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.

The Ryan Howard Situation

The Phillies’ front office has stated that they are done making major deals until spring training starts, though that doesn’t exclude a signing of someone like Kyle Lohse or Kris Benson. The only thing left to complete then is signing Ryan Howard to some kind of a deal, as Howard is arbitration-eligible for the first time in his brief career.

The Phillies and their Ruthian first baseman exchanged figures recently and were $3 million away from each other: the Phils offered him $7 million; Howard wanted $10 million. Should this be settled by an arbitrator, there’s little doubt the Phillies would win, as $10 million for a first-time arbitration-eligible player is unprecedented (as a comparison, Miguel Cabrera got $7.4 million in his first year of arbitration eligibility).

Before last season, however, Howard and the Phillies were at odds. The author of the Phillies’ franchise single-season home run record wanted a long-term deal. Instead, the Phillies gave him a one-year deal worth $900,000. Howard was disappointed, though it tied the record, held along with Albert Pujols, for the highest base salary for a non-arbitration-eligible player. When the deal was completed, Howard said:

It’s a little frustrating and a little disappointing that we didn’t get it done, but that’s the business aspect. Now you use it as a starting point. It’s over. Now you go out and play.

Should the Phillies give him a long-term deal now? They have control of him until after the 2011 season and can go year-to-year with him in arbitration until then. Let’s look at some possibilities.

The Phillies sign Howard to a large long-term deal worth $90 million over the next six seasons.

The Phillies now have control of Howard until after his age 33 season in 2013, when he would undoubtedly be in decline. For those six years, the Phillies wouldn’t have to worry about drafting a first baseman and would have an almost-definite above-average offense, since they also have Chase Utley locked up until after the ’13 season.

Adrian Cardenas, one of the Phillies’ top prospects, then becomes valuable to the Phillies in two ways: they can try him out as a potential third baseman (or perhaps an outfielder), or they can continue grooming him as a second baseman and use him as trade bait, since he’s road-blocked by Utley at his natural position.

By the time Howard’s contract is nearing its end, his annual salary will likely look like a bargain, given inflation. This benefits the Phillies two-fold: the relative cheapness gives them probable cap space to add players and it increases Howard’s trade value.

As for ’08, the Phillies will have little cap room to make another signing (i.e. Lohse) or an in-season move unless it involved shedding salary (perhaps that of Pat Burrell?).

The Phillies sign Howard to a back-loaded four-year, $65 million deal.

With this contract, Howard averages over $16 million per season, so he’s definitely being fairly compensated when you compare it to what he’d make in arbitration. Backloading the contract allows the Phillies flexibility in the immediate future, so they can still sign a player like Kyle Lohse to round out the starting rotation while still ensuring themselves that the mainstay in their offense is happy about his tenure in Philadelphia and doesn’t demand to be traded.

When Howard is reaching the end of this four-year deal and is destined for free agency, the Phillies may want to consider trading Howard and moving Chase Utley over to first base. This is feasible only if Adrian Cardenas makes significant progress in the Minor Leagues, another impact second baseman is drafted and climbs the ranks quickly, or the Phillies sign another good second baseman.

Howard’s deal will run out two years before Utley’s, so that means that unlike the hypothetical six-year deal, the Phillies won’t be left with having to deal with the simultaneous contracts of their two best players. The Phillies can deal Howard without fearing that their offense will collapse and won’t have enough talent to contend.

The Phillies go year-to-year with Ryan Howard until after the 2011 season.

This is a dangerous way to go, as it will all but guarantee that Howard will not be wearing a Phillies uniform in 2012. However, the Phillies would end up getting a bargain and paying market value for a top-tier first baseman, allowing them the financial flexibility to round out the roster and give them the best chance to make a run at the World Series. The Phillies are, if nothing else, a team built for the immediate future.

Towards 2011, the Phillies could shop Howard around similar to how the Twins are shopping Johan Santana. Teams would likely overpay for a top-five offensive juggernaut (assuming Howard averages a 130 or so OPS+) both in terms of players given up and the amount of Howard’s remaining contract taken. Then the Phillies could move Utley to first or shop for another first baseman in the off-season.

So, what should the Phillies do? The Good Phight analyzed how players most similar to Howard performed in their same-age seasons and concluded:

On balance, I think this data suggests that Howard is a solid bet to deliver very good to excellent production over at least the next 4-5 seasons.

“Very good” and “excellent” are ambiguous, perhaps intentionally so. Either way, I’ll take “very good to excellent production” with a backloaded four-year, $65-ish million deal for Howard. After ’11, either deal him or if he’s still productive as his career wanes in his mid-30’s, maybe he’ll want to sign another lighter contract for the Phillies.

STFU, Carlos Delgado

New York Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado must be getting antsy during the off-season, because he’s opening his mouth seemingly just to hear himself talk.

Via Yahoo:

“It was very disappointing because we know that we had the best team. And I believe that we still have a great team,” the first baseman said Thursday on a conference call.

Granted, the difference between the Phillies and Mets in the standings was one game, and it took an historic collapse from the Mets to push the Phillies into the playoffs, but the Phillies did have the best team, and I’ll prove that in several different ways.

First, the rough team-vs.-team comparisons.

Offense

Phillies: 5.51 runs per game

Mets: 4.96 runs per game (-.55)

Pitching

Mets: 4.63 runs per game

Phillies: 5.07 runs per game (-.44)

The teams are close when you add it up, with the Phillies having a .11 overall advantage in runs per game. Even the Pythagorean records have the Phillies one game better than the Mets, though each team is two games worse.

Now, let’s look at it position-by-position.

Catcher

Phillies

Carlos Ruiz: 429 PA, .736 OPS

Rod Barajas: 147 PA, .745 OPS

Chris Coste: 137 PA, .730 OPS

Mets

Paul Lo Duca: 488 PA, .689 OPS

Ramon Castro: 157 PA, .887 OPS

Mike DiFelice: 47 PA, .661 OPS

Sandy Alomar, Jr.: 22 PA, .318 OPS

The edge here goes to the Phillies. The production from their catchers was pretty much steady, while the Mets gave 68% of their catcher plate appearances to someone who just produced a .689 OPS. Castro was very productive but only got 22% of the catcher plate appearances.

First Base

Before the statistics are even laid out, you know who is going to win this one. Phillies in a landslide.

Phillies

Ryan Howard: 648 PA, .976 OPS

Mets

Carlos Delgado: 607 AB, .781 OPS

Second Base

Another Phillies landslide.

Phillies

Chase Utley: 613 PA, .976 OPS

Tadahito Iguchi: 156 PA, .803 OPS

Mets

Luis Castillo: 231 PA, .742 OPS

Damion Easley: 218 PA, .824 OPS

Ruben Gotay: 211 PA, .772 OPS

Jose Valentin: 183 PA, .676 OPS

Third Base

Finally, a victory for the Mets. You also don’t need statistics to decipher this one, but we’ll do it anyway.

Phillies

Greg Dobbs: 358 PA, .780 OPS

Wes Helms: 308 PA, .665 OPS

Abraham Nunez: 287 PA, .600 OPS

Mets

David Wright: 711 PA, .963 OPS

Shortstop

Phillies

Jimmy Rollins: 778 PA, .875 OPS

Mets

Jose Reyes: 765 PA, .775 OPS

Advantage Phillies.

Left Field

Phillies

Pat Burrell: 598 PA, .902 OPS

Michael Bourn: 133 PA, .727 OPS

Mets

Moises Alou: 360 PA, .916 OPS

Endy Chavez: 165 PA, .705 OPS

Carlos Gomez: 139 PA, .592 OPS

Marlon Anderson: 77 PA, .906 OPS

Edge goes to the Phillies here, since 82% of their left field at-bats went towards a .902 OPS, while the Mets only had 48.5% of their at-bats go towards Alou’s .916 OPS and 10% towards Anderson’s .906 OPS. The Mets also had a bunch of other nobodies but they logged less than 100 defensive innings, so I didn’t include them, actually benefiting the Mets. Those “nobodies” include Ricky Ledee, David Newhan, Ben Johnson, and Jeff Conine.

