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Raising Questions

The Sins of the General Manager and the Perils of the Dead Bench

Posted by Michael Baumann, Thu, June 03, 2010 03:18 PM Comments: 75

“…I the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me…”
–Exodus 20:5

Yes, Nation, this protracted offensive shortfall has reached biblical proportions. Right now, the team is paying for the sins of its father, namely, Ruben Amaro. We all remember Eric Bruntlett, right? He was about as bad an offensive player as has ever put on a Phillies uniform, and when his contract ran out, there was great rejoicing. Well, when we were finally rid of The Beard, Ruben went out and signed another player with mediocre speed, slightly above-average glove skill, and a .270 career OBP.

Credit where credit’s due: RAJ has, along with his predecessors, assembled one of the top lineups in recent baseball history, plus a solid starting rotation and a bullpen that doesn’t make you want to kill yourself.

But this bench, while never really a strength of this team, has finally reached unacceptable levels. Out of the eight opening day starters, none has a league-adjusted on-base-plus-slugging (OPS+) below 94, or just about average. Not one of the team’s bench players is slugging higher than .370, with the highest OPS+ belonging to Exxon Wilson Valdez. That OPS+? 68. SIXTY-EIGHT! There are 29 major league teams, apart from the Phillies, and 28 of them have at least one bench player with an OPS+ better than 68.

The problems with this are obvious and serious, particularly for a National League team. When your starters are worn out or mired in a slump, or when your entire left side of the infield is hurt, the idea is to have some decent hitters to bring off the bench so you’re not replacing a former NL MVP with a guy who has played sixteen years in the big leagues without even once performing at replacement level for a full season.

The worst part is that RAJ knew the dangers of the dead bench, had a whole offseason to fix it, and signed two over-the-hill veterans for far more than they were worth. Ross Gload doesn’t have any offensive skill Greg Dobbs doesn’t have, and, as a 1B/OF guy, hasn’t hit for even league-average power since 2006. Castro and Valdez we’ve been over. Yet Gload and Castro are both signed to major-league contracts (Gload, inexplicably, for two years), when their production and more can be had for less money.

The smartest money RAJ can spend right now is not for Roy Oswalt or Jayson Werth or even Cliff Lee. It would be to somehow make the numbers work on a deal that would jettison Gload, Castro, and/or Valdez. Take the payroll hit—right now, the Phillies are throwing good money after bad by continuing to play their bench players—and find someone (anyone) to fill in.

I don’t know where this production is going to come from (a minor-leaguer like John Mayberry? A free agent like Elijah Dukes?), but it’s out there, and with every at-bat the likes of Valdez and Castro get, the more serious the punishment the team and the fans suffer for the sins of their general manager.

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Total WAR Project, Part X: Philadelphia Phillies

Posted by Michael Baumann, Sat, April 03, 2010 02:54 PM Comments: 17

The Total WAR Project is a series of posts that analyzes the closest competition facing the Phillies in 2010. The posts use Wins Above Replacement, a metric designed to use offensive and defensive production within a single stat. You can check out the rest of the teams in our series here.

All winter, we’ve been doing this Total WAR Project, and hearing a chorus of “We don’t care about the Cardinals, or Mariners, or Red Sox–what about the Phillies?”

Well, two days before the first pitch of the season, we can finally answer that question–what about the Phillies?–after the jump.

Continue reading Total WAR Project, Part X: Philadelphia Phillies

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St. Louis Cardinals Preview

Posted by Michael Baumann, Wed, March 31, 2010 10:40 AM Comments: 2

St. Louis Cardinals (91-71, first place in NL Central)

Back when when we were at The Phrontiersman, Paul and I did a playoff projection pool with our friends and families (his Yankee-fan girlfriend predicted the outcome of every single series and won). I got in trouble when my predicted NL champion, the Cardinals, got swept in the first round. Since then, not much has changed. They’ve ditched Joel Pineiro and Mark DeRosa’s medical history, but the core remains.

