Countdown to the Braves’ Whining…

If there’s one thing we can count on the Braves for nowadays — it certainly isn’t playoff appearances — it’s whining when things don’t go their way. There aren’t any quotes in the Associated Press recap that is used on most of the major sports websites like Yahoo! so we’ll probably have to wait until tomorrow to hear their bawling.

In case you’re wondering, here’s the story: the Phillies are down 2-1 with two outs and runners on first and second in the ninth inning when Chris Coste comes to the plate. The Braves’ bullpen, as we all know, isn’t reliable but they should have been able to get the last out. Coste swung at the first pitch — great at-bat! — and pops it up down the right field line. Kelly Johnson botches the catch and Eric Bruntlett (who pinch-ran for Geoff Jenkins, who walked) came around to score. Pedro Feliz, not the fasted runner around, was easily thrown out trying to score as well.

The Braves had been whining about pitches all game, as they usually do. Closer Brad Lidge came in for the tenth inning to try to nail down the ill-deserved win for the Phillies, but was in a jam. After Brian McCann struck out, Josh Anderson slapped a single past shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Gregor Blanco laid down a nifty bunt that he just barely eked out (remember that one, Bravos) and Anderson raced to third base. Lidge wasn’t paying attention to the runners and, as a result, Blanco took second base to remove the double play.

Lidge got the second out by striking out Greg Norton, leaving the Braves’ hopes of a comeback to Yunel Escobar. Lidge’s first pitch was a high slider over the plate that was called a strike; Escobar made a frowny face and yapped at the umpire before stroking the next pitch into center field. Anderson scored easily; Blanco was safe and the game would continue without a perfect throw from Shane Victorino. Unfortunately for the Braves, Victorino’s throw was perfect: a laser right to Chris Coste who expertly caught the ball and applied the tag in about the same motion. It was very, very close but Blanco was called out, correctly, as replays will show. Escobar and manager Bobby Cox argued it (justified) to no avail.

Now is the time to sit back, let the results of the game sink in, and drift off to sleep. Tomorrow, some of the Braves will make some snide comments about how lucky the Phillies are (or how unlucky they are) and whine about the umpiring, par for the course with the Braves when they play the Phillies.

For their sake, I hope they prove me wrong.

A Simple Rebuttal of Anti-Bonds Arguments

Fire Joe Morgan has an interesting back-and-forth dialogue vis-à-visopen letters” between Ken Tremendous and Dak. KT takes the position that the Red Sox should not sign Barry Bonds to replace the injured David Ortiz and Dak argues that they should. This isn’t a response to them per se, but I am going to cite KT’s arguments against Bonds as the basis of this article, since most of them are common arguments. I’ll respond to them in the order in which he lists them.

1. KT cites Bonds’ 50% PECOTA projections which are “.233/.387/.462, EqA of .293.” We really don’t know how having half the season off will affect him, so we can’t cite that for either side of the coin. However, last season in 340 AB at the age of 42, Bonds had an OPS+ of 170 (.276/.480/.565, EqA of .345) and, aside from his injury-plagued 2005 season, has played in at least 126 games every year of this decade. As a DH, his balky knees won’t really come into play, and his being a liability as a defender is moot. Why would Bonds have a huuuuuuge decline in production simply from being a year older already in his 40’s? Do we expect Jamie Moyer to put up a 35 ERA+ next season simply because he’s turning 46, despite having an ERA+ of 87 or better since turning 40?

KT goes on to write,

there isn’t a good reason to think that the guy will hold up that well, especially since it turns out that the zinc and flaxseed oil he was using was actually [...] Winstrol/Stanozolol, Deca-Durabolin, HGH, The Cream, and The Clear, among other things. Without that kind of zinc and flaxseed oil, this could be one broken-down 43 year-old pituitary case.

