Monday, June 30, 2008

We’ve Created Dave Kingman

Today’s angst in Philadelphia centers around Brett Myers and his rotation spot. I would point out that this angst exists because they’ve credible options here: Myers is a potential bullpen asset, there are some minor league arms that appear sustainable for a bit, JD Durbin could stretch out, Kris Benson is closer and closer.

The Phillies are something like 3-11 in games Myers starts- so really, anything probably has to be better at this point (although I’d keep pitching him as long as they’re in first place). But, you can have an argument abut that because the problem is not, yet, intractable.

I’m more worried about Ryan Howard.

It is hard to figure out exactly how much Howard is helping or hurting. If sabermatricians turned the game on its head- then Howard turns them on their head.

Most sabermatricians worship at the altar of OBP (don’t make outs) and home runs (hit a three run home run, you almost always win the game). Howard normally gives you good OBP. He’s down this year- but he finished at an outstanding .392 last year (.400 is good for lead-off hitter)and with any kind of finish ought to be around .350 this year. He hits a prodigious amount of home runs. But they frown on strike-outs (unproductive outs)- and no one strikes out like Howard. And he’s hitting .212- he’s on pace to have 130 hits this year- which is horrendous.

So I dunno how good an offensive player he is. With 45HRs, he’s going to win a few games by himself they would lose otherwise. But, ugh .212 is a cancer in the core hitting spots. And they’re on the hook for $10M every year he’s here. Right now, he's like Dave Kingman (.236, 442 HRs, 1818Ks) writ large.

The very fact there is a question about the $10M clean up hitter makes me wonder increasingly about the utility of keeping him around after the season. I’d look for every opportunity to send him to the American League. They could probably get a good player back- and freeing up $10M means they could add another real good player. That is one good player and another real good player for an increasing enigma. Mind you, this isn’t a Scott Rolen deal- you can be choosy and take the right deal- but I think they’d be remiss to not pitch Howard as a Frank Thomas type American League 1B/DH.

As to an immediate solution, why not try hitting him sixth? It is still an RBI spot- and the fact the just doesn’t get on much won’t hurt so badly there (with the seventh and eight hitters not being in the business of driving in guys). I kinda see the sixth spot as a place where you’re trying to get one more chance to generate extra base hits, pick up those good hitters with good-to-decent OBP in the 3-4-5 spots, clear the bases- before going on to the situational hitting that drive the bottom line-up spots in the National League. Pat the Bat is on base a lot, and the new four/five hitter figures to be one of their better hitters too. I just don’t think they lose much of Howard’s utility batting sixth- and they get a .212 hitter out of the engine room (ed. note: plus, the line up chain reaction probably gets Rollins out of the lead-off spot where his poor OBP will stop being a problem, but his RBI bat will help immensely)

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Pithy Summation For June?

From June 6th til the end of the month, the Phillies are/were scheduled to play 21 games. Five road series: ATL, FLA, STL, OAK, TEX- and a short home stand: BOS, LAA

If you have the Phils at something like 91-71, a pretty rational mark, that is a .560 team. So, let’s be be fair. This stretch, fifteen road games with real brutal travel, featuring many real good clubs- well, a .560 team probably plays a couple under .500 more often than not.

Right now, they’re 7-10 in that stretch- with the top of the rotation scheduled to deal with Texas.

The homestand probably was a bit ugly, a little “slump”. But this is no crisis- this is what 91 wins looks like.

Or maybe I'm cocky cause the Phillies finally won one last night?


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Losing Continues Apace

Last night, the Phillies lost to Oakland- that is six losses in a row if you’re counting- in their first game on this road trip. That is a huge leg up toward losing their fifth straight series loss- and their forth series loss in four tries against the American League.

I know I’ve had about enough of this American League medicine. The Phillies are 2-8 in inter-league play, the Marlins are 5-8, and the Mets have looked gross versus Seattle so far. I’ve watched the Mariners in this series; they honestly might be .500 in NL East.

