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Friday, June 06, 2008

2008 Draft Recap: Day One 

The 2008 MLB Draft began yesterday afternoon with the Tampa Bay Rays taking shortstop Tim Beckham with the #1 Overall Pick, perhaps the last time the Rays will be in that position for a long time. The Phillies were busy with nine picks in the first six rounds. Here are a few thoughts:

In a draft that was deep on corner infielders and catcher prospects, as well as college players, the Phillies weren't afraid to be different. Their first four picks and six of their first seven, were high school players. The Phillies first three picks were high school players projected as outfielders. The Phillies chose:

1. Anthony Hewitt (SS/OF) - Salisbury, High School
1A. Zach Collier (OF) - Chino Hills High School
2. Anthony Grose (OF) - Bellflower High School
2. Jason Knapp (RHP) - North Hunterdon High School
3. Vance Worley (RHP) - Long Beach State College
3A. Jonathan Pettibone (RHP) - Esperanza High School
4. Trevor May (RHP) - Kelso High School
5. Jeremy Hamilton (1B) - Wright State
6. Colby Shreve (RHP) - Southern Nevada Community College

Obviously your attention is drawn to Hewitt and Collier, a pair of talented outfielders with a lot of raw tools who are anywhere from 4-6 years of development away from the major leagues. I wouldn't expect to see them crack the Phillies lineup until 2013 or so at the earliest. But both players are interesting picks in that they break with the Phillies recent focus on pitching and they also buck the trend in baseball towards drafting MLB-ready college kids who could crack lineups by 2010. The Phillies took two guys with a lot of raw talent who could anchor the Phillies outfield in the future. Hewitt looks like a future compliment to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley in the lineup as a #5 hitter, while Collier looks like a future #2 hitter who has been compared with the Angels Garrett Anderson.

It is interesting to me that the Phillies were able to snare the two guys they really wanted, Hewitt and Collier, after it looked like the team might have to choose between them. Keith Law of ESPN thought that Collier was going to slide to the Minnesota Twins at #27, but then Collier slid out of the first round and fell to them in the supplemental first round. The focus, especially from small market teams, on college-ish MLB-ready talent really might pay dividends as the Phillies secured a pair of first-round guys who probably would have gone much higher in the draft in previous years.

According to Baseball America, second-round pick Jason Knapp had an outstanding outwork with the team and the Phillies considered taking him in the Supplemental First Round at #34, but he fell to them in the second round at #71. What impresses me about Knapp is his size: six-foot-five, 215 lbs, which hopefully means that his fastball will come screaming down on hitters like Randy Johnson. Knapp and fellow-second rounder Anthony Grose are raw talents like Collier and Hewitt, which means that the Phillies are going to have a lot of work ahead of them in terms of talent development, but nearly all of these players are guys rated by the talent experts as having big upsides. Grose looks like a lead-off guy with a lot of speed and terrific defensive abilities. Some have compared him to the Dodgers Juan Pierre.

Starting with Knapp, the Phillies took four pitchers with their next five picks. The one who really interests me is May, a Washington State High Schooler who apparently has a fastball clocked in the high-90s and a devastating knuckle-curveball. Can the Phillies keep him from attending Washington State University?

-Generally I thought this was a very good draft for the Phillies. If their first four picks turn out well, the farm system could be dramatically restocked. This is a risky draft which could lay the foundations for great things in 2013-2014, or it could be a disaster and a wasted opportunity. We'll see.

Look for the Phillies to stock up on some mid-level pitchers today and a few project-type players. I think you'll see the Phillies take some catchers and middle infielders in the mid-level rounds today ....

-I thought ESPN's coverage of the Draft was pretty good but there was too much filler at the end and the failure to cover beyond the first round and supplemental first round left an incomplete picture to the viewer. In the future I'd like to see ESPN try and expand their coverage, perhaps starting the first round earlier in the day than two o'clock and following into the second and third rounds.

