Intellectual Integrity and Good Glove, No Hit

I’m not sure I’d ever hated a Phillies player before Wilson Valdez. I’d been frustrated with Mitch Williams, and with Mike Williams, David West, and others over my nearly 20 years as a Phillies fan, but Wilson Valdez was an emotional stimulus unlike any I’d ever experienced. I guess I didn’t hate him, per se. I have a friend who talks about loving an athlete’s “game.” I never really understood what he meant until I started to experience that feeling for myself. There are athletes whose “games” I love–the physical bearing, the individual skills, the style of play. I love Robin van Persie’s game. And Mike Richards’ game. And Jimmy Rollins‘ game.

I hate Wilson Valdez’s game. Exxon is a double play machine, a hitter whose batted ball profile looks like a flight plan for a stealth bomber–low, fast, and leaving nuclear annihilation in its wake. With men on base, the Phillies would have almost literally been better off sending him to the plate without a bat. Maybe a fish wrapped in newspaper. Or a frying pan. Maybe they’d have been better off sending a fish wrapped in newspaper to the plate with the bat, thus taking Exxon out of the equation entirely.

As if being a total offensive zero wasn’t enough, Exxon was a useful, but average defender. You can get away with being a bad offensive player by playing great defense. Omar Vizquel, for instance, is and was a bad offensive player, but his fantastic defense has some (misguided) people arguing for his enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Exxon is not Omar Vizquel. It’s not as if his glove was any excuse for his complete lack of offensive production. But no, Valdez is flashy. He has a strong arm, which was awesome once, but otherwise caused him to be overrated by Phillies fans to the point where he made J.A. Happ  look like Donovan McNabb.

And that, I think, is where the Valdez hatred comes from. It’s not so much that he was bad, I was just sick of hearing people telling me that he wasn’t. All major league teams, even good ones, have players who just stink on ice, but when everyone thinks he’s good, it’s frustrating. Forgive me for telling this story again, but when someone tells you he’d rather have a player with a career .290 OBP and an unbreakable habit of grounding into double plays at the plate with men on and the game on the line, rather than Jayson Werth, who was in the midst of the best offensive season by a Phillies outfielder since Lenny Dykstra finished second in the MVP race in 1993…well, you’d slam your glass on the table and unleash a string of obscenities at the top of your lungs too.

I’m happy beyond belief that the Phillies cashiered Wilson Valdez, even though they’ve replaced him with a player, in Freddy Galvis, who will likely be worse offensively. And I’m probably more excited about Galvis than any other Phillies player this season. A group of smart, well-meaning people have tried, unsuccessfully, to train me as a social scientist, but one thing I have learned is not to fudge findings to support a predetermined narrative or set of beliefs.

Which is why I’m trying to refrain from drawing conclusions of any kind about four games. But that’s neither here nor there. But Exxon was a replacement-level player, and I’d have cursed him and his stupid goatee with my dying breath, even if he’d cured cancer and my parents adopted him. Freddy Galvis, this season, will probably be a replacement-level player and I’d let him marry my hypothetical daughter. Where’s the consistency? Where’s my intellectual integrity?

Part of it is that Galvis is as good defensively as everyone seemed to think Valdez was. His glove has always graded out as top-notch, even at shortstop. I think we overuse the adjective “catlike” to describe athletes. Anyone who’s even moderately quick and agile is described as catlike, when perhaps another word would avoid overselling the quick-twitch explosiveness and body control that many athletes are said to possess but do not.

Freddy Galvis actually does move like a cat. He’s always in the right spot, moves with alacrity and grace in spite of having an extremely oddly-proportioned body, and fields the ball with confidence. Watching him on the same infield as Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco, even after only a couple of games, has been spectacular.

With the bat, he’s not so solid. He’s probably going to ground into a ton of double plays, and he’s displayed neither patience nor power. He seems to be aware of his limitations as a player, which is encouraging, and with time, he could become merely bad, his RBI double this afternoon notwithstanding. If Galvis were even an average hitter, we’d be talking about him the way Rangers fans talk about Jurickson Profar. But the glove is so good, I’m inclined, perhaps irrationally, to be very patient with his offense.

Drew Fairservice offered another explanation on the Getting Blanked podcast on Opening Day. (Here’s the link. Fast-forward to around the 7-minute mark). I apologize for the language–he’s Canadian.

“I think in a lot of ways, we’re kind of getting what we’ve been asking for for years, in terms of: no one likes seeing shitbags and retreads, and guys who have been bouncing around on the fringes of the league…Now we’re getting kids in a lot of ways. So does that make us feel better, because we don’t know if they suck…is it more about that–is it just that we don’t know how crappy they are? Or is it that there’s that much more potential for them not to be crappy?”

