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Archive for January, 2006

Bobby Abreu: Speed and Rest

Posted by Brian Michael, Tue, January 31, 2006 11:28 AM Comments: 0

Over at Hardball Times, there is a piece attempting to quantify the intangible effects potential base stealers have on pitchers.  It’s a multi-part article but it’s shaping up to be an interesting one.  It got me thinking about the Phillies and their use of speed to score runs.  Now at first glace there isn’t a whole lot of room for improvement in the stolen base or runs scored category – the Phils are near the top of the league in both.  Jimmy Rollins finished seventh in the majors with 41 swipes while Bobby Abreu was twelfth with 31.  The loss of Kenny Lofton’s 22 SB last season will hopefully be offset by the addition of Aaron Rowand’s 16 and an everyday Chase Utley adding to his 16 from last season.

But the loss of Lofton got me thinking even more.  To finish 21st in the league while not playing everyday means that he must be stealing at a rate higher than most players (by players I mean players with speed – a good percentage of baserunners are to slow to even consider stealing a base).  So I calculate the number of times Lofton landed on first or second base by taking his hits subtracting triples and home runs and adding walks.  I excluded HBP since they’re negligible for everyone but Craig Biggio and Jason Kendall but mostly because the pain of being hit by a pitch would probably discourage one from attempting to steal.  This formula, which shows Lofton was on first or second 148 times, will be used as a rudimentary statistic for stolen base opportunities.  I realize this does not take into consideration other runners on base or bases-loaded situations when the steal sign is inactive, but for now it will have to do.  From this I divided stolen bases by stolen base opportunities and calculated that Kenny Lofton stole a base roughly 15% of the time in which the opportunity presented itself.  I did the same for Jimmy Rollins and his steal rate was 18.6%, which makes sense because he had a much lower OBP than Lofton.  However, with Bobby Abreu we find that he recorded a stolen base only 12% of the time.

At first I assumed Abreu just didn’t have enough attempts, but there are other factors involved.  Looking at Abreu’s success rate in stealing bases compared to Rollins and Lofton shows that he was caught stealing at a higher rate (Abreu 21%, Rollins 13%, Lofton 12%).  But we all know Abreu is a speedy base runner as evident in his 40 SB in 2004.  When trying to rationalize why Abreu didn’t steal as many bases as I think he could have last year, immediate speculation arose as to his health in the second half of the season.  There was talk that minor injuries affected his performance and while this is probably the case, his overuse may have compounded the injuries.  Yes, the Phils were in the playoff hunt but he didn’t have a single day off all last season.  The only other year Abreu played in every game was 2001, which also happens to be the only other year he hit under .300.

After all these calculations and fuzzy math stemming from my original hypothesis that Abreu should be stealing more bases, I have concluded that the guy maybe just needs a day off.  Based on the performance of his best years, three days of rest per season should about do the trick.  Now whether I needed to bore you with the stolen base statistics to reach to that conclusion is up for debate, but that’s just how my long-winded thought process worked today.  Still, I think my stolen base rate statistic has some potential, so any feedback would be appreciated.

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Frank Gillick, the Phils GM

Posted by Brian Michael, Sun, January 29, 2006 06:43 AM Comments: 0

I doubt anyone would disagree that the public relations approach of Pat Gillick is a far cry from that of previous general managers.  What comes out of Pat’s mouth usually squares with both common perception and common sense.  There isn’t a huge difference between the 2005 and 2006 squads but somehow they’ve gone from being of ‘championship caliber’ to not being able to win the division.  Now I’ve said a few times before that this particular quote is part of a well-planned media ploy to be culminated in a big trade, most likely for an ace.  Back in early November when we profiled Pat Gillick, I gained a lot of respect for a man whom I saw as experienced, motivated and intelligent.  That’s why I don’t think he’d be stupid enough to say the team can’t win the division, without having a plan to actually achieve that goal.  Ruben Amaro, Jr.’s "60% chance of a blockbuster" comments the other day were just another tactic to string us along in this game of his.  So in that sense, I do believe that something will happen before Spring Training.

