Friday, August 04, 2006
Tough week coming up for the Phillies. Here is what we’ve got:
Friday, Saturday, Sunday: @ New York Mets
The Phillies play the Mets ten times in the month of August, so this is a really golden opportunity to show people that the Phils are still in the playoff hunt. Can the Phillies challenge the Mets for the division crown? Pleasant idea, but utterly unrealistic. The Mets have the NL East wrapped up. They’d basically have to sweep the Mets this weekend and go 9-1 or 10-0 against the Mets this month to have a shot at the NL East. I don’t see that happening.
If I’m a Mets fan, I’m feeling pretty good right now. Their 3-0 sweep of the Braves last weekend was pretty decisive and finalized the changing of the guard at the top of the NL East this season. I really don’t see anyone making up that 13-14 game gap between the Phillies, Braves, Nats and Fishstripes and the Mets. With the unbalanced schedule the Mets are blessed getting to play the bulk of their remaining games against the NL East, whom they are 27-13 (.675) against.
The Mets of 2006 are unlike any Mets team I’ve seen since 1999 and 2000: they are a fearsome offensive machine (as I predicted in the spring, the acquisition of Carlos Delgado has been a major, major boon) with Wright, Beltran and Delgado. They are tops in the NL in runs scored. Their pitching and defense are good, but not great. I don’t think you’ll see the Mets in the World Series because I think they’ll start fading down the stretch and run out of gas: they are heavily reliant on their starting pitching and offense to win, and I think that mixture will break down for them in October. Still, they have an enormous lead and they won’t relinquish it any time soon.
I think this will be a tight series, and I see the Mets taking two of three.
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday: @ Atlanta Braves
The Phillies wrap up their road trip in Atlanta, taking on the hated Braves. This season has been a difficult one to watch, but it has been enjoyable to watch the Braves stagger and struggle to stay in the wildcard race. Yes, almost certainly, the Mets will hang on and take the NL East, making 2006 the first time since the three division format started in ’95 that the Braves did not win the division, and the first time that the Braves didn’t win a division since 1990. So in many ways this was a deeply satisfying season to watch. Now, if the Braves can just do us the favor of flaming out of the wildcard race and finish the season with a sub-.500 record, we can all smile.
What is wrong with the Braves? They can’t pitch. The sine qua non of this team has always been their starting rotation, which has included Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Kevin Millwood, etc. This team has been blessed with real studs in the rotation and they look bizarrely terrible these days. The Braves FIP ERA is just a little bit better than the Phillies: 4.76 to 4.79. That is a rather terrifying stat to Braves fans because the Phillies have had terrible pitching all season long. The idea that the Braves, with Smoltz and Hudson, are pitching as badly as the Phillies is astonishing.
Defensively, the Braves are below average too. Their DER, Defense Efficiency Ratio, is .687, .004 below the NL average. That pitching/defense cornerstone that the Braves have been built around is fractured. If the Braves defense is so good, then why is Marcus Giles ranked 11 of 13 NL 2B’s in Zone Rating at .786? Why is Chipper Jones 10 of 13 NL 3B’s in ZR too? Why does Edgar Renteria rank 13 of 16 shortstops in ZR? And why does Andruw Jones rank dead-last amongst NL centerfielders in ZR?
Simply put, they are a lousy team defensively these days. The Braves have turned themselves into an offensive squad, a team that needs to win games 8-7. In short, they’ve become the Mets of the 1990s, a poorly built team that relies on offense to shield its defensive short-comings. Even if the Braves manage to limp into the playoffs, which I doubt (I think they’ll struggle to get to .500), they’ll be a quick 3-0 sweep.
The Phillies should be able to take these guys, provided they have enough gas in their tank to last that long. Oh, and if Chase Utley gets hits in all three Mets games this weekend, he'll be poised to hit in Game #39 on Monday against the Braves.
Plans for the week: Monday, a post on some of the Phillies new faces; Tuesday, a report on the Phillies farm system; Wednesday, a post on Ryan Madson’s career to this point; and Thursday a look at Gavin Floyd.