Center Field

Phillies

Aaron Rowand: 684 PA, .889 OPS

Mets

Carlos Beltran: 636 PA, .878 OPS

Very slight advantage to the Phillies here, since they had more plate appearances at a higher OPS from their center fielder.

Right Field

Phillies

Shane Victorino: 510 PA, .770 OPS

Jayson Werth: 304 PA, .863 OPS

Mets

Shawn Green: 491 PA, .782 OPS

Lastings Milledge: 206 PA, .787 OPS

This is another close one, but the Phillies get the edge here since 37% of their right field plate appearances went to solid .863 OPS production, while the Mets gave 697 place appearances to approximately .784 production between Green and Milledge. Victorino produced slightly below this but only took up 63% of the Phillies’ right field at-bats.

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Draw the tallies up and the Mets only have one starting position player advantage offensively, and that’s David Wright at third base.

If we included defense, it would slightly hurt the Phillies in left and center field. The Mets then might have gotten the nod in center field.

Starting Pitching

Phillies

The Phillies had four pitchers — Fabio Castro, John Ennis, Zack Segovia, and J.A. Happ — make one start apiece, and Brett Myers made three starts at the beginning of the season before he was converted to a relief pitcher.

The pitchers I will be looking at on the Phillies have made at least 10 starts. Likewise when I analyze the Mets’ starting pitching.

I’ll be using ERA+, so there is no room for discrepancy in regards to park effects (Shea Stadium is pro-pitching; Citizens Bank Park is pro-hitting).

Jamie Moyer: 199.1 IP, 92 ERA+

Cole Hamels: 183.1 IP, 136 ERA+

Adam Eaton: 167.2 IP, 73 ERA+

Kyle Kendrick: 121.0 IP, 119 ERA+

Jon Lieber*: 78.0 IP, 98 ERA+

J.D. Durbin*: 64.2 IP, 90 ERA+

Kyle Lohse*: 61.0 IP, 98 ERA+

Freddy Garcia: 58.0 IP, 78 ERA+

Mets

Tom Glavine: 200.1 IP, 96 ERA+

John Maine: 191.0 IP, 109 ERA+

Oliver Perez: 177.0 IP, 120 ERA+

Orlando Hernandez*: 147.2 IP, 115 ERA+

Jorge Sosa*: 112.2 IP, 95 ERA+

Mike Pelfrey*: 72.2 IP, 76 ERA+

*Pitched both as a starter and as a reliever. Statistics not adjusted for this.

Definitely a Mets advantage here.

Bullpen

The criteria here is at least 30 innings pitched out of the bullpen.

Phillies

Geoff Geary: 67.1 IP, 105 ERA+

Brett Myers*: 53.1 IP, 2.87 ERA (ERA+ not available)

Ryan Madson: 56.0 IP, 151 ERA+

Clay Condrey: 50.0 IP, 92 ERA+

Antonio Alfonseca: 49.2 IP, 85 ERA+

Tom Gordon: 40.0 IP, 98 ERA+

Jose Mesa: 39.0 IP, 83 ERA+

J.C. Romero: 36.1 IP, 373 ERA+

Mets

Aaron Heilman: 86.0 IP, 140 ERA+

Billy Wagner: 68.1 IP, 162 ERA+

Pedro Feliciano: 64.0 IP, 138 ERA+

Guillermo Mota: 59.1 IP, 74 ERA+

Scott Schoenweis: 59.0 IP, 85 ERA+

Aaron Sele: 53.2 IP, 79 ERA+

Joe Smith: 44.1 IP, 123 ERA+

Even though Myers’ ERA+ as a reliever isn’t available, I think it’s safe to say that he was pretty close to Billy Wagner’s level as a closer. The Phillies’ equivalent to Pedro Feliciano is J.C. Romero, but he logged 28 less innings, which is significant. Same deal with the Phillies’ equivalent to Aaron Heilman being Ryan Madson — he pitched 30 less innings. Otherwise, the Mets’ bullpen was nearly equally as bad as the Phillies.

However, the 58 innings that Feliciano and Heilman logged with well-above-average production gives the Mets the slight advantage.

Bench

I’m only counting players who got at least 100 plate appearances.

Phillies

Greg Dobbs: 358 PA, .780 OPS

Wes Helms: 308 PA, .665 OPS

Jayson Werth: 304 PA, .863 OPS

Tadahito Iguchi: 156 PA, .803 OPS

Rod Barajas: 147 PA, .745 OPS

Chris Coste: 137 PA, .730 OPS

Mets

Damion Easley: 218 PA, .824 OPS

Ruben Gotay: 211 PA, .772 OPS

Lastings Milledge: 206 PA, .787 OPS

Jose Valentin: 183 PA, .676 OPS

Endy Chavez: 165 PA, .705 OPS

Ramon Castro: 157 PA, .887 OPS

Carlos Gomez: 139 PA, .592 OPS

Pretty close, but the slight edge goes to the Phillies.

If you tally it up, the Phillies win 7 out of the 8 positions for offensive starting position players, and with the bench. The Mets have the better starting and bullpen pitching.

And as we showed in the beginning, the Phillies offense and pitching compared to that of the Mets’ leaves them with a .11 runs per game advantage.

The statistics show that the Phillies were the slightly better team.

As for the current situation on who’s better, let’s take a look at who both teams have gained and lost. OPS+ and ERA+ refer to the player’s career average. A player’s name has been bolded if he was traded.

Philadelphia Phillies

Lost

Aaron Rowand (106 OPS+); Abraham Nunez (62 OPS+); Tadahito Iguchi (98 OPS+); Rod Barajas (75 OPS+); Michael Bourn (79 OPS+); Kyle Lohse (95 ERA+); Jon Lieber (103 ERA+); Freddy Garcia (111 ERA+); Antonio Alfonseca (104 ERA+); Geoff Geary (116 ERA+).

5 average or above-average players lost. Consider that Lieber and Garcia both had mediocre, injury-laden stints with the Phillies.

One can also make the case that the Phillies gained a pretty good starting pitcher by moving Brett Myers (118 and 120 ERA+ in 2005 and ’06 as a starter) back to the starting rotation from the bullpen.

Gained

Chad Durbin (82 ERA+); Brad Lidge (132 ERA+); Shane Youman (85 ERA+); Eric Bruntlett (78 OPS+); Geoff Jenkins (116 OPS+); Chris Snelling (97 OPS+); So Taguchi (89 OPS+).

2 average or above-average players gained.

New York Mets

Lost

Paul Lo Duca (99 OPS+); Shawn Green (120 OPS+); Lastings Milledge (92 OPS+); Jose Valentin (96 OPS+); Tom Glavine (119 ERA+); Guillermo Mota (107 ERA+); Aaron Sele (100 ERA+).

4 average or above-average players lost. Consider that Mota and Green did not live up to their abilities with the Mets.

Gained

Matt Wise (108 ERA+); Brian Schneider (82 OPS+); Ryan Church (113 OPS+); Angel Pagan (81 OPS+).

2 average or above-average players gained.

The Phillies have improved their team well by flushing out a lot of sub-par players like Abraham Nunez, Michael Bourn, and Rod Barajas. The Mets lost a lot of players either close to, at, or above league-average, and replaced them with two above-average players and two-below average players.

So, Delgado is wrong in saying that the Mets were the best team last season, even though they were close. And the Mets definitely aren’t as good as the Phillies going into 2008.

