Monthly archives: April 2007
Blaise "Minor" Pascal
When I was a kid playing stickball in the suburbs of Philly, kids generally were better at catching a fly ball than hitting a cutoff man, let alone the subtlety of tagging up. So even at a young age, the neighborhood urchins were well aware with the concept of non-continuous double plays.
We all knew that if a player crosses the plate before the final out is made (usually after a half dozen errors, mental or otherwise), the run counts. It's a rare play in the majors. You might see it on a sac fly with one out and a man on first and third when the runner at first forgets the number of outs.
It happened last year in a May Phillies-Braves game. Pat Burrell was out and Bobby Abreu was at third in the bottom of the second with the Phils trailing 2-1. Ryan Howard hit an apparent sac fly to deep center, but Burrell forgot how many outs there were and was doubled off first after Abreu scored. The same play came up later in the game, but Burrell knew enough to return to first that time. The Phils won 6-3.
So yes, it's rare but I wouldn't be surprised if there aren't a few non-continuous double plays called each year. That's why it's so surprising that the umpires were completely nonplussed when a textbook version of the play occurred on Saturday in the O's-Indians game.
With the O's trailing 2-1 in the top of the third, Nick Markakis on third, Miguel Tejada on first, and one out, Ramon Hernandez hit a sinking liner to center and Grady Sizemore made a great diving catch for the second out. Markakis tagged at third and crossed the plate quite obviously before a Sizemore's throw to first doubled up Tejada, who may still be rounding the bases. Tejada admitted that he lost track of the outs.
Home plate umpire Marvin Hudson waved off the run. Inexplicably, no one from the Oriole bench initially protested. Bench coach Tom Trebelhorn was the first to slowly wake from the Baltimore hibernationmust have been all the snow they are getting lately in Clevelandand his repeated attempts to correct the miscall finally bore fruit in the sixth, turning a 2-2 tie to a 3-2 Baltimore lead.
It was not until crew chief Ed Montague got involved and sent a rep "into the umpire's room to read the rule book, though what he was looking at remained unclear." (Huh?!?) The umpiring crew "had several discussions with the two dugouts in between innings" before getting the call right. The Indians protestedgood luck!and eventually lost 7-4.
What I want to know is how such a simple play got so screwed up. Clearly, Hudson botched the initial call but I am surprised that the Montague, as the crew chief, did not take the time to make sure the call was right before play started in the bottom of the third.
I also want to know how the ruling in the rulebook could be viewed as "unclear"!?! It is explicitly spelled out in three separate places with verbatim examples of exactly this play:
First under the definition of a force play (Rule 2.00):
A FORCE PLAY is a play in which a runner legally loses his right to occupy a base by reason of the batter becoming a runner
Next in the section on how runs score:
Note that from the force play definition the play at first is not a force. Therefore, none of the exceptions apply. Later in 4.09:
Here is a general statement that covers:
Still not clear enough? How about rule 7.08(e):
Any runner is out when
OK, the last play is not exactly the same, but the concept is similar. The rulebook seems pretty explicit to me. So how did both Hudson and Montague screw the pooch on the play?
Search me. But if I were in charge of the umps, as Mike Post, MLB VP of Umpiring, is alleged to be, I would want a full explanation. Why don't these two umps, or any of the umps in the crew for that matter, know the rule? OK, maybe I am being to rough on Montague since rule 9.02(c) states, "No umpire shall criticize, seek to reverse or interfere with another umpire's decision unless asked to do so by the umpire making it." He didn't know the call either and had to have it looked up but it wasn't his call.
OK, but what's Hudson's excuse? The general instructions to umps in section 9 of the rules puts the onus on him to get the play right: "Each umpire team should work out a simple set of signals, so the proper umpire can always right a manifestly wrong decision when convinced he has made an error. If sure you got the play correctly, do not be stampeded by players' appeals to "ask the other man." If not sure, ask one of your associates. Do not carry this to extremes, be alert and get your own plays. But remember! The first requisite is to get decisions correctly. If in doubt don't hesitate to consult your associate. Umpire dignity is important but never as important as "being right.""
I guess he can claim that Baltimore was lukewarm on protesting so why is he to blame. I'm sure nothing will happen but Hudson should at best be sent back to the minors to hone his skills like a faltering reliever and to allow for a worthy minor-leaguer to take his spot.
Farewell to Hancock
Former Phil Josh Hancock died in a car accident Sunday causing the cancellation of the Sunday Night Cardinals game. He last pitched Saturday posthumously becoming just the fifth player ever to die within one day of his final game:
I have never seen a no-hitter live. I'm a mush. Whenever I turn on a game with a pitcher in the process of throwing a no-hitter, within a half inning the no-no's gone.
Today, I was watching the Phillies gamewell, mostly listening since I was painting my bathroom. Jamie Moyer had a no-hitter going into the seventh. I decided to take a break to watch the Moyer face the Marlins in the top of the seventh. After getting the first two batters out, one with , he allowed a clear-cut double by the always dangerous Miguel Cabrera sliced down the left field line.
Again, I ruined a no-hitter. Sorry, Jamie. The Phils eventually won convincingly, 6-1, but I couldn't help but feel responsible for Moyer losing the no-no. I'm a mush.
That said, Moyer's rarest accomplishment on the day may have had nothing to do with the near no-hitter. In the bottom of the seventh after losing the no-no, Moyers doubled to left to lead off the inning. Of course, the Phils did their darnedest to strand himthough Kevin Gregg helped out by wild pitching him to thirdand of course, Moyer lost it (slightly) in the eighth walking Joe Borchard and allowing a hit to Aaron Boone before getting pulled.
That fruitless double by Moyer was his first since 1988 and just the third of his career in 208 at-bats. That's a 19-year gap between two-base hits. You do have to remember that prior to coming to the Phils after the trade deadline last year, Moyer had not pitched in the NLread, non-DH leaguesince 1991. However, that's still the longest break between two-baggers in baseball history.
And if you think that the other batters with similarly long stretches between doubles benefited from playing in the DH-era American League, take a look at the players who had a ten-year or more lag between doubles. It seems that a good number were career relief pitchers:
So my watching the game may have put the kibosh on Moyer's no-hitter, but it didn't hinder his achieving this even rarer feat. I have a feeling that Moyer probably would have preferred the no-no.
Learning to Walk at 23?
Jeff Francoeur is having a surprising season so far for the Braves, and it's not just because he is knocking in more than a run a game (24 RBI in 21 games). Yes, his projected total (172) would place him sixth all time on the single-season RBI listquite impressive even this early on. However, I am more impressed by his walk total.
"Huh, he has just nine bases on balls, 14 behind league leader Ryan Howard in that category. What's so impressive about that?" you ask?
Consider that Francoeur projects to 63 for the season. Still not impressed? 63 seems about average or even below average for a player who might hit 30 homers, drive in 100 runs, and bat around .280, right?
Well, you need a bit of context to see why those 9 walks are so impressive. Ever since Francoeur was promoted to the majors, the knock against him has been his inability to draw a base on balls. He seemed to overcome that weakness in his rookie season (or rather half-season) finishing third in the 2005 Rookie of the Year voting with 14 home runs, 45 RBI, and a .300 average in just 257 major-league at-bats (with an adjusted OPS of 124). But wait for his comeuppance, said all of the sabermetricians like the Greek chorus heaping derision on the spoiled George Minafer in "The Magnificent Ambersons".
