Raising Questions

Why Isn’t Hamels So Dominant?

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Wed, June 17, 2009 08:00 AM Comments: 33

HamelsscufflingHere’s something scary: Cole Hamels has finished seven innings in just two of his starts this season. That’s two of 12. Take out the early exits because of injury and you’re still at 20 percent.

That’s unacceptable for a man who’s supposed to give you seven almost every time out. It’s unacceptable for a supposed ace. As a referral note, after 12 starts last season, Hamels saw seven innings nine times.

Is there a problem?

I thought as if Hamels wasn’t getting the swings and misses he used to get. And it’s true, he’s not quite getting the swings he desires. Hitters are swinging at his outside-the-zone offerings just 26 percent of the time, compared to 30 percent the last two seasons. And they’re making more contact outside the zone than ever — 62 percent of the time, compared to 60 percent last season and just 52 percent in 2007. To be short, Hamels is throwing many more hittable pitches outside the strike zone.

There might be a reason for that, too — the fastball has lost some velocity since 2007 (about 92 mph to 90 mph); with that, the changeup has lost about the same amount of velocity (from 82 to 79), and the curveball, too (from 78 to 74). When you lose velocity, your pitches will become easier to hit. And with that, his batting average of balls in play has risen dramatically from .270 to .348 from 2008 to ’09.

Is it luck? Somewhat. But it also shows that the fire Hamels once slung with ease has tempered a bit. Is he capable of big outs? Absolutely. That was seen last night in the sixth inning — three struck balls that tangled in Jimmy Rollins’ glove. Yes he was hit, but the hits were consistent to the defender’s range. Hamels still got out of the jam, making big pitches en route to a pop out, a strike out and a fly out.

Hamels should be okay, but we’ll hold our breaths just a little until he starts dominating for seven and more innings with regularity.


Phillies Need Top-Shelf Starter

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Tue, June 16, 2009 07:30 AM Comments: 98

BastardoDespite the fine comeback win Sunday, playing the Red Sox exposed the Phillies great weaknesses: Lack of bench help, injuries in the bullpen, an insufficient starting rotation.

The third aspect is the most pressing for the Phils’ goals in 2009. Watching the patient Red Sox work against, then tee off on Antonio Bastardo flashed the distress signal; then, watching the Sox do the same thing against JA Happ put us into panic mode. Bastardo and Happ may work against San Diego and even the free-swinging Dodgers, but in big October baseball, it won’t fly.

We do know, however, that Happ is more an asset in the rotation and should continue his run at the back of the rotation. But as we figured, it wouldn’t be a great idea to keep Bastardo, and Happ, and Jamie Moyer, and Joe Blanton back there together. That’s too much of one kind of pitcher (a guy who relies on hitters to make the outs for them — though Blanton has shown to be a bit more than that).

Yes, it’s second starter time. The Phillies will have to make a move, and it will probably be coming down within the next few weeks. I’ll dive into the second-starter business tomorrow; for now, come up with your own ideas as to who should next don pinstripes.


2 Quick Questions For Charlie Manuel

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Sat, June 13, 2009 09:30 AM Comments: 22

digit2Just two quick questions I’d hope our manager can answer.

1. Why is the bench so weak? Currently the bench includes Matt Stairs (who has been great), Greg Dobbs (who needs more at bats but is struggling), Eric Bruntlett (a far below-average offensive player and average-at-best defensive player), Chris Coste (standard fare for a backup catcher) and Paul Bako (really?). And what about that whole “We’ll give Big John the chance to prove himself” talk?

2. Why can’t Jimmy Rollins hit? Or, if I should be so accurate, why the heck did you move him back to the leadoff spot? That was stupid, wasn’t it? He was productive in the six-hole. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. No, but you fixed it, and suddenly Rollins is slumping again. What the heck is wrong with him? Whatever the case, move him back to the six-hole. Do it now.

If you remember, fair reader, I addressed Manuel with three questions a week ago. Now that the Lidge problem is bunk, I only have two questions. As you’ll see, they’re almost the same as the ones I asked before, but with small tweaks.

Yes, it’s like playing a broken record.

Actually, here’s a third: Why is Kyle Kendrick on the roster? But that’s not really a question for Manuel, is it?


3 Quick Questions For Charlie Manuel

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Sun, June 07, 2009 12:42 AM Comments: 30

threeJust three quick questions I’d hope our manager can answer.

1. Why is the bench so shallow and weak? Currently the bench includes Matt Stairs (who has been great), Greg Dobbs (who needs more at bats but is struggling), Eric Bruntlett (a far below-average offensive player and average-at-best defensive player) and Chris Coste (standard fare for a backup catcher). That’s it. And what about that whole “We’ll give Big John the chance to prove himself” talk?

2. Why can’t Jimmy Rollins hit more ground balls? I know those are 90+ mph fastballs coming in, but if you keep putting Rollins at the top of your lineup, you need him to get his bat over the ball more often. Either that or he has to hit the ball square on, lining it into the outfield. Instead, he keeps flying or popping out. This seems counterproductive.

3. What’s wrong with Brad Lidge? I mean, sure he went 41-for-41 last season, but that was last season. This season he has blown six saves. We’re in early June. Clearly something is wrong. Figure it out. And if not, can you at least sit him for a little while and let the guys who are positively producing finish your games?