ESPN's panel was good - any panel featuring Peter Gammons is going to be good - but I would have liked to have seen more of Baseball America's Jim Callis or ESPN's Keith Law. Chris Singleton did a nice job as the token player giving the draftee's perspective on the system amidst the pundits, but he seemed like he had big stretches of time where he had nothing to say. One of the reasons why the NFL Draft does so well is because Mel Kiper, Jr., is there on Draft Day to deliver the definitive word on who this guy from Central Appalachian State is. I would like to see Law, a knowledgeable and articulate presence, on the panel as the expert on all things talent.

-Ed Wade and the Astros earned scorn for taking catcher Jason Castro with the #10 pick. I hope Wade knows what he's doing.

-The Pirates decision to take Pedro Alvarez is a real watershed moment for the Pirates. Either the team has helped itself by laying the foundation for future success - Alvarez has been compared to Manny Ramirez and is the powerful RBI-machine that the Pirates badly need in the middle of their lineup - or they have just doomed themselves to disaster. A year removed from a draft that earned them scorn for ducking on taking a Scott Boras client because of signability issues, they stepped up to the plate and took Alvarez, a major talent who also has Boras negotiating on his behalf. Also given that Pirates GM Neal Huntington is Boras former nemesis ... well, this is a big moment for the Pirates. They need to sign Alvarez and they have little leverage in these negotiations. They are a small-market team that needs to develop talent quickly. This will be interesting ...

Oh yeah, the Phillies played some baseball yesterday, wrapping up a four-game series with the Reds with their third win, a 5-0 shutout by Cole Hamels. The big moment in the game was Manager Charlie Manuel's decision to bench 2007 N.L. MVP Jimmy Rollins for failing to run out a pop fly that turned into a single after a silly little-league-type error by the Reds. It was a gutsy decision which could have blown up on everyone had Rollins reacted badly. Instead, the message was received by Rollins and he took it with a lot of dignity. Manuel's hold on the clubhouse was secure and Rollins displayed a lot of humility and maturity in accepting responsibility and putting team harmony first. This is the kind of moment that separates championship teams from also-rans.

The Phillies went 8-2 on their homestand and sit two and a half games in first heading into a road trip with the Atlanta Braves. More later on today ...

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Draft Update (Con't) 

The Draft rolls on ... Discussion has swirled around Anthony Hewitt and Zach Collier as being the Phillies targets for the Draft with the 24th pick. As fate would have it, after the Phillies took Hewitt at #24, Collier fell to the Phillies in the Supplemental First Round at #34 anyway. So with the first round nearly complete it looks like the Phillies have gotten both of their guys. Hewitt and Collier are both rated as raw projects by ESPN's Draft Day crew (Keith Law noted that Hewitt in particular struggled when forced to play with wooden bats and against more formitable competition and forecast 4-5 years of development ahead of him), with significant upsides. The video ESPN showed of Hewitt put the name "Bo Jackson" in my head and I was impressed with Zach Collier's throwing arm. The next Johnny Callison? Shane Victorino?

Both Hewitt and Collier are likely to play in the Phillies outfield circa 2013 or so if they make it. I'm impressed that the Phillies were able to snare two such talents in the first round. Look for the Phillies next pick in the second round to be a college pitcher given that they just took two high school position players. Don't be surprised if the Phillies take a college pitcher in round three either.

Speaking of trends: two-thirds of the first thirty picks were position players rather than pitchers, and two-thirds were college players ... 21 of 30 if you count Community College as being closer to College than High School. Stay tuned ...


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Draft Update 

Andrew Cashner is off the board, falling to the Chicago Cubs at #19. The Detroit Tigers are on the clock at #21. Zach Collier and Anthony Hewitt are still on the board. I still say Hewitt.

Pedro Alvarez went #2 to the Pirates, which will set up an interesting situation: the small market Pirates and their anti-Boras General Manager negotiating with the devil in the dark suit.


