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, June 29, 2007

The Amazing Mets vs. The Phabulous Phillies .... 

Phillies – Mets … Not quite the rivalry of Yankees – Red Sox, or Giants – Dodgers, or even Cardinals – Cubs, but there is something of a animosity building here. After Jimmy Rollins predicted that the Phillies were the team to beat in the N.L. East in the preseason, you’ve seen that the Mets were resentful. After all, they were the team that finally knocked the Atlanta Braves off their perch in 2006. A collection of high-priced talent that play in the largest market in America – though they are forced to share it with the Yankees – the Mets are tailor-made to be a juggernaut.

Contrast that with the poor Phillies: underappreciated, unloved by nearly every fan outside of the Delaware Valley – and even here beloved by few – a total nonentity in the eyes of the national media, aside from the slugging exploits of Ryan Howard. The hyped vs. the ignored, Philadelphia vs. New York … That’s the Mets vs. Phillies.

A few weeks ago it looked like the New York Mets were going to run away with the N.L. East. The Phillies got off to a 3-10 start which saw them six and a half games out of first place. Just three weeks ago, on June 2nd, the Mets were 35-19 and sat three and a half games ahead of the Braves and eight and a half ahead of the Phillies. The battle looked like a Braves – Mets struggle for the division, with the Phillies hunting for the wildcard berth, at best.

Tonight the Phillies enter the series with a winning record and sit within striking range of the Mets lead. Part of this has been a resurgent Phillies team, but most has been the sudden collapse of the Mets, who went 4-14 in early June and watched their lead over the Braves and Phillies evaporate. Unable to hit, the Mets shoddy pitching can survive 7-5 slugfests, but can’t win 3-2 pitchers duels. At this point in 2006, the Phillies were 36-42 and sat eleven games behind the Mets. In 2005, the Phillies were 39-37 and were sitting in fourth place. The Phillies enter this stage of the season in the best shape they’ve been in years. The Phillies have consistently been better after the All-Star Break:

Pre-All-Star / Post-All-Star
46-41 (.529) / 40-35 (.533)
2005: 45-44 (.506) / 43-30 (.589)
2006: 40-47 (.460) / 45-30 (.600)

The Phillies will almost certainly ride into the All-Star Break with a record better than .500, and might even have a record as good as the one that they had in 2004. They are in a strong position for the second half of the season. The Phillies are poised to be buyers, not sellers, at the All-Star Break.

I am eager to see how this series shakes out: the Phillies are offering three rookie pitchers that began the year in the minors against the Mets more veteran hurlers. Suffice to say that these are two teams that have issues with the starting pitching:

Friday afternoon: J.D. Durbin vs. John Maine. Durbin will make his major-league debut against the Mets Maine, a journeyman who has turned in a solid performance thus far this season. At the moment Maine is 8-4 with a 2.87 ERA. Last season he was 6-5 with a 3.60 ERA. Maine is actually pitching nowhere near as well as that: his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) ERA was 4.94 in 2006 and 4.06 this season. Maine is a good pitcher, but he surrenders a lot of walks (3.5 BB/9 in 2006, 3.8 this season) and gives up a decent number of home runs (1.6 HR/9 in 2006 and 1.0 this season). I think the Phillies ought to have a lot of success against Maine, although they haven’t in the past: Maine is 3-0 with a 1.96 ERA against the Phillies over the last three seasons. Go figure.

How will Durbin do? Durbin, the Twins second-round pick in the 2000 Draft, is 2-4 with a 4.55 ERA with the Ottawa Lynx in the International League. He’s pretty good about not allowing walks (3.18 BB/9) and strikes out twice as many batters as he walks. I think Durbin, who has been waiting for his MLB debut for a while, will do fine.