Gerry Fraley, You Can Not Be Serious

As promised, I am going to delve into the new look of the Phillies’ outfield, and I also want to criticize Gerry Fraley for a ridiculous article he wrote for The Sporting News. Being the lazy person that I am, I’d like to kill two birds with one stone. I’m going to break it down Fire Joe Morgan-style (his words in bold; mine will follow in regular typeface).

In two seasons without center fielder Aaron Rowand, the Chicago White Sox are a .500 team and heading south.

You know this is going to be a pro-Rowand article based on the title, so let me just get this out of the way right off the bat: the White Sox are not bad because Aaron Rowand left. In 2007, they had the league’s worst offense, and the third-worst pitching. Rowand can’t pitch and I’m pretty sure he’s not potent enough to bring his team from a 4.28 runs per game average to around 5 per game, which would put them slightly behind sixth place. Barry Bonds might have been able to do that, but certainly not Aaron Rowand.

The White Sox were bad in ’07 because Paul Konerko had a .091 point decline in OPS from the previous season, Jermaine Dye had a .204 decline in OPS, and Jim Thome was the only potent offensive force in the lineup. Jon Garland has been decidedly mediocre, and the back of their starting rotation was about as unproductive as it could have been. And aside from Bobby Jenks, their bullpen was nearly as bad as the Phillies’.

After saying he wanted to stay with the Phillies, Rowand swerved and signed a five-year, $60-million deal with San Francisco. His change of heart puts the Phillies in a bind.

“Bind” is hyperbole. The Phillies would have preferred to keep Rowand in his age 30-32 years, but he wanted five years at $12 million, which is what he got from the Giants. He simply wasn’t worth it.

Jayson Werth isn’t a terrible Plan B, and Rowand’s departure simply made the Phillies look for a Plan B2 and B3, which was searching for either another regular center fielder (Cameron), or moving Victorino to center and finding a platoon partner for Werth (Geoff Jenkins).

Look at it this way, using simple OPS:

Aaron Rowand: .779 OPS vs. RHP (68% of career PA); .862 vs. LHP (32%); .805 vs. both.

Shane Victorino: .741 OPS vs. both.

Mike Cameron: .767 OPS vs. RHP (75% of career PA); .843 OPS vs. LHP (25%); .786 vs. both.

Geoff Jenkins: .883 OPS vs. RHP (76% of career PA)

Jayson Werth: .864 OPS vs. LHP (29% of career PA)

Here are the expected OPS, based on career averages, out of the possible CF and RF combinations:

Rowand/Victorino: .773 OPS

Cameron/Victorino: .764

Victorino/(Werth+Jenkins): .787*

* Because Jenkins will face RHP, and batters see RHP about 3 times more than LHP, I weighted Jenkins and Werth’s OPS to reflect this. I assumed that the two will combine for 625 at-bats (which is generous considering how potent the Phillies’ lineup is and how adept they are at getting on base).

Jenkins: Averages 1 base every 2.0 at-bats. With 75% of 625 at-bats, that’s 469 at-bats, giving him about 235 total bases, and a slugging percentage of .501.

Werth: Averages 1 base every 2.3 at-bats. With 25% of 625 at-bats, that’s 156 at-bats, giving him about 68 total bases, and a slugging percentage of .436.

(.501 * .75) + (.436 * .25) = (.376 + .109) = .485 SLG

Then we’ll just weigh their career OBP’s.

(.347 * .75) + (.352 * .25) = (.260 + 088) = .348 OBP

Add ’em together (.485 + .348 ) and you have an expected .833 OPS out of right field. *

Phew.

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They previously traded center-fielder-in-waiting Michael Bourn to Houston in the Brad Lidge deal. Plan C for the Phillies calls for moving Shane Victorino, whose durability is in question, to center and going with a platoon of Jayson Werth and Geoff Jenkins in right.

While the Phillies had some expectations of Bourn when he was considered a top prospect in their farm system (not hard to be, actually), he only showed Juan Pierre-esque ability: great speed, ability to bunt, and above-average range in the outfield. They already have a guy like that (but better) in Shane Victorino. Bourn simply didn’t fit and was thusly expendable.

And Fraley has the plans all messed up! Bourn is Plan B? Any team who has a Plan B as replacing a center fielder with decent defense and some power potential with a slap-hitter is clearly a team general-managed by Ned Colletti.

Shame on this guy also for not tiering the Plan B’s.

The Phillies will also learn what the White Sox now know. Rowand is harder to replace in the clubhouse than on the field.

Whenever sports journalists wax romantic on intangibles, the cholesterol lining my arteries gets a little bit harder. But I should know — intangibles have been tangiblized (hat tip to FJM).

Rowand is an NFL free safety masquerading as a center fielder. He plays relentlessly, a style the Phillies privately feared may shorten his career, and that rubs off on teammates. He is a leader in the true sense of the word.

First, I don’t see how being akin to an NFL free safety makes you a valuable baseball player. Then Gerry contradicts himself by saying the Phillies didn’t like his balls-out style of play because it increases his risk of injury and a “shortened career.”

Gerry, however, rebounds by saying that this career-shortening style of play is rubbing off on teammates! Hopefully not in the way it rubbed off on Chase Utley.

That is why the White Sox and the Phillies both wanted to sign Rowand. They have seen first-hand how valuable he is to the dynamic of a winning team.

Phillies players as or more important to the NL East pennant than Rowand: Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, J.C. Romero (arguably).

I get it: take Rowand away and the Phillies don’t win the East. But that can also be said of Russell Branyan, who was with the Phillies for all of 9 at-bats, one of which won them a game in Washington. And the Phillies won the East by one game.

Seasons of catering to Barry Bonds turned their clubhouse into a nest of apathy. Near the end of the season, manager Bruce Bochy said the last-place club lacked “a warrior spirit.”

The king of the team lacking “a warrior spirit” put up an OPS+ 170 with a knee that gets regular fluid injections at age forty-two. Forty-two. Save his injury-plagued 2005 season, Bonds has led the National League in on-base percentage every season since 2001.

The Giants were bad last year because, aside from Bonds and Randy Winn (barely), no one in the lineup was hitting at or above the league average, which makes it easy to believe that they had the league’s second-worst offense. They had a good, but not great starting rotation, and a decent bullpen. Blaming Bonds for the Giants’ failures last season (or in any season) is beyond reprehensible and downright ignorant.

San Francisco may remain stuck in last in the demanding National League West, but the Giants will not go quietly.

Earlier in the article, Fraley contends that teams that have Aaron Rowand win, and teams that lose him end up losing. Now Fraley says that the Giants get Rowand… but they “may remain stuck in last”?

In explaining the signing, general manager Brian Sabean said Rowand was “far and away a plus” in the areas of concern for the Giants.

“His no-nonsense approach is known throughout the game,” Sabean said. “Including inside the clubhouse.”

So, the areas of concern for the Giants aren’t offense, starting pitching, and the bullpen? It’s a no-nonsense approach? No wonder they haven’t reached 77 wins in three seasons.

At least Rowand can barbecue.

Dumpster Diving

No, I’m not talking about Rosie O’Donnell’s favorite pastime. I am talking about what Phillies GM Pat Gillick should be doing now that there are non-tendered players out there, waiting to be plucked up by another team.

I mean, look at this list! I think these guys might be better than the actual free agent market!

I’d like to highlight a few of the players on that list the Phillies should be interested in picking up.

Dallas McPherson

Formerly a top prospect, third baseman Dallas McPherson battled injuries in 2007 and never caught fire in the Major Leagues in his 360 at-bats between 2004 and 2006.

The Phillies, having just traded “third baseman of the future” Mike Costanzo to the Astros (who just traded him to the Orioles in the Miguel Tejada package), are in need of a third baseman now, next year, the year after that, the year after that…

A Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs platoon at third base likely isn’t going to cut it unless Helms can revert to his second-half of ’06 ways. Let McPherson rehab in the Minor Leagues, hope he gets healthy, and call him up. It’s a win-win situation — a cheap roll of the dice that can result in big winnings. After all, McPherson hit 40 HR, drove in 126 runs, and put up a 1.054 OPS between AA and AAA in 2004.

