D-Rays, Twins Swap Young, Garza, and more

With trade propositions swirling around the New York Yankees and Mets for left-hander Johan Santana of the Minnesota Twins, the deal that is “close” to being completed between the Twins and Tampa Bay Rays looks tame. However, it could very well end up as the loudest trade of the off-season when all is said and done.

The six-player swap has the Rays exporting outfielder Delmon Young, second baseman Brendan Harris, and outfielder Jason Pridie. The Twins are exporting starting pitcher Matt Garza, shortstop Jason Bartlett, and relief pitcher Juan Rincon.

It sounds cliche, but the trade does benefit both teams.

The Twins will fill Bartlett’s spot at shortstop with Alexi Casilla, who was at second base mostly last season, but that will be Harris’ spot in ’08. Most importantly, however, the Twins recoup a good portion of the production they got from Torii Hunter, now an Angel, with Delmon Young.

The Rays ship out one of their better outfielders, but they are always well-stocked when it comes to outfielders — not so much so when it comes to pitching. They bolster an already good-looking rotation (Scott Kazmir, James Shields, possibly David Price) with the addition of Garza. Their infield is fine on the corners (Carlos Pena at first base, Akinori Iwamura at third), but in-between it is rather unimpressive, and swapping Harris for Bartlett doesn’t help that. Juan Rincon bolsters what was a horrible Rays bullpen in ’07.

Let’s break down the trade, looking at each player individually.

Delmon Young

Young has a high ceiling. He hits line drives, has power potential and above-average speed, and plays good defense. As Torii Hunter’s replacement, at least in the lineup, don’t be surprised if he actually outproduces Hunter in ’08.

Out of 11 qualified AL right fielders, Young had the fifth-best RZR. In addition, he was third among AL RF with 16 assists, and had the sixth-most plays made out of his zone. He’s moving from FieldTurf to FieldTurf, so he won’t have any unfamiliarity with defending against batted balls hit his way.

Offensively, he didn’t blow anyone away in his first full season (42nd among MLB rookies in VORP), and he hasn’t shown patience at the plate (26 walks in 681 plate appearances; 144th out of 162 with an average of 3.51 pitches per plate appearance). However, he does have a ton of potential, and his percentages on batted balls speak in his favor (22% of his batted balls are line drives). Expect that .343 BABIP to drop, though.

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Brendan Harris

In 2008, Harris will put on his fifth different MLB uniform in as many seasons. He’d previously been with the Chicago Cubs, Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds, the Rays, and now, the Twins.

Unlike Young, Harris did impress offensively in his first full season as a Major Leaguer, ranking 7th overall in VORP. Although his offensive production isn’t eye-popping, when you compare it to the typical AL second baseman, it’s above-average (Robinson Cano, Brian Roberts, Placido Polanco, and Ian Kinsler are the cream of the offensive crop in the AL and Harris doesn’t fall too far behind them). However, like Young, Harris showed a lack of patience at the plate, drawing only 42 walks in 576 PA, and only saw an average of 3.59 pitches per PA.

Harris doesn’t have quite the potential that Young has (Bill James projects him to slightly regress in ’08), but should be a nice complement to what should be a balanced Twins offense centered around Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.

Jason Pridie

Pridie, a six-year Minor League veteran, might have finally put it together in ’07 with AAA Durham. Since 2004, he has significantly regressed from a .794 OPS with A Charleston, to a .675 OPS in ’05 between A+ Visalia and AA Montgomery, to a .585 OPS in ’06 with Montgomery.

In ’07, however, he put up a total .839 OPS between Montgomery and Durham, with the better part of it coming in AAA against tougher competition (10 HR and 39 RBI in 245 AB).

In addition to his batting, he can also steal bases — he stole 26 last season, though he did get thrown out 10 times (72% success rate). If he can be coached into a .254 swing in OPS, he can be coached into smarter baserunning. His speed also contributed to his 11 triples and 32 doubles (for those of you counting, that makes 57 extra-base hits out of 159 total hits — almost one out of every three hits is going for extra bases).

Matt Garza

One of the only things you couldn’t like about Garza last season was how many baserunners he allowed (1.542 WHIP). However, some of that was due to a high .345 BABIP.

Otherwise, there was a ton to like about the now-24-year-old. He put up a 118 ERA+ and 67 strikeouts in 83 innings, and almost 48% of his batted balls were grounders. Aside from Johan Santana, understandably, he was the most reliable starter for the Twins last season.

Jason Bartlett

He doesn’t pack much offensive firepower, but he will play good defense. He ranked second among AL SS last season in plays made out of his zone, and ranked sixth among 11 qualified AL SS in RZR, though he was only five-thousandths of a point behind third-place Michael Young (.809 to .804).

Offensively, he gets on base slightly higher than the league average (.341 to .335 over his career) but doesn’t have any power (career .362 SLG to league-average .425). He does have good speed and baserunning smarts, stealing 23 of 26 bases (88% success rate) last season.

UPDATE: The original deal originally had Juan Rincon heading to the Rays, but concerns about his elbow led to Minor League pitcher Eduardo Morlan being shipped out instead. Source: The Heater.So, if this deal actually goes through, it works out nicely for both teams and it might be the the noisiest the off-season gets. Here’s hoping the Mets don’t pull off a miracle and put together a package that appeals to the Twins and lands them Johan Santana, or appeals to the Oakland Athletics and lands them Rich Harden or Joe Blanton.

Completely Unrelated

I was trying to fool around with the MLB Gameday Pitch F/X data in Microsoft Excel (2000), but I couldn’t get it to work. I followed the directions from Friar Watch, but when I imported the data, it simply went into Row 1, Column A as XML code.

