Blanton Sharp As Phillies Return to .500

The following chart, via FanGraphs, shows Joe Blanton’s sinker velocity. He averaged 90 or more MPH only a handful of times, but his sinker tonight averaged over 91 MPH according to Brooks Baseball.

(click to enlarge)

Tonight marked the 27th time in his career, out of 199 starts, that Blanton posted a game score of 69 or higher. Of course, he didn’t do it at all last year and only twice in 2010. The Phillies played incredible defense behind him, which explains why he allowed just three hits behind a paltry three strikeouts.

Date Tm Opp Rslt IP H R ER BB SO HR GSc WPA
2010-09-29 PHI WSN W 7-1 7.0 3 1 0 3 6 0 72 0.183
2010-08-23 PHI HOU L 2-3 7.0 6 1 1 0 9 0 70 0.345
2009-09-22 (1) PHI FLA W 9-3 7.0 2 0 0 2 9 0 80 0.334
2009-08-30 PHI ATL W 3-2 7.0 3 1 1 4 7 1 70 0.320
2009-07-10 PHI PIT W 3-2 7.1 4 1 1 1 6 1 71 0.268
2009-07-05 PHI NYM W 2-0 7.1 4 0 0 3 5 0 72 0.432
2009-05-26 PHI FLA W 5-3 7.0 5 0 0 2 11 0 76 0.304
2008-08-08 PHI PIT L 0-2 7.0 1 0 0 2 7 0 80 0.452
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/12/2012.

If the soon-to-be free agent can prove to the baseball world that he is healthy and effective, the Phillies should have no problem finding a suitor for his services at the July 31 trading deadline, assuming the Phillies are willing to eat most of his remaining salary.

I <3 Papelbees

As the self-proclaimed id of this site, a lot of what I like to write about involves the emotional experience of sports fandom, particularly Phillies fandom. But the tricky thing about writing for a team-specific site is that writing about what it’s like to be a Phillies fan is often pointless. I figure most of you folks are Phillies fans anyway, so there’s not a whole lot to say about the general fan experience that y’all don’t know anyway.

But individual players, however–that’s another story. I’ve always been troubled by the idea that we don’t get to choose the individual players we root for. I mean, we do, to a certain extent. But we root for laundry, and when we’re relieved of a beloved player, it hurts.

Or, more confusingly, when we have a pariah thrust into our midst. I was never that big a Jonathan Papelbon fan. Well, I guess I respected him all along–apart from a little blip in 2010 he’s never been anything other than a great relief pitcher. But I hated his stupid gassy stare that broadcasters seemed to be convinced was intimidating. I hated the almost Trachselian delay between pitches. I hated him for being one of the New Wave Red Sox, that latest group, with Lester, Beckett, Pedroia, and a whining, screaming, legion of folks with obnoxious accents and pink hats.

Around 2006 or so, the Red Sox went from being the lovable, long-suffering Anti-Yankees to being something almost worse–a team with the arrogance and success of the Yankees but lacking the self-awareness that makes the Bronx Bombers what they are. When people hate the Yankees, the Yankees and their fans seem to be aware that they are successful, pretentious, and smug in the extreme, and there’s a tacit acknowledgement among the Pinstriped Army that such qualities come with the danger of being resented by the Great Unwashed. Now bring the car ’round, Jeeves.

But with the Red Sox, it’s different. After 80 years of being the hard-luck underdog, the Martin Freeman character as it were, they suddenly became just as successful and just as obnoxious as the Yankees. Then Hollywood collectively decided to blacklist any director who dared set his movie outside of South Boston. Theo Epstein, the role model for a generation of teenaged nerds who suddenly saw the fruits of intelligence and unconventional thinking in baseball (including me) started getting weird. Now there’s panic fit for Chicken Little when the Sox miss the playoffs. We rend our garments at the degradation of the moral fiber of the clubhouse with (gasp) beer and fried chicken. (Which, to be honest, sounds like every meal I ate in four years of college, but whatever.)

