May 06, 2005

Robinson Tejeda by the numbers

The 23-year-old pitcher gets the call from Scranton as Tim Worrell will spend 15 days on the DL.

● Tejeda is definitely a strikeout pitcher, trying to shake off control problems that have haunted him over his career. He ranked fourth in the Eastern League in strikeouts last season with 133, but also surrendered the fifth-most walks with 59.

● Prone to give up the long ball. He set a Reading club record by allowing 29 homers, which also lead the Eastern League.

● He’s young, 23, but is in his seventh season with the organization and is one of several R-Phils that emerged from relative obscurity last season. He originally signed with the Phils as an amateur free agent in 1998.

● Having a very good season so far in Triple-A Scranton, posting a 2.22 ERA, but more importantly, has a 28-13 strikeout to walk ratio and has surrendered no home runs for the Barons.

... and falling to pieces

The AP is reporting that reliever Tim Worrell asked the Philadelphia Phillies to place him on the 15-day disabled list because of "personal psychological issues."

The wish was granted by general manager Ed Wade. His spot will be replaced by righthander Robinson Tejeda, who pitched in Reading last season.

In a statement released by the team, the move opens the door to speculation.

"I called Ed Wade last night to tell him that I am dealing with some personal psychological issues that I need to resolve," Worrell said. "They are affecting my family life and my ability to do my job. I am going to deal with these issues and I hope to resolve them as quickly as possible. I appreciate the Phillies' understanding and their pledge of confidentiality."

In 11 innings, Worrell has an ERA of 9.82. He gave up three runs in one inning of relief in his most recent outing.

BPF take
Worrell’s self-removal gives the Phillies a better chance to win games.

An organization in shambles

Instead of a Mets series recap, I'd rather talk about the issue on everyone's mind, the overall state of the Phillies organization. Here's my take:

General manager
Rewarding home-grown talent like Pat Burrell, Mike Lieberthal and Randy Wolf with lucrative, overreaching, overly-loyal, long-term deals will become Ed Wade's bitter legacy with the Phillies.

Along with spending big money for established, older veterans, like Jim Thome, David Bell and Jon Lieber, Wade's formula built a dinosaur that's stagnating, falling further past its prime, and giving young players, like Brett Myers and Jimmy Rollins, reason to follow Scott Rolen out of town.

If rebuilding is the answer - as we should know if it is by the end of this month - the long-term deals have handcuffed immediate efforts to transition to that stage, as teams like the Oakland Athletics are able to do frequently.

With payroll at an all-time high $93 million, and with attendance at their new state-of-art facility dropping nightly by the thousands, baring a miraculous turnaround, things may only get worse.

Farm system
What goes unnoticed is a farm system largely devoid of major-league talent, as a handful of prospects - Marlon Byrd and others - have failed to transition to the next level. In Double-A Reading, they're fielding a squad of older retreads. Aside from a hidden gem or two, the strategy runs a high risk of creating a huge talent void for the next two seasons, perhaps more.

May 6
The rest of this road trip is vitally important. Day to day, the biggest concern is which aspect of their game will fail them next. Will it be the offense, averaging around three runs a game, or will a starting pitcher, like Padilla or Wolf, open the floodgates? Maybe the bullpen, ranking second worst in the National League with an ERA of 6.06, will fail them tonight.

At 12-17, they are 5 1/2 games out of first-place Atlanta, a team that's really starting to click. Between the cellar and ceiling are three capable teams.

This offseason, I thought if they could get a legitimate number one starter they had a shot to contend this season, otherwise, they should move aggressively to shed their big contracts. Jon Lieber has lived up to that billing. The problem is, the staff is getting about two and a half quality starts each turn through the rotation, along with the rest of the problems I mentioned before.

An asset they have this season they haven't had in the past are expendable chips other teams covet. The problem: the teams willing to spend don't have the goods to give in return.

Off to their worst start since 1991, the Yankees could really use a versatile infielder (Placido Polanco) and a left-handed starter (Randy Wolf). What the Phils could use most, in my estimation, is a third base prospect, with Bell getting older and the team losing confidence in one-time top prospect Juan Richardson.

The Cubs offense is a real mess, and the two teams have already talked about a deal involving Placido Polanco. There's rumor the Phils are holding on to Polanco to make a major deadline package move with Ryan Howard. Unless they're two games in back of Atlanta for first, any deal for Howard should include third base, shortstop or catching prospects. The Phils should have a contingency plan if J-Roll decides to leave, and the tandem of Lieberthal and Pratt are the oldest in the league.

