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Raising Questions

Rooting for the Name on the Back of the Jersey

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, July 02, 2010 07:00 AM Comments: 70

I can’t say this is always true, but I’d wager that most baseball fans, whether they’re five years old or 55 years old, have a favorite player.

How one comes to choose a favorite player has always been a source of great interest to me. Is it pure skill? Is it leadership? Charisma? Being a good person? Everyone picks a favorite player using different criteria.

I was six years old in 1993, and in my first season following baseball, I was mesmerized by Lenny Dykstra. He was ungainly and disgusting (Andy Van Slyke once famously said of Dykstra that you could get cancer playing the outfield next to him), but during that 1993 season he could do no wrong. He led the league in hits, runs, walks, and plate appearances, finishing second in the MVP voting to Barry Bonds. Not only was he the best player on my favorite team, he always got dirty and had cool nicknames (“Nails” and “Dude”). I wore my Dykstra jersey through second and third grade until it was threadbare. Without Nails, the Phillies didn’t tick.

I heard similar things about people picking Chase Utley as a favorite player when I asked on Twitter and Facebook the other day. He’s the best player on the team, he’s the heart and soul of the team, and as such he is worthy of our admiration.

One friend of mine cited Jayson Werth’s good-natured, fun-loving attitude and all-around skill as a reason she picked him as her favorite player. Another friend of mine picked Werth, knowing nothing about baseball, because he looked, much to the friend’s amusement, like a guy who’d roofie your girlfriend at a party.

My dad grew up a Mets fan in North Jersey in the 1960s and used to tell me about Tommie Agee and Ron Swoboda growing up, though he never did tell me why he liked them.

Another friend of mine grew up a Pirates fan and loved Sid Bream as a kid, because they shared a uniform number and the distinction of being the slowest players in their respective leagues.

Of course, these preferences change over time. When Dykstra left, I became a Scott Rolen fan, and when he left, I developed my long-term man-crush on the player I currently call my favorite: Jimmy Rollins.

By the sabermetric methods I purport to hold so dear, Rollins is extremely overrated. He doesn’t walk enough, doesn’t get on base enough, and while he’s a great defensive player, he’s not quite as good as everyone says. According to VORP and WAR and OPS+ and the rest of the alphabet, his 2007 MVP award should have gone to Matt Holliday, or David Wright, or even his double-play partner Utley. Instead, J-Roll got it for reaching a couple arbitrary milestones (30-30 and 20-20-20-20) and by giving the Mets some of the best blackboard material in recent memory, then backing it up on the field.

Sure, I love the way he fields his position, that he’s one of the best basestealers of my lifetime, and the power he squeezes out of his 5-foot-8 frame. But the real reason I love Jimmy Rollins is because he started a war of the words that would eventually enrapture Carlos Beltran, Cole Hamels, Johan Santana and the entire Mets and Phillies fan bases. I love him because he’s the last link to a time when this team was truly terrible. I love him because he’s the informal captain of one of the most likeable teams this city’s ever seen. I love the bowling tournaments, the Red Bull stunt, and that stupid video he made about trying to teach Mike Lieberthal to dance.

With the team in third place and Chase Utley’s thumb hanging on by a few shreds of cartilage, we need a distraction. So I pose the question to the readership: who’s your favorite player? How’d you choose?

  • 70 Comments
 

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

  • 17 Comments
 

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

  • 2 Comments
 

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

  • 15 Comments
 

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

  • 101 Comments
 

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.

  • 3 Comments
 

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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