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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Pat Gillick: Does He Know What He's Doing? 

When the Phillies hired Pat Gillick to be their General Manager I had two conflicting thoughts on the decision:

It’s a good move because Gillick has had a lot of success. The Blue Jays went to the ALCS in 1989 and won the World Series in 1992 & 1993 under Gillick. The Orioles and Mariners also had success with Gillick at the helm: the Orioles went to the ALCS in ’96 & ’97, while the M’s went in ‘00 & ’01. It is an impressive track record.

It’s a bad move because Gillick seems so resistant to change and a member of the Old Guard of Baseball. The Mariners won 93 games in 2002 and 2003 and failed to make the playoffs because Gillick stood pat at the trading deadline and saw his team get worn-down during the stretch run to the playoffs. Ominously, Gillick said very negative things about Moneyball, which suggested to me that Gillick was too hidebound and stubborn to adapt to the changing landscape of baseball. (See, page 291 of Moneyball.)

Just a few months on the job, we can say a few things about his tenure to date as the Phillies GM. Let’s examine his transactions …

Transaction #1: dealt Jim Thome to Chicago White Sox for Aaron Rowand and two prospects. Gillick’s mega-deal to date and a pretty good one too. Jim Thome may have a monster year for the White Sox. He might hit 40+ home runs. But Gillick made the right decision to shipping Thome westward for Rowand. Thome is 36 this August and was plagued by injuries in 2005. There is a lot of wear-and-tear on Thome’s knees and the likelihood of Thome continuing to post 40 home runs seasons for 2006, 2007 and 2008 (as he did in 2003 and 2004) is unlikely.

Rowand is seven years younger. While Thome was a defensive disaster at first base, Rowand was a stand-out centerfielder. The difference between Rowand’s bat and Thome’s isn’t as big as you think when you factor in Rowand’s glove, which probably saved the White Sox 13-15 runs in 2005, while Thome cost the Phillies a few runs with his. This was a great deal because the Phillies got younger and better defensively while not surrendering too much at the plate. Plus we got to restock the farm system.

Conclusion: aggressive and definitely improved the Phils while minimizing a big problem: Thome’s advancing years. Grade: A-

Transaction #2: dealt Vicente Padilla to Texas Rangers for a player-to-be-named-later (a.k.a., Ricardo Rodriguez). Not Gillick’s finest hour.

What did the Phillies get? Rodriguez, who hurled a total of 206 innings in the MLB. Rodriguez didn’t join the team with a good track record: 1.73 home runs per 9 innings in 2005. A 5.53 ERA. A 5.68 FIP ERA. Aside from his sterling groundball-flyball ratio (1.75), there was little to recommend Rodriguez, who ended up getting cut from the regular season roster, giving the team nothing aside from subtracting a talented player from the roster.

The Rangers got Padilla, a pitcher who struggled to make the transition to quality starter. Padilla’s 2005 stats weren’t great: 5.22 FIP, 1.35 home runs per 9 innings … but a close look at Padilla’s numbers suggest he was turning the corner:

Pre-All Star Break Vicente was having an awful season …

Pre-All Star Break:
ERA: 6.27
HR/9: 2.09
BB/9: 5.55
K/9: 5.82

After, not so much …

Post-All Star Break:
ERA: 3.63
HR/9: 0.83
BB/9: 3.84
K/9: 6.65

Pat Gillick complained when he took the team over that their pitching wasn’t good enough, and then he deals a front-line starter with a great groundball-flyball ratio (1.41) whose stats suggest his earlier performance was a fluke and that he’d make a great starter on an allegedly pitching-poor team. I simply don’t understand it.

Conclusion: the deal weakened the weakest aspect of the Phils and didn’t net any sort of positive return. Grade: F.

Transaction #3: signed Ryan Franklin to a one-year deal. So after complaining about the quality of the Phillies pitching he proceeds to bring in Franklin, a failed Mariners prospect. On the surface, Franklin’s numbers are terrible: 8-15, 5.10 ERA.

Inside they are worse! … Pitching with the Mariners in Safeco Field, a pitcher’s ballpark, Franklin surrendered 1.32 home runs per 9 innings, 4.38 strikeouts per 9, 2.92 walks per 9 innings and had a 1.01 groundball-flyball ratio. Bottom-line: the strikeouts are too low, the groundball ratio is too low, and the home runs are too high. True, walk ratio is good, but that’s it. Franklin’s FIP was nearly right in line with his ERA: 5.08 … He’s a mediocre pitcher coming to a park that is unforgiving to mediocre pitchers.

Conclusion: I guess a mitigating factor is that Charlie Manuel and Gillick have shipped Franklin to the bullpen. Maybe he’ll turn out to be a great middle reliever for the Phils. I somehow doubt it. Grade: D.

