Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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Friday, December 01, 2006

Albert, would you like some Cheese to go with your Whine? 

The ordinarily good-natured and pleasant Albert Pujols decided to get a little whiney this week and bitch that the MVP ought to play on a playoff team, a clear attack on the voters decision to award Ryan Howard the 2006 MVP award.

Naturally this is all a matter of debate and that there are no right or wrong answers for this one. Except that Albert really is wrong:

The MVP award crowns the best player, the most outstanding, the one who means the most for his team. Any doubt that is Ryan Howard? Once the Phillies traded Bobby Abreu late in July, Ryan Howard became the focal point of their offense and responded with a terrific month in August, clubbing 14 home runs and 41 RBIs. The Phillies went 36-22 after the deal, the second-best record in the N.L. Without him, they'd have been dead in the water.

How vital was Pujols presence in the Cardinals lineup? Not very. Even with Pujols in the lineup, the Cardinals nearly blew their enormous lead over the Astros at the end of the season and lose the NL Central. I think something that is very telling is the period of time between June 4 and June 22 where Pujols lost about three weeks of the season. How did the Cardinals do without their star? They went 8-8 and survived, nicely, a period where people felt that the Cardinals would badly lose ground. Overall, the Cardinals were 10-10 (.500) with Pujols out of the lineup and 73-68 (.517) with him in it. Not much of a difference at all.

Jeez, Albert, given how weak the N.L. Central was in 2006 and how well your team weathered the supposed storm of your absence, you probably could have missed huge chunks of the 2006 campaign and not have been missed. Thus, your argument really makes you seem petty and small-minded. Don't turn all Faith Hill on us.

Perhaps, when you adjust all of the numbers, Albert Pujols was a little more impressive statistically. Perhaps Albert Pujols turned in the best individual performance, but if Pujols is staking his claim to the MVP trophy based on the theory that the MVP must mean the guy who is vital to a team making the playoffs, then he might want to rethink his position. Ryan Howard was vital to the Phillies nearly making the playoffs, a very improbable scenario based on where they were in July, I might add. Albert Pujols was basically superfluous to the Cards playoff chances. They played a little better with him in the lineup than without: .517 vs. .500. They won without him in the lineup and I am sure Tony LaRussa would have worked his magic and still won the 83 games that the Cards won to make the playoffs.

Albert, a fellow Cardinal named Stan Musial was the N.L. MVP runner-up four times, from 1949-1951 and in 1957. He still won the MVP award several times in his long and glorious career and wound up in the Hall of Fame. So take a deep breath, big guy. You won one last season, and you’ve been the runner-up three times now. I am sure you will continue to add your resume for Cooperstown, and with 250 home runs, Hank Aaron is within reach for you.

Calm down, congratulate Ryan Howard, and concentrate on spring training for 2007. And might I suggest a delightful Meza Baked Brie from Wegman’s to go with that whine, er wine, that you seem to be chugging.

(6) comments

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Newbies... 

I thought one of the most exciting things to emerge from the 2006 season were the contributions from several new players on the Phillies roster. The Newbies, and by that I principally mean Chris Coste and Carlos Ruiz, did a nice job in 2006 of contributing to the Phillies lineup. I think the fear that the Phillies farm system wasn’t producing players to enter the lineup and contribute is unfounded and these players convince me that the Phillies have good players in the pipeline. Today I plan on talking about Coste & Ruiz and add some comments about players like Michael Bourn, Chris Roberson and Danny Sandoval.

(No Cole Hamels, even though he belongs in the Newbie group, because I think we’ve talked about him enough of late.)

See a bunch of numbers and are confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
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.
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.
RC/27: Runs Created per 27 outs, essentially what a team of 9 of this player would score in a hypothetical game.

Chris Coste. The real-life Crash Davis. Chris Coste has a great story of perseverance: a career minor leaguer who stuck with it, doggedly, to finally achieve his dream. I am deeply impressed by Coste, who basically spent the last six years stuck in Triple-A, trying to get over the hump and play in the big leagues. From 2000-2002 he was a member of the Buffalo Bisons, the Triple-A farm team for the Cleveland Indians; in 2003 he played for the Pawtucket Red Sox, then moved on in 2004 to the Indianapolis Indians, the Pittsburgh Pirates Triple-A team; then he joined the Scranton Red Barons in 2005 and finally broke through to the Phillies in 2006 after playing all of ’05 and part of ’06 in the Red Barons uniform.

