Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I always find this site sort of fun- a compilation of the major preview guides in one place. A lot of love for Ole Miss. Tulane about what is expected. What is the real difference between fourth and sixth in C-USA West anyway? A road win over UAB?

I sort of like Rutgers as my surprise BCS team. They're the best of an indifferent lot in the Big East. They have the worst out of conference schedule I've ever seen: Maryland, Texas Southern, FIU, Howard. I guess no one will play them in New Jersey. You could lose for sure.

With WVU and Pittsburgh at home, I can see them at 11-1, 10-2.... and that is probably good enough to get them into a BCS game.


Friday, June 26, 2009

A Modest Proposal for $10 Million

I honestly do not know what to make of this:
Eyewitness Sports has learned that UNO athletics could be saved and those of Tulane and LSU enhanced after the estate of a solitary, somewhat eccentric, sports-loving oil man is settled.

Logan Wickliffe Cary, Jr., known primarily as "Wick" has left an estate valued in nine figures - some say as much as $150 million.

His will stipulates that one-third of the eventual proceeds from it would go to UNO athletics, one-third to the University of Oklahoma athletics, one-sixth to Tulane athletics, and one-sixth to LSU athletics.
I have no clue how that money will come into to Tulane- or how much will actually show up. But since I don’t believe most tactical solutions (a shiny new building) solve any of Tulane’s strategic problems, I’m a little short of ideas.

The one strategic problem Tulane does have is money, plain old cash flow- so some sort of endowment tabbed to spin off half-a-million, one million dollars a year in working capital might be the best use? I don’t know. I know: pretty modest and unexciting. But it would be a step toward a genuine solution with guaranteed results: a boffo new revenue stream- as opposed to an SMU style white elephant: Gerald Ford Stadium.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tulane Has Some Work to Do

I follow the Philadelphia Phillies closely, but I don’t know much about college baseball. But I kinda keep in touch with the Wave- and I have watched a lot of the CWS this year- including all of the entertaining, albeit not exactly crisp, LSU-Texas game last night (Phillies were off).

But a little distance might actually help here. Two observations:

First: This idea that Tulane is level with these power programs, but for the absence of a couple of players who went to A-Ball over the Green Wave, is wholly erroneous. This is particularly evident among position players. Like Florida State hammering Tulane in last year’s tournament, these guys hit from one-to-nine: line-ups littered with straight power and gap power. They can go for ten runs even against good college pitching- not just Northern Colorado and Wright State. Of the five tools, these programs seemingly have a dozen hitters who can bring either the “hitting for power” or “hit for average” tool (or both)- at least at the college level. How many does Tulane have?

It seems that one Shooter Hunt can make you a tough out in a tournament setting- but you need hitters in bunches to make you truly dangerous. The relationship between pitching depth versus hitting depth is skewed from MLB. To survive in the major leagues, you need a trio of power bats and eight-nine serviceable arms- in college it seems almost flipped.

Second: This college game is never going to be television friendly if they don’t address the pacing issue. It is so languid at times. You can play a ton of games where a fair over/under is fifteen runs and have the playing time associated with that. But these ridiculous pitch counts, pitchers afraid to challenge the eight hole hitter because even they can go deep or into the gaps, the resultant endless three ball counts and walks....

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Streets of Tehran

It is hard to say what is worse or more confusing right now: the Phillies bullpen or the streets of Tehran. Like Iran, the situation has spiraled absolutely out of control this week- and tonight’s Ryan Madson horror is front and center in the Philadelphia angst machine.

The Phillies have taken a substantial step backward. Worse, it isn't so much the step they've taken back, but the nature of the step back: the bullpen. Let’s look at it in context with New York. Two weeks ago, the Phillies were at a clear disadvantage at the top two rotation spots (Santana versus Hamels and Pelfrey versus anyone) and at closer (K-Rod versus the current version of Lidge). This was enough to cover a lot of warts in the Mets everyday line-up and their injury plagued roster- and thus the margin floated around two games.

Well, you can now move the whole ‘pen into the Mets’ clear advantage column, and for the first time, I have serious doubts about the Phillies being able to hold the Mets off. I can’t see how – if this is the 2009 Phillies relief corps- they win National League East.