Can any of my readers assist me with this?

Dangerous Free Agent Market for CF

The marquee market in this year’s version of free agency is center fielders. Third baseman Alex Rodriguez excluded, there is no glitz and glamor available at any other position on the baseball diamond, talking strictly about free agency.

Not surprisingly, the people in charge of human perception have botched the project again. For some reason, not only was Torii Hunter the first big name — not named A-rod — to sign, but he was signed before Andruw Jones. Usually, the best player is signed first, for logical reasons.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim signed Hunter to a five-year, $90 million contract recently. The rationality of that move aside, Hunter is A) not worth that money and B) not in the same class as Andruw Jones.

You know what? I’m not going to put the rationality of that move aside. The Angels’ outfield now consists of Vladimir Guerrero ($14.5 million in ’08), Gary Matthews, Jr. ($9 million), Garrett Anderson ($12 million), and Hunter ($18 million). They’re paying their outfield $53.5 million, or slightly less than half of their 2007 payroll. And don’t forget about Juan Rivera, who will probably be making another $2 million or so as their 4th or 5th outfielder.

According to the Angels’ website:

Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Hunter would be the regular center fielder, with Matthews providing depth at all three outfield spots. Anderson and Guerrero are expected to spend more time in the designated-hitter role in 2008, giving Matthews plenty of opportunities to play left and right.

That’s right, the Angels are paying two of their outfielders almost $27 million combined to be occasional offense-only players. Matthews is getting $9 million to be a utility outfielder.

Anyway, back to free agency. Andruw Jones is perceived to have lost value because of his poor 2007 showing. He put up only an 88 OPS+ despite hitting 26 HR and driving in 94 runs. His walks and doubles were around his career average, he just didn’t get too many hits, despite a .283 BABIP (a bit less than average).

However, Jones is only 31 and the chances of him returning to being a top-tier offensive center fielder are highly likely. Jones’ other poor season, 2001, was followed by some of the best years of his career, though they were in his prime years (ages 25-29). And despite common perception, Jones’ hasn’t lost much, if anything, on defense, as he led the National League in both RZR and OOZ.

A quick glance of Andruw Jones’ statistics tells you that he has been and still can be the best center fielder in baseball. The common perception around baseball disagrees. Jayson Stark, for instance, called him the most overrated center fielder of all time. In Stark’s article, he states about Jones’ defense:

[...]while most of us weren’t paying attention, Andruw was slowly, apparently imperceptibly, losing the part of that gift that made him special.

[...]

I thought: that can’t be right. A friend suggested maybe it was a function of the Braves’ pitching staff. Maybe they were just throwing fewer fly balls than they used to. Great point. So I checked. Fortunately, there’s a stat that measures that, too — zone rating (the percentage of balls fielded by a player in his typical zone).

So I called up the 2006 zone rating of all qualifying major league center fielders on ESPN.com. Guess who was last on the list? Yessir, Andruw. He also finished last in 2004. And fifth from the bottom in 2005. I kept checking. As recently as 2001, he led his league in zone rating. So obviously, we had a definitive trend on our hands.

However, using the Revised Zone Rating (RZR), we find that Andruw’s defense only slipped in one season: 2004 (8th out of 11 NL CF in RZR; tied-first in OOZ). His OOZ shows that he was still able to get to balls most CF weren’t able to get. But in 2005, he was third among 9 qualified NL CF in RZR and second in OOZ. 2006? 4th of 11 in RZR, 2nd in OOZ. And, as mentioned, he led in both categories in 2007.

So, his defense hasn’t slipped nearly as much as Stark thinks.

Sticking with Sabermetrics — in such a lousy year for Jones, he still managed to add almost six and a half wins to his team. Guess how many Hunter added in one of his best seasons of his career? Eight. The difference between Jones at his worst and Hunter at his best is one and a half wins.

Jones’ worst WARP-3 prior to 2007 was 7.9. Hunter’s best was 8.3. Just a half a win difference there.

The other misconception is that Hunter’s defense is impeccable.

YEAR: RZR, RANK; OOZ, RANK

2007: .891 RZR, 7th out of 10; 47 OOZ, 5th in AL

2006: .894 RZR, 8th out of 10; 48 OOZ, 6th in AL

2005: Not enough defensive innings

2004: .822 RZR, 3rd out of 8; 65 OOZ, 1st in AL

Even Hunter’s “good” defensive season in 2004 is mediocre compared to the seasons after.

Offensively, Hunter is good, but isn’t anything truly special. In his nine full seasons, his career average OPS+ is 104. League-average is always 100. His last two seasons, though, have been among the best in his career, so there’s hope for a trend there if you’re the Angels. Overall, Hunter is the overrated center fielder, not Jones. The Angels will likely end up regretting giving Hunter such a large contract. A player that produces on average only slightly better than the league average doesn’t deserve $18 million per season.

Another center fielder looking for a big contract is Aaron Rowand. In his 5 seasons of 300 or more at-bats, two have been below-average, two have been above-average, and one has been average. So, he’s an average center fielder coming off of a career season in his walk year. That has warning labels stuck all over it.

Rowand, perhaps more so than Hunter, is noted for his grit and disregard for his own safety, as evidenced by his face-plant into the Citizens Bank Park center field fence in 2006 that earned him a broken nose.

Aaron Rowand post-face-plant

Beware of Rowand. Compare his career .343 OBP to the .342 league average. Or his career .462 slugging to the league average .439. He averages 5.75 wins per season to his team, which isn’t bad, but doesn’t place him among the elite in center field.

