The Overlooked Bullpen

Rob Bradford of WEEI posted his Major League bullpen power rankings this morning. Naturally, the first thing I did was a Ctrl + F for “Phillies”. Much to my surprise, they were in the top one-third, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Lost in the talk about the Phillies’ four aces and how many innings they ought to accrue, the bullpen is actually quite formidable.

Faithful readers of the blog know how highly I think of Ryan Madson, but even outside of him, there are quality pitchers capable of getting outs reliably. But let’s start with Madson and get him out of the way.

Madson is awesome. It aggravated me to no end to see him shunned for an apparent inability to close games despite never really getting a fair shot. He was not given the benefit of the doubt when a small sample size can produce a wide variety of results irrespective of skill. During the 2010 season, he posted a 10.9 K/9 and a 2.2 BB/9. His 4.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio was ninth-best in the Majors among relief pitchers, sandwiched by Luke Gregerson and Billy Wagner, two very highly-regarded bullpen arms. And among relievers with at least 50 innings in Phillies franchise history, Madson joined Doug Jones as the only ones to post a 4.9 or better strikeout-to-walk ratio. His 2.49 SIERA was 12th-best in baseball. His change-up is arguably the best in the Majors — even better than Cole Hamels‘. If there’s a Phillies reliever you don’t want to face, it’s Madson.

How about Brad Lidge? He is cast aside as a reliever at the end of his career with not much left to offer. As I mentioned yesterday, the Phillies need to decide on what to do with the closer situation, and it likely won’t include Lidge going forward. Still, he is a well above-average reliever. His 3.55 SIERA was right there with highly-respected closer Andrew Bailey and a tenth of a run behind Mariano Rivera.

Lidge’s 2010 season turned around after Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals hit a walk-off home run on July 31. To that point, Lidge had a 5.57 ERA with a BB/9 of an even 6.0. After the game, Zimmerman hinted that Lidge was tipping his pitches. From August 1 through the rest of the season, Lidge corrected his flaws and posted a 0.73 ERA with a 3.6 BB/9. Baseball is a game of constant adjustments. Lidge appeared to make the correct adjustments in the final two months last year, and he can only learn from that and benefit going forward. He is not by any means a washed up reliever; in fact, he is still among the most feared in baseball.

Jose Contreras finished 2010 with a 3.19 SIERA, certainly a great accomplishment as it was his first full season as a reliever. He averaged just over a strikeout per inning and was stingy with the free passes as his 2.5 BB/9 indicated. He even induced a good amount of ground balls (45 percent) to help limit the damage. Because he is not in a glorified position with its own title, such as “set-up” or “closer”, Contreras is assumed to be just another reliever, but he is good enough to close on quite a few teams. He may have worn down towards the end of the season as his second-half ERA was more than a full run higher than his first-half ERA, but now that he is going into his second full season as a reliever, he can make the proper adjustments in terms of preparation and conditioning.

J.C. Romero is responsible for the poorly-groomed fingernails of many a Philadelphian, but I insist it’s not his fault. As mentioned various times here on the blog, Romero should be used strictly against left-handed hitters. His xFIP against lefties is a paltry 3.61, but against right-handers, it rises to an unacceptable 5.34. Charlie Manuel has limited Romero’s use to lefties more and more, but never entirely. It would behoove Ruben Amaro to demand that Romero never be used against a right-handed hitter in a meaningful situation. When used properly, Romero is a remarkably effective lefty.

Antonio Bastardo will likely be the team’s second lefty out of the bullpen. He seems to have been given this reputation as a good-but-not-quite-good-enough reliever, but in limited action, he posted a 2.90 SIERA. He can attribute that to an incredible 12.5 K/9 (in about 19 innings), which is not a fluke. Over his Minor League career, he posted a 10.3 K/9. Bastardo’s goal should be to limit his walks, but he is right now an MLB-capable reliever. Consider that his 4.3 BB/9 last year is comparable to Lidge’s 4.1 career average. Those walk rates are not good by any means, but you accept it with the amount of swings-and-misses they induce.

