Guest Post: Culture Shock

Culture Shock: Patience at the Plate Needed Most for Phillies in 2012

Tom Holzerman (or TH, if you will) is a wrestling blogger found at a few sites on the web, most prominently at his site, The Wrestling Blog. He also has some things to say about other topics, baseball being one of them. If you have any feedback, questions or angry missives, send them to his Twitter, @tholzerman.

Ask a random Phillies fan what the team needs to do most in the offseason, and one might probably get a bevy of different answers, ranging from firing affable yet flawed manager Charlie Manuel all the way down to signing Albert Pujols. For a team that won 102 games in the regular season, it might be hard to justify any major shake-up, but losing in the Divisional Series when the World Series was the only conceivable satisfying goal will leave bad tastes in the mouths of even the most rational fan.

That being said, there are things that need to be done to ensure that 2012 is at the very least as successful as 2011 was, if not more so. From where I sit, it has nothing to do with the actual players as much as it has to do with their philosophies at the plate. The offense came up small in their last three playoff series, and it showed with two devastating series losses. In the Divisional Series last year, pitching and defense (mainly the Reds’ lack of defense) was able to overcome the lack of offensive clout, but against the Giants and Cardinals, it just wasn’t enough.

The reason for this was clearly a lack of patience at the plate. This is both supported anecdotally and statistically. The feeling watching the team against the Cardinals was that the batters were hacking at first pitches, connecting and putting balls in play weakly in play right at fielders. The stats bore truth for those feelings, as the Cardinals saw an average of 14 more pitches per game over the entire series. Furthermore, the disparity in BABIP was a staggering 83 points in favor of the Cardinals. I haven’t done a whole lot of research in the correlation between those two stats, but to the perceptive mind, it makes sense. The Cardinals were choosier with their pitches, and the more pitches a team sees, the likelihood for “mistake pitches”. Even aces throw them. While BABIP is a stat that’s mostly associated with luck, it makes sense that a team would make its own luck through taking pitches and being selective.

The Cardinals provided the blueprint to break the maxim “good pitching beats good hitting”. The Phillies would have been better served to do the same, but instead, they hacked at Chris Carpenter like he was throwing batting practice. The story was the same against Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner last year. There isn’t a magic kryptonite that allows teams to get hits against Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and even Roy Halladay that prevents the Phils from doing the same against other ace-level pitchers. It’s a philosophy, a tangible one that is not currently being espoused by the team.

How can this culture change? If the Phillies were ready to rebuild, then maybe it could come gradually. However, the team is built to compete now. Even if Roy Oswalt leaves town, the team will still have three starting pitchers who’ve averaged over 4 WAR over the last three years (according to FanGraphs), with two in Halladay and Lee who’ve both averaged over 6.5. This team could very easily skate into the playoffs on the strength of their starting pitching. With that rock in place, I believe the team can afford to implement culture shock.

This is going to take more than just replacing Greg Gross as the hitting coach. It’s going to take bringing in players who are already inclined to take pitches, work counts and draw walks to work. IF that means letting Jimmy Rollins walk to the Yankees, Giants or any other team willing to break the bank for him, then as painful as that can be for fans (such as myself, who loves J-Roll and his contributions to the team), then so be it. If it means holding Ryan Howard out of the lineup the entire year to let him recover while going with another option at first, then it has to happen. If it means that Ruben Amaro and Manuel are shoved into a dark room, eyelids taped open and made to listen to readings of Moneyball on loop for 24 hours, then actually, that sounds like a good idea to me.

Regardless of how the change comes about, change does have to come about. This team is good enough to make the playoffs, but they lack fundamentals that allow them to tackle good pitching. Let’s face it, teams don’t make the playoffs with league average pitchers. Teams don’t need to have four aces to make it to the postseason, and teams don’t have to be stocked with lineups full of all-stars to hit those aces. All they need is patience. The Giants and Cardinals had it in spades in the last two respective postseasons. The Phillies did not. That’s why those two teams advanced and the Phillies did not.

Ed. Note: Thanks to Thomas for the guest post. Check out his blog The Wrestling Blog as well as his Twitter, @tholzerman.

Josh Willingham: Proceed With Caution

The following is a guest post from Jeff Barnes. I consider him a must-follow on Twitter.

