Ryan Howard’s Days in Philly: Numbered?

ESPN’s Jayson Stark describes the Ryan Howard situation in Philly:

For one thing, the two sides haven’t spent 10 seconds talking about a deal since the arbitration hearing. For another, Howard and agent Casey Close continue to position him as an unprecedented player, who therefore deserves an unprecedented contract.

It shouldn’t be surprising that Howard is going to ask for so much money. He’s been a premier offensive threat in all of baseball since he won the NL MVP in 2005. However, if Stark’s description of Howard’s desires — “an unprecented contract” — are true, then it really is time to start thinking about moving him. Not this year, and not next year, but perhaps at the trading deadline in 2010.

The Phillies have control of Howard until after the 2011 season, so they can choose to continue to go year-to-year with him and pay him according to precedents. Even if the Phillies are forced to pay him something like $18 million in 2010, this would still be reasonable as opposed to locking up the slugger — who will be 30 at the start of the 2010 season — long-term for “unprecedented” big bucks.

Howard isn’t truly an unprecedented player. He’s a power-hitting first baseman with below-average defense, a weight issue that will always have a chance of recurring with a build like Howard’s, and inconsistent mechanics (compared to 2005 and ’06, he didn’t use left field nearly as much in ’07, for instance).

He does have great upside, but he’s not some legendary player. He’ll hit 45+ HR and drive in 125+ easily, put up a 1.000-ish OPS year in and year out, and draw about 70 unintentional walks every season. Players that productive are not a dime a dozen, but also not productive enough to warrant an “unprecedented contract.”

The Phillies should let some other team burden themselves with such a contract. Sell Howard while he’s still valued high. Keep him through his prime years (late 20’s) and dispatch of him and his burdensome salary demands immediately afterward. Without a stroke of genius and/or luck, they will not replace his production but they can make some creative moves (like moving Chase Utley to first base and calling up Adrian Cardenas to play second base).

Should the Phils trade Howard, they could ask for a king’s ransom and likely get it. I’m talking comparable to, or even better than what the Twins got for Johan Santana. If the trade is done right, the Phillies can set up their Minor League system for years to come while still keeping a highly competitive MLB roster. However, the problem is that when it comes to trading star players, the Phillies always botch it:

  • July 26, 2000: Curt Schilling is traded by the Philadelphia Phillies to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Omar Daal, Nelson Figueroa, Travis Lee, and Vicente Padilla.
  • July 29, 2002: Scott Rolen is traded by the Philadelphia Phillies with Doug Nickle and cash to the St. Louis Cardinals for Placido Polanco, Mike Timlin, and Bud Smith.
  • July 30, 2006: Bobby Abreu is traded by the Philadelphia Phillies with Cory Lidle to the New York Yankees for Matt Smith, C.J. Henry, Carlos Monasterios, and Jesus Sanchez.

In the Schilling deal, the Phillies got 1.5 league-average seasons from Daal, a half-season of slightly above league-average pitching from Figueroa, and 2.5 below-average seasons from Lee. Padilla is the only player in the deal that both stayed with the Phillies long enough to make it worthwhile, and be productive as well.

With the Rolen trade, Smith pitched less than 95 innings in three and a half seasons for the Phillies’ Minor League teams, and never made it to the Majors due to injuries. Timlin gave the Phils a half-season of league-average relief pitching. Polanco, as we all know, was a decent second and third baseman in his two and a half seasons in Philly.

The Abreu deal is clearly the biggest bust of all, but it was more of a salary dump than anything. None of the players acquired are likely to ever help the Phillies at the Major League level. Matt Smith had reconstructive surgery on his left elbow last season and it’s unlikely he’ll be able to help the Phillies out again. He did perform very well for the Phils in ’06 after he was traded, but he pitched a grand total of four Major League innings in ’07. Henry is a huge bust of a prospect. He’s never been above the A level, but his OPS has gone from .714 in ’05 to .692 in ’06 all the way to .560 last season. Monasterios, a pitcher, and Sanchez, a catcher, aren’t regarded very highly and neither are likely to make the Majors.

With Pat Gillick retiring from his position as GM of the Phillies at the end of the season, it becomes crucial that a capable mind is hired. The likely choice will be Ruben Amaro, Jr., who has been a typical yes-man who tows the party line. He’s currently the Assistant GM to Gillick, handling Q & A with the media about acquisitions, injuries, and the like. There’s no doubt that the Phillies’ ownership highly prefers Amaro over everyone else.

Mike Arbuckle is the Phillies’ Assistant General Manager, Scouting and Player Development, and is #2 on the totem pole behind Amaro for the soon-to-be vacant GM job. Like Amaro, he’s never been one to dance to a different drumbeat and he’s been loyal to the organization. Frankly, since he has so much experience evaluating players, he’d be more reliable than Amaro to make a trade of Ryan Howard.

Looking outside the box for a moment, Brian Cashman’s contract is up after the ’08 season. When Ed Wade was fired after the ’05 season, Cashman was one of the candidates the Phillies had on their list before they decided to go with Gillick, and he is no stranger to a big trade — remember Alfonso Soriano being sent to the Texas Rangers for Alex Rodriguez?

While the Phillies’ upper management may be coming to the realization that Howard’s days in Philly are numbered, they can still thoroughly research Gillick’s potential successors and successfully set themselves up for a franchise-defining trade in 2010.

In Defense of Jeff Brantley

In case you missed Wednesday night’s SportsCenter, the Cincinnati Reds had a thrilling come-from-behind victory when Edwin Encarnacion hit a game-winning three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning with his team down 5-3 to the Arizona Diamondbacks. That wasn’t the best part, though. Jeff Brantley, the color analyst for FSN Ohio, spends nearly the whole at-bat criticizing Encarnacion first for his lack of bunting ability, and later for not being “clutch.”

Fire Joe Morgan, expectedly, loved it. They have the clip up, so check out their post if you’d like to watch it.

Brantley: Encarnacion has struck out three of his last five AB’s, hasn’t hit the ball out of the infield, he had a terrible spring training, and after that pitch right there, like I said, you need to make sure he can bunt. I don’t think he can.

