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

Friday, March 02, 2007

Jimy Williams 

Todd Zolecki had a nice piece in the Sunday Inquirer on new Phillies bench coach Jimy Williams and Williams focus on the importance of fundamentals to the Phillies chances this season. Williams, the third-base coach on the Atlanta Braves from 1990 to 1996, remembered the Braves tight races for the playoffs in seasons past – most significantly their narrow one-game triumph in 1993 when they squeezed the 103-59 San Francisco Giants out of the playoffs – and noted that fundamentals were vital because one little play could tilt one game and one game could tilt the whole season. The Braves won, said Williams that was because they had “proper fundamentals. It was teaching properly and being repetitive and working with a kid.”

These days Williams is running the Phillies spring training and will be contributing, along with First Base coach Davey Lopes, to the Phillies development this season behind Charlie Manuel. I wonder how Manuel feels about having two former coaches sit on his bench with him (and very nearly three, had Art Howe stayed with the team), ready to step into his shoes should the Phillies falter. I noted the other day that Lopes, in addition to being a speedy player years ago, was also a head coach with the Brewers, an ill-fated prospect if there ever was one. Williams actually has a more extensive record of coaching, having led the Toronto Blue Jays from 1986 – 1989 (before being let go in the ’89 season to allow Manager Cito Gaston to take the team to the playoffs), the Boston Red Sox from 1997 – 2001 (before, again, being replaced, this time by Joe Kerrigan in 2001), and finally with the Houston Astros from 2002 – 2004. Gillick worked with the Blue Jays during the late 1980's, so Gillick know what Williams can do as a manager.

At every job Williams had a winning record:

Toronto: 414-352 (.540)
Boston: 215-197 (.522)
Houston: 281-241 (.538)
Career: 910-790 (.535)

I hope that Williams, along with his associations with the Braves will bring a culture of success to the Phillies bench and replace some of the cloud of pessimism that permeates the Phillies … along I would note that it has been a long, long time – dare I say since 1993 – that the Phillies have been this confident, this at ease with themselves, and have been this optimistic about their future.

The focus on fundamentals might clear up something that was an issue last season with the Phillies as well. As I’ve noted … well, ad naseum … the Phillies led the major leagues in Plus / Minus rating for Fielding, coming in at +108, meaning they were 108 plays better than the average, which was tops in the majors. Last season they slipped to -33, a swing of 141 plays, or nearly one per game. The shift was massive and had to have been a massive drain on the Phillies post-season chances. If they had played defense to the level that they played at in 2005, they almost certainly would have made the playoffs. I’m not sure if the drop-off was natural, a product of guys playing over their heads in 2005 and coming to earth in 2006, or if it was a product of guys playing sloppily in 2006 … maybe both … but Williams focus on having the Phillies relearn and practice techniques for fielding grounders and the like will be a big, big benefit. Certainly, it should prevent the Phillies from going -33 in Plus / Minus again.

Check out WPEN Sportstalk 950 tonight at 11:00. They are broadcasting about local pod casts on the internet and featured will be a pod cast I did with Philly Sports Talk Now with Jim and Rich. So hopefully you’ll get to hear me on the radio. Enjoy the weekend!

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Spotlight on Kyle Drabek 

The Phillies season kicked off … sort of … with the Phillies 12-4 victory over the Florida State Seminoles. The game was clearly exhibition for the Phillies, who hammered the young Seminoles with a home run by Chase Utley and timely hits by Pat Burrell. Hey, Ryan Howard scored from first base on one of Burrell's doubles!

Today the Phillies face-off with the Detroit Tigers, last year’s miracle team and near-champions.

On the mound for the Phillies last night was Kyle Drabek, who surrendered a lead-off home run to the Seminoles before settling down. While Drabek struggled a little against the Seminoles at various points, try to remember that Drabek is actually younger than some of the Seminoles.