Friday evening: Cole Hamels vs. Jorge Sosa. Sosa, much to my surprise, is pitching rather well: 6-3, 3.79 ERA. This ought to be a mismatch – Cole Hamels is 9-3 with a 3.80 ERA – but Sosa is turning in a surprisingly strong performance on the mound and might actually give Hamels a battle. Hamels has really stepped things up a notch this season: 111 strikeouts in 106 & 2/3 innings of work (9.9 K/9), which is basically what he did in 2006 (145 in 132 & 1/3, or 10.1 K/9), but he’s cut down his strikeout rate from 3.3 per nine innings in 2006 to 2.1 this season, a major improvement. Expect Hamels to do well against the Mets, if his previous performance against the Mets is any guide: an eight-inning performance that saw him surrender no runs, no walks and strikeout eight batters.

Saturday afternoon: the Phillies are apparently planning on sending J.A. Happ to the mound to do battle with Oliver Perez. Happ is another Phillies rookie making his debut in the pressure-cooker of the Mets – Phillies series, pitching before a national television audience on Fox. I haven’t a clue how well Happ will do, but he is a highly talented pitcher. Happ, the Phillies third-round pick in the 2004 Draft, is 1-2 with a 4.05 ERA with the Lynx. Happ gets a lot of strikeouts (9.6 BB/9), but is rather prone to allowing walks (4.88 BB/9), a flaw that Mets batters will be excited to exploit. This will be a tough match-up for the Phillies to win.

Sunday afternoon: Finally, in the marquee pitching match-up, the Phillies send Kyle Kendrick, 2-0 with a 5.00 ERA, to the mound against the ageless wonder, Tom Glavine. I am eager to see what Kendrick will do. Will he be intimidated by Glavine? Or will he hold his own? I suspect the latter.

Offensively, the Mets aren’t quite the impressive machine that I thought they’d be this season. After finishing second in the N.L. in runs scored with 834 to the Phillies league-leading 865, I thought they’d do at least as well since they return their 2006 lineup substantially unchanged. Not so. At the moment the Mets rank just eighth in runs scored with 346, 53 behind the N.L.-leading Phillies. Part of this was their struggles in the month of June: the Mets actually rank dead-last in runs scored in June with 87, 37 fewer than the Phillies, who were fourth in June. The Mets slugging percentage in June was just .385, one of the lowest in the N.L., and their On-Base-Percentage was .300, also one of the lowest in the N.L. The Mets are going to have to hit much, much better than that to survive this weekend. Carlos Beltran in particular has struggled of late, and if the Mets are going to beat the Phillies, they are going to have to have Beltran turn in a strong performance.

Meanwhile, the Phillies are doing quite well. The Phillies lead the N.L. in OBP at .349 and are fourth in Isolated Power at the plate at .170. The Phillies are the sole N.L. team that scored more than five runs per game (5.18). While it is no surprise to see the Phillies dominating the power and on-base numbers, as they have traditionally, I am very surprised to see the Phillies doing so well with runners in scoring position, an area that they have traditionally struggled at.

For the moment the Phillies are hitting .267 BA/RISP, compared to the league average of .259 and the Mets .254. That ability to hit in the key moments of a game maximizes the Phillies offense lethality and makes the ’07 offense better in most respects than the ’06 version. The ’06 team worked counts, got on base, and clobbered lots of three-run home runs. The ’07 team works counts, gets on base, clobbers lots of three-run home runs, but they also have some speed, runs the bases well, and hit well with runners on second and third. This is a much deadlier offense because it relies much less on Ryan Howard’s ability to hammer the ball. The Mets are going to have real trouble this weekend.

The return of Ryan Howard has had a powerful ripple effect on the Phillies offense – Jimmy Rollins is hitting well again – and other players like Aaron Rowand are having career years. The Mets pitching might be pretty good, but the Phillies are capable of doing a lot of damage.

So this will be a battle between rookie pitchers and a struggling offense, between two teams divided by just a few miles on I-95, between two teams battling for the division title. When the smoke clears I have a feeling that the Phillies will emerge on-top in the end.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Check it Out... 

Check out my latest appearance on Philly Sports Talk Now. My thanks, as always, to Jim Dogg and Rich for having me on the program.

