Lowell Cohn? Give me Linda instead

You may recall back in April, Fire Joe Morgan poked fun at Lowell Cohn, who writes for the Press Democrat and blogs with his son. I have to point out that back in April, Cohn wrote, “In our latest offering, we argued who’s a better general manager, Brian Sabean or Billy Beane, and I chose Sabean, although Beane is very good.”

If there was a way to flush credibility down a toilet (I don’t recommend it; it’s a good way to get a clog), this would be it. While the quote seems complimentary of Beane, it’s a back-handed insult because Cohn has been waging an anti-Beane crusade. In that same article from April, Cohn wrote, “Sabean got the Giants to the World Series in 2002, and Beane never got the A’s to the World Series, and never will.”

There are a number of ways to respond to that, but I prefer the delightfully snarky, “Sabean gave Barry Zito a $126 million, seven-year contract, and Beane never did and never will.”

Instead of going through his recent article quote-by-quote, I’ll leave that to the professionals at Fire Joe Morgan because I’m sure they’ve had a thousand people send them this article. Instead, I want to expound on how irrational the criticism of Beane is.

Cohn starts his article off by making Beane-supporters out to be baseball’s version of scientologists, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. With any ideology, you’ll certainly get your fanatics and it’s simply unfair to label an entire group based on the extremists. Beane’s methodologies have been proven to work well and while he has not made the World Series (which is really hard, mind you), the Athletics made the playoffs five times in seven years between 2000-06. Beane has never had a payroll that came close to what the Yankees and Red Sox have and have had.

2000: $32,121,833 (25th in MLB); 91-70, won AL West

2001: $33,810,750 (29th); 102-60, won AL Wild Card

2002: $40,004,167 (28th); 103-59, won AL West

2003: $50,260,834 (23rd); 96-76, won AL West

2004: $59,425,667 (16th); 91-71, missed playoffs

2005: $55,425,762 (22nd); 88-74, missed playoffs

2006: $62,243,079 (21st); 93-69, won AL West

Cohn anticipates this response in his article and doesn’t actually refute it ironically enough, he just sarcastically says he’s going to cry for Beane. But if you understand the economics of baseball — Cohn clearly doesn’t, as he compared Beane’s general management to Communism, which makes 100% no sense — this is how mid- and small-market teams have to operate. They do not have the capabilities to keep all of their good players because of their small budgets. Look at the Marlins: every time they win a World Series, they pawn off their team immediately. They pawned off Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis in the off-season, and every time they have a fire sale, they find themselves in contention very soon, just like Beane’s A’s.

The Athletics scout well (presumably, as I don’t know who their scouts are or how they work; I’m just basing my conclusion on the results) and, expectedly, they draft well, and they get the right players back in trades. He turned Rich Harden into Sean Gallagher and Eric Patterson; Joe Blanton into Adrian Cardenas; Nick Swisher into Gio Gonzalez and Fautino De Los Santos; Dan Haren into Dana Eveland, Greg Smith, Chris Carter, and Carlos Gonzalez; Mark Mulder into Dan Haren; Billy Taylor into Jason Isringhausen; Randy Velarde into Aaron Harang; three prospects into Jermaine Dye; and Billy Koch into Keith Foulke.

There are very few GM’s out there with the track record of success that Beane has on all levels and considering his low payroll, it’s all the more impressive.

Cohn goes on to criticize Beane by saying,

Do you honestly believe Beane will hold onto outfielder Carlos Gonzalez when Gonzalez is 27 and at the top of his game and could demand a $100 million contract? Beane will cry poor and trade Gonzalez to the White Sox for six minor leaguers[…]

This is why Beane is such a good GM. As I understand it, a one win above replacement player costs $3.33 million per win (thanks to MattS from The Good Phight for this information), and for the sake of argument, let’s presume Gonzalez turns into a Nick Markakis clone offensively. Markakis was worth about 8 wins last season and is projected to be worth 9 this season, prorating his current production over a full season. That’s an average of 8.5 wins, which would theoretically cost $28 million per season.

