Vampires, Ventriloquists, and NL Gold Gloves: What the %$@! Is Going On?

November 12, 2009 by  
Filed under Fan News

There are lots of worldly occurrences that make absolutely no sense to me. For instance, popular American culture is apparently obsessed with vampires at the moment.

Vampires? Really? Who signed off on this?

My faith in a benevolent Higher Power has me convinced there’s a bunch of television executives somewhere laughing themselves silly at the gag. The phenomenon has to be a perverse bet between suits a la the Duke Brothers in Trading Places—”I’ll bet you a dollar we can get the masses to go crazy about anything if we throw enough production behind it.”

Or what about a ventriloquist-comedian getting his own show? What’s next, a mime?

(Quick aside—he might actually be funny as I’ve never seen his stand-up, but that’s low hanging fruit. I mean, a ventriloquist? C’mon…)

The sports world is rife with offerings of its own. Mid-November sees an annual rite of “what the hell is going on here?” passage in Major League Baseball—the awarding of Gold Gloves to the game’s so-called best fielders at each position.

The American League went first and, to be fair, the real carnage is in the Junior Circuit. Fellow Bleacher Report writer PJ Ross does an excellent job of describing precisely how badly the voters jammed up the works—if you want to stew over a real con-job, check that disaster out.

The National League voices that count did a better job, but even the Senior Circuit whiffed on several pretty easy calls.

Of course, they also nailed some of the spots—the St. Louis Cardinals’ Yadier Molina was a no-brainer at catcher. The only reasonable alternatives based on innings-played and defensive prowess would be another Flying Molina Brother (Bengie of the San Francisco Giants) or the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Russell Martin, but Yadier’s got both beaten rather easily when you add in the eyeball test.

Furthermore, reputation is a key ingredient to backstop defense because perception can change the opposition’s running game. Yadier Molina’s an intimidating name if you make a living off fleet feet.

Likewise, the San Diego Padres’ Adrian Gonzalez and the Washington Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman were outstanding choices. They weren’t the only worthy candidates—first base could’ve rightfully gone to the Chicago Cubs’ Derek Lee or the Redbirds’ Albert Pujols, and the New York Mets’ David Wright is stellar at the hot corner. Still, die-hard Giants fans get a yearly eyeful of Gonzalez’ mitt and it’s quite a sight.

The same is true of Zimmerman (absent the familiarity since he’s on the other coast), who makes some of the most ridiculous degree-of-difficulty plays the diamond has ever seen.

In the outfield, it’s tough to argue with the Bums’ Matt Kemp. It pains me to say so, but the kid can go and get it. He’s got a pretty good arm and covers an impressive amount of real estate given his size—the dude’s a tank in center field, but he motors like a coupe.

The Houston Astros’ Michael Bourn seems a fine choice as well—although I’d have no problem putting an argument together for the Nats’ Nyjer Morgan or the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen given a larger body of work. Maybe next year fellas.

Handing the hardware to the Cards’ Adam Wainwright just feels bizarre because I’ve never read or heard anyone mention his glove. Contrarily, I’ve seen the Giants’ Tim Lincecum make exceptionally athletic plays from the bump and I’ve heard the Cincinnati Reds’ Bronson Arroyo lauded for his leather.

In the end, though, I’ve got to defer because I haven’t observed anything that argues against Wano—he didn’t make any errors, he made the most put-outs, his range factor was amongst the best, and he threw the most innings. That’s a strong case against nothing but a funny feeling.

Cue the ominous music because the rest isn’t so pretty.

The other winners aren’t exactly undeserving. Instead, they’re significantly flawed and suspiciously conservative choices.

The problem is that defensive ability is really something that needs to be seen with the naked eye to gauge accurately. A defender’s value hasn’t yet been reduced to the box score with any firm credibility.

New metrics are emerging and some are even beginning to catch the mainstream’s eye. Ultimate zone rating (UZR) seems to be getting play and for good reason—as explained (A and B), it seems like an appropriately sophisticated and extensive model of a complex system. However, even it is plagued by considerable frailties (e.g. small sample sizes for a model with so many confounding variables, omitted variables, etc.) such that it can only be thought of as an additional data point rather than a probative final stop.

Consequently, determining the best gloveman at a position is the ultimate in subjective assessment—mixing first-hand observation with tradition stats like fielding percentage and innings-played, then sprinkling in a hint of the novel sabermetrics like range factor and UZR.

