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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Friday, April 22, 2005

So we lost to the Rockies ... 

... on Wednesday. I'm embarrassed too. What I'm preaching right now is patience. The Phillies are in a much better position then they were last year. Remember where they were after game 16 last year?

Standings after Game 16:

Marlins 12-5
Braves 9-8
Phillies 7-9
Mets 7-11
Expos 4-14

They were three and a half games behind the Fish and looked terrible. Sure they aren't hitting well (12th in slugging? ... 14th in ISO?), but Thome is due for a big breakout like he always does when April is over. This team is actually pitching decently well. Here are the standings this morning:

Marlins 9-7
Nationals 9-7
Braves 8-8
Mets 8-8
Phillies: 8-8

I think the Phillies are even doing better than in '03:

Phillies 9-7
Expos 9-7
Braves 8-8
Marlins 8-9
Mets 6-10

Mind you, the Phillies won 86 games both years. This team can win 90+. Just be patient.

I think that Lieber pitched another strong game last night and that Thome's first home run of the year was a strong sign: he could finally be breaking out of his slump. (And it a good time with a slate of road games against division foes coming up.) So things are good. Not great, but good. They took two of three from the Braves, split a series with the Mets and split a series with the Rockies. We all would have preferred to see them sweep both games, but the Phillies are .500 and are in a good position.

More Monday. I have a few logs on the fire.

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Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Big Three ... 

For the last few years the Phillies have been sheparding young arms through the farm system on their way to the majors. Young pitchers are fragile commodities that have to be protected at all cost. Overwork and confidence-shattering failures (Rick Ankiel, anyone?) have destroyed more promising careers than at any other position on the diamond. The Phillies have been waiting for their corps of young starters to finally start producing and it appears they finally have (though I say this with some caveats):

Vicente Padilla, the team's #2 projected starter, returned to the rotation this week with (ahem) less-than-spectacular results.

Gavin Floyd, despite a terrible outing against the Braves, was sent to the bullpen until an opening appears in the rotation thanks to a sterling performance against the Cardinals. (The effect Tuesday night's horror show will have on his confidence remains to be seen.)

Right now the team's main three starters- Brett Myers, Jon Lieber and Randy Wolf -are off to a supurb beginning. Combined, the three are 5-1 in nine starts. Here are their numbers:

Lieber: 3-0, 2.49 ERA
Wolf: 1-1, 4.95 ERA
Myers: 1-0, 0.44 ERA

What the three have done this season is impressive, especially compared with the rest of the staff:

Big Three v. Rest of Team*
ERA: 2.61 / 5.67
BB/9: 1.01 / 3.17
K/9: 6.39 / 4.67
HR/9: 1.01 / 1.50*

* Not including last night or Tuesday night.

I'm nervous about Wolf because he is such a flyball pitcher, but Myers and Lieber are having terrific seasons and I'm fairly confident both will win 15-17 games this year.

Lieber has been what the Phillies wanted: a groundball pitcher who doesn't easily allow baserunners. In nearly 22 innings of work he's walked two batters. Since giving up three home runs on Opening Day to the Nats, Lieber has settled down and been very difficult to hit. Lieber is turning into what the Phillies wanted: an ace pitcher. I suspected Lieber would pitch well for the Phillies and I'm happy to see that this has been borne out.

Myers has been a revelation: he's surrendered one earned run in twenty innings of work. He's allowed just two walks and wiffed 20. (Lieber has just eight K's.) I hate to be one of those bloggers who reference themselves in a post (e.g., "As I predicted in my October 22nd post..."), but my gut feeling that the 31 home runs surrendered by Myers in '04 were a fluke is justified. Myers looks confident and strong on the mound. He's pitching with command and authority. He's the Phillies early front-runner for the Cy Young.

Lieber and Myers are terrific pitchers for the Phillies: they keep the ball low, on the ground and keep surplus baserunners (aka, walks) off the paths. These guys are the sort of pitchers that the Phillies need to rely on to be successful. It is no coincidence that pitchers with lower groundball-to-flyball ratios like Padilla have surrendered home runs by the bushel.

As for Wolf, I'm nervous. He's pitched decently well despite not being particularly dominating. After watching the Mets slug seven home runs against the Phillies Tuesday night, I worry that the Phillies inability to shake off the mental impression that Citizens Bank is a home-run paradise is killing the pitching staff. I also worry that Padilla and Floyd have seen their confidence shattered.

I know people who watched Tuesday's game will think I'm smoking wacky tobaccy for saying this, but I think the Phillies are pitching well. (Remember, until Tuesday's seven home runs the Phillies had surrendered just 16 home runs in 13 games.) They are keeping the ball down and they are getting guys to ground out. If Padilla and Floyd can shake recent events off, the Phillies will have a formitable pitching staff. They won't strike guys out, but they'll keep the ball down and keep guys off the basepaths. I'm very eager to see how Myers season is going to shake out. I really think he'll end the year well and he has a chance to be in the running for the Cy Young. He could be the Phillies next great pitcher.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Don't look now ... 

