Looking Back on the Brett Myers Era

Brett Myers was the odd man out when the Phillies set their NLCS roster. Myers was infuriated — or, in his words, “ticked”. There is a chance he makes the World Series roster, but even if he does, it is likely that the next 4-to-7 games are the last we’ll see of Brett in a Phillies uniform. He is a free agent after the post-season ends and is coming off of a disappointing, injury-plauged 2009 in which he was paid $12 million.

The Phillies have over $108 million obliged already for 2010, and that’s before addressing arbitration-eligible players (i.e. Chad Durbin) and free agents (i.e. Chan Ho Park). Given that Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson will continue pitching the late innings for the Phillies, Brett doesn’t fit in at the back of the bullpen as he did in 2007. Additionally, it is likely that both Durbin and Park will be back. Assuming the Phillies also include two left-handers (J.C. Romero is a lock aside from his health issues), the only role left for Brett in the ‘pen is as a mop-up reliever, certainly not a role he will be happy to take.

What about the starting rotation? Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are locks, of course, and you may as well throw in J.A. Happ too. Joe Blanton is arbitration-eligible, Jamie Moyer still has another year left on his contract, and Pedro Martinez is a free agent. Blanton made $5.75 million this year, so he’s due for a slight pay raise — not enough to deter the Phillies from offering him arbitration. Granted, it is an assumption, but I would be very surprised if Joe Blanton declined a $6-ish million arbitration offer from the Phillies. Four out of five spots filled.

If the Phillies are comfortable with four left-handers in the rotation, Jamie Moyer could be back as he will likely be 100% by spring training. Pedro Martinez could be re-signed, but he may retire if the Phillies win the World Series, and if they don’t, he still may retire. Antonio Bastardo or Kyle Drabek could win the #5 spot in spring training. Post-season barista Kyle Kendrick is always in the mix.

All told, Brett is looking at the following scenario if he wants to return to the Phillies:

  • A pay cut from the nearly $26 million he’s earned over the past three seasons
  • A mop-up role in the bullpen if he returns as a reliever
  • Competing with many candidates in spring training for the #5 spot in the rotation

If Brett wants to go elsewhere, he certainly could. There will be teams who will be willing to pay him more than the Phillies will — maybe not $12 million, but certainly better than what the Phillies will want to pay him. Other teams will also be willing to guarantee him a spot in the starting rotation, as Brett likes being a starting pitcher more than a reliever. And if he chooses a team that wants to use him as a reliever, there will be teams who will let him pitch in the late innings.

It’s still too early to tell which teams will open up their arms to Brett, but there are always teams in dire need of pitching every off-season. While left-handers Will Ohman and Joe Beimel had to wait until spring training to sign before the 2009 season, Myers won’t have to endure those tribulations. Myers is a jack-of-all-trades kind of pitcher, whereas Ohman and Beimel are strictly LOOGYs.

Now that we can all agree that it’s not likely (but not impossible) that we’ll see Brett pitching for the Phillies, let us look back on the five fondest moments of Brett’s career in Philadelphia.

5. Brett pitches a complete game gem against the Milwaukee Brewers to spur the Phillies to a seven-game winning streak.

On September 14, 2008, the Phillies were scheduled for a double-header against the Brewers, who had swept them in a four-game series in Milwaukee earlier in the season. The Phils were behind the Mets by 2.5 games and had won the first two games of the series against Manny Parra and Ben Sheets.

In the first game, the Phillies scored four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to break a 3-3 tie, victimizing Guillermo Mota and Brian Shouse. Scott Eyre and Brad Lidge combined to work a perfect ninth, and the Phillies won their third game in a row. If Myers could win the second-half of the double-header, the Phillies would only be behind the Mets by one game with twelve games remaining.

The Phillies staked Myers to a four-run lead early, scoring one in the first inning and three in the second against Brewers starter Jeff Suppan. Through four and two-thirds, Myers had faced the minimum, the only blemish coming in the third inning: a lead-off walk to Craig Counsell that was eventually erased when Suppan grounded into an inning-ending double play.

In the fourth inning with two outs, Ray Durham finally punched the Brewers’ first hit into right field, but Myers quickly ended the inning by striking out Prince Fielder. Myers would only allow one more hit — a solo home run to Prince Fielder in the seventh.  He notched 1-2-3 innings in the fifth, sixth, eighth, and ninth innings.

