Friday, February 28, 2003

I petition that we end the season right now...before the hopes and dreams of Phillies fans are dashed.

The Phillies started the Grapefruit League schedule on a high note yesterday, beating the Pirates 6-3. Jim Thome created more of a stir when he sent the second pitch he saw over the left-field wall. Randy Wolf pitched a perfect first inning on 11 pitches (7 strikes), while Jason Michaels carried the offense in the later innings.

They are 1-0, Wolf looks good, Thome looks good, the bench is playing well...let's call it a season now while we're ahead.

Injury Front

P prospect Ryan Madson threw about 100 long-tosses yesterday, and reported no ill effects. He had been shut down last week due to a sore elbow, and this is the first follow-up I have seen.

Turk Wendell, who came over in a trade with the Mets in 2001 and was quickly villified in Philly is also working his way back. He appears to be healthy, and threw two simulated innings in BP yesterday, throwing mostly fastballs and changeups. All reports are good so far, and the Phillies hope to be able to use the Wendell of 2000, as opposed to the one they put on display a season and a half ago.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Can I tell you how much I love the voice of Harry Kalas?

Spring Training games started today, as most of you know. What a joy it was to come back from one of my meetings, go to, crank up real audio, and listen to Harry and Larry Anderson call the play-by-play in the middle innings. Unfortunately, I missed the call of Jim Thome's first home run in Phillies red. I love spring.

Can I tell you how much I hate Thursdays?

9-hour day, 5 hours of it spent in meetings. 4 hours spent being yelled at. Fun day.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Hall of Fame 3B Mike Schmidt arrived at training camp yesterday. Schmidt is in camp for the second year in a row as a guest instructor, working with the hitters -- in particular with pet project Pat Burrell, who has struck up quite a friendship with the man who holds a number of Phillies power records and blossomed after Schmidt's tutoring last spring. Looking around the camp, Schmidt likes what he sees, and says that the Phillies should be a playoff team:

..."this team can win the division in April...They have a top-three player at every position," Schmidt said.

Top-three player at every position? I like the Phillies chances, but I wouldn't go that far. A simple look at some numbers would put a damper on Schmidt's assessment. Let's go position by position, looking only at the National League's expected starters, using Lee Sinins's RCAA* stat simply as a starting point.

1B - Jim Thome

1. PHI, Jim Thome, 88 RCAA
2. COL, Todd Helton, 53 RCAA
3. SD, Ryan Klesko, 49 RCAA

New Phillies slugger Jim Thome ran away from the 1B field last season, and clearly can be considered a top-three player at 1B in the NL, if not in the majors overall.

2B - Placido Polanco

1. HOU, Jeff Kent, 46 RCAA
2. MTL, Jose Vidro, 29 RCAA
3. ARZ, Junior Spivey, 22 RCAA
... PHI, Placido Polanco, -3 RCAA

Granted, most of Polanco's time last season was spent at 3B, and his offense will not be as important at the middle infield position. But if we are claiming, as Mike Schmidt has, that the Phillies have a "top-three" player at each position, then Polanco doesn't fit the bill. He does, however, fall in the top three in the NL East, if you go by last year's numbers. However, no one expects Roberto Alomar to repeat his -5 RCAA season of 2002. Polanco, though, does fall in the top-three 2B on the Phillies, coming in right behind Tomas Perez's -2 RCAA of a season ago.

SS - Jimmy Rollins

1. STL, Edgar Renteria, 13 RCAA
2. LA, Alex Cora, 11 RCAA
3. SF, Rich Aurilla, -8 RCAA
... PHI, Jimmy Rollins, -15 RCAA

Now, remember, we are looking at NL only here, so this does not include the AL foursome of A-Rod, Nomar, Tejada, or Jeter. Looking at these numbers, SS is a bit of a black hole in the NL, so a bit more patience at the plate and a higher batting average -- heck, even a return to his 2001 0 RCAA -- and Jimmy may rise to a top-three SS in the NL.

3B - David Bell

1. SF, Edgardo Alfonzo, 32 RCAA
2. STL, Scott Rolen, 21 RCAA
3. FLA, Mike Lowell, 13 RCAA
... PHI, David Bell, 0 RCAA

This is starting to get depressing. Bell wasn't even the most productive 2003 Phillie last season, as Tyler Houston -- who is expecting to be a role player off the bench -- finished with 7 RCAA.

LF - Pat Burrell

1. SF, Barry Bonds, 161 RCAA
2. ATL, Chipper Jones, 55 RCAA
3. STL, Albert Pujols, 49 RCAA
4. PHI, Pat Burrell, 44 RCAA

Finally, some hope! This listing does not include Pittsburgh's Brian Giles and his 75 RCAA, as he is expected to play CF this season. But Burrell's 44 RCAA and expected improvement, while nowhere near the level of Bonds -- but who is? -- at least puts him in the top 5 in the NL, if not the majors. (The only AL player in the top 5 on this list was Manny Ramirez, who is as much a DH as a LF.)