What is the consensus year that Bonds stopped using PED’s (allegedly)? They started testing in 2003 and essentially got progressively tougher each year. Allegations have him using them in 1999 due to jealousy of the Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa home run chase. Well, here are his OPS+ numbers since 1999…

1999: 155

2000: 188

2001: 259

2002: 268

2003: 231

2004: 263

2005: 174 (42 at-bats)

2006: 156

2007: 170

So, say what you will about the PED’s he took (allegedly), he’s still one of the most productive players in baseball with or without them, even at the ripe age of 43.

Also, KT lists a bunch of substances Bonds allegedly used, and superfluously tacks on “the cream” and “the clear” at the end. “The cream” masks the substances and “the clear” refers to tetrahydrogestrinone (THG).

2. KT talks about the defensive liabilities of Manny Ramirez and Bonds, and talks about using Ramirez as a DH and Crisp/Ellsbury in left field with the conclusion that getting Ramirez out of left field and either of the other two in there will more than make up for the additional offense Bonds creates. He uses runs above average (RAA) for fielding (FRAA) which are flawed, but just to make everything equal…

Bonds, 2007: 44 Batting RAA (BRAA), -12 FRAA; Net: 32 RAA or approx. 3.2 wins.

Ramirez, 2008 prorated (550 PA): 26 BRAA, -2 FRAA; Net: 24 RAA or approx 2.4 wins.

Ellsbury, 2008 prorated (550 PA): 22 BRAA, 24 FRAA; Net: 46 RAA or approx 4.6 wins.

Crisp, 2008 prorated (550 PA): -2.5 BRAA, 11 FRAA; Net: 8.5 RAA or approx 0.85 wins.

. . .

Bonds DH, Ramirez LF, Crisp/Ellsbury CF (average of the two): 95 RAA or approx. 9.5 wins.

Ramirez DH, Crisp LF, Ellsbury CF: 80.5 RAA or approx. 8 wins.

Bonds is worth about a win and a half more.

3. KT writes, “Barry Bonds hasn’t played baseball yet this year.”

As mentioned, this can’t be cited as a good or a bad thing since there’s no way to prove how it affects a player.

4. KT writes, “Barry Bonds has never played in the American League.”

I don’t think the difference in leagues matters, especially given inter-league play and the fact that Bonds would be a DH in the AL. If anything, moving to the AL would benefit Bonds. There’s the obvious disadvantage of having to face a bunch of pitchers he’s never seen before, but we’re not talking about a scrub that is being called up from AAA; we are talking about one of the three best hitters ever to play the game of baseball, and arguably the best eye in baseball history.

5. KT cites Bonds making comments in June 2004 about the city of Boston being “racist.” Bonds used that as a reason he would never play for the Red Sox. I don’t see how this is a reason not to sign Bonds. Was it an ill-advised, politically-incorrect statement? Absolutely, but baseball isn’t about public relations first and foremost, is it?

6. This will be a long one. KT lists six reasons for Bonds being “world’s biggest douchebag.” It’s a very detailed ad hominem, but I’ll humor it anyway.

Consider that he (a) has been cheating at baseball for like 10 years

So have hundreds of other players, a lot of whom didn’t have any trouble finding jobs anyway. As Dak pointed out, the Red Sox had the steroid-using Eric Gagne.

(b) lied about it the whole time

I don’t blame him. Until 2003, there was no way to get caught other than red-handed. If players shouldn’t be signed for being “douchebags,” and lying is douchebaggery, then most baseball players are douchebags and therefore should not be signed to baseball teams.

(c) cheated on his wife and used non-IRS-reported cash to buy his mistress a house in Arizona

His relationship with his wife and others is not germane both to the “douchebag” argument and to the “he shouldn’t be signed” argument.

His “non-IRS-reported cash” is germane only if it is still an ongoing legal issue. As far as I can tell, it isn’t. They’ve been trying to nail Bonds for the last four years or so and they’ve come up empty each time. In fact, Bonds has been so hard to nail that the federal prosecutors had to revise their original indictment and break it down into pieces to reflect each falsehood Bonds is alleged to have made. Why would they do this? They know that they’re not going to win in some – and more likely, most – of them.

