April 29, 2005

Killing time with stats

Watching the clock and waiting to go home? Join the club. Here are some stats to make the time go faster. Read them twice, there's only four of them.

* Bobby Abreu has the lowest double play rate in baseball, according to Baseball Prospectus. He hasn’t hit into one this season, earning a –2.98 rating, whatever that means. Plenty of other hitters haven’t hit into DPs this season, but according to their numbers, the way Abreu is playing he has the best chance at not hitting into one.

* Rheal Cormier has faced the third best collection of hitters this season, with hitters averaging 0.298 BA, 0.369 OBP, 0.467 SLG.

* Former Phillie Carlos Silva is ranked second best in baseball in double play rate for pitchers, according to Baseball Prospectus. He’s gotten hitters to hit into six of them.

* If the season would end today, Colorado’s Clint Barmes would be a unanimous choice for NL Rookie of the Year. He’s pulling a 15.3 VORP, with the next best Victor Diaz of the Mets with 10.9.

Rolen retrospective

Mailing it in: For something quick to chew on this morning, here's a little piece I wrote on Scott Rolen for a promotional R-Phils poster, which will run in back of Tuesday's Reading Eagle sports section.

Scott Rolen, 3B
Played in Reading 1995-96
.349 BA, 57 RBIs

Now: The hardest part about remembering Scott Rolen as a prospect in Reading is knowing he reached his greatest heights as a Cardinal and not a Phillie.

Last season was his best, helping lead St. Louis back to the World Series for the first time since 1987. He posted career highs in every major offensive category: batting average (.314) on-base percentage (.409) slugging (.598) home runs (34) and RBIs (124).

Lights-out defense had always been his specialty, but 2004 was arguably his finest with the leather, posting a career-best .977 fielding percentage and committing just 10 errors in 1,228 innings of work.

After the season, he earned his sixth Gold Glove award and challenged Barry Bonds by earning votes for NL MVP.

Then: It all started with humble beginnings, and the future superstar sharpened his craft in Reading. It was here that team officials truly realized they had something special on their hands, reminiscent of another hot shot third baseman who blazed through town 25 years earlier.

Originally selected in the second round of the 1993 amateur draft, the 21-year-old earned respect for his hard work and keen baseball savvy, playing the game, as the old-timers would say, "as it ought to be played." He made an immediate impact in a late 1995 call-up, homering in his first at bat, and in the remaining 20 games, he hit .289 and helped lead Reading to the Eastern League Championship.

The following season, Rolen owned Baseballtown. He hit .361 in 61 games and led the league in batting average, slugging percentage (.591), on-base percentage (.445) and doubles (22) until the Phils brass had finally seen enough. He was promoted to Triple-A June 10, and debuted in Philadelphia Aug. 1.

Future: Considered the game’s premier defensive third baseman, the Hall of Fame awaits.

April 28, 2005

Phils-Nats series wrap

The bats stay frozen, but the Phillies salvage enough runs to scratch out a 2-1 series win at RFK Stadium.

The big story yesterday were the brutal shadows cast over RFK Stadium, creating an impossible situation for hitters, and great conditions for pitchers. The Nationals have a number of 4:35 starts on their schedule. Good luck with that.

Luckily for the Phils, the shadows cleared just when they needed it in the bottom of the ninth. The lights flicked on instantly as Jimmy Rollins led off the inning with a home run to break the scoreless deadlock. Then, David Bell singled in Bobby Abreu, who displayed excellent base running to reach home just before the tag. Placido Polanco then singled in Jim Thome to put the Phils up for good 3-0.

Starting Pitching
Nobody, neither scouts nor statisticians, thought Esteban Loazia would ever have the kind of game he had yesterday again – eight innings, two runs, 11 strikeouts – reminiscent of his Cy Young runner-up season in 2003. Eight of the strikeouts caught Phils hitters looking, and at one point, he retired 18-straight.

