Factoring in the Park Factor
Aaron Gleeman, writing on The Hardball Times about ESPN.com's Park Factor, discusses some of the interesting trends regarding several stadiums around Major League Baseball, including among others the home parks of the Twins, Red Sox, Mariners, and of course Rockies. However, Gleeman does not mention anything about the Phillies new park for 2004, Citizens Bank Park. "Why would he do that?", one might ask, "hasn't the 'Money Pit' been a bandbox all year? Harold Reynolds says so every night on Baseball Tonight." In response to that question, I would say, "Because CBP has been average."
That's right, average. ESPN.com's Park Factor is essentially a ratio that compares the number of runs scored per game at home and the number of runs scored per game on the road. A ratio over 1.000 means a park is hitter-friendly, and then of course a ratio of less than 1.000 means a park is pitcher friendly. To add a little context, the most hitter-friendly park in baseball, Coors Launching Pad, has a ratio of 1.404. The most pitcher-friendly park is the cavernous ballpark in Seattle with a ratio of 0.826. And of the thirty parks in Major League baseball, Citizens Bank Park ranks 13th with a ratio of 1.024, nearly neutral. Now, go get your beverage of choice, comeback, and read that sentence again: Citizens Bank Park ranks 13th with a ratio of 1.024, nearly neutral to pitchers and hitters.
But should we be surprised by this? Nearly two months ago, at the height of the FenceGate Scandal when we learned that the fences of CBP were mysteriously closer to homeplate than we thought, I had this to say:
This is bothersome to me. It doesn't bother me because I feel like it is a conspiracy by Phillies ownership to inflate homerun numbers in order to fill seats, which will in turn fill their coffers with money. And it doesn't bother me because Pennsylvania taxpayers (I know a few) got a smaller ballpark than they thought they were getting with their tax dollars. It bothers me because it doesn't give Jim Thome and the other Phillies batters credit for having some serious pop. All season long, we have had to listen to the ESPN Baseball Tonight crew mock every homerun hit at CBP because the place is a bandbox. One night Harold Reynolds called the new stadium "a joke" about four times during that night's Phillies highlight reel. Has anyone ever thought to consider that maybe there are a lot of homeruns hit at CBP because the team that plays half of their games there hit their fair share of homeruns?And a quick check of the numbers reveals that little has changed. Jim Thome for instance, now has more homeruns away from CBP (23) than he does at home (19), and the Phillies still have a higher ERA on the road (4.61) than at home (4.35).
As the Philadelphia Inquirer article that exposed the "scandal" points out, Phillies pitchers have a better ERA on the road than at home and Phillies batters average just 0.4 homeruns per game higher at home than on the road. Jim Thome, who leads the majors in homeruns has hit nearly an identical number at home (16) as he has on the road (15) in nearly an identical amount of at-bats (161 AB's at home, 159 AB's on the road). The Phillies second leading homerun hitter, Bobby Abreu, has 10 homeruns at home and 10 home runs away from home.
Yes, the Phillies have hit a lot of homeruns so far this year but maybe, just maybe, it is because they have some good homerun hitters.
In the end, it doesn't really matter that the nightly subjective observations have misled (to use the current political vernacular) phans and media commentators alike. But what really, really, really matters is the fact that it has misled the Phillies' pitchers. All season long, we have heard post-game comments such as "a lead is never safe in this park" and "we have to learn how to pitch here". And so, it is very easy to attribute the underperformance of the staff to attitude - being afraid of the gopher ball every time they take the mound.
The next logical question would be, if a non-rocket scientist phan like myself can quickly see that the ballpark is neutral, why hasn't the Phillies leadership - veteran players, coaches, and front office - tried to change that attitude among the pitchers? To be fair, if you isolate the Park Factor for just homeruns, CBP does rank among the most hitter-friendly parks, and homeruns stand out in one's memory more than singles (especially if you are the one that gave up the homers), but isn't that all the more reason for leadership to set the pitchers straight? And shouldn't the front office attempt to acquire high groundball percentage pitchers to negate the homers? Or, can't Joe Kerrigan or Larry Bowa get the pitchers to keep the ball down in the strike zone?
I realize that a lot of this is a lot to ask, attitudes, mechanics, and rosters can't be changed overnight, but I don't think it is a lot to ask for the Phillies leadership to make it known that Citizen's Bank Park is not a bandbox. Not only will it help with the pitchers on the staff, but it will help in the effort to recruit free agents and it will help the development of pitchers in the minors if they know they are not going to be pitching in Coors Lite Field when they grow up.
Oh, and by the way, let's not let the Phillies hitters in on any of this. Or opposing pitchers.
Update [5/16/05]: It appears as if many people are Googling or Yahooing "Park Factor" (or something similar) and turning up this post. If you'd like to read more on my thoughts about the Phillies or baseball in general, go to the new and improved Balls, Sticks, & Stuff at www.ballssticksstuff.com. See you there!
Baseball and Sim City
Several days ago, Michael Wilbon took time out from his daily screaming match with Tony Kornheiser to write a great column in the Washington Post, "A Stadium Grows, a City will Blossom". The article extols the virtues of building sports (slash entertainment) complexes in economically depressed urban areas, in particular what it will mean to Washington, DC to have a major league baseball in town:
...the existence of baseball means a minimum of 81 nights of attracting 25,000 hungry, thirsty people, the great majority of them with means.However, not everyone is impressed by the progress other cities have made using sports/entertainment complexes. Sally Jenkins, questioning the wisdom of financing the stadium deal with ticket taxes and concession taxes, wrote in Saturday's Washington Post:
I love the economists whose primary arguments against new arenas and stadiums is that such construction doesn't bring permanent and full-time jobs. Of course the construction doesn't bring that, nor do the stadiums themselves. But try to tell the folks in Detroit that the new Ford Field, home to the NFL Lions, hasn't been the centerpiece of radical economic development taking place in downtown Detroit. Stadiums for the Browns and Indians, plus the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, revitalized Cleveland's center city financially, culturally and psychologically. All those restaurants and bars and nightspots don't employ people permanently? Please. For anybody who has lived here 10 years or more, it's impossible not to walk through the area near MCI, particularly on an event night, and not see the wisdom of bringing 15,000 people or more to a central gathering place.