Nevertheless, the remaining honorees range from shaky to criminal compared to an also-ran.

In the outfield, nobody registered more put-outs than the Milwaukee Brewers’ Mike Cameron, his UZR was much higher than that of Philly’s Shane Victorino, and the Brewer had a superior range factor. The Flyin’ Hawaiian made only one error to Cameron’s four, but defensive errors can be a function of range i.e. a player who covers more territory will expose himself to more error potential—he will make more plays and more difficult plays.

Watching both men patrol the big green is a treat, but Cameron is the more dazzling of the two while sharing Victorino’s blue-collar, do-or-die mentality. Of course, Victorino went home with his second consecutive award and Cameron gets a pat on the butt.


At second base, the Bums’ Orlando Hudson had the advantages of being flashier and a mantle already boasting Gold Gloves. Unfortunately, neither counter the notion that the Phils’ Chase Utley was better in 2009.

The Phillies’ keystone had an embarrassingly superior UZR (O-Dawg’s was actually negative), a lead in range factor, made more put-outs, played more innings, had more assists, and turned more double plays. In Hudson’s corner, you had four fewer errors for a whopping .003 lead in fielding percentage and history—tremendous.

Again, the eyeball test operates in both slicksters’ favor—Giants die-hards saw a lot of the Dodger in 2009 and the Phils were a fixture under the national spotlight so most should be familiar with Utley’s efforts. Both are fantastic; Chase Utley was better.

So naturally Hudson’s mantle has a new Gold Glove on it.

Which brings me to the biggest travesty in the set—Philadelphia’s Jimmy Rollins over the Colorado Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki.

Forget all the numbers because they’re close enough to do so. Forget them because the eyeball test is the only bad rider you need for this particular contest.

Troy Tulowitzki is quite possibly the best shortstop in the show, as in both leagues. The Texas Rangers’ Elvis Andrus might warp by him in 2010, but not yet.

The guy is a wizard-monster in the hole—there might be better pure defenders, but nobody combines his elegant glovework with a truly horrifying cannon (unless you happen to root for the Rox). It’s not easy to distinguish yourself based on arm strength from short when you toil in the same division as LA’s Rafael Furcal.

Tulo’s done it. Without too much problem.

There’s a reason Colorado’s season ebbs and flows with Troy Tulowitzki, and the reason isn’t exclusively related to his bat. With this gem in place, the rest of the Rockie defense clicks into place and becomes a formidable asset.

Rollins is nice, no doubt about it. He’s just not nice enough, not any more. Maybe the voters will catch on eventually, but we’ll have to wait ’til next year to find out because Jimmy got the gold in 2009.

When all is said and done, hitting pay dirt on six-outta-nine winners ain’t too shabby for National League voters. Judging from the American League reception, things could’ve been a lot worse.

But never fear, if vampire fads and comic dummies prove anything, it’s that more insanity is always right around the corner.

Just wait ’til next year…



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Philadelphia Phillies: World Series Shows Why Chase Utley Is Underappreciated

November 5, 2009 by  
Filed under Fan News

If the Philadelphia Phillies had forced a Game Seven of the 2009 World Series, Chase Utley would have had a genuine chance at the Series’ Most Valuable Player award. Regardless of whether the Phils’ won a second set of rings, Utley’s monstrous display probably would’ve garnered him the honor if nobody from the New York Yankees had an outstanding finish.

As we all saw on Wednesday, Hideki Matsui lived up to even the craziest billings of Godzilla-hype and Philadelphia gave up the ghost in six games. Consequently, the Yanks wore yet another crown, Matsui took home well-deserved MVP honors, and Utley’s six games will be remembered as cute footnotes.

What two players share the record for most home runs in a single World Series?

Reggie Jackson and Chase Utley.

Who are the only two left-handed hitters to hit two home runs in a single World Series game off left-handed pitching?

Babe Ruth and Chase Utley.

As cool as those nuggets are, it’s a shame they’re all that will endure from such a fantastic performance.

With all due respect to Hideki Matsui, who had several good games and one spectacular one, the Phillies’ second baseman was the best player in the World Series. That’s not to say he was the most valuable—he wasn’t. His team didn’t win and a player on the victorious side made a good push for the hardware.

One last time—Godzilla was the right choice for World Series MVP.

However, look at what Utley did at the plate in six games:  21 at-bats, seven runs-scored, one double, five homeruns, eight runs batted in, one stolen base, four walks, five strikeouts, a .286 batting average, and a 1.448 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.

