Friday, May 13, 2005
-I'm oddly not that mad at Ed Wade. I think he showed a lot of saavy bringing Jon Lieber and Corey Lidle into the mix. The decision to offer arbitration to Placido Polanco and give such massive contracts to Jim Thome and David Bell back in '03 might look foolish down the road, but there is nothing that wrong with how this team is built.
-I'm bitterly disappointed in Charlie Manuel. The decision to platoon Utley and Polanco has been terrible, robbing the team of Utley's sorely needed bat. (And what was the idea with sending Utley to second base last night?!?!?) The team's decision to start guys like Perez while sitting Ryan Howard is baffling. Manuel's lineups don't make much sense either. This team is poorly managed again. It seems like Manuel has decided to over-compensate for Larry Bowa by turning catatonic. I like Manuel's approach better, but it seems like Manuel has no strategic skill. He doesn't manage at all.
The Phillies players are all ridiculously underachieving ... Thome's VORP is -3.2, Polanco is -3.0, Bell is -8.5, and Rollins is -7.3 ... so basically our whole infield unit is badly underachieving.
On the plus side Utley is 6.4, Abreu is topps amongst RF's at 14.7, and Burrell is 8.1 ...
I think tonight is the biggest game of the year for the team. We need Myers to come up big against Eric Milton. With the way Milton gives up bombs, the Phillies should be stacked to take advantage of the situation (i.e., I'll be baffled if Manuel plays Polanco instead of Utley). Tonight is the night to get on track, or the night to spiral out of control.
Thursday, May 12, 2005
No disrespect to Reds fans, but the team has been awful since they traded for Ken Griffey Jr., and they don't really have prospects to get better any time soon. Oh, and adding Eric Milton to the rotation has been an unmitigated disaster. Remarkably Milton is worse than he was last year: 2.5 home runs per 9 innings (1.9 in '04), 0.49 groundball-to-flyball ratio (0.57 groundball-to-flyball in '04), and a significantly worse FIP ERA than actual ERA (5.38 FIP in '04, compared to a 6.99 so far in '05). If all goes according to plan, Friday night's Myers - Milton matchup should be an easy win for the Phillies, as is tonight's Lieber-Ortiz matchup.
The Reds are a classic collection of sluggers who can't play defense, don't get on base and can't pitch. This should be a golden opportunity for the Phillies to pad their stats and move to within a game or two of the Mets for fourth place.
I think the Phillies could make a move this weekend: Lidle, Lieber and Myers are hurling well, the defense is getting a little better (Pat Burrell's inability to catch the ball yesterday non-withstanding), and I think that the Phillies should start to hit if they let Ryan Howard and Chase Utley play a little. (Why Charlie Manuel is playing Perez and Polanco instead of power-hitters like Howard and Utley is beyond me.)
Yeah the team is in crisis, but this could be a good opportunity.
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
The team is playing sub-standard defense.
It surprises Phillies fans to know how good the team has been defensively these last several years. The Phillies have been one of the top five teams in the MLB in Zone Rating (ZR) and Probablistic Model of Range (PMR) the last few years. This team was third last year in Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER), i.e., they were the third-best NL in converting balls put into play into outs. This year the team got off to a slow start but dramatically improved. At the moment they are 5th in the NL in DER:
1. Milwaukee: .724
2. Florida: .719
3. Atlanta: .713
4. Pittsburgh: .711
5. Philadelphia: .704
6. Washington: .703
7. New York: .700
8. Los Angeles: .698
9. San Francisco: .698
10. St. Louis: .694
11. Houston: .693
12. Arizona: .691
13. San Diego: .687
14. Cincinnati: .679
15. Colorado: .675
16. Chicago: .674
NL average: .698
That's pretty good but I don't think that the Phillies individual performers are doing well:
Jim Thome is fifteenth of sixteen regular NL first basemen in Zone Rating. Jimmy Rollins is eighth of 14 regular NL SS's. Placido Polanco would rank first amongst NL 2B's, but Utley would be ninth of fourteen. Pat Burrell, Kenny Lofton and Bobby Abreu are fairly middle of the pack in the outfield (though Abreu ranks as one of the NL's worst RF's.) The Phillies sole defensive standout is David Bell: third of thirteen NL's 3B's, better than Scott Rolen (.847 to .837).
I don't have team stats on ZR, but I suspect the Phillies are pretty middle of the pack. The mediocrity is hurting the Phillies pitching. Cory Lidle, for example, is pitching very well. He isn't giving up many walks or home runs. He's outpitching his actual ERA by nearly a run (4.11 ERA v. 3.27 FIP), but the Phillies have been mediocre fielding-wise. Tim Worrell is pitching poorly, but part of it is the Phillies awful D behind him: .537 DER.
I hope that the Phillies D will improve, but we'll see.
(Sorry it took until noon for today's post but I had to be in court this morning...)
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Shows what I know.
Things are bad, my friends, but it isn't time to panic yet. Six and a half back of the Braves is no big deal: the Nats will fade. The Mets will have problems and the Braves cannot continue to survive without a threat at the plate. We should consider ourselves fortunate to be just five behind our real foe, the Marlins.