Myers pitched all nine innings and allowed only one run on two hits, striking out four and walking only one. The Phillies would go on to win 9 of their 12 remaining games, taking the NL East pennant, ahead of the New York Mets by three games.

4. Brett works the count against the Milwaukee Brewers’ C.C. Sabathia in Game 2 of the 2008 NLDS.

The Phillies had just tied the game at 1 apiece when Brett Myers strode to the plate with two outs in the second inning. There was a runner on third, and the Phillies were simply happy that, barring a terrible base running blunder, they were going to have the top of the lineup leading off the third inning. Instead, Brett decided to start a rally.

Sabathia had been utterly dominant in the second-half of the 2008 season after being traded to Milwaukee from the ailing Cleveland Indians. In 17 starts, Sabathia compiled a 1.65 ERA and better than a 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. What could a poor hitter like Myers do against the defending AL Cy Young award winner?

Myers quickly fell behind 0-2, but fouled off some tough pitches and took some pitches out of the strike zone to work the count back to 3-2. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Sabathia threw a 97-MPH down-and-in fastball. Myers took it for ball four and took his rightful spot at first base. Jimmy Rollins followed up with a walk of his own, bringing up Shane Victorino. And, well, the rest is history.

Myers followed up his excellent nine-pitch at-bat in the second inning with a ten-pitch at-bat in the fourth. He flied out to right-center, but he had done more in two at-bats than 99% of the hitters had done to Sabathia all season, taking 19 pitches and reaching base once.

In the fifth inning, Myers came up with runners on first and second, the Phillies ahead 5-1. He swung at the first pitch right-handed reliever Seth McClung threw, dropping a single into right field to load the bases. Unfortunately, Jimmy Rollins couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity.

Totaled up, Myers saw 20 pitches in three at-bats and reached base twice via a walk and a single. His walk eventually led to four Phillies runs, and his overall plate discipline accounted for more than 20% of the pitches Sabathia threw. Sabathia, of course, did not make it through the fourth inning.

3. Brett gets hit in head by line drive, pitches complete game gem anyway.

The Phillies were in Chicago on May 8, 2005 for a day game against the Cubs. Myers took the bump for the Phillies, opposed by Carlos Zambrano. Myers had retired the first five Cubs he had faced when catcher Michael Barrett took his turn at the plate. Barrett took the first pitch, then lined the second pitch off of Myers’ head. The ball ricocheted into left field and Barrett had himself a single.

Phillies catcher Todd Pratt and trainer Jeff Cooper were worried about Myers potentially having a concussion, but Myers assured them that he was fine, and he stayed in the game. Myers got Ben Grieve to ground out to Jimmy Rollins to end the inning.

Everyone assumed Myers would be taken out of the game for precautionary reasons, but Myers took the mound in the third inning. He retired Jerry Hairston, Zambrano, and Corey Patterson consecutively for a 1-2-3 inning. That would be the theme for the day, although the Cubs scored two runs against Myers in the fourth when Neifi Perez and Aramis Ramirez hit solo home runs.

Myers pitched all eight innings, allowing just the two runs while striking out ten Cubs and walking only one. Unfortunately, the Phillies could muster only one run off of Zambrano, who also went the distance.

2. Brett clinches the division on the last day in 2007.

In what was the start of good things to come, Myers clinched the division for the Phillies on the last day of the season in 2007. The Mets, behind Tom Glavine, had already lost to the Florida Marlins, so all the Phillies needed to do was earn a victory against the lowly Washington Nationals.

The Phillies led 6-1 going into the ninth inning, and Charlie Manuel insisted on going to his closer despite the lack of a save situation. Myers came in and quickly retired two Nationals by striking out Dmitri Young and inducing Austin Kearns to fly out to left field. The only person who stood between the Phillies and a celebratory pile-up in the infield was Wily Mo Pena.

Myers got ahead 0-2, threw a ball, and as he frequently did that season, he dropped a perfect 12-6 deuce on the outside corner for a called strike three. Myers threw his glove way up in the air in celebration and was quickly mobbed by a joyous Phillies team including Pat Burrell.

1.  Brett continues his hitting dominance against the Dodgers’ Chad Billingsley in the 2008 NLCS.

Unlike his approach to C.C. Sabathia in Game 2 of the NLDS, Myers was very aggressive at the plate against Chad Billingsley. The Phillies again had just tied up the game 1-1 when Myers came to the plate with a runner on second base and two outs. Myers swung at Billingsley’s first offering, serving it into center field for an RBI single.