I don’t know how a team with so few quality players can be any better than the 2009-10 Cardinals. They manage it because they’ve got two of the five best starting pitchers in the National League, two quality outfielders (including one, Colby Rasmus, who’s getting a lot of love for a breakout 2010 on the heels of his 16-homer rookie season), the best defensive catcher in baseball, and that dude Pujols.

Albert Pujols is mind-bendingly good, as I’m sure you know. He just turned 30 in January, and has already hit 366 major league home runs. His WAR of 8.5 last year was as good as Ichiro and Shane Victorino combined. He’s literally two all-stars in one. He’s third all-time in career OPS, up with Babe Ruth and Ted Williams and Barry Bonds. At one point late last summer (I don’t know if this held up until October), he was twice as likely to hit a homer with the bases loaded than he was to swing and miss at a pitch. He’s a truly transcendent player, and I don’t know that we’ll ever see the like of him again.

But after Pujols, there’s a huge drop-off to Matt Holliday, and from him, a huge drop in quality to Brendan Ryan, Rasmus, and Yadier Molina, and after that, who knows?

Essentially, the Cardinals won 90 games last year on the strength of Pujols, their top two starting pitchers, and tremendous good fortune. Ryan Franklin held up as a dominant closer for most of the year. Pineiro developed a bowling ball sinker. Zombie John Smoltz turned into a solid No. 4 starter.

Perhaps most ridiculously, Skip Schumaker acquitted himself quite well after converting to second base from the outfield. While infielders move to the outfield quite often with great success (Mickey Mantle, for instance, was originally a shortstop), the opposite almost never happens. But Schumaker, while he didn’t light the world on fire, continued to hit .300 and walk some while not killing the Cards at the keystone. That’s the kind of break the Cardinals always seem to get, and it’s what put them into a position to mount a serious challenge for the pennant.

2010 Season

The good news for Cardinals fans is that the rest of the NL Central is in such a state that they don’t need all the same breaks to get back into the playoffs. I’m going to contradict my esteemed colleague Pat Gallen here, but the NL Central, apart from St. Louis is like a Dane Cook TV special–just one terrible joke after another.

I can’t name more than four Pittsburgh Pirates without using Google. The Reds don’t have any proven star-quality players and are toiling under the leadership of the only manager in baseball whom I’d describe as an albatross–Dusty Baker. In Houston, Ed Wade is trying to win by reassembling the 2003 Phillies. Lou Piniella’s Flying Circus is just getting older and more dysfunctional. That leaves the Brewers, a team that could steal the division, but needs even more lucky breaks than the Cardinals to do so.

St. Louis would be the third-best team (at best) in four of the other five divisions in baseball, but due to fortunate geographical circumstances, they’re in a division where having two good starters and one monster position player is good enough to win 90 games.

Of course, once they win the division, Wainwright and Carpenter go from pitching 40 percent of the time to 2/3 of the time. I’m not saying that’s enough for me to pick them to win the pennant again, but they scare me.

Prediction: 90-72

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Total WAR Project VIII: New York Yankees

Posted by Michael Baumann, Thu, March 11, 2010 12:00 PM Comments: 15

The Total WAR Project is a series of posts that analyzes the closest competition facing the Phillies in 2010. The posts use Wins Above Replacement, a metric designed to use offensive and defensive production within a single stat.

So we’ve covered the six NL teams (Braves, the Mets, the Rockies, the Cardinals, the Dodgers, the Brewers), plus the Mariners. I honestly think that these Yankees are the team to be worried about. It goes against the pessimist in me, but short of Chase Utley and Roy Halladay engaging in and acting on a suicide pact over the All-Star break, I can’t see any way this team doesn’t get back to the Fall Classic.