I see two problems standing in the way of a full rebuilding effort. First and foremost, the long-term contracts, and second, if Wade sticks to his guns and continues to believe this team is built to win a championship.

Either way, the grace period is over. The road trip continues 3:05 p.m. in Chicago, and when they return home in a week, its time for an honest look at where they're headed.

May 04, 2005

Seo embarrassing

Back-to-back ninth-inning homers aside, the Phillies came within a David Bell single and a couple walks from hitting absolute rock bottom, as they lose to the Mets 3-2 in embarrassing fashion.

The Phillies delivered just one hit – Bell’s – over seven innings against fringe pitcher Jae Seo, who recorded a career-best eight strikeouts. (Update - following the game, Seo was demoted to Triple-A Norfolk to make room for Kris Benson returing from the DL.)

Last night’s loss represented a chronic trend of following an offensive explosion with futility, generating three hits and two runs after Tuesday’s 10-3 win. The Phils waited until the ninth inning to get on the board, with back-to-back home runs by Chase Utley and Bobby Abreu off closer Braden Looper. Pat Burrell and Jason Michaels each had a chance to keep the rally alive but struck out.

Cliff Floyd still holds the hottest bat in the National League, smashing a head-high pitch off Randy Wolf for a round-tripper in the sixth. Then in the seventh, Floyd made a highlight-reel grab in left robbing Michaels of a two-run homer.

Completely healthy for the first time in years, Floyd is making this fantasy baseball owner kick himself, since I had Floyd last year hoping for this kind of comeback, and then passed on him this season.

I’ll have more venomous thoughts tomorrow. Until then, if you hear a loud scream roundabout the Pottstown way, just go back to bed.

Last chance to vote Utley / Polanco

The poll asking whether you agree with the current Phillies second base platoon between Placido Polanco and Chase Utley will come down tomorrow, so this is your last chance to chime in on the Phillies hot-button issue.

Come on ... the answer I selected needs your vote!

Worrell degenerating earlier than expected

The 37-year-old setup man has been given a number of low-pressure situations, such as last night, to right the ship, but he appears to be sailing way off course. Is it a fluke, or a sign of the inevitable?

Leading analysts, such as Baseball Prospectus, didn’t target 2005 as a year of sharp collapse for the veteran right-hander. They did, however, target next season as Worrell’s decline year, going from a projected 12.9 VORP in 2005 to a 3.3 VORP in 2006. It certainly appears that his degeneration is ahead of schedule. (*see below for an explanation of VORP)

Using PECOTA, a system that compares players to similar players over the history of baseball to draw conclusions about their future performance, Prospectus generated a 2005 projection for Worrell of around 61 innings and a 3.69 ERA.

In nine innings, Worrell has been far from reliable, allowing 17 hits for an 8.00 ERA, earning a little better defense-independent ERA of around 7.22.

The most amazing part of all this is how eerily similar his season has been to another struggling reliever, 40-year-old Steve Reed in Baltimore. Reed ranks number one on Worrell’s list of most comparable pitchers, and like Worrell, he wasn’t expected to have rapid decline until next season. (12.7 2005 VORP, and a 6.2 2006 VORP)

Here are their general stats side-by-side. It’s almost like the two got together and decided to pack it in.

2004 Steve Reed: 65 G, 3.68 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, .281 BAA
2004 Tim Worrell: 77 G, 3.68 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, .254 BAA

2005 Steve Reed: 9 G, 8.68 ERA, 2.04 WHIP, .341 BAA
2005 Tim Worrell: 9 G, 8.10 ERA, 2.10 WHIP, .404 BAA

Any way you crunch his future projections, the present Phillies cannot go forward with a setup man that’s allowing opponents to bat .404 against him.
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.

May 03, 2005

Epic battle spoiled

Like two Jedi on opposite sides of the force, Jon Lieber and Pedro Martinez engaged in an epic battle between good and evil last night at Shea. The problem is, Charlie Manuel is no George Lucas.

Instead of letting the action resolve, finding out which warrior would prevail, he handed the lightsaber to the understudy, Terry Adams, who proved to be no Mark Hamill. With the score tied 1-1, Adams gave up a three-run blast to Carlos Beltran.

