January 22, 2005

Most improved pitcher poll

First-time visitors and regular readers are invited to vote for the Phillies pitcher they feel will be most improved in 2005. A new instant poll has been added to the right side of the page.

Jon Lieber, Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla, Brett Myers and Cory Lidle project to be the starters for next season.

I kicked off the voting by putting a checkmark next to Jon Lieber. Lieber pitched well in limited action last season, but I fully expect a complete, healthy season from the veteran innings eater. Lieber will give the Phils plenty of quality starts, something the Phils lacked a year ago. I also feel too uncertain about the rest of the rotation improving from last season.

Readers are encouraged to comment on their selection in the comments section below this post.

January 21, 2005

Eddie Oropesa saga continues

Former Phillie Eddie Oropesa signed with the Cubs with an invite
to spring training. The situational left-hander keeps his baseball dream alive that began with a dramatic defection from Cuba in 1993.

The story of Eddie Oropesa will likely go unnoticed, and even more so when Cubs fans catch wind of his 7.34 lifetime ERA. But his journey to the big leagues, aided in large by the scouting efforts of Ruben Amaro Sr. and Goose Gregson, is a reminder to fans that baseball's greatest appeal is perhaps its human element.

In 2001, when Oropesa came out of nowhere to win a spot with the Phils in spring training, the Reading Eagle's Phil Gianficaro did a piece on his defection.

In 1993, at age 21, he leaped from a hotel window and over a chain-link fence, into a getaway car in full uniform while pitching for the Cuban National Team before an exhibition game in Buffalo. He abandoned his wife and unborn son in Cuba. He wouldn't see them again for three years.

He was drafted by the Dodgers in 1994 and pitched eight years in the minors, never above Double-A - a death sentence. He tried Japan and Mexico, and eventually washed up in Venezuela where Amaro and Gregson rediscovered him.

He signed as a minor league free agent in October of 2000 and got a non-roster invite. He was the sensation of spring, nearly unhittable even, and beat out the several others to win a spot on the team.

"The most important thing is now I can give my (family) something I wasn't able to give them in the past," he said in Gianficaro's piece.

That season, he went 1-0 in 30 games with a 4.74 ERA. He was granted free agency after the season and signed with Arizona and struggled, finishing with a 10.30 ERA. He re-upped with Arizona in 2003 but missed half the season after being hit by a line drive.

Last season, he got a spring invite to San Diego but did not pitch well, 16 games, 2-1, 11.00 ERA. His last big-league game came May 20 against the Phillies, before he was sent to the minors to make room for Rod Beck.

BPF Take
A love for statistics cannot explain why BPF correspondent Will Travel and I always check the boxscores for Eddie Oropesa. Part of it is this story.

The other part is how lefties just stick around forever. I often say if I die and had a chance to come back as anything, I'd come back as a a situational southpaw. In a way, that's what happened to Oropesa. He keeps going, and going and going.

January 20, 2005

Pinch me! Phils nab AL-best PH

Switch-hitting veteran Jose Offerman agreed to a minor league contract with the Phillies yesterday. His .414 BA as a PH lead the American League last season.

Offerman was used primarily as a DH and PH with Minnesota, hitting .256 with a .363 OBP and .395 SLG. and is expected to compete for a bench job.

The Phillies have officially gone nuts-o with bench players this winter, resigning Placido Polanco and already having Tomas Perez in place for next season.

The Phils also signed utility infielder Chris Gomez in the Rule 5 draft, but in kindness, sold him back to the Orioles for even money. Shane Victorino is on the big league roster, also from Rule 5, and will be in camp to compete for a bench spot. The center fielder has to stay with Philadelphia all season or be offered back to Los Angeles. And Danny Sandoval, an infielder who signed as a minor league free agent in November, will also be in camp come spring. Sandoval can hit for average, batting .318 with 8 HR with Tulsa last season and has hit well in Venezuela this winter. And there are others ...

BPF Take
So what does this mean, other than Ed Wade suddenly has a hard-on for bench players?

Offerman hasn't been a shortstop since 1996. He's seen limited action at first, second, and outfield since then, and very little lately. For all intents and purposes, he's a pinch hitter.

His presence will mean less pinch-hit opportunities for other players, namely Tomas Perez, should he win a spot. Perez didn't get on base enough last year, and he wasn't effective as a pinch hitter (.179 BA; .207 OBP; .286 SLG) Plus, he's not hitting well in Venezuelan winter ball. I like Tomas Perez because of his odds-defying rise to the majors, but I think he's about out of gas to stay effective at this level. Plus, Polanco is now the team's $4.6 million utility numero uno and may also pinch hit.

Jason Michaels, the leading pinch hitter behind Ricky Ledee last season, will be starting more games in CF with a part-time job in left. In pinch opportunities, Michaels had a line of .265 BA, .359 OBP, .265 SLG.

Right off, I'd take Offerman's plate discipline over Perez. I threw Jason Michaels into the mix. These are season stats:

Michaels: .274 BA .364 OBP .415 SLG
Perez: .216 BA .257 OBP .415 SLG
Offerman: .256 BA .363 OBP .395 SLG

Michaels: .268 GPA / .140 ISO / 46 RC
Perez: .218 GPA / .199 ISO / 21 RC
Offerman: .262 GPA / .140 ISO / 24 RC

I don't put much stock into pinch stats, but that's how Offerman will be best used. I'd look for Offerman to stay on and get his cuts.

And that, my friends, is a hell of a lot of digital ink for Jose Offerman.

Around the World Wide Web
A Google search for "gross productive average" brings up Michael Berquist's "A Citizen's Blog" at the top of the list. Right below it, a report on Russia's gross domestic product.

