NL East Shaken Up: Part IV – Philadelphia Phillies

The Good:

As with the Mets, there is a lot on this team that is positive. Their 1-2-3-4 rivals the best in the league with Jimmy Rollins (.277, 36 SB, 25HR’s, 83 RBI), Shane Victorino (.287 BA, .346 OBP), Chase Utley (.309/.379/.527, 32 HR’s, 102 RBI, gorgeous), and reigning MVP Ryan Howard (.313/.425/.659, 58 HR’s, 149 RBI, Lennie hands). Their starting pitching had been significantly solidified this offseason, with the Phils acquiring Freddy Garcia from the White Sox for 1st rounder Gavin Floyd and prospect Gio Gonzalez, reupping Brett Myers for the next three years, resigning the real life Eddie Harris from Major League (Jamie Moyer) for the next two, and signing former Ranger and solid back end starter Adam Eaton. When healthy Tom Gordon proved he still has his stuff. Antonio Alfonseca or “El Pulpo” to you spanish folk, was signed to help bolster the bullpen with his 24 digits.

The Bad:

There are a host of questions that still sit with this team, most pressingly their bullpen. At the trade deadline last year the Phillies unloaded a large chunk of their then fairly successful bullpen, hoping to acquire assets for the rebuilding stage. What they weren’t counting on was the incredible late season surge, which ultimately was sabotaged by the lack of a bullpen. There is no defined setup man, and Tom Gordon isn’t getting any younger. Then there is Pat the Bat. Pat Burrell feels like the guy in an old company in which everybody got fired, but is still that one guy hanging around–his lack of the clutch hit adds no protection for Ryan Howard and has resulted in the Phils trying to unload him for quite some time (Burrell actually refused a trade to the Orioles last year at the trade deadline, citing he only wanted to be traded to the Yankees or Red Sox. Pardon me while I slit my wrists).

The Bottom Line:

“We’re the team to beat this year,” said Jimmy Rollins, and I have to agree with him. For the first time in many years the Phillies are the team to beat, and have the ability to fill their needs with some expendable assets in starter Cathy Bates (seriously, compare and contrast), and CF Aaron Rowand (A Scott Linebrink for Aaron Rowand trade is rumored to be ready to go). As long as the Phillies stay healthy they SHOULD win the NL East. But it’ll be close.

Prediction: 1st, 93-69

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Doug Glanville: Reflections…What’s with his BA?

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7th Inning Stretch – Nothing to do with Baseball

Okay, so once in awhile there is a story that comes along, completely unrelated to baseball, which, just because, needs to be shared with our readers. Chimpanzees using spears is such a story.

Ozzie Canseco: I think Bush just found a way to get 20,000 able-bodies into Iraq without causing a domestic uproar

Ozzie Canseco: Bush vows: “as Iraqis stand up, our hyper-intelligent, spear-wielding chimps will stand down”

NL East: Shaken Up – Part 3: The Washington Nationals

The Good:

There are certainly SOME brightspots for DC: Nick Johnson is a very good player, putting up a .290 BA, 23 HRs, 77 RBIs, and posting 110 walks (second in NL). At third base Ryan Zimmerman has a very bright future (think David Wright but on a REAL bad team), with a 2006 of 110 RBI and a .287 BA in his first full season. The Nats have just resigned Austin Kearns and actually got pretty good value, considering the free agent market, and Chad Cordero’s a pretty good closer (former All-Star), converting 29 of 33 opportunities. John Patterson has nasty stuff, just ask his glove. Um…they’re not the Expos anymore?

The Bad:

Where to begin? This team has more problems then Marion Berry’s administration. How they managed to NOT trade Alfonso Soriano last year completely escapes me. After being a leadoff man and openly swinging for the fences everytime he was up to pump up his numbers, you think they might have gotten the idea. Their pitching without John Patterson is atrocious–anytime your “best” pitcher from ’06, Ramon Ortiz, is posting 11-16 with a 5.57 ERA, you know there’s problems. They had exactly three pitchers get more than twenty starts, none of them within a sniff of a winning record. Their bullpen is miserable. They were outscored last year by nearly 130 runs, and have now lost their best offensive player to free agency. This may be the worst team in the majors.

