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, May 04, 2007

The 2007 Mets: House of Cards? 

Nice win last night over the Giants, even when you take into account Adam Eaton's six runs allowed in five innings of work. This West Coast swing to San Francisco and Arizona might be just what the Phillies needed most. The Phillies always seem to play N.L. West teams well. The Phillies play another three games in the City by the Bay this weekend. A 4-0 sweep is a little much to ask for, but the Phillies ought to walk away from this series with three wins or so.

Give credit to the new regime New York Mets. As Phillies fans we were used to the seeing the Mets bumble around, spending zillions of dollars while still managing to lose games. Remember the 2002 Mets? They spent $94 million dollars on free agents – Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn, Jeromy Burnitz – to win a whopping 75 games. The Phillies spent just $57 million to win 80 games that season.

I hate these new-look, competent, Mets. Since Omar Minaya was installed as General Manager and Willie Randolph became the team’s manager after the 2004 season the Mets have made a number of savvy moves. First they signed Pedro Martinez to be their ace hurler. Then they inked Carlos Beltran to be their star in center field. The next year they poached Bill Wagner from the Phillies to be their closer, signed Carlos Delgado as a free agent from the Marlins, and brought in Paul Lo Duca to catch. Finally armed with enough talent, they easily dethroned the Braves as division champs and basically ran away with the division title last season.

Thus far this season the Mets are locked in a tight race with the Braves for the N.L. East lead with the Phillies and Marlins lagging behind. As I looked at the numbers I wondered: Are the Mets really that good?

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 If you use ESPN’s version be advised that it is pitifully is out-of-date, however.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.
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).
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.
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP

I want to focus my attention on their pitchers to start. With Pedro out and Tom Glavine and Orlando Hernandez well into their forties, the Mets rotation seems like it ought to have serious issues. The Mets Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is 4.05, worse than the league average of 3.97. The Mets are issuing a lot of walks – 107, or 4.1 per game, far worse than the league average. Yet to my stunned amazement, the Mets are actually leading the N.L. in ERA at 2.96 and are surrendering the fewest runs per game at 3.54. What gives?

I looked up the numbers and notice that the Mets are turning in a spectacular job with their gloves. As I write this, the Mets Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER) is .727, second-best in the N.L. after the Cubs (.733), and much better than the N.L. average of .697. So the Mets fielders are doing a nice job covering up the fact that the Mets hurlers have been making mistakes. Also, despite losing Pedro, the Mets hurlers are getting a lot of strikeouts: 7.5 per game, compared to the N.L. average of 6.7.

The Mets offense is a major force to be reckoned with here. They score 5.38 runs per game, second-best in the N.L. They are doing a lot of things right at the moment: the Mets OBP is well above the league average (.362 vs. .332) and their slugging percentage is an impressive .444, forty-five points higher than the league average. The 2007 Mets are doing nearly everything well – hitting for power, getting on base, leading the league in stolen bases, etc.

Individually the 2007 Mets probably boast the strongest lineup that the N.L. has seen in years. Despite some struggles by David Wright and, especially, Carlos Delgado, the Mets boast a brutal murderers row:

Runs Created / 27 Outs:
1. Jose Reyes: 9.9
2. David Wright: 4.8
3. Carlos Beltran: 8.8
4. Carlos Delgado:3.6
5. Moises Alou: 5.5
6. Shawn Green: 7.5
7. Paul Lo Duca: 2.9
8. Jose Valentin: 6.6

I think the 2007 Mets are easily capable of hitting the 900 run mark. If they played in the A.L. with a DH, I think we could honestly say they'd be a threat for 1,000 runs scored.

But can the Mets tremendous success at the plate get them past the fact that they have real issues with their pitching? I am not convinced that it can. I was interested to see, parusing The Hardball Times website, that the Mets are underperforming in the Pythagorean Win-Loss numbers. Here are the standings as of yesterday:

N.L. East:
1. Atlanta: 17-10
2. New York: 16-10
3. Florida: 13-14
4. Philadelphia: 12-15
5. Washington: 9-19

Now scope out the Pythagorean Standings:

N.L. East:
1. New York: 18-8
2. Atlanta: 15-12
3. Florida: 14-13
4. Philadelphia: 14-13
5. Washington: 7-21

The Braves are doing a nice job winning close games. They are 8-5 in games decided by 2 or less runs. The Mets are 4-3. The Phillies, in particular, are struggling at this at 3-8. Ordinarily when teams outperform their Pythagorean Win-Loss I assume that these teams will regress to the mean and struggle down the stretch. Not here. I am predicting that the Braves will win the N.L. East because of their sterling starting pitching and their revamped bullpen, featuring Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano, two pitchers the Braves acquired in the off-season who, along with closer Bob Wickman, are making the Braves bullpen pretty brutal to deal with. With Tim Hudson (3-0, 1.40 ERA) and John Smoltz (3-1, 3.96 ERA) hurling well, I think the Braves have the best pitching in the National League right now and have to be the favorites to take the N.L. East flag.

