Friday, November 17, 2006
Let’s be blunt and utterly honest: Soriano is basically the only free agent the Phillies are pursuing, aside from a few middle relievers the team has some sort of fetish for and the already signed Wes Helms. If the Phillies don’t land Soriano I believe that Pat Gillick will probably pull the plug on the ’07 Phillies the first second they struggle. With Soriano in the lineup, I think the Phillies will believe they have a shot and ride this season out. Soriano’s signing is the tipping point.
Why do the Phillies think they need Soriano? Simply put, the Phillies have no confidence in Pat Burrell and Aaron Rowand to protect Ryan Howard in the Phillies lineup for 2007. Ryan led the major leagues in intentional walks in 2006 with 37, nine more than Albert Pujols. (Impressive as Ryan’s 37 IBB’s are, and they are the best since ’04, Barry Bonds got 120 IBB’s in 2004. Jim Thome was second that season with 28.) Charlie Manuel even resorted to batting Jeff Conine, the forty-year old right fielder the team got from the Orioles, behind Ryan. It was a miserable failure: Conine had just one home run and 17 RBIs as a Phillie. That lack of protection helps explain why Ryan went from having 14 home runs and 41 RBIs in August, when the Phillies were making their run on the pack for the wildcard, to having just nine home runs and twenty RBIs in September. Ryan drew 35 walks in September, compared to 22 in August. Without someone protecting Ryan, the Phillies might see their vaunted offense grind to a halt.
What would Soriano provide to the Phillies? Since he broke in with the Yankees as a full-timer in 2001, Soriano has been a big bat for the teams he’s played with. Over the last five seasons he’s hit 39, 38, 28, 36 and 46 home runs (210 in his career thus far). Soriano has also had 100+ Runs Created in three of the last five seasons. In addition to his remarkable power, Soriano shows a lot of speed on the base-paths. Soriano has 210 career stolen bases. Last season he swiped 41 in 58 attempts. His 41 steals was the best performance he turned in since he swiped 41 with the Yankees in 2002, which led the American League.
Having Ryan Howard and Soriano in the lineup would give the Phillies two players who hit a combined 173 extra-base hits (XBH), of which 104 were home runs, scored 223 runs and hit 244 RBIs. With Ryan Howard protected, the Phillies might do better than their N.L.-best 865 runs scored, perhaps edging close to the 1,000 runs mark.
Would Soriano be a big improvement over the incumbent left fielder, Pat Burrell, a player who I have defended and remain high on, but whom the Phillies management plainly doesn’t trust or believe in? Candidly, I am not so sure based on past performance: Burrell posted much better stats in 2005 (110 Runs Created to Soriano’s 89), and while inconsistent at times, has played well. Soriano has some holes in his game: namely, he doesn’t hit well with runners in scoring position:
BA/ RISP : Soriano / Burrell
2004: .253 / .263
2005: .235 / .313
2006: .231 / .222
Remember, Burrell was second in the N.L. in RBI in 2005 with 117. He’s a good player, but obviously the Phillies have major concerns that his heel will hold up into the future and he tried to shop him to the San Francisco Giants, a deal that is held up by Burrell’s no-trade clause and his massive eight figure salary. Assuming that Burrell is on his … well, last legs, then signing Soriano makes a great deal of sense. Soriano had something of a career season this past year – having the good fortune to also have that in his walk year – but will continue to post stats like those well and into the future.
Another bonus for the Phillies: they are getting a defensive upgrade in left with Soriano. Prior to 2006 Soriano had played second base for the Yankees and Rangers and many had felt that Soriano, who was reluctant to move to left field, wouldn’t make a good LF. They were wrong. Soriano ranked third of eleven left fielders in the N.L. in terms of Zone Rating with an .876 ZR. Burrell? Ranked eighth at .857. Soriano also had 22 assists in 2006. Burrell? Eight. Perhaps that is due to teams wanting to test Soriano’s arm and instincts, but it is a testament to Soriano’s skill that he had more than twice as many assists as any other N.L. left fielder. (Soriano’s assists also helped him rank first in range factor for left fielders.)
Finally a word about salary. With the Boston Red Sox paying millions just to have the right to negotiate with the Japanese about a pitcher, the market is throwing lots of dollars around at players. Aramis Ramirez’ decision to forego the free agent market and resign with the Cubs removed the other big bat from the market, which means that teams like the Dodgers, the Red Sox and the Mets will be ready to offer $12-$15 million dollars a year for Soriano. The Phillies will have to offer something like $90- $100 million over six or seven seasons to get Soriano on the team. Can the Phillies make that kind of a financial commitment? I would be uncomfortable to do so in Pat Gillick’s place, but the Phillies might not have a choice if they want to rally the Phillies fan base and give the fans a reason to cheer in 2007.
I expect to see a decision on Soriano sooner rather than later for the Phillies. By Thanksgiving Soriano will be a Phillie or a Dodger. We’ll see which.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
So what are the Phillies getting with Wes Helms? If 2006 is any guide, they are getting a diamond-in-the-rough: last season Wes Helms hit ten home runs and 47 RBIs in sparring duties, having just 278 plate appearances. Despite playing sparingly, Helms hit a .319 GPA and had a .246 ISO. Those are both fantastic numbers. Translated to a full season, Helms would have hit 25-30 home runs and had more like 80-95 RBIs. If Helms duplicates that performance in 2006, then the Phillies have gotten themselves a steal.
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.
On-Base Percentage (OBP): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
Slugging Percentage (SLG): Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage. Power at the plate.
Unfortunately, Helms career is rather difficult to evaluate. In 2006 he was used as a pinch-hitter 52 times and 50 times in 2005. It is a difficult task to pinch hit, so how Helms stats would hold up for a full regular season is a matter of some debate. Also, consider that Helms had been a very inconsistent player prior to 2006. His career slugging percentage prior to 2006 was just .424. His 2006 slugging percentage was much higher: .575. In 2003 Helms ranked seventh in the N.L. in strikeouts with 131. Helms has since dropped that number (55 last season), but it seems high and for a player not exactly known prior to last season for being a powerful hitter, that is mildly disturbing.