I dunno. It is hard to watch any of the “top” team in NL East- the Phillies, Marlins and Mets- and think they’d be competitive for anything in the American League. Maybe that it is why I am not exactly panicked. I feel pretty okay conceding decent American League outfits are better than the Phillies. But there better than the Mets and Marlins too- and the NL East status quo will reassert once these beating are fully administered.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Should We Man The Lifeboats?

Well, that was a depressing series of beatings for the Phillies. I dunno. I mean, I can’t write the Phillies are an 88-89 win team, in contention the past two years less on their own merits and more due the paucity of play in NL East, and really be too disconcerted by the fact that they got their head handed to them by a pair of clubs that are clearly better than them.

The Angles and Red Sox are elite outfits- the two sole members of the American Leagues .600 plus club. The Phillies are a wild card level team in a weak division. At home, it is unfortunate they only got one of six, but really the Phillies probably were gonna be lucky to get something like even three here.

Put this after the preceding tricky, yet winning, road trip- I’m inclined to give the Phillies a pass this week. Frankly, they’re still the NL East’s best chance, by far, or producing a 90 win outfit.

But they’re just not an elite team- capable of winning the World Series short of astonishing luck. Outside of Utley, ou can pitch to their core hitters. In the five rotation spots, they’re a plus at 1 (Hamels), even at 3-4-5 (Moyer, Kendrick, Eaton), and a considerable minus at 2 (Myers). Add a plus ‘pen, and the pitching is north of average, but not by much.

And good teams have bad weeks in the grind of a 162 games schedule, particularly when the week's draw features true quality outfits. Nothing this week should put off a sane view of the Phillies as a 90-72 club- but any deep, rational post-season run is unlikely barring a revitalized Myers, another top of the rotation starter via trade and a helpful bat in the six-seven hole.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

I Like This Ad

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Potential Mets-Like Choke?

With the elimination of Tulane from the NCAA Baseball Tournament, the Green Wave sports’ season came to an end. Frank Helps You Think It All Out took a short break from providing insight- but now we’ll kill time until kick-off agonizing through the Phillies’ summer.

Pre-season, I put the Phillies at 89 wins. I am inclined to stick with that number- to wit, they’re pretty good, but winning the division ultimately rests on the Braves, Mets or Marlins being unable to get over the 90-win hump. With the Braves and Mets being disappointments so far, and the Philadelphia pitching really being a complete marvel health-wise, you might be able to tick the Phillies number up a hair.

The Marlins are still a pesky bunch- but the Mets and Braves need a multiple week stretch of the Phillies treading water at .500, coupled with decent play from themselves, to cut their games back number in half. Thus, we witness the rock around the park attitude the Phillies have been generating: the abounding sell-outs and good karma- all from Philadelphia fans!

Me? I’m still nervous. Lose this afternoon’s game to Boston- and that is three straight series losses. The Angles come in here next, followed by a never easy trip out west (Texas, Oakland), back on the road to Atlanta, and a huge hard homestand: Mets, Cards, Diamondbacks. That sequence ends July 13.

So the period June 13-July 13 is a tough one. They’re already below .500 for the span (2 up, 3 down)- and it is hard to see the Phillies churning out something above .500 for that one month span. Which, as above, is the one thing that will keep the injured Braves and ennui-filled Mets hanging around. Mind you, I'm not pessimistic; I realize the dog-days of summer are all about playing a stretch of sixty games with a degree of aimlessness. But I'm more worried about five games melting off their lead now than September.

If, on July 13th, they have a three game lead, five over the Mets, they’ll be a huge way to getting it done. Post all-star break it is division game after division game- and right now, they are the best team in NL East. But this next month is nervy and tricky.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Get On The Phone

Get On The Phone Tulane!

One would hope we're on the phone right now offering to do whatever they want.

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Saturday, June 07, 2008


Lord, it is hot here this morning.

For the Belmont this afternoon, I think Big Brown will win.

But wagering these things isn’t just about picking winners- it is about making plays at the right price. And given Big Brown's likely twenty cents on the dollar return, much like the Kentucky Derby, I’m gonna pass on him.

With the scatch of Casino Drive- who I sorta liked and had been laying in weight for Big Brown- the rest of the cast is real second teir. None have a prayer of beating Big Brown if he fires.