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X-Files, Part III 

Bad night for the Phillies as they fall to the Cincinnati Reds 9-6, which drops them to 3 & 1/2 games behind the Mets and ties them with the Braves. For my prediction of first place for the Phillies on Monday to come true, they need to beat the Reds tonight and hope that the Mets lose to the Cardinals.

It was, on the other hand, a good night forRyan Howard, who became the fastest player to get to 100 Home Runs, about sixty or so games quicker than Ralph Kiner. Well done, Ryan.

We wrap up our X-Phillies series today with 2006 alumni. First, Bobby Abreu – the decision to deal Abreu to the Yankees will, in the long run, never result in the Phillies having acquired any significant talent. However, the decision to deal Abreu was unquestionably the correct one – there was no way that the Phillies could continue to pay Abreu his salary. This season the Yankees will pay him $15 million dollars, far too much for the Phillies to afford. The deal was a straight salary dump and it was the best thing to happen to the Phillies. Yes, they lost a key player in their lineup, but they gained valuable salary to spend on pitching, and got younger in the outfield. Shane Victorino, Abreu’s replacement in right field, is six years younger than Abreu and is a far better defender.

Abreu was a stalwart on the Phillies roster for years and helped power the ’06 Yankees to the A.L. East title: 9.4 Runs Created per 27 Outs (RC/27), .339 Batting Average with Runners in Scoring Position (BA/RISP), .177 Isolated Power (ISO) …

Thus far this season Abreu is off to a slow start … 5.6 RC/27, .109 ISO, .267 BA/RISP … His On-Base Percentage (.368) is well below .400 for the first time in years (.393 in 2001), and his slugging percentage is also a career low (.379, compared to his career average of .499). I think that Abreu’s struggles right now are simply the inevitable byproduct of him getting older and not seeing the same results he did when he was younger. It is worth comparing Abreu and Victorino so far this season:

Victorino / Abreu
5.5 / 5.6
BA/RISP: .257 / .267
ISO: .138 / .109

Not only did the Phillies get younger, shed some salary (they are paying Victorino $410,000, or 1/36th what the Yankees pay Abreu), but they also got better. Victorino might not outplay Abreu statistically this season, but the gap between them is pretty slight.

One other odd thing I noticed: Abreu has ground into 9 double plays thus far this season. In 2006 he hit into a total of 13 with the Phillies and Yankees in 686 plate appearances. If he gets to 686 PA’s in 2007, he’s on a pace to hit into 20 GIDPs. That’s a big increase for a player who’s career high is 13.

The Phillies let David Dellucci walk to the Cleveland Indians, a decision that I opposed and felt was a mistake, but proves that Pat Gillick is a much smarter man than I. After hitting 13 home runs, 39 RBIs and 6.2 Runs Created in 2006 with the Phillies, Dellucci is off to a terrible start with the Indians, with just 4 home runs, 19 RBIs and 3.7 RC/27. Dellucci was a terrible clutch hitter with the Phillies – .185 BA/RISP – and he isn’t doing too much better with the Indians: .167. In short, the Phillies have really made out under the deal, acquiring a draft pick as compensation and allowing deadwood to get out of town. That’s a win.

Mike Lieberthal, another long-time Phillies stalwart, is harder to evaluate. The Phillies couldn’t retain the oft-injured Lieberthal and needed to let him leave so that Carlos Ruiz could step into the role as the Phillies #1 catcher. Thus far Lieberthal has played sparingly with the Dodgers (just 35 plate appearances), so it is difficult to evaluate his performance.

Sal Fasano, Lieberthal’s replacement for much of 2006, likewise is a tough one to figure out: he had just 57 plate appearances in 2006 with the Yankees, and has just 49 with the Blue Jays.

