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Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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United States, Pennsylvania, Wexford, Christopher Wren, English, Michael, Male, 26-30, baseball , politics.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Polanco Upset? 

Nice article from the Courier Post Online edition about how unhappy Polanco is in his new role as a super-utility man. A few thoughts:

1. Why is Polanco surprised that he's in this position? The team has been grooming Chase Utley for some time now.

2. If he's so unhappy why didn't he explore the free agency market in the offseason?

3. I expect him to be dealt, provided David Bell is healthy, sometime in May or June. Polanco's recent statements seem to be hinting (not so subtly) at his desire to play middle infield on a contender. Polanco's comment that he wouldn't mind being in this position on a contender should rankle management. This team is a contender. If he doesn't realize that, then he should be gone.

NCAA update: I considered picking Bucknell to beat Kansas. I really did. They beat my alma mater, Pitt, in the regular season and Kansas always struggles in the opening rounds. My big upset was Ohio over Florida, which didn't work out. I also picked Syracuse for the Final Four, so Vermont's win last night was a bracket-buster. Shoot!

I'll be back Monday.

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Friday, March 18, 2005

Amazin' Mess, Part 2 

My friend Jason Weitzel just published his rebuttal to my claim that the Mets won’t be better than fourth place in the NL East in 2005. I’ll stipulate to a few facts:

-The Mets will be better offensively in 2005.
(The question is how much better because they were pretty lousy in 2004.)
-Beltran is a tremendous talent.
-The Mets have a good defensive alignment.

I’ll publish my own rebuttal, but check out what Jason has to say first. For now I'll give you a clue about my response: the answer lies in the Mets pitching.

Enjoy the weekend everyone!

(1) comments

2005 AL West Preview 

This will be the second-most watched division, after the AL East, this season thanks to all of the moves this offseason. Baseball’s smallest division might also be its best: all of these teams could finish .500 or better. But the team I like best is the …

2005 proj. Standings:
Oakland A’s
Anaheim Angels
Seattle Mariners
Texas Rangers

… the A’s. I like the A’s and I’m not saying that because I think Billy Beane is one of the smartest people in baseball. This team is poised to have tremendous success in 2005: they broke up the Big Three and pulled in tremendous prospects. They dealt two under-achieving pitchers to the Pirates for OBP machine / catcher extraordinaire Jason Kendall. The A’s are leading the charge in using defense to build a competitive team on the cheap. The A’s were bold, aggressive, creative. This is why they’ve won 90+ games the last five years. This team will win lots of games in 2005, somewhere between 90-95, I suspect … I don’t dislike the Angels, but they were surprisingly passive this offseason. For a team that flamed out in the post-season and then watched two rivals restock, I’d be more worried and aggressive than they seemed. The ’05 team looks like the ’04 one, just a little less talented. To me, this is a problem because Vald Guerrero carried them so much during the playoff race. Let’s say 87-90 wins … I’m torn as to what to say about the Mariners. I think they stole Adrian Beltre from the Dodgers, and bringing Richie Sexton will be a better deal than I initially thought it was (Bill James projects them to create 211 runs in 2005 … I’m surprised at what an OBP machine Sexton looks like: .354 OBP projected), but they didn’t work on their pitching staff. Thanks to Safeco, the Mariners should be a team built around pitching (they had the AL's tenth best Fielding Independent Pitching in 2004- terrible) and defense (second best AL DER after the Devil Rays). When they lost Ken Griffey Jr they improved by twelve games during the 2000 season. When they lost A-Rod the next season they improved another thirteen-fourteen games. What does that tell you? … As for the Rangers, they surprised me, being in first place as late as August 22nd, with pretty solid play. That said, I don’t think this team did anything to keep pace with their three rivals. This team has the weakest pitching of the four AL West teams. I don’t see them having much of a shot.

Monday: NL East preview! I know you'll all want to know how I think that will play out...

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Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Amazin' Mess... 

Earlier this morning Jason Weitzel at Berks Phillies Fans posted a valiant effort to argue that the Mets will be better than fourth place this year. Taking leave of his senses, Jason picked them to finish second. After I recovered from my shock (which took me a few minutes, plus I had to clean up the cup of coffee I dropped), I set to work proving Jason wrong. Here are my thoughts on the Amazin' Mess:

Aside from their rivals up the East River in the Bronx, no team was more active in the 2005 off-season than the Mets. Kris Benson. Pedro Martinez. Carlos Beltran. The Mets made the big deals in 2005 and many expect them to challenge the Braves this season. A few (and they shall be nameless) think they might be good.