And his comeuppance seemed to come in his sophomore year. Francoeur slipped to .260 with just a .293 on-base percentage (a 43-point drop) despite 29 home runs and 103 RBI in 2006. His park-adjusted OPS was 11 points worse than the average NL batter. His slip was accompanied or perhaps presaged by a dropoff in walks, from 11 (including 3 intentional) in 274 plate appearances in 2005 to just 23 (6 IBB) in 686 last year. He walked 2.95% of the time in 2005 but just 2.50% in 2006, a 15.3% decline (note these percentages ignore intentional walks and their plate appearances). The sabermetric community wrote him off as another so-so power hitter with empty stats.
However, in 96 plate appearances so far this year, his 9 walks (1 intentional) translate into a 8.42% walk rate, or to put it another way, a 237% increase in walks per plate appearance. Maybe that's why his other stats have improved markedly as well.
Here is a look at his stats over the years:
* (Note: Adj BB/PA ignores plate appearances resulting from IBBs.)
Anyway, this made me wonder, if Francoeur has indeed learned to draw walks after becoming an established major-leaguer, how rare would that feat be? And has anyone had as dramatic a turnaround as Francoeur (i.e., a 237% increase)?
Well, as it turns out, Francoeur's sudden turnaround, if he can truly keep it up for an entire season, would be the tenth most dramatic in baseball history and the second most dramatic since the nineteenth century. Here are all the batters who increased their walks-to-plate appearance ratio by at least 200% (or at least trebled it) in a season (min. 400 plate appearances, intentional walks ignored in calculations if they were officially recorded):
Here are the tops since 1900. Francoeur would be behind Jim Bucher:
Four of the people on the list were over thirty in their second year. Just two were 25 or below. I assumed that the biggest improvement would be when a player was developing. Guess not.
Next, I compared the stats by age to see how and when players improve their ability to draw a walk and if they lose it when they get older:
So it is when a player is younger, gradually slows through baseball midlife (29-34), and then appears to gradually decline (aside from a handful of outliers who apparently kept their careers alive by drawing more walks in the twilight of their careers.
Finally, I thought it would be interesting to see how players progressed over the decades. It appears that gradual progress has been made since the start of the 21st century, but so far this decade walking, at least unintentially, is down so far in the 2000s:
As the Phils prepare to sweep the Nationals on Thursday to get within one game of .500, the Yankees look to end a five-game losing streak that includes to sweeps, by the Red Sox and the D-Rays.
They are indeed two teams headed in different directions and is largely due to pitching. The Yanks pitching has been decimated by injuries while the Phils have seemingly stabilized the starting rotation while cannibalizing a member of the rotation (Brett Myers) to at least throw another major-league arm in the pen. Oh, and the Phils finally figured out how to bunch a couple of hits.
Should the Yankees get swept by the Blue Jays, they will do something that hasn't been done since the beginning of the Steinbrenner era, get swept in three straight series. Here are all the times in the Yankees history that they have been swept three in straight series:
And if the Yanks do succumb to a sweep at the hands of the Jays and go on to face the Red Sox again, keep in mind that they have been swept in four straight series just twice (in 1913 and 1930).
Meanwhile, the Phils have swept three straight series in a row just twice since 1990. Keep that in mind should they again top the Nats and then go on to face the Mets this weekend. Here are the last ten times they have done it (they have 45 in their history):
Sweeping Failure II
To clear up my brain farts with the Red Sox sweep of the Yankees, first, here are the all the previous Red Sox sweeps of three games or more (32 in total out of the 86 total sweeps):
The Yankees have swept the Red Sox in a series of three games or more 64 times, the last time being the Boston Massacre last August (with 154 sweeps of any length in total):
Series of Surprises
Life is a series of surprises, and would not be worth taking or keeping, if it were not.
Now that I have created a little series database, I have been playing around with the data and found something interesting. A team's percentage of series won is a better predictor of winning percentage than the runs-based expected winning percentage (a .965 vs. .955 correlation coefficient). I know, it's not that surprising given that we are comparing wins, or at least series wins, to wins. But, hey, I love stats, so
Here are the teams with the best series winning percentage all time with their overall winning percentage and expected percentage:
Here are the worst:
Since that is so heavy with nineteenth century teams, here are the worst from 1900 on:
I also broke down the data by sweeps. Here are the hardest teams in baseball history to sweep:
Here are the easiest to sweep:
Now, without nineteenth century bums:
Here's the other end of the spectrum, the teams most likely to sweep their opponent:
Now without the 19th century outliers:
Finally, here are the teams least likely to sweep:
As the injury-riddled Yankees got swept in a four-game weekend series at Fenway, they recorded just the seventh sweep of four games or more at the hands of the Red Sox in the franchise's history. Here are the first six with the site and the teams' full-season records:
Of course, it was the 49th series sweep of the Yankees by the Red Sox, bit some of those series were just a game or two (Witness last year's one-game "sweep" on May 1 after the second game in the series was cancelled). On the other hand, the Yankees have swept the Sox 98 times and have nine sweeps of four or more games though the last was in 1985:
Meanwhile, the Phils won the second series and third game in a row tonight, pounding the Astros, 11-4, in a one-game make-up series. The Phils also beat the Reds over the weekend. It was the first series they won in seven tries.
I ran the numbers for all teams (173 in total) who didn't win a series through their first six of the season. The previous two were the Pirates and Marlins last year. This was the thirteenth time in franchise history that the Phils failed to win a series in the first six, the last coming in 1997.
On average, those teams finished with a .393 winning percentage, or a 64-98 record. Of those 173 teams just 4 made the playoffs (1981 Royals, 1974 Pirates, 1914 Miracle Braves, and 1908 Tigers) and just one (the Braves) won the World Series.
With a three-game winning streak, Howard on the mend, and the rest of the offense finally clicking, things look rosy in Philly, but with the Braves and Mets both hot and history not being on the side of a team that starts this incredibly slowly, I still feel confident in my prediction of 75 wins.
Chase Wright made history by allowing a record-tying four straight home runs to the Red Sox en route to a 7-6 loss and a series sweep. Remarkably his five homers allowed in eight innings are not close to the worst for a pitcher (min. 5 innings pitched), but he is the only major-leaguer ever with the first name "Sebern":
More on the sweep itself later.
Wednesday was kind of a bad day for the Phils.
Its started with Charlie Manuel making headlines due to an altercation with local radio "personality" Howard Eskin. Next, came opening-day starter Brett Myers' move to the bullpen, a highly questionable and disputed move. Then, reigning NL MVP Ryan Howard pulled up lame in the tenth inning running out a grounder and was listed as day-to-day. Howard had to remain in the game for the final three and one-half innings even with the injury since there were no men left on the Phillie bench. Finally, came the extra-inning loss to the NL East doormats, the Nats, which dumped the Phils into sole possession of last place not only in the East but in the entire National League.
There was little promise that Thursday would be any better. Howard was indeed out of the lineup. His shoes were to be filled by Greg Dobbs, a little know utility man with Seattle for parts of three seasons, who surprising made the Phillies roster due to a hot spring bat and a lack of depth and owned just 251 plate appearances and 2 home runs for his career. The team now faced a series sweep at the hands of the lowly Nats. Manuel's performance, job status, and sanity were being questioned throughout the Philadelphia and national media.