You never know with his defense, either. In 2006, the year he busted his face, his RZR was 9th among 11 qualified NL CF. He was 10th in OOZ plays, but OOZ is a counting statistic and Rowand missed time twice with injuries in 2006. However, his teammate Shane Victorino had one more OOZ and a .902 RZR (to Rowand’s .882) in 343 fewer defensive innings in 2006.

Realistically, only Jones deserves to be paid highly, but the prices aren’t dictated like that. The market for any good player is remarkably high, since the free agent class has been so weak not just this off-season, but last off-season as well — remember Adam Eaton and Gil Meche’s contracts?

Hunter and Rowand will be sought after highly not only because they’re perceived (wrongly) to be great players, but because they’re the best among what little is available. Who would you want: Aaron Rowand or Corey Patterson? Torii Hunter or Jeff DaVanon?

Clarification on the Conlin Comments

I didn’t expect the firestorm that ensued as a result of Conlin’s comments, but when you essentially tell bloggers that they are a group worthy of an untimely demise, as the Jews were to Hitler, you’re not going to win any new friends.

With all the anti-Conlin sentiment, there has been the odd comment questioning me or my motives, and I welcome that. However, a lot of what I read was either misinterpretation or a misunderstanding, so I’d like to clear those up in a pseudo-FAQ fashion.

You revealed a private conversation that occurred via E-mail. This is illegal and/or immoral.

It’s certainly not illegal. Once you click “Send,” you lose all rights to the content of your E-mail. What if, instead of through E-mail, my correspondence with Conlin occurred via paper mail? Imagine me opening up the letter, seeing the “Hitler” comment and being shocked. Is it illegal for me to show that letter to anyone else, since it was intended (presumably) only for my eyes? Of course not.

Especially in this age of technology, the fault lies with the person sending the offensive comment for not preparing for the comment being seen by unintended eyes.

As for its immorality, you’re neither right nor wrong for viewing it either way. I can’t say whether it was immoral or moral, as my set of morals probably differs from yours.

You were being intentionally inflammatory and baiting Conlin into saying those nasty things.

In retrospect, a couple things I said were almost definitely going to be interpreted as inflammatory, as pointed out by a couple readers, but my intent (I don’t know what that counts for) was never to incite what has occurred. I simply read Conlin’s article (linked in FJM’s article debunking it) and decided to E-mail him. I thought it was rather nice, and my comment about not bashing him was sympathetic, or at least, that was my intent.

I thought he was getting beat up enough, as I had read from a few different sources how idiotic his article was, and there were quite a few attacks on his character.

Linking to the sites bashing him probably was a bad idea, but I don’t think he clicked on them anyway. He barely read the E-mails I sent him, as evidenced by his mistaking me for a Mets fan after I clearly stated that I was a Phillies fan (twice), so I doubt he ever read FJM’s dismantling of his article.

Conlin’s comment is anti-Semitic.

I can’t faut anyone for taking it this way, but it wasn’t actually an anti-Semitic comment. It probably minimalized what happened in Hitler’s holocaust, but his intent behind the comment was that the world would be better if bloggers didn’t have a voice provided by the Internet, and that Hitler probably would have made sure we didn’t.

Plenty of readers have pointed out that his comments about pampleteers and such were historically inaccurate and/or hypocritical. The Good Phight does a good job of proving most or all of this.

Bill Conlin made those comments as a private citizen, not as a writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, so they shouldn’t reprimand him.

While others are calling for Conlin’s head to roll, I am not. In fact, I am taking the coward’s way out and am not espousing an opinion on what should happen to him as a result of his comments.

To factually clear up the above statement, though, the E-mail address I used to contact Conlin was listed right next to his name on the website of the Philadelphia Daily News. Whether or not he uses that E-mail account for purely personal purposes is irrelevant — it is on a web page of his professional work for his employer, so any E-mails he sends from that account, he is also representing his employer, as well.

You were just as close-minded as Conlin with your use of Sabermetrics.

In my E-mail exchange with Conlin, I explicitly refrained from citing Sabermetrics, and instead made my case with just standard statistics.

If this refers to my article(s) on the MVP award, yes, I do make heavy use of Sabermetrics and pay almost no mind to statistics like batting average, win-loss records, strikeout totals for hitters, etc. In addition, I don’t factor in intangibles when opining about the “most valuable player” in a given league. My feeling on that is that, if you can’t prove it, I’m not going to factor it in. Intangibles, since they can’t be proven by definition, are wholly subjective, and thus incredibly prone to error.

Some may think Jimmy Rollins is a leader, and David Wright is not. Others feel that Wright is more of a leader than Rollins. Who’s right? You can’t prove it, so it’s all moot in the end. That’s why I don’t factor it in at the risk of having some inaccuracies in my points. It very well may be true that, without Rollins’ leadership, the Phillies would have been dead in the water.

In that respect, I don’t view that as me being close-minded, just selective of which factors I personally use to determine value.

Publishing emails without permission will have a negative effect on everyone else’s possible correspondence with journalists.

If journalists cannot communicate with E-mailers without insinuating that they are worthy of having no freedom of speech and/or worthy of being killed, then that falls on the journalists.

I guess the journalists could be hesitant to respond to E-mailers for anything that might get taken out of context and blown out of proportion, but then again, they can just comb over their E-mails and make sure they were professional, factual, and rational.

It’s the journalists’ loss — not the readers’ — if they don’t respond to E-mails. When they respond, they are representing the publication they work for, and thus, are advertising in a sense. A good rapport with a reader increases the chance that they will purchase the publication in the future, and a bad rapport decreases that chance. With most print publications hurting, behavior like Conlin’s only sets himself and his employer(s) back.

You’re a hypocrite: Your previous article was titled, “Political Correctness Has Gone Too Far,” and now you’re whining about Conlin offending you.