I’m not one of them. Lots of people think that the Mets are a viable threat to the Phillies, Braves and Marlins, but I don’t. The Mets will be better than they were in 2004, but you have to be a lot better than 71 wins to challenge in the NL East. I see the Mets improving to slightly under .500 (look for 79-80 wins), but they will lag badly behind the Big Three.

Let’s start with a new observations:

-The 2004 Mets were a decent defensive team. They ranked slightly above-average in DER and Dave Pinto’s PMR ranked them tenth defensively.

-Offensively the Mets were pretty lousy. Fourteenth in OBP? Tenth in GPA? Tenth in ISO? Terrible. Carlos Beltran is a tremendous talent (.364 OBP, .599 SLG, .300 ISO with the Astros), but there really isn’t that much back there with him. Is he going to make that much of a difference in a lineup that devoid of power?

-Pitching-wise, the Mets have invested a lot of cash in their rotation. On paper they already looked formidable. After all this staff had an ERA of 4.09 in 2004, .21 better than the NL average. However, the Mets pitching benefited from the team’s strong defense: their Fielding Independent Pitching ERA was much worse, 4.34, or -0.04 below the NL average.

Was signing Pedro a good move? I doubt it. After a sterling run with the Red Sox, Pedro saw his ERA jump by +1.68 (!). He went from surrendering 7 home runs in 2003 to 26 in 2004. I think Pedro’s arm is starting to give out and he’ll run into a lot of trouble pitching against the Phillies and Marlins lineups.

As for Kris Benson, I’m not a big fan. The man has a lot of talent, but his ERA is always well over 4.00 … He does out-pitch his ERA, but he simply isn’t a dominant pitcher. Note that even playing with a good defense (Mets, as opposed to the Pirates) behind him he didn’t really improve much. He’s not a “money” pitcher.

I’d also beware of the decline in Tom Glavine’s skills: his FIP was 0.65 higher than his regular ERA in 2004. At age 39 there isn’t much gas left in the tank. This Big Three of Glavine, Pedro and Benson looks weak.

Bottom-line: these guys could get hit hard. Their pitching could be nothing short of awful in 2005. Adding Beltran is an improvement, but they have to add another bat or two to have a dangerous lineup. Defensively they’ll be good, but spending $90 million a year they should be better than they look on paper.

Good luck Mets fans. It’s gonna be a rough season.

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2005 AL Central Preview 

The Rust Belt division used to be the Indians private fiefdom until the Twins usurped their position a few years ago. I don’t see there being much of a contest this year either:

Proj. Standings
Minnesota Twins
Cleveland Indians
Chicago White Sox
Detroit Tigers
Kansas City Royals

Why not the Twins? My dad’s family is originally from Minnesota (Berquist is a Swedish name, in case you didn’t know), so I have a soft spot in my heart for the Twins. Hard not to like the Twins in the ’05 Al Central race. Johan Santana turned in a tremendous performance last year in winning the AL Cy Young. I expect him to be dominant for years to come, and I expect the Twins to continue their winning ways. This is a smart team: investing in defense (though I note they were below-average defensively in 2004), cutting high-priced veterans loose, dominant pitching staff … this is a template for teams like the Devil Rays, Royals and Pirates for success … I like the Indians as well. They have a lot of potential, but they just don’t have the horses. I honestly think their decision to sign Kevin Millwood was very saavy (you won’t be laughing at me when he wins 17+ games this year…), and they have a lot of talent. They might be ready to challenge the Twins in 2006 … I just don’t understand the White Sox. They need to upgrade their pitching staff in order to compete their the Twins and they don’t … The Tigers decision to shower Magglio Ordonez with money left baseball utterly baffled. I’d like to join in and ask what on earth they were thinking. This team should try and take advantage of the spaciousness of Comerica Field and sign pitchers. They were just eighth in Fielding Independent Pitching in the AL and thirteenth of fourteen teams in Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER). These are the things they need to improve on in a big way … Abandon all hope ye Royals fans. Your team might be the worst in baseball in 2005. No talent is left on the roster, you were last in DER in 2004, last in FIP, and last in Gross Productive Average. Grim.

