Friday, September 14, 2007
Tonight is the battle of the soft-tossing, 40+ lefty twins, Jamie Moyer and Tom Glavine. I find myself resisting the urge to write too many lauditory posts about Moyer. If I blogged the Mets I’d probably do the same with Glavine. I love walking Moyer work with that fastball that doesn’t qualify even remotely as “fast”, the easy motion to the plate, and watching teams pop the ball up or tap weak grounders back to the mound. I love the confidence and leadership that Moyer has brought to the Phillies and the impact his soft, slow pitches have on games.
I like seeing Jamie Moyer go against the Mets this evening because he might disrupt their timing for the rest of the series. Moyer and Hamels make a much more enjoyable ying-and-yang combination to spring on the opposition. Kyle Lohse goes against Pedro Martinez on Saturday. I am eager to see if the Phillies can get to Pedro, who has looked solid but not overpowering thus far this season. He’s gone just five innings in both of his first two starts, so I am unsure if the Mets will let him pitch or treat him with caution on Saturday. I think, with a big national audience, that the Mets will unleash Pedro and see what he can do against the Phillies.
I worry about the Sunday match-up which sends Adam Eaton to the mound. This is the game where the Mets have the clear edge.
According to Baseball Prospectus’ Playoff Odds report, here are the odds of the following teams making the playoffs:
The Reds have a sub-1% chance and the Pirates, Astros, Giants, Marlins and Nationals are 100% of the luck according to BP. It is mildly unfair that these weak NL Central teams actually have a chance at making the playoffs when a deserving team like the Phillies or Dodgers or Padres might not make it. The Cubs, for example, are on a pace to win 84 or 85 games, while the Padres are on pace to win 87 games and the Phillies 86 games. C’est la vie.
Over in the A.L., the field is basically set, according to BP:
Red Sox: 99.9%
The Mariners, Blue Jays and Twins all have sub-1% chances (specifically, the Twins have a 0.00017% chance of making the playoffs). By the way, the Tigers are on pace to win 88 games, raising the possibility that the A.L. will feature a team with 90 or more wins that does not make the playoffs, vs. the N.L. with a team that barely has a .500 record. That’s kinda sad.
Here is a modest proposal for the MLB: remember 1994 when the Texas Rangers led the A.L. West at the time of the strike with a less-than-robust 52-62 record? The Rangers were on-pace to win 74 games that season and probably wouldn’t have finished the season with a winning record (they would have had to have gone 30-18 just to finish at 82-80). Baseball ought to have a .500 or better requirement to make the playoffs. If one of the teams wins a division with a sub-.500 record, then there ought to be a second wildcard. That is more fair than taking the chance that a team will win the World Series and suck in the regular season. Otherwise, than geography counts for more than the quality of your play in the regular season.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Now J.Roll is quite a weapon for the Phillies, something that I think Tony Gwynn, who mentored J.Roll in the off-season in 2003-2004 to cut down on the strikeouts and make better contact, deserves some credit for. Since cutting down on the strikeouts, he’s seen his production shoot sky-high:
Runs Created / Post-Gwynn:
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).
RC/27: Runs Created per 27 outs, essentially what a team of 9 of this player would score in a hypothetical game.
Almost certainly, J.Roll will eclipse his career-high for Runs Created that he set last season with 120 or more in 2007. J.Roll has been having a great season and has been mentioned as a possible MVP candidate. While I’d love to see the Phillies have another MVP on their roster, I don’t think Jimmy Rollins is the most valuable player on the Phillies roster, let alone in the N.L. I think the Phillies real MVP candidate is Chase Utley:
First, some numbers … Both J.Roll and Utley are leading the Phillies in Win Shares with 23 … That’s about seven behind the Mets David Wright, the NL leader. However, Utley’s injury means that he’s contributed more to the Phillies in a shorter time. Utley is 13 Win Shares Above Bench, while J.Roll is 10. Both are impressive figures, but Utley’s is more significant.
If you care about clutch-hitting, then Utley again has the edge: Utley is hitting .309 BA/RISP, while J.Roll has a .266 BA/RISP.
J.Roll, while a more disciplined and dangerous hitter, currently leads the Phillies in outs by a wide margin: 468, 74 more than Aaron Rowand. True, J.Roll has the most plate appearances on the team by far (691, 90 more than Rowand), but that is still significant. J.Roll, batting lead-off, has gotten lots of chances to put the ball into play. More opportunities, more chances. Utley, who has 94 Runs Created to J.Roll’s 107, did that with more than 160 fewer plate appearances. As a consequence, Utley leads the Phillies in Runs Created per 27 Outs: 8.5, better than J.Roll’s 6.5, Ryan Howard’s 7.4, and Pat Burrell’s 7.8.
