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Bowa-ing Out?
2004-04-15 13:31
by Mike Carminati

As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his Phillie, er, folly.

"Doc" Proverbs, 26:11 (By the way, Doc Prothro "managed" the Phils to a 138-320, .301 record from 1939-41.)

As if the Ides of April weren't bad enough already with the attendant mad dash to file your taxes, Larry Bowa felt compelled to add to your burden, at least if you're a Phillies fan. Bowa is moving Jimmy Rollins back to the top of the order with erstwhile leadoff hitter Marlon Byrd moving down to the seven spot. Resumes for the Phils' managerial job are starting to pour in as we speak (type?).

I predicted that if Bowa returneth to J-Roll, then he would be canneth by May 1. The way that the Phils are playing, I see no reason to change that prediction. Bowa had been too quiet. The last change to the lineup had been to rotate the 3-4-5 spots to move Bobby Abreu back to the number three hole in the 4-1 loss to Cincinnati in the home opener Monday. Abreu did homer, but the Phils did little else against redoubtable Red pitcher Paul Wilson. Rollins had lead off against Darren Oliver on Saturday, but now takes over officially, whatever that means.

Bowa's excuse?

"Just trying to get something started."

"Jimmy keeps telling me he wants to hit leadoff. He's got the skills to hit up there."

"It's up to him to apply himself"

"Jimmy's got the potential to be a very good leadoff hitter," Bowa said, hoping Rollins relies on what Bowa considers is very good instinct. "It's just a matter of putting total concentration into every game."

Larry, do mean like he applied himself there last year? In 280 at-bats in the lead-off spot in 2003, Rollins batted .268 with an .314 on-base percentage. Over the last three years, his numbers are a .263 BA and a .321 OBP in the leadoff spot. Rollins is 25, has been a regular player since 2001, and has yet to show that he can be a leadoff hitter especially on an alleged playoff contender. Rollins has been ever worse batting second (.251 and .300).

This year, Rollins is batting just .176 with a .250 OBP in the seventh hole, but owns a .352 OBP there over the three previous seasons (in 62 ABs). His numbers batting sixth are even better:.345 BA, .368 OBP (84 ABs). In fact, from 2001-2004 so far, Rollins has a .275 batting average and a .339 on-base percentage batting in the last four spots in the lineup.

Well, how could Rollins be a better batter lower in the order? He's still the same guy, right? One thing you'll notice is that his slugging percentage and home runs drop even while the other ratios go up, when he is moved down in the lineup. Rollins appears to batting like a number six-seven hitter when he's leading off and batting like a leadoff hitter when he bats leadoff. What's the reason? Is he trying too hard at the top of the order? Are the numbers in the lower lineup spots just anomalies? I don't know, but they are evidence enough not to allow the man to lead off.

Besides Byrd is struggling but his numbers are better than Rollins' this year. Byrd is only batting .200 but has a .310 OBP, better than Rollins' OBP for the entire 2002 season (.306). Rollins is batting .160 with a .241 OBP.

Well, maybe the theory is to take advantage of Rollins' speed at the top of the order and Byrd's power lower in the order. OK, but Byrd's power has yet to show itself at the major-league level. He slugged just .418 last year. And as far Rollins' speed, he got caught 12 times in 32 attempts last year while Byrd was 11-for-12 in steals. Rollins' stolen base percentage has dropped in each of the last three seasons.

I actually feel bad for Bowa. It's kind of like the compassion one feels for a bull right before the matador plunges his sword into his hide. Actually, here it's even self-inflicted. However, Bowa does not have many options. So many players in the lineup are in slumping yet far in 2004. Of course, that doesn't excuse Bowa for making a bad decision, which moving Rollins to leadoff surely is.

It clearly demonstrates, at least to me, the feeling of desperation that must pervade Bowa's thought process. He is under a great deal of pressure being designated by many (including me) as the most likely manager to be fired in 2004. His team is underachieving. People tend to go back to what they know when things are not going well. He has determined in seven games that Byrd is not their leadoff solution, actually six games since Rollins lead off once.

If Byrd is the leadoff hitter, and I thought his .374 OBP in the number one spot in 2003 already decided this, then I would stick with him a bit longer. That is, unless it were clear that he is being completely overmatched or if Rollins were a tearing up the league, neither of which is true. If I were to make a change, I would move Booby Abreu and his .408 OBP to the leadoff spot and follow him with Polanco, Thome, and Burrell. That way at least you move your top three hitters into the top four spots and hopefully get them more at-bats. I know that Abreu does not want to lead off, but does he want to make the playoffs? If so, his team needs him to help them pull out of this nosedive.

Of course, the law of averages is bound to catch up with the Phils' underachieving offense any day now. That might mean that they'll be saddled with Rollins in the leadoff spot and Bowa on the bench for the forseeable future, neither of which bodes well for their playoff chances.

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