Happy St. Patrick's Day! As a special treat I have an afternoon post on the Mets for this afternoon.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

2005 AL East Preview 

We’ll start our 2005 previews with the American League … Today: the AL East.

Proj. Standings:
Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees
Baltimore Orioles
Toronto Blue Jays
Tampa Bay Devil Rays

On paper the Yankees are the stronger team. A-Rod, Jeter, Matsui, Sheffield, Big Unit, Rivera, Mussina … these guys should be a jauggernaut, but I’m going with the Red Sox. It is hard to evaluate team chemistry, but the Red Sox have it. This is a team that plays much bigger than the sum of its parts. Unlike the Yankees, the Red Sox don’t rely on their 1-4 hitters to produce offense. They are deep 1-9 and on the bench. Their pitching is phenomenal, better than the Yankees (yes, even with Big Unit), I think. These guys won’t choke under the pressure, and I suspect the Yankees bandwagon has only served to spur them to want to win … As for the Yankees … don’t you just think that these guys are going to implode? Seriously. This team is too expensive, too talented not to win the World Series. If they don’t play .600 baseball all season long I think things will be rough in the Bronx. The mix of egos and the strain of blowing it against the Red Sox last year is too much. I’ll also chime in that the Yankees aren’t deep enough to produce runs with the consistency of the Red Sox. As we saw in the ALCS, when the Big Four go cold the Yankees are in trouble. This is a team with below-average defense, which will cost them. Remember: the Yankees out-performed their pythagorean win-loss record by 12 games in 2004. Their 101 wins were a mirage. The '04 team had holes and so does this one … Can one of the second-tier teams catch the Yankees and Red Sox? I think the Orioles could have the talent to close the gap and make a run on second place. I don’t think the acquisition of Sammy Sosa matters much, aside from putting fans in the seats, but the Orioles have some terrific players, including a potential MVP candidate in Miguel Tejada (2005 proj: .344 OBP / .499 SLG, 108 Runs Created). Watch and see if the Orioles can keep within a game or two of the Yankee / Red Sox jauggernauts in late summer. It could happen … I’m very intruiged to see what the Toronto Blue Jays will do in the next few years. The team is poised to expand their payroll and have cleaned house, with some good young talent on the roster. I don’t think they’ll be very good this year, but I expect them to make a splash in the winter deals for 2006 and they could have a hand in some deals this summer … Abandon all hope, ye Devil Rays fans. Despite a brief run in the summer, this franchise has been baseball’s leper colony: love the weather in Tampa but hate the team. They have some terrific talent on the roster, but things just won’t change for this team unless the Yankees and Red Sox implode and force themselves to rebuild.

Tomorrow: AL Central

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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

No Update 2day... 

No update today: I’m a little spent over how long it took me to put together Part I of my season preview. Here is the schedule of updates:

March 16: AL East Predictions
March 17: AL Central Predictions
March 18: AL West Predictions

March 21: NL West Predictions
March 22: NL Central Predictions
March 23: NL East Predictions
March 24: Overall AL Prediction Recap & AL Playoffs
March 25: Overall NL Predictions Recap, NL Playoffs & World Series

March 28: Part II, Pitching
March 30: Part III, Batting

This is all pretty tentative stuff.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the NCAA Tournament this week. My alma mater, Pitt, got an awful draw (#8 vs. Pacific), which is too bad but they really faltered this year and played some lousy basketball.

My Final Four is Illinois, Wake Forest, North Carolina and Syracuse. I have Illinois as my champ. My strategy is to pick teams with good guard play (Illinois) and ACC (UNC, Wake) and Big East (‘Cuse) squads.

I have Washington losing in round two, my upset special.

Tomorrow: AL East. Yankees or Red Sox?

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Monday, March 14, 2005

Season Preview, Part I: Fielding 

With the Super Bowl behind us and with the spring thaw coming (not soon enough for my liking), it’s time to talk about the Phillies prospects for the 2005 campaign. The last two years have left a bitterly disappointing aftertaste in the mouths of Phillies fans everywhere: the end of the Vet and the beginning of new traditions at Citizen’s, the additions of many new free agents … and nothing to show for it. The Atlanta Braves have dominated the NL East since the inception of the six-division format in 1994, winning division titles in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 … you get the idea. The Braves current win streak stands at ten, thirteen if you count the NL West titles they won from 1991-1993. Time for that to come to an end. I think it will, but the question is whether the Phillies can make it happen.

