Philadelphia Phillies: Who’s The Fifth Starter? Who Really Cares?

January 31, 2011 by Chris Langille  
Filed under Fan News

One of the things I absolutely love about being a Philadelphia sports fan is all the nit-picking we do. It’s highly irritating and annoying to outsiders looking in, but for us, it’s almost  another sport in in of itself. We just love analyzing something until it doesn’t even make sense to us.

It’s just what we do.

But recently a lot of smart reporters and writers have been wasting a lot of time nit-picking  over who the fifth starter should be for the Phillies this coming season.

Behind door number one is Joe Blanton. Door number two, Kyle Kendrick and door number 3 (drumroll) , Vance Worley. Tah dah!

Kyle Kendrick has two pitches. A liner in the gap and a home run to left field.

Vance Worley actually surprised me last year, but he is more valuable as a long reliever or a bullpen guy.

Joe Blanton has had his ups and downs, but he has the experience and is more consistent than the other two.

The fact is, none of their numbers will blow you away, but Blanton can actually eat up some innings for you, which will be important given the inconsistencies that have plagued the Phillies bullpen over the last year or two.

The longer the starter can stay in the game, the better.

But given the fact that we have the best four man rotation in baseball, and the fifth man in the rotation is often skipped over anyway, I don’t think this should even be a conversation so I’m going to end it right here.

The fifth starter should be Joe Blanton because Joe Blanton is better than Kyle Kendrick and Vance Worley.

So if anyone in the media is reading this article, lets use our energy on more important things guys, like who is going to fill the massive hole in right field that was left when Jayson Werth blind folded and robbed Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo for $126 million.

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Carlos Ruiz is the Best Catcher in the NL East: The Chooch Conspiracy

January 31, 2011 by Gregory Pinto  
Filed under Fan News

There has been no lack of chatter about the Philadelphia Phillies' rotation this offseason. After adding Cliff Lee to a staff that already included Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, the anticipation for Opening Day in the city of Philadelphia became all that more unbearable. While that certainly is true—the Phillies have the league's best rotation—we must read between the lines as well.

Within the National League East exists another top rotation. Entering the season, the Atlanta Braves boast a rotation that features two wily veterans in Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe, and thee young pitchers who feel like they still have something to prove: Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens and Mike Minor.

While they aren't the Phillies' rotation, they could be a potent group of starting pitchers as well.

So with that in mind, what do both of these teams, who will feature 10 different starting pitchers, reside in different cities and wear different uniforms have in common? They both have talented catchers that don't receive nearly enough credit for the work they do both offensively and defensively—Carlos Ruiz and Brian McCann.

McCann, 26, struggled with his vision in 2010, and his offensive production took a direct hit. He posted a slash line of .269/.375/.453 with 21 home runs.

While, out of the catcher's position, those are excellent offensive numbers, they represent a slight decline for McCann. His batting average from 2010 was the lowest of his career, and only his on-base percentage represented an increase from his 2009 totals.

The Braves catcher played good defense as well. He allowed just five passed balls while throwing out 36 would-be base stealers.

Even so, he allowed 84 stolen bases—the second highest total of his career—and with his vision and large frame, some wonder how long he can remain behind the plate, though, the Braves don't seem concerned, as that won't have any effect on their immediate future.

Up north, Ruiz, 32, has blossomed into a fine catcher for the Phillies. In 2010, he appeared in the most games of his career, catching 121 games for the club as they won their fourth straight division title. On top of that, he posted the greatest offensive numbers of his career, compiling a slash line of .302/.400/.447 with 8 home runs.

He was even better defensively, to the point where one scout called him the second best defensive catcher in the National League, behind defensive guru and catching prodigy Yadier Molina.

He allowed the fourth fewest stolen bases in baseball, among qualifying catchers, throwing out 20 would-be base stealers and allowing just 50 to successfully swipe a bag. He allowed just four passed balls and made five errors—a vast difference from the 14 made by McCann, the most as a catcher.

With those numbers in mind, it's not easy to see why Ruiz would be the better catcher. In a simplistic view, it's a fair split—McCann is the superior offensive catcher, while Ruiz is the superior defensive catcher. It can't be that simple though, right? A full analysis shows that one catcher is more valuable to a club than the other.

This is not one of those situations where one players is "leaps and bounds" better than the other. In fact, it's an extremely close race between Ruiz and McCann, but there are a few tell-tale statistics that should shed a little light on the situation.

