The City That Hates Tom Gordon

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

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

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

Brutal.

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

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

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

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

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

Game graph courtesy FanGraphs.

Opening Day Preparation

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

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

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

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

Some Publicity

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

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

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

You Did Ask For It, Ken

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

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

Bloggers, it’s your lucky day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mercifully, that’s not how the game works.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bloggers, man your keyboards!

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

My choice to win it all is the Braves.

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

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

An ad hominem on yourself? Unprecedented!

But then, who hasn’t?

PECOTA and other Sabermetric-aided predictions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because people lack access to a time portal.

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

An Eliot Spitzer joke. Ken is topical!

And he’s self-deprecating. Me likey.

Never pick the Red Sox.

Never pick the Yankees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Braves have constructed an AL-type offense.

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

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

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

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

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

Really, the only sure thing is Tim Hudson.

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

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

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

Really? Who’da thunk it?

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

They won’t:

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

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

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

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

These observations are reaching John Madden levels.

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

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

“D-backs.”

“Rockies.”

“D-Backs.”

“D-Backs.”

“Rockies.”

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

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

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

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

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

Will Hideki Okajima be as dominant a reliever this season?

He sure looked dominant last season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is this comparison even necessary?

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

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

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

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

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

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

I like the Braves … I think.

Bloggers, fire away.

Hope you liked it, Kenny.

I Met Chelsea Clinton!

I usually try to stray from the personal blogs, but I just had a really interesting day on Thursday, so I thought I’d share it. I’ll start from the top.

I went with a friend to Delaware County Community College to see poet Sonia Sanchez. To any Delco-based readers, if you ever have a chance to go to one of her presentations, I highly recommend it. Her poetry is not only amazing, but it’s not based on just the words; the way she recited it added just as much as word selection. I found one of the poems she read on YouTube, called “Peace.” She’s highly liberal, so that’s a warning to any of my conservative readers.

Anyway, after that, we went to Wawa for something to eat, and we killed some time before we headed up to West Chester University to see Chelsea Clinton take a two-hour Q & A from the audience. She had fairly lengthy, detailed responses to each of the questions, so I stood there for a good 45 minutes to an hour before my question was taken. The previous questions were cookie-cutters like “What does your mother plan to do about the receding economy?” or “What is Hilary’s stance on stem-cell research?”

Chelsea ClintonI would have none of it. Donning my red Phillies hat and gray Phillies sweatshirt, I held my arm up and waved it around frantically, begging for her attention. It worked, and I had the floor for the next question for the daughter of one of the top two Democratic Presidential nominees. With TV cameras and dozens of college kids’ cameras and cell phones pointed at me, I summoned my stately voice and calmly asked her, “Since you’re in this area of Pennsylvania, how well do you think the Phillies are going to do this year?”

I got a mixed response: half laughter, half “this guy’s a jackass.” To Chelsea’s credit, she took it in stride and simply said (to paraphrase), “I’m from New York so I’m not going to go there.”

After the Q & A was over, about 75 or so people hung around and moved up front to meet, get autographs from, and take pictures with Ms. Clinton. I and my four comrades took this opportunity and waited our turn. When I got to the front of the line, I was given the unfortunate task of having to take someone else’s picture. And in case you’re asking, no, I did not screw up the picture. I was anxious to meet Ms. Clinton though. After the camera flash, I swiftly walked up to her and asked her, “Hey, did you like my Phillies question?”

“Oh, that was you?” she replied.

“Yeah, I like to keep people on their toes like that. Hi, I’m Bill Baer — nice to meet you.”

“My pleasure,” said the daughter of former President Bill and former First Lady and hopeful President Hilary Clinton.  “My boyfriend’s from Philly, so he’d be on your side with that question.”

My days are usually monotonous, so this was quite a welcome bit of excitement for me, and oddly enough, not one second of my day was sports-related (besides my clothing and my questioning). I ignored my NCAA bracket (still got 3 of the 4 games today) and spring training baseball. It was worth it.

Still not going to vote for Hilary, though. Or anyone for that matter.

Opening Day… Technically

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other news…

John Patterson

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

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

Cleveland Indians

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

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

From David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Options

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

A Look at the Phils by the Numbers

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

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

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

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

Joey Gathright — Holy Smokes!

