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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, October 18, 2007

Citizens Bank Ballpark: Musings & Conclusions 

I’m intrigued by the effect that Citizens Bank Ballpark has on the Phillies. During the 1990s a lot of stadiums got built in the majors and their impact on the game is going to be interesting to observe as time goes on. Gone are places like Riverfront Stadium or the Vet or Three Rivers. Now teams like the Reds, Phillies and Pirates play in gleaming stadiums that take full advantage of the views of the cities or natural phenomena that surround them. Watch riverboats float by on the Ohio at Great American Ballpark in Cincy. Gaze at the Philly skyline at Citizens Bank Ballpark and gaze at riverboats and the city skyline at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

Generally the dimensions of these ballparks were tailored to suit offense. Great American and Citizens are cozy parks that emphasize offense. Places like Safeco Field in Seattle or Petco Park in San Diego tend towards pitchers, but most new parks are designed to emphasize offense. The long ball draws the fans, they pay tickets, the team makes money.

Citizens Bank in particular has gotten a rap for being a hitters ballpark. It’s something Phillies fans have heard ad naseum for quite some time now and it has more than some basis in fact. It is undeniable that Citizens is very friendly towards home runs hitters, but it isn’t like Coors Field or Chase Field, where all levels of offense are improved. Citizens and Great American Ballpark in Cincy are more alike with each other than they are with Coors Field, the usual gold standard of hitters park. Cozy dimensions, but Cincinnati and Philadelphia have humid air (both sit on rivers) and sit near sea level.

In contrast, Coors, with its thin, dry air and spacious dimensions, is a real hitters park. Not only can you hit a lot of home runs, but when the ball is put into play it is more likely to fall in for a hit. A shot hit to the gap will travel 300 feet 0.3 seconds faster than at sea level, cutting down the effective range of a fielder by 8 or 9 feet, according to Baseball Between the Numbers. I suspect that the dry air of Phoenix helps make the Diamondbacks stadium Chase Field a similar type park, just a little closer to sea level.

I looked at the 2006 numbers from The 2007 Bill James Handbook – I am curious to see what the 2008 Handbook has to say – and saw the following for Citizens:

Batting Average: 103
Runs Scored: 106
Doubles: 105
Home Runs: 122

Basically, Park Factor takes what the phillies and their foes do at home and multiply it by what they did on the road. A factor above 100 favors the hitter, below favors the pitcher. In the case of the Phillies, for example, the Phillies hit 112 home runs at home and their foes hit 121 at Citizens. Total: 233. On the road, the Phillies hit 104 home runs and their foes hit 90. Total: 194. 233 / 194 = 122.

Citizens 122 Home Runs factor ranks it behind the Reds Great American Ballpark (129) and the D-Backs Chase Field (133).

The numbers for batting average and runs scored aren’t bad and are partially explained by the high home run numbers. I checked out Great American and noticed something similar: the Reds and their foes hit a lot of home runs at Great American and that partially drove their other numbers higher artificially. Like Citizens, Great American’s batting average was a 103. Runs were 115. Doubles were 94. Those aren’t tremendous edges for hitters.

Coors, in contrast, is a hitter paradise. Its 114 Home Run factor isn’t dramatic – humidor, anyone? – but batting average is very high (111), as are runs scored (115). Doubles, are, to my surprise, low: 98. Check out Chase Field, deep in the Arizona desert:

Home Runs: 133
Batting Average: 109
Doubles: 108
Runs Scored: 114

That’s a hitters park and that is a place where environmental factors rather than park design, which can be changed, are decisive. The preliminary numbers I got on Park Factors from ESPN’s website indicate that while Citizens was the home run hitters dream park in 2007 (an astonishing 142 park factor), its other numbers were pretty ordinary: 103 run factor, and a 91 doubles factor.

For completeness, because you cannot just look at one season, here is how Citizens has done for the first three seasons of its life:

2004 / 2005 / 2006 / Cum.
HR: 123 / 119 / 122 / 120
BA: 101 / 109 / 103 / 103
2B: 90 / 108 / 105 / 99
R: 109 / 111 / 106 / 108

I think the picture of Citizens Bank Ballpark as a hitters park is incomplete without noting that while it emphasizes home run-hitting, its effect on other aspects of the game is less-than-spectacular. Home run hitters park, yes. Friendly to offense, yes. But I think that a more nuanced look at the numbers needs to be taken. You never hear anyone talking about how Chase Field is a hitters paradise and arguing that the Diamondbacks will never secure free-agent pitching while playing there. Yet the numbers clearly show that Chase Field is lethal to a pitchers ERA, and nobody assails Chase Field with the vigor that people snipe at Citizens with. A little perspective is all I am arguing for here.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Updates 

You might notice that I pruned the blogroll a little, eliminating duplicate entries and blogs that haven't been updated for a while. If you are a Phillies blog and you haven't posted since August, I have categorized you blog as dead. If you are another blog and you haven't updated since June or July, I think you're all done. If anyone wants to add their blog back, please let me know, but you have to tell me that you are back.