That was not all Myers had to offer.

In the third inning, with the bases loaded and one out, Myers again swung at the first pitch, swatting a line drive past a diving James Loney down the right field line. Two Phillies scored on the hit and they still had runners on first and third with only one out. Myers stood on first base, looked into the Phillies dugout, and shrugged his shoulders, as not even he knew that he could do that with a bat. Later on, with two outs, Shane Victorino tripled scoring Ruiz (who was on third) and Myers, upping the Phillies’ lead to 8-2.

But wait, there’s more!

The baseball gods they did smile upon Myers in his third at-bat against reliever James McDonald. Myers again swung at the first pitch, a low-and-away breaking ball, driving it into the ground. The ball slowly dribbled down the third base line, hastily retrieved by McDonald. The perfect placement of the ball allowed Myers to reach first base safely without a throw — his third hit on three total pitches in three at-bats. Myers drove in three runs and scored two himself.

NLCS in Review

  • Four Phillies regulars hit for an OPS of 1.000 or better: Ryan Howard (1.457), Shane Victorino (1.320), Carlos Ruiz (1.271), and Jayson Werth (1.022). James Loney (1.127) was the only Dodger to cross that threshold.
  • The Phillies had 19 extra-base hits in the series to the Dodgers’ 9. 50% of the Phillies’ XBH were home runs as opposed to 67% of the Dodgers’.
  • 53% of the Phillies’ total hits were XBH; the Dodgers 24%.
  • 5 of the Dodgers’ 6 home runs were of the solo variety. Only 3 of the Phillies’ 10 were hit with the bases empty.
  • During the regular season, the Dodgers struck out 87 times less than the Phillies. During the NLCS, each team struck out a total of 33 times.
  • Cliff Lee was the only Phillies pitcher to get a hit. In last year’s NLCS, Brett Myers hit safely thrice in three at-bats and Cole Hamels got a hit as well. Clayton Kershaw was the only Dodger who reached base (via a walk).
  • Ramon Troncoso (3 IP) and Scott Elbert (1/3 IP) were the only Dodger relievers to finish the series with a 0.00 ERA. Brad Lidge, J.A. Happ, Chad Durbin, and Scott Eyre finished with aughts for the Phillies.
  • Dodgers starters had an ERA of 8.75; their relievers 5.68. Phillies starters had an ERA of 2.93; their relievers 3.38.
  • Dodger starters pitched only 55% of the innings; Phillies starters pitched 70% of the innings.
  • The Dodgers pitching staff had K/9, BB/9, and K/BB rates of: 6.96, 4.85, and 1.43 respectively. The Phillies pitching staff: 6.75, 2.45, 2.75.
  • Not one Phillies hitter on the bench got a hit in the NLCS. Matt Stairs was the only one to reach base (via a walk against Jonathan Broxton). For the Dodgers, Jim Thome had a hit and a walk in two at-bats, and Orlando Hudson hit a home run.
  • The Phillies and Dodgers tied a post-season record by hitting seven home runs between the two of them. It is the fifth time seven home runs have been hit in one post-season game.
  • Chase Utley reached base for the 25th conseuctive game by drawing a walk in the first inning of Game 5, tying the record held by Boog Powell.
  • The Phillies set a record by scoring 35 runs in five LCS games.
  • The Dodgers knocked the Phillies out of the playoffs in both the 1977 and ’78 NLCS. Thirty years later, the Phillies have exacted equivalent revenge.
  • The Phillies have reached the World Series in consecutive years for the first time in franchise history. The franchise, of course, has been around since 1883.

Almost There!

The Phillies officially started their quest to repeat as World Series champions in mid-February when pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. On April 5, the regular season began anew, and the Phillies would once again have to deal with oh-fers, blown saves, injuries, and losing streaks. The rigors of a 162-game season are taxing, no doubt.

Yet here the Phillies stand, again, on the precipice of every baseball player’s dream: a World Series championship. The last franchise to reach the World Series two years in a row was the 1998-2001 New York Yankees, who went four times in a row, winning it thrice consecutively from ’98-00. The ’95-96 Atlanta Braves were the last National League franchise to reach the World Series two years running.

The Phillies are now in that rarefied air, proudly.

