things. Losing Lewis frees up the Patriots linebackers. Losing T.O. takes the pressure off of a weaker secondary. Losing Buckhalter means the Eagles don't have a true tailback to establish a power running game.
The game will be one or lost on the Eagles ability to take the fight to the Pats front seven.
Mark my words.
Hey, remember the Patriots - Eagles game back in week two of the 2003 season? The Eagles lost 31-10 in what was (arguably) the worst game of the Andy Reid era. The thing that I remembered the most about that game was how desperate both teams were to win, wanting to avoid an 0-2 start to their seasons. I wonder if the ghosts of that game will come back to haunt the birds. (McNabb went 18 for 46, 186 yards and threw two picks in that game.)
I've actually been listening to a little AM sports talk for the last two weeks and what I've heard has been irritating me: the Eagles don't stand a chance. The oddsmakers agree and have the Eagles as six-point underdogs. Grr... I don't buy the idea that the Patriots are that much better than the Eagles. I think both teams are roughly equal in terms of talent and the usual strategic advantage the Pats enjoy with Belichick & Co. planning out the game simply doesn't exist here. Andy Reid and Jim Johnson are just as smart and just as creative as Belichick when it comes to devising strategy, maybe more so. No disrespect to Tony Dungy and Bill Cowher, but neither is a particularly smart coach or a particularly innovative thinker. Now Belichick has met his match. This will be the best planned defense Brady sees all year. What happens if their field general falters in the clutch?
Bottom-line, don't expect one side to out-coach the other. These two teams are led by some of the game's most innovative thinkers. This will be a real chess-match.
As for history, there is a lot of talk about the Patriots "dynasty", but it is interesting how little credit the Eagles are gettting for their run: 59-21 (.738) in the regular season (66-25, .725, inc. the playoffs), five consecutive playoff berths, four consecutive division titles and four consecutive berths in the conference title game between 2000-2004. With a bit better luck, the Eagles might be playing for their second or third Super Bowl title in four or five years (I think the '02 team would have trounced the Oakland Raiders). This era might be one of the two or three finest in the team's history. What about the Eagles dynasty? If the Eagles win I think you'll hear a lot of talk along those lines: the whole team will be back in 2005 essentially intact. Even if the Birds lose in Super Bowl XXXIX, there is no reason to expect they won't be back next year. Or the year after that.
I'd like to predict an Eagles victory. I really would, but I just don't see it happening. Oh, I think it will be a close game and the Pats might need Adam Vinateri to win it just like in '02 and '04, but I think the Patriots will win. With a 100% healthy T.O., well ... I'd probably go with my heart and pick the Birds. But my gut tells me that the Patriots are just a little better. The veteran edge is what tips the balance.
Prediction: Patriots 27, Eagles 24
Wednesday, February 02, 2005
I begin my 2005 player profiles by stating that Pat Burrell is the Phillies biggest X factor for 2005. If he approaches the level of play he exhibited in 2002, then the Phillies have a fearsome foursome in the 3-6 slots with Abreu, Thome, Burrell and Utley. If he returns to 2003-levels, then the Phillies will likely have problems. More on Burrell than on Jon Lieber, or on Jim Thome, or on Chase Utley do the hopes of the Phillies 2005 season ride. Unsurprisingly, the Phillies recently announced that they were going to start working with Burrell to try to improve his hitting.
Let’s start with a few of Burrell’s career stats…
(Philadelphia magazine complained in its review of A Citizen’s Blog that I didn’t always explain what my stats mean for the lay reader. Here is a glossary:
GPA (Gross Productive Average): (1.8 * .OBP + .SLG) / 4 = .GPA. Invented by The Hardball Times Aaron Gleeman, it measures a players production by weighing his ability to get on base and hit with power.
ISO (Isolated Power): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
RC (Runs Created): Measures how many runs a player “creates” for his team. The formula used by Bill James is fairly complex: look at p. 397-398 of the Bill James Handbook.
OBP (On-Base Percentage): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
ZR (Zone Rating): Is a stat which measures a player’s defensive ability by measuring plays they should have made. Admittedly, this is a stat left open to subjective opinions.)
Back to the numbers …
2004: 15 (1 Win Share Above Average)
Career: 78 (15.6 Avg)
I don’t think any number more dramatically illustrates Burrell’s collapse than the drop from 25 Win Shares to 9 from 2002-2003. Last year’s 15 Win Shares are on-par with his career average.
Here are Burrell’s “regular” baseball stats:
BA / SLG / HR / RBI / 2B
2000: .260 / .463 / 18 / 79 / 27
2001: .258 / .469 / 27 / 89 / 29
2002: .282 / .544 / 37 / 116 / 39
2003: .209 / .404 / 21 / 64 / 31
2004: .257 / .455 / 24 / 84 / 17
Career: .253 / .470 / 127 / 432 / 143
They fit a fairly consistent theme: improvement 2000-2002, decline in 2003, and a return to pre-2002 levels in 2004.
