Friday, July 13, 2007
The Cardinals are no match for the Phillies tonight:
Runs Scored Differential:
St. Louis: -64
The Cardinals are out-performing their Pythagorean win-loss record by four games, i.e., they’ve been a little lucky and their record ought to be 36-49, instead of 40-45. For being a bad team, they are 18-14 in games decided by two or fewer runs. The Phillies ought to be 43-45, a difference of one game. Only the Nats have been out-scored by more runs: -108.
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).
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).
RC/27: Runs Created per 27 outs, essentially what a team of 9 of this player would score in a hypothetical game.
The Cardinals have been carried in the past by Albert Pujols and he seems human this season. Sure, I’d be thrilled if I had 61 Runs Created (7.7 RC/27), sixteen home runs and fifty-two RBIs, but this is a major let-down from the last several years:
The rest of the Cardinals lineup is a mish-mash. Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen look tired and worn down. Once part of a deadly “Big Three”, now Pujols is finding himself in a one-man show. Edmonds hasn’t played much and is has a slugging percentage of just .394. That’s over two hundred and fifty points off his 2004 season. Rolen has a slugging percentage of just .380. Together Rolen and Edmonds have combined for eleven home runs. No surprise then that the Cardinals are really, really struggling to score.
The biggest surprise to me is how objectively terrible the Cardinals are in terms of pitching. The Cards 4.72 ERA is a half run higher than the league average. The Cardinals Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is better: 4.54, but they are thirteenth in the league. That’s right. The only teams worse are the Houston Astros, the Nats and the Phillies. The Phillies have a banged up pitching staff. What’s the Cardinals excuse? Simply put, their pitchers are bad. Adam Wainwright is a flop as a starter, going a respectable 7-7, but with a 4.66 ERA (4.48 FIP). He’s gotten just 59 strikeouts and has allowed an atrocious 40 walks in a little over 102 innings pitched. Same thing with Braden Looper (6-7, 4.72 ERA), who has gotten 43 K’s to 32 walks. Really, the Cards sole pitcher of note is set-up man Ryan Franklin, who has a nice 1.23 ERA.
Is tonight 10,000? I doubt it. For one thing, the Phillies are sending Jamie Moyer to the mound against Kip Wells, the Cardinals shaky (3-11, 5.92 ERA) hurler who has stunned Cardinals fans with his terrible play. For another, there is a strong incentive amongst the Phillies not to be the guy tagged with #10,000. There is no way that Jamie Moyer is going to let himself be that guy.
Poor Adam Eaton, Saturday Night’s starter, might just be the losing pitcher for #10,000, if I had to guess.
I am off for a few days of vacation. I’ll be back on Wednesday or Thursday.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
The American League … The Yankees will make a late-season run on the Red Sox, but the Red Sox will take the A.L. East by a couple of games … Over in the A.L. Central, the Twins will likewise make a run late in the season and make the playoff-race into a three-way affair like last season. The Twins, Tigers and Indians will battle it out, but in the end, the Tigers will capture the division and the Indians will squeeze the Twins for the wildcard. The White Sox, meanwhile, will be gutted. Expect to see the Red Sox and Yankees compete for the services of Jermaine Dye and/or Jose Contreras prior to the July 31 deadline … In the A.L. West, the Anaheim Angels will cruise to victory and make the playoffs easily. Yes, the A’s will make a run, as they always do, in the second-half of the season, but they start too far behind to make a real impact. My dark horse team here is the Seattle Mariners, who are playing well and have some terrific talent on the roster.
So it will be the Red Sox, the Tigers, the Indians and the Angels. Interestingly, just one of those teams – the Tigers – made the playoffs last season. How is that for parity?
The National League … In the Central, I could see any team – aside from the Reds – making a run on the division title. The N.L. Central is the worst division in baseball and it shows. I like the Brewers to take the flag over the Cubs and Cardinals. The small-market, small-payroll Brewers have succeeded where the high-priced Cubs have failed thanks to shrewd moves and a realization that power-hitting, working the count and pitching will trump small-ball in the long-run … Out West, in the N.L. West, I like the Los Angeles Dodgers to take the N.L. West crown. Expect the Dodgers, with their deep farm system, to be buyers at the trading deadline and expect them to add some offense to their roster. Miguel Cabrera? Dye? I expect to see the Dodgers aggressive at the deadline. The Padres will coast into the wildcard in second place, followed by the D-backs and Rockies. The N.L. West is a deep division and probably the best in baseball. The only division close is the … N.L. East. Okay, so do I think the Phillies are going to make the playoffs? Yes. I also expect to see Pat Burrell and Michael Bourn traded prior to July 31. Here is my old prediction … The Phillies narrowly edge out the Atlanta Braves for the N.L. East crown. The decisive moment is the Phillies – Braves series on Sept. 25-27 at Citizens, where the Phillies take 2 of 3 and gain the decisive edge heading into the stretch run. The Braves lose out and fall out of the wildcard as well. The Mets implode down the stretch and barely finish above .500.
