Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Ardor Cooled Successfully

Micah Owings- a proud son of Tulane- is aptly described in today’s Daily News: Owings, a legitimate power threat - he hit .335 with 33 homers his last 2 years at Tulane and later tripled in the sixth.

I guess pitching five innings of one-run ball doesn’t merit much mention when a National League pitcher flashes a thunder bat. Also, he’s left handed- and the Phillies just kinda take the night off when a semi-quality lefty strolls to the hill- so Micah loses points right there too. I mean, a LHP really ought to turn in seven-eight innings of dominating baseball against the Phillies to be considered pitching “well”.

Gosh, the Phillies have done their level best to cool the ardor of the fan base after their glorious sweep of Atlanta- by reverting back to the quality of play they exhibited just a week ago in Florida: endless errors, guys getting caught stealing down four runs, more and better and interesting bullpen meltdowns.

It is a long season- and if you wanted to humiliate a Phillies team that figured to be a little flat after their big weekend- you might try throwing a pair of solid lefties at them surrounded by a hot ballclub. It worked here certainly. And frankly, Leiber been darn good as a bottom-of-the-rotation starter; he’s probably allowed a bad one without me killing him. That is part and parcel of being a slightly better than .500 club- faced with good starting pitching, or you play poorly, you’re gonna lose two in a row a lot. And what you did the series before has little to do with the series you’re in. The Phillies are good…. sometimes.

I won’t rehash today’s other article in the PDN- which centers on the above factoid: LHP pitching kills us. I will say that obviously Howard (.133 versus lefties) can’t sit against LHPs- but would it hurt so bad to move him out of the freakin’ four hole until he figures it out again?

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Taking Stock

Given a chance to grade the Phillies this season, I’m probably the only person in the Delaware Valley that would not give them a “D” or worse. Not that I, a true Prince of Darkness on this sort of thing, laud their performance- but I never bought into the hype. I always thought they were, at best, a little better than average- and they do seem on a glide path of sorts to that 84-85 win number.

Grading a .500 team is a little hard, right? The Mets have a bad week, the Nats have a good one, you don't change an opionion of them. But a .500 team is only as good or as bad as the last road trip. Given the crosses Philadelphia bears- the utterly disasterous bullpen, injuries to two closers, injury and total non-performance from the reigning MVP, the ongoing disaster that is Jimmy Rollins- it is kind of a miracle they are as near to relevance as they are.

So, after their brutal start, May had to be about to getting back to .500, shaving the wild card deficit to five games. And you know what, they have largely done that- barring a total meltdown versus the Braves in Atlanta this weekend. Which, yes, could happen. It is still darn hard around here.

It is fashionable to kill manager Charlie Manuel for everything- and he leaves a lot to be desired as a game day practioner of his craft. But you know what, he has done a good job, a very good job, since the end of April. His move of Myers to the bullpen was exactly correct- whatever structure and order that exists down there is due to that move. And that was simply a problem that needed to be triaged- and his approach has worked- particularly if Myers' injury is truly just day-to-day. And returning Leiber to the rotation has helped there too- he’s been a better rotation option than Myers was in 2007. It was a gutsy call, it was totally his call, it was the biggest macro-strategic call of the season, it improved two areas of the club- and it was right and is the single biggest factor the Phillies got their act together. He gets credit. Period.

And the second plus for Charlie is, well, Charlie’s greatest strength in the clubhouse. Guys play for him. Twice since last August- their recent terrible start and Gillick’s pulling the plug on 2006- the team could have rolled over and died. But Charlie’s teams just don’t do that sort of thing. He seems to do his best managing when psychologically the chips are down. I wouldn’t want Charlie exchanging tactics with many managers in a big spot- but if I had struggling club that needed a reason to keep coming to the ballpark, Charlie would be at the top of my list. That is twice in one year he has dug a Phillies’ team out of an abyss that was not his making. Good on Charlie.

