Freddy Garcia Redux?

You didn’t hear it here, but… Pat Gillick is good at acquiring damaged goods. Before last season, Gillick traded for Freddy Garcia and sent failed project Gavin Floyd and prized left-hander and strikeout artist Gio Gonzalez to the White Sox. Garcia’s tenure with the Phillies was most unimpressive: 11 starts, 58 innings, 5.90 ERA, and a 1.6 WHIP. His season was shut down on June 8 after a chronic shoulder problem could be hidden no longer.

It’s not Garcia’s fault, though. He had good intentions in hiding his shoulder problems. The real problem lies with the Phillies’ upper management:

General manager Pat Gillick insisted Garcia wasn’t “damaged goods” when the team acquired him. Even though some reports said Garcia’s velocity was down toward the end of last season, the Phillies didn’t make the trade contingent upon him passing a physical.

“We didn’t think a physical was necessary,” Gillick said. “Our doctors spoke to their doctors and our training staff spoke to theirs and we were satisfied his health was good. Our scouts saw him pitch in September. They thought he was healthy.”

Breathe easy — the Phillies did, in fact, require Lidge to pass a physical before completing the trade with the Houston Astros and new GM Ed Wade.

The flame-throwing right-hander threw one pitch on Saturday and ended up re-injuring his right knee. Lidge had surgery on the knee in October and the Phillies required him to have surgery once again, a partial medial menisectomy. It was successful:

“The other side of the knee is fine,” Phillies trainer Scott Sheridan told ESPN.com‘s Jayson Stark on Monday. Sheridan called Lidge’s injury and the subsequent successful surgery “the best-case scenario” for the Phillies.

[…]

“Right now, if we had to do this during the season, then obviously you’re missing a big chunk of the season,” Lidge said. “I definitely need a few bullpen sessions, but I feel like my arm is ahead of schedule so after a week I should be able to throw again.”

Tom Gordon will take over as closer in the meantime, and Brett Myers will not be returning to the bullpen.

The Lidge injury has to make you wonder about Gillick, though. He’s acquired a few who have had some kind of injury risk come to fruition. Adam Eaton and Tom Gordon are a couple that come to mind besides Garcia and Lidge.

Elsewhere…

Kyle Lohse

Kyle Lohse continues to roam around Arizona looking for a Major League job. According to the Phillies article:

Lohse said he would still welcome a return to Philadelphia, but the Phillies didn’t like his salary demands after they were shunned in what was believed to have been an offer in the three-year, $20-million range. Of course, that could change if Brad Lidge’s right knee is serious, and Brett Myers shifts back to the bullpen.

I never thought I’d say this about any league-average starting pitcher, but the Phillies need Kyle Lohse. He would bump the injury-prone and highly unimpressive Adam Eaton from the rotation and give the Phillies league-average production from the #5 spot, an offering most teams would love to have (which makes Lohse’s continued unemployment all the more perplexing).

The Phillies are correct in being offended at Lohse’s high demands, but three years, $20 million is also insulting to Lohse based on the current market.

It would be insulting to me, as a Phillies fan, if I was to find out that Gillick or Amaro have stopped talking to Lohse after he rejected that three-year offer. The Phillies need a reliable starting rotation like a diabetic needs insulin [insert laugh track].

Scott Rolen

Oh boy.

Scott Rolen would have waived his no-trade clause to return to Philadelphia had the chance presented itself this winter.

I will let the numbers speak for themselves.

Scott Rolen avg. WARP with Cardinals (2003-07): 7.86 (excludes ’02 when he was traded from the Phillies and includes his injury-plagued ’05 season).

Pedro Feliz avg. WARP with Giants since getting regular playing time: 4.10.

Of course, their contracts have to be taken into account as well (information per Cot’s Contracts).

Rolen: $11 million in each of ’08, ’09, and ’10 with an extra $4 million bonus due in ’10; full no-trade clause.

Feliz: $3 million in ’08, $5 million in ’09, and a $5 million club option in ’10 with a $500,000 buyout.

If the Phillies had acquired Rolen instead of Feliz, they’d be paying an extra $8 million this season and $6 million in ’09 for about three and a half extra wins. And the Phillies would have had to have sent something of value to the Jays.

The problem with Rolen, of course, is his injury propensity. After getting 400+ AB in every season from 1997-2004, he failed to cross that plateau in 2005 (196 AB) and ’07 (392 AB). Feliz has no nagging injury problems.

As for the poor relationship between the Phillies’ front office and Rolen:

“We felt if he came in and played well, all that other stuff would be water under the bridge,” [Phillies Assistant GM Mike] Arbuckle said. “But if we guessed wrong on the shoulder, we didn’t think we’d be in a position to absorb another injury that would limit our flexibility to fill other needs.”

Rolen definitely would’ve been a better acquisition, but given his salary, it may have hindered the ability for the Phillies to sign anyone else, like Kyle Lohse. Of course, if the Phillies fail to pick up another pitcher, it will all be moot…

Aaron Rowand

Have fun in last place.

There’s a lot of Rowand to quote from that article, so I won’t do it here, but to paraphrase, he’s offended that Pat Gillick considered him an injury risk and that the Phillies didn’t see him as part of their “core.”

“I’ve been on the DL twice in my life, not just in my professional career. That includes college, high school. And it was both in ’06. [Gillick] saw me play for 2 years and I was on the DL twice. But, knock on wood, I’ve been lucky. I’d be lying to you if I said that didn’t bother me.”

Rowand took a five-year, $60 million deal from a last place team. Obviously, money is his #1 priority, especially since he’s already won a World Series and he has a mainstream following. Giving $12 million a year to a player who puts his own safety at risk (link — go to May 11) and his teammates’ as well, is not smart. Add to that he’s a slightly better than average center fielder both offensively and defensively, and it’s just not smart to lock him up long-term, especially at an average of $12 million per season.

One can’t fault Rowand, however, for chasing the bigger contract. Just don’t feel sorry for him when the Giants hit 70 wins two weeks away from the end of September, while the Phillies are in the thick of a race for the NL East crown.

