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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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Pedro Feliz 

Ask any real baseball fan who is the greatest third baseman of all-time is and they’ll name a Phillie: Mike Schmidt. This is an important position on the field symbolically for the Phillies and the recent history the position has for the team is sad: Scott Rolen was supposed to be Schmidt’s heir as the face of the team, and he was exceptionally talented at the plate and in the field, but his attitude and feuds got him shipped westward to St. Louis, and, more recently, to the frozen north of Canada.

The Phillies signed David Bell in 2003 to fill the void, but Bell was a disaster offensively at the plate (though a superstar with his glove). In 2007 the team wanted to turn over a new leaf, but they didn't get it.

Simply put, the Phillies are getting awful production from their third baseman and the problems reached a nadir here in the Post-Scott Rolen, Post-David Bell era.

Wes Helms. Abraham Nunez. Greg Dobbs. Russell Branyan. These were the faces the Phillies tried to utilize to fill the void Bell and Rolen’s departures have caused. How well did they do? No team in baseball, aside from maybe the Pittsburgh Pirates, got worse production from their third basemen.

While division rivals Marlins (i.e. Miguel Cabrera), the Mets (i.e., David Wright) and the Braves (i.e. Chipper Jones) ranked #1, #2 and #3 respectively in OPS for third basemen in 2007, the Phillies ranked sixteenth of sixteen teams:

NL East 3B OPS: (rank)
Marlins: .956 (1st)
Mets: .951 (2nd)
Braves: .944 (3rd)
Nationals: .794 (7th)
Phillies: .688 (16th)

The Phillies 3B’s also ranked sixteenth in runs scored, fourteenth in RBIs, fifteenth in home runs and sixteenth in extra-base hits. They did well in an area where nobody wants to do well: the Phillies 3B’s ranked third in grounding into double plays. Helms, for example, hit .246 (.297 OBP), with just five home runs and thirty-nine RBI, while grounding into ten double plays. Here comes Pedro Feliz, who signed a two-year deal worth a little over $8 mil to play for the Phillies. The right-handed hitting Feliz had an OPS of just .708 in 2007. The problem with Feliz’s game is that he’s a free-swinger who doesn’t bother to work counts. He saw just 3.3 pitches per plate appearance in 2007. It shows in his OBP, which has been below .300 for the last three seasons:

2004: .305
2005: .295
2006: .282
2007: .290

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).
RC/27: Runs Created per 27 outs, essentially what a team of 9 of this player would score in a hypothetical game.

This is, simply put, awful. Wes Helms, who flopped at third base after the Phillies signed him from the Marlins, posted a better OBP … The no-hitting Abraham Nunez had a better OBP too: .318 … What Feliz brings to the table that Nunez and, to a lesser extent Helms and Dobbs lack, is power. Not a lot of power, mind you, but more than what the Phillies have been seeing from their third basemen. Feliz’s isolated power at the plate (ISO) was .165 in 2007. The Phillies 3B’s had an ISO of .113, so unquestionably Feliz would be an upgrade, if his 2004-2007 performances hold steady. He’s a consistent 30+ double / 20+ home run hitter.

According to the 2008 Bill James Handbook, Feliz will hit 18 home runs and 70 RBI for the Phillies in 2008. Feliz will have 59 Runs Created, which is basically what he’s done for the last several seasons, or 4.26 Runs Created per 27 Outs. These aren’t great numbers, and would make Feliz one of the Phillies weakest offensive performers, but they are better than those Wes Helms or Abraham Nunez would have given the Phillies in 2008. For the record, Helms projects at 5.02 and Nunez at 3.17.

So the bottom-line is that I'm not impressed by Feliz's skills. Why am I not unhappy with the Phillies decision to sign him? Well, given that Feliz will be hitting #7 or #8 in the lineup, Feliz's ability to draw walks and get on base isn't all that important. Drawing a walk with two outs and the pitcher on-deck is tantamont to gauranteeing that J.Roll will lead-off the next inning. It isn't setting up Cole Hamels for an RBI situation. Down in the lower spots of the lineup you need someone with a little pop to their bat to sting the opposition with a solo-shot home run, because you aren't really setting your team up for the big inning when the pitcher is going to bat. Feliz's ability to slug the ball is superior to that of Helms and Nunez, so this is a signing that makes a lot of sense. If he hits a few more solo home runs than Nunez & Helms, his presence will help the Phillies offense. I think Feliz will hit 25-to-30 home runs in 2008. He may only have 65-70 RBI, but he'll sting the opposition with a few late home runs and that might help the Phillies here and there.

Welcome to Philly, Pedro Feliz.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Santana Trade... 