You can fix the number two rotation spot. An in-season trade for starting pitching help is always there if you’re willing to take an expensive contract or deal quality future assets. The Phillies have those resources. Hamels is in Santana’s class- so you don’t lose much there. But major on the fly bullpen reconstruction is impossible in today’s game. This is the first “impossible to fix externally” problem the Phillies have faced. And when you are forced to rely solely on your own organizational resources, then for the first time a club faces failure. Because if those resources aren’t up to snuff, you fail and can’t escape. So this step backward is different then, say, losing Carlos Delgado- because Carlos can be replaced, the back end of the a 'pen cannot.

Everyone needs relief pitching. Consequently, it is solely an organizational determinant- all that matters is what is on your 40-man roster. You fail if you don’t have it. Heck, a week ago, upon JC Romero’s re-arrival, the Phillies were the closest thing to surplus ‘pen assets in the whole of baseball- and that surplus was guys like Park. Notsomuch now, right?

This season is a failure if Madson and Lidge can’t get back and contribute- so you have to anticipate as if they are. Madson probably needs to be dialed back some- find him some mop up innings to get his head back on right. Plus, it is silly to quit on him. He's just having a few bad weeks in all likelihood. Madson doesn't look hurt- just confused.

Still, in the interim, they need to triage. Who is going well? Romero and Park are your two trustworthy options right now- so they have to close by committee. Spot Romero in the eighth or ninth- wherever the maximum exposure to left-handed hitting is. Park gets the other half. Durbin and Condrey do the rest- and look for a soft spot or two to get Madson going.

You can’t panic with the ‘pen yet (or the rotation). As long as the Phillies are in front, the current championship roster has to get every chance to get itself together. They probably deserve a little better- thanks to Madson- than this one up, seven down stretch they are on. The Phillies just needed some semblance of order in the ‘pen to turn that mark, against some good outfits, into something like even. But there are no fixes except from inside for this burgeoning mess- so they need to fight for time to get these guys sorted out. Romero and Park are the best options for that time- so give them the ball.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Fifth Best in American League East

Yesterday, I was at the Phillies game- and thus had a first hand look at this ongoing wreck of a homestand. The Phillies 1-5 mark this week is only salved by the Mets corresponding lackluster 2-4. The Phillies sharp 7-3 road trip has been largely erased (they are still up two games over the Mets over that duration however). The NL East has done little this week to suggest they are in the class of their American League counterpart.

The Phillies haven’t looked this bad, well, since last year’s run through the American League- when they were dominated by a collection of good and just above even AL outfits. The reasons for these embarrassing marks against the other league are closely tied to their poor home record. Their poor starting pitching, from a matchup standpoint, hurts them “extra” against great to very good offenses and also in this hitter’s ballpark (which moves everyone’s offense up a notch).

You can’t make pitching mistakes, generate poor WHIP figures or allow a ton of homeruns anywhere- but it is a real killer in this ballpark and against this AL clubs with quality hitters top to bottom: Red Sox and Toronto. The Phillies seem to start a ton of games at home down 3-1, 4-0, etc. after the third inning- as their starting pitching gets punished for mistakes and situations that might be a little more escapable against the Braves and Marlins or away from the launchpad at home. These National League attacks seem more balanced their American League counterparts: speed, gap power in the three hole, etc.- where the good AL brings thunder every which way. The Phillies rotation seems more prone to be hurt by the latter. Our offense can cover for a couple of manufactured runs- not multiple early crooked numbers on the linescore.

Speaking of the Jays, I don’t know about you, but that is a good team. Their starting pitching is better than Philadelphia- and they have a lot of professional hitters in that line-up. They knocked around all elements of our pitching- starting and relief. Being third in the loaded AL East is no shame- and after watching the AL East win multiple series versus the Mets and Phillies, it is hard to argue that either Philadelphia (awful starting pitching) or the Mets (injuries everywhere) would be ahead of Toronto or Tampa Bay. And after this week’s ugly result (again, with an eye on the Mets), the Phillies seem to be a step behind Toronto and Boston.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Who Pitches Game 2?

A three game series is a small microcosm of the full 162 game season- so normally one must be guarded, unwilling to pull out lessons based on a single weekend of games. Sure, those games were versus the Red Sox, and as Philadelphia and Boston are a not altogether crazy pick to meet again in- what?- November (ed. note true! true!), the seriesconsequently is prone to overanalysis.

