TAKING THE LONG WAY HOME
Sunday, July 22, 2007
The Phillies are just about done with their West coast road trip, currently 3-3 with one game to go against the Padres. The team was schizophrenic in its series with the Dodgers, getting pounded 10-3 in the first game, pounding the Blue Crew 15-3 the next night, and the offense went relatively dead (with the exception of Ryan Howard) in the third game, losing 5-4.
Padres starting pitcher Chris Young dominated the Phillies in the first game, allowing only two hits and no earned runs, lowering his ERA to a Clemens-esque (circa 2005) 1.85. The Phils took the second game 7-3 with an uplifting outing from Adam Eaton, beat the Padres 12-4 in the eighth inning, making them 3-3 for the road trip with a tough task tomorrow in Padres starter Jake Peavy. A loss tomorrow would go down much easier if the Mets lose, as well.
Hang 'em and Bang 'em
On the road trip, first baseman Ryan Howard is 9-for-20 with 5 HR and 11 RBI. Even better is that he has hit 4 of those homeruns off of left-handers (two off of Eric Stults of the Dodgers, two off of David Wells of the Padres).
After putting up just 6 HR and 23 RBI in his first 29 games before going on the 15-day disabled list with a bad quadriceps, Howard has 21 HR and 56 RBI (1.058 OPS) since returning May 25. In those 49 games, Howard's statistics match what most other ballplayers consider a career year.
Howard has a 28.0 VORP, 42nd overall in Major League Baseball, but if he continues to hit like this, he could, once again, find himself as a candidate for the NL MVP award, where teammate Chase Utley is currently in the forefront. He is on pace to hit 45 HR and drive in 132.
Pat "the Walking" Burrell
Pardon the Chris Berman reference (when mentioning him, he always says, "Pat 'The Flying' Burrell"), but I needed a somewhat interesting title to start talking about Pat the Bat. Well, actually, Pat doesn't even really need his bat these days. He's slugging for a lusty .431, which isn't bad, but as a point of reference, Chicago Cubs utility infielder Mark DeRosa is slugging .441.
But don't let his .237 batting average and disappointing slugging percentage fool you -- he is among the league leaders in on-base percentage. That's right, Pat Burrell gets on base 39.5% of the time, but only gets a hit 23.7% of the time. He has drawn 65 walks, which is third-best in the National League behind Barry Bonds (96) and Todd Helton (77). Only one of Burrell's walks are intentional, and figuring that Burrell's offensive troubles make pitchers more prone to go after him rather than nibble at the corners, his high walks total speaks volumes about his eye at the plate. He's much-maligned in Philly for taking called strike-threes, but if I'm looking for baserunners in the late innings, I'm looking for Burrell to draw a walk.
"The Bat" would make a great lead-off man, too bad he has no speed and banged-up legs to boot.
Chase-ing the NL MVP award
Since I wrote this, Chase Utley has continued to hit, adding three singles, two doubles, a homerun, two RBI, two runs, and a walk to his MVP-caliber totals.
Prince Fielder, Utley's toughest competition for the award, hasn't done much since July 13. Other candidates include Florida's Hanley Ramirez and Miguel Cabrera, and Atlanta's Chipper Jones. Barry Bonds could get back in it, too.
In poker, when you see K-K, you're confident pushing all your chips into the middle of the table. For the Phillies, they were not nearly as confident when they looked at the starting pitching matchups for their series with the Chicago White Sox June 13 and saw K-K -- Kyle Kendrick. They were short-stacked in the starting rotation, however, and still had to push their chips in the middle and hope for the best. And they flopped the nuts.
Kendrick has made seven starts, including his Major League debut June 13, and five of them have been quality starts. For a quick-fix, Kendrick has been everything the Phillies could have asked for and more. His last start, 5 runs in 5 and one-third innings, ballooned his ERA a bit, from 3.82 to 4.40, but don't let that fool you. He's perfect for Citizens Bank Park, as he throws a lot of ground balls (and he's not lucky).
Instead of shopping for two starters at the trading deadline, the Phillies may only be shopping for one, and just for luxury, especially if J.D. Durbin can imitate Kendrick.
As always, the Phillies are looking to improve their pitching at the trading deadline, but they are met with some problems: their farm system is bone-dry, so they have no trading chips besides those on their Major League roster; and there is not much on the trading block. The Phillies have scouted Chicago White Sox starter Jose Contreras, but he's been awful since May 26: 10 starts, 60 and two-thirds innings, 7.57 ERA, 85 hits, 21 walks (1.746 WHIP). He's not worth going after at all.
Dontrelle Willis is available, but he'd cost too much despite the fact that he's had an underwhelming season, and there is no way the Marlins will trade Willis to a division rival. Matt Morris may be available, but he has been awful since June 17 -- 6 starts, 32 and one-third innings, 8.35 ERA, 59 hits, 9 walks (2.105 WHIP).
The Phillies are more likely to go after someone like Steve "Human Rain Delay" Trachsel of the Baltimore Orioles, who just returned from the disabled list and had a decent outing -- 4 runs (two scored on outs) in 5 and one-third innings. Trachsel only makes $3.1 million this season and has a club option for 2008 worth $4.75. The Orioles would probably send some cash along with Trachsel unless the Phillies traded a higher-earning player like Pat Burrell (who nixed a deal to Baltimore last season). Trachsel throws ground balls as much as fly balls (8 ground balls, 5 fly balls against the Athletics).
