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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United States, Pennsylvania, Wexford, Christopher Wren, English, Michael, Male, 26-30, baseball , politics.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The World Series: Cats vs. Birds 

The Cardinals and Tigers will square off in the World Series starting this Saturday. Last night the Cards finished off the Mets, the juggernaut that dominated the N.L. regular season, with a terrific pitching performance and some timely hitting. Like everyone else I expected to see the Mets in the Series, but it wasn’t to be. The Subway Series that the pundits in New York dreamed of was never to be. I say: good!

This will be an interesting series to watch: the Tigers dominated most of the regular season before sliding into the playoffs, while the Cardinals nearly blew a historic lead to the Astros before sliding into the playoffs. Once both teams made it, they turned on their afterburners and blew away the opposition. The Tigers especially look strong here in the post-season.

If history will be any guide this series will go seven games, just as the 1934 and 1968 World Series did. I doubt that. My pick is for the Tigers to win in five.

I like the Tigers for a bunch of reasons. For one thing they excel at pitching and defense. Defensively they led the American League by a wide margin in DER: .704, compared to the White Sox and Blue Jays second-best .696 … The Tigers also had one of the best pitching staffs in the A.L. Their Fielding Independent ERA was just 4.36, well under the league average of 4.56 and good enough for third in the A.L. They don’t give up many home runs and they are nearly impossible to get a walk off of.

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching: (13*HR+3*BB-2*K / IP) + League Factor Evaluates a pitching by how he would have done with an average defense behind him by keeping track of things that a pitcher can control (walks, strikeouts, home runs allowed) as opposed to things he cannot (hits allowed, runs allowed).
DER – Defense Efficiency Ratio: (Batters Faced – (Hits + Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) / (Batters Faced – (Home Runs, Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) How often fielders convert balls put into play into outs.
Runs Created (RC): A stat originally created by Bill James to measure a player’s total contribution to his team’s lineup. Here is the formula: [(H + BB + HBP - CS - GIDP) times ((S * 1.125) + (D * 1.69) + (T * 3.02) + (HR * 3.73) + (.29 * (BB + HBP – IBB)) + (.492 * (SB + SF + SH)) – (.04 * K))] divided by (AB + BB + HBP + SH+ SF). If you use ESPN’s version be advised that it is pitifully is out-of-date, however. James adjusted RC after the 2004 season ended.

The Cards, in contrast seemed to struggle pitching-wise, though their pitchers played well in the NLCS. They ranked as one of the worst teams in the N.L. in FIP in 2006. Defensively, they weren’t as strong as they have been in the past either: their .699 DER is a little better than the league average, and well off the leaders (San Diego: .714).

The Tigers seem to have a lot of parts that work together flawlessly on offense: they don’t have a big name like Albert Pujols spearheading their attack, and yet they scored 5.07 runs a game in 2006, one of the best in the A.L. The Cards seem to rely almost exclusively on Pujols to generate offense. Pujols had 150 Runs Created in 2006, almost sixty more than his next teammate, Scott Rolen (91). After Rolen, the next big contributor to the Cards attack is that noted slugger Juan Encarnacion. The Tigers, in contrast, had five guys with 80+ Runs Created. That’s balance, and I think it shows.

On paper this is a pure mismatch. In the regular season the Cardinals run differential was just +19, while the Tigers were +147. The Tigers won 12 more games than the Cards did. I am tempted to pick the Tigers to sweep the series, but I think the Cards are due for one win. So call it Tigers in five. They are clearly the better team.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Wiz Kids, Part IV: April 18, 1950 – July 9, 1950 

The Phillies began the 1950 campaign full of promise. The team was branded the “Wiz Kids” because of how young it was: the average age for a player on the team’s roster was 26. The Phils also began the season with new uniforms, so it was a new era at Shibe Park.

The first few weeks of the season were a mess, as the Phillies struggled to get out of the gate. The Phillies ended the month of April splitting a double-header with the Dodgers, which set their record at 6-6, good for a three-way tie for fourth place.