As for his opponent, Brett Myers, nobody thought he’d have the kind of season he’s having either. After five starts, his ERA is 1.35, with 34 strikeouts to just nine walks. The former first-round pick is starting to live up to the high expectation, and for the first time in his career, the Phils have a great shot to win any time he takes the mound.

Relief pitching perfect!
It hasn't happened much this season, but the relief pitchers were perfect. Rheal Cormier pitched a perfect eighth, and Billy Wagner pitched a perfect ninth for the save.

Finding a spark ... in Scranton
I’m surprised and happy most fans have held off clamoring for Ryan Howard this season, but I’ll admit I got my first big itch yesterday, and I'm not sure it's going away.

With men on first and second, Charlie Manuel brought in pinch hitter Jose Offerman to hit for Myers in the eighth. Just a single would put the Phils on top, and a home run would put the Nationals away for good.

So far this season, Offerman is hitting .176 and has no RBIs. He struck out looking to end the inning.

It’s time to at least consider the idea of bringing up Howard. The team's biggest problem is their lack of power, bad news for a team built around the home run. They're near the bottom of the league in home runs and isolated power. Howard can deliever all of the above. Plus, he’s good PR and gives fans a new reason to tune in.

Here's what he's doing in Triple-A:

.365 BA, .475 OBP, .683 SLG, 4 HR

I don't think a lineup shuffle is dramatic enough to get the bats clicking. They need power, and more often than not, when prospects get called up they perform on pure nitro. Even if Howard doesn’t get regular chances, it’s worth lighting a fire under Thome. Big Jim hit well this spring with Howard on the roster.

Thome is this team's first baseman. No question there. But maybe it's time to make Howard their pinch hitter, give Thome an occasional break and hand Offerman his walking papers.

Adding Howard will rejuvenate the offense, along with waning fan interest.

The first interleague away game is May 20 in Baltimore, but I ask you, should the Phils add Howard even earlier?

April 27, 2005

Ex-Phils report: Johnny Estrada

Can former Phillie Johnny Estrada build on his breakout season from a year ago, or was he just a one-hit wonder?

Just about everyone thought the Phillies were getting the better end of the deal when catcher Johnny Estrada was traded to Atlanta for starting pitcher Kevin Millwood.

However, Millwood never settled in as a No. 1 starter and is now with Cleveland, and Estrada is coming off a breakout year behind the plate, helping lead the divison rivals to their 13th consecutive division title. With Mike Lieberthal’s offensive struggles last year, and with no immediate answer in the farm system, the deal has become especially bitter with fans.

Brad Dowdy, writer from the popular Braves blog No Pepper, stopped in to answer a few questions about the young catcher.

BPF: I may not be right on many of my preseason predictions, but picking Johnny Estrada as a one-season wonder is one that's looking like it might come true. He's hitting .233 and hasn't homered this season. Do you think Estrada can rebound from his slow start and have the kind of season he had last year?

Brad Dowdy: I think his swing is solid enough that he will get on the right track soon. I'm not sure that he will approach last season’s numbers, but last year was such a shock I don't think it is out of the question. I think somewhere around .285 with 8 homers and 30 doubles is a reasonable expectation.

BPF: Giving up young catching is a risk, especially for the Phillies who have the oldest catching tandem in baseball. Do you feel the Braves got the better deal in the Millwood trade, and what were your thoughts when it first happened?

Brad Dowdy: In retrospect, I do think the Braves got the better end of the deal, but, anyone who says that they thought the Braves did well from a personnel standpoint at the time of the trade is lying. I, like many Braves fans, thought the deal was pure craziness, born out of implied financial restraints. I'm not sure if the Braves scouting department and Jon Schuerholz get the credit for Estrada's breakout, or rather Estrada just came into his own in his age 27/28 seasons, but the deal sure looks good from our end right about now.

BPF: How do you see Estrada's career playing out in Atlanta? Does the organization view him as a long-term backstop?