Brennaman: Well, there is no way they’re going to ask him, or at least you would assume there is NO way they’re going to ask him to bunt with two strikes.

One and two to Encarnacion. Breaking ball in the dirt. Count even now at two balls and two strikes.

See, that’s the problem when you ask a guy who has never bunted —

Brantley: Take him out of the game!

(Brennaman and Brantley talk over each other)

Brantley: Put somebody else in there.

Brennaman: If you believe in the bunt in this situation —

Brantley: You’re at home, you’ve got to tie the game.

Brennaman: That’s a “by the book” kind of thing. I don’t know if there’s anybody on that bench that you’re going to bring in and bat for Encarnacion.

Brantley: This guy is not a clutch hitter. He is not a clutch hitter.

Brennaman: His numbers would be contrary to that.

Brantley: He’s not a clutch player.

Brennaman: Two-two pitch.

(Encarnacion hits game-winning three-run home run, Brennaman is extremely excited)

Brantley: You called it! My goodness. I stand corrected, my friend! Wow!


Brantley: Boy, when I’m wrong, I love to be wrong like that, my friend.

For starters, yes, Brantley was proven wrong in that event that Encarnacion isn’t “clutch,” (humoring, for the moment, that “clutch” exists in some meaningful way). However, if “clutch” does exist, one event does not turn a player from “unclutch” to “clutch” (just ask Alex Rodriguez bashers). Brantley isn’t necessarily wrong that Encarnacion is not “clutch.”

Brantley is quick to admit his fault, though, and does so in a good-natured way. You have to respect this. A lot of those in the media would slowly tip-toe away from the situation or just completely deny it altogether.

Where Brantley definitively errs is using spring training statistics to back up his statement that Encarnacion isn’t the guy you want up at the plate at that moment. As has been stated numerous times in recent years, there is little correlation between spring training and regular season performance.

Also, bunting in that situation can and cannot be a smart move. Using last year’s Run Expectancy Matrix, runners on second and third with one out yields 1.44328 expected runs as opposed to 1.51044 expected runs with runners on first and second with no outs. However, bunting the runners over eliminates the double play and, obviously, gives the Reds a chance to tie the game up on almost any base hit to the outfield. In the context of that situation — down by two runs in the ninth inning at home — bunting is a winning play.

So, while Brantley probably should stray from the concept of “clutch” since it’s just one of those intangible elements for which its proponents have produced no evidence, he should be given leniency for being a victim of bad timing. Nothing he said was way off the mark, and he was cordial in admitting fault.

Phillies Walk Off with a Win

Before the bottom of the sixth inning in the third game of the season, the Phillies were pathetically averaging as many errors as runs: 7 in two and a half games.

Nationals vs. Phillies 04/03/08The Phillies’ strengths last season — offense and defense — seemed to be their 2008 Achilles’ Heel. Nothing was going right and all of the bounces favored their opponents. Suddenly, in the bottom of the sixth inning, batted balls that were being caught previously were finding holes and dropping in front of fielders. They scored six runs in an impressive rally that consisted of no extra-base hits; rather, eight singles, a hit batter, and a wild pitch. Nine straight Phillies batters reached base before Chase Utley hit into a 3-2-3 double play to end the inning. A recap of the carnage:

  • C. Utley singled to right
  • R. Howard singled to right, C. Utley to second
  • P. Burrell singled to left, C. Utley scored, R. Howard to third
  • G. Jenkins singled to right, R. Howard scored, P. Burrell to second
  • P. Burrell to third, G. Jenkins to second on wild pitch
  • P. Feliz singled to center, G. Jenkins and P. Burrell scored
  • C. Coste singled to right, P. Feliz to second
  • G. Dobbs singled to left, P. Feliz scored, C. Coste to second
  • J. Rollins hit by pitch, C. Coste to third, G. Dobbs to second
  • S. Victorino singled to right center, C. Coste scored, G. Dobbs to third, J. Rollins to second

Heading into the top of the seventh with their first lead since the bottom of the fourth inning on Monday’s Opening Day game, the Phillies asked their bullpen to be efficient. Ryan Madson responded, quickly retiring all three Washington Nationals hitters he faced.

They had a chance to pad their newfound lead when Ryan Howard singled and Pat Burrell doubled to lead off the bottom of the seventh, but the offense went back into hiding as Geoff Jenkins struck out, and Pedro Feliz and Chris Coste grounded out. Unfortunately, the Phillies had to ask their bullpen to hold onto a one-run lead, and as expected, they couldn’t do that.

Ryan Madson returned to the mound to start the eighth inning and promptly walked lead-off hitter Ronnie Belliard on four pitches. He got Felipe Lopez to lazily fly out to center fielder Shane Victorino, and Jesus Flores almost did as well, but the ball fell in the proverbial Bermuda’s Triangle between Jimmy Rollins, Burrell’s replacement in left field Jayson Werth, and Victorino.

With Rob Mackowiak, a left-handed pinch-hitter, announced, Charlie Manuel replaced Madson with J.C. Romero. Nationals’ manager Manny Acta countered by pinch-hitting Paul Lo Duca for Mackowiak. Romero appeared wild, not having thrown a true strike for the first five pitches, but Lo Duca helped him out by swinging 3-1 at what would have been ball four. Following suit as the previous two hitters, Lo Duca also lazily flied out to center, and the Phillies looked like they’d actually escape with the lead. Not so.

Cristian Guzman sharply hit a grounder just out of the reach of third baseman Pedro Feliz. Jimmy Rollins slid to try and keep the ball near the infield to prevent the tying run from scoring, but the ball instead deflected off of his glove towards foul territory, and that did allow Belliard to touch home plate. Lastings Milledge followed with another infield single to load the bases for the dreaded Ryan Zimmerman, already with two game-winning HR to his name. Luckily, the Phillies continued his oh-fer day, as he grounded out to Jimmy Rollins to end the inning at 7 runs apiece.