Fortunately, the teams got together and really proved nothing. Both sides blew each other out once- and the only close game late went into the thirteenth inning to decide. The Red Sox got the extra win but not much more. Neither Boston nor Philadelphia made up ground or lost ground to its New York pursuer. Both teams are probably glad not to see the other any more.

The only thing I took out of the series was the obvious. If they are serious, the Phillies need another quality starting pitcher. They might have periods against second division teams and the entire NL East when they can by with Bastardo, Happ and Moyer- but these thumping teams will expose that crew right quick.

I’m a merely modest Cole Hamels’ fan- but the difference between me and most of Philadelphia is that I think he is an average, not great, top of the rotation starter. I'm just not sold on him as one of the top six starting pitchers in baseball- he is somewhrere in the next teir. Regardless, he is still as top, number one starter. From Happ and Moyer you can cobble you .500-ish back of the rotation options. And now the Blanton seems to be getting his act together, he slides into that three spot.

But that number two spot is a mystery. Who would you pitch in a post-season Game 2? This was a season long problem last year too- and we all approached all three Game 2 situations in last year’s play-offs with utter curiosity about what we would get from Brett Myers.

So the Phillies need to get someone in here. As long as they are four games ahead of the New York Mets, they need not panic. They can allow Rollins to kill the club leading off, etc. trying to build success stories for the last fifty regular games and potential post-season.

But they do need to make an addition. First, this team is designed to win now- not 2012- so guys who are destined to play here after next year have to go now to bring someone in here today. I’d like Zach Duke myself; they should have tried to pry him loose on the cheap in the off-season. Second, a four game lead over the Mets, and six over the Braves, feels like a lot- but it isn’t. Yes, the number one thing keeping the Mets around is the dearth of schedule; four games out now projects out to a comfortable ten or so over the season. But it is what it is- the Phillies can bury this out fit right here, right now. An eight game lead means the Mets would need help (i.e. the Phillies would need to play sub-.500 ball for two months). So if an opportunity arises to deliver a kill shot- Philadelphia needs to be aggressive- because four games can be erased right fast. And third, the season still has a hundred games to go- and the Phillies have already exhausted their one in-house option: Happ for Park. They are pitching thin- or rather one rotation problem away form having to panic and overpay. And with this back end rotation crew, they are going to have a pitching crisis.

So if they have to make trade- and now in are a position of moderate strength (don’t need to make a deal now)- the Phillies should look to make it as soon as possible.

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Great Trip

First and foremost, the Phillies had a great trip- which coupled with the Met’s struggles last week and subsequent head-to-head Phillies series win- extends the Phillies lead from one to four games. On a trip featuring a swing out west to play the best team in baseball and then your big division rival, seven up and three down is very satisifying. Add in a pair of soul-crushing losses for the Mets, it is near delightful.

Ulitmately, the soul-crushing losses will fade (very quickly too- see the games Lidge blew last week back to back). You can’t dismiss the Mets. In fact, the series is sort of evidence that they are a worrisome crew. In a pinch, I’d take Santana over Hamels, Pelfrey over whomever is our second starter this week, K-Rod over Lidge. Arguably, the three most important pitching spots all break New York’s way- so they can hardly be buried.

Of course, the Phillies are better right now because they hit and hit and hit. The top two guys in the order aren’t going at all right now- Rollins (can we just bat him sixth where his occasional power would be helpful rather than his terrible OBP being a team wide-cancer?) and Victorino (looks hurt to me, no torque in the lower body, looks slow at the plate)- yet they are still a threat to go for six runs every night.

These back-to-back extra inning games are a case in point. There are so many guys you have to pitch well too or the ball leaves the yard. Brought on to deal with our left-handed power, Ken Takahashi has a brilliant sequence against Howard- then Ibanez takes a pretty good pitch, down at least, 400 feet into the gloaming. If you have three guys who go yard once in every eighteen-twenty bats, and another two with good-to-middling power, it is hard to go through then twice without a fifty-fifty chance of someone going yard.

And the Mets crapped out two nights in a row.