It’s a good thing some excellent summer movies are on tap, because Manuel is directing a summer stink bomb.

Tom Goyne at Balls Sticks and Stuff scripted a winner this morning. Here’s Tom’s game recap:
During the top of the seventh inning, the Phillies had a little rally going, managing to score their only run due to some aggressive base-running by Chase Utley ...

However, with two outs and a runner on second, Charlie Manuel elected to pinch-hit for Jon Lieber in an attempt to break the 1-1 tie. Jose Offerman, the pinch-hitter, failed to drive the run in, and Terry Adams was brought in to face the Mets in the bottom of the inning.

Adams then proceeded to give up a single, a walk, and then a home-run to Carlos Beltran, making it 4-1, Mets. Manuel waited for Adams to give up a single to the next batter, Cliff Floyd, before pulling Adams in favor of Geoff Geary. Geary then proceeded to let several more Mets reach base and when it didn't look like they would score, he threw a wild pitch, allowing Floyd to come home. 5-1 Mets and the Phillies never sniffed a scoring opportunity again.

After 78 pitches and matching Pedro pitch for pitch, I’m sure many Phans are wondering this morning why Manual didn’t give his ace the chance to outlast him.

By pinch hitting, they basically put the game in the hands of Offerman and the B-list bullpen, and boy did it turn into an unhappy ending. I can't imagine how Manuel thought that was going to work. With two outs, why not see if Lieber can knock in the runner from second. Crazy things happen when pitchers face pitchers in tight games.

Instead, Offerman ends the inning, and it's up to Adams or Geary (the dark side of the Phorce) to hold it, not exactly an Obi-Wan / Qui-Gon combo that has the Mets shaking in their shoes.

From Tom Goyne:
Let's face it, the Phillies bullpen is quite bad right now. Handing them a tie game in the bottom of the seventh and expecting them to hold it and get nine more scoreless outs from the opposition is unrealistic. I certainly see the temptation to drive that runner in from second, because in a pitcher's duel, every run is precious. But, when you remove Lieber for Terry Adams ... well, it's not a pitcher's duel anymore is it?

Offerman off his game
In 16 PH ABs, the pinch hit specialist Offerman is batting .188, .235 OBP and .375 SLG.

May 02, 2005

The downward spiral of Dutch

My boss and fellow blogger Mike Zielinski offers a great piece on Darren Daulton today on Zeke’s Blog.

Zeke was a long-time sports writer for the Reading Eagle and continues to write online columns on pop culture, current events and sports.

Today, he writes about Dautlon's demise after the former Phillies all-star catcher was arrested recently for failure to appear in court on a probation violation. Dutch was also arrested in 2003 on a domestic battery charge.

A week later, his buddy Lenny Dykstra was accused of using steroids and gambling illegally during his baseball career.

On top of 10-14 April, it’s really been a month the Phils would rather forget, hasn't it?

Anyway, check out Zeke's site and tell him I sent you so I can earn some brownie points.

Phils-Marlins series wrap

One for the road: Benefiting from a clutch five-out save from Billy Wagner, the Phillies pick up a 8-6 win at Citizen's Bank Park Sunday. Though they lost the series 2-1, the Phils created a positive springboard as they open up a 10-game road trip tonight in Queens. (AP Photo)

Picking a winner
Sunday was a great game to attend live, as I lucked into seeing best home game of the year. The weather was a little chilly and parking was a nightmare with the Sixers tipping off a half-hour earlier, but five quick runs calmed those nerves and allowed us to sit back and enjoy. You wouldn’t have known the Phils entered the game in the NL East basement from the positive attitude of the crowd. It was a great time.

The big story yesterday were some great first-inning ABs to help knock Josh Beckett out of the game early. The best was Bobby Abreu’s three-run homer, following about five 3-2 foul balls. Ironically, I had just said to my friend "Bobby likes to have the ball in a certain spot, otherwise he’ll foul off pitches by just lunging at them." The very next pitch was right in the basket and he slung it to the upper deck. That was Bobby's best AB of the season from what I saw.

The rest of the lineup showed the same patience that first inning, batting around, drawing walks, and getting hits deep into the count. With the Marlins bullpen battered, they couldn’t have picked a better time to knock a starter out early.

Perez and Pratt
The Phils fielded their Sunday afternoon favorites, Todd Pratt and Tomas Perez, and like always, they capitalized on the opportunity. Perez in particular had a career game, going 3-4 with 3 RBIs filling in for Jim Thome at first.