While the Philadelphia police greased up poles on South Broad Street to prepare for riotous celebrations, the Phillies are now greasing up for a run at, likely, the New York Yankees. It should come as no surprise that the Bronx Bombers will be the Phillies’ greatest challenge thus far, but the good guys have overcome anything and everything thrown their way:

  • Brad Lidge’s incomprehensibly poor regular season as the closer
  • Cole Hamels’ mediocre 2009 despite being the same pitcher
  • J.C. Romero missing the first 50 games of the season, and then missing two more months due to injuries
  • Biology finally catching up to Jamie Moyer
  • Eric Bruntlett’s 21 OPS+

With their epic comebacks in Game Four of the NLDS and NLCS, the Phillies have shown that they get knocked down, but they get up again. Captain Clutch, the suddenly clutch Alex Rodriguez, and the $423.5 million the Yankees obliged to C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett — it doesn’t matter. Last year, Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, and Matt Garza were supposed to stop the Phillies in their tracks. That idea was quickly squelched.

As they have been for the last few years, the Phillies will go into yet another post-season series expected to lose, to crumble at the sight of a dominant closer, to be overmatched by a three-time MVP, various Gold Glovers, and future Hall of Famers.

For now, the Phillies will celebrate the completion of the second-to-last leg of their run at another World Series title. Upon marinating in and consuming much champagne, the Phillies will turn their attention to those aristocrats from the Bronx, their yeoman’s approach unfettered.

In Game 4 of the NLDS, the Phillies had a 4% chance to win after Shane Victorino made the second out in the top of the ninth inning.

In Game 4 of the NLCS,  they had a 12% chance to win after Raul Ibanez grounded out to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning.

Go ahead, count them out. They like it better that way. It makes it that much sweeter when they pile up after the 27th out.

Game graph above courtesy FanGraphs.

Buzz Words

I interrupt your regularly scheduled Phillies coverage here for some Buzz Words. Yes, Buzz Bissinger — the one who got really angry at Will Leitch on HBO — is back to get really angry at Billy Beane and Michael Lewis and Moneyball. I’m a bit late, as the article was posted a few days ago, but I’d like to refute it nonetheless, FJM-style.

Ahem.

Whatever happens in the National League and American League Championship series unfolding over the next week or so, one outcome has already been decided–the effective end of the theories of Moneyball as a viable way to build a playoff-caliber baseball team when you don’t have the money.

[snip]

…keep in mind one number this postseason: 528,620,438. That’s the amount of money in payroll spent this season by the teams still in it–the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Angels, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Florida Marlins: 87 wins

Minnesota Twins: 87 wins

Texas Rangers: 87 wins

Tampa Bay Rays: 84 wins

Each of those four teams had payrolls under $70 million, in the bottom-third of the league.

Bissinger’s overall point, I guess, is true: rich teams, no matter what the Athletics or Twins or Marlins do, are once again enjoying consistent success. The Philadelphia Phillies and their $130 million payroll are about to reach the World Series for the second year in a row. The New York Yankees are likely to reach the promised land as well with a payroll north of $200 million.

Why is that?

Consider a generic example:

There exists Team A, who is rich, and Team B, who is poor. Five years ago, Team B used Ideology to gain advantages over Team A’s monetary edge. Team A noticed Team B’s Ideology was providing an advantage, and adopted some or all of the tenets of Ideology as well. So now Team A and B both have Ideology but Team A still has much more money. Team B must go back to the drawing board to come up with a new-and-improved Ideology.

Pointing to the recent struggles of the Athletics and screaming, “See? Moneyball doesn’t work!” is A) cherry-picking; B) short-sighted; and C) dishonest.

As Lewis told it, what Beane and his minions did was usher in the baseball equivalent of a new period of painting, the Age of On-Base Percentage.

But it’s not just on-base percentage. It’s whatever skill a baseball player has that is being undervalued by the market.

Looking largely at the narrow time frame of 2000 through 2002, Lewis attempted to explain the phenomenon of how the A’s had done so well (they made the playoffs all three of those years) with such little dough. The explanation was dazzling, although Lewis barely mentioned the three reasons the A’s had been so successful–pitchers Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, and Tim Hudson.