Then Jamie Moyer took the mound, quieting the Nationals' bats. He took a shutout into the ninth and, after surviving a little bases-loaded scare upon being replaced by shaky and rapidly aging closer Tom Gordon, won his second game of the year.
When the Phils quietly picked up Moyer for two minor prospects after the trade deadline last year, I thought it was an odd move. Moyer was 43 and was struggling with the last-place M's. He was 6-12 with a 4.39 ERA. This was after three highly mediocre seasons following his great 21-7 2003 All-Star season. He seemed ready to retire. It was an odd move for a team that was concentrating on youth or at least what passes for youth in Philadelphia, 26- to28-year-olds. I thought maybe the Phils were acquiring him as a potential replacement for undistinguished pitching coach Rich Dubee in 2007.
Moyer pitched well willing five of his eight starts with an ERA around four and was rewarded with what seemed at the time a gratuitous two-year extension. Moyer has been a calming influence on the staff so far in 2007 with a 2-1 record and a 3.05 ERA. One could make a good argument for his being the team MVP to this point in the season, surely a dubious honor on a 4-10 team, but there it is.
If he can continue to lull offenses, he projects to twenty wins. I know, it's early. Tuffy Rhodes once project to 78 homers mid-April one season. But that in itself is a remarkable feat for a pitcher who looked like he was ready to be stuck by a fork last August. (Besides what else is there to talk about from yesterday's game? Dobbs going 0-for-5?)
It would be Moyer's third twenty-win season, and he would become the oldest twenty-game winner by a couple of years. Bedsides twenty wins would put him in the mid-200s for wins, which starts to make a somewhat compelling argument for his going into the Hall of Fame. Twenty wins would tie him for 58th all time with Hall of Famer Whitey Ford.
Don't get me wrong: I don't think he has a strong argument, but he would fall into that near-Hall-worthy group that appear perennially on the writers' ballot but never seem to gain entry, guys like Jack Morris and Tommy John. That's not too bad for a former journeyman who did not become an established starter until age 33.
Let's say he can keep it up and ends up winning twenty games. At 44, he would better the oldest previous twenty-game winner, Warren Spahn, by two years. Here are the oldest to win twenty. Note that Moyer is on the list twice:
He would also enjoy the most valuable season for a pitcher over 43 ever. Here are the best seasons (by Pitching Win Shares) after turning 44:
Of course, it's more likely that Moyer will wilt under the summer heat, but c'mon, something has to go right with this team at some point. Doesn't it?
Remain calm. All is well. Do not panic!—Alright, Maybe We Should Panic
The Phils abysmal season hit a new low tonight as they lost to the former NL East doormats, the Nationals, 5-4 in 13 innings and are now in sole possession of last place in the National League.
Meanwhile, their manager, Charlie "I Need a friggin'" Manuel, has had quite a day. First, his tirade against Howard Eskin became the top baseball story. Then he decided to use his opening day starter, Brett Myers, out of the pen in some largely undefined middle relief role. Then he helps lose this game by having Aaron Rowand and his hot bat bunt with the Phils trailing by a run, men at first and second, and none out.
The Myers move is especially curious. He ludicrously offered to close in spring training, but I can't imagine he thought he would end up as some sort of seventh inning specialist. The Phils are desperate for relief but I can't imagine the upside of using Myers instead of a Francisco Rosario, Clay Condrey, or Joe Bisenius in that spot could possibly outweigh not having one of their best arms in a starting role.
This is similar to his tinkering with the two best bats in the lineup to start the season. You'll remember he put Ryan Howard in the third spot and Chase Utley in the cleanup spot. Howard started slowly and has yet to attain any sort of consistency at the plate. Utley started hot but has cooled as well. All to try to solve the issue of who would "protect" Howard as if that was their biggest problem. Why cannibalize your strengths to mitigate your weaknesses?
The only way it makes sense is that Pat Gillick has a trade lined up for John Lieber but the potential recipient wants to see him start a game before they OK the deal. They plug Lieber into the rotation for a start or two, trade him, and then move Myers back to the rotation. Still, toying with a pitcher who has proven to be a flake in the past is a bad idea.
I looked at all starters who amassed at least ten pitching Win Shares one season and then moved to the bullpen the next season. On average, they lost just under nine Win Shares due to the move (from 13.51 to 4.67). That translates into three potential additional losses for the team. Of course, if your team is replacing that spot with someone who will produce as well or better, that's fine. That's not the case here.
Here are the pitchers who had the biggest improvement after a shift to the bullpen:
There aren't that many Goose Gossages out there. Now, here are the ones that had the biggest dropoff after a bullpen shift. Note that Spalding was essentially a first baseman in 1877 because of fatigue in his pitching arm.
It seems that Manuel is pulling a Britney Spears and is just asking to be fired at this point. It seems he'll get his wish soon.
Meanwhile, the Phils' 3-10 record is the worst since their abysmal 1997 season. Teams that started 3-10 on average ended up with a .405 winning percentage or a 66-96 record over 162 games. Only five of those teams have ever made the playoffs and many of those (including the 1914 Miracle Braves and 2001 A's) represent the greatest comebacks in baseball history.
It will be interesting to see what Jimy Williams does with this team once he takes over. One of the first will surely be undoing the damage that Manuel is now doing, move Myers back to the rotation, define some roles for the remaining pen mates, and setting the batting order. Maybe another loss tomorrow against the Nats will help kick off the Williams era.
For Those About To Get Rocked—Fire!
Sweet fire the sire of muse, my soul needs this;
Apparently, Charlie Manuel is now trying to get fired.
Manuel drew headlines after challenging the polemical Philly sports-talk non-personality, Howard Eskin, who dared him to get angry and ride his players a little more given the Phils 3-9 record. Manuel called Eskin into his office to prove to him that he, Manuel, could in actuality get angry. The results were bad press for Manuel and good, juicy story for Eskin. The best-case for Eskin was getting some fodder for his radio show and that was exactly what Manuel gave him. You can't respect a man who is so easily outsmarted by a talking head of Eskin's caliber.
It seems that the malaise surrounding this teamyesterday's game was steeped in itis headed in the general direction of Manuel getting fired. As for whether Manuel getting tough on his players, The Inquirer found that the largest segment of fans don't care. They just want the team to win.
Unfortunately, they are not winning, and aside from a couple of tweaks like juggling the batting order and redefining the bullpen roles, there are not many options within the organization. Pat Gillick earned his nickname "Stand Pat" by not pulling the trigger on a few interesting deals this spring and appears not to have any big deadlines in the offing (Brad Lidge?).
Should Charlie Manuel be fired? Yes, in a heartbeat. He is perhaps the worst manager that at least I have ever seen as far as in-game decision making is concerned. He cannot handle a bullpen, cannot determine the appropriate time to pull a starting pitcher, he doesn't use his bench except for pinch-hitting and late-inning defensive replacement duties, and, oh yeah, he still does not know how to double-switch even though he is in his third year managing in the NL.
However, is Manuel to blame for the current situation. No, not really. He's done his part, but he is also managing a dysfunctional team. Wes Helms does not have the defense to be a starting third baseman in the majors. Shane Victorino does not have the pop to be a starting corner outfielder. Rod Barrajas was a poor stopgap solution behind the plate that was a Phils knee-jerk reaction after ignoring the short-term catching solutions last yearspecifically, why didn't Ruiz get more experience given that it was apparent that he had to be the starter in 2007. With all the free agents and mid-season deals in 2006, it was clear that their bullpen would be threadbare in 2007.