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

Crashburn Alley 2008 MLB Predictions

In my ever-increasing genius, I have the great idea of not only making predictions, but recording them on a medium where others can check back later and ridicule me. If you haven’t seen them yet, I put my NCAA bracket up for public view here (note: I did make a couple changes to it a couple hours before the first game; I went 14-for-16 yesterday). Now I’m going to put up my 2008 MLB prognostications.

Let’s start with the awards.

Most Valuable Player

AL: Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees

A-Rod’s an easy pick.

NL: Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies

Utley completes the MVP trifecta in Philly.

Cy Young

AL: Roy Halladay, Toronto Blue Jays

His ERA+ has gone down every season since ’05, but he did pitch 225 innings with a 1.24 WHIP last season. That 120 ERA+ is bad by his standards, but great by others’. All of the projections expect some degree of improvement.

NL: Aaron Harang, Cincinnati Reds

This is a sleeper pick of sorts, but he’s a legitimate contender for the Cy Young award. He’ll give you 230+ innings, walk very few, and strike out a lot (more than 8 K’s per 9 inning the last two seasons). Johan Santana is the sexy pick and you can’t go wrong with him, either.

Rookie of the Year

AL: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays

Too obvious not to follow the pack on this one.

NL: Cameron Maybin, Florida Marlins

While the Marlins are odds-on favorites to finish 5th in the division, Maybin will be a rare bright spot.

Manager of the Year

AL: Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay Rays

I wanted to go with Eric Wedge of the Cleveland Indians, but managers tend not to defend their titles here. Bobby Cox (’04 & ’05) is the only manager to have done so since the award was created in 1983.

NL: Clint Hurdle, Colorado Rockies

The NL has a load of viable choices, but I think that leading the Rockies to their first division title in franchise history will seal the deal.

Comeback Player of the Year

AL: Kenny Rogers, Detroit Tigers

Kenny Rogers will successfully rebound from an injury-shortened ’07 season to be one of the few Tigers pitchers who end up helping out (along with Justin Verlander, obviously).

NL: Mike Hampton, Atlanta Braves

As long as he doesn’t completely blow up, average production should earn him enough sympathy points (he hasn’t pitched since ’05) to grab the award.

Home Run Leaders

AL: Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees, 51

NL: Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies, 54

Most Overrated

AL: Erik Bedard, Seattle Mariners

The trade from Baltimore not only gave Bedard a new home, but lots of unnecessary praise as well. 2007 was really the only great season of Bedard’s career, even though he’d started 24+ games in each season since ’04. His strikeout rate jumped from 7.9-ish from ’04 to ’06, to nearly 11 last season. I call aberration.

NL: Aaron Rowand, San Francisco Giants

Recipient of a five-year, $60 million deal from the Giants, Rowand goes into ’08 with some high expectations. The fact is that he is only a slightly better-than-average player. His ’04 and ’07 season are similar in that they were both good (130 and 123 OPS+ respectively), but his ’05 and ’06 seasons are also similar in that they were both bad (93 and 86 OPS+ respectively). His defense is even overrated: he ranked 15th out of 17 qualified MLB CF in RZR last season).

Most Underrated

AL: Brian Bannister, Kansas City Royals

Granted, this is a tiny bit of a biased pick, since there was an article written by Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports that revealed his appreciation for Sabermetrics. But in 165 innings last season, he allowed an average of only 1.2 baserunners per inning, and averaged less than two-and-a-half walks per 9 innings. Add to that his small allowance of home runs and you have a pitcher that a lot of people will be overlooking simply because he plays on a down-and-out team in Kansas City.

NL: Brad Lidge, Philadelphia Phillies

Call it a homer pick, but I’ve been reading all off-season about his mental issues that have stemmed from that home run he gave up to Albert Pujols in Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS. To quote myself:

After that game against the Phillies on April 23 until the end of the season, Lidge pitched 60 and two-thirds innings, struck out 81, and put up a 2.82 ERA. He finished the season with a 131 ERA+ and a 1.254 WHIP, impressive statistics for a closer deemed mentally anguished.

He seems to have recovered fine from his second knee surgery of the off-season as well:

Lidge pitched in a minor league intrasquad game Thursday at Clearwater, Fla., retiring four of the five batters he faced with three strikeouts and a walk. The right-hander, who had arthroscopic knee surgery last month, looked sharp enough that he just might be available for the NL East champions on opening day.

“I felt great with everything from warming up to throwing in the game,” Lidge said. “There is nothing better than facing hitters and that was a lot of fun.”

