Balls, Sticks, & Stuff
8/31/2004
 
Reasons to Watch Baseball
Phillies phans are feeling depressed, embarrassed, and even abused. They are wondering what happened, how did it go so wrong, and when they should turn their attention entirely to football. We'll have several months to decide upon the first two, but as for me, the answer to the last issue is "not just yet", for several reasons:

Ichiro - While playing on a horrible Seattle Mariners team, Ichiro Suzuki is chasing one of the longest standing records in baseball, George Sisler's most hits in a season (257 hits in 1920, hitting .407 that year). Ichiro has a great shot at it, he hits leadoff so he gets a lot of plate appearances. And, he doesn't walk much, putting a ball in play on just about every at-bat, often using his speed to turn outs into infield hits. I've seen many of today's best players - Greg Maddux, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Ken Griffey, Jr., Tony Gwynn, Pedro Martinez - but one player I have not seen, and would love to, is Ichiro. In the era of the longball, Ichiro is an entirely different player who uses an extraordinary combination of eye-hand coordination and speed to get on base.

Gavin Floyd - If the Phillies were in the hunt for a playoff spot, or if injuries have not continued to mount in the starting rotation, Gavin Floyd probably wouldn't see any action in the big leagues this year. The general consensus on this Untouchable is that he has been inconsistent at times this year, showing flashes of both brilliance and mediocrity while splitting time between AA Reading and AAA Scranton/WB. At the tender age of 21, he is quite young to be at the AAA level, much less the Bigs, and probably could use some more "seasoning". However, for those of us that have not seen him pitch this year, we can get a preview of the things in Floyd we have been hearing and reading so much about - intenstinal fortitude, a dazzling fastball, presence and poise - things that we will hopefully see for years to come.

AL West Crown and AL Wild Card - The A's, Angels, Rangers, and Red Sox will all face each other and compete with each other for two playoff spots during September, with all four teams entering the month on a high. The A's are doing it with pitching, the Rangers are doing it with the longball, the Red Sox are doing it with chemistry, and the Angels are doing it with a rejuvenated college punter. It's hard to root against any of these teams and its a shame that two of them will be sitting at home in October.

The Well-Oiled Machines A.K.A. Braves and Cardinals - Sure, phans wish the Phillies were the best team in the National League (instead of the Cardinals) and if not, we would settle for the best team in the NL East (instead of the Braves). But you have to admire the teams that actually do hold those positions. Both teams have used combinations of great hitting and pitching to achieve such lofty status this season, but probably the most interesting thing about the teams is that no one expected such performances from them. The Cardinals were expected to score a lot of runs, but were also expected to give up a lot of runs and finish third in the NL Central behind what we all thought would be the pitching rich Cubs and Astros. Instead, the Cubs and Astros have both faltered due to injuries, but is there anyone that can say they would have been able to keep pace with the Cardinals even without the injuries? As for the Braves, most pundits and bloggers and experts and everyone else picked them to finish second or third in the NL East, and the way the first two months of the season went, no one thought they had underestimated the Braves. But since then, particularly since the All-Star break the Braves have been a juggernaut with Bobby Cox and Leo Mazzone turning in one of their best coaching performances yet.

My fantasy football draft is Wednesday night and I'm starting to look forward to the West Coast offense - ala Andy Reid, the budding romance between Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens, and the emergence of Chris Leak as a star, but I'm not about to cancel my subscription to MLB.tv. Stay tuned.

8/30/2004
 
The Pathology of Phailure
On Sunday, by defeating the Brewers 10-0, the Phillies swept the Brewers for the second weekend in a row, six games in all. It took most of the season, but the Phillies have finally found a team they can treat the same way the Dave Matthews Band treats river tour boats. Which is coincidental because that is the same way the Marlins and Braves have treated the Phillies all year.

Despite having a less than 5% chance of making the playoffs, the Phillies recent hot streak has players very upbeat. Almost too much. During Sunday's rout of the Brewers, Marlon Byrd flipped his bat and showboated after hitting a grand slam, only his thirteenth career homerun. News that there will probably be more players coming off of the disabled list than going onto it could also be a source of inspiration for the players. While Randy Wolf's season is most likely over due to injury, the Phillies got very encouraging news on the rehabilitations of Pat Burrell (originally thought to be out for the year), Kevin Millwood, Ryan Madson, and Billy Wagner. Additional help could also come in the form of Gavin Floyd, one of the organization's Untouchables, who will get a chance in September to help the team finish the season.

But perhaps the piece of news that has the Phillies players seeing the glass half-full the most is the latest developments in the never-ending storyline regarding the cognitive behavioral experiment that is Larry Bowa. On Sunday, Randy Miller of the Bucks County Courier-Times/Burlington County Times/The Intelligencer/Calkins Media/PhillyBurbs.com reported that Larry Bowa will be fired in the offseason. Citing "team sources", Miller states that after several interviews with veteran players regarding Bowa and the coaching staff, Ed Wade has reached the conclusion that the time is almost now to fire the manager in the offseason as well as pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, hitting coach Greg Gross, and bench coach John Vukovich.

The anonymous team sources also confided in Miller that Larry Bowa was not Ed Wade's first choice as manager and that not only has Wade had to discipline Bowa, but so have the players:
According to one veteran, players became so frustrated at his behavior this season that a few occasionally put a stop to it by shouting at Bowa to quiet down during games. Others say Bowa finally became a changed man in July, which is around the time sources say he was ordered by Wade to control his emotions at all times.
The article does not state when such exchanges in the dugout occurred, but once they did, Bowa should not have lasted a second longer. When the head of any team loses control of his clubhouse, he needs to be fired, end of story. If the manager has lost control of the clubhouse he has lost the respect of the players, and if he has lost their respect it is impossible to inspire good play from them.

After being swept by the Marlins in July, Bowa stated he was embarrassed and that the players should be embarrassed as well. The argument could be made he was correct, but at this point everyone should be embarrassed, from the owners down to management down to the players and even the trainers, bat boys. Bowa may have a large hand in this year's failures, but well-run organizations do not have the history this team has amassed. The 2004 season is only a symptom of a chronic syndrome of mismanagement resulting in one failure after another.

Embarrassing indeed.

8/29/2004
 
Updates
Those of you who visit Balls, Sticks, & Stuff with any regularity will notice we've made a few subtle changes to the look and content of the website. As the banner states - "Commentary on sports...and other stuff too" - and most of the changes are related to the "other stuff". I don't intend for the types of posts we make to change, so many of the additions are in the sidebar.

There is a lot of "stuff" out there that we find interesting or notable so I've added "Links to Notable Expositions, Treatises, Incidents, Blurbs & Bull Sessions" to the sidebar, a sort of blog within a blog. "Notables" will link to articles, events, discussions, etc. that have caught our eye but might not necessarily lend themselves to an entire post, at least not at that moment. The blog within a blog will be updated daily.

Scrolling a bit farther down and you will find some of the things I am reading, listening to, or watching, with links to Amazon.com Associates. Feel free to check them out, make a purchase, or make suggestions. Even further down, you will see content placed by Google AdSense. Give 'em a click, because as Tony Soprano says, "I'm just tryin' to put food on the table over here..."

Comments, questions, or suggestions on our additions or any other content? Drop us a line.

 
Links to Notable Expositions, Treatises, Incidents, Blurbs, & Bull Sessions
A regularly updated list of what's recently caught the eye of Balls, Sticks, & Stuff. A blog within a blog.


September 3, 2004
Bill Clinton suffered a heart attack and is slated to have bypass surgery. Since the situation seems to be stabilized....Show of hands, who had today in the "Bill Clinton to Have Bypass Surgery" Pool? And am I the only one that thinks he might be faking it in order to get out of going on a trip with Hillary?

September 2, 2004
A few days ago I received an invite to Gmail, Google's attempt at web-based email. So far, the concept seems to be excellent. I have a set of friends that likes to exchange emails for days on end, with each email attempting to outdo the harrassing insults of the previous one (great friends right?) or talk trash, and the manner in which Gmail groups emails together in a "converation" format is perfect. If you can get your hands on an invite, I highly recomment it.

August 30, 2004...
...The Pearly Gates points out a column on SI.com lamenting the shrinking attendance figures at Turner Field despite the Braves success this year (both an annual phenomenon) and ponders the root cause. It's something I have always wondered about as well. The best answer I can come up with is that the only thing Southerners even begin to approach fanatacism on is being Southerners. College football is a close second and third comes NASCAR. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy living in the South amongst Southerners, they are a good people, but I think they are just too laid back to perseverate over a team the way Northeasterners can.