They were the best team in baseball by a huge distance last year, and they got even better this offseason. They go legitimately 4-deep in the rotation, they have the best lineup in baseball, and they’re in the process of rotating older talent out of the lineup and inserting younger talent, but more on that later. In short, the best team in baseball continues to get better. More on this after the jump.

Continue reading Total WAR Project VIII: New York Yankees

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The Total WAR Project, Part VII: Seattle Mariners

Posted by Michael Baumann, Wed, March 10, 2010 12:00 PM Comments: 7

The Total WAR Project is a series of posts that analyzes the closest competition facing the Phillies in 2010. The posts use Wins Above Replacement, a metric designed to use offensive and defensive production within a single stat.

In today’s Total WAR Project, we visit the famous story of the jilted ex-boyfriend. You know the feeling when, as Gloria Gaynor famously sang, “you see me with somebody new,” and your heart immediately falls into your colon? Well, it’s not exactly like that, but there will always be a sense of “what-could-have-been” for Phillies fans with Cliff Lee. Yes, the Phils dumped him for a stud, but the grass is always greener, etc. Sort of like when I broke off my torrid romance with Holly Hunter to be with Kate, my Long-Suffering Girlfriend. I’m happy now, but every time I watch Broadcast News, there’s that little twinge of regret. But I digress.

We have identified, studied, and otherwise examined the six teams that are most likely to deny the Phillies the pennant, either by preventing them from winning the division or Wild Card or by knocking them out in the NL playoffs: the Braves, the Mets, the Rockies, the Cardinals, the Dodgers, and the Brewers.

And so we journey to the mystic American League West to take a look at the first of three teams that could give the Fightins the most trouble in the World Series: The Seattle Mariners.

Continue reading The Total WAR Project, Part VII: Seattle Mariners

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You’d Best Just Shoot Me Now–Or We Can Talk Some More

Posted by Michael Baumann, Thu, February 18, 2010 04:19 PM Comments: 101

Please excuse a brief non-Phillies related anecdote to start. I promise, I’ll tie it in later.

In the 1970s, English soccer manager Brian Clough led Nottingham Forest to two consecutive European championships, a feat no English team has equaled since. Nottingham Forest is a small-market team whose history can be defined in three eras: pre-1975, when they sucked; 1975-1993, when Clough made them into one of the top teams in Europe, and 1993-present, when they sucked again.

Clough’s mantra was to know what all your players were worth at all times, and if you could get market value for them at any point, no matter how popular that player was, to trade him in for someone cheaper or younger. Clough’s approach worked. Need a more accessible example? This is what Bill Belichick does with the NFL’s Patriots, and we all know how well that’s worked out these past 10 years.

I’m acutely aware that what I’m about to write is going to be tremendously unpopular with our readership. I can barely believe I’m saying this now. Neither do I expect a single person to agree with me.

But this is what I think, so here it goes.

I think the Phillies should:

1) Trade Shane Victorino for whatever prospects they can get.

2) Move Jayson Werth to center and Raul Ibanez to right field.

3) Sign free agent outfielder Johnny Damon to a one or two-year contract and install him in left.

If you want to skip right to the end and start questioning my sexuality and calling for me to be tarred and feathered, I suppose that’s your prerogative. I don’t think this is a slam-dunk, and I’m aware that Damon will most likely sign with either Detroit or Atlanta in the coming days, but I think that a good argument can be made for replacing Victorino with Damon. This is that argument.

Continue reading You’d Best Just Shoot Me Now–Or We Can Talk Some More

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Whom Can We Trust?

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, February 05, 2010 02:46 PM Comments: 44

I’m not that easily shocked, but something happened to me Wednesday night that I think bears repeating here. I was at a bar with a couple friends, when, realizing that the famed “Pitchers and Catchers” was only a couple weeks away, I let out a sigh and said, almost without thinking, “God, I’m ready for baseball season to start again.”