CF - Marlon Byrd

1. PIT, Brian Giles, 75 RCAA
2. STL, Jim Edmonds, 54 RCAA
3. ATL, Andruw Jones, 25 RCAA
... PHI, Marlon Byrd, -2 RCAA

Not really a fair comparison, as Marlon had a total of 35 at-bats in the big leagues last year. And while good things are expected of him, I don't think we can place him in "top-three" company here.

RF - Bobby Abreu

1. MTL, Vladimir Guerrero, 61 RCAA
2. CHC, Sammy Sosa, 58 RCAA
3. PHI, Bobby Abreu, 57 RCAA

Bobby Abreu remains one of the least talked about, most productive OFs in the game. Everyone knows of Vlad and Sammy, but looking at these numbers, Bobby is in the same ballpark. He is easily a top three NL RF. For the record, the top AL RF was the White Sox Magglio Ordonez -- another one who doesn't get the recognition -- with 46 RCAA.

C - Mike Lieberthal

1. NYM, Mike Piaaza, 17 RCAA
2. FLA, Ivan Rodriguez, 10 RCAA
3. PHI, Mike Lieberthal, 9 RCAA

One could argue that I-Rod's numbers should go up this year, if completely healthy. The same could be said for Lieberthal, who really heated up in the summer months, after the one-year anniversary of his knee injury passed. Lieby hit .284/.369/.419/.788 in June, .317/.371/.476/.847 in July, and .319/.390/.638/1.028 in August before cooling down again in September. Oh, by the way, Todd Pratt's career year translated into a 12 RCAA last season, which ranked him 2nd in the NL, 3rd in the majors among catchers.

So, let's see, that's 3 "top-three" players among expected NL starters at the 8 positions, with Pat Burrell being just outside. That doesn't translate to "every position". But, you will argue, offensive output is not the entire package. Very true, so let's see where each Phillie ranked in fielding percentage at his position last season (minimum 15 games):

1B: Thome placed 37th in the majors in fielding percentage, with a respectable .991, and 15th in range with an 8.90. To put that in perspective, Travis Lee -- who was considered an above-average fielder -- had numbers of .996 and 9.03. These numbers don't help Thome's case as a "top-three", but they don't drag him out of that category either.

2B: To see how Polanco is defensively at 2B, I looked back as his numbers in 2000, the last season he was listed as a 2B primarily. That season, he was 29th in FP at .984 and 49th in range at 3.67 -- not bad, but not enough to help us consider him as a "top-three" player.

SS: Jimmy Rollins finished 12th in the majors in FP, at .980, while ranking 16th in range at 4.49 -- just ahead of the "acrobatic" Omar Vizquel.

3B: Bell was 15th in FP last season at .973, and was 31st in range, at 2.32. I won't mention that Scott Rolen had the best range among 3B, at 3.02.

OF: The Baseball Encyclopedia does not separate OFs in terms of fielding stats, so the OF is a bit more complicated. Bobby Abreu ranked 100th with a FP of .983, while Burrell was 130th at .979 -- both respectable numbers. In terms of range, Abreu was 80th at 1.90, and Burrell ranked 108th at 1.79.

C: Lieberthal ranked 28th in FP at .993, and his range of 6.94 ranked 14th, but is expected after knee surgery.

Looking at the fielding numbers, there is no one player's stats that stand out and say "he should be bumped up to top-three" or "he should be dropped from top-three" due to their fielding skills. So, after this overly-simple analysis, we are still left with 3 "top-three" players, and one just outside the list. Now, I am as much of a 2003 Phillies supporter as anyone, and I believe they will be playing in October...but where is the "top-three at every position" that Mike Schmidt was talking about?

Someone out there has comments on the methods I used...let me here them!

*RCAA -- Runs created above average. This is a Lee Sinins creation. It's the difference between a player's RC total and the total for an average player who used the same amount of his team's outs. A negative RCAA indicates a below average player in this category. (source: Lee Sinins's Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia)

Monday, February 24, 2003 has a closer look at Phillies closer Jose Mesa. In addition to discussing his tremendous work-ethic and his 87 saves in 100 chances over the last two seasons, they delve into Jose's rather large family:

"Exactly, how many nieces and nephews do you have?"

"About 300," he said.

So, Jose...what do birthdays cost you? Yikes!


A couple of new links that have been brought to my attention over the last few days...

  • At Home Plate -- A good site for you fantasy players out there. The most recent article is about some "dark horse" pitchers, guys who could put up good numbers if everything falls right. So would be surprised/concerned that most of them come from the Orioles, Royals, Brewers, and Tigers?

  • @TheBallPark -- Chris is another guy who is big on fantasy baseball, and the research that goes into a good draft. He's made a couple trips to the Vet, and had an astute observation: "I thought the SkyDome was a soulless hunk of junk until I sat in the Vet." So, Chris, I should try to hit SkyDome when I am in Toronto in May?