The 2003 and 2004 Phillies were supposed to end the Braves dominance. Millions were spent on free agents to exploit the team’s move to Citizens, and all was for naught. A deep pessimism shrouds the beginning of the 2005 campaign. 86-76 and no playoffs for the third straight year simpy won’t cut it. This team needs to win. Brooklyn Dodgers fans once consoled each other after disappointing seasons with the refrain “Wait ‘til Next Year”.

Well, for the Phillies this IS next year. If the Phillies don’t do 90+ wins and make the playoffs heads will roll. The ’06 team will be vastly different than it looks now. I think the Phillies will scrap the idea of winning now, attempt to shed their payroll and concentrate on a youth movement and restocking their farm system. So if the Phillies don’t win, this might be our last look at a contender for a while …

We’ll kick off our (cue fanfare) 2005 Season Preview with a discussion of the Phillies Fielding and its importance to the Phillies 2005 Pitching … Next week look for pitching, then batting and overall conclusions closer to the season.

So why fielding first? A few reasons…

1. It’s not something the average fan thinks much about. When have you seen a player’s Range Factor listed in the Inquirer’s stat page? But by delving into the Phillies defense, I hope to give A Citizen’s Blog’s readers a peek into the hidden game of baseball.

2. As Peter Gammons wrote last year, defense is the "Next Big Thing" in sabremetrics. Teams like the A’s and Red Sox targeted their focus on team defense in 2004. (The Red Sox decision to sacrifice the bat of Nomar for defense may be the thing that gave them their first World Series in 86 years.) People like Dave Pinto at Baseball Musings and Mike Humphries have introduced new theories (see, Dave's PMR; see, Mike's DRA) on team defense using stats like DER, Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Range Factor. A lot has changed since George Will wrote: “[a] reason defense is not properly appreciated is that defensive excellance is difficult to express in the language baseball aficionadoes like to speak: statistics.” (Men At Work, page 271.)

3. More than with the Phillies lineup or their pitching staff, there are big, big changes afoot with the Phillies defense that have powerful implications for the team in 2005. If the Phillies are going to edge out the Marlins and Braves (forget the Mets) for first place in the NL East, they are going to have to play great defense.

So without further ado … Season Preview:

Fielding

As I’ve said, one of the hidden and under-appreciated things about the recent Phillies teams have been their strong defensive play. You don’t think of the Phillies as being a good defensive team, but the proof is right there:

-The Phillies had the second fewest errors in the National League in 2004 (81).
-The Phillies finished second in Fielding Percentage* in the NL as well last year.

* Fielding Percentage: (Putouts + Assists) / (Putouts + Assists + Errors). How often the player successfully handled the ball.

Check out the Phillies rank in National League Fielding Percentage for the last four years:

2001: .985 (second)
2002: .986 (second)
2003: .984 (fifth)
2004: .987 (second)

Solid play on the part of the Phillies fielders. As a consequence the Phillies pitchers have seen some of their mistakes minimized by having such strong fielders behind them. Check out the differences in the actual ERAs of the Phillies pitchers and their Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP)* ERAs:

ERA / FIP (FIP Increase)
2001: 4.16 / 4.32 (+0.16)
2002: 4.17 / 4.27 (+0.10)
2003: 4.06 / 4.12 (+0.06)
2004: 4.47 / 4.67 (+0.20)

* FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching: [((13*HR+3*BB-2*K) / IP) + League Factor. I use 3.20 as the NL league factor.]

All four years the Phillies FIP ERAs have been higher than their actual ERAs. So what’s significant about this? Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is a way for you to separate a pitcher from the quality of his fielders behind him by keeping track of his strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed (things he can only control) and not runs allowed, hits allowed, etc. (i.e., things his fielders partly control.) The fact that the Phillies pitchers FIPs are slightly worse than their actual ERAs means that Phillies fielders were able to get to balls put into play and convert them into outs better than most teams could. So the quality of the Phillies fielding shielded their pitchers from getting hit worse then they already did in 2004 (and in previous seasons when the team did pitch well).

