26 February 2003


Mike's Baseball Rantscontinues his look at the history of relief pitchers. Good stuff, as always. He does love those tables...

The second part of Alex Belth's Ken Burns Interview is posted over at Bronx Banter. It's a little dated, talking about a couple of guys who were up for Veterans Committee election into Cooperstown, but didn't make it, but this is my fault for not responding to Alex's request very quickly. Apologies, Alex, and for the rest of you, go read it if you haven't already. It won't take long.

The new issue of Mudville Magazine is out. Turns out that this is a monthly site.

And lastly, but hopefully not leastly, a surprise! Part of the reason that my blog posts have been a little sparse lately is that I've been immersed in books. Besides recently buying copies of Baseball Prospectus 2003, The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract(which I got for under $10!), What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?, I have also gotten copies of Harvey Frommer's A Yankee Century and Growing Up Baseball.

My review of A Yankee Century appears on Boy of Summer's Books, which is now linked at the top left of Boy of Summer. I plan to review Growing Up Baseball as soon as I've finished reading it, and other reviews will follow as I can keep up with them. I will likely even go back and review some books I've already read, like Boys of Summer, Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life, Baseball Dynasties, and more.

I'll try to give you the straight scoop on whatever I'm reading, and anyone who has a book they've written and would like me to review, please email me, send me a copy, and I'll try to indulge you.

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Sorry, one last post about the Devil Rays before we pack this issue away. Some months ago, I indicated that I had arrived because I received a reply from Clay Davenport of BaseballProspectus, but now I realize that I was mistaken.

This time, I have really arrived: I got Hate Mail.

From: "Stephen Clark"
To: tmutchell@yahoo.com
Subject: I suppose you never heard of the Angels
Date: Sat, 22 Feb 2003 08:31:57 -0600

You are an idiot. I will never read your dribble again.

To which I responded:
Date: Fri, 21 Feb 2003 08:58:18 -0800 (PST) 

From: "Travo"
Subject: Re: I suppose you never heard of the Angels
To: "Stephen Clark"


This is entirely possible. I accept that I may very
well be an idiot. I prefer to think otherwise, but
I'm open to being proved wrong. Two things, however:

1) Please give me a chance to defend myself. It's
only fair. With which of my many idiotic posts did
you take issue? I have, of course, heard of the
Angels, assuming you mean the baseball team from
Anaheim, but I'm not exactly sure to what your comment
refers. Please let me know, I'm always interested to
hear opinions.

B) I think the word you're looking for is "drivel",
not dribble.


Stephen did not respond. This bothers me. I don't mind being hated nearly as much as I mind being ignored. I really didn't know what the heck he was talking about, but looking back, I figured that he must have been offended by my Devil Rays post last week (despite the date on his email, I actually received it on Friday morning). So I wrote again:

Date: Fri, 21 Feb 2003 15:30:12 -0800 (PST)
From: "Travo"
Subject: Re: I suppose you never heard of the Angels
To: "Stephen Clark"


OK, I'm doubting that you've been raptured from the Earth, so I guess you're
ignoring me. I will take an educated (for an idiot) guess at the source of your
ire, and say that you're probably a Devil Rays fan who's upset about my
disparaging comments on their infield defense plan. If I have guessed correctly,
you mean to say that the Angels won the World Series with offensively-sub-par
infielders, and that therefore, the D-Rays plan may not be such a bad one.
(I give you credit, because you can apparently type whole words, for not
believing that they're actually going to the World Series themselves this year.)

Let's look:

Baseball Prospectus (maybe they're idiots too?) ranks Scott Spezio's 2002
season as 16th among ML firstbasemen, 23.1 Runs Above Replacement Position,
or 2.7 Runs Above Position. Or, as they say in France: average, serviceable,
mediocre. (This was an uncharacteristically good year for him.)
Travis Lee, however, is ranked 37(!)th in RARP, at 2.7, or 20.5 runs *below*
an average MLB 1B in 2002. In other words, the Phillies paid Lee $3 million for
the privelige of fielding a guy who did what any number of AAAA guys coulda
done for the ML minimum. This year doesn't promise to be any different for the
D-Rays, except that they're gonna get ripped-off for less dough.

Similarly, Adam Kennedy was 7th in the majors among 2B, with 29.4 RARP,
while Marlon Anderson, Jay Canizaro and Brent Abernathy were 16th, 53(!)rd
and 61(!!)st in RARP last year. Mediocre, terrible and terribler.
Who goes out and intentionally signs guys like this?

David Eckstein was also 7th in the majors among SS, with 32.3 RARP,
while Rey Ordonez was 40(!)th with -1.9. Who trades for a guy who's
ranked ten notches *worse* than the number of extant teams??? No
amount of defense would compensate for this kind of putrid offense.
And even if their defensive reputations (not Anderson's) were all they're
cracked up to be, saving ten runs and allowing 20, for a lot of low-scoring
defeats, doesn't seem like the way to inspire young pitchers to me.
Ordonez and Lee only saved 6 or 7 runs more than the average players
at their respective positions last year anyway. Hardly worth giving up all
that offense to help the young pitchers.