Don't look now, but guess what team is pitching (nearly) as well as the vaunted Atlanta Braves? The Phillies are trailing the Braves in ERA (3.32 to 4.03), but there is little difference between the two teams in FIP ERA:

NL East (ERA / FIP)
Marlins: 1.79 / 3.49
Braves: 3.32 / 4.27
Phillies: 4.03 / 4.39
Nationals: 5.32 / 4.54
Mets: 3.98 / 3.79

Here's what DIPS says (according to ESPN.com)
Florida: 3.64
Mets: 3.93
Braves: 4.29
Phillies: 4.43
Nationals: 4.51

(Mind you, these numbers don't include last night's game.) Again, not much of a varience. The Phillies have had some strong pitching from Jon Lieber, Brett Myers and Randy Wolf so far this season. The bullpen hasn't pitched well, and Floyd had a bad start, but the Phillies look much stronger on the mound than they did in 2004.

Generally speaking there is pretty good pitching in the NL East this year: three teams (Marlins, Braves and Mets) are doing better than the league average in FIP (4.29), and the Phillies and Nats aren't that far off the pace.

Pretty good defense too: four teams are doing the league average (the Phillies) in DER (.697) or are exceeding it (Braves, Mets and the Marlins). The Nats, the sole team behind the curve, aren't doing badly (.695) ... It is a testament to the quality of the division that all of these teams are so strong on pitching and defense. We really could see a four or even a five-way race for the division title.

Despite the fact that the Phillies are just 7-7, this year feels much different than 2003 or 2004. We all knew that Pat Burrell and David Bell's struggles doomed the team in '03. The pitching staff's collapse doomed the team in '04. This year feels different. The team feels very different this year. They've had trouble with the bullpen and David Bell is struggling again, but otherwise the Phillies are fine: Pat Burrell is on fire and the starting rotation of Wolf, Lieber and Myers are hurling well. Thome, Abreu and the rest of the lineup will start to hit with the summer coming up. This team will get stronger as the year gets on.

I can just imagine how good Paul DePodesta feels these days: mocked for his deals at the deadline last year, and the Dodgers still made the playoffs. Assailed for replacing Adrian Beltre and Shawn Green with Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew, the Dodgers are 10-2 and off to their best start since '81. All that hand-wringing about the loss of offense and the team is leading the NL in runs scored, ISO, GPA, OBP and slugging percentage. Guess who's laughing now?

Oh, and the Moneyball crowd that Joe Morgan, et al., so distains is laughing too because the Dodgers are so associated with sabremetrics. The Red Sox winning the World Series, the A's success, the Dodgers defying expectations ... I think Moneyball critics are having difficulty making out their case these days.

I must confess that my initial skepticism towards the New York Mets is softening a bit. Their deals may come back to bite them in the long-term (especially when Pedro's arm collapses), but they are playing better than I anticipated, especially after their 0-5 start. Maybe my friend and colleague Jason Weitzel had a better idea about the 'Amazin Mets than I did.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Live Update... 

Live update session today at Balls, Sticks 'n Stuff for the Mets & Phillies. I'm intruiged to see what Mets fans have to say: seems to be a lot of them out there these days.

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Free Chase Utley! 

When you try and please everybody, you end up pleasing nobody.

This is a lesson Ed Wade, Charlie Manuel and the rest of the Phillies brass evidentially never learned when they were growing up. Otherwise, I can't explain or justify their decision to demote Chase Utley to a platoon with Placido Polanco at second base.

Let's start at the begining: the Phillies have been grooming Chase Utley to play second base for them for some time now. Utley, who played sparringly in 2003 and 2004 thanks to injuries to incumbent 2B Placido Polanco, was essentially given the job of being the Phillies second baseman in the 2004-2005 offseason. The team assumed Polanco would leave as a free agency and offered arbitration, expecting to get draft picks as compensation when Polanco signed with the Cardinals or some other team. To everyone's surprise Polanco re-signed with the team and expressed displeasure at being the Phillies 5th infielder during preseason. To split the difference the team has gone with a platoon at second base, playing Utley and Polanco. The compromise satisfies neither player, both of whom want to play every day.

The conventional wisdom on Polanco & Utley is that are basically different players: Polanco the two-hole hitter, solid on defense, but with a light bat. Utley is more like a junior slugger, decent defensively, but his strength is in hitting home runs rather than fielding or getting on base. Conventional wisdom is wrong: Utley is a strong fielder (according to Dave Pinto's Probalistic Model of Range, PMR, and last year's Zone Rating numbers), and Polanco has some bite in his bat (17 home runs in 2004).

While both players are good and help the Phillies when they are on the field, the Phillies need to junk the platoon and acknowledge what we all know: Chase Utley is the Phillies second baseman now and in the future.