2007 salary: $382,500

Josh Towers

The Phillies were interested in pitcher Josh Towers at one point. What’s easy to dislike about the guy — his career ERA of almost 5.00 — is offset by what you really like about him, which is his ability to throw ground balls, a must in a hitter-friendly stadium such as Citizens Bank Park. In 2007, 43.9% of Towers’ batted balls were of the ground ball variety, just one whole percent over his career average, so it’s not an aberration.

His BABIP has been a bit higher than the league average throughout his career (.314), and his WHIP isn’t awful (1.38). With exceptional defense in the middle infield with Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, Towers would thrive in Philadelphia.

Go get him, Pat.

2007 salary: $2.9 million

Emil Brown

After getting regular at-bats in Kansas City starting in 2005, outfielder Emil Brown showed that he can put up above-average production. In ’05, he put up an OPS of .804, .051 points above the league average. In ’06, he improved to an .815 OPS, but that was .034 points above the league average.

Brown would be a sturdy addition to the Phillies’ bench, which, as it stands currently, is weak. Said bench includes Chris Coste, Eric Bruntlett, Greg Dobbs, Chris Snelling, and T.J. Bohn.

2007 salary: $3.45 million

Chad Durbin

Durbin, a pitcher released by the Detroit Tigers, is another ground ball-prone pitcher. He would be an excellent low-cost, high-reward chance to take. 44% of Durbin’s batted balls were ground balls, slightly higher than his career average (40.3%), but good nonetheless.

Besides, wouldn’t you rather have Chad Durbin than J.D. Durbin?

If he can’t make the rotation, he could serve a purpose in the bullpen.

2007 salary: $385,000

Mark Prior

Maybe it was the Cubs system of developing pitchers that has tarnished his arm health, and maybe another organization can halt his D.L. stints. It’s the epitome of the low-risk, high-reward move.

Sign Prior to a multi-million, but incentive-laden contract. If he gets hurt again, meh, the Phillies wasted a few million with a potential right-handed Cole Hamels. I’d certainly prefer an injury-prone ace push an injury-prone Adam Eaton out of the starting rotation, than actually have to watch Adam Eaton attempt to make 33 starts in 2008.

Prior also throws a decent amount of ground balls (40.3% over his career), strikes out a lot of hitters, and doesn’t walk too many.

If there’s one player on this list that I would suggest Pat Gillick to sign, it’s Prior, without question.

2007 salary: $3.575 million

Morgan Ensberg

When I said that Mark Prior should be #1 on this list for Pat Gillick, Ensberg is #2. As mentioned, the Phillies have no legitimate third baseman now or in the future, and Ensberg could fill that void at least for a couple years.

For starters, he plays excellent defense. In 2006, he was second behind Scott Rolen in RZR, and 7th in plays made out of his zone. In 2005, he led all NL third basemen in RZR, and was a short second (80-to-79) to then-Phillie David Bell in plays made out of his zone.

Then you get to his offense, which nowadays is merely referred to as potential. In 2005, he put up a 144 OPS+ with 36 HR and 101 RBI and he was envisioned as one of the top third basemen in baseball for years to come. His power has waned as he’s battled injuries, but when he’s healthy, he gets on base at a great rate (nearly 37% of the time he’s at the plate).

If Phillies fans were ever allowed to have their cake and eat it, too, we’d see both Prior and Ensberg in Phillies pinstripes in 2008.

2007 salary: $4.35 million

While these kind of players come with risks, such as injury histories and downward trends in production, they are risks worth taking when your other option is marching forward with the status quo. The Phillies are oh-so-close to being a powerhouse in Major League Baseball. They already boast the National League’s best offense. Small tweaks to the pitching, and keeping the 6-7-8 part of the lineup afloat offensively will ensure the Phillies are playing October baseball once again.

Crashburn Crapshoot

The Tigers/Marlins Trade

There’s no doubt that the acquisition of Miguel Cabrera alone makes the Tigers instant World Series contenders. Then you factor in that they also got Dontrelle Willis, whose 2007 season might have just been a fluke (though it’s not hard to fathom that, given his irregular mechanics, he’s lost his touch).

In return for a top-three third baseman and a #2-esque left-handed starting pitcher, the Tigers had to give up six — count ’em, six — prospects including Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller.

Frankly, I’m surprised that the Tigers got them that cheaply. Think about it — the Tigers get four collective arbitration-eligible years with Cabrera and Willis, and if they walk to free agency afterwards, they get four high draft picks as compensation, basically recouping what they gave up to get them in the first place.

As for the Marlins, well, what reasons do they have left to convince Floridians to show up to their games? For the team’s sake, I hope this trade precedes a move out of Miami to somewhere where they get more than a handful of fans per game and can afford to keep their star players for more than a few years.

They are getting some good prospects in return, though, and could be contenders as soon as 2009. Of course, they could also pull a 2006 and contend in ’08 (am I being confusing here?).

The Inge Effect

Now that Miguel Cabrera is taking over third base for the Tigers, that likely makes Brandon Inge available. He’s owed about $17 million over the next three years, which is affordable when you think about the contracts that have been offered both this off-season and last. With Pat Gillick urging Tadahito Iguchi (a second baseman) to re-sign with the Phillies as their regular third baseman, he should take a look at trying to acquire Inge instead.

Inge is exceptional with the glove and isn’t too shabby with the bat. Rather than have Iguchi play a position he’s unfamiliar with and might not be able to play, just trade a mid-level prospect to the Tigers and third base is a problem solved. The only advantage Iguchi has over Inge is his ability to get on base.

Body Image

With the controversy over some pictures of Jennifer Love Hewitt resulting in her concern about other girls’ body images, I thought it’d be funny to apply it to the one player in baseball that gets a lot of heat about his weight: Miguel Cabrera.

As you may recall, ESPN ran a column in mid-July about Miguel Cabrera’s weight. The author, Jorge Aranguire Jr., said:

Florida fans from Hialeah to Homestead are wondering if he’s eating his way out of an all-time great career.

I’m going to make a much-belated response to that on the behalf of Cabrera.

This is the last time I will address this subject.

I’ve sat by in silence for a long time now about the way baseball players’ bodies are constantly scrutinized. To set the record straight, I’m not upset for me, but for all of the baseball players out there that are struggling with their body image.

250 pounds is not fat! Nor will it ever be. And being 222 pounds doesn’t make you beautiful.

What I should be doing is celebrating some of the best days of my career and my fresh start in Detroit, instead of having to deal with sports journalists writing invasive articles from bad angles. I know what I look like, and so do my teammates and coaches. And like all baseball players out there should, I love my body.

To all baseball players with butts, beer guts, flab and a waist, put on a uniform — put it on and stay strong.

Try Again, Mutts

The rumors have the New York Mets offering Phil Humber, Aaron Heilman, and Carlos Gomez to the Baltimore Orioles. MLB.com‘s Jim Molony said that offer was “politely declined.”

That may be putting it nicely.

Given that Bedard is in demand, if I’m the Orioles, I’m asking the Mets for Gomez (who compares to Willy Taveras), Pedro Feliciano (same ceiling as Heilman but he’s left-handed), Humber, and Mike Pelfrey (who looks like a #4 pitcher at best). Still, that might not even be worth it.

Regardless, adding Bedard doesn’t really push the Mets too far in the proverbial power rankings. They’ll need not only Bedard, but another pitcher as well, to have a rotation that compares favorably to that of the Phillies.