...When you have a videotape, why is DNA needed? "Well Mrs. Wilson, we have been able to positively identify the fecal matter that hit you in the head, and it was from Boyd Tinsley and not Dave Matthews."

...Tony Kornheiser is reminded of scenes from Old School while watching Olympic gymanstics. I can't believe I didn't think of that, Paul Hamm sucking on a Marlboro while on the rings should have come to mind immediately. Maybe that humorous image will help me forget about the 47 hours of Olympic coverage residing on my Replay TV hard drive recorded by The Missus, leaving little room for Baseball Tonight and Decisive Battles.

August 29, 2004...
...An interesting discussion has developed over a post at Shallow Center regarding the re-emergence of R.E.M. To this day, whenever I hear any song from R.E.M.'s Automatic for the People, I am automatically (of course) reminded of sophomore year of college.

...Michael Berquist of A Citizen's Blog fame is turning his attention to the Eagles, with an analysis of the Eagles defense. Long live Jim Johnson.

...Thirty-five years ago today, the Internet was created. However, this account makes no mention of Al Gore being there at the time.

...The Chicago Tribune previews the fall prime time TV schedule on the major networks. Some of it may end up being entertaining to watch, but in the end isn't everyone's interest in non-sports television 'mezza morta' until The Sopranos returns?

...For those of you that are afraid of (or looking forward to) the Republican Convention in New York City turning into a car crash, you can crane your neck at GOP and the City, a blog written by a "Missouri-born, Tennessee-raised, New York-Republican" volunteering at the convention.

 
Payne @ Pinehurst
The Story
Part of any golfer's summer reading list should be Payne At Pinehurst: The Greatest U.S. Open Ever by Bill Chastain. The book recounts the 1999 U.S. Open, a duel between two of my favorite golfers, Payne Stewart and Phil Mickelson. The tournament came down to the 72nd hole, with Payne Stewart holing a twenty-foot putt to win.

Added to the drama of the tight competition was the human interest story of Phil Mickelson, an expectant father with a wife due at any moment. Mickelson carried a beeper with him throughout the tournament and vowed he would withdraw the moment he found out his wife was going into labor, despite being in the hunt for his first major (at the time, Mickelson was still carrying the mantle of Best Player to Never Have Won a Major).

The Mickelsons gave birth several days after the U.S. Open ended, but unfortunately the story did not have the same type of ending for the Stewart family. Later in the year, the story truly ended, tragically with Stewart dying in a plane crash.

Certain events in life are so strong in your memory that you remember exactly where you were when they transpired. They could be events that changed the world, events that changed your life, or events that simply meant a lot to you because of enjoyment or sadness. I remember exactly where I was when I watched the 1999 U.S. Open and I remember exactly where I was when I learned of Payne Stewart's death.

What Tiger Woods Could Learn From Payne Stewart
Most modern golf professionals have had swing coaches. Stewart was no different, mostly employing Chuck Cook. At one point in the 1990's, Stewart and Cook had a falling out and stopped working together. Eventually, Stewart realized he was at least partially to blame and called Cook to make peace and reunite. Stewart went on to win the 1999 U.S. Open. Similarly, Tiger Woods has had a much publicized feud with the swing coach that worked with him through his best play, Butch Harmon. Many have speculated that if Tiger Woods would simply make piece and reunite with Harmon, he would return to the play that made him the clear cut best player in the world.

Cook made very few changes to Stewart's swing during the years they worked together, but one change he did make was to have Stewart fade the ball. Cook did some research into the great players in history and determined that 90% of them faded the ball (a slight left to right curve in mid-air), rather than draw the ball (the opposite, a slight right to left curve in mid-air). Tiger Woods insists on drawing the ball. It's possible that if Woods were to begin hitting a fade, which often sacrifices a few yards for better control, his accuracy would greatly improve (Woods ranks 175th on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy, hitting just over 50% of his fairways).

My Threesome Can Beat Your Threesome
One of the reasons I followed Payne Stewart's career was the fact that as a student athlete at Southern Methodist, he belonged to the same fraternity I did at James Madison. Certain members of my chapter were impressed that Scott Bakula, Deane Smith, John Ritter, "Skip" Caray, and Bobby Rahal were "Fijis". For me, the fact that Hale Irwin, Jack Nicklaus, and Payne Stewart were Fijis was much more impressive. These things are very impressive when you are 20, are they not?


8/27/2004
 
A Non-Phan's Take on the Phillies
Last night I had a lengthy phone conversation with one of my best friends, an ardent sports fan, particularly of the Virginia Tech Hokies and the Atlanta Braves. We discussed his wedding and honeymoon from a month ago, and he was rather amused to hear about how the deck lanterns he gave to me for being a groomsman were mistaken for bombs by the O'Hare airport security (seriously though, they look exactly like something Wile E. Coyote would have purchased from Acme Grenade Company). The conversation then turned to the NL East and then I was rather amused (and depressed) by his take on the Phillies:

"You know you are in trouble when your manager is your clubhouse cancer."



8/26/2004
 
Bonds (Not Barry)
Off Wing Opinion reports on the latest reports regarding the Expos reportedly imminent move to the Washington DC/Northern Virginia metro area.

Placating Peter Angelos is just one of the issues Major League Baseball has to address before the move can become possible. It appears that the Virginia General Assembly (the first representative legislature in America) may not be willing to issue the bonds necessary to finance the Northern Virginia option, which is also the option Angelos would probably put up less of a fight over. Governor Mark Warner (D) is a supporter of public financing for baseball, which should help if the issue ever comes to public attention outside of Northern Virginia, but there is no telling how the Assembly will act. After all this is a Republican controlled legislature that recently voted to raise taxes at a time when the state is experiencing budget surpluses.

 
Blueprint for the Rest of 2004 and 2005
Many of the Phillies pundits are beginning to turn their attention to next year, and hopefully the Phillies Brain Trust is doing the same. While I think improvements in certain areas are imperative, I do not think wiping the slate clean and starting all over again is necessary. The following is not a season review (it is only August 25th), but it is my recommendations to Ed Wade and David Montgomery from August 2004 to March 2005 in four parts: Everyday players, pitchers, minors/bench, and coaching.

Everyday Players
Though the offense has been maddeningly inconsistent at times - scoring 10 runs one night and getting shut out the next - but overall the offense has been good, ranking 4th in the league as a whole. Taking Citizen's Bank Park out of the equation, the Phils rank 5th on the road in runs scored. Much of the inconsistency is due to a high strike out total (which may not make a difference in the end) and poor performance with runners on base - and even worse when they are in scoring position. On the bright side, the Phillies batting average with runners in scoring position has to regress (or in this case, progress) to the mean, and high strikeout totals reduces the number of double plays. How is that for optimism?

First base - Some are calling for Jim Thome to be traded. Blasphemy. Thome is on pace for about 25 Win Shares, a total which usually equates to somewhere between an MVP-type year and a good year. Sure you can find holes in his numbers, but if you looked hard enough, you could find holes in Barry Bonds' numbers. Put Thome in the heart of the lineup and concentrate on real problems.

Second base - For the rest of 2004, I advocate playing Placido Polanco if it is possible for him to finish in the top 50% of his position, and then thank him for his yeoman service and let him walk in the offseason. If Polanco finishes the season in the top 50% of his position and then leaves in the offseason via free agency, the Phillies will get a compensatory draft pick. Several questions need to be answered for this strategy to be truly viable: What measure(s) constitutes the top 50%? What is considered Polanco's position? 2B? 3B? If it isn't possible for Polanco to finish in the top 50%, then the obvious stance to take is to make Chase Utley the starter now.

Third base - David Bell is what he is - an injury-prone player that plays well when not hobbled with injuries - and sometimes he even plays well in spite of that (Bell is on pace for 17-19 Win Shares, a good season's total in limited play). Is his contract too large and too long? Certainly and certainly, but trading him is not an option for those very reasons. My recommendation would be to stick with him and make sure you have a solid back-up.

Shortstop - Jimmy Rollins is another Phillie on track for a 17 to 19 Win Share season, which represents a rebound from his last two campaigns. He has cut down on his strikeout totals, increased his on-base percentage, and has played very good defense. Ideally, Rollins would not be batting in the leadoff position, but doing so is not the end of the world. My recommendation: Find a better leadoff hitter option (see Centerfield) so that Rollins can bat 2nd or in the lower third of the order. Also, begin to groom an heir from the minor leagues because 2004's improvement may be a fluke and if it isn't, Rollins will soon become too expensive.