But there are rumblings out of Belmont of doubt and uncertainity. Dick Jerardi sums it up:
I was almost certain that Big Brown would win the Derby and totally certain he would win the Preakness. I do not have either of those feelings about this race.

Of course, Big Brown is the likely winner. No horse wins all those races by such large margins without great talent. The colt should be an overwhelming favorite.

But there are issues, some more serious than others. Big Brown is the only horse to run in all three Triple Crown races. When you watch how easily the horse wins, you might make an assumption that it has been easy. But it is never that easy. Each race takes something out of a horse.

Big Brown appears to have lost a little bit of weight through the series. The colt veered out sharply to the right after the finish line of the Preakness, a bit like he did after his final workout 2 days before the Derby. He came back from the Preakness with some blood trickling from his rear ankles as they were scraped up during the race.

"This horse looks better now than he did going into the Derby," said Dutrow, who continues to insist the colt can't lose.

And, 2 weeks ago, that quarter crack was discovered in the left front hoof. Big Brown missed 3 days of training. The Rembrandt of hooves, Ian McKinlay, was brought in to oversee the repairs. It is delicate business. It might be fine by race time. It could also sting the horse during the race. It is not the kind of thing that can lead to more serious injury, but it could impact the horse's ability to run at his best.

Big Brown's final workout on Tuesday was not as impressive as his final work before the Derby.
I’m telling you, there is a lot of ink out there like that- particularly about that closing workout. Everyone said he looked disinterested and slow. Maybe Big Brown is really more like 50-50 to win than pennies on the dollar?

I don’t like anyone else in the field exactly- but they all figure to pay great if Big Brown gets beat. I have a nagging feeling he will- but not enough to take a big stand. So I’ll play $45 on the “field to win”- that is a $5 win ticket on each challenger individually- and take a stand against the coronation in New York.

We hit the Belmont last year for a small fortune here.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Sami Says Good-Bye

One of my favorite Flyers and Finns, Sami Kapanen, hung them up yesterday. Ed Barkowitz writes:
The defining moment of Kapanen's Flyers' career came in the 2004 playoffs. It was overtime of Game 6 when a nasty series against the Maple Leafs became legendary.

Toronto's Darcy Tucker leveled Kapanen with a fierce check that left Kapanen woozy. Had Kapanen stayed down, play would have been whistled dead. Instead, he stumbled toward the bench, falling twice, but allowed the frenetic pace of play to continue. Shortly after Keith Primeau used a stick to literally reel Kapanen to safety, Jeremy Roenick scored the game-winning goal.
Here is the hit:

And here is the series winning goal
- only later did we find out the price Sami had paid to keep the play alive:


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A Pithy Summation

Tulane was eliminated last night by Florida State. Eliminate is sort of kind word for the beating we received- so the less said about that the better.

I wrote in the comments in the post below that, when you get beat by ten runs twice, it is hard to point to tactical reasons that you lost: can’t get bunts down, made errors, should have taken this pitcher out earlier, etc. Tulane got beat because Florida State is much better; our club might not have two position players start for the Seminoles.

In summation, our play in the tournament, particularly the win over Florida, coupled with the late season sweep of ECU, brands Tulane as in, just out or somewhere around the Top 25 programs in the country.

The really pretty uncompetitive nature of our late series with Rice and games here with the Seminoles suggest a gap between Tulane and the true elites of this sport.

Really that is it.

As to the gap, I’m sure the pitching is gonna get roasted. But I’m a little contrary there. To me, the gap seems particularly wide in the everyday position players’ capacity to hit.

It seems like you can sort these I-A college pitchers into two buckers: can and can’t, orderly and disorderly. I look as these scores roll in- and these top ten teams routinely put up double digits against pitchers that are “can’t” or are disorderly. And everyone seems to eventually run out of pitching. It seems to win these third and fourth and fifth games you gotta be able to put up big numbers frequently- beat FSU 12-10, not 4-1.

