March 03, 2005

Polanco best choice for 2, readers say

It was close, but Placido Polanco would make the best No. 2 hitter for the 2005 Phillies, according to 39 voters who participated in a BPF poll.

Polanco, last season's No. 2 hitter, earned 11 total votes, edging CF Kenny Lofton by one vote. Lofton was penciled in as the team's No. 2 hitter when he was acquired back in December.

Polanco gained votes as the week went on, after news that third baseman David Bell's reoccurring back problems may force him to miss time.

Chase Utley was next with 7 votes, including one from the Berks Phillies Fan, though news of Bell's back forced reconsideration.

The surprise signing of Polanco is starting to sound not so bad after all. The Phillies had offered him arbitration under the assumption he would sign with a new team. Instead, he accepted the offer, even with the understanding he'd be a $4.5 million utilityman.

BPF take
Some will dispute this, but I like to think I know I little bit about baseball. But when it comes to Placido Polanco, every opinion, notion or prediction I've written turns out wrong.

In the past, I've called Polanco "a journeyman at best," made arguments he was a liability on offense, criticized the team for not trading him last year, and for resigning him this year.

While he needs to raise his OBP to be a truly effective No. 2 (during one stretch last season, he went one month without taking a walk), I'll admit to underestimating Polanco badly the last two seasons. To his defense, he's also been unlucky with injury setbacks.

The truth is, even if Polanco was blocked out of a starting spot at second or third, he's going to get his at bats one way or another. He's a good defender at multiple positions, and a good hitter who improved his BA and SLG as the year went on.

Even with a healthy Bell, a number between 400-450 ABs isn't unreasonable. When Thome needs a break, which will happen more often this year, expect Utley to slide over to make room for Polanco at second, in addition to an occasional platoon start.

But now that Bell could be hobbled all season, it could be more like 500 ABs, comparable to other super-utility men of the NL, like Pedro Feliz or Ryan Freel.

March 01, 2005

Wade Miller update

The Boston Herald reported yesterday that Red Sox pitcher and Berks County native Wade Miller is scheduled to throw off the mound today for the first time in over six months.

Miller has been long-tossing without complication, and will throw a 15-20 pitch bullpen session this afternoon, the Herald reported.

Miller pitched in only 14 games last year due to a frayed labrum, and is expected to miss the first month of the season.

Jon, Paul get back to where they belong

As the smoke clears from a helter skelter offseason, baseball connoisseurs are singing the praises for the signings of Philadelphia's Jon Lieber, left, and Anaheim's Paul Byrd. Both pitchers returned to action last summer after Tommy John surgery, and should be tremendous bargains for their new teams.

Lieber and Byrd aren't household names, and among fantasy baseball aficionados, project as mid-to-late rounders based on low strikeout totals.

But in the real world of baseball, they could be the most valuable assets to their respective rotations, offering consistency and plenty of deep starts, all for a pretty good price.

Skeptics should realize Tommy John surgery is just another part of a pitcher's career these days, many recipients return feeling better than ever, like the Cub's Kerry Wood.

"I hit my top speed (in pitch velocity) after the surgery," Wood said to USA Today in a 2003 article, "I'm throwing harder, consistently."

All signs point to Lieber and Byrd, a former Phillie and all-star, returning to full strength. Lieber was out for the entire 2003 season with the injury. Before that, the former Cub was just hitting his stride, winning 20 games and posting a 3.80 ERA in 2001 before his elbow gave out halfway through 2002. Byrd pitched in 33 games with Kansas City on 2002, signed with Atlanta, but didn't pitch again until June of 2004.

Sabermetric stat houses like Baseball Prospectus agree that Lieber should be in the clear, finding no conclusive trends that project declining production after Tommy John. So why did the Yankees let Lieber go?

"In retrospect we probably should have picked up the option (on Lieber)," Yankee GM Brian Cashman said recently. "But who knew the market was going to explode the way it did?"

Yankee GM Brian Cashman toyed with a number of overpriced free agents for weeks after Lieber signed with the Phillies, including Eric Milton, who opted for Cincinnati. Cashman would later fill the back of their rotation with 29-year-old Braves free agent Jaret Wright.

Wright was as bad as any pitcher in baseball during the 2002 and 2003 seasons. Last year's performance (15-8, 3.28, 159 SO) is seen by many experts as a stroke of luck and a risky signing by the Yanks.

So how did Lieber slip through the cracks? Simply put, Lieber isn't as flashy as most fans would prefer, and his injury problem became overblown. Several GMs were later quoted as saying Lieber was among the sharpest signings of the offseason.

"In implying that Lieber was not their preferred pitcher because he doesn't miss bats, the Yankees missed the forest for the trees," Baseball Prospectus said in their annual. "Lieber allowed a ton of hits ... but because he was affective against righties and walks no one, he was better than average at baserunners allowed."

You can’t say enough about Lieber’s control and ability to keep men off base. According to Bill James, Lieber was second in the AL in getting pitches into the strike-zone at 59.8 percent. James also calculated that his 1.58 groundball to flyball ratio was one of the ten best in the AL in 2004. For Reading Eagle readers just checking in, click here for writer Mike Berquist's take on his Phllies blog.

Like the Braves school of pitching? I do. Lieber is Leo Mazzone's dream: deadly accurate, speeds up and slows down his strikes, and at Citizen's Bank Park, will bury the legacy of the lucky, fly-ball inducing Milton.

The Braves were patient with Byrd during his own recovery from reconstructive elbow surgery, and inserted him back in the rotation in June. He went 8-7 with a 3.94 ERA.

Like Lieber, Byrd is an inning-eater with great command, posted a K/BB ratio better than 4.0 in 19 starts last season, and says his velocity is even better than before the surgery.

With Anaheim, potentially the most explosive offense in the American League, I don't see any reason Byrd can't win 15 games or more.

Contract comparisons:
Milton: 3-year, $25.5 million
Wright: 3-year, $21 million
Lieber: 3-year, $21 million
Byrd: 1-year, $4.5 million

February 28, 2005

A Fantasy Life

Basketball hasn't taken off the way baseball has in the blogosphere, but here's a good hoops blog that debuted last week from BPF No. 1 reader Stu, known online as el123chico.

"A Fantasy Life" presents a Philadelphia-based rundown of who's hot and who’s not in the world of NBA fantasy basketball, plus some opinions on the Philly hoops scene. Stu recently offered an extensive report on the Chris Webber deal and the other deadline moves around NBA.

"A Fantasy Life" is shaping up to be a proficient resource that stays on topic, and manages to fill in the blanks for those of us who haven't been paying attention.

Best of luck, Stu.