However, towards the end of his reign in Seattle, several players began to distrust and dislike Gillick, not the least of which for his "Standing Pat" moniker.  Thus I can’t help but feeling that his frankness with the media and fans, while an appreciated departure from Wade, can eventually have adverse effects on the ballclub.  No member of a team likes to hear his boss claim that they aren’t good enough to get the job done.  There is no need to lay all your cards on the back page of the Daily News - frustrated as he might be with the lack of pitching talent available this off-season, he should show a bit more tact when talking.  Some players may not be used to his strategy or have not even been informed of his real prospects on landing a starter.  Ryan Madson told us last week that it was the first time he even met Gillick this off-season.  While it’s true the fans buy the season tickets, I would like to see Pat cultivate his relationship with the players a bit more, because once the season starts, they’re the ones who ultimately attact people to the park.

So what I’m trying to say is that although the Gillick administration appears to be more strategically calculated and active than Wade, I’m not yet convinced it is the best direction for building team morale.

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Rowand’s Got the Right Approach

Posted by Brian Michael, Thu, January 26, 2006 08:55 PM Comments: 0

During the Phillies Caravan stop in Reading on Wednesday, Aaron Rowand spoke about his experience with team chemistry on the World Champion White Sox.  A lot of what he talked about reminded me of the Phillies clubhouse during the ’93 team.

”I think when you see a lot of guys staying after, hanging out, whether it be working out or sitting in the hot tub, hanging out off the field, I think a lot of the bonding and camaraderie you get as a team comes from times like that."

I’m sure you’ve heard Dykstra and Krukker remenice about the cans of beer and overflowing spittoons that riddled the clubhouse after post game sessions in 1993.  With the amount of young players on this year’s team hopefully they will be looking to learn more about the game and thus have the potential to adopt this useful practice.  Who exactly will be giving the lessons however is another question.  It could be mostly Rowand unless Bell or Abreu start becoming active.  Very few Phillies players have significant, if any, playoff experience.  It will be interesting to see how Abraham Nunez fits in knowing he is on contract for at least 2 years.  Though as we noted last week, some players are looking for Jimmy Rollins to step up and be a leader in the clubouse.

Elsewhere recently we’ve seen the team bonding issue come up, this time straight from the mouth of a ’93 Phil.  In Bill Simmons’ interview with Curt Schilling, Schill discussed the team approach in the context of Red Sox World Series in 2004.  Keep in mind he’s been a part of three different teams which went to the World Series, and won it twice.

Simmons: How would you approach it if you ran a baseball team — would you keep tinkering and tinkering to find the perfect team on paper, or would you value chemistry and continuity over everything else?

Schilling: They go together. Chemistry starts from Day One in spring training, which is where I think Tito [Francona] has an enormous impact, but it never truly develops until you win and win often.

That brings up a good point, one which is used by people who think team chemistry is overrated.  In most cases, a team will naturally gel together if they are winning.  And even if they hate each other and they are winning, the media and fans will think there is good chemistry or just not care.  The current Phils squad parties together and generally gets along well, but that certainly does not mean that winning will come much easier.

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Dose of Dizzy Dean

Posted by Brian Michael, Wed, January 25, 2006 11:03 PM Comments: 0

Just a few thoughts for Phillies Nation to consider.  Two concern a subject that is little mentioned here on Phillies Nation, but I promise it does relate to the Phillies.  I am speaking of the little publicized (at least in this country) World Baseball Classic.  Bud Selig’s baby seems to be generating buzz worldwide, but many of the major American players (most notably Barry Bonds) are dropping out like flies.

The Phillies seem to have a conondrum with both Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins being invited to try out for the team.   Why is this a dilemma you ask, they play different positions.  Well with the likes of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez already occupying the SS position the brain trust for team USA want J-Roll to try out for second base; therefore competing directly with Chase.  The only other American second baseman invited was Jeff Kent.  Well the Phillies have decided to solve this problem for team USA.  They have forbidden J-Roll from even attempting to play second base.  They are worried because this is not his natural position and fear he will get injured trying to turn double plays from the second base side of the bag.  The reasoning behind this decision is that second is a totally differnt pivot with the second baseman’s back to the runner often.  Do not misunderstand me, I do not totally disagree with the Phils decision here, but this is why I believe the WBC may be doomed for mediocracy. 