Ever since Jayson Werth took his talents to D.C., the Phillies have been rumored to be interested in a host of right-handed outfielders.   From offseason rumors of Michael Morse, Manny Ramirez, Magglio Ordonez and (my favorite) Jeff Francoeur, there was no shortage of possible fill-ins for the bearded one.  The Phillies ultimately decided those options were tempting enough, and decided to stay inhouse with Ben Francisco and Domonic Brown.

Now we are 66 games into the 2011 season, and the Phils rank 7th in the NL in runs scored.  Their outfield production looks like this:

Given this production (excluding Shane Victorino), it’s no surprise the Phillies are rumored to be back in the market for an outfielder.  According to this tweet from Buster Olney, the new target is Josh Willingham of the Oakland A’s.  Ruben Amaro should absolutely go get Willingham on one condition, Charlie Manuel passes a “how to use Willingham” test.

Its been mentioned in this blog as well as others, how much proper usage impacts a players value.  J.C. Romero has all the ability to be a perfectly fine LOOGY out of the Phillies pen, but by facing right-handed batters too often (45 RH Batters faced vs 27 LH), he has become the source of a ton of fan frustration.  The same risk applies with Willingham.

With Shane Victorino firmly entrenched in center, Raul and his 11.5 million dollar contract in left, the fear is Willingham’s at-bats will come at the expense of Domonic Brown.  This is concerning for a few reasons.  For starters, Dom’s development is possibly the Phillies best hope at improving their offense.  Allowing him to get 500 PAs this year, could turn the former #1 in all of baseball prospect into a huge weapon come October.

The second, and more urgent issue is outfield defense.   Willingham is undoubtedly a good hitter, as his career .833 OPS suggests.  He is unfortunately not quite as gifted with the glove.  There are varying opinion about advanced defensive stats, but whether you use them or prefer the ol’ eyeball test, there is little debate he’s a below average fielder.

Willingham’s UZR (theoretical runs above or below an average fielder) has been -5.7, -1.9, -4.0 the last three years.  The -4.0 this year is admittedly a small sample size, but its still not a great sign.  Even worse, this negative opinion on his defense has formed while Josh spent his whole career in left field.  One can only imagine the fielding would get worse moving to the more difficult right field.

To complicate the issue, the Phillies already employ one of the worst defensive left fielders in the league.  Running Willingham-Victorino-Ibanez out there may be enough for Roy Halladay to demand a trade back to Toronto.  This is simply not a sustainable defensive team, even with the Phab Four’s excellent ground ball rate.

Brought in as a platoon partner for Raul, and a power bat off the bench, Willingham could provide good value over the next 100 games and hopefully 3 playoff series.  Using him as the new RF at the expense of Domonic Brown’s development and our pitcher’s sanity, and Willingham is a stone better left unturned.  So go ahead Ruben, make the call, right after Charlie tells you what he’d do with him.

Guest Post: Why The Phillies Should Keep Big Joe

Today’s guest post is written by one of my favorite people on Twitter, @Utley4God. He argues that the Phillies should keep Joe Blanton, whom they will be trying to trade between now and the start of the 2011 regular season.

. . .

You already know the story: late Monday night, word broke that Cliff Lee was coming back to Philadelphia. In the days since, this move has been extensively analyzed and there isn’t much left to say. My quick analysis: “Fantastic”.

Due to Ruben Amaro’s history, Philadelphia immediately began to worry. “Does this mean Cole Hamels is on the move?” became everyone’s favorite question. Thankfully, tweets from Jon Heyman, Ken Rosenthal and others eased our fears. Joe Blanton was going to be moved to help clear payroll room for Lee.

Blanton is scheduled to make 17mm over the next two seasons (8.5mm per). He is coming off a season where he posted a 4.82 earned run average. In response to his poor year, the expectation is the Phillies will have to eat between $8-9 million to move Blanton and the rest of his contract. While most would argue the Phillies are a better team with Joe as the fifth starter, I believe it even makes economic sense to hang onto Big Joe a little longer.

There is no question Blanton had a bad season last year. A 4.82 ERA will scare even the most stat-friendly GM. But, if we dig a little deeper, it doesn’t look so bad. As you can see below, it looks like Joe’s declining ERA is actually due to poor luck on balls in play rather than a decline in skill. The profile of balls hit against him actually improved from 2009 to 2010 (LD% down, GB% up). He also improved his strike out to walk ratio. This led to an improvement in his FIP and xFIP year over year. Joe seems to have gotten hit with the patented Hamels bad luck train, and would be a great bounce-back candidate as his luck will likely normalize in 2011.