Phillies fielders converted balls put into play into outs with tremendous efficiency in 2004:

Defense Efficiency Ratio* (DER)
1. St. Louis: .711
2. Los Angeles: .711
3. Philadelphia: .703
4. Florida: .700
5. Chicago: .698
6. New York: .698
7. San Francisco: .696
8. Milwaukee: .696
9. San Diego: .695
10. Montreal: .695
11. Cincinnati: .690
12. Atlanta: .690
13. Houston: .686
14. Pittsburgh: .685
15. Arizona: .684
16. Colorado: .678

* Defense Efficiency Ratio: (Batters Faced – (Hits + Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) / (Batters Faced – (Home Runs, Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) How often fielders convert balls put into play into outs.

As I said earlier, there is a lot of work being done on defense. Some of the most interesting work has been Dave Pinto’s Probabalistic Model of Range (PMR). PMR is an interesting look at defense: Dave compared a team and individual player’s actual DER’s as compared with their projected DER’s (the projected DER is derived from a computer program).

PMR gives additional weight to the argument that the Phillies were one of the best defensive teams in 2005, giving the Phillies a high (fifth of thirty MLB teams) rating, though I strongly doubt PMR’s conclusion that the Red Sox and Cubs were the Nos. 2 & 3 defensive teams in the MLB in 2004. Still, if you accept the outcome of Dave’s analysis (and I’ll admit my earlier skepticism has softened quite a bit), this is another piece of evidence supporting the argument that the Phillies are a good defensive team. I’ll actually be using PMR in my ratings later…

So the Phillies have been pretty darn good in the field. Will that continue? Well, there are signs that the Phillies defensive prowess is already in decline:

Zone Rating* / (NL Rank)
2001: .869 (first)
2002: .863 (fourth)
2003: .859 (second)
2004: .851 (sixth)

* Zone Rating (ZR): 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, but I like it the most because it is the most complete assessment we have of a player’s abilities. I rely on it heavily. Too bad ESPN eliminated it from their stats pages.

That’s a three-year decline from 2001-2004. I suspect the trend above will continue. So what’s going on with the Phillies fielders? The Phillies have been rotating better bats into their lineups at the cost of fielding. Travis Lee may have been a bad bat at first (.274 GPA in 2002, compared with Jim Thome’s .316 and .323 the last two seasons), but he was a good glove (.896 ZR in 2001, .864 in 2002, compared with Jim Thome: .852 in ’03, .817 in ’04 … The Phillies 2001-2002 infield of Marlon Anderson, Jimmy Rollins, Travis Lee and Scott Rolen / Placido Polanco may not have been as offensively productive as the current infield, but it was stout defensively. Check out the Phillies infield ZR and Fielding Percentages over the last three years:

IF Zone Rating (rnak) / IF Fielding Percentage (rank)
2004: .824 (fifth) / .985 (fourth)
2003: .832 (second) / .986 (second)
2002: .838 (first) / .984 (second)

So what does 2005 hold? Probably a further decline in infield defense:

2004 Defensive Alignment: (2004 – Fielding Win Shares per 1,000 innings)
1b Thome – 1.2
2b Polanco – 5.8
ss Rollins – 3.6
3b Bell – 3.5

IF Utley – 3.9
IF Perez – 3.7

2005 Defensive Alignment: (2004 – Fielding Win Shares per 1,000 innings)
1b Thome – 1.2
2b Utley – 3.9
ss Rollins – 3.6
3b Bell – 3.5

IF Polanco – 5.8
IF Perez – 3.7

As we all know, the biggest off-season story for the Phillies, after the search for a manager, was the decision of Placido Polanco to eschew big money on the free agency market and re-up with the Phillies in a one-year, four mil-plus deal despite Chase Utley’s installation at second base. Utley has struggled defensively at times but has tremendous talent at the plate and actually played pretty good defense in 2004. However, it seems likely that Utley to Polanco will be a defensive downgrade for the Phillies.

Polanco will either be dealt mid-season, or will serve as the Phillies super-utilityman (or will play if David Bell’s back doesn’t improve). I actually suspect that Polanco will get a decent amount of playing time in 2005: Jim Thome and David Bell are both injury prone and losing either to long-term injuries will force changes to the Phillies defensive alignment:

Without Bell:
1b Thome
2b Utley
ss Rollins
3b Polanco

Without Thome:
1b Utley
2b Polanco
ss Rollins
3b Bell

Without Bell & Thome:
1b Howard
2b Utley
ss Rollins
3b Polanco

The 2005 Bill James Handbook projects Bell and Thome to miss a combined 39 games in 2005, so Polanco could find his way into the lineup with some frequency in 2005, which might help improve the quality of the Phillies defense.