I haven’t heard this one yet, but I wanted to address it since I was thinking about it. I haven’t complained about being offended. Frankly, I’m not offended by what Conlin said or how he acted. I’m disappointed more than anything, especially since he represents a sizable amount of journalists in terms of his views on bloggers and Sabermetrics.

A lot of other people have been offended by what Conlin said. Based on a particular reader, most of the people at The Good Phight are Jewish, so they have a gripe with Conlin because of his Hitler comment.

I would never assume I have the power to tell people what they should or should not be offended at. The Good Phight has every right to be offended by Conlin’s comments. The only problem I take with anyone getting offended over something is when they try to limit others’ freedom to do something as a result of that offense.

That’s a bit vague, so let me clarify. I support Conlin’s freedom of speech to make tasteless jokes like that. That is not to say that I share his intent behind it, or the literal interpretation of it, but I support his right to say idiotic, tasteless things. That goes for anyone. To have true freedom of speech, you need to be willing to take the good with the bad. So, for every noble crusader speaking out against the Bush administration and the Iraq war, for instance, there is presumably an idiot making a tasteless joke about a minority group. As long as they’re not espousing anything that would take away the rights or enjoyment of life away from members of that minority group, he has the same right to make that joke as that noble crusader has to make noble political statements.

Please let me know if anything else needs to be clarified.

Conlin’s Losing Numbers [UPDATED TWICE: See end]

As you might recall from late August, I picked on Marcus Hayes of the Philadelphia Daily News for his close-minded and immature diatribe against proponents of Sabermetrics in baseball.

I’ve found another target. Bill Conlin, also of the Philadelphia Daily News, recently wrote an article called Rollins’ Winning Numbers. Fire Joe Morgan has done a great job of dissecting his article.

I sent Conlin an E-mail, but before I reveal those, I’d just like to point out the snippet of his article which deserves much ire.

Despite his defensive contribution being backhanded by Red Sox front office stat man Bill James – baseball’s most influential cybergeek – the league’s managers and coaches awarded him a Gold Glove.

Apparently, James decided that a Range Factor based on successful chances (putouts plus assists) times nine innings, divided by number of defensive innings played is more important than the result – for example, a friggin’ out. Despite his No. 3 fielding percentage of .985 (behind Troy Tulowitzki’s .987 and Omar Vizquel’s .986) Rollins rated No. 15 in the James Range Factor. Fortunately, the baseball men who vote for the Gold Gloves depend on what they see, not laptop science. Jose Reyes, a nimble windshield wiper, ranked No. 25 in RF.

Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version of that article:

  1. Conlin attempts to insult Sabermetricians, who devalue Rollins’ defense compared to baseball statistical traditionalists, because he was given a Gold Glove anyway. Remember how meaningful the Gold Glove is when you are reminded that Rafael Palmeiro was given a Gold Glove at first base in a season in which he logged just 28 games at that position.
  2. Conlin shows his ignorance of basic math by making Range Factor out to be more complicated than it really is. Range Factor is (Putouts plus Assists) divided by Innings Pitched. Fielding Percentage is (Putouts plus Assists) divided by (Putouts + Assists + Errors). Which one is more “complicated”? In addition, he wrote, “James decided that a Range Factor [...] is more important than the result – for example, a friggin’ out.” If only the result of putouts and assists wasn’t “a friggin’ out.”

As many other “cyber-geeks” did, I decided to send Conlin an E-mail.

Hi Mr. Conlin,

Hope all is well. My name is Bill as well, and I run a blog called Crashburn Alley. Needless to say, I’ve read many of the blogs bashing your article, such as Fire Joe Morgan and the discussion at Baseball Think Factory.

So, I’m not going to bash you since it’s already been done. And hey, I already picked on your colleague Marcus Hayes.

I do want to ask you, though, what makes Rollins better than New York Mets third baseman David Wright as a National League MVP candidate?

Wright hits for more power (.546 SLG to Rollins’ .531), gets on base at a higher rate (.416 OBP to Rollins’ .344), fields his position about equally as well as Rollins fields his (shortstop is defensively more demanding, however, but not enough to make a huge difference), and has comparable speed to Rollins (34 SB, seven less than Rollins’ 41).

The Sabermetrics really make the case for Wright, but I know you’re not a fan of those and won’t waste your time with them.

What does Rollins do better, besides being a hairline better than Wright defensively and on the basepaths (whereas Wright is more than a hairline better than Rollins at getting on base and slugging, the two things a hitter is paid to do)?

My personal top-five NL MVP rankings would go Wright, Albert Pujols, Chipper Jones, Rollins, and Matt Holliday.

It’s a bitter pill for me to swallow — to make the case against Rollins — being a die-hard Phillies fan, but I try to be objective. I don’t even think Ryan Howard deserved the NL MVP award last season over Albert Pujols.

Thanks for your time,

Bill B. (Crashburn Alley)

Conlin deftly dodges my questions and stated facts with a simple response.

Know what, pal? Bash this. . .Tell your bloggers, my career against theirs. . .

If I felt like being smarmy, I could have pointed out to him that this is just an appeal to authority. A statement is not any more right because someone more important is saying it. For instance, is 2+2=4 any more correct if Albert Einstein says it than if George W. Bush says it? You don’t have to go to accounting college to know that.

Anyway, I let him know I was disappointed in his failure to address any of my points.

Well, Mr. Conlin, I have to say that I’m disappointed. I know your colleague Marcus Hayes responded with little tact, but I guess it’s a trait of those who work at the Daily News.

I will take it by your evasion of my questions and the facts I’ve stated that you are unable to make any legitimate case for Rollins over Wright for MVP. But, hey, whatever helps you sell papers.