    Last but not least...

  • Broad and Pattison Weekly Review -- All the news and notes fit to print concerning the Phillies. They have the entire Spring Training schedule up, as well as some info on former Phillies. A good source for names and numbers in red pinstripes.

    You can find these links in the menus to the left...

  • First off, my apologies for not writing all weekend. As you get used to this blog, you'll notice that weekend entries are rare. I tend to write when I am at work, since that is when I am in front of a computer. I have a computer at home, but generally don't have the free time to use it. Add in the fact that I was home sick Friday, and getting water out of my basement this weekend, and it wasn't a high priority to post in here. Such is life... So in general, you'll get me Monday-Friday, with a few "special" weekend entries. If you want more than that, well, then you will have to run my errands for me.

    Leadoff off...

    Matt from Phillies Depth Chart was in fact reading the earlier posting on Jimmy Rollins and the leadoff spot, and did chime in with some news on Marlon Byrd. Byrd's OBP in the minors was more than good, with his .362 last year in Scranton being his lowest on base output in three years. He did hit leadoff on occasion last year, but the lineup was anything but consistent. But Matt thinks that while Marlon may be the long-term answer at leadoff, he is not the solution in his rookie year. I tend to agree with that -- there will be less pressure for him to adjust to the majors as an everyday player in the 7- or 8-spot in the lineup rather than hitting leadoff and trying to learn and be patient at the same time. Also, Marlon is not an extremely patient hitter, as his career-high of 52 walks is comparable with Jimmy's number last season.

    That said, the differences in their OBPs is equivalent to the differences in their batting averages. As Matt argues, "A return to at least his (Rollins's) career average (.262) should be expected, and I'm predicting .270, since he is a year older and worked with Gwynn in the offseason. That, by itself would get his OBP over .340, which is sufficient for a leadoff hitter." So if Jimmy can raise his average while remaining as patient (if not more so) at the plate, his OBP should rise to acceptable leadoff levels.

    Thanks, Matt, for the help with Byrd.

    News and notes

    The Philly papers were quiet this weekend on the Phillies (did Thome not step in the cage?), but there is a little news...

    The Daily News reports that Jimmy Rollins is getting comfortable with the consistancy that Placido Polanco brings to the double team combination, "after 2 straight years of playing hockey goalie to irregular tosses from departed second baseman Marlon Anderson." It strikes me as funny that while Marlon Anderson was in town, his defense was constantly improving; now that he's gone, though, it was like we had the wild Chuck Knoblauch in town.

    Source of concern: top pitching prospect Ryan Madson has been shut down indefinitely due to soreness in his right (pitching) elbow. Nothing more has been said at this time.

    Marcus Hayes reports on some more batting practice moments, this time from the pitching side. It appears that the finely-permed Vicente Padilla has the heat working early in the spring, as he sawed the bat of Jason Michaels in half with a fastball that kept running in. Better the bat than Michaels himself.

    Paul Hagen wastes fine space in the paper with a ridiculous story of Curt Schilling wanting to return to Philly. Yes, Schilling has stated that he would be open to returning to Philly when his contract in Arizona runs out, but to report and believe a back-room rumor (and that's all it is until there is proof) that Curt tried to force a trade back to Philly this offseason...well, you are just wasting my time. Call me in winter, 2004, when Curt's contract is up and he's asking for a good cheesesteak.

    And finally, Jim Salisbury of the Inquirer has an article that states that Larry Bowa must find a setup man. Why use the word must? First of all, I think it's pretty clear that Terry Adams has come into camp in that role, and it's his to lose. Second, why must Bowa decide on a setup man now, if at all? Many people, including many of you, argue that the idea of a "closer" is a ridiculous notion. I won't get into that particular argument right now, but the same theory exists here.

    The roles of bullpen pitchers have become so defined over the last few years, that few of them stay in the game for more than a few batters or a few outs. The theoretical bullpen looks like this: Mesa is your closer, so he's coming in in the 9th, no earlier. Adams is your set-up guy, so he'll come in in the 8th...maybe with 2 outs in the 7th. Cormier and Plesac are the lefties in the 'pen, so they will come in to face one, maybe two, batters during the later innings.

    The need to declare a setup man now is as ridiculous as the need to declare a closer. First off, you have all spring to define these roles. Second, why do you need these roles anyway? Each pitcher has his to those strengths as the game dictates. If there are 2 outs in the 9th and you need a lefty, take Mesa out and call in Plesac. If you are running short on arms, run Adams out there in the 6th and let him go a couple of innings. If you need some heat, bring in Silva for a few batters. There shouldn't have to be a set flexible, and let the game situation dictate what you do.

    At any rate, the guys with links of the left have written much more on the 'need' for closers. I won't re-write the argument.

    Thursday, February 20, 2003

    Jay Jaffe was kind enough to plug my site over at The Futility Infielder and mentioned how the title of my site referred to the cheap(er) seats at the Vet. He's curious, however, as to what I'll do when the Phils open the new ballpark...

