Thursday, March 06, 2008

Not A Pretty Picture

First the mysterious shoulder ailment and now his back.

Last season it took an increasingly ineffective Adam Eaton months to "admit" his shoulder had been adversely affecting him for some time. Following yesterday's latest mound misadventures, Eaton "revealed" his back had been bothering him since an incident in the batting cage last July. Tomorrow we can expect to learn the sky is falling.

Prior to yesterday's outing it appeared Adam Eaton had two more starts remaining this Spring before the Phillies would be forced to make a decision about his future with the club. By my reckoning it wasn't out of the question for the Phillies to decide to cut their losses, in the millions of dollars, and release him. With yesterday's "revelation" the cynical money says Eaton may have [shrewdly] complicated the club's choices by introducing the injury factor. Will they put him on the disabled list instead of handing him his walking papers?

Meanwhile, it's too early to hit the panic button on the fourth spot in the rotation currently occupied by Kyle Kendrick, but his poor outings coupled with Eaton's mysterious ailments puts the Phils in a very tough spot. Chris Benson is a long way from picking up the slack, if ever, and something -- salary demands or maybe simply the plain unmistakable facts about his career -- are preventing the Phils from making an offer to Kyle Lohse, an established mediocrity. One thing they shouldn't do is sign Lohse just to keep him off of the Mets' roster.

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The strikeout argument begun by Todd Zolecki in his piece in the Inquirer is interesting if only because failing to put the ball in play is considered the ultimate futility for batters and setting a major league record for K's in a season (which Ryan Howard did last year) a dubious distinction. In the end, however, outscoring the opposition, by whatever means, is all that matters from a team standpoint and OBP has clearly become the measure of an individual's success.

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Before anyone points to Jonathan Papelbon of the Red Sox and says, "Look, they gave him a substantial raise over last year and he's still a year away from arbitration" just keep in mind his length of service is greater than Cole Hamels' and he has come up big when it counted most.


Anonymous said...

I would have responded directly to Zolecki but it's even more involved a process to successfully post on than it is here.

To claim strikeouts aren't as important as previously believed is one thing. To say that they don't matter at all is another. Zolecki, like so many Junior Prospecti, are quoting straight from the gospel without pausing for a nanosecond of critical thinking (evidently the 'authorities' have already done that for us, so what need is there?).

Here is why it matters that Ryan Howard strikes out 200 times a season: look at his average when he puts the ball in play. Failure to create contact is a negating of possibilities. What's the difference between a fly out, a ground out, and a strikeout? None, says Zolecki: the srikeouts simply don't *look* as good as a ground out. No: the difference is that the ground balls have a chance to elude a fielder, or to at least advance a runner. The fly balls have a chance to fall in front of or in between a fielder, or get caught in a jetstream and sail out of the park. Strikeouts negate the possibilities of a positive outcome, possibilities which can only exist when a ball is put into play.

The question, therefore, isn't what a player has done *despite* the strikeouts, but rather, how much more productive and helpful can that player be if he had a better idea of the strike zone and was able to make more frequent contact?


Tom Goodman said...

DH: The point of Zolecki's argument is that putting the ball into play and making an out is not statistically any more productive than striking out, which if nothing else is certainly counterintuitive to say the least. The problem with his argument is that even ten balls put into play over the course of a season by an entire team might positively affect the outcome of a few games, which in the end is significant. The statistical analysis he relies on cannot be that exact so your point, that positive things are more likely to happen with a ball put into play, is still the key one.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you can see what I'm getting at, Tom. There's something absent from the strikeouts-don't-matter argument - a telling example of how statistics often leave out wider contexts and tangentially relevant angles. The argument people like Zolecki (and noted thinker Charlie Manuel) are trying to advance is that since Ryan Howard's OBP is over .400, that's the only thing that matters - and that since his statistics look as good as they do, there are no real grounds for complaint. But what really made Barry Bonds Barry Bonds? He was the best player in the game before he ingested a single steroid. It was all about pitch recognition. Howard gets roughly the same low percentage of pitches to hit in any given game or at-bat as did Bonds. Howard had 107 walks - 35 of which were intentional - and 199 strikeouts last year. Based on my observations, a high proportion of those strikeouts were attributable to impatience, going out of the strike zone, playing the pitchers' game instead of his own. Considering the way Howard is pitched, 72 unintentional walks is a decidedly poor exploitation, or reflection, of the fact that he gets very few strikes to hit. A guy as dangerous as Howard, who kills balls in the strike zone, and moreover may well have even better plate coverage than did Bonds, could very easily advance his game to the point where his OBP is much closer to .500 than .400. Is mentioning this tantamount to not appreciating or properly respecting him? No - even with the 200 strikeouts, it can't be argued that Howard isn't an elite offensive player as is. But that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement, and the impatience at the plate is a very correctable detriment.

Meanwhile, I just watched Travis Blackley kill his dark-horse chances to become the fifth starter. Carrasco was lit up by Tampa Bay yesterday, and all indications are that he's not to be considered an option in '08. It's going to have to be Benson.

Hopefully it's just a spring-training rut, but the Phillies have looked yet again like a team going through the motions in March - a perennial theme which has tended to carry over into the regular season under Manuel It has to lead one to wonder, yet again, about the manager and his ability to adequately lead and prepare a team at the outset of a season.