Here are some of Burrell’s sabremetric stats:
GPA / ISO
2000: .277 / .203
2001: .273 / .211
2002: .305 / .262
2003: .240 / .195
2004: .278 / .199
Career: .275 / .217
Again, improvement 2000-2002, decline in 2003, and a return to pre-2002 levels in ‘04 with GPA, but look at Burrell’s ISO numbers: just a +.004 increase over 2003. Burrell’s 2004 ISO stats are the second worst of his career, not even as good as his rookie year in 2000. Why? I thought it might be because of a decline in home run production, but look at Burrell’s home runs per at bat:
Lower than in 2002, but much better than in 2003. The decline was due to Burrell’s reduction in doubles:
Doubles per at bat:
Burrell also had no triples in 448 at-bats in 2004 and four in his 522 at-bats in 2003. Why? A decline in speed? At first I suspected it was due to the move to Citizens, but Citizen’s doubles rating is virtually the same as the Vet (90 to 92). And according to Bill James' park factors, it is actually easier to hit a triple at Citizens than at the Vet (117 to 101). I’m focusing in on speed factors here. I suspect that Burrell either lost his aggressiveness on the base-paths and is wary of stretching singles into doubles, or his injuries have cost him a step or two on the field. Or both.
Here are his runs created and his on-base percentage.
OBP / RC
2000: .359 / 69
2001: .346 / 86
2002: .376 / 104
2003: .309 / 57
2004: .365 / 72
Career: .351 / 388
Here is something I find interesting: Burrell’s on-base-percentage for 2004 was pretty darn good, just .011 below his career high and a nearly sixty point jump over his 2003 campaign. The jump in his on-base percentage was arguably the biggest story of Burrell’s 2004 campaign. Look at Burrell’s walks-per-plate appearance, compared with the rest of the team:
That’s terrific stuff. Critics is Philly complained that Thome and Burrell struck out too much (see my recent post on strikeouts), but in reality both players were skilled at milking their plate appearances. Burrell, by the way, was sixth in the NL in pitches per plate appearance (4.21 … Abreu led the NL at 4.32). He’s a patient hitter at the plate and I think that the story of his 2004 campaign was his willingess to sacrifice some power at the plate for patience and control. I think this is all part of Burrell's return to his pre-2003 form. I think he'll regain his speed on the base-paths once the 2005 season gets underway because he'll have his confidence back and hopefully be free of nagging injuries.
Defensively … Burrell isn’t a defensive wiz. His fielding isn’t, in my judgment, a critical part of the Phillies chances for 2005 the way Utley, Polanco and Rollins' glove-work is. But Burrell is a solid glove in the outfield. Here are some of his stats:
Fielding % / Range Factor / Innings Played
2001: .972 / 1.76 / 1,250
2002: .979 / 1.83 / 1,383
2003: .976 / 1.83 / 1,186
2004: .983 / 1.92 / 1,060
* Because Burrell played half of the 2000 season at first rather than left field, I’m excluding his 2000 stats.
Range Factor: (Putouts + Assists) * 9 / (Innings played). The average leftfielder had a 1.94 range factor in 2004.
Pretty average stuff.
ZR / Rank Among NL Left fielders
2001: .867 / 4th of 8
2002: .891 / 5th of 11
2003: .875 / 6th of 10
2004: .872 / 3rd of 7
Middle of the road. So we’ll say the Burrell is a solid glove, not a defensive wiz, but not a soft spot in the Phillies defensive alignment either.
What can we expect from Burrell … I’ve been a Burrell booster for a while. (And not just because my Christmas gift from my wife was a Burrell jersey.) Simply put, I think he’s an above-average bat and a real leader on the Phillies. I think Burrell can anchor the Phillies offense in the years to come and that dealing him at this juncture of his career, as some friends of mine have advocated, would be a major mistake. I think 2005 could be another terrific year for him, something more like his 2002 campaign than ’03 or ’04. Here are Bill James ’05 projections for Burrell:
I actually think those numbers are low: his OBP will be in the .360 range and his slugging percentage will climb into the .490’s. He may never have a season like ’02 again, but Burrell will be a consistent 30 home run / 35 2B / 100 RBI / 105-110 RC / .360 OBP guy for the Phillies for a long time. He’s just 28, six years younger than Thome and four younger than Abreu, so the Phillies can expect the best is yet to come from him. Imagine this middle lineup for the Phillies in 2006:
3. 3B / 1B Ryan Howard, age 26
4. LF Pat Burrell, age 29
5. 2B Chase Utley, age 27
They could be young and fearsome. I think Pat Burrell is the Phillies future and their key to 2005. Let’s keep him.