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Countdown to the Draft 

The Draft is just over two hours away. I'm 90% convinced that the Phillies will take High School shortstop Anthony Hewitt at #24. He's an exceptional talent and benefit from grooming within the Phillies system. Adrian Cardenas, another talented high schooler in need of grooming, is doing quite well at Clearwater with the Advanced Single-A Threshers. Imagine a future Phillies infield filled with Hewitt, Cardenas, Utley and Ryan Howard ...

Baseball Prospectus projects that the Phillies will pass on Hewitt and take Zach Collier, an outfielder from Chino Hills High School in California. Others say the Phillies will go with Andrew Cashner, a six foot six relief ace from Texas Christian who almost certainly would have a shorter path to the major leagues than Hewitt or Collier. I'm banking on the Phillies being more interested in developing a player in the long-term. That's why I am going with Hewitt, whom is the person Baseball America says is going at #24.

I really liked this article from SI's Tom Verducci about why the MLB Draft is so important now that we live in the post-steroids era.

Meanwhile ... Don't be fooled by Brett Myers performance last evening. Yes, he surrendered just one hit and one run in seven and one-third of an inning. Yes, he struck eight Reds out. He also surrendered six walks. Volquez, in contrast, tossed a third of an inning less than Myers and got the same number of strikeouts. He allowed just two hits and walked just two Phillies. Even when Myers held onto the no-hitter it struck me that Volquez was still out-pitching him.

Losing John Smoltz has to be a bitter blow to the Atlanta Braves, weakening their rotation and costing them a key veteran in their search to return to the playoffs for the first time since '05. I think Smoltz will return in '09, but it will be his final season. This loss will really hurt though. I'm not sure that the Braves will survive and catch up to the Mets and Phillies.

Speaking of the Braves, anyone notice the extreme home/road split that the Braves have? The Braves are 24-8 at home and 7-21 on the road. Compare the winning percentages:

N.L. East: (Home Pct / Road Pct / Diff.)
Atlanta: .750 / .250 / +.500
New York: .607 / .433 / +.174
Phillies: .606 / .536 / +.070
Marlins: .600 / .500 / +.100
Nats: .448 / .366 / +.082

The only team that comes as close to matching the Braves variance is the Reds, whose .655 home winning percentage is .333 higher than their .322 road winning percentage (although last night's game helped matters). If the Braves were homebodies, they'd be unbeatable.

I'll comment on the Draft later.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

2008 MLB Draft Focus 

This week is Draft Week in baseball as the thirty major league baseball teams attempt to build for their future by drafting high school and college talent into their rosters. We'll spend some time this week talking about the Phillies recent drafts and the players they will take this Thursday.

This will be the second year in a row in which you can watch the draft on ESPN, which I intend to do Thursday evening off my DVR. (News I haven't broken to my wife yet ...) The MLB Draft has never held the attention of the public quite the way that the NFL Draft has for a number of reasons, some of which the MLB is trying to change. For one thing, the draft never used to actually be in a central location but was done over the intercom. No Commissioner striding to the podium to announce the next pick under the glare of the TV cameras as Bud Selig will do Thursday afternoon, and as the NFL as done for years in New York City.

The problem with the MLB's efforts to make the Draft an Event with a capital E is that, unlike the NFL, NBA and (to a lesser extent) NHL drafts, the MLB Draft will have absolutely no immediate impact on the teams that make their selections today. The '98 Minnesota Vikings took a gamble on Marshall wide receiver Randy Moss with the 19th pick of the first round of the Draft that season and landed an impact player who helped spark the Vikings to 556 points and a 15-1 record (after going just 9-7 the previous season) thanks to his 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns. No player taken today is going to have that kind of impact in 2008 or even 2009. David Price was taken #1 overall last season from Vanderbilt and he has played no role whatsoever in the Tampa Bay Rays success in '08.