Three tables away, a man overheard my comment, came over my table, and almost without warning launched into a three-minutes of some of the most hateful invective I’ve ever heard about one Cole Hamels. I began offering some counter-arguments (“Cole was distracted with the new wife and baby” and “Cole was unlucky with his high BABIP”), but this man was hearing nothing of it. He didn’t hear me, because he was screaming so loud and not stopping to breathe, and even if he had, I don’t think he would have cared much about the fact that Cole allowed two more hits per 9 innings in 2009 than 2008, despite almost all other peripheral stats remaining the same.

It occurred to me that the Phillies’ ascendancy in 2007 and 2008 was due in large part to three players who, for whatever reason, were all just abject disappointments in 2009. These three–Jimmy Rollins, Hamels, and Brad Lidge, will all be back in prominent roles in 2010. I don’t think it’s fair to blame these three for the failure to repeat (after all, a lot of things went wrong in that World Series), but I do think it would help if the Phillies had a leadoff hitter with an OBP over .300, a No. 2 starter who’s somewhat more consistent than two-hit shutout one night, then 7 earned runs in 4 2/3 innings five days later, and a closer who’s not having literally the worst year ever for a full-season closer.

So from these three stalwart Phillies, what can we expect? Whom can we trust?

Continue reading Whom Can We Trust?

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Live Chat: Free Agent Open Season

Posted by Brian Michael, Fri, November 20, 2009 09:44 AM Comments: 3

Join us for the live chat with Pat Gallen starting at 10 am. You can submit questions starting 30 minutes prior to the event.

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Live Chat Friday at 10am

Posted by Brian Michael, Thu, November 19, 2009 09:20 PM Comments: 25

Free agent open season starts tomorrow and Phillies Nation is hosting its first ever live chat Friday morning at 10 am. Pat Gallen will be at the keyboard providing live updates as teams race to make the first moves. He will also answer questions submitted by readers – visit the homepage starting at 9:45 am to submit questions and be prepared for some intense hot stove discussions.

For those of you interested in how the free agency process works, tomorrow is the day teams must file their Reserve lists for all Major and Minor League levels.

Major league clubs can reserve 40 players, only 25 of whom can be on the active roster between Opening Day and midnight August 31. AAA clubs can reserve 38 and AA clubs can reserve 37, with roster limits of 24 from Opening Day through the 30th day of the season and from August 10 until the end of the season, 23 between these dates. Teams in A, short-season A and Rookie leagues can reserve 35. Class A clubs play with 25-man rosters, while short-season A clubs have 30-man rosters, only 25 of whom are eligible to play in any given game, and Rookie league clubs have 30-man rosters.

Those lists comprise the entire roster of players for a major league franchise. If you are not on any of these lists (and not eligible for the Rule 5 draft), you are a free agent. General Managers like to act fast so they can pick up the cream of the discarded crop at a reasonable price. Expect some hot news in the morning.

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Somebody Has to Say It

Posted by Nick "Beerman" Staskin, Fri, November 06, 2009 11:59 AM Comments: 99

The immediate days after the World Series were surely more fun last year.

At the same time, losing hurt a lot more in 1993. So I guess it’s true: winning is the easiest cure for losing. Had the Phillies not beat the Rays last season, I’d probably be beside myself after a loss like Wednesday night.

Now I know that I might take some heat for this column. People might not like what I have to say, but sometimes you have to make a point rather than try to win a popularity contest.

In a world where Facebook statuses and Twitter updates are up-to-the-second with what is going on, everybody is entitled to their opinion. Yet, that doesn’t mean everybody’s opinion is correct. It also doesn’t mean mine is correct either, so take it with a grain of salt.

Midway through Wednesday night’s disappointment, I pulled out my phone and read how people were bitching on FB and Twitter and the general consensus was “must be nice to buy a championship” or “at least we bring up our own players.”

I’d like to think it’s that easy, but let’s be real. The better team won. If it was that easy to “buy a championship” how come the Yankees hadn’t won since 2000? Hell, how come they hadn’t been to a World Series since 2003? Sure New York went out and spent $423 million dollars last off-season, but how much of that money really beat our beloved Phillies this past week?