Besides this, the Angels had Garret Anderson, Darrin Erstad, and Tim
Salmon in the OF most days, as well as Glaus and Fulmer, who all could
hit at least somewhat above average for their own positions. The D-rays
have no such compensation from the remainder of their lineup, except
maybe Huff.

C'mon, Stephen, I'm desperate here. Argue with me. Tell me I'm wrong.
Send me an email laced with profanity and grammatical errors and
CAPITALIZATION, but don't just leave me hanging. This is my first real,
unsolicited hatemail from Boy of Summer, and I'd hate to think that I may
have lost one of the couple dozen or so Devil Rays fans out there just
because he doesn't like to be told that his team sucks.

People tell me that, and I'm a Yankee fan. Don't take it personally.

Your hero,

Alas, Stephen Clark has yet to respond. (I resisted the urge to give out his email address so people could flame him for being so narrow-minded and force him to respond. That wouldn't be very nice.) I'll give him credit for sticking to his word and not reading my "dribble" anymore...but that's about it. Whereas David Bloom, Tampa Bay D-Rays blogger extraordinaire, has actually agreed with most of my assessments, some folks just aren't sufficiently open-minded or free-thinking to accept the possibility that their favorite team, losers of an average of 98 games over the last five years, isn't any good, and with the same General Management, might not have any idea how to change that circumstance.


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25 February 2003

Tampa? I Hardly Knowa!

I can't believe I'm spending this much time and effort on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Jayson Stark has a puff piece about the D-Rays, particularly the parallels between them and their Super Bowl-Winning NFL Counterpart, the Buccaneers. As I see them, the parallels are as follows:

1) Both teams hired a new field boss away from another team. (Lou Piniella from Seattle and John Gruden from Oakland)

...Did I mention that they're both in Tampa Bay?

Stark sees it a little differently, I guess, but then that's kinda what we've come to exect. Stark compares the current D-Rays team to the Seattle Mariners in charge of which Lou Piniella was placed prior to the 1993 season. That team had been bad, this team is bad. Sweet Lou turned them around, so why can't he do the same with this club?

Well, a few reasons: first of all, the major league talent the 1993 Mariners had is an order of magnitude better than what I see on the Devil Rays' current roster. They had some established, productive players like Ken Griffey, Jay Buhner and Edgar Martinez on that roster, plus role-players like Dave Magadan, Rich Amaral and Pete O'Brien, Omar Vizquel (who managed to provide needed infield defense without totally sacrificing any offensive contributions) and some rising prospects like Tino Martinez and Bret Boone. The pitchers weren't bad either with Randy Johnson and a decent supporting cast (Erik Hanson, Dave Fleming, Chris Bosio, Jeff Nelson, Norm Charlton, Ted Power). While obviously much of this is retrospective name recognition, I expect that you will be hard-pressed to find such a familiar list of names from the 2003 D-Rays' roster ten years from now.

Stark quips, "Ten years ago, the Mariners were also a laughingstock of a franchise, playing in a lifeless domed stadium, barely drawing a million people, coming off a 98-loss season, looking back at one winning season in the history of the franchise."

Makes them sound pretty similar, right? Except that the one winning season the Mariners had came just two years before Piniella was handed the helm. Their pitching (and injuries to it) did them in in '92, dropping the team ERA from 4th to 10th in the 14-team AL, while run scoring remained about the same. But there was talent, and suffucient run support, to help turn the team back around. Some, like Stark, would argue that the early '90s Mariners had been heading the wrong direction, and that Piniella righted that ship, so he could right this one. The problem is that the analogy doesn't hold up. From '88 to '91 the mariners had won 68, 73, 77 and 83 games, a nice gradual increase, and an apparent indication that the team was already headed in the right direction, before the bump-in-the-road known as 1992 came along (64-98). Piniella just came along at the right time, and kept the team heading in the right direction. It took a while for everything to click, but by 1995, they were in the playoffs. They were hardly a laughingstock, just having an off year in '92.

These Devil Rays have no such track record. The last (their only) five years, they've lost 99, 93, 92, 100, and 106 games. If anything, the trend is downward, and there's no indication that they're plugging holes or making any concerted or intelligent effort to repent from the baseball sins that have created the trend. They've relied way too much on free agency, losing draft picks in the process. Not that they'd have done much with them anyway. The Devil Rays draft picks have largely not amounted to much, typically because of their insistence upon blowing their early-round picks on high school pitchers and toolsy outfielders. On the other hand (where I still have five fingers...) Seattle's picks in the late 80s an early 90s were quite productive, giving them stars and role players (Ken Griffey, Alex Rodriguez, Erik Hanson, Tino Martinez) as well as surplus talent they could afford to trade to fill holes (Mike Hampton, Shawn Estes, Bret Boone).

Piniella seems to recognize this disparity: "If you ask me what my rotation is, I don't know. I'll tell you Joe Kennedy will be in it. That's about it. And if I look at my bullpen, I can tell you Lance Carter is going to be out there. Outside of that, we've got to fill in the blanks."

Piniella's team has more blanks than a revolver in a spaghetti-Western.

Supposedly, the expectation is that this team will be ready to contend in about two or three years when:

1) They're finally rid of some of the cumbersome contracts that have albatrossed them for the last few years (Greg Vaughn, Ben Greive, etc.)

