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 07, 2006

Fielding Redux: Bunt Defense 

The bunt is one of the mostly bitterly argued over aspects of the game of baseball these days. Bunting for a base hit is one of the most fun moments in a game, as players scramble to grab the ball and the batter scrambles to beat the throw to first. The necessity of the use of the sacrifice bunt to move players over to scoring position is an article of faith for small ballers and a long-term target of criticism for sabremetricians. As Charles Euchner notes in his excellant book The Last Nine Innings: “The sacrifice bunt is part of baseball’s moral appeal: work hard, contribute to the team, play a role, be selfless, give yourself up for the greater good.” George Will opens his book Bunts, a compellation of his columns on baseball, with a brief dissection of a sacrifice bunt situation that played out in Game Six of the 1997 ALCS between the Orioles and Indians where the Orioles played themselves out of an inning by attempting a sac bunt to move a runner over.

How the Phillies play the bunt should be of particular interest to Phillies fans because we play in the National League where there is a lot of situational bunting due to the fact that the pitcher bats ninth and frequently needs to be substituted or called upon to lay down a bunt. Scoring is lower, so in theory every run counts more.

According to The Fielding Bible, here is how the Phillies and the rest of the NL East defended against the bunt in 2005, compared with the rest of the MLB:

Opportunities / Score
1. Oakland: 30 / .662
2. St. Louis: 40 / .614
3. Cleveland: 37 / .605
4. New York Mets: 63 / .587
5. Washington: 56 / .570
9. Florida: 59 / .559
12. Atlanta: 52 / .533
19. Phillies: 51 / .504

Notice right away that the number of bunts defended is far higher than that of an AL team. The average NL team defended 54 bunts in 2005. The average AL team against 37.

Notice also that TFB ranks teams by score: overall there are two different types of bunts, the bunt for a hit and the bunt to move a runner over. The possible outcomes to a bunt vary. There is the hit, the pure out (where nobody advances and the runner is simply out), the double play, and the sacrifice. TFB figures out the score of each fielder based on the following formula: double play gets the fielder 2 points, pure out is 1 point, the sac if 6/10 of a point, hit is 1/4 of a point, and an error is 0 points. But I'll get to that.

As I said earlier, sacrificing is an article of faith for small ballers. The evidence runs against them. Check out this run expectancy information I got from The Last Nine Innings:

Run Expectancy:
Runner on 1st, No Out: .9227
Runner on 2nd, One Out: .7026

This is the classic strategy of the team that gets a runner on first with one out late in the game and wants to score the run. Run expectancy suggests that playing for the one run with a sac bunt to move the runner to second is a losing strategy: it lowers your probability of scoring runs.

– Or –

Runner on 2nd, No Out: 1.1629
Runner on 3rd, 1 Out: .9790

Same thing. But bunting is an article of faith, especially amongst NL clubs (which seem more conservative than their new-fangled American League counterparts), so infield defense is vital. I note that, according to TFB, the Phillies had the best corner infield (1B & 3B) in the MLB in 2005. (Yeah, they ranked 19th in bunt defense, I'm getting to that.) The Phillies led the MLB in Plus / Minus (plus score for a positive play, negative for a negative) at +57. Lest you think this was a fluke, I'd note that the Phils finished second in corner infield + / - in 2004 as well: +30, 4 behind the St. Louis Cards. (Although in 2003, they ranked 22nd at -13. Why? Well ... I'm getting to that too ...)

First Base. Ryan Howard did a very good job defensively at first base for the Phillies in 2005. Jim Thome wasn't signed for his glove and he routinely turned in below average-to-terrible performances at first in 2003 & 2004. Thome was -12 and -5 in '03 & '04 respectively, which ranked him 33rd and 25th. That's bad. Before he succumbed to injury in 2005, he was actually +4, but that was based on just 436 innings of work. Ryan played 706 innings and was +16, which ranked him second amongst MLB 1Bs. How did Ryan do fielding bunts?:

Bunts / Pure Outs / Sacrifices / Hits / Score (Rank)
Howard (2005): 7 / 0 / 5 / 2 / .500 (28th)
Thome (2004): 16 / 3 / 8 / 5 / .506 (18th)
Thome (2003): 27 / 8/ 12 / 7 / .628 (13th)

In other words, bad. Real bad. There is generally a trend developing with the Phillies and fielding. Their + / - stats are great, but their skill stats aren't. E.g., the Phils ranked #1 in overall + / -, and #1 with the middle infield (2B, SS), but they ranked 19th in converting double plays. Here the Phils also ranked 19th, despite leading the MLB in corner infield + / -.