Year Age ERA SO/BB FIP xFIP BABIP
2009 28 4.05 2.76 4.45 4.07 0.302
2010 29 4.82 3.12 4.34 4.06 0.331

Even with an improvement in performance, that doesn’t explain why it would make sense for the cash-strapped Phillies to keep a fifth starter making $8.5 million per year. If a team calls and offers to take the full contract for a C-level prospect, Ruben should say yes as quickly as he did to the Roy Oswalt trade. However, if as expected, the Phillies are forced to eat half the contract to move him, they should hold onto Blanton until at least the All-Star break. The belief here is that if Blanton’s performance improves as expected, a team would be much more likely to take on the full contract. This scenario would have the Phillies paying $4.25 million and getting a half-season of Blanton rather than paying $8.5 million and filling those starts with Kyle Kendrick.

In a slightly worse scenario, it takes a full year for Joe to re-establish some value. This would leave the Phillies money neutral to making the trade now, but would still provide the value of filling 30 starts with Blanton rather than Kendrick.

In a worst case scenario, Blanton struggles for another full season and the Phils are still forced to pay a part of his salary next year to move him. This would make the “Keep Big Joe” a financial loss, but judging by his underlying statistics, this scenario seems unlikely.

If the Phillies really need to pay half of Blanton’s salary to move him, it would make sense from a expected performance and economic sense to hold onto the big right hander (who is still very well in his prime) for at least a little while longer.

Not to mention, he could be a nice insurance policy if one of the aces goes down with an injur…….. actually forget I said that, I’m not prepared to imagine that.

. . .

Make sure to follow @Utley4God on Twitter for his thoughts on the Phillies throughout the 2011 season. Hopefully, he’ll do the right thing and start a blog.

Do you agree that the Phillies should keep Blanton? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Guest Post: Phillies Worst Individual Seasons

With an exciting week nearing its end, it’s time once again for a guest post. Dave, a frequent commenter here and a Twitter compatriot, submitted an article in which he looks at the worst individual seasons by Phillies players over the last 20 years. When you’re done reading, head over to Dave’s blog Where Is Ben Rivera? and his Twitter feed (@WheresBenRivera).

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It was the worst of times; it was the worst of times

A few months back, a friend asked me, “Who do you think was the Phillies’ worst position player in the last—“

Desi Relaford,” I blurted out.

You see, I dig conversations like this. Maybe it’s the masochist in me, but I love reminiscing on the terrible Phillies teams of the late 80’s and early 90’s. This shouldn’t be too surprising, considering my blog is named after a former fifth starter, and I once dedicated an entire post to this man. It keeps me humble. As a Boston resident, I am subjected to water cooler talk like this:

Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez are nice, but I really wanted Cliff Lee too.”

When I hear an outcry for trading Chase Utley after his sub-par NLCS, I cringe. The Phils have four consecutive NL East crowns. Our fantastic second baseman had a rough six game stretch. Let’s all take a deep breath. Times are good. Life is good.

Anyways, I’m new to the Sabermetrics game. When you guys were reading Moneyball years ago, I was creating dynasties for PS2’s MVP Baseball.

(Side note: I learned the hard way that you can’t build your pitching staff solely around knuckleball pitchers. Steve Sparks really labored at the back-end of the rotation).

While stat guys focused on OB%, I was wondering how many saves Billy Koch needed to win the Rolaids Relief Man Award (I know. Hindsight is 20/20).

I slowly gravitated towards the Sabermetric-side of thinking. It started with the walks—why must Pedro Feliz swing at every first pitch— and moved on to xFIP and SIERA. I learned that Cole Hamels didn’t have a bad 2009; he was just unlucky.

I then wrapped my head around WAR.

This convoluted opening brings me to today’s post. If I chose the worst Phillies position players (by individual season) from the last twenty years, what would their collective WAR be?

**Note** I only choose starters who registered 400 plate appearances. Seemed as good a number as any.

Cather: Mike Lieberthal

Pickings were slim, and Liebey was certainly serviceable. I would have loved to thrown Rod Barajas on this list, but I fear he would read this, mutate into some green creature, and then clobber two home runs next time at the Bank.

If memory serves (note: numbers not exact), Lieberthal led the league in double plays with runners on first and third, with less than two outs, for the better part of a decade.