The Phillies loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the eighth but couldn’t push in the go-ahead run. Manuel elected to use Opening Day victim Tom Gordon to hold the game in a tie in the top of the ninth inning, and boy, does Gordon make it interesting. He started off well, striking out Austin Kearns, but Nick Johnson, after a great at-bat in which he started 0-2 and worked it to 3-2, reached base via a line drive that was just barely out of the reach of Utley’s glove. The next three at-bats went walk, fly out, walk, so the bases were loaded with two outs. Pinch-hitter Willie Harris came out to bat for reliever Luis Ayala, and everyone in the stadium held their breath as Ryan Howard cleanly fielded a grounder and flipped it to Gordon to end the inning, the game still tied at 7-all. Gordon had a scoreless inning! His ERA went down more than 100 points, from 135.00 to 33.75!

To mimic Seinfeld, yada yada yada, Phillies waste a Jenkins lead-off double in the bottom of the ninth, yada yada yada, game goes to extra innings, yada yada yada, Jimmy Rollins starts off the bottom of the tenth with a lead-off infield single. Victorino sacrifice bunts Rollins to second and Rollins, noticing that only shortstop Cristian Guzman would be able to cover third, raced him to the bag and did so safely, giving the Phillies a runner on third base with one out, and Chase Utley and Ryan Howard due up. Acta, for the second time in the game, ordered both of them to be walked, putting the pressure on Jayson Werth. Reliever Jesus Colome couldn’t find the plate and walked in the winning run on four pitches, giving the Phillies their first win of the season.

Kyle Kendrick will face Josh Fogg tomorrow night when the Phillies visit the Cincinnati Reds for a 7:10 start.

Game graph courtesy FanGraphs.

That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles

On a cold, windy night in Philadelphia, last year’s best offense was stymied by Washington Nationals starter Tim Redding. If the game was a series of coin flips, the Phillies called heads every time and it always landed tails. Every ball they hit hard was right at a defender, and one of the many balls hitters did not hit well accounted for the only run of the game — a Ryan Zimmerman solo home run that eked over the right field fence.

Nationals vs. Phillies 04/02/08For those counting, that’s two game-winning home runs in three games for the third baseman. Of course, his homer tonight wasn’t as dramatic as the one that won the Nationals’ home opener, but they both counted the same in the box score.

Lost in the disappointment is the great start from Cole Hamels: eight innings, five hits, two walks, and 6 strikeouts. Unfortunately, he gets marked down as having lost that game (insert rant against the W/L metric here).

Had the winds not been blowing in so strongly from left field, and had the temperature been a bit higher, Hamels might have been credited with giving up more runs, as Ryan Zimmerman lost a well-hit three-run homer in the first inning. Off the bat, it looked like it’d be way out, but the ball had such a high trajectory that it was pushed back in and caught in front of the warning track by left fielder Pat Burrell.

The Phillies’ lone hit came courtesy third baseman Pedro Feliz — a grounder up the middle. The other three base runners reached via a Redding walk to Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Geoff Jenkins.

Tonight marks the third straight season in which the Phillies dropped the first two games of the season, and at least so far, they look to be en route to their fifth straight sub-.500 April.

The Nationals start the season 3-0 for the first time since 2003, when they were the Montreal Expos.

Tomorrow’s 1:05 game will have the Phillies’ Jamie Moyer facing the Nationals’ Jason Bergmann.

Seanez signed, Helms D’ed For A

Assumed to be a reaction to Tom Gordon’s blow-up on Monday, the Phillies signed right-handed reliever Rudy Seanez. Despite his age — 39 — he is still effective, having put up great a ERA+ in three of the past four seasons:

2004: 133 ERA+

2005: 143

2006: 95

2007: 121

He tends to stray from walking hitters — 3.2 per 9 innings in ’07 — and still has the ability strike hitters out in bunches, averaging 8.6 per 9 last season.

To make room for Seanez, displaced third baseman Wes Helms was designated for assignment, the culmination of the Phillies’ unsuccessful efforts to find a suitor for him. The Phillies have 10 days to trade or release him. The Dodgers are hurting for a third baseman, but they were discussing a Seanez-for-Helms deal and opted instead to drop the reliever.

Game graph courtesy Fan Graphs.

I Don’t Have Much of an Appetite, Thank You

Aram Tolegian passionately hates Brad Lidge.

You may recall a post from mid-February where I criticized Tolegian’s power rankings. Tolegian said of Phillies closer Lidge,

How any team can trust Brad Lidge to close is beyond us. But that’s assuming he’s even on the mound. Lidge had surgery to repair cartilage in his right knee in October. It goes without saying that this is something to watch in spring.

His updated power rankings were recently posted on FOX Sports and he snipes at Lidge again. He originally had the Phillies at #13 and knocked them down to #14 and dedicated almost the entire block of Phillies-related text to Lidge-bashing:

We warned about Brad Lidge in the last set of rankings, while scoffing at the Phils acquiring the troubled closer in the off-season’s biggest move. That led to some abuse in the blogosphere, before being proven right when the righty closer injured his knee early in spring. The problem with Lidge is that he’s seemingly always balancing between injury and incompetence. We know he’s injured, and there are still doubts he can close effectively for an entire season. Beside Lidge, the Phils left spring training in good shape. The opening week schedule features at trip to brand-new Nationals Park before a weekend visit at the Reds.

There’s so much wrong with the analysis, so we’ll take it piece by piece.

We warned about Brad Lidge in the last set of rankings

Yeah? You warned that his spike would get caught in the dirt on the pitcher’s mound? I don’t seem to recall that. Sure, you warned that his initial knee surgery wasn’t a guarantee to succeed, and that’s a legitimate concern. However, the recent injury in question had absolutely nothing to do with it and it was simply a freak injury. You did not “warn” anyone about this.

while scoffing at the Phils acquiring the troubled closer in the off-season’s biggest move.

Is a troubled closer someone who posts a 131 ERA+, a 1.254 WHIP, and an 11.8 K/9 rate? If that is your standard for a closer being troubled, I guess Francisco Cordero was troubled last season as well, as he posted similar though slightly better numbers.

Cite that Albert Pujols game-winning home run all you want as a cause for concern, it will never have any merit. That homer occurred in the 2006 NLCS, and he had a pretty good 2007 season. I don’t think being mentally anguished by a home run is something that skips a year, like Diabetes sometimes skips a generation.