Left Field - Before injury sidelined Pat Burrell, he was rebounding nicely from his nightmare 2003 season. He was still inconsistent at the plate, but if you had told anyone who follows the Phillies that Burrell would have accumulated 18 HR's and 68 RBI with a .833 OPS by August 3rd (his last game of the 2004 season), they would have gone down on bended knee and thanked their higher power. Recommendation: Pick up the tab on his surgery and put him in the heart of the lineup for 2005.

Centerfield - Significant upgrades need to be made here. Marlon Byrd was given the job in spring training, then lost the job and was sent back to Triple AAA Scranton/Wilkes Barre, and then finally brought back up in August and picked right up where he left off with a sub-.700 OPS. Some may say Byrd's crash was his own doing, some say Larry Bowa jerked him around, and some say he was never really a great prospect to begin with, but the truth is probably a combination of all those factors. Regardless, Marlon Byrd is no longer the Phillies centerfielder of the future and should now be viewed as either trade bait or a minor-league philler. Recommendation: If the price on potential free-agent Carlos Beltran is too high (which it almost certainly will be), package Byrd (with Brett Myers and Ryan Howard?) for a trade for a centerfielder that can bat in the one- or two-spot. After Beltran, the list of free agent centerfielders is mighty thin.

Right Field - Bobby Abreu ranks second only to Barry Bonds in terms of Win Shares among NL outfielders with 27, on pace for 33 or 34, a great season total. Many suggest that based on his abilities to get on base and then steal more, Abreu is better suited to the leadoff position. But, his .927 career OPS belongs in the three-spot. Recommendation: Get more baserunners in front of him to drive in.

Catcher - For much of the season I've stuck up for Mike Lieberthal, but even I can't deny that the Phillies need to begin to plan for the future. Lieberthal has had a career .787 OPS, but next year Lieberthal will be 33 years old and there are few, if any, catchers whose offense gets better the deeper they get into their 30's. Lieberthal's defense also draws criticism, but I guarantee that when Joe Kerrigan leaves town, Lieby's arm will resurface. Recommendation: Begin to plan for the future by grooming Carlos Ruiz and Jason Jaramillo (see Bench/Minors below).

Pitchers
Like centerfield, significant attention needs to be paid to this part of the team, probably more so than any other aspect. Entering the 2004 season, most people felt that the Phillies pitching staff would be one of the best in baseball with 5 good but not great starters and a bullpen with 4 million career saves. But, as the old saying goes, that's why they play the games. Through August 25, the Phillies rank 13th in the National League in team ERA (4.66). But before you blame Citizen's Bank Park for the inflated ERA, the Phillies have a 4.73 ERA on the road, still ranked 13th. The Phillies offense scores a lot of runs, so if the pitching were to perform even average, the Phillies would probably still be playing for something in September.

Starters - The primary starters for the Phillies in 2004 have been Kevin Millwood (free agent), Randy Wolf, Eric Milton (free agent), Vicente Padilla, Brett Myers, Paul Abbot, and Corey Lidle, all of which have increased their career ERA's (except Milton, who is right at his career ERA despite switching to a more pitching-friendly league) and many have been injured. Recommendations: Fire Joe Kerrigan and Larry Bowa. Let Millwood and Lidle walk; don't let Paul Abbot come back; offer Eric Milton 4th-starter-type money and not 1st- or 2nd-starter money, and if he won't take it, find someone who will and can put up a 4.75 ERA; take Ryan Madson out of the bullpen and place him in the rotation; take the money Millwood's money and sign Carl Pavano, even if you have to overpay him because it will strengthen the Phils while weakening the Fish; if Myers can't be packaged in a trade for a centerfielder, then move him to the 'pen.

Bullpen - Like the starting rotation, the bullpen has not lived up to expectations, much of it due to injuries to key players forcing other pitchers into roles for which they are unsuited. Fortunately, a bullpen is an area of a team where you can save money and improve it at the same time (many teams do it every year). Recommendations: Fire Joe Kerrigan and Larry Bowa; let Roberto Horrendez, Rheal Cormier (French for "over-priced gas can"), Todd Jones, and Felix Rodriguez (the 3.15 million he is due for next year is just too much) walk; pick up the option on Billy Wagner; Insert Gavin Floyd into the bullpen - I like the idea of easing pitching prospects into the rotation (first-year quarterbacks are rarely expected to start, why should we expect young pitchers?) - using him as a starter only after the All-Star break if someone goes down with an injury; as I stated earlier, move Brett Myers to the pen where he can hopefully manage to focus for just one inning; fill in the rest of the pen with cheap help the way other successful teams do, no more 3 million dollar incendiary devices thank you very much; groundball specialists or high percentage strikeout pitchers would be preferable in order to negate CBP's short porches.

Bench/Minors
The only glaring problem with the Phillies bench in 2004 is that they have been used too often due to poor play and injuries by starters. Tomas Perez, Todd Pratt, and Doug Glanville are free agents. Given the expected departure of Placido Polanco, Chase Utley's expected role as a starter, and David Bell's fragile constitution, signing Perez or someone like him his important. Perez does not have numbers or skills that overly impress, but one skill and talent he does have - he can play every infield position - is something every team needs, especially the Phillies. Todd Pratt's role is also important, backing up an aging starter. However, does it make sense to back up an aging starter with an aging backup? Perhaps the Phillies should let Pratt go and try to use someone else who can start more often (little known fact: Lieberthal has a $7.5m option for 2006, it vests with 1300PA in 2003-5 or 850PA 2004-5 or 475PA in 2005...in 2006 Lieberthal will be 35 years old, at which point his knees may not even bend anymore). And then there is Douggie...I think Doug Glanville would be a great guy to grab a beer and hang out with, he seems like a sharp and witty guy, but unfortunately, Glanville's skills just don't warrant a major league roster spot. My recommendation: sign Glanville as the engineer in charge of moving the Citizens Bank Park outfield walls back 10 feet. Additionally, re-acquire Rickey Ledee as a free agent, he makes for a good left-handed bat of the bench and for some reason he likes playing for the Phillies.

Manager/Coaches
Fire them all. It's too late to make any difference for 2004, but for Mr. Montgomery or Mr. Wade to wait one minute longer than the last out of the season would just be prolonging the inevitable. Over a month ago, I first speculated that Larry Bowa was no match for the Braves manager and if Walt Weiss's recent comments in the Rocky Mountain News are any indication, my speculation was more of a prediction. When an entire team underperforms, the managers and coaching staff have to be held accountable. So do the players and owners, but the owners aren't going to fire themselves and you can't replace all of the players. Suggestions on a new manager? Davey Johnson. He is an ex-Phillie with an appreciation for statistics/long-ball and is rather even keeled. Many of us have noticed that the coaching pendulum in sports swings from "easy going players coach" to "tough disciplinarian"...I think we know which way this pendulum is swinging.

Any questions Messrs. Wade and Montgomery?

8/24/2004
 
There's always next year
The Phillies have a lot of work to do for 2005. Most notably, the Phillies need a centerfielder to hit at the top of the order and a couple of starting pitchers.

I tracked down a list of potential free agents here.

We'll assume the Phightins bring back Eric Milton and let Kevin Millwood go. We'll also assume that Billy Wagner is coming back in the bullpen. With lefties Eric Milton and Randy Wolf, the Phillies most likely would want to target a right-handed starter or two. Pedro Martinez will be available, but one would guess that there will be a bidding war between the Red Sox, his current team, and the Yankees.

One pitcher of note is Carl Pavano of the Marlins. He currently sits at 14-5 with a 2.97 ERA. He has established himself as the ace of the staff, when he was only supposed to be their fourth or fifth best starter at this point, behind Josh Beckett, AJ Burnett, Brad Penny (who was traded to the Dodgers and promptly went on the DL) and Dontrelle Willis. Adding him to the rotation would not only improve the Phillies, but hurt the Marlins, a chief divisional rival. Matt Clement of the Cubs, Matt Morris and Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals and the Twins' Brad Radke will be looking for new deals, as well.

Carlos Beltran is the obvious choice in centerfield. Steve Finley isn't getting any younger and is likely to return to Arizona this winter. The man Beltran replaced, Craig Biggio, is also getting up there in age. Marquis Grissom? Wow, other than Beltran, this sounds like a list of candidates to replace Rafael Palmeiro in the Viagra ads.

The Phillies can sign at least one high-profile free agent this winter without significantly raising payroll. Millwood comes off the books along with his $11 million. Placido Polanco ($3.95 million) has his contract expire, as well, and Chase Utley is ready to step into his starting role. Rheal Cormier ($3 million) is the only other player making significant money with an expiring deal.