Who will pay if the team is on a losing streak, and no one is buying beers? Who will pay when attendance sinks after the first season and that concession tax doesn't yield $10 million toward servicing the debt but instead yields only $4 million?Interestingly, Jenkins also pointed to the same cities and complexes that Wilbon pointed to as reasoning against bringing the/les/los Expos to Washington, DC:
If you want hard evidence of what stadiums can do for a city, look no farther than Cleveland, which has new stadiums for the Indians and the Browns as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame -- and was just named the poorest city in the country.My response to Jenkins would be, "Maybe the way you should look at it is 'imagine how poor Cleveland would be without the stadiums and the Rock Hall of Fame." Obviously I am biased, I enjoy sports, particularly baseball, and when I visit Washington, DC several times a year I always enjoy it. Besides that, I am an ear doc, not an economist like Andrew Zimbalist (quoted by Jenkins) who has studied these effects extensively, but no one can convince me that day after day in the summer, when thousands of people venture into downtown Washington to see the "hometown nine", they won't leave just a little bit of money in the local economy. And when that money is left in the economy, it will be taxed, and when it gets taxed it will create even more money for things like schools, trains, and police, the things that Jenkins would rather spend the 400 million stadium dollars on. Two old adages come to mind: (1) "You've got to spend money to make money." and (2) "A rising tide lifts all boats." As a matter of fact, I'm so sold on the idea, I even think it would be a good idea to put in a soccer stadium in as well.
Often, individual accomplishments on the field are so extraordinary that we overlook what those accomplishments mean in the context of that player's life, in other words, forgetting that prominent professional athletes are humans with lives outside of sports. Recently, we have seen several of these scenarios:
- Donovan McNabb has picked apart opposing defenses while his wife becomes exceedingly more "with child" and then finally giving birth to their first child, just days before McNabb's most impressive play of the season so far, against the Lions in Detroit.
- Johan Santana of the Minnesota Twins has had one of the most dominating seasons in recent memory. All season long, Santana has been extraordinary, but in his last 5 starts, he has 5 wins, an ERA of 0.26, and has held opposing batters to an average of .144, striking out 47 of them and walking only 6. All the while, he has had to concern himself with the safety of his family in Venezuela.
- Many PGA Tour players live in Florida ("golfable" temperatures year-round and no state income tax) and so certainly all have been affected in some way by the onslaught of hurricanes. But none have played as well as Vijay Singh has played. Singh has taken over the world rankings and in finishing off one of the greatest seasons in modern golf, all while having to worry about what the latest hurricane will do to his home.
Obviously, we should be impressed by these accomplishments on the field of play, but even more so when you consider what was happening to these athletes off the field of play and these are just some examples. As the old saying goes, "Sports do not build character, they reveal it."
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Sammy Sosa. Several days ago, Sosa was thrown out sliding into second base while trying to make up for doing his trademark "homer hop" in the batter's box when he incorrectly thought he had hit a homerun. When asked if his trademark hop was a detriment to the Cubs effort to win the National League Wild Card, Sosa replied:
"I have been doing that a lot of years and I'm not changing now."This sounds a lot more like Leon from the Budweiser TV ads ("There ain't no 'we' in team" and "If they're payin' - Leon's playin'") than one of the two players that helped to rescue baseball in 1998.
Pitching Needs to Git-R-Done
As you may have already noticed, much of the talk in the Phillies blogosPHere has turned to next year, thoroughly unimpressed with the fizzled Phightin's recent sweep of the Marlins in Miami. Naturally, talk of next year has phans wondering what moves will be made and what kind of roster we can expect for next year.
Several weeks ago, the major political parties had their national conventions and laid down their party's respective platforms for the direction they would like to see the country take. At roughly the same time, I laid down my platform for the direction I would like to see the Phillies take, and just like the GOP and the Democrats haven't changed their mind since August, neither have I in regards to the Phils.
If anything, my opinions have only strengthened, particularly after reading Rich Hoffman's analysis in yesterday's Daily News and The Berks Phillies Fans' follow-up. Despite the low number of base hits with runners in scoring position and the high number of strikeouts in the lineup, the Phillies rank second in the National League in runs scored in opponents' ballparks. On a game-by-game basis, Mike Lieberthal's poor clutch hitting, Pat Burrell's bail outs in the batter's box, and Jimmy Rollins's upper-cut hacks at high of the strikezone balls can drive a phan crazy, but the numbers don't lie - over the course of the season, the offense has held up its end of the bargain.
The pitching is a different story. As Hoffman points out, the Phillies starting pitchers rank near the bottom in the National League in terms of quality starts (a "quality start" is defined as a performance of 3 ER's or less in at least 6 IP, essentially an ERA of 4.50) and the pitching staff as a whole ranks 12th in the NL in ERA in opponents' parks (4.63). If the Phillies score the same number of runs next year and simply allow a median number of runs for a National League team, they will finish with about 93 wins.
Many fans however, wonder how the Phillies can possibly make such improvements, given the $50-$60 million designated already for players under contract. As I have stated before, it is quite possible to improve the pitching staff on less money:
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.Couple that with a managerial change (5-game difference?), and the Phils have a mighty good chance to git-r-done (as they say down South) next year.
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.
Remember, This is the NFL
If you are an Eagles fan, this has been a great week. Monday night, the Eagles went to 2-0 on the season, their best start since 1993 and scanning the headlines of the Philly-area papers, its only a matter of time before names like "Andy Reid Karlewski" and "Donovan McNabb Carminetti" begin to pop up in newborn hopsital wards across the tri-state area. A few examples from Wednesday's headlines:
And there is no doubt the Eagles Phaithful have a lot of evidence to point towards. From the Trenton Times Matt Eckel:
-- Tight end L.J. Smith's two touchdown catches are more than any other tight end in the NFC.It's a lot of fun to be impressed by a team after being depressed by a team all summer long. But I can't help but think about an old adage in golf, particularly match play, that says you should always expect your opponent to make his shot. In other words, never let your guard down, or you will end up losing a hole you should have won and that is the way I feel about this weekend's Eagles game against the Detroit Lions. Everyone is picking the Eagles to win, and they should, but this is still the NFL and so the Lions should be taken every bit as seriously this Sunday as the Vikings were Monday night. If the Eagles can do that, they should win handily.
-- Kicker David Akers' 16 points are tied for the NFC lead.
-- Donovan McNabb leads the NFL in quarterback rating (129.4) for the first time in his career.
-- Wide receiver Terrell Owens' four touchdowns are tied for the NFL lead.
-- Running back Brian Westbrook's 299 total yards leads the NFC.
-- Punt returner Reno Mahe's 13.0 yard average leads the NFC.
-- Kickoff returner J.R. Reed's 27.6 yard average is second in the NFC.
-- Reid now has 57 wins, which moves him ahead of Dick Vermeil into second place in Eagles history. He is nine wins short of leader Greasy Neale.
-- Defensive end Jevon Kearse got a lot of deserved credit for his play Monday night, but Walker played his best game in two years.