    Jay, the title of my blog stays the same...and I'll probably still be sitting at the Vet. I just ask that someone get me out of there before they implode the place to make room for a parking lot.

    That ball is outta here!

    The Phillies Spring Training home run fascination continues, but this time it's not about Jim Thome. The victim of today's attention is Gavin Floyd -- pitching prospect Gavin Floyd. According to Philadelphia Daily News columnist Marcus Hayes, Floyd crushed a pitch over 400 feet, driving it over two fences in left-centerfield before it landed on an access road outside of the training complex.

    Would someone check for cork in that bat, please?

    More on Rollins

    Both the Inquirer and the Daily News had pieces today about Jimmy Rollins and his importance as the leadoff man in this lineup. Both articles spoke about how Rollins spent part of the winter working out with Tony Gwynn, learning to hit line drives and grounders as opposed to the fly balls he was hitting last season. As we have discussed previously here, the offense will key on Jimmy's ability to get on base and kick-start this offense.

    Interestingly, Larry Bowa said that there were options if Rollins failed in the leadoff spot, and specifically mentioned David Bell, Placido Polanco, and rookie Marlon Byrd. The only one of those three I would consider would be Byrd, but I don't know whether or not he's suited for that role. Maybe if Matt from Phillies Depth Chart is reading, he could help me out on that.

    Wednesday, February 19, 2003

    Links, links, and more links

    You like links, right? Well, I have some for you today. The sites linked to along the left side of the screen are what I read on a daily basis, and I highly recommend them. The news sites and ESPN columns you will likely recognize (if you don't, how did you stumble upon this place?), but I will highlight some of the other links today, and new ones as I get them. So as not to offend anyone, I'll just go down the list as you see it.

  • Around The Majors Reports -- A Lee Sinins's creation, along with the Baseball Encyclopedia and Baseball Immortals site, the ATM Reports is a daily e-mail filled with news and insight that Lee has collected from around the league. What his sources are, I don't know, but Lee gets every last bit of news out there. And while I generally don't pay for baseball news, the $30 I spent on the Baseball Encyclopedia is worth every cent.

  • The Prospect Report -- Running daily during the season, this e-mail catches you up on the nightly performances of some of the top prospects in the minor leagues. A must-read for those fantasy nuts -- like me -- who want the edge on the new guys coming up from AAA.

  • Phillies Depth Chart -- Matt found me, and I am glad he did. His site lists the depth charts for not only the Phillies, but each of the minor-league teams. He also lists his top Phillies prospects, and gives his own review of each player, from the Vet on down to the rookie league.

  • Aaron's Baseball Blog -- Aaron offers his view on baseball, most recently on the Red Sox's new "attraction" to stats, and reasons why Rickey Henderson would be a good low-cost signing.

  • Bambino's Curse -- Edward keeps us up to date on the Red Sox as they try to win the World Series and end that blasted curse. The Sox aren't my favorite team, but they are always interesting...on some level.

  • Baseball Musings -- Mentioned earlier this morning, David gives us his insight on news and notes from around the league and beyond. He is currently wondering why teams have "voluntary" and "mandatory" arrival dates for Spring Training. If you figure it out, let us all know.

  • Boy of Summer -- Travis describes his site as "a fan's notebook". He recently offered a preview of the Phillies, and thinks that they will actually be playing playoff baseball this year. Blame any sort of jinx on him.

  • The Cub Reporter -- This Cubbies fan offers his thoughts on the Wrigley faithful, and yesterday shared his opinion on ephedrine supplements.

  • Elephants in Oakland -- A viewpoint from a couple of A's fans, who recently offered a play-by-play of the A's fanfest activities. They told me that they started the site to teach a female friend the intricacies of the game; it must have worked, as they say she now throws a fit when someone swings at a 3-1 pitch outside the strike zone. Job well done.

  • The Futility Infielder -- Jay is dreaming the dream we've all dreamed since we were kids...and he is sharing his thoughts in his online journal.

  • Mike's Baseball Rants -- A Phillies fan named you need another reason to read? He is offering his thoughts on the burnout case that is A.J. Burnett.

  • Only Baseball Matters -- John's blog was the first I found, and got me thinking about starting my own. He's always good for a thought-provoking read, and I get the impression that he feels that Livan Hernandez has worn out his welcome by the Bay.

  • The Southpaw -- This Southpaw is a self-pronounced fantasy junkie, who is currently sharing his thoughts on Rickey Henderson and Barry Bonds's autograph rules ("kids only!"). He recently put me in his "Starting 9" -- I'm honored!

  • Twins Geek -- The title says it all. John is currently explaining why we shouldn't call it the "Homerdome". But, John, it's a catchy nickname!

    A special thank you to these guys and a few others who have yet to be listed for helping me find a home here, promoting my corner of the blogging world, and offering me thoughts and opinions I wouldn't get anywhere else. If you haven't found them yet, go read. That's an order!