Really, all of the Phils problems this year, aside from Utley and Howard not hitting, were apparent by the All-Star break last year. In the offseason, their big moves were to pick up two starting pitchers, the highly questionable Adam Eaton and Freddy Garcia, who will be a free agent at the end of the season, and to fill spots with veteran journeymen like Helms and Barrajas. And who is to blame for all of this? GM Pat Gillick.
This reminds me of 2004 when Larry Bowa quietly (for him) lame ducked his way through almost an entire season before getting fired in the final weekend. Bowa was also a poor manager for different reasons and he deserved to get fired. But by the time he was let go, his ineptitude was marginalized by the abysmal job then-GM Ed Wade was doing at gathering needed talent (especially at the trade deadline).
Bowa became the scapegoat while Wade survived one more season. I get the feeling that Manuel is getting primed for the scapegoat role, and his little run-in with Eskin helped grease the skids. It seemed to start in the offseason when a slew of former managers were hired to fill out the coaching staff. This includes heir apparent Jimy Williams, who has managed with Gillick in the past. It also came after a number of Manuel's coaches were let go in a mini shakeup.
Will firing Manuel and replacing him with either Williams, Davey Lopes, or even Dallas Greenthe Phils love to hire from within the organizationturn this team around? What about a creative move like hiring someone like Joe Girardi, will that energize the team? I doubt it. It might help, but it won't resolve the personnel issues.
So much of what the Phils front office is about is designating scapegoats to fire to get some sort positive PR bump with the local yokels that it would almost be surprising if Manuel were to be fired this early in the season. Who would they blame come October? However, Manuel may force their hand if he continues to publicly pour gasoline on the fire, like with his public brouhaha with Eskin.
Anyway, I took a look at teams that fired their manager at different times throughout the year. Here are the breakdowns based on when the manager was fired. The average manager's record, average team record, and average record after the firing are listed along with the winning percentage difference before and after the firing:
The time to fire a manager is clearly early in the season with potentially a 100-point winning percentage turnaround on average. However, if the Phils improved their winning percentage by 100 points, they would still be among the worst clubs in the league. That said, if or when the Phils decide that Manuel is on his way out, the are better off making a clean break then allowing him to be a lame duck going forward.
Right now, I'm sure that the Phils brass is in their typical bunker mentality. They are thinking about how they can generate some fan interest after all the offseason optimism and season ticket sales. With the bad weather it's hard to say whether the 27K they drew yesterday against their alleged rival, the Mets, was due to a growing lack of fan interest. But I am sure that the walk-up ticket sales will weigh as heavily on the front office's mind as the team's lackluster record. Only they know when they will make their next move, but unfortunately for Manuel, it appears that when that move comes it will come in the form of his dismissal.
Our Strength As Weakness
Now I see our lances are but straws,
So the Phils actually played a game. Freddy Garcia actually pitched in a Phillies uniform. And the results are the same as they have been all season. The Phils lost in resounding style to the Mets, 8-1, with Moises Alou alone outscoring (2-1) and out-homering (2 to zip) the entire Phils lineup.
Garcia lasted only four and two-thirds innings and though he struck out six he also allowed eight hits and three runs, all earned, including one of the Alou dingers. So starting pitching, one of the highly touted Phillie strengths when the season began, continues to be a severe weakness for the Phils. Their starter ERA is 5.93, worst in the National League.
Even though the Phil starters are striking out almost a batter an inning, the rest of their results are nowhere near as positive. Aside from Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer, the Phil starters have been deplorable yet far:
Meanwhile, their known problem of having absolutely no bullpen has been a problem, yesa 4.89 ERAbut not to the same extent as the starters (though a projected 0-41 record is kind of bad):
Look at all those unearned runs. Thanks Stand Pat for signing Wes Helms.
Anyway, tonight Matt Smith watched his ERA go from 3.86 to 13.50. He also allowed three walks to run his total to five in 2.2 innings. Oh, and he has yet to strike out a batter. He projects to 27 walks and (of course) no strikeouts for the season. That would be an all-time "record" for walks without a strikeout:
And even though all of the stranded baserunners have garnered a lot of press in Philly, the team as a whole is still holding their own at the plate in general. They led the majors in on-base (.378) and were fifth in OPS (.784). They are even doing relatively well with runners in scoring position (.783 OPS). They are just getting topped by the offense of their opponents.
So what should the team do? Here's what I propose: Conquer time travel, and go back in time to this offseason. First, do not sign Adam Eaton. Second, do not trade for Freddy Garcia. Sorry to bail on you, Freddy, after one bad start, but given that the Phils have very little prospect of contending this season, getting a pitcher in his walk-off year is far from optimal. Trade Aaron Rowand for Joe Crede. I know that Rowand is hitting now. It won't hold up for the season. Actually, trading him now would be a great fantasy move. His value will never be higher, and the Sox just lost Podsednik. Trade John Lieber for Alex Rios (both these trades were bandied about this offseason). Sign some honest to goodness veteran relievers. Oh, and stick Gio Gonzalez and Gavin Floyd in the rotation. Or give Ryan Madson a shot.
Eh, no plan's perfect. But something's got to give. Whether it's firing Manuel or pulling off an actual trade, something needs to change on this team. When your alleged strengths turn into major weaknesses, you've got trouble right here in river city.
…And Last in the National League
While Phils have been idle over the last couple of days awaiting the nor'easter's exit stage right, they have fallen to the lowly state of not only last in the NL East but last in the National League overall. A win by the Royals yesterday would have left them last in the majors overall.
The Phils though just percentage points behind the execrable Washington Nationals were dumped into last by two straight wins by Nats, over the Mets and Braves, and three wins in their last four ballgames. Yesterday they road Matt Chico's arm to a 5-1 victory over the division-leading Braves (what was Harpo unavailable?).
The last time the Phils were the worst team in the NL on April 16 was 1987 when they were 1-8 (en route to a 80-82 record). They have only been last in the NL by this time of year seven other times (1985, 1977, 1969, 1968, 1942, 1924, and 1909).
For all those who are still saying the Phils always start slow, this is not a slow start. This an historically bad start. The red flags should be leaping out at the Phils' brass. Stand Pat Gillick needs to start thinking about ending some of his experiments like foregoing a bullpen, allowing Wes Helms to play third regularly, using two center fielders in the starting outfield, and using a washed-up batting instructor as a manager.
Teams that started the season 3-8 (214 in total) have averaged a .427 winning percentage or a 69-93 record over a 162-game schedule and have averaged a sixth-place finish. Yes, some of those teams did have some modicum of success. Nine made the playoffs, five won their league, and three won the Series. But realistically these results are becoming more and more remote. Within one standard deviation of the average winning percentage, which prescribes the expected results for the bulk of these teams, teams ended up between 54-108 with a .336 winning percentage and 84-78 with a .518 winning percentage. Sure, the Phils could easily end up at the high end of that spectrum, but even so that would represent more of the malaise of mediocrity that the team has been steeped in for years. Remember how high expectations were just two weeks ago?
If you look at teams that were 3-8 and were in last place in their league, the prospect gets ever slightly less bleak. They too project to a 69-93 record and sixth place. However, just 4% have made the playoffs (same as 9 of 214 above) but 3% won their league title as opposed to 2% above. And the end of the spectrum is 85-77, one game better. As if that matters.
