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?