In an era where the catcher is usually denoted as the weakest hitter on the diamond, both Ruiz and McCann have interesting offensive qualities. Normally, when people look at what McCann brings to the table, the first thing they'll reference is his impressive power from behind the plate—something that not many major league catchers can offer. In 2010, McCann's 21 home runs were the second most in major league baseball by a catcher.

However, power is quickly becoming the primary asset of McCann's game. Since his breakout season in 2006, where he posted an impressive slash line of .333/.388/.572 with 24 home runs, his numbers have been steadily declining.

Excluding a slight rise in a few categories in 2008, all of his major offensive numbers outside of his on-base percentage have been on the decline. He also experienced a jump in his strikeouts—up to 20.5 K percentage.

Over the course of the past few seasons, McCann has gone from one of the game's most well-rounded offensive catchers to a slightly above average power threat. On the other hand, Ruiz has developed into the more well-rounded offensive player.

In 2010, just four catchers that appeared in more than 100 games managed to bat above .300—Ruiz, Joe Mauer, Buster Posey and Victor Martinez. Considering that two of those men are the highest paid catchers in baseball, and Posey just took home the National League Rookie of the Year Award, that isn't bad company.

A look at Ruiz's on-base percentage shows that he was in even more select company in another statistic. He and Twins super-catcher Mauer were the only two catchers in baseball to post an OBP of .400 or higher. One professional baseball scout was recently quoted as saying, "I think he's [Ruiz] is the best catcher in the game—other than [Joe] Mauer, who's on a different planet."

As we continue to analyze Ruiz's numbers, it seems like that scout may be on to something.

Ruiz, who batted eighth in the Phillies order a majority of the season, was the only player in the lineup to have a batting average above .300. As the eighth hitter in the order, his job was to get on base in front of the pitcher, and no eight-hole hitter in baseball did a better job than Ruiz in doing just that.

Combined with his incredible OBP, which placed him behind Albert Pujols and in front of Ryan Zimmerman on the major league leaderboard, Ruiz also drew a lot of walks out of the eight hole. His walk percentage was 12.7 (55 walks overall).

Offensively, it isn't hard to see that although McCann may have him edged in the "flashy" department, Ruiz has become the overall better hitter. Outside of the power department, Ruiz has shown excellent plate vision and strike-zone discipline, as well as the ability to get on base by any means necessary—be it by walk or hit.

Defensively, as we have already reviewed, both men can hold their own behind the plate. However, when comparing the staffs that the catchers must work with throughout the season, it's a simple task seeing who has the tougher job.

In 2010, Ruiz's job was no simple task. He handled a number of Cy Young caliber pitchers, and handled them well. Perhaps the most potent pitcher-catcher combination in the league, Ruiz and Halladay combined to throw two no-hitters, one of course being a perfect game.

Halladay, who is known to thrown a number of different pitches from a number of different arm angles, is not an easy pitcher to catch, but Halladay attributed Ruiz with much of his success. When the NL Cy Young feels comfortable throwing to you, you know you're doing something right.

Taking a look at the rest of the Phillies' staff in 2011, Ruiz is the only man for the job. After joining the Phillies in 2009, Lee posted a record of 7-4, with an ERA of 3.34, but those numbers are deceiving. Under Ruiz's watch, Lee's ERA could have easily been around 2.83, as his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) suggests.

Along with the front two starters in that rotation are three pitchers in baseball who are known for having late breaking pitches—Hamels, Oswalt and Brad Lidge. Having caught Hamels and Lidge the longest, their breaking pitches have become old news for Ruiz. Hamels, who is known for his "Bugs Bunny" change-up and late-breaking slurve is not an easy pitcher to catch.

Combined with Lidge's slider, which Ruiz has mastered the defense of, and it's not hard to understand why guys are comfortable throwing to him—the man catches everything.

The newest addition to the rotation, in terms of Phillies' debuts, is Oswalt. Over the course of his career, Oswalt was known primarily as a two-pitch horse. He threw a fastball in the low- to mid-90s and a curveball that would buckle your knees regardless of whether you were sitting on it or not.

However, after arriving in Philadelphia, Oswalt began throwing another knee-buckler after watching Ruiz block Lidge's slider in the dirt. Combining his slow, looping curveball with the downward movement of a change-up, Oswalt began throwing what he called a "Vulcan change-up." With his added change-up, the revitalized Oswalt posted a record of 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA, finishing with arguably one of the best seasons of his career.

