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Archive for May, 2006

As the Starting Rotation Turns

Posted by Brian Michael, Wed, May 31, 2006 08:11 AM Comments: 0

In today’s Inquirer, Bob Ford spectacularly deduced that Phillies pitching could be their downfall this season.  Even though has been painfully obvious for the past two seasons, Brett Myers continues to do his best to quiet these calls.  He pitched another gem last night and, as he’s done all season, kept his opponent to less than three runs.  So of course the problem isn’t with Brett, it’s just the other 4/5 of the rotation that is called into question.  As reported by commentors yesterday, Eude Brito will have his chance to defend the honor of Phillies starting pitchers on Saturday against the Dodgers.  Last season Eude went 1-2 with a 3.68 in spot starts for the Phils but pitched significantly better at home.  The key for him will be to keep the walks to a minumum.  This season at Scranton his K/BB ratio is 1.39 while last year with the Phils it was 1.36.  Therefore despite good record and ERA, you shouldn’t expect Cole Hamels-like dominance from Brito.

It’s unlikely Eude has the power to single-handedly rescue the Phillies starting corps of pitchers, so what can be done?  The odds are high for Gillick to pull off a mid-season trade for a top of the line starter.  Dontrelle Willis comes to mind, but the Phils are only one of a dozen teams salavating over that chance.  Perhaps you heard the Yankees have been scouting Abreu and Burrell to sustain their depleated outfield.  However, the New York Post reports that finding a starting pitcher is Yankees’ No. 1 priority.   A deal there might work if Gillick were sure he could trade for and resign Willis and thus would be willing to dump his outfield salary on the Yankees to pay Dontrelle.  Along these lines, a three way deal between the Marlins, Yankees and Phillies has been floated but subsequently denied.  Abreu’s name has also been kicked around in St. Louis, but I doubt they would part with Chris Carpenter or Mark Mulder or even Jason Marquis who is 7-4 this year.  So as discussed by commentors before, it looks as if the Phils will have to wait until the off-season crop of free agents become available and it’s a bit too early to speculate on those guys.  For now though with Jon Lieber possibly out three weeks or more, the Phils will just have to make due with their starter by committee scheme.

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More Roster Moves for the Phils

Posted by Brian Michael, Tue, May 30, 2006 12:00 PM Comments: 0

Are you tired of the constant flow injury news yet?  I hope not because we have got plenty to discuss today.

Jon Lieber injured his left groin muscle last night after fielding a seemingly harmless groundball in the second inning.  He will thus move from the starting rotation to the 15-day DL and there has been no word yet on who will take his place starting.  The Phils called up 27-year old righthander Brian Sanches from Scranton to take his roster spot.  In AAA, Sanches went 2-2 with a 2.49 ERA while recording 7 saves but it is not certain he will get a chance to start.  Rich Dubee ruled out a Clay Condrey start despite pitching well in four relief innings and earning the win last night.  There has been no mention of Eudo Brito who has pitched decently for the Red Barons but since Sanches has already been called up it looks like Brito will remain in the minors.

Lieber’s injury does mean that for the time being questions over Gavin Floyd’s role in the rotation will have to be muted.  Some have speculated that Cole Hamels’ good health coupled with Madson’s return to form might squeeze out Floyd.  Hamels comes off the DL on Saturday – the same day as Lieber’s would-be next start – but is scheduled for a rehab start on Thursday with Lakewood and Gillick has ruled him out for starting for the Phillies this weekend.  So the question lingers, who will start for the Phillies Saturday in LA?  Well surely not Randy Wolf who is gradually making his way back and pitched to seven batters yesterday in Clearwater.  His velocity declined a bit but he was able to throw his curveball for strikes and maintain good location on his fastball.  He is expected back in five weeks.

No matter who pitches Saturday, it is likely Mike Lieberthal will be catching as he returned from the DL yesterday.  This means that phase one of Carlos Ruiz experiment will come to an end - he was optioned back to Scranton before yesterday’s game.  It will be interesting to see how he performs offensively back in AAA since he struggled with the Phils after dominating earlier in the year with the Red Barons.  Will his Phillies slump be sustained or will he regain his swing?  More importantly though, is even if he accomplishes the latter does that mean he’ll only ever be able to hit AAA pitching?

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Howard Power

Posted by Brian Michael, Mon, May 29, 2006 09:02 AM Comments: 0

The Phils salvaged the season series against the Brewers yesterday afternoon behind the bat of Ryan Howard.  Like Pat Burrell, but probably a bit less understated, Ryan is a rather impressive season.  Many wondered if he would succumb to a sophomore slump or if he would continue to struggle against lefties.  Neither have been an issue and after the first two months of this season, he has validated the Jim Thome trade, despite Thome’s hot start for Chicago. 