Beane doesn’t have the ability to give a star player anything close to this kind of money, so he sells on his players near or at their peak values and replaces them with players who will come close to, match, or exceed the previous player’s production at the position for much less money (players not yet eligible for arbitration or just entering that phase). There is no valid criticism for this approach: it’s financially savvy and for anyone not in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Detroit or Philadelphia, it’s a near-requirement.

The rest of Cohn’s article is a giant ad hominem complete with hasty generalizations and irrational conclusions. Read at your own risk.

Anger Management, Phillies Style

After another loss to the Florida Marlins courtesy a Jorge Cantu walk-off bases loaded single, three Phillies expressed emotions, all of it anger.

Charlie Manuel:

Sitting behind a desk in the visiting manager’s office at Dolphin Stadium, Manuel flicked a few jabs at his team’s offense, then delivered a haymaker.

“Our situational hitting is absolutely terrible,” he said. “Absolutely off the chart, really.”

[…]

“It’s going to be hard for us to win” if situational hitting does not improve, Manuel said. “[On Saturday], we hit all those balls down to third base in one inning – absolutely bad hitting. I’m not trying to hurt anybody’s feelings, but if I do, if I’m talking about you, that’s good. I mean to be talking about you.

“We hit enough. We talk enough [about situational hitting]. We’ve got to get it done. A lot of it is me. It’s up to me to make us try to get it done.

“Accountability is fine, but if you don’t execute, something’s wrong.”

Manuel said a few things but I’d like to point this out in particular because I just read a bit of research here on that exact subject. The research showed that the Phillies have the best sOPS+ in the National League with runners in scoring position; the Phillies rank 7th out of 16 with RISP and two outs, first out of 16 with men on base, and third out of 16 “Late and Close” (7th or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck).

Overall, the Phillies are not poor with situational hitting.

His general point, though — that the Phillies’ offense isn’t living up to expectations despite ranking 2nd in the National League in runs per game — is cogent. As the above article explains:

The Phils have scored 20 runs in a game twice, most recently on June 13 at St. Louis. In the 30 games since then, however, they have scored four or fewer runs 20 times and two or fewer 11 times. They are 12-18 in those 30 games, but have managed to hang on to a share of first place.

Pat Burrell:

Pat Burrell was not happy with manager Charlie Manuel’s decision to remove him late in yesterday’s 11-inning loss to the Florida Marlins.

“I’m upset, absolutely,” Burrell said. “I’m upset, and I have been for a long time. It’s not personal. I don’t want to ever come out of close games.”

[…]

“In that situation, we’re trying to put more speed out there, so I can’t question what the manager is trying to do. He’s got confidence in all his guys,” Burrell said. “But I can’t lie and say I’m not frustrated by it, especially when it’s close like that in a low-scoring game. He knows that. We’ve discussed it.

“Do I wish it was different? Absolutely. I don’t know any other way to say that. A lot of games I’ve come out, it’s never an issue, but when it does come back to bite us, it becomes more of a focus.”

Burrell realizes he is not a fleet runner, and there are times when he has no qualms about coming out of a game.

“If it’s a tie game and I get on base and you run for me, I think that’s a good time,” he said.

This has been a pet peeve of mine, watching Manuel unnecessarily substitute Burrell late in the game. Manuel’s mind is in the right place but there’s really not a whole lot of difference between Burrell and Eric Bruntlett or So Taguchi defensively. Both are definitely faster, but it doesn’t make a difference considering how little ground Burrell is required to cover in left field.

While it’d be a time-consuming endeavor to pore through the game logs to find out exactly when Burrell was lifted, who replaced him, and if the move had any effect, this thread at Back She Goes should suffice, incomplete as it may be.

Last one.

Cole Hamels:

Hamels said precise location of his fastball was vital yesterday because the pitch lacked its usual zip. He blamed that on the extended rest he got over the all-star break.