[snip]

Lewis carefully and calculatedly stayed away from the pitching triumvirate. He concentrated on journeyman players like Chad Bradford and Scott Hatteburg as the key to the A’s rise.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Everyone knows that “the pitching triumvirate” — and Jason Giambi — were a huge part of the Athletics’ success. But as a team like last year’s World Champion Phillies can attest, it is one or two role players that can push a team over the top. The Phillies picked up Matt Stairs from the Toronto Blue Jays and Joe Blanton from the Athletics. Everyone knew that Chase Utley and Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge were the biggest contributors, but would the Phillies have won it all last year without Stairs and Blanton? I don’t think so.

Lewis wasn’t intending to equate Bradford and Hatteberg with Hudson, Mulder, and Zito; he was simply giving due credit to some role players who did have a hand in the team’s success.

He showed his greatest infatuation for Jeremy Brown, a Beane first-round draft pick in 2002. He was a fat and slow catcher from Alabama, but Beane was dying for him because his meticulous analysis had discovered something everyone else had missed: his statistically anomalous ability to draw walks.

Matt Swartz found out in an entry for Baseball Prospectus that 51% of first- and second-round picks make it to The Show.

Bissinger will go on to criticize Beane because Brown never panned out, but based on the odds, it shouldn’t be surprising. Disappointing, sure, but not surprising.

Beane had seven first-round draft picks that year, each of them extolled by Lewis for their buried-treasure status. Three of them are still playing in the majors, none with anything close to superstar careers and all of them long gone from the A’s.

Bissinger dismisses off-hand that Beane had anything to do with those draft picks leaving Oakland. Those draft picks, by the way: Nick Swisher, Joe Blanton, Mark Teahen, Mark McCurdy, Ben Fritz, Stephen Obenchain, and Jeremy Brown.

For Swisher, Beane acquired Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Sweeney, and Fautino de los Santos. For Blanton, Beane acquired Adrian Cardenas, Josh Outman, and Matt Spencer. For Teahen, Beane acquired Octavio Dotel. While Dotel wasn’t exactly lights out and battled injuries, I find it hard to say that Beane made a bad deal anywhere here.

Furthermore, that three of Beane’s seven draft picks here made the Majors pretty much follows the 51% cited above.

Except it just hasn’t proven itself to work consistently.

Because it requires taking chances on unproven players. That’s the difference between rich teams and poor teams: rich teams can afford to acquire players with predictable levels of production. The Yankees went out and acquired C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and A.J. Burnett prior to the 2009 regular season. They have all produced as we would have expected them to.

The Athletics, meanwhile, had a starting rotation where Dallas Braden, all of 25 years old, was the oldest. That rotation also included two 21-year-olds in Brett Anderson (a Rookie of the Year candidate) and Trevor Cahill. Going into the season, the A’s had at best a cloudy idea as to what they would get out of their starters.

His theory that only college pitchers should be drafted over high school ones because of their experience sounded plausible. But it flew in the face of the Atlanta Braves, who won their division 14 years in a row from 1991 to 2005, and relied on pitchers drafted straight out of high school all the while.

To quote the aforementioned Matt Swartz of Baseball Prospectus:

If something did change in MLB front offices as a result of Moneyball, there was good reason—from 1978 to 2008, 59% of players drafted in the first two rounds out of college made the majors, and only 42% of high school players.

The counter-argument to the Moneyball idea of drafting college players is that high school players have higher upside and are more likely to succeed while in the majors. But research shows that’s not true for the first two rounds. Of the college players drafted in the first two rounds, 17% of them reached a career WARP3 of 10.0, and only 12% of high school players did. It seems pretty clear that the A’s must have known what they were doing.

Beane was also flippant, especially to the ears of anyone who’d ever faced the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera in the postseason, about how there was no need to pay exorbitantly for a closer because just about anyone could close–but then he traded away one of his vaunted draft picks for a reliever who turned out to be lousy anyway.

This is a mystifying paragraph. He starts out criticizing Beane for devaluing the closer’s role. Presumably, to support that statement, he cites that Beane traded a draft pick for a reliever (Dotel) who didn’t produce the way he was expected to. Doesn’t that support Beane’s position?

From a logical standpoint, saving a reliever to start the last inning with a 1-3 run lead isn’t the best way to leverage the best arm in the bullpen. It is much smarter, say, for the Athletics to use Andrew Bailey when they absolutely need a strikeout or to otherwise escape a jam.

They conveniently avoid the fact that Beane has never won the World Series, or even got to it.

Bissinger conveniently avoids the fact that getting to the World Series is extremely difficult. Just ask the Los Angeles Dodgers.