The bullpen will round out with a slop-throwing long reliever (probably Kyle Kendrick) and perhaps a young arm. Scott Mathieson is one such candidate whom I feel hasn’t been given a fair shot at keeping a job as a Major League reliever. He had all of one and two-thirds innings in 2010 including one appearance in mid-June in which he struggled and was immediately jettisoned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. The kid, fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, has done just about everything he can possibly do in the Minors — he’s thrown 566 innings in the Minors with a 9.0 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 and 3.82 ERA — so it’s time to use him or lose him.

Another name to keep in mind is Justin De Fratus (he’s on Twitter!). The 23-year-old has been nothing short of impressive in his brief professional career. Last year, between Single-A Clearwater and Double-A Reading, he posted a 1.94 ERA with a 9.8 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9. ESPN’s Jason Grey is very high on De Fratus as well:

De Fratus absolutely looks like a big league bullpen arm, with a 92-95 mph fastball that touched 96 mph once when I saw him, and good tilt on an 83-85 mph slider that can get strikeouts. A strong pitcher with a good frame who uses his lower half well, De Fratus does a good job finishing his pitches. De Fratus isn’t far from a call-up and looks like he could fill a seventh- or eighth-inning role at the big league level, and from there anything can happen. Then again, he’s also in an organization that left Scott Mathieson behind to dominate Triple-A hitters all year.

The Phillies are expected to have a formidable offense and baseball’s best starting rotation, but don’t forget about the bullpen. Their role may have been condensed, but they still have a say on exactly how successful the Phillies will be in the regular season and how far they will advance in the playoffs.

Potential July Departures

There is next to nothing going on in the baseball world right now, but the Phillies could be very busy come July. With eight potential free agents in 2012, the Phillies may want to move some players before they walk away. Who are they and under what circumstances could they be moved?

Roy Oswalt

Oswalt is due $16 million in 2012 but the Phillies can buy out that final year for $2 million and let him walk. There is some speculation that he could retire as well. If the Phillies are in contention for the playoffs, which is nearly guaranteed, there is no way Oswalt is moved. But, if the Phillies anger the baseball gods and fall out of the hunt by July 31, Oswalt could waive his no-trade clause and agree to be traded to a team in contention for a few prospects or a Major League-capable left fielder that would be under team control beyond the 2012 season.

If the Phillies are very strong in 2011, they will just keep Oswalt on board through the ’12 season. No reason to break up the four aces if you don’t have to, right?

Brad Lidge

Like Oswalt, Lidge has an expensive price tag for the 2012 season but the Phillies can buy him out for $1.5 million. Due to his struggles in ’09 and the early part of last season, the Phillies may be more comfortable with Ryan Madson in the ninth inning going forward. The only way Lidge would be an attractive trade target, though, is if he is healthy and pitching well, and if that is the case, the Phillies are going to want to keep him through the post-season. So for Lidge to be moved, he would need to be healthy and pitching well and the Phillies will have to be out of playoff contention.

The haul for Lidge wouldn’t be too impressive — perhaps a Ben Francisco-esque jack-of-all-trades outfielder at the most; more likely a fringe prospect or two. The Nationals may have ripped off the Minnesota Twins last year in getting prospect Wilson Ramos in exchange for closer Matt Capps, but don’t expect the Phillies to get such a deal.

Raul Ibanez

Ibanez’s availability will depend on the progress of Domonic Brown, particularly the rookie’s performance in spring training. Essentially, if Brown impresses enough in spring training to merit a full-time job in right field, the likelihood of an Ibanez trade increases. Based on what the organization has said publicly, though, expect Brown to platoon in right field with Ben Francisco. In that case, if both Brown and Francisco produce, Ibanez does become expendable if and only if Ibanez agrees to waive his trade protection.

The problem is, of course, finding a market for a 39-year-old corner outfielder. The American League, where Ibanez’s shoddy defense can be hidden, is the place to look. Unlike Oswalt and Lidge, the point of trading Ibanez would be to recoup some of the $11.5 million he will be owed in 2011. The Phillies would be willing to trade Ibanez for next-to-nothing as long as the receiving team takes on the remainder of his salary, which would be about $4 million.

Ryan Madson

Thinking about this breaks my heart, but there is a possibility that Madson won’t be wearing Phillies red in 2012. He will earn $4.5 million this year, the last leg of his contract. Given his age and great performance over the last four years, it’s hard to imagine the Phillies not wanting to keep him around. However, Madson’s agent is Scott Boras, who may not advise his client to sign another team-friendly contract like he did in January of ’09.