The players being taken today are going to be the cornerstones to their franchises in 2010 or 2011 at the earliest. Most of these players are going to make their MLB debuts in 2012, however. The lack of impact that these players will have on their teams makes the MLB Draft a spectacle for the hard-core baseball fan. The NFL Draft promises: "See tomorrow's players today!" The MLB Draft promises: "See the distant future's players today!"

Additionally, thanks to college football and basketball being televised to prominently by ESPN, CBS, ABC and the like, many fans are familiar already with the players they see on Draft Day. College baseball is barely on the radar of most baseball fans. High School baseball? Forget about it ...

So while I am skeptical that the MLB Draft will ever be an Event with a capital E, I applaud baseball for shaking up the status quo and attempting to make it interesting for the public. While baseball has traditionally been a sport given to tradition above all else, I enjoy seeing the powers that be attempt to grow the game and give something to get the fans fired up. This is the kind of forward thinking we typically don't see from Major League Baseball.

History. So where does the draft come from? The major league draft, which was adopted by baseball following the winter meetings in December of 1964, grew out of a concern that New York Yankees were dominating the game. The persistent dominance of the Yankees between 1921 and 1964 (in 44 years they won 29 American League Pennants and 20 World Series), in which the Yankees would attract and sign marquee talent like Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle led Major League Baseball to institute the draft. Scouts like Tom Greenwade used to specialize in locating talent and signing them to the Bronx Bombers before other teams were aware these players existed. Suddenly the legions of scouts that the Yankees had criss-crossing the country looking for talent now longer had the ability to corner a player and lock him into a deal. Aging already, the Yankees went into an eclipse in the mid-to-late 1960's.

Theory. Typically teams took players in the MLB draft somewhat equally from college and high school and simply selected the players their scouts rated as the best. Scouts typically would give high ratings to high school players because they were more raw in terms of their talent and were the subject of more speculation. Speculation that oftentimes would prove erroneous. The proliferation over the last decade of sabremetric analysis in the game as well as the internet as turned the draft philosophies on its head. Bill James wrote in his 1988 Baseball Abstract: "Of all the studies I have done over the last twelve years, what have I learned? ... [After listing four things, James lists as the fifth:] Players taken in the June draft coming out of college (or with at least two years of college) perform dramatically better than players drafted out of high school." The ten points listed by James, of which the foregoing was number five, became known as A Bill James Primer.

The split between the sabremetric pundits and the baseball establishment over high schoolers vs. college players continued into the 1990's and 2000's. In the book Moneyball, author Michael Lewis spends a lot of time dissecting the Oakland A's draft in 2002 for many reasons. The '02 Draft showcases the A's approach to the game in a nutshell: their focus on stats over scouting, their focus on proven college talent over speculative high school talent, their obsession with keeping their costs reasonable. The experience and failure of Billy Beane the ballplayer, the talented high schooler from San Diego taken in the first round of the 1980 Draft, is what drives Billy Beane the A's General Manager.

Beane was a bust as a player because he was an unproven talent who could, in the eyes of scouts, be molded into a big leaguer. The scouts who saw Billy Beane play saw Billy Beane as the next Mickey Mantle. Billy Beane the General Manager has no interest or confidence in the capacity of minor league instructors to mold players or try and make them something they are not. Billy Beane wants proven talent, which is why the '02 A's took college players exclusively and took players that other teams took a pass on. Perhaps things didn't work out with Jeremy Brown, the much maligned catcher the A's took from the University of Alabama in the first round, in the minor leagues, but the A's success from 1999 to now otherwise underscores why the A's are such a successful franchise despite owning one of the smallest payrolls in the game. Author Michael Lewis wrote about the A's preparation for the 2002 Draft:

Billy [Beane] had his own idea about where to find future major league baseball players: inside [the computer of] Paul [DePodesta, then-Assistant General Manager] ... He'd flirted with the idea of firing all of the scouts and just drafting kids straight from Paul's laptop. The Internet now served up just about every statistic you could want about every college player in the country ... From Paul's point of view, that was the great thing about college players: they had meaningful stats. They played a lot more games, against stiffer competition, than high school players. The sample size of their relevant statistics was larger, and therefore a more accurate reflection of some underlying reality. You could project college players with greater certainty than you could project high school players. The statistics enabled you to find your way past all sorts of sight-based scouting prejudices ...
Moneyball, pages 37-38.

