Talkin’ Braves with Craig Calcaterra

If you live under a rock, you probably haven’t read Craig’s work at Shysterball and NBC Sports. At Baseball Think Factory, I called him the AC Slater of the blogosphere. He’s super cool, popular, and gets stalked (note: I have no idea if Mario Lopez has ever been stalked, but I’d imagine he has). He can probably dance, too.

You might not know it from his overall coverage of Major League Baseball, but Craig is a die-hard Atlanta Braves fan. Yeah, I know — he loses major cool points for that. However, the way the Phillies have been playing, they may want to listen to what a keen observer thinks about the series.

. . .

1. Even before getting shut-out by the Red Sox 1-0 on Saturday, the Braves had the fourth-worst offense in the National League. Should the Braves still look for another bat or do you think players like Kelly Johnson and Jordan Schafer are going to improve to provide a boost to the Braves’ offense in the second half of the season?

I think they’ve punted on Schafer for the rest of the year and are right to have done so.  I wish I had a clue as to what’s happening with Kelly Johnson, but at this point I’d prefer that they just play him every day and hope for the best.  He’s better than this, and I’m cautiously optimistic that they’ll improve.  My thinking in the offseason was that the Braves are really gearing up for 2010 and, though they weren’t advertising it, were willing to let 2009 be a year of experiments and stuff.  I hope that they stick to that rather than try to make any moves to make a run this season, because it seems kind of hopeless at the moment.

2. What do you think of Nate McLouth, and of the trade with the Pirates in general?

I think much better of him in a Braves uniform than I do in anyone else’s. Not for rooting purposes, but because he just seems so much more valuable in what was a truly dreadful outfield and thus justifies his playing time, position and contract far more in Atlanta than he does anywhere else.  He’s flawed, but he’s way better than anything else Atlanta has been trotting out there.  And I’m fine with the trade — I don’t think Atlanta gave up anyone who was going to be a good part of the next good Braves team.

3. There are currently very few statistical methods that even come close to measuring the effectiveness of a manager. Being a Braves fan and having watched Bobby Cox-managed teams for a while, do you think he is really as good as everyone claims?

Actually, Chris Jaffe of The Hardball Times has a book coming out this fall that goes a long way towards quantifying managerial effectiveness and he spends many pages on Cox in particular. I won’t even pretend to explain it (mostly because I don’t understand a lot of it) but Cox fares very well among the all-time greats in getting the most out of what he has.  That aside, I think Cox is a very good manager, mostly because he tends to (a) create a drama-free environment that allows his players to relax; and (b) otherwise gets the hell out of the way.  It’s amazing how many managers can’t accomplish even one of those things.  All in all, if you look at the failures of any given Braves team over the past 20 years, you have to point at five other things before you can identify anything that was of Bobby Cox’s doing, and to me, that’s the definition of being a successful manager.

4. When are the Braves going to cut Jeff Francoeur? He is, by far, the Braves’ worst hitter.

I have to assume that, in keeping with the 2010 plan mentioned above, they were going to give him this whole season to figure it out no matter how he did.  If there was a glimmer of hope they’d either keep him or try to trade him, but that’s certainly not happening now.  If I were running them at this point I’d just appreciate the sunk cost, keep him running him out there if for no other reason than to save the service time and/or wear and tear on anyone else, and non-tender him this fall.  There’s really no other option.

5. If you had to assign a letter grade to GM Frank Wren, how would you grade him? What were his best and worst transactions?

That’s tough, because I think it’s hard to determine how much power Wren really has.  John Schuerholz isn’t off fishing someplace, he’s still there, and I think that they’re kind of working with a team including them and some other folks.  I guess I’d have to give him a B.  There was a lot of bad press in the offseason about him being unable to close the Furcal and Griffey deals, but those not getting done have to be considered good things, right?  I liked the McClouth deal, so for lack of anything else I can think of at the moment I’ll call that his best deal.  Well, maybe Derek Lowe was better.  As for the worst: it happened before he took over as GM, but if he had anything to do with acquiring Teixeira in 2007 he’s owed a kick in the ass.