You know, if you answer these questions, your team could be — like — 15 games over .500 or something. The more you wait, however …


Phillies Need Better Outfield Depth

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Fri, June 05, 2009 01:41 PM Comments: 107

BruntlettWith Shane Victorino out yesterday with what he called a “bruised” hip, Charlie Manuel elected to start Eric Bruntlett in the outfield against the left-handed Clayton Kershaw. What occurred was an 0-for-4 game, lowering Bruntlett’s average to a team-worst .122. His OPS+? 2.

Simply put, even if Bruntlett was an outstanding defender, that type of offensive frailty is poisonous.

Victorino probably won’t be completely healthy this season. Nor will Jayson Werth, who has a history of small nicks and even larger pains. The need for fourth outfield stability is necessary, and not even Matt Stairs (a .303 hitter but defensively poor and more a one-trick pony than necessary) can suffice for more than three straight games.

Does it mean John Mayberry Jr. should be with the team for good? Or should the Phillies think about grabbing a low-cost roleplayer? Or maybe they should’ve never let Geoff Jenkins go.


Pregame: Handicap Bastardo

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Tue, June 02, 2009 05:54 PM Comments: 46

A quick post to fill the time beteween now and gamenight. Two questions:

How do you think Antonio Bastardo will do tonight?
What do you want out of Antonio Bastardo tonight?

My answer? I think he’ll go five, allowing two earned runs on five hits. He’ll strike out five and walk three. And I want him to show that he’s able to force major league hitters into creating outs while changing speeds and pitch types throughout his start. He doesn’t have to be dominating, just smart.

Your turn.


Is A Lineup Change Necessary?

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Tue, May 26, 2009 05:09 PM Comments: 13

DobbsmissResembling a MASH unit, the Mets have called up top prospect Fernando Martinez after spending 2009 in triple-A Buffalo. And as quickly as that was announced, the Mets also proclaimed Martinez would start and bat sixth in tonight’s game against the Nationals.

Of course, the Mets have more scratches and bruises than most small-town hospitals, but the Phillies could learn from this innovative thinking. Last night the Phils offense looked lost and tired in a 5-3 loss to the Marlins. Specifically, Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino didn’t play well at all. Werth has been cradling a bad slump, while Vic made a gigantic baserunning error trying to steal second in last night’s ninth inning. It was possible one or both could sit the night out tonight.

So tonight’s lineup? Rollins. Victorino. Utley. Howard. Ibanez. Werth. Feliz. Ruiz. Blanton. AKA the same freakin’ lineup.

I’m not saying the Phils should call up Michael Taylor and start him. No. But when your regular best pinch hitter is hitting a paltry .139 because he supposedly hasn’t had enough chances … or when you want to give your newly called right-handed hitting prospect a chance to play (and against a lefty) …

Are we confident this similar lineup can churn out a bunch of runs tonight? Or should we want to see something fresh and new taking aim at the Marlins?


‘Strength’ Of Schedule: Should Phils Be Happy?

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Wed, May 20, 2009 10:00 AM Comments: 60

PhilslogoAt first glance a 21-16 record is fine work; especially with all the early distractions, it’s good the Phillies have skated out to a nice record. Of course, a look closer and you’ll find the effort behind the record.

Phillies vs.
Nationals: 7-2
Braves: 2-4
Mets: 1-3
Marlins: 3-0
Rockies: 2-1
Brewers: 1-2
Padres: 1-2
Dodgers: 1-2
Cardinals: 2-0
Reds: 1-0

Take out the Nationals and the Phillies are a square 14-14 team. The nine games against the Nationals have contributed to what ESPN has determined to be the easiest schedule in the league — a collective winning percentage of .474.

So now I ask, are you happy with a 21-16 record?


Bako Aquisition Could Clear Up Coste

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Tue, May 19, 2009 11:33 AM Comments: 70

CosteA small acquisition like the Paul Bako signing might not make one wonder, but suddenly, the Phillies have – once again – four major league-ready catchers on their roster. Intriguing, sure.

But why four catchers again? Why are the Phillies so determined to keep four catchers when the infield and outfield depth charts remain shallow past the majors?

It seems it’s possible Chris Coste is being looked upon as a right-handed bench bat, not just a backup catcher. History proves this isn’t a totally bad move (.265 AVG, .695 OPS as pinch hitter), but could be better. Of course, Coste has always been able to rake left-handed pitching (.313 AVG, .863 OPS), so there’s potential yet.

At some point the Phillies will have to make wholesale adjustments to the bench, but for now, small moves like Bako can mean big upgrades elsewhere.


How Much Longer Should We Give Park?

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Tue, May 12, 2009 10:57 AM Comments: 67

ChanHoJust six days ago, we were discussing whether Chan Ho Park was facing his final start as a Phillie. Now, that all seems like a distant memory.

Park will face the Dodgers tonight in the first game of a three-outing set. This team is a lot like the Mets in their offensive prowess – a team that features a few guys who can do multiple things at the plate. Park will need to mix up his pitches again, paint his corners and work diligently to keep the Dodgers at bay.

But what if he screws up again? What if Park hands in only a two- to three-inning start? Should we start the clock again?

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