My theory? The Phils have a solid nucleus of younger players and it shows. The Phillies are getting by defensively with speed: their fielders are able to get to the ball quickly and convert pop-flies into outs. But skill taks like the double play and bunt defense are coming a little tougher. Note that Thome did a decent job fielding bunts, despite an awful + / -. That's because Jim was an experienced veteran and while he lacked the speed to made plays, he executed well. Knowing how to handle the bunt is a skill Ryan will pick up.

Third Base. I'm always mildly amazed by how good David Bell is defensively and how terrible he is at the plate. David Bell led the MLB in + / - at third base at +24 and was third in 2004. Sure he was terrible at the plate,but his +24 probably saved the Phillies 10-12 runs in 2005. I've noted that his prowess with the glove doesn't erase his struggles at the plate, but it does mitigate them.

A little digression ... Like Bell, Travis Lee, Jim Thome's predecessor at first, was an awful offensive player, but a great glove: in 2003 he ranked fifth in plus / minus with the D-Rays, at +12 in 1,244 innings of work, with a .700 score on bunt defense. As I said,Travis wasn't a great hitter. Travis has a career slugging percentage of .411, light for a position you expect to get power from.

Here is how Bell did:

Bunts / Pure Outs / Sacrifices / Hits / Score (Rank)
Bell (2005): 27 / 5/ 10 /12 / .519 (11th)
Bell (2004): 25 / 7 / 6 / 11 / .534 (11th)
Bell (2003): 12 / 4 / 3 / 5 / .588 (8th)

Not to sound like a broken record, but I am going to reiterate my comments for Ryan Howard: speed is a talent the Phillies are getting by on. Here you see skill coming through a little more. Maybe David Bell's bunt stats aren't great, but they are good, and when you factor in his + / - scores, I think the picture of a very good defensive third baseman emerges. TFB's John Dewan even annoints David as the man who should have won the NL Gold Glove at Third in 2005.

Conclusion. The complete picture that emerges of the Phillies defense is that it is very speedy and very talented, but unskilled and still being tested. The Phils need to work on technical aspects of defense- turning the double play, defending the bunt, while maintaining their terrific team speed. Once they put it all together, this team will do great things for its pitching staff.

From Yesterday: It stinks that J.Roll's hit streak is over, but it is more disturbing that the Phils are 0-3. Monday: I preview the big Braves-Phillies series.

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Fielding Redux: Double Plays 

As I noted Wednesday in my first addendum to my thoughts on the Phils 2006 Fielding prospects, this is going to be the year of the glove. The Phillies are going to sink or swim based on how they do defensively. Wednesday I talked about Rowand, Burrell and Abreu's arms.

Now I'm going to talk about double plays. The double play is probably the biggest and most important play on defense (okay, after a triple play). The double play erases an base-runner allowed by the defense or pitcher either ends an inning or pretty much terminates it: a team with a runner on first and no outs has a .9227 run expectancy for the inning. A team with nobody on and two outs has a .1160 run expectancy for the inning, according to Baseball Prospectus.

A double play knifes a team’s scoring chances in the heart. Anecdotally: back in '00 I had gone to the Vet with my grandfather to watch a game against the Rockies. The Phils led 3-2. The Rockies had a runner on first with one out. (That’s a situation with a .5536 run expectancy, for those keeping score at home.) A sharp hit goes to Desi Relaford manning short, who grabs it and bobbles it, making a weak throw to second, where Morandini can’t make the force or the relay to second. Instead of losing out on an opportunity to score, the Rockies position has improved (.9001 expectancy now) dramatically. The next Rockies batter clocks a two-run double. Final score, Rockies 4-3. Desi’s bobble virtually guaranteed that the Rockies were going to score the game-tying run, and they ended up getting the game-winner as well. (Here is the Retrosheet entry for the game, by the way.)