Madson, who turns 30 at the end of August, is among the best relievers in the game but is not regarded as such. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was ninth-best among relievers last year and his 2.49 SIERA ranked 12th among pitchers with at least 50 innings of work. Despite that, Madson has never had an extended opportunity to close, and in the scant opportunities he has had, no one was impressed by his performance.

His age and overall good performance in the set-up role should allow the Phillies to get a couple of useful prospects, but I would be shocked if GM Ruben Amaro doesn’t have Madson, Rollins, and Cole Hamels signed to two- and three-year extensions before it’s too late.

Shane Victorino

As with Ibanez, Victorino’s availability depends a lot on Brown’s ability to transition into the Majors. Because Victorino is a center fielder and the Phillies have never seemed enthused about having either Brown or Francisco in center, such a trade would have to involve a center fielder coming back. The Dodgers’ Matt Kemp will be named in trade rumors until he is actually traded or signed to an extension and would be one such trade target for the Phillies. Kemp will earn $550,000 less than Victorino this year and will likely match Victorino’s $9.5 million salary in 2012, his last year of arbitration eligibility. Many have felt that a change of scenery would benefit Kemp and the Dodgers, so the thought has some merit — just not much.

If you’ve been keeping tabs on the caveats throughout this article, it’s quite obvious that such trades aren’t likely and involve a confluence of factors to actually occur. A team like the Phillies, built to win now, can’t really afford to sell off their parts, even if it means swallowing a net loss in terms of prospects and draft quicks left on the table. Stranger things have happened, though, like last year when the Phillies appeared to be throwing away the season and Amaro traded for a tractor-loving pitcher named Roy Oswalt.

Rob Neyer Is Movin’ On

UPDATE: It’s official: Neyer has signed on with SB Nation.

Rob Neyer announced on his blog today that he is hanging up his blogging spikes.

Today, I hand off this space to whoever’s next. I don’t know yet who is next, but I’m highly confident that this blog and the SweetSpot Network will soon be in excellent hands.

Meanwhile, I’ll be around. The kids tell me it’s all about search these days. You won’t have to search real hard to find me, if you want.

Happy trails, until we meet again.

Reactions to the legendary writer’s announcement were swift and heartfelt. There are too many to link to, and too many good odes would be left by the wayside. Suffice it to say that this writer feels the same way about Neyer — his writing and his contributions to the Sabermetric community.

It meant the world to me when I opened up my Gmail account in late September of 2009 to find Neyer reaching out to me, even going so far as to compliment my work, inviting me to join his SweetSpot blog network. I joined a team of bloggers whose work I had long admired and have watched as others joined the team. There is no doubt in my mind that Neyer bringing me into his blog network also helped bring me the opportunity to write for Baseball Prospectus.

As to what Neyer’s departure means for the SweetSpot network — nothing will change as far as I know. Someone will be given the unenviable task of filling Neyer’s shoes. How the new guy or gal chooses to run the ship remains to be seen but I imagine it will be with the same lax leash that Neyer used. So the content here will remain the same.

I wish the best of luck to Rob in his future endeavors and I sincerely hope he sticks around in the Internet baseball community. Feel free to leave your compliments and well-wishes for Rob in the comments below. I’m sure he’ll take a lap around the blogs before the night is over.

Tango thinks Neyer will be moving onto MLB Network. I’m skeptical, but would nonetheless be thrilled if this were the case. The level of analysis on that channel could use a real pick-me-up and Neyer would provide just that.

Comparing the Phillies’ and Giants’ Rotations

On Twitter, @TheBaseballChik asks:

Better 4-man rotation, Giants or Phillies?

Let’s take a look using SIERA over the last three years. Click on the charts to view a much larger version.

What you should be noticing is a lot of red leaning towards the left side of the graph. If not for Tim Lincecum, the Phillies would currently own the four-best starting pitchers in each of the 2008, ’09, and ’10 seasons among the eight pitchers in question. (Note that Madison Bumgarner was a rookie last year, but even still, he was the seventh best out of eight.)