You have given me an easy decision, with your tactless, factless response, not to ever buy a newspaper from the Philadelphia Daily News or to watch their program on Comcast SportsNet, at least until you and Mr. Hayes resign, or in a more likely scenario, are fired.

Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving.

– Bill B. (Crashburn Alley)

Note in my initial E-mail to Conlin that I identified myself as a Phillies fan, and in both E-mails, I linked him to my blog. So, there should be no confusion that I am a fan of any other team but the Phillies, right?

Wrong. He responded thusly.

Don’t you need to contact the 30 electors–including the two Mets beat writers–who failed to give write a single first place vote instead of a commentator who does not vote for the awards. You’re a Mets fan and you had your little bubble of arrogance and smugness burst. Your team choked big time, an epic gagaroo. At least the 1964 Phillies had an excuse–they were probably no more than the Cardinals, Reds, Braves, Dodgers and Giants that year. One question: When a Mets team chokes in a forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a gagging sound? Next time bring more to the table than wishful fan numbers that bear no semblance to reality. I wonder how it feels to be the Phillies bitch

That would hurt so much… if I was a Mets fan. I’m a Phillies fan making an objective case for David Wright.

So, this is twice now that a journalist from the Philadelphia Daily News has been both tactless and unable to present a legitimate factual case for anything they’ve posited. I truly hope that Conlin isn’t a microcosm of American sports media — ignorant and close-minded.

As for Wright over Rollins, the facts make it plain to see.

Rollins

.875 OPS (.344 OBP; .531 SLG)

41-for-47 in stolen bases

9th out of 14 qualified NL SS in Revised Zone Rating; third in Out of Zone plays.

Wright

.962 OPS (.416 OBP; .546 SLG)

34-for-39 in stolen bases

5th out of 12 qualified NL 3B in Revised Zone Rating; first in Out of Zone plays.

And that’s only using the most basic of Sabermetrics, and only for defense.

Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP), which accounts for both offense and defense in one handy statistic, puts Wright at 12.7 WARP. Rollins is at 11.5. For fun, Matt Holliday is at 11.9, but he’s purely a product of Coors field.

So, not only was Conlin disrespectful and close-minded, he was flat out wrong.

CORRECTION: Thanks to reader Double D for correcting me. I had said that Conlin voted for the awards this off-season, but Double D asserted that only active beat writers get to vote.

UPDATE: Conlin just responded with what may be the quote of the decade

I said:

Mr. Conlin,

I linked you to my blog, and I called myself a die-hard Phillies fan in my initial message to you. Remember? I said:

It’s a bitter pill for me to swallow — to make the case against Rollins — being a die-hard Phillies fan, but I try to be objective.

So, I enjoyed the Mets’ collapse as much as you did. :)

Though I don’t appreciate your tact, I do appreciate that you respond to those who contact you. A lot of journalists don’t even do that.

Toodle-oo,

Bill B. (Crashburn Alley)

Conlin said:

The only positive thing I can think of about Hitler’s time on earth–I’m sure he would have eliminated all bloggers. In Colonial times, bloggers were called “Pamphleteers.” They hung on street corners handing them out to passersby. Now, they hang out on electronic street corners, hoping somebody mouses on to their pretentious sites. Different medium, same MO. Shakespeare accidentally summed up the genre best with these words from a MacBeth soliloquy: “. . .a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. . .”

UPDATE #2: Conlin clarifies his Hitler statement. Before that, though, he said:

Just make sure you bring a higher level of literacy to go with your decimal points. Most of you guys are unreadable. That’s one of my gripes. And while many of you–not all–can get away with a level of insult and ridicule that would be actionable in a publication governed by standards and libel and slander laws, professionals must abide by those standards and laws. My columns are read by a minimum of three editors for fact, style, fairness and balance. Despite that scrutiny,errors still filter by the goalies. In my Rollins column that has upset so many of you, the only thing I would remotely take back was having Holliday performing his Game 163 heroics against the Diamondbacks when, of course, it was the Padres. D’Backs were on my mind as the soon-to-be-vanquished division champions when I wrote the line. Any editor worth his salt should have caught the error. However, most of them are so intent at catching the bad stuff they let the obvious error slip by. Who checks your facts and deletes a line that is over the edge of good taste or might demean or defame an athlete or subject? Did you take a course in the libel and slander laws? Or do you merely throw it against the wall and see what sticks? That’s what most of you do. I can’t pin that on you specifically because I have never read your blog.

I said:

Mr. Conlin,

Unfortunately, your words about Hitler have sparked quite a firestorm. I don’t think you actually meant what you said there…

As for your last response to my E-mail, you bring up a host of great points. Bloggers don’t have anyone to answer to besides advertisers (if any). However, the lack of censorship can bring about a lot of good things. Subjects that you’d never be allowed to touch (for instance, would you be allowed to have a pro-steroids article published?) can easily be covered by bloggers.

The hard work you and others have put in as journalists is something I truly admire and is something I am currently striving for myself. So, yes, I am familiar with libel and slander and all that journalistic stuff.

If you responded to your readers the way you just responded to me, you’d probably enjoy bloggers a lot more than you currently do.

Please let me know if you’d like me to post a clarification of sorts on my blog for you, as a lot of people took your words the same way I did — not very kindly. I never set out to sully your name, and feel bad that you’ve drawn much ire. And hey, it might be a golden opportunity to turn over a new leaf with bloggers.