“The time off hurt me,” he said. “My body felt tight and I couldn’t push it. If I had pushed it, I’d probably have ended up on the disabled list.”

Hamels is referencing the fact that they pushed his start back to Sunday even though he would have been on his normal five days’ rest on Friday. Had they chosen to start Hamels on Friday, he would have been scheduled to pitch the series finale in New York against the Mets as well, which probably would have been the most strategically sound maneuver.

While it’s a good sign to see the Phillies concerned with preserving the arm of their young superstar pitcher, there’s a balance for protecting such an arm. And if the Phillies were really concerned with the mileage on Hamels’ arm, he wouldn’t rank sixth in Pitcher Abuse Points. Hamels has made 21 starts this season, in 14 of them (67%) he has thrown 100 or more pitches, and in 18 of them (86%) he has pitched 7 innings or more.

What we can draw from these complaints is that A) Charlie Manuel is wrong with his analysis of his team’s offense and B) Manuel might not be as good with the players as we thought. We finally have some tangible criticism from his players. Everyone knew he wasn’t the game’s brightest tactician, considering he didn’t even know about the double switch until the second half of his first season with the Phillies. Now there’s a bit of proof that he may not be so great in the clubhouse, either.

Just Make the Deal Already

Ken Rosenthal:

The Phillies were working multiple fronts before acquiring right-hander Joe Blanton from the A’s. Among the possibilities that reached a standstill: A blockbuster for Rockies left fielder Matt Holliday and closer Brian Fuentes.

The talks probably will not revive, major-league sources said, even though the teams continue to scout each other and the Phillies used different players to obtain Blanton than they would need for Holliday and Fuentes.

Rosenthal says that a Holliday-Fuentes package would have required the Phillies to give up Shane Victorino, J.A. Happ, and a couple of prized prospects in pitcher Carlos Carrasco and catcher Lou Marson.

The snag in the deal revolves around the payroll. As Rosenthal explains:

Holliday and Fuentes are owed almost $6 million combined for the rest of the season, Victorino only about $190,000. The addition of Blanton already has added about $1.5 million.

I have not a clue what it takes to operate a Major League payroll, but it would seem extremely profitable for the Phillies to spend a little extra now. The acquisition of Holliday and Fuentes would make the Phillies far and away favorites in the NL East and destined to meet up with the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS, so there’d be some extra revenue coming in from the Phillies making the playoffs for the second season in a row. Holliday is also a star player like Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jimmy Rollins, so there’d be a bump in merchandise if they chose to quickly get some Holliday Phillies jerseys on the racks. And, of course, ticket sales would jump, especially early on from the excitement of seeing Holliday in right field as a Phillie for the first time.

If there’s any team the Phillies can learn from in this regard, it’s the Eagles. They had no Super Bowl victories but made the playoffs for six straight seasons between 2000-05. Every now and then they’d make a splash and add someone noteworthy (though the T.O. deal didn’t work out so well), and the franchise prospered despite chronic playoff failure. The Phillies don’t have to actually win a World Series to make money and earn a healthy reputation with the hometown fans. This trade would be a great step towards prosperity, even if it does cost the Phillies’ two best Minor League prospects.

I’m Embarrassed for ESPN

If ESPN was a piñata and you beat it with a stick, ignorance would fall out. Seriously, try it sometime. Picking out stupid statements and awful analysis from ESPN is like picking a minute out of a calendar year. It’s like plucking a blade of grass from the outfield in Coor’s Field. It’s like… should I stop? Yeah, you get it.

So, I was watching a couple ESPN clips posted at The 700 Level regarding the Phillies’ recent acquisition of Joe Blanton and I could not help but write about it. I bashed ESPN’s coverage of the Home Run Derby on Tuesday and I don’t want to sound like a broken record, so hopefully ESPN will go on a streak of sound analysis, at least for the next week.