So where are we. Freddy Garcia starts his first game as a Phil tonight after a two-day delay and while the countdown to Charlie Manuel's dismissal has been on hold .and Leon is getting laaaaaarger.
Rain, Rain Go Away…
So what are they going to do with all those #42 jerseys? Maybe sell them on eBay.
As I washed my backyard float away today, there was nary a ballgame in sight until the Joe Morgan game of the week tonight. There were no scheduled ballgames east of Cleveland and north of Atlanta that did not get postponed. Then I turn on the Dodgers-Padres game tonight and forget about "Can't tell the players without a program". Every Dodger is wearing Jackie Robinson's number 42. What happened to that being something special?
Anyway, the Phils at least have to wait one more day for the execrable Nats to pass them in the NL East, but all the postponed games (6 of 16) made me think when was the last Sunday where this few games were played.
I looked up all Sundays after the opening weekend and looked at the percentage of teams that played on that date. The last time fewer than two-thirds of the teams were on the field on a Sunday was over thirty years ago:
So Phils fans will have to wait another day for Freddy Garcia's debut. Unfortunately, it will come against the Mets instead of the 'Stros. It remains to be seen whether the Phils will wear the #42 jerseys tomorrow or but them on ice like the all-crimson unis from the bygone days.
Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart.
The Phils won a ballgame yesterday in as odd a fashion as they have been losing them as late. In the third inning of a scoreless ballgame with the Mets, Chase Utley hit a two-out single and then was followed by four straight walks and a hit batsmen as the Phils score three runs and never looked back eventually winning, 5-2.
Oliver Perez, the Mets starter, was pulled after the hit batsman, while pitching a one-hitter. However, he also allowed seven walks and the HBP along with three runs, all earned, in two and two-thirds innings. Of his 73 pitches, only 32 were strikes. He threw just nine strikes in the 31 pitches he threw during the two-out rally in the third.
Perez's wildness was contrasted by the Phillies pitchers who were nearly perfect from Adam Eaton's seven-inning, four-hit start to Antonio Alfonseca's perfect eighth to Tom Gordon's one-hit ninth that earned his first save of the season. It seems that Alfonseca, who seemed to start the season in Manuel's doghouse, has earned a shot at the setup job. He seems the logical pick at this point.
The pitching potentially turning a corner will have more impact on the season, but the story of the game was the walks. The Phils garnered eleven on the night for the second time this season. Actually, the Phils are on a pace to set the team mark for walks per game. So far this season, they have amassed 51 walks in their first eight games for an average of 6.4. That outpaces the highest average ever, 5.39 per game, collected by Joe McCarthy's 1949 Red Sox who were led by Teddy B-ball's 162 BBs (tying his career high and tied for the fifth highest ever).
Here are the ten highest walks per game team totals ever:
(Note that the Indians' 5.20 average this year would also make the list.)
Oddly, the Phils also are on a pace to match the all-time list for strikeouts per game, 8.63, with 69 in eight games so far this year. Here is the all-time top ten:
The Phils are also just a hair above the league average in homers per game (0.88 vs. 0.83), which no one would have expected from what promised to be a very productive lineup that plays in a hitters' park.
Actually, homers are down all around the league. Home runs per game are at their lowest since 1992:
However, I should point out that the D-RaysYes, the Tampa Bay Devil Raysare on a pace to break the "record" for team dingers per game. They have had 14 in their first eight games, though no one player has more than two. That averages to 1.75 home runs per game. The Braves are also fractions ahead of the all-time pace at 1.63. Here are the all-time team highs:
But I digress. The bottom line is the Phils are on a record pace for strikeouts and walks per game, meaning that they are not making contact. That was something that we knew was an issue, but we didn't know it was this bad.
They have eight playerstheir whole starting lineupthat project to one hundred or more strikeouts for the season led by Ryan Howard who is on a pace for an all-time record 202 Ks:
Six Phils project to one hundred or more walks again led by Ryan Howard who projects to about 203, which would be the second highest all-time :
Of course, it's very early in the season but there are some signs of serious trouble in this lineup. Consider that the Phils have a glorified batting coach as a manager, and it makes you wonder what they are trying to do at the plate. As the weather gets warmer, these 11-walk games are likely to disappear but the strikeouts will continue to pile up.
How this team will generate some real offense will be a very interesting subplot as the season progresses. Of course, it would be more interesting if the defense and pitching woes weren't more serious. Maybe they solved some of those yesterday. It some point they are going to have to realize they need an honest to goodness major-league caliber starting third baseman (offensively and defensively) and probably right fielder, but this dysfunctional front office is probably a couple of months away from that revelation.
1-6, Right Where We Belong
The Phils are back at 1-6. Exactly where they were at this point last season and in 2004. Arguably, the best regular-season Phils team, the 1977 edition, started the season atyou guessed it1-6.
This team just loves trying to dig its way out of a self-dug hole. Yesterday, due to Charlie "I Need a Friggin'" Manuel's inability to pull a double-switch, the team's inability to play defense, and the bullpen's inability to pitch the Phils blew a late lead to the division-rival Mets. Doesn't give you those proverbial goosebumps, hmmm?
Keep in mind that on average, a team that starts 1-6 ends up with a .421 winning percentage, which translates into a 68-94 record over a 162-game schedule. Yikes! There have been seven 1-6 teams that ended up winning their division or league and one (the 1911 A's) that won the Series.
The Phils now become just the tenth club in major-league history to start two consecutive seasons at 1-6. They are also just the second club to do it in three of four season, the 1905-07 Superbas a.k.a. Dodgers being the other:
Sure, the Phils can still turn this season around. They've done it before. But with the Mets looking as tough if not tougher than 2006 and the Marlins and especially the Braves looking even better than last year, digging a hole this deep is going to take a long time to correct.
There is also one bog difference between this Phils club and the 2004 and 2006 versions. This team has a fundamental problem, the bullpen, for which there appears to be no quick answers. That will exacerbate the situation and make it much more difficult for the team to extract themselves from it. John Lieber has pitched one game in the pen and is already disgruntled. Right now the setup guy is not defined, so no other role can be. Their two best middle relievers (Madson and Geary) have failed in the setup role. It now falls to either Alfonseca, who reminds me too much of Arthur Rhodes, or the newly acquired Francisco Rpsario. I prefer Rosario because of his strikeout ratios, but given that he has just 23 major-league innings under his belt (and 6.65 ERA and high walk ratios), who knows if he can fill the role.
At least the have the master strategist Charlie Manuel calling the shots. Seriously, Manuel has difficulty properly managing his bullpen when it's peopled with veteran pitchers who have clearly defined roles. Forget about his managing a collection of youngsters and has-beens who have nary a role defined between them all.
I wonder what will happen after the Mets sweep them.
Just Passing Through
Due to repeated snow-outs, the Indians are relocating to Milwaukee for their next series against the Angels. This marks the first time that anyone went to Milwaukee for the weather.
The last time a team had to relocate to another stadium unexpectedly was September 13-14, 2004 when the Marlins moved a series to the new Comiskey due to Hurricane Ivan. In 1998, a beam fell in Yankee Stadium and the Yanks ended up playing a matinee at Shea on April 15 while the Mets played host that night. In 1997, the Padres moved a series to Honolulu due to construction to Qualcomm in preparation for the Super Bowl. In 1996 Oakland Coliseum was under construction for the newly returned Raiders and the A's played a series in Vegas.