Now if that little tid bit has soured you on the American team, I invite you to root for team Australia.  10% of the Aussie’s invited to try out are made up of players from the Phillies farm system (who says the Phils do not scout internationally?).  Phils minor leaguers trying out for team Australia include RH Scott Mitchinson, OF Tim Autey, 2B Bradley Harman, P Mark Kelly, 3B Tim Kennelly, and C Joel Naughton.  Go team Aussie! 

Finally, lets move away from the WBC for a moment.  There has been alot of talk about Mike Piazza.  I understand that he is most likely not coming here, and I am OK with that, but allow me to make a case for why it was not such an outlandish idea.  If you can get Piazza for something like 2 million for 1 year and have him as a RH bat off the bench/back-up first baseman if Howard struggles against LH pitching/back-up catcher for Lieby why not take the chance.  I mean if he regains his offense power (which I admit is not likely, but could happen) then doesn’t he become one of the most dangerous pitch hitters in the NL.  I mean even if he stays at the level he was last year isn’t that ten times better then the Thomas Perez/ND Chavez’s of the world?  Speaking of catchers, if we cannot get an ace, why not go after Molina, who is still available?  To make any pitcher better just give him a good catcher.  I doubt he is affordable for the Phils, considering we already have 7.5 million wrapped up in the catcher position, but hey, I can hope right?          

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Don’t Believe the Contreras Hype

Posted by Brian Michael, Tue, January 24, 2006 09:49 AM Comments: 0

All signs on the impending Jason Michaels deal point to today.  Phillyburbs.com has already gone so far to say the deal is done.  The Akron Beacon Journal is a bit more hesitant, claiming "the deal should be consummated as early as today."  I hate to admit it, but all sources indicate it will in fact be Arthur Rhodes whom the Phils pick up.  That would be most disappointing.  Maybe Gillick just really wants to see Madson in the rotation since he knows he will not be able to improve the starting 5 from outside the organization.

On that note, I’m sure we’ve all heard the latest rumors about the Phillies and White Sox starters, but there are many reasons the World Champion White Sox probably won’t make a move.  They have a solid offense already, again one that won the World Series – plus added Thome.  If, as rumored, the deal was be Jose Contreras and Jermaine Dye for Abreu, the Sox would be taking on a lot of salary.  The addition of Abreu to the payroll would equal an extra $13 million over the next two years.  Contreras is a free agent after 2006 so the Phils wouldn’t benefit on this trade in the medium-term unless they could resign him.  It’s likely they could, since the large contracts of Lieberthal and Bell expire at the same time.  Jon Garland’s name has also been mentioned but it seems Pat Gillick is looking for a bit more of a legitimate ace.  Unfortunately, Jayson Stark reported the Sox are not interested in moving Freddy Garcia and Mark Buehrle.

Nothing like some sad trade rumors to start the day.

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Jason Michaels Deal in the Works

Posted by Brian Michael, Sun, January 22, 2006 12:46 PM Comments: 0

News out of Boston reports that the Indians and Phillies are trying to work out a trade that will send Jason Michaels to Cleveland in exchange for either one of two relievers, LHP Arthur Rhodes or RHP Rafael Betancourt.  The Indians have already agreed in principle to send their current centerfielder, Coco Crisp, to the Red Sox for reliever Guillermo Mota and prospect Andy Marte (who Jayson Stark recently compared to Chase Utley) but that deal is contingent on the acquisition of a new centerfielder.  Though it has been noted that the Phils and Indians were hoping to complete the deal for Michaels as soon as last night, Cleveland also has interest in signing free agent Jeff DaVanon, formerly of the Angels.  A disclaimer on all this though: the Boston Herald has not named any of its sources in this article so the deal is certainly not definite.

Either reliever would be a nice pickup for the Phils.  Betancourt, a 30 year-old Venezuelan, was 4-3 last season in 67.2 innings with an excellent 4.3 K/BB ratio.  He also had a 2.79 ERA in only his third season in the big leagues.  Arthur Rhodes, who is a bit older at 36, had a 2.08 ERA with 3.6 K/BB ratio for Cleveland last year.  If traded, it would be Rhodes’ fourth team in four years after an amazing 2001 and 2002 with Seattle.

