May 13, 2005

Did you know?

If former Astros General Manager Gerry Hunsicker replaces Ed Wade, he will be reunited with the player that represents perhaps his poorest move with Houston – losing Bobby Abreu to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 1997 expansion draft.

In a bit, I’ll have a full report card of the man many people desire as the Phils new GM.

Tidbits from the Phlogosphere

Today's best stuff from elitist Phillies nerds and their computers.

The incredible dedication of the BPF
Last night, I saw, heard and read about the Phils game five different ways, all live: Watching it on a hospital TV, listening to 830-AM radio then switching to 1210 AM radio, reading about it on Balls Sticks & Stuff live in-game chat, and concluding my evening by watching them lose on my television at home.

In addition, I experienced the game in four different counties: Lehigh, Berks, Montgomery and Chester.

Lastly, I witnessed the game in two different states of being: awake and asleep.

Base running
What stood out most in yesterday’s 7-5 loss, other than the general fact they lost a game at home to the Reds even with Jon Lieber on the mound, were the base running mistakes that seem to be happening with great frequency this season.

Tom Goodman from Swing and a Miss today:
Atrocious. There is no other word to describe the Phillies base running.

Playing aggressively is fine…if you can pull it off. The Phillies can’t. Being thrown out at the plate is not the end of the world…once in a while. But the Phillies are routinely being thrown out trying to stretch singles into doubles. Furthermore, with increasingly rare exception they are being thrown out stealing. Worst of all, they are being picked off at an astonishing rate. Hapless? Hardly. Wretched? Definitely. This team cannot do many things right, especially the fundamentals.

Marc Bombard and Bill Dancy, veteran minor league managers but rookies coaching first and third base, can share some of the blame. Burrell was out by a good 10 feet or more trying to stretch out a double yesterday.

Minor league catcher goofs
Charlie Manuel isn’t the only one making mistakes when it comes to the Phillies these days. And when it comes to flubs about minor league catchers, it hits the BPF especially hard.

Brain Peoples at the Philling Station points out two pretty big goofs in today’s Philly papers that make this blog look pretty good.

The first is a bad one. Bill Conlin wrote today in his Daily News column "Deconstruction Project" the Phillies should consider trading Jim Thome and his big salary to the Yankees for catching prospect Dioner Navarro.

I'd be all for that move, if Navarro wasn’t traded to the D-Backs in the blockbuster Randy Johnson deal this winter, and then subsequently dealt to the Dodgers in the blockbuster Shawn Green deal. The veteran writer also spelled “Dioner” wrong.

The next isn't nearly as bad. Sam Carchidi of the Inquirer brings up BPF favorite Carlos Ruiz as possible replacements for Mike Lieberthal. Ruiz sustained a broken leg in a home plate collision a week ago.

Both catchers were reported accurately this week on the BPF, with the Navarro trade first reported in my December 18 blog, where, like Conlin, I spelled "Dioner" wrong.

Hey, we're only human.

Finally, Tom G. at Balls Sticks & Stuff sums up my feelings perfectly on selecting the right general manager, commenting on rumors Ed Wade could be fired:
My only criteria would be that the eventual general manager would have a proven winning philosophy. It can be of the number crunching variety or the Twins-ish scouting variety or somewhere in between, but he has to come from a lineage that has a winning history.

The concept Tom and I both agree on is there is no single correct philosophy to build a winning team. Stat heads, like Theo Epstein in Boston, or scout heads, like John Schuerholz in Atlanta, are both great models to emulate because they are both proven winners.

May 12, 2005

Phils-Brewers wrap: Manuel feeling heat

As the Phillies pass the symbolic 35 game mark, the Brewers series will be remembered as the point Phillies fans added Charlie Manuel to the list.

Yesterday's 5-2 loss was preceded by Manuel's reported comments to the media revealing his ignorance managing in the National League, and also admitting he needed to play Chase Utley more. Manuel followed up by sitting Utley yesterday, and then kept Cory Lidle in the game too long, outlasting his usefulness by the eighth inning.

The loss put the Phils 6 1/2 back of first-place Atlanta as the Phils wasted a career-high 11 strikeouts from Lidle.

As the downward spiral continues, words repeatedly heard on sports radio to describe Manuel include "buffoon," "overmatched," and the always popular “worst manager in franchise history." Even I was feeling downright nostalgic for Larry Bowa yesterday, looking comparatively eloquent and upper-crust in his new gig on Baseball Tonight.