B) They're due for some nice chunk of the new revenue-sharing money.To the tune of like $20 million.

iii) Their Young Toolsters will be maturing into Actual Baseball Players. And...

IV) The Beatles reunite to tour with Karen Carpenter and Nirvana.

Why so harsh? I'll tell you:

1) and B) Sure they'll get more money, but other teams who make more dough than Tampa still can't win first prize in a Spell Your Own Name Contest. Payroll isn't everything. Just ask the Mets. Or the Dodgers. Or Baltimore.

iii) It takes more than Tools to make successful Baseball Players. It takes good coaching, good direction, baseball skill development. Just ask Ruben Rivera. Or Jose Guillen. Or Pat Watkins. Or Shawn Abner.

IV) The Tampa Bay Devil Rays will never contend for anything until there's a change of leadership or of leadership philosophy.

Give them more money? Won't matter, they'll find some other way to squander it.

Give them better draft picks? Won't matter, they'll use them on the wrong kinds of players.

Give them better players? Won't matter. They'll either misuse them, misguide them, or trade them for more toolsy prospects.

The problem with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays is not Greg Vaughn or Wilson Alvarez or Vinny Castilla or Roberto Hernandez or even Rey Ordonez and Travis Lee. The problem is in the front office. Chuck LaMar has all but run this team into the ground, with no real indication that he'll be turning things around any time soon. How a guy in charge of a baseball team can see what people like scouting director Cam Bonifay have done in Pittsburgh or what SS Rey Ordonez has done in NYC and still want them on his team is simply beyond me. And how such a person manages to retain his position, year-after-nine-years, has to be up there with Noah's Ark and Fabian's singing career on the list of The Great Mysteries of Human Civilization.

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19 February 2003

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays are bad.

(How bad are they?)

They're so bad that...

...their lineup has less pop than an empty soda bottle.

...their batting practice pitchers have a 0.00 ERA.

...members of their infield defense are being sent to Iraq to try to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

... closer Esteban Yan is so bad at saving things that Tupperware won't let him endorse their products.

...their pitching staff allowed more homers than the doorman at a Simpsons Impersonation Convention.

...Louie Anderson has more plate discipline than these guys.

...their hitters ask Christopher Reeve for tips on walking. (ouch)

OK, OK, enough with the jokes. Everybody know that the D-Rays suck, and have since their inception in 1998. They've tried "proven" veterans, unproven rookies, development, free agency, trades, incantations, but mostly they've tried wandering aimlessly without any coherent plan, and... (surprise!) ...it hasn't worked. Amazingly, they still have fans, such as David Bloom, whose Devil Rays Blog will be linked here as soon as I get a chance to update them. Some more concrete measures of how bad this team was:

...nobody pitching more than 21 Innings had an ERA under 4.30. The AL average was 4.47.

...no pitcher with more than three decisions finished the season with a winning record.

...Greg Vaughn's .163 season marked the lowest BA by a non-catcher with at least 250 At-Bats in this century! (Note: Catchers' offensive contributions used to be considered secondary, so it was not uncommon for a Bill Bevens or a Bob Uecker or a Les Moss to hang around for a while without any indication that they knew what they were doing with that piece of ash they were handed three times a game.)

ESPN's Hot Stove Heater on the Devil Rays details some of their inneptitude, and more importantly, what to expect this year. My hero, Rob Neyer has argued that they aren't "historically bad" but in a way they are, or could be. It's been over two decades since an American League team lost 100 games in three straight seasons (the expansion '77-'79 Blue Jays had a better excuse), but the Tampa front office has all but sealed the team's fate in supplanting Toronto for this (dis)honor.

This is a team that Chuck LaMar has run since the start, and has never shown any indication that he knows how to draft players, sign free agents, or make decent trades, and yet he still has his job. To this, erstwhile Pirates GM Cam Bonifay, himself showing little evidence that he knows how to properly run a franchise, was hired in an assistant-to-the-innept-GM role last year. Results have not been surprising. Let me see if I can sum up the team philosophies for each season they've been around:

1998: The Devil Rays: We're an expansion team! Nobody expects us to win...so we won't.
1999: The Devil Rays: Did we mention that Wade Boggs plays for us?
2000: The Devil Rays: We're gonna slug our way to the...umm, basement.
2001: The Devil Rays: We've got an All-Star! ….whaddaya mean every team gets one?
2002: The Devil Rays: Did we mention that Wade Boggs used to play for us?
2003: The Devil Rays: Our new manager's SO good, we don't need good players!

And so they've gone out and assembled possibly one of the worst teams that will ever set foot on a major league baseball field. They took an "offense" that scored the third fewest runs in the AL last year, got rid of Randy Winn, arguably their best player, as compensation for new field marshal Lou Pinella. They released Steve Cox, a 28-year old hitter with some power (47 extra base hits) and patience (60 walks) and then sold him to Japan. Well, a baseball team in Japan. They lost two of their three top innings-munching pitchers (Paul Wilson and Tanyon Sturtze) to free agency, as well as Steve Kent, Wilson Alvarez, and their "closer", Esteban Yan. Actually, there's good news and bad news about this. Make that Bad News and Worse News.