What kind of a fielder will Helms be? I haven’t a clue. Back in 2005 he logged to few innings that The Fielding Bible didn’t bother to come up with a scoring report on him. He played 178 innings at third base that season and was +3 in Plus / Minus. Impressively, his relative Range Factor was 1.053 (1.001 and above being better than average), which all suggests to me that he will be a strong and capable defender for the Phillies. Perhaps not the equal of David Bell, but pretty good.
Bottom-line, I am cautiously optimistic about the Phillies decision to sign Helms. He could be a terrific every-day third baseman for the Phillies if he plays like he did in 2006. If not, then the Phillies can go back to the drawing board and look for someone else to man the hot corner and utilize Helms as a pinch-hitter, the way so many other teams have. Either way, this decision was a smart one. Good work, one hole plugged, now onto the Soriano chase...
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Justin Verlander won the A.L. Rookie of the Year award, no surprise.
-Brandon Webb of the D-Backs won the Cy Young. I don't think there was a clear favorite this season and Webb did do a great job pitching. Today the AL crowns Johan Santana with his second Cy Young.
-Mark DeRosa, a player mentioned by the Phillies as being a target to succeed Abraham Nunez at third is gone, signed by the Cubs to be their regular third baseman. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Phillies are going to be left high and dry and without an alternative to Nunez for third next season.
-The Cubs are busy spending money like drunken sailors to try and get back into the playoffs. I suppose when your hated rivals win the World Series you have to try and one-up them as quickly as possible. So far the Cubs re-signed injury-prone Kerry Wood and Aramis Ramirez, their power-hitting third baseman. Ramirez was probably never much of an option for the Phillies to succeed Abraham Nunez at third (too much money and he’s not much of a fielder), but it has to depress people to see that option close.
-Hmmm … I wonder if Scott Rolen might be interested in rejoining the Phillies since he is apparently feuding with manager Tony LaRussa.
-Speaking of people spending too much money, I worry that the craziness over the Red Sox pursuit of Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka is going to lead to across-the-board salary inflation in baseball. If we are talking $100 mil for Alfonso Soriano, I don't think the Phillies can make that kind of a commitment, especially when they have Pat Burrell's contract on the books and need to put some money together to ink Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels and Chase Utley to long-term deals sooner rather than later. The 2007 Phillies might look a lot more like the '06 team that we thought.
-A little politics ... I was pouring over the election results like I usually scan the Phillies box scores looking for interesting and/or unusual information and I noticed a few things of interest the other day … with limited exceptions, President Bush won nearly every Congressional seat that the Democrats picked up on November 7th back in 2004. First look at districts Kerry won in 2004...
D - R / Bush % in '04
PA-07: 56%-44% / 47%
PA-08: 50%-50% / 48%
IA-1: 55%-43% / 46%
IA-2: 51%-49% / 44%
CT-2: 50%-50% / 44%
CT-5: 56%-44% / 49%
NH-2: 53%-45% / 47%
Notice a particular flavor to them? Three are New England seats, two are suburban Philadelphia seats and two are Iowa seats. It is not surprising that these were vulnerable this time around. Iowa, of course, was a major battleground won by Bush in 2004 and was won by the Democrats for straight years, from 1988 to 2000. It looks like the Democrats won the two bluest congressional districts in Iowa ... Meanwhile, suburban Philadelphia is emerging as a key Democratic stronghold, while the three New England seats come from an area that the Republicans are nearly extinct.
Now consider districts Bush won ... First, western / sunbelt districts ...
D - R / Bush % in '04
AZ-5: 51%-46% / 54%
AZ-8: 54%-42% / 53%
CA-11: 53%-47% / 54%
CO-7: 55%-42% / 51%
TX-22: 52%-42% / 64%
FL-16: 49%-48% / 54%
FL-22: 51%-47% / 52%
To be sure, I am assuming that Nick Lampson is a one-term wonder in Texas 22nd where the Democrats basically won because disgraced leader Tom DeLay quit too late to get his name off the ballot. So too in Florida 16, where Tom Foley narrowly sank the Republican candidate there. Next the South ...
D - R / Bush % in '04
NC-11: 55%-45% / 57%
Hold that thought .... Now the midwest ...
D - R / Bush % in '04
KS-1: 51%-47% / 59%
KY-3: 51%-48% / 51%
MN-1: 53%-47% / 51%
OH-18: 62%-38% / 57%
WI-8: 51%-49% / 55%
IN-2: 54%-46% / 56%
IN-8: 61%-38% / 62%
IN-9: 49%-48% / 59%
and finally the Republican seats in the Northeast ...
D - R / Bush % in '04
PA-4: 52%-48% / 54%
PA-10: 53%-47% / 60%
NH-1: 51%-49% / 51%
NY-19: 51%-49% / 54%
NY-20: 53%-47% / 54%
NY-24: 54%-45% / 53%
Of the Democrats 30 or so wins (I think I am missing a seat in there somewhere), 11 were in the Northeast, 10 in the Midwest, 7 in the West and 1 in the South. I think what is interesting is that while Democrats did do very well in the Northeastern U.S., writing-off the election as simply being the Democrats plucking off vulnerable Northeastern Republicans is wrong. Outside of the South, the Democrats really cut into the Republicans. The Democrats swept all three Indiana seats in a state that hasn't vote for the Democrat since LBJ. And the Democrats did it without the help of someone at the top of the ticket: there was no Gubernatorial election and the GOP Senator from Indiana, Richard Lugar, was unopposed for re-election.
For a long time now the Republican emphasis on theo-conservatism has given the GOP a leg up in the South. Notice that the Democrats won one seat in the South against a gaffe-prone GOP Congressman Democrats have been gunning for and Harold Ford Jr. ran a strong campaign for the Senate in Tennessee and still lost. The Democrats only two vulnerable Congressional seats were in Georgia. Their theo-con direction helped them to a certain extent in the Midwest where people a more likely to be socially conservative but the Democrats made big inroads by sounding an economically populist message.