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
No regular post today (been kinda busy). Check back tomorrow for a lengthy defense of Pat Burrell. I also plan on previewing the Eagles-Pats Super Bowl Thursday.
Monday, January 31, 2005
Any of you how read Moneyball know the story of DIPS well: paralegal Voros McCracken noticed that Greg Maddux had been giving up a lot of hits during the ’99 season while teammate Kevin Millwood had been doing well. Looking at the numbers for the subsequent season, Millwood had gotten slammed and Maddux had done well. It made McCracken wonder what the true measure of a pitcher was. Were things like ERAs inaccurate because they depended on the quality of the fielders behind him? McCracken sat down and created a statistic that evaluated players based on how well they controlled things like how many walks they gave up, how many strikeouts, and how many home runs allowed – all things a pitcher can control – rather than things like runs and hits allowed. Ta-da … DIPS.
The problem with DIPS is that it is way too complicated to replicate without a computer program crunching the numbers. Whenever I crunch baseball numbers I typically used Hardball Times Fielding Independent Pitching stat because the formula is so easy to understand and to calculate:
((13*HR+3*BB-2*K) / IP ) + League Factor [I use 3.20]
I can do it in thirty seconds on my TI-85 graphing calculator (I guess I got something out of college algebra after all). However, I do think DIPS is the more accurate stat, so whenever I get a chance to discuss the Phillies DIPS stats, I jump at the chance. Thankfully, Futility Infielder recently published its complete 2004 DIPS stats for all of the public to see. Click here for the numbers.
Here is how the Phillies did, compared to their actual ERAs:
Rotation: ERA / DIPS (variance)
Milton: 4.75 / 5.18 (+0.43)
Millwood: 4.85 / 3.75 (-1.10)
Padilla: 4.53 / 4.46 (-0.07)
Myers: 5.52 / 5.02 (-0.50)
Wolf: 4.28 / 4.50 (+0.22)
Split Teams*: ERA / DIPS (variance)
Lidle: 4.90 / 4.47 (-0.43)
Abbott: 6.47 / 6.95 / (+0.48)
* Lidle and Abbott pitched part of the year with other teams, so their stats include innings they pitched with the Reds (Lidle) and the Devil Rays (Abbott).
Bullpen: ERA / DIPS (variance)
Madson: 2.34 / 3.55 (+1.21)
Wagner: 2.42 / 2.45 (+0.03)
Worrell: 3.68 / 3.82 (+0.15)
Telemaco: 4.31 / 5.67 (+1.36)
Cormier: 3.56 / 4.18 (+0.63)
I found a few things interesting:
-I maintained that Kevin Millwood had gotten a raw deal last year and I think I’m justified in believing so. His DIPS ERA is over a run lower than his actual ERA because he was the one Phillies starting pitcher who didn’t give up many home runs. The 1.10 variance between Millwood’s ERA and his DIPS ERA is actually the sixth largest in the MLB. The simple problem he had in 2004 was that Phillies fielders couldn’t get to the balls put into play. Millwood had the fifth highest BA for balls put into play (BA/BIP) in 2004: .327 … Millwood’s DIPS ERA is actually one of the thirty best in the MLB in 2004. I think the Indians got a great deal when they signed him.
-The Phillies decision to let Milton go, despite a 14-6 record and 161 strikeouts, was the correct one. The man gave up 43 home runs in 2004. That’s one every twenty batters he faced. Yikes. The only reason why his ERA didn’t climb north of 5.00 was because the Phillies gave him great defense: .263 BA/BIP. While the Phillies decision to let him go was their smartest of the off-season, the Reds decision to bring him into a park as home run friendly as Great American makes me question the Reds sanity.
When the Reds traded for Ken Griffey Jr in 2000 I really thought they were building a dynasty on the Ohio. What in the heck happened? Since they won 96 games in ’99 they’ve been snake-bit and without a clue. Bringing Milton into town is going to be a catastrophic decision on their part. This guy could give up 50+ home runs in 2005!
-Notice that the Phillies bullpen all out-performed their DIPS ERAs. I don’t think this will be a big deal in 2005, but one of the things that held the team together last year was that the bullpen seemed able to enter the game and shut the opposition down at critical moments. Was that a mirage?
I’m particularly interested to see what Ryan Madson does in 2005. He had a heck of a season (aside from his start in Chicago), but 1.21 is a huge difference between actual ERA and DIPS.
-For those who doubt the wisdom of the Phillies management, the signing of Yankees hurler Jon Lieber might make you all believers in 2005. Lieber posted one of the top thirty DIPS ERAs in the majors in 2004, with 3.77 (done in the American League, mind you). There was a 0.56 variance between Lieber’s actual ERA, one of the largest in the MLB. Lieber pitched very well for the Yankees and it looks like his season basically flew under the radar of the MLB establishment. This was a smart move by the Phillies.