After failing April, the Phillies have pretty much succeeded in May goals- get back both to relevance and five games in the loss column. The bullpen is still a huge problem- but the starting pitching seems to have stabilized- got to where they have a chance every night. They probably can’t sustain a Wild Card drive unless Howard comes back and has a real good second half- but there is more optimism now that they can hang around a pace to get to 86-88 wins, and that a pace of that magnitude is enough to hang around the Braves.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Batting Seventh... Shortstop Jimmy Rollins

Sorry about that little break since Saturday- but having the exacta "backward" (ed. yes, yes, that is another word for wrong!) for both Triple Crown races was enough to sour me on life for awhile.

Not that things are better today. The Phillies lost a semi-bad one last night- say, about the fifteenth loss that makes you want to lay down this season. The Marlins got good starting pitching- and a succession of relievers shut them down (where on earth did Toronto and the Marlins find these guys?)- so you can’t say the Phillies “lost it”. As the Phillies waste May getting to .500, as opposed to chasing the wild card, this is an important six game trip against division rivals. It is also the one game on the trip where they figured to be favorites in Las Vegas. So, down one to love already, 2-4 seems likely, 3-3 at this point would be celebrated- as another week falls off the calendar.

Today, the guys at We Should be GM’s capture the feeling of futility that only the Phillies can engender- so check them out. I don't have as many problems with Charlie as they do. But one thing that makes me crazy is his absolute refusal to dumb roles down for guys who are struggling. I mean, if Rollins doesn't hit another home run, by say August, could we move him out of the three-hole then?

To wit: Howard, Rollins and Gordon have to play- and play a lot- in 2007.

But Howard catagorically doesn't have to hit clean up night after night when he's hitting .200 for weeks at a time. Rollins doesn't have to hit lead-off, or worse THIRD(???), when he doesn't have it going. Look at the picture above- he has a pose perfected for popping up a 3-1 fastball- which has to tell you something? Hit him seventh for a week or so. And Gordon doesn't have to close when he stinks- although, yes, they had no other realistic options for most of that period.

He did it with Thome too. Play the guys- you have to- but put them in roles where they are asked to do less for a week or two.

I mean, one clear reason for the Phils' recent string of good play was Howard wasn't killing them night after night in the clean up spot. They aren't going to make the play-offs without Howard hitting an effective clean-up- but they can survive, and will be better!, if he hits for a week or two someplace in the lineup more conducive to hitting .190 for three weeks.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Baltimore's Second Biggest Event

Today’s Preakness is the second biggest event in Baltimore this summer- and about as straightforward as they come. First, only Hard Spun has run a Beyer number even close to Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense. Street Sense's recent Derby outing towers over the rest of the field by six-seven lengths. Second, anything almost has to be better than last year's awful disaster involving that horse who NBC loves. Look at the picture: the whole crowd watching Barbaro break down, ignoring Bernardini romping home

So you are forced to evaluate: do you like the 7-to-5 price on the champ?- does it give you a fair return on your investment?

Ugh. I think Street Sense will win- I doubt he is a super horse, but he is clearly better than this collection- and the chance for an off track probably helps. The price to win is bad though.

And it is bad probably in the exotics too- but I like some of the longer chances on the board today to run well- so I think we can justify some small wagers on some exactas.

Circular Quay, Curlin and King Of the Roxy all have career Beyers in the 98-100 range- so if Street Sense manages to get this done today all will figure to angle for the second spot. Most of the new cast of characters in here don’t seem like real legit threats to hit theboard- lots of Beyers in the 80s & 90s, and you probably need a 100+ to be in this thing. Obviously, Hard Spun ran a courageous race in the Derby- but he is absolutely a candidate to bounce in this spot, setting that quick pace two weeks ago in Louisville.

The Derby just felt like a better risk-reward spot than here- there were a lot of moving parts that were pretty fairly priced. This has a clear favorite, some decent competitors (headed up by Hard Spun). It isn’t that it is boring- just pretty straight forward.