Drabek was one of the Phillies two first-round picks in the 2006 draft. Just eighteen years old (nineteen now), the Woodlands High School graduate and son of former Major Leaguer Doug Drabek was the Phillies first pick, just a few spots ahead of Shortstop Adrian Cardenas. Baseball America evaluated Drabek this way:

There may not be a more gifted player than Drabek in this draft, but he also comes with makeup concerns. On the mound, he shows better stuff than his father, former Cy Young Award winner Doug. Though he's 5-foot-11, he has the arm speed
to deliver 94-95 mph fastballs and top out at 97. His best pitch may be his 78-82 mph spike curveball, which is all but unhittable. The lone knock on the pitch is that he relies on it too much. "He has as good an arm as anyone," an American League scouting director said. "When his fastball and curve are on, he
has the best two-pitch combination in the draft." Drabek has a decent slider and feel for a changeup, though he rarely needs to use either at this point. He finishes a bit upright in his delivery, but his mechanics are otherwise sound and the ball comes out of his hand easily. He could also make a case for being the best high school position player in the draft, as he's a comparable hitter to New Jersey's Bill Rowell and would have a better shot at playing shortstop as a pro. Yet some teams are backing away from Drabek. He's high-strung on the field, and there are off-field issues as well, but he'll still go in the middle of the first round.

Intrigued, the Phillies brought Drabek aboard, continuing a trend the team has had in recent years of stockpiling pitchers in the draft. Baseball America rates seven pitchers amongst the Phillies top ten prospects, including five of the top six. Drabek rates as the Phillies second-best prospect, right after Lakewood hurler Carlos Carrasco.

After being picked the Phillies sent Drabek to the Gulf Coast League (GCL) to play with the Phillies rookie team down in Clearwater. Drabek started six games for the GCL Phillies, going 1-3 with a 7.71 ERA. Here is a brief summary of his six starts:

July 15: Minor-League debut. Loss. Threw one inning and surrendered three earned runs on four hits and a walk. Struck one batter out.

July 22: No-decision. Threw four innings and struck out two. Walked four batters and allowed four hits on his way to surrendering five earned runs.

August 1: Loss. Threw five innings and gave up four runs on seven hits. Got two strike-outs and didn’t allow a walk.

August 7: Win. Went five innings and didn’t surrender a run. Scattered just three hits and a walk while striking out five batters.

August 12: Loss. Drabek made his sole road start of the season. Went just three and a third innings, allowing a whopping eight runs on ten hits and two walks. Also allowed the only two home runs for the season in the third inning. Drabek struck-out just two batters.

August 17: No-decision. Drabek allowed no earned runs and scattered five hits and three walks in five innings of work, striking two batters out. While Drabek didn’t allow a run, he did allow eight base-runners in just five innings, too high a percentage to be successful in the long-run.

I actually have confidence in Drabek’s long-term development as a player. In 2006 he allowed 70 balls to be put into play, thirty-five of which were groundballs, twenty-three were fly-balls, ten were line-drives and two were pop flies. The average Phillie and the average Major Leaguer had 44% of the balls put into play be grounders, while Drabek put 50% into play as grounders, a massive benefit for the team given that Citizens Bank Ballpark is so unfriendly to flyball pitchers. Phillies pitchers allowed 21% of the balls put into play to be Line-Drives, of which approximately 3/4 fall for hits. Drabek allowed just 14% of his balls put into play to be Line-Drives. What these stats tell me is that Drabek was done in, partly, by bad defense. The Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER) that the GCL Phillies posted behind Drabek was just .586, an absurdly terrible percentage that won’t be repeated in 2007. The GCL Phillies played terrible baseball behind Drabek and he’ll enjoy better defense in the future. As long as Drabek can improve upon his control, the quality of the defense behind him will catch up. Tellingly, the Phillies allowed four unearned runs when Drabek pitched, for a 1.54 UERA.

Check out the differences between Drabek and the rest of the GCL:

Drabek / GCL
HR/9: 0.77 / 0.34
BB/9: 4.24 / 3.26
K/9: 5.40 / 7.57
K/BB: 1.27 / 2.32

Control, allowing too many cheap base runners, was Drabek’s problem in 2006. Once he fixes those issues he’ll turn into a good pitcher. More tomorrow!