That led to some abuse in the blogosphere

I don’t recall anyone else giving him credit for existing by criticizing his power rankings, so I’m assuming this refers to me.

It seems more and more journalists are taking the Fire Joe Morgan-style criticism like a war veteran treats bullet wounds: they wear the scars as a badge of honor.

Maybe Aram is simply writing this garbage so that bloggers like me link to and discuss his work. As they say, any publicity is good publicity.

The problem with Lidge is that he’s seemingly always balancing between injury and incompetence.

Aram’s definition of incompetence: Career 132 ERA+, 1.197 WHIP, 12.6 K/9 rate.

Lidge has never had injury problems until last season. He started pitching regularly in 2003 and logged at least 70 innings in every season until ’07 when he logged 67.

We know he’s injured, and there are still doubts he can close effectively for an entire season.

“We know he’s injured.”

Professional journalism at its best, folks. I wonder how much research went into that one.

There are two groups of people who doubt that he can be an effective closer. The first group consists of the reasonable people who are simply concerned with his knee. The second group is made up of the ignorant: the people who think that a pitcher’s career can unravel because of a home run that happened a year and a half ago despite not showing any signs of mental anguish in the season that followed.

Guess which group Aram falls into?

Beside Lidge, the Phils left spring training in good shape.

No, not really, but spring training doesn’t matter anyway. The bullpen issues weren’t really resolved unless you count the acquisition of Tim Lahey. No one stepped up and demanded the #5 spot in the rotation, and good ol’ Adam Eaton won it by default (and by default, I mean “having the most burdensome contract”). Pedro Feliz didn’t draw a single walk between the end of February and the end of March.

Yeah, next time, maybe do a little research.

The City That Hates Tom Gordon

Well, Opening Day is a wrap, and once again, the bullpen is responsible for the Phillies’ first loss of the season. You may recall Ryan Madson blowing last year’s opener by serving up a two-run home run to Edgar Renteria, then of the Atlanta Braves. Today’s culprit is Tom Gordon, responsible for all five runs the Washington Nationals scored in the top of the ninth inning.

A recap of the coup the Nationals staged against the ineffective right-hander and de facto closer:

  • Lastings Milledge legs out an infield single to shortstop.
  • Nick Johnson hits a one-out RBI double to deep center field and advances to third on the throw home.
  • Austin Kearns walks.
  • Johnson scores when Carlos Ruiz tries to catch him napping off of third base when Paul Lo Duca bluffs a squeeze bunt.
  • Lo Duca doubles to left-center, scoring Kearns.
  • Ronnie Belliard doubles to deep center, scoring Lo Duca.
  • Dmitri Young hits a two-out RBI double that bounces high off of the right field fence off of reliever Clay Condrey.


Starter Brett Myers wasn’t sharp, but nonetheless effective. He pitched five innings, allowed five hits, walked two, allowed four runs (three of which were earned), and only struck out two.

Ryan Madson relieved Myers in the sixth inning. With two outs, Nationals shortstop Cristian Guzman eked out an infield single to shortstop, and Lastings Milledge followed by jacking a two-run home run well over the left field fence.

The Phillies had opportunities but could only manage three runs in the first six innings. Chase Utley hit a sacrifice fly in the first, Pat Burrell hit an RBI single in the fourth, and Utley hit a solo homer to right field in the sixth.

The Phightin Phils did mount a comeback in the seventh. Jayson Werth led off with a walk. The gravy train appeared to be rolling when catcher Carlos Ruiz yanked an RBI double to left-center and reigning NL MVP Jimmy Rollins defended his honor by tying the game up with a two-run homer that just barely cleared the fence around the 380-foot sign, courtesy Nationals left-hander Ray King.

That was it though, as the Phils quickly went down 1-2-3 in both the bottom of the eighth and ninth innings.

Game graph courtesy FanGraphs.

Opening Day Preparation

The Washington Nationals are now in Philadelphia following an exciting Opening Day 3-2 win last night against the Atlanta Braves that saw third baseman Ryan Zimmerman christen new Nationals Stadium with a walk-off solo home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. Odalis Perez — who drew interest from a new teams including the Phillies — started for the Nats and was stunningly effective: 5 innings, four hits, one walk, and one run — a solo homer to Chipper Jones.

Lefty Matt Chico will start for the Nationals as Brett Myers takes the hill for the Phillies in the Citizens Bank Park season opener. Keep an eye on Nationals closer Chad Cordero. He was warming up to come in for the ninth inning to try and nail down a 2-1 lead, but he never came in, and was instead replaced by Jon Rauch, who blew the save. Cordero has right shoulder tendinitis and it may prevent him from appearing in any games against the Phillies.

Obviously, the Phillies’ 25-man roster is now set, and the only surprises should be Tim Lahey and Wes Helms. Lahey was just acquired and he has to stay on the 25-man roster or be offered back to the Cubs, as it goes with Rule-5 acquisitions. Helms somehow made it onto the roster despite being a player having no purpose, quite literally. Most (or maybe just me) thought that he’d be dealt before the end of spring training. There were rumors, including a trade to San Francisco for lefty reliever Steve Kline, but that deal fell through and Kline was simply dropped by the Giants. With Greg Dobbs and Eric Bruntlett on the roster, Helms shouldn’t see a great deal of time — or any — at third base. Nor should he see any time at first base with Ryan Howard there and plenty of other players able to man the position at a higher level, and it’s extremely unlikely they’d use him in a corner outfield spot unless there are a rash of injuries.

I feel sorry for Helms despite all of the items I threw at my TV screen last year after many of his at-bats.

Some Publicity

Chris Illuminati of PhillyBurbs.com and I corresponded on a piece they were doing called “The Must-Have Book Guide” for the upcoming baseball season. I, of course, suggested The Bill James Handbook. Check it out here if you’re interested.

Tim Malcom of Phillies Nation organized a “Phloggers Roundtable” — a discussion of the 2008 Phillies team by the bloggers that cover them. I was joined by Tom Goyne of Balls, Sticks, & Stuff as well. Unfortunately, there were a few who weren’t able to make it but some did participate later on, including Enrico Campitelli of The 700 Level, Erik Grissom of Phillies Flow,  and GM Carson of We Should be GM’s.