Simplified, we're forced to wonder if some of these guys would be as good as they are now without Ruiz behind the plate. Outside of Halladay, who will have a Halladay-esque season regardless of who the catcher is, that is a debatable topic. But we'll save that for another time.

In the long run, you'll hear that McCann is the better catcher than Ruiz often, but don't let a simple offensive statistic like home runs fool you—Ruiz is a well-rounded catcher that will give any catcher in the game, outside of Mauer, who, is apparently on another planet, a run for his money.

At the end of the day, the catcher's job is to handle his pitching staff, and outside of Molina, no catcher comes close to Ruiz in that regard. While McCann is a great catcher, and certainly, the second best in the National League East, his offensive production is certainly not enough to value him over a rare, underrated talent like Ruiz.

Simply put, the Phillies staff would not be the Phillies staff without him. On the other hand, if the Braves were forced to move McCann out from behind the plate and replace him with an average defender, who would miss him back there?

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Philadelphia Phillies: 10 Current Players Domonic Brown Could Develop Into

January 31, 2011 by Josh Schoch  
Filed under Fan News

For those of you who don't know him, Domonic Brown is the outfield prospect that the Phillies brought up to the majors late last season.  Brown is a young left-handed hitter who has great speed and is a good fielder. 

Many people have been speculating about the number 3 prospect in the MLB.  ESPN's Keith Law is no exception, saying:

“Brown demolished Double-A and Triple-A in 2010, yet still has a lot of raw aspects to his game. He may just be the rare, special talent who has to complete most of his baseball development in the majors because minor league pitching isn't a sufficient challenge for him.

"Brown has all five natural tools, and shows some refinement at the plate, where he works the count reasonably well and never had an issue with making contact until he reached Philadelphia. His swing can be a little long, but he accelerates his hands so quickly that, in the long run, I don't expect him to be a significant swing-and-miss hitter and he has the hip rotation and leverage to hit for above-average to plus power. His reads in right field still need work and despite a strong arm he tends to throw off the wrong foot, but those are problems that can be fixed with time and better instruction in the majors.

"He's not likely to fill Jayson Werth's offensive shoes right away, but if the Phillies are patient Brown can be that kind of hitter when he peaks after a few years in the big leagues.” – Keith Law, ESPN

Brown is attracting a lot of attention, and people want to know if he will be a Hall of Famer, a one-year wonder, a bust, or anywhere in between.  These 10 are the players who Domonic Brown could turn into.

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Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

2011 Fantasy Projections, No. 22: Why Chase Utley Is Not The Top Second Baseman

January 31, 2011 by Nick Kappel  
Filed under Fan News

Our 2011 fantasy baseball projections will be released one-by-one until the top 100 players have been revealed. These rankings consider past achievements, current performance and expected future results based on standard 5×5 H2H settings.

During a five-year period from 2005 to 2009, Chase Utley was one of the most valuable assets in fantasy baseball, averaging 151 games, 111 runs, 29 HRs, 101 RBI, 15 steals and a .301 batting average per season as a second baseman.  

A thumb injury which required surgery forced him to miss seven weeks last season, ending his five-year streak of awesomeness. Although Utley did return in time to post an impressive September line, Utley’s time as the top fantasy second baseman has likely ended.

This isn’t to say Utley isn’t still capable of 25 HRs, 15 steals and a .290 average. Rather, Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia have finally caught up to Utley as they both enter their prime years. Utley, on the other hand, is now 32 years old.

While Utley’s plate discipline stats don’t suggest much regression, a trend in his batting average over the last few years is somewhat peculiar:

  • 2007: .332
  • 2008: .292
  • 2009: .282
  • 2010: .275

While a bounceback season is fully expected, this downward pattern is worth mentioning.

Surprisingly, one area of Utley’s game that hasn’t declined is his base stealing efficiency:

  • 2008: 88 percent (14 out of 16)
  • 2009: 100 percent (23 out of 23)
  • 2010: 87 percent (13 out of 15)
  • Career: 88 percent (96 out of 109)

Given a full season of health as the Phillies’ No. 3 hitter, Utley can still be one of the most productive players at his position.