To the defense of both men, the team bestowed upon them is no prize. This is no small point: A team that has David Bell (.224 BA, .313 SLG) batting out of the five-hole is a bad baseball team. A team that has Jimmy Rollins (.237 BA, .289 OBP) as a leadoff hitter is a bad baseball team. The fact that Bowa managed to get better than .500 ball out of this lot should have warranted a lifetime contract instead of a pink slip.

When so many parts are playing this poorly, it tells me there's something wrong with the heart and passion of the team. Under Bowa, a fearless competitor and perfectionist, the team often came up flat, but seem to be playing with even less desire under jolly Cholly.

Compounding the issue, there hasn’t been much rhyme or reason to his decision making, aside from his steadfast use of, among other things, Tim Worrell in the set-up role and Jose Offerman getting all the pinch-hit chances. After a mostly favorable review the first week or two, his gut instinct has been mostly wrong since – pulling pitchers too soon, leaving them in too long, pinch hitting with the wrong guy, and the list goes on.

These decisions are open to speculation, and regarding the platoon issue, I maintain Placido Polanco will hit LHP better than Chase Utley. The gripe now, of course, is Utley's bat has been the most consistent all season, and a lineup that features both Polanco and David Bell gives the Phils one too many light-hitting bats. With Pat Burrell hitting .211 in May, there are plenty of those to go around.

At this point, all the possibilities have been thoroughly exhausted (Howard, Byrd, Floyd) except one: a trade.

It's important for the Phils to deal Polanco sooner rather than later. Why? The answer is the same as the answer to Manuel's question: What is this team about 35 games into the season?

It's about Polanco, forcing him into the lineup, and a ridiculous, lingering distraction over a player who shouldn't have been on the team in the first place.

May 11, 2005

Ex-Phil report: Nick Punto

The former Phillie, part of the Eric Mitlon trade last winter, was recently named Minnesota’s official starting second baseman.

In the his first game since replacing Luis Rivas at second yesterday, he got a key infield single in the eighth inning with the Twins down 4-3, stole second base, advanced to third on passed ball, and crossed home with the tying run on a sac fly. The Twins went on to beat the Orioles 6-4.

Punto was never considered a top prospect coming through the Phils system, following a path similar to fellow switch-hitting utilityman Tomas Perez. The 27-year-old played parts of three seasons (2001-03) with the Phils before the Milton trade that also sent pitcher Carlos Silva to the Twins.

In 68 ABs this season, Punto is batting .235, .313 OBP, .324 SLG.

Pitching for breakfast

A few pitching morsels to start your day.

Phils face junkball LHP Davis today
The Phillies can still salvage a series win tonight against the Brewers but need to beat tough left-hander Doug Davis.

Davis, a lifetime 0-1 with a 2.84 ERA in two career outings against the Phils, is exactly the type of pitcher the Phils struggle against – a southpaw who mixes off-speed pitches with a tough cutter inside to right-handers.

Davis (3-4) has had a tough start to the season, with an ERA of 5.40, 22 walks and seven homers.

His opponent today has given up just one homer this season, Cory Lidle, who’s coming off his best outing – a four-hit, one-run game against Chicago.

It should be a great matchup this afternoon featuring two unheralded pitchers.

Millwood proving worth
What do Brett Myers and Kevin Millwood have in common?

Answer: They’re both walking examples of why win/loss records don't measure a pitcher's true worth.

Phillies bloggers universally agreed this winter that Kevin Millwood would have a pretty good season somewhere, and have better success than free agent counterpart Eric Milton. On Monday night, Millwood (1-3) finally got his first win, holding the Angels to one hit in eight innings.

Though his record doesn't reflect it, the former Phils ace has been steady for the Tribe. Like the Phils behind Myers, the Indians haven’t offered much support with the lumber, averaging 3.3 runs in games Millwood has started.

According to Sheldon Ocker of the Beacon Journal, Millwood has targeted his pitches accurately all season, and sixty-five percent of his pitches have been thrown for strikes, which some baseball people will say is the ideal figure.

Meanwhile, Milton has been dreadful for the Reds, posting a 6.18 ERA and surrendering 13 HRs already. Milton isn’t the kind of guy you want pitching at Great American Ballpark. So why did the Reds sign him to a three-year, $25.5 million contract?