Click here to check out the “Phloggers Roundtable” at Phillies Nation. My contributions are in teal-colored text.

You Did Ask For It, Ken

I’m usually reluctant to criticize anything Ken Rosenthal writes because it’s usually well-researched and well-defended, unlike a lot of what’s published in newspapers and magazines to be read by millions countrywide. Mr. Rosenthal, however, has written an article defending his selection of the Braves as 2008’s World Series selection waving the red flag at the bull that is the Sabermetric community (not to imply that said community thinks in lockstep).

He starts off his article waving a raw steak just outside the cage where it can’t be reached:

Bloggers, it’s your lucky day.

Not that you ever need prompting to rip apart the latest ill-informed splattering from the mainstream media, but here’s an invitation on a gold-engraved, all-but-autographed platter:

I feel like I really want to punch him*, but he’s begging for it so much that I don’t want to give him the satisfaction.

* I’m actually a pacifist and likely don’t have that great of a punch.

Embarrassing as it is to admit, my annual column predicting which team will win the World Series often defies sabermetric orthodoxy, not to mention conventional logic. Sort of like baseball itself.

The way Rosenthal writes this, it’s like he’s proud of writing stuff that defies logic. “I know conventional logic says that if you throw something up in the air, gravity will bring it back down, but I think that’s balderdash.”

Statistical analysis is an invaluable tool; that discussion is over. But we’ve gotten to the point where everyone from the casual fantasy player to the shrewdest GM wants to know the end of the story before Chapter One is written.

Mercifully, that’s not how the game works.

Well, Ken, I don’t think anyone with a working knowledge of Sabermetrics is using them like a crystal ball. Humans, sadly, have this limitation where they can’t see into the future and put all their money into Bear Stearns.

I often liken traditional statistics and Sabermetrics to different prescriptions of your eye-enhancement of choice (well, are you a glasses person or a contacts person?). Traditional statistics like batting average, RBI, runs scored, won-lost records, saves, etc. all provide a portion of the picture, but not a clear one. To make an analogy to the analogy, traditional statistics are a television circa 1985 with the bunny-eared antenna. Sabermetrics provide a clearer picture, like an HDTV circa 2008. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s the best we have right now and incredibly useful — they provide an amazingly lifelike picture.

It seems almost as if Kenny is discrediting Sabermetrics for not predicting the future correctly 100% of the time. That’s impossible, for obvious reasons. But they come close relative to the other options we have (guessing, rolling dice). After the 2007 regular season ended, I made an Excel file comparing the results with PECOTA’s pre-season projections and I found that the number of games between PECOTA and reality was…

  • 0 games: 2 teams, 6.7% (both Chicago teams, oddly enough)
  • 1-5 games: 17 teams, 56.7% (ARI, ATL, BAL, BOS, CIN, DET, KC, LAD, MIL, NYM, NYY, PHI, SD, STL, TEX, TOR, WAS)
  • 6-10 games: 8 teams, 26.7% (CLE, COL, FLA, HOU, LAA, OAK, PIT, SF)
  • 11+ games: 3 teams, 10% (MIN, SEA, TB)

You can download the spreadsheet here, if you’d like.

I don’t know how well PECOTA fared in previous years, but its performance in ’07 is impressive: it foresaw the dreadful decline of the White Sox, and the return to Earth of the Tigers, for instance.

So, Ken’s point that you can’t predict the future is valid, but it’s not valid without crediting how much more accurate the predictions can be with the use of Sabermetrics.

The 2005 White Sox, ’06 Cardinals and ’07 Rockies were among the recent World Series clubs that defied the supposed experts, myself included. Some other team will do the same this season, reminding us again that baseball’s unpredictability is part of what makes the game so much fun.

The paradoxy of saying that baseball is unpredictable and then predicting that a team will defy predictions aside… saying that a team will defy predictions to discredit those predictions doesn’t mean much. It’s like using a fortune teller to place all your bets for a week of NFL games, and you get the first 14 games right, and rake in a ton of money. As you sit and watch the Monday Night game, your fortune teller errs and the 49ers somehow beat the Patriots. Despite the fact that the teller has selected 93% of the games correctly* you decide to dwell on the one mistake and throw the baby out with the bath water.

* Obviously, that scenario is entirely facetious. Do not use fortune tellers to help you in your NFL get rich quick scheme.

Bloggers, man your keyboards!

My Spidey Sense is tingling, and I sense derisiveness from Mr. Rosenthal.

My choice to win it all is the Braves.

That’s absolutely fine. I await to see how you back it up with facts.

As the accompanying sidebar suggests, I’ve been largely unsuccessful with my pre-season selections over the years.

An ad hominem on yourself? Unprecedented!

But then, who hasn’t?

PECOTA and other Sabermetric-aided predictions.

The proper time to write a predictions column is actually Aug. 1 or even Sept. 1, after teams adjust their rosters through trades.

There’s no “proper time” to make predictions. A prediction is saying, “Based on the information available, I think that [insert premonition].”

I think what Kenny was trying to get at is that your predictions can be more accurate if you wait a long time to see how things unfold. Thanks.

But such a late analysis would be a copout, and even then, there would be a decent chance of looking like an idiot.

Amateur psychoanalysis here, but it seems like Rosenthal is preoccupied with “looking like an idiot.”

In my NCAA bracket, I had Duke getting to the Elite Eight. I’m such an idiot for thinking that. But other than that, all four of my Final Four teams were alive up until Wisconsin lost to Davidson a few minutes ago. If you’re making a lot of predictions, you’re going to end up getting some of them wrong, and you’re going to end up looking like an idiot on some picks. Bob Knight picked Pittsburgh to win it all, and they lost in the second round. He looks like an idiot but it doesn’t discredit him from ever coaching again or making more predictions.

Grow a pair, Ken, make some predictions and tell us your reasoning behind it. At least if you get it wrong, you can feel good about getting it wrong. Why do I feel like my guidance counselor?

Few imagined last Sept. 1 that the Rockies would make the playoffs and the Mets would not.

Because people lack access to a time portal.