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Retreads, Returns and Rumors … 

Lots of news and rumors being thrown around out there. First off, the Cleveland Indians are just a game away from the World Series after last night's 7-3 win over the Red Sox in Cleveland. Tomorrow night the Red Sox send Josh Beckett to the mound against the Indians. Remember that Beckett hurled a seven-strikeout, four-hit performance in game one of the series. I'm predicting a Red Sox win tomorrow and that the series will go to a seventh game.

Let's see, the Phillies re-signed their entire coaching staff for 2008. Good move. I think you have to give credit to a lot of the people that helped Charlie Manuel out in 2007 in coaching the team. Specifically, I’d single out Rich Dubee, the Phillies pitching coach, and Davey Lopes for praise here.

Dubee oversaw an absolute disaster in 2007, watching thirteen different pitchers log starts, nine different pitchers log saves, and twenty-eight pitch at least 1/3 of an inning. Credit Dubee with getting rookies called up from the minors like Kyle Kendrick prepared to pitch in the majors. It was an impressive performance and Dubee deserves a lot of credit for what he did in 2007. I think, under his tutelage, a more stable Phillies rotation will be able to excel and improve on their 4.73 ERA.

Lopes has been a person whom I’ve lavished a lot of praise upon in 2007. He really took charge and worked guys like Shane Victorino and Michael Bourn to become lethal base-stealers. That emphasis on speed and better base-running skills was a big factor in the Phillies scoring an N.L.-best 892 runs in 2007. In fact, the Phillies 892 runs is better than every other team in the Major Leagues aside from the Yankees (969). Even with a pitcher batting ninth, the Phillies bested 13 of 14 A.L. teams. Lopes energy and passion for base-stealing and better base-running I think sharpened the Phillies focus and made them better players.

Second, there are rumors that Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen are interested in returning to the Phillies. This is a possibility, though I highly doubt it. With Rolen, his departure from the team was rather acrimonious and while there is a new regime calling the shots, I can’t see the Phillies having much interest in bringing him back. His skills are clearly in decline – he hit eight home runs and 58 RBIs in 112 games in 2007 – and he left the Phillies under bad circumstances back in 2002. It's just a bad fit and I don't see why the Phillies would go that route.

Curt Schilling is a more likely fit, given how badly the Phillies need pitching. Schilling’s departure in 2000 was less an angry divorce than mutual breakup, and he’s still got skills. He was just 9-8 in 2007, but his ERA was under 4.00: 3.87 in the American League. Schilling’s ability to toss strikes would be a major asset to the Phillies. Schilling allowed just 23 walks in 151 innings in 2007: 1.37 BB/9! Plus, Schilling was usually on good relations with management and helped them during the J.D. Drew saga. I could see Schilling returning to Philly on a one or two-year deal.

Get set for yet another “The Phillies are Trading Pat Burrell” sweepstakes this fall. Desperate to unload Burrell and his $14 million dollar salary, the Phillies have apparently advertised that they are willing to kick in some of Burrell's salary to make the deal happen. If Burrell does leave, I see him heading down I-95 to Baltimore and playing the DH slot for the Orioles in exchange for the O’s sending Miguel Tejada north to play third for the Phillies. The Orioles DH in 2007, Aubrey Huff, hit just 15 Home Runs and had a .337 OBP. Burrell would well exceed that.

According to news reports, Aaron Rowand has asked the Phillies for a six-year deal worth $84 million dollars ($14 million a year), while the Phillies have countered with three-years and $30 million. In terms of amount and length of deal, the two sides are far apart. Very far apart. I really can’t see the Phillies going longer than four years and more than $10-11 million a year after the Pat Burrell experience. If Rowand re-signs with the Phillies it will be a 4-year deal worth $44 million or something in that range. Rowand could easily fetch over $12 million or more and over five years on the open market. My gut tells me he’ll take the money.

Mike Lowell is interested in the Phillies, or so he says. He might just be posturing with the Red Sox.

Chase Utley and Aaron Rowand were named to The Sporting News National League squad, a slap in the face to Jimmy Rollins, who is a viable MVP candidate. If he doesn't win the N.L. MVP award, he'll be fired up in 2008. I agree with Utley, but Rowand was far from the N.L.'s best center fielder.