-- In two games, the Eagles have nine sacks. They did not record their ninth sack last year until Game 6.
As Thomas Boswell summarizes in today's Washington Post, the District has several reasons to be extremely but cautiously optimistic about The/Les/Los Expos moving to the nation's capital, with an announcement coming soon: (1) city officials have announced the site of a future stadium should the Expos indeed move to Washington,DC, (2) the terms of city councilmen in favor of public financing for baseball will be running out in a matter of weeks, and (3) if RFK stadium is to be used in the interim until a permanent stadium can be built, the window of opportunity to adequately modify the facility for baseball in April is quickly closing. The only significant obstacles remain in the form of Peter Angelos.
Coincidentally I will be in the District this weekend visiting a friend while our wives tour Virginia wine country. Our original plans had been to watch college football on Saturday, NFL football Sunday, a trip to the Smithsonian to see the Baseball Hall of Fame's "Baseball as America" traveling exhibit (last time I was in town we checked out the Spy Museum, which I highly recommend), and of course a few of the requisite pubs. Now, we may have to add in a quick run by the Anacostia riverfront.
Rock, Paper, Scissors
At this point in the season, you have to believe that the sportswriters in the newsrooms of the Philadelphia area papers must get together in a circle every afternoon and play a game of "Rock, Paper, Scissors". The loser of course, gets the unenviable task of covering the Phillies for the next day's edition and coming up with an interesting article. Sunday night, one of the losers in the game of "Rock, Paper, Scissors" was Marcus Hayes. Hayes acted like a true professional, hustled, gave 110%, and might have even gotten a pat on the behind from his editor. In Monday's Philadelphia Daily News Hayes covered the increasing likelihood of Gavin Floyd joining the rotation in 2005, the Wagner/DeMuth affair, goats' hooves, and a new perspective on the length of 60', 6''.
The assured rotation of the future seems more and more likely to feature a grand total of 10 full seasons among the four probables - Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla, Brett Myers and Gavin Floyd.Gavin Floyd has been mostly impressive since his first start, but it may be preferable to use Floyd in the capacity that Ryan Madson was used this year - an ever-ready long-man in the bullpen - and then insert Madson into the rotation along with a big free agent signing. If rookie quarterbacks aren't expected to start right away, why should young rookie pitchers?
Yes, rookie prospect Gavin Floyd appears to have pitched himself into inclusion on the Opening Day 2005 staff at least a year sooner than expected when the Phillies made him the fourth overall pick in the 2001 draft. Two seasons of regular Class A advancement and a whirlwind tour through Double A and Triple A this year brought him to the Phillies as a promising, tiring, 21-year-old with control problems and poise issues.
Floyd's most impressive attributes since his debut on Sept. 3?
"His mound presence has been pretty good...He's basically staying within himself,'' manager Larry Bowa said. "And he's getting all his pitches over. That's been a pleasant surprise. That was the rap against him; his inability to throw strikes on a consistent basis.''
"He's shown better command at the big-league level than he did in Triple A,'' said Mike Arbuckle, the team's player development director. "I'd just like to see him work off his fastball more.''
So that means at least another half a season in the minors, huh?
"I don't think so," Arbuckle said. "Not if he continues to show the control he's shown. That's an adjustment that can be made at the big-league level."
On Wagner and DeMuth:
Wagner, outraged, threw a full cooler of water onto the field and shredded DeMuth verbally afterward, demanding a suspension for DeMuth. For that - not throwing at Floyd - he received a two-game suspension, served Friday and Saturday. Wagner, through the Phillies' front office, sought to apologize to DeMuth last week but they were told DeMuth was, coincidentally, on vacation that was scheduled before the incident.Conspiracy theories are usually just that, theories. But the Wagner/DeMuth incident was certainly a case where both the player (his temper tantrum) and the umpire (incredibly poor logic and judgment) were to blame, and so both deserved some type of "vacation".
The league does not announce umpire suspensions...but it is interesting timing for DeMuth's vacation, at least.
On goats' hooves:
Amaury Telemaco's farm in the Dominican lost two plantain trees and his goats' hooves are softening with foot rot.Good effort Mr. Hayes, good effort. Next time, pick "paper", it always works for me when The Missus and I realize we are out of milk.
Exactly how far is sixty feet-six inches? Just ask Todd Jones:
In a rare hitting appearance, reliever Todd Jones, wearing Jim Thome's never-cleaned, pine-tarred helmet, worked a two-out walk off Joe Horgan in the seventh. It was the first time Jones reached base since he doubled in 1995 (he thought he'd last reached in '96). "You don't realize the pitcher is so close to you,'' he said.The look on my face when I read this was like the look that the duck has on his face in response to Yogi Berra in the AFLAC commercials. So Todd, how far away do you feel from the batter when you are pitching? Do you think this is why so many of your pitches since you have come to the Phillies have been targeted as if it were 70'6" to homeplate?
Even More Links
You've already read every single word on Balls, Sticks, & Stuff and the Back Page and all the other links on the sidebar? Then check out these other recommended sites.
The Hardball Times - A group of bloggers writing primarily sabermetric analysis.
Baseball Crank - Baseball (Mets slanted) and politics (rightward slanted).
Sabernomics = Sabermetrics + Ecomomics.
DugoutDollars - "MLB payroll details, thoughts and analysis."
MLB Center - Articles, forums, and occasional interviews.
Business of Baseball - The arm of SABR.org related to business aspects of baseball. Features the Bizball Blog.
The Baseball News Blog - A weblog with daily links to baseball news and analysis.
Bryan Donovan's Sortable Win Shares - Raw data via The Hardball Times.
Doug's Stats - A quick and dirty no frills baseball and basketball stats page.
Baseball Reference - The original (and still the best) quick and dirty no frills baseball stats page.
More on the Phightin's
Berks Phillies Fans
A Citizen's Blog
The Citizens Report
Fire Ed Wade
Distinguished Senators - "Outblogging the navvies in Norfolk, the hemp-wearers in Portland, the legitimate businessmen in Vegas, and even Monterrey's blogonistas until MLB comes to its senses."
Ball Wonk - "A wonk's-eye view of Washington's new baseball team - spin, not stats."
Surviving Grady - Rehabilitation for one of the worst letdowns in sports history.
Bambino's Curse - Curse or self-fulfulling prophecy?
Replacement Level Yankees Weblog - Even the Evil Empire deserves to have their side of the story told.
No Pepper - Covers the Braves minor league system, part of the BravesBeat.com network.
The Pearly Gates - An Angels blog with a bit of conservative California politics thrown in.