Of the big four, the only significant regression we can expect out of the Phillies’ four pitchers would be from Roy Oswalt. Near the end of December, I analyzed the starters and concluded:

Oswalt, on the other hand, did have a bit of a lucky 2010 season. His 2.76 ERA was separated from his 3.33 SIERA because of a .261 BABIP and a 78 percent strand rate. Over his career (spanning over 2,000 innings), however, he has shown some legitimate ability to strand runners as his career average lies at 76 percent. Halladay, by comparison, has a 73 percent strand rate — much closer to the league average which tends to reside in the 70-72 percent range.

Since we’re using mostly-luck-neutral statistics, though, Oswalt still grades out well among the eight pitchers in question.

On the Giants’ end of things, there is no question that Tim Lincecum is one of the top-two starters along with Roy Halladay. However, Matt Cain may be one of the most overrated pitchers in baseball (though you can’t fault him for pitching to the strengths of his home ballpark**) and Jonathan Sanchez‘s enormously high walk rate sabotages the benefits of his high strikeout rate. Consider that both Sanchez and Cole Hamels had a K/9 above 9.0 in 2010 (Sanchez 9.5, Hamels 9.1) but Hamels walked nearly half as many batters (Sanchez 4.5 BB/9, Hamels 2.6). Bumgarner has promise but will need to bolster his K/9 well into the 7.0 territory and keep his BB/9 in the low 2’s.

** (Joe Posnanski-esque aside) Many have been insistent on docking players like Matt Holliday and Carlos Gonzalez points in MVP award voting for having divergent home/road splits. Why don’t we do the same for pitchers? Matt Cain is widely regarded as among the best in the game, but he’s a fly ball pitcher (45 percent career average) in a very spacious ballpark (home run park factor of 82 per StatCorner.com). Cain has a career home ERA of 3.19 with a 4.47 xFIP and a career road ERA of 3.76 with a 4.39 xFIP. AT&T Park has been very good to Cain.

For what it’s worth, Matthew Pouliot ranked all 30 Major League teams’ starting rotations and the Phillies’ came out on top by an overwhelming margin.

The question that @TheBaseballChik posed is interesting, especially when we’re all dying for some baseball, but there is really no debate.

On Howard Eskin, Other Media

You have no doubt heard about the Howard Eskin tiff with Roy Halladay by now. The Burger King lookalike criticized the 2010 National League Cy Young award winner’s availability to the media. Patrick Berkery has the details for PhillyBurbs.com:

In the two-and-a-half-minute rant, Eskin condescendingly reminds us that if not for members of the media like himself, fans would have no idea what the players are thinking. He claims that Major League Baseball forced Halladay to speak to the media two days after tossing his NLDS no-hitter against the Reds, failing to mention that Halladay spoke at length to the media immediately after the game.

Eskin says Halladay hasn’t spoken to the media at all since the season ended, giving fans no indication how he feels about pitching in the same rotation with Cliff Lee.

Just about everyone with a Phillies blog has ripped Eskin to shreds already, so I will not beat that dead horse. However, I think this fiasco is yet another example of the growing decay of media in general, sports being one microcosm of the larger picture. Most attempts at editorializing are poorly-disguised attempts to create controversy where none exists. And in the dead of winter when baseball is still weeks away and TV and radio stations are grasping at straws for every extra viewer and listener (and writers struggle to find article fodder), rabble-rousing is the oft-selected route.

As many have pointed out, Eskin isn’t a legitimate voice in the Phillies community the way Mike Missanelli is — especially not in the way that Eskin is with the Eagles. And given Eskin’s history of pot-stirring, it becomes quite easy to deduce his intentions.

To my knowledge, Halladay hasn’t addressed the Eskin issue at all, exactly what you would expect from the stately right-hander. All too often, though, athletes are baited by the media in an attempt to get some free publicity. Then, when athletes don’t make themselves available to the media, the shock jocks and pot-stirrers play the role of the victim and cry foul.

There is no clearer example of this than Barry Bonds. Bonds marched to the beat of his own drum; an aloof fellow, for sure. Bonds didn’t always make himself available for interviews and didn’t provide many exciting sound bites. By not making the writers’ jobs easy, they painted a negative picture of him — sometimes intentionally, but oftentimes subconsciously. And when it came to “innocent before proven guilty” regarding the BALCO scandal, they were all too willing to condemn Bonds before any official verdict was levied.