In the long run, the Mets reliance on offense will come back to bite them during the mid-summer when teams begin to hit their thin pitching staff more aggressively. Ultimately the Mets will start to struggle and will see the Braves take a commanding lead. The only team who can catch them are the Phillies, the only team capable to matching the Braves pitching factory.

Have a nice weekend ...

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Following History 

Trouble in paradise … Tom Gordon won’t be traveling with the Phillies in their trip out West to San Francisco. With Gordon’s shoulder acting up, the closer duties fall squarely on the lap of Brett Myers, who has been used as a set-up man to date. Perhaps Myers will grow into his new role and this trip will get that process started.

The month of May will be an interesting – and very successful – one for the Phillies, I think. After playing the red-hot Braves and Mets several games during their rough start, the Phillies get to move against the Giants, the Blue Jays, the Brewers, the Cubs, and the Diamondbacks. The Phillies went 19-13 against the N.L. West in 2006 and 20-17 against the Central.

If history is any guide than the Phillies next nine games ought to be a cakewalk. Here is how the Phillies did against those teams in 2006:

San Francisco: 5-1
Arizona: 5-1
Chicago Cubs: 5-2

At the moment the Giants and D-backs are a little above .500, but neither one inspires any feelings of awe. The Cubs, for all of their free spending, are below .500. If the Phillies play things right, they will definitely be above .500 when they move on to face-off with the Brewers on May 14th.

Did you know that the Phillies outfield is leading the N.L. in assists?

Tomorrow: Wes Helms vs. David Bell.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

What's Right With Aaron Rowand? 

Don’t look now, but Aaron Rowand is playing some darn good baseball. A player that I spent much of the 2006 season complaining about is beginning the season as one of the Phillies main catalysts for success. If Rowand can continue his good play the Phillies will be in good shape…

So why didn’t I like Aaron Rowand in 2006? Two reasons:

1. Rowand turned out to be a poor hitter. After a career season in 2004 where he hit 24 home runs and scored 97 runs, Rowand slumped off to what Phillies fans hoped was a fluke in 2005, a season where Rowand hit thirteen home runs and saw his On-Base Percentage drop thirty points. When he joined the Phillies Rowand didn’t improve much. He hit just twelve home runs and his OBP was a paltry .321. Rowand’s presence was a drag on the Phillies offense …

2. But the Phillies didn’t get him for offense. They got him for defense. Aaron Rowand was probably the finest defensive outfielder in 2005, amassing a +30 rating utilizing John Dewan’s Plus / Minus system. Rowand was terrible defensively in 2006, posting a negative Plus / Minus and was generally outplayed by his replacement, Shane Victorino.

So why is this season different? I haven’t a clue. What I do know is that Rowand has been a force thus far. He had a sixteen game hitting streak earlier in the season and looks like he’s hitting the ball well. His batting average is .368. He’s hit five home runs and his slugging percentage is .617, right up there with his 2004 season (.544).

What impresses me is that he’s drawing walks. Check out his walks per plate appearance:

2004: .056
2005: .050
2006: .040
2007: .107

That is a substantial change from the recent past. How is he doing it? I haven’t a clue because he’s basically seeing the same number of pitches at the plate (his 3.6 pitches per plate appearance is virtually unchanged). Rowand must be showing extra discipline at the plate and I am very impressed. Naturally Rowand’s torrid offensive pace will slow down – his .429 batting average with balls put into play is going to regress – but he’s done very, very well at the plate thus far this season.

Defensively there is reason to believe that Rowand has dramatically improved Unfortunately stats like Zone Rating aren’t available for the 2007 season so far, but we do know that Rowand is leading the N.L. in assists by centerfielders with three. Given that Rowand has three assists in 231 innings while needing 900 innings to get six in 2006, I think we can safely say that Rowand’s defensive skills have returned.

Keep this up, Aaron Rowand, and we can all forget 2006 ever happened.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Farm Report 2007: Berks County Baseball 

And so – with last night’s 5-2 loss to the Braves – the Phillies finish the month of April with a 11-14 record, basically the exact same record that that Phillies have had every April for the last three or four years. Like every other season the Phillies will get better. Let’s hope this soft start is something they can recover from …

Anyway, let’s talk some minor league baseball. The Phillies April is a topic for another day. Our eye will be turned towards the Phillies Double-A affiliate in the Eastern League, the Reading Phillies. Just a couple of hours from Citizens Bank Ballpark, deep inside Berks County, lies a collection of future Phillies stars. We are going to talk about three in particular.

How are the Reading Phillies doing? At the moment the Phillies are 12-10 and are patiently sitting in second place in the Eastern League’s Southern Division, a game behind the Akron Aeros. The class of the EL right now are the Trenton Thunder, the New York Yankees affiliate, currently sitting at 17-2 over in the Northern Division. The Phillies are playing .500 baseball, pretty middle of the road in terms of ERA (5th of 12 teams). They are third in OPS (OBP + Slugging Percentage) in the EL. Trenton, the powerhouse, is building their 17-2 record on a solid foundation of pitching. Not only are they first in the EL in ERA, they are first by a good margin: their 1.81 ERA is over a run lower than the Connecticut Defenders, a team with an absurdly bad offense, which sits in second. The Thunder’s ERA is half that of the Phillies (4.02).