Athletics Nation - A self-described fan/columnist writing on the A's.
Elephants in the Outfield - "Pitching, Defense and the Three Run Jimmy-Jack".
Bat-Girl - "Less stats, more sass." Features "Legovision".
Straightaway Centerfield - There is a picture with me and two of my best friends in the background. Free D-Rays tix to anyone who can find us.
Fanblogs - A group weblog dedicated to the pigskin on campus.
Fire Ron Zook - Now that Larry Bowa is gone, I have only one other head coach to run off.
SPORTS IN GENERAL
The Sporting Life - Sports, culture, general interest.
Off Wing Opinion - "Commentary For The Free Market Sports Fan."
Making the Cut - The same author as No Pepper (listed above). I can't help but be impressed by a guy obsessed with both baseball and golf.
The Golf Blog - "All things golf."
MJ on Golf - News, tips, and perspective on golf.
It's Trading Cats and Dogs
Paul Hagen examines the Phillies centerfield situation in Friday's edition of the Philadelphia Daily News. The 2004 season represented a significant regression in the development of Marlon Byrd, the former Phillies Centerfielder of the Phuture and if the Phightin's are to secure a playoff spot in 2005 they will need to make a significant upgrade.
Because of the expected dearth of centerfield free agents this offseason, I've suggested that the best route for the Phillies to take is to package some type of trade for a centerfielder, and Hagen seems to agree. One trade scenario that Hagen puts forth has the Phillies sending Ryan Howard to the increasingly salary conscious Atlanta Braves for Andruw Jones. This is a case where the needs of two teams do match-up, but the chances of the Phillies and Braves trading again are probably quite slim. But even if it could happen, Phans should hope it doesn't happen because Ryan Howard would surely hit 50 HR's, Andruw Jones would probably play centerfield like he had cinderblocks in his pants pockets, and the Braves would win their 587th division title in a row (I know, I preached optimism, but all the rain in Virginia of late has me thinking pessimistically and making Noah references).
An option that Hagen suggests that is worth considering is acquiring Shannon Stewart or Jacque Jones from the Minnesota Twins. The Twins may be willing to trade one or both of the two outfielders because they are another team that must be payroll conscious, they need starting pitching (maybe they see something in Brett Myers?), and they have a surplus of good young outfielders which makes the higher paid Stewart and Jones expendable. Yet another option may be Laynce Nix from the Texas Rangers. The Rangers need starting pitchers (maybe they see something in Brett Myers) and the Phillies have been seen scouting the Rangers in the past.
Worst case scenario? The Phillies could resign Rickey Ledee and platoon him with Jason Michaels in centerfield. According to Ruben Amaro's discussion with Hagen, Michaels role with the Phillies isn't likely to expand, but the more Michaels plays, the more willing I would be to settle for that scenario, as long as other needs on the roster are completely taken care of (just like phans thought entering the 2004 season).
In Defense of Moneyball and Sabermetrics
One of the baseball blogs I read quite often is Swing and a Miss. The author, Tom Goodman, manages to create thoughtful posts on a daily basis. Today is no exception, though I must disagree with his post on the use of sabermetrics and what the book Moneyball means to baseball. I do not mean to pick on Tom, but I think his post is very representative of the traditionalist/anti-sabermetrics/anti-Moneyball school of thought. It isn't so much that I have a problem with traditionalists disagreeing with sabermetrics, the problem I have is when traditionalists disagree with sabermetrics only after they have mis-characterized it.
The Moneyball Philosophy
Traditionalists are mistaken on the nature of the teams sabermetrically inclined organizations try to build. It seems as if traditionalists believe that the A's are only interested in acquiring players with quirky wrinkles in their statistical histories. But that is not the case. If you were to have a panel of baseball traditionalists name the top ten hitters in baseball today and then asked a panel of sabermetricians to name the top ten hitters in baseball today, I am sure the two panels would name nearly the same ten hitters in nearly the same order. Teams like the A's, Red Sox, Dodgers, and Blue Jays use in-depth statistical analysis as an additional tool to evaluate players, to be used in conjunction with traditional scouting techniques. If Billy Beane and Theo Epstein didn't believe in the value of traditional scouting, they wouldn't retain traditional scouts on their payroll. In interview after interview, sabermetrically labeled GM's reiterate that they are not turning their back on traditional scouting, the use of sabermetrics is just an additional tool they emphasize when building a team.
Theo Epstein and the Red Sox are an example. Tom claims on Swing and a Miss that the Red Sox are only successful because Theo Epstein inherited players such as Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez from the previous Red Sox regime and because anyone can figure out Curt Schilling is a pitcher to trade for, Young Theo shouldn't deserve any credit there either. But what traditionalists leave out is that because Epstein used all the tools at his disposal, objective quantifiers and subjective qualifiers, he saw the value in players such as David Ortiz and Kevin Millar, both of which have been significant cogs in the Red Sox wheel over the last two years. Sabermetrics will tell you that all five of these players were valuable entering the 2003 season, whereas traditional baseball analysis will tell you that only Pedro and Manny and Curt were valuable.
Using the baseball traditionalists line of thinking, Noah would have had to build his ark with just a hammer and anything more would be egg-headed. Beane and Epstein would have been willing to let Noah use a hammer, wood glue, caulk, and whatever else he thought would help.
Sample Sizes and Historical Context
Sabermetrics relies on statistics, and statistics carry more and more weight as the sample size gets larger and larger. Statistics characterizing a small sample size mean nearly nothing, but statistics describing hundreds or even thousands of occurrences can carry serious weight. A .500 batting average after ten at-bats will garner little attention, but a career average of .285 after 5,000 at-bats means much more. Ironically, the track record of sabermetrically inclined baseball teams is suffering from judgments made on very small sample sizes: just a few playoff series over just four years. More traditional baseball thinkers point to the failures of the A's the last four years in the playoffs and say that is proof that Billy Beane's Moneyball-thinking does not work in Major League Baseball.
Traditionalists are correct in that an approach to building a team should be judged on the number of championships it acquires, but they are wrong in not allowing the sabermetric movement in baseball to develop over time and see where it leads. For instance, in football, the West Coast Offense has been the approach that the majority of Super Bowl winners have used in the past two decades, and because of that, nearly everyone can agree that it has been - and continues to be - a superior style of offense. But, we've made that judgment after two decades.