Super Baseballers Brawl

Sorry for the lame pun of the video game, but it’s true, the Phillies and the Mets are looking forward to a possible brawl during the season.

Rollins doesn’t have much to be angry about. He’s the reigning National League MVP and seems to have a lot of fun with this stuff. But according to a report by ESPN’s Jayson Stark, a few of Rollins’ Philly teammates have been privately fuming about Beltran’s comments and even suggested to Stark that “there will be a brawl this year.”

Brawls, of course, are awesome because you get to watch around 75 grown men pretend they know how to fight. Most times, these brawls just result in a little pushing and shoving with no punches thrown. However, a couple one-on-one match-ups would be interesting:

  • Pat Burrell vs. Billy Wagner: Their verbal sparring boiling over into a physical confrontation would almost be too entertaining for cable TV. Burrell, of course, called Wagner a “rat” after he left the Phillies for the Mets. In 2007, Burrell victimized Billy Wagner twice:
    • June 7: Burrell ties the game up at 3 apiece with a solo home run to left-center.
    • August 30: Burrell hits a solo home run to left field to bring the Phillies one run behind the Mets at 10-9. The next inning, Jayson Werth singled and stole both second and third base (Wagner is awful at holding runners). He was promptly driven in by Tadahito Iguchi to tie the game at 10 apiece.
  • Jimmy Rollins vs. Carlos Beltran: Obviously, this is interesting because of Beltran’s comments mimicking Rollins. Rollins called Beltran a plagiarist.
  • Brett Myers vs. Anna Benson: It’s unlikely these two would come to blows, even though Anna is a woman and Brett loves hitting women. Should there be a bench-clearing brawl, it is highly likely Mrs. Benson has sequestered a young lad in the pits of Citizens Bank Park for, I don’t know, a talk?
  • Shane Victorino vs. Jose Reyes: This duel would not be settled via fisticuffs; rather, the two would engage in a footrace to settle the question, “Who is the fastest player in Major League Baseball?”

Which two would you like to see duke it out?

2008 MLB Optimism and Pessimism

WHAT I’M NOT LOOKING FORWARD TO IN THE 2008 BASEBALL SEASON

1. Jon Miller and Joe Morgan on ESPN baseball broadcasts; Joe Buck and Tim McCarver on FOX baseball broadcasts.

2. Chris Berman and Back, Back, Back… Gone!, Albert ‘Winnie the’ Pujols, and the plethora of other Bermanisms that will exit his mouth while broadcasting the Home Run Derby.

3. Citations of motivation or de-motivation. For instance:

  • When the Mets get on a hot streak, people will say they were motivated by Beltran’s pre-season comments about the Mets now being the “team to beat.”
  • When Andy Pettitte struggles, people will say he’s mentally distraught over the whole HGH thing.
  • If the Mets start slowly, people will say that the team hasn’t gelled with Johan Santana yet.

4. The Yankees and Red Sox taking up 40% of the American League All-Star roster spots.

5. Whining about an East-coast bias when the Yankees, Mets, and Red Sox are getting a lot of face time on ESPN.

6. Sportswriters and fans alike chastising Alex Rodriguez when he throws up MVP-caliber numbers, insisting that he’s still not a great player because he just can’t get it done in the post-season.

7. This.

8. Arrogant sportswriters conveniently forgetting their pre-season predictions and acting like they knew all along that the Pittsburgh Pirates were going to win 102 games and that the Red Sox would win only 68.

9. Price gouging at the ballpark.

10. Awkward moments in baseball broadcasts where the cameraman zooms in on young pre-teen girls in the stands (not surprisingly, this is what Chris Hansen will be looking forward to the most).

If you go on summer cruises and travel towards Cuba, you’ll see that there are only a few ATMs in Cuba. Even if you locate an ATM, there is not necessary that it will have adequate funds. Similarly there are very few car rental stations. A number of good hotels can be seen here and there, but destinations close to cheap flights are not good enough if you intend to stay for a whole month.

WHAT I AM LOOKING FORWARD TO IN THE 2008 BASEBALL SEASON

1. Hearing the voice of Harry Kalas again.

2. Pitchers hitting home runs, speedsters legging out inside-the-park home runs, home runs that hit the foul pole and, obviously, the Home Run Derby (sans Chris Berman, of course).

3. Hilarious errors, especially the ones that involve multiple throwing errors.

4. Bench-clearing brawls, and the head-hunting that precedes them.

5. Fans who make Web Gem-quality catches.

6. Perfect games and no-hitters that get broken up in the ninth inning. Mmm… schadenfreude.

7. That one broadcaster who says something completely offensive on the air. Seems like there’s at least one every year. Who will it be this year? Come on, Joe Buck, say something that’ll get you canned.

8. Dollar Dog Nights at Citizens Bank Park.

9. Phillies commercials. Last year’s were pretty good and this year’s are way out-of-left-field.

10. Lou Piniella blowing up in front of an umpire.

Did Someone Take A Schmidt?

Pardon the awful title…

The rest have joined pitchers and catchers for some spring training fun in the sun, and you know what that means: it’s time for Mike Schmidt to open his mouth again!

Last year, Mike Schmidt called Pat Burrell (and Adam Dunn) “mediocre.”

If these guys cut their strikeouts down to 75 or 80, they put the ball in play 85 or 90 more times a year. That’s at least 15 more home runs and at least 35 more RBIs. If only they had choked up with two strikes, spread their stances out. What they are doing now is not great, it is mediocrity.

Let’s just say that Schmidt has changed his stance on Burrell. On Comcast SportsNet, he thinks Burrell will be the next Phillies MVP. And given that this is Burrell’s last season before free agency, we can safely assume he’s talking about 2008. What sparked the change of heart for Schmidt?

Could it have been the 10 less strikeouts in 10 more at-bats? The increase of one home run and two RBI? 16 more walks and two more doubles?

His 2006 season was pretty similar to his ’07 season. It’s very odd that Schmidt had such a dramatic change in opinion… unless… Schmidt has been using Sabermetrics! Nah, probably not, especially given this:

Schmidt Excited About Phils’ New Third Baseman Feliz

That’s not a typo. Mike Schmidt, the best third baseman in baseball history, is excited about Pedro Feliz, who is about as mediocre as mediocre gets. It’s almost too ironic, even for blogs.