First video:

Brian Kenny talks with Tim Kurkjian about the Blanton deal. Timmy says, “Joe Blanton is a well-above-average Major League pitcher.” If I was talking to Tim on the Inter-Webs, I’d direct him to the “O Rly?” Owl. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that, over his career, Blanton is the definition of average: his ERA+ is exactly 100 over his career. His career ERA is 4.25 and the AL average ERA over that span is 4.24. His WHIP is decent, but not anything special at 1.33. The only aspect of Blanton that is really above-average is his ability to prevent home runs, but as Dave Cameron explains at FanGraphs,

In general, pitchers whose performance is built on a low HR/FB rate don’t have the same consistent success that pitchers who control the strike zone, and a move from Oakland to Philadelphia could exacerbate the regression in HR/FB rate that Blanton likely has coming.

So, even his ability to prevent homers is likely to regress back to average. Would it have killed Kurkjian to log on to ESPN’s MLB statistics page and find this out for himself?

Second video:

The Baseball Tonight crew — Karl Ravech, Orestes Destrade, Eduardo Perez, and Kurkjian — discusses the Blanton deal. I’ll just list their stupid statements one-by-one.

Kurkjian: “In two starts against the Phillies in his career: dominant; and more important, two starts against the Mets in his career: dominant.”

Has Tim ever heard of a small sample size, or better yet, does he know that two of the four starts he cites occurred in 2005, which was Blanton’s only significantly good season? He had one start against the Phillies and one against the Mets. What relevance do the Phillies and Mets of 2005 have with Blanton in 2008?

Eduardo Perez: “I don’t know if [acquiring Joe Blanton] is going to be enough. You look at the way the Mets in this division the last week and a half, it’s going to be tough for the Phillies — even with Joe Blanton — to catch them.”

At the time Perez said this, which was last night after the Mets beat the Reds 10-8 (and Johan Santana gave up 5 runs in four innings), the Mets were tied for first place with the Phillies. The Phillies have no one to catch!

Secondly, another ESPN analyst delves into the issue of small sample sizes. Yes, the Mets are 10-0 in their last ten games. Take a look at where those wins are coming from, though: one against the Reds (.474), three against the Rockies (.412), three against the Giants (.421), and three (in a four-game series) against the Phillies. The Phillies are the only team above .500 they’ve defeated in their ten-game streak, and two of the three games were close (a 4-2 win in 12 innings, and a 10-9 win where the Mets’ bullpen gave up 8 runs in the last three innings).

The Mets are playing above their means at the moment. While the Mets have been beating up on barely over-.400 teams, the Phillies have had to play the Cardinals (.557) and the NL West-leading Diamondbacks (.495).

This team is riding on all cylinders right now.”

Yes, beating up on bottom-feeding teams. The Phillies’ record against the Reds, Rockies, and Giants? 13-6. Lots of teams “ride on all cylinders” against them.

And I just don’t see how another team in the division can catch up to the Mets.”

Did Perez not pay attention to last season? The Phillies overcame a 7-game deficit with 17 games remaining. The Phillies and Mets are tied atop the East with 66 games left apiece. The Marlins are 1.5 games back with 67 games left, and the Braves are 6.5 games back (and under-performing their expected W-L) with 67 left.

What do the Mets have over anyone else? Their rotation is not much better than the Phillies’. Their bullpen is comparable to the Phillies’, though the Phillies’ is better. Their offense is not as good and their bench is not as deep. Even on defense, the Mets have an .819 team RZR, but the Phillies are right behind at .817. The Mets have no advantages over the Phillies.

You’ve got a supporting cast of Fernando Tatis and Damion Easley that’s adding a lot more ‘oomph’ to the Mets.”

The amount of at-bats Tatis has had between 2004 and the start of the 2008 season? 56. Fifty-six. Fifty-freakin’ six at-bats in four seasons. This season, he has a .359 BABIP. His performance is not for real. He’s had two above-average seasons in his career, and they were at the turn of the millennium in 1999 and 2000. If you want to count his 56 at-bats in ’06 with the Orioles, he had an amazing 106 OPS+.

