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.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Chris Coste Watch! 

I have to watch how often I write a post about Chris Coste. Much like leaving Pedro Martinez in too long, it is easy to write a post on Chris Coste. He’s a great subject to blog. Minor leaguer until his mid-30’s, finally gets his chance to jump in and produces for the Phillies during their stretch run towards the playoffs. In just a hand-full of games (65) he hit seven home runs with thirty-two RBIs, with a .328 batting average. Sabremetrically-speaking, he had a nice season: 36 Runs Created (7.3 per 27 Outs), .177 ISO, and he hit .356 with runners in scoring position (BA/RISP), just about the only Phillie to do that in 2006.

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
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 If you use ESPN’s version be advised that it is pitifully is out-of-date, however.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.
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.

Great story. A real-life The Natural. Or perhaps Crash Davis (Bull Durham) is a better comparison than Roy Hobbs.

Sadly, life is not a fairy tale. After fighting for a roster spot in Spring Training the Phillies have decided to option him to the Ottawa Lynx, the Phillies Triple-A affiliate in Canada. The move doesn't mean a deal-knell to Coste's major league career, but it is a major blow. Coste will need one of the Phillies catchers to sustain an injury, or one of the bats on the bench to have a problem. Otherwise Coste will be catching up north with the rest of the Phillies Triple-A players. Good luck Chris, and I hope I get to see you again in Philly soon.

I was set to appear on Philly Sports Talk Now’s weekly podcast yesterday when my telephone decided to pick yesterday evening ten minutes prior to the show to hiccup. If I had appeared on the show yesterday, I was going to make the following points about the Phillies struggles to date:

-As advertised, the bullpen is terrible, ranking twelfth of sixteen teams in ERA.

-The starters haven’t performed as advertised. The Phillies starting rotation ranks next-to-last in ERA.

-The Phillies are hitting fourteenth in BA/RISP. This isn’t a big deal to me, after all the Phillies were one of the worst “clutch” hitting teams in baseball in 2006 and they weren’t scraping for runs. Since the Phillies hit lots and lots of home runs and doubles, getting clutch hits isn’t important. The Phillies can score runners from first or from home plate with the single swing of a bat. No clutch hitting needed.

-The Phillies are dead-last in Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER), which is a major problem. Back in 2005 the Phillies were arguably the best defensive team in baseball. Now they might be the worst. The effect on the pitching staff has to be crippling and partly accounts for the Phillies slow start: Jimmy Rollins big error on Monday helped to turn a 5-4 Phillies lead into a 11-5 loss.

So those were factors I would have noted. What did last night’s game say about the Phillies? Well …

-Antonia Alfonseca set up Tom Gordon with a good eighth inning, followed by Gordon in the ninth with a pair of strikeouts. Nice work.

-Adam Eaton had a strong outing, scattering four hits and three walks over seven innings, along with five strikeouts. The Mets mustered just one extra-base hit against Eaton, a double.

-Well, the Phillies did leave a slew of runners on base (14, I think), but they got five of them home, and that is three more than the Mets.

-Finally, the Phillies didn’t make any errors.

Tonight Jamie Moyer vs. Tom Glavine. The battle of the senior citizens. It’ll be an interesting battle.

Who would have expected Felix Hernandez to have turned in such a spectacular pitching performance last night against the Red Sox? A nine-inning complete game, one-hit shutout wherein he allowed just two walks and got six strikeouts. Spectacular.

More tomorrow.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Book Review: Eight Men Out 

Before I get into my review ... Tonight the Phillies send Adam Eaton to the mound to pitch to the Mets Perez. A loss drops the Phillies to 1-7 and would probably put Charlie Manuel in-line to be fired shortly. The Phils need to embark on a winning streak and soon. This team is capable of running off a 5-6-7 game winning streak, so nothing is done that cannot be undone. However, they need to start banking some wins and soon. Alright, now back to my review...

