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This blog is dedicated to the thoughts, musings, opinions and whatnot of Michael Berquist, Attorney-At-Law, about his favorite baseball team, the Philadelphia Phillies.

Updated: 2015-09-17T00:58:05.214-05:00


Okay ... A Few More ....


So here's the deal. I began this blog a looooong time ago, back in March of 2004. I did it as a lark when I was in law school to burn off a little steam. Over time it built into a bit of an obsession for me, consuming hours and hours and hours of my time. On the face of it, it seems a little silly: at best the readership of this blog is 150-200 people a day. Why do I do it?

I love baseball and I love the Phillies and I want to share those twin passions with you, the fan. So I plugged along, writing and writing and ultimately posting 999 posts before I felt burned out last year and quit on July 7th, 2008, writing my second "this is my final post" post. (I had previously quit in August of '05 only to return to the job in February of '06.) Watching the Phillies as a fan was cathardic. It was fun. I was worried that my posts were getting boring, that I was getting to be a snore. My own sense of it was that I was turning out some turgid prose.

So here is what I am going to do. I'm coming back. I got bit by the bug watching the Phillies win the World Series and I was kicking myself a little as I watched Brad Lidge toss the final strikeout. Wouldn't it be fun to write again? I'm betting it will.

So I'm back. With a catch: I won't be posting anything until March 2, 2009. Why am I putting off my return to so far into the future? Because, my dear reader, I have decided to marshall all of my energy into writing for six months. I'll be slaving away on posts from now until then that won't even see the light of day until March because I want to write the definative account of the 2009 season, from beginning to end, which I will expand upon at the end of the season into my long-discussed, long-planned book, which I have tenatively entitled Still the Team to Beat: A Blogger's Story of the 2009 Philadelphia Phillies. My 2009 posts will be, effectively, the first draft of that book. That's the plan at any rate.

So that's it. I'll see you on March 2nd. 'Til then if you want to reach me, email me at citizensblog at gmail dot com. Enjoy!

Nine Hundred and Ninety-Nine.


This is my 999th post at a Citizen's Blog. It will also be my last.

I began this blog a loooong time ago, way back in March of 2004. Blogging was very new and interesting to me and was a terrific means of blowing off steam in a time of great stress: studying for the bar exam and helping my wife plan our wedding. Since then I've written 998 posts detailing very little thing I could think of about my favorite team. In the interim, I passed the bar exam, got married, bought a house, got my career started. But in the past few months I've been getting tired of the daily blogging grind. Recently I took on extra responsibilities at my office. More work, more time, more stress. No longer has blogging been a stress-reliever. Now I get done with a trial and I have to remind myself: it's been two days since you've posted. Better find something interesting to talk about. I've felt the quality of my work decline for some time. My prose has become more wooden and mechanical. My passion is clearly not present. Lots of people have hobbies and this was mine. Not any more.

These ought to be exciting days to be a Phillies blogger. This team is playoff-bound and could very well play in the World Series. This team could be a champion. These are the days to be a Phillies fan. And that's what I am going to go back to being. A fan. I just want to sit on my couch and watch and not think about something interesting to write about. I just want to be. When I saw the number count on my posts this morning, I knew it was the right move to make. 999 posts. Just one short of that golden 1,000. It's like being a Phillies fan. Just one thing, one win, one player, one moment, short of greatness, of happiness, of contentment.

That's what I plan to be from here on out. A fan. Not a blogger. Not a fan-journalist. Just a fan.

I plan to direct my energies elsewhere. I can't get the baseball bug out of my skin. I plan to write some longer articles on topics that interest me and try to get them published elsewhere. The idea of writing a book has always appealed to me and maybe now I'll have the energy to make that happen. Let's see. But in the here and now I'm content to leave A Citizen's Blog stand alone at 999. My body of work, my legacy.

Go Phillies.

Brotherly Love: Phillies vs. A's Preview


Once upon a time, Philadelphia had two baseball teams. They played in different stadiums, in different leagues, and had different fans. If you came from the city’s blue-collar, predominately Italian neighborhoods and were a Democrat, you went to the Baker Bowl* to root for the Phillies. If you were Irish, middle-class and a Republican, you journeyed to Shibe Park and rooted for the Athletics. While Phillies fans sat through decades of defeats – between 1918 and 1948 the team had a losing record every season but one, a 78-76 campaign in 1932 – the Athletics had a few good teams.* The Phillies and A’s shared Shibe Park starting in 1938.Owned by the mild-mannered Connie Mack, the Philadelphia Athletics won the American League pennant in 1902, 1905, 1910, 1911, 1913 and 1914, winning the World Series in ’10, ’11 and ’13. Forced to disband his team, which featured the $100,000 Infield of Home Run Baker, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry and Stuffy McInnis, due to finances after losing the ’14 World Series to the Boston Braves, Mack returned the A’s to glory in the late 1920’s. The A’s finished second to the mighty New York Yankees in ’27 and ’28 before dethroning them in 1929, featuring a team that might be one of the finest in baseball history. (Click here for a terrific story that ran in Sports Illustrated a few years ago about the ’29 – ’31 Athletics and how their greatness has been lost to history.)The ’29 A’s repeated as champs in ’30 and won the A.L. pennant again in ’31 before returning to mediocrity. As the cross-town Phillies rose in the late ‘40s, the A’s plodded along before they joined baseball’s westward movement and left Philadelphia after the ’54 season for Kansas City, where they became the western-most franchise in baseball before the Dodgers and Giants moved to the West Coast in 1958. The A’s would sit in Kansas City for another decade, existing as a virtual farm team of the New York Yankees, selling them stars like Roger Maris and Clete Boyer, before leaving for the San Francisco Bay Area in 1967, whereupon they became the Oakland Athletics.Today, many Philadelphia sports fans don’t know about the A’s and their history in Philadelphia, which is too bad. Even before I read Moneyball and came to admire Billy Beane, the A’s were my second-favorite team in baseball. How could you not love Philadelphia’s other baseball team, those long-lost sons living on the West Coast? The A’s turbulent history, their decades of terrible baseball interwoven with two great dynasties (’10 – ’14 and ’29 – ’31), symbolizes how fleeting triumph and success were to Philadelphia in the early-1900s. As much as the Phillies struggles with racial issues in the latter half of the century mirror society’s own struggles with race, the Athletics symbolize how the city of Philadelphia struggled along to find success but was so frequently over-shadowed by that behemoth to the north of us: New York City.Before I dive too much into tonight's Phillies - A's preview, I want to include a link to the Philadelphia A's Historical Society website. I love the work that they've done. I haven't had a chance to visit their Museum, which is located in Hatboro, but I plan to one of these days. Their web site is phenomenal and is a terrific resource of information. These guys are an under-appreciated treasure.So the Phillies swing out to the West Coast to do battle with the Oakland A's before heading to Dallas, Texas, to take on the Rangers. The A's - Phillies matchup ought to be a good one, only the third time in history that these two teams have met. The A's, of course, are well-known throughout baseball for their pioneering Moneyball-approach to the game, which has enabled them to remain competitive despite having a fraction of the payroll of the rest of baseball. These days the A's are a different team from the walks-and-homers squad that Miguel Tejada and Jason Giambi led to division titles between 2000 and 2003. Peter Gammons forecas[...]

'77 vs '08: Which is better?