The theo-con strategy has really hurt the Republicans in the Western U.S. Obviously on the Left Coast people are progressive in their outlook and the Republican party hasn't bothered to campaign for the presidency in California since 1988. But in the Mountain West people are very libertarian in their outlook and things like the Patriot Act and the wire-tapping make them nervous about the Federal government looking into their private lives. Add in increased concern for the environment and the Mountain West finds little to like about the theocons. No surprise then that in 2004 and 2006 the Democrats captured two of Colorado's five GOP Congressional seats, a U.S. Senate seat, the Governor's office and both houses of the state legislature. In Arizona the Democrats failed to mount a challenge to Senator Jon Kyl, but got a Democratic Governor re-elected by a wide margin (63%-35%), captured two of the state's six Republican-held Congressional districts, and the voters rejected a ban on gay marriage, a national first. In Montana Jon Tester ousted Conrad Burns from the U.S. Senate and in Wyoming the Democrats nearly captured the state's Congressional seat and the Democratic Governor won 70% of the vote in his re-election campaign. I predict that the Mountain West will be a major battleground in 2008: Democrats will be trying to win states like Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana and Nevada in the Presidential election and there is a vulernable Republican up for re-election in Colorado for the Senate.
Anyway, as everyone can see the race for the Presidency is on. John McCain and Rudy Guiliani have declared their intentions to run, Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack is in and there is a ton of speculation swirling around Hillary Clinton and Illinois Senator Barak Obama. Certainly election day made McCain's walk to the GOP nomination easier: Rick Santorium, beloved theocon who might still run, was annihalted by Bob Casey Jr., and George Allen, lost as well. Other than out-going Florida Governor Jebbie Bush and Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, I don't see any serious threat to McCain as the GOP candidate. That is sort of bad news for Democrats because McCain is a good candidate who appeals to independent voters. I would would have voted for him in '00 over Al Gore.
Speaking of which, I've heard both Al Gore and John Kerry are interested. I hope they pass. I hope Hillary Clinton passes too. What the Democrats need is a Governor, someone not associated with Washington D.C. and the partisan mess there. I had hoped that former Virginia Governor Mark Warner would make a run but he apparently passed and will be a candidate for the U.S. Senate in '08 (where he'll almost certainly oust and/or succeed the GOP's John Warner), so my attention is focused on either Governor Vilsack, former General Wesley Clark or John Edwards. I don't know a whole lot about Vilsack other than the fact that he was originally born in Pittsburgh and was the runner-up to Edwards to be Kerry's running mate. Edwards has done a good job keeping his nose clean as well. I think either one would be a strong candidate: someone not in Washington who could appeal to blue-collar voters in the Midwest and the West.
-I read a piece in the newspaper over the weekend about Karl Rove and how Rove insisted that the election was not a surprise, an interesting thing to say given that he went on NPR and snottily insisted that the liberals were utterly wrong when they predicted a sweep. Rove has apparently hung his hat on the "six-year itch", the historical fact that the President's party usually gets their collective asses kicked in the midterm election of a President's second term. The problem? Recent history runs against Rove: the Democrats actually gained seats in the House in 1998 and scored major victories in the Senate races in New York and North Carolina that year. Forecasted Republican gains in both houses turned into a swap of three seats each in the Senate and the Dems gaining five or so seats in the House. The Democrats victory in 1986 was largely about the Democrats sweeping out vulernable GOP Senators elected by Ronald Reagan in 1980. The Democrats didn't gain many House seats that year as I recall. In this era of ticket-splitting, the old rules don't apply. Rove doesn't want to admit it, but in positioning the Republicans with the theocons, Rove has largely run the Republicans right out of the north and west.
-I was astonished by the results in PA. Rendell got 60% of the vote. Rendell won 70% of the vote in Bucks County, 65% in Chester County, 74% in Delaware County, 72% in Montgomery County and 89% in Philly. I added the numbers up and found that Rendell took 71% of the vote in the Philadelphia suburbs and 76% in the Philadelphia Metro region as a whole. It was basically an complete annihilation of Lynn Swann and if the Republican Party wants to win in the Philadelphia region again they’ll have to get some moderate Republicans that the rest of the state GOP can stomach. The problem that the Swann campaign really had was that Rendell was strong in the rest of the state as well: winning 52% of the vote outside of the Philadelphia Metro region. Rendell even took 60% of the vote in Allegheny County: Pittsburgh, the place where the Steelers play football and Lynn Swann lives. That’s humiliating.
-Bob Casey Jr. won largely due to the fact that Democratic voters utterly despised Rick Santorium. The interesting thing to me was that Casey’s support was much less in the Philadelphia region and more concentrated in the western part of the state. E.g., Casey won 55% of the vote in Chester County, running about ten points behind Rendell. Casey won 65% of the vote in Allegheny County (five better than Rendell) and actually won conservative rural communities like Armstrong County where it would have been unthinkable that the voters would have considered voting for Rendell. I wondered about what kind of a voter would split their ticket, casting a ballot for one of the most conservative members of the U.S. Senate and then giving their vote to the former Mayor of Philadelphia.
-As for the local congressional races … well, I am surprised that the Democrats didn’t knock off Jim Gerlach in the Sixth. Gerlach was #1 on the Democratic Hit List and I am very impressed he survived once more. The Democrats are going to have to load up and return with a new candidate in 2008 and with a better message. If the Democrats are planning on keeping control of the House of Representatives they’ll have to mount a clear offensive in the Sixth and capture it in 2008.
-Out in the Pittsburgh area Jason Altmire, a little-known former health care analyst, stunned incumbent Congresswoman Melissa Hart, who apparently was in denial that Altmire posed a danger. It was a stunning loss and might end the career of someone who was a rising star in the Republican Party.
-The new James Bond movie comes out this weekend. Sadly I have plans – my sister-in-law is getting married – so I will not be one of the first people in line to see the new 007. I am a huge, major fan of the 007 franchise. I’ve seen nearly every scene in nearly every movie five or six times. I have basically memorized Dr. No.