If Ryan stays on the home run pace he has set thus far, he will have 56 homers by October.  Five of his 17 homers this year have come against lefties whereas last season he hit only 1 out of his 22 against them.  This point in the season marks a good date to offer comparisons between this year and last as the amount of at bats are similar:

2005 – 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB, 26 K, .148 / .175 / .246
2006 – 5 HR, 10 RBI, 2 BB, 17 K, .310 / .328 / .534

Quite the improvement.  Phillies.com also likes to point out that 10 of Howard’s 12 home runs at CBP have been hit the opposite way.

The Phils yesterday were also aided by a solid start from Ryan Madson who recorded seven strikeouts while only allowing two earned runs over the course of five innings.  With Cole Hamels not except back until June 7th, Madson will likely get another shot at starting.  The question is then, if Madson pitches brilliantly or even more than adequately, will Charlie consider giving him his starting job back?  The skipper responded, "When that time comes for us to make a decision, that’s what we’ll do. I never rule anything out. I say that because I mean it."  This would of course mean demoting Cole or perhaps even Gavin Floyd to make room.

In the wider baseball world, a few publications have mentioned the Phillies.  The latest release of Win Shares rankings by The Hardball Times has Bobby Abreu and Chase Utley tied for fourth in the league with 10 Win Shares a piece.  Baseball Prospectus devoted an entire article to the mismanagement of the Phillies relief pitching in last week’s 16 inning loss to the Mets.  One quote pretty much sums it up, "That’s simply a failure by the man in the dugout."  Lastly, according to ESPN’s Game Score, Jon Lieber has pitched the fourth best game in the NL this season.  His May 13th outing against Cincinnati won him the honor.  He will try to replicate that performance tonight against the Nationals.  He’ll have his work cut out keeping the ball in the park as Alfonso Soriano and Nick Johnson have been hitting the ball extremely well and plenty far.

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Another Tough Loss for the Phils

Posted by Brian Michael, Sat, May 27, 2006 11:09 AM Comments: 0

The Phils lost another tight game after battling back to send it to extra innings.  Ryan Howard drove in two runs with a double in the ninth (arguably a gamewinning homer last year) to tie the game at 5.  Tom Gordon came in for the tenth but quickly surrendered a run.  The Phils had a chance in the bottom of the tenth with the bases-loaded but Chris Roberson could not deliver and ended the game on a fly out.  The Phils have not often held a lead for very long, if at all, in this 2-8 stretch but have nonetheless have regularly scratched their way back, so it’s definitely extra hard to watch these games slip away at the very end. This one dropped the club to third place in the division and to a 7-10 record in one run games.

I don’t want to narrate last night’s loss for fear it will have the same unhappy ending, so you’ll have to make due with some quick notes and other related facts du jour:

  • Shane Victornio led off for the second night in a row and went 1-5 with three strikeouts.  JRoll was equally unimpressive in the six hole going 1-4 to drop his average to .237.
  • The Phils infield recorded four double plays in the first four innings with Chase Utley pivoting all of them.  The record for the most double plays in a game by a single team is seven, recorded by San Francisco against Houston on May 4, 1969.
  • Bill Hall hurt the Phillies again with a two-run homer in the first inning.  He is making a serious case for admission to the Phillies-killers list; though Geoff Jenkins might have him beat.  He is 9-15 against the Phils this season with 9 RBIs and a 1.549 OPS.
  • Chris Coste almost made his ML debut last night, but only got as far as the on-deck circle.  If Carlos Ruiz would have gotten on base to lead off the bottom of the fifth, Manuel would have sent in Coste.  Ruiz of course put up another o-fer on the night (0-3).
  • Chris Roberson was sent back to Scranton to make room for Aaron Rowand who is expected to be in the lineup tonight.  Jimmy Rollins is similarly expected to return to the leadoff spot. Although Bobby Abreu said he would be willing to take the role, Charlie Manuel is against the idea.
  • Mike Lieberthal is slated for a rehab assignment with Reading today.  He could return Sunday or Monday.
  • Cole Hamels will throw a bullpen session today and says he feels fine.  He expects to pitch as soon as he’s eligible to come off the disabled list.
  • Sal Fasano has 25 Ks in 66 ABs, which averages to more than one strikeout every three at bats.
  • Pat Burrell is quietly having an excellent season. Yesterday as I was looking for offensive stats to defend Bobby Abreu, I kept seeing Burrell’s name pop up near the top of many categories.  In the National League he is 10th in home runs (13), 11th in RBIs (36), fifth in OPS (1.009), eighth in walks (31), and seventh in RC27 (8.52, runs created per 27 outs estimates how many runs per game a team made up of nine of the same player would score).
  • No National League hitter sees more pitches than Bobby Abreu.
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"Shane led the way," Rollins said.