More tomorrow.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Will Johan Santana be a Phillie? 

Boy, the Phillies have to be feeling better about themselves watching the Arizona Diamondbacks implode against the Rockies. This is the Rockies … what? 21st win in their last 22 games? This has to be one of the greatest all-time runs in baseball history. Can anyone hope to beat them in the World Series? These guys are amazing and it is horrible luck that the Phillies had to meet-up with such a great team in these playoffs. I’ll comment a little more on the Rockies tomorrow.

Let’s turn our attention to today’s topic … In the 2004-2005 off-season, Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane had a difficult decision to make. The A’s had just narrowly failed to qualify for the playoff for the first time since 1999. The A’s Moneyball philosophy was under fire and the team faced the prospect of losing free agents Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder after their walk years in 2005. Hudson, Mulder and Barry Zito formed the Big Three, the tough trio of pitchers who dominated the American League and helped the A’s anemic offense chug into the post-season. Beane made the hard the decision to deal Mulder to the St. Louis Cardinals for Dan Haren, Kiko Calero and Daric Barton. Meanwhile, Beane dealt Hudson to the Atlanta Braves, acquiring low-level talent such as Charles Thomas, Dan Meyer and Juan Cruz.

The deal for Mulder turned out alright for the A’s: Haren has turned into a great pitcher, while Mulder has barely played for the Cardinals over the last two seasons after a decent 16-8, 3.64 ERA season in 2005. Calero and Barton were busts.

The Hudson deal has not worked well. None of those three players has turned out to amount to much at all.

At the time the fact that Billy Beane dealt his two best pitchers for nothing more than some so-so minor leaguers, no established players or sure-fire prospects, stunned the baseball world, but what little choice did Beane have? Let Hudson and Mulder walk for nothing? It was a hard choice, but he made it.

There are a number of teams out there in binds like Billy Beane’s: talented pitchers due to walk on their teams that cannot afford to re-sign them. What to do? Keep them and hope to use their talents to win, knowing they’ll be gone? Or deal them and hope to acquire some talent in exchange? In Florida, the Marlins are in flux, having posted a losing season and having seemingly no hope of bringing ace Dontrelle Willis back. In Chicago, the White Sox are going to lose pitcher Jon Garland and seem destined to rebuild after their horrific collapse in 2007. Finally, in Minnesota, the Twins must decide on dealing ace pitcher Johan Santana or riding him to another playoff shot in 2008, as it seems unlikely they will be able to fork out the $20-25 million bucks Santana will fetch on the open market.

These teams, these opportunities, are where the Phillies are going to have to secure their future pitching from. While we would all salivate at the prospect of seeing Johan Santana wearing the red pinstripes in 2008, it is a fantasy that Phillies fans need to banish from their minds. There is no way that the Phillies would be foolish enough to part with players in their farm system when they know that Santana would be a single-season rental, not a fixture in their rotation for years to come. There is no way that the Phillies could fork over $20 million or more, which is what Santana would be worth, taking into account the fact that Barry Zito, a soft-tossing pitcher who doesn’t have Santana’s blazing fastballs, commanded about $16 million from the Giants. Actually, Santana is likely to get in the ballpark of $20-22 mil from a big-market, free-spending team like the Dodgers, Angels, Yankees or Mets.

Similarly, I can’t see the Florida Marlins being foolish enough to deal their star pitcher to a division rival, especially when the Marlins, with their young talent, have a chance at making a run on the playoffs in 2008.

I see one major possibility for the Phillies. A trade with the Chicago White Sox for Jon Garland:

The Phillies and White Sox have had a lot of dealings over the last few seasons, so there is something of a track record for deals here. The Jim Thome – Aaron Rowand deal in the winter of ’05 was their first deal, followed by decision to send Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez to the White Sox for Freddy Garcia, then this season, when the Phillies needed middle infield help when Chase Utley went down, the Phillies dealt minor-league pitcher Michael Dubee for Second baseman Tadahito Iguchi. So there is a track record of deals between the two franchises, and with the White Sox in decline, their relative positions are clear: the White Sox are sellers and the Phillies are buyers. Expect the Phillies to do some shopping in the South Side of Chicago and look for Garland to be their target.