As Golden Gate University law professor Peter Keane told the Associated Press, “It is two ways of saying it is lying. There is really no substantial difference between what he was charged with then and what he is charged with now.”

(d) claimed racism everywhere he went for whatever reason if it suited his purposes

Is it really that outrageous for one of the most prominent African American athletes to be aware of racism that still obviously exists in this country? I think some people would prefer if people would just simply keep quiet about racism simply because they don’t want to hear about it.

Even if he’s excessively vocal about it, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” applies here.

(e) once dragged his fucking kids into a press conference and used them as literal human shields to try to protect himself from questions about whether he was using steroids (which, again, he totally was)

Did Bonds say that was the reason he brought his kids to the press conference? It’s a strawman argument otherwise.

And no one has proven that he ever used steroids. Regardless of how obvious you feel it is that Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs, he still allegedly took them.

and to try to make the reporters who were asking the questions feel guilty for asking them

Strawman.

(f) didn’t even show up to the fucking HR-hitting contest held at his own [freaking] ballpark

What KT fails to mention is that Bonds had legitimate reasons for sitting out. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “Bonds said Thursday he will not participate because of the strain it would place on his body, ‘especially when you’re 42.’”

Now, I know a lot of guys in professional sports can proudly claim one or more of (a)-(f). But only one has all of them. And you want to put that guy — that 43 year-old mini-scrotumed douchebag — on your team?

If that “43-year-old, mini-scrotumed douchebag” gives my team a better chance of winning – and, as proven, he does – then absolutely I want him on my team.

7. KT rehashes #2 and is still wrong, as shown.

8. KT says that, because the Red Sox have won two World Series in 2004 and ’07, the front office shouldn’t feel pressure to win another one this season. The goal of every team every season is to win a World Series. The concern of not selling the farm to win now is legitimate, but Bonds would only cost cash, something the Red Sox have plenty of with the second-highest payroll in Major League Baseball.

To say that the Red Sox should just shrug their shoulders and hope for the best with the loss of their most important hitter is to ignore the goal that every team has going into each season.

9. KT has a funny scenario in which Boston Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy introduces himself to Bonds. It doesn’t further the argument, but it’s good levity.

10. KT says that the “real problem” is pitching, as if signing Bonds would prevent the Red Sox from improving their pitching. This is what’s known as a false dilemma. As mentioned, Bonds would likely cost the Red Sox under $1 million (all of the rumors that Bonds wants $10+ million are unfounded; no one has even called Bonds or his Agent Jeff Boriss in speculation). The Red Sox have money to spare.

11. KT responds to Dak’s willingness to ignore most off-the-field issues as long as his team is successful. KT disagrees. They both humor lots of egregious scenarios which would never happen with Bonds, such as “Barry Bonds tested positive for steroids and HGH and let’s say, for the fun of it, black tar heroin,” “SpyGate II for the next 25 years,” “Barry Bonds had fixed the games,” and “[Bonds] had personally taken some of the not-reported-to-the-IRS cash.”

As we can see, a lot of the common anti-Bonds arguments are very error-prone and based largely on emotion rather than objectivity. Things would be a lot easier if people would just own up and say that they don’t like Bonds and don’t want him wearing the home team’s uniform instead of pretending to throw salvos of facts around. The verdict is in and it’s unanimous: Bonds’ value as an offensive player is far too great to simply pass up for essential pennies on the dollar. Almost every team in Major League Baseball would benefit from adding Bonds, even in the National League where his defensive shortcomings come into play.

Manuel Sends the MVP a Message

The Phillies took 3 of 4 from the Reds thanks to a Cole Hamels complete game shutout, improving their home stand record to 8-2. With a nine-game road trip through Georgia, Florida, and Missouri looming, there was a bit too much tension in the air, especially for a team that’s as hot as the Phillies are.

Scott Lauber writes,

Manuel did, in fact, bench Jimmy Rollins in the fifth inning today, two innings after he didn’t run out a pop fly that wound up being dropped in shallow left field by Reds shortstop Paul Janish.

