Monday, December 13, 2010

It's Official; Cliff Lee is Returning to Philly!

Multiple sources now confirm that Cliff Lee will sign with the Phillies. The deal is believed to be for around 5 years/$115 million. It also includes an easily attainable option for a 6th year. Lee took substantially less guaranteed money to return to the Phils. Considering that the team abruptly traded him just one year ago, this can only be described as stunning.

I have never seen a turn of events quite like this during the free-agent period.

At the moment, the Phillies have a rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels.

Pinch me.

Report: Phillies May Re-Acquire Lee

In a truly stunning development, the Phillies appear to be in hot pursuit of left-handed starter Cliff Lee (32). For weeks, speculation has centered on mainly the Yankees and Rangers, but for days a "mystery team" has been making waves. Today, it was confirmed by multiple sources (Jayson Stark, Jon Heyman, etc.) that the Phillies are indeed this team.

Lee was famously traded by Ruben Amaro about a year ago for 3 lousy prospects in a move coordinated with the acquisition of Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays. But Lee reportedly loved his time in Philly and may take a shorter contract to return. If Amaro is able to sign Lee, it will be yet another in a series of bold moves since he became team GM two years ago.

The move could give the Phils the most impressive on-paper rotation in recent MLB memory. In doing so, they would almost certainly need to move Joe Blanton and the $17 million he is owed over the next 2 seasons.

It is too early to get excited about this possibility, and I will not yet assume it is wise (we have no idea what the numbers would be). That said, this is shocking, exciting, and fascinating.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Carl Crawford Myth

I can’t take it anymore; the conventional wisdom is driving me crazy. Carl Crawford is overrated! I can say with confidence that whoever signs Crawford in the coming days will make an even bigger mistake than the Nationals did yesterday with Jayson Werth.

Crawford, the so-called “prize” of the 2010 FA class, is actually only a slightly above average hitter. He has a career .781 OPS --- 21 points lower than Marcus Thames. He has never hit 20 homers in a season, nor recorded an OBP north of .364. Yes, he is a prolific base stealer, but is this really something that teams should bank on as he gets into his thirties? (any contract he signs will likely take him to about 35-37). According to Baseball Reference, Crawford’s career progression compares most closely to Roberto Kelly, a sometimes starting outfielder for 8 different clubs (most notably the Yankees) between 1987 and 2000.

Even in his career year of 2010 (which was also his contract year), Crawford posted an .851 OPS…about 20 points lower than Pat Burrell --- who just signed a 1 year, $1 million deal with SF.

Jayson Werth, who also has speed and plays a great rightfield, was clearly the best offensive free agent on the market this year. Werth has posted a higher OPS than Crawford’s career year in each of the last 4 seasons. And somewhere after Werth, Adam Dunn and possibly a few others (Adrian Beltre, V-Mart, Lance Berkman) lies Carl Crawford.

I understand that rate stats aren’t everything, but Crawford represents the other extreme. He is the prototypical “tools” player… the guy who can “hurt you in so many different ways.” But baseball isn’t about hurting the opposition through various methods… it’s about net production. On that count, Carl Crawford is a good player who probably represents the 70th percentile of big league outfielders. Despite this, he’s about to be paid like one of the 3 or 4 best players in all of baseball.

The Nats may have erred by committing big money and years to Jayson Werth, but I applaud them for at least identifying the best outfielder on the market in 2010.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Amaro: Phils May Not Add Right-Handed Bat to Replace Werth

Ruben Amaro, who apparently offered Jayson Werth "Jason Bay money" (about 4 yrs./$66 million), said today that the right-fielder's departure does not necessarily mean the Phils will seek out an external replacement for him.

Such a statement would not have been surprising three months ago. But since, Domonic Brown has finished the 2010 season with a .210 average and played very poorly in winter ball.

I actually think entering the year with a Ben Francisco/Dom Brown platoon isn't crazy at all. Francisco was an above-average hitter this past season, while Brown's stumbles are being over-analyzed. If either or both turn out to be busts in 2011, then the Phils can always address the issue at the deadline... there's never a shortage of right-handed outfielders. That said, if a bargain becomes available in the off-season (Jermaine Dye for the veteran minimum?), I'd like to see us jump.

I would recommend that the team's primary focus be on adding 1 or 2 solid lefty relievers before Spring Training.

Werth Signs with Nationals

Jayson Werth, the best Phils' hitter in 2010 and an integral part of the 2008 championship team, is gone tonight.

Werth signed a 7 yr./$126 million deal with the Washington Nationals, the NL East's perennial last place team. With all due respect to Werth, who I continue to think is underrated by many baseball fans, the terms of this contract are a bit ridiculous. A seven-year deal for a 31-year-old player with a history of wrist issues is way too risky. $18 million/year is a fine price for an elite player, but Werth has only been a top outfielder for 2 years. Each of these years came at Citizens Bank Park with a top lineup around him. He now heads to DC, where he'll play in a big park alongside a decent lineup, at best.

The move makes even less sense coming from the Nats. If the Red Sox or Angels threw this $ at Werth, I'd think it was too high, but would understand that these teams are wealthy and may (rightfully) believe that Werth is the piece separating them from contention, or even a championship. But the Nationals are not one piece away. They remain, even with this signing, arguably the worst team in the NL East. They also have very low fan support and therefore little payroll flexibility. Does it really make sense to spend 25%-30% of the team's payroll (for years to come) on 1 player who may lead you to 75 wins? I think not.

I've been to Nationals Park many times. The crowd is uneducated, disinterested, and small...very small. Perhaps Werth was given a false impression of the DC crowd playing for the Phillies. When the Phils come to town, the crowd is loud and large. The reason: Phillies fans are there. I hope (actually, I don't give a s*it) Werth is ready for an adjustment. He has just chosen to leave one of the most exciting baseball cities in the country (with over 100 consecutive sellouts) for one who routinely struggles to sellout it's home-opener.

Thanks for your service Jayson, but I think the best and most exciting days of your career are behind you.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Contreras Returns for 2 Yrs./$5.5m

The Phillies have decided to bring back Jose Contreras for 2 years at $2.75 million per season. This seems fine with me. Contreras is getting older (he says he's 39... he could be 48), but was great this year. In particular, he had tremendous movement on his splitter throughout the season and into the playoffs. Also, I don't think much better options exist on the market at a lower price. Ideally, he will pair with a rejuvenated Danys Baez (who is signed through 2011 and probably untradable at the moment) to form a nice 6th-7th inning combo. This, combined with a young arm --- Scott Mathieson, Antonio Bastardo and/or Vance Worley --, a new LOOGY (I like Taylor Tankersley or Pedro Feliciano, personally), and Madson/Lidge at the back-end form a solid bullpen.

Regarding one of these points, GM Ruben Amaro recently said that acquiring a lefty reliever is not a priority. He's either lying or crazy (probably the former). The Phils have no established lefty relievers on their roster. Bastardo has talent, but clearly we'll need a bit more depth. I fully expect the position to be addressed by March.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Is Mike Schmidt Underrated?

Today I pose the following question that I was recently asked by a friend: is Mike Schmidt, the greatest Phillie to ever live, underrated by the baseball community?

In 1999, Schmidt was ranked the 28th best baseball player of all-time by the Sporting News. Notably, he was the highest ranked 3rd baseman. In addition, he was named to MLB's All-Century Team. It's fair to say that baseball writers have consistently called Schmidt the game's best at his respective position.

But are they still selling him short? Let's consider the numbers.