I’m presently working on a big project concerning the Phillies history, so stay tuned. I expect to unveil that in November.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
-Since I pronounced the Phillies “phinished” for the year, they’ve decided to become the hottest team in baseball, cutting their deficit in the wildcard race down from seven and a half games to three and a half. Meanwhile, they’ve leapfrogged from tenth to fifth. With a win tonight against the Cards and a little luck, they could move into third place and cut the gap to two and a half games. Since losing to the D-backs 6-5, the Phillies have gone 7-2.
-The change in the team’s demeanor last night was palpable: they didn’t tighten up and lose their focus when the heat was on. They seemed to buckle down and play even harder. This team was getting timely hits, making smart decisions on the base-paths, and got some breaks. Shane Victorino’s triple was a real back-breaker for the Cards. It is as if dealing Cory Lidle, Bobby Abreu, David Bell and Rheal Cormier took a load off the Phillies back and convinced them that they didn't need to worry or stress anymore.
-The more things change the more they stay the same: nice work grounding into that inning-ending double play, Aaron Rowand.
-The idea of re-signing David Dellucci and having him take over in right field is looking like a very attractive option. Dellucci played a nice game: 3-for-4, 4 RBIs, 2 runs scored. Dellucci isn’t the OBP machine that Abreu is, but he hits for a lot of power (.262 ISO* in Texas in 2005, compared to Bobby Abreu’s .188 ISO), and he’s a good glove (According to The Fielding Bible: “Dellucci plays without fear in the outfield; will go to any length, even physical harm, to make a catch.”). As long as the Phillies don’t lock him into any real long-term deal (he’ll be 33 in 2007), they might have found a viable replacement for Bobby.
* Isolated Power (ISO): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
-This is Chase Utley’s team now. Forget about the 34-game hitting streak. That isn’t important. What is important is that Chase is easily the Phillies most valuable player. He’s the rare middle infielder who hits for power (.230 ISO), gets on base (.388 OBP), works the count at the plate (3.91 pitches per plate appearance, most on the team after Burrell and Abreu), and plays a tough defensive position well. This is his team and they will go as far as he will take them.
-The Phillies face a critical stretch coming up. Tonight they finish their series with the Cards and then they have to go to Queens to play the Mets, to Atlanta to play the Braves, and then home to play the Reds and Mets before they get a breather with the Nats. Things aren’t over yet, these next few days will make or break the Phillies season. As I said earlier, circle the Phillies-Mets series on August 14-17 at Citizens. That series will make-or-break the Phils season.
See everyone tomorrow.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
So I said in my Season Preview for the 2006 Phillies on March 20, 2006. I rationalized that the Phillies rely on defense to deal with shaky pitching from their rotation and the fact that they have so many groundball hurling pitchers on the staff. I concluded by preview by arguing that the Phillies were going to be a better defensive team in 2006 than they were in 2005 because they had replaced the Lofton/Michaels platoon with glove wizard Aaron Rowand and Jim Thome with younger, nimbler Ryan Howard.
I could not have been more wrong. The 2006 Philadelphia Phillies have been a defensive disaster. As I write this the Phillies are fifteenth of sixteen NL teams in Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER): (Batters Faced – (Hits + Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) / (Batters Faced – (Home Runs, Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) DER measures how often fielders convert balls put into play into outs. This team has consistently been one of the top-rated DER teams for the last several years. In fact, in 2005 the Phillies were ranked second in the NL in DER at .703, just .002 behind the Houston Astros. In 2004 the Phillies ranked third in DER, and the season before that they were fourth. This year the Phillies are 15th and are working at a .676, a massive decline by the team. The only team fielding worse than the Phillies right now are the Pittsburgh Pirates at .662.
So why the tremendous decline in the quality of the Phillies fielders? I puzzled over the reason why and came to a pair of conclusions:
1. Ryan Howard and Aaron Rowand, far from being defensive upgrades for the Phils have actually been, to differing degrees, downgrades.