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
WHIP – Walks plus hits by innings pitched: (BB + H) / IP = WHIP
ERA – Earned Run Average: (Earned Runs * 9) / IP = ERA
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.
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
On-Base Percentage (OBP): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)

Garland wouldn’t be a bad fit for the Phillies. He’s a little like Jon Lieber, a control-oriented pitcher who doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts, but doesn’t allow many walks or home runs and gives his fielders good chances to make plays. In 2005 and 2006, his walks allowed per nine innings were under 2.00:

BB/9:
2004: 3.15
2005: 1.91
2006: 1.75
2007: 2.46

Despite the fact that he doesn’t get many strikeouts …

K/9:
2004: 4.69
2005: 4.68
2006: 4.77
2007: 4.23

… his strikeout-to-walk ratio is pretty darn good …

K/BB ratio:
2004: 1.49
2005: 2.45
2006: 2.73
2007: 1.72

… and despite playing in a park that is friendly to home-run hitters, he didn’t give up many home runs …

HR/9:
2004: 1.41
2005: 1.06
2006: 1.11
2007: 0.82

The critical thing here is how well the Phillies would field behind him. The White Sox were great behind Garland, converting better than 69% of the balls put into play when he was on the mound into outs:

DER:
2004: .728
2005: .737
2006: .691
2007: .716

Much like Lieber, the Phillies could sink or swim based on how well they field behind Garland. Garland could be someone who makes the Phillies defense very good, or he could be the guy who allows hit after hit after hit.

Who would the Phillies deal for Garland? It is pretty clear from their track record that the White Sox are busy stockpiling pitching, so look for the White Sox to ask for either Carlos Carrasco or Josh Outman. Carrasco and Outman are the best arms in the Phillies system and seem destined to play in the majors. Carrasco was a dominating pitcher in Single-A Lakewood in 2006 (12-6, 2.26 ERA), and in Advanced Single-A Clearwater (6-2, 2.84 ERA, 1.03 HR/9, 2.84 BB/9, 6.85 K/9, 1.019 WHIP), but he struggled with his control in Reading (6-4, 4.86 ERA, 1.15 HR/9, 5.88 BB/9, 6.27 K/9, 1.578 WHIP). He is the Phillies top prospect.

Outman, one-third of the big three that pitched the Lakewood Blue Claws to the 2006 South Atlantic League title along with Carrasco and the since-departed Matt Maloney, is another great arm. After a strong performance in Lakewood (14-6, 2.95 ERA), he pitched well in Clearwater (10-4, 2.45 ERA, 0.53 HR/9, 4.14 BB/9, 8.97 K/9, 1.346 WHIP) and struggled in Reading (2-3, 4.50 ERA, 1.07 HR/9, 4.92 BB/9, 7.29 K/9, 1.452 WHIP). Both have bright futures ahead of them, but expect one of them to be the price the White Sox exact for Garland. No doubt the White Sox will want two players for Garland’s services, so expect the Phillies to toss in shortstop Jason Donald as well: Donald had a .409 OBP in Lakewood and a .386 OBP in Clearwater in 2007. He’s a defensive-oriented shortstop with a good eye at the plate. He’d make a great throw-in. After all, the Phillies have a pretty good infield combo right now.

Expect the Phillies to deal Outman and Donald to the White Sox for Garland in a few weeks, right around Thanksgiving.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Aaron Rowand: The Price is Too High 

The first big question that the Philadelphia Phillies need to confront this off-season is whether or not the team can or will re-sign veteran center fielder Aaron Rowand. Rowand, whom the team traded Jim Thome to the White Sox for in the 2005-2006 off-season, is a free agent this off-season and is no doubt looking for an upgrade over the $4.35 million dollars he made in 2007. The fans want him back because they love his grit and determination. His blue-collar work ethic makes him a fan favorite. Columnist Paul Hagen summed up the conventional wisdom on Rowand’s value:

Rowand became a folk hero in Philadelphia when he busted up his face running into the centerfield wall to make a catch in his first 2 months with his new team. And his contributions to the team go far beyond his .309 batting average, 105 runs scored, 27 homers and 89 runs batted in. He's a clubhouse catalyst, the guy who organizes the off-day get-togethers, who's always preaching the importance of putting the team ahead of individual egos.


That’s the conventional wisdom, anyway. I’m not so certain that the Phillies can re-sign him and even if they could, I must admit skepticism about whether or not Rowand would be worth the price.

Let’s start with a few observations. Aaron Rowand had a good season in 2007, hitting .309 (.374 OBP), with 27 Home Runs, 89 RBI and 105 runs scored. He also had 45 doubles. Rowand improved on his OBP by over fifty points, on his slugging percentage by ninety points, and doubled his Runs Created from 47 to 98 over 2006. He also improved his batting average with runners in scoring position by forty points.

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
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).
RC/27: Runs Created per 27 outs, essentially what a team of 9 of this player would score in a hypothetical game.

It was a good season for Aaron Rowand. Nice to put up good numbers in a walk year.