Even in end-of-season awards and Hall of Fame voting, some writers have used a player’s media availability as one criterion that can be used for and against the player in question.

Now that traditional media is evaporating and blogs (and Tweeters) have popped up like flowers in spring, members of the mainstream media are trying even harder to earn precious viewers, listeners, and click-throughs. Eskin is but one of a vast group of professionals resorting to amateur tactics to maintain relevancy in a very crowded marketplace.

What Eskin did was unprofessional in every way, shape, and form. But we rewarded his behavior by talking about it, by browsing NBC10’s website for the sound bite, and by tuning into 610 WIP during the aftermath. How we punish such unprofessional behavior in the future is by ignoring it. Sometimes you need to actively confront a troll, but Eskin’s reputation as a troll precedes him and he should be shunned into obscurity.

Eskin says, in a pretentious fashion, that the media is the middleman between the fans and the athletes. And he’s right. Fans will be more willing to consume the product (Phillies baseball) if they feel a connection to the players, and that is accomplished primarily (overwhelmingly so, in fact) through the media.

But just as the fans and athletes need each other, the media needs both those fans and the athletes. Let’s say Todd Zolecki has a bad encounter with Shane Victorino and blasts him for it in his next article. (Todd wouldn’t, because he’s one of the best writers around, but humor the hypothetical.) Victorino will be much less willing to take time out of his schedule to talk to Todd, much less provide any juicy factoids that would make for good article fodder. Subsequently, Todd’s articles become boring and repetitive (especially in comparison to his peers, who are getting more unique information), and he loses readers. When Todd loses enough readers, he loses his job. Or, more realistically, Todd will resort to Eskin-like tactics to maintain relevancy and draw in readers before losing his job.

There is no reason why a member of the mainstream media — or a blogger, for that matter — should be bashing players for any reason whatsoever unless there is a 100 percent factual, provable (and relevant) foundation lying underneath.

The funny thing is, Eskin could have handled the Halladay issue privately and without conflict. Eskin thinks Halladay hasn’t been making himself available enough to the media? Send him an e-mail or a text message, or call him on the phone. Say to Halladay, “It’s not a huge deal, but I think you ought to do a couple interviews before you show up in Clearwater. Fans want to know what you think about the Cliff Lee signing, among other things.”

. . .

As the Eskin issue illustrates, January has been very boring in Phillies-land. If there’s anything you’d like to see covered on this blog before spring training starts, feel free to post suggestions in the comments. I’ve already taken suggestions on Twitter and have a couple of ideas permeating, but nothing that I think would turn into good blog fodder yet.

Otherwise, feel free to use this thread to talk about anything Phillies-related, even outside of Eskin/Halladay.

Should Phillies Fans Cheer Logan Morrison?

If you’re not on Twitter, make an account right now and immediately follow @LoMoMarlins, the account of Marlins outfielder Logan Morrison. In a short time on Twitter, Morrison has made a splash with Marlins fans and also with baseball fans in general, particularly Phillies fans.

What separates Morrison’s Twitter feed from those of other athletes is that he doesn’t simply post banal material, such as how excited he is for the upcoming season and how hard he’s working. He talks with fans about almost anything, and even promoted the “Sharktits” meme.

LoMo made a splash with Phillies fans due to a combination of his sense of humor and admiration for Phillies players, particularly their pitchers:

Can I tell you how excited I am to face R2C2 (great name btw!) *Breaking News* Logan Morrison goes hitless vs Phillies until his 30th bday

He even respects Roy Oswalt’s ability to play the outfield:

Roy BUT I’m a WAY better LHP than him RT @OuttaHerrrrreee: who plays a better LF, you or Roy Oswalt?

Pitching prospect Jarred Cosart expressed dismay at having to earn a job against the Phillies’ fearsome foursome. Morrison played the role of realtor:

Good point. Forget renting in Lehigh Valley you may want 2 buy RT @JarredCosart: Try having 2 b the guy trying 2 take 1 of their jobs

Surely, you can see why Phillies fans have taken a liking to the guy. However, a certain segment of Phillies fans on Twitter think the LoMo love has gone too far, and worry that Philadelphia’s reputation as a tough sports town and the Phillies’ home field advantage are in jeopardy if fans openly cheer for Morrison at home games.