Those Crazy Zebras

The Baltimore Ravens have only themselves to blame for their last-minute loss to the still-unbeaten New England Patriots. That was a hold on fourth down by Jamaine Winborne. And that was unsportsmanlike conduct by Bart Scott.

But yes, it is questionable whether Jabar Gaffney had control of the ball or not. Even if he didn’t, it still benefited the Ravens to get the ball back with around 45 seconds left. If it’s second and goal, assume another 8 seconds or so gets ticked off. Third and goal, another 8 seconds. Fourth and goal, another 8 seconds.

Now, it’s beneficial to the Ravens assuming the Patriots do get that touchdown. Granted, the Ravens played decent defense on the Patriots all night, but the only reason the Patriots were even behind with one minute to go in the fourth quarter is because of so many dropped passes by Patriots receivers. Given the Pats’ offensive proficiency, they’d get that touchdown more often than not.

So, it was better for the Ravens to get it back with 45 seconds or so instead of, perhaps, 20. It didn’t work out for them anyway, but the ability to throw over the middle and subsequently call a time-out or spike the ball was there, adding to the chance to score.

The referees did not cost the Ravens the game. And no, Tim Dahlberg and other conspiracy theorists, the NFL is not fixing games in the Patriots’ favor.

The Anthem (Warning: Soapbox)

There was some unrest as a result of Pittsburgh’s failure to play the national anthem before their rain- and mud-soaked fultili-fest with the Miami Dolphins on November 26.

Can we please stop being so concerned with symbolism and ritual? The national anthem has been played so much it has lost any meaning it may have had, especially post-9/11. It’s simple economics, the more of something you have, the less valuable it becomes.

I’m willing to compromise. Just play the anthem before the Super Bowl, and cut it out of every other game. In baseball, play it on Opening Day and before the first game of the World Series. Other sports can follow suit. And for all sports, play the anthem on holidays like Memorial Day.

As for the article I linked to concerning this subject, notice the bad logic used:

Bad enough football has taken away all our free time in the fall and early winter. Now, it’s going to take away our patriotism?

Now it’s unpatriotic to not play the national anthem? Sorry, you’re not patriotic because you have an affection for a song, adhere “Rah-rah, America!” bumper stickers to the back of your car, and fly a flag in front of your house. True patriots don’t need quasi-religious jingoism to reassure them of their allegiance to this country. True patriots don’t follow the pack; true patriots question and hold accountable those in charge instead of accepting the status quo in a false hope that this makes them “real Americans.”

And personally, I refuse to honor The Star-Spangled Banner while this current administration is in power (and probably the next, given the dearth of good candidates running for the ’08 presidency). Am I unpatriotic for that — for not supporting the un-American, unconstitutional, and inhumane policies of the Bush administration?

Pardon.

Conlin’s Losing Numbers [UPDATED TWICE: See end]

As you might recall from late August, I picked on Marcus Hayes of the Philadelphia Daily News for his close-minded and immature diatribe against proponents of Sabermetrics in baseball.

I’ve found another target. Bill Conlin, also of the Philadelphia Daily News, recently wrote an article called Rollins’ Winning Numbers. Fire Joe Morgan has done a great job of dissecting his article.

I sent Conlin an E-mail, but before I reveal those, I’d just like to point out the snippet of his article which deserves much ire.

Despite his defensive contribution being backhanded by Red Sox front office stat man Bill James – baseball’s most influential cybergeek – the league’s managers and coaches awarded him a Gold Glove.

Apparently, James decided that a Range Factor based on successful chances (putouts plus assists) times nine innings, divided by number of defensive innings played is more important than the result – for example, a friggin’ out. Despite his No. 3 fielding percentage of .985 (behind Troy Tulowitzki’s .987 and Omar Vizquel’s .986) Rollins rated No. 15 in the James Range Factor. Fortunately, the baseball men who vote for the Gold Gloves depend on what they see, not laptop science. Jose Reyes, a nimble windshield wiper, ranked No. 25 in RF.

Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version of that article:

  1. Conlin attempts to insult Sabermetricians, who devalue Rollins’ defense compared to baseball statistical traditionalists, because he was given a Gold Glove anyway. Remember how meaningful the Gold Glove is when you are reminded that Rafael Palmeiro was given a Gold Glove at first base in a season in which he logged just 28 games at that position.
  2. Conlin shows his ignorance of basic math by making Range Factor out to be more complicated than it really is. Range Factor is (Putouts plus Assists) divided by Innings Pitched. Fielding Percentage is (Putouts plus Assists) divided by (Putouts + Assists + Errors). Which one is more “complicated”? In addition, he wrote, “James decided that a Range Factor […] is more important than the result – for example, a friggin’ out.” If only the result of putouts and assists wasn’t “a friggin’ out.”

As many other “cyber-geeks” did, I decided to send Conlin an E-mail.

Hi Mr. Conlin,

Hope all is well. My name is Bill as well, and I run a blog called Crashburn Alley. Needless to say, I’ve read many of the blogs bashing your article, such as Fire Joe Morgan and the discussion at Baseball Think Factory.

So, I’m not going to bash you since it’s already been done. And hey, I already picked on your colleague Marcus Hayes.

I do want to ask you, though, what makes Rollins better than New York Mets third baseman David Wright as a National League MVP candidate?

Wright hits for more power (.546 SLG to Rollins’ .531), gets on base at a higher rate (.416 OBP to Rollins’ .344), fields his position about equally as well as Rollins fields his (shortstop is defensively more demanding, however, but not enough to make a huge difference), and has comparable speed to Rollins (34 SB, seven less than Rollins’ 41).

The Sabermetrics really make the case for Wright, but I know you’re not a fan of those and won’t waste your time with them.

What does Rollins do better, besides being a hairline better than Wright defensively and on the basepaths (whereas Wright is more than a hairline better than Rollins at getting on base and slugging, the two things a hitter is paid to do)?

My personal top-five NL MVP rankings would go Wright, Albert Pujols, Chipper Jones, Rollins, and Matt Holliday.

It’s a bitter pill for me to swallow — to make the case against Rollins — being a die-hard Phillies fan, but I try to be objective. I don’t even think Ryan Howard deserved the NL MVP award last season over Albert Pujols.

Thanks for your time,

Bill B. (Crashburn Alley)

Conlin deftly dodges my questions and stated facts with a simple response.

Know what, pal? Bash this. . .Tell your bloggers, my career against theirs. . .

If I felt like being smarmy, I could have pointed out to him that this is just an appeal to authority. A statement is not any more right because someone more important is saying it. For instance, is 2+2=4 any more correct if Albert Einstein says it than if George W. Bush says it? You don’t have to go to accounting college to know that.

Anyway, I let him know I was disappointed in his failure to address any of my points.

Well, Mr. Conlin, I have to say that I’m disappointed. I know your colleague Marcus Hayes responded with little tact, but I guess it’s a trait of those who work at the Daily News.

I will take it by your evasion of my questions and the facts I’ve stated that you are unable to make any legitimate case for Rollins over Wright for MVP. But, hey, whatever helps you sell papers.

You have given me an easy decision, with your tactless, factless response, not to ever buy a newspaper from the Philadelphia Daily News or to watch their program on Comcast SportsNet, at least until you and Mr. Hayes resign, or in a more likely scenario, are fired.

Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving.

— Bill B. (Crashburn Alley)

Note in my initial E-mail to Conlin that I identified myself as a Phillies fan, and in both E-mails, I linked him to my blog. So, there should be no confusion that I am a fan of any other team but the Phillies, right?

Wrong. He responded thusly.

Don’t you need to contact the 30 electors–including the two Mets beat writers–who failed to give write a single first place vote instead of a commentator who does not vote for the awards. You’re a Mets fan and you had your little bubble of arrogance and smugness burst. Your team choked big time, an epic gagaroo. At least the 1964 Phillies had an excuse–they were probably no more than the Cardinals, Reds, Braves, Dodgers and Giants that year. One question: When a Mets team chokes in a forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a gagging sound? Next time bring more to the table than wishful fan numbers that bear no semblance to reality. I wonder how it feels to be the Phillies bitch

That would hurt so much… if I was a Mets fan. I’m a Phillies fan making an objective case for David Wright.