Schmidt ranks 39th all-time in Adjusted OPS+ (147), my favorite offensive statistic. But more can be said in support of him. Four steroid users --- Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Manny Ramirez, and Alex Rodriguez --- are ahead of Schmidt. As far as I'm concerned, these achievements are null and void. In addition, Schmidt was a third baseman, a difficult position to play and one that historically has not produced a high number of offensive standouts. In fact, only three (3) non-outfielders/first basemen all-time have a higher Adjusted OPS+ than Mike Schmidt: Rogers Hornsby, Nap Lajoie, and Honus Wagner. Edgar Martinez retired with the same figure as Schmidt (147), but played the majority of his career as a DH. Taking nothing away from their great careers, neither Hornsby, Lajoie, nor Wagner played a day after 1937. Therefore, none ever played in an integrated game. Therefore, an argument can be made that Schmidt is the greatest offensive non-outfielder/first baseman of the past 75 years, if not all-time.

Schmidt also put up amazing counting numbers. He hit 548 home runs in the 70s and 80s, easily the highest figure for those two decades. He led the league in home runs an astounding 8 times --- second only to Babe Ruth. During the two decades in which he played, Schmidt was simply in a different dimension than his peers.

Schmidt, however, was not only an offensive standout. He was an exceptional defensive third-baseman, an extremely important position. He won 10 Gold Gloves and by all accounts, earned them. Only 15 players in MLB history can claim to have won double-digit Gold Gloves. Of the 15, only Willie Mays competes with Schmidt offensively in terms of Adj. OPS+. Ken Griffey Jr. and his 630 HRs indeed surpass Schmidt in terms of counting stats, but he was an outfielder in a hitters' era.

Imagine if Schmidt had played after expansion, or better yet, in Citizens Bank Park! What would his career numbers look like?

There's something about baseball in the 1970s and 80s that seems not to excite baseball historians, writers, etc. It was a time for multi-purpose, astroturfed stadiums. It was the age of 150-lb. slap hitters. Save the A's and Reds in the early 1970s and there were no dynasties. Historically speaking, it was a quieter time for the game than the 50s, 60s, 90s, or 2000s. Perhaps this explains why Schmidt, in my view, remains underrated. Or perhaps it's because he played in the Philly, which in those days was not a particularly high-profile baseball town.

Whatever the reason, Schmidt is never discussed among the game's greatest players of all-time. When all things are considered, however, it's difficult for me to rank him anywhere outside the top 7 or 8 all-time for position players or the top 12 to 15 for all players (including pitchers). Am I crazy?

Phils Increase Ticket Prices for 2011

The Phillies today announced an increase in ticket prices; hikes will range from $2 to $5 per seat throughout the park in 2011.

I suppose this was to be expected. After all, the team set a home attendance record of 3,647,249 fans and will enter the 2011 season with a streak of 123 consecutive sellouts. The average attendance in 2010 was 45,028/game.

According to Team Marketing Report, the Phils' average ticket price in 2010 was $32,99, good for 5th in MLB. It is unclear whether the new increases will leap the Phils into a higher slot in 2011.

I'll be completely honest; this doesn't bother me. As a "long distance" fan who attends 2-3 home games per season, I'm actually more pleased that the team will be able to increase it's revenue (and hopefully, payroll) in 2011.

From a less selfish perspective, I also think it's defensible. The Phils play in a Top 5 market, in a Top 5-10 stadium, and are one of the best 5 teams in baseball. Therefore, they have every right (in my view) to charge Top 5 prices.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Phillies Reportedly Considering Aaron Rowand

Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated reported today that the Phils would consider re-acquiring Aaron Rowand from the World Champion San Francisco Giants (wow, that's weird to write) if they are unable to sign Jayson Werth.

Rowand, a fan favorite while with the Phils (2006-07), is due $12 million next season. According to the report, the Giants would need to pick-up part of Rowand's salary to make the move happen. The Giants are likely to go with Andres Torres in center-field after Rowand's poor season, so shedding any of his salary would be beneficial to them.

Having not seen any proposed offer, or the amount of $ the Giants would pick-up, this seems like a mistake to me. Rowand, a free-swinging strikeout (74 Ks in 330 ABs in 2010) threat, is clearly on the offensive decline. He posted an OPS of .659 in 2010, a deplorable figure for a starting outfielder. He's also lost a step in the outfield. To me, there are much better options. I would consider Marcus Thames, who is likely to leave the Yankees. Magglio Ordonez, who Heyman also said is on the Phils' radar, is also intriguing at the right price.

I just hope that sentimentality and visions of Rowand crashing into the fence don't sway the Phils. Losing Jayson Werth is serious, and a legitimate right-handed bat is needed to replace him (at least on a platoon basis).

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Giants-Rangers, Game 1 Tonight

I've heard a lot of chatter about how this World Series isn't interesting and will suffer from lower-than-usual ratings. On the latter point, I agree. The San Francisco and Dallas markets are large, but they aren't as expansive as say, New York and Philadelphia. On the former point, however, I strongly disagree. This World Series is a battle between two moderately-financed clubs enjoying dividends from good scouting, strong coaching, and shrewd trades. Much as I wish this series included the Phils, it could be good for baseball.

We've been hearing about the strong Rangers' farm-system for some time, and now we're seeing it develop. Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, and Tommy Hunter are young, homegrown guys that made the Rangers a much better club. Enter the Josh Hamilton trade, the cheap Nelson Cruz pickup, and of course, the Cliff Lee deadline move, and you have a contending team. Give John Daniels, their 33-year-old GM, a lot of credit.

The Giants, for many years, did quite a bit wrong. They declared a youth movement in the shadow of Barry Bonds, but went ahead and signed Edgar Renteria, Aaron Roward, and Barry Zito to some of the worst contracts in MLB. But since those moves, the front office deserves credit. During the course of the season, it has built at least a league average lineup by calling up Buster Posey, signing a seemingly-washed up Pat Burrell, claiming Cody Ross off waivers, and replacing Rowand with Andres Torres in center. Combine this with the best pitching staff in baseball --- almost all home grown by the way --- and you have a 92-win team.

In this interesting match-up of two teams never to win the World Series (at least in their current cities), I am rooting for the Rangers. I typically root for the NL team if it isn't the Phillies, but a few factors have altered my calculus:

1. I have a man-crush on Cliff Lee. Recently, Lee was criticized for saying he "kind of" enjoyed watching the Phillies lose the NLCS because they got rid of him. I don't find this offensive at all. Lee was treated poorly after pitching his lights out in last year's playoffs, and he ought not to like our franchise too much. The feelings, however, are not mutual. I would love to see him win.

2. Tim Lincecum is a d-bag. And, yes, so is Pat Burrell. And so is Jonathan "I can't hit water when I fall out of a f&%kin boat" Sanchez.

3. I love the Rangers line-up. And in the end, I'll take mashers over pitchers.

4. The Giants just beat us! Yeah, I'll admit it. I'm bitter. I watched them celebrate at CBP (on TV, at least). I'd like to see them dejected.

Anyways, that's my take. Enjoy the Series --- it should be a good one.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Report: Werth Wants 6 Years, $108 Million

It was reported earlier by a Daily News writer that Jayson Werth appears to be seeking $18 million/year for 6 years. While this cannot be verified, it isn't too surprising of an ask for a Scott Boras client.

Yesterday, Ruben Amaro said that Werth had "a good year," but wasn't as good as he had been in the past. With all due respect, I don't think the numbers back that statement up --- Werth had a career-high OPS and played a stellar right-field. Nevertheless, it's the right posture for Ruben to take. If I were him, I'd play the RISP card as much as possible.

All signs indicate that Werth is going to sign with the highest-bidder. Generally, you don't hire Scott Boras to sign for a hometown discount. Also, when asked about the situation yesterday, Werth reminded us all that baseball "is a business." The best he could do for the Phils, the team that gave him his shot, was to say that they're "on the list."