And for some reason, with the oppressive success, the resources of a middling petrostate and the fawning, sycophantic adoration of the national media, the Red Sox and their fans tried to cling to that conception of the self that made them more of America’s team than the Yankees ever were. And when they were no longer the second-favorite team of the majority of baseball fans, they seemed not to get it. Rather than adopt the Yankees’ admirable, if somewhat punchable, mantra of “Yeah, we think we’re better than you, come prove us wrong,” the Red Sox acted like the friend who borrowed money from you, slept with your wife, and then pretended nothing was wrong.

And apart from Dustin Pedroia, no one embodied that mentality, at least for me, more than Jonathan Papelbon.

Sorry for getting ranty there. Feel free to disagree with all that–I don’t care. I just wanted to impress on you how much I came to hate Jonathan Papelbon. And now I have to root for him.

It’s not that often that I experience the tension between name-on-front and name-on-back. Of course, there are players who I hate watching because they’re bad. But carrying cross-team emotional baggage is a different animal.

It can be good, at times. The Flyers, over the past two or three years, have acquired several players I’ve admired from afar–Chris Pronger, Kris Versteeg, Jakub Voracek, and so on. But it can work the other way, too. I’ve just now reconciled the complicated emotions surrounding Max Talbot. And while we’re at it, I find it hilarious that the Flyers have an aversion to using a player’s full name if it’s 1) of French origin and 2) vaguely effeminate. Max Talbot was “Maxime” for years, and Danny Briere was “Daniel” (pronounced Dan-YELL), but both names were truncated upon their arrival in Philadelphia. They’re French-Canadian, folks. Get over it.

I’ve gone through this emotional transformation before. In the 2010 Olympics, Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik made the American hockey team, and I had trouble rooting for the USA in those Olympics because Orpik had made a career of being chippy, whiny, and dirty. He was like the girl in your second grade class who would pinch herself until she cried, then tell the teacher you did it. I almost couldn’t cheer on the Americans with Orpik on the team. In short, I hate Brooks Orpik more than I love my country.

Anyway, the way it’s worked for me most of the time is that a player I loved in college goes to a team I hate in the pros, but mostly in football. I despised Eagles receiver Riley Cooper in college. His Florida Gators beat the tar out of my South Carolina Gamecocks year after year. I wanted to dump all that hate on Tim Tebow, but he seemed so earnest that it was tough to work up a solid lather. I also don’t find his showy religiosity as off-putting as others seem to, so screaming the foulest and most graphic obscenities I could think of from the student section at Williams-Brice Stadium (which I did the night he scored seven touchdowns to ice the Heisman) just seemed phony to me.

Riley Cooper, on the other hand, acted the way I wanted Tebow to act. He was cocky, and brash, and flung his long hair around when he took his helmet off. He comported himself on the field and on the sidelines like nothing more than the world’s biggest asshole, and I hated him. He was despicable in the way I wanted Tebow to be, and when the Eagles drafted him to be a role player, I was despondent.

But in baseball, that’s not so common, if only because my college baseball fandom isn’t old enough for it to bother me that Joe Blanton went to Kentucky, or Cliff Lee went to Arkansas, or even that Papelbon went to Mississippi State. But seeing Papelbon wrapped up in that obnoxious Red Sox flag for so long has made it tough to get used to him. It’s almost as if Papelbon’s arrival is another indicator that we Phillies fans are becoming like the Boston and New York fans we’ve so long reviled–whiny, self-entitled, and talking funny.

While the addition of Roy Halladay to the Phillies’ roster was really weird but primarily really awesome, Papelbon’s arrival just seems strange. It’s not the contract, which is bad, but it’s no reason to hate Papelbon himself. It’s the feeling that he doesn’t belong to us that I either never got or didn’t get as strongly about Halladay and Toronto. Halladay’s Blue Jays were just sort of vanilla–a largely unspectacular team of unspectacular players who went 81-81 every year and stayed out of the news unless the Yankees were in town. But the Red Sox, 2005-2011, were nothing if not spectacular. When they won, it was fascinating, and when they lost, it was even more so. Love them or hate them, everyone had an opinion. And Papelbon is those Red Sox teams.