So how did the 2005 Phillies do in turning the double play? … Not so good. The Phils ranked 19th of 30 teams:

Opportunities / GDP / Pct.
1. St. Louis: 375 / 180 / .480
2. Minnesota: 300 / 140 / .467
3. Cleveland: 300 / 137 / .457
4. White Sox: 319 / 143 / .448
5. Oakland: 309 / 137 / .443
19. Phillies: 287 / 111 / .387

This is a very surprising result to me because John Dewan’s The Fielding Bible ranked the Phillies infield as being the best in baseball. The Phillies corner infield had a Plus / Minus rating of +57 (22 better than the second-place Cardinals). The Phils middle infield, the shortstop and second-baseman, were +50, 20 better than the Arizona D-backs. So how did the Phillies do so badly at turning double plays? (Note: the D-backs weren’t great either, ranking seventeenth at .394…) Honestly, I’m a little mystified.

Let’s look at the numbers: The problem doesn’t seem to lay with Jimmy Rollins, the Phils SS and current holder of a 38-game hitting streak. Check out J.Roll's numbers:
Opportunities / GDP / Pct. (Rank)
2005: 127 / 76 / .598 (14th)
2004: 130 / 82 / .631 (3rd)
2003: 140 / 89 / .636 (5th)
’03 – ’05: 397 / 247 / .622 (5th of 31)

By the way, Derek Jeter ranked 28th (.551) and Nomar Garciaparra ranked dead-last (.488) over the 2003-2005 time-period. The Braves new shortstop, Edgar Renteria ranked 23rd, while their old one, Rafael Furcal, was 10th.

Anyway, J.Roll did well starting the double play. I’d also note that he executed the pivot (the throw from second to first on a double play) well, ranking fourth (.682) during the 2003-2005 period. J.Roll seems to have the arm-strength and speed to be a great 6-4-3 guy.

Does the difference lay with Chase Utley? Note that 2005 was the first time that Chase ever really got to play a whole season:
Innings Played at 2B …
2003: 302.0
2004: 410.3
2005: 1,195.3

Placido Polanco has been the Phillies regular second-baseman since he joined the team in 2002, although injuries in ’03 and ’04 limited his playing time and gave Chase an opportunity to learn how to play second. Who was the better defender? The 2005 plus / minus numbers give the edge to Chase: +26 vs. +13 … Chase also bested Placido in Relative Range Factor: 1.073 vs. 1.058 … But turning the double play is an area where Polanco still has an edge:
Opportunities / GDP / Pct. (Rank)
2005 (Utley): 144 / 64 / .444 (34th of 36)
2005 (Polanco*): 158 / 90 / .570 (6th of 36)
* With the Phils and Tigers.

Further back … Opportunities / GDP / Pct. (Rank)
2004 (Utley): 54 / 26 / .481 (unranked)
2004 (Polanco): 138 / 67 / .486 (19th of 33)
2003 (Utley): 47 / 29 / .617 (unranked)
2003 (Polanco): 130 / 67 / .515 (13th of 33)

Overall … Opportunities / GDP / Pct. (Rank)
’03 – ’05 (Utley): 245 / 119 / .486 (17th of 25)
’03 – ’05 (Polanco): 426 / 224 / .526 (9th of 25)

I’m surprised by Chase’s struggles with the Double Play in ‘05. Although his terrible .444 is close to the .481 he posted in ’04, Chase ranked second in plus / minus amongst second basemen in 2005. So he’s a pretty darn good player, whatever his struggles with the DP. Chase improved with the Pivot, which is important because the second baseman is the pivot man in the 6-4-3 DP:

Opportunities / Pivots / Pct. (Rank)
2005 (Utley): 69 / 44 / .638 (22nd of 36)
2005 (Polanco): 90 / 58 / .644 (21st of 36)
2004 (Polanco): 76 / 54 / .711 (5th of 33)
2003 (Polanco): 68 / 44 / .647 (15th of 32)
’03 – ’05 (Utley): 116 / 76 / .655 (11th of 25)
’03 – ’05 (Polanco): 234 / 156 / .667 (9th of 25)