BONUS: Put your Shysterball where your mouth is: predict the outcome of the series. We’ve got: Blanton-Lowe, Hamels-Jurrjens, and TBA-Vazquez. [Note: The pitching probables were different when I e-mailed Craig, so that’s why his response is slightly inaccurate].

Despite my overall pessimism, I think the Braves take two of three: they win the Kawakami game and the Lowe game (TBA has really been struggling with his control) and then drop the Hamels-Jurrjens game.  I have no idea why I’m going this way with any of these, but it strikes me that the Braves are due for one of those “hey, we’re only two games out now” stories, which will soon be followed by them dropping five of seven.

. . .

Thanks to Craig for taking time out of his busy interviewing schedule to impart some wisdom for the Phillies-Braves series. After the interview, Craig passed on some more information about Phillies’ starter TBA: “…I hear that TBA had a really good bullpen session yesterday.  From what I hear, he’s mixing in an eephus pitch to see if it’s really true that Francoeur will swing at anything.”

No, it’s true: he will swing at anything. No need for an eephus, TBA. Fastballs four feet off the plate should suffice.

Believe it or not, tomorrow night will be the first time all season the Phillies will stop in Atlanta. The last time the Phillies lost in Atlanta was September 5, 2007.

Utley’s Corner

In what can only be referred to as a great honor, broadcasters of the New York Mets’ games have dubbed the right field corner at Citi Field “Utley’s Corner.” It’s so true that it has its own Wikipedia entry. [UPDATE: The Wikipedia moderators have removed it] Courtesy Back She Goes is the visual evidence of Utley’s use of what is now his own special corner of the Mets’ new ballpark.

Click to enlarge:

BDD: Rivera Cements Place Among All-Time Greats

At Baseball Daily Digest, I take a look at where Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is at among baseball’s best.

That’s the bread-and-butter that Rivera has used to repeatedly dominate American League hitters since 1997. Imagine having to face a Zack Greinke fastball that’s just a couple MPH slower on average, but with tremendous movement towards the left-handed batter’s box. Oh, and if you happen to make contact with it, not only does your bat have a high probability of being splintered, but the pain in your hands will tell you that you just swung at a bowling ball.

In fact, Rivera’s cutter is so feared that switch-hitters will hit right-handed against him because of how often the cutter will jam lefties. Chipper Jones once called it a “buzzsaw.” 

Jayson Werth Owns the Blue Jays

Jayson Werth today: 4-for-4, 2B, 2 HR, 3 RBI

Jayson Werth 2009 vs. Jays*: 1.035 OPS

Jayson Werth career vs. Jays*: 1.090 OPS

*Doesn’t include today’s game.

The Phillies score ten runs and J.A. Happ pitches a complete game shut-out. Can’t ask for a better Saturday, really. Well, it’s kind of hot, but after the last two weeks, I’ll gladly take it.

BDD: What’s in a Rivalry?

At Baseball Daily Digest, I consider the important factors that go into the creation and duration of a rivalry.

If you remember the Bill Conlin incident from 2007, even he was emotional about the Phillies-Mets rivalry. Mistaking me for a Mets fan (because I felt David Wright was a better choice for the 2007 NL MVP award than Jimmy Rollins), Conlin wrote to me in an e-mail, “Your team choked big time, an epic gagaroo.”

Rich Hoffman of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote recently, “Everybody knows what happened, about how the Mets gagged away their chances as the Phillies caught fire at the end in both 2007 and 2008. Faced with the need to win, a desperate need, the Phillies responded and the Mets wilted.”

Categorizing Your Phillies

After tonight’s 6-1 loss to the Jays, it’s time to audit the 2009 Philadelphia Phillies.

Injured

Clay Condrey
Scott Eyre
Raul Ibanez
Brett Myers
Chan Ho Park

Losers

Eric Bruntlett
Chris Coste
Brad Lidge
Jimmy Rollins
Jack Taschner

Losers but with the possibility of promotion

Antonio Bastardo
Pedro Feliz
Ryan Howard
Ryan Madson
J.C. Romero

Meh

Joe Blanton
Chad Durbin
Cole Hamels
J.A. Happ
John Mayberry, Jr.
Jamie Moyer
Shane Victorino

Cool

Greg Dobbs
Matt Stairs
Chase Utley

Yeah, you’re not going to find that kind of great analysis anywhere else but here. I was initially going to request a grant before doing the research, but didn’t feel like filling out the paperwork.