Well, the Phillies pretty much got their asses kicked by the Angels and their pitching staff. This weekend's sweep at the hands of the Angels caps a five-game losing streak. The Phillies have lost seven of their last eight games since they clocked the Cardinals 20-2 on Friday the 13th of June. They need to righten ship and it will be interesting to see what they do against the A's in Oakland starting tomorrow night, which starts a six-game road trip to the Bay Area and deep into the heart of Texas for the Phillies. More on that tomorrow. Today's topic:The Daily News Bill Conlin just published a pretty good piece comparing the '77 Phillies offense to the '08 Phillies. I thought it was worth following up with my own thoughts on the subject.A little bit of history: the '77 team was a monster, the second consecutive Phillies team to win 101 games and was generally regarded as being better than its '76 predecessor, which got swept by the Big Red Machine in the '76 NLCS. The '77 team, which was managed by Danny Ozark, seemed fated to face-off with the Yankees in a rematch of the 1950 World Series, but the '77 team fell to the L.A. Dodgers 3-1 in the NLCS. The '78 team won 90 games and returned to the NLCS but were once more unceremoniously beaten by the Dodgers 3-to-1. Danny Ozark was dumped by the Phillies in '79 after failing to win the N.L. East and the team marched on to its climactic date with history in '80.The '77 team was probably the best team in Phillies history after the '80 (and possibly '81) team(s), so it is worth looking at the '08 team and wondering if we are looking at a team that will occupy the pantheon of legendary Phillies teams. Here is Conlin's article:Bill Conlin: Phillies' 2008 offense might be better than 1977 powerhouse By Bill ConlinPhiladelphia Daily NewsDaily News Sports ColumnistTODAY'S EXERCISE: Match up the best offensive Phillies team you've seen in days of yore with a 2008 offense that might be the best in franchise history. But first, some observations:Psychological trauma, sports- team-collapse variety, often leaves reality gaps in our memories.Black Friday of 1977 - Game 3 of the NLCS against the Dodgers - is known as "The 10-Minute Collapse." But the actual moment of truth, Manny Mota's two-out fly to the warning track in left that Greg Luzinski failed to catch, was more like 10 seconds, counting the wild relay throw that set up the rest of the inning.A black hole of denial surrounds that loss. The Phillies had two more possible home games to atone for the baseball crimes committed while squandering that 5-3 lead. And Steve Carlton vs. Tommy John in Game 4 seemed to flip the odds back in the Phils' favor. But the veteran lefthander outpitched Lefty in a swirling mist of rain. Thirty-one years later, The 10-Minute Collapse is all that remains.In Game 6 of 1993, what if Joe Carter had popped up? Was there a guarantee that Curt Schilling would have beaten the talented Blue Jays in a Game 7?But this is about offense, the run-scoring kind, not the kind of offense that scars our souls.It comes down to either a '77 team that won 101 games or the '93 upstarts who won 97 on the way to an easy NL East title. One will face off with a 21st century attack that appears headed for special status.Each was prolific. But their approaches to offense could not have been more different. The scalawags and rascals of '93 took a grinding, relentless approach to the business of scoring 877 runs. One number tells most of it: an on base-percentage of .351, commendable for an individual, but insane for an entire team. Unlike the 2008 mashers, who specialize in late-inning lightning, the 1977 team ended a lot of games early. After the Phils sent a pitcher to an early shower one night, a scout cracked, "The least this team could do is wait until the fans got to their seats." And the '77 team could longball an opponent from any spot in the lineup - even No. 9. Carlton batted .268 with three homers and 15 RBI. Larry Christenson also hit th[...]

Small Ball vs. Big Ball: Angels vs. Phillies Preview


Big Ball vs. Small Ball.East Coast vs. West Coast.Urban vs. SoCal.Today begins a three-game series at Citizens Bank Ballpark between the Phillies and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, as the team formerly known as the California Angels and Anaheim Angels prefers to be called these days. I've very intrigued by the differences and contrasts provided by today's series. In terms of geography and culture, Philadelphia and Metro L.A. couldn't be further apart, the former being a gritty East Coast city featuring a fierce, blue-collar work ethic and artery-clogging cheesesteaks vs. the latter, a West Coast city with pretty people who dine on healthy cuisine and only healthy cuisine. The contrast in styles on the baseball diamond is astonishing too: the Phillies are probably the closest thing that the National League has to a Moneyball team, a team that emphasizes walks and home runs over bunts and steals, while the Angels are the epitome of small ball, always fighting and clawing for runs in the dirt, a delicious contrast to SoCal's effete image.Trace the Angels small ball attitude back to their manager, Mike Scioscia, the former Dodgers catcher and Upper Darby native who brought a classically National League perspective to managing the Angels. Since taking over the Angels in 2000, Scioscia has guided the team to a 745-621 record (.545), four playoff berths ('02, '04, '05, and '07), and a World Series title in 2002. Scioscia's weapons have been bunting and stealing bases.The 2008 Angels are an interesting crew, clearly better than the rest of the A.L. West, but still just a few games ahead of the surprising Oakland A's, whom the Angels can be expected to out-spend nearly two and a half to one this season (Angels payroll: $118 million to the A's $47 million dollar payroll). The Angels are a good team, but they feel like one that is under-achieving. Offensively, the Angels rank ninth in the fourteen team A.L. in home runs and tenth in slugging percentage. That partly helps to explain why they rank eleventh in runs scored.What really explains the Angels struggles is this: they are really struggling at small ball this year.What is small ball? Generally, small ball tends to be three things: 1) Bunting, with an emphasis on sacrifice bunting to move runners over; 2) Base-stealing; and 3) Clutch hitting. The '02 Angels were masters of this approach: their .290 batting average with runners in scoring position was tied for best in the A.L.; they stole 117 bases, which was third-best in the A.L.; and they led the A.L. in sacrifice hits with 49. That's a team that successfully executes a small ball approach to baseball.The '08 Angels? Not so much. While they rank third in the A.L. in steals again, their 55 steals are off-set by the fact that they have been caught 22 times, so their 71% success rate means they aren't getting much benefit from running on the bases. Oh, and the Boston Red Sox, that Moneyball team, has more stolen bases, with 64. Surprisingly, the Angels rank twelfth in sacrifice hits with just 11. Finally, the Angels are ninth in batting average with runners in scoring position (BA/RISP) at .268, which is just a little better than the A.L. average of .267. The Angels problem is that they aren't getting guys on base: the team OBP is an awful .318. Garrett Anderson's OBP is .287. Torii Hunter, the team's marque free agent signing during the off-season, has just nine home runs and 33 RBI. Vlad Guerrero, the team's usually reliable slugger, has really struggled in '08: ten home runs and 35 RBI. Assuming that Vlad plays in 90% of the Angels games and continues at his current pace, he ought to have 80-85 RBI this season, which is terrible production from your clean-up hitter.The Phillies are quite the contrast: the Phillies Isolated Power at the plate (Slugging Percentage minus Batting Average, which is basically Slugging Percentage without singles) is .187, which is very, very high. The Angels ISO is an atrocious .128. The[...]

How do you spell relief?


Everyone's throats sore from booing J.D. Drew last night? I remember booing Drew back in '99 at the Vet when he hit that home run. Good times. Alas, last night's 7-4 loss to the Red Sox drops the Phillies a little back in the division race. This weekend: the Angels of Los Angeles or Anaheim or California home to town, followed by a trip to the West Coast to play the A's. I'll preview both series.Right now I am working on a book about the Wiz Kids, that lovable collection of young Phillies players who captured the 1950 pennant then settled into baseball obscurity after the team’s chronic refusal to sign African-American ballplayers caused the team to remain an also-ran. I ran a big series on the Wiz Kids back in ’06 and I immediately thought about relief pitcher extraordinaire Jim Konstanty, who won the 1950 N.L. MVP award on the strength of his amazing relief performances for the team that season.For those not familiar with the tale of the Wiz Kids, Konstanty went 16-7 with a 2.66 ERA (that’s an ERA+ of 152) and 22 saves that season. Konstanty’s 22 saves were 14 more than the Pirates Bill Werle. Konstanty also pitched in 74 of the Phillies 152 games (that’s 48% of them) and finished 62 (41%). In an era where the starting pitcher went the distance in two of every five starts (there were 498 complete games in 1236 games that season), Konstanty was the major reason why the Phillies went 30-16 in one-run games and bested the Dodgers for the pennant, the sole pennant (or division title) the team won between ’15 and ’76.I was thinking about Konstanty when I sat down and looked over the stats from the Phillies bullpen this season. I haven’t been watching Baseball Tonight of late, but I hope that the Baseball Tonight team has commented on the Phillies astonishing bullpen strength this season. People looking for a reason why the Phillies went 13-4 down the stretch last season and best the Mets for the 2007 N.L. East title can look at the bullpen. People looking for a reason why the Phillies are 42-31 and sit three games ahead of the Marlins (and six and a half ahead of the Braves and Mets) in the N.L. East race can look at the bullpen once more. People looking for a reason why the Phillies will win the N.L. East again in 2008 can look at the bullpen.How good is the Phillies bullpen? Well, they have an ERA of 2.58, the best in the National League (that’s an ERA+ of 147), to go with 20 saves in 26 opportunities (fourth in the N.L., with a 77% save percentage, which is best in the N.L.) and a sterling 17-9 record. The Phillies relief corps has the lowest OPS in the N.L. at .633.Want to compare that to last season? Last year the Phillies ‘pen had an ERA of 4.41 (that’s an ERA+ of 92) and an OPS of .764. The Phillies leaky bullpen blew one in every three save opportunities.So how are they doing it? Interestingly, the Phillies bullpen ranks below the N.L. averages in strikeouts per nine innings (7.28 K/9 vs. 7.44 K/9) and in strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.84 vs. 1.94). Initially I was tempted to dismiss the bullpen’s success on the Phillies offense: the Phillies propensity towards late-game comebacks is a big reason why the Phillies bullpen ranks second in the N.L. in run support at 4.61 (just 0.05 under than the Cubs), but that doesn’t explain why the Phillies aren’t allowing many walks or home runs. Is it good pitching? Or is it good defense?As Bill James noted in his final Baseball Abstract in 1988, much of what we think of as good pitching is, in reality, good defense. To be sure, the performance the Phillies relief corps is putting in right now is partly thanks to good defense. But most of it is because the Phillies pitchers aren’t giving guys anything to hit. Interesting thing I observed, when looking at the Phillies stats, is how the Phillies relief guys seemed to go deeper into the counts than the starters do. (I’m cautious reading too much into this because that mi[...]