Brad Dowdy: Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Estrada should have the starting job in Atlanta for the remainder of this season and probably all of 2006. I expect that top catching prospect Brian McCann will be up at some point during the 2006 season in a backup role, and then take over the full-time job in 2007. McCann's bat is way too explosive to keep him behind Estrada for very long, but we are fortunate to have two cheap and productive options behind the plate for the foreseeable future.
Brad Dowdy writes for No Pepper, covering the Atlanta Braves and their farm system. Write to him at nopepper@cox.net.

April 26, 2005

Bosox target May 8 for Wade Miller's return

For all you Topton-ites anxiously awaiting the return of Wade Miller, the Topton native could be back in action in a matter of days.

The Associated Press reported that Miller, scheduled to make his next rehabilitation start Thursday night at Pawtucket against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, is targeted for a May 8 return to the Boston Red Sox. A roster spot should be waiting for him as pitcher David Wells sprained his right foot Monday night and is expected to miss at least a month. Miller has been recovering from a frayed rotator cuff in his pitching arm and hasn't pitched in the majors since last season.

Meanwhile, former Phillies manager Terry Francona said left-hander John Halama will take Wells' spot in the rotation and start next Tuesday at Detroit.

After Thursday, Miller's next rehabilitation start is scheduled for Tuesday and he could be ready to pitch against Seattle on May 8.

Grizzled reporters in HD

If my Phillies blogging seems a little clearer today, it's because last evening, I hooked up a high-definition cable box to our 46-inch Hitachi HDTV.

The first channel I tested was Comcast SportsNet, and "Daily News Live" was airing. Man, it looks great, and the show happened to debut a new colorful set yesterday. As a matter of fact, of all the shows I tested out last night – "CSI: Miami," the Mets-Braves game on ESPN, "Yes Dear," and whatever was on PBS-HD, HD "Daily News Live" looked better than all of them.

The ironic part is, of all the stars across the dial I'd prefer to see behind some kind of soft camera filter, it would be the graying, pasty reporters on "Daily News Live." Instead, you can see every pore, stubble and wrinkle caused by decades Philadelphia sports reporting.

No need to adjust your monitor - Paul Domowitch is actually wearing that tie with that shirt.

Ex-Phil report: Wendell Magee

Former Phillie Wendell Magee is back playing with the independent Atlantic League Long Island Ducks this season.

Magee, 33, had a great 2004 season for the Flock, knocking in 86 runs and hitting 13 home runs in 114 games during their run to the league championship. Other names from last year's championship team include OF Kimera Bartee, former R-Phil second baseman Rusty McNamara, former Phillie pitcher Matt Beech and current St. Louis reliever Bill Pulsipher.

Magee was a 12th round selection of the Phillies in the 1994 draft and spent parts of seven seasons playing in the majors.

Originally thought to be the Phillies center fielder of the future, it never quite panned out for him in Philadelphia. He never played more than 33 games a season and was traded in 2000 to the Detroit Tigers for the venerable Bobby Sismondo.

In his last full season in the majors, he hit .271 in 347 at bats for the free-swinging '02 Tigers.

Back with Long Island this season, he joins the likes of former big league pitchers John Rocker, Donovan Osborne, and the always popular third baseman, former R-Phil Pete Rose Jr.

Phils top Nats

It wasn't perfect, but the Phils got exactly what they needed – a win – as they held off the Washington Nationals 5-4 Monday.

Yesterday's game calls for a bulleted recap in the tradition of baseball blog pioneer Aaron Gleeman.

* Cory Lidle is giving the Phils exactly what was expected from him this season – about five good innings each start. Like his previous outings, things became a little unraveled in the sixth, but so far, he hasn’t been badly burned. He gave up a lot of fly balls yesterday, posting a 4-11 ground ball to fly ball ratio. Word from Chris Wheeler is RFK is playing extremely deep in cold weather, so it’s possible Lidle was trying out different stuff. His sinker seemed to be hanging a little.