Thanks for the discourse,

Bill B. (Crashburn Alley)

Conlin responded:

I think I’ll let the words I wrote after the death of my dear friend and colleague, the former local Associated Press Bureau Chief Ralph Bernstein and the nearly half century relationship my wife and I have had with Ralph and his family through good times and bad represent me against any contrived and baseless attempt to slime me as an anti-Semite. I was a speaker at Ralph’s Memorial service. Quite obviously, the Hitler line was used in a satiric response to what has turned into a concerted assault on my Jimmy Rollins column and on my career. It was quite obviously used in a personal e-mail. I did not publish the insulting things said about me. As editor of the Temple University News in 1960-61, I received death threats from the White Citizens Council after writing an editorial denouncing Gerald L. K. Smith and his anti-black and anti-Semitic hate-mongering newspaper “The Cross and the Flag.” I was one of the most outspoken critics of Marge Schott’s blatant anti-Semitism to the point some of my columns had to be toned down. Ditto my stand on Al Campanis, a friend, by the way, and Jimmy The Greek Snyder. I also had a long and close relationship with the late, great Dick Schaap, who wrote about my impact on The Sports Reporters at length in his autobiography, “Flashing Before My Eyes.” I am heartened that both a clear conscience and the First Amendment will be at my side.

Political Correctness Has Gone Too Far

Following the New England Patriots’ complete destruction of the Buffalo Bills’ defense, we learned two things: Andrea Kremer would totally go out with Tom Brady, and the Patriots are offensive (pun!!1!) simply by taking the field and playing the game they’re paid to play.

It wasn’t the first time the Patriots have beaten an opponent as severely as they beat the Bills, and, not surprisingly, it wasn’t the first time they’ve been accused of “running up the score.”

24, 24, 31, 21, 17, 21, 45, 4, and 46. Those are the Patriots’ margins of victory in their ten games this season. That’s an average margin of victory of  over 23 points.

The latest wails of “running up the score” came after the Patriots twice went for the touchdown on fourth down instead of settling for a field goal in the Bills game. The oft-cited “unwritten rules” were brought up, that it is unethical to go for it on fourth down if you’re enjoying a comfortable lead.

This rule applies to almost any team sport, especially baseball, where, if you’re up by about 8 runs or so, it becomes unethical to steal bases, bunt, bring in your better pitchers, and try trick plays.

It’s just an example of how no one can be offended anymore in this country. On this blog, as well as in many other venues, I’ve made what some consider extremely liberal claims (e.g. drugs should be legalized), but one liberal issue I completely abhor is political correctness. It’s often hypocritical and almost always an infringement on First Amendment rights. The Patriots didn’t even speak — they simply played a game well.

Here’s a list of people you can’t offend in this country:

  • Homosexuals
  • Bisexuals
  • Transgenders
  • Christians
  • Jews
  • African-Americans
  • Women
  • Anyone who knows anyone who knows anyone who is in the armed forces
  • The Bush administration, and the government in general
  • The disabled (note: not referring to the Bush administration)
  • People who are squeamish when it comes to violence or “foul”  language
  • NEW: Bad sports teams, or otherwise good teams simply getting demolished

It’s politically correct to not run up the score. It’s politically correct to not brag and to modestly acknowledge your success.

It’s politically incorrect to humorously reference a movie about homosexuality — still a fine source of humor for many in the comedy industry — and analogize it to basketball, as Phil Jackson did.

Back to the Patriots — what did the P.C. people want Belichick to do instead? Kick a field goal and tack on more points? At least if he goes for it on fourth down, he gives the Bills defense a chance to step it up and prevent them from scoring any points. At that point, with the Patriots leading as emphatically as they were, the difference between a touchdown and a field goal (four points) was moot anyway.

Isn’t it more insulting to “play down” to your opponent after you get out to a sizable lead? It says, at least to me, “I’m so good, I don’t even need to try hard to beat you. I can take out all of our best players and play second- and third-stringers.”

Don’t want the Patriots to run up the score? Keep them out of the end zone.  That was the response Leon Grant of the Seattle Seahawks gave to reporters when asked about Chad Johnson’s touchdown celebrations (another thing you’re not allowed to do when the P.C. police are around):

 And though none of the Seahawks wants to witness one of Johnson’s elaborate celebrations, they are more concerned with the reason it would occur rather than the act itself.

“My mentality is that if you don’t want a guy to do all of that on you, just keep him out of the end zone,” Grant said.

The Patriots will continue to win by at least three touchdowns, and will kick sand in the face of their opponents as they go for the fourth on fourth down.

Gillick Isn’t Slumbering This Time

After about a one-week hiatus following a move to a new apartment, I am back in front of my computer monitor, much to the dismay of the rest of the Internets (to those of you sending me mail bombs, please note the change in address).

The Phillies have been the noisiest team thus far in the offseason, unless you count all of the meaningless banter in the media about Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees, and everyone else in between. If you’re a Phillies fan, you have to be happy with the way Gillick has attacked the pressing needs facing the 2008 team.

Despite the in-season rumors of the Phillies attempting to acquire Brad Lidge in a trade with the Houston Astros, it was still surprising to read about the move in the newspaper (yes, I was reduced to that archaic form of media sans Internet, sans cable, sans telephone).

The Phillies sent outfielder Michael Bourn, reliever Geoff Geary, and Minor League third baseman Mike Costanzo to the ‘stros for Lidge and utility infielder Eric Bruntlett.

It’s a good trade for both sides, even though Lidge, a free agent after the ’08 season, may only be a one-year rental for the Phillies, who are, in reality, poised for an “’08 or bust” campaign.

Let’s first parse through who the Phillies gave up.

Geoff Geary

Geary is an enigma if there ever was one. He’s been an above-average reliever for each of the past three seasons, with last year’s 105 ERA+ being a severe drop-off from his 158 ERA+ in ’06. He gives up a fair share of base runners (1.399 career WHIP) and his career BABIP is .311, which is only slightly higher than the league average, showing that his propensity for allowing base runners isn’t fluky. In addition, his K/9 of 5.82 shows that he doesn’t have particularly overpowering stuff and he’ll only get more and more hittable as hitters become more familiar with him and as his stuff wanes.