Damion Easley has a 91 OPS+. He has a sub-.400 SLG. His .716 RZR at second base would rank dead last if he had enough innings to qualify.

Tatis and Easley does not a good bench make.

. . .

Oddly enough, Orestes Destrade makes the most sound points on the panel, and he’s usually the one who makes forced sterilization seem like a sensible option.

The last thing I want to do is screech incessantly about the shortcomings of ESPN because I’d never run out of material, but I just felt this was so bad it had to be pointed out. I’ll call my cable and Internet provider and see about having ESPN blocked from my TV and from the Internet on my computer. Who knows? My blood pressure might deflate.

Phillies Acquire Joe Blanton

Joe BlantonAs expected, the Phillies made a move to acquire a starting pitcher, and as expected, they overpaid for a mediocre starting pitcher. Sent Oakland’s way were second baseman Adrian Cardenas, left-handed pitcher Josh Outman, and outfielder Matt Spencer. The Phillies received just Joe Blanton, he of the 4.96 ERA and 4.25 career ERA.

The bad news: The Phils gave up a couple good prospects but stayed away from letting go of prized catcher Lou Marson and shortstop Jason Donald. For some reason, the Phillies also wanted to keep Greg Golson, and they succeeded. Cardenas was roadblocked by Chase Utley at second base, so it was a given that he’d be traded at some point, most of us hoped it would have been in a deal that gave us more than Blanton.

Blanton’s K-rates are really low. Over his career, he averages just over 5 K’s per nine innings and this season, the K/9 is at the lowest point of his career by far at 4.39.

Kyle Kendrick is a good comparison for Blanton because of the low K-rates and ground ball tendencies.

Blanton’s FIP (3.59) is lower than his ERA (4.96), which shows that his defense in Oakland has cost him nearly a run and a half on average. However, the Athletics have the best defensive efficiency (.716) in the American League, and the Phillies are middle-of-the-pack (.696), so if there’s a change, it might just be that Blanton’s FIP moves closer to his real ERA.

The good news: Blanton throws a lot of ground balls — over 45%. In Citizens Bank Park, that’s a great gift to have. He’s a bit on the heavy side but will give you a lot of innings. He’s pitched at least 194 in all three of his full seasons and is on pace to do so once again this season. On a related note, he’s averaged between six and one-third and six and two-thirds innings per start in each of his three full seasons.

The verdict: The Phillies were looking to acquire an impact starting pitcher to give them something to compete with against the one-two punches that the Cubs and Brewers have in Zambrano/Harden and Sheets/Sabathia, respectively. Acquiring Blanton fails this objective, but the Phillies might not be done. The Phillies have been rumored to be very interested in Erik Bedard and A.J. Burnett, and they are more likely to be impact arms, though they are riskier and more expensive.

Athletics GM Billy Beane made out very well in the deal, as he usually does. The Phillies gave up a bit too much for a mediocre starting pitcher. Already with one of baseball’s worst Minor League systems, now the Phillies aren’t markedly better at the Major League level and gave up two good prospects. It’s a clear victory for the A’s, but as long as Blanton stays healthy and pitches a bit better in Philly than in Oakland (unlikely, considering the ballparks), then it won’t matter.

Quick Thoughts on the All-Star Game

Before I start, I’ll just throw out there that I didn’t even watch most of the game. I caught bits and pieces of the 9th-15th innings and I think I may have only caught a full inning just once in the 10th. So what I’m opining on is basically what I’ve heard and the little that I saw.

Scott Kazmir threw 104 pitches two days ago and was essentially viewed as ineligible to pitch going into the game. However, because the game went on so long, Kazmir was the only pitcher left. AL manager Terry Francona summoned him in the 15th inning and, thankfully, Kazmir was not injured and pitched a scoreless inning, allowing only one walk.

Rays fans and everyone in the Rays’ front office were holding their breath with every Kazmir pitch. Rightfully so.