* The struggling offense didn’t look killer, but took advantage of enough mistakes in the field and from starter Zach Day. A costly throwing mistake by Jose Vidro led to a run instead of an inning-ending double play. Two batters later, Lidle singled to right-center and David Bell scored. In the sixth, Cristian Guzman’s fielding error eventually led to a bases-loaded two-out, two-run single by Placido Polanco to put the Phils up for good.

* Speaking of Polanco, he started in left field yesterday in place of Pat Burrell, who’s day-to-day. Poly saw a lot of action out there and didn’t goof up, earning player of the game honors from the broadcast crew. The lineup decision reveals manager Charlie Manuel doesn’t view Jose Offerman as a viable option for outfield.

* And speaking of Manuel, he’s trying like heck to get Tim Worrell reestablished as a setup man. I agree Worrell needs a comfortable role in the pen, but bringing him in right smack in the middle of the left-handed heart of the order – Vidro, Jose Guillen – was a little foolish and nearly cost them the lead. Vidro immediately tripled to lead off the inning, and Guillen brought him home with a deep sac fly to pull the score to 5-4. Termell Sledge then singled to center, and Vinny Castilla flied out to deep right. Billy Wagner was called in to finish the inning, allowing another deep fly ball from Gary Bennett. If the game was at CBP, that inning would have cost them.

* Wagner earned a rocky save in the ninth. His stuff was in the 95 mph range.

* Michael Berquist points out today on A Citizen’s Blog that David Bell is leading all NL third basemen in zone rating. This represents one of my favorite stats of the year because it breaks a lot of conventional wisdom about Bell’s defense, plus it make me happy since I’ve found myself in Bell’s corner this season. He's made some Gold Glove plays at the hot corner, including great work in the St. Louis series and a clutch grab and throw on a tweener in the first Hampton game.

Errors stick with fans – he’s had three of them – plus they see the batting average, the low power, the bad back and think he needs to sit on the bench. Starting pitchers, especially the ground ballers like Jon Lieber, can pitch with much more confidence knowing Bell is behind them. Aside from the occasional game off, Bell is the Phils best option for third base.

April 25, 2005

Phils-Braves series wrap

No killer instinct: After Mike Hampton and Tim Hudson silenced Phillies hitters Friday and Saturday, the left-handed thumpers couldn’t generate a run against RHP John Thomson, as the Braves complete their series sweep Sunday. (AP Photo)

Really painful
Hardly the big weekend attraction, the Phillies were even tougher to watch than the first round of the NFL Draft, the second-longest in NFL history.

The first two games of this series saw Mike Hampton do what he always does against the Phils, not allow hits to left-handed hitters and achieve total command. Tim Hudson followed it up with a solid outing but the game was no contest as the Braves jumped on Randy Wolf for five runs in the first and lit up Gavin Floyd in relief.

Even with Vicente Padilla on the hill, Sunday represented a favorable situation for the Phils to salvage a win. The Braves were in position to sit back up 2-0 in the series, allow Padilla make his mistakes, and glide through nine innings.

For the Phillies, the worst was over, having endured Hampton and Hudson, and with Thomson taking the hill - a guy many in the lineup have had success against and representing a significant drop in talent from the previous two - a certain burden should have been lifted from their shoulders.

Instead, they did nothing, and at no point did one get a sense the Phils had any shot at winning. Thomson didn’t have great stuff, racked up a high pitch count early, yet the offense never capitalized. The left-handed thumpers were especially listless, including three stikeouts from Jim Thome.

In each game this series, the Phillies got behind early and never fought back. There was no spark, no drive, nothing at all. The root cause is a sudden lack of power from a team built for the long ball, now tied for 24th in baseball with 15. This team isn't creative enough in its run production, so when they get down early and the big bats go cold, they're D-O-N-E done.

Three heads are better than two
As long as Atlanta and Florida stay healthy and continue getting quality starts from their top three guys – Smoltz, Hampton and Hudson, and Beckett, Burnett and Willis for the Fish – it’s going to make life extremely difficult for the Phils and the rest of the division to keep pace. Remember, history has shown that one team - Atlanta - will turn on the afterburners at the break.