The Bad News: The pitchers they lost went 24-53 with a 1.52 WHIP and a 5.10 ERA in 709 Innings last season. That horrendous 5.10 ERA is actually better than the team's MLB-worst 5.29 ERA in 2002.

The Worse News: Their replacements on the roster (Blake Stein, Jim Parque, Bob Wells, Steve Parris and the newly-signed Wayne Gomes) went 9-16 with a 1.74 WHIP and a 6.67 ERA in 227 innings. Now, of course, not all of those pitchers' 700+ innings will be eaten up by these five, as they have all been signed to minor league contracts, and aren't guaranteed to make the team. Ironically, GM Chuck LaMar had this to say about the Gomes signing:
``Well, this kid showed up yesterday and he wouldn't leave. So, because of that, we're giving him an opportunity. He's got some major league experience and we'll let him compete.''
He’s got some major league experience? How about ‘He’s got a lower 2002 ERA than all but two guys with at least 20 innings pitched last year who are still on our roster’? I’m not saying that Wayne Gomes is going to save the franchise or anything, but losers can’t be choosers, y’know?

The other pitchers expected to assume the bulk of the remaining workload aren't much more promising:

Victor Zambrano allowed 68 walks and 15 dingers in only 114 innings of "major league" work, to go with a nifty 5.53 ERA. He’s expected to improve on those numbers, but there’s not really much of anywhere to go but up from there.

Nick Bierbrodt apparently has some talent, but spent most of last year rehabbing from a gunshot wound in the non-pitching arm. Here’s what Baseball Prospectus’ Will Carroll had to say about him in the Tampa Bay Team Health Report:

”Being shot, I hope, is one of those fluke things that mean nothing in an injury history. For the Rays, it's not. Another rotation candidate, Nick Bierbrodt, was also shot[BoS: theother was Delvin James} , also at a restaurant. (Note to Rays: room service.) Bierbrodt was in the minors after losing complete control of his pitches, but reports indicate that Piniella has tabbed him for a starting slot, so we'll hope he can find the plate again. Still, past history plus the shooting plus Piniella equal a red light. “
Dewon Brazelton, despite an apparently talented arm as the D-Rays’ fourth best prospect, has exactly 18 innings of experience above AA ball, so expect some growing pains there. Also, he is a major injury risk, according to Will Carroll, so his best hope for future health is to suck enough that Piniella won’t overwork him and then pitch better when Piniella gets frustrated and quits, around June, hopefully to be replaced by someone other than Terry Francona.

Others expected to play a role this year include Jesus Colome, who was injured in an auto accident in the Dominican Republic that killed three people in the other car. He was cleared of any wrongdoing in the accident, but had the gall to say,

“This could affect my career because I don't know whether I feel OK to play this season”

First of all, three women just died: nobody cares how your career is going to be affected.

Secondly, Colome was 2-7 with an 8.27 ERA in 32 games last season. He allowed 91 baserunners in 41.1 innings. His opponent averages of .341/.446/.524 mean that his opponents generally hit like Mike Sweeney when they faced him. How much less OK could he possibly be this year than last? If anything, the accident may help him pitch better. Like to a Boeing ERA, say, 7.27. A whole run improvement!

On the other hand (where, in case you haven’t heard, I have five fingers), the Devil Rays have brought in quite a few players for offensive “help”:

Pos Name Age 2002 EqA MLB Pos EqA
C Jorge Fabregas 33 .165* .246
1B Travis Lee 27 .259 .287
2B Marlon Anderson 29 .250 .259
3B Chris Truby 29 .239 .264
SS Rey Ordonez 32 .226 .256
INF Jay Canizaro 29 .210 .256
OF Ryan Thompson 32 .272 .280
1B/OF Lee Stevens 32 .243* .287
(* approximate EqA for two different teams)

Eight guys, only one (Travis Lee) at an age where he might reasonably be expected to improve a little, none with an EqA above the the league average for his position, at least not with any significant playing time (Thompson's .272 was amassed in fewer than 150 plate appearances.

This might be the worst lineup ever assembled, if it ever got to play. Thankfully it won’t. Thompson is a one-time super prospect who probably won’t make the team, given all the hotshot young outfielders they currently have to evaluate (Josh Hamilton, Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, and Jason Conti), not to mention Greg “The Human Black Hole” Vaughn, who isn’t young, but won’t be paid $8.5 million just to chew sunflower seeds on the bench). Lee Stevens probably won’t make the club either, since they’ve already got Aubrey Huff and Travis Lee to play the 1B/DH/OF roles (though if Lee Stevens did make the team, along with Travis Lee, and if they could get Cecil Travis as a coach and bring up young Stevenson Agosto, you’d have the makings of a good Laugh-In! joke.)

Anywho, these guys are all in camp for a tryout, with the expectation that Anderson and Truby will platoon with incumbents 2B Brent Abernathy and 3B Jared Sandberg, respectively. You would imagine that at least two of the five OF/DH spots would end up in a platoon situation as well, meaning that the D-Rays’ roster will burn up 9 or 10 semi-regular players on four positions. That’s a good way to make sure you have a nice, shallow bench.

Some people may be screaming “No, the D-Rays are following the Braves’ model, valuing infield defense over offense to help develop the young pitching!” (Baseball Prospectus got such a letter, but didn't even see fit to offer a response, given how ridiculous it was.)

