Tuesday, September 12, 2006

What's On My Plate?

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I like my humble pie served room temperature.

As argued here before, the Bobby Abreu trade was good…at least for Bobby...but it has made the question of how to protect Ryan Howard more difficult to solve.  Several astute observers have suggested moving Chase Utley into the four hole and batting Howard third.  While I momentarily agreed with them as recently as yesterday afternoon, I forthwith withdrawal my support.  Howard needs someone like Abreu in front of him in order to even consider having Utley bat behind him.  The Phils do not have sufficient players on their current roster to solve this problem.  It remains to be seen whether they will address this issue in the off-season given the number of holes they have to fill overall, but it is a very big problem.

I could be considered a charter member of the Charlie-Manuel-is-doing-a-decent-job fan club.  I am turning in my card effective immediately.  Charlie isn’t doing a good job in those few instances per game where strategy and game management matter most.  Charlie is a good guy who knows hitting (presumably) and creates a nice clubhouse atmosphere.  That and $3.00 will get you a medium coffee at a ubiquitous coffee emporium.

I like Jimmy Rollins a lot and have argued his best position in the batting order remains lead-off.  I am wrong.  As commenter extraordinaire George S. has pointed out in some emails to me and others, Jimmy is a wonderful player who simply isn’t suited to bat lead-off for reasons we all know:  he isn’t a patient enough hitter and he rarely drops down a bunt.  George S. calls this type of player “uncoachable” by which he means unwilling or unable to alter his game for the betterment of himself if not the club.  George is quick to point out this is not a question of bad attitude or lack of hustle; he, too, likes Jimmy.  The problem is the Phils need a more prototypical lead-off man than Jimmy and years of waiting have largely been in vain.  The good news is they may already have one or two players on the roster now in the persons of Michael Bourn if he can hit and Shane Victorino, who can do everything one expects of a lead-off man except for the all-important patience issue.  Shane is definitely always up there taking his hacks.  Whether one of the other is the answer will likely have to wait until next year.  

This next one is a toughie.  It’s no secret I am not a big Brett Myers fan.  Some days, he can pitch extremely well; others, he comes up small when needed most.  Since returning from his mini-exile, however, the huffing and puffing burly right-hander has pitched as effectively or better than every other starter on the team..   Reluctantly, I acknowledge the Phils should probably (see:  still hedging even now) keep rather than trade him given the uncertainties in the rest of the rotation.  I’ll just swallow my moral indignation for once and pretend baseball exists in a vacuum.

A month or so ago I argued that if the Phils wanted to re-sign David Dellucci they probably should have acted then, prior to the end of the season, before he became a free agent.  My earlier enthusiasm was seriously premature.  Since then, the formerly torrid-hitting outfielder with limited range and absolutely no arm has fallen back to earth at the plate, “hitting” at a clip far below his career batting average of .269 let alone the 335 clip of this late summer.   In his defense, Dellucci has been banged up, but after watching him swing over the top of more inside breaking stuff than I can count, Dellucci’s return, at least as a starter or even platoon player, is no longer desirable.  

Yes, I’ll have fries with that.


Oisín/Wizlah said...

I believe that Jimmy still has it in him to be a better contact hitter, but I think he'd done about as well as he's going to do on walks. Jimmy goes out looking for a hit and that will never change. I don't think shane is the answer to leadoff, although right now his obp is okay, but then I've not seen his propensity for learning how to take a ball. it would be nice to see rollins down behind howard, and maybe experiment with vic leading off and maybe coste second?

J. Weitzel said...

Who's better equipped to bat leadoff than Rollins right now? No one.

Bunt? I prefer a nice double to the gap! Rollins and his team-leading 39 doubles gives you a pretty nice shot to drive in a fast runner in scoring position ahead of the contact hitters. Rollins is 4th in the NL in runs scored, even though he's not dropping down magical bunts.

He may not be the best leadoff hitter ever, and I like the idea of his power further down, but he's clearly the best choice among this current group to leadoff a ballgame. The purpose is still to score runs, and they lead the league.

egrissom said...

Victorino seems here to stay and is on-basing over .390 for his second straight month. If the Phillies believe he can even on-base .350 over any stretch of time if makes sense for him to leadoff and Rollins to hit second. I wouldn't be surprised to see them make that change soon. J-Roll can't knock anybody in with all his extra-base hits where he is now. He's going to hit 20 home runs this year and to hit him leadoff is giving runs away.

I shared the outrage over the idea of bunting. With just a very few situational exceptions, nobody on the team should be bunting except for Nunez and pitchers.

Bourn might be good some day, but if he ever hits enough to help the Phillies offensively it won't be until around 2009 or so.