The Amazin' Mess and Other Observations


Shame on the Mets for their cowardly firing of coach Willie Randolph. Yes, the Mets are underachieving and yes, someone needs to be held accountable, but to fire Randolph in an email quietly at 3:00 AM? It is a cowardly move and speaks volumes about what a disorganized mess the Mets are.

Maybe Randolph isn't the best coach in baseball, and maybe he had lost control of the Mets, that highly paid, looks-so-good-on-paper juggernaut that collapsed at the end of the '07 season and struggled to a meager 34-35 start this season. But did he deserve to be fired after a win? While the team is stuck on the West Coast? By email?

Let me also take this opportunity to chortle, probably for the 1,531st time this season, over the Mets struggles. Click here for all of the comments from Mets fans calling me an idiot for not awarding the N.L East to the Mets at the start of the season. I'm amazed that they can spell.

-Nice to see the Phillies bats come alive in last night's 8-2 crushing of the Boston Red Sox. Don't get too confident, Phillies fans, about tonight's game. The Phillies won Game One of the 1915 World Series, then didn't win another playoff game until 1977.

Ghosts of '15: Red Sox vs. Phillies Preview


Few may remember, but I want to note that the Phillies and Red Sox have met before, prior to inter-league play, as the Red Sox and Phillies take to the field for a three game set that might be a World Series preview. These two teams squared off once before in the World Series, waaaay back in 1915, when the Phillies were led by Grover Cleveland Alexander, and the Red Sox had a roster featuring Centerfielder Tris Speaker and an unknown pitcher / hitter named Babe Ruth.The ’15 World Series was played in the deadball era prior to the Roaring ‘20s. Boston won the Series four games to one, but out-scored the Phillies 12-10. The series featured terrific pitching from Alexander, who won Game One for the Phillies, but the Phillies were out-matched. In Game Two, with President Woodrow Wilson watching (the first U.S. President to watch a World Series game), the Red Sox won 2-1, and went on to win the final three games of the Series as well. The Phillies defeat in Game Two marked the beginning of an eleven-game post-season losing streak for the Phillies, who would also lose four consecutive games in the ’50 World Series and three consecutive games in the ’76 NLCS to the Reds before beating the Dodgers in Game One of the ’77 NLCS 7-5.Could the ’08 World Series feature the Red Sox and Phillies once more? The way both teams are playing, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. After obliterating the St. Louis Cardinals 20-2 on Friday night the Phillies enter this series having dropped two straight to the surprising Cardinals, but still hold a three-game lead over the Florida Marlins in the N.L. East and are playing terrific baseball. The Red Sox, meanwhile, sit two and a half games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays in the A.L. East. Two division leaders going head-to-head.The Red Sox are a formidable team but are lacking their big gun, DH David Ortiz (a.k.a., Big Papi), as well as pitchers Daisuke Matsuzaka and Curt Schilling. Despite the absence of so many important players, the Red Sox muscle on and currently have the second-best offense in the American League (371 runs scored, 5.15 runs per game, an American League-leading .356 OBP). Losing Big Papi's bat hurts (13 home runs, 43 RBI, .234 Isolated Power - ISO* - at the plate), but the Red Sox have a diverse offense. Jacob Ellsbury, the team's lead-off hitter, does a terrific job getting on base (.373 OBP), but has a lot of speed (33 of 36 steals attempted). Kevin Youkilis, the Greek God of Walks, plays great defense at first base and sets the table very well (.376 OBP). Right now Manny Ramirez is picking up the slack: 15 home runs, 49 RBI, .248 ISO. Mike Lowell (10 home runs, 36 RBI, .224 ISO) and J.D. Drew (11 home runs, 38 RBI, .256 ISO) are playing well too. It's a powerful, deep lineup.*ISO: .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.The Moneyball-era Red Sox aren't the Red Sox of old, stacked with bats and lacking in pitching and defense. The Red Sox play defense very well (.703 Defense Efficiency Ratio, or DER, Balls Put Into Play that are converted into outs) and they have a nasty pitching staff: 3.83 ERA (fourth-best in the A.L.). The injuries to Schilling and Matsuzaka however have stretched the Red Sox staff. This weekend they send to the mound Bartolo Colon (4-1, 3.41 ERA), rookie Justin Masterson (3-1, 2.90 ERA, 31 career innings pitched) and Jon Lester. Josh Beckett, the Red Sox best pitcher, isn't slated to take the mound in this series.It is a testament to the Red Sox eye for talent that they've cobbled together a staff that is really pitching nicely. Colon, seemingly washed up at the start of the season, has pitched well in his starts with the Red Sox, allowing just 7 walks in 29 innings of work. Lester, slated to pitch Tuesday night against Jamie Moyer, is just a month removed from tossing a beautiful nine-inni[...]

Odds 'N Ends report


You might have noticed that I failed to produce a post yesterday. Sorry. Morning storm knocked out my power and kept me in bed until it was time to go to work. I had to sprint to get to work on time ...I have a couple of topics I want to touch on briefly today. They are ...1. Chase Utley: MVP? Well, right now Utley is the run-away leader in the National League voting for second base, so he'll definitely be starting at the 2008 All-Star Game for the National League. The triple crown is a long stop for him (his .311 batting average is thirteenth in the N.L.), but his 21 home runs lead the N.L. and his 56 RBI tie him for second in the N.L., just one behind Adrian Gonzalez. He's fourth in the N.L. in Runs Created per 27 Outs at 9.56, and his Isolated Power at the plate (BA - SLG = ISO, basically your slugging percentage without singles) is third in the N.L. at .339. Utley is also playing terrific defense: he's second in the N.L. amongst second basemen in Range Factor (((Put-Outs + Assists) * 9) / IP). If Chase sustains this level of production he could end up with 45-50 home runs, 40-45 doubles, 130-140 RBI, and 12-15 stolen bases.2. Sports Illustrated's Bizarro-world cover from two weeks ago really didn't touch on everything that is so topsy-turvey about this baseball season. (Click here for the article by Tom Verducci.) Focused mainly on the Tampa Bay Rays sitting at the top of the standings while the Yankees mire in mediocrity, the article really didn't get into back I find shocking about this baseball season: the screwed up nature of the A.L. Central race, which finds the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers with losing records, fighting to stay ahead of the Kansas City Royals. The Royals. The Tigers are a total mess, having shipped Dontrelle Willis to Single-A Lakeland to rehab, while the rest of their lineup groans and creaks towards a fourth-place finish. I'm tempted to blame the struggles of the Tigers on their age, but youngsters Chris Granderson has an OBP of just .297, and Jason Verlander is 3-9 with a 4.65 ERA. Gary Sheffield has just three home runs and twelve RBI.The Indians have issues too: Victor Martinez has zero home runs and Travis Hafner has barely played as well. The Indians pitching staff, which I actually felt was the best in the American League, has two of its three starters getting rocked: C.C. Sabathia picked an awful time to struggle (4-8, 4.34 ERA), when millions of dollars in free agency money are at stake, and Paul Byrd (3-6, 4.89 ERA) has been bad too. To me the Tigers and Indians struggles are much, much bigger surprises than the Yankees and Rays respective situations.3. The Phillies recent two-game losing streak to the Marlins has clipped the Phillies lead in the N.L. East from 4 games to 2 games. The Braves and Mets sit six and a half games back. Oh yeah, the Mets. I harken back to all of the mocking attacks Mets fans launched on me back in spring about my belief that Johan Santana's acquisition changed nothing. (Click here for some abject stupidity.) I was skeptical about the Mets rotation but they've actually been o.k. John Maine has been good (okay, Mets fans were right about him), but Oliver Perez has stunk. On offense, Carlos Delgado has been terrible and the Mets supporting cast hasn't protected Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran or David Wright.We'll have more on the Mets struggles later.[...]