Losing Michaels would hurt but the Phils could certainly afford the loss with Victorino up and coming.  Besides, pitching continues to be the weak point of the team and adding a decent arm to the bullpen could free up Madson to assume a starting role.  I just wonder how a trade would affect Michaels’ recent sentencing to probation and community service with PAL.  But a more pressing question is if this deal would make Pat Gillick retract his statements from last week.  Madson in the rotation and a quality setup man would dramatically improve the club’s prospects.

MONDAY MORNING UPDATE:  Jim Salisbury is saying that the trade will be Michaels for Arthur Rhodes, while the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports it could be either Guillermo Mota, David Riske, or Arthur Rhodes.  If Mota doesn’t pass a physical, the whole three-team deal could be called off.

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USA Today Top 25 Poll

Posted by Brian Michael, Thu, January 19, 2006 10:41 PM Comments: 0

No, I am not going to write a post about the Texas Longhorns or the Duke Blue Devils.  What I am going to present to you is the USA Today Sports Weekly (January 18-24 edition) Top 50 players in baseball last year regardless of position.  The parameters that he USA Today staff writers used included postseason play, awards won, and intangibles such as leadership.  Not your normal parameters to be sure, but I think that is why I found this particular list so intriguing.

There was a tie at the top between Albert Pujols (no surprise there) and Derrek Lee (surprised me).  Players of mention from the NL East include Andruw Jones (6), Dontrelle Willis (8), Pedro Martinez (15), Carlos Delgado (18), and Miguel Cabrera (20).  Needless to say a nice array of talent that the Phils have to deal with on a regualr basis, but what I found most interesting was the fact that the only Brave (you know the team that won the division last year and for like 13 years straight) in the top 25 was Jones.  I guess this proves that talent is not everything when it comes to being a successful team. 

Where are all the Philles you ask?  Well I admit the deck is stacked against them in this list due to the lack of postseason play, but there are plenty of players whose team did not make the playoffs in the top 25.  The highest ranked Phillie is, envelope please, Bobby Abreu at number 29.  Billy Wagner (although not a Phillie anymore this list was based on last years numbers) checks in at #31.  Jimmy Rollins is number 41, while Pat Burrell is the final Phillie on the list at number 47. 

The point here is that Gillick better wait for a top of the line starter if he is going to trade Abreu.  I think we tend to take Bobby for granted.  I concede that his numbers did drop dramatically in the second half last year, but unlike those who blame it on his home run derby performance (really how could that affect him or anyone for more than a week or two after the game.  I mean the guy takes BP EVERYDAY and he is a pro with pro coaches) I contend that Bobby was playing hurt in the second half.  His power numbers were not the only to drop.  Even when he got on base he was tenative to run.  His legs were clearly ailing and for anyone who knows anything the power and quickness in the baseball swing comes mostly from the legs.   

The other thing to take from this list is that Rollins and Burrell were in the top 50.  With a young core of player that also include Utley and Howard we should not complain so much about Bell and Lierberthal (who by the way I am picking to have a sneaky good year.  He did come on strong in the second half last year and I just ahve a feeling that will carry over this year).  What we do need is for Gillick to not just admit that we need a pitcher, but instead go out and get one.  Or maybe, just maybe, for once a young pitcher can emerge and surprise us.  I am thinking along the lines of Dontrelle a few years back.  Hey I can hope, right? 

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Chat with Ryan Madson

Posted by Brian Michael, Wed, January 18, 2006 06:19 AM Comments: 0

Yesterday I participated in an online chat with Ryan Madson hosted by mlb.com.  It wasn’t that long or in-depth, but it did provide some insight on how Madson feels going into the season.  There hasn’t been much talk directly from players this off season so it’s interesting to get their take on some of the topics we discuss.  It seems like Madson is serious about winning a spot in the rotation and isn’t too concerned about his conditioning.  Unfortunately for him, it looks like the cards are not in his favor and he’ll have to continue at his relieving position.  Charlie Manuel was recently quoted as saying "he’s going to have to stay there for right now."  Still, it begs the question: where is Madson more valuable – starting or relieving?