Which brings us to Randy Wolf. Boy, couldn’t the Phillies use Randy Wolf’s arm right now? The Phillies let Wolf leave and sign with the Dodgers in the off-season after most of Wolf’s 2005 and 2006 campaigns were lost to Tommy John arm surgery. Wolf started 12 games in 2006 and went 4-0 with a 5.56 ERA. I suppose the team didn't want to take a risk on him after his crippling injury in 2005. At the moment, however, Wolf is turning in a dominating performance with the Dodgers: 8-5, 4.24 ERA. Impressively, Wolf's Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) ERA is 3.42, nearly three runs lower than it was last season (6.39). Very quietly, Wolf is keeping runners off the base-paths (2.7 BB/9), getting strikeouts (8.5 K/9, 3.1 stikeouts to walks), and isn't surrendering many home runs. He's a dominating pitcher right now and an important part of the Dodgers. Wolf's departure, not Abreu's, is the one that the Phillies might one day come to rue.

Tomorrow, a look at the Mets & Phillies.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Notes for Wednesday 

Back to my X-Phillies series tomorrow. Last night's Phillies-Reds game was an odd one, with the Phillies Carlos Ruiz actually stealing home plate in the second inning. How often have you seen a catcher take home?

It was a nice victory, with the Phillies supplying Kyle Kenderick with 6-1 margin after two innings and a 10-1 margin after four. Kenderick pitched a nice game and the bullpen allowed a single hit in three innings of work. Not too shabby. Now if the Phillies can keep things up tonight and tomorrow they can enter this big showdown with the Mets in the right frame of mind. The Mets saw their four game winning streak come to an end last night, running their June record to 8-15. With the Mets five games into a stretch where they play 18 games in 17 days, they'll be weary and tired this weekend. Snap prediction: the Phillies will emerge from the weekend in first place in the N.L. East.

I'm doing a podcast with Philly Sports Talk Now this evening, so check it out later on in the evening or tomorrow morning.


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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

X-Files, Part II 

Today we’ll continue to look at former Phillies and what they are up to now. Today we are talking about 2005 alumni:

Jim Thome
Placido Polanco
Jason Michaels
Billy Wagner
Vicente Padilla

The Phillies as it turns out, let a lot of key (or formerly key) players walk during (Polanco) the 2005 campaign, but especially after. The interesting thing about the shifts in personnel is that, unlike the departures of Kevin Millwood and Eric Milton via free agency in 2004, the Phillies engineered their moves in 2005. They traded every player on the list above aside from Wagner. Let’s start with Jim Thome:

Dealt to the White Sox in exchange for Aaron Rowand, Thome was suddenly made expendable by Ryan Howard’s formidable 2005 campaign. About nine years younger and significantly cheaper, Ryan Howard became an attractive option for the Phillies at first base and gave the team the opportunity to shop Thome for help in center field. The team eagerly pulled the trigger on the deal, especially in light of Thome’s injury-plagued ’05 season (7 Home Runs, 30 RBI, .207 batting average in 59 games), to grab Aaron Rowand, the White Sox terrific center fielder.

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.
Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
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
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP

Since joining the White Sox, Thome has largely regained his pre-’05 form. In 2006 he bombed 42 home runs and had 109 RBIs, which is basically what he had in 2004: 42 Home Runs, 105 RBIs. In many respects Thome’s ’06 campaign was much better than ’04: he hit better in the clutch (.203 BA/RISP in 2004 to .336 in 2006) and produced runs at a greater clip (7.0 Runs Created per 27 Outs in 2004 vs. 9.6 in 2006). No doubt being freed from having to play first base helped as Thome.

Remarkably, Thome might be doing a better job this season: his OBP is an ungodly .470. His RC/27 is a robust 10.7 … meaning a hypothetical team of nine Jim Thome’s would ring up 10.7 runs a game. Yikes.

In the long run, the Thome-Rowand deal probably helped the Phillies. As good as Jim Thome was with the White Sox, Ryan Howard was just as good. In the long run, Howard is going to give the Phillies six, seven, eight years (provided they can keep him) of service. And Rowand is having a terrific year at the plate as well this season, after a generally disappointing 2006. Rowand is either going to give the Phillies a terrific center fielder for a few more years to come or he’ll give the team valuable trade bait. As painful as it is to watch Jim Thome ring up the runs in Chicago, I doubt he’d be as productive with the Phillies (moving to the DH has been big for him…) and the team would have lost Ryan Howard.

