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, February 23, 2007

Roberson v. Bourn 

Now that Spring Training is finally upon us, we can start to talk about training camp battles between veterans fighting to keep their jobs and rookies trying to break their way into the lineup. The Phillies have a few battles of note, specifically Chris Coste’s efforts to remain on the Phillies roster, efforts that seem increasingly futile given management’s lack of interest in keeping Coste on the team. There are a few battles in the bullpen as well, but today I want to focus on another interesting battle I see shaping up between Chris Roberson and Michael Bourn over the Phillies fifth outfielder position. The Phillies will probably award Roberson the job, but I want to argue that Michael Bourn would do the job better.

Let’s start with the basics … Roberson ended the 2006 season with the Phillies, frequently appearing as a pinch-runner or a pinch-hitter for the Phillies. Roberson played before that in Triple-A Scranton as a part of the Red Barons. Roberson went to Mexico to play in winter league ball with the Naranjeros de Hermosillo, where he played somewhat well. (More on that later.) Meanwhile, Bourn moved fast, starting the season in Double-A ball before moving on to Scranton and closing out the ’06 campaign in Philadelphia with the Phillies. Roberson is 27 and was the Phillies ninth-round pick in the ’01 Draft. Bourn is 24 and is the Phillies fourth-round pick in the ’03 Draft.

With the Phillies set to feature Shane Victorino, Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrell with the versatile Jayson Werth as the fourth outfielder, the Phillies need to add a fifth outfielder to the mix. The competition seems to be between Roberson and Bourn for that spot with Roberson being seen as having the inside track due to his greater experience. I submit that would be a mistake. Bourn would be a superior player.

Roberson has a lot going for him: he played decently as a Phillie, successfully stealing all three bases he attempted in 2006. Roberson didn’t display a lot of promise at the plate however. I would worry about a player who hit .195 and didn’t draw a walk in 41 At-Bats. As a Red Baron he hit .292 (.248 GPA, .074 ISO), getting 83 hits in 284 At-Bats. He stole 25 of the 34 bases he attempted. Similarly, Roberson displayed an inability to draw a walk in Scranton, getting just 23 free passes while striking out 57 times.

Roberson decided to refine his skills in the Mexican League and hit .277. Impressively, and perhaps this heralds a refinement of his game, Roberson drew 36 walks and struck-out only 37 times. Disturbingly he was caught nine of the nineteen times he tried to steal.

Bourn, however, played even more sparingly than Roberson, going one-for-eight with the Phillies and getting caught two of his three steal attempts. Bourn displayed tremendous speed with Reading and Scranton, an aspect of Roberson’s game that he seems to be phasing out. Bourn successfully stole 45 of the 50 bases he attempted, including fifteen of sixteen (94%) with the Red Barons. Bourn hit well in Scranton (.272 GPA, .145 ISO) and displayed a great affinity for drawing walks than Roberson.

Interestingly, on the issue of speed, Bourn and Roberson both played in Reading in 2005 and posted similar speed stats … Bourn succeeded on 38 of 50 tries, and hit eight triples, while Roberson stole 34 of 48 bases and also hit eight triples.

Defensively, I’d give a slight edge to Bourn, who rates a little better playing outfield for the Red Barons than Roberson did. According to Minor League Baseball Splits, Roberson played 551 defensive innings for the Red Barons and rated a +8. Bourn played 238 innings and rated a +8 as well, but did so in less time.

So who would be the better outfielder for the Phillies? I submit Bourn, a player who seems to have retained his speed more than Roberson, is a more consistent hitter than Roberson, packs more of a punch at the plate than Roberson and is probably as good, or a better defensive player than Roberson. Having Bourn on staff as the fifth outfielder would help the Phillies by providing speed in pinch-runner situations, which would be the biggest benefit for the team. I hope the team decides to make Michael Bourn their fifth outfielder for 2007, but I suspect he'll start the season in Ottawa with the Lynx. That's too bad. I was looking forward to Bourn getting to exhibit his skills at Citizens, but that can wait for another season.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ryan Madson 

After talking about Tom Gordon and Alfonso Alfonseca, I thought I’d turn my attention to Ryan Madson, the former golden boy amongst the blogging set who struggled through a difficult campaign in 2006 where he was demoted from starter to the bullpen not once but twice, an event that my carry with it some psychological scarring.

When Ryan Madson began his rookie season in 2004 (yes, he hurled two innings in ’03, but that doesn’t count), he astonished Phillies fans with his sharp pitching. He pitched in 52 games, went 9-3 with one save and an ERA of 2.34. In a season where the Phillies pitching got rocked nearly every day at Citizens Bank Ballpark, Ryan Madson looked like the Phillies sole reliable pitcher:

ERA: 2.34
HR/9: 0.70
BB/9: 2.22
K/9: 6.43
K/BB: 2.89

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
WHIP – Walks plus hits by innings pitched: (BB + H) / IP = WHIP
ERA – Earned Run Average: (Earned Runs * 9) / IP = ERA
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).
HR/9 – Home Runs allowed per nine innings: (HR * 9) / IP
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP

The next season Madson struggled a little more, appearing in 78 games, going 6-5 without a save and seeing his ERA increase to 4.14. A closer look reveals that Ryan turned in a remarkably similar season to the previous one:

ERA: 4.13
HR/9: 1.14
BB/9: 2.59
K/9: 8.17
K/BB: 3.16

Indeed, Ryan Madson’s Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) ERA had barely nudged up, going from 3.31 in 2004 to 3.67 in 2005. The ’04 Phillies had played great defense behind Madson and the ’05 team had been more average.