Compared to last year, the Phillies are really lacking players in the “cool” department. Maybe they need to order some new sunglasses or some leather jackets.

They’re now 9-14 in June, are tied for first place with the Mets (currently losing 4-1 to the Yankees) and have but a half-game lead on the Marlins (tied 3-3 with the Rays).

The loss tonight brings the Phillies back to .250 in interleague play (4-12). Two more games left before the nightmare is over.

Pull the trigger and the nightmare stops.

Segue into an excuse to embed a song. Done.

Graph of the Randomly-Selected Period of Time

With the four runs the Phillies scored in the first inning of tonight’s game with the Tampa Bay Rays (coupled with the six on Tuesday) and the three they allowed, I was wondering how well the Phillies perform in each of the innings. Here are the results, which do not include any data from tonight’s game:

The seventh inning has been very kind; the sixth and ninth innings, not so much.

EDIT: I think I may have jinxed Antonio Bastardo. I put this post up immediately after the top of the first, and he proceeded to give back three of the four runs he was spotted.

Manuel Finally Benches Rollins

Hat tip to The Good Phight via Delaware Online:

Jimmy Rollins is not in the Phillies lineup for tonight’s series finale against the Rays and will not start Friday’s game in Toronto.

[…]

Rollins met with Phillies manager Charlie Manuel this afternoon for about 10 minutes just before the lineup was posted.

“I want to sit him down and get him right,” Manuel said. “He’s trying to do too many things instead of staying relaxed. He’s definitely thinking about how he wants to help out the team. I think it’s just time to sit him.”

Manuel said that when Rollins returns to the lineup, he will bat leadoff.

Rollins has a slash line of .211/.254/.328 and has an OPS+ of 51. Even Abraham Nunez’s numbers (career 62 OPS+) aren’t this bad.

It’s a good decision to give Rollins a couple days off to focus on fixing whatever ails him, but it’s not a good choice to put him right back in the lead-off spot. When Rollins proves he’s over his slump, then he can be moved up, but until then, he’s simply hurting the offense.

The single-season record for outs made in a season by a hitter is 560 (in 745 plate appearances) by Omar Moreno in 1980. Rollins currently has made 249 outs in 320 PA. If he gets 745 PA this season, he’s on pace to make 580 outs.

Rollins is already tied for 18th on the single-season list with 527 outs made in his highly-productive 2007 season. The only two other active players above him are Jose Reyes (536 outs in 2005) and Juan Pierre (532 outs in 2006).

With Rollins missing the next couple games, don’t expect big changes in the Phillies’ offensive production. While the lineup is slightly better-constructed, Eric Bruntlett will be in the lineup. It’s like switching from rough brand of toilet paper to another rough brand: it really chaps your ass.

. . .

It’s Almost Time

Let’s see what the Phillies have been up to in the trade rumors.

Ken Rosenthal:

The Phillies have also asked about [Cleveland Indians left-handed starter Cliff] Lee, but balked at the price, sources say.

Jayson Stark:

The six young players the Phillies wouldn’t listen on, the same official said: outfielder Dominic Brown, catcher Lou Marson, and pitchers Kyle Drabek, Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco and Antonio Bastardo.

Look, I know Lou Marson and Joe Savery and Jason Knapp are enticing prospects, but this current Phillies team is really only built to compete for a World Series within the next two years or so. None of those players will be reliable and productive enough to seamlessly transition from the current batch to those waiting in the Minors.

So, the Phillies should do whatever they can to get some impact players and go for it all in the next two years. The only two players I’d be hesitant to trade are Dominic Brown and Kyle Drabek, but if the Indians insist on getting Brown in a trade for Cliff Lee, then so be it, I’m giving up Brown.

New York Post:

I hear that a few weeks back Colorado and Philadelphia were seriously discussing a deal that would have sent lefty J.A. Happ and prospects to the Rockies for Jason Marquis and Ryan Spilborghs. That would have given the Phillies an innings-eating starter and a good righty bat, elements they crave. The Phillies actually would like to do better when it comes to a starter than Marquis. But that market has been drying up with injuries to Jake Peavy and Erik Bedard, and continuing indication that the Astros will not trade Roy Oswalt.