When Joe Montana connected with Dwight Clark in the back of the endzone in order to advance to the Super Bowl, the West Coast Offense was merely a blip in the history of the NFL. Sabermetrics is at a similar stage in history. It has taken the accumulation of time for us to appreciate the West Coast Offense, and it will take a similar accumulation of success - or failure - for us to finally understand the impact sabermetrics will have on Major League Baseball. To put it another way, at this point in baseball history after essentially four playoff series, to say that sabermetrics doesn't work in the Bigs is like saying in 1996 that Tiger Woods was never going to be a dominant player on the PGA Tour because he didn't win the first tournament he entered as a professional. And so, it is wrong for traditional baseball thinkers to quickly to shut the door on teams such as the A's, Red Sox, Dodgers, and Blue Jays.
Because I believe in the power of large sample sizes and the objectivity statistics can bring to any endeavor, I tend to lean towards the sabermetric side of the argument. However, I am not drinking from the Kool-Aid so much as to think it is the end-all-be-all for baseball. There are certain things in baseball like baserunning and defense which are very difficult to quantify. And anyone who has played a sport knows that chemistry is important, but measuring it in order to learn to create it is an entirely different story. The one thing I am positive of is that I will enjoy every bit of watching it play out over the coming years.
Conventional wisdom believes that the Montreal Expos will move to the Washington, DC/Northern Virginia area. Obstacles include placating Orioles owner Peter Angelos and obtaining funding for a stadium. As parallel negotiations play out between Major League Baseball and groups representing Washington, DC and Northern Virginia, the issues seem to become more complicated.
Recent District elections will install leadership that is on the record as being against public funding of a stadium. This would probably push MLB towards the NoVa option, however, conventional wisdom also believes that RFK Stadium in the District will be used until a permanent stadium can be built, no matter which option is chosen by MLB. But RFK officials are on record as saying they will be quite tough on negotiating with MLB should they choose NoVa.
Starting on September 18, 2004, there will be a "Baseball Roundtable" in the Forums section of MLBCenter.com. The discussion will cover baseball in general and the increasing popularity of baseball blogs and fan websites. The moderator has invited me to be one of the bloggers/webmasters/writers answering questions. Since he has invited me to participate, I invite all of you to stop by and check it out.
The Case FOR Ed Wade
David Pinto at Baseball Musings points us to a new website (new to me, and apparently David too), FireEdWade.com. For most of the season, I have essentially defended Ed Wade for several reasons, largest of which is his ability to obtain good players in the offseason. No one can convince me it has been easy over the last several offseasons for Ed Wade to make a pitch to free agents:
An additional factor in Wade's favor is his work with the farm system. Before Ed Wade, there were no "Untouchables". In discussing trades, other teams call the Phillies to get Gavin Floyd, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, and Ryan Madson (and probably Ryan Howard soon too) and Wade has had the good sense not to trade them.
Wade takes a call from Mr. Agent-Representing-a-Possible-MVP/Cy Young-Candidate...
"Uh, yeah, you are right Mr. Agent-Representing-a-Possible-MVP/Cy Young-Candidate, we do have a very unforgiving fan base."...
...(Mr. Agent talking on the telephone similar to Charlie Brown's teacher)...
"Uh, yeah, that was Santa they booed, but in their defense he was drunk."
...(Mr. Agent talking more)...
"Uh, yes you are right, they did boo the greatest third baseman of all-time"
...(Mr. Agent talking more)...
"Well, I won't lie to you, the rats at the Vet are huge, but the stray cats at least keep the population in check."...(Mr. Agent talking more)...
"No, the statistics you have are correct, the Phillies have lost more games than any other professional sports franchise."...(Mr. Agent talking more)...
Our manager? Bo'? He's a pussy cat, seriously."
But probably the best reason to keep Ed Wade: There is an old saying "The devil you know is better than the devil you don't know." What part of Phillies history makes one think a better replacement would be installed? Paul Owens (1924-2003, R.I.P., architect of the 1980 Phils) was probably the best general manager the Phillies have ever had, and I am pretty sure propping him up in the front office like Bernie Lomax would not gain the Phightin's much. Yes, there are better general managers and probably general manager-candidates out there, but I for one wouldn't trust the Phillies upper brass to figure out who they are, and then get them to come to Philadelphia (see above telephone conversation).
The Phillies have other issues that should be addressed long before Ed Wade is fired. And in my mind, Ed Wade is the best person in the organization to accomplish the offseason improvements that need to be made.
Update [5/16/05]: It appears as if many people are Googling or Yahooing "Ed Wade" and turning up this post. If you'd like to read more on my thoughts about the Phillies and Ed Wade, go to the new and improved Balls, Sticks, & Stuff at www.ballssticksstuff.com. See you there!
Due to a downturn in the economy, growing player salaries, and the enduring popularity of Michael Lewis's Moneyball, baseball teams are evaluating what they are getting in return from their players with increased scrutiny and creativity. This is interesting because baseball fans have been thinking in these terms for years now, and one such fan, John Bradbury writing at Sabernomics, has developed a MLB Salary Estimator. Plug in a player's batting average, on-base average, slugging percentage, position, salary (Dugout Dollars or USA Today are good sources), and the year in which the player debuted in the Bigs and you will get the answer to the age old question, "is this player really worth all that money?" Well, almost. Several things to keep in mind before plugging stats and salaries in and drawing conclusions willy-nilly:
- Players are compared to other players of a similar service time and position. Keep this in mind when examining players such as Albert Pujols. Because the Cardinals had the good sense to award him with a good contract before he hit arbitration and free agency, he is paid drastically more than his peers.
- Obviously, the estimator does not take defense into account. Players like Andruw Jones will look drastically overpaid when defense is not taken into consideration. If Jones's defense was somehow considered, he would only be overpaid (instead of drastically overpaid).
- All salaries are compared to the 2003 market. So plugging in Ted Williams salary and statistics for the 1949 season isn't exactly comparing apples with apples.
Now, with those thoughts in mind, try not to get fired today as you spend the afternoon plugging in players.
It Was the T-Shirt All This Time?
The 2005 Phillies Spring Training T-Shirt
As we have all heard ad pukem, when the Phillies began spring training sporting t-shirts reading, "Now Is The Time", it apparently had a negative effect, opposite from what was intended. The t-shirts were meant to inspire. Coming into spring training the Phillies had a new and improved roster (on paper), the rest of the NL East was in decline (on paper), and just about everyone who had just heard of the game of baseball was picking the Phillies to win the NL East and go deep into the playoffs.
But as we all know, that is not how the season turned out. The team knew there would be no excuses for failure, and instead of just taking the field and reacting reflexively to the ball and rely on the natural athleticism that got them to the peak of their field, they seized up, squeezing the bats too tight at the plate and thinking too much on the mound. Underperforming all season, the injuries began to mount in direct correlation to the humidity and the team faded out of playoff contention after a 1-9 stretch in August.