So the Phillies, Padres, Dodgers and Brewers. In the case of the Brewers and Phillies, these are two teams that have not yet made the playoffs under the new format.
Trading Deadline Buyers: Dodgers, Mets, Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Braves.
Trading Deadline Sellers: Marlins, White Sox, Rangers, Cardinals, Blue Jays.
N.L. MVP: Chase Utley, Phillies
N.L. Cy Young: Brad Penny, Dodgers
A.L. MVP: Vlad Guerrero, Angels
A.L. Cy Young: Dan Haren, A’s
World Series: Dodgers vs. Angels.
Tomorrow: Cardinals vs. Phillies preview.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
But the close score to this All-Star Game and the resurgence of the N.L. in inter-league play serves notice that the N.L. is making its way back into the spotlight.
How did the Phillies do last night? Well …
Cole Hamels pitched the fourth inning of the game for the N.L. and surrendered two hits, but didn’t allow a run when he was on the mound. No strikeouts or walks. A pretty unremarkable appearance by the Phillies best pitcher.
Chase Utley started at second base for the N.L. and went 0-for-2.
Aaron Rowand replaced Ken Griffey, Jr. in rightfield (who are the knuckleheads who voted for Griffey?) and went 0-for-2, making the final out of the game.
Now the real season gets started. The Phillies are .500 and are very, very much still in the race, sitting just four and a half games out of first place, and four and a half games out of the wildcard. Anything is possible, and unless the team craters in the next two weeks, expect the Phillies to be buyers and not sellers at the All-Star Break. Say goodbye to Michael Bourn (probably traded for pitching help) and possibly to Pat Burrell, provided that the Phillies can find someone crazy enough to take his salary. It will be interesting to see how the Mets and Braves act in the coming days. Will they be aggressive? Will the opportunity to retake the N.L. East make the Braves go crazy? Will the Mets wilt under the pressure?
We shall see … I watched The Bronx Is Burning last night. It is an ESPN mini-series about the 1977 New York Yankees, the team that drove itself insane while winning the World Series, with Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, George Steinbrenner battling it out amidst the backdrop of the ’77 Mayoral race, the Son of Sam killer, riots, the blackout, etc. I thought the first episode was pretty good – John Turturro is particular is great as Billy Martin. I am looking forward to the rest of it.
Monday, July 09, 2007
Few people know this, but the State of the Union used to be delivered in written form, in massive bound volumes where the President laboriously laid out how wonderful things were in the U.S. thanks to their leadership. The first State of the Union, delivered by George Washington in 1790, was given as a speech, but that was discontinued when Thomas Jefferson became President in 1801. Thereafter, the State of the Union was given in written form until Woodrow Wilson traveled to the Capitol in 1913.
Today’s State of the Phillies will be a Jeffersonian document, laying out the Phillies perspective from the point of view (basically) of current Phillies G.M. Pat Gillick. If Gillick was giving / writing the speech, this is what it might say:
The State of the Phillies is much the same as the State of the game of Baseball, in flux, unknown, undetermined. We stand here today, at the All-Star Break, a team in search of our first playoff berth since 1993. Our circumstances could be better, they could be worse.
In case everyone is wondering how the Phillies have fared at the break in recent history:
2004: 46-41 / 1st Place / 0.0 Games Back*
2005: 45-44 / 4th Place / 7.5 Games Back
2006: 40-47 / 2nd Place / 12.0 Games Back
2007: 44-44/ 3rd Place / 4.5 Games Back
* At the 2004 All-Star Break the Phillies sat in first, with three teams grouped behind them within two games of first place. After the Phillies were the Braves (1.0 GB), the Marlins (1.5 GB), and the Mets (2.0 GB).
So the Phillies current predicament is basically what they’ve done for the last three years.
