Monday, August 31, 2009

Get A Bat

I must admit I don’t really understand the current rankings of Phillies’ concerns. The closer is a problem- but:

1. The Phillies have internal options- some of which are better than the external, need to get through waiver options: Ryan Madson, Brett Myers, playing the hot hand in committee: Chan Ho Park and Jamie Moyer!

2. Lidge could turn it around yet. He was pretty good against the Braves this weekend- six up, six down- and was good enough last week for four straight appearances. Yes, that ended badly. But still... a renaissance is realistic.

3. I’m not sure the Phillies can fix this problem via a trade now. Who is a better relief pitcher than Madson that can get through waivers?

I’m more worried about the utter dearth of left-handed bench options. Matt Stairs is in the deepest of funks right now, and Greg Dobbs is hurt. Plus, this kind of bat is something they could get through a waiver trade.

The Phillies are going to need quality left-handed at-bats twenty times in a deep post-season run- and right now their top two options don’t have a hit this month off the bench combined. And that is a problem.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Closing In On Mediocrity

I spent a good deal of the off-season cautiously optimistic about Tulane’s potential for on-field improvement. Obviously, for me, the ship has sort of sailed on Coach Toledo. But if I used to bleat that Scelfo proved, prior to Katrina and the review, that an average coach doing an average job could generate 4-8 wins- perhaps an indifferent coach could then generate 2-6 victories? particularly as the review and hurricane recede from recent history? Certainly, there is reason for optimism for a move from the bottom to the top of that 2-6 win range.

Sure, there is no reason why the defense will be better once the same wears and tears of the season set upon them like last year. But this League is about quarterback and skill position play- can you regularly get to five, six touchdowns? The Wave won two games last year with no solid answers at quarterback and not a single skill position player on the pre-season all-conference team. That has to get better- the quarterback options have both at least seen the elephant and an entire camp to process the elephant under their belts and a healthy Andre Anderson in a certified C-USA cartoon numbers generator. That alone might get the Green Wave out of the bottom ten and the “two win level”.

And due to the restoration of normalcy around the university and team, the recruiting factually has gotten better. The level of Tulane’s talent almost had to improve without the city being featured under water, etc. It might not show up in the first 22 roster spots, but the next 22 should arguable improve- which should help the utter disaster our special teams have been for the last half-decade.

The schedule is not challenging- a mere move from the current ten worst teams in the country to the bottom 25 moves four games from “toss up to probable win” and another four from “probable loss to toss up”. The materials and schedule are there for six wins.

And again, I was right there in the spring: if Tulane gets quality quarterback play, the Green Wave would be better than 2008 outfits such as UAB, Marshall, UCF- all who won three League games. Four League wins… a .500 season…

I guess, in the end, I don’t think this staff can deliver that plus quarterback product. Even the most devoted Toledo-naut has to admit the regime’s worst on-field failing has been the preparation and development of the quarterback position. We are 24 games into this regime- and no one, for certain, can tell me who will start, say, the Army game. In fact, Tulane has played 24 games under Toledo, and at single kick-off, no one could tell you for sure who the quarterback would be in a month.

It is particularly frustrating, because C-USA is a League where you can coach up marginal physical prospects- see Irvin and Elliott- to run a dangerous distribution style offense. And Tulane hasn’t been able to do that for 24 games now- and I’m just doubtful this year will be any different. In our League, you can survive a mess on defense- but your quarterback has to be part and parcel of your plan to score 30+ points each week. I don’t think they will deliver.

I imagine the Green Wave will be better. Institutionally, Tulane is simply not one of the ten worst disasters in the country- the previous mess was more their best offensive player getting hurt coupled with Toledo’s second great on-field failure: an inability to get a coach, and thus players, to buy in to his defense plan.

I don’t think they can beat, short of a pretty substantial upset, Tulsa, LSU or BYU. Figure Tulane moves up said class notch- which moves Marshall, Army, UTEP, Rice, UCF, SMU and Houston into some sort of toss up category. Split those- get to three-ish, McNeese State is a tricky, but do-able fourth win. Southern Miss away is a hard one.