Kyle Lohse is another option. He's making $4.2 million this season and is a free agent come October, but he could be a plug for an otherwise leaky Phillies starting rotation. He has an ERA+ of 97, which is barely below-average. Looking at his graphs, his fly balls are up and his ground balls are down, which doesn't bode well in a hitter's ballpark, like his current stadium in Cincinnati and Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies should stay away from him unless the scouts think he can keep the ball down.
All this means that the Phillies should actually refrain from trading for a quick fix. If anything, they could trade some marginal role players for prospects. Namely, Wes Helms, Rod Barajas (who has been linked to a trade to the Yankees for reliever Mike Myers), and Abraham Nunez.
If the Phillies aren't believers in intangibles like team chemistry and grit, they would benefit from at least exploring potential suitors for right-fielder Shane Victorino. Yes, he's beloved by Phillies fans (he hit a walk-off homerun on his bobblehead day!), but the truth is, he's not that great. He has an OPS+ of just 103 (3% better than the average right-fielder), and he is just a marginal hitter in the two-slot behind Jimmy Rollins. He has excellent speed (29-for-32 in stolen bases), which benefits him both offensively and defensively, as he has the fourth-best zone rating in the Majors, and has made the most Out of Zone plays. In addition, he has one of the best outfield arms out there -- he's fourth in assists among Major League right-fielders.
This is just a personal opinion, but I believe that most of Shane's success comes from a lack of scouting. They didn't know he had such a great arm, and they ran on him until they got burned. It was noticeable when baserunners and third-base coaches caught on and stopped taking chances on him. In addition, most pitchers and their coaches did not know his baserunning tendencies (i.e. the counts he runs on, the tells he has when he's going to attempt to steal), so Victorino burned them on that, as well. Why not cash in on his success?
The Texas Rangers asked the Phillies for Victorino in exchange for reliever Akinori Otsuka. Why not? He makes $3 million this season, and, although he is a free agent following the season, he would be an excellent addition to the Phillies' shoddy bullpen. He has an ERA+ of 182 and has just a 1.082 WHIP. Brett Myers may come off of the disabled list in less than a week, and Tom Gordon pitched a perfect inning of relief in his return. Otsuka would take a lot of pressure off of those two to return to 100%. True, the Phillies would only have him for about two months, but the Phillies could attempt to re-sign him, and if he doesn't accept, they get draft pick compensation for him (he'd probably qualify as a Class A free agent).
In Victorino's absence, Michael Bourn would take over in right field. Bourn would definitely be a downgrade to Victorino in terms of power, but Bourn has more speed and utilizes it better (a perfect 15-for-15 in stolen bases), and gets on base at about the same rate (.337 OBP to Shane's .349). Barring a run-in with BALCO, he'll never hit for power, and the Phillies organization has never expected him to hit for power. That said, he'd fit in nicely in Shane's vacated #2 spot in the lineup, or they could shuffle the lineup and lead off with Bourn.
Useless Information Dept.
The Phillies have had the only two players in baseball history named Marlon on their team at one point (and at the same time, no less, in 2002): Marlon Anderson and Marlon Byrd.
In keeping with the theme of names, what is the record for the most initialed players on one team? The Phillies have had J.A. Happ make one start, J.D. Durbin will make his third against the Padres and Jake Peavy, and J.C. Romero has pitched 6 and one-third innings since being claimed off of waivers from the Boston Red Sox. That's three players whose first names are intials.
To illustrate how worthless win totals are in judging pitchers, the Phillies' Adam Eaton is among the N.L. leaders in wins, but is last in ERA. His team gives him a lot of run support -- that's why he has so many wins. He's making $8 million this season and he has a 76 ERA+. It's people who value win totals that make pitchers like Eaton so vastly overpaid.
The Phillies score about 5.4 runs per game, almost a half-run more than the second-best offense in the National League. They're first in at-bats, first in runs, second in hits, first in doubles, third in triples, third in homeruns, first in walks (and, subsequently, first in on-base and slugging percentage).
If only their pitching wasn't equally as bad. The Phillies give up 5.21 runs per game, worst in the National League, and rank 13th in hits allowed, last (16th) in homeruns allowed, 11th in walks allowed, and 10th in strikeouts. Their total staff ERA+ is 89 -- they are 11% worse than the average pitching staff.
It's no wonder the Phillies are around .500 so often -- they are an average ballclub. Best offense, worst pitching. Their run differential is 0.17. For reference, the Red Sox's run differential is 1.09 -- 0.92 higher than the Phillies', and hence why the Sox have 9 more wins than the Phillies. Pythagorean W-L is a great tool.
The Phillies have a favorable schedule coming up. During a six-game homestand, they play the Washington Nationals (41-56; 3-2 vs.) and the Pittsburgh Pirates (41-55; first meeting) before embarking on a road trip through the top of the NL Central -- the Chicago Cubs (51-45; 2-1 vs.) for four and the Milwaukee Brewers (54-43; 3-1 vs.) for three. They come back home for the Marlins (47-51; 4-5 vs.) and Braves (52-46; 4-5 vs.) for three apiece, then go on the road and meet Washington and Pittsburgh again.
With a 25-26 road record, the Phils hope to improve on that for the final two months and a week. They have been a group that gets hot during the second half, but it hasn't amounted to much as a result of their sluggish first halves. As we all know, the Phalterin' Phils started the season 3-9 and have been trying to stay above .500 ever since -- they have reached .500 fourteen different times this season. A loss against the Padres' Jake Peavy tomorrow would make it fifteen times. There has to be some kind of record for that (any takers for some research?).