[...]

This could’ve been an explosive situation at the end of an otherwise wildly successful 8-2 homestand. But Manuel didn’t embarrass Rollins, and Rollins took full blame for what happened.

It takes some gusto — to put it kindly — to bench the reigning NL MVP. Manuel is way down on the list of managers most likely to be a disciplinarian with one of the team’s most vital players, but as Philadelphia radio personality Howard Eskin learned last year, Manuel can “get angry.”

As Manuel said, there’s not too much to talk about. Rollins owned up to his mistake of not running out a routine fly ball and isn’t going to hold any grudges, and Manuel didn’t roast his player in front of the media. For a situation that could have been explosive at one of the worst possible times — in the middle of a hot streak — both handled it like true professionals and now the focus is on tomorrow night’s Moyer-Hudson match-up in Atlanta.

Say what you will about Manuel’s in-game tactics, but he deals with the personalities on his roster as expertly as anyone in the game.

. . .

Conversely, Phillies Assistant GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. took questions on 610 WIP on Tuesday and handled that poorly, as I talk about at Baseball Digest Daily. He was asked about signing Cole Hamels to a long-term contract and his answer was a swift kick in his own mouth.

Also at Baseball Digest Daily, I talked about some issues I have with the All-Star Game and offer up some solutions.

Jose Valverde Not As Tough As Brett Myers

Houston Astros closer Jose Valverde was hit by a line drive — indirectly — off of the bat of Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Pedro Feliz. The line drive hit his glove first, then hit the right side of his face.

Jose ValverdeValverde flopped to the ground after being hit and laid there as assistant trainer Rex Jones, manager Cecil Cooper, catcher J.R. Towles, and all of the infielders came out to assist him.

After being examined, he demanded to stay in the game to finish off the ninth inning. Valverde had allowed a lead-off single to Pat Burrell, who advanced on center fielder Michael Bourn’s fielding error. He then retired Geoff Jenkins on a weak grounder up the middle before the RBI single from Pedro Feliz hit him in the face.

After persuading Jones and Cooper that he was well enough to pitch, he allowed a single to the first batter he faced, Carlos Ruiz. Pinch-hitter Chris Coste, hitting for pitcher Ryan Madson, feebly struck out, leaving it up to Jimmy Rollins to attempt to the game with two outs. Rollins came through with a line drive double to right field, but it was impressively cut off by Hunter Pence, and Feliz was held at third base as a result. Shane Victorino couldn’t get a hit, instead flying out to Bourn in center field.

When Valverde was hit, I was instantly reminded of when Brett Myers was hit in the head with a Michael Barrett line drive in the second inning of a game against the Cubs in Chicago on May 8, 2005. Not only did Myers stay in to finish the inning, he pitched an eight-inning complete game, allowing only two runs on five hits and a walk while striking out ten. If you want to watch it, click here to go to the May 2005 highlights page on the Phillies’ website, go down to May 8, and click on one of the videos for “Myers hit.”

The line drive goes right off of Myers’ head and ricochets all the way out into left field with momentum to spare. If you watch the video, you’ll notice that Myers doesn’t even hit the ground; he gets right back up. Myers’ only mistakes in the game were solo home runs to Neifi Perez and Aramis Ramirez in the fourth inning. The Phillies were stymied by Carlos Zambrano, getting only a Bobby Abreu solo home run off of him.

Valverde, on the other hand, got the save, but allowed two runs on four hits in one inning of work, and he held up the game after getting hit by a line drive that was first deflected.

Myers vs. Valverde

Sorry, Jose, you just aren’t as tough as Brett Myers. Thanks for playing.

Now to find some way to set up another line drive to hit Myers in the head so he can start pitching as well as he did back on that day in May ’05…

Natural reflex
Pendulum swing
You might be too dizzy
To do the right thing

Rush, “Stick It Out”

Jay Urban Is On Notice

Normally I reserve the “On Notice” (the idea which I’ve stolen from Stephen Colbert) board for crotchety old journalists like Bill Conlin who lash out at people who do his job better, but in this case, I’m expanding it to include people who make indicting statements about the “steroid era” on false grounds. Jay Urban of Bleacher Report wrote an article with a long title that reads “Gammons In Denial” before it hits the comma.