Naturally, I assumed that the Phils problem was with Chase when I began and looked at the 2005 numbers, but Polanco wasn’t that much better and he’s a pretty handy guy with the glove. Chase’s ability to turn the pivot on the 6-4-3 wasn’t bad at all. Bottom-line, I’m not entirely sure why the Phillies turned so few GDPs. I think of it mostly as growing pains for Chase at second: he was able to get by on speed in 2005. His speed and instinct gave him the tools to post a strong + / - rating because he was able to fly around the infield and get to the ball. I think that time to develop his skills- remember he played fewer than 800 innings at second before the season -will improve his ability to work the pivot and convert the GDP. I think he and J.Roll will turn in a great season working the 6-4-3 and 4-6-3 this season.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about bunting …

A word about last night's 4-3 loss ... much better performance although two things bothered me: Bullpen did a big-up job of nearly losing the game: Ryan Franklin gets two outs at the top of the eighth and then loads the bases because getting a third out. On to the ninth, when Tom Gordon enters the game and gives up the game-winning hit. Pretty bothersome stuff.

Charlie Manuel's decision to bunt J.Roll over after the double has to be second-guessed. Runner on second base with no outs: 1.1629 run expectancy for the inning. Rowand bunts J.Roll to third: 0.9790 run expectancy now. Abreu gets J.Roll home on a sac fly, but it illustrates a point: when you sacrifice outs to score runs, you run yourself out of an inning. So when Pat Burrell followed Bobby with a single, his efforts were wasted: a runner on second with two outs has a 0.2445 run expectancy for the inning.

Growl. More tomorrow.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Fielding Redux: Outfield Arms 

As I said on March 20th, in Part II of my Season Preview, this is the year of the glove. Fielding is going to be critical to the Phillies chances this year because of the decline in the quality of the Phils pitching staff: there are going to be a fair number of balls put into play, so the Phils fielders are going to have to be quick and aggressive. Unfortunately, I don't believe that I was as thorough as I could have been in my original post, so I am going to try and expand upon certain things that I didn't touch upon enough in Part II.

Today's topic is outfielder arms. A reading of last year's stats indicates that the Phillies had some of the best OF arms in the MLB. Don't believe me? Scope out the numbers on Baserunners Advancing:

Opportunities / Bases Advanced / .Pct
1. Philadelphia: 377 / 164 / .435
2. St. Louis: 401 / 178 / .444
3. Atlanta: 455 / 210 / .462
4. White Sox: 394 / 185 / .470
5. Toronto: 416 / 197 / .474

The Phillies were #1 in the MLB. They were easily better than their division-mates:

Opportunities / Bases Advanced / .Pct / (MLB Rank)
Philadelphia: 377 / 164 / .435 / (1)
Atlanta: 455 / 210 / .462 / (3)
NY Mets: 463 / 227 / .490 (12)
Washington: 431 / 221 / .513 (20)
Florida: 456 / 237 / .520 (23)

Given the reputation Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell have for being less-than-impressive defensive outfielders, the notion that the Phils have been strong in the outfield is a surprise to people. That is sort of true. Burrell and Abreu have had moments of great play (Burrell more than Abreu), but the strength of the team really lays with its middle defense, the centerfielder. Last year the Phillies had an outstanding outfield tandem of Kenny Lofton and Jason Michaels. Michaels had lots of time playing in left and right for the team, but logged the majority of his innings (84%) in center:

Innings played
Leftfield: 46 1/3
Rightfield: 53
Centerfield: 536

Kenny Lofton played 741 innings for the Phils, all in centerfield. Both are gone now, replaced in centerfield by Aaron Rowand. Here are how Rowand, Michaels and Lofton stack up:

Opportunities / Bases Advanced / .Pct / (MLB Rank)
Michaels: 43 / 19 / .442 / 2nd
Rowand: 117 / 58 / .496 / 4th
Lofton: 51 / 26 / .510 / 7th

Combined Michaels and Lofton allowed 45 baserunners in 94 opportunities, a .479 percentage. That's slightly better than what Aaron Rowand did for the White Sox in 2005, but the solid defensive play seemed to rest with Michaels, the Phils long-time 4th outfielder. I think Rowand will do well and probably exceed Michaels performance, which is based on 40% of the innings that Rowand played (536 vs. 1,367). Michaels, I'd note, didn't play as well in leftfield, allowing 4 of 7 runners to advance, a .571 percentage.