2004 WAR: 1.1; .271/.335/.447

First Base: Travis Lee

This was an easy one. Phillies fans have been spoiled by Howard and Thome this decade, and according to Chris Wheeler, Rico Brogna “saved three hundred runs a year” with his glove at first base. Wheels would never exaggerate, so I see no reason to verify this number.

Some Philly fans hated Travis Lee, because he ‘looked’ like he didn’t care (My father for one). I didn’t mind so much that Travis Lee enjoyed surfing; on off-days, he could lather himself up with surf board wax for all I cared. But I couldn’t look past the .265/.331./.394 from our first baseman.

Quick aside: It was good to earn some extra mileage from the Schilling trade when Figueroa joined the 2010 team. I’m not willing to give that trade a concrete grade just yet.

2002 WAR: 0.6

Second Baseman: Marlon Anderson

Life B.U. (Before Utley) was a sad existence, and this position offered many strong candidates. I thought about going old school—penciling in Randy Ready or Tommy Herr—but I played it safe and went with old reliable: Marly.

Marlon Anderson was a highly-touted second round pick, who was pegged as the second baseman of the future. It was not to be. Marlon Anderson was a hipper, trendier Cristian Guzman.

In 2002, Anderson hit .258/.315/.380.

2002 WAR: 0.5

Shortstop: Desi Relaford

As a young lad, I loved Desi Relaford. We were exactly alike. Small statures, middle infielders, both choked up on the bat—both couldn’t hit a lick.

In 1998, Relaford hit .245/.293/.338. Those numbers dwarf in comparison to Mark Portugal’s line from that same season.

1998 WAR: -0.8

Third Base: Charlie Hayes

I had to dip into the archives for this one. Despite what my six year old self may have you believe, Charlie and Von are not related. And Hersey Hawkins and Johnny Dawkins weren’t cousins just because their last names rhymed.

1990 Charlie Hayes’ biggest competition in this contest was…1991 Charlie Hayes. It truly was an evenly-contested match-up.

Winner? The 1991 Charlie Hayes and his .230/.257/.363 line.

1991 WAR: -0.8

Right Field: Ruben Amaro Jr.

Yeah, I know. I didn’t believe it either. Amaro recorded 426 plate appearances in 1992—just “de-WAR’n” 1991 Dale Murphy.

I seemed to have blocked out this 1992 team, although I vaguely remember being a big Stan Javier supporter.

The fans in the right field seats at the Vet couldn’t see past the *smug*, as Rube quietly recorded a .219/.303/.348 line.

1992 WAR: 0.4

Center Field: Ricky Otero

Ever notice that whenever someone mentions random Phillies, or lousy Phillies, or favorite Phillies, Ricky Otero’s name is always brought up? Otero is the poster boy of the Phillies in the 1990s—the little engine that bridged the years between the grunge movement and the Boy Band craze.

Ricky Otero blasted on to the scene with Philadelphia. Through his first seven games, Ricky was hitting .357/.457/.464. What some smart people referred to as ‘sample size,’ my twelve year old self was talking future All-Star game reserve. If sixth graders could drive, I would have taken my mom’s station wagon to Modell’s and purchased a #15 road jersey.

Alas, it was smoke and mirrors. Otero finished the year with a .273/.330/.348 line.

1996 WAR: -0.6

**Note** Doug Glanville certainly gave Otero a run for his money at this position.

Left Field: Wes Chamberlain

I don’t feel good about this one, but options were limited. Wes recorded just 417 PA’s in 101 games in 1991, so he barely met the plate appearance requirement.

By the way, if you’re trying to track down Wes Chamberlain’s ‘top-10 most wanted baseball cards,’ click on his B-R page for a complete list. Wes’ 1994 Dunross card made for a great stocking stuffer last Christmas.

In 1991, Chamberlain hit .240/.300/.399

1991 WAR: 0.1

Catcher: 2004 Mike Lieberthal (1.1)

First Base: 2002 Travis Lee (0.6)

Second Baseman: 2005 Marlon Anderson (0.5)

Shortstop: 1998 Desi Relaford (-0.8)

Third Base: 1991 Charlie Hayes (-0.8)

Right Field: 1992 Ruben Amaro Jr. (0.4)

Center Field: 1996 Ricky Otero (-0.6)

Left Field: 1991Wes Chamberlain (0.1)

Total WAR: 0.5

Times are indeed good.

. . .

Thanks to Dave of Where Is Ben Rivera? for a well-researched piece on some facepalm-inducing seasons from our 1990-2010 era Phillies. Can you think of any other awful seasons? Share them in the comments below.