Who the hell knows?

May 10, 2005

BPF sheds chooch-sized tear

Passing along information for those of you that don't know: BPF favorite, catcher Carlos Ruiz, suffered a broken leg in a home-plate collision with Mike Kinkade during Friday night's loss to Buffalo.

Strangely enough, the collision represented an weird, cosmic clashing of two players my stepfather and I like for odd reasons: Ruiz and Kinkade.

Ruiz is neat because he's tiny, unheralded, but can also slug and throw out base runners. Martin likes Kinkade because he spent the good part of a Japanese baseball vacation with Kinkade's family, who were visiting the former Dodger utility man while he played for the Hanshin Tigers last season.

Polanco, Howard to Dodgers?

Tom Goyne at Balls Sticks & Stuff (no doubt listening to the new Dave Matthews Band CD at this very moment) has passed along a report in the Los Angeles Times that the Dodgers may be exploring a deal with the Phils for Placido Polanco and Ryan Howard.

The Times reported the Dodgers have grown increasingly dissatisfied with their defense at the hot corner, since Jose Valentin has been sidelined with a knee injury, and GM Paul DePodesta has embarked on a search for a proven veteran.

BPF Take
No matter what deal is made, the Phillies must get deeper and younger in certain areas. There’s no way the Phils won’t receive a third base prospect should this deal happen, addressing perhaps their weakest area throughout the organization. The Times reported the Dodgers have several excellent prospects at third base: Willie Aybar, Joel Guzman, Andy LaRoche and Blake Dewitt.

Pitcher Edwin Jackson, the Dodgers No. 1 prospect according to Baseball America, and Dioner Navarro, a 2004 No. 1 catching prospect with the Yankees, are the two prospects that jumped to my mind first. Both players are struggling this season in Triple-A Las Vegas, so DePodesta could bite on a deal to include one of those two. Young catching is always at a premium, and though Navarro’s stock has dropped, a deal for the switch-hitter would be a major boost.

Though critics might argue the Phils would be conceding the season by making this deal, even contending teams make deals for prospects from time to time, something the Phils haven't done in quite a while.

Thanks for the tip, Tom, and enjoy your Dave album.

Play the Phillies blame game

Who deserves most of the blame for the Phillies slow start? Voting has already started on the new Phils instant poll, with early signs indicating there's plenty of blame to go around.

Share your thoughts in the comments thread below. This one should be interesting.

May 09, 2005

Phils-Cubs series wrap

The Phillies fall to Carlos Zambrano and the Cubs Sunday, but exit Wrigley with a 2-1 series win. The Phils look to build on great pitching from Cory Lidle, Jon Lieber and Brett Myers, and hope to improve their frazzled offense when they open a series tonight in Milwaukee.

Yesterday marked the first time I’ve seen Carlos Zambrano outside of SportCenter highlights, and he couldn’t have been more impressive. The worst mismatch was Zambrano vs. Ryan Howard. Welcome to the big leagues, Mr. Howard. Zambrano got the kid to chase several outside breaking pitches, resulting in weak Steve Jeltz-like dribblers. No need to call on your bullpen when you have a guy like Zambrano – 138 pitches, 88 of them for strikes. The performance was just what the doctor ordered to snap the Cubbies 7-game skid.

Brett Myers continues to be a walking-talking example of why win/loss records don’t measure a pitcher’s true worth. Myers is 2-2, and pitched brilliantly yet again, proving his hot start is no fluke.

Counting yesterday’s performance, I’d put Myers on the short list of the best pitchers in the NL this season, including Mike Hampton, Dontrelle Willis, Roger Clemens, Tim Hudson, John Patterson, A.J. Burnett and teammate Jon Lieber.

With even an average offense, I’m certain the Phillies would be right in the NL mix, but ...

The offense stinks
Among teams in the NL:
OBP (.331, 12th)
SLG (.362, 16th, last behind Pittsburgh with .382)
Runs (127, 14th)
AVG (.245, 16th, last behind Astros with .246)
HR (24, 14th)
AVG w/ scoring position (.238, 13th)
SLG w/ scoring position (.357, last, among leaders in this category early in season)
BB (126, 3rd!, as they wait for the PERFECT pitch to hit into play ... less than 25 percent of the time).