  • On Friday, Will Carroll, who has taken his Under The Knife work to Baseball Prospectus, released his Team Health Report on the Phillies. If the least we have to worry about right now is the pitching staff holding up and not being overused, and that Thome's back may cause him problems later in his contract, I think we are in good shape. *knocks on wood* As long as our pitchers stay out of bunting practice (see below), we will enter the exhibition phase of spring helathy.

    In one of his posts yesterday, David Pinto commented that it must be a sad news day when a spring training homer is front-page news. I took that tongue-in-cheek, but here in Philly, it has been true. Since Jim Thome first stepped into the cage on Friday, he has been hitting moon shots, and the Philadelphia media has been covering his every swing. But he captured everyone's attention on Monday with a shot that has been estimated to be in the neighborhood of 538 feet.

    That's all well and good, folks, but correct me if I am wrong -- first week of Spring Training and you're being served softballs from the manager...aren't you supposed to crush the ball? Why the unnecessary fuss?

    Tuesday, February 18, 2003

    It seems that this little site is getting some readers. How do I know? Well, more people are agreeing to allow me to link to their sites (check out the Other Blogs section in the links to the left); also, I am getting e-mail. Nothing kills more time during the work day than e-mail, so keep them coming. When I get the chance, I'll post some of the responses here, and we'll keep the discussion going.

    Jordan, a "true Yankees fan", wrote me in response to my Steinbrenner query, but had a comment about my Phillies lineup, as well. He argues that RF Bobby Abreu has too much power to hit leadoff, but agrees with me that he should hit in front of Thome, get on base, and theoretically give Thome more guys to drive home. Jordan, I stated that Abreu "may be the best Phillie for that role" -- not that that role was the best for him.

    If the job of the leadoff man is to get on base and work a pitcher, Abreu is the Phillie best suited for that role. His OBP last season was .413 (.409 career), highest among the regulars in the lineup. He also saw 4.27 pitches per at-bat, 3rd best figure in the majors. He has patience and the ability to get on base. But Bobby Abreu is not your quintessential leadoff man; Jordan is right in that he belongs further down in the order where he can use his power and speed to the highest advantage. I have always thought that he was perfect in the 3-hole because he has the ability to drive in baserunners that get on ahead of him while getting on base himself for the guys further down the order. I think he's best at 3, and he will more than admirably do the job at 5, if that's where Larry Bowa puts him. But if you are looking for the Phillie that is best suited to hit leadoff, I think you have to look at Abreu.

    John Bonnes, the Twins Geek himself, chimed in with his two cents. He feels that "clogging the bases in front of Abreu with Burrel and Thome is moronic. Plus, it devalues Rollins biggest asset - speed - if Thome is hitting just two spots behind him." I couldn't agree with that more. Hit Abreu 3rd, and let Jimmy run. If he gets caught, so be it, chances are that Abreu will get on base himself, keeping the RBI opportunity open for Burrell and Thome. Whereas, if Thome is hitting 3rd, Jimmy is less likely to run for the ever-present fear of "running yourself out of an inning." But John poses a more important question:

    Lead-off.....The problem with Rollins NOT batting lead off is, if not there, where? Are you going to put your speed guy in front of your pitcher? Are you going to put him at #2 behind Polanco (or Byrd)? If he fails, it almost looks like you should just bump up the order: Polanco, Abreu, Burrel, Thome, Lieby/Bell, Rollins, Byrd, Bell/Lieby and pitcher. At least then you might get him station to station for the #8 guy to drive in. He really could be the key to this offense jumping into overdrive.

    Off the top of my head, if Rollins fails at leadoff, I'd say you have to hit him #2. I don't think you want to hit him #8 -- if he can't get on base as leadoff, he's not going to get on at #8, leaving you with the pitcher leading off more than you want him to. John's suggestion of #6 is intriguing, and the Phillies have hit him there before, but I'm not sure you want to weaken the middle of your lineup that way (actually, I'm not sure I'd want it getting into Jimmy's head that at #6 he has to supply more power -- that got him out of his game last year). But honestly, I don't know what you do if Rollins fails at leadoff. If I were Larry Bowa and had to make the decision right now, this is what I come up with:


    But that's a shot in the dark, and it would never happen anyway. Regardless, I think Rollins will turn it around this year. I think his sessions with Tony Gwynn will help, and he will continue to become more patient.

    I hope I'm right...

    Harry Kalas: Marlon Byrd is at second, Bell leads away from first with no one out. Rheal Cormier will most certainly be laying down a sacrifice bunt here.

    Larry Anderson: It looks like he will, Harry. The trainer is getting the ice pack ready.

    That's how the play-by-play could have gone had this happened in July. Instead, it's just another Spring Fling to laugh at. It is unclear whether Cormier was trying to get out of wind sprints, or if he just mis-hit the ball; either way, he received a pretty good shiner to his left eye after a ball richocheted off his bat and onto his face during bunting drills on Sunday. The injury is not considered serious, and Cormier shouldn't miss any work, although he hopes to "get a few days off from bunting now". Good luck, Rheal.