Geary’s departure doesn’t increase the importance of anyone in particular in the Phillies bullpen, just anyone who would potentially be used in middle-relief (for instance, Ryan Madson).

Michael Bourn

Bourn has always been a prized prospect of the Phillies, but it was only because the Phillies’ farm system is so barren. Bourn has the ceiling similar to that of Juan Pierre or Wily Taveras — a singles hitter that can steal some bases and put his above-average speed to use in the outfield.

While with the Phillies for the entire season in the pinch-runner/defensive replacement role, Bourn did show that he is capable of handling an everyday workload if needed. He got on base at about the league-average (Bourn’s .348 to the league’s .349) and was 18-for-19 in the stolen base department.

Fortunately for the Phillies, they already have a guy akin to Bourn, only with a much stronger arm and a bit more power, in Shane Victorino.

Bourn’s loss makes the back-ups in the outfield — Jayson Werth and Greg Dobbs — a bit more valuable.

Mike Costanzo

According to Phuture Phillies, Baseball America ranked Costanzo among the top-20 prospects in the Eastern League.

Last season in AA Reading, Costanzo made huge bounds from the previous season, in which he put up an OBP of .364 and a SLG of .411, to put up an OBP of .368 and a SLG of .490. He hit 27 HR and drove in 86 runs to go along with that.

While his offense looks appealing, his defense does not. He committed 25 errors in ’06 and 34 last season in only 133 and 135 games, respectively. That is an aggregate average of about one error every 4.5 games.

In 2008, the Phillies will use a platoon of Wes Helms, Greg Dobbs, and Eric Bruntlett at third base, so Costanzo’s move doesn’t increase anyone’s immediate value, though the Phillies will have to find a reliable third baseman after the season.

Now let’s take a look at who the Phillies acquired.

Brad Lidge

Phillies fans pessimistic about the trade will cite Lidge’s ’06 effort as an indication that he isn’t everything he’s cracked up to be, but if his ’07 season means anything, then it was just an aberration. His K/9 rate has always hovered above 10 (with a career average of 12.6) and he keeps runners off the bases (1.197 career WHIP).

The interesting part about the Lidge acquisition, though, isn’t Lidge himself — it’s how the move will affect Brett Myers, who is now a part of the Phillies’ starting rotation, just shortly removed from a season in which he was the Phillies’ lights-out second-half closer (2.87 ERA and 21 saves in 53.1 IP). Myers made it clear throughout the season that he liked being a part of the bullpen as someone the team could count on game after game, instead of just once every five days. If Myers doesn’t perform well back in the rotation, proponents of the team chemistry concept will point to Lidge as a reason.

Should Myers be amicable and return to his above-average ways as a starter, this move has gold stars written all over it.

Eric Bruntlett

To Phillies fans, he’s “that other guy” acquired along with Lidge. Yeah, he’s essentially listless offensively (career .323 OBP and .364 SLG) but he has above-average speed (20-for-26 in stolen bases in his career) as well as above-average defense (.847 RZR in 348 defensive innings last season as a shortstop, which would rank slightly behind fifth place if he had enough innings to qualify).

Expect Bruntlett to be used in as a pinch-runner or as a spot-starter at third base in the odd event that Greg Dobbs starts in the outfield and Wes Helms is sitting on the bench.

In the immediate future, the Phillies are clear winners, but don’t be fooled: Geary and Bourn can be cogs in a now youthful Astros roster, with Craig Biggio retired. The Astros could use an outfield of Carlos Lee (31) in left, Bourn (25) in center, and Hunter Pence (24) in right.

Shortly after the Lidge deal, the Phillies re-signed left-handed reliever J.C. Romero to a three-year, $12 million deal.

J.C. Romero

Plucked off the waiver wire by Gillick in June from the world champion Boston Red Sox, Romero quickly become one of only three reliable arms in the bullpen, along with Myers and Tom Gordon, both of whom were injured during the season.

Romero walked his share of hitters (25 in 36.1 IP), but otherwise kept hitters at bay (1.101 WHIP). He averaged just a shade under a 1/1 K/IP ratio, but the most important aspect — his left-handedness aside — is his ability to throw the ground ball, an absolute must in a hitter-friendly stadium such as Citizens Bank Park. In ’07, 60% of his outs were of the ground ball variety, only slightly above his 54.3% career average.

With those deals fleshed out, let’s look at what the Phillies’ 25-man roster should look like, as it stands, come Opening Day.

C – Carlos Ruiz
1B – Ryan Howard
2B – Chase Utley
3B – Wes Helms
SS – Jimmy Rollins
LF – Pat Burrell
CF – ? / Shane Victorino
RF – Jayson Werth

C – Chris Coste
IF – Eric Bruntlett
IF/OF – Greg Dobbs
OF – Chris Roberson
OF – T.J. Bohn

That ? in center field could be Aaron Rowand, it could be another outfielder acquired via free agency or trade, or it could be Victorino, simply taking Rowand’s place.

The Phillies’ outfield reserves currently include Chris Roberson and T.J. Bohn, both of whom are rather unappetizing, so here’s hoping they sign someone like Geoff Jenkins to a one-year deal and use him in a platoon with Jayson Werth in right field (Jenkins, .883 career OPS vs. RHP; Werth .864 career OPS vs. LHP).