Defensively I think there is a good argument to be made that Utley is better than Polanco: he had a better Zone Rating (.864 v. .816) than Polanco and PMR ranked him first amongst all second basemen. Anecdotally, we all saw his spectacular catch against the Braves saturday. Utley is younger and hasn't had the nagging injuries which have hampered Polanco.

At the plate he is a more explosive bat: last year he had a much higher ISO (.143 to .202) than Polanco. While he isn't the OBP guy Polanco is (.308 OBP to .345 for Polanco in '04), this is a skill Utley needs to develop and playing him sparringly isn't helping: when Chase is at the plate he probably feels a need to make the most of his AB's and put the ball into play, rather than being patient and letting the game come to him. So far this season Utley hasn't walked in 22 plate appearances. (Polanco has 4 in 29.)

The Phillies need to augment their sluggers right now. Thome is off to a slow start. Abreu is hitting o.k. Burrell is on fire, but he can't continue to carry the team. Whether the blame lay with tough pitching or bat hitting, I note that the Phillies have the 15th best slugging percentage in the NL right now. Fifteenth! Through 12 games the Phillies have hit 8 home runs, and half of those were courtesy of Pat Burrell. The Phillies need some ommph in their lineup and soon.

Speaking of the lineup, another flaw with the platoon is the Phillies shifting lineup. When Polanco is in the Phillies bat him second and Kenny Lofton sixth or seventh. When Utley is in he hits sixth and Lofton hits second. I'm not a big fan of fiddling with lineups: too much change tends to frustrate the players from getting comfortable in their roles.

If the Phillies want to play Placido Polanco, then my suggestion is to sit David Bell for a while. Bell, simply put, is awful this year: .174 BA, .255 OBP, .196 slugging percentage. Bell's .023 ISO is laughably low, a product of one extrabase hit (a double) in 47 plate appearances. He's not getting on base, he isn't hitting for power. The Phillies would be better off sitting Bell and using Polanco at the hot corner.

So free Chase Utley!

What the stats mean:
ISO (Isolated Power): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
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.

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Monday, April 18, 2005

How to get to Triple-A (When you are already a Major Leaguer) 

Not quite a 12-step program, but Gavin Floyd ran through steps 1-4 with ease Friday night. Assuming Floyd is the next Robin Roberts or Steve Carlton, he’ll look back on Friday’s 11-4 loss to the Braves and laugh. For now I bet he’ll spend the next few months ruefully replaying the whole thing in his mind.

Floyd’s line:

3 1/3 innings pitched / 8 earned runs allowed / 5 walks allowed / 1 strikeout / 2 home runs.

I think the first inning captures Floyd’s performance quite nicely: walk, walk, groundout, strikeout, walk, wild-pitch (one run scored), walk, double (scoring three).

It’s really hard to walk four guys in one inning. Jon Lieber sometimes goes an entire game without walking someone.

The loss moves Gavin Floyd’s record on the season to 1-1 with a 7.84 ERA. With Padilla’s return, I think Floyd’s trip back to Scranton is virtually guaranteed. As well as he pitched against the Cards, I think the Phillies believe that Floyd needs a little seasoning before he can play with the big boys in the majors. I think Floyd will be back this season, and I think he’ll be a starter in the rotation in 2006, but the time just isn’t right for him to make the leap. Certainly if he had pitched a good game the Phillies probably would have tried to do some wheeling and dealing to keep him in the majors, but for now, Scranton is waiting.

Anyway ... I'm happy to see that the Phillies took 2 out of 3 from the Braves. Puts a little pressure on Atlanta to keep with the pack ... What I'm happiest about was how the Phillies pitchers, particularly Brett Myers and Jon Lieber, performed against the Braves.

Lieber: 8 innings / 1 earned run, 7 hits, 0 walks, 2 K's

Myers: 8 innings / 1 earned run, 4 hits, 0 walks, 5 K's

These were two fantastic performances and proof to the team that good pitching can succeed at Citizens' Bank Ballpark. I think the team has to be thrilled with the way this weekend went. For the first time ever, I think we can actually say that the Phillies have a staff every bit as good as the Braves.

On the minus side the Polanco / Utley platoon is getting old in a hurry and the fans suggested they were irritated as well when a few booed Polanco early in the game. But 2 outa 3 ain't bad. Now the Phillies need to snap the red-hot Mets streak and start to lay claim to first.

Meet the Mess ... I mean Mets!

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Sunday, April 17, 2005

Open Thread, Game Twelve 

Game 12 of 162. Record-to-date: 5-6.

NL East (April 15, 2005)
Washington: 7-4
Atlanta: 6-5
N.Y. Mets: 6-5
Florida: 5-6
Phillies: 5-6

Yeah, the Nats are (still) in first ...

Tonight's matchups: Hampton (1-0) v. Myers (1-0). Should be a good game. A win and they've taken two of three from the Braves. I'd call that a success.

Post your comments below.

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