When Coste arrived in Philadelphia he made the most of his opportunity, hitting .295 GPA with a .177 ISO in 65 games as a Phillie. On a team that hit badly with runners in scoring position (.255), Coste hit .356. Coste also had 36 Runs Created, which works out to be 6.99 Runs Created per 27 Outs. Aside from his inability to draw walks – just ten in 213 plate appearances, a .047 BB/PA, one of the worst on the team and the major flaw in his game – Coste did everything well in 2006. He hit well when it counted, he supplied much-needed power down the lineup and plays a tough defensive position. With the Phillies unlikely to bring back Mike Lieberthal and with the team expressing basically zero interest in Mike Piazza, Chris Coste and Carlos Ruiz (see, below) seem destined to share the catching duties in 2007.

Carlos Ruiz. Unlike teammate and fellow catcher Coste, Carlos Ruiz had a more traditional rise through the majors, starting in 2000 when he joined the Gulf Coast League (GCL) Phillies in the rookie league ball, and then slowly, steadily, worked his way up. Ruiz cracked the Red Barons lineup in ’05 and returned in ’06 before joining the Phillies, where he caught 24 games as a catcher in 2006, thirty fewer than Coste, the team’s primary catcher with Lieberthal out and Sal Fasano stinking up the joint.

Ruiz significantly improved his performance during the ’06 campaign in Scranton from what he had done with the Red Barons in ’05:

GPA / ISO / K/BB / Runs Created / RC27
2005: .274 / .158 / 1.6 / 57 / 5.70
2006: .301 / .198 / 1.3 / 73 / 7.17

Ruiz’s improvements helped him succeed in Philly:

GPA / ISO / K/BB / Runs Created / RC27
‘06 (Phillies): .251 / .174 / 1.6 / 10 / 4.74

Like Coste, Ruiz hit well with runners in scoring position: .304 …

As I noted above, the Phillies seem poised to give Coste and Ruiz a shot at platooning the catcher position in 2007. I am rather excited to see what Coste and Ruiz can do with a full season. Both are talented players who will do a good job next season. I think that Ruiz and Coste’s impressive performances in 2006 during the Phillies playoff run were a major, major reason why the Phillies got back into the playoff race after waving the white flag of surrender at the end of July.

Chris Roberson. I suspect that Roberson will stay with the Phillies as their fifth outfielder, behind Aaron Rowand, Shane Victorino, Pat Burrell and Jeff Conine. At the age of 27, Chris Roberson has very patiently been climbing the rungs of the Phillies minor league organizations. Roberson’s career began in ’01 when he joined the Gulf Coast League (GCL) Phillies, then he kept going, joining the Phillies short-season single-A team in Batavia in ’02, the Lakewood Blue Claws in ’03 and the Clearwater Threshers in ’04, the Phillies two Single-A teams; then advancing to the Double-A Reading Phillies and the Triple-AAA Scranton Red Barons in 2005 and 2006 respectively.

Roberson’s calling card is his speed and he’s got lots to burn. Check out Roberson’s steals and attempts:

Steals / Attempts (Success)
’01 (GCL): 6 / 8 (75%)
’02 (BAT): 17 / 25 (68%)
’03 (LAK): 59 / 75 (79%)
’04 (CLR): 16 / 28 (57%)
’05 (RDG): 34 / 48 (71%)
’06 (SCR): 25 / 34 (74%)
Career: 157 / 218 (72%)

Generally speaking, he was pretty impressive on the base-paths. Unfortunately, Roberson has a problem common with speedsters that keep them from getting on the base-paths: he strikes out a lot. Roberson strikes out far too much to be a success in the major leagues. He needs to become a reliable contact hitter who can put the ball into play and leg out hits. The more he strikes out, the fewer times he puts the ball into play, the less likely he is to get on base, and unless he gets on, Roberson’s impressive speed is worthless. Check out Roberson’s strikeout / walk ratio:

K/BB ratio:
’01 (GCL): 1.88
’02 (BAT): 1.96
’03 (LAK): 1.89
’04 (CLR): 2.63
’05 (RDG): 2.80
’06 (SCR): 2.48

Roberson’s struggles remind me of another Phillie, Jimmy Rollins, who struggled a lot with cutting down on the strikeouts and putting the ball into play. J.Roll worked with Tony Gwynn prior to the 2004 season and made a major effort to become a contact hitter rather than a free-swinging, K-artist. Check out the effect:

J.Roll: K/BB
2001: 2.25
2002: 1.91
2003: 2.09
2004: 1.28
2005: 1.51
2006: 1.40

As a consequence J.Roll has become a much more dangerous hitter. After having 96, 72 and 76 Runs Created his first three seasons, J.Roll has had 108, 100 and 114 Runs Created since then. Roberson could benefit from a little tutelage from J.Roll.

Incidentally, Roberson strikeout out nine times and drew no walks with the Phillies in 2006. Roberson’s GPA for the Phillies was just .157 and he hit with basically no power whatsoever: .049 ISO, the product of one triple on eight-for-forty-one hitting. Roberson also stole three bases and wasn’t caught.

Will we see Roberson with the Phillies in 2007? I suspect so: the team seems set with Burrell, Rowand and Victorino as their starting outfield and with Conine filling in as a power-hitter pinch-hitter or as a reserve. They need a fifth outfielder and it seems to me that Roberson would provide a little speed off the bench and give the team options. The problem Roberson has is that the Phillies also have Michael Bourn (see, below), a very similar player to Roberson in their system and they seem poised to make Bourn their center fielder of the future. Roberson hardly made the choice between him and Bourn easier when he played so-so baseball for the Hermosilio Orange Growers in the Mexican League this winter, being thrown out eight of the thirteen times he attempted to steal a base.

Michael Bourn. Will Michael Bourn play with the Phillies in 2007 or return back to the minors? I suspect that Bourn will return to Triple-A and join the Ottawa Lynx in the International League because there just isn’t room for him in Philadelphia. He’s too similar a player to Chris Roberson. In the long run, however, Bourn is going to be a better player than Roberson.

Bourn played a very little bit with the Phillies in 2006, going 1-for-8 with three strikeouts and a walk. Bourn actually started the 2006 campaign in Double-A Reading, playing with the Reading Phillies. Bourn hit .249 GPA in Reading and was elevated to Scranton, where he actually hit even better, .273. Bourn’s OBP was .350 in Reading and .368 in Scranton. Bourn showed good skills in drawing walks, getting 36 in Reading and 20 in Scranton. Check out Bourn’s K/BB ratio and contrast that with Roberson:

K/BB ratio:
‘03 (BAT): 1.22
‘04 (LAK): 1.04
‘05 (RDG): 1.95
’06 (RDG): 1.86
’06 (SCR): 1.65

Much more of a contact hitter than Roberson. Much more of a solid bet to get on base than Roberson.

What was really impressive about Bourn is his speed on the base-paths. You wouldn’t know that from the fact that he was caught stealing two of the three times he tried in 2006 with the Phillies, but Bourn was a speedster. Here are his stolen bases in 2006:

Steals / Attempts / Pct.
Reading (RDG):
30 / 34 / 88%
Scranton (SCR): 15 / 16 / 94%
Total: 45 / 50 / 90%

That’s pretty darn good. Speed is Bourn’s strength and he’s got it to burn. Scope out Bourn’s minor league base-stealing stats:

Steals / Attempts / Pct.
‘03 (BAT): 23 / 28 (82%)
‘04 (LAK): 57 / 63 (90%)
‘05 (RDG): 38 / 50 (76%)
’06 (RDG): 30 / 34 (88%)
’06 (SCR): 15 / 16 (94%)
Minor League Career: 163 / 191 (85%)

I am very impressed, and I think that Bourn would give the Phillies a good speedster for the 2008 season. With Bobby Abreu gone, the Phillies sole threats to run and steal bases are Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. Even with Abreu in the lineup for 2/3 of the season the Phillies stole just 92 bases, eighth in the N.L., but just fourth in the N.L. East, where the Mets stole 146, the Nationals stole 123, and the Marlins stole 110. (The Atlanta Braves, those slow, plodding tortoises, bring up the rear with 52 steals, worst in the N.L.) If Roberson is dealt or is sent back to the minors, expect to see Bourn join the Phillies this season, but I see Bourn joining the outfield in 2008 and possibly supplanting Jimmy Rollins as the Phillies lead-off hitter.

