Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Nats Error

Jayson Werth is a very good player.

I liked him a lot while he was with the Phillies.

He is NOT worth the contract the Nats gave him.

I have previously expressed my appreciation for what I thought was being built in Washington, but this signing completely negates that.

This was a dumb move that will cost the franchise for a long time.

I'm not a football fan, but I want to describe this as the Donovan move.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Postseason Roster

Having clinched everything they need to, attention turns to the Phillies' postseason roster.

Let's get the obvious out of the way.

The first eight positions are set even with Rollins's nascent recovery and Polanco's gimpy elbow:
1. C Carlos Ruiz
2. 1B Ryan Howard
3. 2B Chase Utley
4. 3B Placido (Cabeza Grande) Polanco
5. SS Jimmy Rollins
6. LF Raul Ibanez
7. CF Shane Victorino
8. RF Jayson Werth

The three aces provide the starting rotation for the NLDS:
9. Roy Halladay
10. Roy Oswalt
11. Cole Hamels

They'll keep
12. Joe Blanton in the 'pen should something odd happen requiring an extended stint from the relief corps.

Most of the rest of the bullpen is obvious:
13. Brad Lidge
14. Ryan Madson
15. Jose Contreras
16. Chad Durbin
17. JC Romero (Despite struggling this season, he's a no-brainer addition to the staff.)

Several bench spots are also obvious:
18. Wilson Valdez (bats RH) would be a lock even if J-Roll and Cabeza Grande were not in questionable health, and his ability to play three infield spots, and even a bit of outfield in a pinch, makes him a bit of an Eric Bruntlett clone, and much like Bruntlett in 2008, he's made major contributions and gotten plenty of playing time because of injuries.
19. Ben Francisco (bats RH) is a versatile outfielder with decent speed, making him a clear choice.
20. Brian Schneider (bats LH) will be the backup catcher.
21. Mike Sweeney provides the needed big right-handed bat, though he's limited in the field to a mediocre first baseman at this point in his career.
22. Ross Gload is the big left-handed bat off the bench, though again limited to a mediocre first baseman and allegedly being capable of playing some corner outfield.

All of the above I take to be non-controversial. That leaves three spots open on the roster, and it's an open question about what should be done with them. One issue is how many pitchers to take vs. position players.

Certainly, in a smooth opening series, since there are only five games, the staff described above suffices. But you can't set up your roster on the assumption of a smooth series. That's why my next roster spot goes to:
23. Kyle Kendrick, who won't start a game in postseason unless disaster strikes. Nonetheless, he has (admittedly) limited experience coming out of the bullpen, and in the event disaster strikes, he could come in a provide some innings to save the rest of the bullpen.

That completes my pitching staff. I don't include Danys Baez, David Herndon, Antonio Bastardo, or Mike Zagurski, though that decision deserves an explanation.

I don't take a second lefty reliever because neither Bastardo nor Zagurski has shown me enough in the regular season to make me think that Charlie (or I) would trust them in a key situation in the postseason. But if you won't use a situational lefty in a key situation, then why have them on the roster? Answer: Don't have them on the roster.

David Herndon performed admirably this season, but he's basically been a detriment to the staff because his Rule 5 status guaranteed his spot all season and limited the team's flexibility. Now that the flexibility is restored, there's no need for Herndon; and I again can't imagine a circumstance where Charlie would have the staff I outlined above and say to Rich Dubee, "Get Herndon up."

Now consider Danys Baez. His exclusion is probably the most controversial thing so far (if for no other than his 2-year, $5.25 million contract). Why not include him? For the same reason as Herndon. Given how poorly he's performed this season, I can't imagine a circumstance when Charlie would use him. In a blowout (good or bad)? Use Kendrick. In a tight situation? No way Baez gets near the mound. So, if you wouldn't use him, then why include him? His contract is a REALLY bad reason, and Charlie won't make that mistake.

Going with that pitching staff leaves two bench spots. The first of those spots, I give to
24. Greg Dobbs (bats LH). Dobbs has had an atrocious season. And though Charlie has a tendency to stick with guys who did it before, even if they aren't currently performing, I think Dobbs makes the roster for a different reason. With the uncertainty around J-Roll and Cabeza Grande, Charlie needs another infielder, and Dobbs's ability to play third trumps his anemic bat. I expect him to be the second (or possibly the third) left-handed bat off the bench, barring a major onslaught in the scrub games that remain, but he's going to make the roster.

And finally...
25. Domonic Brown. I know most people believe the rookie won't make the roster, and it is very unlike Charlie to take an unproven player into a crucial series. Nonetheless, I expect Brown to make the cut. First, there's no pitcher worth taking over him, as I discussed above. Second, Brown is fast. Though not used much as a pinch-runner, I could definitely see him coming in to run for Ibanez, Chooch, or even Howard in a crucial role. Third, the kid has a sweet swing; and though we haven't seen much of it yet, this kid wants to hit, and Charlie likes a hitter.