  PA R HR RBI SB AVG
2010 stats 511 75 16 65 13 .275
3-year average 635 100 27 87 17 .284
2011 FBI Forecast 650 95 26 100 15 .288

 

ORIGINAL ARTICLE: FANTASY BASEBALL INSIDERS

Check out the Home Run Heroics Forum to discuss the hottest baseball topics, including the upcoming 2011 fantasy baseball season!

Fantasy Baseball Insiders’ 2011 Big Board:

MLB Trades: Fantasy Impact:

Previous articles from Fantasy Baseball Insiders:

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Greg Dobbs: Top 5 Reasons The Philadelphia Phillies Will Regret Letting Him Go

January 31, 2011 by Jorge Suarez  
Filed under Fan News

The Philadelphia Phillies lost another player from their World Series winning team when Greg Dobbs signed a minor-league contract with the Florida Marlins.

This loss will really hurt the Phillies in several ways.  Fans should not be dissuaded by Greg Dobbs' bad year in 2010; many players have a down year now and then. 

Here are the top reasons the Phillies will miss having Greg Dobbs on their roster.

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Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

Fantasy Baseball Draft Day Dilemma: How Should We Value Jimmy Rollins?

January 31, 2011 by Eric Stashin  
Filed under Fan News

It wasn’t long ago that Jimmy Rollins was in the discussion regarding the elite shortstops in the league. 

What a difference a few seasons can make.

Obviously, we all know that Rollins is no slouch, especially at a position that is not one of the deepest in baseball. In our most recent rankings (click here to view), I ranked him fifth, but the real question is if that is a viable spot for him? 

Should he be ranked a little bit higher? Should I back him down a couple of spots?

To answer those questions, we first need to look at the numbers he posted in 2010:

350 At Bats
.243 Batting Average (85 Hits)
8 Home Runs
41 RBI
48 Runs
17 Stolen Bases
.320 On Base Percentage
.374 Slugging Percentage
.246 Batting Average on Balls in Play

Rollins' 2010 campaign was marred by starts and stops with only two months (July & August) with at least 100 AB. Injuries to his calf and hamstring cost him time, both of which are concerning, considering his legs are the key to his fantasy value.

I know he hit 30 HR in 2007, but he had never really shown that potential before (outside of maybe his 25 HR campaign in ’06) and hasn’t shown it since. 

If he can stay healthy could he return to the 20 HR plateau? Most likely, but that’s the type of number we should expect.

For a player who brings speed to the table, Rollins also has never brought an impressive BABIP to the table. Obviously, we all know that his ’10 mark is something we can expect improvement on, but don’t look for a number in the .320+ range. 

For his career, he has a .290 BABIP and has never posted a number better than .309. It’s a little surprising, considering that he used to routinely bring 40+ stolen bases to the table, but his track record is long enough that by now we need to accept him for what he is. 

He’s just not likely to hit close to .300. We are looking at a .275ish hitter and nothing more.

So, we know that the power is not what he showed in ’07 and his average is modest, at best.

What about his speed and run potential? The stolen bases are extremely hard to predict at this point: When healthy in ’09, he stole 31 in 39 attempts; now, two years older (32-years old) and coming off a year that saw him suffer multiple injuries to his legs, can we really expect him to return to his glory days?

I think he could return to 30 SB, maybe a few more than that, but going into the year expecting him to reach 40+ is a stretch. In fact, would anyone be surprised if he fell short of 30? 

The runs are going to be dependent on where he hits in the lineup and how the guys behind him produce. Yes, he is likely to be the leadoff hitter so that is not a concern (though if he struggles he easily could be dropped to the six hole). 

The problem is, do we think that Ryan Howard and Chase Utley can also rebound from “down” years? It’s a fairly safe assumption and one would think Rollins would at least approach 100 runs with a good chance to eclipse it, but he’s not going to be in the neighborhood of his career high (139).

It certainly would seem that we should be cautious when we draft Jimmy Rollins in 2011. I’m not trying to say that he’s a bad option, because he certainly has the upside to be one of the better options in the league. 

Unfortunately, three years removed from what was easily his career year, he’s unlikely to approach some people’s lofty expectations.

He has become injury prone (less than 140 games in two of the past three years) and somewhat of a shell of what he was. 

At a shallow position it’s still more than enough, but keep your expectations in check. I would probably target him around the sixth round of your draft and avoid reaching for him based on position.

What are your thoughts of Rollins? Is he a player you would target? What type of numbers are you expecting from him?