But fast-forward to mid-September. The Phillies have won 6 straight - 9 out of their last 10 - and have media and phans alike asking, "What happened between August and September?" Apparently, the team learned how to relax. Todd Zolecki quotes Tim Worrell in the Inqy:
"I think the biggest thing, really, is that we were somewhat out of it, and now we're just relaxing and playing"...If that is the case, that the expectations got to the team and they wilted under the pressure, then its conceivable that phans could have to endure another stretch of bad play. Because of the recent good play, with twenty games to go the Phillies are again in contention for a playoff berth, albeit just barely. But before you count them out, the Phillies are well aware that their psychological profile is their biggest obstacle (again, Zolecki and Worrell):
..."Weren't we picked to be playing the Yankees in the World Series? I think that's part of it. I signed here because of that. So my expectations were where everyone's were. Things didn't go our way early. And obviously, we're responsible for that. You can see that. And when guys got hurt and other guys stepped in, they pressed, too. You press because you want to contribute, but it takes you out of your game."
"...We can't sit there and let what we're doing right now get us into that 'Geez, we have to win today.' Because we did that earlier in the season and look what happened."So when takes the mound against one has to wonder, how tight will Gavin Floyd hold the ball tonight on the mound when he faces the Cincinnati Reds? Will Pat Burrell leave fingerprint like indentations in his Louisville Slugger?
Carmella, It's My Busiest Time of the Year
Even though most people choose not to gamble, I think that everyone believes that if they were simply given enough chances, they could beat the house more often than not. Fortunately most people realize that it may take them a whole lot of chances to come out ahead, but in the end, everyone feels that they would come out ahead.
With that in mind I decided to conduct a little experiment and enter an NFL fantasy betting league I surfed across (www.beyondthescore.com). Essentially, you are given $1000 of imaginary money to gamble on NFL games using the standard odds from your typical Las Vegas casino sports book. Hopefully, I will crash and burn early in the season because getting enough false confidence to place actual bets would not be good. The Missus/My Chief Financial Officer would not be amused.
Without further ado, my picks for Week 1:
Eagles (-9.5) over the NY Football Giants, $150My strategy was to stay conservative and treat the season as a marathon and not a sprint, placing bets only on games I felt completely comfortable about for the first week. The results (the house pays out $100 for every $110 bet):
Baltimore Ravens (-2.5) over the Cleveland Browns, $100
Tennessee Titans (-2.5) over the Miami Dolphins, $150
Houston Texans (-4.5) over the SD Chargers, $100
Eagles 31, Giants 17Fortunately, I won the larger bets I made and lost only the smaller ones, which puts me in the black for the week. The Ravens/Browns game is the one that really hurt - I thought the Ravens would beat that spread by at least 10 points.
Ravens 3, Browns 20
Titans 17, 'Phins 7
Texans 20, Chargers 27
Bankroll entering Week 1: $1000
Bankroll after Week 1: $1072
Debates and Last Call
The Gavin Floyd vs. Paul Abbott Debate
Thankfully, much of the print media that covers the Phillies is being realistic about Gavin Floyd after two good starts. It would be very easy to point to Floyd as the pitcher that should have been inserted into the rotation earlier in the summer, rather than Paul Abbott. Balls, Sticks, & Stuff has been quite clear about our perception of Abbott's skills as a pitcher and we've been quite clear about our thoughts on Floyd as well, but Kevin Roberts of the South New Jersey Courier-Post surmises correctly:
Bringing up Floyd might have been a disaster, and it might have saved the season. You can't know.Anyone that's followed the Phillies this season knows that Paul Abbott is not the only reason the team has floundered. Gavin Floyd has some control over the number of opposing batters he strikes out, but he has no control over the poor situational hitting displayed all season long. He also has no control over the inconsistency of Kevin Millwood, the glass elbow of Randy Wolf, the Genesis Space Capsule-like performance of the bullpen, or Larry "Tom Smykowski" Bowa.
Every time Floyd pitches well, there will be more raised eyebrows and second-guessing. And that's OK; it goes with the territory. Besides, the Phillies would rather Floyd pitch well, build confidence and lay the groundwork for success next year - even if every swing of his arm makes the Paul Abbott decision look worse and worse.
Speaking of L-Bo, everyone was mildly amused when he joked about getting through the long nights this summer with the help of scotch, but I am beginning to think he was serious. Here is a recent quote from Bowa regarding the recent series with the Braves (also in Kevin Roberts's column):
"You would've thought this series would be different," Phillies manager Larry Bowa said. "But because of circumstances beyond our control, it is what it is.Circumstances beyond our control? The scotch is beginning to cloud his judgment if he thinks the entire season can be blamed on injuries, but that is apparently the stance he is taking. I can't wait to see Bowa in a Mets uniform next year. What excuses will he have then? "Well, after a shot of Jägermeister, it really came to me, it's beyond our control that they traded away Scott Kazmir...I wasn't even here then, so it can't possibly be my fault."
No, Bo', it can't possibly be your fault...Another round?
Can We Survive Grady?!?!
Several weeks ago, I discovered Surviving Grady, a Red Sox blog with the mission statement:
Grady Little should be remembered as the biggest goat this baseball town (Boston) has ever seen.I've enjoyed reading the blog until tonight, when I read this as they closed out their post:
Gammons predicts Grady Little will coach the Phillies next year.Immediately I fired off an email to email@example.com asking where in the world they heard such a thing. To make a horrifying story short, Tom at Surviving Grady (yes, another Tom blogging about baseball, as if Shallow Center, Swing and a Miss, and Balls, Sticks, & Stuff weren't enough) quickly replied that Gammons had thrown it out there on Baseball Tonight last night (Tuesday).
I realize the Pendulum of Managerial Style at the Phillies is swinging towards a laid-back manager, but isn't that a bit too far? This guy was so lethargic he let Pedro talk him into staying in one of the most important games in the team's history after he had just let 5 of 7 batters reach base and was clearly fatigued.
The way their team is playing, the Red Sox Nation may survive Grady Little. Asking Phans to survive even the announcement of the hiring of Grady Little after being asked to survive this season is way too much to ask.
Progression to the Mean?
The team started out with members of the pitching performing below expectations and even a few pitchers went down with injury. Additionally, the offense was inconsistent. Many of the batters had decent statistics, but the team had trouble scoring runs at times. As we entered the summer, much of the focus turned to the manager. Eventually though, most people who seriously followed baseball expected the team to come around. After all, we thought, these are players with long histories of good production so certainly it is only a matter of time before the team starts to play like we think they should.