I began reading Eight Men Out recalling the aphorism that a movie is never as good as the movie. I had seen the 1988 movie starring John Cusack, Charlie Sheen, David Strathairn, and many others, a long time ago and remember that it was one of my favorite movies growing up. 1988 was a terrific year for the game of baseball being in the eye of Hollywood, as Bull Durham came out in the summer and Eight Men Out followed in September. Bull Durham, a wry comedy about life in the minors that featured some of the best, wittiest bits of dialogue I’ve heard (e.g., “Don't try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.”) was a very different movie compared to Eight Men Out, a serious movie that sought to get to the truth of the infamous 1919 “Black Sox” scandal. The movie captured the passion and feeling of the game in those early, pre-Ruthian days as the vaunted 1919 Chicago White Sox stumbled when eight players allegedly conspired to throw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds, to the stunned amazement of fans across America. The resulting scandal nearly destroyed the fabric of the game and has been the specter haunting such incidents as Pete Rose’s betting on baseball in the late 1980’s. The trauma of the scandal led to earth-shaking changes in the game: the tooth-less old commission that oversaw the N.L. and A.L. was cast by the wayside in favor of a Commissioner who bent the will of the game to his own, Kennesaw Mountain Landis, the formidable Federal Court Judge.

The book itself, written by Eliot Asinof, is a very readable account of the scandal, capturing the tenor of the game and the lives of the players. Charles Comiskey was a self-made man who paid his players pretty much nothing. Compared with their rivals in New York and Boston and Cleveland, the White Sox were a bargain-basement operation. Stars like Eddie Cicotte and Buck Weaver made less than subs on their rivals. The perennially cheap Comiskey, along with the gamblers, emerges as the villain for the scandal. His cheap, penny-pinching ways drove his players to look for ways to supplement their income. He was so cheap he was the only owner not to pick up his player's laundry bills. An a self-righteous man who thought of himself as honorable, Comiskey was consumed by his pursuit of success on the baseball diamond and vindicating his own sense of superiority. Comiskey, more than anyone else, is the reason why the scandal happened and emerges as a lamentable figure in the pages of Asinof’s book. If he hadn’t lorded over his players, holding them to absurdly low salaries, refusing to listen to their pleas for better pay and treatment, perhaps the scandal wouldn’t have occurred.

When it did, Comiskey’s long-running feud with American League President Ban Johnson and the weak power structure of baseball’s commission prevented Comiskey from taking any action, allowing the scandal to ride its course in the 1919 series. The truth, when it came out, was catastrophic for baseball. At the end of a passionate pennant race in 1920 that the White Sox nearly won came the news that the previous World Series had been fixed by the players. Asinof captures the stunned outrage that swept America and shook the game to its very foundations. A Chicago Grand Jury investigation turned up the scandal as the 1920 season came to a close and turned into a full-scale media sensation.

I found the picture that Asinof paints of the scandal to be a fuller picture than the 1988 movie presents, not surprisingly. How involved was Buck Weaver really? What about Joe Jackson? There was a lot of murky gray area that made reconstructing the story difficult. The movie is a little more clear-cut about who was involved, but the actual actions of the players is a little more difficult to comprehend. The testimony of the players before the Grand Jury in Chicago only filled in bits and pieces of the story, the machinations of the gamblers – Arnold Rothstein, Sport Sullivan, Abe Attell – is shrouded in mystery. The moment when Happy Felsch notes to a reporter that the joke was on the players because the gamblers had approached them about the fix, gotten rich off their work and were never held accountable rings true. While the players were the ones to fix the series it is hard not to feel some sympathy for them. The gamblers profited off their actions and the politicians and owners offered them as sacrificial lambs to a public that was desperate for blood. In the end, they were the only ones to be held accountable for their actions. The gamblers left them holding the bag, the owners and politicians moved on. The players suffered their ban from the game in silence.

It is hard not to be impressed with the work that Asinof devoted to reconstructing the scandal. His book captures the story and does what any good book does, put the reader in the story and makes them care about the heroes and how they turn out. You feel pity for the great Eddie Cicotte, the proud, flawed man who emerges as the hero of Eight Men Out. (Primarily Asinof focuses on Cicotte, Buck Weaver and Joe Jackson at the end of the book.) Worried that he couldn’t provide for his family, he made a decision that he hoped would secure his family’s future, but it ultimately destroyed his career as a ballplayer and left him a humiliated man. More than any other person, Cicotte jumps off the pages of Asinof’s book the hero of the story.

Enjoy, I highly recommend.


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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

What's A GM to do? 