Farm Report: June of '08 (Part II, Clearwater & Lakewood)


So we're back on The Farm Report. Currently there are four Phillies minor league teams playing baseball although two others are about to get started. The Gulf Coast League (GCL) Phillies kick off their 2008 season on June 18 with a game against the GCL Blue Jays, while the Williamsport Crosscutters play Mahoning Valley on June 17th. We'll get to see a good number of the 52 players the Phillies took in the 2008 Draft that day. The GCL team is really going to be interesting to watch.The Phillies begin a three-game series tonight in Florida. Brett Myers vs. some guy I've never heard of. Let's turn to the minors.As I mentioned yesterday, the minor league system consists of a number of steps that players have to pass through in order to make their way to the major leagues. The Double-A Reading Phillies and Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs are the final two stops players have to pass through in order to make the big leagues in Philadelphia. The two teams we are going to talk about today, the Advanced Single-A Clearwater Threshers and Single-A Lakewood Blue Claws, are the teams that currently hold players taken in the '06 and '07 Drafts. These players are a few years away from being MLB-ready. Guys like Adrian Cardenas won't have a shot at making the move to Philadelphia until '10. Let's start with ...Clearwater Threshers. Current record: 26-33. Standings: 6th of 6 teams in in the Florida State League's Western Division, thirteen and one-half games back of the Ft. Meyers Miracles. Players of note: Adrian Cardenas (2B/SS), Quintin Berry (OF), Joe Savery (P) and Kyle Drabek (P).The crown jewels of the Phillies 2006 and 2007 Drafts - first-rounders Kyle Drabek and Joe Savery, as well as Supplemental first-rounder Adrian Cardenas - are currently sunning themselves in Clearwater, Florida, waiting to move up to Reading and join the Reading Phillies. Kyle Drabek is still recovering from an arm injury and will hopefully rejoin the team shortly. Before his injury last season he was 5-1 with a 4.33 ERA in Lakewood. After a so-so start with the GCL Phillies in '06, Drabek really seemed to have put things together in Lakewood (7.66 K/9). I'd like to see what he'll do in Clearwater. The jury is still out on him.Adrian Cardenas, who was picked after Drabek in the sandwich round in '06, is off to a terrific start. It is stunning that a player so talented fell to the Phillies in the sandwich round that season. At the moment Cardenas has an OPS of .909, which would rank him second in the entire FSL behind Daniel Valencia of the Ft. Myers Miracles (.938). Cardenas is also fifth in the FSL in OBP at .397. While Cardenas' has just four home runs and twelve RBIs, remember that the FSL is a very pitching-oriented league. Two things that impress me about him: in addition to the power at the plate, Cardenas is quick (4 for 4 in steals this season, 20 of 27 last season; five triples in '06 and '07 combined) and he shows good bat control (17 walks to 21 K's this season). Add in Cardenas defensive abilities ... Cardenas' skills are limitless. He's easily the best position player the Phillies have in the minors and probably their second-best prospect after Carlos Carrasco.Phillies fans are finally getting their first extended look at Joe Savery. The Phillies first pick in '07, he played sparringly in Williamsport last season, posting a 2-3 record with an impressive 2.73 ERA. The Phillies high command liked what they saw enough to jump Savery over Single-A Lakewood to Clearwater. So far he's off to a solid start, not that you could tell with his 2-7 record and 4.61 ERA, but his numbers are far more impressive. His strikeout rate is 7.54 per nine innings and he owns a 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Unlike Carrasco and Outman, two players the Phillies have elected to move along slowly, Savery appears to be MLB ready [...]

Farm Report: June of '08 (Part I, Lehigh Valley & Reading)


Let's begin with a quick recap of this weekend's Braves - Phillies series. Friday night's game, which saw the Phillies snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, might just be the moment that Phillies fans look back upon and say that was the decisive game of the season. Kelly Johnson's error in the top end of the ninth allowed the Phillies to tie the game at 2-2, then Shane Victorino hit the decisive home run and threw out a Braves base-runner trying to tie the game up. The 4-3 win was the most exciting game of the season for the Phillies.So as the smoke clears from the weekend, the Phillies find themselves sitting in first place, 3 & 1/2 games ahead of the Marlins at 39-26, their best record at this time of the year since '95 and probably their finest start since the '93 team went 40-25 to start the season. The Phillies also hold the second-best record in the N.L. after the Cubs and sit 6 & 1/2 games ahead of the Braves and 7 & 1/2 games ahead of the Mets.Hey Mets fans, reind me again: wasn't some guy supposed to gaurantee you a division title? I forget.The Farm Report Returns ... Inspired by the 2008 MLB Draft on Thursday and Friday, I decided that I'd revisit the Phillies minor leagues today and tomorrow with quick looks at how the Phillies minor league teams are doing and how some of our favorite players ("Phuture Phillies"?) are faring.First, a word on how the minors work. Looking for the players the Phillies just drafted in Lakewood and Clearwater and Reading this summer? Don't. Draftees into the Phillies system will be sent to either Clearwater to play with the Gulf Coast League (GCL) Phillies or to Williamsport to play with the Short-Season Single-A Crosscutters in the New York - Penn League (NYPL). Typically high schoolers go to the GCL while college grads go to the NYPL. So expect to see Anthony Hewitt, Zach Collier, Anthony Grose and Jason Knapp in Clearwater while guys like Vance Worley head off to Williamsport. The minors are structured as follows:Rookie League (e.g. GCL Phillies) - typical entry point for High School draftees.Short-Season Single-A (e.g. the NYPL's Crosscutters) - typical entry point for College draftees.Single-A (for the Phillies, the South Atlantic League's Lakewood Blue Claws) - usually the first full season in the minors for the players who survive the GCL or NYPL.Advanced Single-A (for the Phillies, the Florida State League's Clearwater Threshers) - usually the second full season in the minors for the Phillies prospects.Double-A (for the Phillies, the Eastern League's Reading Phillies) - usually the third full season in the minors for the Phillies prospects, although some players can advance here from Single-A or some are held back for development.Triple-A (for the Phillies, the International League's Lehigh Valley IronPigs) - usually the fourth and final full year in the minors for the Phillies prospects, although oftentimes players spend extra time here developing or they advance here quickly.Players like Hewitt and Collier and Grose and Knapp will probably start around July 1 with the GCL Phillies and play sixty or so games until the start of September. Some in need of further development might play winter ball somewhere. In 2009 Hewitt, et al., will graduate to the Jersey Shore and play with the Blue Claws in Lakewood. Given that these guys are all high schoolers, the Phillies will bring them along slowly, sending them to Clearwater in '10, followed by Reading in '11 or '12 and Lehigh Valley in '12 or '13. That's why people like ESPN's Keith Law forecast a looong development investment for guys like Hewitt. Opening Day, 2014, might be the first time we see Anthony Hewitt or any of the others wear the Red Pinstripes.More advanced college players like Pedro Alvarez, the Vanderbilt third baseman who the Pitt[...]

2008 Draft Recap: Day One


The 2008 MLB Draft began yesterday afternoon with the Tampa Bay Rays taking shortstop Tim Beckham with the #1 Overall Pick, perhaps the last time the Rays will be in that position for a long time. The Phillies were busy with nine picks in the first six rounds. Here are a few thoughts:In a draft that was deep on corner infielders and catcher prospects, as well as college players, the Phillies weren't afraid to be different. Their first four picks and six of their first seven, were high school players. The Phillies first three picks were high school players projected as outfielders. The Phillies chose:Round: 1. Anthony Hewitt (SS/OF) - Salisbury, High School1A. Zach Collier (OF) - Chino Hills High School2. Anthony Grose (OF) - Bellflower High School2. Jason Knapp (RHP) - North Hunterdon High School3. Vance Worley (RHP) - Long Beach State College3A. Jonathan Pettibone (RHP) - Esperanza High School4. Trevor May (RHP) - Kelso High School5. Jeremy Hamilton (1B) - Wright State6. Colby Shreve (RHP) - Southern Nevada Community CollegeObviously your attention is drawn to Hewitt and Collier, a pair of talented outfielders with a lot of raw tools who are anywhere from 4-6 years of development away from the major leagues. I wouldn't expect to see them crack the Phillies lineup until 2013 or so at the earliest. But both players are interesting picks in that they break with the Phillies recent focus on pitching and they also buck the trend in baseball towards drafting MLB-ready college kids who could crack lineups by 2010. The Phillies took two guys with a lot of raw talent who could anchor the Phillies outfield in the future. Hewitt looks like a future compliment to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley in the lineup as a #5 hitter, while Collier looks like a future #2 hitter who has been compared with the Angels Garrett Anderson.It is interesting to me that the Phillies were able to snare the two guys they really wanted, Hewitt and Collier, after it looked like the team might have to choose between them. Keith Law of ESPN thought that Collier was going to slide to the Minnesota Twins at #27, but then Collier slid out of the first round and fell to them in the supplemental first round. The focus, especially from small market teams, on college-ish MLB-ready talent really might pay dividends as the Phillies secured a pair of first-round guys who probably would have gone much higher in the draft in previous years.According to Baseball America, second-round pick Jason Knapp had an outstanding outwork with the team and the Phillies considered taking him in the Supplemental First Round at #34, but he fell to them in the second round at #71. What impresses me about Knapp is his size: six-foot-five, 215 lbs, which hopefully means that his fastball will come screaming down on hitters like Randy Johnson. Knapp and fellow-second rounder Anthony Grose are raw talents like Collier and Hewitt, which means that the Phillies are going to have a lot of work ahead of them in terms of talent development, but nearly all of these players are guys rated by the talent experts as having big upsides. Grose looks like a lead-off guy with a lot of speed and terrific defensive abilities. Some have compared him to the Dodgers Juan Pierre.Starting with Knapp, the Phillies took four pitchers with their next five picks. The one who really interests me is May, a Washington State High Schooler who apparently has a fastball clocked in the high-90s and a devastating knuckle-curveball. Can the Phillies keep him from attending Washington State University?-Generally I thought this was a very good draft for the Phillies. If their first four picks turn out well, the farm system could be dramatically restocked. This is a risky draft which could lay the foundations for great things in 2013-2[...]