Posted by Brian Michael, Fri, May 26, 2006 09:16 AM Comments: 0

Well there you have it folks, you got your wish, Shane Victorino batted lead off and the Phillies won yesterday.  They are now undefeated when Jimmy Rollins bats sixth this season.  Still though, Jimmy expects to return to the top spot soon, but said: "If it’s long term, who cares? You get a chance to drive in runs."  He got a chance alright, except that he went 0-for-4 on the day and left four runners stranded.  Meanwhile Shane continued to impress as he robbed Carlos Beltran of extra bases with an awesome diving catch in the fifth.  "It worked today," Charlie Manuel said.  "It might work again tomorrow."  Hopefully Chase Utley will work again tomorrow as well since he went 4-for-5 with 2 runs and an RBI.

It can be fairly easily argued that Manuel made the right decision with the lineup – a move people have been calling for the past few weeks.  He also did well to bring Tom Gordon to face Xavier Nady and close out the eight.  More difficult decisions however will come in this Brewers series as Aaron Rowand is set to return.  As we discussed last week, although Victornio might be the best option leading off the Phils simply don’t have a starting spot available to him.  Perhaps Manuel may elect to rest Pat Burrell or Bobby Abreu for one of the day/night games on Saturday and Sunday.  If you recall last week, Abreu went 5-12 against the Brew Crew with 3 RBIs and 4 runs, but Burrell was just 1-7.  On the other hand, Charlie might consider easing Rowand back into his role as everyday as centerfielder and give Victorino a start there.  No matter what though, finding ad hoc reasons to insert Shane into the lineup is unsustainable over the long run.  I’m not willing to bet the house on the Flyin’ Hawaiian just yet, but when a guy is hot you gotta let him help the team.  At some point though if he continues to impress, Pat Gillick is going to have to intervene and make a decision akin to the Utley/Polanco or Howard/Thome choice.

Trading Abreu is always an option but I must protest that since the Phillies will not be able to get full value for him in the mid-season trading market, he remains more valuable to the Phillies playing for them.  His obvious defensive weaknesses aside, Abreu is still third in the league in OBP behind only Bonds and Pujols.  Thus until he experiences a sharp drop in offensive production, I contend he is a player worth keeping.  A name that has come up in trade rumors though is Mike Lieberthal.  With a torn hamstring in Jorge Posada’s left knee, the Yankees could be looking for a new catcher to finish out the season.

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Player Movement

Posted by Brian Michael, Thu, May 25, 2006 06:54 AM Comments: 0

The Phils lost another close one to the Mets last night by a score of 5-4.  Jon Lieber pitched ok but did not improve upon his already high 5.83 ERA and he uncharacteristically gave up four walks on the night, nearly doubling his season total.  He didn’t blame himself though, "I thought [the home plate umpire] was terrible at times.  I don’t know what the deal is. This is the first time I ever said this, but when you make certain pitches that are obviously strikes, it changes the whole count. I just don’t think he was very good."  Pat Burrell had a solo homer to tie the game in the seventh but Rheal Cormier quickly coughed up the lead in the bottom of the inning.  Eventually, Billy Wagner came on and shut the Phillies down 1-2-3 to close the game for the Mets and keep his buddy Pat Burrell in the on deck circle.  This leaves the Phils as losers of seven of their last eight and even more depressing is the fact that they had a lead in six of those seven losses.  This also means the Phils are now 7-9 in one run games after dropping the past two to New York.  In the division, they drop to five games back of the Mets and into a tie with Atlanta who has won 12 of their last 17.

As I watched the eighth inning last night, something struck me after two consecutive Phillies at bats. First, Abraham Nunez batted for Sal Fasano with the tying run on second.  He immediately popped out as he punched the first pitch foul to the catcher.  Then David Dellucci came on to pinch hit for Ryan Franklin and grounded out to end the inning.  The first thing to come to mind of course was "great, more worthless pinch hitting."  But then I began to wonder is it about time to start to blaming Charlie Manuel for continuing to use these pinch hitters rather than blaming the players themselves for their underperformance?  I mean it’s painfully clear the bench cannot hit in any situation let alone clutch ones.  Ok, I see Charlie’s rationale in the Dellucci move since the pitcher was due up, and maybe its ok to use lefties Nunez and Dellucci to bat against the righty Aaron Heilman; but why not just let Fasano hit?  He can be just as bad as Nunez if you only give him the chance.  Sure Sal hits .216 versus righties, but Nunez is even worse at .154!