So, even though there is no score in it, I’ll take a chance with my most likely outcome- and try to get paid. $10 exactas: Street Sense over Circular Quay, Curlin and King Of the Roxy.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007


To celebrate the Phillies’ return to officially mediocre (20-20!), I refer you to a pretty cognizant post at PhilliesNation. The post makes an excellent point and skirts around another:

1. Outfield defense is the single most under-appreciated factor in NL brand baseball. It generates "extra" outs- outs that are even more important than normal- throwing guys out on the basepaths, taking away extra base hits. That is of unreal importance in a hitters’ park like ours. Think of the havoc "giving a team four outs" creates- and then think of the semi-similar exercise of only granting two outs due to a great play. Also, the spacious outfields of our division- Shea and RFK in particular. It is helpful- particularly since I’m sure Rowand can cheat toward left with Victorino in right.

2. Another key reason for the renaissance is the fact the #4 hole isn't a total inning-killing, .204 hitting, with a billion strikeouts, cancer night after night. Howard has 20 hits- for the season! For the short term, Howard's absence as an every day player has been frankly helpful. And as his big game-winning HR last week proves- he has been sort of an indirect asset to the bench too.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Almost Back to Okay

No smugness here at Frank Helps You Think it All Out or by John Smallwood. And one could argue the Phillies haven’t really beaten the Brewers yet- but rather have beat the beejeezus out of the unfortunate Derrick Turnbow. So far, the Brewers bashing style doesn’t really seem to translate to a ballpark where everyone and anyone can hit a fly ball consistently for a homerun.

But hey, the Phillies have started this ten game homestand off in style- and after their horrid start- style points totally do not count around here. Just win baby.

With the Mets and Braves playing north of .600 ball- their current pace translates to something like 102 wins each- the Phillies will need one of those teams to regress pretty substantially. It isn’t so much the six games they are back- but rather the pace that .600 ball implies.

In fact, if the Mets & Braves were in another division, I would almost say the Phillies were “done” barring one of those teams substantially collapsing. That is to say: even if the wild card was to come in at 95 wins, as opposed to 102, the Phillies are looking at something like playing .620 baseball- for four months! (76-47)- just to get a tie. I don’t think they can do that.

But the Mets & Braves, being in the same division, still have a lot of games left with each other- which means for fourteen games or so one team almost has to play sub-.500 ball. And a lot of game left with the Phillies too- which means the Phillies completely control whether or not they can hang yet another two weeks worth of sub-.500 ball on them. Basically, one of them probably mathematically, due to playing each other, just can’t win 98-99 games- an insurmountable level after the Phillies’ poor start. And the Phillies, by extracting a pound of flesh- can knock that level down even further.

So, the mathematics of the schedule probably conspire against an impossible win total for two co-divisional opponents- and lots of head to head games allow the Phillies to play well one particular weekend and close this gap to something manageable. They need some help- but the NL East is set up to provide it- if this run of pretty good play since the 4-11 start is more indicative of the Phillies true level.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Sink the BCS!

Well, with the Phillies defining lusterless- and no football on the horizon- I am going to indulge in some utter navel picking about Tulane and C-USA.

Tulane is not getting invitation to a BCS League any time soon. That isn’t to say we ought not aspire to it- or jump at an opportunity if it fell into our lap. It is like the Lotto- one can justify a small amount of effort because the upside is so great and, heck, you might be walking around lucky and not know it- but you don’t seriously plan real time and effort in it.

I’m not saying it is easy, but a more realistic plan is try to kick this busted League of ours up a notch or two in quality. The Big East is a semi-decent example- in the sense that five years ago it was not a legit BCS League. But it has adroitly managed itself, consequently gotten a lot better- and now produces six-eight teams that would not shock you in they were Top 25 in any given year. Most importantly, it sort of proves that a rising tide lifts all boats- there is no Rutgers' miracle without quality programs in West Virginia, Louisville, etc.

Granted C-USA doesn’t have the Big East’s BCS advantage- but why can’t we- and our peers- improve the League some? Get six-eight teams to rotate up to the Top 60, the top half of college football?

Correspondingly, one thing that makes me crazy is the absolute unwillingness of the non-BCS schools- who make about half the I-A voting membership- to follow the “leadership” of the BCS schools and form a similar cabal to wield what power we have.