So, this is twice now that a journalist from the Philadelphia Daily News has been both tactless and unable to present a legitimate factual case for anything they’ve posited. I truly hope that Conlin isn’t a microcosm of American sports media — ignorant and close-minded.

As for Wright over Rollins, the facts make it plain to see.

Rollins

.875 OPS (.344 OBP; .531 SLG)

41-for-47 in stolen bases

9th out of 14 qualified NL SS in Revised Zone Rating; third in Out of Zone plays.

Wright

.962 OPS (.416 OBP; .546 SLG)

34-for-39 in stolen bases

5th out of 12 qualified NL 3B in Revised Zone Rating; first in Out of Zone plays.

And that’s only using the most basic of Sabermetrics, and only for defense.

Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP), which accounts for both offense and defense in one handy statistic, puts Wright at 12.7 WARP. Rollins is at 11.5. For fun, Matt Holliday is at 11.9, but he’s purely a product of Coors field.

So, not only was Conlin disrespectful and close-minded, he was flat out wrong.

CORRECTION: Thanks to reader Double D for correcting me. I had said that Conlin voted for the awards this off-season, but Double D asserted that only active beat writers get to vote.

UPDATE: Conlin just responded with what may be the quote of the decade

I said:

Mr. Conlin,

I linked you to my blog, and I called myself a die-hard Phillies fan in my initial message to you. Remember? I said:

It’s a bitter pill for me to swallow — to make the case against Rollins — being a die-hard Phillies fan, but I try to be objective.

So, I enjoyed the Mets’ collapse as much as you did. 🙂

Though I don’t appreciate your tact, I do appreciate that you respond to those who contact you. A lot of journalists don’t even do that.

Toodle-oo,

Bill B. (Crashburn Alley)

Conlin said:

The only positive thing I can think of about Hitler’s time on earth–I’m sure he would have eliminated all bloggers. In Colonial times, bloggers were called “Pamphleteers.” They hung on street corners handing them out to passersby. Now, they hang out on electronic street corners, hoping somebody mouses on to their pretentious sites. Different medium, same MO. Shakespeare accidentally summed up the genre best with these words from a MacBeth soliloquy: “. . .a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. . .”

UPDATE #2: Conlin clarifies his Hitler statement. Before that, though, he said:

Just make sure you bring a higher level of literacy to go with your decimal points. Most of you guys are unreadable. That’s one of my gripes. And while many of you–not all–can get away with a level of insult and ridicule that would be actionable in a publication governed by standards and libel and slander laws, professionals must abide by those standards and laws. My columns are read by a minimum of three editors for fact, style, fairness and balance. Despite that scrutiny,errors still filter by the goalies. In my Rollins column that has upset so many of you, the only thing I would remotely take back was having Holliday performing his Game 163 heroics against the Diamondbacks when, of course, it was the Padres. D’Backs were on my mind as the soon-to-be-vanquished division champions when I wrote the line. Any editor worth his salt should have caught the error. However, most of them are so intent at catching the bad stuff they let the obvious error slip by. Who checks your facts and deletes a line that is over the edge of good taste or might demean or defame an athlete or subject? Did you take a course in the libel and slander laws? Or do you merely throw it against the wall and see what sticks? That’s what most of you do. I can’t pin that on you specifically because I have never read your blog.

I said:

Mr. Conlin,

Unfortunately, your words about Hitler have sparked quite a firestorm. I don’t think you actually meant what you said there…

As for your last response to my E-mail, you bring up a host of great points. Bloggers don’t have anyone to answer to besides advertisers (if any). However, the lack of censorship can bring about a lot of good things. Subjects that you’d never be allowed to touch (for instance, would you be allowed to have a pro-steroids article published?) can easily be covered by bloggers.

The hard work you and others have put in as journalists is something I truly admire and is something I am currently striving for myself. So, yes, I am familiar with libel and slander and all that journalistic stuff.

If you responded to your readers the way you just responded to me, you’d probably enjoy bloggers a lot more than you currently do.

Please let me know if you’d like me to post a clarification of sorts on my blog for you, as a lot of people took your words the same way I did — not very kindly. I never set out to sully your name, and feel bad that you’ve drawn much ire. And hey, it might be a golden opportunity to turn over a new leaf with bloggers.

Thanks for the discourse,

Bill B. (Crashburn Alley)

Conlin responded:

I think I’ll let the words I wrote after the death of my dear friend and colleague, the former local Associated Press Bureau Chief Ralph Bernstein and the nearly half century relationship my wife and I have had with Ralph and his family through good times and bad represent me against any contrived and baseless attempt to slime me as an anti-Semite. I was a speaker at Ralph’s Memorial service. Quite obviously, the Hitler line was used in a satiric response to what has turned into a concerted assault on my Jimmy Rollins column and on my career. It was quite obviously used in a personal e-mail. I did not publish the insulting things said about me. As editor of the Temple University News in 1960-61, I received death threats from the White Citizens Council after writing an editorial denouncing Gerald L. K. Smith and his anti-black and anti-Semitic hate-mongering newspaper “The Cross and the Flag.” I was one of the most outspoken critics of Marge Schott’s blatant anti-Semitism to the point some of my columns had to be toned down. Ditto my stand on Al Campanis, a friend, by the way, and Jimmy The Greek Snyder. I also had a long and close relationship with the late, great Dick Schaap, who wrote about my impact on The Sports Reporters at length in his autobiography, “Flashing Before My Eyes.” I am heartened that both a clear conscience and the First Amendment will be at my side.

Gillick Isn’t Slumbering This Time

After about a one-week hiatus following a move to a new apartment, I am back in front of my computer monitor, much to the dismay of the rest of the Internets (to those of you sending me mail bombs, please note the change in address).

The Phillies have been the noisiest team thus far in the offseason, unless you count all of the meaningless banter in the media about Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees, and everyone else in between. If you’re a Phillies fan, you have to be happy with the way Gillick has attacked the pressing needs facing the 2008 team.

Despite the in-season rumors of the Phillies attempting to acquire Brad Lidge in a trade with the Houston Astros, it was still surprising to read about the move in the newspaper (yes, I was reduced to that archaic form of media sans Internet, sans cable, sans telephone).

The Phillies sent outfielder Michael Bourn, reliever Geoff Geary, and Minor League third baseman Mike Costanzo to the ‘stros for Lidge and utility infielder Eric Bruntlett.

It’s a good trade for both sides, even though Lidge, a free agent after the ’08 season, may only be a one-year rental for the Phillies, who are, in reality, poised for an “’08 or bust” campaign.

Let’s first parse through who the Phillies gave up.

Geoff Geary

Geary is an enigma if there ever was one. He’s been an above-average reliever for each of the past three seasons, with last year’s 105 ERA+ being a severe drop-off from his 158 ERA+ in ’06. He gives up a fair share of base runners (1.399 career WHIP) and his career BABIP is .311, which is only slightly higher than the league average, showing that his propensity for allowing base runners isn’t fluky. In addition, his K/9 of 5.82 shows that he doesn’t have particularly overpowering stuff and he’ll only get more and more hittable as hitters become more familiar with him and as his stuff wanes.

Geary’s departure doesn’t increase the importance of anyone in particular in the Phillies bullpen, just anyone who would potentially be used in middle-relief (for instance, Ryan Madson).

Michael Bourn

Bourn has always been a prized prospect of the Phillies, but it was only because the Phillies’ farm system is so barren. Bourn has the ceiling similar to that of Juan Pierre or Wily Taveras — a singles hitter that can steal some bases and put his above-average speed to use in the outfield.