He’s an impressive young man. Tremendously impressive hands, good arm, good batting stroke. I think he’s going to be a big key for the club this year.

[…]

I know since I left [after the 1989 season], [third base] has been a little bit of a sore point in Philadelphia. David Bell was pretty good for a while, and of course, Scott Rolen was really good for a while. But the last several years, third base has been one of those platoon positions that a lot of really good teams don’t platoon at.

Just watching [Feliz] on TV, he caught my eye. I can see a good, solid fundamental hitter. I don’t know what his best year has been. I just know him as a mid-20s home run, 80-RBI guy. I don’t know if he’s ever gotten to 30 home runs or 100 RBIs, but he has that potential, without a doubt.

It’s always amazing when you realize that some of the greatest players have such a hazy idea of what made them great. Schmidt, of course, is correct in noticing his exceptional fielding skills (it’s almost universally agreed upon that Feliz is the best-fielding third baseman in baseball) and in saying that he has 30 HR, 100 RBI potential (his career highs are 22 HR and 98 RBI). Given that he’s going from a very pitcher-friendly ballpark to a very hitter-friendly ballpark, it wouldn’t be outrageous to expect such a season from him.

However, none of the projection systems listed on FanGraphs has him having a great season in those offensive categories:

Bill James: 18 HR, 57 RBI

CHONE: 20 HR, 64 RBI

Marcel: 17 HR, 62 RBI

Schmidt errs in describing Feliz as having a “good batting stroke” and being “a good, solid fundamental hitter.”

There are just so many metrics that show Feliz as being just completely awful offensively…

Year: Feliz OBP/SLG — League Average OBP/SLG

2004: .305/.485 .343/.439

2005: .295/.422 .340/.430

2006: .281/.428 .343/.442

2007: .290/.418 .342/.436

2004-07 Batting and Fielding Runs Above Average (BRAA and FRAA)

2004: 2 BRAA; 0 FRAA

2005: -10 BRAA; -1 FRAA

2006: -16 BRAA; 9 FRAA

2007: -14 BRAA; 14 FRAA

Total: -38 BRAA; 22 FRAA

As for what you’d use to define a “good, solid fundamental hitter,” let’s use Old Traditional: batting average and strikeouts.

Since he started playing regularly (2004), Feliz has had 2,232 at-bats. In those at-bats, he’s logged 569 hits (.255 AVG) and 369 strikeouts (16.5% of AB’s are K’s). I wouldn’t exactly call Feliz a “good, solid fundamental hitter.”

And just for kicks, Schmidt said that David Bell “was pretty good for a while.” If, by “for a while,” he means “in 2004,” then he’s correct. Bell’s OPS+ during his tenure in Philly…

2003: 57 OPS+ in 297 AB

2004: 107 OPS+ in 533 AB

2005: 72 OPS+ in 557 AB

2006: 87 OPS+ in 324 AB before being traded to Milwaukee.

Schmitdty, you brought a lot of smiles to our hearts when you were leading the Phillies to six playoff appearances (1976-78, ’80-81, ’83), two World Series (’80 and ’83), and one championship (’80), simultaneously bronzing your own name in baseball history as the greatest third baseman of all time… but stay away from wayward sports journalists. Wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea, like “Feliz is actually a good offensive player.”

Kyle Kendrick Gets Punk’d

Kendrick Target of Elaborate Prank:

After the Phillies’ workout on Saturday, Ruben Amaro Jr. summoned Kendrick into manager Charlie Manuel’s office at Bright House Networks Field. With a straight face, the assistant general manager told his gullible pitcher that he’d been dealt to the Yomiuri Giants of the Japanese Central League for a player named “Kobayashi Iwamura.”

Presented with a letter printed on Phillies stationery with official-sounding language, Kendrick was convinced of the “deal,” and given an itinerary of things he must do so the swap could be completed, supplied by traveling secretary Frank Coppenbarger.

Manuel assisted with the rouse by offering advice, since he made a career in the Far East. Kendrick’s agent, Joe Urbon, who also represents Japanese import Hiroki Kuroda, gets credit by confirming the deal when he received the stunned phone call from his client.

The media (who were clued in) played a part as well, asking Kendrick questions about being traded halfway around the world. The shell-shocked 23-year-old stammered through most of his answers, not knowing what to say.”

“Do they have good food in Japan?” Kendrick asked reporters, as the first words out of his mouth. “I don’t know what to think right now. I guess it’s going to be a whole new chapter, huh?”

Eventually, as a crowd gathered to watch the proceedings, the joke’s originator, Brett Myers, chimed in, “You’ve been punk’d.”

Breathing a huge sigh of relief, Kendrick said, “I’ve never been so happy. Seriously. Wow. I was not going on that flight in the morning.”

Video:

This Has to be Some Sick Joke

Ah, power rankings. Nowhere are they more meaningless than in baseball. But Aram Tolegian, whom I’ve never heard of until just now, released “the first batch” of MLB power rankings for FOX Sports.

It is a perfect storm: I have a lot of time on my hands, and this guy used tons of flawed logic. This day is going to go pretty fast.

#1 Detroit Tigers

No team had a better off-season, and for that reason the Tigers occupy the top spot.

The Tigers definitely had the best off-season. They ranked 9th out of 14 AL teams in runs allowed per game, and 2nd of 14 in runs scored per game. So what do they do? They go out and acquire Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis in a trade. They failed to improve their pitching staff, and they have overkill offensively. I wouldn’t say they had the best off-season. In fact, when you look at it objectively, they had a rather poor one. They had pitching problems at both ends going into the offseason, and they only addressed it by acquiring Willis, who can’t be relied upon for anything, as his ’07 campaign isn’t much of an aberration when you look at his statistics (everything is close to his career norm).

And the Boston Red Sox, the defending World Series champions, and the team that didn’t take a step back in anyway except in losing Curt Schilling to injury, should be #1.

#2 Cleveland Indians

No argument here.