The Phillies got a hot hand in May, going 17-9 for the month. At one point the Phillies went 15-4, and jumped from sixth place to first. Then the Phillies dropped a double-header to the Dodgers and lost eight of their next thirteen games, sliding third place, four games behind the St. Louis Cardinals.

For the rest of June the Phillies struggled to stay with the rest of the pack. Importantly the Phillies swept the Dodgers in three games and nearly made it four until an 8-8 tie was ended because of Philadelphia’s curfew law on July 2nd. In the days before the All-Star Game the Phillies took two of three from the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The Phillies entered the All-Star Break at 44-29, with a one game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals, a two game lead on the Braves and a four game edge on the Dodgers. The Giants were ten games back.

National League
Philadelphia: 44-29
St. Louis: 43-30
Boston: 42-31
Brooklyn: 39-32
Chicago: 33-38
New York: 34-40
Cincinnati: 29-44
Pittsburgh: 27-47

It was anyone’s race.

Tomorrow I'll preview the 2006 World Series.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Echoes of History? 

I don’t think anyone is more surprised by the Cardinals 3-2 lead in the NLCS than myself. I assumed that the Mets pitching woes would impact them in a short series against a team with very good pitching, like the Dodgers. Instead, the Cards, a team that had woeful pitching in 2006, have taken advantage and forced the Mets into a must-win situation for the next two games.

I am surprised to see the mighty Mets in this predicament. This was supposed to be a Subway Series, just like in 2000, but the Tigers and Cards had other plans. I was very surprised when the Tigers awoke out of their slumber and took out the Yankees, but I am stunned by how well the Cards are playing the Mets. This from a team that - quite frankly - backed its way into the playoffs and looked like easy prey for the Padres. A team that had a worse record than the Phillies.

If there is a Tigers – Cardinals World Series it would have interesting echoes of history: the Tigers and Cards have met twice in World Series history. In 1968 the Tigers won the Series 4-3 behind the pitching of 31-game winner Denny McClain. McClain bested Bob Gibson, who had been 8-0 in World Series games, in the seventh game to take one of the best World Series in history.

The other time they met was back in 1934, when the Cards won behind a scrappy group of players known as the Gashouse Gang. The Cards won game seven 11-0 in Detroit to close out an exciting series.

Tomorrow, Part IV of the Wiz Kids, the first half of the 1950 season.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Big Moves Being Made... 

Yesterday the Phillies hired what has been described as an “All-Star” group of former managers to coach along with Charlie Manuel: former A’s, Astros and Mets skipper Art Howe, former Brewers manager Javy Lopes, and former Red Sox, Astros and Blue Jays manager Jimy Williams. Two thoughts struck me as I read the announcement:

-First, I am absolutely stunned to see the Phillies hire three individuals who have absolutely no contact with the team. As far as I am aware, neither Howe, nor Lopes, nor Williams have any sort of a connection with the team: they’ve never played or coached or consulted with the Phillies at any point in the past. This is startling for a franchise that is xenophobic in the extreme, typically seeking to hire managers and coaches who have played for the Phils or previously coached for them in the past. And here the Phillies bring aboard three guys with zero ties to the Phillies.

I think it is an enormously positive sign for a team that often seems stuck in reverse or is too unimaginative to seek new ideas or bring in outside ideas. This move has Pat Gillick’s fingerprints all over it: he was the GM in Toronto and oversaw Williams and he got to see a lot of Art Howe when he managed the Oakland A’s and Gillick oversaw the Mariners. Gillick himself is an outsider: someone without any sort of connection to the team prior to being hired as GM last year. To see outsiders be brought in is a tremendous step in the right direction for this team.

-Second, I think the decision tremendously undermines Charlie Manuel. Right there are three guys who have managed and managed well in the majors waiting to second-guess his decisions. Right there are three interim-managers-in-waiting for the Phillies to turn to in the event that the Phils get off to a slow start and Gillick decides to axe Manuel. Will there be tension here? Count on it.