Tom Goodman said...

I like the bunt, but generally only in certain situations and rarely if ever with more than one out. Nothing drives me up the wall faster than deliberately giving up a second out. That said, I agree pitchers should almost always be capable of bunting with less than two outs and a man on, unless they are proven hitters.

One of the situations where I believe the bunt or threat of one is useful is when leading off.(The threat is only meaningful, of course, if the batter has previously shown he can execute a bunt successfully) The threat of a bunt forces corner infielders to play in and gives that much more advantage to the batter if he decides to swing away. It also puts the pitcher on the defensive right out of the gate, before he has settled in. Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo formed the perfect duo in my opinion. Once he got on by bunting or beating out an infield single, Pierre succeeded in putting the opposition on extreme alert after only one batter. And with Castillo following him, the threat level remained high. But here is the main reason I like a leadoff batter who can lay down a bunt: leadoff batters don't always lead off a game or inning!!! They come up later in some innings depending on what has transpaired to that point and their ability to bunt with a man on can be critical, not just in sacrificing the runner along but in posing the threat that they might lay one down.

Leadoff batters may only lead off an inning once a game!!!

Oisín/Wizlah said...

Vic leading off would be nice - and he has managed 15 doubles so far. The question is, can he be any better at taking a walk? the most he ever managed in the minors was 51 in 494 at bats at Scranton. (curiously Jimmy managed 51 in 532 ABs in '99 at Reading). I guess jimmy's power elsewhere might benefit us, but i'd prefer a good hitter who can take a walk leading off

J. Weitzel said...

Victorino would be my second choice, but I hesitate to anoint him with the leadoff spot with that swing. It's a shallow reason, but that's my take. Maybe prolonged exposure would prove me wrong, and he's on a very nice run now, but I think as a leadoff hitter, we'd see Victorino come away with about 110 strikeouts a season. That's just too many.

Corey & Carson said...

I like J-Roll. I don't like when he constantly pops up to middle infielders, but overall I really like him. He has many leadoff traits, but he lacks some that simply make people constantly question him in the 1-hole.

I love the fact that we've been able to see so much of Victorino this season. I was totally wrong on this guy. I didn't think he had any future as an MLB player, now he looks like starter material.

I still like the Abreu trade, but I gotta agree with the lack of protection statement.

Manuel......well if you ever read my blog you know how I feel about him. But I've always said he'd have far better value to the Phils as a hitting coach not lead strategist!

Tom Goodman said...

I guess no one, myself included, picked up on my comment that pretty much directly contradicted what I said about Jimmy in the post. Upon reflection, I don't think Jimmy should be moved out of the lead-off spot unless someone of, say, Jose Reyes' calibre, comes along. Otherwise, Jimmy will lead off the game and may not lead off again the rest of the day or night. What he will do is drive in a good number of runs from his spot in the order and score a helluva lot more.

egrissom said...

I think Jason makes a good point about Victorino's strikeouts. All those extra-base hits from Rollins are driving me nuts, though, so I'd still be looking for a way to move him down to the two-hole. I think it's another encouraging thing about Victorino -- with his speed if he can cut down on his strikeouts even a little and put the ball in play he'll beat a bunch of them out for hits. On the downside, if he doesn't figure out an offensive approach that doesn't rely so much on his speed you have to think his career window will be short and close when he loses a step or two.

George S said...

I'm not a big fan of bunting. But players with speed should develop the ability to bunt for a hit when the opportunity arises. Those opportunities include: when David Bell is playing 3B (sorry), I mean when the defense is playing back, when you are in a slump (JR was lost in that Marlins series, and a bunt single or two could have very well snapped him out of it, as well as helped the team), and when the defense is not expecting it. A mishandled bunt when there is a man on is almost always the start of a big inning.
As someone said, it's not so much the bunt itself as the threat of a bunt that can help players like JR. I have to think that he would see more fastballs if he was known as a threat to bunt for a hit.

As for leadoff, I'm not sure that Victorino is the answer, but since his OBP seems acceptable and he has speed and gap power, why not switch him and JR for a while and see how it goes? JR's extra base hits would generate more runs that way.

One of the other things that the Phillies need to do better is take advantage of both JR and Victorino's speed and ability to steal bases. One commentator mentioned that SV hadn't stolen many bases because with LH batters behind him they wanted him to keep the hole open between 1B and 2B. That seems like a waste to me. Utley can hit in any case, and they put a shift on for Howard. Why not let JR and SV put some pressure on the pitcher?

Tom Goodman said...

George: The key to what you said is "when the opportunity arises". The threat of a bunt alone is a terrific weapon to open a game or inning. The Phils haven't had that in more years than I can remember.