The OPS looks like something generated by a blue-chip prospect in high school as do the five taters in six games. Other than Matsui, nobody hung with Chase offensively and the first-ever Japanese MVP was merely a designated hitter for three contests while being reduced to a pinch-hitter in the other three.

The pride of the Phillies played six full games and contributed with his leather in addition to his splinter.

Yet, it all came in a losing effort—if the Phils win, everyone is singing Utley’s praises for the next week. Shoot, even if the Phightins had come a little closer and the Bronx Bombers had remained a bit more vanilla, his name would echo into the offseason.

But it won’t.

That’s the way it’s been with the 30-year-old perennial All-Star as he’s risen to the rank of superstar in Major League Baseball. Which is why, as strange as it is to hear about an admitted-superstar, Utley is underrated.

Chances are, if you don’t reside in the City of Brotherly Love or pledge allegiance to its sports teams, you aren’t aware that Chase Utley has arguably been the best player not named Albert Pujols in the National League since 2005.

Consider his yearly averages, including the year that saw him take over full-time at the keystone (’05):

151 582 111 39 5 29 101 15 67 109 0.301 0.388 0.535 0.922


Those are incredible numbers before you toss in the fact he plays a premium defensive position and provides thump from the middle of the diamond, something historically rare in the Bigs. Still, they are just numbers.


If you go beneath the stats, you’ll find that the 2009 postseason is not the first time Chase Utley has delivered on an expansive, well-illuminated platform.

In 2005, he took over regular duty for Placido Polanco and simply disappeared in a cloud of dust—he finished 13th in NL MVP voting that year. In 2006, he led the Senior Circuit in runs-scored, made his first All-Star appearance, finished seventh in MVP voting, and began to establish himself as a force with which to be reckoned.

Only to be overshadowed by team-mate Ryan Howard’s MVP season.

In 2007, despite missing significant time due to an injury suffered on one of Utley’s NL-leading 25 hit-by-pitches, Mr. Reliable tallied another superb campaign. He registered an All-Star appearance, an eighth-place finish in the MVP voting, and was upstage by yet another team-mate’s MVP season (this time it was Jimmy Rollins).

Finally, on the way to the 2008 World Series, Chase Utley found another gear.

He put together arguably the best year of his glittering career to date, participated in the now-tedious All-Star game, finished 14th in MVP voting, and propelled his team into the Fall Classic by putting together a dominating NL Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodger.

Of course, the virtually untouchable postseason twirled by Cole Hamels stole all the headlines and absorbed all the spotlight.

Now, 2009 is just one more entry—Utley’s scintillating season has been but the backdrop for blustery stories about Cliff Lee’s domination or Rollins’ verbosity or Howard’s prodigious clout. His scorching Classic will be railroaded in favor of the Yankees’ 27th championship and Philadelphia’s ultimately doomed effort to repeat.

Obviously, there’s an element of poor timing at work that’s keeping the Southern California native in the shadows a bit. There’s something else, too.

If you want to know what, look no further than the telling coverage of this World Series, where so much lip service was paid to guys like Rollins and Pedro Martinez and the other really snazzy interviews. Never have I heard and read so much praise and hype heaped on guys because of their tendency to give a good sound byte.

In the face of a .217 average and 6.30 ERA.

Contrarily, Utley posts terrific numbers while playing the game as if he were the dean of the old school.

He gives max effort day-in and day-out without contributing much to the circus sideshow that revolves around professional athletics in America (and other countries if rumors are true). He just shows up, does his job better than 99 percent of his contemporaries, respectfully answers questions, and then repeats.

For this, his play gets overlooked—the dude had to hit FIVE HOME RUNS IN SIX GAMES to get a word in edgewise. In the World Series.

Chase Utley is a total failure in one aspect—the man is not a self-promoter.

And that only means there’s more to appreciate.



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The Dodgers Vs. the Phillies in the NLCS: Fuss Over Bullpens Is Bull****

October 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Fan News

I wouldn’t want to be a Los Angeles Dodger fan for a variety of reasons, mainly because I’ve lived in San Francisco or its suburbs for most of the last 22 years. As such, I’m a die-hard fan of the Giants and I loathe the Bums.

At this particular moment, however, I wouldn’t want to follow the beautiful Dodger blue for one, specific reason: the national media is setting them up for a fall. They’re being sacrificed at the altar of commerce and wishful thinking is taking the place of objective analysis to do the job.