Also, I was struck by how much the Phillies outfield outplayed the Mets’ version defensively: Victorino catching everything, Jayson Werth making big plays and good throws, many other good throws, outfield assists. Folks who dump on Charlie for his in-game shenanigans need to acknowledge they play very hard for the guy. While Wright is loafing around the bases admiring a potential home run on an eventual routine double, the Phillies outfield is out there hustling to cut him down- that one game in fifty opportunity where the other team’s laziness gets you a big out in a tight game.

And how about a hand for Chris Coste- who seems to be turning his bat around? Earlier this week, the Phillies used an open roster spot to add a non-hitting catcher Paul Bako. I'm sure the Phillies added Bako in order to use Coste more as a pinch hitter, rather than saving him for emergency catcher purposes.

It is a worthwhile shot- and immediate returns are good as Coste had key hits in both Phillies wins. It is an existing roster option (always helpful) and Coste can hit. Maybe he just needs a couple dozen more consistent at-bats to get going. He wouldn't be the first bench guy just to need more work to get going. Just as important, it means Bruntlett gets fewer at bats- not more.

Coste's average is down this year... but his OBP for the year is still .356 (pretty darn good for a PH/spot catcher and above his career average- Bruntlett is .227). The guy gets on base (walks 1 per every 7 at bats). And his power number are right at his normal levels... how many back-up catchers project to hit 8 HRs and and 20+ doubles? For a team that desperately need a quality RH bat on the bench- particularly with some DH opportunites coming up, Coste is good option and hopefully finding a good time to get it going.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Death By Situational Left-Handers

Last night featured a disappointing loss for the Phillies. They hit four dingers off the Mets’ ace Johan Santana, got a free run and a big out from the home plate umpire, then turn a lead over to the ‘pen- and lose. Just brutal. Tonight is not a must win game by any stretch- but they are only a narrow favorite in Vegas- and a loss means the Mets are just about even in National League east.

And “just about even” is not good. All the good things the Phillies have done so far are wiped out- as they start back by definition at ground zero. I’m not really blaming the Phillies; it isn’t about them. Despite a post-season hangover to start the season, they’re on pace to win well over 90 games. Nevertheless, despite all the sniggering and snarky local ink and condescion the Mets’ have been forced to digest for eighteen months, New York has been managing this current hand pretty darn well. Ravaged with injuries, yet New York is keeping very near the pace.

That is cause for concern. Add a big new top of the rotation guy to the Mets, get a few of their injured guys back- they’re real trouble. Add Roy Halladay to their rotation, could the Phillies hold a somewhat healthy Mets team off? My answer is “doubtful”- on paper no way, but it is the Mets... Still, don’t kid yourself, the Mets are going to blow up the farm system if necessary this year. This is this core group of Mets last chance to win. They will be unreal aggressive- particularly if the Phillies can’t get separation.

The Mets really should be buried right seven-eight games back now. Again, it isn't about the Phillies. Outside of Lidge, they have done their part to make it so. But the Mets hang in.

First, due to K-Rod, they win every game they should.

Second, we all know about match-ups- and the Mets' match-up well with the Phillies late in games. Frankly, the Mets have proven they can play that six-seven inning game with the Phillies. A baseball season is about finding repeatable formulas, and while the Mets don’t have many repeatable scenarios in their everyday players and rotation (past Santana of course), the Mets definitely do have one to end games. If they are even or ahead after six, they are real trouble. K-Rod is lights out, Parnell is a quality set-up guy, and their situation lefty Pedro Feliciano gives them one free pass through our line-up’s wheelhouse. A quality ‘pen lefty counts double versus Philadelphia. Last night was particularly disgusting, Howard and Ibanez looked pretty lost versus Feliciano.

That bullpen day after day, and that bullpen’s effect on the head-to-head match-ups between the clubs, is the difference between today’s two game lead and the Mets kicking around with the Marlins. To their credit, the Mets have taken these two bits of serendipity and parlayed them into a mere two game deficit despite injuries that should have marooned them below .500.

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Marooned on Ceti Alpha Five

You are not going to get me to complain, right? I thought the Phillies would do well to play .500 on this trip to San Diego, Los Angeles and New York. The Mets portion is still to come- but the Phillies did a nice job through the west coast portion. They hammered the Padres- and played well enough versus the Dodgers to deserve a sweep frankly.