That represents my roster, and my rationale for it.

Let me know why you think I'm wrong.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Bigger Issue

Tonight's victory will probably be most remembered as Roy Oswalt's first at Citizens Bank Park.

More important for the Phillies is the performance of Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge.

This is the way things were supposed to work.

Both were dominant, and that might be the first time all season that this has been true.

If tonight's performance is indicative of what we can expect the rest of the season (and one hopes in the playoffs) then all of the rending of shirts over the state of the Phillies' bullpen is overwrought (though note that I still think Dannys Baez should be dropped from the roster immediately).

But this is what we need to win another title. An effective 8th and 9th inning.

I don't want another playoff run. I want another title.

Lidge and Madson are crucial to that.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Werth was right

There's a minor controversy surrounding a play on Thursday night.

With two outs in the 12th inning, Jayson Werth ran toward the foul line in right field trying to catch a fly ball. The ball hooked foul into the stands, and Werth pursued it.

A fan caught the ball and in catching the ball, the fan clearly prevented Werth from recording the final out of the inning.

On TV, Jayson Werth was shown saying something angrily toward the fan.

He was right.

The fan appeared to be a father with his son sitting next to him, and ordinarily I'd applaud a very nice catch by a fan, but this was not acceptable.

Fans need to know where they sit.

That sounds obvious, but it's not, unless you're a baseball geek like me.

For most people who just like baseball and show up at a game, it's not obvious that they need to pay attention to where they sit.

For those of us who care, you need to note this the minute you walk in the park.

So, when this gentleman walked into the stadium, he should have noticed where he was sitting.

And Jayson Werth should be forgiven (indeed, to my mind praised, for his passion) for saying something (I assume the comments were insulting) about this man's behavior.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Pudge Effect

I've been a huge fan of Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez since he first broke into the big leagues with the Texas Rangers.

This guy is definitely headed to the Hall of Fame. He's the greatest catcher I've seen, including Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, and Mike Piazza in that group.

And amazingly, he's somehow not been universally acclaimed to the extent I believe he deserves.

Separately, and independently, I've been telling a friend of mine in Washington DC that although his Nationals have been pathetic, and that they were gonna continue to suck this year, that in the very near future I fully expected this team to be a significant factor in the very near future, perhaps even by next year.

Well, apparently, I was wrong.

The Nats are going to be a significant factor this year.

I'm a bit surprised.

The Nats line-up has been powerful for several years now. The pitching and defense, however, have been pitiful.

I attribute this in part to Pudge.

Pudge is an amazing ball player. He hits. He spent 12 straight years (perhaps more) as the best defensive catcher in the history of baseball. And he has demonstrated over and over again that he can lead a pitching staff to higher success.

Compare these two stories about yesterday's game between the Washington Nationals and New York Mets. I see Pudge sparkling through every comment by a Nats' player and lacking from the Mets' comments.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Moyer's the Fifth Starter

Barring a trade or injury, Jamie Moyer is going to be the Philadelphia Phillies' fifth starter on the opening day roster.

The "competition" this spring for the fifth spot has been between Kyle Kendrick and Moyer. The common wisdom and explicitly expressed view of Rich Dubee, who has some say in the matter as the pitching coach, is that to win the job, Kendrick has to significantly outperform Moyer.

A tie goes to Moyer in this race. And in fact, even a loss by less than 10 yards in a 40-yard dash goes to Moyer.


Well, consider the options. Let's say you put Kendrick in the rotation. What do you do with Moyer?

Send him to the bullpen.

OK, but do you really want to do that? In the bullpen, Moyer becomes the 12th guy who gets an occasional spot start. You're not able to use him as a situational lefty because of how long he needs to warm up and the fact that he won't be able to pitch on consecutive days, and at his age, you have to wonder how much durability he'd have on a reliever's uncertain schedule.

Much to his credit, Moyer never suggested that his injury in September and the subsequent surgeries and complications were due to the shift to the bullpen; but every fan wondered. And certainly the Phillies have to wonder how long Moyer would hold up in the irregular role.

Note also that I have not mentioned at all the question of whether you really want to pay $8 million to your 12th man in the 'pen. I take Ruben Amaro, Jr. at his word when he says that money will not enter into the decision. But to put it in perspective, the Phillies weren't even willing to re-sign Clay Condrey as their 12th guy when his price tag went above $250K.

Now consider Kendrick in the 'pen. Though neither man has extensive bullpen experience, you have to think that the young Kendrick is much more suited to the role. And as a classic sinkerballer, Kendrick would seem to be a good fit as the guy you bring in to get the doubleplay grounder to short when you're in a jam.