After the second inning, the Phillies showed a Tomas Perez career highlight reel on the big screen. I caught Tomas watching it as he slowly rolled grounders to the infield, with a little smile on his face. My sense is when he retires, fans will look back fondly on his career. As for Pratty, he went 1-4, but more importantly, they’re now 4-0 in games he’s started.

There’s certainly no reason to groan when the bench gets the call.

Cory Lidle
As for Cory Lidle ... give me a sec to go back in my achieves to copy what I wrote last week ... ah yes ... here it is:
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.

That about covers it.

Enter Sandman
I was certain Tim Worrell would turn it around, but yesterday was likely his last as a set-up man. Relieving Ryan Madson, who pitched two strong and will likely take over eighth-inning duties, Worrell nearly cost them the game again, giving up a double, a single and an RBI single until it was Billy Wagner time, trotting out of the bullpen to Metallica's "Enter Sandman."

It took the Sandman about four pitches to get Mike Lowell to hit into an inning-ending double play. Then he took a rare turn at bat in the bottom half and laced a single to right. In the ninth, he delivered the dagger for save number six.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Sandman is back.

Fishy observations on a stinky team
* Mike Lowell is really struggling, grounding into two costly double plays yesterday. They had him batting seventh. Not to imply anything, but to the casual eye he looks a little leaner this season.

* Paul LoDuca is my least-favorite type of player, a total slap hitter with a high BA. He reached on a couple joke hits yesterday.

* Alex Gonzalez is probably my least favorite player in baseball. For some reason, he saves his power stroke for Phillies games, and hit a two-run shot yesterday.

* Dontrelle Willis pinch hit for Beckett in the third and smacked a sharp bouncer up the middle. On the bases, he looks like a seasoned position player, and managed to reach home. The idea he's only 23 is scary.

May 01, 2005

May 1 going on October 1

Larry's last laugh: Scouts said the Phillies played tight under Larry Bowa, but this season they're laboring even more.

The hardcore award for yesterday goes to the 50 or so phans that stuck around CBP after the final two-hour delay. They must have been bloggers.

I wasn't quite as rugged, dry and at home in bed, falling asleep through the UPN-57 filler programming, including reruns of "Martin" and the "Tim McCarver Show." The game was called around midnight, ending with a 2-1 loss. In between, I flipped on "SportsCenter," watching highlights of this new and exciting baseball achievement they're calling a "home run." It's really something.

Six innings was enough to make Dontrelle Willis (5-0) baseball's first five-game winner. He hasn't given the Phils an inch this season.

Meanwhile, Vicente Padilla (0-3) had his best outing of 2005, but still looks far from the strikeout pitcher of the past, wracking up seven Ks in three starts.

So it wasn't your classic night of baseball. Even more miserable than the rain was news that Jim Thome left the game with back spasms. There's a chance he could go on the DL with rookie Ryan Howard called up to replace him. Any way you spin it, losing Thome can only mean tougher odds of winning ballgames.

One month of play feels like six. The Phils are five games back in a division that's showing early separation. Today they have their hands full when they face Josh Beckett and have a great chance to go six down before the day is over.

The challenge now, as a writer, is balancing rational thinking with impatience and emotion. Yes, the season is early, but they've done this to us before.

One reason not to panic is knowing slow starts are nothing new to many of the key players – Thome, Bobby Abreu and David Bell.

But there's something a little different this season. The excuses have been thoroughly exhausted. Larry Bowa, the most convenient excuse for underachieving, is gone, and pitching coach Joe Kerrigan is gone.

One central theme I wanted to carry forth in 2005 was the idea that winning rests squarely on the shoulders of the players. This is basically the same team picked to win the division last year, and picked by some to win it this season.

No matter what critics say about the job GM Ed Wade has done assembling the parts, the Phils are fielding a core group that should compete, one that should average more than three runs a game, playing under the field boss they wanted. While Wade is sure to be gone if they fail to reach the postseason, 2005 is all about Thome, Abreu, Burrell, Rollins, Lieberthal and Bell.

I've been wrong on a number of preseason statements, but none more than this one: Under Charlie Manuel, the Phillies will stay loose all season.

With fans taking no prisoners, they’re even tighter, and playing even worse, and not even Charlie can save them.