Draft Update (Con't)


The Draft rolls on ... Discussion has swirled around Anthony Hewitt and Zach Collier as being the Phillies targets for the Draft with the 24th pick. As fate would have it, after the Phillies took Hewitt at #24, Collier fell to the Phillies in the Supplemental First Round at #34 anyway. So with the first round nearly complete it looks like the Phillies have gotten both of their guys. Hewitt and Collier are both rated as raw projects by ESPN's Draft Day crew (Keith Law noted that Hewitt in particular struggled when forced to play with wooden bats and against more formitable competition and forecast 4-5 years of development ahead of him), with significant upsides. The video ESPN showed of Hewitt put the name "Bo Jackson" in my head and I was impressed with Zach Collier's throwing arm. The next Johnny Callison? Shane Victorino?

Both Hewitt and Collier are likely to play in the Phillies outfield circa 2013 or so if they make it. I'm impressed that the Phillies were able to snare two such talents in the first round. Look for the Phillies next pick in the second round to be a college pitcher given that they just took two high school position players. Don't be surprised if the Phillies take a college pitcher in round three either.

Speaking of trends: two-thirds of the first thirty picks were position players rather than pitchers, and two-thirds were college players ... 21 of 30 if you count Community College as being closer to College than High School. Stay tuned ...

Draft Update


Andrew Cashner is off the board, falling to the Chicago Cubs at #19. The Detroit Tigers are on the clock at #21. Zach Collier and Anthony Hewitt are still on the board. I still say Hewitt.

Pedro Alvarez went #2 to the Pirates, which will set up an interesting situation: the small market Pirates and their anti-Boras General Manager negotiating with the devil in the dark suit.

Countdown to the Draft


The Draft is just over two hours away. I'm 90% convinced that the Phillies will take High School shortstop Anthony Hewitt at #24. He's an exceptional talent and benefit from grooming within the Phillies system. Adrian Cardenas, another talented high schooler in need of grooming, is doing quite well at Clearwater with the Advanced Single-A Threshers. Imagine a future Phillies infield filled with Hewitt, Cardenas, Utley and Ryan Howard ...

Baseball Prospectus projects that the Phillies will pass on Hewitt and take Zach Collier, an outfielder from Chino Hills High School in California. Others say the Phillies will go with Andrew Cashner, a six foot six relief ace from Texas Christian who almost certainly would have a shorter path to the major leagues than Hewitt or Collier. I'm banking on the Phillies being more interested in developing a player in the long-term. That's why I am going with Hewitt, whom is the person Baseball America says is going at #24.

I really liked this article from SI's Tom Verducci about why the MLB Draft is so important now that we live in the post-steroids era.

Meanwhile ... Don't be fooled by Brett Myers performance last evening. Yes, he surrendered just one hit and one run in seven and one-third of an inning. Yes, he struck eight Reds out. He also surrendered six walks. Volquez, in contrast, tossed a third of an inning less than Myers and got the same number of strikeouts. He allowed just two hits and walked just two Phillies. Even when Myers held onto the no-hitter it struck me that Volquez was still out-pitching him.

Losing John Smoltz has to be a bitter blow to the Atlanta Braves, weakening their rotation and costing them a key veteran in their search to return to the playoffs for the first time since '05. I think Smoltz will return in '09, but it will be his final season. This loss will really hurt though. I'm not sure that the Braves will survive and catch up to the Mets and Phillies.

Speaking of the Braves, anyone notice the extreme home/road split that the Braves have? The Braves are 24-8 at home and 7-21 on the road. Compare the winning percentages:

N.L. East: (Home Pct / Road Pct / Diff.)
Atlanta: .750 / .250 / +.500
New York: .607 / .433 / +.174
Phillies: .606 / .536 / +.070
Marlins: .600 / .500 / +.100
Nats: .448 / .366 / +.082

The only team that comes as close to matching the Braves variance is the Reds, whose .655 home winning percentage is .333 higher than their .322 road winning percentage (although last night's game helped matters). If the Braves were homebodies, they'd be unbeatable.

I'll comment on the Draft later.

2008 MLB Draft Focus


This week is Draft Week in baseball as the thirty major league baseball teams attempt to build for their future by drafting high school and college talent into their rosters. We'll spend some time this week talking about the Phillies recent drafts and the players they will take this Thursday.This will be the second year in a row in which you can watch the draft on ESPN, which I intend to do Thursday evening off my DVR. (News I haven't broken to my wife yet ...) The MLB Draft has never held the attention of the public quite the way that the NFL Draft has for a number of reasons, some of which the MLB is trying to change. For one thing, the draft never used to actually be in a central location but was done over the intercom. No Commissioner striding to the podium to announce the next pick under the glare of the TV cameras as Bud Selig will do Thursday afternoon, and as the NFL as done for years in New York City.The problem with the MLB's efforts to make the Draft an Event with a capital E is that, unlike the NFL, NBA and (to a lesser extent) NHL drafts, the MLB Draft will have absolutely no immediate impact on the teams that make their selections today. The '98 Minnesota Vikings took a gamble on Marshall wide receiver Randy Moss with the 19th pick of the first round of the Draft that season and landed an impact player who helped spark the Vikings to 556 points and a 15-1 record (after going just 9-7 the previous season) thanks to his 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns. No player taken today is going to have that kind of impact in 2008 or even 2009. David Price was taken #1 overall last season from Vanderbilt and he has played no role whatsoever in the Tampa Bay Rays success in '08.The players being taken today are going to be the cornerstones to their franchises in 2010 or 2011 at the earliest. Most of these players are going to make their MLB debuts in 2012, however. The lack of impact that these players will have on their teams makes the MLB Draft a spectacle for the hard-core baseball fan. The NFL Draft promises: "See tomorrow's players today!" The MLB Draft promises: "See the distant future's players today!"Additionally, thanks to college football and basketball being televised to prominently by ESPN, CBS, ABC and the like, many fans are familiar already with the players they see on Draft Day. College baseball is barely on the radar of most baseball fans. High School baseball? Forget about it ...So while I am skeptical that the MLB Draft will ever be an Event with a capital E, I applaud baseball for shaking up the status quo and attempting to make it interesting for the public. While baseball has traditionally been a sport given to tradition above all else, I enjoy seeing the powers that be attempt to grow the game and give something to get the fans fired up. This is the kind of forward thinking we typically don't see from Major League Baseball.History. So where does the draft come from? The major league draft, which was adopted by baseball following the winter meetings in December of 1964, grew out of a concern that New York Yankees were dominating the game. The persistent dominance of the Yankees between 1921 and 1964 (in 44 years they won 29 American League Pennants and 20 World Series), in which the Yankees would attract and sign marquee talent like Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle led Major League Baseball to institute the draft. Scouts like Tom Greenwade used to specialize in locating talent and signing them to the Bronx Bombers before other teams were aware these players existed. Suddenly the legions of scouts that the Yankees had criss-crossing the country looking for talent now longer had the ability to corner a pl[...]