Last season the Anaheim Angels dropped $50 million dollars over five years on Gary Matthews, Jr., a centerfielder who was lucky enough to have a solid year for the Texas Rangers in the final year of his contract. Matthews numbers looked eerily like Rowand’s: .313 batting average, .371 OBP, 19 Home Runs, 79 RBI, 44 Doubles. He had 105 Runs Created for the Rangers. No doubt that Rowand’s agent has already ran the numbers on Matthews and made the determination that if Gary Matthews, Jr., can make $10 million a year, then a player with Aaron Rowand’s abilities could command $10-$12 million for a multi-year deal.
Using Matthews as an illustration, here are the perils of committing to re-signing Rowand: Matthews was a career .263 hitter (.336 career OBP) who bounced around from team-to-team (between 1999 and 2004 he played for the San Diego Padres, the Chicago Cubs, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the New York Mets, the Baltimore Orioles, the Padres again, before winding up in Texas). His numbers were never particularly good until 2006 rolled around. Having a career year in your walk year inflates your price and gives you leverage in salary negotiations. Matthews and his agent, Scott Leventhal, exploited those numbers to command his mega-deal from the Angels.

What happened? Well, first-off, Matthews became embroiled in the steroids controversy when it came out that he allegedly received HGH from a pharmacy as a Ranger, angering the Angels owner. Then he followed that up with a sub-par season at the plate: .252 batting average (.323 OBP), just 26 doubles, and forty fewer Runs Created. His 2007 numbers in fact closely mirrored his 2005 numbers, suggesting that 2006 was a fluke season.

So the Angels are stuck with an average centerfielder whom they are forking over $10 million bucks a year to. Of course their owner is a multi-millionaire who is determined to spend and win, but the Phillies cannot afford to be so free with their money.

So why might the Phillies money best be spent elsewhere? First off, the Phillies are aiming at keeping their $103 million dollar payroll right where it is now. Free agency defections might free up about $20 million or so for the Phillies, but they would wipe out about half that by re-signing Rowand. Consider also that the Phillies have a crying need for help at third base and want to add to the bullpen and starting rotation. The Phillies would be better off committing that $20 mil to adding a power-hitting third baseman and to adding some pitching, rather than re-signing Rowand when they have his successor, Shane Victorino – who made $410,000 in 2007, incidentally – waiting in the wings.

Second, are the Phillies certain that Aaron Rowand 2008 and Aaron Rowand 2009 are going to be the same player that Aaron Rowand 2007 was? As I mentioned, Rowand had something of a career year in 2007. His career OBP entering 2007 was .334, so his .374 OBP this season was something of a departure. He usually doesn't walk much, but he drew a few more in 2007. When Rowand took over as a regular in the White Sox lineup in 2004, he exploded, hitting 24 Home Runs, along with 69 RBI and 94 Runs Scored. He posted a then-career high 92 Runs Created. In 2005 and 2006, he posted much more meager numbers: 13 Home Runs, 69 RBI, 76 Runs Created in 2005, 12 Home Runs, 47 RBI, 47 Runs Created in 2006. I think that Rowand will probably regress somewhat in 2008, so the Phillies probably wouldn’t be getting the bat they think they will.

Defensively, Rowand has been a disappointment. Some background is in order here: in 2005, The Fielding Bible anointed Rowand the best defensive outfielder in baseball and one of the best defensive players generally in baseball at the time. According to TFB’s John Dewan, Rowand posted an astonishing +30 in Plus / Minus playing centerfield for the White Sox. He slipped in 2006, posting a -4 playing centerfield for the Phillies. Now, we won’t know Rowand’s Plus / Minus data until the new Bill James Handbook comes out, but it seems clear that Rowand won’t rank near the top, or honestly even in the middle. Of the N.L. centerfielders who logged 1,000+ innings of work in 2007, Rowand ranks sixth of seven in Relative Range Factor, which measures how often he made plays on balls hit into his zone of play. In 2006 he likewise ranked poorly.

So why should the Phillies, who have holes so many other places, devote 30-50% of their payroll to Rowand? Baseball is a hard business where you have to check your emotions at the door. I love the toughness and intensity that Rowand brings to the table, but that doesn’t over-ride the fact that the Phillies need to get help on the mound and need someone to play third base and doesn’t ground into inning-ending double plays. The Phillies have a just as capable replacement for Rowand waiting in the wings in Shane Victorino, a talented hitter with speed and power who actually played better than Rowand when he filled in for him in 2006. Unless Rowand gives the Phillies a steep hometown discount, I think the best thing for Pat Gillick & Co. to do would be to shake hands with Rowand and wish him the best as he leaves.

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