I dunno; I’m okay with it. Again, Tulane got what we wanted- a “steal one and advance” situation with Florida State- an all upside regional final. Okay, it didn’t work out. But it was fun- a chance to be a fan rather than a whinger. Considering that a week ago we were sweating just getting in, a pretty fortuitous week.

And winning these games helps going forward- anything that makes winning post-season games seem “regular” and routine is beneficial. Post-Katrina, we need more regular and routine.

And that is all I gotta say about that.

Yo! Coach Toledo. You’re up. Unfortunately big boy, I’m in a lot more foul mood about you.

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Return of the Jedi

Watching the Seminoles wreak havoc through the loser’s bracket- hanging up 17 runs versus Florida, 24 versus Bucknell, and 17 versus our very own Wave- I am reminded of the fish-like admiral bellowing at Lando Calrissian about his inability to repel such firepower from the Death Star.

So it is hard to be optimistic. I’m pretty sure Florida State is a better baseball team than Tulane. Fortunately, Tulane’s good play- and a little luck- have put them in a position where that isn’t so relevant.

I think, as a coach, the first strategic assessment you make is “are we better than these guys at baseball?” If the answer is “no”- then your first tactical mission is to not play a game of baseball.

Some sports are easier than others. In pro-hockey, you routinely see teams try to turn hockey games into contests of “who wants it more? who will pay the price?”: chasing big hits, using physical intimidation on star players, etc.

Baseball is harder obviously. But we sort of catch a break tonight- as tonight’s game is sort of a scrambly “all hands on deck affair”.

No way does Jones want to get into a typical Friday-Saturday-Sunday style contest with these guys: see who can get 18-21 quality outs from the starting pitching, orderly relief pitching, consistent hitting night after night.

Fortunately, Coach doesn’t have to. We don’t have to beat these guys at a straight up baseball game; we have to beat them at some close relative of typical baseball. A relative with a lot more variability and less routine- more unknowns, more guys being asked to do atypical things- that FSU might not be way better than Tulane.

Tonight throws a zillion variables out there. Obviously, the Seminoles bring them big, bad sticks. But the game is fraught with variables- particularly on the pitching side. Florida State probably has better pitching overall over a routine three game set- but do they have better pitching coming back on short rest? uut of routine? With a record of 51-11, there has been a lot of talent- but also a whole lot of routine over there. Tonight, notsomuch. It is one thing to name a kid with a day or two of rest as a source of twelve good outs- another to actually see him do it?

And isn’t that what Tulane wanted Thursday- a one and done with FSU- where even though they’re better- they gotta rely on some mysteries and suppositions to get it done? Mission accomplished.

I’m not saying it is done; its gonna be a hard task. But I just don’t feel hopeless about it.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Brief Musings On Success

In the Tallahassee Regional, Tulane won the winner's bracket last night. Yo, Bucknell! I'd just as soon not see Jason Buursma ever again.

I get this feeling about this baseball tournament that the key to success is really just having a good team year after year- that a big part of the success function for a program is to just have a consistent good outfit, get a lot of chances. And a number one starter who can’t lose- to deal with the underdogs best chance to beat you: their best guy going lights out good for two-plus hours.

In MLB, with the three best-of-seven series, you have to load up- put together a great team versus a lucky one- even mortgage the future.

This tournament puts a lot more emphasis on being in the right place at the right time. You can get in trouble real quick- dropped kicked into the losers bracket by one kid having a great game. So a component for success almost has to be get in a lot- and let the breaks even themselves out. Some years you’re gonna run into Bucknell on the first day- some years the other guy is.

Stuff is going right for Tulane right now- and again, while they ain’t about dealing with adversity, they are sort of about using your mistakes and good fortune to feel good about themselves. They’ve been given a break or two- Florida’s bullpen follies and a second round game with Bucknell- and they’ve taken advantage smartly.

It is unfortunate Florida did not take care of business yesterday afternoon. I’m pretty sure we could have beaten that team one game out of two while a pitcher ahead. Florida State put around twenty up there against Florida’s all hands on deck effort- if they hit like that against the pitching we have left, this is going to be a chancy, angst-filled two days.

But I’d rather have to only win one than two!

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