Most of the time, I will simply ignore articles like this and not even waste my time on it, but this one in particular is about a subject I feel strongly about, as it is a subject with loads of misinformation.

Mike Greenberg’s replacement that day, Erik Kuselias, reported that at the current rate Major League Baseball will produce 1,000 fewer home runs than two years ago. He then asked the baseball expert why this was ocurring.

I also asked this question not too long ago. The factor that seems to affect the offense the most is simply the weather. It’s typically cold and rainy in April and early May, so balls don’t carry as well.

Let’s take a look at last year’s New York Yankees who had the best offense in baseball. Their OPS by month…

March/April: .768

May: 782

June: .802

July: .916

August: .848

September/October: .841

That’s one example, but generally speaking, you will see a positive correlation between offense and higher temperatures. The current season hasn’t yet gotten into “high” temperatures.

In a laughable response, Gammons answered that the main differences were strategically motivated. Teams are thinking smarter and focusing on developing young pitching and that baseball nutrition was also undergoing a revision. Teams have been steering their players toward more versatile hitting bodies modeled after the winningest teams.

Come on. Was this a joke?

I don’t see what’s so egregious about Gammons’ response. In fact, it makes a lot of sense.

Are teams thinking smarter? It seems so, as Sabermetrics become more and more accepted in Major League circles. Teams still, unfortunately, utilize the sacrifice bunt in the wrong situations and offer a superfluous amount of intentional walks, but that has been a constant.

Are teams developing young pitching? It seems so. If you take a look at the best pitchers in baseball so far, a lot of them are under the age of 25: Edinson Volquez, Tim Lincecum, Zack Grienke, Fausto Carmona, Jair Jurrjens, Scott Olsen, Cole Hamels, John Danks, Felix Hernandez, John Lannan…

Are teams improving nutrition? How could they not? Nutrition is a science and science is always advancing. Additionally, Yankees manager Joe Girardi’s ban on candy and ice cream is an obvious focus on his team’s nutrition.

Have teams been focusing on “versatile hitting bodies”? That I cannot definitively say yes or no to, but if you think about it logically, I don’t know how it can be false. Teams don’t raise their draft picks to end up looking like Dmitri Young, do they?

The dramatic drop in home runs is a function of fewer steroid and growth hormone users, which in turn, is a function of more stringent testing procedures coupled with stiffer penalties.

This seems like a cogent correlation, but, unfortunately, it is not. Take a look at the numbers:
AL home runs per game, 2007: 0.99

AL home runs per game, 2008: 0.86 (-0.13)

NL home runs per game, 2007: 1.04

NL home runs per game, 2008: 0.95 (-0.09)

Unless Jay Urban thinks that they’ve only enforced strict drug testing on American Leaguers, he’s patently wrong here. The drop in home runs can be attributed to the cold weather and randomness.

However, even if both leagues had a significant drop in offensive production, Urban and others would still have to heed the “correlation does not imply causation” axiom.

Furthermore, Urban assumes that steroids and HGH are positively correlated with power hitting, but there has never been any direct evidence that shows this. In fact, HGH has been shown to not be performance-enhancing:

So far, no one has been able to connect the increase in lean body tissue caused by HGH with enhancement of athletic performance. Unlike steroids, growth hormone hasn’t been shown to increase weight-lifting ability; in the lab, it has a greater effect on muscle definition than muscle strength. And it doesn’t seem to help much with cardiovascular fitness, either.

As far as steroids enhancing performance, I make the argument that if they do, then so do Cortisone shots, over-the-counter and prescription drugs, protein shakes, and the like.

So, Urban is wrong on a host of fronts.

Among the penalties brought upon accused and convicted players thus far, the most potent has been fan reaction.