When the ’06 campaign rolled around the Phillies had been impressed enough with his performance to attempt to convert him into a starter along with Gavin Floyd. The result was more than disasterous. Ryan made four starts in April and emerged from the month with a 2-1 record that masked an 8.05 ERA. Teams were hitting .375 against Ryan. Pulled from the rotation, Madson was forced to go back in when Gavin Floyd was sent to the minors. Ryan started ten games in June and July and went 4-4, but had a 6.10 ERA! Returned to the bullpen, Ryan had an ERA of 3.00 in August (going 1-1 with two saves), but saw his ERA jump up to 6.89 again in September. Here is sort of the tale of two seasons that Ryan Madson had in 2006:

Starter / Relief
ERA: 6.28 / 4.50
HR/9: 1.49 / 1.02
BB/9: 3.69 / 2.66
K/9: 6.08 / 7.77
K/BB: 1.61 / 2.92
WHIP: 1.78 / 1.47

What to expect from Ryan Madson in 2007? I am not sure. He needs to clean the ’06 campaign from his head and commit himself fully to being the Phillies chief set-up man. Given that I am not convinced that Tom Gordon will turn in a good performance in ’07, the Phillies might need for Ryan to step into the breach and become the Phillies closer until they seek a permanent replacement for Gordon or the high command might just give him the job outright. Ryan has a lot of tools, but the bullpen is where he belongs. That rush of adrenaline, that stress of needing to enter a game and clean up a mess is something that Ryan clearly thrives on compared with starting a game and needing to pace yourself over five, six, seven … even eight innings.

I tend to think Ryan will return to 2004-2005 form this season. I think he’ll pitch well and give the Phillies 75-85 quality innings from the bullpen and appear in as many as 70 or so games. I am looking forward to seeing Ryan show us what he can do.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Tom Gordon 

The Phillies seem set, entering the 2007 season, on having Tom Gordon as their closer. After suffering through closer issues in 2003 the Phillies went out and brought in lights out closer Billy Wagner in 2004, whose tough, blue-collar image jibbed with the city of Philadelphia and have the Phillies a major weapon in close games. Wagner pitched well in ’04 and ’05, but fled to the Mets as a free agent in 2006. The team brought in Gordon, a low-priced alternative to a high-priced free agent, and were pleasantly surprised by Gordon’s production. In fact, he pitched so well that he played in the All-Star game.

Allow me to be blunt: if the Phillies think they are going to get the same production from Gordon in 2007 that they got last year, they will be solely mistaken. In fact, I suspect that Tom Gordon’s stint as the Phillies closer won’t last to this year’s All-Star Break. Here is why:

Prior to the 2006 All-Star Break, Tom Gordon had hurled well:

ERA: 2.17
HR/9: 0.96
BB/9: 2.65
K/9: 11.09
WHIP: 1.10

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

WHIP – Walks plus hits by innings pitched: (BB + H) / IP = WHIP
ERA – Earned Run Average: (Earned Runs * 9) / IP = ERA
G/F – Groundball-to-Flyball ratio.
HR/9 – Home Runs allowed per nine innings: (HR * 9) / IP
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP

Not so much afterwards:

ERA: 5.32
HR/9: 2.05
BB/9: 4.50
K/9: 9.00
WHIP: 1.55

Admittedly Gordon has missed time in August due to an injury, but the fact remains that he pitched, quite frankly, awful after the All-Star Break. Gordon will be 39 entering the 2007 campaign and has hurled 2,036 & 2/3 innings in his long eighteen year career, having served as a starter, as a set-up man, and as a closer. I suspect that Gordon’s arm is at the end of its run and that he could struggle at the start of the ’07 season. In which case, it would put the Phillies in a situation where they would be in dire need of a closer to fill in the gap.

Don’t get me wrong: there are a lot of things I like about Tom Gordon. He’s a groundball oriented pitcher (1.41 G/F) in a park that punishes allowing flyballs. I like having a veteran presence out there, but I doubt that Gordon’s arm will hold up in 2007, and I am surprised that the Phillies haven’t shown the foresight to think about getting Gordon help.

Who will they go with in Gordon struggles? Ryan Madson? Geoff Geary? Alfonso Alfonseca? All of those options have flaws. So, I suspect that the Phillies will probably be in the trade market in early ’07 looking for a capable closer to take over Tom Gordon’s job.

Tomorrow, Ryan Madson.

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