Or maybe a bunch of Dodger fans have managed to force themselves into jobs as writers for FOX Sports and ESPN.

Either way, LA has become the darling of the national media and the Philadelphia Phillies must be a little peeved at the moment, but I’ll get to that in a second. First, let’s state the obvious.

Only a fool can deny the most lucrative World Series matchup would pit the Dodgers against the New York Yankees.

The markets are basically a wash since Philadelphia makes up in passion what it lacks in relative size and the Angels have somehow managed to convince the rest of the baseball world that Anaheim is really Los Angeles. Nevertheless, executive mouths must be drooling with particular anticipation over the specter of New York versus the only Major League Baseball team actually in LA.

Even I can see the allure in watching Joe Torre lead his suddenly chic California club back to the Big Apple for a showdown against the Bombers.

Nor would that be the only juicy sideshow—you’d have Manny Ramirez reprising his role as a Yankee Killer in a new uniform in addition to a nostalgic focus on the Bums’ Brooklyn roots and the revival of a one-time borough rivalry.

I understand why the networks and their mouthpieces would be rooting for los Doyers to take care of business against the Phils. I don’t even blame them for it; such is the nature of the beast.


Do NOT try to sell me on picking the Dodgers to beat the Phillies by virtue of cold, hard baseball analysis. At least not after the stuff I’ve been reading.

Understand, I’m not saying Philly will emerge victorious and LA will lose.

The team from SoCal is playing some of the best baseball I’ve seen from them all year, the bullpen is undeniably humming along, and the starting pitching has answered the bell better than anyone outside of Chavez Ravine could’ve imagined.

Meanwhile, the Phightin’s have experienced a couple bumps in the road.

Nah, the Bums have definitely looked like the better team thus far in the playoffs. That makes them the popular and convenient favorite at the moment, given the circumstances.

Don’t believe Los Angeles is the media favorite?

Just read between the lines from ESPN’s Eric Neel.

Perhaps you’d prefer FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi singing the praises of Torre, the Dodgers, and the tantalizing confrontation with New York. How about his colleague Dayn Perry, who says the starting pitching actually FAVORS the Dodgers? If a different FOX voice is more to your liking, try Mark Kriegel trotting out the party line about the ‘pen and improved youth.

I don’t say it too often, but thank the Maker for Ken Rosenthal and a sprinkling of restraint.

Again, I am NOT saying the Los Angeles Dodgers will lose the NLCS. I’m clearly rooting for that to happen and I think it will happen, but I have no crystal ball.

What I AM saying is that there is zero reason to buy the almost universal lines of tripe supporting the groundswell behind the Bums.

The movement, as far as I can tell, is based on two principles—that the firemen in the ‘pen and the extra year of experience on young talent give the Dodgers an insurmountable edge. Depending on who you ask, you’ll also hear Torre’s managerial savvy mentioned.

Mainly, though, it’s about the glittering array of arms available to the Bums in relief of their starters. Got that? The reason for all the faith in LA is the bullpen.

My apartment building has a rickety old elevator to service five floors. It lurches and protests on the way up to the top, it’s even broken down on occasion, but nothing catastrophic has ever happened because of it (to my knowledge).

Of course, that doesn’t stop me from holding my breath every time I get in it.

A Major League bullpen is precisely like that elevator. No matter how well it’s performed in the past—and the Dodger bullpen has been INCREDIBLE—the collective is always one bad day away from being a fatal liability.

The Phillies’ embattled closer, Brad Lidge, is a perfect microcosm for professional relief corps in general.

The dude was virtually unhittable for the Houston Astros and on his way to being one of the nastiest door-slammers in the business. Then, Albert Pujols crushed a devastating bomb off him in the 2005 playoffs and it took two years plus a change of scenery for Lidge to totally recompose himself.

Like flipping a switch, the closer became filthy again and was perfect for Philadelphia on the way to the 2008 ring. Then he flipped again and was suddenly abysmal in 2009—putting together arguably the worst season for a key reliever in the history of the game.

Until Brad Lidge saved two of the three wins in the NL Division Series against the Colorado Rockies—one of the hottest teams in baseball with a stout offense and a penchant for comebacks.

There is no doubt that Lidge is an extreme example, but not as extreme as he seems. Jonathan Papelbon and Joe Nathan—two of the three most calm-inspiring closers in the game—burst into flame without warning during the Division Series this year.