I guess Tulane could get four of the toss-ups- but the Green Wave could also lose to McNeese or lay down in one of the more winnable toss-ups. With this defense and uncertain quarterback projection, five/six wins seems aggressive. So I’m sitting on an improved team- particularly at RB and the second tier roster spots (particularly evident in special teams and some skill player depth)- but still 4-8.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lidge Must Keep Closing

Not since the days of Randy “Boom Boom” Lerch have Philadelphia Phillies’ fans been forced to endure a sustained look at a pitcher so obviously failing as the erstwhile closer Brad Lidge.

Lidge has been terrible from the get go, terrible consistently, terrible month to month- almost Jimmy Rollins’ terrible.

But I’m inclined to keep on running Lidge out there.

At this point the Phillies season has degenerated into a clock-watching exercise- run the season out, stay healthy, get ready for October.

The latter goal- October baseball- is what Lidge is about now and not some forgetable game with the Pirates. The Phillies need a back of the bullpen solution- and Lidge is both the most credible and bring the most upside: a lights out level. And I’m willing to blow a few more games over the next forty to keep giving him every chance to get right. If the Phillies large lead gives them some flexiblity, “Lidge as Closer” seems to me to be the most worthwhile roster experiment going.

The most credible alternative, “Brett Myers as Closer” isn’t ready yet. Plus, twenty games is more than enough to have Myers audition six, seven times for the role if the Phillies decide to pull the plug on Lidge in mid-September. But since the Phillies don’t have to exercise that option until then, why not use this cushion to try and get Lidge right for the only part of the season that counts now? Plus, the Phillies are on the hook for this guy for tens of millions of dollars going forward. Bench him- and that money takes a not insignificant step toward being dead.

The Phillies could try Madson again. But that definitely weakens the set-up role for a not so sure shot as strengthening the closer role. After the first failure, he is an emergency option- so let's wait for the emergency and hope then, rather than lose the classy set-up guy who can go both ways.

And Lidge does show flashes. He was out there for the fourth straight night because he got outs the previous three. So I’m inclined to take a lesson from this: no more back to back to back outings, give him a day off and send Lidge back out there again.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Goin' To Bristol

Folks, Frank Helps You Think It All Out is going on vacation for a bit. It is time for my annual trek to Bristol Motor Speedway for the Food City 500 and to see Miss Food City, Lindsey Blevins , in person.

Next week I’ll be back with the 2009 Tulane football preview- still the most accurate prediction service going!

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I Vote Florida

The BlogPoll is back. Frank Helps You Think It All Out proudly represents Tulane in CBS Sports College Football Poll. The poll is NOT out yet- but ballots are due and below is my submission:

4Southern Cal
6Penn State
8Boise State
12Miami (Florida)
13Ohio State
14North Carolina
16Oklahoma State
18Florida State
19Virginia Tech
21Georgia Tech
22Notre Dame
24Brigham Young
25East Carolina

I honestly don't find anything too crazy- but some notes.

Mississipi: The Rebels are a chic Top Ten pick in places- including here (although yes, you can be #10 but fourth best in the SEC). They have a good coach, speed and a schedule that is almost wonderous. The only SEC road games are Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Auburn and Mississippi State- all four are not on any sane Top 25 list. OOC is 4-0: Memphis, UAB, Northern Arizona, SE La. The Rebels could win eleven games.

Georgia: I put the Bulldogs tenth- and if I could I would draw a "line" at this point. Beneath here you could really jumble all the teams and I'd be pretty okay with the result. I'm confident everyone in my top ten is loaded- but after here....

Miami (Florida): This is my "surprise" pick. I got turned on to the 'canes when I was in Vegas at the depth of action they were getting in the National Championship pool. Most people have Florida State in their top twenty- and Miami is only a four point road dog on the road there (a toss up on a neutral field). The Hurricanes win that game- and spend the season in the high teens.

Notre Dame: Schedule continues to be dumbed down- I can see nine wins here.

East Carolina: My C-USA Champion pick always gets my last spot!

Labels: ,

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Attention Philadelphia: Hide All Dogs

Thursday, I was at the Linc as news of the Eagles’ signing of Michael Vick began to percolate through the building. I have always been struck at how fast news and the resultant organized response flies around the ring concourse. At halftime, bands of fans were loitering on the concourse singing “Who Let The Dogs Out”- which will only migrate inside to the seats. Thirty thousand fans blurting out the Baha Men hit will only serve as another black eye for denizens of the 200 level.