January 18, 2005

Ex-Phil report: Improved Bottalico signs

In 2004, former Phillies all-star closer Ricky Bottalico quietly had his best season since 1997. He signed a one-year deal with the Brewers for less than $1 million yesterday.

Bottalico, 35, actually started 2004 in Triple-A Norfolk. I didn't see all of his games obviously, but he pitched a healthy season without arm trouble, allowing him to regain command of "a low-90s fastball, a sharp slider and a decent changeup" (stats inc. scouting).

I remember listening to a Mets-Phillies game on WFAN last season, and the announcers were pretty keyed up on him. In fact, he finished as one of the more effective right-handed setup men in all of baseball (3-2, 3.38 ERA, 61 SO, 34 BB, 69.1 IP). The Mets declined arbitration back in December.

Bottalico had three tours of duty with Philadelphia. He was traded in 1998 to St. Louis along with Garrett Stephenson for Ront Gant, Cliff Politte and Jeff Brantley. He signed back as a free agent in 2000, was granted free agency in November of 2001, and re-signed January of 2002.

Despite what fans may remember, Bottalico has pieced together a solid career so far, including a 3.95 career DERA.

With Danny Kolb gone to Atlanta, there's a chance Bottalico could step in as the team's closer. Great pickup for the Brew Crew.

Topic of the Day: Ryan Howard

A nice dialogue on Ryan Howard has opened up on Michael Berquist's Citizen's Blog. Check it out.

As for my opinion on what do with Howard, I believe the Phillies should keep him. I think he should start the season in Scranton, however, where he can play every day and stay sharp, rather than sit on the bench and back up Thome in Philadelphia.

This fall in Arizona, the Phillies tested his skills in the outfield and had good results. If that's where they envision Howard's future with the Phils, it's an even better reason to start him at Scranton where he can keep learning the position at the expense of no one.

Another reason why I want Howard to stay is simple: he adds a dynamic presence to a team that has gotten quite stale. When was the last time a big, slugging lefty moved through the system? How about an African-American?

A while back, I wrote about Scranton and this tendency for the Phillies not to send players back once they've scratched the surface of the big leagues. I believe Howard, Gavin Floyd and Marlon Byrd should all be there to start 2005 where they can continue to develop. I know playing on the forest green turf at Scranton sucks, but it's better than sitting.

Marlon Byrd
Marlon Byrd was perhaps the best Phillies minor leaguer in the last decade. Now they want to trade him for Jeff Bennett.

Keep him. I have my doubts about Kenny Lofton and Jason Michaels as even a short-term solution in center. There's no harm at all in keeping Marlon Byrd. That's what AAA is for, and that's where Ryan Howard, Marlon Byrd and Gavin Floyd must go.

January 17, 2005

Nats amassing legion of bloggers

Two more Nats blogs - NatsGuy and Nationals Baseball - were added to the baseballblog.org directory recently, making it 17 blogs in all.

Washington, which won the Expos franchise only months ago, already has more registered bloggers than 16 other teams – the Blue Jays, Indians, Twins, Angels, A’s, Rangers, Marlins, Reds, Brewers, Astros, Pirates, Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Dodgers and Padres. Most of the Nats bloggers are posting regularly.

The Phillies have 26 registered blog sites, among the best in the league. The Cubs have the most with 77, and the Red Sox are next with 70.

Football helps writers achieve clarity

It's all football, all the time, and that's just what the doctor ordered for the baseball soul. The break allows for a clearer, unadulterated look on how baseball will shake down in 2005.

A funny thing happens between now and then each year, meaning, the beginning of the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl.

In a matter of weeks, the baseball world will have stepped back to reassess which teams have the best chance to win with renewed perspective. Buzz-worthy signings aren't as buzz-worthy with the passage of time. All the pieces will have settled into place. The hypotheticals get washed away; each team will go forward with what they have, not what they could have.

I find opinions will often change during this time, between now and then. Fans and media will separate contenders from pretenders. Pundits will chime in with "dark horse" picks; hyping teams nobody even talked about just weeks before.

In the NL East, everyone's talking about the Mets, but in a few weeks, I believe that will change.

Predicting the predictions
The Phillies aren't going to be favored to win the NL East this year, and that's a good thing. No more t-shirts, and hopefully, no more passive approach. This isn't going to just fall in their laps.

The Mets and Braves will get most of the votes, but the Phils will get a share of buzz votes, along with the Florida Marlins. Of all the teams in the division, the Phils and Fish look most similar to last season, with the exception of a few new arms. The Phils and Fish were good teams last year. Playing half the season at home in front of fans will help the Nationals. And with the moves Atlanta and NY made, I'm positive this will be the most highly-contested division in baseball.

Ed Wade outdoes Mets with Adams signing
One reason I'm not entirely sold on the Mets is they haven't addressed their bullpen a little bit. The signings of Pedro and Beltran have masked the fact that their bullpen, aside from Looper and Dejean, is thin, and quite frankly, Minaya's other moves haven't made much sense either. I think Pedro will help them next year, but in four years – no way. I'd list Kris Benson as one of the more overpaid free agents this winter, and is Piazza really going to be their catcher?

It would be pretty stupid if the Mets mashed the ball all over the place but lost because the bullpen couldn't nail it down. That's something the Phillies won't have to worry about. Call Terry Adams what you will, but I'd take Phils pen any day of the week, and I wonder whether others will start noticing the same details when forming clearer opinions for 2005.

Happy to have you: Second-year Phillies reliever Tim Worrell hasn't been talked about all winter, but when April comes, fans will appreciate having his steady arm in the bullpen.