From what I understand the reviews for the new Bond are good and that the creators want to “re-boot” the franchise and make this Bond’s first mission or something. Casino Royale is the first book in the James Bond series, so that is appropriate. I am very interested to see what they do. The producers were very adept with Pierce Brosnan’s entries. After the fairly pedestrian Goldeneye they really gave some nice twists with the other movies – the Rupert Murdoch-esque. media baron in Tomorrow Never Dies, the villain who can’t feel pain in The World is Not Enough, and the many twists in Die Another Day, including having 007 captured in the opening credits sequence and having Bond go rogue to accomplish his mission. I liked a lot of the things they did with Brosnan’s movies, so I am hopeful they’ll really continue to breathe life into the franchise, which was getting soft and boring during the Roger Moore / Timothy Dalton era. I think the Top Ten 007 movies are:
1. Goldfinger (Connery)
2. From Russia With Love (Connery)
3. Dr. No (Connery)
4. Diamonds Are Forever (Connery)
5. Die Another Day (Brosnan)
6. The World is Not Enough (Brosnan)
7. Thunderball (Connery)
8. You Only Live Twice (Connery)
9. Tomorrow Never Dies (Brosnan)
10. The Spy Who Loved Me (Moore)
-College football’s Armageddon weekend approaches. Naturally everyone is fixated on Ohio State – Michigan, but there is another big game with far-reaching title implications: Cal – USC. USC is currently #3 in the BCS standings and needs to win this weekend and next against Notre Dame in order to make the big game in Arizona. If USC loses, then the system is thrown into disarray and chaos, because then Florida and Notre Dame become the most likely candidates to play in the Fiesta Bowl against the Michigan/Ohio State winner. I know there are a lot of Notre Dame fans out there, but their team plainly doesn’t deserve to be there.
The team I was pulling hard to be there, Louisville, lost to Rutgers 28-25 a week ago. I really liked the Cardinals and felt that they deserved a chance to play for the big game after they dismantled West Virginia. I know it made people in New Jersey happy, but Rutgers victory basically took any chance of a Big East team playing in the BCS out of the picture. Given that so many fans were writing the Big East’s obituary when Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College left the conference, it would have filled me with no little satisfaction to see the Big East team play for the national title. Rutgers is currently sixth in the BCS standings, but I can’t see them moving up over Notre Dame and Florida. Plus they have to worry about Arkansas, a team that might score some BCS points if it gets to play in the SEC title game.
Tomorrow night my alma mater, Pitt, plays West Virginia in the backyard brawl, one of the more vicious and bitter rivalries in college football. This has been a horrible season for Pitt. After starting out 6-1 with impressive wins over Virginia (38-13) and South Florida (52-7), the Panthers have lost three in a row, all conference games, to Rutgers, Central Florida and Connecticut. Pitt actually played half-way well against Rutgers but has looked terrible since, blowing a big lead to UConn and getting man-handled by UCF. Technically Pitt is Bowl-eligible, but they’ll have to beat either WVU or Louisville to get there. I don’t see that happening.
I’m profoundly disappointed in the direction that Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt has taken the team: Walt Harris, the Pitt coach from ’97 to ’04, opened up Pitt and installed a West Coast style offense back in the 1990s that worked well. Wannstedt has taken Pitt back to a conservative, grind-it-out rushing attack. I think Pitt’s offense is too conservative and unimaginative. Wannstedt has taken the game out of the hands of his strongest player, Pitt QB Tyler Palko, and handicapped their offense. This is 2006: you can’t operate a three yards and a cloud of dust anymore. For cryin’ out loud, Ohio State runs a spread offense! When even big, slow, plodding, unimaginative Big Ten teams start running the spread, it has become a mainstream offense. West Virginia runs a sophisticated spread option offense that stretches the field and takes advantage of mismatches. That’s why Pitt is going to lose and lose badly: they will not keep pace with West Virginia’s attack. No way, no how.
Here are a few predictions for the week:
West Virginia: 44, Pitt 13
USC 34, Cal 27
Auburn 17, Alabama 10
Ohio State 28, Michigan 24
Tomorrow: the final part of the Wiz Kids. Friday, I have a piece on Johnny Callison that everyone might find interesting. Next Monday Season in Review, Part II. Wednesday, Season in Review, Part III. After that, A Citizens Blog will be taking a week or so off to recharge.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Remarkably, when Robin Roberts was in eighth grade in Springfield, Illinois, Grover Cleveland Alexander, the great Phillies pitcher, spoke to Roberts class and remarked that one day one of them might pitch in the World Series. He was right. Roberts and the Phillies would face off with Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and the mighty Yankees.
The 1950 New York Yankees were a period of transition from the Joe DiMaggio era to that of Mickey Mantle. It had been a hard season for the Yankees. The Detroit Tigers had actually led nearly the entire season only to fade down the stretch and give the Bronx Bombers their opening. The Yankees won the A.L. pennant by three games, but the team wasn’t the juggernaut people remembered. DiMaggio had “only” hit .301 that season. Yogi Berra had actually led the Yankees in RBIs (124 to 122) and hit nearly as many home runs (28 to 32), and had a higher batting average (.322). At one point in the season Manager Casey Stengel even took the unthinkable step of benching DiMaggio because he was hitting so poorly. It had been an awkward season and it helped DiMaggio decide that 1951 would be his last.
But the Yankees entered the series supremely confident, having won the World Series over the Dodgers the previous season. The Phillies were tired and still coming off their dramatic victory over the Dodgers on October 1st. The Yankees had the edge. They had more rest and virtually every player on their roster was a veteran of previous World Series. The young, battered Phillies had backed into the World Series. The Wiz Kids would need a miracle.
Game One of the series was on October 4, 1950, just three days after the end of the season. Eddie Sawyer made the bold decision to not start ace pitcher Robin Roberts, who had pitched so many of the Phillies games down the stretch, and instead go with Jim Konstanty as the Phillies starter. Konstanty hadn’t started a single game for the Phillies in 1950. The last time Jim Konstanty started a major league game was in 1946 when he was a member of the Boston Braves. Now he was starting Game One of the World Series. “The Yankees” Manager Eddie Sawyer noted, “are a free-swinging team. Konstanty throws the kind of stuff that will stop a free-swinging team.”
Sawyer was right and made a savvy, unorthodox move that nearly paid off. The Yankees ended up winning Game One 1-0, despite a masterful pitching performance from Konstanty, who went eight innings and surrendered just four hits and four walks. The Yankees managed just one extra-base hit, a lead-off double by Yankees third baseman Bobby Brown, who was also a graduate of medical school from Tulane, at the top of the fourth inning. Hank Bauer and Jerry Coleman flied out to advance Brown from second to third, and then from third to home. Yankees led 1-0.