So what is the actual evidence for college superiority? According to Baseball Between the Numbers (see, Table 7-1.1 on page 237), College players are much, much more likely to make it to the majors than high schoolers. The percentage of high-school players drafted between 1984-1991 who made the majors was just 41%. In that same time period, 60% of college players drafted made the majors. Amongst high schoolers drafted between 1992-1999, 39% made the majors. About 57% of college players during that same time period made the big leagues. So College players are roughly 50% more likely to make the majors than a high schooler, which validates the A's belief in drafting college players. The A's need to develop talent from their farm system and cannot afford to have their draft picks come up short.

According to Baseball Between the Numbers (I am referencing Chapter 7.1, "What Happened to Todd Van Poppel?" by Dayn Perry, in this post, by the way), "High school pitchers remain the riskiest selections in the first round [of the Draft]. This is mostly because, unlike college hurlers, they haven't made it through the 'injury nexus'." That is partly why high schoolers are such a risky bet for big league teams to take.

Now, at this point, I ought to note that not every team follows the A's focus. The Anaheim Angels, for example, focus aggressively on taking high school talent and developing it. With their deep pockets and focus on small ball, the Angels are almost like baseball's Anti-A's. And the Angels have been successful in developing talent on their farm system, so there is a powerful counter-argument to be made that high schoolers are a good bet too: you get to shape and mold their development and you get to bring them aboard before they get into college and possibly suffer injuries. For teams with large payrolls, high schoolers are a good bet.

So that's basically where the draft comes from and what some of the theories about it are.

The Phillies position on Draft Day. The Phillies own the 24th, 34th, 51st, 71st, 102nd and 109th picks in the draft, or 6 of the top 109 picks. Why so many? The Phillies were given supplemental first and third round picks (#34 and #109 respectively) for losing Aaron Rowand to free-agency and failing to sign Brandon Workman, the Phillies third-round pick in the '07 draft. The supplemental picks, particularly the first-rounder, will pay huge dividends to the Phillies in the long run and will confirm the team's wisdom of not sacrificing draft picks to re-sign pricey free agents. As James wrote in the '88 Baseball Abstract: "The chance of getting a good player with a high draft pick is substantial enough that is clearly a disastrous strategy to give up a first-round draft pick to sign a player like Rick Dempsey, Pete Falcone, or Bill Stein." (This is #6 in the 10 points to the Bill James Primer.)

The Phillies ought to be able to leverage their large number of draft picks into a few talented players. Who will they pick?

Phillies Draft History. The Phillies have shown a real focus on pitchers recently. Four of their last five first-round draft choices have been pitchers.

First Round Picks
2007: Joe Savery, LHP
2006: Kyle Drabek, RHP
2005: No Pick (Took 3B Mike Costanzo in 2nd Round)
2004: Greg Golson, OF
2003: No Pick (Took 2B Tim Moss in 3rd Round)
2002: Cole Hamels, LHP
2001: Gavin Floyd, RHP
2000: Chase Utley, 2B
1999: Brett Myers, RHP
1998: Pat Burrell, 1B
1997: J.D. Drew, OF
1996: Adam Eaton, RHP

Take notice of the success the Phillies have generally had too: every one of those 1st rounders taken between '96 and '02 have made the majors and, aside from J.D. Drew, is or has been on the Phillies roster.

