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Phulphilling 2006?
2006-02-21 09:41
by Mike Carminati

Pitchers and catchers reported to the spring camps last week, and I was set to say, "Great! Now, if the Phillies only has some…." The only problem is that Pat Gillick beat me to it, which is rather odd given that he's the GM of the club.

Given that Gillick's biggest deals since joining the club in November have been 1) to jettison aging former franchise player Jim Thome (thereby clearing the way for NL RoY Ryan Howard, a good move, but Gillick had to eat have Thome's gargantuan contract in the process) and 2) to sign former Action News sportscaster Scott Palmer ("There goes that news van again") as some sort of PR guru. Hey, I'm for any guy who helped rid the club of the bane of Ed Wade, but when hiring him is one of the best moments in a team's offseason…Well, they don't can him Stand Pat for nothing.

Well, maybe that's unfair. Gillick has picked up players, just not the players the Phils need in most cases. Aaron Rowand is potentially a very good pickup given his excellent defensive skills and especially if he can duplicate his 2004 offensive stats (24 HR and .905 OPS). However, one has to be concerned with his offensive malaise last year (.736 OPS) and the appearance that 2004 was a career year at age 26 as opposed to the breakthrough year it appeared to be at the time.

So Rowand is a potential mixed bag, but there's more: he's the only decent pickup by Gillick. The rest of the roster has been peppered by veteran backups who have been given overpriced contracts, a sub-par starter (5.10 ERA in 2005) who will be 33 this year and yet has one season with an ERA under 4.00 and that was three seasons ago, oh, and a flotilla of sub-par third baseman replacing/buttressing lamb duck starter David Bell.

So when Gillick opined right before camp opened that the Phils were not contenders given the lack of a number one starter, unless he was trying to incentivize Brett Myers—an approach that has not worked in the past, ask Joe Kerrigan—, I have to say the fault is not in our stars (or rather the lack thereof) but in ourselves, or more to the point Gillick himself.

Besides, realistically given the talent throughout the division, the Phils appear to be a lock for third no matter what they do. The Marlins destroyed their club this offseason and should have one of the worst records in baseball history. The Nationals should look more like the team that fell apart in the second half rather than the one that surprising led the division at the start of 2005. Pencil them in for fourth.

Then there's the revamped Mets who barring another Mo Vaughn-type of talent shortfall should be the only challengers to the suddenly revamped Braves. The Braves will have a great deal of good young talent and should start another run like they did after the 1991 season.

Then there's the Phils, who could have six pretty good starting position players but will have an offesive sinkhole at third and behind the plate as well as a continually sub-par rotation of number three and number four pitchers, and a closer who has been a setup man for four years.

But maybe I'm being a bit tough on them. If Rollins and Rowand have good years and they rest do as expected, they could have six starting position players with an OPS over .800. Of course, that would go along with potentially sub-.700 OPSs from Lieberthal and Bell. But does that matter?

I looked up all the teams in baseball history that had similar lineups. That is, all but two position players (with a minimum of 200 plate appearances) had an OPS over .800, and the other two had a sub-.700 OPS. Here's what I found:

TeamYrSub-700 OPS800+ OPSWLPCTRankRRA ExpW ExpL Exp PCTERA
Houston Astros2001269369.5741847769 88.14 73.86 .5444.37
Chicago White Sox1996268577.5252898794 90.08 71.92 .5564.53
New York Mets1987269270.5682823698 93.12 68.88 .5753.84
Toronto Blue Jays1983278973.5494795726 87.71 74.29 .5414.12
New York Yankees19392710645.7021967556 111.50 40.50 .7343.31
Average9367.582 94.11 65.89 .588 4.03

In 2001, Ausmus has a .625 OPS and Lugo had a .698 OPS for the 'Stros. The '96 White Sox has Karkovice and Guillen, the '87 Mets had a sub-par Gary Carter and Rafael Santana. Those are all catcher-shortstop combos, not that far from the Phils situation at catcher/third.

All of those teams had winning records, and all but one had a better record than the 2005 Phils, who missed the playoffs after playing a full season (as the Astros beat the Cubs on the final day of the season).

If you think that the 2006 Phils don't fit in with these teams given their sub-par rotations, look at the average ERA for the group (4.03), not far from the team's sub-par 4.21 ERA last year, especially if you factor in the era and the park.

So what does this tell us? Could the Phils contend? If a lot of "if"'s work out in their favor, it is not out of the question. If Rowand bounces back to his 2004 offensive… If Utley and Howard continue to develop… If Madson and Myers can anchor the rotation…If Gordon can be a reliable closer. There are a lot of "if"'s, but none seem out of the question.

I hate to admit it but the Phils could be contenders even given some of the sinkholes in the lineup and in the rotation. Then again there is always Charlie "I Need a Friggin'" Manuel around to screw things up. Hmm, let me rethink this.

2006-02-21 16:25:26
1.   das411
Hmm, what if the following happens Mike?

1. Phils stumble out of the gate, Rollins' hit streak ends and they pull off another 5-15 April.

2. Manuel is fired and the team brings in Darren Daulton with his crazy new religion. When Dutch names David Bell his new bench coach, Nunez and Gonzalez automatically upgrade 3B.

3. After another horrific knee injury resulting from an "accidental" spiking from Chase Utley, Mike Lieberthal retires. The Phils decide to bring up Ruiz and, since they relate so well early in the season, Cole Hamels, Gio Gonzalez, and however many other arms it takes to find the next 2004 Ryan Madson.

It seems to me the Phils are one big right-handed bat from having one of the league's best lineups. Since one of those offensive black holes is at 3B, know of any right handed 3Bmen who may be available this season...? It's possible Gillick could roll the dice on someone like Beltre if Seattle falls out of contention by the deadline, maybe use some of that $$ freed up by putting the hit, removing Lieberthal.

Or they could slide Burrell back in to HIS ORIGINAL POSITION and solve the 3B problem, this would put Victorino and Rowand at 2 of the 3 starting OF sports though. Lots of possibilities there...

2006-02-22 04:22:13
2.   Murray
Oh, come on, Mike! You get a list of schmucky teams like the 1996 White Sox plus the 1939 Yankees, and you let that weird outlier pass without comment? It's absolutely hilarious, don't you think?? Babe Dalghren and Frank Crosetti really did suck. It all goes back to the old contrafactual: how good might they have been with Lou Gehrig turning in even his subpar 1938 season?
2006-02-22 18:14:57
3.   Mike Carminati

I don't think you can really have an outlier with five data points. I didn't delve into the 1939 Yankees because I thought they basically spoke for themselves. Good points though re. them.

2006-02-23 04:28:07
4.   Murray
You're right--outlier isn't the word I should have used because it implies something significant about the data. What I meant is that's its funny and informative to pop up a list featuring five forgettable clubs and arguably the greatest team in Yankee history. Also, just when you think that there probably isn't anything else to know about that club, your list reminds us about a salient characteristic of that great team that isn't always at the forefront of everybody's thoughts. So, thanks for it.

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