If the highest bidder turns out to offer $108 million over 6 years, then I hope it isn't the Phillies. I love Jayson Werth, but he isn't worth it. It's too long of a deal for a 31-year-old and frankly, it's too much money. I'd rather take my chances with Dom Brown, Ben Francisco, and a cheap, right-handed bat (I still like Marcus Thames) that we can sign this winter.

Update: Also, the Phils today declined their $4.5 million option on J.C. Romero, instead paying him a $250,000 buyout. I'd be in favor of bringing Romero back at a reduced rate if he'd accept. I don't believe, however, that he is suited to be our best left-handed option in the bullpen.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Jayson Werth Situation, Part One

I imagine that the Jayson Werth situation is something that’ll get a lot of attention over the next month or so. So lets get our discussion started on this site.

Several reports over the past few days have noted that many Phillies players expect Jayson Werth to sign elsewhere. This is not terribly surprising; the consensus opinion has figured as such for quite some time. The Phils have about $140 million committed to less than 20 players in 2011, and it’s unlikely that they’ll wish to commit another $15-$20 million/year to Werth (who, much like their other commitments, is on the wrong side of 30).

I understand this, though it’s not going to be pretty. Make no mistake, Werth was the best offensive player on the Phils this season. Yes, he hit below .200 with RISP, and that’s a problem. But in my view, that’s mostly random and could improve from year to year --- for his career, Werth has an .816 OPS (on-base plus slugging %) mark with RISP, which is pretty good.

Werth had the 6th highest OPS in the NL this year, and was the only Phil over .900. He continued to play a strong outfield and run the bases well. Finally, he’s basically the only right-handed power source in a lineup full of lefties. Anyone who saw the Giants use Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, and Madison Baumgartner to chew the Phils’ offense apart this past week should be weary of swapping Werth for Domonic Brown, yet another lefthander.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Dom Brown and I think the Phils need to start adding youth (and some cheapness) to their lineup. I just think they need to make another move in the meantime. Given his performance this year, I don’t think it’s responsible to pencil Raul Ibanez into left-field in 2011. He’ll be difficult to trade, but I’d try. I’d even be willing to eat $3-$4 million of his $11.5 million salary. And even if they can’t move him, I would like to see them add a right-handed bat to take some ABs from Raul in left. It doesn’t need to be a long-term, expensive bat, but just somebody who can produce against left-handed pitching. A quick glance at the upcoming free agent list indicates that options are limited, though there are some possibilities. Depending on what the Yankees do, Marcus Thames might be a fit. You know who else is a free-agent left-fielder who can still hit? --- that’s right, Pat Burrell. I don’t see that happening. Burrell is a very serious liability in the field and has a deeply schizophrenic bat --- something we certainly don’t need.

Given that Brown is no guarantee in right, and Ben Francisco has not upped his game to earn more time, I think it’s essential that we add depth to the corner-outfield positions.

More generally, however, I wish this wasn’t necessary. Had the Phils not 1) prematurely picked up J-Roll’s 2011 option, 2) signed Joe Blanton for 3 years/$24 million, and 3) given Ryan Howard one of the worst contracts in baseball, they’d have a lot more payroll flexibility and signing Werth would be very doable.

In my view, it makes much more sense to keep Werth for the long haul than Howard. First, Werth is a better VORP player, which is to say that the difference between him and an average right-fielder is greater (more positive) than the difference between Howard and an average first-basemen. Also, he’s a much better defensive player, a better and faster base-runner, and finally, he’s leaner and likely to age much better than Howard.

Nevertheless, the Phils can’t go back and undo past moves. Given their current situation, I would like to see a move for a relatively cheap right-handed bat in left-field. If they are able to trade Ibanez, so much the better.

Source: Photo from AFP

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A (Sometimes Cruel) Game of Inches

Congrats to the San Francisco Giants, who have won the 2010 NL Pennant. They’re a good team with incredible pitching and in my view, a great manager.

Much will be made of the Phils’ inept play in key moments of this series. They were deplorable with runners in scoring position. They made serious mistakes in the field. And at times, they weren’t managed all that well. They certainly did not earn the National League pennant.

All of these items will, justifiably, receive significant attention from writers and fans everywhere. In a few days, I’ll be right there with them. But tonight, allow me to take a different angle. Baseball, like any sport, is truly a game of inches. This was never more evident than in Game 6 on Saturday night. In the bottom of the 1st inning, Jayson Werth just missed a homerun that would have given the Phils a 4-0 lead. In the bottom of the 5th, Ryan Howard doubled to the gap in left-center, but the ball careened directly to Giants center-fielder Andres Torres. This forced Jimmy Rollins to stop at 3rd base, where he was stranded. In the top of the 8th, Juan Uribe homered to right field on a ball that landed about a foot over the wall. But in the bottom of the 8th, when the Phils had 2 runners on base with one out, Carlos Ruiz hit a rope directly at Aubrey Huff, forcing a double-play.

This is not an exhaustive list. And of course, many such plays affect both teams on any given night. But on this night, and in this series in general, it sure felt as though these bounces more times than not went against the Phils.

This is baseball. This happens in a short playoff series when the N (number of events) is not large enough to ensure than these bounces cancel one another out --- or even come close to doing so.

If you dominate a team, then these bounces are irrelevant. Dominant strikeout pitchers and huge innings at the plate can make this happen.

But in the absence of dominance, you must depend on some help from the stochastic world. And sometimes, in baseball, luck just doesn’t go your way and it makes a difference. Go back and watch the tapes of the 2008 playoffs and you’ll see a lot of bounces going the Phils’ way. Remember Game 3 of the World Series? We won on a hit that went 15 feet.

It’s fascinating how much attention goes into every transaction and play over the course of a baseball season (and offseason). When it comes to making the postseason, the long season usually ensures that the best teams are part of the final 8. But in terms of winning a championship, you need talent, timeliness, and yes, luck. In the end, all of the maneuvering and speculating about every player and every play comes down to a handful of short series at the end of the year. Each team participating in these series --- whether it’s the LDS, LCS, or the World Series --- is a good one. Therefore, anything can happen. Ask the Braves, who won 14 consecutive division titles from 1991-2005 and only came away with 1 World Series championship. On the flip side, ask the Marlins, who won 2 championships in the same time frame despite making the playoffs only twice.

It hurts that the Phils had the best record in baseball this year --- for the first time in franchise history --- but failed to advance, let alone win, the World Series. But we should recall that the 2008 team was 92-70, good for just the 5th best record in baseball. The 2009 club won 93 games, several less than the Dodgers, whom them defeated in the NLCS. This is the first time since 1976-78 that the Phils have been on the wrong side of this cruel reality. But we should remember that as bad as it hurts to lose when you feel as though you should win, it’s even more exhilarating to win when you’re supposed to lose.

The Phils built a strong team this year and made the playoffs for the 4th consecutive year. In a short series against the Giants, however, they came up small in some big spots and didn’t get the bounces they needed. This is the nature of baseball

I’ll need a few weeks to shake this loss off; it sure was a tough one. But soon I’ll be ready to again agonize this franchise’s every move --- every signing, every trade, every top draft pick, every game --- with the hopes that we can make the playoffs again in 2011. I will do this even as I wholly recognize that winning it all, in spite of everyone’s efforts, will come down to a handful of games in that will be decided on talent, timeliness, and yes, some luck.

In a way, it’s truly absurd.

But more so, it’s quite gripping.

I, for one, can’t wait. Go Phils!

Tomorrow Begins Today for Phils

To quote from the ill-fated 2008 campaign of John Edwards, tomorrow indeed begins today for the Phils. Two wins and we return to the World Series for a 3rd straight year (where Cliff Lee, amazingly enough, is waiting). For now, all attention must be on tonight's match-up. Roy Oswalt will need to be on his game. He'll need those extra couple MPH on his fastball that the crowd should help him get. He'll need to hit the corners and stay away from BBs.