Don’t panic–I’m learning to love Jonathan Papelbon. It’s just taking a while. It probably doesn’t help that because of the vagaries of the schedule so far, I haven’t been able to actually watch Papelbon pitch in a regular-season game for the Phillies. Maybe that will help. But he doesn’t feel like he belongs to us, and like all major changes, that takes time.

As much as I hated Papelbon last fall, I know that in time I’ll come to accept him as one of our own, and cheer his accomplishments without having to stop and think about it first. Sometime in July, he’ll strike out the side to close out a 3-2 win, and I’ll have forgotten all about the awkward transition and historical revision that went on this spring. War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength. And I love Jonathan Papelbon.

Marlins/Phillies Game Thread 4/12/12

The offense finally woke up last night, taking an ineffective Josh Johnson for six runs and 11 hits in three and two-thirds innings, certainly an uncharacteristic outing for the Marlins’ ace. Roy Halladay was superb as always, holding the Marlins to one run over seven innings, although he only struck out three. Each position player in the lineup recorded at least one hit, including four with two or more, leading to a 7-1 victory. However, only three of their 14 hits went for extra bases: doubles by Carlos Ruiz and Freddy Galvis, and a home run by Ruiz. Still, it’s progress.

Marlins newcomer Mark Buehrle (4.14 xFIP in 2011) will oppose Joe Blanton (3.15 in 41.1 IP) in his starting debut. Blanton has already made one appearance as a reliever in which he took the loss against the Pittsburgh Pirates.




Time to Overreact! Conclusions from One Week of Baseball

I have good news, everyone. I’ve been informed, because folks who cover baseball across North America are doing so, that one week’s worth of games provides any sort of useful data whatsoever! All along, I thought that if your team started out 5-2, that was nice, but it didn’t really tell you anything. Boy, was I wrong!

So drawing on the first full week of games (all stats current as of the end of play Wednesday night), I’ve managed to extrapolate out everything you’ll need to know for this season from one week’s worth of games. All position player stats are projected over 162 games, and all pitcher stats are projected over 33 starts. Here are your projected award winners, so don’t bother watching the rest of the season.

AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers

2012 stats: .471/.565/1.059, 97 HR, 22.7 fWAR

Prince who? Cabrera is leading a massive Detroit charge that, with their win against Tampa this afternoon, has the Tigers on pace to demolish the Cubs’ and Mariners’ record for wins in a season. I think a 97-home run, 292-RBI season for a 135-win team is good enough for me. Of course, Cabrera’s teammate Austin Jackson is on pace to hit .500 and score 259 runs, so he’s not doing it alone.

NL MVP: Corey Hart, OF, Milwaukee Brewers

2012 Stats: .429/.579/1.143, 97 HR, 22.7 fWAR

Well, I’m impressed by a 1.722 OPS. Hart, like Cabrera, is on pace for 97 home runs, though his Brewers are already out of the NL Central race. Pity, because Hart’s season-long .714 ISO makes last year’s MVP campaign by Hart’s teammate Ryan Braun look…well, something less than impressive.

AL Rookie of the Year: Tom Milone, Oakland Athletics

2012 Stats: 33-0, 0.00 ERA, 264 IP

Milone was near perfect, allowing no runs and only three hits and three walks to the Royals. Going eight innings in a one-run game proves he can pitch to the score. And with Gio Gonzalez failing to pick up the win against Cincinnati today, don’t you think the Nationals wish they could undo that trade?