Indeed Travis Lee and Rey Ordonez have excellent defensive reputations at their respective positions, though in reality they both saved only about half a dozen defensive runs more than an average player at their own positions, good for less than one win, combined, in 2002. And their offensive contributions more than made up for that. Besides, the Braves’ model isn’t really an accurate notion, since the pitchers who became the backbone of that staff in the early ‘90s (Glavine and Smoltz) all had success before Sid Bream, Rafael Belliard and Mark Lemke became regulars, or before they joined the team (Maddux). Only Steve Avery’s arrival at stardom coincided with the so-called defense focus, and those Braves generally had enough offense, especially in the outfield (David Justice, Fred McGriff, Ron Gant, Terry Pendleton, Lonnie Smith, even Otis Nixon) to compensate for the offensive slackers.

The D-Rays won’t have that kind of production out of their outfield, or anyone else whose name doesn't rhyme with "chaw-free snuff". Not this year, not if Hamilton can't stay healthy and Baldelli, Conti and Crawford don't learn some plate discipline, a skill the Tampa organization does not seem to value, it seems. How else would you explain the influx of players like Lee Stevens and Rey Ordonez and the jettison of Steve Cox to Yokohama, a player who showed real promise in the minors, racking up homers and doubles like breasts in a Joe Bob Briggs movie review and walking almost as often as he K'd (both were a lot). He'll probably become the next Roberto Petaguine or Tuffy Rhodes, and it will serve the Devil Rays right. So while they're tilting at the windmills of infield defense, even the Phillies managed to figure out that you can't play Travis Lee and Marlon Anderson everyday and expect to get the damsel. Um, pennant.

Anyway, Rob Neyer is still right, so far. There have been a lot of teams worse than this five-year stretch by the Tampa Bay Americans, but this sixth year could really be something special. We're talking unexplored territory here. We're talking a team OPS under .600. We're talking 120+ losses. We're talking mathematical elimination from AL East contention earlier than any team in history.

Like, yesterday.

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12 February 2003


First of all, my apologies to anyone who has asked me for a plug and not gotten it in the last few weeks. As I mentioned yesterday, I've been very busy, and still am, so I won't belabor the point. Now, on to the good stuff:

Two new links appear on your right. The first is Mudville Magazine, full of prolific and excellent writing, regularly posted readers' email responses, cartoons and weekly reviews of baseball related stuff (this week: magazines).

The second is Sports Frog. Against my usual trend, this site has sports other than baseball (who knew they existed?), with smart-alecky commentary on everything from Baseball Magazines to Horses to basketball to Jennifer Lopez to...well, you get the point. They have four different writers, one of whom reportedly has a cat that eats Volkswagen Beetles for lunch, but personally I think the stray tabby that my aunt fed until it weighed thirty two pounds (they called it a "racing hippo") could probably take him. If it wasn't dead.

Also, I need to make some much-needed amends with my blog brothers, Mike Carminati, and Jay Jaffe, who have been reviewing and rewriting the way relief pitchers are evaluated for some time now. Mike's summarized all of those history links here, while Jay has a revision on a system for evaluating said short-winded hurlers here. Both are very thorough, and very good.

It's posted at Baseball Primer, where Aaron Gleeman's Top 50 Prospects Report also appears. Aaron is a college student, which, aside from being unemployed, is about the only way someone could possibly have the time to do what he does without being paid for it. You go, Aaron.

Also, Alex Belth over at Bronx Banter has posted the first part of the transcript of an interview with Ken Burns, the famous documentary guru. Belth was fortunate enough to work on Ken Burns' Baseball Documentary right out of school, which makes my pansy-ass brushes with greatness pale in comparison. Hopefully the celebrity endorsement will help him to pull in a few more readers. If that doesn't work, try mentioning supermodels in the text of one of your posts. Or underwear.

Batter's Box has piles and piles of great stuff, and not just about the Toronto Blue Jays, so much that I won't go into all of it. But you should go check it out. Now.

In other news, I missed a golden opportunity. Last week, Jayson Stark wrote the most ridiculous column he'd written since, well, the previous week, and I had hoped to take some time to pick it apart, but my schedule would not allow it. It turns out though, that I was not alone in my distaste for said crap, as Mike's Baseball Rants and Elephants in Oakland both beat me to the punch. Mike has a couple of follow-up posts, and between his stuff and that over at EIO, I don't think anything was written that I wouldn't have brought up myself, though perhaps with somewhat less name-calling, if only because I'm not good with names.

And finally, some of why I haven't been able to write much of late is that my family has a new addition. We adopted an eleven-week old girl, whose mother had been homeless, and she has taken up all of my free time, as well as my wife's. She's wonderful, except when she wakes us up in the middle of the night crying or something like that, especially if we lock her in her cage. She's lots of fun to play with and her personality is already coming out. She has "accidents" once in a while, but is generally learning when and where it's appropriate to relieve herself. Smart kid. Of course, she chews on anything she can get her sharp little teeth around, and her breath stinks, but overall, she's a lot of fun. She's a Dalmation/Laborador mix we got from Willing Hearts Dalmation Rescue, and we couldn't be happier, as you can tell from the pictures below. (My wife is the one without hair on her face.) We named her McCartney.