#3 Boston Red Sox

The rotation doesn’t look overly strong and the offense certainly doesn’t project better than those owned by the Indians, Tigers or Yankees.

No argument about the Indians’ rotation. However…

Red Sox

Player: ’07 ERA+

Beckett: 145

Matsuzaka: 108

Wakefield: 100

Lester: 104

Buchholz: 298 (only 4 starts, one of which was a no-hitter)

Tigers

Verlander: 125

Rogers: 103

Robertson: 96

Bonderman: 91

Willis: 83

Yankees

Pettitte: 110

Wang: 121

Mussina: 87

Hughes: 100

Chamberlain: 1192 (only 24 IP, all as a reliever)

The starting rotation of the Red Sox is clearly the most dominant, with the Yankees’ trailing and the Tigers’ clearly lagging far behind.

#4 Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks may have arrived a year early last season, but that’s what often happens when there’s a boatload of endless upside on the roster.

No, that’s what happens when you out-perform your Pythagorean W-L by 11 games. The D-Backs allowed 732 runs and scored only 712. The Diamondbacks had one of the worst RS/RA margins of teams that made the playoffs. Adding Dan Haren will offset the crash to Earth that the Diamondbacks will face, but they’re not some powerhouse simply because they had very favorable run distribution last season.

Of their eight regulars, only four had an OPS+ over 100, and all of them were just barely:

Jackson: 110

Hudson: 106

Reynolds: 110

Byrnes: 104

The D-Backs ranked dead last in the NL in OBP and 9th of 16 in SLG. And who’d they add in the off-season to help provide more offense? Chris Burke?

Please consider that last year’s success was done primarily without Randy Johnson and with Dan Haren still in Oakland. Both will start the season as part of the rotation, which means the D-backs take another big step forward.

Randy Johnson needs to stay healthy. At age 44, how realistic is this expectation?

#5 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Fans had the entire off-season to project how big the Angels’ winning margin in the AL West would be. But all of that changed when the Mariners traded for Erik Bedard. Now things may not be so easy in the West. The Angels still deserve the nod simply because this is a team with very few holes and a solid mix of veterans and youth with upside.

Ugh, so many generalities. But he’s correct in saying that the Angels are the top team in the AL West. As we’ll find out, the Mariners are being overrated.

#6 New York Yankees

The organization is doing the right thing by building from within now that the strategy of being the league’s most active off-season team has proven futile. For a team that’s supposedly in transition, this season won’t be too painful.

There’s a reference to the youth on the Yankees, but no mention of how that will affect them. And there’s no reference to their shaky starting rotation. Chien-Ming Wang has an extremely low K-rate, and pitchers with low K-rates don’t have the same sustained success that those with high K-rates do.

What of Mike Mussina? Should he have just retired? 2007 was the worst season of his 17-year career. Excluding his first season in ’91, he set career lows in IP and strikeouts, and career highs in ERA and WHIP. And he’s 39.

Andy Pettitte is always reliable for decent production, but two straight seasons with a 1.4 WHIP is concerning.

Phil Hughes showed flashes of brilliance, but he’s only 21. Similarly, Joba Chamberlain is 22 and has never made a Major League start.

The Yankees will have a great offense as they always do, but their starting rotation will make or break them, as it does so many other teams.

#7 Los Angeles Dodgers

There are also several position battles in key places, like third base where Nomar Garciaparra may not have enough left in the tank to fend off prospect Andy LaRoche. Another battle to watch is in the outfield where the Dodgers have Juan Pierre, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp vying for the two spots flanking Andruw Jones. And what about Jason Schmidt? There have been no setbacks in his return from shoulder surgery, but fans should keep their fingers crossed nonetheless.

Nothing here justified the Dodgers at #7. They have a middle-of-the-road offense and after Brad Penny and Derek Lowe, their starting rotation falters. Of course, they have that great bullpen to fall back on, but it’s not even close to enough to justify them at #7.

#8 New York Mets

Trading for Johan Santana has energized the organization heading into spring.

He has the Diamondbacks (#4) and Dodgers (#7) ahead of the Mets, who appear to be solid on all fronts. The Mets had the NL’s fourth-best offense and 7th-best pitching staff, and before Santana, they had stayed relatively idle. Adding Santana gives them a top-tier pitching staff, and combine that with their top-tier offense, the Mets should be higher than #8 and #3 in the NL.

#9 Toronto Blue Jays

I’ll give you a minute to stop laughing before I quote him on why he put the Jays at #9.

Ready?

If you view the glass as half full in Toronto, you’ve got a team with a solid rotation, a major defensive improvement at third in Scott Rolen and a burgeoning superstar in OF Alex Rios.

2007 Troy Glaus Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP; accounts for both offense and defense): 5.8

2007 Scott Rolen WARP: 5.6

It’s a break-even change at best. Given Rolen’s back problems, playing on the Toronto turf isn’t going to help him any.

Let’s see… the Jays’ offense ranked 10th out of 14 teams, and their pitching staff ranked a distant second to the Red Sox. Yes, their starting rotation is relatively solid, but Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum, and Jesse Litsch are all in their mid-20’s and not one of them had sustained Major League success before 2007, so it’s hard to expect similar production from them in 2008. It’s fair to expect a regression.

Even in their bullpen, they featured guys having unexpected success. Jeremy Accardo, Casey Janssen, and Scott Downs never had anything close to the kind of success they had last season.

#9 is too high for the Jays.

#10 Colorado Rockies

The old style of thinking that pitching will ultimately do in the Rox has to be discarded. Although it would have been nice to see the team upgrade its rotation this off-season.

When you adjust for park effects (obviously, pitching in Coors Field deflates your pitching statistics, and all of their starters had 4.00+ ERA’s), the Rockies had a decent rotation. Among those who pitched 100+ innings…

Francis: 114 ERA+

Fogg: 97

Cook: 116

Hirsh: 100

In addition, the Rockies’ bullpen was superb. Even in Coors Field, the Rockies’ bullpen featured six guys who pitched 45+ innings and kept their ERA under 4.00:

Fuentes: 3.08 ERA (155 ERA+)

Corpas: 2.08 ERA (231 ERA+)

Affeldt: 3.51 ERA (137 ERA+)

Hawkins: 3.42 ERA (140 ERA+)

Julio: 3.93 ERA (122 ERA+)

Herges: 2.96 ERA (162 ERA+)

Of those six, only Affeldt and Julio departed. Their bullpen will be strong again in ’08. The Rockies should be top-three in the NL, along with the Mets and Phillies.