Fans Dig the Long Ball: Reds vs. Phillies Preview


The Phillies begin a four-game series tonight at Citizens Bank Ballpark with the Cincinnati Reds. Bring your gloves tonight kids, because you just might catch a home run when these two teams play each other. Plus you have a chance to catch some history as Ken Griffey, Jr. goes for #600. Fans dig the long ball. Since the Phillies and Reds opened Citizens Bank and Great American Ballpark both teams have played in what are probably the two most home-run oriented ballparks in the majors after Coors Field. In 2007 the Home Run Factor for Citizens and Great American was 145 and 133 respectively (i.e., the two parks are 45% and 33% more likely to see a home run hit in them), tops in the major leagues. Because their ballparks are so oriented towards home run-hitting, both teams have shaped their rosters accordingly. Check out the Home Run totals for the last five seasons (including '08) and each team's N.L. rank: Cincinnati / Philadelphia2004: 194 (6th) / 215 (2nd)2005: 222 (1st) / 194 (8th)2006: 217 (2nd) / 216 (3rd)2007: 204 (3rd) / 213 (2nd)2008: 65 (T-3rd) / 85 (1st) As you can see, this season is no exception. The Phillies continue to whack the ball into the cheap seats at a rate of 1.47 times per game. Extrapolated out of a 162 game season, then the Phillies are on a pace to hit 237 home runs this season. And it just became June, when the air gets a little warmer and the balls really fly out of the park. 240-250 home runs wouldn't be out of the question for the Phillies. The Reds, meanwhile, are on a pace to hit "just" 188 home runs. The Reds top players are the 24-year old rookie Joey Votto (10 home runs, 29 RBI), second baseman Brandon Phillips (11 home runs, 31 RBI) and outfielder Adam Dunn (14 home runs, 36 RBI, .409 OBP). All three are young (Dunn is the eldest at 28) and all three pack a whallop at the plate. The Reds biggest problem is that they continue to feature Ken Griffey, Jr., out in rightfield. Griffey has seen his once-bright, Hall of Fame future crumble into a bitter disappointment as he has struggled through nearly a decade now in Cincinnati watching from the sidelines on the D.L. Crippling injuries have stolen the prime years of Griffey's career from him. At age 38 he's a decade older than Dunn and nearly every other regular starter on the Reds roster. He's also not producing much anymore: just a .336 OBP and six home runs to go with 27 RBI. If the Reds are engaged in a youth movement, then Griffey needs to go.But not before Griffey becomes the sixth player to top six hundred home runs. More on that later ... The Phillies, meanwhile, continue to kill the baseball. Chase Utley leads the N.L. with 20 home runs and 50 RBI. Pat Burrell and Ryan Howard have hit 13 and 15 home runs respectively. Extrapolated over a 162-game season, that means that these players will hit, respectively: Home Runs:Chase Utley: 56Ryan Howard: 43Pat Burrell: 38 I wonder how many teams have featured teammates with 40+ home runs, let alone any that featured three players with 40+ home runs. The most exceptional part of the Phillies home run production this year is the fact that Jimmy Rollins has hit just three and the Phillies survived over a month with the light-hitting Eric Bruntlett (two home runs in 117 At Bats) in the lineup. Pitching matchups: Of course it is up to the Phillies and Reds pitchers to make sure that the other side doesn't manage to club some home runs. More particularly, Phillies pitchers want to make sure they aren't the one to surrender #600. Monday: Kyle Kendrick vs. Bronson Arroyo. Kyle Kendrick hopefully won't be the one to surrender #600. So far this season he's done pretty good n[...]

Who ARE these guys? Fishstripes vs. Phillies Preview


Oftentimes I don't really pay too much attention to the standings at the start of the season. I've seen too many teams come on like gangbusters in April, only to fall back to mediocrity in June and July. If you have a winning record on June 1, then we'll talk. So all during the months of April and May I've been dimly aware that the Florida Marlins, the team that unloaded nearly all of its talent (e.g., Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera) to rebuild once again, were sitting near the top of the standings. As I looked at things the other day, there are what the standings looked like to me:N.L. East1. Florida 30-222. Philadelphia 31-243. Atlanta 28-254. New York 25-265. Washington 23-31I was stunned and needed to let the information sink in for a moment before I could process it. Now to all of those Mets fans who questioned my sanity in the preseason for doubting that the '08 Mets were the greatest thing since sliced bread, let me just take a moment and say this:HA-HA!!!!!!That felt good ... Well let's just look at the puny Marlins, with their team payroll according to of $22.6 million dollars (half - half! - that of the #29 team, the Tampa Bay Rays at $43.4 million) and the fact that have a better record that the of not-so-mighty New York Mets, spenders of $137 million dollars. Truly stunning. Now, I do intend to take a moment and devote an entire post to mocking the Mets (soon) and dissecting their struggles, but that's not going to be today. Today we are going to try and solve an important question. The Florida Marlins: Who are these guys?Marlins Offense vs. Phillies Pitching & Fielding. So far the Marlins are scoring runs off their ability to hit home runs. They've hit 76 thus far, second in the N.L. after the Phillies with 79. Dan Uggla leads the team with 16 home runs and 38 RBI. Uggla, who finished third in the 2006 Rookie of the Year Award, is a solid defensive player with a lot of power. He makes a lot of comparisons to Chase Utley because the two play the same position - second base - and hit for power and average, but Uggla isn't the great defensive player that Utley is. While Uggla is an extremely talented player, Hanley Ramirez, the 2006 N.L. Rookie of the Year, is clearly the Fishstripes best: with nine home runs Ramirez has power, but he also supplies something that the Marlins lack this season. Speed. Ramirez has 13 steals in 18 attempts, having swiped half of the Marlins stolen bases.While Uggla and Ramirez have been great, the big surprise to me is the play of Mike Jacobs. The unheralded Jacobs, who like Uggla and Ramirez debuted with the Marlins in 2006, has quietly hit 11 home runs and 29 RBI so far this season. The Marlins are going to need guys like Jacobs to continue to produce, lest they become a two-man show.Their power at the plate is the reason why they've scored 254 runs, but they haven't nearly been as efficient as the Phillies have. They've hit .242 with runners in scoring position (BA/RISP) thirteenth in the N.L. Their paltry .326 OBP is also eleventh in the N.L. While the Marlins have scored runs and have had success I believe that their long-term prospects offensively are limited: without good situational hitting or without guys setting the table for the big bats, the Marlins are going to decline offensively because after a while you stop hitting solo home runs and winning games 4-3 by hitting three home runs.The series will be an interesting test for Brett Myers, who pitches tonight. Can he stop Uggla, Ramirez and Jacobs? Thus far this season Myers has surrendered 15 home runs in 65 innings: 2.07 HR/9. Yikes. Can Myers su[...]

The Mind of Charlie Manuel


A little while ago I had done a talkback with a Chicago Cubs blogger and he asked me to give his readers a sense of what kind of a manager Charlie Manuel is. My answer was that Manuel was a near-ideal manager for the Phillies: patient (he’s got a team full of veterans), laid-back (you need to be to survive the maelstrom that is the Philadelphia media circus), and a manager who plays to his team’s strengths (power-hitting, fielding). I thought I might take a moment to take a look at what we can derive from Manuel’s strategic maneuvers as the Phillies skipper.Managing in baseball is a pretty tough thing to look at and evaluate. In football coaches shape their team’s actions as in no other sport and are recognized for doing such. The football coaches devise the complicated game-plans (e.g. Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson), install complicated and innovative schemes (e.g., San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh and his West Coast Offense or Michigan Coach Rich Rodriguez and his spread-option offense), motivate players (Bill Parcells was a genius at this). To a lesser extent coaches in the NBA and NHL shape their teams too by devising strategies to emphasize and magnify strengths and downplay weaknesses. But unlike in football and basketball and hockey, where the action is fluid and much of the action and decision-making lays in the hands of the coaches, baseball is the game where the players make the key decisions and the format of the game is fairly static. Managing in baseball is less like being at the helm of the battleship as it steams into battle than sitting as the chairman of the board at a Fortune 500 Company.But managers do shape their teams in far subtler ways that have real impact as the 162-game season unfolds. I think we can look at a number of things and see how Charlie Manuel manages. Here are a few things that are important:1. Charlie Manuel got his start in the American League. In Manuel’s first two seasons of managing a Cleveland Indians team in decline (the previous season, in 1999, it had blown a massive lead to the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS, flaming out from the playoffs yet again) were quite successful: the Indians went 90-72 and 91-71. In ’02 Manuel was cashiered after the Tribe got off to a 39-48 start, the beginning of the Indians rebuilding campaign. In the AL, with the designated hitter, they do thing differently. There is more of an emphasis on power-hitting and moving runners around the bases than on timely hitting and speed. Seeing how the Phillies routinely hit poorly in the clutch yet score bushels of runs thanks to their power-hitting, you can see how Manuel’s experiences shaped him when he was the Indians skipper.2. 2007 was different. The 2007 campaign represented a number of doctrinal shifts in Manuel’s thinking. The evolution of Manuel towards speed and defense – a more National League-oriented game – occurred in ’07. Let’s measure speed two ways: stolen bases attempted and pinch-runners.The number of stolen base attempts is pretty obvious in terms of the meaning it conveys. After ranking eighth in stolen base attempts in 2006, the Phillies jumped to second in 2007, after the Mets. Manuel did have terrific personnel to pull off the move (Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Michael Bourn) but Victorino and Rollins had been on the roster in ’06 and they hadn’t run much. Victorino had played extensively in ’06 and attempted a mere seven steals. In ’07 he attempted 41. Rollins was pretty consistent in ’06 and ’07, but he was the team’s sole base-stealing threat in ’0[...]