The Phils offense will face Jonathan Sanchez, a tough lefty. The key, I believe, is Ryan Howard, who did OK with him in Game 2. I think Howard needs to be aggressive early in the count. When he gets down 2 strikes to guys like this, he inevitably strikes out on an off-speed pitch. I say come to the plate ready to swing. And he absolutely needs to go the other way, something he did effectively last time he faced Sanchez.

Bill Conlin wrote a piece today in the Daily News arguing that Howard should be benched tonight for Mike Sweeney. I do not agree. Howard hasn't been a run producer this postseason, but given his success against Sanchez in Game 2, I think that'd be an extreme move. He is still a guy who can change a game with one big swing. We may need that tonight and/or tomorrow.

Ideally, the crowd will rattle Sanchez early, forcing him to give up a few runs and raise his pitch count. If the Phils can get a lead and force him out of the game early, they can tire the Giants bullpen before a decisive Game 7...

For all of those attending the game, follow the advice of Jimmy Rollins: “Be out there, let ‘em have it. LET THEM HAVE IT. All of ‘em. For real."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Halladay, Bullpen Force Game 6

It was clear that Roy Halladay didn't have his best stuff yesterday. He had a lot of trouble getting ahead in counts, and even more trouble putting hitters away. To top it off, he wasn't getting much love from home-plate umpire Jeff Nelson. Nevertheless, he stayed out of big innings and got outs when he needed them. He was at times helped, and at others hurt, by an inconsistent Phillies defense. After the game, we learned that Doc was pitching with a mild groin pull. Manuel asked if wanted to leave the game, but Halladay refused. Great story. Hopefully, though, Doc is healthy and ready to go should we need him again --- including, perhaps, in Game 7 out of the bullpen.

Some other interesting notes from the game:

1. The bullpen looked great, even better than Halladay. Ryan Madson, in particular, was having huge success with his change-up.
2. Nice to see Jimmy steal two bases on that hamstring.
3. The blown call by Nelson on Halladay's bunt is one of the worst calls I've ever seen in the post-season (and that is saying something). He was literally standing in front of the plate and missed the fair/foul call.
4. The Phils left two runners on 3rd with less than two outs. Very frustrating and not acceptable. One was a Howard strikeout. The other, though, was tough luck on a Ross Gload line-drive hit to Aubrey Huff.
5. Pat Burrell and Tim Lincecum reinforced their douchebag images. Burrell started screaming at Halladay when it was clear Doc was staring down Jeff Nelson after the 1st inning. And Lincecum yelled "You stay there" to Rollins after he stole 2nd and 3rd on him, but was stranded by the Phils. How about looking back the runner, Tim? How does it feel to give up two steals to a guy with a bad hammy on the wrong side of 30? Also, newsflash, Ross Gload smoked the hanger you left in the middle of the plate. If not for Huff holding Ruiz on, it's a 5-2 game.

Go Phils!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Don't Let Us Win Tonight

I've decided to be that guy; the one who keeps the faith. Echoing Kevin Millar before Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, my message to the Giants is clear: Don't let us win tonight.

It's been a tough series for us. Bad managing. Bad hitting with RISP. Less-than-dominant starting pitching. Meanwhile, the Giants are hot and hungry. They have a patchwork team with a lot of talent (underrated actually), plenty of experience, and probably the best 1-2-3-4 rotation in baseball --- yeah, I said it. I thought this series would be tough and never really understood why the Giants were being presented as a cakewalk.

But with all of that said, if we can win tonight, we can do it. We'd have Games 6 and 7 in Philly with our backs against the wall. The crowd will be loud, distractive, supporting, etc. We'll have Oswalt and Hamels on the hill. We'll have stopped the momentum by beating the Giants in San Francisco. We won't have to face Lincecum again. We'll be the 2-time defending NL champions on our own turf, daring the opposition to take the crown from us.

I waited too long to see the Phillies play competitive baseball. I became a fan in 1990 and saw 2 winning seasons in my first 13. Not 2 playoff seasons. Two winning seasons. It was rough caring so much about a team that drew 12,000 fans to an astroturf-laden dump of a stadium. It was hard being out of the race by June 1. It was tough being that told that Chad Ogea was an acceptable #2 starter, or that Rex Hudler was our big off-season acquisition.

My point is simple. It isn't hard for me to stay upbeat. I know how bad things can get for a baseball fan --- and this ain't it. So to all of you who have forgotten or simply didn't care enough when the going was tough, I'm pulling rank. I'm tired of the head-hanging and the bitching. To our fans, keep the faith. To the team, relax and stay poised like experienced champions should. To the Giants, don't let us win tonight.

In the best and worst of times, Go Phillies!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Vindicated (Game 4 in Progress)

Well, with 2 outs in the bottom of the 5th, Charlie Manuel just pulled Joe Blanton. Not surprisingly, Blanton pitched like Joe Blanton tonight, giving up at least three runs in less than 5 innings. After finally having a strong offensive inning, the outcome of this game is very much in doubt. The Phils will need 4 solid innings from the bullpen. It sure would've been nice to have Doc on the mound right now. It sure would've been nice, Charlie.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Roy Halladay Should Start Game 4

It looks like Charlie Manuel has decided to go with Joe Blanton tomorrow in Game 4. It may very well be the right call, but I don't think I'd make it. Given the way the Phils offense is performing, I expect very little from it tomorrow against a tough lefty, Madison Baumgartner. Joe Blanton (4.72 ERA) is a slightly below-average major league starter who is almost never dominant. This is what happens when you have average velocity, slightly above-average location, and below-average movement. The Phillies can't afford a run-of-the-mill barely-quality start tomorrow (which is a good day for Joe Blanton). They need a big, big start. They paid Roy Halladay to be the ace, they're built to win now, and he needs to be on the hill to save the season. A loss tomorrow would pit the Phils against Tim Lincecum in Game 5 (at home) in an elimination game. This scenario is worth taking a gamble to avoid.

I've heard the argument that starting Halladay tomorrow would force Oswalt and Hamels to pitch on 3 days rest as well. So what. Oswalt has done it before with success and Hamels hardly threw out his arm today (6 IP). It's the postseason, they're all veterans, and they can handle it.

If the season is to end at the hands of the Giants, then let it be because they beat the best we have. Don't let this run stop prematurely because the Giants were able to beat Joe Blanton, who by the way, hasn't pitched in 3 weeks.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cliff Lee, Dominant Again

My position on Cliff Lee's departure from the Phillies is well known and need not be rehashed tonight. I just wanted to take a minute and comment on yet another amazing Lee start for the Rangers. To be clear, Lee dominated the Yankees tonight in a way that I've never seen this lineup dominated. Over 8 innings, he gave up only 2 hits, a seeing-eye single to Brett Gardner and a looper to Jorge Posada. He struck out 13 Yanks and walked only one. During the post-season, he has now recorded 34 strikeouts and only 1 walk. Facing the Rays and Yanks, long thought to be the two best clubs in baseball this year (until the Phils September surge), that's simply remarkable.

Ata-boy, Cliff.

Oswalt the Key to Game 2 Win

I had the pleasure of attending last night's game. Yes, I drove the long distance. The key to the game was clearly the man on the mound, Roy Oswalt. Unlike his sub-par performance against the Reds last week, Oswalt had command of his pitches (esp. his fastball). Other than a mistake to Cody Ross, who now has 3 HRs in this series, he really gave the Giants little to hit. Oswalt also helped himself at the plate, singling and scoring (despite running through a stop sign!) in the 7th. And in the 8th inning when Charlie Manuel came out for the ball, Roy convinced him he could get one more out, which he did.

Other encouraging signs were evident. Jimmy Rollins broke the game open with a 3-run double, his biggest hit in a long time (Jonathan Broxton?). Further, Ryan Howard handled Jonathan Sanchez (surprisingly) well, doubling and walking. Both bats will be needed in San Francisco this week.