 

Make sure to order your copy of the Rotoprofessor 2011 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide, selling for just $5, by clicking here.

Make sure to check out some of our 2011 projections:

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Philadelphia Phillies: Matt Holliday, 10 Impact Players Passed For Draft Busts

January 29, 2011 by Gregory Pinto  
Filed under Fan News

Ah, what could have been.

The MLB's Rule Four Draft, better known as the First Year Player Draft, is not a simple process. Teams spend months preparing for the annual June draft, setting aside a budget, ranking a player's sign-ability and preparing alternatives in the event that their planned player is not available with their pick. If the draft were as simple as taking the best player available, imagine what baseball could look like today.

However, there are a pantheon of variables that each team "on the clock" must face. For example, do you take the safe route and draft a college senior who is more likely to sign, or do you draft a high school senior with high upside and a commitment to college? The first players is almost guaranteed to sign with you. But the second player, who could become the better major league player, could turn you down, attend college, and re-enter the draft in a few years, unless you offer him a large amount of money, of course.

Those variables, combined with this year's free agent class, really got me to thinking. A quick glance at the free agent market shows an interesting fact: the Tampa Bay Rays own 12 draft picks in the first two rounds of the draft. If they draft the best player available with all 12 of their picks, they could easily replace players like Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and Grant Balfour, and then some. However, they must factor in those aforementioned variables.

In my mind, that raised the question—"What if the Phillies had done just that?"

A look at the current Phillies' roster usually earns them a "get out of jail free" card. With names like Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels all coming up through the Phillies' system, people often forget that once upon a time, the Phillies' had done a terrible job drafting.

Having to worry about sign-ability, money and potential certainly factors into some of their decisions, what if none of those variables were on the table?

As they say, hindsight is 20-20, but looking back sure is a whole lot of fun. With that in mind, what could the Philadelphia Phillies look like today if they were able to go back in time and re-draft some of their team? In the long run, they make look a little something like this.

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Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies Second Annual Bucket List—From a Babe’s Take

January 28, 2011 by Flattish Poe  
Filed under Fan News

As the title says, this is my second annual bucket list—Phillies style. I hate the redundancy of writing a totally self-explanatory title and then reaffirming the topic in my first sentence but with those darn search engines constantly looking for articles with relevance, I’m already at a disadvantage.

When it comes to blogging about baseball, I’m the master at having nothing relevant to say.

And I’ve proved that for two whole paragraphs.

First, I should let you know that unlike most bucket lists, mine isn’t composed of death-defying acts of irrationality like white water rafting. Hell, if I wanted to be tossed about by a current I’d call my husband in on the waterbed. Besides, I don’t need to do something daring—I got married. I don’t need another adventure to end with, “What the hell was I thinking?”

Now, on my first bucket list, I gave considerable thought to the organization—I thought about bullets or numbers or an alphabetical arrangement. I even tried little Shane Victorino silhouettes but I couldn’t get them to stand still. So eventually I settled for the rant. Not only is it my favorite form of communication, it’s the least effective one.

Anyway, I’m hoping you enjoy this more than your annual pap smear or your prostate check (although I might be discriminating against single people when I say that).

Here goes:

Until the day I die, I pledge to boldly go where middle-aged women have all gone before—into the pants of major league players. And to the dismay of many, the thoughts in my mind will flow senselessly through my computer keypad.

Yes, I still use a pc. No, I don’t have an iPad. That’s what I do to my bra.

I give a whole new meaning to the question, “Are those really yours?”

Sorry, I got off track.

Let’s try again:

I want a bladder that doesn’t leak when I sneeze.

I want a wrinkle cream that makes me look like a Hollywood hottie but not someone Hugh Hefner would boink.

I want Philly weather to go straight from fall to spring.

I want my cat to puke in a designated area.

I want my dog to find a way to tend to his genitalia before he comes to bed.

I want my husband to find a way to do that too.

I want to prove that Shane Victorino is a descendant of the Mexican jumping bean.

I want someone to find a way to keep Justin Bieber cute and little, just like a kitten.

I want my husband to stop calling him 'Justin Beaver.'

I want the next Phillies charity event to have a Raul Ibanez kissing booth.

I want a Cliff Lee blowup doll giveaway at Citizens Bank Park (anatomically correct, of course).

I want spell check to be nominated for sainthood.

I want Carlos Ruiz to catch the next perfect game.