Danny Sandoval. Poor Danny Sandoval. With several talented middle infielders coming up through the Phillies system, his days with the Phillies organization seem numbered. I’d be very surprised to see Sandoval play much with the Phillies in 2007, beyond a few games here and there pinch-hitting, especially with Abraham Nunez poised to return to the role of utility infielder with Wes Helms now aboard as the Phillies full-time third baseman.

At the age of 28, Sandoval has been fighting to get his way into the majors for years. He entered the minors nearly a decade ago and has played twice in the majors, having two At-Bats in ’05 and 38 in ’06. Once a speedster, Sandoval struggled to be an effective base-stealer once he hit Double-A ball. In 2002 Sandoval played in Double-A and stole 39 bases in 63 tries (62%). The next two seasons he tried 32 steals, succeeding 21 and 22 times respectively, still playing Double-A ball. In 2005 he went to Scranton and tried 22 steals, succeeding just 11 times. Since then base-stealing has been a memory: in 2006 as a member of the Reading Phillies and Scranton Red Barons, Sandoval attempted just four steals (succeeding three times) despite getting on base 110 times during that time-span. Contrast that to the 22 steals he attempted in 153 times on base with the Red Barons in ’05.

It is not really clear what kind of impact or contribution Sandoval could make in 2007. He’s not a speed threat, he’s not a slugger (.025 ISO as a Phillie, .073 as a Red Baron), and he’s not an OBP machine who can set the table: .279 OBP as a Phillie, .288 as a Red Baron.

I will say in his defense that he did alright with his K/BB ratio in 2006: drawing four walks to three strikeouts. Maybe there is hope for Danny in the future …

I’d define the Newbies like this: Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste were thrown into the Phillies lineup because of the weakness of the team’s catching situation and performed admirably. They will do well in '07 and give the Phillies good production from the catching slot. We also got decent looks at Chris Roberson, Michael Bourn and Danny Sandoval, and we can say for certain that Roberson and/or Bourn will figure into the Phillies plans for 2007 and 2008. The future for Danny Sandoval is very mixed after his ’06 campaign and we’ll have to see if he’ll be back as a Phillie.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Johnny Callison's Arm 

As part of my series on The Wiz Kids, the 1950 Phillies team that stunned the National League by taking the N.L. pennant and advancing to the World Series, I began to think a lot more about the Phillies history and realize that there are a lot of interesting stories out there that I don’t believe have been explored. Rather than do a full Wiz Kids style workup on the ’64 or the ’80 teams, I decided that I’d tackle a few smaller subjects that I think might be interesting for people to talk about. Today’s topic: Johnny Callison’s fielding skills, with a particular focus on Callison’s arm.

Johnny Callison was born March 13, 1939, in rural Arkansas. Heavily recruited, he signed with the Chicago White Sox in 1957 and broke into the majors a year later in 1958 at the age of just 19. Compared often with Mickey Mantle, Callison was dealt just two years later to the Phillies in a deal where the Phillies stole Callison by giving up pinch hitter Gene Freese. After two unspectacular seasons in 1960 and 1961, Callison put together four terrific seasons from 1962 to 1965 when he was an All-Star three of those years and the runner-up for the MVP award in 1964. Here is a quick look at Callison’s offensive stats during that time-frame:

1962: 23 / 83
1963: 26 / 78
1964: 31 / 104
1965: 32 / 101

1962: .363 / .491 / .286 / .191
1963: .339 / .502 / .278 / .218
1964: .316 / .492 / .265 / .218
1965: .328 / .509 / .275 / .247

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
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.

Runs Created / RC27
1962: 106 / 6.48
1963: 106 / 6.05
1964: 100 / 5.49
1965: 102 / 5.79

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.
RC/27: Runs Created per 27 outs, essentially what a team of 9 of this player would score in a hypothetical game. ((Runs Created / Outs) * 27) = RC/27

Callison was an All-Star in 1962, 1964 and 1965. He won the MVP award at the 1964 All-Star game when he won the game with a three-run home run, and was the runner-up to the Cardinals Ken Boyer in the MVP voting in 1964, an award he almost certainly would have won had the Phillies out-lasted the St. Louis Cardinals for the pennant instead of their epic collapse. You certainly cannot fault Callison for the Phillies collapse that season either: he did hit .275 during the Phillies ten-game losing streak and scored seven runs to go along with ten RBIs. He did everything the Phillies asked of him that season.