If you read the news yesterday evening the actual game may not have been the most disheartening Phillies fodder for you.  There were two stories of concern, neither positive.  First, Cole Hamels has been placed on the 15-day DL.  He had his MRI yesterday which revealed no structural damage in his left shoulder but it is still strained.  It is likely not too serious as his move to the DL was made retroactive to May 19, so he can be activated as soon as June 3.  The Phils hope he will make a rehab start on May 30 or 31 and then return for the road trip through Los Angeles and Arizona.  While Hamels nurses the injury, right-handed reliever Clay Condrey will take his roster spot in his second callup of the year.  As for Hamel’s rotation spot, it appears Ryan Madson will return to his old duties for the time being. 

The second piece of bad news has the Mets finally landing starting pitcher in El Duque, Orlando Hernandez.  He was traded yesterday from Arizona for reliever Jorge Julio.  New York will pick up his $4.5 million salary and El Duque will be a free agent after the season ends; Julio is making $2.525 million as a reliever.  Hernandez has been performing spot starts for the Diamondbacks but is expected to pitch every five days in New York.  He will help to solidify the Mets’ rotation after the Jose Lima experiment went pear-shaped.  That makes two Cuban defectors now in the Mets starting five (you might remember the other, Alay Soler, as last night’s starter)  With Arizona out a starting pitcher, this might give former Phil Terry Mulholland a chance to fill the hole in the rotation. 

Finally, in case you missed him on Comcast SportsNet, I was just made aware that Matt Yaloff is now an anchor for the Mets’ new SNY station.  I’ll have to find heart in the fact that his departure was the only good news to come out of yesterday.

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Cole Hamels Scratched and Injury Updates

Posted by Brian Michael, Wed, May 24, 2006 09:55 AM Comments: 0

Cole Hamels will be scratched from his start tonight against the Mets and Jon Lieber will replace him.  Too bad for Ryan Madson who pitched a full game last night, he might have been awarded the spot start otherwise.  As for the fragile young Hamels, he heard a pop in his left shoulder (his pitching arm) while playing long toss at a distance of 120 feet in the outfield yesterday.  The Phillies sent him back home to have it examined by Dr. Ciccotti.  Hamels noted, "Obviously, you’re worried about it. You just want to know what the heck is going on."

You may remember Cole’s various other injuries have included elbow tendinitis, broken left hand and chronic back problems but this is the first shoulder ailment he’s experienced.  Still, he seems to have the right attitude when it comes to his injury-plagued career, "It’s just something that, every time you get an injury, you get stronger and stronger, and you can accomplish new goals whenever you set your mind to it."  Let’s hope this isn’t serious and Cole can come back stronger and record his first win next Sunday against the Brewers.

Speaking of injuries, as a follow up to our post yesterday there are updates on most of the Phillies’ walking wounded.  Aaron Rowand reported that he would be ready to return on Saturday when he is eligible to come off the disabled list.  Mike Lieberthal who is back on the DL temporarily has not indicated when exactly he will return but caught a bullpen session yesterday and will continue that practice for the next few days.  Both guys will play in a simulated game on Friday night.  Randy Wolf pitched adequately in his first rehab assignment.  He threw 66 pitches over 3 innings in a simulated game and is expected to pitch on Monday for Clearwater.  Indications seem to point to Ruiz and Roberson being sent back down when Lieberthal and Rowand return.  This will hopefully give more playing time to Chris Coste who did not get a chance to make his debut in last night’s marathon.

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First In, First Out

Posted by Brian Michael, Tue, May 23, 2006 06:35 AM Comments: 0

As the Phillies players prepare for an always important series against the Mets, a quick glance around the clubhouse will offer some new faces.  Road trips are especially important for new talent as it gives them an opportunity to bond with teammates outside a stadium setting.  The Phils have had their fair share of injuries early in this season and have thus had added a few new faces to their Opening Day roster.  Today I wanted to briefly touch on the roster moves and crystallize the debate on who will be sent down as the injured players return.  At present, here are the players waiting to get back on the active roster (off) and the players who have been called up recently (on).