His teams have only made it to the playoffs in two of the last seven seasons. The last was in 2006. Since then the team has never been above .500, including a particularly dismal 75 wins and 87 losses this season.

Cherry pick.

What Bissinger glosses over: the A’s made the post-season four straight years from 2000-03. Each year, they lost in the fifth game of the Division Series. They were above .500 from 1999-2006. They won 90 or more games five straight years between 2000-04 and did it again in ’06. All with a small payroll.

Two of Beane’s greatest disciples, Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi, moved out from the long shadow of their boss to become general managers.

Bissinger uses DePodesta and Ricciardi as examples of how Moneyball can’t work, because the two were not extremely successful as GM’s.

Under DePodesta, the Dodgers in 2004-05 went 164-160. In ’04, they won 93 games and went on to lose in the NLDS to the 105-game-winning St. Louis Cardinals. DePodesta drafted Scott Elbert and Blake DeWitt in ’04 and Luke Hochevar in ’05 (did not sign), all familiar names. He also drafted David Price, now with the Tampa Bay Rays, but was unable to sign him. Clearly, talent evaluation isn’t a weakness for DePo.

The Blue Jays, under Ricciardi, went 642-653 (.496) from 2002-09. Ricciardi drafted Aaron Hill, Shaun Marcum, David Purcey, Adam Lind, Casey Janssen, Jesse Litsch, Ricky Romero, Travis Snider, and Brett Cecil. Like DePodesta, he is no slouch when it comes to evaluating baseball players. His problem was that he wasn’t good at dealing with people; he lacked communication skills.

At any rate, to attribute the lack of long-term success of DePo and J.P. to their use of “Moneyball” is exquisitely ignorant. It’s like if I looked at the high school transcripts of two Mets fans and said they had subpar grades because they like the Mets. People fail for many reasons aside from one specific point of view they happen to take on a subject.

Market inefficiences are harder and harder to find, one of the ironies of Beane’s brief but successful reliance on on-base percentage from 2000 to 2002 is that it has made players with such skill far too expensive for his pocketbook.

That’s the point: you find market inefficiencies, exploit them until they are no longer market inefficiencies (because other people catch on), and then you move on to the next one.

The real moneyball of baseball also makes it impossible for Beane to hold on to the quality players that he does discover. As a result, he ends up trading a superb pitcher such as Dan Haren and a potential superstar such as Matt Holliday for questionable players and prospects.

That’s the point. If Beane had $120 million to work with, he wouldn’t have to trade Haren and Holliday. But he doesn’t have $120 million, or at least he didn’t when he was enjoying his success in the early aughts.

But he is not the man who changed baseball, and Lewis’s Moneyball did not chronicle the revolution. Since Beane has compared himself to J.D. Salinger, just wanting to fade away, maybe the best thing for him to do is retire and write a book about how, in the end, it all really didn’t work.

MLB teams have been employing more and more number-crunchers. Tom Tango, of The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball, now works for the Seattle Mariners. Bissinger just cited two of Beane’s disciples that admittedly didn’t have exorbitant levels of success, but did not exactly fail either. Clearly, what Beane started and popularized has caught on with other teams who have seen the benefits that can be had by adopting a more calculating approach.

Bissinger finishes out his article by saying, “it all really didn’t work.”

To reiterate what I wrote above:

They won 90 or more games five straight years between 2000-04 and did it again in ’06. All with a small payroll.

I wonder what would constitute success to Bissinger. One would think that five years of 90+ wins, being hamstrung by a small payroll, would qualify. I guess not.

Jaffe’s Phun Phillie Phacts

The venerable Chris Jaffe has a Phun Phillie Phacts piece up at The Hardball Times. It’s a great read. A snippet:

The team’s starting eight position players accounted for 79.7% of the franchise’s plate appearances in 2009. That is the most by any team in the 21st century. It’s the most by any club since the 1989 Cardinals, who had 80.5% go to their main eight.

An Outside Perspective

With last night’s incredible come-from-behind win, it’s easy to get caught up in the euphoria. Phillies fans are grinning ear-to-ear, walking on clouds. At the other end of the spectrum, Dodger fans are driving to a nearby bridge, or they’re out buying an extension cord and a stool.

What better way, then, to get some perspective on what happened last night than by talking to a Mets fan? That’s why I caught up with Steve Keane from the blog Kranepool Society for a quick Q&A session. You may remember Steve gave us some insight on the Mets earlier in the season.