What Morrison has done on Twitter is great for baseball and more athletes should take note. He has established a real connection with both Marlins fans and fans of other teams, which is very, very hard to do. It is likely that Morrison’s personality will get more than a handful of non-Marlins fans to tune into his games during the season, which is great for advertisers and for MLB.tv. It may lead to the Marlins getting some more national exposure on FOX and ESPN. All because of “sharktits”.

But should Phillies put their reputation on the line and cheer for him? That’s up to each fan individually. There are some that feel that such behavior needs to be regulated, but ultimately, the decision is up to you. Part of being a baseball fan is choosing who you root for and who you root against, and sometimes the boundaries are blurred.

Consider Ken Griffey, Jr — incredible player, and an even better personality. If you actively disliked Junior, you were the one with the problem, even if you were a fan of the California Angels. Some players transcend those traditional boundaries. Morrison may not be the same caliber of player as Junior, but his use of technology to foster communication with fans can make him just as likable.

Follow @LoMoMarlins? Follow @CrashburnAlley, too!

Kyle Kendrick’s Arbitration Case

Recently at Beyond the Box Score, the omnipresent Dave Gershman wrote a simulation of an arbitration hearing, using Francisco Liriano as an example. It was very informative and enlightening, but with Kyle Kendrick headed to arbitration, I wish to be a fly on the wall in that exchange. Here’s my best guess as to how Kendrick’s arbitration process will go down.

. . .

Kendrick’s agent slides a folded piece of looseleaf paper across the table towards GM Ruben Amaro. Amaro does the same. Both unfold the paper and read the suggestion for Kendrick’s 2011 salary.

Amaro: This is outrageous. I can’t afford to pay Kyle that much. He won’t even start the season in the rotation.

Agent: We think it’s fair compensation for the time and effort Kyle put in during his time in the organization. He’s done whatever the Phillies have asked of him, whether it’s filling in for an injured pitcher, moving to the bullpen, or accepting a demotion down to the Minors. Kyle’s a team guy and he deserves to be recognized for it.

Amaro sits quietly, listening to Kendrick’s agent. Amaro pauses for several seconds after the agent stops talking, reveals a TV remote, and turns the flat-screen TV on. This video clip plays.

Amaro: I can’t pay $3 million for that. Kyle, I recognize and appreciate everything you’ve done for our organization, but your performance doesn’t merit that kind of salary. I was happy to pay you $480,000 last year and I am quite fine with raising your pay, but not to that level. Unless we trade Joe Blanton, you won’t even be in the starting rotation. It just doesn’t work.

Kendrick attempts “sad puppy eyes”. Amaro is unfazed.

Agent: What will you do if and when you trade Blanton? You have no one else to step up and fill in. Everyone knows Blanton will be wearing a different uniform by August 1. What if Kyle decides he doesn’t want to be a team guy anymore because you jilted him in arbitration?

Amaro leans back in his chair, sipping from his styrofoam cup of coffee. He belches.

Amaro: We are fine with letting Vance Worley get a turn in the rotation. His numbers are superior to Kyle’s in every way, you know.

Agent: His numbers are so good that you let him start a whopping two times. How about in 2007 when Kyle was thrown in the rotation and pitched the Phillies into the playoffs?

Amaro: If we had that rotation from 2007 now, where Kendrick was a legit #3, I’d be more open to meeting your demands. But we have R2C2. We could use a 4-man rotation if we wanted to.

Amaro’s Blackberry, resting on the table, vibrates. He checks it, reading his daily Joke of the Day text. A sight smile breaks the scowl Amaro had been wearing for the past 20 minutes.

Kendrick: Listen, I’m not asking for much. I just want to be fairly compensated for my effort like everybody else in the league. What’s the big deal? You spent like a billion dollars on Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee but you can’t give me an extra million or two?

Remember that time you guys pranked me and told me I was traded to Japan? I took that like a champ. I was such a good sport. Now I kind of wish I really had been traded.

Amaro: Actually, we have been talking with some Japanese teams about moving you. They would be willing to pay you what you think you’re worth. We haven’t agreed on anything yet, but we could get something done within the next month or so.

Kendrick: Really?

Amaro: No.