SP – Cole Hamels
SP – Brett Myers
SP – Jamie Moyer
SP – Adam Eaton
SP – Kyle Kendrick

The last two spots are tentative. I don’t know this for a fact, but I imagine the Phillies are very open to using blase Adam Eaton in a long-relief role. The Phillies are also hoping to allow Kendrick to develop a bit more in the Minor Leagues, perhaps to develop a put-away pitch that he lacked in his impressive rookie season in ’07.

Rumors have the Phillies most interested in Randy Wolf and Bartolo Colon, but both would be risky propositions given their injury histories. Further down the list are Livan Hernandez and Kyle Lohse. Hernandez is a fly ball-prone pitcher, and Lohse’s agent is Scott Boras, whom the Phillies absolutely detest (see: Drew, J.D.).

Carlos Silva, with his ground ball tendencies (47.5% in ’07; 48.7% career), should actually be the #1 target for the Phillies in terms of cost/effectiveness.

RP –
RP –
RP –
RP – J.C. Romero
RP – Ryan Madson
SU – Tom Gordon
CP – Brad Lidge

The three open relief pitching slots could go to just about anyone who shows up in Spring Training. “Anyone” could include Fabio Castro, Clay Condrey, Julio Mateo, Scott Mathieson, Francisco Rosario, and Mike Zagurski.

One of Castro and Zagurski will make it by the sheer fact of their left-handedness, giving the Phillies increased flexibility with two lefties in the ‘pen.

Mathieson is coming off of “Tommy John” surgery, and Mateo still has some personal problems that prevented him from joining the team last season when he was picked up from Seattle for a handshake.

Logically, that leaves Condrey and Rosario to the last two spots, assuming the Phillies are done acquiring relief pitchers. In all likelihood, they are not done shopping, so they could still target someone like David Riske or LaTroy Hawkins to set up for Lidge, and moving injury-prone Tom Gordon to a role in which he is not expected to pitch 70 games throughout the season.

As for the other fun-packed part of the off-season: awards…

How did Jimmy Rollins get the Gold Glove at shortstop over Troy Tulowitski? If there’s one thing both baseball statistical traditionalists and Sabermetricians can agree on, it’s that Tulowitzki was the better defensive shortstop. Rollins is a hell of a defender, but even as a Phillies fan, even I cannot give him the nod on this one.

Compare the statistics.

Rollins: .808 RZR, 65 OOZ

Tulowitzki: .861 RZR, 87 OOZ

Good to see that Aaron Rowand got a Gold Glove, but again, I take exception with it this year. He was sixth among qualified NL center-fielders in RZR (.861) and second in OOZ (69). His 69 OOZ aren’t too much more than the three behind him (5th-place has 63), so if you look at the five ahead of him in RZR…

A. Jones: .921 RZR, 80 OOZ

Beltran: .915, 64 OOZ

Pierre: .902, 63 OOZ

Cameron: .894, 53 OOZ

C. Young: .875, 66 OOZ

…you can find three slightly more deserving candidates. I’m not saying it’s a travesty that Rowand won, but if we’re being specific, he was just a shade under the cut.

Charlie Manuel, who placed second in Manager of the Year voting, should have won over Bob Melvin. His Diamondbacks were fluky, out-performing their Pythagorean W-L by an historically large 11 games. My reasoning for Manuel was laid out here:

Like Torre, Charlie Manuel has had a ton of injuries, a bad pitching staff, and media scrutiny to deal with all season long.

In this article, I listed the 15 Phillies to be put on the disabled list at the time. Since then, Cole Hamels missed time with a strained left elbow, and Antonio Alfonseca was described by Manuel as “out of gas.”

Manuel has had to make do with a horrible bullpen that GM Pat Gillick failed to improve during the off-season. In fact, the bullpen was so lousy that Manuel moved then-starter Brett Myers to the set-up role for Tom Gordon (Myers became the closer when Gordon was injured).

Myers’ statistics as a closer: 45.2 IP, 1.226 WHIP, 2.96 ERA, 56 K, 16 BB, 17 saves in 20 opportunities.

In addition, despite the injuries to 2005 Rookie of the Year and 2006 NL MVP Ryan Howard, 2007 MVP candidate Chase Utley, speedster Shane Victorino, and a horrid first-half for Pat Burrell, the Phillies have, by far, the National League’s best offense. First in runs, triples, walks, hit batsmen, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Second in at-bats, hits, doubles, home runs, and stolen bases.

When the Phillies lost to the Mets on April 17, Charlie Manuel blew up at “journalist” Howard Eskin during the post-game press conference, the team dropped to a 3-9 record, quickly 5.5 games behind the Mets for fourth place in the NL East. Now, the Phillies are 12-games above .500 — an 18-game swing — and are battling for playoff berths in either the NL East or in the Wild Card, as they are 2.5 GB the Mets and Padres, respectively.

Tulowitzki should have won NL Rookie of the Year over Braun, and while there weren’t any mind-blowing AL candidates for the award, I still think Jeremy Guthrie should have taken it over Dustin Pedroia.

Good to see the voters got something right through in awarding the AL Cy Young to C.C. Sabathia.

We’re still waiting on the NL Cy Young award (Jake Peavy, obviously) and both MVP awards. John Brattain makes an interesting case for Jimmy Rollins as the NL recipient. I don’t agree, but as a Phillies fan, I won’t complain if Rollins wins it. If he does, it will be the first time a team has had two different players win back-to-back MVP awards since Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds in 2000 and ’01.

What’s Out There?

If anyone is in a helpful mood, please link me to anything interesting that was written in the past week in which I’ve been gone. It’s quite overwhelming to have to catch up on so many blogs, so point me in the right direction! I’ll probably be putting up a “links” blog soon, so E-mail me (CrashburnAlley [at] Gmail [dot] com) if you’d like me to link to you.