But the Phillies have a lot of great players who are coming through the pipeline. Let’s keep the pitching trend going by talking about Matt Maloney.

Matt Maloney was a dominating pitcher last season in Lakewood. (See, my discussion of the Lakewood Blue Claws from last week.) In 2006 he was 16-9 with a 2.03 ERA and impressed the Phillies so much that they allowed him to skip Advanced Single-A Clearwater and go straight to Reading. The Ohio native is off to a soft start with the Reading Phillies, going 2-1 with a 3.42 ERA in his first five starts. The six foot – four inch hurler is struggling with his control somewhat. After getting 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings in Lakewood, Maloney is getting 6.49 in Reading. His 2.47 K/BB ratio has dropped to 1.27. These are all skills he’ll have to reacquire to advance to Allentown in 2008 to play with the Iron Pigs. An April 2009 arrival date in Philadelphia is a definite possibility.

Kyle Kendrick is an interesting subject. Kendrick, a relatively unheralded right-hander from Houston, Texas, is actually the Phillies best pitcher right now. His 2-2 record in five starts obscures a solid 3.94 ERA and a nice 2.83 K/BB ratio. Kendrick has demonstrated very good control over his pitches throughout his minor league career: 3.6 K/BB in Lakewood, 2.14 K/BB in Clearwater. At the moment his BB/9 (walks per nine innings) is 1.69. If he can improve his strikeout ratio (4.78 K/9), he’ll do well. With all of the great arms coming up through the Phillies system I wonder if Kendrick will get lost in the mix. I certainly hope not. He seems like a strong pitcher.

Mike Costanzo is a great story and one of the few real prospects the Phillies have in the minors in terms of position players. Costanzo was born in the Philadelphia area (Springfield) and was a Phillies fan growing up. After attending college at Coastal Carolina, he was selected by the Phillies in the 2005 draft and was sent to Batavia, where he played with the Muckdogs. In 73 games in Batavia Costanzo hit eleven home runs, seventeen doubles, and fifty RBIs. He had 47 Runs Created, or 5.99 per 27 Outs. He impressed the Phillies brass enough to skip Single-A Lakewood and advance to Clearwater in the Florida State League and play with the Threshers. In 135 games in 2006, Costanzo hit fourteen home runs, thirty-three doubles, and eighty-one RBIs. Costanzo had 72 Runs Created, or 5.14 per 27 Outs.

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.

Thus far this season, Costanzo has struggled a little. In 22 games he has four home runs and three doubles. The key to Costanzo’s path through the minors is his sustained ability to hit for power:

Batavia: .199
Clearwater: .153
Reading: .181

These are pretty good stats given that minor league power stats are much, much lower than major leaguers. The problem with Costanzo this season is that he’s not drawing walks the way he ought to:

Walks as % of PA:
Batavia: 10.8%
Clearwater: 12.6%
Reading: 7.8%

That will help Costanzo get that OBP of his up from .311 towards the .364 he had in Clearwater.

Costanzo’s rise through the system is something that ought to be followed with great interest by Phillies fans. While the Phillies have a number of great arms rising through their system – Maloney, Kendrick, Kyle Drabek, J.A. Happ, Zach Segovia, Josh Outman, Carlos Carrasco – the position players are spread few and far between. In Lakewood the highly touted Adrian Cardenas is impressing people with his skills, but won’t arrive in Philadelphia until 2010 at the earliest. Gregory Golson in Clearwater is a quick outfielder with a lot of speed, but seems mired in the minors. Costanzo is the only real prospect the Phillies have above Single-A to play a position with the Phillies. Not coincidentally, third base is a position where the Phillies are somewhat in flux. Let’s hope Mike Costanzo makes it, because the Phillies sure need him.


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Monday, April 30, 2007

Busy 2 Day 

Just a short update today … a lot on my mind other than baseball … If the Phillies lose to the Braves tonight they exit the month of April with pretty much the same record that they have the last few years: 11-14. I am oddly optimistic about this season even now. The ’07 Phillies are much, much stronger than the ’06 version, and the Mets are nowhere near as strong as everyone thinks they are. (Their terrible pitching is being obscured by excellent fielding.) This is going to be a battle with the Braves, and I like the Phillies chances.

-I cannot say that I like the Eagles draft and their decision to take a QB with their first pick. Nothing says QB controversy like taking a QB in the draft when you have a franchise QB already. Why so little faith in Donovan? The Eagles would have been better off taking another D-lineman or grabbing Rutger Brian Leonard, a fullback who can block, catch passes and run. He would have been a heck of a weapon in the Eagles lineup.

-Randy Moss a Patriot? This I have to see. Either the Patriots are going to be 14-2 next year and win the Super Bowl, or they are going to be a very unhappy and mediocre team.

-Tomorrow I’ll take a look at the Phillies month of April.

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