#11 Seattle Mariners

The addition of Erik Bedard cannot be understated as the M’s may own the best one-two punch in the West.

There are only three other teams to compete with… but even then, I’ll take John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar (or Jered Weaver since Escobar will miss the first month of the regular season) over Bedard and Felix Hernandez.

Lackey/Escobar/Weaver ERA+: 151/134/117

Bedard/Hernandez ERA+: 146/110

Bedard helps a middling Mariners pitching staff, but he won’t be enough to save Jarrod Washburn, Miguel Batista, and Carlos Silva from mediocrity.

Additionally, J.J. Putz aside, the Mariners’ great ’07 bullpen featured a bunch of young guys having phenomenal seasons (like the Blue Jays), and we can’t reasonably expect repeat performances.

Raul Ibanez and Ichiro Suzuki will be offensive mainstays for the Mariners, but they are going to feature Brad Wilkerson regularly in right field, and he hasn’t put up an above-average offensive season since 2004 when he was in Montreal. Adrian Beltre will be slightly above-average, and Richie Sexson will continue to kick his OBP and SLG into a black hole.

Bedard aside, the Mariners are mediocre and I’d be surprised if they finished within 5 games of the Angels in the AL West.

#12 Milwaukee Brewers

It’s kind of scary to think of what the Brewers accomplished last season with Ben Sheets managing only 141 innings and Rickie Weeks suffering from the lingering effects of a wrist injury.

The Brewers featured an above-average player at every offensive position except catcher and center field. Despite a sub-par starting rotation, the Brewers rode their offense and decent bullpen to a finish of four games over .500.

They lost Francisco Cordero, but they got Eric Gagne, David Riske, and Salomon Torres, which more than offsets the loss. In acquiring Cameron, Bill Hall will move to third base, and Ryan Braun will move to left field.

The Brewers probably won’t see any marked improvement in their 5th-best NL offense or 9th-best pitching staff. The neighborhood of 83 wins continues to be a likely landing spot.

#13 Philadelphia Phillies

The feeling here is that Phillies took a step back this off-season. 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. If you believe Aaron Rowand was the unsung hero of the offense last season, then being optimistic about the Phils gets that much harder now that he’s in San Francisco.

How the Phillies are 6th-best in the NL according to Aram is baffling. They feature the NL’s best offense by far, three legitimate MVP candidates in Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins, one of the best 1-2 punches in the NL with Cole Hamels and Brett Myers, and a markedly improved bullpen. In addition, their defense will set the standard in the NL, and they easily have the deepest bench in the league.

The only question marks with the Phillies are Cole Hamels’ health (he’s always been an injury concern, even throughout the Minor Leagues) and the #3-5 spots in the rotation. Kyle Kendrick had a stunning ’07 season and is a perfect fit for Citizens Bank Park given his ground ball tendencies. However, that was only one year and it could just be a fluke. Jamie Moyer, if Julio Franco doesn’t sign with a team, will be baseball’s oldest player on Opening Day, and Adam Eaton will have the #5 spot in the rotation most likely.

If the Santana pushes the Mets to #1 in the NL, the Phillies are #2.

Everyone, for some reason, assumes Brad Lidge is a wreck, but if you look at his ’07 season, it looks pretty damn good:

67 innings, 88 K, 30 BB, 3.36 ERA (131 ERA+), 1.254 WHIP

As for his injury concerns, his knee is healthy.

After Lidge, the Phillies have three solid pitchers in Tom Gordon, Ryan Madson, and J.C. Romero. The Phillies don’t have a bullpen as good as, say, the Rockies, but it’s still above-average.

Losing Aaron Rowand was inconsequential. Victorino simply moves to center field and right field will consist of a Geoff Jenkins/Jayson Werth platoon. Victorino is a huge improvement defensively, and the right field platoon will more than make up for Rowand’s offense.

#14 Chicago Cubs

Derrek Lee wasn’t himself last season and Alfonso Soriano had a down year. But even still, the Cubs won the Central. It’s reasonable to expect both Lee and Soriano to perform better. In that case, the Cubs are once again viable in the Central. Staying healthy in spring, especially 3B Aramis Ramirez, is key. As is finding a closer out of a group that includes Kerry Wood.

Soriano had a down year? You can say that, but it’s really nit-picking.

Soriano 2006: .351 OBP/.560 SLG

Soriano 2007: .337 OBP/.560 SLG

Just a .014 drop in OBP. He did miss about 20 more games than he usually does, but he isn’t an injury concern.

Derrek Lee wasn’t himself?

Lee career: .367 OBP/.502 SLG

Lee 2007: .400 OBP/.513 SLG (567 AB)

Looks like he had a pretty good season, no?

Aramis Ramirez has had 500+ AB every season since 2000, when he was still a young player looking for an everyday role. And I could find no news about the Cubs third baseman having any injury difficulties.

The Cubs feature the NL’s best starting rotation — a 100+ ERA at every slot. As for a closer, they have options, including Carlos Marmol, who had an exceptional 2007 season. Seeing as how it was his “breakout” season, it’s unreasonable to expect a 1.43 ERA in 69 innings again, but he could be the Cubs’ answer at closer. Bob Howry is the other candidate and he’s had four straight seasons with an ERA+ of at least 140.

The Cubs will feature a slightly improved offense now that they added Kosuke Fukudome, and will rival the Padres again for the league’s best overall pitching staff. The Cubs are a close #4 behind the Mets, Phillies, and Rockies in the NL.

#15 Atlanta Braves

It’s hard to like any team with two starting pitchers in their 40s. But John Smoltz and Tom Glavine have proven they can pitch with dignity, even in old age. But how long will that last? The offense remains solid, but certainly didn’t get better by swapping Andruw Jones for Mark Kotsay. And that says nothing about what the defense lost with Jones moving to L.A.