I’m not going to rehash the obvious facts involving Vick. If you were going to bring him in anywhere, Philadelphia is as good a place as any football-wise: established quarterback, safe head coach, minimal financial commitment. Vick is going to earn a relative pittance- and will in no way push for serious playing time. However, I would make two points.

First, don’t underestimate the locker room. I’m not sure any NFL player wants to get involved in parsing shades of dog fighting- defining where exactly they come down on the spectrum of heinous to stupid. But like any peer collective, Vick probably gets more leeway from the players' union than the media. So Dungy and McNabb strike me as authentic here. Second, there is no way the Eagles do this without the blessing from the “official” NFL: the commissioner and owners. I’m not saying there is a quid pro quo here- but someone had to eat this, and I am sure the NFL was eager to see this get resolved, and get resolved in one of the League’s more sane organizations.

That being said I’m not sure I’d have done it. I've never been a Vick fan as a player either- see this missive entitled "Why I Don't Like Vick" from 2006). Consequently, the on-field rewards seem real minimal to me- a few snaps per game, a couple of stunt plays. I know the Eagles culturally are into roster risks with upside (there is always some Australian footballer loitering around), but this is a whole new level.

The problems with Vick returning to the NFL are myriad- but one understated issue, and perhaps ultimate, is that the guy was just not that good. His last season, he made 16 starts and completed a shade over 200 balls. And let’s face it- most of the throws he is asked to make are not “aggressive”. That is 12 a game? That is horrible. He had six games where he completed ten or fewer balls

Can you point to another 30 year old quarterback who completed twelve of fewer balls in half his starts that was anything but a real marginal roster candidate? I can’t. I’m not sure he’d be on anyone’s radar as a serous contributor if, say, he had missed the season for some benign injury.

He can’t contribute immediately to a team with many pieces missing only a quarterback. I’m not excited about putting up with him and his issues for a real marginal back-up; I can find other guys who can bounce half their throws that don’t generate a zillion protestors. And there is opportunity cost here. Frankly, there are other guys with better pedigrees as rehab projects or specialty contibutors.

As Bob Ryan pointed out on PTI yesterday, this isn’t Vick’s second chance. It is more like his tenth or something. He is a seven year vet- but I don’t want him mentoring my young players (let alone being physically around children, women, pets, alcohol, fans). I’d rather give that roster spot, development time and $1.6M to a prospect with perhaps less upside but none of the cancers.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Only Two Touchdowns?

Most of the official lines for the first week of college football came out yesterday. I must admit I was more than a little surprised to find Tulsa a mere -14 over Tulane in New Orleans.

Last year the Golden Hurricane smoked the Wave- handily covering a -28.5. Tulsa got and then covered the hook too- very embarrassing.

I'm not sure people's expectations about the two clubs are much different now than late last November. Most folks are still picking Tulane last in a bad League- and Tulsa figures to be top division team at least. I figured it to be north of three scores at least… well, that sort of eliminates the suspense of the first Prediction Thursday here.

Labels: ,

Monday, August 10, 2009

Makin' Sure The Lifeboats Are Ready

In professional baseball, the beauty of a seven game lead in August is that the calendar very quickly begins to work in your favor. With a seven game lead, a .500 mark over 50 games equates to a 33-17 mark to catch you- a winning percentage that currently no one in the major league sports. Pretty much the only way to get caught is to play at least a month of sub. 500 ball and get swept by your closest pursuer a couple of times.

Well, the Phillies are half-way to that goal- playing a lurching August and getting swept by Florida this weekend. The lead is down to four- which means their chance to bury the Marlins, or even to merely knock another week off the calendar via winning even a single head-to-head game, is kaput. Now, Philadelphia faces a tough week on the road versus Chicago and Atlanta while the Marlins go home. It could very well be down to two, even one game next week. Still, at least, the Phillies don’t get the Nats this month.

Coupled with the Eagles week- three players out for the season already: Cornelius Ingram, Stewaret Bradley and Shawn Andrews (surely you still don’t think he is playing this year? Does anyone know Jon Runyan’s cell phone number?)- and this has been the worst week in Philly sports since… I dunno, last year’s tie with the Bengals?