I will start by addressing our pitching situation. You can never have too much pitching. This is a lesson I learned in my time building the Toronto Blue Jays and the Seattle Mariners into contenders. A solid pitching staff will form a fortress around a team, enabling them to survive struggles on offense, shoddy defense or simple bad breaks. I tried, this season, to build a rotation that would ward off all assaults: Cole Hamels, a rookie last season, is off to a terrific start in 2007 (10-4, 3.72 ERA) and shall one day be mentioned in the same breath as Robin Roberts and Steve Carlton. Hamels is a fearsome strikeout artist (9.8 K/9, second in the N.L. to Jake Peavy) and is already, in just his second season, a dominant pitcher.
The rest of our staff has been, candidly, a mess. We have seen injuries fall Tom Gordon, Brett Myers, Jon Lieber, and Freddy Garcia. We have lost our closer and three of our starting pitchers. Only Myers has any realistic chance of returning to the rotation or the bullpen by the end of the season.
As a consequence, we’ve had to rush some of our promising arms into the rotation. J.D. Durbin, J.A. Happ, Kyle Kendrick. The fact that we went into a critical series with our nemesis, the New York Mets, with three rookie pitchers illustrates how dire our pitching situation really is.
The flux with our pitching staff means that we still haven’t improved over our recent showings. We still rank near the bottom of the National League in terms of some pitching statistics. We are dead-last in the N.L. in ERA. We have allowed 113 home runs this season, by far the worst in the N.L. Sadly we have also allowed 295 bases on balls, fifth-most in the N.L. While our pitchers have done well in getting strikeouts – 589, fifth-best in the N.L. – our inability to keep cheap runners off the bases and to allow the big bombs has been killing us.
Defensively, we have been a disappointment. Yes, our fielding percentage respectable - .984, seventh in the N.L. – but we know that success is measured in the plays that we make, not the mistakes that we avoid. We have not been making enough of those.
Revised Zone Rating on The Hardball Times says that the Phillies as a team are .820, which is .003 behind the N.L. average. The Phillies are at +2 in terms of Plus / Minus, which is exactly what the N.L. average is. The Phillies problem is that while they are pretty decent in terms of infield defense - .793, which is .012 better than the N.L. average – they are really struggling in the outfield. The Phillies have a .859 RZR in the outfield, which is fourteenth in the N.L. Only the Cardinals and Pirates have worse outfield defensive alignments. Clearly, either Pat Burrell is a major, unmitigated disaster in the outfield, or Aaron Rowand is continuing to struggle, or both. I looked up Burrell and Rowand’s numbers on THT and sure enough, both rank near the bottom.
Offensively, we have continued to be a juggernaut. Once more, we lead the N.L. in runs scored. We rank near the top of every major statistical category.
This season we have tried to move into the realm of small ball. Some may disagree, but this station-to-station baseball we have played in the recent past has led sloppy play and squandered opportunities. We are trying to manufacture runs more this season and have been helped by the terrific play of Shane Victorino and Michael Bourn on the basepaths.
The Phillies rank third in the N.L. in successful steals with 70 in 80 attempts. They are 37 attempts away from equaling what they did last year. Expect the Phillies to have somewhere in the neighborhood of 150-165 attempted steals this season. I have no idea how many bunts / sacrifice bunts the Phillies have tried, but I suspect it is a significant increase over last season.
Victorino ranks third in the N.L. in stolen bases with 27 in 29 tries, an exceptional 93% success rate. Bourn, who has barely played except as a pinch-runner, is 13-for-13. Jimmy Rollins is 15-for-18. Lots of speed on the roster right now. Expect to see Bourn dangled to teams as bait for a starting pitcher closer to the trading deadline.
That said, we are still scoring runs with the long ball. With a roster boasting Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, Aaron Rowand, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, how can we not?
The Phillies rank third in home runs with 102. We rank second in slugging percentage at .443 and third in terms of raw power at the plate (.175 ISO). The Phillies lead the league in walks drawn and are second in OBP. The power numbers are still really good for the Phillies. Consider that Burrell has been struggling and that Ryan Howard missed big chunks of the season, and you can see that the Phillies still have probably the most dangerous offense in the N.L.
And there we are. Last season we went 45-30, a winning percentage of .600, and nearly made the playoffs. If we do that again this season we will finish with 88 wins. That could be enough to win the N.L. East, and it ought to be enough to take the wildcard. Yes, we are just .500, but we are well-poised to finally make the playoffs. And remember that anything that happens in the playoffs is a crap-shoot. The Cardinals won just 83 games in 2006 and were champions of the world. Have faith, Philadelphia. Good day!
Whenever I talk about the Phillies or get comments it is always from people pessimistic about the direction the team is taking. There isn't enough optimism out there. Be optimistic, darn it!
Enjoy the All-Star Break. I'll be back tomorrow or Wednesday with some more thoughts.