These are just some of the moves the Phillies might consider. Hopefully, whatever the braintrust is after this season can put their heads together and fix this team.

 
Myers as a closer
An interesting article on Phillies.com noted that Brett Myers may be better suited for closer role.

While he may seem to have a make-up for that, most of his troubles have come from an inability to locate his pitches. A simple move to the bullpen would not necessarily fix that.

Statistically, however, most of his trouble comes in innings 4-6, but he doesn't exactly light the world on fire in the first inning, either. Batters hit him to the tune of .273 the first inning.

Myers' 2004 has not - as can be said for the entire rotation - gone according to plan. Coming into the season, he was thought of by many as perhaps the best fifth starter not named Clement.

You have to give him credit, he's been consistent. Consistently bad. Other than May, when he posted a 2.96 ERA, he has not had a month in which he had lower than a 5.01 mark. Horrendous. And, that 5.01 ERA is in the current month of August. Tonight, he squares off with the equally combustible Carlos Hernandez in Houston.

Just as bad, Myers is actually second among the Phillies starters in ERA this month. Only Vicente Padilla and his 4.76 August mark rate better. Milton is at 5.11, Wolf 5.29 and Lidle (7.08) must be gunning to match his shoe size.

 
Contraptions
Balls Sticks & Stuff has mostly defended Ed Wade, but we are not drinking the Kool-Aid so much as to think Ed Wade is the best general manager in baseball, far from it. But if you would like to read a bit about one of the best - if not the best - general manager in baseball, direct yourself to Athletics Nation's three part interview with Billy Beane. If only the Phillies had such creative and forward thinking as this:
Blez: Are you concerned about injury problems with Huddy with that recurring oblique?

BB: That thing has popped up two different years. When it happened again, especially around that time of the season, it really raised everybody’s eyebrows and Timmy’s included. It’s strange to have everything else be healthy and then the hip be such an issue. The reason it has injuries is because he is so powerful. He’s so strong with his hip rotation and his drive. Rick Peterson measured it at the institute and he has the most powerful hip rotation in the league and because of that, that hip breaks down. We actually ordered a machine. It’s probably going to be named the Hudson Machine now. It’s a machine that specifically targets that area of the body. We realized that it’s like Achilles, to be so good and so powerful and have one small area of the body break down. And with this most recent injury, we were really conservative. That’s why we were slow to have him return. We were very concerned and that’s why we went out and ordered a big contraption to have it taken care of it for the rest of his career. We’ll cross our fingers.
Of course, if the Phillies were to acquire a contraption to manage the careers of their pitchers, it would be a Lobotomy Machine.


8/23/2004
 
Scream for Wins
Certain sports teams have had a song with which they have been associated. I can remember as a child the 1980 Phillies aptly celebrating their World Series victory to "Celebrate" by Kool & The Gang. As an even younger child I can remember "We Are Family" by Sister Sledge accompanying the Pittsburgh Pirates of the 1970's. At roughly the same time I was entering puberty (some of my best friends will say I haven't left it yet), rap was entering into American pop culture and the great 1985 Chicago Bears team did the "Super Bowl Shuffle". Of today's sports, probably the most appropriate relationship between a team and a song would be the intro to the Law & Order television series and the Baltimore Ravens.

If a song was associated to the 2004 Philadelphia Phillies, what would it be? Several days ago I suggested Bobby Brown was probably going through Larry Bowa's head, but as the Phillies head to Houston to take on the Astros for a three game set, Ben Arthur's "Keep Me Around" might be emanating from the cabin speakers in the team's chartered jet:

Knit a sweater of my hair
String a necklace of teeth
Or just lean me there
On the backporch where
I can feel the breeze

Keep me around
My whole life long
And when I’m gone
Don’t you bury my bones
Keep me around

It’s not that I’m jealous
I’d jut make a lovely stand for umbrellas
And you can toss your keys
Into the caps of my knees
When you come back from town

Pickle my fingers in liquor
Leave them roll in a drawer
And you can hang your clothes
From hooks made of my toes
On the back of the door

Keep me around
Summer is contemplating about fading into autumn and those of us that follow the Phillies are beginning to contemplate about our fantasy football drafts. If the Phils are going to make us phorget about who to take with our first pick, they need to sweep the Astros just like they swept the Brewers because the Phillies arrived in Houston 8.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East and 6 games behind the two-man team known as the San Francisco Giants. On paper the pitching matchups do not favor the Phils Monday night with Corey Lidle taking on Roger Clemens, Tuesday night the odds get a bit better with Brett Myers facing Carlos Hernandez and on Wednesday with Eric Milton against Peter Munro.

Incidentally, if you are wondering what will grace the album cover of the 2004 Phillies soundtrack, look no further, Brown just delivered it to my doorstep:

The Scream by Edvard Munch

 
Around the BlogosPHere
@ The Berks Phillies Fans have returned. While the primary contributor J. Michael Weitzel has not given up on the Phillies, it seems he has given up on the single life. Stop by and pad his hit counter.

@ An interesting discussion involving strikeout ridden lineups has evolved over at The Phillies Fan. Anyone who has spent a cold February evening with Diamond Mind Baseball should check it out.

@ A Citizen's Blog runs his regular sabermetrically oriented statistics report for the Phillies. Despite their poor won/loss record over the past month, their offensive statistics aren't too...offensive.

@ Fire Bowa presents the best Phillies of all time in the format of a 40-man roster. If you are still change the channel when Scott Rolen comes to bat, you may want to stay away.

@ Phinally, Balls, Sticks, & Stuff recently discovered Blowa. Earmuffs boys and girls, earmuffs.

 
Free Check-up
The Phillies turned their heads and coughed for Marcus Hayes's piece in Monday morning's Daily News. Some players passed the test, some failed.

Chase Utley passed:
Chase Utley has become an assassin.

His bases-loaded triple in the eighth won Saturday's game over the Brewers. His bases-loaded, pinch-hit single yesterday in the 10th scored two runs that meant the game and a Phillies sweep.

Utley moved to .278 on the season with a whopping 51 RBI in just 209 at-bats. Extrapolated, that runs to about 122 RBI in a 500 at-bat season.

"That's unbelievable," manager Larry Bowa marveled.

And Utley's batting .455 as a pinch-hitter with three homers and 11 RBI. All this in his first extended season in the majors.

Todd Jones passed:
Reliever Todd Jones strode menacingly off the mound yesterday and woofed at the Brewers' Bill Hall on second base to stop stealing signs. It was the eighth inning, the score tied 4-4, one out with Ben Grieve at the plate, and Jones warned Hall to knock off what ticks him off the most or Jones would plant one on Grieve's body.

That's the type of mental toughness the Phillies could use more of, particularly Vicente Padilla, who failed:
When Magruder's pinch-hit double sank under Jason Michaels' glove in leftfield to break a tie in the fifth inning Saturday night, starter Vicente Padilla looked to the heavens, rolled his eyes...and fell apart.

Padilla proceeded to repeatedly shake off catcher Mike Lieberthal, throw 20 fastballs in 22 pitches and give up two more doubles and four more runs - an especially questionable course since his fastball, clocked at 94 early in the game, petered out in that inning to around 88, a vestige of his 10 weeks on the disabled list.

And for Amaury Telemaco, it wasn't so much a matter of passing or failing, but a matter of survival:
...on the nearly ultra-painful grounder that he took off the inside of his left thigh Saturday, perhaps limiting his ability to procreate after fathering two children: "I'm done. I was done before the game."

John Kruk declined to comment for this post.

8/20/2004
 
Bobby Bowa
Everybody's talkin' all this stuff about me
Why don't they just let me live?
I don't need commission, make my own decisions
That's my prerogative

They say I'm crazy
I really don't care
That's my prerogative
They say I'm nasty
But I don't give a damn
Getting girls is how I live


If it wasn't for that last line, I might actually think that Bobby Brown was going through Larry Bowa's head as he woke up this morning. Indeed, everybody's talkin' all this stuff about "Bo". All forms of media in all parts of the country have been speculating about Larry Bowa's termination. After every loss, the speculation increases, and every day, Bowa is still in charge. The rumors are actually flying so fast, that Peter Gammons can't keep up with himself. On Wednesday, Gammons reported that Bowa would survive to manage next season, but that his coaching staff would be wiped clean. Then on last night's Baseball Tonight, Gammons reported that Phillies players have been calling players on other teams and telling them that Bowa will be fired Friday afternoon. What did these players think when Bowa was standing in the entrance to the plane that was to take the team to Milwaukee greeting them like a flight attendant? "Hi there...hello...hi there...good to see you...thanks for losing with us...hello..."