Looking ahead, hopefully Cole Hamels can guide the Phils to victory in Game 3 against Matt Cain, but it won't be easy. Hamels has struggled in San Francisco in his career, going 2-1 with a 6.12 ERA in four starts at the 11-year-old ballpark. He's allowed at least four runs in each of his starts.

Should the Phils lose Game 3, they may be left with a tough decision regarding Game 4. Do they start Joe Blanton down 2-1, or go with Doc Halladay on short rest? Tough call. I think they'd go with Blanton on a short leash, but I'm not yet sure I agree. Thoughts?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Phillies Lose Game 1; Offensive Struggles Continue

A very tough loss tonight in Game 1. A battle of two of the league's best pitchers ended in a 4-3 Giants victory. Roy Halladay didn't pitch poorly, but was unfortunately punished for a few mistakes over the middle of the plate --- twice to Cody Ross and once to our old pal Pat Burrell, who hit a big double in the 6th to give the Giants a 3-1 lead.

In the end, however, the story of the game is an offense that failed to get (enough) big hits. Too many strikeouts. Too many guys LOB. You know, basically the same troubles that always define the Phils' offensive slumps. Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Shane Victorino looked particularly over-matched at times.

For those who have been watching closely, this isn't a new development. The Phils haven't been hot at the plate for a while. The Reds actually handled them pretty well. Thankfully, they also committed a number of untimely errors. For the Phillies to win this series, their run-producers must have more productive ABs.

Things will not get any easier tomorrow. The Giants will send lefty Jonathan Sanchez to the hill against Roy Oswalt. Sanchez is a sometimes-dominating lefty that is well-suited to handle the Phillies. Howard, Utley, and Ibanez will most certainly have their hands full. Howard, in particular, will need to stay aggressive early in the count. Down two strikes to Sanchez, he's almost certain to whiff...several times.

Let's hope for a better tomorrow.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Well Done, Ruben

Few have been as critical of Ruben Amaro than I over the past eight months. I, like many Phillies fans, have simply been unable to forgive him for shipping Cliff Lee to Seattle for three underwhelming prospects. We could have had Halladay and all know the story.

While I am not ready to concede this argument - I doubt I ever will - Ruben had a great day today and it should be acknowledged.

Amaro landed Roy Oswalt, giving the Phils one of the best rotations in baseball and quite possibly, the best 1-2 punch in the league. In doing so, he gave up J.A. Happ and two low-level (but promising) prospects, OF Anthony Gose and SS Jonathan Villar.

Happ is a fine pitcher and should have a place in Houston's rotation for the next several years at a very low price (he's team controlled through 2014). Gose and Villar are considered raw prospects; they are fast, athletic, and good in the field. It remains to be seen, however, whether either can be solid major league hitters. If anything, both seem to project to be Michael Bourns or perhaps, Shane Victorinos (if all goes well).

All in all, I am very content with this package. Happ does not have dominating velocity or stuff, and therefore will always need to get by on location. He could have an amazing career, but more than likely he's a career #3 or #4. Gose and Villar are a long, long way away from the bigs. The Phils were not forced to concede any AAA or AA guys, and notably, no top pitching prospects.

In addition, the Astros are forking over $11m. to the Phils towards Oswalt's salary in 2010/2011 ($23m.). I never expected that. Oswalt for just $12m. for the next 1.3 seasons is a great deal. Plus, the Phils were able to retain the option of keeping him in 2012 (at $16m). Their only concession was increasing his buyout from $2m to $3m. This, essentially, is meaningless for a team with a $140m. payroll.

Today was an exciting day. If I'd been told 1 year ago that the Phils would have both Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt on their roster today, I'd be ecstatic and speechless. On this day, here's to the one who made it happen. Thanks, Ruben, you had a good day.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Domonic Brown and the Trade Deadline

Domonic Brown played in his first game as a Phillie tonight and didn't disappoint. He went 2 for 3 with a double, 2 runs, and 2 RBI. He had a defensive lapse in right field in the 9th inning, but that's to be expected.

I have long argued that Brown could be a staple in the Phillies lineup for many years. But what should his arrival mean for the Phils' trade deadline plans?

I am a believer that Brown needs a spot in the 2011 outfield. The most logical way to create one is to move Jayson Werth or simply allow him to leave via free agency. I, however, would love to see the Phils consider something different.

Make an honest attempt to keep Werth (maybe 4 yr./52m. gets it done). Trade Raul Ibanez, who is owed $12m. in 2011. Now, I recognize that no team will likely eat this contract in it's entirety. But we shouldn't underestimate the value of a player like Ibanez (whose beginning to heat up) to a team that hopes to contend next year. Rather than take a chance on a player who will require a long-term deal, some teams may prefer Ibanez, who they can let walk after 2011. Let's say the Phillies can trade him for a low-level prospect and a pledge to eat $4 of his 2011 salary. The Phils will have shedded some salary for 2011, kept arguably the 3 best offensive outfield options available to them (Werth, Victorino, and Brown), and retained Werth for the next 4 years.

Having done the above, it is an open question as to whether or not Roy Oswalt's contract is simply too large for the Phillies' 2011 and 2012 budgets. Fair enough. However, we should remember that Jamie Moyer also comes off the books after 2010. While many players (Utley, Halladay, Blanton, etc.) will receive internal raises, there is no reason the team shouldn't be able to increase payroll from $140 to $150m. After all, every game is a sellout and arguably, the addition of Oswalt should make the playoffs (and more revenue) a strong likelihood in 2010, 2011, and 2012.

If money is an issue, then the solution could be to defer much of Werth's money (i.e. 8m, 8m, 16m, 20m). In this scenario, the Phils aren't paying huge money to Werth until 2013, when the current contracts of Oswalt, Blanton, and Victorino are no longer on the books.

Just a thought.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Paul Hagen is Wrong

Paul Hagen has written for the Philadelphia Daily News for a long time. He's a good, fair sportswriter and I enjoy reading him. But the other day, he wrote a column which irritated me.

Essentially, Hagen argued that fans need to give Ruben Amaro a break. Specifically, we need to cut him some slack regarding Cliff Lee. Amaro, he argued, was in a tough spot last December. Lee had rejected the Phillies initial contract extension offer. Once Amaro had the opportunity to make the deal for Halladay, it made all the more sense to do it given the uncertainty surrounding Lee. Once this was done, it was imperative to re-arm the farm system --- which he then did for Lee. In addition, the Phils could never afford to keep both pitchers.

This argument is wrong, dead wrong. First, Lee wanted to remain in Philly. Of course he didn't accept the Phils' initial offer; what top-player in their right mind would do that? Lee has said he thought the offer was simply the beginning of negotiations and he planned to counter shortly thereafter. He didn't loudly reject the Phils' offer; he just considered it the beginning rather than the end.

Second, the Phillies could have afforded both pitchers both in the short and long-terms. In the short term, Lee makes the same amount this season that Joe Blanton does. Enough said. They could have non-tendered Blanton (who was arbitration-eligible) and kept Lee. Plain and simple. Over the long-term, each pitcher (Lee and Halladay) is a $20/m. arm. It's steep and it's risky, but the Phillies have sold out every home game for over a year. They have a payroll of $140 million. If you let Blanton go and don't resign Jamie Moyer after 2010, this is very, very doable.

Finally, Ruben got garbage in return for Cliff Lee. Of the three trades made involving Lee over the past year, any baseball executive will tell you the Phillies got the least return in prospects. And this isn't a situation whereby some top prospects have been surprisingly disappointing. In reality, these prospects were never that highly touted. None of the three prospects involved in the deal projects to be an MLB star. Given their performance thus far in the minors, each would be lucky to ever play in the big leagues. Had the Phillies offered the same package to Seattle for Lee this week, it would have been laughed out of the office. Ruben rushed the Lee deal to make everything work with Halladay, and he got badly robbed.