In addition, the move on Opening Day doesn't determine your roster in September. Assume Moyer stinks up the joint in April and May (which I don't expect to happen), then there's still time to move Kendrick into the rotation.

Finally, there's David Herndon. Herndon is the Rule 5 draft pick from the Angels who has been stellar out of the bullpen this spring. Because he's a Rule 5 pick, Herndon must either remain on the 25-man roster or be offered back to the Angels, who would probably take him because of his stellar spring with the Phillies.

Herndon appears to be a solid pick to start the season in the 'pen because of the injuries to JC Romero and Brad Lidge.

Assume he does well in the first few weeks, and the Phillies want to hang on to him when Lidge and Romero come back. They could always send Kendrick (who still has minor league options remaining) to Triple A to create a spot for Herndon in the majors while they figure out whom they want to keep. They couldn't do that with Moyer.

And you really don't want to give Kendrick the number five spot, only to option him to Triple A a few weeks later so you can hold on to Herndon (in the hopes that he pans out) and then move a 47-year old Moyer from the 'pen into the rotation.

That's just bizarre.

No, it's much cleaner to keep Moyer in the rotation, send Kendrick to the 'pen, get a few appearances from Herndon in the regular season, figure out whether he's a keeper, and then make your decisions about the long-term, which might necessitate sending Kendrick to Triple A for a while as things sort themselves out.

I started all of this by saying, "Barring a trade..." and that's a crucial caveat. Moyer is a very attractive pitcher for lots of big league clubs where he'd be slotted into the number 5 (or even 4) slot into the rotation in the blink of an eye. And several relievers, including the newly emergent Herndon, might be moved as clubs realize that they're bullpen isn't as deep as it seemed in December.

So, there's a ton of action still possible, but barring a trade or injury, Jamie Moyer will be the Phillies fifth starter on opening day.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Other Guy

There's little suspense in Phillies' camp this spring.

Who's going to be the number five starter?

Who's will get the last spot in the bullpen? This is quite possibly tied to the first question.

And will the players recovering from injury (especially Brad Lidge and JC Romero) be ready for Opening Day?

That doesn't mean there's little news coming from Clearwater.

Indeed, there's a steady stream of news as Cole Hamels attempts to come back from a mediocre 2009, Placido Polanco settles in at third base, and Doc Halladay gives fans and coaches a view of their ace for the next four years.

One guy crucial to the team's success hasn't been making headlines: JA Happ.

After beginning last season in the bullpen, Happ replaced Chan Ho Park in the rotation and proceeded to have an extremely impressive season, noticed by others with a second place finish in Rookie of the Year balloting.

But sophomore seasons are tough, especially on starters.

You need look no further than Kyle Kendrick, or even Hamels to see that hitters learn a pitcher's tendencies, and the results can be brutal. Many a rookie sensation has punched a ticket back to the farm in their second go at the show.

So, though Happ's spot in the rotation on Opening Day is assured barring a complete meltdown this spring, his continued presence in the number four slot in the rotation is far from certain.

Opening Day rotations rarely hold up unaltered through to September or October. Just consider that 2009's starting five were Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, Joe Blanton, Hamels, and Park versus the September five of Cliff Lee, Hamels, Blanton, Pedro Martinez, and Happ.

But having a solid starting rotation sets up the rest of the team. Solid starters who eat innings keep the bullpen rested, which makes them more effective. It also enables Charlie Manuel to rest his starting eight more frequently because he has confidence that the team doesn't need to score 10 runs every night to win a game.

Happ did everything right in 2009. After a very brief period of being upset about losing out on the starting spot, he accepted his position in the 'pen, performed admirably, and re-adjusted to the rotation when the need arose.

Never was he seen as getting too excited by success or too upset by setbacks (excepting the natural disappointment of losing out to Park for the rotation).

He exuded quiet confidence, and I hope to see an extremely successful follow-up to 2009.

But history indicates that's not likely. So if Kendrick is not able to displace Moyer from the number five spot, there's a very good chance that he'll have another shot midseason.

After that, it gets interesting. Following Kendrick, the next most likely starter would be an aging Jose Contreras, who will almost certainly start the season in the bullpen and be expected to contribute a spot start here and there regardless.

Beyond that, you start looking at Antonio Bastardo, who has a good chance at being the second lefty out of the bullpen, assuming Romero is the first; and then?

I guess Scott Mathieson is a distant possibility, but having moved so many players the past two seasons, there's no obvious backfill.

Independent of Happ and Kendrick's performance, we're likely to rely on several other pitchers for at least 5 starts this season, perhaps more since one of our projected starters is a 47 year-old coming off an injury-plagued and rather ineffective season.

So, though the suspense might be missing, there's still plenty to learn this spring; and we'll need to keep an eye out for all of the other guys toeing the rubber as we're likely to see some of them at the Bank one sunny day this summer.