After the 1965 season Callison slumped badly. He hit just 11 home runs with 55 RBIs in 1966. He never again approached the success he had from ’62 – ’65, and was dealt to the Chicago Cubs in 1969, where he played for two seasons before going to the Yankees and retiring after the 1973 campaign. The promise that he had shown at the plate from ’62 – ’65 was never realized.

Callison recently passed away and I thought it was interesting in his obituary that the writer noted that he had led the National League in assists four times: specifically during this ’62 – ’65 time period when he was so dominant at the plate. Here are some of Callison’s stats from that time period:

Assists / Range Factor / League RF
1962: 24 / 2.31 / 1.79
1963: 26 / 2.06 / 1.75
1964: 19 / 2.09 / 1.72
1965: 21 / 2.10 / 1.75

Fielding Percentage: (Putouts + Assists) / (Putouts + Assists + Errors). How often the player successfully handled the ball.
Range Factor: (Putouts + Assists) * 9 / IP. Essentially measures how much a player is involved in defensive plays.

Callison’s 24 assists in 1962 was a big jump from the 10 he had in 1961, but part of that was a product of Callison’s shift to playing right field full-time: in 1962 Callison played 151 games in right field. In 1961 Callison played 90 of his 124 games in left field and just 35 in right field. Because left field is so much closer to second and third bases, left fielders don’t have to be as sure-armed as a right fielder, who has to get the ball from the first-base side of the field to second and third to cut off runners trying to advance.

From 1962 on, Callison was almost exclusively a right fielder, and a pretty good one. Here are Callison’s Fielding Percentage stats:

Fielding Percentage / League FP
1962: .980 / .974
1963: .994 / .977
1964: .988 / .973
1965: .982 / .975

He was, generally speaking, a pretty sure-handed, smooth, fielder. How good was he? Well, he led all N.L. right fielders (whom I am defining as anyone who played more than 100 games in right field) in Range Factor in 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1965*. He led all outfielders in assists. He had a strong arm and seemed to get to the ball a lot, which is all you can ask of your outfielders.

* Well … technically, Roberto Clemente tied Callison that season.

How much of an impact did Callison’s fielding have on the Phillies defense? It is a difficult question to answer. Johnny Callison definitely did not make the Phillies a great defensive team: the flaw the 1960s Phillies teams had was that they did not play particularly good defense. The 1964 team, for example, finished seventh in Defense Efficiency Ratio despite nearly winning the N.L. pennant. The 1965 team finished dead-last in terms of DER and rebounded the following season, when Callison began to struggle as an outfielder. Callison is a great example of how defense is a team effort and no one player can compensate for organizational weakness.

Callison’s production very quickly ceased after 1965:

Assists / Range Factor / League RF
1966: 12 / 1.86 / 1.78
1967: 12 / 2.03 / 1.81
1968: 10 / 1.81 / 1.82
1969: 12 / 2.21 / 1.75

After exceeding the league averages in Range Factor from ’62 to ’65, Callison struggled to keep pace with his old ways from ’66 to ’69. He logged 90 assists from ’62 to ’65, and just 46 from ’66 to ’69. After being consistently better than the league average in Range Factor during that time period, he was barely better in ’66 and actually under-performed in ’68. Like with his batting, Johnny Callison atrophied as a fielder and became a bit of a liability.

In the end, I think that Johnny Callison ought to be remembered as a terrific baseball player who played some of the best outfield that anyone has seen between the years 1962 and 1965. I hope Phillies fans will remember the threads he contributed to the tapestry of the team’s history.

(1) comments

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

What You Get For the Money 

I’m a big fan of HGTV’s “What You Get For the Money” and “National Open House” which go around the country and highlight differences between real estate in different locales of the country. The general theme is that Palm Springs, is the only cheap place in California, that real estate in the South is absurdly cheap compared to the Northeast and that there is nothing interesting in the Midwest. The show usually has properties in Asheville, North Carolina, or Palm Springs featured, usually highlighting how inexpensive they are. (E.g., you can get a four-bedroom, four bath home in Asheville for $300,000, and for that same price you can get a condo or a townhouse in Boston.)