-Johnny Callison died recently. He was a great one for the Phillies and played on that ’64 squad. Poor guy. He deserves to be remembered for being one of the finest defensive outfielders in baseball.

-I was stunned that the A’s axed Ken Macha as their coach. They guy had almost one hundred more wins than losses as a manager in a comparatively short period of time and got the A’s to the ALCS. I don’t usually question the wisdom of the Wise, All-Powerful and All-Knowing Billy Beane, but I am baffled by this move.

-The NLCS got rained out. The Mets and Cards go again tonight. I wonder how the Tigers are going to feel, not having to play a game for basically an entire week. They ought to be rested, but you never know if they’ll lose that critical edge that they’ve been carrying around.

-I cannot believe that the Bears won Monday Night against the Cardinals 24-23. I went to bed when it was 20-0 at the half in favor of Arizona and was positive that the Bears were going to get their first loss of the season. It was not to be.

-I ended up watching a little of the NFL Cheerleaders playoffs on the NFL Network last night. Couldn’t the Eagles have found a better team than the two girls we sent? Jeez, they got creamed.

More tomorrow on the NLCS. I'll also post Part IV of the Wiz Kids thursday.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

The Wiz Kids, Part III: Focus on Jim Konstanty 

On a team nick-named the Wiz Kids for their youth, Konstanty was ripe old 33 years of age that season and an unlikely hero.

Jim Konstanty originally came from upstate New York, where he had played a little baseball in college as an infielder. While working as a phys-ed teacher for a high school, Konstanty also played some minor league baseball as a pitcher. His talent got him some tryouts for teams. He briefly pitched in the minor leagues going 4-19, before the Cincinnati Reds bought his contract and gave him a shot in 1944 due to the absence of quality pitchers thanks to World War II. Konstanty briefly pitched for the Reds, going 6-4, but was dealt to the Braves and spent a year in the military. His major league career seemed to be going nowhere at all, but Konstanty stuck with it with dogged perserverence.

The year 1947 found Konstanty contemplating retirement while pitching in Toronto for the Maple Leafs, an affiliate of the Philadelphia A’s. In 1948, that crucial year for the Wiz Kids, the Maple Leafs shifted their affiliation to the Phillies and their manager, Eddie Sawyer, took the reins of the Phillies as manager. In addition to players like Richie Ashburn, Sawyer brought Konstanty with him, much to the surprise of nearly every other observer in baseball. Coming into the 1950 season Konstanty had thrown just 234 & 2/3 innings in his short career in the majors. He was a pitcher who relied on a dazzling array of off-speed pitches to fool batters instead of blazing heat. Going into 1950 there was nothing to indicate how tremendous Konstanty was going to be for the Phillies.

In 1949 Sawyer made Konstanty the Phillies bullpen ace and used him to save twelve games and win another nine. The next year Konstanty became probably the most unlikely MVP award winner in history. Konstanty led the NL in appearances with 74, 23 more than the runner-up, the Pirates Murry Dickson. Konstanty also led the NL in saves with 22, nearly three times more than the Pirates Bill Werle, who had at eight. The most striking aspect of Konstanty’s season was how many games he finished for the Phillies: 62. The Pirates Vic Lombardi was a very distant second in games finished with 23.

A brief look at Konstanty’s stats shows how his use of off-speed pitches kept batters off-balance:

Konstanty / Phillies / League
ERA: 2.66 / 3.50 / 4.14
FIP: 3.70 / 3.89 / 4.14
WHIP: 1.04 / 1.32 / 1.42
HR/9: 0.65 / 0.78 / 0.90
BB/9: 2.96 / 3.39 / 3.71
K/9: 3.32 / 3.97 / 4.09

Konstanty wasn’t a strikeout artist and heavily relied on the Phillies tremendous fielding prowess to deliver outs. Konstanty allowed the ball to be put into play and relied on the defense to make the outs. Konstanty tried to keep the ball down and keep cheap base-runners off the base-paths. Konstanty was fortunate he had such a terrific defense backing him up: he faced 593 batters in 1950 and 476 managed to put the ball into play (i.e., they didn’t strikeout, walk, be hit by a pitch or hit a home run). Of those 476, just 97 got hits, meaning the Phillies fielders converted .796 of the balls put into play into outs. Simply put, Konstanty wouldn’t have won the MVP award had the Phillies not been behind him with one of the best – if not the best – defenses in baseball. To a certain extent, Konstanty was very fortunate in 1950.