Unfortunately for the Phillies Vic Raschi was even more dominant, allowing just two hits and a walk in nine innings of work. Raschi also struck-out five Phillies. The best the Phillies could muster were a pair of singles in the fifth by Willie Jones and Andy Seminick. The Yankees took game one by a score of 1-0.
Game Two. The next day the Yankees and Phillies went again at Shibe Park. Robin Roberts against the Yankee great Allie Reynolds. It was another classic pitchers duel, as both Roberts and Reynolds went ten innings. The Yankees drew first blood in the top of the second inning, scoring a single run after Jerry Coleman drew a two-out walk, then advanced to third on an Reynolds single. When Gene Woodling hit a hard ball to Willie Jones at third, the Phillies couldn’t prevent Coleman from scoring. 1-0 Yankees.
The Phillies lost a golden opportunity to tie the game in the bottom of the second when Granny Hamner hit a triple with one out. Unfortunately, Andy Seminick and Mike Goliat both made outs and couldn’t advance Hamner.
The game was locked at 1-0 until the bottom of the fifth inning when Mike Goliat, the Phillies second baseman, singled and advanced to third on a single by Eddie Waitkus. With one out, Richie Ashburn scored Goliat with a sacrifice fly to left field. The game was tied at 1-1.
The Phillies squandered opportunities in the eighth and ninth innings when Del Ennis and Goliat grounded into double plays to squelch scoring threats. Then, at the top of the tenth inning, Joe DiMaggio wowed the crowd by bashing a Robin Roberts fastball for a 2-1 lead. In the bottom of the tenth Jackie Mayo walked and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Eddie Waitkus, but Ashburn flied out and Dick Sisler struck out to end the game. The Yankees led the series 2-0. The series shifted to New York.
Game Three was played the next day, on October 6, 1950, at Yankee Stadium. Ken Heintzelman pitched for the Phillies, despite hurling just 125 innings in 1950. The Yankees sent Eddie Lopat to the mound.
The Yankees once again got off to a 1-0 lead, but the Phillies tied to the game at 1-1 in the sixth after Dick Sisler singled Del Ennis in from second, and then surged ahead 2-1 in the seventh when Mike Goliat singled Granny Hamner in from second. Unfortunately, the Yankees tied the game in the eighth when Heintzelman walked the bases loaded with Jerry Coleman, Yogi Berra and Joe DiMaggio. With two outs, Sawyer brought in Konstanty, who got Bobby Brown to ground to Granny Hamner, who botched the easy out and allowed Coleman to score. The game was tied at 2-2.
In the top of the ninth Granny Hamner was gunned down trying to score the go-ahead run from third base by Yankees first baseman Joe Collins. The Phillies scoring opportunity dried up and the Yankees took the field for the ninth inning. Jim Bloodworth entered the game at second-base to replace pinch-runner Putsy Caballero, who had run for Mike Goliat in the previous inning when the Phillies were trying to score. After the first two Yankees made outs, Gene Woodling, the Yankees left fielder, hit a shot at Bloodworth, who botched the play, struggling to control the ball and then making a bad throw to first. Instead of an inning-ending 4-3 groundout, the winning run was on first. Phil Rizzuto hit the ball to Bloodworth, who couldn’t make a throw to first. Woodling advanced to third. With the winning run ninety feet away, the Phillies played in to try and cut Woodling down at home. Jerry Coleman, who was quickly turning into a Phillies killer, lofted a fly ball into the outfield to score Woodling. Yankees win 3-2.
The Game Three loss was the tipping point for the Phillies in the series. They had lost the game despite a good pitching effort yet again, betrayed by an offense that squandered opportunities to score runs and a defense that broke down in key situations to allow the Yankees to score. Team defense, a major strong point during the regular season, broke down and cost the Phillies two key runs in Game Three and a run in Game Two. Down 3-0, the Phillies chances in Game Four were virtually nil.
Game Four was played the next day, on October 7, 1950, at Yankees Stadium again. It wasn’t much of a game. The Phillies sent Bob Miller to the mound and he lasted a third of an inning. Gene Woodling got on due to Mike Goliat booting a ground ball to second base, another defensive miscue. After Rizzuto advanced Woodling, Berra scored him. Then Berra advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a DiMaggio double. Eddie Sawyer pulled Miller for Jim Konstanty who got Johnny Mize and Bobby Brown to ground out and end the disasterous inning.
The Phillies couldn’t get much of anything going against the Yankees pitcher, a 21-year old rookie named Whitey Ford. After a shaky first inning when the Phillies had Eddie Waitkus and Willie Jones on third and second with an out, Ford settled in and stopped the Phillies cold. Aside from Jones first-inning double, they didn’t muster a single extra-base hit for the entire game. As the game wore on, it became clear that the Phillies weren’t going to muster much of anything against Ford.
Meanwhile, Konstanty pitched several sterling innings and kept the game locked at 2-0 until the sixth inning, when Yogi Berra led-off with a home run. Yankees 3, Phillies 0. DiMaggio was put on after being hit by a pitch and scored when Bobby Brown tripled. Yankees 4, Phillies 0. Hank Bauer scored Bobby Brown with a sacrifice fly. Yankees 5, Phillies 0. It was over. The Phillies mounted a brief comeback in the top of the ninth, scoring two unearned runs thanks to an error by Gene Woodling that would have ended the game, but Casey Stengel brought in Allie Reynolds in relief and he got Stan Lopata, pinch-hitting for Robin Roberts (who had pitched the eighth inning), to strike out. Final score: Phillies 2, Yankees 5. The Yankees had won the series in four games. A sweep.
Why did the Phillies lose? Their pitching was actually very good: Roberts, Konstanty, et al., held the mighty Yankees machine to a .222 batting average and a .304 slugging percentage. The Yankees team GPA in the series was a fairly pathetic .209. Jerry Coleman killed the Phillies with key hits, but he was only four-for-fourteen in the series. The Phillies hammered hitters like Phil Rizzuto, a .324 hitter in the regular season who hit just .143 in the series. The Phillies team ERA was just 2.27. While they were on the negative side of the walk / strikeout ratio (13:12), they did surrendered slightly fewer walks in the series (3.28) than they did in the regular season (3.39).