That could be the description for much of the season for either the Philadelphia Phillies or the Houston Astros. But since the All-Star break, and particularly since August 1, the stories have been quite different. Since August 1st, when the Astros decided they had had enough of their quirky manager, Jimy Williams, and replaced him with Phil Garner, the team has been on playing quite well, getting into a virtual tie for the Wild Card in the National League with the Cubs. The Phillies on the other hand never did get it together, and actually plummeted down the standings through August - they failed to beat a team over .500 - settling into third above the rudderless Mets and the cityless Expos.
The 'Stros may have simply "progressed" to the mean and began to win the way their players career histories would predict they should. But it is also possible that changing managers made a difference, on some level at least. So while the Astros recognized their shortcomings and addressed them early enough to make September meaningful, while the Phillies were content with the status quo. I can certainly understand not trading any of the Untouchables, but if it is clear you can't make a significant trade, then isn't replacing Larry Bowa warranted?
It is likely that because the Astros brass took a proactive stance, their fans can enjoy a race for a playoff spot and maybe even the playoffs themselves. It is also likely that because the Phillies brass took an inactive stance, their phans can turn to the Eagles or analyze the minutiae of every start Gavin Floyd makes from now until the end of the month.
It Could be Worse...
...You could be a New York Mets fan.
First, the Mets trade uber-prospect Scott Kazmir to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Victor Zambrano, claiming they were getting back into the NL East race. The Mets were in fourth place and seven games behind the Braves at the time, not exactly the type of circumstances you want to trade one of your best young pitching prospects for a wildly erratic 29 year-old starter. And now comes news from Adam Rubin, writing for the New York Daily News, who quotes an unidentified source that says Larry Bowa is interested in becoming the Mets bench coach for 2005. Yet another inside source claims that the Mets are inclined to keep Art Howe, their current manager around for another year, but surround him with "energetic, hands-on" coaches.
If by "energetic" you mean "volcanic" and if by "hands-on" you mean "micro-manager", then my offer from mid-August still stands.
A Slight But Slippery Slope
For several years, Mike Schmidt has been on the record as being in favor of Pete Rose becoming reinstated into baseball. In a piece by Jim Salisbury in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Schmidt continues his support of Rose, advocating for a final decision on the matter to be made by baseball commissioner Bud Selig. While I agree with The Best Third Baseman of All Time that a decision should be made soon, I differ with Schmidt on the final verdict.
Supporters of Rose will argue that what Rose did pales in comparison to what many athletes have done - taking illegal drugs, getting arrested for assault or abuse, even murder. And when one looks at these comparisons in the context of society, they are right, Rose's indiscretions do pale in comparison to those crimes. But Selig isn't making his decision for the good of society - the justice system did that years ago - he is making it for the good of baseball. In the context of baseball, Rose's indiscretions are worse than the crimes of other athletes. Despite the mounting list of misdeeds of other athletes, fans continue to fill stadiums, buy jerseys, and subscribe to satellite TV packages. But if fans begin to question the validity of the outcomes of games, or even seasons, because of suspicions of gambling, the degree at which they patronize and take an interest in baseball will quickly and steadily decrease.
Will reinstating Pete Rose directly lead to an increase in the amount of gambling within baseball? No, but in a very indirect way, it might. Reinstating Rose will set a precedent that gambling on baseball is not grounds for lifetime dismissal, which would represent a weakening of the stance baseball has taken for decades as gambling has always been grounds for lifetime dismissal. This is one stance, for the good of baseball, can not be altered. It's a chance the sport can not afford to take.
As Selig deliberates, he must ask himself, "How will history view this decision?" The question he should not ask himself while deliberating is, "What do the fans want?" In other words, he needs to remember that he needs to do what is best for baseball, not what is most popular.
Introducing the Back Page
Several days ago, I introduced a blog withing a blog so to speak. Unfortunately, in it's original format, it was difficult to update and difficult for people to link to. So, I've created a new blog, Balls, Sticks, & Stuff's Back Page. The content of the Back Page will be quick short posts regarding the little interesting things we come across while surfing the web, short blurbs rather than more lengthy posts.
Gavin Floyd Blog
10:17 AM: Originally, The Missus and I were going to be heading down to Charleston for the Labor Day weekend, but plans have changed, so I'll be watching Gavin Floyd's debut tonight against the Mets instead. And at this late date, since I have nothing better to do, I've decided to blog in real-time tonight, updating during Floyd's start. So, if you are looking for an insightful perspective with a high degree of analytical commentary, look no further. Cancel your night out with your significant other, crack open an adult beverage, turn on the ballgame, mute the sound, and hit refresh every couple of minutes on your browser.
Disclaimer/Fine Print: I'm not saying I will actually have an insightful perspective with a high degree of analytical commentary, I'm just saying, look no further.
6:15 PM: The Missus gets home and announces she wants to go out to dinner. I explain that Gavin Floyd is debuting in the major leagues tonight, I'd like to see the game, if Gavin goes on to become a Hall of Famer in twenty years, I'd like to be able to say I saw him pitch his first game on TV. She is not impressed.
6:37 PM: We are seated at a new Italian restaurant around the corner from our house by the hostess. Our waiter comes over and looks like Hervé Villechaize's slightly taller brother. The Missus is not amused when I point it out after he leaves.
7:05 PM: I can only assume the first pitch is tossed.
7:58 PM: On the way home I hear on ESPN Radio that the Phils and Mets are each scoreless through two and I let out a mini fist-pump. Again, she's not impressed.
8:02 PM: I get MLB.tv fired up in time to hear Tom Seaver hypothesizing that the Mets batters would begin to get to Floyd because it is the second time through the lineup. Nice try Tom, Floyd gets Piazza and Cliff Floyd to ground out on the first pitch.
8:14 PM: Yes, I know this is a blog about Gavin Floyd, but I can't help but be glad for Pat Burrell when he hits a homerun, putting the Phils up 2-1 through 4 innings.
8:29 PM: In the fifth inning, Floyd gets screwed on a call by the umpire on an outside fastball to Todd Zeile, who walks on the pitch. Fortunately Eric Valent hits into an inning ending double play on his first pitch following Zeile. Phils up 2-1 through the top of the fifth.
8:43 PM: If I had to listen to Tom Seaver announce every game I would wear earplugs. So far he has railed on every hitter for striking out 100 times in a season.
8:47 PM: Floyd's 20th curveball of the game (top of 6th inning) gets Mike Piazza to ground into a double play. Through 6 innings Floyd has thrown 48 of 77 pitches for strikes, has struck out 4, walked 3, given up 4 hits - one of which was a solo homerun, and induced two double plays. Phils up 3-1.