    Monday, February 17, 2003

    Jayson Stark has an article about the changing atmosphere in the Phillies clubhouse this spring. It's been covered quite often this winter about how the free-agent signings and the Millwood deal have changed the perception of the Phillies from loveable (but not quite as loveable as the Cubbies) losers into a team that has a positive air about it and a real chance to win. But the key is the perception of the players -- do they feel they have a chance to win, and is that perception real or just spring-time hopes. I think this quote from the nearly-retired Dan Plesac sums it up:

    "I'm here," said 41-year-old reliever Dan Plesac, "because he's here. Up to about the first week of December, I was still set on retiring. But for me, Bell and Thome changed the whole complexion of this team.

    "To me, to play just to play didn't excite me enough to want to come back. But to play on a team that has a legitimate chance to do something was a different matter. That played a big part in changing my mind. This is about as upbeat a situation as I've been in for a long time. This has a chance to be a very special team."

    I think that says a lot about the mental makeup of this team heading into the season, as well as how the organization has changed their image -- players want to come to Philly, and they feel they have a chance to win here. Let's hope it actually happens.

    Sunday, February 16, 2003

    Padres closer Trevor Hoffman is in danger of missing the entire 2003 season, and according to Lee Sinins -- creator of the invaluable Baseball Encyclopedia -- if he waits too long to have surgery, could put the 2004 season in question. We could argue about the value of a "closer" until we are blue in the face, but there is little doubt that Hoffman is a valuable pitcher for the Padres. What this means for San Diego is an obvious reshuffling of the bullpen; but for a team that is building, this is not necessarily a bad thing. If there is one area where the Padres appear to be strong in the minor leagues, it is at pitcher. It should be interesting to keep on eye on the Padres as they work out in Arizona to see what they plan to do...just one of the many Spring Training stories.

    Friday, February 14, 2003

    Quick note here...I'm avoiding work on a Friday afternoon and reading about Steinbrenner's "problems" with Derek Jeter and Joe Torre. The New York Post went so far as to have a headline of "Camp Chaos". Allow me to pose this question to Yankees' fans out there: why is this spring any different than any other under Steinbrenner? It seems to me that we hear these stories each and every year.

    Alright...back to your regular programming.

    Bob Brookover, writing in yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer, asks and answers five "key" questions for the Phillies as they prepare to open camp today. I'm going to take my own stab at answering his questions, from the 700 level:

    1. What's the batting order going to look like?

    As of now, my lineup looks like this:

    SS Rollins
    2B Polanco
    1B Thome
    LF Burrell
    RF Abreu
    C Lieberthal
    CF Byrd
    3B Bell
    Pitcher's spot

    Larry Bowa is going to be playing around with the 3-4-5 spots, as well as the 6-7-8 combination. The only flip-flopping he is likely to do with the heart of the order is switch Thome and Abreu, because he wants Burrell to break up the two left-handed hitters. But Bowa seems set on making sure Thome gets to the plate in the first inning, and has his 4 at-bats. Personally, I'd rather see Abreu hitting before Thome and Burrell and getting on base, giving the two sluggers someone to drive in.

    The Inquirer reports that Bowa is considering putting Bell in the 6-spot, moving Lieberthal to 7 and Byrd to 8. Other variations have the order as Lieberthal-Bell-Byrd. The reasoning for mine is that you have Lieberthal protecting Abreu, adding just a little more pop after the heart of the order. He won't be asked to carry too large an offensive load this season, so maybe by having him in the 6-spot, he plays relaxed, yet still has RBI opportunities when the big boppers get on base before him. As for Byrd and Bell, you really could flip-flop these. My thinking is that Byrd's hitting style is not quite suited for the 8-hole in the lineup, and as a veteran hitter, Bell is better suited for being patient at the plate, getting on base, and turning the lineup over. But if Byrd does not make the Major League transition well, and Bell struggles, this could be a black hole in the lineup.

    The key to everything, of course, is Rollins at the top of the order. Rollins evidently spent the winter working with hit machine Tony Gwynn on just making contact; there were too many occasions last year in which Rollins was looking to drive the ball rather than just smack it, put it in play, and use his speed to get on base. Rollins's .306 OBP (.316 career) is flat-out awful for a leadoff hitter -- heck, it's not good for anyone. But the Phillies need him to put the ball on the ground, beat it out, and just get on base. His ground ball-to-fly ball ratio was only 1.19 -- not great for a leadoff guy with speed. (To put that in comparison, Luis Castillo lead the majors with a 3.39 ratio, and Rollins's double-play mate, Placido Polanco, ranked 10th with 1.86). He also needs to become more patient at the plate. While his pitches per at bat numbers have increased every year -- from 3.56 in a short stint in 2000, to 3.85 in 2002 -- he still drew only 54 walks last year. Should Jimmy fail to get on-base at a more regular clip, the rest of the lineup will suffer because of it. And should he fail, Larry Bowa will have to look at another option, whether it be Polanco or Bobby Abreu, who -- although he has expressed his disinterest in hitting leadoff -- may be the best Phillie for that role.