At this point, the Phillies are what they are. I’m not entirely panicked. Take away the games with the Nats, and the Marlins are sub-.500 team. I’m not sure that Florida an play eight weeks of 60% baseball they’ll need to pass a cognizant Phillies. And the Phillies have shown they just are not inclined to choke in big pressure September spots. I’m inclined to say it was a bad week in a bad spot- coupled with a team playing with the biggest intangible in sports behind them: desperation. Let’s try to get the Phillies through this week up multiple games on Florida and Atlanta- then their schedule softens up for the rest of the month: Arizona, Mets and Pirates. Fail those tests- then I’ll start throwing out the life rafts.


Thursday, August 06, 2009

Save Jamie Moyer Part 2

First and foremost, I would not fret too much over the Phillies seemingly surplus rotation options. Yes, trying to sort between Happ, Moyer and Pedro for the two back end spots is currently trying. Yet, we also collectively agonized over how to get Happ into the rotation back in April (see Save Jamie Moyer Part 1). Almost immediately, Park became an untenable option and Myers got hurt- and the surplus became guys like Lopez and Carpenter pitching every fifth day.

It’ll work itself out. Surplus starting pitching never lasts. Hamels looks ouchy to me- maybe the Phillies shut him down for a pair of turns. Moyer is close to pitching himself out of the rotation. Is Pedro not going to get hurt once the every fifth day grind gets going?

Even then, the Phillies have a pair of double headers in September- which means that is two weeks (half the month) where they are going to need a sixth starter. Plus, as the schedule contracts, a rainout means another double-header instead of searching for an appropriate off day to erase. Philadelphia features a stretch from August 18th through September 13th without a single day off. That is four weeks- and perhaps they can create a few artificial days off by going with a six man rotation. That might not be tenable if the Phillies needed every game- but if this lead over the Marlins stretches out another three games or so...

Since they have no obvious candidates to drop, this is what I would do.

First, postpone Pedro until August 18th. The Pedro experiment isn’t about a fifth starter in September- but to catch lightening in a bottle in October pitching in a potential Game 4 three times. The Phillies can make that assessment off seven starts starting toward the end of August, rather than nine starting now.

Go with a six-man rotation the first three weeks of the month long stretch beginning August 18th- create a few faux days off for the rotation.

Last, restore the five-man rotation for the pair of double headers in mid-September- and use your sixth option as a spot starter.

And that gets you through September 22nd. Everyone gives up one measely start (which again might help some guys) to get Pedro five-six looks.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

We Need More People To Tackle

Leaks from the Philadelphia Eagles were brutal yesterday- with all signs pointing to the fact that MLB Stewart Bradley is out for the season with a torn ACL.

The Eagles’ turnaround last year in the final third of the season from disheartening .500 mob to in the mix NFL contender was fueled largely by the elevation of the defense from kinda good to great (at least until the NFC Championship Game). And that elevation was fueled by the introduction of Bradley and Jordan into the mix, full time, at line backer. Subtracting out the slow Omar Gaither- introducing two fresh athletic players- elevated the ‘backers from bad to good in one fell swoop. Subsequently, the defense fell into place.

In particular, Bradley quietly became one of the Eagles most important starters. Certainly, the ability gap between him and his on paper "replacement" has to be among the largest on the team. As a consequence, the ‘backers are back to being a problem. Omar Gaither seems the likely replacement- but in an act of hope over experience, last year’s sixth round pick- Joe Mays- apparently is the new secret dream of the regime. Or, if not “dream”, best case scenario. I think that experiment is not founded so much in Mays’ readiness or capacity- but more the obvious realization that Omar simply isn’t very good. Frankly, in a perfect Eagles’ world, I’m not sure Omar would make the team.

The Eagles refuse to spend money or consistent first day picks on linebackers- so they have a real Washington Redskin style depth situation there. Their only real plan to stumble on a very good linebacker is to sort of get lucky, draft one late and enjoy superior play on the subsequent bargain contract. They had their dream scenario in Bradley- a third round pick. Now, they’re stuck with the uninspiring cast of characters left at that position.

Consequently, the defense has to be graded down. Other than the cornerbacks, I can’t think of a guy it hurts more to lose on defense. Along the defensive line they have ample reinforcements- at ‘backer, they have none.

Labels: ,