C.C. Sabathia 0-1 3.29 ERA 13.2 IP 11 H 6 BB 12K

A.J. Burnett: 1-1 7.00 ERA 9 IP 8 H 6 BB 11 K

Mark Teixeira: .136 AVG 3/22 1 HR 3 RBI

The Phillies lost to the likes of Derek Jeter and his 11 hits, along with Johnny Damon with his base running and killer at-bats. Hideki Matsui and his all-world performance in only three starts. Mariano Rivera and his….well he’s just that damn good.

To go along with that, the Phillies lost because Ryan Howard went 4-23. Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino hit a combined .200. Solo homeruns don’t win games. Cole Hamels just couldn’t get it going this postseason and the World Series was no different.

When you draw 26 walks and only score 27 runs, something didn’t go right. The Phillies leading hitter this World Series was Carlos Ruiz batting out of the eight and nine hole. This leads me to my biggest culprit this series: Charlie Manuel.

If you are a Manuel lover, now is the time to move to a different posting on this website. Sure, Charlie doesn’t play on the team so his role in the loss can’t be measured in batting average, runs scored or earned run average. When certain people are hitting and others aren’t, it’s not that hard to juggle a lineup and change things up a bit. The Yankees left-handed pitchers completely owned Ryan Howard this series. Why not Howard move to fifth and let Werth hit clean up against the lefties? Why not move Chooch up in the order? Why not split up the struggling combination of Rollins and Victorino to get some men on base for Utley? Manuel’s poor management of this series can sure lead you to second guess a lot of things that happened over the course of the six games.

Game One – Despite having a 6-0 lead, Manuel sent Cliff Lee back out for the ninth inning. In any short series, it isn’t hard to know that your best pitcher is most valuable when you can use him in as many games as possible. Had Lee come out of the game with a comfortable lead, the possibility of pitching him on three days of rest to set up another date with Sabathia in Game Four could have been a more realistic possibility. Instead, Lee went back out, finished the game, labored a bit in the ninth and threw 122 pitches in the opening game.

Game Two – This game featured the the infamous decision not to start the runners before what turned out to be an inning-ending double play by Chase Utley. Manuel then lambasted Tim McCarver for suggesting that he might have made the wrong decision. I’m not a big McCarver fan, but this time he’s right. When playing from behind against the greatest closer ever, you can’t play scared – you have to play aggressive. If you start the runners and Utley hits a line-drive it’s a double play. However, if you don’t start them and Utley hits a hard groundball (like he did) it’s the same double play. The call might have been blown, but the inning before New York was on the short end of the stick – so that evened out. Had Charlie started the runners, the Phillies would have had men on 2nd and 3rd for Ryan Howard with two outs in a two-run game. We’ll never know…

Game Three – A lot went wrong for the Phillies on Saturday night. However a few big spots stick out. Up 2-0 and with Andy Pettitte on the ropes, would it have been that hard for Manuel to send a “take” sign to Sam Perlozzo before Victorino’s at-bat in the second inning? Rollins had just drawn a quick walk and Victorino was swinging out of his shoes on the next two pitches. Victorino managed to save face with a sacrifice fly, but imagine if he was a bit more patient at the plate and gets the hit that changes the game. This one isn’t all Charlie; I’m just pointing it out.

My biggest gripe with Manuel in this game was using Eric Bruntlett as his sixth-inning pinch hitter with a man on and two outs. Down 6-4, Manuel decided to save Ben Francisco for an opportunity that never came and went with Bruntlett – who had 18 more hits than I did this season – against Pettitte. A fly ball ended the inning and any chance at a rally to tie the game.