While with the Phillies for the entire season in the pinch-runner/defensive replacement role, Bourn did show that he is capable of handling an everyday workload if needed. He got on base at about the league-average (Bourn’s .348 to the league’s .349) and was 18-for-19 in the stolen base department.

Fortunately for the Phillies, they already have a guy akin to Bourn, only with a much stronger arm and a bit more power, in Shane Victorino.

Bourn’s loss makes the back-ups in the outfield — Jayson Werth and Greg Dobbs — a bit more valuable.

Mike Costanzo

According to Phuture Phillies, Baseball America ranked Costanzo among the top-20 prospects in the Eastern League.

Last season in AA Reading, Costanzo made huge bounds from the previous season, in which he put up an OBP of .364 and a SLG of .411, to put up an OBP of .368 and a SLG of .490. He hit 27 HR and drove in 86 runs to go along with that.

While his offense looks appealing, his defense does not. He committed 25 errors in ’06 and 34 last season in only 133 and 135 games, respectively. That is an aggregate average of about one error every 4.5 games.

In 2008, the Phillies will use a platoon of Wes Helms, Greg Dobbs, and Eric Bruntlett at third base, so Costanzo’s move doesn’t increase anyone’s immediate value, though the Phillies will have to find a reliable third baseman after the season.

Now let’s take a look at who the Phillies acquired.

Brad Lidge

Phillies fans pessimistic about the trade will cite Lidge’s ’06 effort as an indication that he isn’t everything he’s cracked up to be, but if his ’07 season means anything, then it was just an aberration. His K/9 rate has always hovered above 10 (with a career average of 12.6) and he keeps runners off the bases (1.197 career WHIP).

The interesting part about the Lidge acquisition, though, isn’t Lidge himself — it’s how the move will affect Brett Myers, who is now a part of the Phillies’ starting rotation, just shortly removed from a season in which he was the Phillies’ lights-out second-half closer (2.87 ERA and 21 saves in 53.1 IP). Myers made it clear throughout the season that he liked being a part of the bullpen as someone the team could count on game after game, instead of just once every five days. If Myers doesn’t perform well back in the rotation, proponents of the team chemistry concept will point to Lidge as a reason.

Should Myers be amicable and return to his above-average ways as a starter, this move has gold stars written all over it.

Eric Bruntlett

To Phillies fans, he’s “that other guy” acquired along with Lidge. Yeah, he’s essentially listless offensively (career .323 OBP and .364 SLG) but he has above-average speed (20-for-26 in stolen bases in his career) as well as above-average defense (.847 RZR in 348 defensive innings last season as a shortstop, which would rank slightly behind fifth place if he had enough innings to qualify).

Expect Bruntlett to be used in as a pinch-runner or as a spot-starter at third base in the odd event that Greg Dobbs starts in the outfield and Wes Helms is sitting on the bench.

In the immediate future, the Phillies are clear winners, but don’t be fooled: Geary and Bourn can be cogs in a now youthful Astros roster, with Craig Biggio retired. The Astros could use an outfield of Carlos Lee (31) in left, Bourn (25) in center, and Hunter Pence (24) in right.

Shortly after the Lidge deal, the Phillies re-signed left-handed reliever J.C. Romero to a three-year, $12 million deal.

J.C. Romero

Plucked off the waiver wire by Gillick in June from the world champion Boston Red Sox, Romero quickly become one of only three reliable arms in the bullpen, along with Myers and Tom Gordon, both of whom were injured during the season.

Romero walked his share of hitters (25 in 36.1 IP), but otherwise kept hitters at bay (1.101 WHIP). He averaged just a shade under a 1/1 K/IP ratio, but the most important aspect — his left-handedness aside — is his ability to throw the ground ball, an absolute must in a hitter-friendly stadium such as Citizens Bank Park. In ’07, 60% of his outs were of the ground ball variety, only slightly above his 54.3% career average.

With those deals fleshed out, let’s look at what the Phillies’ 25-man roster should look like, as it stands, come Opening Day.

C – Carlos Ruiz
1B – Ryan Howard
2B – Chase Utley
3B – Wes Helms
SS – Jimmy Rollins
LF – Pat Burrell
CF – ? / Shane Victorino
RF – Jayson Werth

C – Chris Coste
IF – Eric Bruntlett
IF/OF – Greg Dobbs
OF – Chris Roberson
OF – T.J. Bohn

That ? in center field could be Aaron Rowand, it could be another outfielder acquired via free agency or trade, or it could be Victorino, simply taking Rowand’s place.

The Phillies’ outfield reserves currently include Chris Roberson and T.J. Bohn, both of whom are rather unappetizing, so here’s hoping they sign someone like Geoff Jenkins to a one-year deal and use him in a platoon with Jayson Werth in right field (Jenkins, .883 career OPS vs. RHP; Werth .864 career OPS vs. LHP).

SP – Cole Hamels
SP – Brett Myers
SP – Jamie Moyer
SP – Adam Eaton
SP – Kyle Kendrick

The last two spots are tentative. I don’t know this for a fact, but I imagine the Phillies are very open to using blase Adam Eaton in a long-relief role. The Phillies are also hoping to allow Kendrick to develop a bit more in the Minor Leagues, perhaps to develop a put-away pitch that he lacked in his impressive rookie season in ’07.

Rumors have the Phillies most interested in Randy Wolf and Bartolo Colon, but both would be risky propositions given their injury histories. Further down the list are Livan Hernandez and Kyle Lohse. Hernandez is a fly ball-prone pitcher, and Lohse’s agent is Scott Boras, whom the Phillies absolutely detest (see: Drew, J.D.).

Carlos Silva, with his ground ball tendencies (47.5% in ’07; 48.7% career), should actually be the #1 target for the Phillies in terms of cost/effectiveness.

RP –
RP –
RP –
RP – J.C. Romero
RP – Ryan Madson
SU – Tom Gordon
CP – Brad Lidge

The three open relief pitching slots could go to just about anyone who shows up in Spring Training. “Anyone” could include Fabio Castro, Clay Condrey, Julio Mateo, Scott Mathieson, Francisco Rosario, and Mike Zagurski.

One of Castro and Zagurski will make it by the sheer fact of their left-handedness, giving the Phillies increased flexibility with two lefties in the ‘pen.

Mathieson is coming off of “Tommy John” surgery, and Mateo still has some personal problems that prevented him from joining the team last season when he was picked up from Seattle for a handshake.

Logically, that leaves Condrey and Rosario to the last two spots, assuming the Phillies are done acquiring relief pitchers. In all likelihood, they are not done shopping, so they could still target someone like David Riske or LaTroy Hawkins to set up for Lidge, and moving injury-prone Tom Gordon to a role in which he is not expected to pitch 70 games throughout the season.

As for the other fun-packed part of the off-season: awards…

How did Jimmy Rollins get the Gold Glove at shortstop over Troy Tulowitski? If there’s one thing both baseball statistical traditionalists and Sabermetricians can agree on, it’s that Tulowitzki was the better defensive shortstop. Rollins is a hell of a defender, but even as a Phillies fan, even I cannot give him the nod on this one.

Compare the statistics.

Rollins: .808 RZR, 65 OOZ

Tulowitzki: .861 RZR, 87 OOZ

Good to see that Aaron Rowand got a Gold Glove, but again, I take exception with it this year. He was sixth among qualified NL center-fielders in RZR (.861) and second in OOZ (69). His 69 OOZ aren’t too much more than the three behind him (5th-place has 63), so if you look at the five ahead of him in RZR…

A. Jones: .921 RZR, 80 OOZ

Beltran: .915, 64 OOZ

Pierre: .902, 63 OOZ

Cameron: .894, 53 OOZ

C. Young: .875, 66 OOZ

…you can find three slightly more deserving candidates. I’m not saying it’s a travesty that Rowand won, but if we’re being specific, he was just a shade under the cut.