Guest Post: Phillies Just Fine Without Werth

This great first full week of December will round out with a guest post from Daniel Podheiser (@DanPodheiser on Twitter). He writes for the Bullpen Talk blog and will shortly become the sports editor at The Register Citizen. Dan will be discussing how the Phillies can hold serve despite losing one of the most productive hitters in baseball in Jayson Werth.

. . .

The loss of Jayson Werth shouldn’t come as a surprise to most Phillies fans, but in the wake of his recent signing with the Nationals, many are beginning to revisit the question of how the Phillies are going to replace his production in the lineup.

First off, let’s face it: Werth has been one of the greatest outfielders in Phillies history over the past two years, and his 2010 season was simply remarkable. His .397 wOBA was second among NL outfielders to Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez, and his 5.0 WAR (according to Fangraphs) ranked sixth. Furthermore, as noted earlier in the week , Werth was especially difficult to get out at all points in the count, as he posted a .319 wOBA with two strikes.

Werth’s production is going to be missed. You can rest assured that the platoon combination of Domonic Brown, Ben Francisco and/or a new right-handed hitter like Josh Willingham or Cody Ross won’t combine to play like Werth did in 2010.

But let’s step back and take a deep breath, Phillies fans — the 2011 Phillies are going to be just fine, if not better than 2010.

On Aug. 10, in an article on The 700 Level, I proclaimed the 2010 Phillies to be the best team in franchise history. As we head into 2011, there’s only reason to assume this team will be even better.

Consider this: From the moment Jimmy Rollins got hurt in mid-April, the Phillies didn’t play with their everyday lineup until late in September. Of the entire Opening Day roster, only Werth remained healthy throughout the entire season.

The 2011 Phillies are adding player value simply through the merits of health. They’re getting back the best second baseman in the game, Chase Utley, for an entire season. Jimmy Rollins‘ value has gone down over the past few years, but he still remains one of the top shortstops in the game. Ryan Howard was having an excellent season before he went down in early August, and Carlos Ruiz, who has turned into one of the most productive catchers in the big leagues, missed a bulk of time, as well.

You could argue that the Phillies’ offense in 2011 will actually be better, and score more runs, than the 2010 squad, even though Werth is gone. The Phils were shut out 11 times last year, and from mid-May to about a week after the All-Star break, the lineup was as inconsistent as it’s been in the Charlie Manuel era. That probably won’t happen again this year.

But even if the ’11 and ’10 offenses are a wash, the Phillies have one thing that no other team in the entire league has: H2O.

A full season of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt will give the Phillies a rotation unlike anything the league has seen since the Atlanta Braves early in the decade (or, perhaps Clemens-Pettitte-Oswalt with Houston in 2005).

That trio will not only strike fear into every team it faces; it will also provide the bullpen with excellent rest when it takes the mound — 60 percent of the time, to be exact.

Do the 2011 Phillies have a weakness? Sure. Right field is not as stable as it was two months ago. It’s nothing to write home about. But by June, when the Phillies have asserted themselves as the clear favorites in the NL once again, not even this guy will be able to remember what was so cool about Jayson Werth‘s beard in the first place.

. . .

Thanks to Dan for submitting his thoughts on the 2011 Phillies. Remember to give him a follow on Twitter and to check out his blog Bullpen Talk if you enjoyed reading his work.

Guest Post: MLB Playoff Expansion

The guest posts continue, this time with an entry submitted by Ryan Sommers, author of the Phillies-themed blog Chasing Utley. He also happens to be one of my favorite tweeters — do yourself a favor and start following @Phylan.

Today, Ryan looks at the potential playoff expansion in Major League Baseball.

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After receiving a heavy dose of press during the November general manager meetings, the tabled proposal for expanding the playoffs to ten teams now seems like a certainty. Bud Selig has been typically coy when asked about it, but it’s sure to find favor with the curious jumble of personnel he has assembled into the Special Committee for On-Field Matters, set to convene at the winter meetings in Orlando next week. Among the managers, general managers, owners, and team presidents that constitute the Committee, it’s difficult to imagine any opposition to the additional opportunity for contention and obvious financial incentives assured by the proposal. The change will likely have to wait for the negotiation of a new collective bargaining agreement for the 2012 season, but that seems to be the only hurdle at this point.