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10 February 2003

Boy of Summer would like to announce that the reason he hasn't posted anything in three weeks is that he's been working his ass off for his 2003 Philadelphia Phillies' Preview. Tracking down front office personnel, interviewing players, drawing schematics of the Vet, inspecting the locker rooms, conducting seyances, consulting oijia boards....I'd like to say that, but I can't. Well I could, but I'd be lying. Mostly I've just been really busy at the job I get paid for, and as well as in my home life. But finally, and without further ado (ado, ado), I present to you...

Phillies' Phutures... A preview of the 2003 Philadelphias.

Many of you know that Philadelphia is not my favorite town, nor are the Phillies my favorite team, and not just because they're about a quarter century's worth of World Championships behind my favorite team, but because they so rarely seem to be making any significant, intelligent efforts to remedy that situation. In my opinion:

* It's not that hard to like a team that seems mostly content to suck but doesn't mind 'cuz they've got nice digs that always sell out, and they win a division or something once in a while, just to impart a false sense of hope to their doting fans. Call it the Loveable Losers Syndrome. (cf: Brooklyn Dodgers, Chicago Cubs)

* It's not that hard to like a team that tries to win but is somehow, always, tragically prevented from accomplishing their ultimate goal, often by their arch-rival. Call it the Tragic Heroes Syndrome. (cf: Boston Red Sox)

* It's not even that hard to like a team that used to be good when you were a kid, but isn't really anymore. Hey, nostalgia's better than nothing. (cf: NY Mets, most of the AL Central)

* But it's really hard to like a team that seems to aimlessly meander through history, trying to find a vision, alternately latching on to varying plans that range from the ill-advised to the insane. All the while lamenting the woes of their market and scapegoating the fan base for their lack of success, as though someone had forced them to play games in a Little League field on a small island off the coast of Alaska, when in fact they're in the largest one-team baseball market in the country. Such behavior is reprehensible and despicable. Also, the fans are really obnoxious and bitter. This means you, Philadelphia.

However, despite my relative distaste for the franchise, the Philadelphia Phillies have taken some serious strides. And I'm not talking strides toward mediocrity like Rob Ducey and Paul Spoljaric, or strides towards disappointment, like Mike Jackson and Danny Tartabull. I'm talking strides towards serious contention for the NL East crown, maybe more. Despite the lingering aftertaste of signings-gone-sour such as Mark Leiter and Greg Jeffries, the Phillies made the biggest splash in the free-agent pool this winter, bringing in Jim Thome and David Bell. They even traded for one of the best starters in their division, Kevin Millwood, giving up only a third-string catcher/motorcycle cop. They managed to let some of the dead wood float away, in Mike Timlin, Doug Glanville, Marlon Anderson, and Ricky Blow-tallico, who signed with the Red Sox, Rangers, Devil Rays, and Diamondbacks, respectively, and also Travis Lee who has ironically signed with the Devil Rays to "help their offense". Figures.

Anyway, here's what the projected lineup looks like:
Starting Eight

SS Jimmy Rollins
2B Placido Polanco
1B Jim Thome
LF Pat Burrell
RF Bobby Abreu
C Mike Lieberthal
3B David Bell
CF Marlon Byrd

If I'm a National League pitcher (I'm not), I'm going to lose a lot of sleep thinking about how to get from Thome to Bell without having to meet the homeplate umpire to get a ball to replace the one that just got air-mailed into the old Vet parking lot. Lieberthal isn't Mike Piazza, but a catcher who hits .280/.350/.450 when healthy is still in fairly select company. David Bell is unspectacular, and overpaid, but he hits for a little power, and so poses a threat himself. Bobby Abreu, despite his petulant refusal to hit lead-off, and Pat Burrell, despite the strikeouts, are two of the most underrated hitters in the NL. Marlon Byrd's upside is probably Carlos Beltran, but this year may resemble Jeffrey Hammonds a bit more than most Phillies fans would prefer.

The only real problem here is at the top of the lineup. Jimmy Rollins has some work to do to become a top-notch leadoff hitter, which is what this team needs: a patient hitter at the top of the lineup. Rollins isn't particularly patient (Fifty walks in 700 Plate Appearances just isn't gonna cut the gravy for a team that wants to win its division.) but is young, and therefore has as good a chance as anyone to become a little more disciplined and/or hit a little better next year. But all those big boppers in the middle of the lineup won't do much good if Rollins and Polanco don't get on base. In fact, outside of Thome-Burrell-Abreu, nobody in the lineup is really an outstanding hitter. Lieberthal and Rollins may be a little better than average for their positions, but not by a lot, and not enough to make up for the relatively weak-hitting Polanco and Bell or a still-developing (read: erratic) Marlon Byrd. They could really have used a Ray Durham or an Edgardo Alfonzo, but it's too late for that now. They can probably still be in the top 5 in NL runs scored, which, on a scale of one-to-ten, is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Polanco is serviceable (.296/.333/.390 career) as a backup IF and #2 or #8 hitter, but shouldn't be starting everyday. They've got Chase Utley, who has some power and patience, but didn't hit for average last season at AAA, has a lousy defensive reputation, and therefore probably won't be given a fair chance to supplant Polanco as the everyday 2B. So these are your 2003 Philadelphia Phillies. Hitters anyway.