Winding their way right now through the Phillies system is a slew of great pitching talent: John Outman, Carlos Carrasco, Savery, Drabek, Drew Carpenter. The future is bright for the Phillies pitching staff as Outman and Carrasco (and possibly Savery) might be in the rotation in 2009 to supplement Hamels and Myers, two other former first-round picks.

The Phillies most recent draft does suggest, however, that the team might be moving back towards an emphasis on position players. The Phillies took position players with five of the six picks they had following their selection of Savery with the 19th overall pick. They selected seven pitchers in a row in rounds 7-13, but their focus was clearly on the position players.

It is difficult to predict who the Phillies will take in the draft, but I have heard a lot about the Phillies being interested in Anthony Hewitt, a talented high school shortstop from Connecticut. He is the name that keeps popping up in discussions with the Phillies. I tend to think that the Phillies will take a position player with their first round pick for the first time since they took Greg Golson in '04.

Misc. Points: This will be the final draft Pat Gillick oversees as the Phillies G.M. You have to wonder how much imput he'll have and how much imput someone like Assistant G.M. Reuben Amaro, who is Gillick's likely heir apparant, will have on the team.

I'll post some more thoughts tomorrow and Thursday, but I thought that I might put a few things out there now ...

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Fans Dig the Long Ball: Reds vs. Phillies Preview 

The Phillies begin a four-game series tonight at Citizens Bank Ballpark with the Cincinnati Reds. Bring your gloves tonight kids, because you just might catch a home run when these two teams play each other. Plus you have a chance to catch some history as Ken Griffey, Jr. goes for #600. Fans dig the long ball.

Since the Phillies and Reds opened Citizens Bank and Great American Ballpark both teams have played in what are probably the two most home-run oriented ballparks in the majors after Coors Field. In 2007 the Home Run Factor for Citizens and Great American was 145 and 133 respectively (i.e., the two parks are 45% and 33% more likely to see a home run hit in them), tops in the major leagues. Because their ballparks are so oriented towards home run-hitting, both teams have shaped their rosters accordingly. Check out the Home Run totals for the last five seasons (including '08) and each team's N.L. rank:

Cincinnati / Philadelphia
2004: 194 (6th) / 215 (2nd)
2005: 222 (1st) / 194 (8th)
2006: 217 (2nd) / 216 (3rd)
2007: 204 (3rd) / 213 (2nd)
2008: 65 (T-3rd) / 85 (1st)

As you can see, this season is no exception. The Phillies continue to whack the ball into the cheap seats at a rate of 1.47 times per game. Extrapolated out of a 162 game season, then the Phillies are on a pace to hit 237 home runs this season. And it just became June, when the air gets a little warmer and the balls really fly out of the park. 240-250 home runs wouldn't be out of the question for the Phillies. The Reds, meanwhile, are on a pace to hit "just" 188 home runs.

The Reds top players are the 24-year old rookie Joey Votto (10 home runs, 29 RBI), second baseman Brandon Phillips (11 home runs, 31 RBI) and outfielder Adam Dunn (14 home runs, 36 RBI, .409 OBP). All three are young (Dunn is the eldest at 28) and all three pack a whallop at the plate. The Reds biggest problem is that they continue to feature Ken Griffey, Jr., out in rightfield. Griffey has seen his once-bright, Hall of Fame future crumble into a bitter disappointment as he has struggled through nearly a decade now in Cincinnati watching from the sidelines on the D.L. Crippling injuries have stolen the prime years of Griffey's career from him. At age 38 he's a decade older than Dunn and nearly every other regular starter on the Reds roster. He's also not producing much anymore: just a .336 OBP and six home runs to go with 27 RBI. If the Reds are engaged in a youth movement, then Griffey needs to go.

But not before Griffey becomes the sixth player to top six hundred home runs. More on that later ...

