March 09, 2005

Montgomery defends team's choices

Phillies President and CEO Dave Montgomery fielded questions on Comcast Sportsnet's Daily News Live yesterday.

This much is painfully clear in hearing Montgomery defend his team's choices, and it's something many of us have assumed for years.

In valuing players and signing deals, the Phillies are very impressed by shallow stats like batting average and saves, and very impressed when players make an all-star team.

He used both achievements in defending catcher Mike Lieberthal, in particular, Lieby's 2003 season in which he hit .313. But in reality, his production that year wasn't much different than in other years, including last year when he was dogged by fans and media for not hitting with runners on base.

2002 RC: 70
2003 RC: 83
2004 RC: 68

There's no question leaving men stranded time and again, as Lieberthal does, beats the fight out of a team. While expectations of how a catcher should perform offensively are sometimes overblown, nothing is more overrated than all-star game appearances, which, for some ungodly reason, mean a lot to the Phillies.

The defining deal of the Ed Wade era is the 2003 deadline move that brought two-time Pirate all-star Mike Williams back to Philadelphia.

Remember, the Phillies were in the driver's seat for the final playoff spot that year, but needed help badly in the pen. They get Williams a few weeks before the deadline, an all-star that year because the Pirates are fielding bush leaguers. He's got a lot of saves, 25, but who cares, especially when your ERA is 6.27, with 22 walks and 20 Ks. We all know the end of that story. The Marlins made fairly quiet deadline deals for closer Ugueth Urbina and utilityman Jeff Conine, stole the wild card from under the Phils noses, and both new acquisitions contributed mightily to their championship finish.

And what happened to all-star Williams? 2003 was his last; he's no longer in baseball.
*RC: Runs Created A runs estimator created by Bill James. A runs estimator attempts to quantify the entire contribution of a player's statistics to a team's total runs scored. It typically involves some positive value for things like hits, walks, steals, home runs, etc. and negative values for outs, caught stealing and GIDP.

March 08, 2005

Phillies marketing report card


David Bell is just one Phillie getting star treatment in a new series of dry-wit Phillies promotional ads, unveiled Sunday during the broadcast opener.

It's always a treat to preview the new Phillies promotional TV spots. Last year, I enjoyed the one with several players frolicking in a meadow to celebrate the new grass field at Citizen's Bank Park. Like the ESPN series of ads, I can't get enough of athletes and mascots doing stupid things.

This year, I got the biggest kick out of a Chase Utley-narrated tribute to David Bell, which went something like:

"Look at that swing (shot of Bell swinging). Look and that grab (shot of Bell leaping for a ball). Look at that hair (shot of Bell's hair). Look at that hair (another, slow-motion shot of Bell's hair)."

I'd bet cash money the people in the Phillies marketing department have the Onion bookmarked on their Web browsers. The commercials tend to have a dry-wit that seems to reflect the personality of players like Randy Wolf and Pat Burrell. The push for more Bell is probably a response to the third baseman getting off on the wrong foot with fans - injuries, bad offense and all.

But I wonder if they'd be better served using that spot to promote someone else, and use the comedy some other way. Bobby Abreu is as complete a player in baseball. Jimmy Rollins is the best shortstop in the National League, coming off a breakout year. They're great players worth seeing, and have never been properly marketed to fans. David Bell is a nice player, but not someone you pay to see, and the spot seems a little forced.

I'm especially confused by another ad that replays last year's infamous Jason Michaels bobble in center, which ends with Michaels knocking the ball over the fence for a home run. At the end of the spot, Michaels says something like "The important thing is, we won the game."

But in effect, what the ad says is the product on the field may be lousy, but you never know - we might get lucky and pull one out our rear ends.

Factoring in the so-so Jim Thome-narrated spot, and the so-so Ryan Madson spot, I'd give the new ads a "C."

Promotional item review
The David Bell spot would make sense if later in the year, they had a David Bell comb day. A David Bell comb day would be funny, inexpensive, and a decent way to promote David Bell. Hell, I'd go to David Bell comb day. "Honey, hand me the palmade, I'm going to David Bell comb day."

The best promotion on the horizon is the Sunday, June 12 reversible retro-style hat giveaway, that includes a 1980s script logo embroidery on one side, the Phillies "P" sewn-on patch on the other. They call it a retro-style hat. The rest of us call it a drinkin' hat. Reserve your tickets at phillies.com.

Sunday, July 17 is Pat Burrell and Billy Wagner action figure day, and on Monday, Sept. 5 it's Bobby Abreu's turn to be immortalized in glorious, throat-lodging plastic.

This year's promotional items earn a "B."


Retro-style drinkin' hat

Millwood pounded in Indians debut


Former Phillie Kevin Millwood gave up five runs and ten hits in one inning of work yesterday in a 12-9 loss to Toronto.

Bud Shaw of the Cleveland Plain Dealer notes that bad springs are nothing new to Millwood, who signed a one-year, $7 million deal with the Tribe this winter. Last year with the Phillies, his spring ERA was 8.80, and with Atlanta in 2001, it was 12.46.

The Indians are counting on Millwood to be ready for the start of the season. The former Phillie No. 1 is expected to be the No. 3 starter for Cleveland.

With Atlanta and Philly, he has compiled a 98-64 career record with a 3.98 ERA.