Breakout Player

AL: Jeremy Guthrie, Baltimore Orioles

With Bedard gone, Guthrie may be the de facto ace in the rotation. He’s game for it. Last season, in more than 175 innings, he put up a decent K-rate and a good walk rate, and allowed just over 1.2 baserunners per 9 innings.

NL: Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers

Ethier has had a lot of hype, but hasn’t done anything spectacular in his 843 Major League at-bats. This is the year for him, and he’ll be a major player in bringing the Dodgers from a league-average offense to a top-five offense (that’s right, you heard it here first).

Surprise Team

AL: Tampa Bay Rays

Too easy.

NL: Atlanta Braves

A lot of people are picking the Reds in a very winnable division, but more people are overlooking the Atlanta Braves in favor of the Mets and Phillies.

Disappointing Team

AL: Toronto Blue Jays

I have the Cy Young coming from the Jays, but otherwise, they’re still going to disappoint. Mediocre offense and questionable pitching, as a lot of those who had success last year were young and you just can’t expect everyone to repeat. I expect a significant drop-off in pitching (you heard it here first, and now you know why I don’t get paid to make these predictions).

NL: Milwaukee Brewers

They will have an above-average offense, but that’s about it. Their starting rotation is scary bad, and their bullpen is relatively the same. Eric Gagne should be great for them so long as he stays healthy.

All right, let’s get to the Over/Unders.

Per Batter’s Box, here are the Vegas lines, followed by my predictions. A + next to my prediction means I’m taking the over, and a means I’m taking the under.

Arizona     	86.5
Atlanta        	84.5
Baltimore   	65.5
Boston        	93.5
Chicago(NL)    	87.5
Chicago(AL)    	79.5
Cincinnati    	79.5
Cleveland    	88.5
Colorado    	82.5
Detroit        	93.5
Florida        	68.5
Houston        	72.5
Kansas City    	71.5
Los Angeles(AL)	91.5
Los Angeles(NL)	87.5
Milwaukee    	84.5
Minnesota    	72.5
New York(NL)    93.5
New York(AL)    93.5
Oakland        	73.5
Philadelphia    87.5
Pittsburgh    	68.5
San Diego    	84.5
San Francisco   71.5
Seattle        	86.5
St Louis	78.5
Tampa Bay    	73.5
Texas        	74.5
Toronto        	85.5
Washington    	70.5

NL East

NYM: 94-68 +
PHI: 90-72 +
ATL: 84-78 –
WAS: 74-88 +
FLA: 71-91 +

NL Central

CHC: 87-75 –
MIL: 80-82 –
CIN: 75-87 –
HOU: 74-88 +
STL: 71-91 –
PIT: 66-96 –

NL West

COL: 91-71 +
ARI: 89-73 +
LAD: 87-75 –
SDP: 80-82 –
SFG: 68-94 –

——-

AL East

BOS: 92-70 –
NYY: 87-75 –
TOR: 80-82 –
TBR: 79-83 +
BAL: 67-95 +

AL Central

CLE: 94-68 +
DET: 92-70 –
MIN: 78-84 +
CHW: 75-87 –
KCR: 74-88 +

AL West

LAA: 90-72 –
SEA: 84-78 –
TEX: 81-81 +
OAK: 73-89 –

I’m almost 100% sure my win-loss totals add up to 2,430-2,430, but if you take the time to check it out, let me know if it doesn’t add up.

Now let’s move on to the playoffs.

American League

East: Boston Red Sox

Central: Cleveland Indians

West: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Wild Card: Detroit Tigers

National League

East: New York Mets

Central: Chicago Cubs

West: Colorado Rockies

Wild Card: Philadelphia Phillies

Division Series

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim @ Cleveland Indians: Cleveland advances in 4 games

Detroit Tigers @ Boston Red Sox: Boston advances in 3 games

New York Mets @ Chicago Cubs: New York advances in 5 games

Philadelphia Phillies @ Colorado Rockies: Colorado advances in 4 games

Championship Series

Boston Red Sox @ Cleveland Indians: Cleveland advances in 6 games

Colorado Rockies @ New York Mets: Colorado advances in 5 games

World Series

Colorado Rockies @ Cleveland Indians: Cleveland wins in 6 games

That’s it. Feel free to tell me why I’m wrong and post your own predictions.

