Answering Murphy’s Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Absolutely not,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opportunity Came A-Knockin’

Dave Rouleau of Baseball Digest Daily contacted me earlier today and expressed interest in having me write for their web site, and I happily accepted. He’d like me to focus on transaction analysis on the entire MLB with a daily article, and has a very loose leash on me, which is nice.

How that affects Crashburn Alley remains to be seen. If possible, I’d like to continue posting regularly here as well for my Phillies-specific and potpourri posts.

When their website is back up and running, make sure to bookmark their website and my section on there as well.

A Little This and That

I was planning to do a recap of every game but I realized that you can basically get a recap on any major baseball website and I was just burdening myself with unnecessary writing. I’ll just stick to the analysis that I don’t see being done.

That said, posts may be cranked out at a slower rate for the time being because I finally upgraded from Microsoft Office 2000 to 2007 and now I can use Pitch F/X data in Excel. So, I’ll be trying to learn how to correctly use and analyze that, and I’ll try to implement it into my analysis when possible.

To anyone who does have expertise with Pitch F/X, I will be needing any pointers I can get, so please drop some hints for me if you can (my contact information is listed at the bottom of this page). I’m really interested in learning how to create graphs like the ones Mike Fast has in this article about Johnny Cueto’s first start. I’ve also read his tutorial on building a database for Pitch F/X data, and while my mind went numb almost immediately, it does sound like a cool idea, but I know very little about Perl and MySQL, so that’s another call to any experts out there willing to lend a few pointers.

But enough about me and my shortcomings (that’s your cue to offer a hug).

Kyle Lohse

Remember how I was whining about the Phillies preventing themselves from signing Kyle Lohse? Yeah, well, this happened:

  • April 1 vs. Colorado Rockies: 5 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 3 BB, 3 K
  • April 6 vs. Washington Nationals: 7 IP, 0 R, 4 H, 1 BB, 2 K
  • Total: 12 IP, 0 R, 7 H, 4 BB (0.917 WHIP), 5 K

Yeah… and the St. Louis Cardinals signed him for one year at $4.25 million. Granted, he did face a Rockies lineup that has been struggling all season and a Nationals offense that isn’t expected to be much better than last year’s MLB-worst, but he’s pitched 12 innings without surrendering a single run. That’s impressive.

I will give credit where credit is due, however, and that’s to Adam Eaton. On April 5 in Cincinnati, Eaton held a decent Reds offense to three runs in 7 and two-thirds innings. He had nearly a 2-to-1 strikes-to-balls ratio, but he still managed to walk four. It’s an encouraging start from a pitcher almost everyone, myself included, gave up on a long time ago. If the Phillies can just get league-average production from Eaton, it’s a huge burden lifted off of the bullpen.

Pat Burrell

If the Phillies’ front office is thinking about letting Burrell walk when the season is over, they’re crazy. He’s started the season hitting 3 HR and driving in 9 runs in the first seven games, posting an OPS of 1.476.

On Monday night’s Baseball Tonight, Karl Ravech said, half-seriously, that people should be thinking about Burrell potentially completing the Philadelphia-themed MVP trifecta, since most people are predicting that if anyone is going to win it as a Phillie this year, it will be Chase Utley.

Since the Baseball Writers Association of America doesn’t really know how to factor in a player’s true defensive contributions, it is actually a realistic thought to imagine Burrell being named the National League MVP. Burrell is not at all fleet of foot, and as a result, his defense is burdensome. If the BBWAA knew of any of the metrics that display this fact in all its glory, there’s not a chance in hell that Burrell wins the award outside of a 60 HR, 150 RBI season.

It will be a shame if Burrell is forced to sign elsewhere after the season because he has indicated that he relishes playing in Philadelphia, so he’d probably be willing to take a hometown discount. If the Phillies do decide to lock him up for a few more years, they know what they’ll be getting, as Burrell is as consistent as they come. From 2005 to ’07, his slugging percentage ranged from .502 to .504 and his OBP ranged from .388 to .400; home runs from 29 to 32; doubles from 24 to 27, and all of this consistency comes while losing at-bats in ’06 and ’07 from Charlie Manuel taking him out after the sixth or seventh inning in a lot of games.

For me, though, the most satisfying statistic of his from 2007 is his 114 walks in just 598 plate appearances.

Jayson Werth vs. Geoff Jenkins

So far, Charlie Manuel has used the right field platoon as intended: Werth against left-handed starters, Jenkins against right-handers. However, Werth only has five at-bats in the Phillies’ first seven games. Granted, the Phillies have only faced one left-handed starter, and that was on Opening Day (Matt Chico of the Nationals), but you can’t just hold Werth for the lefty starter — you have to start him against a right-hander every now and then as well.