Book Review: Hammerin' Hank, George Almighty and the Say Hey Kid


First of all, as some of you might have noticed, it has been two weeks since I posted anything on A Citizens Blog. No, I am not quitting. Between work and some other things I had a few crisis that needed to be resolved and I needed a brief break from thinking about the Phillies. Now that I'm back I am eager to make up for lost time. This week alone I'll be posting a big piece analyzing Charlie Manuel's managing style and a preview of the Phillies & Marlins series at the end of the week. My recent pieces have been short on analysis, a deficiency I hope to correct soon.Let's start off with a book review.The 1970's may not have been a great era for America - Watergate, malaise, gas shortages, the Iranian Hostage Crisis, bell-bottom pants and disco - but it was actually a good era for baseball in many respects. The game had declined in the late 1950's as the public left the cities near their teams in favor of the suburbs. Football, a game uniquely suited for television, took off in popularity following the 1958 NFL title game between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants, as the NFL-AFL rivalry in the 1960's spurred interest in the game. Baseball no longer seemed relevant in the rebellious era of the 1960's. Pitchers came to dominate the game in the '60s, great stars like Mickey Mantle retired, fans felt disconnected to the game and baseball seemed ill-suited to adapting with the changing times.That changed in the 1970's as baseball emerged from the dark days of the 1960's and began to embrace a more exciting form of baseball. Speed combined with power and made baseball more exciting and multifaceted than it had been in the station-to-station, wait for the home run 1950's. Dramatic personalities entered the picture, a welcome departure from the staid conformity of the 1950's. George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees, that symbol of 1950's establishment corporatism, and injected some life into a dull entity. The Oakland A's won three consecutive titles between 1972 and 1974, featuring a team that was never dull and uninteresting. Oh, and some guy out in Kansas City took out some paper and began to write about baseball in his spare time as a night watchman. It was, in many respects, a great era for baseball.It is with all of that in mind I sat down and began to read Hammerin' Hank, George Almighty and the Say Hey Kid, the story of the 1973 baseball season. Written by John Rosengren, Hammerin' Hank has a lot of material to move through and I wanted to see what the author did with it. I was very impressed with Rosengren's approach. He really tries to move the reader to get a feel for the season as it unfolded, practically day-by-day. As the story moves along we get to see how the '73 season unfolded, but we also hear about Nixon and Watergate and how events outside of the game drove the public and impacted the game.Some things about the '73 season that Rosengren reminds us:-Hank Aaron made his run on Babe Ruth's record of 714 home runs in the 1973 season before falling a little short and breaking the record early in the '74 season. Aaron's story is pretty dramatic: the virulent racism hurled at the quiet man whose sin was that he was black and exceptionally talented. Aaron made his run on Babe Ruth's record amid exceptional hatred and intimidation. Rosengren's book is worth reading alone for the discussion about Aaron's season from hell.-The novel Designated Hitter Rule began in '73, an innovation which would dramatically alter the game. It would seperate the American League from the National League and be an excell[...]

Phillies - Braves Series Preview


Sorry for the late afternoon post, but I've been busy. Better late than never, right? Alright, five things to keep in mind about the Braves & Phillies series tonight ...

1. The Braves are a lot better than their 19-18 record suggests. I like to follow teams Pythagorean Win-Loss records and compare them to their 'real' records to predict which teams are lucky and due for a fall or resurgence. Looking at records so far this season I'm seeing the Braves as a team that is poised to make a resurgence. As of this morning, this is where the N.L. East standings sit:

1. Florida: 23-15
2. Philadelphia: 21-18
3. New York: 19-17
4. Atlanta: 19-18
5. Washington: 16-23

Here are the Pythagorean Win-Loss records:

1. Atlanta: 23-14
2. Philadelphia: 21-18
3. Florida: 20-18
4. New York: 19-17
5. Washington: 16-23

The Mets, Phillies and Nationals are all hitting their pythagorean win-loss records right on the mark, but the Marlins are over-performing by three games and the Braves are under-performing by four. Why is that? Well, the Braves have a terrible record in close (i.e., games decided by two runs or less) games at 4-10. When they start getting those break landing their way, I think that the Braves will start winning and will validate my prediction that they'll win the N.L. East in 2008.

2. The Braves have a darn good pitching staff. Of the Phillies five starters, four boast ERAs of 4.93 or above:

Cole Hamels: 3.36
Kyle Kendrick: 4.93
Jamie Moyer: 5.02
Brett Myers: 5.33
Adam Eaton: 5.40

lower than 3.00. Compare that to the Braves starters: Tim Hudson (2.54) and John Smoltz (2.00) have ERAsJair Jurrgens, who tossed just thirty innings in relief for the Tigers last season, is 4-3 with a 3.10 ERA. Braves pitchers rank fourth in the N.L. in strikeouts per nine innings (7.26), while the Phillies rank twelfth (6.09). The Braves also rank first (or last, depending on how you view it ... let's just say "best") in OPS against at .664.

Bizarrely, Phillies starters have turned in slightly more (19 to 18) Quality Starts (a start where a pitcher tossed six or more innings and surrenders three or fewer runs) than the Braves. Go figure.

3. The Braves field well. Their fielding percentage is just seventh in the N.L. to the Phillies fourteenth, but they were also second in Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER), meaning that Braves fielders converted balls put into play into outs 71.8% of the time, second to just the Cubs at 72%.

4. The Braves can hit. They have a better OPS than the Phillies (.789 to .755), a slightly better batting average with runners in scoring position (.250 to .249 BA/RISP), and have scored more runs per game (4.89 to 4.74).

5. The Braves are going to sweep this series. Sorry, Phillies fans, but the Braves are a sleeping giant.

The Need for Speed


The Phillies emerge from a so-so trip out to the West which saw the team drop four of even games against the Diamondbacks and Giants with an off-day before starting up a three-game series with the Atlanta Braves tomorrow. I’ll preview the Phillies – Braves series tomorrow.Despite losing two of three to the Giants over the weekend, I think the Phillies are returning a stronger team than they left Philadelphia as. Jimmy Rollins has returned to the roster and extended trips to the West Coast have to be draining on the Phillies. Up next: the Braves and then an inter-league series with the Toronto Blue Jays, a rematch of the 1993 World Series …I wanted to talk a little about speed and the Phillies … There are basically two things we look at to measure speed in baseball: stolen bases and triples. The stolen base is a measure of speed because the player attempting to steal has to traverse the area from first to second while the ball is still within the baseball diamond area. You have to be fast to go from a dead-stop to a run and accomplish that. We also look at triples because players need to be quick to leg out the extra 90 feet to take this from a double to a three-bagger. We usually don’t count doubles because usually doubles are the product of hard-hit balls to distant portions of the ballpark rather than speed.As those who read sabremetric publications like The Hardball Times or Baseball Prospectus, or who read Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, know the stolen base isn’t typically a strategy held in high esteem by the sabremetrics community. I’ve often argued that where you stand on the stolen base is a pretty good indication about whether or not you stand on the Catholic or Protestant divide of baseball, the old schoolers or the sabremetricians. To the old school, Small Ballers, the argument for the stolen base is basically this: you’ve got to be aggressive and do little things like bunt, hit-and-run and, yes, steal, to get that extra base to get into position to score and to claw out those runs.The counter-argument is basically that base-stealing is counter-productive because the penalty for being caught stealing out-weighs the benefits. Better to play safer station-to-station baseball, advancing runners with singles, doubles and the mighty home run. Consider this …According to Baseball Prospectus’ Run Expectancy Matrix (see, Table 4-1.1 of Baseball Between the Numbers), a team with a runner on first and no outs can expect to score 0.9259 runs in an inning. Let’s say that runner attempts to steal second base. There are two possible outcomes:If he’s safe, the run expectancy matrix improves to 1.1596, an improvement of 0.2337 …If he’s out, the run expectancy matrix declines to 0.2866, a decline of 0.6393 …Your position can increase by a quarter of a run, or it can decline by two-thirds of a run. The guys at Baseball Prospectus ran the numbers and determined that a stolen base adds 0.1593 runs to a team’s total, while a caught stealing subtracts 0.3687 runs from a team’s total.If you play the numbers, the BP guys argue, then stealing bases is a losing strategy unless you can be successful around 73% of the time.The 2007 Phillies were a remarkable successful team in this respect, successfully stealing 138 bases in 157 tries, for a 88% success rate. Applying the numbers above, the Phillies added 22 runs to their offense with base-stealing though they lost 7 runs with the caught stealings. Total net gain: 15 runs. The New York Mets, th[...]