The Bottom Line:

To say the Nationals are in a rebuild mode is like saying Curt Schilling is a publicity whore. What they should be focused on doing is taking a page out of the Marlins’ playbook–know you’re going to suck but meanwhile stockpile assets for the next couple of years. Unfortunately, the Nationals team salary is 4x what the Marlins’ was last year, not to mention that the rest of the NL East is getting better, cramming Washington into baseball’s basement.

Prediction: 5th, 59-103

This Just In: Yadier Molina is a Craphead

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina is refusing to part with the ball that struck out the final Tigers batter in the World Series, despite the fact that he promised to give it to Adam Wainwright, the pitcher who delivered the final strike.

From espn.com:

“He [Wainwright] was trying to get that ball from me, I know,” Molina told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in Tuesday’s edition. “He deserves it. He does. But that’s the one thing I have from a long season. I hit .216. It was a tough year. I didn’t earn much else, but I have that ball. That’s my reward.”

Let’s break down the Molina line of reasoning piece by piece. Maybe then it will make more sense.

Molina concedes that Wainwright deserves to have the ball.

So why not give it to him?

Because Molina had an atrociously bad season at the plate and therefore deserves a reward.

Okay, I still don’t follow. I can only conclude that one of the following must be true:
1. Like Pujols’ comments about Ryan Howard winning the MVP, this English-language translation went horribly awry and Molina actually plans to give the ball to Wainwright.
2. Molina is feeble-minded, like, Flowers for Algernon feeble-minded, in which case it’s best just to let him keep it.
3. Molina was accurately quoted and is just a total craphead.

My gut says total craphead, as does the smug look on Molina’s face in his player card.

***
Been sick for a solid five days now, but a long post is coming soon. In the meantime, here are a few random thoughts to ponder:

Conventional wisdom dictates that, short of a god-like season, starting pitchers do not deserve MVP consideration because they only play in thirty to thirty-five games per season and thus are less valuable to their club than position players that play nearly every game. Why then, did clubs jump at the chance to throw 10 million dollars a year plus at mediocre pitchers like Ted Lilly and Gil Meche but paid-out less, substantially less in some cases, to All-Star calibur position players (see: Joe Mauer)? What does this say about “value” in baseball?

There hasn’t been a great two-sport athlete since Bo Jackson, or even a passably good one since Deion Sanders. Suppose there was one playing today. Suppose he was really, really good. Then suppose that it was discovered that he was a steroid-user. How would Americans react? That the NFL and its athletes gets a free pass from the press and public on performance-enhancing drugs while baseball players these days find themselves guilty until proven innocent is a disgrace. I have no idea how such a situation would play out, but I pray for one like it. Maybe then, we would all start to realize just how hypocritical the way we deal with steroid use in this country is.

Rumors of a Scott Linebrink for Aaron Rowand deal have died down in recent weeks, but I got to wondering: How does Mike Cameron feel about the prospect of playing alongside a guy like Aaron Rowand, a man known for smashing his face and running into teammates while in pursuit of flyballs? Cameron has to be thinking, “I am the unluckiest man in the world.” My advice to Mike: invest in one of those Richard Hamilton facemasks now, just in case. You can never be too safe.

NL East: Shaken Up – Part 2: The Atlanta Braves

The Good:

As it goes year after year, the starting pitching continues to be the strong suit for the Atlanta. Ace John Smoltz continues to dazzle, defying logic and age. Mike Hampton coming off elbow surgery for the first time in two years will be at 100% and hopes to return to his All-Star level. Rookie Chuck James impressed in 18 starts last year. The Braves will definitely be looking for a big year from Tim Hudson, hoping he returns the form he obtained in the first half of the decade. Additionally, Bob “Pass the Potatoes” Wickman proved to be an outstanding closer for the Braves, posting a very respectable 18 after his trade from the Indians.

Not only are the Braves solid on starting pitching, their youth movement is in full effect as well. Credit Ted Turner for keeping the team competitive while replenishing the ranks with the likes of C Brian McCann (.333/.388/.572), P Chuck James (11-4), 3B Scott Thorman, OF Jeff Francoeur (29 HR’s and 116 RBI), P Mike Gonzalez and Martin Prado.