Free-Floating Thoughts and Links

Recently, I responded to some feisty comments from Robert Quinlan Costas. The fun hasn’t ended, folks! I urge my seven loyal readers (Hi, grandma!) to check out John Brattain’s takes on those comments:

Speaking of Mr. Brattain, he corresponded with me regarding some questions the Phillies face going into the ’08 regular season, so check that out at The Hardball Times.

Spring Training Doom and Gloom

Per the Philadelphia Daily News, Brett Myers thinks that the team’s dismal spring training performances are meaningless. Manager Charlie Manuel disagrees. Spring training numbers don’t correlate with regular season numbers… yada, yada, yada… this is one rare point in which I believe the numbers aren’t necessary here.

Of course Brett Myers thinks spring training games are meaningless: he has nothing to fight for in the spring. Maybe that’s why he’s been performing so well, too. However, the pitchers who are really stinking it up — Adam Eaton, Travis Blackley, J.D. Durbin, Kyle Kendrick — have little job security to fall back on. To them, spring training games should be just as meaningful as regular season games because they may not even see Major League regular season games, especially at the rate they’re going.

If Eaton and The Gang can’t put it together with a metaphorical gun to the heads of their Major League jobs, why am I to believe that they’ll somehow “flip a switch” once March 31 rolls around?

Kyle Lohse

Lohse, client of super-agent Scott Boras, rolled the dice this off-season searching for a deal in the ballpark of what Carlos Silva got: 4 years, $48 million. No one bit, but the Phillies did offer him a 3-year, $21 million contract, which was declined. Lohse went jobless all off-season, and it was eerie, since league-average pitchers like him are usually snapped up quickly and suited in cash. The Cardinals gave him a one-year deal worth $4.25 million.

Prescription weight losing drugs i.e. levitra and cialis aren’t made for people who only wish to lose some pounds for cosmetic reasons and use drugs an alternate to plastic surgery. These and other drugs such as viagra are usually reserved for folks who are not capable of achieving or maintaining health and weight via diet in addition to exercise, and often have health issues as a result.

As recently as two weeks ago, Phillies assistant GM Mike Arbuckle (who, along with Ruben Amaro Jr., is a top candidate to take over for Pat Gillick when he departs after this season) said in regards to Lohse, “I know we’re not interested” even when Lohse said he’d take a one-year deal worth between $4 and $10 million. Why no interest?

The only plausible reasoning I can think of is Scott Boras. He and the Phillies have a bitter past (think J.D. Drew on draft day), and the two sides may have just been unwilling to negotiate with each other. If this explanation is actually true, then this is a colossal failure to do right by the people who keep the team in business. The front office owes it to the fans and to the players to put together the best team they can to attempt to win a World Series. Lohse, a league-average pitcher who would slot in at #5 in the Phillies rotation, gives the team a noticeably better chance at accomplishing that goal. Teams kill for a league-average pitcher at the back of the rotation, and Lohse was asking for well below market value!

Instead, the Phillies will allow the wound that is the back of the starting rotation to have the bacteria that are Eaton, Blackley, and Durbin fester. Kris Benson won’t be ready to attempt to help the Phillies until May at the earliest.

There is just no logical explanation I can think of as to why the Phillies had no interest in Lohse. There has to be something about him that not even the media knows about. Or maybe the Phillies’ front office is just incompetent.

Brackets

Just so everyone can see just what an idiot I am, I have taken screenshots of my bracket on ESPN (I have no idea if I can just send you a link to it; if so, I couldn’t find it). Remember to check back when the tournament is all done and tell me what an idiot I am. Or you can do it now, too.

East | Midwest | South | West | Final Four

Speaking of predictions, I’ll have my MLB predictions put up a day or two before the start of the regular season March 25.

The Greatest Steeplechase Fall Ever

From the San Marcos Daily Record, Tyler Mayforth recalls the most embarrassing moment of his life, and it’s plastered on YouTube.

Why Eva Longoria and I Will Elope to WARP-3 Island

Eva LongoriaLet’s play a guessing game. In the last five years, how many mainstream baseball journalists have linked to anything on Baseball Prospectus? I’m going to go ahead and guess “three.”

Today, Todd Zolecki makes it four with an article titled “Phillies show striking out not all that bad.” I believe every dead baseball purist just rolled over in his grave. But there are a few people who are interested in hearing more: me, the other mother’s basement-dwelling nerds, and Eva Longoria (pictured to the right with the caption, “It’s so sexy when a man rattles off statistics”).