The Phillies fielding deserted them at critical moments. Two of the eleven runs the team surrendered were unearned. Crucially, the Phillies failed to get big outs in the third game, which led to the Yankees victory and put the Phillies into a virtually insurmountable hole.
The Phillies problem was that their offense was pretty much completely absent from the series. They mustered just five runs in the series and many of their key performers looked terrible. Del Ennis went two-for-fourteen and failed to get an RBI. Richie Ashburn was three-for-seventeen without a walk. Dick Sisler, the hero of the Dodgers game, was one-for-seventeen (.059 BA).
As a team, the Phillies hit .179 GPA. Their isolated power number was just .063. This from a team that hit .248 GPA and a .131 ISO during the regular season. Aside from Granny Hamner (six for fourteen, two doubles, a triple – three of the Phillies seven extra-base hits in the series – and a run scored), none of the Phillies hit well. They were hammered by the Yankees pitching, striking out 24 times against seven walks. The Yankees team ERA was just 0.73. They dominated the Phillies offense completely.
The disappearance of the Phillies offense cost them in the biggest games of the year. They wouldn’t get another chance to win a World Series for thirty years.
Previous Installments of the Wiz Kids:
Part XIII: How the National League was won.
Part XII: October 1, 1950.
Part XI: Richie Ashburn.
Part X: The Phillies Farm System.
Part IX: The second half of the 1950 season.
Part VIII: The Braves, Cardinals, Pirates, Cubs & Reds.
Part VII: The Giants and Dodgers.
Part VI: Curt Simmons.
Part V: Robin Roberts.
Part IV: The first half of the 1950 season.
Part III: Jim Konstanty.
Part II: Eddie Sawyer.
Part I: The Path to 1950.
Monday, November 13, 2006
New York: 735
St. Louis: 693
The Dodgers did nearly everything well. They hit with power, drew walks, etc. For example, consider Isolated Power (ISO): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. ISO simply measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
Isolated Power: 1950 National League
1. Dodgers: .172
2. Cubs: .153
3. Braves: .142
4. Pirates: .142
5. Giants: .134
6. Phillies: .131
7. Cardinals: .127
8. Reds: .116
The Dodgers weren’t simply a collection of sluggers though. They were a well-rounded offensive juaggernaut. Consider 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.
GPA: 1950 National League
1. Dodgers: .267
2. Braves: .254
3. Pirates: .252
4. Giants: .250
5. Cardinals: .248
6. Phillies: .248
7. Reds: .240
8. Cubs: .240
The Phillies were below the league averages for runs scored per game (4.60 to 4.66), On-Base-Percentage (OBP) (.331 to .333), Slugging Percentage (.396 to .401), walks (535 to 567), and Home Runs (125 to 138). The Phillies were seventh in stolen bases with less than half as many as the Dodgers (77 to 33). The Dodgers hit 22 more doubles, 69 more home runs and drew 72 more walks than the Phillies. While the gap between hits was small (1461 for the Dodgers, 1440 for the Phils) and the Phils had more triples (55 vs. 46), the Dodgers were really much better at the plate. The Phillies had to scrap and fight for every run.
The Phillies did it with pitching and defense. They were an atypical 1950s baseball team because they relied on pitching and defense to compensate for a generally light-hitting offensive unit. The popular image of 1950s baseball teams as being reliant on offense, and specifically the home run, is embodied by the Dodgers and Hall of Famers like Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Duke Snider. The Dodgers were a fearsome offensive force but struggled defensively. The Dodgers allowed 736 runs to the Phillies 624, a 112 run difference:
1. Phillies: 624
2. New York: 643
3. St. Louis: 670
4. Brooklyn: 724
5. Cincinnati: 734
6. Boston: 736
7. Chicago: 772
8. Pittsburgh: 857
A big factor here was that the Phillies pitching was substantially better than the Dodgers pitching. Few would dispute the fact that the Phillies had the best pitching staff in the National League that year:
1. Phillies: 3.50
2. Giants: 3.71
3. Cardinals: 3.97
4. Braves: 4.14
5. Dodgers: 4.28
6. Cubs: 4.28
7. Reds: 4.32
8. Pirates: 4.96
ERA – Earned Run Average: (Earned Runs * 9) / IP = ERA
However, ERA only tells part of the story. As baseball pundits have shown, ERA is oftentimes influenced by the defensive play of the fielders behind the pitcher. Consider Fielding Independent Pitching: FIP is simply where we eliminate defense and concentrate on how a team’s pitchers did with things they could control: strikeouts, walks, home runs. The formula is simple: (((13 * HR) + (3 * BB) – (2 * K)) / IP) + League Factor. If we strip out and neutralize defense, the Phillies still turned in a great performance:
1. Phillies: 3.89
2. Cardinals: 3.95
3. Braves: 4.04
4. Giants: 4.14
5. Reds: 4.17
6. Dodgers: 4.20
7. Cubs: 4.23
8. Pirates: 4.50
Even with the tremendous fielding the Phillies got in 1950, they still pitched stunningly well. Notice that the Giants pitching falls off dramatically when you strip out defense from the equation.