Right now Barry Bonds is unemployed, as is Sammy Sosa. Considering the difficulty that several American League teams are having putting runs on the board (this means you, Detroit Tigers), it would seem that these players still have a lot of value as designated hitters. Despite this, these players have been chosen as scapegoats to bear the sins of everyone else that broke the rules during this era.

Again, Urban makes a frivolous correlation: Bonds’ and Sosa’s assumed PED use is why they’re not on teams. Of course, Urban ignores that both are old and injury-prone, and that Sosa was merely league-average last season. Teams can get league-average offense in the DH spot from a number of places that don’t involve signing 40-year-olds that are essentially just taking at-bats away from younger, more deserving players.

The Bonds signing is almost definitely due to collusion, as the sage John Brattain explains. It’s not just the claim that he may have taken PED’s that is keeping teams from signing him, it’s that no one really likes him. He’s never been media-friendly (and oftentimes, rightfully so) and has always been independent.

Instead, the finger needs to be pointed in the direction of the news and sports media who have chosen to ignore the real issues that if covered, would have kept baseball accountable.

Generally, I agree with the sentiment that the media hasn’t done its job but this issue is not one such area.

PED’s were banned discreetly in 1991 via a memo, and hardly anyone knew about it. As Tom Farrey wrote for ESPN The Magazine:

In truth, steroids have been banned in baseball since 1991 — in a policy baseball officials made little effort to publicize. A source provided a copy of the seven-page document to ESPN The Magazine on the condition of anonymity.

[...]

ESPN spoke to five GMs from 1997, three of whom (from the Royals, Dodgers and Rockies) couldn’t recall that a steroids policy even existed — not that it would have mattered. “I hate to say this, but it didn’t do a whole lot of good to know the policy,” says Herk Robinson, the Royals’ GM during 1990-2000. “You weren’t going [to] solve anything. You couldn’t test. You couldn’t walk up to a guy and say, ‘What are you taking?’”

If you’re an anti-PED person, then you can only blame the guys at the top of Major League Baseball in 1991.

If you’re a more rational person who realizes that steroid and HGH use is only a controversy overinflated by the pharmaceutical industry that pays our politicians millions upon millions of dollars every year to pay attention to otherwise meaningless drug issues, then you blame… lobbyists and our easily-bribed politicians.

Instead of opening up the book and brokering a deal with major league baseball and the fans by explaining the full extent of the scandal, the media perpetuates the same fantasy that only a few were users.

Only a few were users! We haven’t even gone into the thousands (probably not even into the 500′s) with PED users, and there are close to 10,000 Major Leaguers every decade if my rough estimate is anywhere close. That would make 5% of the league over the last 10 years PED users. That’s not a big number at all. Perhaps Urban would like to present a more comprehensive list than those already compiled that include players suspended under the new anti-drug rules and those named in the Mitchell Report and whatever garbage is flowing out of Jose Canseco’s mouth.

These are periodically scapegoated in order to appease the fans who know that they were sold a lemon for over ten years.

Fans weren’t given a lemon because players were willing to put their future health at risk so they could put on a better show. The fans in the Steroid Era were given a magnificent show — the film Casablanca or Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro if you will — and it’s a shame that so many people are willing to taint their own memories because of a manufactured controversy.

The real reason for lack of home run production is well-known and the answer points to an answer that few are willing to accept. (WARNING: the next sentence will seem outrageous to those who live in a fantasy world) A majority of players in MLB from the early 1990′s to the recent past were users on some level.

As shown above, the real reason for lack of offensive production is basically the cold weather and randomness. Go back to this article after the season and see if it still makes sense.

You know we’ve told you before
But you didn’t hear us then
So you still question why
No! You didn’t listen again
You didn’t listen again

Rush, “Lessons”

BDD: Ryan Report; Also: Rush References!

The fifth installment of The Ryan Report is up for your amusement at Baseball Digest Daily.