Colorado would have received Happ, a controllable starter (Marquis is a free agent at the end of the year) with some upside plus the prospects plus some financial flexibility since they are paying most of the $9.875 million Marquis is making this year. So the Rockies would have had some dollars to make an acquisition or two if they got back in the race. Colorado likes Spilborghs, but felt with Seth Smith playing well in the majors and Matt Murton excelling at Triple-A that his righty bat could have been replaced.

But as talks were heating up on this deal, the Rockies took off. And once they took off they felt it would be wrong to make a trade that would be interpreted as surrender in the clubhouse and among the fan base. So they tabled talks and now Colorado is quietly out in the marketplace seeing if it can find a veteran reliever.

After 2007, I don’t think I’d ever say this, but here goes: Thank you Rockies, for winning a ridiculous amount of games in a short period of time.

When you consider that they were also giving up Happ in the deal, acquiring Marquis is a sideways move at best, and is really a step backwards. Spilborghs, if his acquisition meant that Chris Coste would have been designated for assignment, would have been a plus, but Paul Bako likely would have gotten the thumb over the shoulder motion.

As mentioned by the Post, the wealth of injuries to star trade-bait pitchers like Peavy and Halladay has really dried up what could have been a very active trade market. Cleveland, who has Mark DeRosa along with Lee, is by far the Phillies’ best match as a trade partner, and if I’m GM Ruben Amaro, I’m doing whatever I can to get both Lee and DeRosa.

Old Friends

There’s our old friends, offense and pitching!

Looking good, offense. You kicked the meth habit though, right? Good — you were getting kind of skinny. Hah, you still dating that arsonist, pitching? She’s bad for you, man.

It’s been tough without you guys — I didn’t know what to do with myself. I tried not to think about it, but eventually found myself flipping through the yearbook remembering all the good times we had.

Offense, you remember last year when we went to St. Louis and beat the snot out of Todd Wellemeyer and Ron Villone? We did the same thing in Colorado to Jorge de la Rosa. That’s when we were at our peak, man — nobody could touch us. I think we just grew apart for a little while but it’s good to have you back. How long are you going to be in town for?

Pitching, I saw you recently. I don’t think you saw me, but I saw you. Where have you been? Seems like you come in and out of town all the time. I think you just need to settle down, maybe get an apartment around here. Lots of jobs, don’t worry about that. Seems like everything just goes to hell when you leave. Maybe the three of us can get a place together, just like old times.

Tired of the metaphor yet? If you can’t tell, it was great to see the Phillies’ offense and their pitching both show up at the same time for a 10-1 win in Tampa against the Rays. The Phils scored six in the first and four in the fourth. Chase Utley and John Mayberry drove in seven of the Phillies’ ten runs, and Jamie Moyer threw six efficient innings, allowing only one run. The bullpen? A scoreless three innings.

The win, the Phillies’ first in nine days, snaps a six-game losing skid. Add another W into the road wins column as well. Make it 24 on the year with nine losses, compared to 13-22 at home.

Dear Mr. Selig,

Please re-schedule all of the Phillies’ home games as road games.

Thanks.

Sincerely,

Crashburn Alley

Unsettling Trends

With yet another sweep at home against an American League team, the Phillies’ record at home drops to 13-22 (.371) and their interleague record drops to 3-9 (.250). For comparison, the 20-46 Washington Nationals fall in between those winning percentages at .303.

Going into the season, only five teams had a worse interleague record since 1997: the Cincinnati Reds, Tampa Bay Rays, San Diego Padres, Baltimore Orioles, and Pittsburgh Pirates. The Phillies had a 90-109 record which is now 93-118 (.440). Since 2006, the Phillies are 20-40 (.333). The awful, awful Phillies teams of 1997-2000 were 32-35 (.478).

In this series against the Orioles, they were outscored 15-8. Thankfully, while the Phillies have slid, so too have the Mets. Since the end of the Phils-Mets series in New York on June 11, the Mets have gone 3-6 while the Phils have gone 1-8.

Fortunately for the Phillies, they will at least be on the road for the last six games of interleague play against the Rays and Blue Jays June 23-28.