The latest extra-inning All-Star Game debacle has brought front and center a somewhat pressing need to modify the mid-summer classic. Pitchers are just too valuable to be used frivolously in an exhibition, especially by managers of a contending rival team (not to insinuate that Francona would intentionally use Kazmir in a way that would put him at a huge risk).

Here are my ideas to make the game fun and safe for all.

  • Like the NFL, move the All-Star Game to the off-season, two weeks after the World Series. This ensures that everyone has had proper rest. The Kazmir situation never comes up in this case.
  • Because we’re moving the All-Star Game to mid-November, weather becomes a factor. We have a couple possibilities here: always hold the Game in a warm climate like Hawaii, or play in dome stadiums (they don’t have to be MLB stadiums like Tropicana Field or the Metrodome). This would be a great way to bring baseball to cities (or — get this — even countries) without a Major League franchise.
  • The managers of the All-Star Game are retired legends of the game. There is no rigid process to finding these managers, it’s just whoever Major League Baseball finds to take the job. The AL manager must have played the majority of his career in the AL and the NL manager must have played the majority of his career in the NL. For instance, it could be Cal Ripken, Jr. managing the AL while Tony Gwynn manages the NL. The coaches are the managers whose teams played in the League Championship Series (two managers per league).
  • Pare the rosters down to two starting pitchers, four relievers, eight position players (nine if there’s a DH), as well as one catching back-up, two infield back-ups, and two outfield back-ups per side (if there’s no DH, the team can have one additional player for any position, including pitcher). This makes the roster a maximum of 20 players which is good because the starters go more than just a couple innings, and the game is played more traditionally. It’s basically the regular 25-man roster every team has less three starters and two mop-up relievers.
  • Take the voting out of the hands of the fans and select the players statistically. The positional leaders in OPS will automatically have a starting spot on the roster. The starters are the top-two leaders in ERA in each league. One closer from each side is the league leader in SV%. The back-ups will be the league leaders in statistical categories if they’re not already on the roster. For instance, the back-ups can be leaders in AVG, OBP, SLG, HR, RBI, and SB for hitters; WHIP and K for pitchers. This way, the selection process doesn’t favor teams that play in densely-populated cities or have a lot of fans.
  • Remove the “one player from each team must be represented” rule. Institute a “three players from a team maximum” rule instead. If a team has more than three candidates, the manager gets to choose who he takes.
  • A game will not go extra innings. If it’s tied after nine innings, the game is officially a tie. Because of this, we are removing the “winner gets home field advantage” reward. The team with the best record gets home field advantage in the World Series.
  • Remove excessive pre-game festivities, and start the game an hour earlier at 7:05 PM Eastern. The game is not about flag-waving, the national anthem, player introductions, first pitches, or anything else. It’s about the game, and start it at a time when most of the country will still be awake enough to see the ending.

That’s all I have for now. If you have any additional ideas, go ahead and list ’em in the comments, or you can rip mine apart instead.

More on the Derby

I guess I broke about even with my over-analysis of the Derby contestants. I picked an Utley-Hamilton final because both are so good at hitting line drives, but Utley was unimpressive and Hamilton was the exact opposite. However, the two finalists, Hamilton and Justin Morneau, had LD%’s of at least 19%. Maybe some day I’ll do a little research and see what correlations, if any, exist with batted ball tendencies and Derby success.

ESPN Commentary

The commentating from the ESPN crew was awful. ESPN gets a lot of heat — some of it unnecessary — from bloggers, but this criticism is 100% deserved. They should feel embarrassed for putting that rag-tag group of “analysts” on national television. Rick Reilly made me want to punch my television multiple times and the only benefit from that is that I might have decided to go HD while shopping for a new one.

Reilly wasted no time by pontificating on how racist the Derby is since all eight contestants were of the Caucasian variety (though he mentioned that Vladimir Guerrero declined, as if that didn’t invalidate his point), and Ryan Howard wasn’t there to defend the Derby crown he won in 2006 and lost last season.

It gets worse.