Utley and J.Roll are both middle infielders, which is interesting. Traditionally, the second baseman and shortstop were the guys who were fielders and slap-hitters. The recent phenomenon of the middle infielder as power hitter has transformed the position. Utley leads N.L. second basemen by a wide margin in RC/27: 8.5 to the Braves Johnson at 7.2 and the Dodgers Jeff Kent at 6.5. He’s clearly the most productive NL 2B at the plate.
J.Roll has more competition. Remarkably, the top four NL shortstops are all in the N.L. East:
RC/27: Shortstops –
H. Ramirez (FLA): 8.5
E. Renteria (ATL): 7.2
J. Rollins (PHILA): 6.5
J. Reyes (NYM): 6.3
These are all terrific players, and J.Roll has more competition than Utley to be the best at his position, but J.Roll is one of the first amongst equals. Utley is the first without any equal.
Oh, and defensively, there is little question that Chase Utley is probably the best defensive second baseman in the N.L. J.Roll is in the middle of the pack, probably not as good as Reyes or Ramirez. In terms of Fielding Win Shares per 1,000 Innings played, Chase Utley holds the edge here too: 3.300 to 2.899.
One area where J.Roll holds a decisive edge is in speed: Chase Utley is a good base-runner and is quick, but J.Roll is a monster on the bases. He leads the NL with 17 triples and has taken 30 of 36 bases in steals. No contest.
I think Chase Utley is the 2007 NL MVP and I wonder how much his injury will cost him. He and J.Roll are deserving candidates to be sure, but to me the numbers are clear: Chase Utley is the best player the Phillies have. Period.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Look for the Phillies to run a lot this weekend vs. the Mets. Bourn will be in the lineup, and he and Victorino and J.Roll will be looking to victimize Paul Lo Duca again and again. The game in August where the Phillies came from behind to upset the Mets 10-9 still is fresh in the Phillies memories: the Phillies fueled that comeback with three steals against Lo Duca at the end of the game. I think the Phillies will come out of the series with seven or eight stolen bases.
Looks like the Braves wheeling-and-dealing blew up in their faces. They shipped a major prospect to the Rangers and got Mark Teixeira at the trading deadline, a move that was near universally applauded by the baseball world as being something that would help them win now, even if it would cost them in the long run in terms of prospects. Well, since acquiring Teixeira the Braves have gone 17-20 and have stayed in third place, but now sit nine games behind the Mets instead of three and a half. Ouch. With Andruw Jones sure to leave the team in the off-season as a free agent, you have to wonder how impressive the 2008 Atlanta Braves are going to be …
The AL playoff picture is basically set. The Angels are a near-lock to win the AL West, while the Indians and Red Sox hold comfy leads. The Yankees hold the wildcard by four games on the Tigers, which is do-able for the Tigers, but not likely. The Yankees are playing well and the Tigers don’t feel like they can get traction. Red Sox and Yankees in the ALCS again? Maybe. I’m sure that baseball is praying that the Indians don’t go far in the playoffs: Boston, Anaheim / Los Angeles, and New York are MAJOR markets for TV dollars. Cleveland? Not so much.
Don’t you just feel like the Cubs are this year’s version of the Cardinals? I could easily see the Cubs making the playoffs and then blitzing their way to the World Series. They’ve seemed to come on at the end of the season and they’ve got some real weapons. Hey, it’s only been 99 years since their last World Series title …
Tomorrow: why Chase Utley is the NL MVP.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Despite all of the struggles, the Phillies are in remarkably good shape for the playoffs. As I write this, the Phillies sit 76-67, just one and a half games out of the wildcard. With nineteen games left, the playoffs are absolutely in reach, although the Phillies have a massive handicap in that they don’t get to play the Padres again and have to rely on help to catch up.
The N.L. East? Probably a lost cause at this juncture. Congratulations to the New York Mets. They certainly aren’t going to be caught by the Braves (nine back), and the Phillies (six back) stand a pretty remote chance of making a race of it. The Phillies will have to sweep this weekend’s series at Shea Stadium to give themselves a chance at the division crown. Time to shift the focus of our attention to what the Padres, the D-Backs and the Dodgers are doing.
Meanwhile, the Phillies look to finally be healthy with Michael Bourn being activated off the D.L. and Cole Hamels hopefully set to return to the lineup soon. The additions of Bourn and, hopefully, Hamels, will bolster the Phillies pitching and speed for the stretch run.
Meanwhile Pat Burrell has quietly been on a tear, hitting four home runs and ten RBIs in his last five games. Hopefully Burrell will keep on his hot-streak for this weekend’s series in New York. Nobody hits the Mets like Burrell, who has 41 career home runs, 102 RBIs and a .936 OPS in 131 games. This weekend I expect to see big things from him.
A little more tomorrow. Maybe I’ll talk a little about Pedro Martinez’s impact on the playoff race. Or maybe I’ll write another column about base-stealing … Can’t have too many of those!!!