People are going to be sorry for underrating the Braves. Losing Andruw Jones isn’t a good thing, definitely, but given his poor mechanics, there’s a higher than usual possibility that Jones’ ’07 season wasn’t a fluke. If so, replacing Jones with Kotsay is much less of a drop-off than it appears.

In ’07, the Braves had the 3rd-best offense and 3rd-best pitching staff in the National League. Does adding Tom Glavine, behind Tim Hudson and John Smoltz, hurt them? I can’t think of a reason how. And the Braves will still feature three offensive mainstays in their line-up…

Johnson: 117 OPS+

C. Jones: 166

Diaz: 124

Catcher Brian McCann and right fielder Jeff Francoeur had average seasons in ’07, but if they learn how to draw a few more walks, they could make the Braves’ offense explosive. Either way, it’s an offense to be reckoned with, much like the Phillies’ and Mets’. It’s a three-horse race in the National League East, and three of the NL’s top five teams are from the East.

. . .

That’s the top-fifteen. There’s a lot of nit-picking to be done with his bottom-fifteen, but we can all universally agree that the Marlins, Royals, Pirates, Giants, Orioles, Twins, Cardinals, and White Sox will be bad. The Nationals, Padres, Astros, Rangers, and Athletics have the potential to be mediocre. And the Rays and Reds are mediocre teams that have the potential to have breakout seasons.

And what you’ve all been waiting for: my top-fifteen power rankings:

1. Boston Red Sox

2. Cleveland Indians

3. New York Mets

4. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

5. Philadelphia Phillies

6. Detroit Tigers

7. Colorado Rockies

8. Atlanta Braves

9. Chicago Cubs

10. New York Yankees

11. Milwaukee Brewers

12. Seattle Mariners

13. Arizona Diamondbacks

14. San Diego Padres

15. Los Angeles Dodgers

As always, feel free to berate me in the comments.

Harry Kalas Radio Interview

WIP radio host Angelo Cataldi had a radio interview with Harry Kalas (it’s 40 minutes and 33 seconds long).

Harry Kalas

Angelo Cataldi

I could listen to Kalas talk about anything — knitting, different types of leaves, flossing techniques — for hours on end. His voice and delivery are incredibly captivating, no doubt why he is a legend among legends in the broadcast booth. To boot, he is one of the most genuinely humble people you will ever have the privilege of hearing.

A few of my favorite lines from the interview between Angelo Cataldi and Kalas…

Talking about the late Richie Ashburn, “Whitey” (for whom Ashburn Alley at Citizens Bank Park, and subsequently this blog, are named):

He and I are sitting in a hotel bar in New York and a blonde hooker comes walking up. She says, “Boys, I’ll do anything you want for $100.” Whitey thought for a while and he said, “How about the pregame show?”

Cataldi asks Kalas about Whitey, long games, and hunger:

When I first joined the Phillies in ’71, Whitey and I would be working games, and if a game was getting late, if it was a late game, perhaps extra innings or just a long game and Whitey’d be getting hungry, he’d say, “Well, I wonder if those people at Celebri’s Pizza are listening tonight.” Within fifteen minutes, pizzas would be delievered to the booth. This went on for a couple of months.

Now, Phillies management called Whitey and they said, “Rich, Celebri’s is not a sponsor. You can’t be throwing their name out there on the air all the time. So, shortly after he was told this, maybe two or three weeks, extra inning game, he’s really hungry, and we do do birthday wishes. So Whitey said, “Well, Harry, we have special birthday wishes tonight: to the Celebri’s twins, Plain and Pepperoni!” And sure enough, fifteen minutes, the pizzas would be delivered to the booth.

About 32 minutes into the clip, Cataldi is asking Kalas about the most downtrodden he’s been on the air, and before he even said it, I was thinking “Craig Biggio’s ninth-inning three-run home run off of Billy Wagner in 2005.” I can remember Harry’s voice clearly to this day and it may have been the furthest my heart has sunk in my entire life.

Probably the most downer call I ever made, Angelo, is Billy Wagner’s last year with the Phillies when Biggio hit a home run off him and we were on our way to perhaps post-season, and when Biggio hit that home run — I mean I heard a replay of that…

The WIP team struggled with finding a clip of Harry’s call, and, unfortunately, there isn’t one on MLB.com, as they have the FSN Houston broadcast team for the September 7, 2005 game in question.

Do yourself a favor and listen to one of the greatest play-by-play announcers of all time.

Once again, I have to give credit to the Phillies forum Back She Goes for leading me to this (specific hat tip to gusmoney).

Well, Now That That’s Over

As the final seconds ticked off of the fourth quarter clock and the New York Giants earned victory in Super Bowl XLII, those of us who are more inclined towards baseball breathed a sigh of relief and marked another X on the calendar: A week and a half until P’s and C’s report; three weeks until exhibition games begin; seven weeks until the regular season begins.

The Phillies, for the most part, look like an improved team. Brad Lidge was acquired from the Houston Astros; Shane Victorino moved to center field following the departure of Aaron Rowand; Geoff Jenkins was signed to platoon with Jayson Werth in right field; Pedro Feliz was given red pinstripes as a hopeful answer to the team’s third base woes.

Meanwhile, the Phillies watched the Marlins pawn off their two franchise players, the Nationals sign and trade for no one important, the Braves lose Andruw Jones to free agency and trade Edgar Renteria to Detroit and replace them with weaker players. Oh, and the Mets traded for the best pitcher in baseball. The Johan Santana deal aside, everyone in the division either got weaker or stayed essentially in the same place.

Jimmy Rollins, almost a year after declaring the Phillies “the team to beat” in the NL East (and being proven correct on the last day of the regular season), claimed his team would win 100 games in 2008.

As I counted last August, the Phillies’ bullpen was responsible for at blowing at least 19 games between April and the end of August. Remember, this is a bullpen that featured — not just had; featured — Antonio Alfonseca, Clay Condrey, and Jose Mesa, among others, mostly due to the injuries to Closer #1 Tom Gordon, Closer #2 Brett Myers, and Ryan Madson.