The Bad:

2006 proved to be a season of incredible inconsistency, as the injury bug bit them hard. Chipper and Andruw Jones both saw considerable time on the DL, Hampton missed the entire season, and Tim Hudson was nicked up with various small injuries. The only thing really consistent about last year was the bullpen woes. The young, inexperienced bullpen was knocked around all year; the Braves will be counting on pen arms Blaine Boyer, Tyler Yates, and Macay McBride to be better. With acquisitions of Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez, they will be.

The Bottom Line:

They could have some young players develop and go on a ridiculous tear (ala 2006 Tigers) or they could simply be the inconsistent injury riddled team they were last year. The record of 79-83 does NOT reflect how good this Braves team is/can be. The Braves have assembled an impressive mix of skilled veterans and youngsters beginning to blossom. They have the potential (Andrew Jones contract year, if Chipper is healthy, if Hampton is healthy, if Smoltz is still Smoltz, youth develops) to be good, and in the past they could’ve slid into the wild card. But with the Phillies and Mets no longer just afterthoughts, this team doesn’t make it into the playoffs. But look out in 2008.

Prediction: 3rd, 86-76

The Should’ve Been-Will Be MVPs: Part Two

For a more comprehensive introduction and the AL portion please refer back to my last incredible post.

Now for Part Two of my stunning, brash, and possibly uncalled for look into the past season’s MVP decision. This time we set our sights on the big boppers of the NL. The NL side of things was quite different from that of the AL as there were a few members who set themselves apart from the rest of the contenders with almost obscene (and similar) numbers. Once again, it comes down to your interpretation of an MVP as the top three vote-getters were on teams that either make the play-offs or did make the play-offs, but did so with a worse record than 4 other NL teams.

Lance Berkman was an unfortunate slugger this past season as practically everything fell apart in Houston, even with a late push to try and take the weak NL Central from the Cardinals. No regular starting player was close to Berkman’s BA, and besides supersub, Mike Lamb, and late call-up, Luke Scott, no one finished above the .300 line. One-season wonder, Morgan Ensberg, missed some time with injury and couldn’t live up to his supposed ball-mashing talent. Along with Craig Biggio these two were the only others to eclipse 20 HR (just barely). Berkman, Ryan Howard, and Albert Pujols all had similarly successful seasons in terms of worth and output for their respective teams. Carlos Beltran is on this list for no other reason to show the drop-off from the top 3 guys to the 4th in MVP voting. Beltran, in my opinion, should have had a better season because of the lineup he had around him (said the Met fan, harshly), but it does show a remarkable improvement from his previous season (vomit) and he had an absolutely ridiculous middle of July. Miguel Cabrera and Alfonso Soriano were also in Beltran’s class, but failed to make the next grade due to lack of power and being surrounded by overachieving rookies (Cabrera) and horrible BA coupled with despicable plate discipline (Soriano). In the top three, Howard took advantage of his lineup and relished his new role post-Abreu, Pujols put up his usual MVP-worthy totals, and Berkman went fucking nuts.

Team – : Team’s stats without Player
Team + : Team’s stats with Player
%Team-Diff: % of team’s stats player accounts for OR how much he changed the team’s percentage in a stat

NL MVP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG
Lance Berkman 536 95 169 29 0 45 136 98 .315 .420 .621
Team – 4985 640 1238 246 27 129 572 487 .248 .322 .386
Team + 5521 735 1407 275 27 174 708 585 .255 .332 .409
%Team-Diff 9.7 12.9 12.0 10.5 0.0 25.9 19.2 16.8 +.007 +.010 +.023
Ryan Howard 581 104 182 25 1 58 149 108 .313 .425 .659
Team – 5106 761 1336 269 40 158 674 518 .262 .335 .423
Team + 5687 865 1518 294 41 216 823 626 .267 .347 .447
%Team-Diff 10.2 12.0 12.0 8.5 2.4 26.9 18.1 17.3 +.005 +.012 +.024
Albert Pujols 535 119 177 33 1 49 137 92 .331 .431 .671
Team – 4987 662 1307 259 26 135 608 439 .262 .327 .406
Team + 5522 781 1484 292 27 184 745 531 .269 .337 .431
%Team-Diff 9.7 15.2 11.9 11.3 3.7 26.6 18.4 17.3 +.007 +.010 +.025
Carlos Beltran 510 127 140 38 1 41 116 95 .275 .388 .594
Team – 5048 707 1329 285 40 159 684 452 .263 .329 .430
Team + 5558 834 1469 323 41 200 800 547 .264 .334 .445
%Team-Diff 9.1 15.2 9.5 11.8 2.4 20.5 14.5 17.4 +.001 +.005 +.015