Zolecki links to two BP articles:

Just Another Out?

Baseball Prospectus looked at the relationship between teams’ strikeout rates and run production from 1950 to 2002. It found there was no correlation between the two. It also found that a hitter’s strikeout rate correlates positively to power, slugging percentage, and walk rate.

Whiff or Whiff-Out You.

After another look at strikeouts by Baseball Prospectus in 2005, analyst James Click wrote, “On a very rough scale, a strikeout costs a team about three one-hundredths of a run. Looking at team totals from 2004, Reds batters led the league in strikeouts with 1,335. . . . All those failures at the plate cost the Reds an estimated 13.6 runs over the course of the season, or just over one win.”

Most interesting in Zolecki’s article isn’t the plethora of statistics that show strikeouts as rather meaningless for a hitter, but the feelings of Ryan Howard regarding the use of K’s to judge a hitter’s worth:

Ryan Howard struck out 199 times last season, the most strikeouts in a season in baseball history. He’d rather talk about anything else.

“I feel like I’m back in double A,” he said. “That’s all people used to talk about were strikeouts. You don’t hear anybody say, ‘That guy led the league in ground outs last year.’ “

Howard could benefit from reducing his strikeouts, but they are part of his game. He is one of the most feared hitters in baseball. He has hit 100 home runs faster than any other player in baseball history.

“You ground out. You fly out. You strike out. An out is an out,” Howard said. “People want to glorify what they want to glorify. If hitting into double plays were a big thing, then people would make them a big thing.”

Howard’s logical reaction is a breath of fresh air, especially when you consider some of the bigger names in baseball have become all hot and bothered with the advent of in-depth statistical analysis. Derek Jeter, when he was told that “clutch” hitting doesn’t exist, said, “You can take those stat guys and throw them out the window.”

It’s not just the players that have balked at the notion that you can better understand the game of baseball with Microsoft Excel; fans (especially the better-educated sportswriters) have been just as unresponsive to the science of baseball. We, of course, remember Bill Conlin of the Philadelphia Daily News, but there’s also Jon Heyman, Bruce Miles, Joe Morgan, and a plethora of other guys out there scowling at the calculations.

For Zolecki to not only link to, but quote a Baseball Prospectus article and to write a non-traditional article like “hitters striking out means nada” — bravo.

Congratulations aside to an honorable Philadelphia sports journalist (one of very few), I do take issue with just one thing he wrote towards the end of his article:

Howard is a career .291 hitter. He has struck out 493 times in 1,461 career at-bats, which means he hits .439 when he puts the ball in play. If he could have cut his strikeouts from 199 to 175 last season, his average would have jumped from .268 to .289. He might have hit 50 homers instead of 47.

First of all, Howard’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .353, not .439.

Zolecki states that if Howard cut down on his K’s, his production would increase as a result of putting the ball in play more often. However, there’s no way to know this, even if we know his BABIP. The theory hinges on all of the variables staying exactly the same except for strikeouts, as if none of them are related to each other. Howard’s power production is, in fact, related to his propensity to strike out.

Look at the kings of not striking out. They are overwhelmingly players with puny to mediocre slugging percentages, like Juan Pierre and Jason Kendall. You don’t see 20+ HR player on the page until you hit Albert Pujols. The defense against a swinging strikeout is a shorter swing. Shortening the swing results in more bat control but less power.

If we learned one thing from Zolecki’s article, it’s that we shouldn’t go into cardiac arrest every time we hear “strike three.” But if we learned another, more important thing — say, from Dan Shaughnessy — it’s that Zolecki and his calculator are “living at home, in the basement, rent free.”

P.S. Sorry, Tony Parker, you just weren’t nerdy enough for her. You didn’t even cry when Gary Gygax died.

Tired of the Lidge-Jumping

Even before the new Phillies closer had his second knee surgery of the off-season, there was plenty of doubt cast on Brad Lidge and it had nothing to do with that right knee of his. Ever since that Game 5 three-run home run served up to Albert Pujols in the 2005 NLCS, it seems Lidge hit a mental wall, or at least that’s what those affirming the consequent — fans and media alike — would like you to think.

Lidge, obviously, is one of the few people who has a truly educated opinion on the matter of how the Pujols home run affected him in 2006. In late January, Ken Mandel explained:

He called those 2006 struggles a “mechanical issue,” though he admits he developed a cut fastball for 2007 because he lost confidence in his devastating fastball and hard-biting slider.