I want my husband to stop telling people that my remorse over Jayson Werth leaving is a passing phase.

I want to outlaw pimples, menstrual cramps, puking on people at games, throwing stuff at each other and mean people.

I want a Phillies t-shirt with built in boobs. They could come in three sizes: small ball, pitcher’s mound and grand slam.

I want sex to come in different sizes too.

Wait, it already does.

I want hair styles to come in a spray can.

I want Brad Lidge to pitch a slider so nasty they call it “The Bitch.”

I want to be carded again.

I want chocolate to be declared a food group. I also want someone to make it the official food group of the Phillies. Then I want it nominated for sainthood.

I want Charlie Manuel to live forever.

I want it to snow only when it’s convenient for me—like in a snow globe.

I want people to quit wondering who the fifth man in the rotation will be. Like at my house, we’ll just call him, “Pizza Night.”

I want people to stop thinking I’m making a funny face when I’m not.

I want forms to stop asking me if I’m male or female and I want traffic cops to stop that too.

And now that Cliff Lee is back I want to act like a typical woman and find something else to whine about.

That might take some time. Then again, maybe not. Like I often say to my husband, “I thought that would take longer.”

Most of all I want a guaranteed World Series win. I want to parade down Broad Street, I want Chase Utley to throw the f-bomb to fire up all those hypocrites who use it but don’t want their kids to hear it from someone else, and I still want Kevin Costner to give me a long, slow, deep, soft, wet kiss that lasts three days.

With those new stalker laws that last one might be tough. I sure hope they’re lenient on stalkers in heaven because when I die, I’m hunting down Harry Kalas and Robin Roberts. That might entail a small chase and some jail time but sooner or later they’ll have to talk to me. It’s not like we won’t have eternity.

Hey, is it a copyright infringement to have Chase Utley’s butt engraved on your tombstone? And is it a violation to spy on the Phillies locker room when you’re a ghost? It won’t be near as haunting as seeing me in person.

Well, that’s my bucket list. You might be thinking it more closely resembles the one they give you when you’re about to puke; you also might say exactly what my husband says—she might look funny but she’s not. But you can’t argue that the 2011 Phillies’ rotation will be an amazing fan experience. It might not be the best rotation ever but it’s here and it’s now.

And to the dismay of many, so am I.

See you at the ballpark.

 

Copyright 2011 Flattish Poe all rights reserved

Stalk me on Twitter.

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NL East Rankings: The Top 5 Of Each Position Player

January 28, 2011 by Ryan Wolcott  
Filed under Fan News

So much attention has been placed onto the offseason acquiring of Cliff Lee by the Philadelphia Phillies, and rightly so as that gave the Phillies not only easily the best rotation in the NL East but also the best rotation that baseball has seen in at least a decade. The acquiring of Cliff Lee has made the Phillies a favorite for the National League and the World Series, but there are 162 games before the playoffs.

The 2010 World Series winner got into the playoffs through the back door, barely getting in at all. Once October baseball starts, pitching is the most important part, which was seen by the San Francisco Giants, but it still requires offense to win games. The Giants had the seventeenth best offense in 2010 but the first best pitching. Pitching can be almost everything, but it can never be all a team needs. We will look at the NL East teams and see where the position players rank in their division for both offense and defense.

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Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

MLB Preview: Just How Important Is It To Finish With the Best Record?

January 27, 2011 by Matt Goldberg  
Filed under Fan News

MLB Countdown: 17 Days Until Pitchers and Catchers Report

If you live in the Northeast corridor, this may very well mean that there are still 17 more shoveling days until Spring Training, but at least there's some end in sight to this misery.

I was pondering the following question: What is the correlation between earning the best record in your league (and in MLB) and: a) getting to the World Series and b) winning it all?

Hopefully, this question has some relevance to me and my fellow Phillies fans, as expectations for the 2011 season are gloriously high. With the most highly-touted starting rotation seen in quite some time—at least their potentially untouchable front four of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt have drawn comparisons with the best in MLB history—the projections for regular season wins have been astronomical.

While it’s hard to measure something so intangible, it’s also hard to remember any offseason generating buzz comparable to that of the 2011 Phillies.

I was pondering the correlation between regular season wins and World Championships as I went outside to attack the avalanche that covered my driveway and buried both of the family cars. And yes, my two-and-a-half year old boy enjoyed playing in the snow with Mommy as I did battle with the elements, but I would rather be inside working.