Now, the Phillies feature a bona fide closer in Brad Lidge, a now-serviceable set-up man in Tom Gordon, and a surprisingly deep bullpen, now that Ryan Madson will once again be healthy, and the team kept J.C. Romero, who was stunningly effective since he arrived in Philadelphia in early June last season. The bullpen, barring injury, doesn’t figure to be a problem for the Phillies in 2008.

As always, the Phillies feature one of baseball’s best offenses. Shane Victorino, Carlos Ruiz, and the pitchers aside, the Phillies feature 20-25 HR potential at every position, and Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, and Chase Utley are three of baseball’s best at getting on base. Obviously, scoring runs won’t be a problem for the Phillies, either, but given that Pedro Feliz and his sub-.300 OBP will be playing every day, expect a very slight regression in runs scored from ’07.

However, preventing them appears to be a problem for the starting rotation once you get past Cole Hamels and Brett Myers.

Jamie Moyer is 45, put up a 5.01 ERA, and averaged his highest base runners per inning rate since 2000. Age is less of a problem for a pitcher of Moyer’s ilk, since he relies not on speed, but purely on location and intellect. Either way, Moyer cannot be relied on anything more than league-average production.

Kyle Kendrick put up an impressing rookie campaign for the Phillies in which he revealed himself as a perfect fit for Citizens Bank Park and the Phillies. In 2007, more than 47% of Kendrick’s batted balls were of the ground ball variety, and in CBP, where the gusting winds push would-be fly ball outs halfway up the stands in left field, throwing ground balls creates a huge advantage for their Phillies and their now-great infield defense. Given Kendrick’s age and lack of MLB experience though, we can’t reliably predict a repeat.

Adam Eaton. Not much needs to be said about him other than that the sooner the Phillies get rid of him and his awful pitching, the better. Eaton might be the worst pitcher the Phillies have allowed to pitch 150 innings or more since Brandon Duckworth in 2002. The non-progressives in the Phillies’ front office likely don’t realize this and will try to justify paying him $24.5 million over three years by letting him take the mound once every five games.

Depending on how Kendrick pans out, and how quick the Phillies are to pull Eaton from the starting rotation, expect about average production from the Phillies’ rotation. Cole Hamels and Brett Myers will obviously be well above league-average but it won’t be enough to offset the lackluster performances from the others. If the Phillies can sign Kyle Lohse and bump Eaton from the rotation before the season even starts, that would be such a boon.

Defensively, the Phillies are easily above-average. Pedro Feliz is baseball’s best glove at third base, Chase Utley is a top-two defensive second baseman, Victorino is a gazelle with a cannon in center field, and Carlos Ruiz is one of the better defensive catchers in baseball. Pat Burrell and Geoff Jenkins lack range but both have strong arms, Jayson Werth has decent speed and a strong arm, and Jimmy Rollins provides average to slightly above-average shortstop defense. The only defensive curse on the Phillies is Ryan Howard at first base.

Overall, I expect the Phillies to have the National League’s best offense and Major League Baseball’s third-best, behind the Yankees and Tigers. Pitching-wise, overall, I expect a middle-of-the-pack performance, perhaps 9th out of the 16 National League teams. The starting rotation will rank about 10th or 11th and the bullpen will rank about 4th or 5th.

My prediction (with the roster as it is presently)

Phillies 2008 RPG:  5.42 (878 runs).

Phillies 2008 RAPG: 4.61 (747 runs).

Phillies 2008 record: 91-71, second in NL East behind the 93-69 Mets.

Bonus: Cole Hamels finishes a very close #2 to Johan Santana in Cy Young voting.

No Reason to Panic

I don’t know if any of you out there have heard, but the Mets traded for two-time Cy Young Award-winner Johan Santana. Yeah, I’m as surprised as you are. I could’ve sworn that the Red Sox and Yankees offered better packages. But the Twins’ front office isn’t who I want to criticize right now (plenty of people will be doing that between now and the end of the regular season); I want to question Don McKee’s logic in an article he wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

He titled it “Phils Fall Back in Arms Race.” It’s clever, probably unintentionally so. Does he mean that the Phillies are falling back, as in a relapse of sorts? Or does he mean that the Phillies are falling back, as in lagging behind the Mets? Probably the latter, but he spends the rest of the article implying the former.

McKee provides a summary of the Santana deal, then hammers out this doozy:

So here’s a friendly little road map that could guide the Phillies back to another of those scintillating stretch runs with their most hated (is it even close?) rivals.

First, send something to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Matt Morris, who has 121 career wins and too big a price tag for the team with the majors’ fourth-lowest payroll. (Since Morris is scheduled to make $9.5 million this season, the Bucs might be willing to accept Wes Helms, who makes about a third of that.)

Then ship Adam Eaton to Minnesota, which will be seeking an arm to fill out its rotation. The Twins could have some big problems without Santana: Francisco Liriano missed all of last season after elbow surgery and former Phillie Carlos Silva signed with Seattle as a free agent.

If you know who Scott Baker, Boof Bonser and Kevin Slowey are (the rest of Minnesota’s rotation), you get a stack of old Mike Lieberthal cards.

Morris has won at least 10 games in seven straight seasons and won 22 with St. Louis in 2001. He has had a losing record the last two seasons, but that may have had more to do with his teams (San Francisco and Pittsburgh) than him.

Is he Johan Santana? No. But neither is anybody else out there. And with every single arm in the Phillies’ projected rotation a question mark, Morris would be a welcome addition.

He suggests trading Wes Helms to the Pirates for Matt Morris. That sounds reasonable since we’re talking about Wes Helms, a mediocre player, and the Pittsburgh Pirates, whose front office has made a hobby out of collecting as many mediocre players as possible since 1992.

Morris is owed $9.5 million for the ’08 season and he has a $9 million club option with a $1 million buy-out clause for ’09. Helms is owed $2.5 million this season and he has a $3.75 million club option with a $750,000 buy-out clause for ’09. That’s a total of $6.25 million the Phillies would be required to take on this season. Not bad.