Prior to this, teams typically played in other stadiums as a promotion. The White Sox played in Milwaukee in the late Sixties as a sop to fans in the fallow years between the Braves and the Brewers. The Dodgers played some games in Jersey City before relocating permanently to LA.
However, the topper was in 1946 when the Braves had to relocate temporary to Fenway because of a bad paint job. After painting the bleachers green, the team was waylaid by angry fans with green paint all over the keisters.
Here are all the instances of teams playing in a home away from home in the so-called modern era. I would include the nineteenth century, but there were just too many instances. Note that teams still won at a decent clip (.536 winning percentage) in theor temporary homes:
Meet the Mets, Tick off the Mets…
Thou met’st with things dying, I with things new-born.
–William “Author” Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale
The 1-5 Phils roll into Shea today for a three-game series that suddenly appears to be either a season marker or season breaker. Given all of the balloon juice that Jimmie Rollins directed the Mets way during spring training and the teams divergent directions, the Phils are under Alberto Gonzalez-type pressure. By next Monday, they will have played five games against the Mets.
Should the Phils’ losing ways continue, and they get swept by the Mets, they will have done something that just four other Phillies teams have ever done, started the season 1-8. No Phillie team has ever started 0-9. The average winning percentage for those four teams is .358, which translates into a 58-104 record for the season:
I ran the various scenarios for the outcome of the series from a Mets sweep to a Phils sweep and given the attendant Phillies record for each, came up with the historical average for teams with those records. I also through in the historical average for 1-5 teams, the Phils current record:
Only one team with a 1-8 record has ever made it to the postseason (the ’95 Reds, who finished 85-59). No 1-8 teams have ever gone on to win their league championship, let alone a World Series ring. Things do improve for 2-7 to 4-5 teams, but if historical averages hold, those teams still have no better than a one-in-twenty shot of making the postseason.
So what’s the bottom line? The Phils need to win a game in this series or their season is in serious jeopardy. That’s not much of a surprise, but no matter what the outcome—even a Phils’ sweep—especially with the Braves playing the Ignominious Nats (they moved there from DC—didn’t you hear?), the best that can be expected is that the Phils get back into some semblance of the division race. The worst is that they dig an historically deep hole.
I expect that Charlie “I Need a Friggin’” Manuel will go with the hot players like he did from the seventh inning on yesterday. Jayson Werth might get more time in right field, Victorino might spell Rowand in center, and Greg “Don’t Call Me Lou” Dobbs might have to replace the defensive abyss of Wes Helms at third. I’m not saying that I would necessarily make those changes, but Manuel has shown signs of desperation (Howard’s batting third; Howard’s not batting third after two games; pulling Barajas because of an 0-for-8 slump). If the Phils bats continue to struggle, expect Manuel to go to whatever hot bat he can find. I don’t really blame him, but a week into the season is a bit early for knee-jerk reactions. I can’t wait to see Jimy Williams’ first lineup the night he replaces Manuel.
The Phillies are getting more and more creative with their losses as the still early season gets seemingly longer and longer. Today they lost 6-4 to the Marlins to fall to 1-5 on the year.
The loss featured eleven walks resulting in 14 men left on base, the Phils' leaving the bases loaded to end the game (with the last two batters unable to hit the ball out of the infield), and yet another booted ball at third by cement-gloved Wes Helms. The play cost the Phils one run and though it was scored a double, it should have been a single and an error as the ball bounced off Helms' behind third base.
But it's not like the Phils have not been here before. They started the season 1-5 last year and in 2004. In fact, 2007 is the 15th time this illustrious franchise has started the season 1-5:
An average those teams have ended up 73-89, a bit shy of the 75 wins I predicted for this team.
Keep in mind that the Phils became just the 69th road team in baseball history to draw eleven walks and still lose the game (home teams have done it 110 times). The last time this happened was last July 9 when the Red Sox lost 6-5 to the White Sox despite drawing eleven walks. Here are the most walks to a visiting team that still resulted in a loss:
The most walks collected in a losing effort was by—you guessed it—the Phils, 18 in a losing interleague effort (7-6) against the O's on July 2, 2004.
The Charlie Manuel (career) death watch starts next weekend if the team can't pull out of this freefall. But fear not, Jon Lieber is on the way to resuscitate the starting rotation…And there was much rejoicing.
Madson Makes History (But Not the Good Kind)
In the general malaise surrounding the 1-4 Phils, I overlooked the significance of Ryan Madson's losses in the first two games of the season.
Madson became just the second man on record to lose the first two games of the season for his team. Bill Campbell was the other pitcher losing the first two Red Sox games in 1977.
On April 7, Campbell relieved Hall-of-Famer Fergie Jenkins with two outs in the top of the eighth and the Red Sox ahead of the Indians, 3-2. Campbell gave up a two-run homer to Buddy Bell to tie the score 4-4. In the eleventh, Campbell allowed a run as Frank Duffy scored on a fielder's choice by the great Duane Kuiper as the first baseman, George Scott, went home too late on the play. Dave LaRoche held the Red Sox scoreless in the bottom of the eleventh to secure the win, 5-4.
On April 10, Campbell relieved Reggie Cleveland in the eighth inning of a tie ballgame, 3-3. Campbell left one-third of an inning later after allowing three hits, one intentional walk, and four runs, though two posthumously. The one out he recorded was from a sac bunt. The Indians went on to score 13 runs in the eight and won the game 19-9. Campbell picked up his second loss and owned an ungodly 17.18 ERA.
To make matters worse, Campbell again lost to LaRoche, who entered the ballgame in the bottom of the seventh and got the final out before the Indians' 13-run eighth. When LaRoche left the mound at the end of the seventh, the game was tied 3-3; when he returned to the mound to start the eighth, he had a 16-3 lead. And it was a good thing as he allowed a single, a walk, a wild pitch, and a walk. The bases were loaded and Tom Busby relieved LaRoche. All three runners scored as the Red Sox scored six.
LaRoche's ERA stood at 11.57, but he had beaten Campbell for the second straight night.
At the end of the season, Campbell had amassed a 13-9 record with a 2.96 ERA in 140 innings. He was picked as an All-Star and finished fifth in the Cy Young vote and tenth in MVP voting.
LaRoche would not win another game that year for the Indians. He went 2-2 with a 5.30 ERA in 13 games for Cleveland. Then finished the year (6-5, 3.10 ERA) with California.
So even though Madson still has a 9.00 ERA in five innings pitched so far this year and lost the first two ballgames on extra-inning home runs, he could pull a Bill Campbell and turn his season around.
I also have to add that the Phillies did wise up and a) picked up a reliever, Francisco Rosario, and b) put Ryan Howard back in the cleanup spot. However, Howard has yet to drive in a run, let alone hit a home run, and after an 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and five left in base, is batting just .158. I guess that "protection" issue is not as important right about now as it seemed in the offseason.
What Pitching Problems?
The New York Mets won for the fourth time in four tries tonight, 11-1 over the Braves. The Mets have now outscored their opponents 31-3. Their starting pitchers, the Mets' presumed Achilles heel, has a 1.00 ERA and has pitched seven innings in three of the four games.
Then again, their relievers are unscored upon over the nine innings they have pitched, so maybe the rotation is their sore point.