I’ve been watching the free agency market shape up and I am struck by the thought that teams are paying lots of money and aren’t getting the same product. When / what they buy determines how they pay. Let’s compare Alfonso Soriano to Garry Matthews, Jr., and Carlos Lee.

First, let’s compare the deals each player signed. Soriano inked an eight-year, $136 million dollar deal with the Chicago Cubs that pays him $17 million dollars a year. Carlos Lee inked a six-year, $100 million dollar deal with the Houston Astros that pays him a little less than $17 million a year. Gary Matthews, Jr. got a five-year, $50 million dollar deal with the California Angels that will pay him $10 million bucks a year. Who got the most for their money?

Here is a comparison of how many Runs Created each player produced for each team …

Runs Created / RC27
Soriano: 121 / 6.62
Lee: 113 / 6.46
Matthews: 105 / 6.31

That only tells part of the story. Here are their Gross Productive Average and Isolated Power stats:

Soriano: .297 / .283
Lee: .297 / .203
Matthews: .291 / .182

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
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.
RC/27: Runs Created per 27 outs, essentially what a team of 9 of this player would score in a hypothetical game.
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.

Offensively, the three players are nearly identical. Soriano is the most explosive bat based on 20056 stats, but Lee is pretty comparable and Matthews isn’t a slouch either. Soriano is a speedster on the base-paths (41 steals in 58 attempts), which gives him an edge over Matthews (10 steals in 17 tries) and Lee (19 steals is 21 tries), but offensively, the Astros and Angels got pretty good ballplayers, although Soriano is clearly the class of the 2006 free agency market.

As I poured over the stats it suddenly occurred to me that we have another metric to measure: defense. All three players play in the outfield: Soriano and Lee in left field and Matthews in center field. Rather than comparing Zone Rating or Range Factor, I stuck with Fielding Win Shares per 1,000 innings played. Here is what I got:

FWS 1,000:
Soriano: 2.62
Lee: 1.91
Matthews: 3.42

Naturally, Matthews has a slight edge in terms of rating because he plays a more difficult defensive position and Soriano is a terrific athlete who can play the middle infield and did a good job in left, but what stands out to me is what a one-dimensional player Lee is. He’s a left fielder and not a particularly good one at that. He was DH’d several times with the Rangers last season.

I think this much is clear: the Astros overpaid to bring Carlos Lee in. Sure, he’s a good player, but he’s not in the same class of player as Soriano, who is a better defender and a better, faster athlete than Lee. Given that the Astros and Cubs paid nearly the same money for the two, you have to say that the Cubs got the better bargain: they got a player who is more dangerous an offensive presence and a better fielder.

But the team that got, comparatively, the best deal, was the Angels. For 40% less money than what the Cubs paid for Soriano, they got a good defensive center fielder who is a dangerous bat. Okay, Matthews probably won’t anchor the offense and compete for the MVP award the way Soriano will in 2007, but the Angels got a good player in the market and (comparatively) under-paid to get him.

That’s what the Angels get for the money.

-Clearly the Phillies free agency plans have gone seriously awry. No Soriano, No Lee, and it looks like Randy Wolf will shortly (i.e. today) sign a one-year pact to become an L.A. Dodger. Meanwhile, the Phillies have almost zero chance of signing Jason Schmidt or Barry Zito, the big-time hurlers. Looks like the Phillies sole free agent signing is going to be Wes Helms and Adam Eaton (see below).

-David Dellucci is poised to sign a three-year, $11 mil deal with the Cleveland Indians. Dellucci only made $950,000 last year and put up some good numbers in limited action. He plays with a lot of enthusiasm on defense and helped spark the Phillies offense during the August run to the playoffs (though he did tail off later). He’d have been a good fit as the Phillies fourth outfielder and could step in and do a good job should the Phillies manage to unload Pat Burrell on the Orioles or Giants in the coming weeks. Now he's off the market, which makes dealing Pat Burrell problematic for the Phillies. Can they really deal Burrell and go with Jeff Conine, Aaron Rowand and Shane Victorino as their outfield? I think not.
-The Phillies signed Adam Eaton to a three-year deal worth $24 mil yesterday. What are the Phillies getting with Eaton? A pitcher who hurled just sixty-five innings in 2006 and still managed to give up 11 home runs (1.52 HR/9). A pitcher with an ERA of 5.12 and a Fielding Independent Pitching ERA* of 5.43. A pitcher who gives up a decent number of walks: 3.32 BB/9. Color me unimpressed.