8:59 PM: Larry Bowa sends Gavin Floyd to bat with two outs and men on first and third in the bottom of the sixth. He grounds out, but given the way he has pitched so far and given the way the Phils bullpen has been, I think it is the right thing to do, we will see how it pans out with David Wright, Gerald Williams and Jason Phillips due up in the top of the 7th.
9:05 PM: Floyd walks David Wright on seven pitches. Roberto Horrendez is warming up in the bullpen. Can't we help the kid out a bit more than that?
9:12 PM: Floyd must have realized that Horrendez is warming up because he gets two fly outs and a strike out looking to end the inning. Phils up 3-1 through the top of the 7th inning. Bowa's tactics in the bottom of the sixth panned out.
9:36 PM: The Phillies tack on 5 runs in the bottom of the seventh. Rheal Cormier takes the mound in the top of the eighth with the Phillies up 8-1. Gavin Floyd's final line in what looks to be a Win in his major league debut is 7 IP, 5K, 4BB, 4H, 1ER, 57 of 95 pitches for strikes.
Unshiny Unhappy People
Tired of all the negativity surrounding the Phillies, this morning I decided to turn my attention to the Eagles. "Surely there must be a plethora of positive articles about the Eagles." The first two articles I find are by Sal Paolantonio reporting on the perceived shortcomings of Andy Reid and Len Pasquarelli doing the same for Donovan McNabb.
"Just when I thought I was out, THEY PULL ME BACK IN!"
What is it with Philadelphia, phans, and negativity? Other fan groups have it as well, Red Sox fans and Cubs fans immediately come to mind. But Boston Red Sox fans at least remain positive right up until the very last second (when their outlook instantly morphs into a completely resigned fatalism). Cubs fans, in most years, know they aren't going to win, but really don't care in the end as long as they have a nice summer in the sun at Wrigley. These fans can at least enjoy the experience.
Possibly it is easier for me to retain a certain amount of optimism because I do not live in Pennsylvania and therefore I am not exposed to the constant phlagellation from co-workers, friends, radio, and television. In a sea of Redskins and Orioles and Braves fans I can keep in perspective how fortunate I am to have Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid at the helm of my favorite football team and see that while the Phillies are a major disappointment, that the franchise is head-and-shoulders above what it was several years ago.
Back to Reid and McNabb specifically, Sal Pal reports the interesting fact that Andy Reid's contract runs out this year and inevitably Sal Pal uses the term "hot seat". How can a coach that has resurrected a franchise and taken them to the semi-finals of an entire professional sport three years in a row and favored to do so a fourth time be on the hot seat? In the depths of the Richie Kotite/Ray Rhodes eras, if you had told any Eagles fan that in a couple of years the team would go to the NFC Championship game three years in a row, they would have hastily dropped their cheesesteaks, gone down on bended knee and thanked their Maker. As for McNabb, Len Pasquarelli also brings up the three NFC Championship game appearances as if they are a bad thing and calls McNabb's throwing accuracy into question. Many a fall Sunday afternoon, I have tossed my hands up in the air and rolled my eyes as a McNabb tries to bounce a pass to an open receiver. But after a few deep breaths I remind myself of my take on his accuracy: He is being coached to throw the ball low. It is very rare that a pass thrown too low is intercepted and Pasquarelli does point out that while the number of McNabb's passing touchdowns may not be as high as we would like, his interception totals are extremely low. That's a trade off I am more than willing to take.
At one point or another, all of us have had a motherly figure say, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." But sometimes I can't help but think Mother Conlin must have said something different to a young Bill Conlin, "If you can't say anything nice, be a sports columnist for the losingist sports franchise in history."
Anyone who follows the Phillies is disappointed in the way 2004 has gone, and rightfully so. As a general rule in baseball, the more money you spend, the better your team will do. However, that's not what happened to the Phillies after the big spending in the previous two offseasons. The Phillies have the fourth highest payroll in baseball and yet they are solidly in the middle of the pack in baseball, epitomizing the term "also-ran". Disappointment is natural and expected, but Conlin's column in Thursday's Philadelphia Daily News goes beyond disappointment, it's an exercise in splenetic petulance.
Yes Bill, we are all disappointed. Yes Bill, we are all hoping for something different in 2004. But what good does a column like this do? I can certainly understand expressing your displeasure, I've certainly done it repeatedly, but at this point, Phandom needs to focus on what the positives of the team are - and there are some - and what changes can be made in the offseason to make next years team better. Yes, phans should expect and demand better from the Phillies, but columns such as this do nothing but contribute to the natural cynicism that pervades the area and clouds the possibility of some forward thinking.
Instead of a thoughtful and reflective column that points out the development of two young baseball players with the potential to be All-Stars in Chase Utley and Ryan Madson, we get statements from Conlin like "The slogan of this outfit could have been Better Losing Through Bad Chemistry." Conlin also has the benefit of 20/15 hindsight, "Maybe it should have been an item of concern that despite the addition of Milton to the rotation, the other four guys still were named Padilla, Wolf, Millwood and Myers." The Phillies have a farm system containing several young players that every general manager in baseball covets, but because objective reasoning is lost on Conlin, he can't appreciate Gavin Floyd and Cole Hamels, instead he closes the column with, "I don't have the heart to tell you what a mess the Phillies' minor leagues are in. Again."
Reading between the lines, you get the impression that Conlin would actually prefer to re-live the 1964 Phillies collapse than the unfulfilled potential of 2004. But I am willing to contend that if we could somehow dig up some writings of Conlin from 1964, we would find that he wished the Phillies had played .500 ball for most of the season than lose a large lead in the last weeks of the season. For that matter, I would also bet that somewhere out there, there are essays written in faded ink on brittle yellow parchment with Conlin stating, "Moving the nation's capital to Washington, DC will never work, it should return to York, Pennsylvania."
What would you do Bill? If David Montgomery called you tomorrow and said, "Gee Bill, I've been reading your columns and I think you are the man for the general manager job." What would be the first action you would take? We know from your columns you can complain with the best of the old fogies, but can you talk free agents into coming to play for a team that has a long history of losing and a fickle fan base the way Ed Wade can? Who would you hire to replace Larry Bowa? A "player's manager" or a hard-nosed disciplinarian? Want to start all over gain with a new core of players? Who do you trade? What general managers can you talk into taking on the contracts of Abreu or Burrell or whoever else you feel should leave town?
I guess when you face such weighty issues every day as deciding what donut to dunk in the coffee mug, running a major league baseball franchise must look like child's play. I can't wait to read in the coming months what Bill Conlin would do if he were in charge of the Phillies. He will tell us won't he?