When a season goes such as this one, there is no one person or cause to blame. It's a collective failure, hitters, pitchers, coaches, general managers - everyone. And while everyone can't be replaced, some people can. Fire Bowa now, replacing him in the interim with Charlie Manuel, and then in the offseason replace the rest of the coaches and find a permanent manager. By replacing Bowa now, there is a chance that Wade and Manuel and Arbuckle and Monty can find something out about this team that will help them fix it for next year.

Firing Bowa on August 20, 2004 won't save this season, but it might save 2005's.


 
Blame Murphy

Negatives from yesterday's 12-10 loss to the Astros:
- Todd Pratt hit into a triple play.
-Three consecutive releif pitchers gave up runs.
-The season is one day closer to being over.

Positives from yesterday's 12-10 loss to the Astros:
+The season is one day closer to being over.


8/19/2004
 
News, Notes, & Quotes
The Phillies continued their slide Wednesday night, losing to the Astros 9-8. Twice the Astros came back against the Phillies, erasing a 3 run deficit in the 4th inning and a one run deficit in the 8th. The loss dropped the Phillies 9.5 games behind the NL East leading Braves and 6.5 games behind the Wild Card frontrunner, the San Francisco Giants. The Phillies have lost 6 in a row and 8 of their last 10...

...Carlos Beltran drove in the two winning RBI in Wednesday night's contest, which brings a certain bit of irony since the Phillies apparently tried to acquire Carlos Beltran recently. Peter Gammons reported on ESPN.com yesterday that Beltran was placed on waivers, the Phillies claimed him, but the two teams could not reach a deal...

...In attempting to deal for Beltran, Phillies brass has apparently decided that Marlon Byrd is ideally not the player they would prefer to have in centerfield for the long-term. Additionally, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that Charlie Manuel is again scouting the Rangers after having scouted the team during the run up to the July 31st trading deadline. Manuel appears to be evaluating Gary Matthews, Jr. (no where near his father's rank of sergeant) for centerfield as well as Brian Jordan...

...If the Phillies do make a deal it is possible that the price, or part of the price, could be Placido Polanco. Numerous sources are reporting that he has also cleared waivers. The Angels reportedly have some interest in Polanco, and the Athletics still do after a flirtation in July, and if the Astros can move Jeff Kent, its possible that Polanco may become part of a deal that could re-materialize there...

...Ed Wade was non-committal in his committment to Larry Bowa, "Bo' is our manager...You can interpret that any way you want." Balls, Sticks, & Stuff knows how phans would like to interpret it...

...Jayson Stark and Bill "One Chair" Conlin have recently commented on how the Pharm system is not nearly as phull as we have been lead to believe. In today's Philadelphia Inquirer, Jim Salisbury has written a piece which appears to have originated straight from the Phillies P.R. department. The story examines the "high ceiling" of Scott Mathieson, the Phillies 17th round pick in 2002. Mike Arbuckle gushes about Mathieson's body-type ("we aren't selling jeans here!"), arm strength, and overall make-up. All of this may very well be true, but 91 K's, 46 BB's, 111 H's in 110 innings is not an Untouchable in the making.


8/18/2004
 
That's a Good Team on the DL
Today, on the XM Radio feed of ESPN News, Brian Kenney interviewed former Mets general manager Steve Phillips. Both Kenney and Phillips agreed that there is no team that depends on two players more than the San Francisco Giants depend on Barry Bonds and Jason Schmidt.

For the most part, when analysts make sweeping statements such as this I immediately become skeptical. Sure, that statement seems plausible given the headlines we hear and read daily, but do the numbers bear that out? Now, I'm not someone who believes that baseball teams should be managed strategically and tactically by using only statistical measures, but I do believe they tell a significant part of the story. Essentially, on the spectrum of baseball philosophy, I settle in a bit closer to Rob Neyer than Joe Morgan. I've played enough sports to know that chemistry and attitude and athletic abilities are fundamental elements of every play in every game, but I've also suffered through enough statistical courses in academia to know that statistics are a wonderful tool that brings objectivity to subjective arguments.

So, because the usual early evening thunderstorm prevented me from stopping at the golf course on the way home (central Virginia has had more rain this summer than Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco combined), I decided to fire up the Balls, Sticks, & Stuff primary research tool and statistical processor and check out the numbers and see if Kenney and Phillips were at least close to being right.

Using The Hardball Times statistics, I decided to informally examine the 2004 win shares above average (WSAA) for players on the teams competing for a playoff spot. The Hardball Times explains wins shares in great detail, but essentially, for every 3 win shares a player accumulates, one win his team accumulates can be attributed to that player. According to THT, WSAA compares "each player's total Win Shares to the Win Shares an average player would have received, given that player's time at bat, on the mound or in the field."

For most teams, the players are distributed fairly evenly, gradually ranging from 8 to 10 WSAA leading most teams down to -5 or -7 WSAA. But for the Giants, the subjective observations seem to be true. Bonds has a National League leading 26 WSAA and Jason Schmidt ranks tenth (first among pitchers) with 10 WSAA. The next closest Giant is J.T. Snow with just 5 WSAA, ranking 35th in the National League. In other words, if you were to replace Bonds and Schmidt with "average" major league baseball players, the Giants record would be 55-68 instead of 67-56. No other team is even remotely similar.

Expanding the comparisons to "non-contending" teams, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Randy Johnson (8 WSAA, 13th in the NL) stand out. The next closest to The Unit is Richie Sexson (who has missed most of the year with an injury) with one win share. It's no wonder the Diamondbacks are so bad.

But another team that seems to stray away from the trend of even WSAA distribution? The Philadelphia Phillies. Bobby Abreu has far and away more WSAA than any other Phillie with 14, ranking behind only Bonds and Scott Rolen in the NL, both season MVP favorites. As one would expect, Jim Thome is the next closest Phillie to Abreu with 6 WSAA (17th in the NL). And now the depressing part for the phans. After Abreu and the distant second Thome comes Ryan Madson (4 WSAA, hasn't played in weeks), David Bell (3 WSAA, has also missed significant playing time due to injuries), Rickey Ledee (3 WSAA while with the Phillies, traded away nearly three weeks ago), and Billy Wagner (2 WSAA, hurt a lot is an understatement). The Phillies have almost as many WSAA on the disabled list as they do in the starting lineup.

When Bill James created Wins Shares, he attempted to create a single measure that could be used to rank baseball players. He has done a great job and those that have refined the work have also done a great job. But I think they would agree with me that baseball is too complicated a game to expect one number to tell the whole story. However, I do think that the uneven distribution of win shares on the Phillies supports what we have all known for too long, that the Phillies roster as it is currently constituted is dysfunctional.

 
Holy Johan!
Bat-Girl chronicles the epic and eternal struggle between good and evil.

 
The Un-Midas Touch
Ever have the feeling no one you root for wins?

The Phillies have been broken all season long (technically its longer than that, but don't get me started), playing well in stretches just long enough to make your heart over-rule your head. You do the math and you know the chances against them are very, very, high, but still you hope.

It's almost time to turn my attention to football, but what awaits me there? The Eagles have had done very well the last several years, making it to the NFC Championship three years in a row. On one hand, I am thrilled my team has been in the hunt, but each NFC title-game loss hurts more than the last. For years the Florida Gators were perennial SEC powerhouses until I began rooting for them. Almost as soon as I became a fan (I enrolled in a graduate program), Steve Spurrier left and under Ron Zook the Gators have been also-rans in the SEC.

On Sunday, I was pulling for Justin Leonard in the PGA Championship. I've rooted for Justin Leonard for a long time, he and I are similar in stature, roughly the same age, and have similar games - not the longest of hitters, keep the ball in play, get it on the green, par is a good score (the only difference in our games is that he is infinitely better at all of those things). On the back nine, he was in control until two bogies coming in. He dropped into a three-hole playoff with Vijay Singh and Chris DiMarco and lost to Singh by one shot in the playoff.

Notice a pattern here?

Me too. No one I root for ever wins. The teams I follow might win a game, but they don't win it all. It's been since April since I had a significant win, Phil Mickelson in the Masters, and before Phil there was... Anyway, there were lots of headlines at the time exalting Mickelson's breakthrough in the majors, but there could have just as easily been a headline on The Onion, "Hapless Fan in Richmond Finally has Something in Sports to Smile About."