*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).

-What are the Red Sox going to do with Manny Ramirez now that they've decided to give J.D. Drew and his minion-of-evil agent mega bucks money? Unloading an $18 million dollar salary is no small feat. Aside from their nemesis, the Yankees, I can't see a single team taking them up on the offer. They aren't exactly paying Drew peanuts: Drew opted out of an eight-figure a year deal to be a free agent. Drew will chase his golden idol - money - to the ends of the earth.

More tomorrow, ya'll...

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Monday, November 27, 2006

The Wiz Kids, Part XV: 1951 & Beyond 

Buoyed by the success of the 1950 campaign, most people assumed the youthful Phillies were a dynasty in the making. It didn’t happen. The Phillies got off to a sloppy start in 1951 and finished a whopping twenty-three and a half games behind the triumphant New York Giants. After defeating the Giants 4-0 on August 11, 1951, the Phillies, who were in third place and a game behind the Giants and fourteen games behind the Dodgers, would go 15-29 for the rest of the season while the Giants would win 39 of 48 games (an astonishing .830 winning percentage) and close a thirteen game deficit with the Dodgers. The Phillies finished fifth.

The problem the 1951 Phillies had was that they slipped badly on defense. They fell to fourth in DER. They were still the best pitching team in the National League, once more leading the league in Fielding Independent Pitching, at 3.73, which was much better than team ERA of 3.81 (good for just fourth in the NL). Still, the slip in fielding cost the Phillies dearly. After out-performing their Pythagorean win-loss record by four games in 1950, the Phillies fell behind by four games in '51. Their sterling 30-16 record in one-run games tumbled to 24-29 in 1951.

1951 FIP:
1. Phillies: 3.73
2. Braves: 3.75
3. Reds: 3.77
4. Giants: 3.94
5. Dodgers: 3.99
6. Cardinals: 4.00
7. Cubs: 4.07
8. Pirates: 4.40

As in 1950, the ’51 Giants were again the best fielding team in the league, a fact that masked their average pitching. The Phillies couldn’t generate enough offense to off-set the slip in fielding, finishing a paltry sixth of eight teams in runs scored. The team sputtered to a sub-.500 finish as the season culminated in the dramatic moment when Bobby Thomson smashed Ralph Branca’s fastball over the Polo Grounds fence for a 5-4 Giants victory and the NL pennant. Memories of the Phillies dramatic victory the previous season faded as baseball mourned the retirement of Joe DiMaggio and the Giants basked in the glow of their incredible triumph. According to Bill James: “I have always suspected that had it not been for the unbelievable end to the 1951 National League race, this wonderful race, this classic game and this remarkable play might be even more famous than they are. Bobby Thomson, in a sense, blew Richie Ashburn out of the water before the 1950 race had time to settle into myth.” (Bill James Historical Abstract.)

The rest of the decade would be dominated by the City of New York, which had a team in the World Series each year until 1959. Bobby Thomson’s triumph was followed by the Yankees continuing their dominance in the American League while the Dodgers and Giants possessed a stranglehold on the NL that would last until both teams fled New York for California in 1957. The Dodgers and Giants controlled the NL pennant every year from 1951 to 1956. The glow of the Phillies triumph in 1950 faded quickly as the sports media focused in on the Dodgers, Giants and Yankees. Bobby Thomson’s home run, the Giants dramatic late-season comeback, the dominance of the Dodgers thereafter and their eventual triumph in the 1955 World Series pushed memories of the Wiz Kids to the periphery. The talented young team never jelled and never really competed for the pennant for the rest of the decade. The 1952 team again had the best pitching staff in the majors, a fact almost entirely to the credit of Robin Roberts, who went 28-7 that season. But again, the team slipped defensively and couldn’t generate enough offense to make another run. They finished two games under their Pythagorean win-loss record and staggered to a fourth place finish at 87-67, nine and a half games behind the Dodgers. Eddie Sawyer was gone as manager before the season was out and the team remained mired in fourth or fifth place until 1958.