Speaking of Thome … last year was a terrible season for Thome with his glove. Check out Thome’s defensive decline, 2002-2004:

Zone Rating
2002: .854
2003: .852
2004: .817

How bad was Thome defensively? He was tenth among eleven regular NL first basemen in ZR. Ouch. Thome’s prowess at the plate more than make up for his defensive short-comings, but this isn’t a good sign for Phillies pitchers. With so many groundballers on the staff now, Phillies infielders can expect to see a lot of action in 2005. Having Polanco on the bench to fill in during defensive situations and for injuries will help, but Thome’s defensive foibles are problematic.

DRA rates Thome a disaster at first, though PMR is better: +.00225 (actual DER: .067 / projected: .065).

David Bell might also miss some time from the Phillies starting lineup, which I don’t think is a bad thing. Most bloggers aren’t big fans of Bell: he had something of a career year in 2004 at the plate, which I am skeptical can be repeated. Bell had an ok year with his glove:

Zone Rating: .775 (seventh of twelve NL 3B’s)
Range Factor: 2.88 (fifth)
Fielding Percentage: .943 (tenth)

Pretty mediocre. PMR rates him a little higher: +.00559 (actual DER: .099 / projected: .093). In case you are curious, Scott Rolen clocks in at +.01324 (actual DER: .107 / projected: .093). DRA rates Bell as one of the three best 3B’s in the game, though still a little behind Rolen. I tend to think Bell is average-to-a-little-better-than-average.

Which brings me to the Phillies middle infield of Placido Polanco, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. The bottom line is that these three players are the linchpin of the Phillies defense. The Phillies will succeed or fail defensively based on how these three play in 2005.

Let’s talk about Jimmy Rollins … I wasn’t a big fan of Rollins last year at the start of the season. Marlon Byrd had won the job of lead-off hitter from Rollins, who had struck-out far too much in his three previous seasons to be a reliable threat to get on base. Rollins turned in a spectacular season in 2004, both at the plate and with his glove. As a consequence he’s probably the best shortstop in the National League today, perhaps not as good defensively as the Pirates Jack Wilson or the Dodgers Caesar Izturis, but he’s the complete package.

Here are Rollins stats:

Zone Rating: .858
Range Factor: 4.01
Fielding Percentage: .986

PMR rates Rollins well: -.00241 (actual: .113 / .115 proj.) (note that just six shortstops finished with positive PMRs), which is well into the top half of the league. Rollins actually out-performed the Pirates Gold Glove winner Jack Wilson (-.00448), and finished just behind AL Rookie of the Year Bobby Crosby. I think Rollins is one of the three or four best shortstops in baseball and I expect him to flee in free agency in 2005, which leaves a gap in the Phillies defensive alignment.

DRA also rates Rollins positively, though he finishes well behind Nomar and the Orioles Tejada. (Note: Rollins ties with Wilson here and finishes much better than the Yankees Derek Jeter, ’04 Gold Glovers for short.)

The Phillies transition from Polanco to Utley is a big unknown. I note that Dave Pinto’s PMR stunned us all by rating Utley first amongst all 2b’s:

Utley: +.00740 (.127 actual / .120 proj.)
Polanco: +.00021 (.118 actual / .118 proj.)

Polanco wasn’t much worse (actually seventh of fifty or so), but he wasn’t nearly as strong statistically as Utley. Initially I was skeptical about the information, until I noted that ZR backs it up:

Utley: .864
Polanco: .816

We’ll have to see if a full season of wear-and-tear would decrease Utley’s numbers (he played just 410 innings to Polanco’s 944 in 2004), but it seems likely that he’ll continue to be a strong performer for the Phillies. The fear of a massive defensive decline with Placido Polanco on the bench is probably unfounded.