    2. How is the rotation going to be set up?

    Heading into camp, Kevin Millwood, Randy Wolf, and Vicente Padilla are locked into the first three spots in the rotation. Penciled in to spots 4 and 5 are Brett Myers, who had his good moments in his half a season in Philly last year, and Brandon Duckworth, who did not. Myers, of course, was put on the fast track after being drafted a couple of years ago, and made his debut in Wrigley field last year with an outstanding performance. His ceiling is high, which is why the Phillies should be plugging him in to one of the last two spots -- let him take some lumps and adjust behind the front three, and in time, he will be more than a solid #4 man. Duckworth, on the other hand, is a mystery. He was never a very hot prospect, but made waves with good numbers in a 2001 call-up. But he struggled mightily last year, and it is yet to be seen whether or not new pitching coach Joe Kerrigan can make strides with Duckworth.

    Should either Myers or Duckworth falter in Clearwater, Joe Roa, Hector Mercado, and a couple of youngsters could be ready to swoop in and take their place. But count on these two pitching in the first two games at the Vet, barring a spectacular spring from someone else.

    3. What about the bullpen?

    Ah, the bullpen. Also known as the #1 reason that the Tums supply in my house is so large. As the only area that was not significantly upgraded by Ed Wade this off-season, the bullpen is full of "if"s. If Jose Mesa can hold it together for one more year... If Terry Adams can remain comfortable in the set-up role after finishing last year so strong... If Turk Wendell can come back and pitch like he did for the Mets 3 years ago... If Carlos Silva can continue to grow and improve... If Dennis Eckersley if 1989 showed up in the 'pen...

    I threw that last one in there to see if you were paying attention. Needless to say, anything could happen with the bullpen this year. Quite honestly, I can't expect Mesa to put up the numbers he has put up the last two years for one more. I think he's going to blow a few more saves, and we will have some moments in the heat of the summer where Larry Bowa is searching for another reliable arm. I think Adams will be comfortable as the set-up man, and I think Silva will pitch well again. I don't know, however, about Wendell...I keep waiting to hear that he'll be out until May, so I'm not counting on much. I think Bowa will have to do a patchwork job here for most of the year, and if the Phillies are serious about winning, Ed Wade is going to have to improve this area of the team before the trade deadline in July.

    4. What's the plan for Bud Smith and David Coggin?

    The hope is that both of these guys, coming off shoulder surgery, are ready to contribute by May. With Coggin, we know what we are getting -- a consistent guy who, while not spectacular, can fill the long/middle relief role in the 'pen, and is good for an occasional spot start. If he can come back healthy and give the bullpen some innings, that will answer one of the many questions on the 'pen. Bud Smith is still a question mark. He showed what he is capable of with a late-season callup with St. Louis two years ago. But he has been battling injuries since then -- will he ever be the pitcher people once thought he could be, or have injuries made him a bust? My guess is that he is somewhere in the middle. He'll start the season in the rotation in AAA, and will be called up to help the bullpen in the summer months.

    5. Can the Phillies win the division?

    Sure they can. The problem is, so can the Braves, Mets, Marlins, and Expos. On paper, Philly has the best team it's had in years, and they should be the favorites. But all you get from playing with paper are a lot of nasty paper cuts. The question is, can this team do it on the field, and that is yet to be seen. Can Millwood adjust to red pinstripes and carry the pitching staff? Can Thome adjust to NL pitching? Will Rollins get on base? I'm guessing yes to all of these questions, and I think that they will have just enough to get them past Atlanta and an improved Mets team to win the NL East.

    But I could be wrong...


    Couple of quick notes:

    -- C Todd Pratt has been added to the 40-man roster, per an understanding with Ed Wade when he signed his contract. Pratt replaces P Elio (don't call me Pedro) Serrano, who was waived earlier this week, and claimed by the Colorado Rockies.

    -- INF Dave Hollins was invited to camp. While he was not offered salary arbitration, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that if he is not signed to a major-league contract in the next week, the Phillies will sign him to a minor-league deal. No truth to the rumor that John Kruk and Lenny Dykstra will also suit up in Scranton.

    Wednesday, February 12, 2003

    Phillies news is quiet this morning, but there are a couple things that caught my interest elsewhere in the baseball world...

    Rickey...lose that number

    Rickey Henderson will not fade quietly into the sunset. Then again, this is Rickey...Rickey doesn't do anything quietly, does he? Henderson evidently has been trying to wear Billy Beane down, practically begging Beane to offer him a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. Henderson's agent has called Beane, and apparently Rickey himself has called Beane to ask for the opportunity. Despite only hitting .223 last season, Rickey still thinks he can help. From

    "I just want the opportunity to play baseball," Henderson, a free agent after playing in Boston last year, said in response to a fan's question. "I can give (the A's) anything they're looking for. They've got their starting lineup, but I can come off the bench. I can play the outfield if someone goes down. I can pinch hit. I can steal a base. I can score a run.