Anyway, here are my general rules for a preseason forecast, knowing that Eliot Spitzer stands a greater chance of being president in 2012 than I do of nailing one of these suckers outright:

An Eliot Spitzer joke. Ken is topical!

And he’s self-deprecating. Me likey.

Never pick the Red Sox.

Never pick the Yankees.

Why? Because they’re good teams? Because they have high payrolls? Why would you not pick these teams to succeed? I mean, if you are scared about looking like an idiot, it seems like you’d want to go with the obvious picks.

Never pick a National League team unless under the influence of imagination-enhancing drugs.

Why? This isn’t the NBA — the National League isn’t the Eastern Conference and the American League isn’t the Western Conference. The best in the NL can compete with the best in the AL.

The Red Sox, winners of two of the last four World Series, probably are the best team on paper. But picking them is like picking the smartest kid in class to finish with the highest SAT.

It’s highly likely that your pick will end up correct, making you look like a genius instead of an idiot?

Besides, the only way for a team to win back-to-back Series is to keep its pitching intact through three postseason rounds for two straight years. Hard to do.

It’s not the only way; it’s a way, albeit a highly good way. According to this logic, last year’s Red Sox could swap Beckett, Schilling, Matsuzaka, et. al. with Johan Santana, Jake Peavy, Brandon Webb, etc. and not increase its chances of winning it all, since their pitching staff is noticeably different.

The Yankees, who have not won the Series since 2000, almost could qualify as a surprise team at this point — almost.

It’s just my own subjective observations, but it seems like a lot in the media are picking the Yankees to make the playoffs. Personally, I have them missing out because I think they are depending too heavily on unproven arms, but I would not be surprised if they won the AL East. They have an offense that will match the heavily-lauded Tigers.

They are a surprise team in that they’re not currently better than the Red Sox or either of the Indians and Tigers, leaving them second in the Wild Card chase at best.

But now that they’re trying to incorporate younger, less expensive players, the Yankees are like the rich kid in the neighborhood who tries to act cool by dressing down. Sorry, the rich kid is still a rich kid — and with dubious pitching, I might add.

These are two sentences that are ripe for amateur psychoanalysis, but I’ll restrain myself for now.

The analogy falls apart because the Yankees aren’t using young pitchers to fit in with the crowd; they’re doing so out of necessity. A better analogy would be the rich kid having all this stuff because his parents own Bear Stearns and then having to find clothing at Goodwill because of, well, you know.

Actually, the NL has produced three of the past seven World Series champions — the ’01 Diamondbacks, the ’03 Marlins and the ’06 Cardinals.Frankly, I’m sensing another NL breakthrough […]

That’s it! Write it down! Ken’s feelin’ it, and he’s feelin’ an NL team winning it all! Dump your Bear Stearns stock and put it in KenRo Inc.

[…] and not simply because two of the best pitchers in the AL, Johan Santana and Dan Haren, were traded to NL clubs. None of the AL contenders looks as dominant as the ’07 Red Sox; I can’t quantify it, but the disparity between the top teams in each league might not be as great in years past.

The ’08 Red Sox don’t look as dominant? I guess if you think losing Curt Schilling for a half-season (potentially more) is damning. It’s a loss, no doubt, but he’s 41 and not anywhere near as dominant as he used to be. Call me crazy, but I think this year’s rotation of Beckett/Matsuzaka/Lester/Buchholz/Wakefield will be nearly as good as last year’s Beckett/Schilling/Matsuzaka/Wakefield/Tavarez-Lester.

Some (not I) would argue that this year’s Tigers look dominant with the addition of Miguel Cabrera. Some (not I) would also argue that this year’s Mariners look dominant with the acquisition of Erik Bedard.

The Indians haven’t changed much and C.C. Sabathia is in a contract year.

The Braves have constructed an AL-type offense.

They have a DH? They are refusing to bunt with their pitchers?

Their bullpen will get a boost if lefty Mike Gonzalez returns from elbow-ligament transplant surgery at mid-season.

That’s great, but what are they going to do in the meantime?

Their rotation features enough options to absorb ineffectiveness and/or injury […]

John Smoltz will start the season on the disabled list and is nearing age 41. Tom Glavine is 42 and his ’07 season was about as bad as his ’03 season (his first with the Mets). Mike Hampton hasn’t pitched in two years and is 35.

Really, the only sure thing is Tim Hudson.

I’m not saying the Braves will again trade for this year’s Mark Teixeira, but they should be able to get the piece or pieces they need.

How do you know what they’ll need? So far, you’ve said that they won’t really need any starting pitching (“enough options”) or bullpen arms (“boost from Mike Gonzalez”), and the Braves are set at catcher, first base, second base, third base, center field, and right field. So, barring catastrophic injuries, the Braves would be trading for a shortstop or left fielder. Otherwise, they’re not really trading for anyone of consequence.

Yet, the Braves aren’t the only legitimate NL threat.

Really? Who’da thunk it?

The Cubs could be a World Series team if they add Brian Roberts.

They won’t:

Baltimore president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail told reporters in Ft. Lauderdale Wednesday that a Brian Roberts deal with the Cubs is off the table.

“We worked at it this long and we don’t have deal,” MacPhail said. “There’s other sides characterizing it as an impasse. You make the judgment.”

The Phillies and Brewers will be very good if their run prevention reasonably complements their run production.

Translation: The Phillies and Brewers will be very good if they score more runs than their opponents.

These observations are reaching John Madden levels.

The Diamondbacks’ young position players should improve offensively, and the Dodgers are just too talented to ignore.

“Guys, who are you all picking to win the NL West?”






“Agh! I can’t take it anymore! The Dodgers! The Dodgers!” (Falls on floor, crying) “They’re too talented!”

Also under consideration: The Mets, who must contend with age and injury concerns, and the defending champion Rockies, whose rotation is a bit of a wild card.

The Rockies’ rotation was a wild card last season and they went to the World Series.

Mostly healthy last season, the Sox already are without Curt Schilling and could start the season without Josh Beckett. Daisuke Matsuzaka’s ’07 load — he averaged more pitches per start than any major-league pitcher — might be another warning sign.

Beckett is shooting for April 6. Unless you think the post-season hopes of the Red Sox will be made or broken by one game, this isn’t really a huge issue.