Outfield:

When I played little league I played in the outfield because I was a MASSIVE defensive liability for my team. Outfielders just aren’t as important to the defensive health of a team as the infielders and catchers are. According to Bill James Win Shares book, your three outfielders contribute to just 29% of a team’s overall defense:

OF: 29%
C: 19%
1b: 6%
2b: 16%
ss: 18%
3b: 12%

It makes sense when you think about it: ground balls are more common than fly balls. Last year there were 1.25 groundballs per 1 fly ball in the National League. Outfielders don’t see as many balls hit in their direction and they don’t need the split second reaction time second basemen and shortstops do. So offensive firepower is at a premium in the outfield, as evidenced by the fact that two of the Phillies big three bats are their corner outfielders: Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu. To put it kindly, neither is going to win the gold glove anytime soon. Here are the six Phillies outfielders Fielding Win Shares per 1,000 innings:

LF Burrell: 2.5
RF Abreu: 2.7
CF Byrd: 3.5
OF Michaels: 4.1
OF Ledee: 6.3
OF Glanville: 5.1

Here’s who played for the Phillies in 2004:

Innings Played / % of Phillies Innings
Abreu: 1,394 (95%)
Burrell: 1,060 (72%)
Byrd: 753 (52%)
Michaels: 617 (42%)
Glanville: 351 (24%)
Ledee: 175 (12%)

Ledee and Glanville, theoretically the Phillies two best outfield gloves (though, as you can see from above, they also played the fewest innings), are no longer with the team: Ledee was dealt to the Giants last summer and Glanville was cut loose this off-season because he was just a poor bat. So the Phillies are probably going to go with Burrell in left, Abreu in right, and ex-Yankee / ex-Pirate / ex-Cub / ex-White Sox / ex-Indian / (and I’m sure there are some I’m forgetting) Kenny Lofton in centerfield with Marlon Byrd and Jason Michaels backing them up. I think it’s a good outfield, but not a great one.

Bobby Abreu plays right field for the Phillies because he might be one of the five or six best hitters in baseball. The Phillies don’t have him out there for his defensive skills. Abreu ranked sixth of eight NL RF’s in ZR. Dave's PMR is rather scathing in its analysis of Abreu: -.00440 (actual: .073 / .078), ranking him sixth worst of fifty or so. Ouch.

Here are Abreu’s stats:

ZR: .871
Range Factor: 2.09
Fielding Percentage: .982
Assists: 13

Though I am a staunch defender of Pat Burrell’s batting abilities, I don’t pretend that Burrell is anything but average in left. He finished third of seven NL LF’s in ZR and finished second in range factor. Decent, but PMR rates Burrell much, much worse: -.00467 (actual: .066 / proj.: .071). That’s about as bad as Abreu.

Here are Burrell’s stats:

ZR: .872
Range Factor: 1.92
Fielding Percentage: .983
Assists: 9

Centerfield is where things get interesting for 2005. Is Lofton an upgrade over Byrd? Here is what PMR says:

Lofton: -.00379 (actual: .098 / .102 proj.)
Byrd: -.00398 (actual: .086 / .090 proj.)

Middle of the pack. Let’s start with the Byrd issue:

Byrd is an interesting case. Formerly the Phillies lead-off hitter and centerfielder, he’s been downgraded to reserve outfielder and probably won’t get much playing time in 2005 (this is provided he won’t get dealt). How will he handle the demotion? How would he react if thrust back into the starting lineup? Those are big questions and I suspect we won’t get a chance to answer them: I see Byrd as being dealt at some point in the year because the team wants to recoup on its investment.

Loften statistically is slightly stronger in center, though I note he’s significantly older than Byrd. (Byrd: 27; Lofton: 38.) I’ll assume that Lofton will play whenever possible (Bill James projects 105 games for Lofton in 2005), but he can’t play more than 2/3 of the Phillies innings. Make no mistake about it: Kenny Lofton is a transitory signing for the Phillies. Don't expect him to be the Phillies CF in 2006. He was signed to push Marlon Byrd into regaining his job, or to fill in until the Phillies could trade for a new centerfielder.

The Bench:

Michaels and Byrd make a capable pair off the bench in the outfield. Michaels in particular is a versatile player and quintessential reserve outfielder: he logged innings in left (227), center (323) and right (67) in 2004. He played in 27 games as a defensive substitution in 2004 and started another 68.

The Phillies don’t have much of an infield bench, chiefly because Placido Polanco is their fifth infielder and we should expect him to play a lot of innings in 2005. Ryan Howard is the Phillies other bench guy. I don’t know how to evaluate Howard. We really don’t have any real data, beyond the little he played in 2004, so I can’t pass judgment on his defensive skills. It will be interesting, particularly if the Phillies have injuries to Bell and Thome, to see how well Howard plays.