How can we tell how well the Phillies fielded in 1950? By looking at their Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER). Simply put, DER measures how well the Phillies did with the balls that were put into play by their pitchers. 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. Here how the Phillies did in terms of DER:
Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER):
1. New York: .729
2. Phillies: .719
3. Reds: .708
4. Dodgers: .703
5. Cardinals: .702
6. Pirates: .701
7. Dodgers: .701
8. Cubs: .694
The good defensive play and the good pitching allowed the Phillies to win the close games and edge the Dodgers for the pennant. The Phillies were 30-16 (.652) in one-run games, whereas the Dodgers were just 23-21 (.523). The 1950 Dodgers played in more “blow-out” games (games decided by five or more runs) than the Phillies: 46 to 28, so a lot of the runs they scored were “wasted”, scattered throughout the season where they would have benefited the Dodgers had they been scored in more games. Pitching and defense won out, despite the fact that the Dodgers run differential was far better than the Phillies:
The Phillies had the best record in the NL in games decided by a run:
1. Phillies: 30-16, .652
2. Giants: 26-17, .605
3. Dodgers: 23-21, .523
4. Cubs: 21-22, .488
5. Pirates: 21-22, .488
6. Braves: 18-21, .462
7. Cardinals: 23-29, .442
8. Reds: 16-30, .348
If you look at the Pythagorean Win-Loss records, the National League should have been won by the Dodgers:
1. Dodgers: 88-66
2. Phillies: 87-67
3. Giants: 86-68
4. Braves: 82-72
5. Cardinals: 79-74
6. Reds: 68-85
7. Cubs: 64-89
8. Pirates: 61-92
The Phillies out-performed their Pythagorean Win-Loss record by four games. Not a major variance, but a significant one. Aside from the Pirates under-performing their Pythagorean record by four games, no other team had a plus or minus number greater than two. So that edge in close games was the decisive factor in the Phillies 1950 pennant. That pitching and defense was the factor that gave the Phillies the pennant over a team that was probably a little better than they were.
So who were the Phillies top performers? Let’s start with the Phillies position players …
Gross Productive Average (GPA):
Andy Seminick (C): .311
Del Ennis (RF): .305
Dick Sisler (LF): .278
Richie Ashburn (CF): .268
Willie Jones (3B): .266
Eddie Waitkus (1B): .243
Granny Hamner (SS): .236
Mike Goliat (2B): .233
Dick Whitman (OF*): .218
Stan Lopata: (C*): .216
Jimmy Bloodworth (IF*): .186
* indicates these players are reserves.
The Phillies offense fell below the league average for GPA. They simply did not preserve their outs and move runners as effectively as teams like the Dodgers or Braves did. The Phillies scrapped for runs and largely relied on Del Ennis. Seminick played well, but as the team’s catcher he had to miss about a fifth of the team’s games because catching wears even the toughest ballplayers out. Sisler, Ashburn and Jones all moved runners well, but Ennis was the key to the Phillies offense. Aside from Seminick, he had the highest GPA on the team. He was also the team’s most powerful bat:
Isolated Power (ISO):
Del Ennis (RF): .240
Andy Seminick (C): .236
Willie Jones (3B): .189
Dick Sisler (LF): .146
Mike Goliat (2B): .132
Granny Hamner (SS): .110
Richie Ashburn (CF): .099
Eddie Waitkus (1B): .075
Stan Lopata: (C*): .070
Dick Whitman (OF*): .053
Jimmy Bloodworth (IF*): .021
Again, Seminick’s contributions are tempered by the fact that he missed about 20% of the team’s games. Ennis is clearly the Phillies big threat to move the runners along. Subtract Ennis from the Phillies lineup and their slugging percentage falls to just .377, just .001 better than the Cincinnati Reds, the team with the lowest slugging percentage in the game.
Ashburn’s .099 ISO isn’t much of a surprise: he was the quintessential lead-off man, so hitting for power was the furthest thing from his mind. In fact, his 1950 ISO was pretty good: his career ISO was .074. Ashburn hit a career-high fourteen triples and had fourty-one extra base hits …
Ennis was the key to the Phillies offense. He had 73 extra-base hits (14 more than Willie Jones), 126 RBIs (38 more than Jones) and led the team in home runs with 31 (six more than Jones). Look at Runs Created and Runs Created per 27 Outs to see how vital Ennis was to the Phillies:
Runs Created / RC27
Ennis: 114 / 7.09
Jones: 94 / 5.37
Ashburn: 91 / 5.66
Sisler: 88 / 6.17
Seminick: 84 / 7.80
Waitkus: 79 / 4.48
Hamner: 74 / 4.14
Goliat: 53 / 3.66
Whitman: 12 / 3.32
Lopata: 12 / 3.17
Bloodworth: 6 / 2.30
Team: 714 / 4.60
League: 5746 / 4.71
The Phillies had three regulars who fell below the team and league averages for runs created: Waitkus, Hamner and Goliat, essentially the team’s entire infield, aside from third baseman Willie Jones. What is surprising to me is how little production the Phillies got from their first baseman: Waitkus. First is usually a position teams stick defensively challenged sluggers in, but Waitkus had the lowest Isolated Power number of any Phillie regular and contributed less to the Phillies offense than any player save the Phillies middle infielders, Granny Hamner and Mike Goliat. I should note that Waitkus has an extraordinary contact hitter, striking out just 29 times in 1950 despite having 641 At-Bats. I marveled in a previous post at how Jackie Robinson managed to strikeout just 24 times in 518 At-Bats, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t note how Waitkus was actually more difficult to strikeout: 4.5% to 4.6%.
Ennis was clearly the Phillies offensive engine, producing 16% of the Phillies total Runs Created. Had Ennis been replaced by an average player* the Phillies would have lost 38 runs from their lineup. I think that losing those thirty-eight runs would have cost the Phillies four to eight games. Given that the Phils won thirty games by a run, that might be a conservative estimate. Since the Phillies won the NL by just two games, I think we can safely say that the Phillies would not have won the NL without Del Ennis’ contributions in 1950. They probably would have fallen to third, behind the New York Giants.
* I calculated that an average player gaining 4.71 runs created per 27 outs who made 436 outs, as Del Ennis did in 1950, would have 76 Runs Created. I suspect my methodology is seriously flawed, but there you go.
What is very interesting to me when you look at the Phillies lineup is to see how ridiculously young the Phillies players were in 1950. The Phillies regulars were 26.5 years old on average. Del Ennis was just 25. Willie Jones was 24. Richie Ashburn and Granny Hamner were 23. I’ll talk about the Phillies pitching in a moment, but consider the fact that Robin Roberts was 23 and Curt Simmons was just 21. The key players on the Phillies were absurdly young. Contrast that with the Dodgers: Campanella was 28, Gil Hodges was 26, Jackie Robinson was 31, as was Pee Wee Reese. Duke Snider and Don Newcombe were the Dodgers sole youngsters at 23 and 24 respectively. All of the ’50 Dodgers played on the ’49 World Series team, so the pressure of playing for the NL pennant was nothing new even to Snider and Newcombe. For the Phillies, the stress of chasing the pennant was entirely new. That this team of rookies and newbies held together and managed to win the 1950 National League pennant is nothing short of miraculous. They truly were the Wiz Kids.