How does Rowand stack up against fellow NL East centerfielders? Check it out:

Opportunities / Bases Advanced / Pct. / “Kills”
Aaron Rowand (Phillies): 117 / 58 / .496 / 1
Brad Wilkerson (Wash): 75 / 41 / .547 / 4
Carlos Beltran (Mets): 138 / 91 / .659 / 4
Juan Pierre (Marlins): 148 / 94 / .635 / 5
Andruw Jones (Braves): 138 / 73 / .529 / 6

The best. Teams obviously respected his arm because he only had one kill in 2005. Andruw Jones comes close, but after that Wilkerson and Pierre and Beltran fall short. Beltran, I’d note for Mets fans, seems to have a weak arm generally: his three-year average put him twenty-fourth amongst CFs.

Leftfield: Pat Burrell doesn't exactly have a reputation for being a terrific defensive player, but he's pretty o.k. Teams do seem to respect his arm:

Opportunities / Bases Taken / .Pct (MLB Rank)
2005: 147 / 52 / .354 (13th)
2004: 98 / 28 / .286 (4th)
2003: 110 / 40 / .364 (6th)
'03 - '05: 355 / 120 / .338 (5th)

Is that surprising to most people? I suspect it is. What was interesting to me was how well Pat played defensively in 2003, during a year that was an absolute nightmare for him at the plate: in addition to having the sixth-best arm, he tied for second in Plus / Minus at +11, three behind Carlos Lee.

Pat seems to be a very solid defensive outfielder, despite a -2 in Plus / Minus for 2004. He has a good arm and I suspect his decline to 13th in holding runners is temporary. He was very durable in 2005, playing 90% of the Phillies innings in leftfield.

How does Pat stack up against fellow NL East leftfielders? Check it out:

Opportunities / Bases Taken/ Pct. / “Kills”
Pat Burrell (Phillies): 147 / 52 / .352 / 9
Cliff Floyd (Mets): 147 / 52 / .352 / 14
Kelly Johnson (Braves): 71 / 22 / .310 / 5
Miguel Cabrera (Marlins): 106 / 36 / .340 / 10

I’d call it a wash, although Kelly Johnson does seem to have a leg up. The higher number of kills for NL LFs is probably due to the fact that they are closer to third than RFs and CFs are, so runners trying to get from first to third or stretch a triple are easier targets.

Rightfield: Is Bobby Abreu the Phillies weakest link in the outfield? Bobby's weirdly varing arm stats leave some perplexing questions:

Opportunities / Bases Taken / .Pct (MLB Rank)
2005: 118/ 58 / .492 (11th)
2004: 139/ 83 / .597 (22nd)
2003: 126/ 53 / .421 (5th)
'03 - '05: 383 / 194 / .507 (8th)

Is Bobby lousy? I'm tempted to point at his 2004 season and say "Yes!", a conclusion that would validate things I've said about his fielding and what most Phillies fans have been able to confirm with their own eyes. However, I should note that he performed well in 2003 and seemed to rebound in 2005. Plus, playing rightfield is harder than left because you have to make longer throws and get the ball to the infield quicker because teams are more likely to try and stretch singles into doubles and triples against rightfielders than leftfielders. Bobby is durable, having played 95% of the Phillies innings in right.

I'm going to say that the numbers on Bobby are a wash.

How does Bobby stack up against fellow NL East rightfielders? Check it out:

Opportunities / Bases Taken / Pct. / “Kills”
Bobby Abreu (Phillies): 118 / 58 / .492 / 4
Mike Cameron (Mets): 55 / 27 / .491 / 2
Jeff Francoeur (Braves): 69 / 34 / .493 / 10
Jose Guillen (Nats): 136 / 73 / .537 / 7
Juan Encarnacion (Marlins): 126 / 66 / .524 / 2

Again, I’d call it a wash, although Bobby holds up pretty well. Guillen seems to be the weakest link.

Bench. I'm not really sure how to evaluate Shane Victorino, the Phils 4th OF for 2005. He played a total of 16 innings in 2005, and recorded a .000 fielding percentage because nothing was hit to him. No chances, no putouts. He was in the field for 1.1% of the Phillies defensive innings, so there is simply no data to evaluate.