He injected — no pun intended! No, seriously! — the steroid controversy early on while Grady Sizemore was hitting homers into the upper deck. “Who needs steroids?” Reilly wondered, because that’s exactly what baseball fans needed to be reminded of as they watch some of the game’s best power hitters hit 450-foot home runs.

It gets worse.

As Hamilton was on his way to setting the Derby record for home runs in one round, Reilly exclaimed, “It’s a lousy night to be an atheist!” The fellows at Fire Joe Morgan, as usual, do a great job of finding the humor in it. I don’t think Reilly meant it as a jab against atheists, but it was not a funny joke at all and it could be taken as offensive by some people. Replace “atheist” with any minority group that it’s not okay to hate in this country, and Reilly’s microphone would have been muted and he would have been canned after the contest.

Joe Morgan

As I mentioned in my previous entry, I did agree with Morgan’s analysis of Utley’s failure to hit lots of home runs. Morgan said that Utley was conscious of trying not to over-swing and as a result, he was tentative and wasn’t getting those powerful swings we’re used to seeing in real games.

However, it was just embarrassing because on multiple occasions, he claimed that Hamilton made an out and then we watched the ball sail 460 feet into the upper deck in right field.

As for the others, Chris Berman was his trademark unbearably annoying. I actually thought about violently jamming Q-tips into my ear drums, but then I realized that I have a mute button.

Steve Phillips was his trademark ignorant. I can’t really say anything bad about Peter Gammons or Karl Ravech or John Kruk.

ESPN is one of the most successful networks ever in the history of time, so I can understand their mindset in keeping with the status quo, but they really need a shake-up in how they do things on that network. They’ve basically turned into the sports version of MTV. MTV used to play music nearly non-stop, but now it’s turned into the one channel that is provided for you in hell. Nearly 24 hours of reality television. ESPN is Titletown U.S.A. and Who’s Now? and My Wish and The Bronx is Burning. Even on SportsCenter, it’s the sports version of TMZ with their constant gossiping the love pentagons between Alex Rodriguez, his wife Cynthia, Madonna, Lenny Kravitz, and Hank Steinbrenner. Or it’s about what Brett Favre wrote in his text messages.

They have hopped from the quality bandwagon onto the quantity bandwagon. And you know what? Most of the American public is sadistic enough to derive enjoyment out of it, so it’s successful. It’s actually smart of ESPN to do this in terms of profit. However, I think that with the popularity of sports blogs and the high level of discontent with ESPN that already exists, they could be at risk of alienating a sizable portion of their viewership. It could be a little pebble that rolls down a steep hill and becomes a huge boulder by the end of the descent.

Food for thought.

Chase Utley

Yeah, he didn’t fare too well. However, he made the night completely worthwhile by dropping this beauty:

Josh Hamilton and Bobby Abreu

In case you were wondering, Abreu still holds the record for most home runs hit in an entire Home Run Derby with 41. Hamilton finished with 35 after breaking Abreu’s single round mark of 24 by hitting 28 in the first round.

Hamilton probably could have hit more, but he voluntarily ended his second round after recording only four outs, since he was guaranteed a spot in the finals anyway. It’s likely that he took any swings in the second round just to stay warm.

Think of the Children!

If my memory serves me correctly, Hamilton did not hit a single home run with a Gold ball. Why does he hate children so much?

The AL MVP Award

I’ve seen these comments made already, and just in case any of the people who made them are reading my blog, I’d like take this opportunity to tell you that Josh Hamilton is not any more deserving of the AL MVP because he set a single-season Home Run Derby record.

Ian Kinsler is the AL MVP presently. He is not Josh Hamilton, so this may come as a surprise, but, in fact, Kinsler leads the entire American League in VORP. Yep, he even has more VORP than Joshy.

2008 Home Run Derby

Chase UtleyPhillies second baseman Chase Utley will be making his Home Run Derby debut tonight, attempting to make it three Phillies in four years to win the Derby. Bobby Abreu won it in 2005 and Ryan Howard won it in ’06.