Geoff Jenkins is 33 years old and doesn’t appear to be getting any better, unsurprisingly. He’s been above-average over his career (115 OPS+) but in ’06 and ’07, he was just league average (101 OPS+ in both seasons). Definitely use Jenkins against right-handers only, but let him sit out one every now and then in favor of Werth.

Pedro Feliz

We saw this coming.

In 19 at-bats, Feliz has put up an uninspiring 22 OPS+ for the Phillies. That is not a misprint; that is a real, live, correctly calculated 22 OPS+. He has four hits — all of them singles — and one walk. There’s just nothing to say here. I know it’s early in the season, small sample sizes and all that good stuff, but… a 22 OPS+? Come on.

What we didn’t see coming is that he’d be a bottom-feeder defensively. Baseball’s best-fielding third baseman has sunk to the 12th out of 16 qualified NL third-sackers in Revised Zone Rating. It won’t stay that way forever, and I fully expect Feliz to climb his way back up, but it just illustrates how little value Feliz has to the Phillies right now. He’s worse than a black hole.

Brett Myers

What’s not to be concerned with? From the Phillies website:

Myers suspects he may have tipping his pitches, a problem he licked early in his career — which doesn’t mean it can’t re-occur.

[…]

“There were a few pitches that I had to question whether I was tipping or not,” said Myers, who added that he didn’t notice anything after looking at the game video. “They had good approaches. I’m not saying I was [tipping pitches]. I’m just saying they had good approaches.”

From the dugout, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel saw a pitcher whose fastball velocity appeared lower than normal. Myers normally throws in the 92-95 mph range. On Sunday, he reached 92 once, and mostly stayed in the 88-91-mph range.

Myers is way too important to the Phillies to have any extended stretch of bad pitching. Let’s hope he figures it out when he starts against the Chicago Cubs on Friday.

Three-Game Set at Shea

The Phillies begin a three-game series in Queens bright and early: a 1:10 EST start. Here are the pitching match-ups:

  • Tues. 4/8, 1:10 PM EST: Jamie Moyer vs. Oliver Perez
  • Wed. 4/9, 7:10 PM EST: Kyle Kendrick vs. Mike Pelfrey
  • Thurs. 4/10, 7:10 PM EST: Adam Eaton vs. John Maine

The first thing you should notice about the match-ups is that the Phillies get to miss Johan Santana, as expected.

Second, Adam Eaton starts a game at Shea Stadium, and that has boded well for him. His starts at Shea last season:

  • April 11: 7 IP, 2 ER, 4 H, 3 BB, 5 K
  • June 6: 6 IP, 2 ER, 5 H, 2 BB, 4 K
  • September 16: 4.2 IP, 5 R (4 ER), 7 H, 2 BB, 1 K

That last start aside, he was great in Queens last season. Over his career, Eaton has a 2.81 ERA in the Mets’ home ballpark and just over a 1.0 WHIP in 32 innings.

Chase Utley, Bullpen Shine in Rain-Soaked Win

Yeah, you read that right: the Phillies’ bullpen shined in a victory over the Reds! Starter Kyle Kendrick looked pedestrian, but was able to get out of some jams and limit the Reds to four runs. Afterward, the Phillies’ bullpen pitched four scoreless innings, allowing only one hit, no walks, and striking out three.

Phillies vs. Reds 04/04/08The game was originally slated for a 7:10 start, but was delayed more than an hour and a half due to rain (those of us in the Philly area were treated to some videos reliving the 1980 season). Nevertheless, the Phillies’ offense was on, as Chase Utley hit two home runs and drove in three runs, and Pat Burrell hit a first-inning two-run homer as well.

Kendrick allowed eight hits — three of which were doubles — and walked two in five innings. He did start the sixth inning, but walked lead-off hitter Edwin Encarnacion.

The second-most surprising element of the game, after the Phillies’ great bullpen performance, was that Pedro Feliz drew a walk! Even better is that he started the at-bat taking two strikes.

Ryan Howard isn’t looking particularly good so far this season, but there are 158 more games to play. He’s yet to get an extra base hit.

Aside from that, it was a relatively easy victory for the Phils, and it went almost according to plan. Manager Charlie Manuel would have preferred if Kendrick could have notched six innings instead of five, but Ryan Madson made up for it with two scoreless innings of relief. Both Tom Gordon and Chad Durbin were unavailable. Gordon has pitched in two out of the Phillies’ three prior games; Durbin had pitched in all three.

Tomorrow afternoon, Adam Eaton faces Aaron Harang for a 1:10 meeting.

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.

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.

Brutal.

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.