The move that cost the Phillies in 2005 was Jason Michaels. Michaels was a terrific #4 outfielder for the team for years, consistently able to provide the Phillies with a nice bat off the bench and a strong defensive presence in the outfield. He played all three outfield slots well. He was the ideal guy.

Unfortunately the Phillies dealt him to the Cleveland Indians for Arthur Rhodes, a player who will almost certainly never play for the Phillies again and who, when he did, barely benefited the team: 0-5, 5.32 ERA in 2006. In exchange the Phillies gave up a talented player:

Michaels struggled in 2006: .326 OBP, down from .399 in 2005 and .364 in 2004 with the Phillies … .246 BA/RISP, down from .284 and .295 in ’04 and ’05 … 4.7 RC/27 in 2006, down from 5.8 and 6.4 … He’s rebounded significantly in 2007, raising his OBP to .341 and has hit five home runs. His BA/RISP is .379 this season and he’s creating runs at a 6.6 clip. Defensively, Michaels is doing well: his Zone Rating would rank third amongst left fielders if he qualified. He’s a solid fielder and hitter. The Phillies made a serious mistake letting him go.

Placido Polanco, whom the Phillies dealt to the Tigers in exchange for Robinson Tejada, is an interesting case. On one hand Polanco’s departure opened things up for Chase Utley to seize the starting job and become the best second baseman in baseball, however, Polanco would be welcome on the Phillies roster now at third base, where the team has a crying need for help. The versatile Polanco played third when he joined the Phillies after the Scott Rolen deal in 2003.

Polanco has been a consistently good performer in Detroit:

2005: 7.6
2006: 5.4
2007: 7.8

What impresses me, and what the Phillies could use on their roster right now, is Polanco’s skill with runners on:

2005: .381
2006: .396
2007: .423

Polanco’s also a pretty good fielder too: in 540 innings he’s committed zero errors at second base. His fielding percentages in 2005 and 2006 were .993 and .989 with the Tigers. The solid hitting, the clutch bat, the strong fielding … Polanco would be a major upgrade over the Wes Helms / Abraham Nunez mess the Phillies have.

On the other hand, you have to say that this deal was a success for the Phillies. Sure, they didn’t get anything for Polanco in the long run (Tejada has … how should I say this politely? … Legal problems) but in allowing Polanco to leave they allowed Chase Utley to become the best second baseman in the game. Can’t argue with that …

Briefly, I’ll discuss Padilla and Wagner … The Phillies had little choice but to allow Billy Wagner to go. Wagner was clearly unimpressed with the direction the Phillies were on and the lure of playing in New York for the Mets was too much for him to ignore. As a Phillie Wagner was what the team needed after the Jose Mesa era: a lights-out closer who’d get a 1, 2, 3 ninth-inning night after night. As a Phillie Wagner saved 59 of 66 opportunities. As a Met, he’s converted on 55 of 61. Pretty similar. I haven’t noticed any decline in his skills:

K/9 BB/9
2004: 12.5 / 1.3 (as Phillie)
2005: 11.2 / 2.6 (ditto)
2006: 12.3 / 2.7 (as Met)
2007: 12.6 / 2.6 (ditto)

His Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), on the other hand, is rising:

2004: 2.28
2005: 2.56
2006: 2.87
2007: 3.20

The Phillies clearly miss Wagner now, with their merry-go-round of Tom Gordon, Brett Myers and Antonio Alfonseca. This defection has hurt the Phillies, but it was a decision that was purely out of their control.