Charlie Manuel, who placed second in Manager of the Year voting, should have won over Bob Melvin. His Diamondbacks were fluky, out-performing their Pythagorean W-L by an historically large 11 games. My reasoning for Manuel was laid out here:

Like Torre, Charlie Manuel has had a ton of injuries, a bad pitching staff, and media scrutiny to deal with all season long.

In this article, I listed the 15 Phillies to be put on the disabled list at the time. Since then, Cole Hamels missed time with a strained left elbow, and Antonio Alfonseca was described by Manuel as “out of gas.”

Manuel has had to make do with a horrible bullpen that GM Pat Gillick failed to improve during the off-season. In fact, the bullpen was so lousy that Manuel moved then-starter Brett Myers to the set-up role for Tom Gordon (Myers became the closer when Gordon was injured).

Myers’ statistics as a closer: 45.2 IP, 1.226 WHIP, 2.96 ERA, 56 K, 16 BB, 17 saves in 20 opportunities.

In addition, despite the injuries to 2005 Rookie of the Year and 2006 NL MVP Ryan Howard, 2007 MVP candidate Chase Utley, speedster Shane Victorino, and a horrid first-half for Pat Burrell, the Phillies have, by far, the National League’s best offense. First in runs, triples, walks, hit batsmen, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Second in at-bats, hits, doubles, home runs, and stolen bases.

When the Phillies lost to the Mets on April 17, Charlie Manuel blew up at “journalist” Howard Eskin during the post-game press conference, the team dropped to a 3-9 record, quickly 5.5 games behind the Mets for fourth place in the NL East. Now, the Phillies are 12-games above .500 — an 18-game swing — and are battling for playoff berths in either the NL East or in the Wild Card, as they are 2.5 GB the Mets and Padres, respectively.

Tulowitzki should have won NL Rookie of the Year over Braun, and while there weren’t any mind-blowing AL candidates for the award, I still think Jeremy Guthrie should have taken it over Dustin Pedroia.

Good to see the voters got something right through in awarding the AL Cy Young to C.C. Sabathia.

We’re still waiting on the NL Cy Young award (Jake Peavy, obviously) and both MVP awards. John Brattain makes an interesting case for Jimmy Rollins as the NL recipient. I don’t agree, but as a Phillies fan, I won’t complain if Rollins wins it. If he does, it will be the first time a team has had two different players win back-to-back MVP awards since Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds in 2000 and ’01.

What’s Out There?

If anyone is in a helpful mood, please link me to anything interesting that was written in the past week in which I’ve been gone. It’s quite overwhelming to have to catch up on so many blogs, so point me in the right direction! I’ll probably be putting up a “links” blog soon, so E-mail me (CrashburnAlley [at] Gmail [dot] com) if you’d like me to link to you.

Looking into the Future

The Phillies put up their tentative 2008 schedule on their website for all to see. Let’s slice through it in a few ways.

Strength of Schedule

March/April — .499 opponent ’07 winning percentage over 10 series.

May — .484 opponent ’07 winning percentage over 9 series.

June —  .498 opponent ’07 winning percentage over 8 series.

July — .506 opponent ’07 winning percentage over 8 series.

August — .487 opponent ’07 winning percentage over 9 series.

September — .480 opponent ’07 winning percentage over 8 series.

OVERALL —  .492 opponent ’07 winning percentage over 52 series.

Before any off-season wheeling and dealing, and based solely on the teams’ 2007 performances, the Phillies appear to have an easy schedule ahead of them in 2008.

Interleague

Even though it’s not really special anymore, it is still worth noting which A.L. teams the Phillies will face.

May 16-18: Toronto Blue Jays (83-79, 3rd in AL East in ’07)

June 16-18: Boston Red Sox (96-66, 1st in AL East in ’07)

June 20-22: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (94-68, 1st in AL West in ’07)

June 24-26: at Oakland Athletics (76-86, 3rd in AL West in ’07)

June 27-29: at Texas Rangers (75-87, 4th in AL West in ’07)

Those five series yield an average record of about 85-77 (.525).

The Phillies are home against the “good” teams, which bodes well both from a perceived home field advantage standpoint, and from a ticket sales standpoint.

Divisional Rivalries

The number of times the Phillies face division rivals by month…

March/April — 9 games out of 28 (32%)

May — 8 games out of 29 (27.5%)

June — 7 games out of 27 (26%)

July — 18 games out of 25 (72%)

August — 8 games out of 29 (27.5%)

September — 21 games out of 26 (81%)

I think it’s safe to assume that July and September are the most important months of 2008 for the Phillies.

Reservations

Finally, a look at the Phillies home/away match-ups…

March/April — 14 games home out of 28 (50%)

May — 15 games out of 29 (52%)

June — 11 games out of 26 (42%)

July — 13 games out of 25 (52%)

August — 15 games out of 29 (52%)

September — 13 games out of 25 (52%)

Every month, the Phillies have more home games than road games besides June, so that also bodes well.

The worst trips for Eastern teams like the Phillies, obviously, are westward. The Phillies head West four times:

  • April 21-22: Colorado for 2 games
  • May 5-11: Arizona and San Francisco for 7 games (4 ARI; 3 SF)
  • June 24-29: Oakland and Texas for 6 games (3 apiece)
  • August 11-17: Los Angeles and San Diego (4 LAD; 3 SD)

As mentioned, the Phillies’ 2008 schedule is tentative — it is subject to change.

In Other News

Bad news if you’re a Philadelphian: You’re ugly. Per Dayn Perry’s $8 Beers (per With Leather (per Yahoo! News)):

Philadelphia is home to the least attractive people in the United States, a survey of visitors and residents showed on Friday.

The city of more than 1.5 million people was also found to be among the least stylish, least active, least friendly and least worldly, according to the “America’s Favourite Cities” survey by Travel & Leisure magazine and CNN Headline News.

I was just getting some confidence in my self-image back, and then I hop onto the Internet and read this. That’s it! No more Pat’s and Geno’s cheesesteaks! No more Italian ice or pretzels! No more hoagies!

I think I’m going to start a group and go on a field trip to Los Angeles to get some plastic surgery, too.

Oh, nevermind, I just read more of the article and now I realize that while I’m not attractive, I’m also not unattractive:

[…] [Travel & Leisure senior editor Amy] Farley pointed out the results don’t mean people in Philadelphia are ugly or the city is a bad place to visit.

“We were asking people to vote on attractiveness, not unattractiveness. Travel & Leisure editors believe there are a lot of attractive people in Philadelphia,” she said.

Phew. I almost made a rash decision.

Blog Hoppin’

Check out these quality blogs:

  • Vancouver has a fool-proof plan to earn the right to host the 2010 Olympics. [100% Injury Rate]
  • Taco Bell is intensely patriotic with this new marketing ploy. [Babes Love Baseball]
  • The Eagles are so bad, Philadelphians are already counting down to Spring training. Only 115 days left! [Balls, Sticks, & Stuff]
  • Dusty Baker: The new Jack Handey? [Between the Lines]
  • Settle down, folks! We know it’s Willie Green season! [Broad Street Bastards]
  • The guy responsible for the Indians’ seventh-inning baserunning blunder is the leading candidate for the job as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. [Bugs & Cranks]
  • How Scott Boras became the most hated man in baseball. [I’m Writing Sports]
  • It’s fun to blog when your favorite teams are winning. [Josh Q. Public]
  • Keyshawn Johnson’s interview with Chad Johnson is ironic. [Signal to Noise]
  • Jonathan Papelbon knows how to celebrate. [Six Pack Sports Report]
  • Jesus will be forced to pick sides in the World Series. [Ump Bump]