2. The Phillies regular performers have all struggled a little with the glove.
Let’s start with Aaron Rowand. When Rowand joined the Phillies I predicted that he would upgrade an already strong defensive unit and that he was a “brilliant fielder” and that impact of his glove on the team has going to be “huge”. I could not have been more wrong. Forget that big catch he made earlier in the season. Everyone thinks of Rowand as a defensive wiz and a blue-collar gamer thanks to that play. Just how every pundit in baseball lauded Derek Jeter for his flip to home in the ALDS against the A’s, one play does not make someone a defensive genius. Derek Jeter is, in truth, a terrible defensive player. Aaron Rowand has, in truth, had a terrible season with his glove.
Let’s look at Zone Rating (ZR). 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 it is basically accurate. How is Rowand doing with ZR? Don’t ask:
1. Abercrombie (FLA): .920
2. Pierre (CHC): .913
3. Byrnes (ARIZ): .912
4. Beltran (NYM): .904
5. Cameron (SD): .892
6. Edmonds (STL): .882
7. Finley (SF): .880
8. Taveras (HOU): .878
9. Clark (MILW): .871
10. Sullivan (COL): .864
11. Rowand (PHI): .863
12. Jones (ATL): .854
Eleventh of twelve. Let’s not mince words here. That is awful. Terrible. Inexcuseable.
It is a pity that the White Sox didn't try to deal to get Rowand back, as was rumored several weeks ago.
Let’s move on to Howard. Let’s not be nostalgic for Jim Thome’s fielding. He was a terrible fielder and moving back to the American league, where he can DH, was probably the best thing for him. But Ryan Howard has surprised me with his mediocre fielding. Rowand ranks tenth of twelve fielders in terms of ZR. (Thankfully for him he is nowhere near the worst in the NL, Prince Fielder of the Brewers: .826 vs. .807.) Ryan also ranks first in the NL in errors by a first baseman with 12. The next players to him are Fielder and the Nats Nick Johnson with 7.
Far from being the surprisingly graceful fielder that he was in 2005, Ryan Howard has become a slow-footed plodder basically the same, if not worse, than Jim Thome. In short, Howard’s sin is that he’s basically become the same defensive liability at first that Jim Thome was when he wore the red stripes.
As for the rest of the Phillies defense, they have all struggled. Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and the recently traded David Bell all rank in the middle-to-the-bottom of their positions (2b, ss & 3b respectively). Pat Burrell is actually playing somewhat decently, while the recently dealt Bobby Abreu plays defense with a polite indifference that says: “I’d rather be batting.”
I actually think that the Abreu deal might stiff up the Phillies defense a little: David Dellucci has been rated a better-than-average defensive outfielder who plays with wild abandon. He's a major upgrade over Bobby.
So there you go. As I said in my interview with the Metro paper on Thursday, I am always looking for reasons the mainstream media misses for why this team is struggling as it is. I think I’ve found a big one: Ryan Howard and Aaron Rowand have been big busts defensively the it is costing the Phillies the ability to protect their pitchers. When pitchers can’t rely on the fielders behind them they begin to assume that they need to be perfect and unhittable every outing, every pitch. With the Phillies lousy defense unmasking their mediocre pitching, the Phils are really in a tight spot.
Truly, this is the Year of the Glove, or more accurately, The Year the Glove Did the Phillies in. If this team expects to compete in 2007, it must rebuild its defensive prowess: signing Dellucci is a start, and getting a good defensive player at third is another. Otherwise, expect another loooooong season Phillies fans.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Gillick then went on to throw a wet blanket over the 2007 season, stating that he was aiming on the Phillies competing again in 2008. 2008?
This all bring up a good question: does this team have any hope? Or should we all just quit bothering to pay attention to these guys?
I am the eternal pessimist about things, so it is odd that I am always playing the role of optimist when it comes to the Phillies. Most Phillies fans are pessimists: 100+ years and one World Series will do that. Add in the chronic inability of the Sixers, Flyers and Eagles to mount the championship summit and you can get a feeling for why Philly sports fans are eternal pessimists. Toss Pat Gillick into the mix of people who think the Phillies are doomed. I think that’s defeatest talk poisoning the team. This team can win in 2007.