But they did not get the sweep because, frankly, the closer ain’t got much right now. Channeling his inner Randy “Boom Boom” Lerch, Brad Lidge is that deadly combination of unlucky and not too good right now. And thus, while the rotation continues to improve via subtraction (Park stinks and Myers is the most touted .500 starting pitcher in my Phillies’ history), the closer dilemma waxes.

Normally, you will find no bigger fan than me of Charlie’s inclination to let the stars play no matter how bad they are going. So I believe him when he says he is going to keep running Lidge out there.

But can’t we come up with a Jimmy Rollins' style solution here? Must Lidge be sent out to fail in the biggest possible spots- rather than easing him into a short term role with less pressure? Much like the recent easing Rollins out of the lead-off hole into a less-pressure packed six-hole solution?

I mean, I get Lidge's situation. Normally an ERA around nine gets you a mop up role or “disappeared”. But the Phillies are on the hook for a ton of dough and years. The situation does not lend itself to the same sort of exile Myers went through last year: marooned on Ceti Alpha Five until he got his act together.

But the Phillies do have a guy who could probably close for a few weeks (Ryan Madson), the recent addition of Romero gives the Phillies another back of the bullpen arm that did not exist a week and a half ago. So why not steer Lidge to “we’re up three runs in the ninth” saves and a few set-up/mop up appearances? After he throws a few successive scoreless innings, put him right back.

I know the organizational position is that Lidge lacks “confidence” right now- and to demote him would merely make matters worse. Well, we’ve tried it that way for the last month, and it has cost the Phillies six blown saves, a few losses, and a dozen or so additional “appearances” of quality relievers to pitch on into he games he’s blown. That is too much cost- and also, it isn’t working. Sending him out there to get shelled can’t be doing much for his confidence either. Plus, the dirty secret is that his velocity is down and his pitches are up. Right now he isn’t equipped to close, but to struggle. So why put him out there to fail?

Look, Lidge is making a zillion dollars- and the Phillies bullpen is a proven championship one only with Madson as chief set up guy, not closer. So like Charlie, I want the status quo back as soon as possible. But I can’t believe giving Lidge a few lower pressure outings, without disaster tugging at his elbow, can’t be good for his psyche (particularly heading back to Philadelphia and the AL East thumping crews)- and give him some room to work on his mechanics/velocity.


Monday, June 01, 2009

Now what?

Well, how about a round of applause for the Philadelphia Phillies? Riding their outstanding core group of players and an MVP season from the big off-season pick-up, the defending world champions boast the second fewest losses in baseball. Only Los Angeles has got them beat in the loss column. Project Philadelphia out and the Phillies are on pace to win National League East with around 95 wins. And yet…

Let’s face it, they’ve been successful- but it feels tenuous. I guess we all know that over 162 games numbers and bodies win out- and the Phillies numbers and bodies in their rotation just doesn’t bode well over 110 more games.

As I pointed out when people were screaming for Happ to replace first Park and then Moyer- surplus starting pitching never lasts. The Phillies, in two weeks, have gone from having a surplus rotation option to needing to acquire a top of the rotation arm to have a sane chance at repeating.

And the Phillies have an official starting pitching problem. Now I haven’t been the biggest Brent Myers fan- this era's Kevin Gross. Bottom line: the guy hasn’t been a plus starting pitcher for two months in succession since 2006. And he hasn’t been real effective this year. If the Phillies had to win a game- right now- to save the season he would be my fifth choice to get the ball.

But he is an effective innings eater when healthy- and the rest of the rotation is no great shakes either. The ace has an ERA over five and has been spotty from the get go. Happ is probably the second best guy going right now. Moyer seems to have stabilized as a back of the rotation guy- but we have a surplus of candidates for that role right now.

And that is the worry. Take the Nats out and the Phillies are .500

I’m usually the biggest pro-patience guy going- but honestly, the Phillies need to make a trade. This is not sustainable. Heading into this schedule portion: ten games away, then five series versus the AL East- 28 days of games versus good teams, the rotation does not inspire.

This crew has “expose us” written all over them. I agree with Phillies Nation- .500 month-ish feels way too probable. And they are just another rotation issue away from something like 85-77.

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