And so it is with great pride that Balls, Sticks,& Stuff can announce that the mascot of my primary alma mater, the James Madison University Duke Dog is in the finals of the Capitol One Mascot of the Year contest. Fans can go online and vote between October 11 and December 26, 2004, for who they think should be Mascot of the Year. To quote Mayor Daley of Chicago, "Vote early, vote often."

Hey, everyone has got to hang their hat on something.

 
Winning Math
The Richmond area has had an inordinate amount of rainfall this summer. It's gotten to the point that most central Virginians are saying things like, "another day, another thunderstorm". Coincidentally, Phillies fans are beginning to utter a similar statement, "another day, another loss".

Tuesday night's loss to the Astros is summarized nicely by number of sources and Marcus Hayes does a fine job in Wednesday's Philadelphia Daily News. After reading the article, I came away with this take home message:

Larry Bowa has stayed up a lot of nights analyzing the Phillies woes and has decided that you need to score at least one run to win a ballgame.

Someone call Bill James.

8/17/2004
 
Dues and Don'ts
Several weeks ago I pointed to an article in the New York Times that touched on the history of teams making the playoffs when down by "X" amount of games on July 31st and the bottom line was that the Phillies needed to get their act in gear. In today's Philadelphia Inquirer, Todd Zolecki runs a similar piece:

The Atlanta Braves had an eight-game lead over the Phillies entering last night. Chicago, San Diego and San Francisco - in a three-way tie for the wild-card lead - had a 41/2-game lead.

Since 1963, just 11 of 158 playoff teams (7 percent) have overcome deficits of at least 41/2 games on Aug. 16 to make the postseason. The Phillies were involved in two of those races.

In 1980, Pittsburgh had a 41/2-game lead over the Phillies in the NL East. The Phillies went 31-18 on their way to winning the World Series. In 1964, the Phillies had a nine-game lead over St. Louis. The Cardinals went 31-14, the Phillies finished 22-25.

In one of Bob Rotella's books, he discusses the concept of a player feeling he is "due". He recommends that a golfer who has not been making many putts should approach putting in a similar manner as a basketball player he once interviewed. In a particular game the basketball player - who was generally a great shooter - finished with a horrific shooting percentage for that particular game. Rotella asked the player why he continued to throw up shots even though it was obvious he did not have his touch that day. The player replied, "because I was due."

The Phillies have to believe they are "due". They've been saddled with a coaching staff that is just not working out and they've been decimated by injuries. Most of primary teams the Phillies have been competing with have all been playing quite well. Misfortune has been around every corner. If the Phillies are going to turn things around, they have to begin to believe they are due, that the Braves or Giants or Padres are going to come back to the earth, that there won't be any more injuries (Bell and Thome return this evening), and that the clutch hitting just has to improve.

Mr. Lieberthal, do not read this morning's Inquirer and grab a Bob Rotella book. Please.

 
NavBar (Not A Snack)
The creative folks at Blogger/Google found some loose change in the couch and have added NavBar, found at the top of this weblog. It's a handy little tool for searching Balls, Sticks, & Stuff - just type in a search term, hit "search" and you can find everytime we've mentioned "chase utley". Please, make good use of NavBar as we are paying the same amount of money for it as we are for the 'blog.

8/16/2004
 
We'll Throw in Kerrigan Too
New York Post writers Kevin Kernan and Michael Morrissey speculate in the Monday edition of the Post who will manage for the Mets in 2005. One possiblity discussed is Larry Bowa. Seriously.

When does the next shuttle leave the Philadelphia airport for the Big Apple? Balls, Sticks, & Stuff will pay for a ticket. And we don't mean in October after the season is over, take him now. We'll even pay for Art Howe to fly to Philadelphia and manage the Phillies for the rest of the season. We don't even need to fly down to Clearwater to think about it.

 
Out on a Limb
On Sunday the San Francisco Giants completed a three game sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies. Vicente Padilla made the start for the Phillies and pitched well until his emotions got the better of him in the seventh inning. With Jim Thome, Pat Burrell, and David Bell out of the lineup with injuries, the Phillies put an anemic lineup on the field - Placido Polanco batted fifth. But even this anemic lineup should have been able to score more than one run against Brett Tomko. Major league hitters have hit .292 against Tomko this year and so even with a lineup that wouldn't turn any heads, one run is unacceptable.

The Phillies dropped to 8.5 games behind the Braves in the NL East and remained 4.5 games behind the Cubs. But because of San Diego's recent success against the Cubs and the Giants recent success against the Phillies, there is now a three-way tie for the Wild Card lead amongst the Cubs, Padres, and Giants. The chances of the Phillies putting together enough of a run of wins to overtake all three of those teams looks less likely every day.

However, Balls, Sticks, & Stuff still has enough faith in the Phillies to say that, without a doubt, the Phillies will NOT lose on Monday.

8/14/2004
 
Another Nail
Saturday's loss to the Giants dropped the Phillies 8 games behind the Braves in the NL East and 4.5 games behind the Chicago Cubs in the Wild Card standing.

More discouraging than the news of the loss was the news of Jim Thome's shoulder injury. At this point, the injury will be evaluated on a day to day basis and there are no plans as of now to place the heart and soul of the Phillies on the disabled list.

Wonder what the Phillies chances will be without Jim Thome? Check out the lineup used on Saturday while Thome sat out.

 
Stumblings, Rumblings, & Grumblings
I returned to the Balls, Sticks, & Stuff home office Friday evening after a night out at the movies curious to see how the Phillies faired against the Giants. After seeing that both teams were stumbling to a 16-6 outcome, I disgustedly turned my attention to Jayson Stark's latest Rumblings and Grumblings, which I found to be chalked full oj juicy tidbits from around baseball. The Expos move to DC/NoVa and the Larry Walker trade were all touched on, but it was the "Phillies Rumblings" I found most interesting. Stark recants many of the issues Ed Wade ran into while trying to improve the Phillies at the trade deadline and then brings up another issue that I have not seen raised in the media or the blogosPHere:
Because Phillies GM Ed Wade wouldn't talk about dealing pitching megaprospects Gavin Floyd or Cole Hamels at the trade deadline, the perception of Wade in Philadelphia is that he's a guy who won't trade prospects. Ironically, the perception of him around baseball these days is that he might have traded too many prospects.

Just since last winter, the Phillies have traded Taylor Buchholz, Ezequiel Astacio, Nick Punto, Bobby Korecki, Elizardo Ramirez, Alfredo Simon, Javon Moran, Joe Wilson and Anderson Machado -- in deals that brought them Billy Wagner, Eric Milton, Todd Jones, Felix Rodriguez and Cory Lidle. So the reality is, they suddenly don't have much left above their very lowest levels.

"They're getting dangerously close to having an inability to go out and acquire players," said one NL scouting director, "other than signing free agents, just because they have so few projectable young players left."

If you don't count their short-season teams and their Lakewood club in the South Atlantic League, the scouting director said, "they're down to like three guys in the whole system" -- Hamels, Floyd and Ryan Howard -- who look like impact players in the big leagues in the near future.


Lately, I've thought that even if the Phillies should somehow pull off an amazing feat and make the playoffs, the team is certainly not built for any type of run in the playoffs and that significant work needs to be done in the offseason. Since the pharm system seems to be rather thin outside of the Untouchables, the work will have to be done through free agency or adding the Untouchables to the roster as trades using prospects seems very unlikely. The free agency route may prove difficult as well, as the Phillies have several players under large long term contracts. Some budget wiggle room will be created by players leaving via free agency (Millwood and Polanco to name two, but probably not Wagner as Stark reports), but probably not enough wiggle room to address all of the holes. For the Untouchables, "the time is now" slogan might not apply to them, but "darn soon" is looking very likely.

8/13/2004
 
A Little Perspective
Article via the Bill Simmons's intern.
(Registration required).

8/12/2004
 
Lineup Roulette
You're the manager of a baseball team and your offense has been weak for weeks. You shuffle the team's lineup, moving players around in the order, and your team scores 15 runs in a game. In the very next game, what would you do? If you say you would repeat the lineup, then you would be just plum wrong and don't know what you are talking about. Larry Bowa on the other hand is a real life bona fide major league baseball manager and he knew the right thing to do was trash the lineup that scored 15 runs the night before and try a different lineup. OK, you might say, well at least he'll use the same players and just re-order them in the lineup. But no, no, says Larry Bowa, that's crazy talk, lets bench the rookie that hit a home run last night and start the career bench player with a career .665 OPS in his place.


Use the same lineup that scored 15 runs?!?
Thats crazy talk.