The biggest blow to the Wiz Kids place in history was that they didn’t play in New York, the media capital of the world. Had the Wiz Kids played at the Polo Grounds instead of Shibe Park, they would probably been remembered more fondly in history and Richie Ashburn wouldn’t have had to wait until 1995 to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The reverence the media has always had for the Giants, Dodgers and Yankees choked the Wiz Kids out.

The biggest reason why the Wiz Kids didn’t return to the World Series again in the 1950s was fairly simple: the management was racist. Herb Pennock, the team’s brilliant General Manager from 1943 to 1948, was largely responsible for assembling the Wiz Kids through his shrewd decision-making. Pennock built a tremendous farm system and stocked it with players like Roberts, Simmons, Ashburn, Ennis, etc. He was a smart man with a savvy eye for talent. The Wiz Kids were largely his creation, and he deserves a lot of credit for that.

Yet, Herb Pennock was also a racist. In 1947 he telephoned Branch Rickey, the Dodgers wise G.M., and told him that the Dodgers couldn’t bring Jackie Robinson to Shibe Park for a game. Pennock told Rickey: “You just can’t bring the nigger here with the rest of the team. We’re not ready for that sort of thing in Philadelphia. If that boy is in uniform when Brooklyn takes the field, we will not play the game.” (Tales from The Phillis Dugout at 45.) Then Pennock had a member of the front office convince the Dodgers hotel to turn them away when they arrived to play.

Pennock’s racism embedded itself into the fabric of the team and colored the front office’s outlook for years. While players like Roy Campanella, a Philadelphia native, signed with the Dodgers, the Phillies refused to bring in black talent. After the Phillies turned him down for a tryout, young Hank Aaron signed with the Braves and went on to break the major league record for career home runs. It is no mere coincidence that the Dodgers, the Giants and the Braves, the three teams most open to signing African-American players in the 1950s, forged ahead and dominated the decade, winning the pennant each and every year from 1951 to 1959.

That was the reason why the Wiz Kids never prospered. Richie Ashburn, the most famous of the Wiz Kids, said as much when he remarked that the reason why they never repeated was because they were “all white”. It wasn’t until 1957 that the Phillies bothered to bring aboard a black player, and even then they only brought in a light-hitting utility infielder. The team’s racial issues would continue well into the next decade: Curt Flood triggered a battle over baseball’s reserve clause – and helped baseball's march towards free agency – by his flat refusal to accept a deal trading him from the Cardinals to the Phillies in 1969 because of the Phillies reputation for racism.

The Phillies played .500 baseball for the rest of the decade, finishing fourth or fifth each season, despite terrific performances from Del Ennis, Richie Ashburn, Curt Simmons and Robin Roberts. The core of the Wiz Kids stayed together, with the exception of Konstanty, who fell to 4-11 in 1951 and was dealt to the Yankees in 1954 before leaving baseball altogether in 1956. However, the team never was able to compete for the pennant again.

At the end of the decade the Phillies tumbled to eighth in 1958, a position they would occupy until the 1962 season when the expansion franchises – the Houston Colt .45’s and the New York Mets – would help the Phillies attain .500 status again. (The Phils 81-80 record in 1962 was largely built on the foundation of a 31-5 record against the Mets and Colt .45’s. Otherwise the team was 50-75 that season.) The Phillies improved in 1963 and nearly took the pennant in 1964, only to fall spectacularly short at the end, when the team blew a six game lead with twelve games remaining. The Phillies would take another turbulent decade to recover before the team’s golden era (1976-1983), when they won the NL East six times, played in two World Series and won the team’s only title in 1980. The team’s modern era has been a mixed bag, with some dramatic highs (the 1993 World Series, the team’s recent pennant runs) and many lows (aside from the ’93 team, no Phillies team had a winning record from 1987 to 2000 …)

And thus the history of the Wiz Kids comes to an end. I hope everyone enjoyed the series. It took me a long, long time to write and I suspect I'll never do something as complex and time-consuming as this again. Still it was fun and I hope you all liked it. Tomorrow, back to regularly scheduled programming. I am working up some thoughts on this season's wild, free-spending free agency season.

Previous Installments of the Wiz Kids:
Part XIV: The 1950 World Series.
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.

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