1. Forced to pick one, which of the Phillies or Yankees would you prefer to reach the World Series and why?

Keane: With a gun to my head, the lesser of the two evils would be the Highlanders. A Highlanders-Dodgers would have been my pick but that looks like a pipe dream right now. Mine and every Mets fans worst nightmare seems to be on the horizon, Highlanders-Phinks World Series.

2. As a Mets fan, how un-enjoyable have this year’s playoff matches been for you?

Keane: It hasn’t been un-enjoyable. I knew by August the Mets season was over between injuries and poor management by Labor Day I was looking at 2010. All I look for now are games that have great story lines and are exciting and both series have had both so far.

3. Can you recall a Mets playoff game that ended in as epic a fashion as last night’s NLCS Game Four? The Buckner Game, perhaps?

Keane: Bill com’on we’ve had plenty. Edgardo Alfonzo hitting a Grand Slam in the top of the 9th inning in game 1 of the 1999 NLDS to break a 4-4 tie  against the Diamondbacks. Todd Pratt winning that series with a walk off homer in game 4, Benny Agbayani 13th inning walk off in game 3 of the 2000 NLDS, the Robin Ventura Grand Slam Single in the bottom of the 15th inning in Game 5 of the 1999 NLCS then there are the homers by Lenny Dykstra in the 86 NLCS and his homer in Game 3 of the 86 World Series and then there are all of Darryl Strawberry’s home runs in the NLCS and World Series, so to answer your question yes we have had our “epic” moments.

. . .

Thanks to Steve for taking some time to answer a few questions. Be sure to check out the more extensive Q&A Keane did with Jesse Spector of the NY Daily News, and stop by his blog for commentary on the Mets.

How Do They Do It?

The graph to the right says it all, folks.

Down and never out. Bend but never break.

The Phillies had an 18% chance to win the game after Greg Dobbs made the second out in the bottom of the ninth. But when have the Phillies ever submitted themselves to the laws of probability? What they have consistently done over the past two seasons — regular and post-seasons alike — is historically incredible.

Until the ninth inning, the Phillies had only three opportunities to drive in a runner in scoring position, and all three times they failed. Meanwhile, the opportunistic Dodgers drove in all four of their runs with two outs thanks to some mediocre pitching by Joe Blanton and poor defense on the part of Pedro Feliz. On the other side, Dodgers starter Randy Wolf retired twelve straight Phillies between the second and fifth innings.

Pack it in, it’s just one of those games, better luck next time, etc.

Most teams would have thought that way. Never the Phillies. Not even against the league’s best bullpen with the league’s most intimidating closer with the fastest fastball, and the plethora of lefty-specialists.

For eight innings, the Dodgers out-hit, out-fielded, and out-pitched the Phillies. Heck, for eight and one-third, the Dodgers outplayed the Phillies.

Matt Stairs came up in the ninth with one out to face Jonathan Broxton. The Phillies were down by one run, 4-3. TBS ran replays of Stairs’ Game 4 home run against Broxton from last year’s NLCS. Broxton didn’t forget — he pitched around Stairs like he had swine flu. An errant fastball hit Carlos Ruiz, and even then, one was thinking, “Is anyone really going to get around on this guy’s 99 MPH fastball?”

Oddly, the Phillies are probably more scared of that 55-MPH Eephus pitch Vicente Padilla threw in Game Two than they are of Broxton’s fastball.

Greg Dobbs made weak contact, weakly popped out to third baseman Casey Blake, and the dream started to fade again.

I can hear Jeff Brantley speaking of Edwin Encarnacion prior to a game-winning three-run home run for the Reds: “He is not a clutch player.” FanGraphs says Jimmy Rollins hasn’t been a clutch player since 2007, his MVP season.

Clutch this. With runners on first and second, Rollins turned on a Broxton fastball, drove it into the right-center field gap, scoring Eric Bruntlett easily. The only question was whether Carlos Ruiz could score from first. Of course — he’s a Phillie, right? Ruiz chooch-chooed his way towards home plate, went down for an epic slide, scoring the Phillies’ fifth and final run. He popped up only to be mobbed by a raucous Phillies team.

Just another epic Phillies comeback.

As a fan, it’s nice to have wins like last night’s every once in a while. These epic comebacks — tonight and Game 4 of the NLDS — are hell on one’s well-being, physically and mentally. But I’ll take ‘em every time.

Game graph above courtesy FanGraphs.