By April of last season, Lidge had lost his closer job. During an April game against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, he had runners on second and third with no outs. Houston catcher Brad Ausmus implored him to use his fastball and slider, and “see what happens,” according to Lidge.

He struck out the next three hitters.

“I felt as good as ever after that and went through the best stretch of my career after that,” Lidge said. “Earning my job back felt better than if it was handed to me when I wasn’t throwing well. I needed to earn it back.”

So, it wasn’t that he was mentally wrecked after Pujols hit a three-run home run in the 2005 NLCS; it was that he got away from his fastball and slider.

After that game against the Phillies on April 23 until the end of the season, Lidge pitched 60 and two-thirds innings, struck out 81, and put up a 2.82 ERA. He finished the season with a 131 ERA+ and a 1.254 WHIP, impressive statistics for a closer deemed mentally anguished.

Concerns about Lidge now that he’s had a second knee surgery certainly are legitimate, but the latest, a partial medial menisectomy, was a success:

“It really was the best-case scenario that it was the only thing going on,” Phillies athletic trainer Scott Sheridan said of Lidge’s knee. “His other side of the knee that he had repaired was fine. It was pretty simple for us.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Todd Zolecki also reported that there’s a possibility that Lidge could be back in time for Opening Day on March 31.

Not too much to worry about with the new Phillies closer, really. The projections seem to agree. Only Marcel puts him above a 4.00 ERA (4.23 to be exact). Bill James, CHONE, and ZiPS put him at 3.44, 3.42, and 3.88 respectively. CHONE and ZiPS both have him pitching over 70 innings as well.

Jon Heyman Needs Attention

It’s the end of February and exhibition games are hours away. A new baseball season is on the horizon, full of new wonders for our great sportswriters to opine about. Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman instead wants to focus on last year’s NL MVP award and attack people who use Sabermetrics.

Things must be lonely around the office because Heyman is clearly angling to get linked to and talked about on the Internets. Being the generous person I am, I’m going to give him just that. Fire Joe Morgan already dissected it with humor, but I’m going to dissect it with a fine-tooth comb and really give him the type of editing he deserves, and clearly lacks at Sports Illustrated.

As always, his words are in bold, my comments will follow in regular typeface.

Let’s start off with the header.

Sorry VORPies, Rollins was the right choice

Seriously. This is a grown man working for a worldwide-renowned sports publication… insulting proponents of an ideology that differs from his. Further, he chooses to do this in February, more than four months removed from the end of the World Series, and right on the cusp of a brand new baseball season.

Rollins acknowledged that his brash “team to beat” prediction probably helped him win the MVP. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he hit 30 home runs, scored 139 runs and slugged .534 while batting leadoff and playing a superb shortstop for a division champion.

No, it didn’t hurt that his counting statistics were inflated by a record number of plate appearances (and, subsequently, at-bats).

Jon, did you notice where Rollins was in the Phillies’ batting order? He was a lead-off hitter. What is the job of a lead-off hitter? You are correct: to get on base.

Isn’t a shame that Rollins not only had a below-average on-base percentage (.344 to the league average .349), but he etched his name in pseudo-history when he tied for 18th place in total outs made in a single season (527)?

That’s the problem with counting statistics: you’ve got to keep plate appearances and at-bats in mind, otherwise, you don’t have a scale off of which to base your perception. Rollins’ 30 HR are impressive, but his rate is about one HR every 24 AB, which is mediocre.

The Rockies’ great slugger, Matt Holliday, finished second, but even a Rockies person told me in the playoffs last October that Rollins deserved the MVP […]

“A Rockies person”? Who could this be? The clubhouse janitor? Clint Hurdle? The guy selling hot dogs at the concession stand behind home plate at Coors Field? Garrett Atkins?

Even if “a Rockies person” is someone whose opinion we should value, it doesn’t somehow add credence to the claim that Rollins deserved the MVP. For every “Rockies person” backing Rollins, there is a “Phillies person” backing David Wright and a “Mets person” backing Matt Holliday.

That person believed that great offense combined with stellar shortstop play should have been enough to take the awards, not a bad thought at all.

What about great offense combined with stellar third base play?