The Phillies, meanwhile, continue to kill the baseball. Chase Utley leads the N.L. with 20 home runs and 50 RBI. Pat Burrell and Ryan Howard have hit 13 and 15 home runs respectively. Extrapolated over a 162-game season, that means that these players will hit, respectively:

Home Runs:
Chase Utley: 56
Ryan Howard: 43
Pat Burrell: 38

I wonder how many teams have featured teammates with 40+ home runs, let alone any that featured three players with 40+ home runs. The most exceptional part of the Phillies home run production this year is the fact that Jimmy Rollins has hit just three and the Phillies survived over a month with the light-hitting Eric Bruntlett (two home runs in 117 At Bats) in the lineup.

Pitching matchups: Of course it is up to the Phillies and Reds pitchers to make sure that the other side doesn't manage to club some home runs. More particularly, Phillies pitchers want to make sure they aren't the one to surrender #600.

Monday: Kyle Kendrick vs. Bronson Arroyo. Kyle Kendrick hopefully won't be the one to surrender #600. So far this season he's done pretty good not allowing home runs: just five in 57 & 2/3 innings, or 0.74 HR/9. This is an even matchup between Arroyo and Kendrick, although they have different styles. Kendrick is a pitcher who pitches to contact. Arroyo is a strikeout artist. Kendrick gets half the strikeouts Arroyo gets (8.0 K/9 vs. 4.0), walks fewer hitters (3.4 K/9 vs. 2.7), allows fewer homers (1.05 vs. 0.74) and throws fewer pitches per plate appearance (4.0 vs. 3.6).

Tuesday: Adam Eaton vs. Aaron Harang. Bring your gloves Tuesday night because if Kendrick can get past Ken Griffey, Jr. tonight, chances are Adam Eaton will go down in history as Mr. 600. Eaton has been struggling a lot this season. Not as much as last season, but he's been struggling of late. Harang has a nearly 4-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio, so this one looks like a mismatch. Harang's Achillies Heel, however is is penchant for surrendering home runs: 11 in 82 & 2/3 of an inning.

Wednesday: Brett Myers vs. Edinson Volquez. I hope Myers recent strong outing (eight innings, three earned runs, just six hits and eleven strikeouts) is a harbinger of better outings to come. Volquez is a formitable hurler thus far this season. He's 7-2 with a 1.46 ERA. Don't be fooled - he isn't pitching that well - but he's still pitching very well. Like Arroyo and Harang, Volquez is a pitcher who throws a lot of pitches. Unlike guys to pitch to contact like Kendrick, pitchers like Volquez nibble around the edges of the strike zone and play coy with hitters. Volquez has K'd a phenomenal 83 batters this season (11.4 K/9) and has allowed just three home runs (0.41 HR/9), but he's walked 36 batters (5.0 BB/9) and his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) ERA is a run and a half higher at 2.96. This will be a very interesting game.

Thursday: Cole Hamels vs. Homer Bailey. Cole Hamels gets to pitch again against the Reds for the second time this season. He won the first game 5-3, going seven innings and allowing just a single earned run. Some of Hamels most memorable starts have been against the Reds. He made his rookie debut against them in '06 and his eight inning, 15-strikeout masterpiece against them in '07 was the critical game that lifted the Phillies from their 4-11 start and got them back into the playoff race. Homer Bailey is a talented rookie who made his MLB debut in '07 for the team.

Intangibles: the Reds are leading the N.L. in strikeouts at 8.0 K/9, which is pretty impressive. Reds pitchers have to have good stuff however, because they get no help behind them. The Reds rank fifteenth (second to last) in the N.L. in Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER) at .679. The Phillies are more willing to pitch to contact because their defense is better, although at .693 it is still below the league average of .695. I'm amazed that the fact that the Phillies have the fifth-best ERA in the N.L. is flying completely under the radar with most observers. Such a maligned pitching staff playing behind a so-so defense ... Why don't people notice?

Enjoy ... I plan to have a discussion of the '08 MLB Draft tomorrow.

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