Thursday, February 15, 2007

Cold Facts

It isn’t difficult to focus one’s thoughts on the Phillies gathering in Florida when the real feel temperature around these parts is minus four degrees.

With several new faces joining a host of familiar ones and with a few major decisions still to be resolved, Spring Training figures to be more critical than in the recent past as the Phillies try to break their string of thirteen consecutive seasons without making the playoffs.

Chief among the concerns and hopes is Pat Burrell. Where does he bat in the order? Can he cut down on his strikeouts? Is he healthy? Does he harbor any ill feelings having been roasted, not toasted, by nearly everyone in town? And last but not least, can he rebound again? I haven’t a clue about the first four questions but I will hazard a guess about number five: in a word, no! Whatever spot in the order he bats, Burrell is going to strike out a lot, hit 24 – 30 home runs, drive in at least 85 runs, walk around 80 times, run the bases poorly, field his position adequately at best and not hit much above last season’s .258 average. At this stage of his career, Pat is what he is. There are no more makeovers in the offing. He is a decent offensive force and a below average fielder. Wishing and hoping for a rebound is pointless. If Pat were going to adjust, he would have done so by now. And if he hasn’t adjusted by now it’s because he can’t or won’t.

The Phillies have an alleged surplus of starters but they shouldn’t get too cocky. Fans know all the reasons to be optimistic and they should know all the reasons to be cautious. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Brett Myers is the number one guy. He has never fulfilled all the expectations of him though he occasionally shows flashes of brilliance. All the talk of great stuff does not answer the question that has always come up in any discussion of him: does he have the mental makeup? Count me among the skeptical. If Myers’ alleged makeover above the shoulders is real, you can also count me among the pleasantly surprised.

Cole Hamels had a marvelous second half of his season with the Phils, which was about half a season altogether. The sky is the limit with the gifted left-hander but there are questions about his health. No one can predict how he will hold up physically.

Speaking of health, newcomer Freddy Garcia has thrown a lot of innings over the last several seasons and most AL scouts agreed he’d lost something on his fastball last year. The White Sox may have moved him because they knew he’d walk after this season as a free agent, or they may have moved him because they guessed he’d already peaked. Baseball history is full of trades in which GM’s guessed a player’s best days were behind him. Sometimes they were right; sometimes they blew it. As a long-time Orioles fan I can always point to the trade of Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas as exhibit A of the latter. We all know the Reds figured Frank was past his prime when they dealt him to the O’s, and we all know how that deal turned out. Of course, in those days free agency played no part. Simpler times?

Adam Easton is a flat-out gamble and not an inexpensive one. Anyone who has lost as much time as he has to injuries cannot be counted on as a certainty; after all, he does have a track record. Given the presence of Jon Lieber and the bullpen problems that linger, Easton may be asked to fill two roles this season. For his part, Lieber has been inconsistent, especially at the start of each season. His physical problems are self-inflicted. If he wants to prove he can still pitch effectively, he’d better start by working on his conditioning. A picture of Lieber in this morning’s Inquirer shows him standing next to his obscene two-story big-wheel monster truck. He’s going to have to exercise more than simply climbing in and out of that thing!

Finally, the blogosphere is alive with buzz about a column by Bill Conlin that suggests, among others things, dropping Jimmy Rollins from leadoff to fifth in the batting order. Not wishing to restate the countless complaints about Rollins' failure to be the prototypical leadoff man, I will point out he tied for second in the NL last year for runs scored. The Phillies' offensive problems were largely due to Burrell's second-half swoon and George S.'s infamous "Black Hole" not the lack of a classic leadoff man. Despite the collective ineptitude of the bottom third of the order, Rollins still managed to score a ton of runs. I don't think dropping Jimmy is the answer though I am not opposed to it. Update: Check that last line; I am opposed to dropping him down. He hits for a good average and excellent power, knocks in runs, scores a ton of runs, steals bases and plays his position extremely well. Why tinker with that?

12 Comments:

Anonymous kuff6 said...

I also remembered Burrell being horrible in the 2nd half last year. However, I just looked at the numbers, and I have to admit I am stunned, but there wasn't any swoon at all:

pre all-star break: .250/.376/.508

post-ASB: .268/.403/.495

Breaking it down by month doesn't yield anything different, as he was .259/.390/.469 in August and .253/.394/.480 in September.

Can we all please just stop talking about Burrell and let him go out there and get his 30+ HR with .380+ obp and not worry about it? Do we really want to allow the idiots at WIP to run him out of town so we get pennies on the dollar for him (see, e.g., Scott Rolen and Bobby Abreu).

9:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There has been much ballyhoo about the Phillies starting pitching staff around here but ESPN does not have them in their top 5. If you look at last years stats for the 5 starters then it's understandable why.Most of the pitchers were not consistent through out the year.
I am not opposed to having Rollins bat 5th but at the same time it's pretty rare a leadoff guy hits 25 homers!!

10:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Goodman said...

kuff6: We are saying the same thing in essence though the second half breakdown is revealing. Nevertheless, he is who he is and he ain't gonna' change much. As for running people out of town, WIP didn't run Rolen out, Green and Bowa were the chief antagonists though I maintain (and have written ad nauseum) that Rolen wanted out anyway.

anonymous: the pitching staff could be very good, but it could be very mediocre. I neglected to even mention Moyer, an oversight I attribute in large part to my lack of enthusiasm for his presence on the mound. In the dugout he might be a terrific influence, but on the mound his junk may not fool all of the people all of the time given a full season and his age.

10:15 AM  
Anonymous RickSchuBlues said...

As the projected win totals and optimism for the Phillies' chances seems to increase every day, I appreciate this sense of skepticism as necessary balance to the typically stratospheric hopes of early spring training. Even Conlin snuck in a half-kidding reference to them winning the NL East, and Zolecki consistently opines in his Q & A forum that he sees no reason they won't make the playoffs. But there are reasons why they very well may not, and thanks for putting them out there.

The Phillies have an above-average rotation, probably one good enough to make a playoff run, but it is hardly filled with indomitable pitchers. I see the offense as being half-full and half-empty. I see the bullpen and bench as mostly empty. I see the Phillies as being "due" to have things break right, but then I've seen that for quite a few years now. I maintain that they appear to have a team that again can win 85-90 games, and whether that takes them into the post-season is a matter of how well other teams in the league play. It's enough to be moderately excited about, but we'd all do well to temper the expectations a little here.

2:50 PM  
Anonymous kuff6 said...

Tom:

While we both seem to qualify Pat as "he is what he is," I guess my point is that "what he is" is better than what he's generally given credit for.

Of course, this could just be the inexplicable optimism I feel about this team every spring (and, I would note, that for most of my lifetime, the Phillies have done absolutely nothing to justify this annual bout of optimism).

3:08 PM  
Blogger Tom Goodman said...

kuff6: I sympathize with the eternal optimism unjustified as it is. I guess we are who we are, too.

The Burrell saga is a fascinating one. We loved him; we hated him; we forgave him; we derided him. We gave him second and third chances and he bungled every other one. In the end the Phils couldn't get rid of him no matter how hard they tried so we all made peace with ourselves and decided to say "he is who he is". Management wanted to get rid of him with one hand and convinced themselves with the other that a guy who hits 25 - 30 home runs and knocks in around 90 or so isn't that easy to find and, hey, what do you know, we have one right in our own backyard. Sounds like they talked themselves into accepting his presence, so why shouldn't we?

3:18 PM  
Anonymous kuff6 said...

Last thing I'll say on this, I promise...
I think you're selling Burrell a little short. 29 hr and 95 rbi in only 462 at bats last year, with 117 rbi and over 30 hr the year before, is a bit better than what you described.

4:13 PM  
Blogger Tom Goodman said...

Last one for me, too....

I agree with you.

4:15 PM  
Anonymous kuff6 said...

I'm thinking that my career would be in a lot better shape if I applied the same terrier-like perseverance to my job that I inexplicably seem to have taken with trying to convince someone I've never met that Pat Burrell is just a smidge better than represented. Isn't baseball freakin' great?

9:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Goodman said...

kuff6:

Just the other day RSB and I were exchanging emails regarding passion about baseball. We both recall reading a piece by Roger Angell who wrote marvelously on the whole notion of caring deeply for sports figures and institutions. In it Angell observed that given their long season baseball players above all other athletes, see their fortunes ebb and flow daily and that the results are tabulated in a unique ledger of credits and debits (the box score) for all to see. What makes their lives so different from our own and so important to us is in large measure that their fortunes do change daily where ours almost never do.

Both of us have tried to find the article in question and are still searching. If and when we do, I will let you know. Send me your email address if you please.

9:10 AM  
Anonymous kuff6 said...

Through the miracle of google, I think this must be the passage you're talking about:

“The box score, being modestly arcane, is a matter of intense indifference, if not irritation, to the non-fan. To the baseball-bitten, it is not only informative, pictorial, and gossipy but lovely in aesthetic structure. It represents happenstance and physical flight exactly translated into figures and history. Its totals - batters' credit vs. pitchers' debit - balance as exactly as those in an accountant's ledger. And a box score is more than a capsule archive. It is a precisely etched miniature of the sport itself, for baseball, in spite of its grassy spaciousness and apparent unpredictability, is the most intensely and satisfyingly mathematical of all our outdoor sports. Every player in every game is subjected to a cold and ceaseless accounting; no ball is thrown and no base is gained without an instant responding judgment - ball or strike, hit or error, yea or nay - and an ensuing statistic. This encompassing neatness permits the baseball fan, aided by experience and memory, to extract from a box score the same joy, the same hallucinatory reality, that pickles the scalp of a musician when he glances at a page of his score of Don Giovanni and actually hears bassos and sopranos, woodwinds and violins.” -"Box Scores", The Summer Game

In any event, my email is kufflerj@whiteandwilliams.com

10:43 AM  
Blogger Tom Goodman said...

kuff6:

Thanks!! That is part of it. I must have superimposed two recollections. I know the quote you cite here from "The Summer Game" (and actually xeroxed it and took it to the first meeting at CBP of several of the bloggers), but the part about caring and daily change comes from another piece by Angell. I think it is in one of his essays in "Five Seasons", but I haven't found it, yet.

10:47 AM  

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