Game Four – Not starting Cliff Lee, who had said he would have started on three days rest might have been the beginning of the end for the Phillies. Joe Blanton pitched good enough to keep the team in the game, but if you are going to trade for the difference-making ace in midseason, don’t you have to use him every chance you get? Look at C.C. and his workload the past two years. Pedro Feliz bailed out this poor decision (another decision that Manuel took offense to in post game press conferences, may I remind you) with a home run to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth. However, it was the ninth inning that made this a 3-1 Yankees series lead.

Some people questioned bringing in Brad Lidge to start the ninth. I had no issues with it. I thought he had earned the right with his performance last year as well as his performance throughout the playoffs this year. But when Johnny Damon got on base, everybody in the Delaware Valley knew he was taking second base. Lidge couldn’t keep base runners on all year and this situation was no different. How could a pitchout have not been an option? Let’s rewind first though. Before the two-bag steal, Manuel called for an infield shift that we all know left 3rd base unattended. I can count on my hands the amount of times that the Phils used this shift this year, so not sure why he thought it was a good idea in this spot against Tex. Why do it with two-outs and a man on first? A single doesn’t beat you there. No pitchout, shift in place, we all know what happens next…man on third, Lidge’s slider seemingly a liability should it get in the dirt, a fat fastball to A-Rod, and a Posada double all add up to a 7-4 loss that will not soon be forgotten.

Game Five – The questionable calls by Manuel on Monday night wound up being all-for-nothing as Game 7 never happened, however they sure made you think. Again with a six-run lead, Manuel sent Cliff Lee out to the mound in the seventh when conservation was key. “The Jeweler” as my friends and I like to call Lee (because he deals in gems) got into trouble to start the inning and had to be pulled. Also in the eventful eighth inning, Charlie pulled out Victorino due to his sore hand. Whenever Shane had to come out during the regular season, Werth moved to centerfield. Instead, it was Francisco who went to center and Werth stayed in right. I think we all remember the throw to the plate that Francisco attempted to make. The Phils went on to win the game, but it just kept bringing more and more questions to mind about what was going on in Charlie’s head during the series.

Game Six was the one game the Phillies were never really in. I’m not pinning this one on Charlie or pointing out any of his judgmental shortcomings for Wednesday night. One team showed up to play, the other didn’t.

Like I said, it is easy to point fingers at anybody over a tough loss; and while Hamels and Lidge struggled on the mound and Howard along with almost the entire offense struggled at the plate, Charlie Manuel labored from his spot on the steps. Last year, I thought Joe Maddon outmanaged Manuel, but the Phillies were the better team so it wasn’t as big a factor. This year, the Phillies couldn’t afford to have that same luxury.

I’m not asking for Charlie’s head. Far from it. Managers make mistakes throughout the course of the season, and when you win three division titles and two pennants in a row those mistakes are quickly forgotten. However, over the span of a six-game series to end the season, mistakes made will stick out like sore thumbs and will be remembered all winter long.

Yet too many people were giving the skipper a free pass and I know I’ll take some heat from this on the comments page. You can agree or disagree to those point, but I think we can all agree on a couple things:

  • The Phillies are still the class of the National League. One day after the season ended, the Phillies have to be the favorites to get back to the World Series. They are more complete top-to-bottom than any of their competitors in the Senior Circuit.
  • Decisions have to be made. Pedro Feliz, Pedro Martinez, Chan Ho Park and Brett Myers are the four biggest question marks when talking about who comes back and who walks away. Who would you bring back?
  • While Hamels and Lidge had rough seasons, getting Hamels back to form is the biggest priority in the off-season. If Lidge doesn’t have it, there are other closing options – not only on the current roster, but others that will be available during the course of next season. However, there aren’t many pitchers who have showed the capabilities that Hamels has juts hanging around. If Cole can get back to 2008 form, the 1-2 punch of Lee and Hamels can be a knockout. But if Cole can’t find that form that put the ’08 Phillies over the top, it leaves a lot of people wondering what to do with the former World Series MVP.

Here’s to a helluva season….95 days until pitchers and catchers report.

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