Will Hideki Okajima be as dominant a reliever this season?

He sure looked dominant last season.

Will Manny Delcarmen emerge as a legitimate late-inning weapon?

44 IP, 1.023 WHIP, 232 ERA+, 41 K, 17 BB in ’07. Looks good to me. All of the projections besides CHONE have him finishing the season with a sub-4.00 ERA and all of them have him pitching 50+ innings.

It’s also difficult to imagine their top three relievers — Joe Borowski, Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez — being as good again.

“Ken, we think Borowski, Betancourt, and Perez are going to be good in ’08, but before we publish it, we wanted to check with you. Can you see them being good?”

Ken: (Closes his eyes, grits his teeth, and tries to imagine what ’08 will look like for those three) I see… Abraham Nunez hitting 20 HR, and unicorns, and Adam Eaton winning the Cy Young. But I’m just not seeing those three being nearly as good as they were in ’07. Sorry, guys.”

Borowski wasn’t good last season, by the way. It’s a great illustration of why the save statistic is so flawed. He had 45 saves last season, but he had a 5.07 ERA and a 1.431 WHIP in nearly 66 innings.

On the other hand, Rafael Betancourt has been dominant in each of the past five seasons. He had a 312 ERA+ last season.

Rafael Perez was almost as dominant as Betancourt last season, but he’s only had one full season in the Majors and it is reasonable to expect a decline from him.

A baseball season amounts to 162 episodes of 30 different reality shows.

Why is this comparison even necessary?

Those who think they can figure out the scripts in advance are kidding themselves.

I have a few friends who are very into Rock of Love 2. They have predicted with amazing accuracy which girl is going to get the boot. Why can they do this? They notice how they interact with Bret Michaels, they pay attention to body language and the intricacies of the conversations.*

Similarly, if you do your research, you can be accurate in your predictions.

* This will be the one and only time I will ever mention Rock of Love.

The stats reveal trend lines and tendencies, but in the end the game is played by human beings.

Played by human beings who create those trend lines and tendencies.

I like the Braves … I think.

Bloggers, fire away.

Hope you liked it, Kenny.

It’s On Now!

Fred of Moondog Sports and I have made a friendly wager on the upcoming baseball season. He thinks the Detroit Tigers will score 1,000 runs or more, and I, feeling the Tigers to be overrated, think they will score no more 950 (only about 5% less, however). Fred originally wanted me to link to Bill O’Reilly’s website in my blogroll if I lost, and he’d link to The Huffington Post if he lost. I’m not too fond of The Huffington Post anymore, not for any particular reason other than general disinterest (since everyone is talking only about the upcoming Presidential election), so I offered a new slant on the wager: the loser has to wrote a blog entry of at least 500 words complimenting the winner and his blog. Fred accepted, and now it’s on. May the loser satiate the winner’s ego.

You can catch all of my 2008 MLB Predictions here, and if you’d like to set a friendly wager as well, leave a comment here, send me an E-mail (crashburnalley [at] gmail [dot] com), or an AOL Instant Message.

Opening Day… Technically

Despite the countdown at the top right of Crashburn Alley, the Major League Baseball season officially started at 6 A.M. when the Oakland Athletics and the Boston Red Sox duked it out in front of nearly 45,000 fans at the Tokyo Dome.

If you were sleeping or working and couldn’t catch the game, you missed a doozy. Before I begin my recap of the game, I just have to vent and say that I just have a strong disliking of ESPN’s broadcasters. I’m sure some of it is irrational, but it was so annoying to watch the game this morning because at the end of every inning that Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched, Gary Thorne and Steve Phillips would comment on how many pitches he’s thrown and that it’s unlikely that he’d be back for another inning. This started in the third inning and Matsuzaka went five.

Anyway, Mark Ellis started the scoring with a first inning solo home run to left field, and Bobby Crosby, later in the inning, knocked Daric Barton in with a grounder to pitcher Matsuzaka. Both pitchers looked good, as it was 2-0 until the top of the sixth inning, when Joe Blanton began to tire. Dustin Pedroia led off with a well-struck double to right-center field, and Kevin Youkilis followed with a four-pitch walk. Blanton got David Ortiz to a full count and forced him to foul out on the sixth pitch, but Manny Ramirez backed him up by ripping a first-pitch double to left field, scoring both runners. Later in the inning, eventual hero Brandon Moss — a last-minute substitute for the back-troubled J.D. Drew — singled to right field to score Ramirez, bumping the score to 3-2.

In the bottom half of the sixth, right-hander Kyle Snyder relieved Matsuzaka in a most unimpressive fashion. He allowed a lead-off single to Bobby Crosby and a meatball two-run homerun to Jack Hannahan, immediately blowing the lead the Red Sox were holding. To Snyder’s credit, he cut the Athletics off there and quickly got three outs to end the inning.

Fast-forward to the top of the ninth, where Athletics closer Huston Street was attempting to nail down a 4-3 victory. He retired lead-off hitter Mike Lowell, but Moss nailed Street’s fifth pitch of the at-bat — down and inside — into the right field stands for a game-tying solo home run. That wouldn’t be the end of Street’s night.

Athletics manager Bob Geren decided to leave Street in for the top of the tenth inning. In retrospect, that wasn’t exactly a wise decision, but it’s always easier to second guess when you know the results. Street got Julio Lugo to ground out to third base, but it was hit too deep and combined with his speed, he was safe at first. Pedroia promptly bunted him over to put the go-ahead run in scoring position. Street appeared to rebound by striking out Kevin Youkilis on a high fastball, but after intentionally walking David Ortiz with first base open, he had to get by Manny Ramirez, who already had a two-run double to his credit. He’d make it two. On a 1-2 count, Ramirez drove a high fastball to deep center field, and based on his reaction — he stood at home plate admiring his hit for a good three seconds — he thought it was a home run. Instead, it was a two-run double that brought the Red Sox ahead 6-4.