So the Phillies have started 1-6 for the third time in the last four years … so much for that fast start that the team was talking about. Yesterday’s 11-5 loss to the New York Mets is starting to follow a familiar script: Phillies starter pitches a nice game, departs, the bullpen enters and promptly blows it, meanwhile a Phillie regular makes some bone-headed play to ensure defeat. Poor Jimmy Rollins was the unfortunate soul who made a costly bobble to cost the Phillies. The real villains of this story were the relief artists, who spoiled a nice performance by Cole Hamels (two earned runs in six innings, seven strikeouts) and let a 5-4 Phillies lead in the eighth evaporate into a 11-5 loss.

A notable problem: the Phillies have made six errors in seven games this season. Ryan Howard has made 3 of the 6 on his own. Don’t think that this won’t become an issue in evaluating Howard, particularly given that his arch-rival, Albert Pujols, is a stunningly good defensive first baseman.

So what is a General Manager to do? The pressure is on Pat Gillick to find some answers to these riddles, particularly if the Phillies go 1-7 or 1-8 to start off the season. Making all of this extra-painful is the fact that these losses are coming to division rivals. These games are going to cost the Phillies in September. A few thoughts on what might be swirling around in Pat Gillick’s head:

-I wonder if Scott Linebrick-for-Aaron Rowand is still a possibility. Michael Bourn is up and looked good in spring training, so getting someone into center field won’t be an issue. His OBP is .367 because he’s actually bothered to attempt to draw some walks this season, so moving him to the Padres for Linebrick might be a good idea.

-Jon Lieber is back, so look for Gillick to start shopping Lieber for bullpen help as soon as Freddy Garcia is ready to take the mound, if not sooner.

-Poor Charlie Manuel’s head is in a noose. Manuel was hired under the old regime and he’s be the logical choice to punish for the Phillies soft start. Particularly given that Jimy Williams, someone who managed under Gillick in Toronto, and Davey Lopes, a high-intensity type of guy, are sitting on the Phillies bench. My money is on Lopes to succeed Manuel by April 30, based on the fact that teams often like to follow laid-back personalities with intense people. Lopes would fit that description.

The second week of April and the Phillies are in “must-win” games. Yeeshk.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Got ‘Em Right Where We Want ‘Em… 

A loss today to the New York Mets and it will be the third time in four seasons that the Phillies got off to a 1-6 start to their season. Not since 2003 have the Phillies had an actual positive start, when they began the season 2-0 (yes, two victories!) on their way to a 16-12 April. Forget all of that fast-start talk. This is going to be another 10-14 April for the Phillies, another hole that they need to climb out of.

So what’s wrong with the Phillies? Not a whole lot. Offensively, the Phillies are hitting fine. They rank second in the N.L. in On-Base-Percentage (OBP) at .360, and they are sixth in slugging percentage. Despite having all of those base-runners they are only seventh in the N.L. in runs scored. The simple issue here is that Ryan Howard is struggling at the plate. No home runs and his first extra-base hit of the season – a double – was yesterday against the Marlins. Those hits will come.

The Phillies top performers at the moment are Pat Burrell and Jimmy Rollins. Jimmy Rollins spectacular inside-the-park home run against the Marlins made the Baseball Tonight and Sportscenter’s highlight reels, but Rollins has been turning in a solid, consistent performance thus far this season. Six runs, six RBI, three home runs, two doubles, and seven walks against five strikeouts. Without Rollins, the Phillies offense would have ground to a screeching halt.

Burrell deserves credit – not that anyone would give him any – for going 8-for-21 with five walks (.500 OBP) and for hitting a home run and two doubles thus far this season (.619 SLG). Ryan Howard shouldn’t have any excuses with Utley and a red-hot Burrell hitting behind him.

The revamped pitching staff has gotten hit hard. They have the second-worst ERA and the rank near the bottom in walks allowed, despite being third in strikeouts. Brett Myers got roughed up a little after his nice Opening Day start, which I wouldn’t read too much into. Adam Eaton got hit hard, which he needs to bounce back from, but otherwise, the Phillies pitching issues are basically what people suspected they would be: the bullpen is weak. I’d withhold judgment on the rotation until Freddy Garcia and Jon Lieber return.

So tonight the Phillies send Cole Hamels to the mound against John Maine to avoid repeating history. As many have said throughout the ages, those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. I am certain that the Phillies are aware of their recent struggles and have no wish to repeat another 1-6 start. Thankfully they send Hamels to the mound to duel with a pitcher who is clearly inferior to him. Let’s see if the Phillies can light Maine up and cool the Mets hot bats down. 2-5 would be sweet.

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