Fairservice, I think, gets it exactly right. Though he was talking about the rejuvenated Toronto Blue Jays, most fans must feel similarly about “shitbags and retreads,” as he so artfully puts it. The Phillies, from 2000 to 2005 or so called on one of the best crops of young players assembled in a generation, but after the World Series title, most of the team’s holes have been filled by shitbags and retreads rather than youngsters. Contreras, Baez, and Qualls over De Fratus, Aumont, and Schwimer. Nix, Pierre and Podsednik over Brown.

The best of the Phillies’ farm system remains in Lehigh Valley–or Toronto or Houston, though I’m not sure how many of those trades I’d undo–while the major league roster and starting lineup are peopled by players who have never been good, are not good now, and will almost certainly never become good in the future.

Except for Galvis.

He could, in time, become less crappy. This 22-year-old middle infielder who can’t hit a lick is the new blue blood and the great white hope. Particularly since the Phillies have spent the offseason building an oubliette for Domonic Brown to live in for the rest of his natural life.

So it’s one of two things: either Galvis is leaps and bounds better than Exxon with the glove, or his youth is exciting to the point where I’m willing to overlook his flaws. If it’s neither of those things, then you can have my intellectual integrity. I’m driving the train to Galviston. And this train is bound for glory.

Phillies Reliever Usage By Leverage Index

Many have criticized Phillies manager Charlie Manuel for his bullpen usage to start the season. Specifically, his non-use of $50 million man Jonathan Papelbon in high-leverage situations against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and his use earlier this afternoon in a low-leverage spot against the Florida Marlins.

The table below lists each plate appearance for every Phillies reliever in the four games thus far, ordered by Leverage Index (LI). Papelbon is highlighted in red.

LI (leverage index): A measure of how important a particular situation is in a baseball game depending on the inning, score, outs, and number of players on base, created by Tom Tango.

Baselines: The average LI is 1 and is considered a neutral situation. 10% of all real game situations have a LI greater than 2, while 60% have a LI less than 1.

Pitcher LI
Blanton 5.49
Bastardo 5.34
Herndon 4.90
Blanton 4.90
Blanton 4.87
Bastardo 4.75
Herndon 4.56
Bastardo 4.28
Kendrick 4.04
Bastardo 3.76
Bastardo 3.56
Bastardo 3.46
Bastardo 3.32
Papelbon 3.31
Stutes 3.18
Qualls 2.86
Stutes 2.86
Stutes 2.68
Herndon 2.67
Blanton 2.67
Papelbon 2.44
Kendrick 2.44
Herndon 2.20
Blanton 2.20
Stutes 2.20
Stutes 1.83
Qualls 1.78
Stutes 1.71
Stutes 1.69
Papelbon 1.66
Kendrick 1.50
Qualls 1.34
Stutes 1.32
Kendrick 1.12
Qualls 0.98
Stutes 0.98
Kendrick 0.78
Stutes 0.76
Stutes 0.62
Herndon 0.33
Savery 0.30
Savery 0.29
Herndon 0.19
Savery 0.15
Herndon 0.10
Papelbon 0.10
Savery 0.07
Papelbon 0.05
Savery 0.05
Savery 0.04
Papelbon 0.03
Papelbon 0.02

Papelbon’s highest-leverage spot ranks 14th on the list, and four of his seven spots rank in the bottom-seven, including the lowest-two. Due to Manuel’s adherence to old baseball orthodoxy — the save rule — the Phillies have not been optimally deploying their relievers. As a result, they lost very winnable games in Pittsburgh over the weekend.

LI Bin AB JB DH KK JP CQ JS MS Total
0-0.99 0 0 3 1 4 1 6 3 18
1-1.99 0 0 0 2 1 2 0 4 9
2-2.99 0 2 2 1 1 1 0 3 10
3-3.99 4 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 6
4-4.99 2 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 7
5-5.99 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 2

 

Marlins Series Preview with Dave Gershman

The 1-3 Florida Marlins are in town for the 1-2 Phillies’ home opener. Anibal Sanchez will oppose Cole Hamels, a match-up of two very talented starting pitchers. Both teams are coming off of disappointing openings to the season: the Phillies have pitched well but scored few runs; the Marlins have been hit-or-miss, falling victim to Kyle Lohse and Johnny Cueto but victimizing Mat Latos and Bronson Arroyo.

Series at a Glance

Lineups

Marlins

Phillies

Dave Gershman (@Dave_Gershman), of ESPN’s Marlins Daily, and I swapped some questions to preview the series on our respective blogs, so make sure to stop over there to check out what I had to say about the Phillies. His answers about the Marlins are below.