The plan, as it’s been floated, involves adding one wild card slot to each league, and staging either a one or three game playoff between the two wildcards prior to the Division Series. Proponents point out that this adds additional incentive for winning one’s division, as the team that emerges from this wildcard round will start the Division Series with someone other than their number one starter on the mound. Selig, many of the general managers, and other proponents of the plan have hinted at “fairness” concerns, with some writers and fans going so far as to suggest that a ten team playoff will strengthen the contention of small market teams. Even if these notions had validity, they don’t override the problems that the proposal presents, but it’s also worth pointing out that fairness — be it an issue of stacked divisions or financial disadvantage — hardly enters the picture here.

The table below, spanning from 1995 (the first year with a wild card-era postseason) to 2010, shows the hypothetical 2nd wildcard winner in a 10 team playoff system, their record, and their payroll rank according to USA Today’s MLB payroll database.

Year NL Record Payroll AL Record Payroll
1995 Astros 76-68 14th Angels 78-67 18th
1996 Expos 88-74 28th Mariners 85-67 8th
1997 Mets/Dodgers 88-74 16th/11th Angels 84-78 22nd
1998 Giants 89-74 16th Blue Jays 88-74 11th
1999 Reds 96-67 20th Athletics 87-75 26th
2000 Dodgers 90-72 2nd Indians 86-76 8th
2001 Giants 90-72 16th Twins 85-77 30th
2002 Dodgers 92-70 5th Mariners/Red Sox 93-69 8th/2nd
2003 Astros 87-75 14th Mariners 93-68 7th
2004 Giants 91-71 10th Athletics 91-71 16th
2005 Phillies 88-74 5th Indians 93-69 26th
2006 Phillies 85-77 12th White Sox 90-72 4th
2007 Padres 89-74 24th Tigers 88-74 9th
2008 Mets 89-73 2nd Yankees 89-73 1st
2009 Giants 88-74 14th Rangers 87-75 22nd
2010 Padres 90-72 29th Red Sox 89-73 2nd

Your immediate reaction is probably “Hey! The Phillies would’ve made the playoffs for six straight years!” Hold that thought for the moment. The first thing to note is that these outcomes don’t support the notion that smaller market teams would benefit in some way from expanded playoffs. Only eight of these teams were ranked in the bottom third of league payroll, while twelve ranked in the middle third, and fourteen in the top third. Regardless of your position on the payroll advantage, it’s obvious that a ten team field does nothing to relieve it. In fact, it presents an additional significant obstacle for a small market team bidding for a World Series appearance from the wild card slot. The 1997 and 2003 World Champion Marlins would’ve had to jumble their pitching rotation in a must win series just to reach the Division Series — the former against either the Dodgers or Mets, both of whom finished four games behind them, and the latter against the Astros, also four games worse. Likewise for the 2002 Anaheim Angels and 2004 Boston Red Sox, who won their championships after reaching the postseason via the wildcard. Adding a second wildcard won’t increase the likelihood of bids like these for teams of any market size. It will dampen it, by handicapping both wild card teams at the outset of the playoffs.

Meanwhile, you’re letting worse teams reach the postseason. The overall winning percentages of the hypothetical second wildcard teams from 1995-2010 was .549 in the NL and .548 in the AL, compared to .563 and .582 for the actual wildcard teams in the respective leagues. On average, then, the second wildcard team is an 89-73 team, falling two games behind the average NL wildcard team and five behind the average AL wildcard team over that span. This may not sound too egregious, and if it was for another five or seven game series against the other wildcard contender, it might not be. But the logistical challenges of a playoff system that already reaches into early November constrains the discussion to either a one game playoff or a three game series. Hamstringing what are usually 90+ win teams with a dangerously short series against an inferior opponent doesn’t seem to serve the interest of “fairness” at all. As an alternative to adding a team, consider this suggestion: divisions are eliminated, and only the top four teams by record from each league advance to the postseason. This relieves one irksome feature of the current system: weak division winners that receive a higher seed than a superior wild card team, which can also result in another superior team being bounced from the playoffs altogether. Such was the case in nine of the sixteen seasons between 1995 and 2010. Seeding the playoffs by record and not divisional outcomes eliminates this effect, while avoiding the problems of a ten team system. This is not an option that Selig and others would ever consider pursuing, but it serves to illustrate that more “fairness” can be squeezed from sound alterations to the playoff structure than from the mere addition of competitors. Lengthening the Division Series from five to seven games is another such alteration, reducing the emphasis on strong front-end rotations in favor of a stronger overall roster, and softening the impact that randomness can have on the outcome of a short playoff series. Instead, Selig is considering the addition of an even shorter series.