    "There's a lot I could give. I'm educated in the game, and I could help them win."

    Rickey's skills may have declined, but he can still do the things that made him Rickey -- he still gets on base (.369 OBP last year in limited play, .402 career) and he still can swipe a base when he wants to (8 for 10 last year). I can think of a few dozen bench players that would be worse to have, talent-wise, than Rickey. The question becomes, is he the right fit for Oakland? The A's have become, from all outward appearances, a very tight-knit group that have built a wonderful chemistry and have learned together what it takes to win. Rickey has never been a chemistry guy. Even if he were to bring his skills from 10 years ago to Oakland, I'm afraid that Rickey's personality would begin to break that clubhouse apart. Best case scenario is that Rickey finds himself an outsider in the clubhouse...which, knowing Rickey, wouldn't faze him in the least.

    But all of this is pure speculation...Billy Beane does not even seem interested, so it's a dead story.

    Turning Japanese...I really think so

    Am I the only one who pictures Kevin Millar floating on a boat somewhere between Boston and Japan? Or stuck in a never-ending Customs line?

    Anyway, this whole "Japan or Boston" saga could be ending soon. Apparently, the Chunichi Dragons are in discussions to void Millar's Japanese contract and send him back to Florida -- who would, in turn, sell him to Boston. The Dragons, meanwhile, may have found a replacement for Millar in OF Reggie Sanders.

    Reggie, I beg you...make sure this is what you want before you go. I'm sick of this story...

    Tuesday, February 11, 2003

    Terry Adams agrees to a 1-year, $2.9M deal -- The deal avoids the always-fun arbitration hearing, and closes the door on all Phillies arbitration cases (they had earlier settled with P Kevin Millwood and 2B Placido Polanco). Some look at this deal and wonder why the Phillies even bothered to offer Adams arbitration after a season in which he went 7-9 with a 4.35 ERA. However, if you break down the numbers, splitting his starts from his relief appearances, the deal looks a little better:

    Starting: 19 starts, 4-7, 5.00 ERA
    Relieving: 27 appearances, 3-2, 2.38 ERA (0.91 in his last games)

    When you look at the Phillies' bullpen situation, and realize that they made no significant upgrade in this area during the off-season, I don't think it's a bad move. Adams was effective in the set-up role, and I had far fewer heart attacks when he came into the game in the 8th inning than I did seeing him in the 2nd and 3rd innings of games. Adams will likely fill that set-up role again this year.


    In his latest column, Bill Conlin shares his thoughts on the pitching staff:

    Run an honest and objective competition for the No. 4 and 5 starter jobs. It should not be cut in marble that Brett Myers is the No. 4 starter behind Kevin Millwood, Randy Wolf and Vicente Padilla or that Brandon Duckworth is the No. 5. Joe Roa deserves to be allowed to pitch his way in or out of the rotation. So does 6-6 Ryan Madson, who was 16-4 at Reading and the Eastern League pitcher of the year.

    I agree with his thinking on this point -- but I'd like to think that these spots are not set anyway. Myers looked good and bad after his call-up last year, and should be better this year. Duckworth looked...well, he has high strikeout numbers, which usually bode well for a pitcher. But what if either one of them look awful this spring, while Roa, Silva, or someone else looks better? Do you want to start the year with someone who is already struggling? Go ahead and pencil them into the spots, but let's see what they can do in March before settling things.

    As for Madson, I'd love to see him open up in the minors; there is no reason to rush him along, so give him a little more seasoning at AAA. Let him get in a rhythm, and let him be the "next in line" should someone struggle or go down with injury.


    More later...

    Welcome to the 700 level, the cheap(er) seats in Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium. The 700 level has been made notorious, on many levels, by the Eagles fans that occupy these seats during football season. Well, the Phillies fans up here aren't much better -- there are just fewer of them. So what am I doing up here? Keeping my seat warm, waiting for the boys in red pinstripes to come north and start the season. The Mariners opened camp yesterday, and Spring Training has started. I, like many of you, am counting down to Opening Day -- I'm reading the news, hearing the trade rumors, and trying to come up with a decent name for my fantasy team.

    More importantly, the baseball thoughts and opinions are rolling around in my head (there is no off-season for that!). That's where this blog comes in -- I am going to use the "View..." to share my thoughts and opinions on the Phillies (and baseball in general) with all of you. And hopefully, if I am successful, you will share your thoughts and opinions with me. I know I am not the first to do this -- heck, I ended up here by reading other blogs, which I will link to. As I stumble upon more, I will add them to my "suggested reading", and I hope that I stir up enough dirt that they choose to add me, as well.

    With that said, let's take the field and start warming up. Opening Day is just over 41 days away!