Wednesday, March 05, 2008
There was a nice little article in the February 25, 2008, edition of The Sporting News entitled “Producing Happy Campers” (pages 44-45) about Spring Training. The article noted a few small differences between the Phillies and Mets last year where the Phillies edged the Mets on seemingly innocuous matters: the Phillies were caught stealing just 19 times in 157 attempts, while the Mets were caught 46 times in 252 tries. Phillies pitchers had a better fielding percentage than Mets pitchers did: .970 to .961 … The differences, so slight, might have amounted to an extra win in the standings, and in the Phillies case that one play successfully made, that one mistake avoided, gave the Phillies the N.L. East and sent the Mets home. And the seeds for that success were planted in the bright sunshine of Spring Training.
Last season I credited the Phillies phenomenal success in stealing bases and their general abilities on the bases to the tutelage of first base coach Davey Lopes, who preached a doctrine of aggressiveness to a team that had been slower and more methodical on the bases in the past. That emphasis on speed was what honed the blade of the Phillies razor, I thought, and thus I heaped the lions share of credit on Lopes.
The Sporting News article makes the case for bench coach Jimy Williams as The Man behind the Phillies success in 2007. Praised by Braves manager Bobby Cox as “the best in the game”, Williams will basically run the Phillies until the team gets north in April. Williams teaching is important because the Phillies utilize young players a lot. I think one of the things that is lost in all of the talk about the Phillies playoff chances this season is that the future is brighter for the Phillies than it is for the older Mets. All of the key Phillies are young – Kyle Kendrick is 22, Cole Hamels is 23, Shane Victorino, Brett Myers and Ryan Madson are 26, Ryan Howard is 27, and Jayson Werth, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz and Chase Utley are all 28 – and are committed to the team for 2008, 2009 and most for 2010. In some way or another all of these players are products of either the Phillies farm system or extensive teaching with Williams. Williams turned Victorino from a fast player into a major threat to steal bases. 24-year old Michael Bourn, now with the Houston Astros, was a major help to the Phillies last season.
Here is a link to the article, which was pretty interesting stuff.
Meanwhile, Spring Training rolls along, with the Phillies dropping a 10-1 decision to the Atlanta Braves, watching as Kyle Kendrick served up seven runs in two and 2/3 of an inning of work. Suddenly Kendrick's spot as the #4 starter doesn't look so secure ...
Eric Brunlett is hitting .429 ... Not bad. This year's candidate for surprising new addition?
Best wishes to Davey Lopes on his surgery for prostate cancer.
Monday, March 03, 2008
Pitching … Thus far the Phillies team ERA sits at a hefty 6.25. The team has tossed 36 innings and surrendered 25 earned runs (I’m not including the numbers from yesterday’s tie in the mix). They’ve surrendered 2.00 home runs per nine innings, 4.50 walks per nine innings and 6.50 strikeouts per nine innings and have a 1.44 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Two pitching performances have stood out as being outstanding:
Jamie Moyer, the ageless wonder, hurled three innings on the first day of spring training and surrendered just one hit, didn’t allow a run, a home run or a walk and struck-out three hitters. Not bad.
Travis Blackley, the Phillies Rule 5 Draftee fighting for a roster spot, tossed three shut-out innings as well, allowing just on hit, no walks or home runs, and struck-out two hitters. This performance thus far strongly suggests that Blackley is in the running to make the Phillies Opening Day roster and stay with the team in 2008.
Carlos Carrasco, the Phillies highly-touted rookie, tossed three innings and struck-out three, allowing just three hits and no runs against the Yankees. Nice job.
Performances that ought to worry Phillies fans … Temporary closer Tom Gordon has pitched two-thirds of an inning and allowed two runs on two hits and a walk … In two innings of work, Adam Eaton surrendered five hits (one a home run) and two runs.
As yet there isn’t a whole lot of data to extract positive clues from, but the preliminary outcomes suggest that the Phillies pitching is going to have some weak points.
Over on the offensive side, many Phillies hitters are off to big starts. Carlos Ruiz is hitting .667 on four-of-six at the plate with two doubles and an RBI. Pedro Feliz is hitting .571 on four-of-seven hitting with two doubles and an RBI. Ryan Howard is four-for-ten with two doubles and a home run and three RBI, while Chase Utley is three-for-eight with three doubles and two RBI.
Some Phillies are struggling – Pat Burrell is one-for-six and Jimmy Rollins is one-for-seven – but these are traditionally slow-starting hitters. Wes Helms – zero-for-six – has lost his position as the third baseman and won’t mount much of an argument to reclaim it with this spring performance.
Quick Eagles discussion … The Birds have made some nice moves in free agency, inking Chris Clemons and Assante Samuel to deals to strengthen the defensive unit. Samuel is a real shut-down corner who will strengthen the Eagles pass-rush by locking down wideouts. I hope the Eagles resist the temptation to deal Lito Shepard and keep him and Sheldon Brown to play next to Samuel. Having three Pro Bowl quality cornerbacks can’t hurt in a division where you play Plaxico Burress and T.O., can it? Clemons is a little under-sized and may not be able to fight through the rigors on the NFL regular season as a starter, but the team seemed committed to a rotation-style strategy on the defensive line … I’ve been very impressed by the splash that the Cleveland Browns have made this off-season, keeping Derek Anderson and Jamal Lewis, their quarterback and running back respectively, and acquiring game-breaking wideout Donte Stallworth, the former Eagle. The Eagles – Browns game this year is going to be a big, big battle.