The comparative strength of the bullpens certainly favors the Dodgers and by a very wide margin, but it’s the most volatile element in the game. Hitting, defense, and starting pitching can all cool off and reverse course, but they don’t usually abandon you like bullpens routinely do.

Now, we’re all supposed to hop aboard a bandwagon in the postseason because of one? An over-worked group? Against the defending World Series champions? Against a team powered by blood-thirsty and/or clutch hitters like Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez, Jayson Werth, and Shane Victorino (if you don’t think he deserves mention, see: Sabathia, CC)?

I don’t think so.

Not without due respect paid to the developments on Philadelphia’s side.

Cole Hamels has been struggling in 2009, but he’s dominated the Bums over his career—4 GS, 30 IP, 2-0, 1.50 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 26 K, 3 BB (2 intentional), 1 CG, 1 SHO, .208 BAA, and .531 OPSA. Those are just his regular-season numbers against the organization.

In the playoffs against the Dodgers last year, the lefty went 2-0 in two starts covering 14 innings. He whiffed 13 batters and suffered only 16 baserunners (11 hits, five walks) with three crossing the plate. Those ratios work out to a 1.93 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP against basically the same lineup.

Oh, and his wife just had their first child.

Think that dose of perspective might help settle him down? I’d say it’s pretty reasonable to argue having wife and son home, safe, and healthy will do wonders to smooth out the rough edges in Hamels’ recent performances.

What about the confidence and experience garnered by the Phillies from last year’s successful trip to the World Series?

Yes, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, James Loney, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Russell Martin, and the rest of the young studs hailing from Dodger Stadium should theoretically benefit from another layer of experience.

So should the Phillies since theirs is more extensive.

We’ve already seen the experience manifested as confidence manifested as resilience in the rally against the Rockies during the clinching Division Series game. It’s been on display for the Dodgers, too—I’m arguing BOTH should be acknowledged.

Finally, the gents from Philly should benefit from the scintillating Cliff Lee—another stifling southpaw to make things anxious for Ethier, the Dodgers’ best splinter in ’09. The 2008 American League Cy Young has been doing his best to supplant Hamels as the Phils’ most dominant postseason starter.

Ultimately, the Philadelphia Phillies are the defending World Series Champions.

They return basically the same team that dispatched the Los Angeles Dodgers last year—minus Pat Burrell, but plus Ibanez and Lee. They have two Most Valuable Players, a Cy Young winner, a World Series/NLCS MVP, and arguably the best second baseman in Major League Baseball.

In other words, there is a lot to like from the view out Philadelphia’s window.

Yet most in the national media seem to be ignoring them in favor of Joe Torre, the promise of intriguing story lines, and a mighty bullpen. Yikes.

And don’t think a proud, classy bunch like the Phillies haven’t noticed.

Which could mean bad news for Dodger fans.

What a tragedy…



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Phillies’ J.A. Happ Is the NL’s Best Rookie—Sometimes the Truth Is Boring

September 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Fan News

After a holiday weekend in Los Angeles (more on that later today or tomorrow), I’m back home in San Francisco and trying to get caught up on the baseball I missed.

That means utilizing the mainstream media for its aspects that are still quite excellent.

Both ESPN and FOX Sports, to a lesser extent, provide extensive access to the Major League Baseball annals. If you want to know how many pitches a certain hitter worked off the pitcher in a particular at-bat or some other minutiae of the game, you can find it. The availability of game logs and other such statistical records cannot be understated when acknowledging the online hack’s most well-worn tools.

It’s important we keep that in mind. Especially those of us who have an affection for taking a sharp blade to those same outlets’ analysis…like me.

In my camp’s defense, their so-called experts make it almost impossible to avoid taking up the scalpel.

For instance, I’m on the record as saying Ken Rosenthal has unsurpassed inside information. I’m also on the record many times criticizing his analysis. Ol’ Kenny’s latest pronouncement that Chris Coghlan should win the National League Rookie of the Year has provoked yet another entry in that log.

My beef with Rosenthal’s interpretations is they always seem to be as much for an ulterior motive as they do the soundness of baseball logic. Whether it be to collaterally coax good dope from MLB insiders or to make a stir in the Big League adoring masses (including his chattering head colleagues on the boob tube) or something else NOT rooted in good sense.

