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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Davey Lopes 

I was reading in the Inquirer that new First Base coach Davey Lopez has been working out with Greg Golson, Michael Bourn, Chris Roberson, Shane Victorino and Jimmy Rollins and has been urging more aggressive running on the bases and the employment of base-stealing as a weapon. The article got me thinking about the potential impact Lopes could have on the Phillies both as their first base coach and as their manager if the team fires Charlie Manuel in April or May. Will Lopes transform the Phillies from a power-oriented offense to a small-ball oriented attack?

First off, how much influence Lopes will have as the first base coach? Not much, I suspect. The decision to hit-and-run and to steal a base lies solely within the discretion of the head coach, Charlie Manuel. Lopes can encourage players heading to first to try and stretch a single into a double, but the actual strategic impact Lopes has as first base coach is pretty minor.

Now, as head coach Lopes would be able to order more hit-and-runs and steals and the like, but I wonder if he really would. As a player Lopes was a speedster, stealing 557 bases in 671 attempts with Dodgers, A’s, Cubs and Astros. He ranks 25th All-Time in terms of bases stolen. As a manager he was less interested in base-stealing. His Brewers teams ranked near the bottom of the N.L. in terms of stolen bases during his term as manager from 2000 to 2002. Was this because he had lost interest in steals? I suspect this was more about personnel: there were a lot of slow-footed sluggers on those teams.

Now he's a coach on a team loaded with speedsters and good baserunners: Jimmy Rollins has 207 career stolen bases and led the N.L. in steals during his rookie year in 2001 with 46. He also was +9 on the basepaths according to the 2007 Bill James Handbook. Chase Utley has stolen 31 bases in 38 tries over the last two seasons, and ranked second in the M.L.B in baserunning with a +27. The team apparently is intending to bat Shane Victorino high in the batting order and make him run. Victorino is already a solid baserunner, coming in at +14 on the Bill James list. Along with Bourn and Roberson, the Phillies have the potential to improve on their eighth place showing in terms of stolen bases.

Would this renewed emphasis on speed hurt the team? I am a proponent of the "Big Ball" style of offense over small ball, but I am willing to say that the Phillies should try and emphasize speed a little more ... or at the very least, aggressiveness on the basepaths ... to diversify their offense a little in 2007. Yes, I think teams that practice small ball are tactically inferior to their big ball counterparts, but some of those teams have exceeded my expectations and have won a lot of games, including championships. The Anaheim Angels are the small ball kings and they won the '02 World Series.

So I would welcome a shift by the Phillies to put speed on the front burner a little more, but the essential character and composition of this team is that they are a power offense team, built around home runs and doubles, uniquely suited to triumphing at Citizens Bank Ballpark and to taking advantage of the ability of players like Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell to park the ball 400 feet out. Charlie Manuel knows this and understands this and lets this team play to its strengths.

Let's hope that Davey Lopes, regardless of the role his plays on this team, encourages aggressiveness on the basepaths, but doesn't try and make this team into something it is not.


Just have a few things to say.
The new coaching assistants were brought in by Uncle Charlie, they were hand picked. Besides the fact that I doubt Manuel will be fired this season, I also disagree that the Phils would have Lopesreplacce him. I don't think he would be the first choice of Gillick to be a replacement.
Also, you have to realize the teams that he had in Milwaukee. His first two years he had no one to take a base here and there...his best option was Marquis Grissom (unless he wanted to give Geoff Jenkins or Jeromy Burnitz the green light). Also would you send guys when baserunners were scarce to begin with?
In his last season there he had more speed on the team and had two guys with 30+ steals.
The 2007 Phillies have a considerable amount of speed especially at the top of the order. Expect Lopes to move these guys around the bases early in the season and give it a shot. Keep in mind though that runners will be heldat first when Howard is up to bat to avoid a walk. Thereare many factors that must be analyzed before jumping down a coaches throat for not doing something. Lets stay positive and credit Manuel for recognizing a need for a change on the bases.
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