Simply put, the Phillies have a pretty decent core of young players. Cole Hamels will be 23 next year. Chase Utley will be 28. Ryan Howard will be 27. Ryan Madson will be 26. Jimmy Rollins will be 28. There is a core of players there who are still young, all under the age of 30, and all have significant playing time in the major leagues. It isn’t as if the Phillies are going to need a year for these guys to get experience and start playing to their potential. Utley and Howard are already All-Stars. Cole Hamels is winning the respect of nearly every major league team he sees for his stuff. J.Roll has been a starter for six years. Ryan Madson, despite his struggles, has good stuff as well. And maybe Gavin Floyd, who will be 24 next year, can reclamate his career in 2007. I think the Phillies have the potential for a good rotation, and have real sluggers in the lineup too with Utley, Howard and the oft-maligned Pat Burrell, who will be the old man at 30 next year. Utley, Howard and Burrell have combined thus far this season to hit 71 home runs, 57 doubles and have a .552 slugging percentage. This team has talent.
Who will join the team? The Phillies two off-season priorities must be a new third baseman and a new catcher. If the Phils resign David Dellucci, who hit 29 home runs for the Texas Rangers in 2005, keep Shane Victorino as insurance for Pat Burrell and replace David Bell and Mike Lieberthal at third and catcher, two moves that I refuse to believe will be difficult for Gillick to make, I think the Phillies have the horses to contend again. Remember, they play in a very unpredictable division. Who would have expected the Marlins to contend so soon after their 2005 fire sale?
Which brings up a good point. The NL East might be a lot weaker in 2007. The Nats? They are doomed to mediocrity. Move along. The Mets might win the World Series this year and they might have a future Hall of Famer in Carlos Beltran in their lineup, but their pitching staff is going to gray in 2007 and will be an achillies heel. The Braves are a team lurching towards a decline as John Schuerholz wonders why his team is no longer “Built to Win”. The Fishstripes are unpredictable to the extreme. I think the new Wiz Kids of 2007 can compete.
I don’t really think that Pat Gillick has a good grasp on what it is going to take for the Phillies to win. I don’t think Gillick has his finger on the pulse of fandom either. Gillick’s biggest successes as a G.M. came while he was the G.M. of the Seattle Mariners and the Toronto Blue Jays. Not to over generalize, but Toronto and Seattle are two laid-back, calm cities with a very white-collar fan base. Philadelphia is gritty, intense, blue-collar and the fans are the team's toughest critics. I don’t think Gillick realizes that the fans in Philly aren’t patient about waiting for the Phillies to make a move. The 2003-2006 time-period was supposed to be the team’s shot at playing for their next World Series ring. Instead, the Phillies struggled to get to the 90-win plateau and seem destined to enter 2007 as one of just three NL teams that have failed to make the playoffs since the strike of 1994.
If anyone deserves blame for the Phillies current state it is Gillick: this team has declined in terms of talent from the team Ed Wade built and none of the moves Gillick has been making have paid off. Dealing Vicente Padilla? He’s pitching well in Texas and the Phillies cut the player we got for him. Jim Thome is having a great year in Chicago while Aaron Rowand continues to jam up the Phillies lineup with shoddy defense and poor hitting. The team designated Ryan Franklin for assignment after realizing that he was a terrible fit for Citizens Bank Ballpark. With each deal Pat Gillick has gotten fleeced. Maybe Gillick doesn’t want to admit it, but he’s doesn’t have the golden touch anymore.
The fans don't deserve to be told that their team can't compete. It can. By declaring the 2007 season as one being devoted to rebuilding, Pat Gillick has dispirited Phillies fans everywhere and has given people serious doubts about the future direction of this franchise.
Wait ‘til ’08? Absolutely not. We can win now. Let’s get it done.
Monday, July 31, 2006
One hour to the trade deadline....