BPF take
We still believe Millwood will be a better pitcher for Cleveland than Eric Milton will be for Cincinnati.

Phils enter win column as three go deep
The Phillies had their highest offensive surge of spring, beating Houston 9-8 including home runs by Placido Polanco, Pat Burrell and Jimmy Rollins. Burrell's shot apparently hit the roof of the tiki bar in left field. Ironically, later that afternoon, Burrell hit the tiki bar again, this time looking for babes. And the result - another home run.

The Phils hope to make it two in a row as they travel to Dunedin this afternoon to face Toronto. Brett Myers takes the hill for the Phils.

March 07, 2005

Do the Phils overlook the foreign leagues?


The Phillies tend not to invite foreign-league players to spring training, like Japan star Roberto Petagine. Yesterday against the Phils, Petagine went 2-2 with a double a two RBIs for Boston, as the former major leaguer tries for a state-side comeback.

I've often wondered why the Phillies don't sign more foreign league players to minor league deals with invites to spring training, because it seems more often than not, they tend to win jobs and stick around.

Yesterday, the Red Sox brought in Roberto Petagine, who played in Japan the last six seasons and signed a minor league deal this winter. Petagine, 33, won three Gold Gloves and two home run titles playing for the Yakult Swallows from 1999 to 2002 and the Yomiuri Giants the past two years.

Before heading east, the Venezuelan spent five uneventful seasons in the majors with four different teams, his last with Cincinnati, before finding his game in Japan.

You know, they play pretty good ball in Japan, and if you're a World Series-winning GM as Theo Epstein is, what do you have to lose by inviting Petagine? In six seasons, he's averaged a Bonds-like .317 BA, .633 SLG, .446 OBP, to go with a .991 fielding percentage at first.

I'd like to see more foreign league players in Clearwater, maybe one per year. They've got the hunger.

Howard shines in broadcast opener


Ryan Howard belted a solo jack to right-center, walked twice, and played a good game at first, as the Phillies got their broadcast season underway Sunday afternoon against Boston.

The Phils got out to a 4-1 lead before Keith Bucktrot allowed four runs in a third of an inning as the Sox came back to win 5-4.

What I saw
It felt good to sit down Sunday afternoon with a bag of Lays and a plate of reheated lasagna, turn on UPN 57, and watch the first televised Phillies game of spring.

I liked what I saw out of several players. Howard and Kenny Lofton, who tripled, looked good at the plate. Randy Wolf gave up three hits but didn't allow a run. Robinson Tejeda, at Reading last year, fanned three in relief, and BPF favorite son, catcher Carlos Ruiz, made a play at the plate and gunned down a base runner.

Despite a decent showing yesterday, the Phillies are now 0-4 to open the Grapefruit League, although disgruntled fans shouldn't put much stock into the slow start.

Yesterday's loss can be hung on Bucktrot, who's trying to climb back to prospect status after a disappointing season in Reading. The last half of the game was largely a battle to see which Triple-A pitchers would screw up least, though Charlie Manuel gave extra innings to several regulars, including Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton, Todd Pratt and Jason Michaels.

Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell
It's early, but one gets a sense that two players will be followed in the boxscores more than most this spring: Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell. One is seen through eyes of excitement, the other through unease.

Though team officials believe the Howard outfield experiment won't work, it's got to be tempting not to squeeze him onto the 25-man roster somehow, though the sensible decision is to start him in Scranton where he can play everyday. My prediction is the team starts him in Scranton and brings him back for interleague play in May, where he stays on for the rest of the season.

Say what you will about Howard's lack of experience against proven pitchers; the 26-year-old has a big-league swagger, and is carrying himself like the player who sat in the opposite dugout yesterday: David Ortiz.

But any reasonable baseball mind knows Howard should have been traded this offseason. Forty-six homers and No. 1 prospect status by Baseball America has built a legend out of a player with only 39 big-league at bats. His ceiling was awfully high this winter, and when the team received offers, the Phils insisted he was going nowhere.

In keeping him, that potential can never be fully exposed until 2008 for sure, when Jim Thome's contract expires. And for a team whose biggest weakness last year was starting pitching, the Phillies should have used Howard to bait some team into trading away a stud starter.

That would have been the smart thing to do. But smart is boring, and Howard is anything but boring at this early stage. Watching him blossom last year in Reading, and watching him yesterday, you can see the star on the rise. As a fan, and as an organization, watching him lead the American League in homers would burn like acid.

Fans and officials once got that tingle from Pat Burrell, too, but now the reaction is more like nervous heaves. Though he doubled in his third at bat yesterday, he struck out in his first two, and looked especially bad in his first. The broadcasters made special note of it.

All that said, it's early. Four games in, and the most important thing isn't winning, it's seeing what you got and who can help you.

Early pitching concerns
The injury to Vicente Padilla hurts, but it's not the end of the world as Gavin Floyd should be ready to fill in if Padilla isn't back to open the season. But one more injury in the rotation will become a major concern. With nothing ready in the pipeline, the team would turn to either Terry Adams, Amary Telemaco or Ryan Madson to fill in. The health or Padilla and Wolf will be critical, and Brett Myers and Cory Lidle must be solid at the back of the rotation.

Right now, the starting rotation is the biggest potential problem for 2005.

What's on tap for BPF
Later today, I'll check back in with more on the 2005 broadcast opener, including a look at the Phillies bizarre promotional ads.