Kendrick: What the fork! Pranking me in an arbitration conference?

Amaro finishes the last of his cinnamon roll. Some icing is left on the corner of his mouth. He lifts up his tie and wipes it off.

Amaro: This is boring and I have places to be. I’ll go $1.5 million for you this year, that’s about as high as we can go. If you two think you can do better, you’re welcome to move on. The fact is, pitchers like Kyle are a dime-a-dozen. You guys should be happy I’m even willing to discuss a pay raise at all. Kyle’s K/9 was the lowest in the Majors last year. His sinker barely sinks and his fastball is flat. That’s not an integral part of the 2011 Phillies.

Amaro lifts up the remote and plays this video clip, then exits the room.

Kendrick and his agent quietly discuss their options. Kendrick takes out his laptop.

Agent: You should take the $1.5 million. You have a good thing going here and you might even win another World Series. And I don’t really think the arbiters will rule in your favor anyway.

Kendrick doesn’t acknowledge what his agent said.

Agent: Hello? Kyle? You listening?

Kendrick emphatically slams the Enter key, then folds up his laptop. A printer turns on.

Agent: What did you just do?

Kendrick walks over to the printer. It is a receipt from an airline website.

Kendrick: I just bought a one-way ticket to Japan. Get on the phone and find me a job over there. Inform my wife.

Ricciardi, Pagan Help Mets Meet Trash Talk Quota

Carlos Beltran, 2008:

So this year, to Jimmy Rollins, we are the team to beat. (New York Daily News)

Francisco Rodriguez, going into 2009:

Of course, we’re going to try to win the division. Of course, we’re going to be the front-runner. Of course, we’re going to be the team to beat. (ESPN)

J.P. Ricciardi, special assistant to Mets GM Sandy Alderson, going into the 2011 season:

So now that Mr. Ricciardi is a special assistant to Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, the prospect of having to wrench supremacy in the National League East away from the Philadelphia Phillies doesn’t fill him with much apprehension.

“The AL East always had two or three teams coming at you,” he said by phone recently. “After having done it so many years against the Yankees and the Red Sox and Tampa being good through that cycle, I’ll take my chances. Even though the Phillies are really good, I’ll take my chances over here.” (Wall Street Journal)

Angel Pagan on Wednesday:

Angel Pagan knows that much of the baseball world is “talking about Philadelphia” since the Phillies added Cliff Lee to an already-imposing rotation. But Pagan wants to make sure no one forgets about the Mets, either, even if they’ve had a much lower-profile winter. “If we have health, we can give them a fight,” Pagan said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “Everyone is counting on Philadelphia, but they have to do it. I got my money on my team, bro. I love challenges and that’s why I’m looking forward to it. I believe in surprises.” (New York Daily News)

You’d think that, after four seasons of the Phillies dominating the NL East, the Mets would learn to keep their mouths shut. Everybody and their mother has already concluded that the Mets will be golfing in October. That is, everyone except Ricciardi and Pagan, it seems.

FanGraphs Fan Projections Are Craaaaazy

UPDATE: The always great David Appelman of FanGraphs found and fixed the problem with the projections.

FanGraphs’ fan projections are crazier than Jim Sipala.

Dave Allen found that fans projected their favorite team’s players more inaccurately than players on other teams. It makes sense: fans are biased towards their team and are unaware of that bias and/or are unable to remove that bias in their evaluation.

But… some of the 2011 fan projections are ridiculous. Take a look at some of the Atlanta Braves hitter projections using wOBA and pitcher projections using FIP:

(Note: positive differentials for hitters are optimistic while negative differentials for pitchers are optimistic.)

Player Pos Fans CarAvg Diff
Heyward, J RF .426 .376 .050
McCann, B C .383 .364 .019
Uggla, D 2B .381 .351 .030
McLouth, N CF .380 .343 .037
Prado, M UTIL .371 .352 .019
Freeman, F 1B .368 N/A N/A
Gonzalez, A SS .339 .298 .041

The pitchers:

Player Fans CarAvg Diff
Hanson, T 2.63 3.38 -0.75
Minor, M 3.24 N/A N/A
Lowe, D 3.43 3.80 -0.37
Jurrjens, J 3.46 3.85 -0.39
Hudson, T 3.51 3.82 -0.31

As you can see, the fans are optimistic that every player with a listed projection will out-pace his career average. In most cases, significantly out-pace their career average.