But if you look at the free agent market, once name sticks out: Kyle Lohse. Lohse doesn’t throw as many ground balls as Morris, but he’s a free agent, and that’s key. Instead of having to give up Helms to round out the rotation, the Phillies can sign Lohse, whose price tag drops with every passing day, and then flip Helms to some third base-desperate team who is willing to part with a relief pitcher. As anyone who watched the Phillies last season knows, you can’t have too many relief pitchers.

Lohse will probably take a three-year, $27 million deal, an average of $9 million per season. This also allows the Phillies the flexibility to add another arm to the bullpen by trading Helms.

Even more laughable is that the Phillies can just dump Adam Eaton on the Twins, as if their front office is collectively unconscious following the Santana trade (who knows, maybe he’s right). Dumping Eaton on the Twins would require eating a lot of his remaining salary, which is $7.635 million this season, $8.5 million in ’09, and a $9 million mutual option in ’10 with a $500,000 buy-out clause. The Phillies would have to fork over about half of Eaton’s ’08 salary, most likely.

So, here’s McKee’s plan in the big picture:

Phillies Get

Matt Morris ($9.5 million)

Some random Twins Minor Leaguer who will be serving fries in two years

Phillies Give Up

Wes Helms ($2.5 million)

Adam Eaton ($4 million of $7.635)

To find out how much money the Phillies would have to have, just add up Morris’ salary and the cash they’d send with Eaton, and subtract from it Helms’ salary. That’s $11 million they are paying essentially just for Matt Morris, a pitcher whose poor ’06-07 seasons McKee wrongfully labels as aberrations or due mostly to bad teams.

Take a look at the trends Morris has shown. In 2005, he was with the Cardinals, ’06 with the Giants, and split ’07 between the Giants and Pirates.

K/9

2005: 5.47

2006: 5.07 (-.40)

2007: 4.62 (-.45)

Career: 6.08

BB/9

2005: 1.73

2006: 2.73 (+1.0)

2007: 2.76 (+0.03)

Career: 2.53

WHIP

2005: 1.277

2006: 1.353 (+.076)

2007: 1.515 (+.162)

Career: 1.305

Fly Ball %

2005: 29.8%

2006: 33.4% (+3.6%)

2007: 31.5% (-1.9%)

Career: 31.7%

You can’t blame that on Morris’ teammates. He is striking out less hitters, walking them more, allowing more overall base runners, and is becoming slightly more fly ball-prone.

Also, isn’t it hilarious that McKee thinks it’s some trivial thing to know who Baker (MLB experience since ’05), Bonser (since ’06), and Slowey (’07 rookie) are? It’s not like all of America watched Baker attempt to hold down a perfect game in the 9th inning, or Bonser wasn’t included in one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history, or Slowey was the 17th-best overall prospect in 2005 according to Baseball America. You’d have to be the Schwab to know those guys.

So, the Mets got Santana. It probably makes them the pre-season favorites barring any other significant moves by the Phillies or Braves. It doesn’t mean the Phillies have to panic and just start randomly acquiring pitchers. Even if the Phillies don’t acquire Lohse and go into the season expecting Adam Eaton to start once every five days, it at least means the Phillies will have some funds available to make a mid-season trade if a player becomes available.

Phillies sign 3B Pedro Feliz

Reasons why you would ever consider signing free agent third baseman Pedro Feliz:

  • You are a bottom-feeding organization like the Tampa Bay Rays or Kansas City Royals.
  • You have never looked at baseball statistics before.
  • You like your hitters reaching base in less than 30% of their plate appearances.
  • You are a vengeful GM and the fans have wronged you.
  • Feliz blackmailed you.

Yet, the Phillies, who have three third basemen (Wes Helms, Greg Dobbs, and Eric Bruntlett) are close to signing Feliz to a two-year, $8.5 million deal:

An agreement is believed to be pending a physical, which could happen sometime this week, though the Phillies would only confirm that the sides are in discussions. The deal is reportedly for $8.5 million over two years with a team option for 2010 that could approach $15 million, according to an Associated Press report.

Feliz has played seven full seasons of Major League Baseball, and in none of them has he ever been close to the league average on-base percentage (usually between .330 and .345). In fact, he’s only been above .300 once in 2004 (.305).

Offensively, Feliz is a black hole. He ranked 31st on the San Francisco Giants in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) at -2.7.

Defensively, Feliz does have value. The Fielding Bible awards named him the best-fielding third baseman in all of Major League Baseball, and he ranked first in the National League in Revised Zone Rating (RZR) and third in Out of Zone plays (OOZ).

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So, we’ve established that Feliz is unattractive offensively and attractive defensively. Depending on how much money the Phillies threw at him, this signing could be one of those where you just shrug your shoulders. Who knows, maybe Feliz will improve on his offense. After all, he did play in the very pitcher-friendly AT&T Park, and players, under the tutelage of manager/offensive guru Charlie Manuel and hitting coach Milt Thompson, usually end up being more prone to taking walks and set career highs in OBP. For instance:

  • Aaron Rowand: Career-high 32 walks before ’07’s total of 47 walk; career-high .361 OBP before ’07’s .374.
  • Rod Barajas: Career-high .306 OBP before ’07’s .352. He was, however, helped by hitting mostly eighth in the line-up, in front of the pitcher.
  • Jayson Werth: Career-high .338 OBP before ’07’s .404.
  • David Bell: Career-high .331 OBP before ’04’s .363.
  • Jason Michaels: .364 and .399 ’04-05 OBP’s with the Phillies; .326 and .324 ’06-07 OBP’s with the Indians.

Don’t forget that the Phillies have also had four of the best on-base players in the game in Chase Utley (.410 OBP in ’07), Ryan Howard (.392), Pat Burrell (.400), and Bobby Abreu (.408 career OBP).

Feliz will likely fill in as the #7 hitter, ahead of the catcher (Carlos Ruiz or Chris Coste) and the pitcher, so the impact of his lack of offense will be dulled a bit. Either way, it’s a questionable signing at best and rather unnecessary.