Needless to say, Bowa's strategy did not work out as he had hoped and the Phillies lost to the Rockies Thursday night, 3-1. On the mound, Corey Lidle made his debut in a Phillies uniform. Pitching on only three days rest and in unfamiliar surroundings, Lidle performed adequately, allowing only two runs in 5 innings. The loss dropped the Phillies to seven games behind the Braves, an almost insurmountable lead. Fortunately the Cubs lost as well, allowing the Phillies to remain "only" 3.5 games behind.

Friday night the Phillies will begin a 3 game series against Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants, one of the Phillies primary competitors in the Wild Card standings. With each day that passes, accumulating wins becomes more and more important.


 
Chase
At first thought, having Chase Utley bat in the third slot Wednesday night may seem like a bit of a stretch. While playing well at the plate and in the field in 61 games this year, his career is not long enough to have proven himself as a run producer. In other words, he doesn't have the gravitas.

But a closer look at his statistics for this year prove it may not be such a stretch. In 187 at-bats this year, Utley has 12 HR's and 43 RBI. Extrapolated out to 500 at-bats, Utley's numbers would be 32 HR's and 114 RBI. Not too shabby, especially for a young second baseman. Additionally, Utley's .829 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) ranks third among able-bodied Phillies batters.

Sure, you'd like to have a higher on-base percentage in the three-hole (Utley is getting on base only 30% of the time) and of course extrapolating 187 at-bats to 500 AB's is certainly not the same as actually having 500 AB's. But given the Phillies other options at this point, it would be wise for Larry Bowa to continue with this lineup for at least a few more games.

8/11/2004
 
Wolf to Start in Leftfield?

Randy Wolf salutes the phans after his second home run of the evening.

Well, having a pitcher start in left field on his off days is a bit of a stretch, but maybe Larry Bowa should consider batting Randy Wolf higher in the lineup on the days he does pitch? Besides pitching well enough to pick up a win, Wolf clubbed two home runs in Wednesday night's game, going 3 for 3 on the night at the plate. Other Phillies batters got into the act as well with Jim Thome homering twice, Chase Utley hitting a three-run homer and Jimmy Rollins adding a two-run long ball. When the dust settled, the Phillies had beaten the Rockies 15-4. Another positive was that no Phillies were hurt in batting practice or in the game itself.

This is the kind of offensive output Phillies fans expected from the team all season long and it is certain the lineup card Bowa filled out Wednesday night will be reused Thursday, or at least a close resemblance. The first two slots were typical, Rollins followed by Polanco. Bowa then showed some creativity by moving Chase Utley up to the third slot. Jim Thome remained in the cleanup position and Bobby Abreu was dropped to fifth. Mike Lieberthal, Jason Michaels, Marlon Byrd and of course Randy Wolf finished out the lineup.

The only downside to the evening was that the Phillies win did not improve their position in the NL East or Wild Card standings as Atlanta and Chicago both won their games for the evening.

 
Blocked
Balls, Sticks, & Stuff has been a consistent defender of Ed Wade's efforts to improve the Phillies and point out the obstacles in his way here (possibly premature), here, and here. Perhaps his only flaw is his insistence on sticking with Larry Bowa ever since October of 2003. Today, BS & S has learned that another obstacle can be added to the list: waivers. According to Jerry Crasnick at ESPN.com, the Phillies had recently struck a waiver deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks to acquire Danny Bautista. Unfortunately, an unnamed team claimed him and Arizona exercised their right to pull Bautista back off of waivers, thereby terminating the deal.

 
Long and Straight at Whistling Straits
The venue for this year's PGA Championship, Whistling Straits, has received a lot of attention the entire season. It is a different style of golf course than most major championships played in America, and is more similar in style to the links courses in the United Kingdom used for the British Open.

The course is also garnering attention because of its expected difficulty. The course is designed by Pete Dye, well known for his difficult designs, and will be set up at over 7,500 yards, with several par-4's over 500 yards. Staying true to the links-style, the course is relatively flat and adjacent to a large body of water (in this case Lake Michigan) which is often a recipe for high velocity wind, which is the best defense for any golf course.

However, the course may not end up to be the monster that most expect. Blogger Vance, who has had the good fortune of playing Whistling Straits, offers up some past results of professional tournaments in his review of the course:
Despite its length, Whistling Straits is not as difficult as some players are making it out to be. It provides a challenge fit for a major championship. But unless the weather turns really ugly, the winning score will be under par. Keep in mind that a winning score of 1-under won the PGA Club Professional Championship when it was played at Whistling Straits in 1999. The course was set up at only 7,208 yards for the club pros (about 300 yards shorter than for this year's PGA Championship), but PGA Tour players are considerably better than club pros. Plus, technology has added 5-10 yards to drives over the past five years and the fairways are running fast.



 
Disturbing Trend # 367
In today's Philadelphia Daily News Marcus Hayes points out yet another disturbing trend for the Phillies:
Asked whether he was overtired or hurt, Worrell, 37, replied: "I'm not hurt. And [fatigue] isn't anything I haven't dealt with at this time of the year before."
Which raises an interesting observation. Last season, Worrell's earned run average in his first 50 games was 2.03; in his last 26, it was 7.80. Worrell hit game No. 52 on Friday.

A quick check of Worrell's numbers for 2001 and 2002 do not indicate fatigue as the year wears on, but keep in mind, Worrell is 37 now, older than he has ever been before. So while he may have been able to pitch through fatigue at the age of 34 and 35, it may be possible that he couldn't last year at the age of 36. We'll find out if he can at the age of 37.

 
Glavine In Car Crash
Thankfully, Mr. Glavine seems to be OK, but there are a few things we can learn from this story?
  1. New York Port Authority Police are Mets fans.
  2. Cliff Floyd has spent some time in prison and it is going to be awkward in the Mets shower after tonight's game.
  3. Taxi driver George Kovalonoks should have gotten AFLAC because as Yogi says, "If you're hurt and can't work, it won't hurt to not work."


 
Squandered Opportunity
It was easy for phans to blame Monday night's loss to the Rockies as a blown game by the bullpen, when in reality, it was poor clutch hitting that really did the team in. In Tuesday night's loss to the Rockies, clutch hitting somehow managed to shine, both in the 8th inning to take the lead 3-2, and in the 9th to almost (but not quite) recapture the lead, but coming up short, 4-2 with men on first and second. This time, it was the bullpen, Tim Worrell specifically, who blew his second consecutive save opportunity and gave up a run in his third consecutive appearance.

If you are one of those people that views a glass as one-third full (even optimists must concede that half full would be stretching it) then there are a few things you can hang your hat on from tonight's game. One is Vicente Padilla's start. Though he only had enough gas to go 5 innings, he gave up only one run on 3 hits, walking none and striking out five. Another would be that Jason Michaels homered, his 4th, to tie the game at 2-2 in the eighth inning. And if you are looking even further for the bright side, Chase Utley played some good defense at second base, throwing out Todd Helton at third base on a ground ball hit to the right side. Utley also made a nice block of the second sack earlier in the game as Aaron Miles failed in his attempt to steal.

While there was no change in the NL East or Wild Card standings as the Braves and Cubs lost as well, Tuesday night can be viewed as a squandered opportunity to gain ground. The Braves have won 31 of their last 41 and the Cubs have strengthened their lineup with the shortstop formerly known as Nomah and have finally gotten their vaunted pitching staff healthy. There won't be many more opportunities like Tuesday night.

8/10/2004
 
The Cone of Silence
Clutch hitting in baseball remains an enigma. For decades, it was assumed that clutch hitting was a skill or talent. Everyone can remember a time when a star player (more often than not star players are often thought to be clutch hitters) came up to the plate in an important situation and delivered with a base hit, scoring a runner or runners from second and/or third base. And because we can all remember such instances over the decades of modern baseball, we assume that there is such a thing as the talent for hitting in the clutch.

Then came Bill James and sabermetrics. James and others like him proved over and over again, statistically, that clutch hitting was really nothing more than luck. It's an idea that has spread because it tends to make sense when you look at the batting averages of particular batters season by season. One year, a player can be around .225, the next jump up to .305, and then down to .270. Did that player learn how to hit in the clutch one year and then sort of lose it the next? Probably not, it must just be statistical randomness, or noise as statisticians call it. But if clutch hitting is a myth, then why do we label certain players as clutch hitters? Because we tend to remember important events better than unimportant ones. A Bobby Abreu single with a runner on second to win a game in the bottom of the 9th inning is going to be more memorable than the RBI single he hits in the 4th inning when the Phillies are down by 5 runs. And for some reason, we don't remember the way Ryan Madson came in and shut down an opponents rally the way we remember the game winning hits. After all isn't a situation that is thought of to be clutch for a hitter also a clutch situation for the pitcher he is facing? Seen any clutch pitching studies lately?