As a result of the Blue Jays pwning the Phillies in the recent three-game series in Philadelphia and my losing a bet with the guys at Drunk Jays Fans, I have agreed to make Rush references in a week’s worth of posts. There is one in Ryan Report #5 but for your viewing pleasure, here is the video for Tom Sawyer:

Jayson Werth FTW, Literally

Jayson Werth: 3-4, 3 HR, 8 RBI

Jayson Werth FTW!

Werth hit three home runs Friday night in the inter-league opener against the Toronto Blue Jays en route to a 10-3 win. Two of his homers came against Jays starter David Purcey: a three-run home run to open the scoring in the second inning, and a grand slam that gave the Phillies an 8-0 lead in the third inning. Werth tacked on a solo home run off of Jesse Litsch in the fifth inning.

His eight RBI in one game tied a Phillies club record. According to the Phillies website:

The last Phillie to collect eight RBIs in a game was Mike Schmidt on April 17, 1976, in Chicago. The other three were Willie “Puddin’ Head” Jones (Aug. 20, 1958), Gavvy Cravath (Aug. 8, 1915) and Kitty Bransfield (July 11, 1910).

Werth’s eight RBI in one game is one more than his right field platoon mate Geoff Jenkins has all season (Werth has been playing in center field recently, however). Similarly, his three homers in one game is more than Carlos Ruiz, Shane Victorino, and Jenkins have all season.

His night left him with a season total of nine homers, which ties him with Pat Burrell and Ryan Howard for second-most on the team, and his eight RBI bumps him up to 26 on the season, third most on the team behind Chase Utley and Burrell.

Werth’s recent play may give Charlie Manuel food for thought regarding the platoon with Jenkins that was supposed to be utilized. Starting on May 13 in the series opener with the Atlanta Braves, Manuel put Werth in center field and Victorino in right field, which appeared to be a response to some poor defense on Victorino’s part in the previous series in San Francisco. Werth hadn’t played center field much throughout his career, logging 40 games and about 259 innings at that position going into 2008, but has already played 22 games and about 179 innings there so far this season. Jenkins thus far has been disappointing, getting on base below a .300 clip and not showing any power with his .345 SLG.

Answering Murphy’s Question

David Murphy, pretty much the only Philadelphia Daily News journalist that is even tolerable (Murphy is great), wrote a blog today asking the question, “How much does Rollins mean to this team?

Before I get into that, let me do my usual thing of linking you to my latest work at Baseball Digest Daily:

Shameless self-promotion aside, let’s get to the question. I’ll go through what he said in his blog and write my response to it.

[...] I’m convinced that Jimmy Rollins is one of those rare athletes whose presence really can invigorate a team. It’s why I disagree with those who say he shouldn’t have been MVP last year.

Well, unless Rollins’ intangibles can essentially add 30 OPS+ points either to himself or to his team (or both) and turn his defense from mediocre to above-average, there’s no justification for Rollins getting the MVP award last season. It was really between David Wright, Chipper Jones, and Chase Utley.

As to his “presence,” I don’t think there’s any question that he has a positive effect on his team, but that effect is minuscule as we are talking about professional Major League Baseball players — the highest caliber in the world. If they need to be in Rollins’ presence to feel excited about playing, or to be energized in the 7th inning in a getaway game, then it’s likely we’re not talking about MLB players.

But beyond that, I’m convinced his presence made his teammates better. Not in a concious [sic] way. Jayson Werth and Greg Dobbs didn’t walk up to the plate thinking, “I’m going to single now because Jimmy Rollins is here.”

The only other way this works is subconsciously then, and there’s really little difference between the two as both are unprovable.

There’s no question the Phillies are a better team with Jimmy Rollins at shortstop instead of Eric Bruntlett, and they’re better with Rollins leading off so Shane Victorino can hit second, Geoff Jenkins or Werth can hit sixth, Pedro Feliz seventh, and Carlos Ruiz eighth (Murphy explains this later).