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Phillies Baseball Begins 

The Phillies play the Florida State Seminoles today. Yesterday the young Marlins beat the University of Miami Hurricans 12-7, so the Phillies had better triumph against the Seminoles or there will be a lot of tongue wagging about the new and improved Phillies. Most interesting to be is the fact that the Phillies have Kyle Drabek, their first choice in the draft going for them. I am eager to see if Drabek will improve on his showing from his performance in the Gulf Coast League. This could be a big moment for Drabek.

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Fun With Win Shares 

I love Win Shares. Bill James overall stat for evaluating a player’s contribution to a team is a great way of distilling a player’s contributions down into a single number. Flawed, it most certainly is, but it provides for a lot of water-cooler chat in the ‘ol blogosphere.

First, let’s look at what the Phillies players did in 2006:

Win Shares:
1. Ryan Howard: 31
2. Chase Utley: 28
3. Jimmy Rollins: 26
4. Bobby Abreu: 17
5. Pat Burrell: 17
6. Shane Victorino: 12
7. Brett Myers: 11
8. Geoff Geary: 10
9. Aaron Rowand: 9
10. Five tied with 8

I noticed a few things that were interesting …

First off, notice who is sitting at #8. Geoff Geary, the Phillies set-up man, had ten Win Shares in 2006, a tremendous total that even eclipsed rookie sensation Cole Hamels and closer Tom Gordon, both of whom had eight. A slight factor here is the fact that Geary didn’t hit at all, and thus did not have to register a negative factor with his batting, as virtually all N.L. starting pitchers must. Geary had a .2 Win Share for hitting and 9.8 for pitching. Myers, for example, was -3.1 Win Shares with his batting in 2006, which drags his Win Shares total from 14.5 to 11.4. Hamels had -1.2 for hitting and 9.0 for pitching.

Geary’s .838 Win Share percentage was best on the team … better even than Ryan Howard (.812). Oh yeah, and Geary finished tied for fourth amongst N.L. relief pitchers in Win Shares. I would categorize Geary’s performance as a major surprise and a major under-appreciated story of the ’06 campaign.

Victorino’s presence on the lost isn’t so good once you look inside of Victorino’s numbers. His hitting Win Share is pretty puny – 8.1 – but he made a big impression defensively, getting a 3.9 Fielding Win Share. That is roughly 1/3 of his Win Shares for 2006, supporting my contention that Victorino is a marginal offensive player at best for the Phillies. Victorino was just three Win Shares above a bench player and posted a .494 Win Share percentage.

Like Victorino, Aaron Rowand has little to celebrate from being on this list: his Win Shares were a product of good fielding. Rowand actually had 8.8 Win Shares and 3.8 were a product of his fielding, that’s 43%. When an outfielder is putting 43% of his contribution to the team in the form of defense, you aren’t getting enough offense from that player. Tellingly, Rowand was right at bench player level and posted a .365 winning percentage.

The Phillies Big Three in 2006 were Howard, Utley and J.Roll. Rollins transformation in 2006 was astonishing. Already the Phillies key defensive player with 6.1 Fielding Win Shares, J.Roll’s 19.8 hitting Win Shares were third on the team. Rollins was twelve Win Shares above bench, again third on the team. Jimmy Rollins was also third in the N.L. amongst shortstops in Win Shares too.

Chase Utley was just above J.Roll, posting 4.9 Fielding Win Shares, second behind J.Roll, and had 23.2 hitting Win Shares. Utley was also fourteen Win Shares above bench level. Utley ranked tenth in the N.L. in Win Shares, by the way, his 28 being eleven behind Albert Pujols for the N.L. lead. Utley also led all N.L. second basemen in Win Shares.