The Coghlan bit seems more for the sake of going against the grain and creating a pseudo-stink than anything else. It seems Ken just wants to buck the growing trend toward the Philadelphia Phillies’ young left-hander J.A. Happ.

That would be wonderful, except the general consensus isn’t driven by mob mentality or group-think. It’s driven by old-fashioned baseball reason.

See, the FOX Sports guy got it mostly right.

If you take a gander at the competitors for the NL RoY, the Florida Marlins outfielder is probably a grand selection for the best newbie patrolling the field and swinging a stick. Likewise, the southpaw from Philly is absolutely the most sparkling green gem on the mound.

As Ken Rosenthal says, it really does come down to which outstanding first tour of Major League duty is more impressive: an everyday guy or an every-fifth-day one.

Ordinarily, I’d be right there with Ken arguing for the everyday player. It’s the reason almost every Most Valuable Player from the Show’s timeline received the award for swinging a bat and flashing leather.

But consider that a rookie pitcher must throw to every hitter in the lineup.

Seems like a stupid thing to point out, doesn’t it?

And an even dumber dividing line since a rookie splinter doesn’t get any allowances from the bump. It’s not like the opposition trots out a different pitcher to ease the transition. It’s not like Coghlan got to face AAAA hurlers while his mates were staring at Johan Santana.

What makes the observation significant is that a hitter can take the collar against all the quality starters and still post very good numbers for the year.

Consider that 60 percent of most rotations are wobbly at best. Once you’ve squared off with the ace and No. 2, most rotations drop off a freakin’ cliff.

Into an abyss.

Here’s the rub—that the precipitous decline exists is the key. Not whether Coghlan actually accumulated his numbers against the dregs of the slab.

Baseball is a game of confidence built from positive performance. Talent can only take you so far; that is baseball’s curse. The flip side is firm belief in your ability can often allow you to crash through your reputed ceiling—ask David Eckstein or Dustin Pedroia or Scott Brosius or any other unlikely diamond hero.

Additionally, keep in mind the issue is which rookie’s performance was more impressive.

While both Chris Coghlan and J.A. Happ had superlative years plying their respective trades for the first time, Coghlan did it with the knowledge that he didn’t necessarily have to beat the best. When he stepped into the batter’s box against MLB’s most ferocious arms, it was an opportunity because failure was an option.

There would always be a sunnier day tomorrow, maybe even later in the game against a rickety bullpen.

Contrarily, Happ’s trials against the best hitters in baseball were burdens and unmitigated in any way.

Consistent failure against baseball’s best hitters will doom a pitcher because every team has them—even squads like the San Diego Padres and my San Francisco Giants. A walk or hit in the middle of the order ratchets up the level of difficulty exponentially for a youngster on the bump. String a couple minor miscues into one inning, and you’ve got a full-blown crisis on your hands.

With only 25 or so starts from which to cobble together a body of work, the young pitcher faces a much more intimidating challenge to his confidence throughout the season. The smaller sampling size reduces the margin for error, compounding a more daunting assault on an inexperienced psyche.

This is the knowledge a rookie pitcher takes to the hill with him each time out.

Thusly, Happ’s performance to date—10-4, 149.2 IP, 2.77 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 104 K, 52 BB, 3 CG, and 2 SHO—is more impressive than Coghlan’s equivalent body of work—103 G, 397 AB, a .310 average, an .830 OPS, 65 R, 20 2B, 4 3B, 9 HR, 40 RBI, 6 SB, and 68 K. Both represent triumphs in the teeth of obvious and extreme challenges, but the former came under a more complete and constant strain.

Therefore, the comparison need not even include mention that the lefty helped anchor a rotation suffering from the metaphoric absence of its ace, Cole Hamels.

Or that the Phils are the defending champs and threatening to repeat despite absorbing every team’s most spirited charge.

Or that Happ has been playing with the big boys all year and enduring baptism by fire while Coghlan got his feet under him in the Minor Leagues before getting the call.

Both athletes have sincere competitors that could overtake either player for his spot atop the respective talent heaps.

Similarly, if the young pitcher’s latest injury bugaboo doesn’t clear up quickly, the Fish might etch another indelible testament to their talent assessment acumen into history. If the Phillie misses more than a start or two, Chris Coghlan would certainly begin to edge ahead.

But as the matter stands with about a month of games yet to be played, J.A. Happ’s fantastic run through a more brutal gauntlet means the NL Rookie of the Year is his to lose.