That much is tangible, though. Rollins is light years ahead of Bruntlett offensively. The lower in the order Feliz hits, the less outs he makes (he is an outs machine). Bruntlett was hitting second and has an OBP of .308. While Shane Victorino hasn’t been any better (.305 OBP) he has a much higher ceiling and the more you pair him with Rollins at the top of the batting order, the less outs there will be when Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Pat Burrell come to the plate, which creates a lot of opportunities to score runs.

But there’s just something about this offense, this team, when Rollins is in the line-up. Everything clicks. Shane Victorino gets to hit second instead of first. That’s where he belongs. Werth gets to hit sixth and bring some speed to the middle of the order. Pedro Feliz gets to hit seventh. Carlos Ruiz gets to hit eighth.

The “Everything clicks” Murphy cites is tangible, as explained above. If he’s going for the intangible — that, in a vacuum, everyone in the lineup is better when Rollins is in there than when he is not — then it’s simply a “God of the gaps” argument, which is basically saying “If we don’t know, then [preconceived notion -- in this case, intangibles] is the answer.”

How many times over the past month has the leadoff spot come up with two out in an inning? When Rollins is that leadoff guy, there’s a real potential for something big to happen. In fact, it’s expected.

“He always tells me just to get on,” pitcher Cole Hamels said.

Hamels got on the eight with two out, and Rollins hit a huge home run.

This is a cherry-pick. Why is Rollins somehow a better candidate when there are two outs? Granted, he has a 1.067 OPS with two outs, but that’s in a small sample size: 10 plate appearances. Last season, Rollins’ OPS dropped with every out recorded: 0 outs, .945; 1 out, .867; 2 outs, .768. And given his mediocre OBP (.331 career; .344 last season), I have more confidence in Jayson Werth (.351 career OBP; .404 last season) to extend an inning with two outs. In fact, Werth’s OPS with two outs was better than Rollins’ at .797.

I asked Hamels if we make too much of the impact Rollins brings to the entire team.

“Absolutely not,” he said.

What do you expect him to say? He’s not about to trash his own teammate.

Here’s another thing I think. And again, it’s just me thinking. But me thinking thinks that Rollins returning will help Ryan Howard too. I don’t think the first baseman would ever admit it, but there was more pressure on him with Rollins out. And that may have affected him. Last year he hit .223 when Chase Utley was down. He put some good swings on the ball tonight. Scored a run.

There are a lot of hasty generalizations here. Tangibly, Rollins will help Howard because it’s more likely Rollins will be on base than his replacement (Bruntlett) would have, so when Howard bats, there will be less outs and runners on base, which means Howard will see more predictable fastballs.

Secondly, Ryan Howard did not hit well when Chase Utley was injured because the Phillies played a lot of teams with good pitching:

  • July 30-August 2: Chicago Cubs, 2nd-best pitching in NL
  • August 3-5: Milwaukee Brewers, 9th-best pitching in NL
  • August 10-12: Atlanta Braves, 3rd-best pitching in NL
  • August 14-16: Washington Nationals, 10th-best pitching in NL
  • August 21-23: Los Angeles Dodgers, 6th-best pitching in NL
  • August 24-26: San Diego Padres, best pitching in NL

Understandably, the Phillies went 9-10 against those teams, and 6-3 against teams with bad pitching staves (4-2 vs. Pittsburgh Pirates’ 3rd-worst pitching, 2-1 vs. Florida Marlins’ worst pitching).

Ryan Howard was helped by Jimmy Rollins because he had some good swings and scored a run? Howard scored 8 runs in 18 games (1 R every 2.25 G) without Rollins and 10 runs in 19 games (1 R every 1.9 G) with Rollins — very little difference.

Howard has had some good swings lately, he’s just been a little unlucky (.211 BABiP). His two good swings last night came in his third at-bat against starter Pat Misch with just over 57 total innings of Major League experience, and in his one at-bat against reliever Tyler Walker who is league-average (102 ERA+ this season, 97 career ERA+).

Rollins’ return to the Phillies makes his team better because he’s better than his replacement Eric Bruntlett, not because he’s energetic or motivational or clutch.