The Mets also have become just the fifth team in baseball history to allow three or fewer total runs while winning their first four games. Here are the 4-0 teams that allowed the fewest runs:
The Mets are also just the second post-19th-century team to outscore their opponents by 28 or more runs while winning their first four:
Double Your Displeasure, Double Your Phunk
The 2007 season is only a couple of games old, and the Phils are already finding creative ways to blow leads. Last night, they wasted a great outing by Cole Hamels, even though they handed their highly priced closer, Tom Gordon, the ball with a two-run lead in the ninth. Those are exactly the situations that they cannot afford to let slip through their fingers.
Gordon allowed two runs, and then the putative setup man Ryan Madson allowed another extra-inning homer which resulted in another loss.
With a paper-thin bullpen, the Phils have lost the last two games at the hands of ostensibly their best two relievers, Gordon and Madson. They have had two good outings by their two starters, both of which went at least seven innings. The bullpen is rested and as fully stocked as possible and still their putative strength in the pen is being overpowered. Meanwhile, Charlie “I Need a Friggin’” Manuel has yet to call on Antonio “Six Finger” Alfonseca, which tells me he is afraid to use him, which is the best that can be said of Manuel’s evaluating skills.
By the end of this weekend a couple of things should be clear even to the dolts running the Phils’ front office:
1) The Phils need at least one, preferably two, premier relievers. This is not 1978. Pat Gillick has to understand that cobbling together three or four decent relievers does not constitute a bullpen. With teams averaging about four pitchers per game, this staff is just not going to cut it. This will become more and more apparent as the short and abysmal starts by Adam Eaton start to pile up. Also, Madson must move back to his long relieve role. He is just not a setup man. He needs longer appearances to establish himself.
2) Manuel’s experiment with Ryan Howard batting third has to stop. Howard is just too slow and he and Utley look too tentative in their new spots in the order. Why tinker with the two best guys in the lineup?
I know why—Manuel spent his winter trying to solve ways to “protect” Howard. He’s disenchanted with Burrell, who was almost jettisoned in the offseason, but Burrell is far from an unproductive hitter. Yes, he strikes out a lot, but doesn’t everyone in this lineup? Besides, Burrell can also pick up a walk or two, which is a lost art on this team. Burrell is the logical number five hitter behind Howard. Put the order back in order and leave it there.
These are their two biggest problems right now. And I haven’t even gone into their unresolved problems from last year like not having a real right fielder (just two center fielders), not having a leadoff man (Rollins is too streaky and does not walk enough), not having a starting third baseman (Helms is just a brick-gloved journeyman with decent pop), and the tail-end of the rotation (Moyers and Eaton and let’s wait to get beaten).
On a tangentially related note, the Phils have now become just the eighth team in baseball history to lose their first tow games of the season in extra innings. Maybe it bodes well since the previous seven were for the most part very good clubs:
Only one team has started the season with three straight extra-inning losses. That was the 1964 Yankees, and they went to the Series:
But don’t get too excited: these guys aren’t the ’64 Yankees. Besides Eaton will give up a handful of runs in the first three innings today obviating the need for extra innings to loss the game. And who’ll relieve him in the fifth? Where’s Warren Brusstar when you need him?
Worst O-For Since the O's
The Cardinals are doing their best to prove to the world that their World Series win last year was the biggest fluke since Moby Dick. Tonight they were two-hit by lowly John Maine and the Mets en route to a 10-0 shutout, completing a three-game sweep. The Cards were outscored 20-2 in those three games.
What's even worse is that they started career reliever Braden Looper, who hasn't started a game since his first year in pro ball in 1997 back in high Single-A ball. Pitching ex-woeful Met Looper in his first career start against the his ex-mates is like throwing meat to a pack of wolves—have you ever seen the Mets eat?
The Cardinals become the first reigning champs to start the season 0-3 since the Baltimore Orioles in 1984 and just the eighth ever:
Consider that the Cards' ace Chris Carpenter will miss his next start scheduled start, which was supposed to take place in St. Louis next game, Friday in Houston. Adam Wainwright is scheduled to pitch their next game, and he is another pitcher who has never started a game in the majors. At least he was a starter throughout his minor-league career though.
Should the Cardinals lose Friday, they would become just the third reigning champs to lose their first four games:
Two losses in their first two games in Houston and the Cardinals become the first World Series champs to lose their first five games the next season. Even the Marlins various dismantling projects of their championship teams never came close to doing that.
Hey, Bud, Let's Party!
It’s good to be the King.
It was disclosed yesterday that Bud Selig and a number of top MLB executives made eye-poppingly large salaries in the 2005season, according to the major’s tax return. Apparently, that is public information (or the AP somehow got a copy). It’s odd that we have never seen this sort of information made public before.
Anyway, Bud was in essence the 16th highest paid baseball employee in 2005:
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg (iceBud?). The salaries for six other top officials were also disclosed, and let’s just say that none of them were making league minimum:
Actually, the league minimum salary for 2005 was $316K, and the average salary for all MLB employees from Bud down to the lowliest secretary, sorry, “assistant”, was almost $335K:
That’s almost seven times the NFL’s administrative average and a third more that the NHL’s over roughly the same period, though the NHL employed just a quarter the staff.
Look at it this way: the $3.6M average for the top MLB executives constituted the fifth highest average salary in baseball in 2005:
It’s no wonder that we are hearing rumors that Heir Bud might not be retiring in 2009 as planned (Yeah, and Jay Leno is going to quit to give Conan his show, too). That’s too large a chunk of change to be left on the table for a former used car salesman.
So for the first time, I am in agreement with Joe Sixpack when he opines that these guys are overpaid except I won’t be talking about the players.
Chicken Littling Opening Day
The Phillies season ended yesterday as an Edgar Renteria home run in the tenth inning propelled the Braves to a 5-3 win on opening day.
Charlie “I Need a Friggin’” Manuel, the Phillies manager, did his part by inexplicably batting reigning NL MVP Ryan Howard third swapping the first baseman with the Phils’ usual number three hitter second base man Chase Utley in order to “protect” Howard in the lineup. There was no explanation as to why Manuel felt the need to switch them defensively as well. Watching Howard attempt to turn the doubleplay was painful. I’m joking of course.
This strategy failed the Phils twice in the game. The Braves went ahead and gave Howard a free pass in the ninth to put men on first and second and the Phils failed to score. Also, in the top of the fifth, after Atlanta had grabbed the first lead of the game, Howard’s bulk got in the way of an Utley batted ball resulting in Howard being called out. Had they been reversed in the lineup, since the Phils had their first three batters reach base that inning, Utley could have scored (instead of moving to third) on Helms ground out to first.
I know, the lineup does not really matter all that much, studies have shown. To wit, I will counter that “protecting” batters matters even less (studies have also shown), and why not have a lineup that at least makes sense. Howard is just too slow and too poor a base runner to bat third.
Manuel also screwed up a potential double-switch in the eighth when he brought in Matt Smith to pitch to one batter after Myers had given up the lead to an all too meaty 0-2 fastball to Renteria for his first home run. Smith was the fifth batter due up in the bottom of the eighth, and I would have switched him with number two hitter, Shane Victorino, who was 0-for-4 with two Ks and two weak grounders on the day, and brought Jayson Werth in to play right to improve my offense.