As for the Phillies, it’s true that the second wild card would have meant trips to the playoffs in 2005 and 2006, but the 8 team record-seeded system would have also — in both years, inferior division winners advanced at their expense. How it impacts them going forward is contingent upon a lot of uncertain factors concerning their organizational philosophy. The Phillies won 97 games in 2010, and, with the exception of Jayson Werth, will look very much the same in 2011. But some key core talents are entering their decline phase, and at least two of their divisional opponents are taking serious steps toward greater competitiveness. Ruben Amaro hasn’t had to rebuild a team yet, but he will soon, and with his propensity for doling out large contracts to aging veterans, the process could create a team that is bi-polar in composition and tending towards mediocrity. Consequently, the Phillies may well find themselves in the 87-91 win range that would benefit from the second wild card. It’s unclear what the ten team playoff might do to the marginal economic value of each win, but it’s not unreasonable to assume that its peak — which Nate Silver calculated to be at about 91 wins — might be bumped down a bit by the increased ease of qualifying. If that were the case, given the booming attendance at Citizen’s Bank Park, ownership might be inclined to reel in the hefty payroll somewhat. This would make Ruben Amaro’s (questionable, in my opinion) asset allocation ability even more vital to a team re-engineering its personnel make-up. It’s speculative, yes, but the Phillies may be one of the teams most likely to feel the impact, positive or negative, of the added wildcard.

The potential financial gains from the expanded playoffs haven’t been quantified, but they’re sure to be substantial, and there is no question that they are what motivate Selig (Craig Calcaterra called it “nothing but a money grab”). This aspect probably deserves a bit more than bitter dismissal; we are all, after all, fans of baseball, and changes that swell the coffers and perhaps increase public interest ultimately have at least some value to us. Overriding that, though, is the undeniable damage dealt to the importance of regular season games, and the usefulness of the playoffs in rewarding the strongest teams. There is a healthy balance to be struck between baseball the business venture and baseball the competition, but a ten team playoff surely fails to achieve it. The MLB is far from the poorhouse, and, more importantly, is tangled in some issues that strike closer to the core of “fairness” than the exclusivity of the playoffs — the meagerness of instant replay, an insufficient Division Series, and the treatment of minor league players, to name a few. The expanded playoffs will probably be instituted without issue, and perhaps after a few years will be indifferently accepted by even the stodgiest of purists, but it will still represent a missed opportunity to alleviate some real problems that don’t turn Bud Selig’s profit-tuned nose.

. . .

Check out Ryan’s newly-renamed blog Chasing Utley for his thoughts on the Phillies throughout the winter and into the 2011 season.

If you wish to submit a Phillies-related guest post, send it to CrashburnAlley [at] Gmail [dot] com along with any questions or comments.

Guest Post: A Tour of AT&T Park

Justin Klugh of That Ball’s Outta Here was kind enough to write about his tour of AT&T Park, home to the world champion San Francisco Giants. As an eternal pessimist, I enjoyed reading about the tour from his viewpoint — a social outcast. Although the two cities are three thousand miles apart, it would be interesting if a rivalry developed between the Phillies and Giants.

. . .

It’s 11:30 am on a Wednesday and I am the only person in this cube farm.  Not even noon, and the senior editors have tossed the keys to the unpaid editorial intern.  I’d love to sit here and tell you it’s because my journalistic skills won’t be denied; that the head honchos at this magazine saw my potential and offered me a high-paying gig on the spot, simply because of my irrepressible skill and roguish charm.

Nope.

Today, my bosses have exited the building before lunch time to go gallivanting about the streets of San Francisco, cheering and whooping as the World Champion Giants are escorted through the city in what I can only imagine is some sort of lackluster, locally-sourced victory parade.

I glance around my cubicle like a prisoner in the hole, and try to convince myself that the cheers and screams coming from outside are because of a horrific traffic accident.  I briefly entertain the notion of eating all the lunches in the break room fridge.

“Aren’t you coming?” asks the assistant editor from down the hall.

Quietly wading in a pool of my own bitterness and pretty stupid revenge schemes, I hadn’t heard her approach, and flinch dramatically.  She wears a Giants hat.  Her shirt demands that I “Fear the Beard.”  I refused.