Catching … It’s difficult to work out how valuable a catcher is to his team’s defense. According to Bill James he’s 19% of a team’s defense, the largest single position on the field. That’s because the catcher does a lot more than field the ball: he manages the game by calling pitches, defends against runners stealing second and third, blocks the plate … the catcher does a lot, all the while squatting in the dirt with a few pounds of protective padding on him in the hot sunlight. It’s a rough job, but someone had to do it. Here who did it for the Phillies in 2005:

Innings worked…
Mike Lieberthal: 1104 (75%)
Todd Pratt: 333 (23%)
A.J. Hinch: 25 (2%)

I’ll start my evaluation of the Phillies catchers by listing their Fielding Win Shares per 1,000 innings:

Lieberthal: 3.4
Pratt: 3.9
Hinch: 7.8

Hinch’s high number is obviously the product of his limited innings worked. Pratt narrowly edges out Lieberthal, but Lieberthal did a good job in 2004: he threw out 20% of base-stealers (20 of 94 attempts) and managed a pitching staff that surrendered home runs by the bushel. Lieberthal’s Catcher ERA was an absurdly high 4.66, but I don’t think it is a fair stat to evaluate a catcher. I tend to look at how often runners try to steal on a catcher to judge his true defensive abilities. While it is true that Lieberthal had a large number of base-stealers in 2004, you have to adjust that for the number of innings he worked: Lieberthal tied for third in the NL in innings worked amongst catchers, just behind the Pirates Kendall (1,259) and Montreal’s Schneider (1,114). (And tied with the Marlins and Dodger Paul Lo Duca: 1,104.2)

Lieberthal had 35 fewer stealers than Lo Duca. Lieberthal averaged 85 stealers per 1,000 innings, compared with the Braves Estrada’s 82. Lo Duca and Estrada had two of the better CERA’s in the NL in 2004.

Pratt is the quinessential backup catcher: tough, dependable, a good bat off the bench, can fill in for the starter when he needs a rest. Because backups play so much (even a durable catcher like Jason Kendall can’t play more than 80% of the time), they are probably the most important bench player a team can have. Luckily, the Phillies have one of the best.

Conclusions:

Fielding Win Shares as % of Overall Win Shares:

Thome: 6%
Polanco: 34%
Utley: 25%
Rollins: 19%
Bell: 22%
Perez: 33%

Burrell: 18%
Abreu: 10%
Byrd: 48%
Ledee: 19%
Glanville: 129%
Michaels: 23%

Lieberthal: 41%
Pratt: 34%

I thought this was an interesting stat to show how much these players contribute to the Phillies season with their gloves. Defense counts for a lot. Look above and you’ll see how multi-dimensional some of the Phillies (Polanco, Utley, Rollins) are. Thome and Abreu are tremendous bats, but they contribute little to the Phillies defense. I think defense counts for a lot because it is the hard grunt work that doesn’t show up on your stat sheet. George Will asked, in the context of Richie Ashburn’s exclusion from the Hall of Fame (this was prior to his election and induction), why a defensive play robbing a batter of a double wasn’t as highly valued as hitting a double. You don’t see on box scores:

“Doubles denied: Burrell 2 (13); Polanco (28)”

You see:

“Doubles: Burrell 2 (13); Polanco (8)”.

As I said, Defense is the Next Big Thing. It is important for the Phillies to be on the cutting edge, which I think they are. So what is the impact on the Phillies pitching? …

“Defense and pitching go hand in hand. Good defense helps pitching and good pitching helps defense.”

So said Cal Ripken, Jr. This is the big X factor. I think the Phillies fielding helps the pitchers more than the pitching helps them. Tremendous the starting lineup was on the field and at the plate in 2004, but the Phillies pitchers suffered and crippled the team. Thanks to the Phillies terrific defense the pitching staff out-performed their FIP ERA by 0.08. The Phillies pitching improved in 2005, but the fielders will continue to have to minimze the damage done to pitchers egos by Citizen’s Bank by snaring balls put into play with as much frequency as they can. With so many groundball hurlers on staff now that Eric Milton is a Red and Jon Liber is a Phillie, defense is vital to the Phillies chances in 2005. The Phillies fielders will see a lot of balls in 2005 and they need to be vaccum cleaners in the field for the Phillies to have success.

If the NL East is to be won, it will be with the glove, not the bat.

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