Maybe conventional wisdom would be against it since as the home team you are playing for the win and Matt Smith wasn’t going to pitch the ninth anyway. Besides, Victorino doubled to start a stunted two-out rally in the ninth. My response would be instead of losing Tom Gordon to pinch hitter Greg Dobbs in the ninth, a double-switch would have had Werth coming up in that spot and would have potentially kept Gordon in another inning.
You can disagree with the double-switch, but my point is that Manuel doesn’t know how to double-switch so the point is moot. The double-switch is off the table with Manuel as a manager.
One more word on Myers: he is still a number three pitcher in my mind no matter how much talent he has. He pitched very well for seven innings yesterday, struck out nine, etc., but that meat pitch to Renteria epitomizes his career. He’s meat. He is a major-league Nuke Laloosh who never had a Crash Davis to mentor him. There’s no way Myers should be throwing the pitch he did to Renteria with an 0-2 count. He is more concerned with velocity than location. He’s meat and he will always be meat. Myers is now 26 and is in his sixth season, but he never seems to improve. I’d rather have Nino Espinosa in his prime: at least he tried to learn how to pitch.
Anyway, given the Phillies reactions after the game you would have thought it was the sixth game of the Series, not opening day:
"I wouldn't take this first one to [mean] we're done for the season," said Myers. "No, not at all. We're not getting down for any games. We need to get up for every game. This is only the first one. We have plenty more games to go. We can't let this one distract us."
It’s opening day for crissake! I know they are trying to say the right things and “stay loose”, but did they think they were going 162-0? This loss will have no more meaning than the 86 or so others they will have this season.
But it did make me wonder if opening day record means anything over the course of the season. Or as Jimmie Rollins bloviated yesterday about being an A’s fan as a kid, "It's a special day. I didn't care if the A's won any other game as long as they won opening day. But they won some World Series. Hopefully, we can get that coming here." Does getting off on the right foot lead to the proverbial World Series crown or is it just another game?
I ran the numbers for all playoff teams and they win at a .611 clip:
Maybe there is something to getting off on the right foot. Hmm???
Well, consider that the overall record of these teams is not much different from their opening day record. (Actually it’s two percentage points better.) Good teams just tend to win, opening day or any other day in the season:
However, teams that win their league crown and the World Series championship tend to have an especially good record on opening day:
OK, I guess the Phils are right. It is time to panic: the Series is now lost. Oh horrors!
It’s a good thing for them that they have another game today. A win today will jumpstart their 161-1 campaign.
In the tipoff to the 2007 season, the Mets wiped the floor with Chris Carpenter and the alleged World Champion Cardinals, 6-1, in a much different replay of last year’s NLCS. Tom Glavine won game 291 in the process.
But should anyone be surprised? Aside from the real possibility that these two teams will switch places in 2007 (not actual cities, however), the Mets were destined to win because they have the best opening day record in the majors, 28-17 for a .622 winning percentage. The Cards owned just the 22nd best at 61-64 (.488).
The Cardinals were destined to lose!
Here are the opening-day records by winning percentage for all major-league clubs (through 2006):
My beloved Phils have the most losses on opening day, 69, while the Cubbies lead all teams in wins, 74. I’m not worried about the Phils tonight since the local papers have dubbed them the most talented since the 1980 club. How pathetic is that given that the best that most predict for the team is a wild card.
By the way, here’s the opening-day record for defunct teams for the completists out there—you know who you are:
The 25th Men—Fewer Splinters To Go Around
As teams prepare for the season opener, the final cuts, some of which are very difficult, are being made. It has gotten even more difficult in the last few years as teams now regularly break camp with a twelve-man staff. When I was a kid in the Seventies, ten-man staffs were de rigueur and even some of those guys seemed never to get used (the Phils carried Ron Schueler for years but seemed to use him less than a September callup).
The other day in Philly, Karim Garcia, a non-roster invitee, become ostensibly the final cut of spring when the Phils declined to sign him to a major-league contract. Garcial, who hadn't played in the majors since 2004 (when he batted .229) was a dubious pickup in the offseason to be sure, but he performed as well as almost anyone in camp (.305 batting average, 7 runs, 1 HR, and 7 RBI in 59 at-bats).
Compare that to the man he was basically competing with for the fourth outfielder/pinch-hitter job, Jayson Werth, who batted .275 with 7 runs, 1 HR, and 6 RBI in 40 at-bats. However, Werth, who can play all three outfield spots more capably and has even learned how to catch in a Luis Aguayo/emergency type role. So Werth was more versatile—and had been out of the majors since just the middle of 2005—and won the job. The fifth outfield spot went to Michael Bourn, who is needed for defensive insurance for Pat Burrell in late innings and for his speed (6 stolen bases and 15 runs to lead the club this spring). So bye bye, Karim. Oh well, he won't be missed much.
Back in the Seventies, I remember the Phils carrying multiple corner outfield/pinch-hitter types. In 1980, they had three: Del Unser, Greg Gross, and George Vukovich. But teams carried six outfielders, three catchers, two utility infielders, and a partridge in a pear tree back then.
It makes me wonder if we are ready to expand the rosters to 26 men. It gets worse in the American League where teams must carry a designated hitter as well. Remember when the NL voluntarily limited their rosters to 24 men supposedly out of altruism for their brothers in the AL, though I'm sure cutting one salary didn't hurt either.
Anyway, it also makes me wonder what kind of men are filling those final rosters spots as bench players are expected to do more and more. First, I ran the numbers comparing bench players against starting position players. For each, I calculated the percentage of players, Win Shares, games, at-bats, and plate appearances for starters as compared to all position players:
So even though bench players numbers have thinned somewhat in the past decade, their production (measured by Win Shares) has fallen off more. However, that's due more to their lack of use (games, at-bats, and plate appearances) than to their poor performance. Actually, their disuse starting in the Nineties, at Nineteenth Century levels, and is now off the charts. There has never been an era in baseball in which the bench was used less.
So who are these bench players that we've heard so much about? Well, one thing about them is that they are expected to play more positions than ever before (did I mention this already?). Here are the totals per decade for all position players who played four and five positions in a given season (min. of five games per position):
So the last two decades have seen more and more multi-position players being used. Aside from a brief spike in the 1890s (mostly from 1890 to 1892 when players were being stretched thin—figuratively—because of demands from multiple leagues) there has never been anything like the versatility we see from today's bench players. By the way, there has yet to be a six-position player who meets the criterion (min. 6 games per position), but give them a couple of years, and they'll produce one.
So what has all this skimping and Rafael Belliard-ing around with the bench allowed the team to do with the pitching staff? Well, take a look at the average number of pitchers used in at least ten, twenty, and thirty games per year below:
Note that the slow historical growth of the staff went through the proverbial roof in the Nineties and has continued unabated ever since then. I wasn't kidding when I said Seventies staffs could hide a pitcher or two: under seven pitchers were used for at least 30 games per year back then. Now, almost nine pitchers are used that much, and I suggest that the 30-game numbers haven't shot up as much as the other two because teams cannot find as many pitchers that have enough talent for teams to stick with them a full season. Teams are using sixteen or seventeen men to fill out their twelve men staffs over a full season.
So teams have set up a meat grinder for their twelve-man staffs and are stretching their scant bench all over the field. And still Charlie "I Need A Friggin'" Manuel can't pull a double-switch.
This is my site with my opinions, but I hope that, like Irish Spring, you like it, too.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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