Obviously the Phillies top player was Ryan Howard. His 31 Win Shares were sixth in the N.L. and led the team. Howard did little with his glove, getting just 1.2 Fielding Win Shares, and doing it all with this bat: 29.8 hitting Win Shares. I could think of dozens of superlatives here, but I think Ryan Howard’s season can best be summed up with a simple statement: He was amazing.

Finally, Chris Coste tied with four other Phillies for tenth on the team in Win Shares, and he ought to be proud of the job he did in 2006. His Win Share percentage is .720, better than Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, or even Chase Utley. He hit well and played good defense. His eight win shares are a full four above a bench player. He played great in ’06 and deserves to return to the team. I hope the Phillies give him a chance.

So what did we learn from Win Shares? Ryan Howard was great last year … okay, we already knew that … and so were Geoff Geary and Chris Coste, two players who were key to the Phillies success in 2006 and didn’t get nearly enough recognition. Meanwhile, the Phillies need to expect more from Aaron Rowand and Shance Victorino if the Phillies can hope to be successful in 2007.

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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.


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Monday, February 26, 2007

A Rant on the Unbalanced Schedule 

Baseball loves its rivalries. One of the great pulls of the game has been its history, memories of seasons past, memories of glories past. Dodgers – Giants. Cardinals – Cubs. Yankees – Red Sox. In an effort to try and accentuate the old rivalries and strengthen the game, Major League Baseball elected to pursue an unbalanced schedule in 2001. Rather than playing every team in their league 13 or so times a year, baseball elected to skew the balance of team’s games against their divisional foes, playing 19 games against division rivals and six or so against the rest of the league.

Since the advent of the unbalanced schedule baseball has been in a rut, in my opinion. Oh sure, the bright flame of the Red Sox and Yankees in 2003 and 2004, good teams and bitter rivals angrily fighting for the pennant and carrying their rivalry into the playoffs, was good for the game. I was glued to the television in ’04 especially, transfixed by the epic struggle unfolding. However, outside of the Red Sox and Yankees playing each other what seems like every week, baseball is suffering.

Teams play game after game against division rivals. Teams from rival divisions rarely appear in town. Teams get to load up against weak foes. The Yankees were a good team in 2006, but they played nearly a quarter of their games against the Orioles and Devil Rays last year and went 25-12 in them. Can you really take the Cardinals triumph in the N.L. Central seriously, given that they did it playing nearly half of their games against the worst division in baseball? The Phillies had a better record and they accomplished that playing a quarter of their games against the Mets and Braves.

Here is what the Phillies schedule distribution looked like for 2006:

N.L. East (four teams): 75
N.L. Central (six teams): 37
N.L. West (five teams): 32
American League (fourteen teams): 18

The Phillies played 46% of their games against four teams, the Nationals, the Braves, the Mets and the Marlins. They played 43% of their games against the other eleven National League teams. How fair is baseball’s schedule when it forces the Phillies to square off with the Mets and Braves 25% of the time while the Cardinals get the Pirates and Reds? Doesn’t it give mediocre N.L. Central teams an unfair advantage in the race for the wildcard? Imagine going into your stretch run with the Cardinals and finding that you have to play the Mets and Braves while the Cardinals get the Reds and Pirates.

The Phillies also played 11% of their games against American League teams, a rarity since teams usually played 12 inter-league games instead of 18. Certainly this put the Phillies at a disadvantage as they had to play games against the Yankees and Red Sox.

The other thing is that it kills interest teams have in the post-season because most of the teams and players they see competing in October are foreign to them. They’ve briefly appeared during the season and then vanished. People in Philadelphia don’t care about what the Dodgers do in the post-season because they didn’t see the Dodgers play during the regular season. The unbalanced schedule encourages people to focus on the players staffing their rivals, on watching their rivals play, and it discourages people from caring about what happens outside of their division.

In short, the unbalanced schedule typifies the worst aspects of baseball. It promotes parochialism. It narrows the people’s focus. It gives certain teams unfair advantages. I know these are complaints that people have noted before, but I think it is high time for baseball to listen to the people and try and fix things they see as wrong. The unbalanced schedule is wrong. Baseball should fix it.

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