So in response to Paul Hagen, I refuse to stop talking and complaining about the Cliff Lee matter. The Phillies lost the opportunity to have the best 1-2 rotation punch since Johnson-Schilling in 2001. It didn't have to be this way, and Ruben Amaro deserves continuous, unrelenting blame.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Infante Update

ESPN announced tonight that Charlie Manuel chose Omar Infante because MLB instructed him to choose a utility player for the roster. Interesting. Beginning this year, each manager will be able to designate one player who may re-enter the game after exiting. If this player is able to play multiple positions, then he obviously offers more flexibility in the event of an injury, etc. Hence, the selection of Infante, who plays seven positions.

Joe Girardi chose Ty Wigginton (.776 OPS, 14 HRs), a player previously discussed as a possible Chase Utley replacement, as his utility man.

If this claim is true, then my criticism of Manuel (see previous post) was a bit unwarranted. I still, however, feel that it is unfortunate for players like Joey Votto and Jayson Werth to get snubbed from the All-Star Game in favor of a journeyman like Omar Infante.

The Omar Infante Affair

For the second straight season, Phils' skipper Charlie Manuel is managing the NL squad at the All-Star Game. With that comes the responsibility of choosing a handful of the team's reserves. Manuel chose the following players:

- Brandon Philips, 2B, Reds.
- Ryan Howard, 1B, Phils.
- Chris Carpenter, SP, Cardinals.
- Yovani Gallardo, SP, Brewers.
- Tim Hudson, SP, Braves.
- Evan Meek, RP, Pirates.
- Arthur Rhodes, RP, Reds.
- Omar Infante, 2B, Braves.
- Michael Bourn, OF, Astros.
- Chris Young, OF, D-Backs.

Other all-stars were chosen by the fans and the players.

One of Manuel's picks has attracted more attention than the others. It should be clear. Omar Infante? Really? Manuel picked a below-average NL hitter who starts less than half of his team's games to play on the NL squad. This seemingly-indefensible choice was made at the expense of a number of deserving players, including Reds 1B Joey Votto, who leads the NL is OPS (.988) this season.

Infante, whose greatest asset is that he plays seven positions, has the following numbers this season:

Starts - 35
AB - 177
HR - 1
RBI - 22
AVG - .309
OBP - .341
SLG - .376
OPS - .711
SB - 3
OPS+ - 95

Infante is essentially a slap-hitting, utility player whose hit for some average this season, but done little else. He has no power, little speed, and doesn't take many walks. In addition to Votto (.988 OPS, 19 HRs), he was taken over Cardinals centerfielder Colby Rasmus (.916 OPS), Braves first baseman Troy Glaus (.822), Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (.880), Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder (.867), and Manuel's own Jayson Werth (.901).

What bothers me is that the manager of my team is able to make such an obviously poor baseball decision. There is no way to conclude that Infante is more valuable than any of the above players. Yes, he plays lots of positions. So what. The all-star rosters are huge and there are plenty of guys to get through the game. He has a responsibility to pick those enjoying the best seasons. It's the fair thing to do and it gives the NL the best chance to win.

Manuel should know better than anyone that the All-Star Game counts. Home-field would have been nice in either the 2008 or 2009 World Series.

I do believe, however, that Manuel wants to win. I just think he disagrees with, or fails to understand, the proper ways to evaluate offensive performance. The fact that he can sleep at night denying the NL's leading OPS guy from the game tells me the statistic means little to him. The idea that Omar Infante's .309 average looks like a major asset, despite the fact that his OBP is only .341, suggests that Manuel is reading the wrong part of the baseball card.

Perhaps Infante will surprise us and record the game-winning hit in the All-Star game. It's baseball and of course that's a possibility. The point is that Manuel failed to execute his responsibility when he chose an inferior player for the roster over many, many more-deserving hitters.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Update: Chase Utley Out at Least 8 Weeks

Our worst fears have been realized. Chase Utley will miss at least 8 weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a torn muscle in his right thumb. If all goes well, he'll be ready to go around Labor Day. In order for it to matter, the Phillies will need to remain in contention in an increasingly-competitive NL East until then.

Placido Polanco will not require surgery on his elbow, but is suffering from tendinitis and will miss 3-4 weeks.

I would have to think the team will now certainly consider it's options on the trade market. Starting some combination of Juan Castro, Greg Dobbs, and Wilson Valdez on an everyday-basis is a bit scary, especially considering that starting catcher Carlos Ruiz is also out. is As noted in an earlier post, Awi Iwamura and Ty Wigginton are options. Garrett Atkins, a disappointment with the Orioles, could also be obtained on the cheap.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Is Mike Schmidt Underrated?

While the current affairs of the 2010 Phillies remain a priority, this site will sometimes stray from contemporary headlines to address questions of interest pertaining to the Phils and baseball in general. With that, I pose the following question that I was recently asked by a friend: is Mike Schmidt, the greatest Phillie to ever live, underrated by the baseball community?

In 1999, Schmidt was ranked the 28th best baseball player of all-time by the Sporting News. Notably, he was the highest ranked 3rd baseman. In addition, he was named to MLB's All-Century Team. It's fair to say that baseball writers have consistently called Schmidt the game's best at his respective position.

But are they still selling him short? Let's consider the numbers.

Schmidt ranks 39th all-time in Adjusted OPS+ (147), my favorite offensive statistic. But more can be said in support of him. Four steroid users --- Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Manny Ramirez, and Alex Rodriguez --- are ahead of Schmidt. As far as I'm concerned, these achievements are null and void. In addition, Schmidt was a third baseman, a difficult position to play and one that historically has not produced a high number of offensive standouts. In fact, only three (3) non-outfielders/first basemen all-time have a higher Adjusted OPS+ than Mike Schmidt: Rogers Hornsby, Nap Lajoie, and Honus Wagner. Edgar Martinez retired with the same figure as Schmidt (147), but played the majority of his career as a DH. Taking nothing away from their great careers, neither Hornsby, Lajoie, nor Wagner played a day after 1937. Therefore, none ever played in an integrated game. Therefore, an argument can be made that Schmidt is the greatest offensive non-outfielder/first baseman of the past 75 years, if not all-time.

Schmidt also put up amazing counting numbers. He hit 548 home runs in the 70s and 80s, easily the highest figure for those two decades. He led the league in home runs an astounding 8 times --- second only to Babe Ruth. During the two decades in which he played, Schmidt was simply in a different dimension than his peers.

Schmidt, however, was not only an offensive standout. He was an exceptional defensive third-baseman, an extremely important position. He won 10 Gold Gloves and by all accounts, earned them. Only 15 players in MLB history can claim to have won double-digit Gold Gloves. Of the 15, only Willie Mays competes with Schmidt offensively in terms of Adj. OPS+. Ken Griffey Jr. and his 630 HRs indeed surpass Schmidt in terms of counting stats, but he was an outfielder in a hitters' era.

Imagine if Schmidt had played after expansion, or better yet, in Citizens Bank Park! What would his career numbers look like?

There's something about baseball in the 1970s and 80s that seems not to excite baseball historians, writers, etc. It was a time for multi-purpose, astroturfed stadiums. It was the age of 150-lb. slap hitters. Save the A's and Reds in the early 1970s and there were no dynasties. Historically speaking, it was a quieter time for the game than the 50s, 60s, 90s, or 2000s. Perhaps this explains why Schmidt, in my view, remains underrated. Or perhaps it's because he played in the Philly, which in those days was not a particularly high-profile baseball town.