I’m not saying get into an ugly brawl- which we’d lose- with the BCS schools. But a non-BCS cabal could force some “populist reforms” to level the playing field. And I say populist in the sense that opposing them would be hard for any other reason than simple greed- a tag BCS schools deserve, loathe and, fortunately, the sporting press loves to hang on them:

1. Agree that no member would play any football series without at 1 for 1 home games- or at least 2 for 3.

2. I-A teams must play one away out of conference game against any other I-A team- either a BCS or non-BCS team.

3. Increase the bowl eligibility standard to seven I-A wins: get rid of 6-6 BCS teams taking mid-major spots, force scheduling away from I-AA teams- games that come at our League’s expense- particularly helpful with the above reform.

4. Decrease the financial standards for putting on a bowl game- non-BCS Leagues need more New Orleans Bowl, Motor City Bowl style games, not fewer.

5. Insist the fifth BCS game take the best mid-major available- instead of qualifying participation.

6. Knock the scholarships allowed down by two-three a year- force costs down and the talent around.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Do Our Players Really Stink?

Today, the Times-Picayune has an article featuring the travels of Tulane recruiting coordinator Doug Lichtenberger. I don’t think it is particularly insightful- just a newsy, yet breathless- he drives thousands of miles! in rental cars!- report on just how much traveling he does.

But I was semi-interested in this bit:
Before the Internet, May used to take on a more serious and frenetic tone. Because there was always the chance that a good player could slip through the cracks and go unnoticed, recruiting coordinators and coaches had to be more diligent in their scouting.

But now recruiting is a year-round job for colleges, and with Web sites such as and, most of the top players in every recruiting class have been identified, ranked and evaluated.

Most colleges subscribe to national recruiting services, which give them lists of the top players at each position at high schools across the country. And because of this major football powers like LSU, Southern California and Notre Dame go into each season with commitments from at least four or five highly sought-after recruits.
Now, I don’t subscribe to any of those “services”. And I do not like to comment on recruits' abilities outside of obvious public recorded facts.

But I know a lot of folks seem to believe that the stockpiles of “one-star” and “two-star” recruits that make up our classes are not indicative of the true talent level Tulane brings in: these services don’t know what they are talking about.

The fact the services enjoy wide subscriptions among the I-A community seems to contradict that assessment. And clearly, the four star recruits that make up Auburn, the two/three star recruits that make up USM, seem to smoke Tulane.

I suppose I tended to think these services could follow the top few dozen players, marry them up with some facts about schools were interested, and create a semi-interesting player ability index. But it seems that these I-A programs seem to value their input. And since I-A football is a serious business run by serious adults, who aren’t rewarded for wasting their time in talent prospecting; there must be some merit to these national recruiting services.


Monday, May 07, 2007

Dense Little Elves

The stupidest people in America are easy to find. They populate the jockey colony at any American thoroughbred race track. Normally, I don’t care. But at Saturday’s Kentucky Derby those dense little elves cost me hundreds of dollars. They literally stole from me.

I had the top two finishers on my exacta ticket- but in the reverse order of finish- which would have probably been the correct order if finish had the collected wisdom of the rider population manage to realize (as Ray Kerrison points out):

1. Street Sense was one of two horses to beat.
2. Street Sense is nothing but a closing machine.
3. So you dimwits, it might not be best to allow this talented racing machine to stroll up inside, taking full advantage of the heavy rail bias.

Street Sense looked like Jeff Gordon out there- passing seventeen or so competitors to the inside with not one, not one, thinking it might be astute to shut off his progress.

It was pitiful- but Ray is right. He candidly describes the collective rides as a situation that “should never be tolerated”. Only Todd Pletcher is more stupid this morning. Take a moment to enjoy his brillant anaylsis.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Yum! Brands

I have a bad feeling this year. Predicting this Kentucky Derby is much like predicting New York’s beloved Powerball- except you are limited to 20 numbers. Even the presented by Yum! Brands adds a nice Lotto stylization to it. Oh, Medaglia d’Oro, I miss you.