Who's on the Bench?

C Tank Pratt
IF Tomas Perez
IF Tyler Houston
OF Ricky Ledee
OF Jason Michaels?
OF Eric Valent?

Pratt had a career year, hitting .311/.449/.500, with an OPS about 200 points above his career averages. That won't happen again, but there are worse backup catchers. Houston was a decent pickup. Nothing special, but not too pricey at ~$1.5 mil, and easy enough to flip to a contender for a prospect if they're out of it in July (they shouldn't be). Perez is placido polanco without the paying time. Ledee isn't going to amount to anything, despite the smooth swing. Woulda happened by now, you'd think. Michaels and Valent both came out of the Phillies' farm system, and I don't know if it's fair to expect very much out of them this year, other than to nobly ride the pine, and occasionally pinch run or replace somebody in the outfield for defense. Based on their minor league numbers, they both seem to have doubles power and mediocre plate discipline, so don't get your hopes up.

Now, what about the Starting Pitching?

Kevin Millwood
Randy Wolf
Vicente Padilla
Brett Myers
Brandon Duckworth

Millwood, as I've previously pointed out, is as good or better a bet than Bartolo Colon to be an ace in 2003, and was probably better than even Maddux or Glavine last year. Randy Wolf was also one of the better pitchers in the NL last year, despite not having been heralded as such, now two years removed from the watchful eye of Terry 'The Tyrant' Francona, who regularly left him in for 120+ pitches whether it was necessary or not (hint: it never is). His ERA (8th in the NL) is betrayed by a so-so 11-9 record, owed largely to bullpen ineffectiveness and lousy run support. Vicente Padilla was a surprise All-Star last year, though he faded somewhat in the second half. Look at the splits:

Vicente Padilla  ERA  W  L   IP   H   ER HR HR/9IP BB  BB/9IP  SO  SO/9IP  AVG

Pre All-Star 3.05 10 5 121 108 41 7 0.52 33 2.45 85 6.32 .239
Post All-Star 3.60 4 6 85 90 34 9 0.95 20 2.12 43 4.55 .274

Was he terrible in the second half? No, not by any measure. But was he worse? Absolutely: Hits, Homers and ERA went up, Strikeouts went down. Was it because of overuse, having never thrown more than 143 innings in a season before? Well, he wasn't abused, by BaseballProspectus PAP^3 standards, only throwing over 120 pitches once all year. Besides, the numbers he put up in the second half were only 'bad' in comparison to how 'good' he was in the first half: Andy Pettitte and Tom Glavine have been succeeding for years without numbers much more impressive than those, but he'd be better served to work on getting that strikeout rate back up, at least close to what it was. He'll probably end up somewhere between the two over the course of the year, maybe regressing to the mean a little from last year, but still a plus #3 starter, easily.

That gives them four guys who pitched at least 200 innings last season with better than league-average ERAs. Take a look at Brett Myers' combined numbers from 2002, but be warned, Kids, don't try adding stats from different leagues like this at home:

Brandon Duckworth GS W L CG IP H ER HR BB SO WHIP ERA
CityofBrotherlyBOOO! 12 4 5 1 72 73 34 11 29 34 1.42 4.25
Scranton/WB (AAA) 19 9 6 4 128 121 51 9 20 97 1.10 3.59
Total 31 13 11 5 200 194 85 20 49 131 1.22 3.83

Myers will have to get his strikeout rate back up to have any long-term success, but he's succeeded everywhere he's gone so far, so that should happen. Personally, I think that Brandon Duckworth could really break out this year as well. He strikes out batters, he's just had trouble with walks and homers, which is a lot like saying that an aspiring Olympic hurdler only has touble "running and jumping", but they're things that a little luck could change. Duckworth is one of those guys the mercenaries over at BaseballProspectus say is "one walk per 9 innings away" from being pretty good. Unfortunately, he's also about one HR/9IP away, but he could break out this year. Mark my words!

Who's manning the Bullpen?

Terry Adams RHP
Dan Plesac LHP
Turk Wendell RHP
Rheal Cormier LHP
Carlos Silva?
Joe Roa?
Mike Fyhrie?
Tug McGraw?

Yuk. First of all, the Phillies ought to be docked three wins or three million dollars just for offering Terry Adams salary arbitration. He's a replaceable swingman, and he's gonna reel in that much for his negligible contibutions to the team anyway, so they might as well just pay the fine and let him go. Someone in Scranton can fill his role for less than a tenth of that. Wendell's coming off arm surgery (I forget if it's elbow or rotator cuff, not that it matters much) and so he's a question mark at best for 2003. Plesac and Cormier are both on the wrong side of 35 (Plesac was born on the wrong side of the Cuban Missile Crisis), and are only still in the majors on the virtue of the fact that they both eat cereal with their left hand. And a spoon, I expect. Carlos Silva and Joe Roa and anyone else who might get to argue over the music playing on the bullpen radio is also a curiosity, as we don't really know how young hot-shot unknowns (like Silva) or older journeymen unknowns (like Roa) will fare the year after making a breakthrough like both of them did. I don't know that this will be the worst bullpen in the majors, but I'm venturing a guess that they'll be mediocre at best.