Question No. 1: At what age does snow become more of a pain-in-the-tush than a pleasure?

The answer is largely rhetorical. I still find a fresh snowfall beautiful to regard, but I have shoveled more white crap in the last one-and-a-half seasons than in the previous 15 combined. Unless I view it from the perspective of my inner child or my actual child,  I have clearly had enough of it.

Question No. 2: Just when will we get the good side of the greenhouse effect and global warming?

These last two winters have been brutal.

While my wife and little one were building a snowman, I waged war with an old-fashioned, heavy, inefficient shovel and a broom that had seen better years. Shoveling with such anachronisms was the winter equivalent of stepping up to the plate in my slow pitch softball league with a wooden bat. Or maybe a wiffle ball bat.

With each heavy load, I pretended that I was swinging the bat as one of the Phillies— perhaps Ryan Howard versus Brain Wilson in the bottom of the ninth in Game 6…nah, too late for that. I did get hundreds of swings in, and absent any trips to the batting cages, shoveling will probably be my best and only offseason workout.

So what of the real question at hand? Among playoff teams, does finishing with the best record in the league mean anything?

Returning from the cold, I examined the last 16 World Series winners and league champs (starting in 1995 with the expanded playoff format) and found the following to be true:

The team with the best record (or tied for the best) in MLB only won the World Series three times: The Yankees did it in 1998 and 2009, and the Red Sox did so in 2007.

The team with the best record in baseball only made it to the Fall Classic four other times. This group is comprised of: the Indians in 1995, the Braves in 1999, the Yankees in 2003 and the Cardinals in 2004.

Out of 16 seasons with the expanded format, having the best record in baseball during the regular season only got teams to the World Series seven times, and only resulted in a championship three times. To me, that’s a surprisingly low number.

How about teams that had the best record in their league (I will call them the No. 1 Seeds), regardless of how they compared to their counterparts in the other league? The No. 1 Seed in the AL advanced to the Series seven times (winning the three that I cited); the NL’s No. 1 seed advanced to the Fall Classic only three times, winning just once.

A sobering thought: The last No. 1 seed in the NL to make it to the World Series was the Cardinals in 2004. The Redbirds took their MLB-best 105-57 record to the show versus the 98-64 Red Sox (the AL wild card team) and proceeded to get swept.

Just two years later, the Cardinals returned to the show with a mediocre 83-78 (they won their division with only the fifth best record in their league) mark, but defeated the 95-67 Tigers (a wild card team with the third best record in the AL) in five games.

How have wild card teams fared in the last 16 postseasons? Three AL wild cards advanced to the World Series, with two of them taking it all—the 2002 Angels and the 2004 Red Sox.

The National League has been even more wild and crazy. Six wild cards have made it to the World Series, winning it all twice: the Marlins in both 1997 and 2003.

By my calculation, that means that in the last 16 seasons, Wild card teams have won as many world championships (four apiece) as No. 1 seeds. Together, they have won half of the 16 titles, with the other half going to the remaining two division winners.

Amazingly enough, since MLB has expanded the playoffs, there is more or less an even probability of any of the playoff teams winning it all.

Perhaps your head is spinning from all of the data crunching, to say nothing of the snow if it has hit your area as well. So what is the lesson learned for this Phillies columnist and unabashed fan?

I would love to see the Phillies’ four-headed monster (or R2C2, if you prefer) rack up a ton of victories and lead the Phillies to the best record in baseball, compiling 100-plus wins in the process.

It would be wonderful, but as for title hopes, it appears that it is only important to get into the playoffs. Once there, anything can happen—with much of it defying expectations.

I’m not sure why having home cooking, boisterous fans, “last licks” in more games and a better regular season record has not seemed to mean much of anything once the postseason starts.

Despite these very surprising trends, the Phillies fan in me still wants my team to have the best overall record in baseball this year. Thanks to the recent provision that the league winning the All-Star Game gets home field advantage in the World Series, this achievement is mostly for pride.

If the Phillies do amass the best record in baseball, and win the World Series, they will be the first NL team to do so since the Atlanta Braves finally won it all in the strike-shortened season of 1995.

It’s not too much to ask for 2011, is it?

And just one more request, okay?

No more freakin’ snow beyond Feb. 13.

 

For more information on Matt Goldberg’s new books, other writings and appearances, please e-mail: matt@tipofthegoldberg.com 

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