The decision to deal Vicente Padilla is simply indefensible. Dealt to the Texas Rangers for Ricardo Rodriguez prior to the 2006 season, the Phillies promptly cut Rodriguez in Spring Training while Padilla went 15-10 with a 4.50 ERA. While Padilla is struggling this season (3-8, 6.57 ERA), this trade was still a blunder. The Phillies dealt away a player they had invested significant time and money developing for … nothing. Ouch.
Tomorrow, the 2006 X-Files.

An off-day for the Phillies today before they square up for a three-game series with the Cincinnati Reds, arguably the worst team in the majors right now. Sadly, the Phillies won't get to pick on Eric Milton, but they ought to cleanup on the Reds pitching otherwise. Kyle Kenderick makes the start for the Phillies tonight, his third career big league start.

Speaking of starting pitching, J.D.Durbin will make his MLB debut against the Mets this weekend during the double-header. Durbin is 2-4 with a 4.55 ERA this season. He's been almost entirely off my radar screen as a player, never really getting a mention as a top Phillies prospect, so I wonder how he'll do. In the long run, I suspect that the Phillies will move Brett Myers back into the rotation when he returns soon, as the Phillies don't want two rookies who started the season in the minors filling their rotation. It is just as well: Antonia Alfonseca is doing quite well as the team's closer these days.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

X-Files, Part I 

Naturally, right when I was poised to write an article about how terrible the Mets have been playing, they proceed to sweep a pretty darn good team: the Oakland A's. This weekend was a good weekend for the Phillies. They managed to take two of three from the Cardinals, which enabled them to surge past the Braves for second place. Now they can set their sights squarely on the Mets, who are in the middle of a marathon of baseball games, having to play 18 in 17 days. Today the Phillies get to rest and regroup, which is something they sorely need, with Jon Lieber out with a ruptured tendon in his foot - possibly for the season - the Phillies rotation has lost three of its six starters this season.

I expect the Phillies to attempt to swing a trade in the coming days, probably dangling Aaron Rowand as bait to make the deal happen, but the team is likely to replace Lieber with J.A. Happ from Scranton. Happ is talented, but I wonder how the Phillies are going to survive with two rookies (I refer to Kyle Kendrick, who replaced Freddy Garcia) in the lineup. Ryan Madson? After Madson's disasterous turns as a starter in 2006, count that option out.

Alright, so what is today's topic? I thought it might be worthwhile to take a quick look at former Phillies today and compare how they are doing today vis-à-vis what they did when they were Phillies.

Today’s topic: 2004 alumni. Basically, we are talking about two people here: Eric Milton and Kevin Millwood. Back when they were Phillies in 2004, I had praise for Millwood and scorn for Milton. Little has changed since then. First, Millwood.

Millwood joined the Phillies prior to the 2003 campaign after a trade for catcher Johnny Estrada. Millwood was coming off a terrific campaign in 2002, when he had gone 18-8 with a 3.24 ERA. Millwood joined the Phillies and went 14-12 with a 4.01 ERA in his first season with the team, which included a no-hitter against the San Francisco Giants on April 27, 2003. Re-signed. the next season Millwood’s numbers declined to 9-6 with a 4.85 ERA. The Phillies let him walk after the 2004 campaign. He signed a deal with the Cleveland Indians for the 2005 campaign.

First off, let me note that Millwood’s numbers in 2004 were much, much better than they looked like they were. Millwood’s Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) ERA was actually much, much lower than his ‘real’ ERA: 3.59. Millwood was, simply put, the victim of bad defense. The Phillies Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER) behind Millwood was .673, one of the worst on the Phillies roster. Had the Phillies backed Millwood was a normal defense, his FIP would have been 1.26 lower, which is a massive variance.

Impressively, Millwood allowed just 0.86 home runs per nine innings (HR/9), the best amongst the Phillies starters in 2004:

Millwood: 0.86
Padilla: 1.23
Wolf: 1.32
Myers: 1.54
Milton: 1.93

It is somewhat befuddling to me that the Phillies allowed Millwood to walk after the 2004 season – he was pretty much the only Phillies starter to not allow bushels of Home Runs at Citizens Bank Ballpark and he got lots of strikeouts (7.7 K/9). Unfortunately, the Phillies watched Millwood take his skills over to the American League and began to hurl for the Indians.