Conclusion. Yep, Phillies fans, the red stripes have a good defensive outfield. Burrell, Rowand, and Abreu combine to make a group of top-notch arms. I actually think that the Phils will be as good, if not better, in 2006, with Aaron Rowand getting to play a full-season as opposed to the platoon with Lofton and Michaels. I'm sorry to see Michaels go, but this team really hasn't suffered any sort of a downgrade.

Tonight: Mark Mulder v. Brett Myers, and Jimmy Rollins goes for #38. J.Roll was 1-for-4 against Mulder in 2005.

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Book Review: The Last Nine Innings 

I picked up Charles Euchner’s The Last Nine Innings not entirely knowing what to expect. “You’ll Never Watch A Baseball Game The Same Way” promised Andrew Zimbalist on the cover.

Sure, I thought. I think you are actually required to put that on a baseball book these days. Everyone has to promise hidden insight into the game the way Moneyball did. I was prepared to dislike The Last Nine Innings, but I ended up reading the book cover-to-cover. Darn if it didn't deliver what it promised: insight.

The premise for the book is fairly simple: Euchner reconstructs the Seventh Game of the 2001 World Series between the Yankees and D-backs and outlines how the game epitomizes strategy and underscores every aspect of the game. The narrative device, taking the unfolding events of the game and relating them back to various aspects of the game of baseball itself, is very good. The game itself was a hard-fought struggle where the D-backs prevailed, winning their sole World Series championship and breaking the Yankees streak of three consecutive titles.

What I like the best about The Last Nine Innings was how even-handed and thorough Euchner was. I really don’t think there is a single aspect of the game that Euchner doesn’t touch upon, from bunting to relief pitching.

Euchner also has the courage to grapple with a lot of the precepts of sabremetrics and give them their due. Compared with 3 Nights In August, by Buzz Bissinger, which dismisses the arguments of Moneyball by misconstruing them and neglects to cite to Bill James in the index (despite mentioning and criticizing him in a passage dealing the Red Sox pitching), The Last Nine Innings is very fair. Take Chapter Fourteen, The Strategy of Scoring: in discussing a situation where the D-backs considering bunting to move a runner over or stealing, Euchner talks about what a losing strategy bunting and stealing are and cites to arguments made by Baseball Prospectus and Pete Palmer on the subject. A baseball writer taking sabremetrics seriously!

Euchner isn’t making a case for sabremetrics: he's too even-handed for that. The Last Nine Innings endeavors to do something 3 Nights did not: treat all arguments fairly and seek a middle ground. E.g., take Euchner’s discussion of Derek Jeter’s fielding abilities. He fairly lays down comments from pundits and fellow players praising Jeter’s abilities and then includes a fair representation of the statistical argument against Jeter. At the end Euchner doesn’t take a stance. Draw your own conclusion, he tells the reader.

I couldn’t help but compare that to Buzz Bissinger’s rah-rah-ing of Tony LaRussa in 3 Nights. Euchner wants to get fair and give you just the facts. Bissinger is an advocate: he wants you to root for LaRussa, he wants you to think he’s a genius. Euchner wants to be the honest broker and that is why his book is better. Bissinger would no doubt fault Nine Innings for being too dispassionate, but a dispassionate observer will get things right. And Euchner does get things right. The strategy of the game, the joy, the tragedy of it all come through in the 292 pages of The Last Nine Innings. Definitely worth your while.

Opening Day notes … I actually didn’t wait until I went to bed to scope out the full dimensions of the Phils 13-5 butt-kicking. I got home from work discovered the full dimension of the rout before my wife & I left to shop for a new sink at Lowe's. After a sober reflection on the day's events, here are my thoughts …

I’m mildly horrified by Jon Lieber’s performance (eight runs, ouch), but he was facing a pretty darn good lineup. Still, he’s going to have to do better than that.

Hey, the Phillies did bat .350 yesterday (14-for-40) and hit six extra-base hits (inc. two home runs) against a pretty darn good pitcher. Bottom-line, yesterday was a very forgettable performance from the Phillies. Let’s move along … Today is an off-day, then Brett Myers and Mark Mulder square off. Which Brett Myers will show up? 2004 version? Or 2005? I'm eager to see.