And the Phils were lucky to have him. Whenever there was a lead or if the Phillies were locked in a close game that they needed to win, Sawyer would call on Konstanty, who would come trotting out of the clubhouse and take to the mound. On August 25, for example, Konstanty entered the game against the Pirates with the score tied 6-6 in the seventh inning. Konstanty hurled nine innings, surrendering a home run to Ralph Kiner, but he kept the Phillies in the game and enabled them to pull out a 9-7 victory in the fifteenth inning.

Konstanty’s MVP award was clearly for being the most important player for his team, not for necessarily being the best player in the National League that year, an honor that should have gone to the Cardinals Stan Musial, in my opinion. (Before anyone protests, scope out Part VIII of this series, where I’ll discuss Musial.) But is that necessarily true? As I noted above, Konstanty relied on the Phillies fielders to get outs. Yes, he was the pitcher the Phillies called on to get the tough outs in the close games, and Konstanty probably is the major reason why the Phillies went 30-16 in one-run games in 1950, best in the NL, however I think there is an argument to be made that Konstanty was the fourth-most important Phillie:

-Robin Roberts pitched over three hundred innings for the Phillies and pitched in the climatic game against the Dodgers on October 1, 1950, that decided the pennant.

-Del Ennis was the Phillies major offensive threat, batting runners home. Ennis led the Phillies with 114 Runs Created in 1950, twenty more than Third baseman Willie 'Puddinhead' Jones. Without Ennis the Phillies sixth-ranked offense would probably have been too weak to deliver enough runs.

-Richie Ashburn had a dynamite season as the Phillies centerfielder, leading the league in putouts. On a team that relied on defense, Ashburn was probably the best defensive player. Arguably, Ashburn was the Phillies best player in 1950.

-On a humorous note, Konstanty's pitching guru was an undertaker in upstate New York named Andy Skinner who knew next to nothing about baseball but advised Konstanty whenever he needed help.

The next year, 1951, Konstanty’s luck ran out. He faced 427 batters who put the ball into play and surrendered 118 hits, a .724 Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER). Konstanty’s FIP ERA didn’t really rise much – 3.79 – but he had been hit hard. Konstanty finished 4-11 with just nine saves. Konstanty had gone from getting credit for thirty-eight of the Phillies wins in ‘50 to thirteen in ‘51.

The wheels came off after that. In 1952 Konstanty went 5-3 with six saves. He finished just twenty-five games and was clearly on his way out of Philly. His FIP ERA had spiked to 4.33, well above the league average of 3.73. Opposing teams batted .294 against Konstanty. Without the Phillies defense leading the way, Konstanty was a paper tiger. The next year the Phillies improved defensively, but Konstanty struggled. His ERA was 4.43, just over his FIP ERA of 4.27 … Konstanty had largely moved into the rotation, starting 19 of his 48 games and finishing the season 14-10.

The next season was Konstanty’s final as a Phillie. He played in 33 games before being waived by the Phillies and claimed by the Yankees. Konstanty pitched in nine games for the Yankees, finishing six and saving two. The ’54 Yankees, alas, finished behind the Cleveland Indians for the AL pennant, the first time the Yankees failed to win the World Series since 1948. Konstanty pitched another season for the Yanks before he was released in the spring of 1956. Briefly he pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1956 but was released at the end of the season. It would be Konstanty’s last. He was out of baseball.

Konstanty passed away June 11, 1976, in Oneonta, New York.

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