But some problems have to be dealt with first: the Phillies formitable offense isn't bringing it home the way it should. I've chewed over the problem and I think I know why: we are too old.
Players, as they age, tend to lose certain skills at certain stages. Power is the first to go, followed by the ability to get on base. Remember David Justice's final days with the A's? Couldn't hit for power, but he could still get on base.
I think you can see that a little with Jim Thome: he's hitting a mere .203 with 1 homer in 73 AB's, but his OBP is a robust .347. I know he's been fighting injuries, but for a guy who hit a home run every 13.7 AB's to hit just 1 in 79, that tells you something is very wrong that transcends an injury. Thome is in a very serious skills decline, which puts the Phillies in an awful quandry. They have Thome signed to a long-term deal but they have the very talented Ryan Howard waiting impatiently in the wings. If Thome is in decline can they really deal Howard? Can they hang on to Jim Thome's multi-million salary if he's hitting with a lower slugging percentage than Jimmy Rollins?
Bobby Abreu is struggling a little with his power, although he's been his usual consistent self at the plate in terms of getting walks: .400 OBP (21 walks to 23 K's).
David Bell is another Phillie who has the team in a quandry: multi-year deal (though, mercifully, shorter than Thome's) back in the 2002-2003 offseason and he's playing poorly (at the plate): .276 OBP, .330 SLG, .103 ISO. Bell's 2004 season was a rarity for him: he hit with some power (18 HR's, 33 2B's, .458 SLG) and for average (.363 OBP), all well beyond his career totals (.318 career OBP, .399 career slug). Bell was also healthy pretty much the entire year.
In short, 2004 was a rarity for him that will not be duplicated any time soon.
At the moment the two Phillies who are playing well are the young guns, Chase Utley and Pat Burrell. (Combined 11 HR's & 36 RBI, both have OBP's over .360 and slugging %'s over .500.) Utley and Burrell are the only Phillies hitting for power on a team hurting for power-hitting. The problem for the Phillies is that Chase Utley is still spliting time at second base with Placido Polanco. Polanco is playing ok (a solid .326 OBP and an awful .266 SLG, a function of the fact that he has 2 2B's in 79 AB's, as compared with a .447 SLG in '04 and a .441 in '03), but the team needs power in its lineup and the Phillies second-best hitter right now is sitting every other game or so. Having Bell in the lineup and having a light-hitting Placido Polanco manning second every other day is killing the Phillies offense. This is why the Phillies are dragging offensively.
As I slip into arm-chair general mode...
The Phillies need to sit Bell and play Polanco at third. Have him hit in the two hole, where he can set the table for Abreu, Burrell and Utley.
Play Chase at second full-time. Just let him hit and develop his skills. It is encouraging to me that Utley has drawn 7 walks in his last 11 games after getting 1 in his first 11. Utley is polishing his game and becoming an all-around player.
Play Ryan Howard. Play Ryan Howard until Thome gets back and then sit Thome and work him back into the lineup. Give Howard a chance. The Phillies can use Howard's playing time to audition him to other teams, or to prep him for playing the rest of the year as a DH, a bat off the bench or to replace Thome if he continues to slump or if his back gives out. Sure he's gone 1-for-14, but he needs time to develop his skills.
Which brings me back to my point: the Phillies youngest players, Utley (age 26) and Pat Burrell (age 28), are the ones that are contributing to the offense. Thome (age 34) and Bell (age 32) aren't. If this team wants to get on track they need to inject some youth into a team that looks like it aches and creaks around the bases.
Naturally, of course, that isn't the Phillies only problem. Check back tomorrow and I'll discuss the team's other issue.
Monday, May 09, 2005
Nice to take two of three from the Cubbies, but things are not well. Phillies fans have spent the last month wringing their hands as they watch the Phillies flail away at the plate, futile in their efforts to hit the ball with any power. For a team featuring players like Jim Thome and Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell to be near-last in most offensive categories is simply unacceptable. The fact that the Phillies are dead-last in the NL in ISO is shocking and it should be. We are .027 behind the Pirates for 15th in that category, and .037 behind the league average. While the Phillies are doing o.k. in OBP (.334 vs. .333 NL average), the team isn't hitting for power and it is killing us. Check out the difference in the Phillies road and home slugging percentages:
In sixteen road games they have just 32 extrabase hits (20 2B's, 10 HR's & 2 3B's). Their ISO is just .100 (opponants: .164). Home, our allegedly home run-friendly park, isn't helping much either: the Phillies have an anemic .135 ISO at home, but opponants are hitting .227 ... .227! ...
To put all of this in its proper perspective, consider the Phillies 2004 stats:
Home: ISO / SLG
Phillies: .184 / .450
Opponants: .184 / .444
They are running nearly 60 points behind on ISO and 50 in slugging. Ouch. The Phillies have a real power-outage on the road. Compare to 2004:
Road: ISO / SLG
Phillies: .168 / .436
Opponants: .183 / .452
Sixty-eight point decline in ISO and a nearly 100 point decline in slugging. Yikes.
We need to get better and in a hurry. I'll be back with some suggestions soon.