NL Rookie of the Year: Zack Cozart, SS, Cincinnati Reds

2012 Stats: .455/.520/.864, 240 hits, 22.7 fWAR

The question about Cozart, if I remember correctly, was whether or not he’d hit. What a crock. Cozart, in five major league games, has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he can, on pace with Hart, Cabrera, and others to put up the most valuable season in history. He’d win MVP, but the Reds aren’t in playoff position and his RBI totals are down, so how valuable can he really be?

AL Cy Young: Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers

2012 Stats: 33-0, 0.00 ERA, 132 K

Feliz sure seems like he’ll be okay in his new role as a starter, though one wonders how Texas will fare without its Proven Closer. Still, if you’re guaranteed seven shutout innings once each time through the rotation, that should more than make up for the disappointing Yu Darvish.

NL Cy Young: Chad Billingsley, Los Angeles Dodgers

2012 Stats: 33-0, 0.63 ERA, 248 K

The Dodgers look poised to pick up their second Cy Young in as many years, with Billingsley coming back from a disappointing couple of seasons to strike out more than a batter an inning and give up a run every other start. Would have been Zack Greinke, but he got lit up today. Looks like he couldn’t deal with the pressure of playing in Milwaukee. Pity.

Also, congratulations to the 2012 World Series champion Dodgers. That’ll make a nice present for the new owners. See you in 2013.

The Bat

We knew Pat Burrell was retiring, but today we learned the circumstances under which he’d make it official. Burrell, in a move more about nostalgia than anything else, will sign a one-day minor league deal to retire with the Phillies.

Burrell is, in addition to being the Phillies’ first $50 million player, and the only player the Phillies ever drafted No. 1 overall, was the first piece to fall into place on the road from the Terry Francona Era to the World Series title. On a personal note, Burrell is the first Phillies player whose entire career I followed, from draft to retirement.

And what a career.

The Bat is currently fourth on the Phillies’ all-time list in home runs, fifth in walks, and, since integration and with a minimum of 3,000 plate appearances, tenth in OBP and eighth in slugging percentage. Burrell slugged at least .500 in each of his last four seasons in Philadelphia, hit 30 home runs four times, and was the top right-handed power threat on the Phillies between Scott Rolen and Jayson Werth.

And yet we never seemed to appreciate him until the end. Burrell was, in the finest tradition of his contemporaries Donovan McNabb and Bobby Abreu, the object of ridicule for Phillies fans. This feeling, I think, has two causes: first, for whatever reason, when a team isn’t any good, the blame tends to go to the best players. I’m not sure why, but Burrell and Abreu, as well as McNabb and Andre Iguodala later, were all very good players, but the general public heaped blame on them for being merely good, and not the world-beating, ubermenschen  they’d need to have been to make a contender out of the teams with which they were surrounded. Turn Desi Relaford or Greg Buckner or Todd Pinkston into a championship sidekick? That’s telekinesis, Kyle.

The second reason for Burrell’s rough start (apart from that .203/.309/.404 line in 2003, which was never really properly explained or forgotten) is the relative lack of understanding at the time about sabermetrics. Burrell walked a ton–114 times in 2007 alone–and hit more than his share of doubles and home runs, but was slow, dreadful in the field, and never hit for a high average. It never looked like Burrell was giving anything less than his best effort in the field, but he was trying hard in much the same way I try hard to get the projection screen in my classroom to go up and down reliably. First, the results are never good and, second, it’s impossible to try without looking like an absolute idiot.

But that’s neither here nor there. Eventually, we came to appreciate the value of Burrell’s walks and power, in spite of his being one of the slowest players of his or any generation, and in spite of his striking out with more verve and panache than any Phillies player in recent memory.

Also, he made Jeff Carter look like Albert Brooks.

So I’m looking forward to May 19, as I imagine the rest of you are, so we can pay our respects to one of the most unique and important players in recent Phillies history. Vaya con dios, The Bat. If there’s any doubt that we love you back, just remember–no one shed a tear for Adam Eaton.