Transaction #4: dealt Jason Michaels to Cleveland Indians for Arthur Rhodes. This is a deal that I was prepared to hate. I am a Jason Michaels partisan. Michaels was the Phillies strongest bench player and a terrific fourth outfielder. Jason had a .399 OBP in 2005, with a tremendous .128 walks-per-plate appearance. (i.e., every 12.8% of the time Jason comes to the plate he gets a walk. Wow.) Jason gets on base better than any Phillie except Bobby Abreu. Okay, he isn’t a power hitter (.111 ISO), but he’s an OBP machine and a tough, tough out for an opposing pitcher.

Defensively Jason is pretty good too. He played significant innings at all three outfield positions over the years and The Fielding Bible stated he was the Phillies best defensive outfielder in 2005. Bottom-line, Jason was very valuable to the Phillies.

The Phillies got Arthur Rhodes, essentially an insurance plan for when Tom Gordon flames out as the Phillies closer. I was prepared to be critical, but in all fairness to Rhodes, he pitched well in 2005 with the Tribe:

ERA: 2.08
FIP: 2.58
HR/9: 0.41
BB/9: 2.49
K/9: 8.93

His groundball-flyball ratio ain’t great (1.14), but those- particularly the home runs -are some solid stats. If the Phillies use Rhodes extensively and he develops into the Phillies closer, then I’m willing to call this a good deal. They do need help in the ‘pen. And the decision to bring Aaron Rowand on as the regular centerfielder means Jason will only get playing time if there is an injury or as a pinch-hitter.

Conclusion: Provided that Rhodes gets some innings, I’m going to go out on a limb and say this was a good deal. Otherwise, the Phils again downgraded. Grade: C-.

Transaction#5: signed Alex Gonzalez, Abraham Nunez and Tom Gordon to contracts. Gonzalez and Nunez both fall into the description of “weak-hitting utility infielder”. Both are solid, if unspectacular, players. Both will do a fine job of filling in: Gonzalez at short or second and Nunez at third right now with David Bell in and out of the lineup. While neither is a good hitter, the Phillies can take solace from the fact that Bell is no better, in fact probably worse, of a hitter than Nunez.

As for Gordon, I’m not going to pretend that he’s anything but a disaster as a closer. He’s 38 and his FIP ERA was over a run higher than his actual ERA. He doesn’t get outs well and while he only surrendered 8 home runs in 90 & 2/3 innings in 2005, you must remember he did so playing in a pitcher’s park: Yankee Stadium.

Conclusion: maybe Gordon will be a great closer and Nunez will win the job from David Bell with terrific defense and clutch hitting. I doubt it. The Phillies bench lacks power or dependability. Gordon won't cut it as the Phillies closer. I don't think it was Pat Gillick's fault that Billy Wagner left (that was a done-deal from the end of the 2004 season anyway), but there was a real failure to address a crying need in the off-season. Grade: D.

Final thoughts ... I am down on Gillick's decision-making thus far, but I give him credit for pulling the trigger on a big deal (Thome-Rowand). I figure that Bobby Abreu will be dealt this season, so if Gillick can get a suitable replacement and restock the farm system, as he did in the Thome-Rowand deal, I'd be satisfied. The grade for now is a C-, but I'll adjust according to what happens later in the year.

Trust me---we're going to love Thome this year but you're going to LOVE Rowand now and for years to come. Wait 'til the first time he runs into the wall to make a spectacular catch. The guy has NO FEAR. He's got a nice bat, too.

See ya in the World Series!

A White Sox Fan.....
Great blog column on the Phils. Your review of the Fielding Bible inspired me to pick up a copy.

Still, give Gillick some time. I wasn't crazy about most of his offseason moves (still think the bench is mediocre at best) but it will take 2 years for him to mold this team. Needs to get rid of some of the bad long-term contracts that Ed Wade put into place.

Agree that Padilla trade turned out awful but sometimes you just have to move a malcontented athlete. Plus, I don't think Padilla makes a difference on this team making the playoffs or not.
Scott: thanks for the comment, Rowand is already a fan fave here ... see ya in the Series...

Matt: I'll agree that it is too soon to write-off Gillick. What he does with Abreu and/or Burrell as trade bait will be interesting. As for Padilla, it disappoints me that we got so little ... alright, I'll keep an open-mind ... thanks for writing!
I agree on all points, Esquire.
So far, Ryan Franklin's actually posted an insanely good groundball ratio -- his GO/AO is higher than anyone on the staff, his WHIP is actually lower than almost anyone on the staff, etc... the problem is, he gave up that inopportune gopher ball to Marcus Giles at the worst possible moment. And he has a tendency to do that. But seriously, so far this year he looks a lot better than he ever did in Seattle.

I know what you mean about J-Mike; I would have rather seen him stay with the Phillies but it's true he will get more playing time with the Tribe. Arthur Rhodes is getting old, and it's sort of funny that Gillick ditched him from the Mariners a few years back only to pick him up now with the Phillies. I really don't know what to think of that one.
I am surprised no one else has reall written about Gillick's comments in the epilogue of Moneyball. Taken out of context or not his comments are, well, friggin' insane.
Thanks for all of the comments ... interesting point Deanna about Franklin. I hope he does well, but the Phillies need serious help in the 'pen.
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