Time to analyze the numbers: Forget Beltran for now and focus on those other three. All finished with similar percentages of AB and BB making it easy to interpret the rest of their percentages. Had Berkman a more reliable hitter behind him he would have finished with a better R total than even perhaps Pujols, but nevertheless his percentage was better than Howard. Same value on hits as we pass by doubles and triples. Homer-wise it is again very even, but Howard’s percentage suffered slightly due to the Phillies’ ability to go long. Berkman leads the way with RBI percentage, but it still is close. Berkman helped a weak BA lineup as much as Pujols helped a decent Cardinals team. Howard is king of OBP value to his team, even with Rowand screwing around. SLG value is pretty much even with Pujols leading the way. Now you see how difficult it is to differentiate between these three guys.

Howard was shifted from the 6th spot to the 5th early in the season and finally took over clean-up around the midway point. Keeping him company were Chase Utley, Bobby Abreu, and Pat Burrell with Jimmy Rollins starting things off. The order had some weak spots, but on the whole was pretty damn imposing and Howard was well aware of this; he carried this team following the Abreu for 4 Yankee prospects who weren’t Phillip Hughes trade. On the pitching front Brett Myers and Tom Gordon performed respectably, but that was the Phillies’ main flaw (which they have addressed admirably so far). Simply put, Howard was the MVP of this team and the only logical choice for the meaty #4 spot (if anyone utters the phrase ‘man-crush’ I will destroy them, besides, I like Utley better).

Pujols had it slightly harder in the Cardinals lineup, and as a result had slightly weaker numbers. Of course he still had a formidable Scott Rolen and off-but-still-decent-years from Jim Edmonds and Juan Encarnacion. Chris Duncan also put in about a month and a half’s worth of good production. Pujols batted 3rd because of his excellent plate discipline and hitting ability, thus setting the table for Rolen. Besides Chris Carpenter, there was nothing decent at all in the Cardinals’ pitching corps, until the postseason of course.

However hard Pujols had it, Berkman had it that much worse than him. As I loosely mentioned already the batting lineup was remarkably awful with Berkman putting up the only consistently good numbers from the 3rd spot as Ensberg failed repeatedly at clean-up. Besides Roy Oswalt and some bullpen members there is nothing good to say about the Astros’ pitching. I refuse to count Roger Clemens because of his half-season idiocy and the Astros don’t like to give him run support anyway. Brad Lidge pissed off every fantasy baseball owner in the world. Oddly enough, the Pythagorean Winning Percentage matches the Astros with the Cardinals in terms of W-L record (slightly under percentage-wise). What can be expected in 2007? Well, the Astros have addressed the need of a legitimate clean-up guy in Carlos Lee, and despite losing some pitching (Andy Pettitte), they have picked up Jason Jennings and Woody Williams in a move to become more alliterative. Look for Berkman to go berserk this coming season.

So, what have we learned? Besides the fact that Berkman got shafted in voting due to being on a non-playoff team that wasn’t better than a playoff team, there is a never ending list of reasons for you to say one player is more valuable to his team than another (assuming you don’t mention someone like Neifi Perez). Heck, I don’t even think there will ever be a reliable enough stat (every stat has its flaws) to predict who tops who in terms of value (suck it, VORP). All you can do is have a more convincing argument for Player A than your buddy has for Player B, even if the popular consensus is for Player C. Isn’t that wonderful? My article just boiled down to a vague inconclusive conclusion. No, it didn’t. Berkman and Hafner, blah MVP blah. I’m right, so sod off.