It seemed like a glacially paced nightmare as the Phillies and Giants slowly crept towards their eventual playoff meeting from September-October.  Then, as it became clearer and clearer that the Giants were there to outplay us, I found myself clawing at any available salvation while the metropolis around me exploded in a sea of cheers.  What were the odds that I would leave Philadelphia and then wind up in the city of the enemy for the NLCS?

One of the other editors approached my desk, ready to head out, and grinned knowingly toward my involuntary grimace.  “Oh, he’s not coming,” he said to his friend as he pulled a clearly-purchased-yesterday Giants hoodie over his head.  “He’s the Phillies fan.”

At the beginning of the San Francisco-based internship that would eventually leave me alone in the office during the World Series parade, I was asked to come up with some idea for a long-term article.  After a brief, uninteresting attempt to discover conspiracies in the local government, I gave up and decided to once more write about baseball.  My editor was pretty jazzed.

“I see you walking around on the field of AT&T Park,” he said, “… getting a real good look at the sustainable practices they’ve been putting in.”

Months later, the intriguing personal guided tour of the stadium had turned into something of a death march through an enemy encampment.  The woman showing me around asked where I was from originally.

“Philadelphia,” I said without thinking, after having rehearsed saying “Peoria, Illinois” all morning.  It wasn’t that I was ashamed, I just didn’t feel like dealing with the bullshit smiles and jokes that would undoubtedly follow the revelation.  Whoops.

“Ooooh, Philly,” she replied, as if I had just said the name of a murder victim.  “We’ll try not to hold that against you.”

While meeting the head groundskeeper, she of course brought up this aspect of my background.  “He’s from Philadelphia,” she said.  “But we’re trying not to hold that against him.”

“Oh, I will!” he replied.  “We still beat ‘um!”

“HA HA HA” I laughed loudly, trying to drown him out.

“Here, you’ll appreciate this,” said Jorge Costa, VP of Ballpark Operations for AT&T Park.  He reached into his pocket and pulled out a wilted wrist band that looked like it came from a carnival and had allowed him to ride all the rides.  “I guess I haven’t worn these pants since Game Six of the NLCS, because that’s when I got it.”

The wristlet was decorated with pink roller skates, and he went on to tell me how the Citizens Bank Park staff had given them out to the Giants employees at the game once the series had returned to Philadelphia.  They needed a form of identification to prove who they were to security (Which was beefed up that night, for some strange reason).

“They said, ‘We felt this was only appropriate.,” Jorge explained, and laughed.  “I thought, ‘Okay, but only because when we win, this will make you feel all the more ridiculous.”

“Ridiculous” was only one of the adjectives I felt leaving a bar in California on the last night of 2010 Phillies baseball.  Losing is one thing, losing gutwrenchingly is another; but doing so in a room full of 50 drunken people who are glad that it happened to you is another experience entirely.

The whole time I was touring the stadium, I hoped maybe somebody would slip… maybe some bit of corruption or greed would bleed through the inner workings of the facility.

The truth is, I would have loved it.  I would have gleefully recorded it if the San Francisco Giants were choking the horizon with gaseous billows of smog; if they were spewing barrel after barrel of toxic sludge into McCovey Cove, creating ghastly abominations throughout the local wildlife.

Because then I could shout “A-ha!” and point a finger, and become known as “Justin, the handsome young intern who brought the secretly world-destroying Giants to their knees.”

I can’t, though.

Not only are the Giants World Series champs, but the organization has greened their facilities way beyond the bare minimum; and honestly, all of their employees were incredibly hospitable and friendly.

The fan in me may be sickened by the success they’ve had in baseball this past season.  But the human being in me is grateful someone in a position of power isn’t letting the bias and petty grievances so clearly defined by people like me stop them from doing some good in an era when it’s needed most.

A few days later, I was on my bike and stopped at an intersection.  As I waited for the light to turn green, I noticed a flyer taped to the side of a sign post:  “LOST KEYS!” it announced.  “THREE KEYS WITH A GIANTS LANYARD!  PLEASE CALL IF FOUND.”

Without even thinking, I yanked out a pen and scrawled “GIANTS SUCK” next to the phone number.  It was three in the morning.  I was sort of drunk.

Oh, well.

We can’t all be heroes.

. . .

If you enjoyed reading Justin’s account of his guided tour, be sure to add That Ball’s Outta Here to your bookmarks — keep tabs on his thoughts on all things Phillies-related.