Off

On

Julio Santana Cole Hamels
Randy Wolf Carlos Ruiz
Mike Lieberthal Chris Roberson
Aaron Rowand Chris Coste

As we all know, Randy Wolf is expected back in July while the others could be back before the end of May.  As for the recent callups, I think it’s safe to say - barring a meltdown - Cole Hamels is up for good.  The Phils currently have 12 pitchers on the roster and Santana – who is likely the first one to return from the DL – will make 13.  Most feel that’s more than enough for the current squad and would rather keep a potenrial playmaker like Roberson or a future starter like Ruiz.  If the Phils decide to keep Santana on the roster then it’s possible Geoff Geary might get yo-yoed back down to Scranton as he is still within his option years.  I personally think the Phils might as well release Julio or trade him for a minor leaguer; he carries a relatively small 1 year, $800,000 contract.

If when Lieberthal returns, Sal Fasano’s injury is still bothering him it would be obviously prudent to keep Ruiz up despite Chris Coste’s potential at catcher.  So I feel among the list above Chris Coste would be the first to head back to Scranton unless he can dazzle the Phillies brass in the next two weeks.  Then Ruiz would be next simply because having a third catcher on the bench who struggles offensively would just be wasting a roster spot.  Still though, Coste could luck out if the Phils decide to stay with 12 pitchers and with Lieberthal and Rowand due back at the same time, it could be Roberson and Ruiz sharing the cab up the Northern Extension.  Mind you, a lot could happen in the next week - injuries, retirements, trades – but nonetheless it would be wise for the new guys to shine in the spotlight of this New York series – their time is running out.

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Alex Gonzalez Retires, Chris Coste Called Up

Posted by Brian Michael, Sun, May 21, 2006 04:35 PM Comments: 0

As to not wallow in his reserve role any longer, Alex Gonzalez retired from the Phillies today.  Much like David Dellucci, his consistent numbers as an everyday starter dropped off with fewer at bats.  Here’s what Pat Gillick had to say:

"Making an adjustment from a regular player to a role player is a difficult transition.  He had a lot of playing time over his career, so I think he was struggling a little bit with the transition. Some people can make that transition and accept their role, and other people aren’t really happy in it. I think no matter what you’re doing or what line of work you’re in, the important thing is to be happy. I don’t think the last couple months he’s been a real happy camper."

This made me think of Dellucci since he’s been more vocal than Gonzalez about his poor production this season, but David seems to be taking it better.  Alex retired today at the age of 33 and ironically his replacement, Chris Coste is looking to make his MLB debut at the same ripe age.  After having an impressive spring training, he’s struggled in Scranton batting just .177.  His call up also comes at an opportune time as Sal Fasano might miss a few games after being hit by a foul ball last night and Coste can play catcher if needed.

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A Strike Against Jon Lieber?

Posted by Brian Michael, Sat, May 20, 2006 04:06 PM Comments: 0

Does Jon Lieber throw too many strikes?  I asked myself this question during the season opener as he was breezing through the Cardinal’s lineup in the first two innings.  I thought if he continues to throw as many strikes as he does, wouldn’t the Cardinals hone in on him the second time through the lineup?  Well as we all know they sure did.  Last night’s loss saw some similarities as Lieber let the game slip with runs in the fourth and fifth.  While allowing five runs to the Red Sox isn’t terrible, Lieber is supposed to be our ace, if not number 2 pitcher. 

Jon ranks 29th in the majors in strikes thrown (Brett Myers is 26th).  More generally he is 52nd in pitches thrown (Myers is 50th), but Lieber has pitched five more innings than Myers (with Myers due to catch up tonight).  Lieber’s pitch ratio entails 47% strikes with 21% of pitches hit (the rest being balls).  Myers allows only 17% of pitches to be hit.  This includes foul balls and thus implies Lieber he gives up a lot of foul balls.  Most likely this means batters see a lot of pitches when facing Lieber (though I couldn’t find that precise stat) and allows them to be more comfortable the second and third time they face him.  This is consistent with the fact that most hits and runs scored off Lieber come in innings 4-6.

Also not helping is the fact that he’s fifth in the league in bullpen support (not a good thing).  That means his 5.81 ERA is a bit inflated due to lack of support, so he might not be pitching as poorly as his numbers would have you to believe.  The most interesting stat on Lieber, which may have came up last night is the fact that his has given up more home runs (8) than walks (5) this season.  He is fifth in the league with a K/BB ratio of 7.60 (38/5).  This stat is great but when taken in the larger context it could demonstrate a lack of diversity in pitch positioning.  He pretty much only throws fastballs (59%) and sliders (35%) but again they’re mostly for strikes.  Thus in answer to my question, yes, he throws too many strikes; but to the extent that’s an unsustainable tactic is a question for another day.

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