Lots of Phillies news out there. I was busy processing the Pedro Feliz deal when the Twins decided to deal Johan Santana to the Mets. I’ll talk a little about Feliz tomorrow …

So the Twins sent Santana to the Mets: after all of the talk about the Red Sox and Yankees it ought not to have surprised us that the lower profile Mets would swing in under the radar and scoop up Santana. On paper the deal is a masterstroke: after trying to contend with a largely unknown pitching staff (John Maine, Oliver Perez, Orlando Hernandez) the Mets have added one of the best pitchers in baseball to go along with Pedro Martinez, who missed nearly all of 2007. On paper, the Mets rotation looks pretty good now: Pedro and Santana to go along with Maine, who was a surprising 15-10 with a 3.91 ERA, and Perez, who was 15-10 with a 3.56 ERA. If Maine and Perez duplicate their ’07 performances, and if Pedro regains his pre-2006 form, and if Santana continues to pitch at a high level … well, suddenly the Mets spotty rotation looks pretty good. Perhaps the best in the division, ahead of the Phillies and the Tim Hudson / John Smoltz-led Atlanta Braves.

The best part of the deal is that the Mets didn’t surrender any killer prospects to make this happen. After talking about Philip Hughes and Jake Ellsbury, the Twins didn’t get any sure-fire major leaguers out of the deal. This looks like a major blunder on the part of the Twins leadership. Ouch.

So is this a guaranteed win for the Mets? Well, Santana did see his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) ERA rise from 3.02 in ’04, 2.80 in ’05, and 3.15 in ’06 to 3.96 in ’07. Looking inside of the numbers there was precious little change in Santana’s strikeouts and walks allowed – in fact they’ve been remarkably consistent over the years:

K/9 BB/9
11.7 / 2.4
2005: 10.0 / 1.9
2006: 10.2 / 2.0
2007: 10.3 / 2.3

The change in Santana’s numbers stem from the fact that he allowed a few more home runs – 33, as opposed to 24, 22 and 24 between ’04 and ’06 – in 2007 than he had in the past. I consider that to be a fluke, although this perhaps might suggest that he’ll surrender a few dingers in the one or two starts he makes at Citizens in 2008.

This is disastrous news for the Phillies: they suddenly have the third-best pitching staff in the N.L. East and made no major splashes this off-season. The Mets added Santana (and Pedro, for all intent and purpose), and the Braves added Glavine. What are the Phillies hoping? That Travis Blackley will supplant Adam Eaton as the #5 starter? Suddenly, after the joys of last season, a third-place finish seems likely.

Although … you also have to look at the fact that there is enormous pressure on the Mets. If Pedro collapses – he is getting older – and if Maine and Perez regress to average, and if Santana struggles … suddenly the Mets look beatable. And you have to wonder if heads will roll in Queens if the Mets fail to make the playoffs again.

Alright, a little on Pedro Feliz tomorrow.


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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Adios, Mike Lieberthal 

Mike Lieberthal announced the other day that he was going to hang it up after fourteen years in the major leagues instead of trying to hook up with another MLB team. Lieberthal was the Phillies first-round pick in the 1990 draft, the third player selected overall … As an aside, do you know what players were drafted ahead of Lieberthal? The first player chosen in the draft was Chipper Jones, selected by the Atlanta Braves number one overall after the team mulled the possibility of selecting Todd Van Poppel, the highly-touted Texas high schooler whom the Braves passed on because of signability issues. Van Poppel, who was a bust, was taken by the Oakland A’s with the fourteenth pick. The second player picked was Tony Clark by the Detroit Tigers. Players that the Phillies passed on in favor of Lieberthal include Carl Everett (tenth overall pick by the Yankees), Mike Mussina (twentieth overall pick by the Orioles), Andy Pettite (a 22nd round selection) and Jorge Posada (26th rounder) … Lieberthal debuted with the Phillies in 1994 and spent several seasons backing up Darren Daulton before getting a chance when Daulton joined the Florida Marlins.

From 1997 to 2006 Lieberthal was the Phillies primary catcher and, to a certain extent, its blue-collar soul. From ’97 to ’06 he started 1,035 games for the Phillies, catching 8,993 innings, squatting in the dirt. In his career with the Phillies Lieberthal hit .275 on his way to smacking 150 home runs and 609 RBIs in a Phillies uniform. An All-Star in ’99 & ’00, Lieberthal’s best season was probably 1999, when he caught a whopping 143 games (winning a gold glove along the way), hitting 31 home runs, 96 RBI and had a .300 batting average (.363 OBP) and an adjusted OPS of 123. Lieberthal had 100 Runs Created that season, a career high.

Sadly, the life of a catcher is typically brief and Lieberthal’s ended with the Phillies after he played in just 67 games for the Phillies in 2006. Largely being evicted in favor of the younger Carlos Ruiz and free agent Rod Barajas, Lieberthal went to the West Coast to join the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2007. The move to L.A. was a homecoming for the Glendale, California, native.

Lieberthal barely played in 2007, catching thirty-one games behind the astonishingly durable Russell Martin.

Good luck, Mike. We'll never forget your years of digging fastballs out of the dirt of Veterans Stadium.

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