What do I think of the deals? Basically good, though I suspect that the Phillies didn’t quite get what they could of from the Yankees. Here are my thoughts on the Phillies weekend trades …
Goodbye David Bell: The Phillies said goodbye to David Bell over the weekend, sending him to the Milwaukee Brewers for a minor league pitching prospect. I’m not a huge fan of the deal, given that the Phillies dealt away maybe the best defensive third baseman in the game for a minor league pitcher with a +4.00 ERA. Candidly, I don’t know anything about Wilfrido Laureano, but it strikes me as being a bad deal for the Phils. Yes, Bell wasn’t going to figure in the team’s plans for 2007 anyway, but I don’t think the Phils got much and they are going to replace Bell with Abraham Nunez, a player whose offensive output this season can charitably be stated to be pitiful. Here is the offensive downgrade the Phillies have suffered:
GPA / ISO*:
Nunez: .139 / .079
Bell: .258 / .122
* Gross Productive Average (GPA): (1.8 * .OBP + .SLG) / 4 = .GPA. Invented by The Hardball Times Aaron Gleeman, GPA measures a players production by weighing his ability to get on base and hit with power. This is my preferred all-around stat.
Isolated Power (ISO): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
Seems to me to be a terrible deal.
Goodbye Sal Fasano: Let’s just call this addition by subtraction. I’ve got nothing again Sal Fasano the man, but Sal Fasnao the catcher was batting a .224 GPA. I don’t know what the Phillies got for him, but they made a smart move by moving him.
Adios Ryan Franklin: Lost in all of this momentous news was the fact that the Phillies designated Franklin for assignment, meaning they have to deal him quickly (within 10 days). Another terrible decision from the off-season washed away: Franklin was a flyball-tossing starter being asked to pitch relief on a team that plays in a hitters park. It was a lethal combination and the Phillies are lucky they only asked him 52 & 1/3 innings in 2006. Unsurprisingly, Franklin surrendered more than his fair share of home runs: 1.75 per nine innings. Good riddance.
Goodbye Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle: Let’s start by making three observations. One, the Phillies are going to save a lot of cash by dealing Abreu. Two, they didn’t really get a lot of talent for him. Three, they are going to save a lot of money.
Let’s be honest here: the Phillies weren’t looking to get a lot of value for Abreu. After spending a decade dealing away their farm system to pursue the World Series, the Yankees seemed reluctant to part with any major talent like Phil Hughes. Might one of the four prospects the Phillies got turn into a starter / contributor? Maybe. I’d peg Matt Smith, who hurled 12 scoreless innings with the Yankees last year and possesses an impressive slider, as being the player with the biggest upside. The position players, C.J. Henry and Jesus Sanchez, aren’t likely to make it: Shortstop Henry is considered a busted first-rounder who is struggling to live up to his talent in Single-A ball (bad sign), and Catcher Sanchez can’t hit (though he’s got a nice arm), so he is a poor bet to replace Mike Lieberthal.
I agree with the Inquirer’s Jim Salisbury: this deal was really about ditching Bobby’s paycheck.
The Phillies are giving up a great player. Seven consecutive seasons with 100+ bases on balls. Career .411 OBP. Career .313 GPA. Eight consecutive seasons of 100+ Runs Created. However, the Phils were due to pay Abreu another $4mil this year and due to give up $15 mil next season. Bobby is 32 and probably due for a decline. Players hit the wall at this age and nobody can argue that Bobby hasn’t been the same player since winning the home run derby in Houston last year.
The Phillies are giving up a good pitcher too. Cory Lidle has had a decent season with the Phillies and will strengthen the Yankees rotation. Cory’s problem is that he relies on the fielders to make plays and the Phillies defense has been lousy in 2006. I don’t think he’s going to enjoy playing for the Yankees: he’s going to have Bobby in right, Derek Jeter’s over-rated glove at short and A-Rod’s mastery of disaster at third. He’s not going to enjoy himself. The Yankees may have upgraded the team for their pennant run, but they've taken on a big albatross for the future.
So there you go Phillies phans. I’ll be back tomorrow morning with the rest of the trading deadline deals and some thoughts on the future of the franchise.