Many thanks
Getting positive feedback on BPF is always a treat. Many thanks go out to Brian Peoples at the Philling Station for his awesome endorsement of the work I do here. He sent many new readers my way Sunday, typically a day BPF doesn't see much action. Here's what he had to say:

If you're looking for cutting edge baseball analysis, you're unlikely to find it from the mainstream press. Berks Phillies Fans runs circles around most outlets that cover the Phils, and is well worth a spot in your rolodex of favorites. J. Michael Weitzel has really stepped it up recently, so make it a daily read.

Brian's blog is an excellent Phils resource. Every headline, tidbit, rumor and quote that has people talking is reported and discussed. Keep up the great work, Brian!

April 24, 2005

Outmatched or outmatching selves?

Offensive struggles or good pitching? After a hot-hitting first week of the season, the Phillies bats have gone cold and opposing pitching, lead by Mike Hampton, has been red hot.

So far this series, Atlanta pitching has stifled the Phillies, including an ugly 11-1 loss to Tim Hudson yesterday. The slumping offense hasn’t scored more than six runs since April 10 against St. Louis, and are averaging a measly three runs a game over the last two weeks.

To their defense, they've faced some tough pitching along the way, including Dontrelle Willis and A.J. Burnett of Florida, and the trio of John Smoltz, Tim Hudson and Mike Hampton of Atlanta.

NL rankings based on ERA
3. Hudson: 0.96 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, .216 BAA
5. Hampton: 1.17 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, .224 BAA
8. Willis: 1.50 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, .194 BAA
13. Burnett: 2.40 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, .219 BAA
34. Smoltz: 4.30 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, .270 BAA

NL rankings based on *VORP
1. Hampton: 14.9
3. Willis: 11.8
4. Hudson: 11.5
12. Burnett: 8.5
49. Smoltz: 2.2

So far this series, Hampton solidified his reputation for being tough on Phillies left-handed hitters, not allowing a hit in his two starts and nearly going the distance in both games. However, the right-handed platoon of Jason Michaels and Placido Polanco, along with David Bell, have been very successful.

2005 OPS vs. Hampton
Bell: 1.429
Michaels: 1.171
Polanco: 1.143

Yesterday, the Braves handed the ball to Tim Hudson, who held the Phillies to one run and five hits in six innings. The big problem was their inability to deliver with men in scoring position, going 1-8.

Surprisingly, the team still leads the league in runs with men in scoring position and two outs with 35. The problem is, they’ve only scored 10 runs in that situation since the St. Louis series, with Burrell accounting for the lion’s share of the 35 the first week of the season.

Floyd experiment blown up
Gavin Floyd's second meltdown out of the bullpen resulted in a demotion to Triple-A, something that should have happened when Vicente Padilla came off the DL. His ghastly lack of control, walking four in two-thirds of an inning yesterday, indicate a pitcher that's lost his head.

An unpopular move among writers in the Phlogosphere, Floyd's insertion into the bullpen turned into a disaster for the deliberate youngster, who scouts have pegged as a pure starter. The promising rookie slumps back to Scranton with the second-lowest pitching VORP in all of baseball, an embarrassing -8.8.

Hopefully, he can get back on track with regular work in a rotation. With doubts about Padilla’s arm, Floyd’s return appears likely at some point this season.

No relief
Floyd’s replacement is reliever Geoff Geary, who did not have a good spring. Geary pitched eight innings, allowing 13 hits and six walks in Clearwater. Geary is among the worst pitchers I’ve ever seen in a Phillies uniform.

In any event, hold on to your hats Phans. Things are getting a little hairy in that bullpen.
*VORP: Value Over Replacement Player. The number of runs contributed beyond what a replacement-level player at the same position would contribute if given the same percentage of team plate appearances. VORP scores do not consider the quality of a player's defense.