Whatever the reason, Schmidt is never discussed among the game's greatest players of all-time. When all things are considered, however, it's difficult for me to rank him anywhere outside the top 7 or 8 all-time for position players or the top 12 to 15 for all players (including pitchers). Am I crazy?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Polanco and Utley to DL

Well, the news is even worse than expected. Placido Polanco will join Chase Utley on the 15-Day DL. Polanco is suffering from a nagging elbow inflammation issue, while Utley's MRI showed a thumb sprain. It is unclear if either or both will be ready to return in 15 days.

It appears the Phillies will rely on Juan Castro and Wilson Valdez to eat most of the ABs for at least the next several weeks. As the previous post noted, neither is worth a warm bucket of piss with the bat. Hopefully, they'll play solid defense and help the team hold their own until the All-Star Break.

Speaking of the All-Star Game, Utley and Polanco were the two Phillies most likely to start the game in Anaheim in two weeks. Now, it appears that neither will be able to do so for the Charlie Manuel-managed NL squad. Utley has started each of the last 4 games for the NL. The Phils will likely still be well-represented at the game --- Roy Halladay will almost certainly be chosen as a pitcher, while Jayson Werth and Ryan Howard could also earn spots as reserves.

The Phils now have 6 key players on the DL - Utley, Polanco, Happ, Madson, Durbin, and Ruiz. It's hard to win with such a depleted roster, but thankfully none of the injuries seem to be season-threatening.

Chase Utley Options

It was recently reported that Chase Utley was battling a knee problem. Utley and team denied it, but it seemed to make sense. After all, Utley's production had declined over the past several months.

OPS by month

April - .981
May - .845
June - .727

Now, there is no debate. Utley is hurt. He left last night's game against the Reds after injuring his thumb sliding into second base (Incidentally, Utley was called out, though replays showed he was safe). It is unclear how badly the all-star second baseman is hurt, but he'll have an MRI today.

In the event that he is out a while, the Phillies need to consider their options. In 2007, when Utley broke his hand after a beaning (unintentional) by Nationals' lefty John Lannan, Pat Gillick went out and quickly traded for Takahito Iguchi, who served as a solid replacement for over a month (104 OPS+ w/6 stolen bases in 45 games).

The Phils' don't necessarily need to make a trade, but the prospect of Juan Castro or Wilson Valdez playing second base for an extended period of time is concerning --- given their .492 and .624 OPS marks, respectively. Neither has played particularly great defense this season either.


1. Move Placido Polanco to 2B, where he's played the majority of his career and won several Gold Gloves. Call up Greg Dobbs from the minor leagues to play 3B. Dobbs has struggled this season (1 home run and a .152 average), but perhaps playing everyday will help him develop a rhythm. After all, he is less than two years removed from being considered the best pinch-hitter in baseball and a legitimate power threat.

2. Trade for Ty Wigginton. The Orioles are clearly shopping him, though it may require a half-decent prospect to get him. This option is a bit concerning to me, as Wigginton clearly over-performed early in the year and is now coming back to Earth. It's unclear what he'll produce going forward.

OPS by month

April - 1.026
May - .877
June - .580

3. Suck it up and play Juan Castro or Wilson Valdez at 2B. Yes, it's a huge downgrade, but the rest of the offense has found its groove and the team can survive Utley's absence for a month or so. Plus, it doesn't make sense to further deplete the farm system for a player like Wigginton. If the Phillies are to win a championship, they'll need to bolster their pitching first and foremost.

4. Trade for Aki Iwamura with the Pirates. The Bucs recently optioned the 2B to Triple-A after he posted a very troubling .558 OPS in 54 games. I imagine acquiring Iwamura would require very little in return. I'm also pessimistic that it would bring much. Remember, Iwamura was unable to maintain a spot on the Pirates roster.

At this point, knowing what we know (very little), I'm leaning towards #3. I don't think a trade makes sense, plus neither Wigginton nor Iwamura are sure things. With Howard and Ibanez producing and J-Roll back in the fold, I think we need to trust the rest of the offense to carry the load while Utley is out. Any and all resources we have should go towards pitching.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Phillies News and Notes

* OK, so Scott Mathieson didn't have a very good first appearance. He gave up 2 ER in less than 1 IP. But it's early and he's been out of the league for a long time, so lets give him a chance.

* It looks like we have some answers regarding the Chase Utley injury situation. He's been battling a sore knee, hasn't had an MRI, and clearly doesn't want to talk about it. It was nice to see him pop a big, 3-run HR last night. Hopefully, whatever issue he has will heal itself over time. Unfortunately, courtesy of the fans, Utley probably won't get an all-star vacation.

*2010 NL All-Star Voting*

* Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz left Friday's game in the eighth inning after Jason Kubel's broken bat hit him on the side of the head. It is unclear if he will return for tonight's game to catch Cole Hamels.

* Shortstop Jimmy Rollins played nine innings on Friday in a rehab game in Clearwater. He went 1-for-3 with one walk, one RBI and two runs scored. The most realistic scenario (lets hope) has him returning to the Phillies on Tuesday against the Cleveland Indians.

* In less optimistic injury news, Phillies left-hander J.A. Happ pitched five innings in a rehab start Friday night with Double-A Reading. He didn't look impressive --- he allowed five hits, four runs, three walks and one home run. GM Ruben Amaro said he looked "a little stiff."

Friday, June 18, 2010

Mathieson is a Potential Sleeper

Lost in the weeds of the Phillies recent struggles and series with the Yankees was the call-up of RHP Scott Mathieson, a 26-year-old former prospect who is coming off three arm surgeries (including 2 Tommy John's).

If Mathieson can stay healthy and fulfill his potential, the Phillies could have themselves a very solid mid-season pick-up w/out needing to pull the trigger on a trade.

Mathieson enjoyed success at Lehigh Valley this season, going 2-2 with a 2.43 ERA and 12 saves in 25 games. His fastball is easily his best pitch, and it reportedly has remained in the mid to high-90s despite the surgeries. It is his secondary pitches, however, that are less dependable (slider and change-up, in this case). This, of course, is a concern, as major league hitters will feast on a fastball if they know it's coming.

Nevertheless, Mathieson's return will be interesting to watch.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Phillies Get 2 Big Wins in New York

The MLB season is very long and it's important not to make too much of every high and low. That said, the Phillies just scored two big road wins against the defending champion New York Yankees. After Doc Halladay's rough start on Tuesday, it looked like a very real possibility that the Phils would leave NY a .500 team. Now, they stand 4 games over .500 with some momentum heading back to Philly. They owe it mostly to clutch starts from their #4 and #5 starters, Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick.

Kendrick has had an interesting season. While enduring some rough starts, he now has 5 starts where he's gone at least 6 innings and yielded 1 or fewer runs. Not too bad for a #5 starter (who incidentally, remains very cheap --- $480,000).

Starters like Kendrick, while not particularly reliable in a short playoff series, are necessary in order to make the playoffs. They soak up innings, keep you in most games, and occasionally, like tonight, win some on their own. If Kendrick continues his current level of production, the Phillies should be very, very satisfied.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Jamie Moyer: Hall of Famer?

Jamie Moyer delivered a big performance tonight, pitching 8 strong innings and helping the Phillies defeat the Yankees on the road, 6-3. It was a win they badly needed, and it was refreshing to see Moyer rebound from an awful outing in Boston this past weekend (1 IP, 9 ER).

I know the subject of this post sounds crazy, but here me out on the issue of Jamie Moyer and the Hall of Fame. No eligible 300-game winner has ever been denied induction into Cooperstown --- we'll see what happens with Roger Clemens in a few years, but that is obviously a special circumstance. Moyer currently has 265 wins. I would still bet on him coming up a bit short, but I didn't exactly predict that he'd be around this long.