Predictably, Millwood suddenly became a world-beater. The Indians defense dramatically improved and Millwood saw his ERA drop nearly two runs to 2.86. You wouldn’t have known how good Millwood was if you looked at his won-lost record: 9-11. His FIP was basically unchanged: 3.75. He allowed basically the same number of home runs (0.86 vs. 0.96), the same number of walks (3.1 vs. 2.5), and got the same number of strikeouts (7.7 vs. 7.0). The Indians allowed Millwood to journey to Texas to join the Rangers for the 2006 season.

Once more, Millwood quietly had another terrific season: his record was a so-so 16-12 and he had a rather high 4.52 ERA, but his FIP was under 4.00 once again: 3.93. Yet again, his numbers were basically unchanged. He worked a high number of innings – 215 – and still managed to keep the opposition from hitting home runs (0.98) and from getting walks (2.3). This season Millwood is off to a slow start (3-6, 7.62 ERA), but he’s still pitching alright. His performance in 2005 & 2006 was stunningly good.

Eric Milton, in contrast, pitched nowhere near as good as people thought as a Phillie. Dealt from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Carlos Silva and Nick Punto (yeah, the Phillies got hosed on that deal), Milton arrived on the roster and got off to a seemingly impressive 11-2 start, before settling for a 14-6 record with a 4.75 ERA. Naturally, once you looked inside of the numbers, you can see that Milton was a total disaster: 5.17 FIP … 3.4 BB/9 … 1.93 HR/9 … If not for the terrific defense the Phillies played behind Milton – .737 DER – Milton would have probably been 6-14, instead of 14-6.

Milton surrendered a remarkable 43 home runs in 2004. Angry attempts to blame Milton’s high dinger rate on the cozy confines of Citizens Bank Ballpark largely failed when confronted with the facts: Milton surrendered 20 home runs in 104.3 innings pitched at Citizens (1.73 HR/9), while giving up 23 in 96.6 innings on the road (2.14). Milton even accomplished the remarkable feat of allowing two home runs in a five-inning start against the Padres at Petco Park. Milton’s propensity for allowing fly balls (just 30% of the balls he allowed into play in 2004 were grounders) were the reason why he was lethal to the Phillies chances of winning ball games.

Wisely, the Phillies let Milton walk to the Reds in free agency after the ’04 season. While Eric Milton at Citizens Bank Ballpark was a bad idea, Eric Milton at Great American Ballpark was a worse one. As a Red, Milton has gone 16-27 with a 5.83 ERA. In his first season as a Red, no longer protected by good defense, Milton’s ERA spiked to 6.47 and he went 8-15. Remarkably, he managed to lower his walk rate from 3.4 to 2.3 BB/9, but little else of his campaign was worth writing about. Backed with a less capable defense (.689 DER), Milton killed the Reds time after time.

The Reds defense behind Milton improved dramatically – .730 DER – but Milton went 8-8 with a 5.19 ERA in 2006. He started 0-4 in 2007 with a 5.17 ERA before he went on the D.L. and has apparently been lost for the season.

The interesting thing to me is that Milton’s performance, like Millwood’s, is pretty consistent if you look at his FIP ERA:

2004: 5.17
2005: 5.37
2006: 5.35
2007: 4.57

In retrospect the Phillies made bad decisions with Milton and Millwood: Millwood was a pitcher they shouldn’t have allowed to walk to Cleveland, and Milton was a pitcher whom they should never have brought to Philly. The wisest decision the Phillies made was letting Milton quietly walk to the Reds. That the Reds would take in a fly-ball oriented pitcher to throw 1/2 of his innings at arguably the most friendly park in the N.L. for offense (after Coors Field), is a testament to how loony the Reds management is.

That was the Phillies 2004 alumni. Tomorrow, we take a look at the ’05 alums.

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