Just to illustrate how zany the projections are, the .426 wOBA for Heyward would have ranked fourth-best in the Majors in 2010, behind Josh Hamilton, Joey Votto, and Miguel Cabrera. I think Heyward is a great player, but a .426 wOBA in his sophomore season after posting a .376 wOBA? 50 points of wOBA was the difference between Ryan Braun and Jonny Gomes last year.

Fans expect Jair Jurrjens to increase his K/9 by 1.5 and lower his BB/9  by 0.5 compared to his career averages. Derek Lowe is projected to post his highest K/9 since 2001, when he was pitching out of the bullpen for the Boston Red Sox. Tommy Hanson is expected to put up a 2.63 FIP. By comparison, Roy Halladay has only once posted a FIP that low and it was in a short season in which he made just 16 starts.

Meanwhile, the Phillies’ projections aren’t nearly as crazy.

Player Pos Fans CarAvg Diff
Utley, C 2B .395 .388 .007
Howard, R 1B .372 .391 -.019
Victorino, S CF .341 .343 -.002
Ibanez, R LF .334 .351 -.017
Ruiz, C C .330 .326 .004
Rollins, J SS .329 .336 .-007
Polanco, P 3B .321 .334 -.013

Four of the Braves’ hitters — including Nate McLouth and almost Martin Prado — are projected to perform better than Ryan Howard. Heyward is expected to be significantly better than Chase Utley.

Overall, fans are more realistic, or just plain conservative, about the Phillies’ hitters. The largest gap between a player’s career average wOBA and their fan-projected wOBA is Howard at -.019. Every Braves hitter had an equivalent disagreement or greater above their career average.

Player Fans CarAvg Diff
Halladay, R 3.07 3.42 -0.35
Lee, C 3.02 3.77 -0.75
Oswalt, R 3.61 3.34 0.24
Hamels, C 3.62 3.77 -0.15
Blanton, J 4.44 4.21 0.23

Despite equivalent disagreements between the fan-projected FIP and their career averages, Tommy Hanson‘s projection is more unrealistic than Cliff Lee‘s because of how far down his FIP lies. Additionally, Lee’s pitching prior to 2008 is included and we all know that Lee transformed during the same year that the Phillies won the World Series. Overall, the fans are generally optimistic about the Phillies’ starting rotation, but fans are pessimistic about Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton. On the other hand, each pitcher in the Braves’ rotation is expected to best his career average FIP.

Oddly enough, Mike Minor is expected to post a 3.24 FIP, which is outstanding for a pitcher with all of 41 innings of Major League experience. His 9.5 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 were excellent and his 5.98 ERA was egregiously high, but a 3.24 FIP is still unrealistic. Even with those great numbers, his FIP in 2010 was still 3.86.

The fan projections are fun, but they don’t appear to be reliable in any way. Take them with a huge grain of salt; take the more objective methods of projection with a slightly smaller grain of salt.

Chase Utley vs. Robinson Cano

Over at Beyond the Box Score, Daniel Moroz of Camden Crazies compared Chase Utley and Robinson Cano, the top two second basemen in Major League Baseball. He concludes:

Robinson Cano is a very good player. Chase Utley is a very good player. If you want the second-baseman who will put the ball in play more and make flashier looking plays with the glove, then you take Cano. If you want the second-baseman who will make fewer outs and save more runs defensively, then you take Utley.

If Utley doesn’t bounce back at the plate – while Cano maintains his production from 2010 – then we’ll need to revisit this and perhaps give the Yankee the edge. If someone wants to take up the banner for Cano right now though, I’d be glad to hear the arguments.

Right now, I take Utley without hesitation. Last year in what was a career year for Cano, he was worth 6.4 fWAR. Utley, in a career-worst year, was worth 5.2. Utley at his worst is still very close to Cano at his best — that’s just how good Utley is.

However, there are question marks surrounding Utley. He has suffered two major hand injuries (a broken hand and a torn thumb ligament) in his career, recently turned 31 years old, and tends to wear down at the end of the season. In the Utley/Cano debate, Utley is best short-term, but Cano is superior in the long run.