If Moyer reaches 300 wins, he would easily have the highest career ERA among those who have reached the milestone. His ERA is currently 4.23, more than a 1/2 run higher than anyone in the 300-win club.

That said, Moyer pitched much of his career in a hitters' era known for steroids and small ballparks. In terms of ERA+, which accounts for era and ballpark factors, Moyer's numbers are a bit more comparable to some recent Hall-of-Famers.

Jamie Moyer - 104
Don Sutton - 108 (324 wins)
Phil Niekro - 115 (318 wins)
Gaylord Perry - 117 (314 wins)

Moyer would still have the lowest ERA+ among 300-game winners from the modern era. In addition, he would enter the Hall with less than 3,000 strikeouts, something each of the above three pitchers accomplished with hundreds to spare.

Accepting that it would be a unique historical case, should the Hall accept Moyer if he can rack up 35 more wins?

Breaking: Pedro!?

The Phillies have reportedly spoken with Pedro Martinez about returning to the team for the second-half of 2010. This is the most open that GM Ruben Amaro has sounded yet about Pedro, Part II.

Pedro had a 3.63 ERA in nine starts for the Phillies in 2010. He was also impressive in two of his three postseason starts, including Game 2 of the World Series in New York ---- the place where he's been most influential.

Ruben Amaro: An Assessment (Part #1)

In the midst of an alarmingly bad month for the Phillies, GM Ruben Amaro met with the media yesterday to discuss several issues. He insisted the team will be fine, noting (among other things) that the return of SS Jimmy Rollins, SP J.A. Happ, and RP Ryan Madson is near and should provide a boost.

Amaro also made it clear that the Phillies will not make a major deadline trade in 2010. Sorry fans, but Cliff Lee is not coming back. I take Amaro at face value. After all, the Phillies have depleted their minor league resources to the point where OF Dominic Brown would need to be involved to bring a major piece to the club. That, I hope, is not happening. Brown is quite likely Jayson Werth's 2011 replacement.

While the purpose of Amaro's meeting was to look forward, I'd like to check the rearview mirror and begin assessing Amaro's tenure as team GM.

Amaro has, in my view, made two wise moves in the free agent market, allowing both Pat Burrell and Pedro Feliz to walk in favor of signing Raul Ibanez and Placido Polanco. Ibanez has been a headache this season, but had a great 2009 and signed a reasonable contract (3 yr./30 m.). Pat Burrell, meanwhile, was atrocious in Tampa Bay and was released earlier this season. Polanco came at a decent price (3 yr./18 m.) and currently leads the team in hitting. Pedro Feliz, with all due respect to his game-winning hit in Game 5 of the 2008 World Series, stinks.

The two most controversial decisions Amaro has made are the 1) Roy Halladay for Cliff Lee, etc. trade and 2) the long-term Ryan Howard contract extension. Neither move, in my opinion, appears wise. For today, however, I'll just focus on the former.

Halladay is a better pitcher than Lee, I agree. He was easier to sign for a shorter period of time, agreed. The problem that I have is that the Phillies traded Lee to the Mariners arguing that they needed to re-stock a depleted farm system. The logic, in my view, is defensible. The problem is that they received prospects that few believed were top notch. In fact, not one was ranked in the Top 100 of MLB prospects by Baseball America. The top piece of the deal, Phillippe Aumont, currently has a 7.43 ERA in Double-A with 38 walks in 49 innings. Simply put, he is a long way from Broad & Pattison.

If they needed to trade Cliff Lee, the Phillies should have been able to get more in return. Now, the Phillies are without Lee or a replenished farm system. One could argue that the Phillies needed to do the deal regardless because they could no longer afford Lee for 2010 (The price-tag was about $9 million). Nonsense. Pure and simple. The Phillies could have non-tendered Joe Blanton, but instead gave him a back-loaded 3-year extension worth $24 million. It's early, but at this point, that isn't looking wise. Further, if the Phillies were hoping to save money, they probably could have shopped Raul Ibanez (and the over $20 m. he was due for 2010/11) and received decent return (maybe even similar to what they got for Lee). Given his production thus far in 2010, he is now un-tradeable.

Anyways, these are not new arguments. But with a few months of baseball now under our belt, it's useful to assess them in light of events on the ground.


Photo source:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Halladay v. Sabathia

Tonight's game should be a good one, as the Phils and Yankees each call upon their respective aces. The Phils' Roy Halladay makes his first start against the Yanks since being traded from the Toronto Blue Jays this past winter. If history is any guide, Halladay will be up for the challenge. He is 18-6 all-time against the Yankees with a 2.84 ERA and seven complete games.

As Mark Simon points out on

“Only two pitchers who have more than 20 decisions against the Yankees have better win-loss records: You've heard of the all-time leader, Babe Ruth (17-5, .773). No. 2 is early 20th-century Hall of Famer Addie Joss (28-9, .757).”

Simon also cites a Rob Tracy study from the Elias Sports Bureau listing the pitchers with the best ERA+ against the Yankees all-time (Note: ERA+ is simply ERA adjusted for park factors and league averages in a given year. An average ERA+ is always 100). Halladay ranks #2 all-time, behind only Hoyt Wilhelm.

Hoyt Wilhelm - 148
Roy Halladay - 145
Walter Johnson - 138
Pedro Martinez - 137
Dean Chance - 135

Given their struggles in recent weeks, the Phils very much need Doc to continue his career pattern tonight in the Bronx.

Please use the comment thread below to post your views both before and during the game tonight (7:05 p.m.). Go Phillies!

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Phillies' Slumping Offense

The Phillies begin a rematch of the 2009 World Series with the New York Yankees tomorrow in the midst of one of their most difficult stretches in years. On June 15, they sit just three games over .500 (32-29) and in third place in the NL East (behind the Braves and Mets, respectively). Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, particularly the latter, are producing well below their career averages. Jayson Werth, perhaps buckling under the realization that he stands to earn over $15 million/yr. in free agency, has cooled tremendously since an amazing start. Jimmy Rollins, slowed by a calf injury, cannot stay on the field. Raul Ibanez has been a shadow of his 2009 self.

In a sense, there may be a silver lining to the above reality. The Phils enter June 15 with the following MLB offensive team rankings:

Batting Avg. - 19th
Home Runs - 17th
RBI - 19th
Hits - 23rd
On-base % - 18th
Slugging % - 16th

One must presume that an offense an explosive as the Phils is sure to improve upon these figures. For the team to sit 3 games over .500 in light of its sub-par offensive output is actually encouraging.

On the other hand, there are reasons to be discouraged. There is no guarantee that Jimmy Rollins will return to the field and be productive this season. There is no assurance that Raul Ibanez will find his stroke (he turns 38 next month). Chase Utley may be playing hurt, something we know he'd never volunteer to his manager, the media, or the fans.

Also, the Phils' team ERA is currently tenth in baseball (3.94). It's hard for me to believe that this can improve much. Arguably, Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick have overperformed thus far. Roy Halladay, as great as he has been, is on a pace that he has never sustained through an entire season (1.96 ERA). While Joe Blanton has been a disaster so far (7.28 ERA), the bullpen has actually been better than many expected (particularly Jose Contreras). While Ruben Amaro may seek to bolster the rotation or the pen through a deadline deal, chances are that the team has depleted its Minor League resources (in acquiring Joe Blanton, Cliff Lee, and Roy Halladay) to the point where a big, Roy Oswalt-type deal is not realistic.

My point here is that the Phillies probably cannot expect a great improvement in pitching. In fact, we'd be lucky if the staff continued its current level of production. Given this fact, as well as the improved nature of the NL East, the Phils must regain the offensive firepower that has defined them for several years if they hope to contend for a 4th consecutive division title (and of course, a 3rd straight World Series appearance).

With that said, the point of this post (and more generally, this blog) is not simply for me to analyze and prognosticate. Thoughts?