Utley’s 25 dingers is the third-most in the Majors, behind teammate Howard with 28 and Adam Dunn of the Cincinnati Reds with 26. Among the eight contestants (listed below), Utley arguably has the best swing.

For those of you who don’t want your team’s player in the Derby because it may mess up the swing, check out Ryan Howard’s first- and second-half splits in 2006:

First half: 28 HR/.341 OBP/.582 SLG

Second half: 30  HR/.509 OBP/.751 SLG

I think it can be reasonably stated that Howard has a swing that’s highly prone to bad habits, and he had a legendary second half after participating in the Home Run Derby. Granted, my citation of Howard is a cherry pick and you could just as easily cite Bobby Abreu’s second half of 2005 as a counter-point, the point is that a correlation between Derby participation and second-half success or failure has not been found.

Here’s the list of the eight contestants with their 2008 HR totals…

Chase Utley, 2B, PHI: 25 HR (3rd-most in MLB)

Dan Uggla, 2B, FLA: 23 HR (T4th-most in MLB)

Ryan Braun, OF, MIL: 23 HR (T4th-most in MLB)

Grady Sizemore, OF, CLE: 23 HR (T4th-most in MLB)

Lance Berkman, 1B, HOU: 22 HR (8th-most in MLB)

Josh Hamilton, OF, TEX: 21 HR (T11th-most in MLB)

Evan Longoria, 3B, TBR: 16 HR

Justin Morneau
, 1B, MIN: 14 HR

Four of the hitters are left-handed and another (Berkman) is a switch-hitter who will probably hit lefty. Yankee Stadium is 314 feet down the right field line and 318 down the left field line, so there’s a very slight advantage to left-handed hitters. Due to how shallow it is down the lines, line drive hitters will have a bit of an advantage as well.

Here’s a look at the contestants’ LD% this season…

Utley: 23.9%

Hamilton: 23.7%

Longoria: 21.6%

Morneau: 19.4%

Sizemore: 17.8%

Braun: 17.7%

Berkman: 17.2%

Uggla: 14.0%

The LD% of past derby winners…

2007: Vladimir Guerrero, 15.6%

2006: Ryan Howard, 21.9%

2005: Bobby Abreu, 24.1%

2004: Miguel Tejada, 19.4%

2003: Garrett Anderson, 20.2%

2002: Jason Giambi, 25.4%

With an exception to Guerrero, it appears that there’s some correlation between LD% and winning the Derby. This is a huge over-analysis of a meaningless event where the hitters are essentially taking glorified batting practice, but it’s interesting to look at.

My prediction: Utley vs. Hamilton in the finals with Utley winning it.

Feel free to leave your predictions in the comments.

Curious Strategery From Manuel

Manager Charlie Manuel allowed Kyle Kendrick to start the seventh inning of tonight’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, despite the fact that K.K. was getting hit hard all night and six straight hitters that were either left-handed or switch-hitting due up.

Unsurprisingly, the inning starts off with Miguel Montero hitting a single and Alex Romero hitting a double. No one was warming up in the Phillies’ bullpen until this point, so Kendrick had to pitch to switch-hitting pinch-hitter Emilio Bonifacio. He hit a two-run double down the left field line. Kendrick was still out there to face Augie Ojeda. Luckily, though, the D-Backs decided to give the Phillies a free out by having Ojeda sacrifice bunt Bonafacio over to third base.

At that point, Manuel decided for a change, and brought in left-hander R.J. Swindle to pitch to left-hander Stephen Drew. Swindle doesn’t throw hard stuff, so it’s not as hard for left-handers to hit off of him, and Drew delivered the RBI single to right field to give the D-Backs a 4-3 lead.

Say what you will about the attitude Manuel brings to the clubhouse, but there are more than a few times where he leaves you scratching your head.

Elsewhere, at BDD, I wrote about the current offensive trends and compared them to what we had thought in May, when many people were attributing the lack of offense to stricter drug policies.

I also narrowed Ryan Howard’s hitting problems down to a lack of intentional walks and a surplus of bad luck.