Madson also feels that Jimmy Rollins will step up and be the team leader.  JRoll has a lot of pressure on him this year; not the least of which will come from continuing his hitting streak and representing his country in the WBC.  Madson himself could also have a part to play in leading the young club - performing well as a starter would certaintly help. 

Here’s what else Ryan Madson had to say:

…on overuse last season
"I didn’t feel overused.  The everyday grind got to me mentally moreso than physically.  It was the most appearances I’d ever had in my career…Just the experience of last year’s season has given me what I need to stay fresh throughout the coming year."

…on starting
"I feel like if I go into spring training and get back into my routine as a starter, I think I have a good shot…that’s what I came up through the minors doing.  But wherever help is needed, I will be more than happy to do."

on team leadership
"
With Jimmy Rollins in a long-term contract, he will be a big part in the leadership on the team."

…on pitching coach Rich Dubee
"Rich has a good approach with his pitchers.  He prepares us well and lets us be ourselves."

…on Pat Gillick
"I met Pat Gillick today for the first time.  He seems to be a very knowledge [sic] baseball guy and I look forward to working with him."

…on the new wall
"Any change to the LF wall is a good change.  It will give us a little more piece of mind when we’re out there."

…on cheesesteaks
"Tony Luke’s. Definitely."

…on staying in Philly
"I’d love to be here in Philly for the next five years."

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Phillies and Michaels Avoid Arbitration

Posted by Brian Michael, Tue, January 17, 2006 01:50 PM Comments: 0

The Phillies signed Jason Michaels to a one-year, $1.5 million deal on Monday.  JMike will continue to play a backup role and may even see a reduction playing time with Aaron Rowand now on the roster.   Michaels played in 105 games last season while platooning with Kenny Lofton.  Also with the emergence of Shane Victorino he may even have some competition as the number 4 outfielder (and don’t forget Josh Kroeger was signed last week too).  Still, he’s a great pinch-hitter with a .399 OBP and can play the corners at least as good as Abreu and Burrell.  He definitely could be a starter elsewhere - Peter Gammons continues report that the Red Sox are interested in him as their centerfield starter.  Signing Michaels to a deal now probably won’t have much effect on his possibility of being traded.  The Sox aren’t willing to give up Matt Clement, but perhaps Bronson Arroyo.  The Sox are expected to sign him soon as to avoid arbitration, like the Phils and Michaels.  He made $1.85 mil last year, so there could be potential for a straight up trade; though Gillick has been quoted in saying, "We feel confident he’ll be able to help us a lot this season."

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Stuff to Read

Posted by Brian Michael, Sun, January 15, 2006 03:02 PM Comments: 0

Not much Phillies news this weekend; that is, unless you’re a fan of Bobby Abreu’s feelings.  Below are a few Phillies-related stories to help you spend your MLK Day off.

Last week, Nick Fierro from Jersey’s Express-Times provided an interesting assessment of Pat Gillick at the halfway point of this off-season.  He compares the potential decrease in Phillies attendance with the poor showing of Sixers fans recently.  Meanwhile the Flyers are averaging over 19,500 at home this season.  In 2005, the average attendance at CBP was 33,000 – 600,000 less than in its inaugural year.  The Phils will most likely still out draw the Flyers next season but it might be close.

On Sunday, the Dodges and Devil Rays completed a trade that sent relievers Danys Baez and Lance Carter to LA.  The Phils had expressed interest in Baez earlier this winter but have since backed off after signing Tom Gordon.  If you remember, Baez beat out Gordon in a PhilliesNation poll by a slim 1% margin.  Danys has $4 million coming to him in the last season of his contract so might be available next year if things don’t pan out with Flash.

The NY Daily News presents a tear-jerking mini-biography of Billy Wagner, complete with a poverty stricken nomadic childhood, his struggle to get noticed, and the murder of his wife’s father and stepmother.

Tommy Lasorda shares his experiences with Shane Victorino while on a WBC tour in Hawaii.  “I spent a lot of time with Shane,’’ Lasorda said. “Shane and I had many, many confrontations on his ability. I told him he could be better than he was doing, he could be better than he was believing. I spent hours and hours with him.’’

And finally, it seems Cory Lidle’s poker tournament was a huge success.

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