Defensively, the Phillies were pretty darn good in 1950. The key play of the year was Ashburn’s on-target throw to Lopata to gun down Cal Abrams at the plate on the final day of the season. (See, Part XII.)
It is difficult to look at a lot of the data that we have from 1950 and get a better sense of which Phillies players played better than others because stats like Zone Rating and Plus / Minus are essentially impossible to apply retroactively. We can look at the Phillies team defense and compare the team stats to the rest of the league. As I showed, supra, the Phillies were second Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER). Consider Un-Earned Run Average (UERA):
1. Dodgers: 0.41
2. Cardinals: 0.48
3. Phillies: 0.49
4. Giants: 0.50
5. Reds: 0.55
6. Braves: 0.64
7. Pirates: 0.68
8. Cubs: 0.79
This is an imperfect stat, but clearly the Phillies weren’t allowing preventable runs the way the Cubs were.
I suspect that one of the keys to the Phillies success was their tremendous outfield. Richie Ashburn led the NL in putouts in 1950 with 405, eleven more than the Giants Bobby Thomson and 27 more than the Dodgers Duke Snider. Without knowing how often Phillies pitchers allowed flyballs versus groundballs, I figured out how often Phillies outfielders made putouts and multiplied them per 1,000 innings. Here are the results:
1. Pirates: 783.63
2. Giants: 778.91
3. Phillies: 768.85
4. Braves: 766.06
5. Dodgers: 742.26
6. Reds: 741.34
7. Cardinals: 729.35
8. Cubs: 711.89
I caution that this isn’t scientific at all: the Dodgers outfielders didn’t make a lot of plays in part because their pitchers led the league in strikeouts and didn’t allow many balls to be put into play! I think this gives you an idea though. The Phillies pitchers were excellent, but they did oftentimes have to rely on their fielders to convert balls put into play into outs.
If there is anyone out there with any ideas on how we can make a more scientific analysis of the Phillies defense based on existing stats, let me know.
Speaking of the Phillies pitchers, they were quite excellent. Most people who remember the Wiz Kids remember Robin Roberts and remember how great he was in his career, but Curt Simmons was just as good. Consider the Fielding Independent Pitching ERAs of the Phillies main pitchers:
Curt Simmons: 3.53
Robin Roberts: 3.55
Bob Miller: 3.66
Jim Konstanty: 3.70
Bubba Church: 4.09
Ken Heintzelman: 4.22
Russ Meyer: 4.56
Simmons was, in some respects, a better pitcher than Roberts that season. He was tougher to get a home run off (0.79 home runs per nine innings versus 0.86 for Roberts) and struckout more batters (6.12 strikeouts per nine innings versus 4.32 for Roberts). Roberts was tougher to get a walk off (2.28 walks per nine innings compared to Simmons pedestrian 3.69), and there is an argument that Roberts probably suffered from fatigue. Simmons left for the Army in mid-season while Roberts stayed with the team and carried the load for the pitching staff. Roberts started 39 games to Simmons 27, completed 21 compared to Simmons 11, threw five shutouts to Simmons two, and faced 1,228 batters in 1950, second in the National League that season to the Braves Vern Bickford (who faced an astonishing 1,325 batters) to Simmons 896. Robin Roberts was the Phillies best pitcher and the ball for the October 1 game against the Dodgers belonged in his hand, but Roberts and Simmons made for a lethal one-two punch.
The rest of the Phillies pitching staff was also extremely good. Bob Miller, I was stunned to see, was an absurdly difficult pitcher to hit a home run off of: 0.47 per nine innings (nine home runs allowed despite facing 755 batters). Roberts surrendered 29 home runs in 1950, but he also faced 1,228 batters along the way. Despite having to play the Dodgers, Braves and Cubs, the Phillies pitchers were stingy with the home runs allowed: 0.78 per nine innings, best in the league, compared with the league average of 0.90 …
After Roberts and Simmons, the Phillies most important pitcher was Jim Konstanty. On a team nick-named the Wiz Kids for their youth, Konstanty was 33 that season and was an unlikely hero. In an age before specialized closers dominated the ends of baseball games, Konstanty was the Phillies closer, their fireman. Konstanty appeared in 74 of the Phillies 157 games (47%), making twenty-three more appearance then the Pirates Murry Dickson. Konstanty saved twenty-two games, fourteen more than the Pirates Bill Werle. Konstanty finished sixty-two of the Phillies games, thirty-nine more than the Pirates Vic Lombardi. Konstanty was the winning pitcher or the saving pitcher in thirty-eight of the Phillies ninty-one victories. Even though Konstanty’s FIP ERA was a run higher than his “real” ERA (3.70 vs. 2.66), he was a terrific pitcher whose ability to keep runners off the base paths was absolutely critical to the Phillies success. Despite being a below-average strikeout pitcher (just 3.32 per nine innings, compared to the team average of 3.96 and the league average of 4.09), he kept runners off the base paths. Konstanty’s WHIP was just 1.04, lower than Roberts (1.18) or Simmons (1.24).
And that was how the NL was won. Through tough defense, imposing pitching and timely hitting. Looking at all of the Phillies, you have to say that they had many players whose performance can be categorized as “critical”, from Del Ennis’ hitting to Roberts, Simmons and Konstanty’s pitching to Richie Ashburn’s fielding. Without those five players, the Phillies would have been dead in the water in 1950 and simply been an also-ran, a footnote, in the story of the Dodgers and Giants duopoly of the NL during the 1950s.
Instead, the Wiz Kids were on to the World Series.
Previous Installments of the Wiz Kids:
Part XII: October 1, 1950.
Part XI: Richie Ashburn.
Part X: The Phillies Farm System.
Part IX: The second half of the 1950 season.
Part VIII: The Braves, Cardinals, Pirates, Cubs & Reds.
Part VII: The Giants and Dodgers.
Part VI: Curt Simmons.
Part V: Robin Roberts.
Part IV: The first half of the 1950 season.
Part III: Jim Konstanty.
Part II: Eddie Sawyer.
Part I: The Path to 1950.