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Monday, April 03, 2006

Opening Day 

Is there any more over-rated event in baseball than Opening Day? Well, excepting the All-Star game, of course. There is a certain nostalgia, mystique, to Opening Day that I think is unwarranted. Writers usually wax nostalgic about Opening Day as the first day of spring, a season of renewal, a day when anything is possible, blah blah blah. To me, Opening Day is simply the first game of the year, and an opportunity for the President to mug for the camera. (This one needs whatever help he can get.) But that's it.

Today at 3, the Cardinals and the Phillies are going to kickoff the 2005 season with a game at Citizens Bank Ballpark. At the end of the day one team is going to be 1-0, and another is going to be 0-1. There will be 161 other games this year, rending the outcome of today's game virtually (although not entirely) meaningless. Last year the Astros lost to the Cards 7-3 on Opening Day and went on to win 89 games and go to the World Series. The game was hardly emblematic of their season and it hardly set any "tone" either. The 'Stros took a loss, shook it off and came back.

Personal achievement is the only thing really at stake at Jimmy Rollins seeks to run his consecutive game hit streak to 37.

I'd state that how you open a season is unimportant, unless you drive yourself into a hole so deep that you can't get out of it. And even then, nothing is out of the question. I point to the 2001 Oakland A's. As late as July 5th, just a few days before the All-Star Break, the A's had a losing record: 41-43, twenty games behind the Seattle Mariners (61-23) in the AL West and nine games behind the Boston Red Sox for the wildcard. The A's caught fire and proceeded to run off a 61-17 record (.782 winning percentage) to win 102 games, finish second and make the playoffs as a wildcard. That, despite dropping (badly) 10 if their first 12 games to the season. The '01 A's are an extreme example, but a good one, of how the opening to a season is fairly unimportant. Until June 1, the season is pretty meaningless.

The most important days of the baseball year are July 31st (trading dead-line) and the final day of the season. What team you take into the stretch run and where you end up are the most important things. Baseball becomes magical in the mid-summer when the season starts taking shape and when you can relax in the stands, eat a badly over-priced hot dog, and remember other lazy summer days from your youth.

So enjoy Opening Day, Phillies fans. I'll check on the score tonight before I go to bed. I just want to see J.Roll get a hit.

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

Rare Sunday Post... 

The Phillies dealt Robinson Tejeda to the Texas Rangers for David Dellucci. Great deal by Pat Gillick.

The problem with Tejeda, I've complained in the past, is that he's a flyball hitter. His 2005 groundball-flyball ratio was 0.82. What was remarkable about Tejeda season was how insanely lucky he was. He surrendered far too many walks (51 in 85 & 2/3 innings, or 5.35 per 9 innings) to get by at Citizen's. I've said it in the past and I'll reiterate it again: a pitcher at Citizen's needs to keep runners off the basepaths, and that means keeping guys from getting walks. Robinson was essentially walking every seventh batter he faced. You can't do that at Citizens.

Robinson was also ridiculously lucky: he surrendered just 5 home runs in 2005, or 0.52 per 9 innings. That is a fluke. If Robinson pitched at Citizens in 2006, he'd get shelled. Badly. Dealing him was a good decision.

Dellucci gives the Phillies a bat in a perilously thin bench. Check out Dellucci's 2005 stats:

OBP: .367
SLG: .513
HR: 29
RBI: 65
BB: 76

Dellucci's career slugging percentage is a good deal lower than his '05 numbers (.435), but his OBP is right in line: .345. Dellucci's career GPA is a good .264. He'll never wrestle away a job in the outfield from Rowand, Burrell or Abreu, but he gives the Phillies a valuable bat off the bench when all they had was Alex Gonzalez and Abraham Nunez.

Defensively Dellucci won't be the player than Jason Michaels was. The Fielding Bible states that while he can play all three spots, he's really too slow to play center and has too weak an arm to play right. TFB notes he "plays without fear in the outfield, will go to any length, even physical harm, to make a catch." (See, page 181.) He's capable and seems able to spell Pat Burrell if he gets injured.

Bad deal for the Rangers: according to the 2005 Bill James Handbook (don't have the '06 yet), The Ballpark At Arlington was the second easiest ballpark to homer in from 2002-2004, with a park factor of 124. Tejeda will surrender runs by the bushel. Meanwhile the Phillies have a terrific bat to add to the bench. Good work Pat.

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