Here’s the lineup Zambrano and the Cubs needed to beat yesterday:

J. Rollins (.237)
C. Utley(.300)
P. Polanco (.241)
B. Abreu (.278)
D. Bell (.229)
R. Howard (.071)
M. Byrd (.500)
T. Pratt (.174)
B. Myers

Don’t think for a second that Charlie Manuel’s decision to play Placido Polanco in left and bat him third yesterday was a random act. The Phillies made every effort to showcase Poly in front of the Cubs this series, a possible suitor for the displaced and disgruntled second baseman.

After a red-hot spring, Polanco hasn’t carried that momentum forward. He was robbed a number of times this series, but overall, his general lack of power – a measly .280 SLG – isn’t what I’d call a solid option to hit third or even second.

In our Polanco / Utley poll, I voted in favor of the platoon, but right now I’d vote for additional ABs for Chase Utley against LHP, unless it's Mike Hampton or someone of that caliber. I still think Polanco is a better option against most LHP, but Manuel should move to get Utley more ABs because he's basically their third-best power option right now.

The rest
Like Poly, there are too many others in this lineup, top to bottom, putting up anemic numbers, providing no power whatsoever and not driving in runners on base. How’s this for a stat: David Bell has nine extra-base hits this season, but only nine runs.

The wasteful ABs start at the top. Jimmy Rollins has been a poor table-setter, only reaching base to the tune of .285 OBP. Earlier I asked readers which NL East shortstop would have the best season, and the majority voted for J-Roll. Right now, he’s tied with Rafael Furcal in VORP with a 4.2 rating. They’re both not getting their fleet rear-ends on base, with Furcal posting a slightly better .295 OBP.

The Phillies need Jim Thome back, and I’m hoping his early struggles were due to this isolated back injury. I’m a Howard supporter, but I’ll reiterate my position on the big slugging prospect: Jim Thome is unquestionably the best option at first base, and the right move regarding Howard would have been to trade him this winter. He’s blocked out of a starting spot, and his stock might never be higher than it was after 46 minor league homers. But since they have him, and with the offense struggling, he should stay on the rest of the season. With injuries, his bat won't collect cobwebs.

The Phils also need Kenny Lofton back, as the center field platoon with Jason Michaels represents one of the only offensive bright spots this season. He’s no peach in the field, but his .938 OPS, in limited chances, is still tops on the team.

May 08, 2005

Baby steps

Benefiting from back-to-back strong outings from Cory Lidle and Jon Lieber, the last-place Phillies get exacly what they needed - two wins against the struggling Cubs, losers of their last seven.

The bad news for the Phils: They've gained no ground in the NL East, where every team is riding a two-game winning streak or more.

But the Phightins know they must start somewhere. Exploiting the Cubs weakness - their bullpen - has been the logical first step.

Meanwhile, the Phils pen has been the as-advertised strength, as the new set-up / closer combo of Ryan Madson and Billy Wagner looks ... not perfect, but formidable. Madson, in particular, was money yesterday, notching two key strikeouts and bailing the Phils out of a tight spot in the eighth.

With Mads and Wags in back, the Phils can proceed with confidence to win close games. Who knew removing Tim Worrell from the equation could be such a simple answer? With Cormier back in the fold, they have three solid options.

Cory Lidle and Jon Lieber
I don't have the opportunity to use my Lidle paragraph template because he pitched longer than six innings Friday. He was excellent, baffling Cubs hitters with his changeup and sinker. Lidle has only allowed one home run all season, and with the wind blowing out at Wrigley, his performance was even more remarkable.

If Lidle is a "No. 5," he's among the best fives in baseball, earning about $3 million this season, also making him one of the better bargains out there.

As for Jon Lieber, he was just as good yesterday, surrendering only a homer to Cory Patterson in the first inning.

Unlike Lidle, Lieber has given up an unusually high amount of homers (8), but it's hard to complain. The way he bores down on left-handers inside is amazing, and it's a treat watching a pitcher work as fast as he does.

The biggest concern is still their offense, and though they've won two straight, they continue to display some disconcerting trends. Namely, Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell are striking out a lot. It's pretty simple: If the heart of the order strikeouts out, the offense will struggle to score runs.

I've rarely seen a player look like he's thinking more at the plate than Pat the Bat, and when it looks like he's laboring, that's when you get Ks like the one he took in his last AB yesterday. Geesh. Even my back hurt after watching that wrenching cut.