So clutch hitting is a myth, right? Maybe. Statistical studies recently mentioned in a Hardball Times article suggest that there may actually be something to clutch hitting, it may be measurable and it may be significant. But that isn't why even the most sabermetrically-minded Phillies fans might be beginning to believe it might be true. They look at the .243 batting average the Phillies hitters have in 977 at-bats so far this year with runners in scoring position, ranking 14th in the National League despite ranking 4th in on-base percentage. If clutch hitting is just statistical noise, then Phillies hitting with runners in scoring position is the statistical equivalent of Agent Maxwell Smart's Cone of Silence. For a team to perform that poorly in the clutch is more than just bad luck. After 977 AB's, the luck should begin to sort itself out and the Phillies would be hitting much closer to their .261 batting average for the season overall.

It could be the manager that is the problem, or it could be the players as some have suggested. It's entirely possible, and even more likely, that the problems are both. It is too late for team general manager Ed Wade or team president David Montgomery to fix these issues for the 2004 season. If the Phillies are to make the playoffs, the team will have to overcome the issues without altering personnel, but by altering attitude and approach at the plate.

8/09/2004
 
Same Old Story
Monday night the Rockies managed to outscore the Phillies, 4-2 at Citizens Bank Park. Eric Milton turned in a good performance, surrendering only one run (a solo home run) in 7 innings while striking out 8 and walking only 2. Todd Jones, aquired at the trade deadline, has pitched well for the Phillies, but tonight was an exception. Jones took the loss, blowing a 2-1 lead in the 8th inning. Jones will get much of the attention for this loss, because he blew the lead late in the game, but the Phillies hitting should be labeled the real culprit, going 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position.

Poor hitting with runners in scoring position has been a well-chronicled problem since the season started. Lets take a look at the following season totals and rankings for the Phillies in the National League:

Runs Scored - 550, 4th
On-base % - .343, 4th
BA w/ RISP - .243, 14th
LOB - 873, 2nd worst

The Phillies have scored a fair number of runs this season, largely due to their large number of home runs, 147 (third in NL), a large percentage of which are solo home runs. But if the team would rank even middle of the pack in terms of batting average with runners in scoring position, their run total would be much higher, creating a larger run differential and therefore more of what really counts, wins.



 
Exorcism in Philly
Paul Abbott - aka the Devil - is done in the Phillies rotation. The Phillies have announced a deal sending two minor leaguers and a player to be named later to the Reds for starter Cory Lidle.

While far from a blockbuster, and Lidle will never be confused with Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux or Pedro Martinez, it does upgrade the starting rotation. Of course, placing a blind, three-legged mule on the mound in place of Abbott would have been an improvement too.

Throw out Abbott's April of 25.1 innings and a 3.20 ERA, and he had a 7.64 earned run average for the season. Terrible.

Lidle is far from an All-Star himself. He comes to Philly at 5.32 in 149 innings. He has managed to win seven games, however, compared to just three total wins by Abbott (only one with the Phillies). He has also managed to eat innings. Lidle averages over six innings per start and has tossed three complete games. Each of those came while the Reds were still in the race in the NL Central. Hopefully, getting back into a race will reinvigorate the 32 year-old righthander. Over the last two months, he is just 1-5 with an Abbott-esque 6.98 ERA. His last start, at Coors Field, was solid, too. He lasted six innings, allowing two earned runs and striking out six.

Abbott, meanwhile, averaged less than five innings a start, and had lasted six innings just once in his ten starts in Philly.

I meant to bring this up earlier in the year, but never got around to it. Did anyone see when Abbott was interviewed just after the Phils picked him up on the pregame or postgame show? He basically blasted the D-Rays for letting him go. They weren't going anywhere, and all he needed was time to work things out.

Well, the fact that they weren't going anywhere was exactly why the let you go. You're 36 and tossing watermelons up there. May as well see if any of the guys in Durham are any better. It was also just before Tampa Bay reeled off its 12-game win streak. Abbott was released on June 3. Tampa's streak started on June 9. From June 3 thru June 26, the D-Rays won 17 times in 20 contests.

We all hope his departure has the same effect on the Phightins.

 
This Just In
Balls, Sticks, & Stuff has learned (via ESPN News via XM Radio) the phollowing phacts:

This news is not good overall. Lidle will surely take Paul Abbott's place which may or may not be better, but certainly can't be worse. The news on Burrell is troublesome because the Phillies really needed his bat to get hot in an effort to make the playoffs.

There is also news that the injury bug is now thought to be contagious not only within rosters but across different sports as Jevon Kearse has sprained his ankle.

This also in, on a slightly lighter yet scarier note, Matt Damon is looking to get into porn.


 
Dziękuję
It has recently come to our attention here at the Balls, Sticks, & Stuff home office in Glen Allen, Va., that BS & S has been visited by internet surfers in Poland. To those readers we say:

"Isc Phils! Palić się Bowa!"

 
The Evolution of a Baseball Fan
Several posts ago I suggested readers of Balls, Sticks, & Stuff point their browsers to The Baseball Desert a baseball weblog by Iain Cash, an Englishman living in France and infatuated with baseball. To remind yourself why baseball is such a great game and why you enjoy it so much, read Mr. Cash's posts of November 17, 18, 19, 2003 and December 22 and 23, 2003. Among other things he reminds us how great a double play is and what MLB.tv means to those of us not able to access the games of our choice on television or radio.

 
Previewing the Colorodo Series
A four-game series will start for the Phillies tonight against Colorado at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies are 2-2 against the Rockies this year and have the good fortune of going against the Rocks without slugger Larry Walker, who was traded over the weekend to the Cardinals.

Eric Milton (12-2, 4.80 ERA) will be on the mound tonight against righthander Jamey Wright (1-0, 2.30). It will be Wright's fourth start of the year. For his career, Wright is 52-69 with a 5.11 ERA.

Tuesday night, Vicente Padilla (4-5, 4.07) will return from the disabled list to face lefthander Joe Kennedy (5-4, 3.95). The Phillies will need Padilla to get back to form quickly in order to make up for the loss of Kevin Millwood to the DL.

Randy Wolf (4-7, 4.04) will face righty Jason Jennings (10-9, 5.86) on Wednesday. Jennings had a great 2002 season for a Rockies starter, going 16-8 with a 4.52 but has struggled to regain that form since then.

The Rockies have penciled in lefthander Shawn Estes (12-4, 5.77) to face the Phillies on Thursday. The Phillies have yet to officially decide on a pitcher for the fourth game as the rotation is in a state of flux with Millwood and Padilla essentially trading places on the DL and in the rotation. However, if history is any indication the starter will be Paul Abbott.

 
A Tale of Two Road Trips
Sunday night the Phillies finished up a 13-game road trip by beating the Dodgers 4-1. Brett Myers turned in a second consecutive performance worthy of his potential by surrenduring only two hits and two walks while striking out eight in eight innings. In recapping the game, Marcus Hayes of the Philadelphia Daily News points out that Myers had a dominating curveball, using it 30 times, missing the strike zone with the pitch only three times.

Technically speaking, it was only one road trip, but there were certainly two distinctly different segments to it as Todd Zolecki summarizes in the Philadelphia Inquirer:
They had just lost a Sunday game to the Chicago Cubs to drop to 1-6 on their 13-game, cross-country trip. It appeared that their manager needed a strong week on the West Coast to save his job. Fans cried foul because the Phillies didn't land an impact player before the trade deadline.

Then they swept the San Diego Padres.

And they won two of three against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium, including yesterday's 4-1 victory behind Brett Myers' eight-inning two-hitter.

"Night and day," said first baseman Jim Thome, asked to compare the clubhouse in Chicago on Aug. 1 to the clubhouse in Los Angeles yesterday. "And for the good. For the good. Let's face it, baseball is a weird game. Sometimes you don't play very good, and sometimes you play well.
"When we left Chicago, coming out here we knew these two clubs were very good. We really stepped it up. In the end, it was a satisfying road trip considering where we started."

Satisfying may be stretching things a bit, however Mr. Thominator. The recent good play has quieted the talk of firing Larry Bowa and the criticisms of Ed Wade, the disappointment in the players has abated, but such negativity is sure to return if the Phillies cannot sustain their good play while at home and make some headway in the NL East Division and/or the NL's Fourth Division.


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