The Bourn Trade


This is a late post, but a late post is better than a never post ... Last night's 6-4 loss to the Diamondbacks evens the series at 1-1 and saw Randy "Big Unit" Johnson post his 286th career victory, good enough to tie former Phillies great Robin Roberts at 27th all-time. Good work, Randy Johnson. It is unfortunate that Adam Eaton notched his first loss of the season after beginning the year quite well.Tonight: Micah Owings (4-1, 4.41 ERA) vs. Kyle Kendrick (2-2, 5.01 ERA). Good luck, Kyle.Prediction: Diamondbacks 8, Phillies 2. Kendrick is done is three innings or less.Today's topic will be a brief evaluation of the Michael Bourn - Brad Lidge trade between the Phillies and Astros from this off-season and how the trade looks from one month plus into the 2008 season. A little recap: back on November 7 of last year the Phillies and Astros struck up a deal wherein the Phillies shipped Michael Bourn, their fourth outfielder in 2007, to the Astros along with prospect Mike Costanzo and middle reliever Geoff Geary in exchange for Closer Brad Lidge and Infielder Eric Bruntlett. The Phillies, jammed with Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino and Pat Burrell in the outfield, had no room for the speedy Bourn, who had wowed Phillies fans with 18 steals in 19 attempts in 2007. What they needed as a closer to get Brett Myers back into the rotation, thus improving the Phillies pitching staff in a two-for-the-price-one deal.Reaction was generally mixed. Click here for a piece by Baseball Prospectus' Nate Silver blasting the Phillies for making the deal.Well, I thought I might take a few moments to discuss how the deal is shaping up at the moment.What the Astros Got:Michael Bourn: currently the Astros starting centerfielder. So far this season he's wowed observers with 13 steals in 13 attempts. That means he's stolen 31 bases in 32 attempts the last two seasons combined. At his current pace of base-stealing, Bourn will steal 70-75 bases this season, a pretty nice total. Additionally, Bourn is one of the best defensive centerfielders in the National League. According to Relative Zone Rating (RZR), Bourn is the third-best in the N.L. with an RZR of .965. Bourn is also leading the N.L. in assists with three.Before you get too impressed by Bourn's stats, let me just print a number that tells you all that you need to know about Bourn's abilities as a lead-off hitter:.275That's not Bourn's Batting Average. That's Bourn's On-Base Percentage. .275 ... At the moment Bourn is hitting .194, an absurdly low total with brings down his respectable .100 walks per plate appearance. I think Bourn's problem is that he strikes out waaaay too much: 28 times in 120 plate appearances. This might be a fluke: Bourn's Batting Average on Balls Put Into Play (BA/BIP) is just .234, nearly one hundred points lower than what he did last season with the Phillies: .330. He's going to have to hit better to be a more viable threat to steal bases and score runs. Despite those 13 steals, Bourn's scored just 14 runs, a pretty small total in my opinion. It is too soon to liken Bourn to Vince Coleman, the speedy outfielder who was the 1985 Rookie of the Year with the St. Louis Cardinals when he stole 110 bases but posted an anemic .320 OBP. Coleman was a fast player (he led the National League in stolen bases six consecutive seasons from 1985 to 1990), but he was hampered by his inability to get on base. His career OBP was just .324. Bourn is shaping up to be a speed demon who doesn't get on bas[...]

The Diamondbacks Series & Jeremy Slayden


From my perspective here is the remarkable thing about last night's 11-4 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks in the desert of the American Southwest: the Phillies didn't hit a single home run.For those too bleary-eyed to stay up last night (or are too fixated on the Flyers impending series against the Pittsburgh Penguins) the Phillies defeated the Diamondbacks, the best team in the majors right now, 11-4 thanks to 17 hits and a nice outing from Jamie Moyer (seven innings pitched, two runs allowed, five strikeouts and zero walks). The victory kept the Phillies in first place and gave them a win to lead off their seven game road stand. As of this morning the Phillies own the N.L. East by a game:N.L. East1. Phillies: 19-142. Florida: 17-14 (1.0 Games Back)3. Mets: 16-14 (1.5 Games Back)4. Braves: 15-15 (2.5 Games Back)5. Nationals: 14-18 (4.5 Games Back)As I noted, the Phillies clocked 17 hits and not one was a home run. You know it is a good night at the plate when your pitcher (Moyer) goes 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI. Even more remarkable: Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell combined to go 1-for-9. Yes, it was a good night in the desert.Tonight it is Adam Eaton vs. Randy Johnson. Read my post from yesterday to gain a better sense of the quasi-remarkable season that Eaton is having. Eaton will be hard-pressed to notch his first win of the season though against the Big Unit, who is pitching a lot better than his stats suggest: 1-1, 4.79 ERA. Johnson's DIPS ERA is 3.84, which is nearly a run better. The simple problem is that the D-Backs aren't playing good enough defense behind him. They've converted just 68.3% of the balls Johnson has allowed to be put into play into outs. Johnson is, as always, a formidable strikeout pitcher: 22 strikeouts in 20 and two-thirds of an inning of work. This is a mismatch that heavily favors the D-Backs.Nice post on yesterday's game from the Inquirer's Todd Zolecki.Quick look at a minor-leaguer of note: Jeremy Slayden. An eighth round pick in the 2005 Draft out of Georgia Tech, Slayden hasn't caught the attention of publications like Baseball America or has really registered in the minds of most fans. That's a shame because Slayden is a real talent:w/ Double-A Reading ('08): OPS: .903 / HR: 3 / RBI: 20 / Doubles: 7 / OBP: .386 / ISO: .197w/ Single-A Clearwater ('07): OPS: .834 / HR: 14 / RBI: 73 / Doubles: 24 / OBP: .376 / ISO: .171w/ Single-A Lakewood ('06): OPS: .891 / HR: 10 / RBI: 81 / Doubles: 44 / OBP: .381 / ISO: .200Even in the pitching-friendly Florida State League (FSL), Slayden mashed the heck out of the ball. He's one of those players who doesn't get a lot of ink because he wasn't highly drafted, he isn't flashy and pro scouts likely have a low opinion of his abilities. "Slow-footed slugger" is probably the most commonly written description of Slayden in the notebooks of scouts.Slayden's rise through the Phillies system is a testament to the idea that a player's performance trumps the assumptions made. Perhaps Jeremy Slayden is a slow-footed slugger, but he wields a powerful bat. You'll see him in Philadelphia later this year, or early next.[...]

Adam Eaton Rocks & Phillies vs. Diamondbacks


Okay, the title is a little tongue-in-cheek, but it is partly true. Don’t look now Phillies fans but Adam Eaton, the disaster who had a 6.29 ERA last season, the guy who was pitching so bad that the Phillies left him off their playoff roster with the Colorado Rockies despite the fact that the Phillies are paying him $24 million dollars over the next three seasons … Isn’t pitching half bad this season.Let’s take you back to a year ago. In the 2006-2007 off-season the Phillies signed Eaton, a former Phillies draft pick the team had sent west to the San Diego Padres in a trade years earlier, to a three-year, $24 million dollar deal (someone correct me if the numbers are off on that figure). In a pitching-thin marketplace, Eaton was one of the better talents out there, having gone 7-4 with a 5.12 ERA the previous season with the Texas Rangers. Eaton, who had spent the previous six seasons with the Padres after breaking in during the ’00 season, had started just thirteen games for the Rangers and had given up 11 home runs. He struggled, but had put up good numbers from ’00 – ’05 for the Padres and the Phillies desperately wanted to augment their leaky pitching staff. So the red pinstripes cut a check and Eaton came back to the team that saw enough in him to take him in the draft.Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined with respect to pitching stats:Earned Run Average (ERA): Runs Allowed * 9 / Innings Pitched = What a pitcher would give up if they hurled a nine-inning game.Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP): (((13 * HR) + (3 * BB) – (2 * K)) / IP) + League Factor. Basically a measure of how a pitcher would have done if he had an average defense behind him.Defense Independent Pitching Statistic (DIPS): The more sophisticated version of FIP developed by Voros McCracken that takes into account park factors and other considerations.Home Runs per 9 Innings (HR/9): (HR * 9) / IPWalks per 9 Innings (BB/9): (BB * 9) / IPStrikeouts per 9 Innings (K/9): (K * 9) / IPThe end result was disaster. A 10-10 record that was largely the product of run support, as it was built on an ERA of 6.29. Eaton walked 71 hitters (3.95 BB/9) and gave up 30 home runs (1.67 HR/9). Opponents grounded into 19 double plays against him, more a product of them having so many runners on base than Eaton’s skills. Eaton’s 97 strikeouts in 161 and two-thirds of an inning (5.4 K/9) were respectable, but when coupled with his walk rate, they gave him a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.37 (K/BB). Eaton was so bad that he earned just one Win Share in 2007, two below what a bench player would have earned. (In contrast, Cole Hamels earned 15 in 2007.) The Phillies, in the playoffs despite Eaton’s struggles, took no chances and left Eaton off the team’s playoff roster against the Rockies. In the off-season the team tried everything they could think of to scrap together pitching talent on the cheap, taking Travis Blackley from San Francisco in the Rule 5 Draft, and signing Chad Durbin from the Detroit Tigers. Neither Blackley nor Durbin could oust Eaton from the job, however, and Eaton returned to the Phillies rotation for 2008.The numbers don’t really reflect it, but Eaton’s been pretty good this season: yeah he doesn’t have a win yet, but he also doesn’t have a loss. His six starts were all no-decisions. There are a few things that impress me though once you lo[...]