Well, it also means we all have a sporting chance to hit this thing- which frankly only has to help me. I haven’t hit the Derby in awhile. The introduction of luck elements simply has to help. Also, I have my bottle of Woodford Reserve- actually purchased in Kentucky during Thunder over Louisville- so it has to be an optimistic totem.

Today’s story seems to feature two horses perceived as a cut above the field: Curlin and Street Sense- and my overriding impression is that you almost have to bet against them. Curlin is being lauded to the skies for his two smashing graded prep performances- both performed in, wait for it, Arkansas. His 102 Beyer in the Arkansas Derby is a not a particularly good number for a champion running free near the top. Plus, while 102 might get it done here, he ain’t getting that cruising trip in this mob today. Street Sense was the best of this class last year- crushing many of these horses in the Juvenile last year at CD. But he has done little since- and his Blue Grass prep was out and out slow. That race won’t get him on the board today. Frankly, Street Sense is a favorite only because the last time we “really” saw him was the awesome performance seven months ago.

Mind you, both could win this thing- but the price you get doesn’t befit the records on hand. Or frankly, the very chanciness of this event: throw in the probably off track, all this Polytrack nonsense, and the enormous field getting in each other’s way… well, it does not feel like Giacomo again, but certainly one must consider value more than pure merit.

So I am going to recommend playing a collection of "second tier" horses- hoping one breaks through- and whose price indicates a little better risk-reward option.

As seen to the right, I like Hard Spun- who ran a 101 getting it done in the G2 Lanes End. As I stated above, a Beyer around 102 might get it done today. Giacomo’s brother Tiago is here today, sports a huge Grade 1 prep win at the Derby at Santa Anita and has also run a triple digit Beyer. Nobiz Like Showbiz is a tough nut too, a real brawler in traffic, whose best efforts are just shy of 100- but won the G1 Wood memorial to punch his ticket here.

So I’m gonna run a bunch of small exactas out there. Put Hard Spun, Nobiz Like Showbiz and Tiago on top of one another, Circular Quay, Street Sense and Any Given Saturday. That is fifteen small tickets- figure $3 on the Hard Spun and Tiago tix, $2 on the others- that is $40- and the approved play for this afternoon.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

We Love You Phillies- In Spite of Ourselves

The Phillies continue to do what they’ve done best in the Charlie Manuel era- which is sort of meander directionlessly with a slight bias toward just north of break even. Case in point: a stretch of good play against bottom division opponents Florida and Washington. Don’t dismiss a stretch of 4-2 against bad clubs- play .600 against the bad teams and .500 against the good one- and you get to 90 wins. But that important latter point about breaking even against good clubs.... well, the Phillies can’t beat the Braves or the Mets half the time- which is why they are an 83-84 win team.

More directionlessness? Well, how can the loss of Gordon for three weeks not be seen as a short term plus?- and further, how many teams can realistically say the loss for three weeks of their closer probably helps in the short term? That is true irony- the kind the Phillies specialize in. Gordon could be a plus relief pitcher- but he simply isn’t a plus closer. Moving Myers to the closer role could be a plus, right? Additionally, since they refuse to use Gordon in a role where he could be a plus (out of the ‘pen earlier, situationally, etc.)- for the next few weeks they subtract only a true minus from the closer role in return for adding a potential plus. Yes, losing a major league bullpen arm hurts long term- but short term it probably works out for the best.

The loss last night to Atlanta, and well as the loss to Washington last week that cost them a sweep, were particular frustrating- as both games meant a win would have brought them within one game of .500 and were against starting pitchers that could be beat. They failed both times- now sit at three under even-stevens. One game under meant a series win squared the mark and a May spent chasing the Mets and Braves- the current three under means they’ll spend most of May trying to get to .500 even if they play well. Put it this way- this hard seven game trip out west- and the probable three up, four down- means it is almost mid-May, four under .500.

I guess that is just it- they aren’t as good as Atlanta and not good enough to step on the Nats. That is third place people.

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