Rollins isn’t “stellar” at shortstop defensively anyway. He ranked 9th out of 14 qualified NL SS in RZR. David Wright ranked 5th out of 12 qualified NL 3B in RZR.

Add to that Wright’s offensive prowess over Rollins, and it’s not even close between the two.

Seriously, Wright has better power, gets on base at a much, much better clip, has comparable speed (34-of-39 stolen bases), knows how to draw a walk, and fields his position at an above-average level.

The only reason it’s a debate between Rollins and Wright is because so many people don’t understand the concept of rates. Heyman is one of them.

Even so, I wasn’t shocked that stats people have taken issue with Rollins winning the MVP award.

This tells me that he knows something has been statistically proven to be true, yet he will still believe something else because he wants to regardless of what the facts say.

There are numbers crunchers out there — including a firejoemorgan.com author who wrote a guest piece in Sports Illustrated last week — who believe baseball writers rank somewhere between morons and idiots for voting Rollins as MVP over David Wright, who had a higher VORP.

Not just VORP. There are a plethora of statistics out there that show Wright as a better candidate than Rollins. Almost all defensive metrics will put Wright over Rollins. Offensively, the meat-and-potatoes of baseball — OBP and SLG — easily make the case with Wright.

Really the only thing Rollins has over Wright is the ability to hit triples.

The stat people seem to believe VORP — a Baseball Prospectus statistic that stands for Value Over Replacement Player — defines a player, but why haven’t many of them championed last year’s VORP leader (Hanley Ramirez) as MVP instead?

Before I took a look at defensive metrics, I thought Hanley Ramirez was the NL MVP as well. He is horrendous defensively, however: -8 fielding runs above average.

Secondly, Heyman makes a strawman argument by saying that those who use Sabermetrics think that VORP “defines a player.” One statistic does not and can not define a player and you will not find any educated user of Sabermetrics advocating this.

And thirdly, VORP isn’t just a Baseball Prospectus statistic. Certainly it’s the most widely regarded because of BP’s popularity, but others have it as well. To quote a commenter on Baseball Think Factory, “that’s like saying that batting average is a TSN statistic.”

I assume the stats guys favor Wright because he played for a contending team. I guess the rule is this: Highest VORP wins unless the VORP champion is playing for a loser.

Uh… no. “The stats guys” favor Wright because he was the best when you factor in both offense and defense. Rollins, really, doesn’t come close.

There is no universal agreement among those who use Sabermetrics that a candidate’s team’s contention should have any factor. Personally, I don’t think it should. You shouldn’t punish a player for having a bad supporting cast.

If Wright’s offensive stats were slightly better than Rollins’, and I will accept that they were, especially considering the respective ballparks they play in (VORP accounts for ballparks), shouldn’t Rollins get points for playing a superb shortstop compared to Wright’s slightly-above average third base?

1. Wright’s statistics weren’t “slightly better” than Rollins’. It’s a landslide in Wright’s favor.

2. Rollins doesn’t play a superb shortstop, as proven above.

And shouldn’t Rollins get credit for showing extraordinary initiative and leadership?

If you have the privilege of voting for the MVP award, you can use whatever criteria you wish. If you want to account for intangibles, go right ahead.

Personally, I don’t think any MVP candidate should have intangibles taken into account. They’re highly subjective and thus highly prone to human biases and flawed perceptions. The analysis, I believe, is more accurate when you don’t account for intangibles.

For helping his team barrel into the playoffs from seven games back with 17 to go, as opposed to Wright’s team, which perpetrated a historic choke?

It’s not Wright’s fault his team couldn’t win a game at the end of September.

And if we’re going to take September performance into account…

Wright: 38-125 (.304), 6 HR, 20 RBI, 4 SB, .432 OBP, .602 SLG (1.034 OPS)

Rollins: 39-138 (.282), 6 HR, 18 RBI, 14 SB, .333 OBP, .542 SLG (.875 OPS)

Though the Mets’ collapse was no fault of Wright’s, for the MVP to come off the all-time choke team, he’d better have a greater advantage in stats […]

To the stat guys, walking is more thrilling and much more valuable than actually winning the pennant.

Heyman really has an obsession with the success or failure of the candidates’ teams. For what it’s worth, the Phillies did nothing in the post-season — they were promptly swept in three games by the Colorado Rockies. It’s as if they never even made the post-season.

There you go Jon: Not only did I read and respond to your article, I even linked to it as well. You got the attention that you wanted.