Cue Jonathan Papelbon, celebrated dancer and closer. Normally lights out, Papelbon was wild enough to allow this game to continue to be captivating. He walked Daric Barton, who gave him a tough at-bat. Jack Cust worked the count to 1-2, then chased a high fastball to strike out for the fourth time in the game (he’s on pace for 648!). Emil Brown, formerly of the K.C. Royals, had a chance to be a hero, and turned into a goat with some extremely poor base running. He took a first-pitch fastball — high, as had been Papelbon’s style throughout his inning of work — and drove it to deep right-center. Barton scored easily, but Brown got greedy and tried to take third base on the throw in to home plate, but it was cut off and he was forced into a run-down and easily tagged out after a couple back-and-forth throws. Instead of it being a one-run deficit with a runner in scoring position and one out, it was a one-run deficit with no runners on base and two outs. To pour salt on Brown’s wound, both of the hitters immediately following him — Bobby Crosby and Jack Hannahan — both singled, so he would have definitely scored if he had been on second base (of course, we’ll never know if either would have singled had that been the case, but it’s fun to assume). The game was wrapped up when Kurt Suzuki grounded out to first base, giving Papelbon a very hard-fought save, and Hideki Okajima — the other Red Sox player from Japan — the win.

If you had been up early enough to catch the game, it was well worth it. I think Major League Baseball is starting a new trend: instead of afternoon and evening baseball, we can have morning baseball; instead of hot dogs, popcorn, and beer, we can have scrambled eggs, French toast, and coffee with our game. I like it!

In other news…

John Patterson

In case you hadn’t heard, the Nationals released Patterson, author of a 130 ERA+ and 1.195 WHIP in 2005. Since then, though, he’s been ineffective and injury-prone. Still, you have to wonder why the Phillies didn’t extend a helping hand his way. The team is in desperate need of a #5 starter not named Adam Eaton, and none of the other contenders are doing much to earn that spot. If Kris Benson, who is more injury-prone and ineffective, is worth the flier, why not Patterson?

I am left befuddled by some of the non-moves by the Phillies’ front office. Apparently, Kyle Lohse isn’t good enough for them, but Kris Benson, J.D. Durbin, and Travis Blackley are.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians have — and had — a few arms who could and should interest the Phillies.

First off, the Tribe released left-handed reliever Aaron Fultz, a former Phillie. Fultz has been a great reliever in two out of his last three years: in ’05, he put up a 196 ERA+ and a 0.968 WHIP for the Phils, and last season, he put up a 158 ERA and a 1.324 WHIP for the Indians. Even in ’06, bad by Fultz’s standards, was above league-average: a 103 ERA+. The Phillies are in need of another left-handed reliever to complement J.C. Romero, and Mike Zagurski may need “Tommy John” surgery.

From David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News:

The Indians released former Phillies reliever Aaron Fultz yesterday, but don’t expect him land in Philadelphia. Ruben Amaro said the team has no interest in bringing back the lefthander, who pitched for the Phillies in 2005 and 2006.

Unless the Indians have a really good reason for cutting Fultz, the Phillies ought to look long and hard at themselves if they pass up on Fultz.

To continue on the theme of the Indians, I cite Nick Cafardo of Boston.com:

The Phillies are in the market for both a lefty reliever (someone to go with J.C. Romero) and a starter. Looks like rehab project Kris Benson may take the No. 5 spot since Adam Eaton has been horrible, but the Phillies are concerned about their pitching and Cole Hamels’s poor start.

Colorado pitcher Brian Fuentes remains a target of a few teams, the Tigers, Yankees, and Phillies in particular.

The Indians have an interesting scenario that could result in a trade. Cliff Lee is taking the No. 5 job with a very good camp, but the Tribe also has Jeremy Sowers and Aaron Laffey in the hunt. There are plenty of teams out there – including the Cardinals, Phillies, Astros – eyeing the lefties.

That article is from more than a week ago, but it’s still relevant. The Indians officially named Lee as their #5 starter, which makes Sowers and Laffey available. Neither has been particularly impressive, but both are around league-average, which is all the Phillies need. Laffey pitched 49 and one-third innings last season, his only season of Major League experience, and put up a 101 ERA+ and a 1.338 WHIP. Sowers has two seasons of Major League experience, and he averages about a 95 ERA+ and a 1.349 WHIP. His ’06 season was much more impressive than his ’07 season, however, so he remains a bit of a question mark.

The article also mentions Brian Fuentes of the Colorado Rockies, another left-hander, but he’s much more pricey, and the Phillies don’t need to overpay for a second left-handed reliever. The price they’d pay for Fuentes would be worth it if they desperately needed a set-up man or closer, but they have four pitchers who can pitch in those roles interchangeably: Brad Lidge (recovering from surgery and will start the season on the DL), Tom Gordon (the team’s de facto closer in Lidge’s absence), Ryan Madson, and Romero.

Questionably, Cafardo states that the Phillies are in the market for a left-handed starter as well, but I can’t see that as being accurate. The Phillies already have Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer, both left-handers, in the rotation. There’s no reason to need a third. If you have three, great, you have three. You just don’t go hunting for a #5 starter who is specifically left-handed — you take what you can get.


Should the Phillies add one or more relievers from the outside, they would risk losing Francisco Rosario (who is on the disabled list), J.D. Durbin, Travis Blackley, and Clay Condrey because they are all out of options and can’t be sent back to the Minor Leagues unless they clear waivers, where the other 29 teams have a chance to claim them. Granted, they are nothing special, but given the dearth of reliable arms in the Phillies’ system, these guys are really the best they have.

A Look at the Phils by the Numbers

Michael Salfino contributed to ComcastSportsNet.com with a Sabermetric look at the 2008 Phillies. It’s very well-done — check it out.

We’re using three different projection systems. The father of the sabermetric movement, Bill James, is represented as published in “The Bill James Handbook.”

Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections come courtesy of BaseballThinkFactory.com, which consistently lives up to its name. ZiPS looks at similar skills more than players in calculating projections. Because I don’t want this piece to turn into a wall of numbers, let’s focus primarily on OPS (on-base plus slugging pecentage).

We’ll work our way down the Phillies’ projected lineup, starting at the top with the reigning MVP.

Joey Gathright — Holy Smokes!

You have got to be kidding me. Joey Gathright has already jumped over a car, but in an actual game, he jumped over a pitcher attempting to tag him!