And speaking of mediocrity...


Joe Table

Jose Mesa has been the Phillies closer for the last two seasons, and has surprised just about everybody in the process by not sucking for two straight years. Here's Mesa's record as a relief pitcher since being sent to the bullpen full time in 1994: (This one's for you, Mike.)

1994 7 5 51 2 8 4 71.43% 73.0 71 1.33 31 3 .370 26 63 7.77 3.82 123 ---
1995 3 0 62 46 0 2 95.83% 64.0 49 1.03 8 3 .422 17 58 8.16 1.12 411 288
1996 2 7 69 39 0 5 88.64% 72.1 69 1.34 30 6 .747 28 64 7.96 3.73 131 280
1997 4 4 66 16 9 5 83.33% 82.1 83 1.35 22 7 .765 28 69 7.54 2.40 196 65
1998 8 7 76 1 13 3 82.35% 84.2 91 1.52 43 8 .850 38 63 6.70 4.57 99 97
1999 3 6 68 33 1 5 87.18% 68.2 84 1.81 38 11 1.44 40 42 5.50 4.98 101 2
2000 4 6 66 1 11 2 85.71% 80.2 89 1.61 48 11 1.23 41 84 9.37 5.36 85 16
2001 3 3 71 42 1 4 91.49% 69.1 65 1.23 18 4 .519 20 59 7.66 2.34 183 98
2002 4 6 74 45 0 9 83.33% 75.2 65 1.37 25 5 .595 39 64 7.61 2.97 127 56
Avg. 4 5 67 25 5 4 87.30% 74.5 74 1.41 29 6 .778 31 63 7.60 3.53 157 113

A few things need some 'splainin':
- SVH% is Save-Hold Percentage: (saves+holds)/(saves+holds+blown saves). I think it's a better representation of a pitcher's effectiveness than SV% as it takes into account that a pitcher asked to get a hold can get a blown save but cannot get a save.
- ERA+ is the ratio of the pitchers park adjusted ERA to that of the league, according to BaseballReference.com, where 100 would be average. Above 100 is good, below 100 is very much bad.
- DERA+ is the absolute value of the change (delta) in ERA+ from the previous year.
- Some of the numbers in the Avg. row are rounded for the sake of space. Let's not kid ourselves about the precision we use in this type of analysis.

Anyway, what does this tell us? Well it tells us that it's likely that Mesa will save somewhere between one and forty-six games, have an ERA between 1.12 and 5.36....in other words, not much. But why? Why can't we look at Mesa's career numbers and pick up a trend to project what he might do next season? Answer: Because he's a flake! I mean, not that he throws a fit when someone mistakenly includes green M&Ms in his candy dish or that he wears women's clothing on off-days. (At least I don't think so.) I mean he hasn't had more than two consecutive similar seasons since he's been relieving full-time. The average difference in his DERA+ is 113, meaning that on average, his ERA ratio may go up or down by over 100% of what it was last year. That's flaky. Now admittedly, this average is weighted considerably by his stellar 1995 season, in which that ratio was 411, but even if we remove that number, it's still about 55, meaning that his ERA ratio could change (in either direction) by about 55% of its previous value in the span of one season. I must also admit that I did not perform this calculation for anyone else, so a number like that might actually be normal, but I doubt it. It seems to me that Joe Table has been particularly flaky, compared to other top-notch relief pitchers, in the last eight years, and despite relative consistency in the last two seasons, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to hafta put all my huevos in his basket.

In all, it seems to me that Joe Table and his band of merry (if not consistent) relievers offer little more staying power than Questionmark and the Mysterians. Clearly this is the weakest facet of the team, but it is a facet that may be reasonably polished with some development of young arms or pickup of some better, experienced ones. Or, this aspect of the team could be largely ignored and avoided, if the hitters and starting pitchers mostly live up to expectations. That's the nice thing about this team: almost no one really has to have a breakout, career year, (though Pat Burrell may be poised to do so given that he's going to be 26 this season, heading into the hitter's traditional prime) for the Phillies to contend. Most of the hitters and starting pitchers just have to keep from falling on their respective faces, (see: 2002 Mets). And if they can do that, this will be a heck of a team.

In summary, a few things to look for in the Phillies' 2003 season:

- Brandon Duckworth to break out, striking out batters as he always has, but with a little more luck on balls in play, and winning phourteen games in a surprise season. Ditto Brett Myers.

- Placido Polanco to lose phavor in Philly phast if he's phorced to play second base everyday and the Phans realize that he doesn't really hit any better than Marlon Anderson did.

- Joe Table to completely phall apart, blowing phour or phive saves in April and losing his job to someone like...um...like uh...I'll get back to you.

- The bullpen to expose itself ("Please, sir, there are ladies present!") as the major chink in the Phillies' collective armor. If they don't make it to October, this is the first place to look for culprits. Even if they do make it, they will likely be ousted by a team with more depth.

- The 2003 Philadelphia Phillies to play meaningful, playoff baseball in October! If nothing else, on the strength of the fact that neither the Braves nor the Mets look as though they're in any shape to take the NL East in the Phillies' stead. But it's a step in the right direction.

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