. . .

1. So you’ve seen the first regular season action in the new ballpark, albeit just one game. What are your initial thoughts? Do you think it will play as an extreme pitcher’s park as many are predicting?

Although I think it’s too early to tell whether or not the ballpark will favor pitchers rather than hitters, there are some initial problems concerning me that could easily be found within the confines of the park prior to the seasons start. The home run sculpture in center field is a basic issue that I have with the park. It’s almost directly in the batters eye, which too is bright green. There is just a lot of noise going on in center field which I think should be dimmed out if possible. Back to the question though, I do think the park will become a pitcher’s best friend. The dimensions are huge, and last time we saw dimensions as such for a brand new park was Citi Field.

2. Giancarlo Stanton hasn’t hit a home run yet. What’s wrong with him?

Absolutely nothing. The season is only four days old and we all know what Stanton is capable of.

3. Which hitter has most impressed you through four games? Which pitcher?

I’ll go with Omar Infante and Josh Johnson. It’s still early, but Infante’s big home run on Saturday night helped the Marlins win their first game of the season. Additionally, he almost hit for the cycle that night. Josh Johnson being healthy and pitching a decent game on Opening Night earns him my “most valuable pitcher through four games” award. If Johnson can stay healthy and simply be Josh Johnson, the Marlins post-season chances are much greater.

4. Which hitter has least impressed you through four games? Which pitcher?

Mike Stanton and Carlos Zambrano. The fact that Stanton hasn’t yet gone deep isn’t the problem for me. The issue that I have with Stanton is that a lot of the fastballs he’s been given have been rolled over to third base or elsewhere to the left side of the infield. Last season, all of those would be fly balls. Zambrano’s performance yesterday sells it. After a lousy first few innings, the right-hander easily penetrated the Marlins’ chances of winning the ballgame.

5. Anibal Sanchez increased his K/9 from 7.4 and 7.2 in 2009-10 to 9.3 last year, while also continuing to improve his control. What contributed to this change?

Like Ricky Nolasco, Sanchez threw his fastball more and got more whiffs outside the zone. His contact rate lowered because of that and, because of that, probably had him gain more confidence in his arsenal. In doing so, Sanchez has easily become one of the more feared starters in the NL East and has a chance to continue providing as a solid number two for the Fish for years to come.

6. Have the first few games of the season changed the way you feel about the NL East?

Not particularly. I’ll make my judgements in a couple of weeks once things settle down a bit. That said, I did expect the Braves to play better and the Mets the opposite. Cliff Lee failed to lead the Phillies to victory in his first start, but again, these things happen in the first few games of the season. If I made judgements after the first weekend of the season I would have given up on the Red Sox after the first week of last season.

7. How do you see this series playing out? Who wins?

Especially with the way these two teams played this weekend, it could go either way. That said, I think the Phillies will turn the bats on and, additionally, shut the Marlins down. The Fightin’s will win the series 2-1.

. . .

Many thanks to Dave for sharing his insight on the Fish. Follow him on Twitter and stop by Marlins Daily for his thoughts throughout the series.

Use this thread throughout the day to talk about the Phillies and the game.

Q&A with former Phillies Minor Leaguer Eric Pettis

Eric Pettis was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2010 draft and spent two seasons in the organization, going from Williamsport in 2010 to Lakewood and Clearwater in 2011. Unfortunately, he was recently released, so he is hoping to latch onto a new team to continue his career. In the meantime, he will be publicizing his book, “Just A Minor Perspective: Through the Eyes of a Minor League Rookie“. Pettis provides a first-person account of the good and the bad that a Minor Leaguer goes through, a perspective surprisingly missing, even in the age of blogs and social media.

The minor leagues are largely misunderstood, more well known for the players who have skipped through their ranks than the ones who reside in them. They’re a mysterious land of hotels, bus rides, and clubhouses. Upon being drafted out of UC Irvine by the Phillies, right-handed pitcher Eric Pettis didn’t quite know what he was getting himself into.

Just A Minor Perspective allows readers to jump into Eric’s mind and experience the journey along with him. The narrative resembles stream-of-consciousness as he describes the good, the bad, and the ugly of the minor leagues as it hits him square in the face for the first time.

Eric gives an honest, pointed, and often humorous account of what he feels when he’s feeling it. Just A Minor Perspective is a gripping story of one man’s attempt to find his place in a new world; a scramble to conquer the first rung of the professional baseball ladder.

Pettis was kind enough to take a few questions for us. Check out the questions after the jump and be sure to grab his book and follow him on Twitter (@Eric_Pettis).

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