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Chase Utley—Some Old School Brilliance in the Tarnished Modern Game

July 31, 2009 by  
Filed under Fan News

“Took a bead on the northern plains and just rolled that power on.”—Bob Seger, Roll Me Away

The Silver Bullet Man doesn’t get enough credit for his lyrics in this humble scribe’s opinion.  Sure, you can take him literally in everything he writes because his strokes work in that regard, but nobody ever found a subtle literary undertone without looking for it.

The Man could’ve simply been referring to the northern plains of the Dakotas, Minnesota, or Montana.  Or he could’ve been alluding to the greater glory the Fates have metaphorically placed above all our heads.

I choose the second—Seger’s at a crossroads in his life and he’s looking for the right direction, one he thinks he’s found for the moment.

Regardless, the metaphor jumped to mind with the Philadelphia Phillies a-knockin’ on the door at AT&T Park.  It does so for one reason—Chase Utley.

Whenever the Phils’ annual roadie in the City comes around, we get an up-close, flesh-and-blood look at a baseball player who’s well on the way to his own northern plains. 

An individual plying the trade he was put on this planet to ply, and—as is always the case when you see someone in his or her natural element—it’s a gorgeous thing to see.

Something special to be appreciated as such.

There’s a decent chance I should be ashamed to admit this, but I’m not—No. 26 on the Phightin’s is my favorite player in Major League Baseball.  Nor is the matter particularly close.

That probably sounds supremely blasphemous coming from a die-hard San Francisco Giant fan, and perhaps it is.

With Pablo Sandoval, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Brian Wilson, Bengie Molina, Randy Winn, Aaron Rowand, and the emergent Nate Schierholtz on the roster, the Orange and Black has plenty to offer in the way of fan favorites.

Every name on the list seems likable, admirable, and is either good or exceptional with his chosen baseball tools.

Furthermore, Chase reserves a special brand of torture for my beloved bunch—he has a knack for delivering crushing hits, pinch-hit grand slams, and an assortment of other much-appreciated punctures.

Nevertheless, there are too many, more important reasons to root for the guy—some of which I won’t get into.

However, one thing I will cover is the way Chase plays the game.

It’s not just his excellence on the diamond, although that is clearly part of it.

His hitting is unreal and barely needs mention at this point—.300/30/100/100 from second base essentially every year since he took over the position full-time. 

Throw in 40+ doubles and 15-20 steals when he’s healthy and you begin to get a picture of the talent level.

But even casual fans should know about his splinter by now.  To sincerely appreciate this player, you need to look closer.  Specifically, at his defense.

Those of us following his career from its earliest days know that Utley’s bat was never the issue.  The perennial All-Star was almost certainly going to rake, the question was whether his leather would exile him to the corner outfield spots or maybe first base.

Turned out to be a lot of wasted wonder and anxiety.

The native of Southern California doesn’t appear to be the type to settle for one dimension on the field, even if the absence of breadth wouldn’t stand in the way of fame and riches.

I never really thought his defense was a serious issue, but anyone who saw the miracles he turned in the 2008 playoffs and World Series knows the doubts are long gone.

Utley’s turned himself into an excellent defender over his career—still guilty of momentary lapses like anyone else, but nails when games or seasons are on the line.

You can take your .998 fielding percentage, I’ll take the guy with the proven ability to get it done when failure means joining Bill Buckner’s support group.

Yet, to really appreciate Chase Utley, you need to peer even closer.  You need to dissect the way he carries himself on the baseball field.

Take, for instance, the episode with Jonathan Sanchez in Thursday night’s game.

The San Francisco southpaw was having some, ahem, control issues with his fastball and one of his heaters got away from him. The wayward smoke went right over Utley’s head, at which point the Phillie pride glared back at the mound and made it clear he wasn’t pleased.

Sanchez stared right back—I’m sure thinking it was obvious he wasn’t trying to hit an opponent in the head during a 7-1 ballgame and taking exception to Chase’s blatant feelings to the contrary.

The National League’s Most Valuable Player not named Albert Pujols responded by calling time late in the young lefty’s wind-up, further indulging the show of bravado.

Guess what happened next?  More heat and emotion from our guy.

Until Utley took a 2-2 pitch over the right field wall for a solo final word in the matter. In the wake of the emphatic end, Chase was so impressed with himself that he put his head down and went into a brisk trot around the bases.

He did NOT show up Jonathan Sanchez.

Despite the back-and-forth, despite the fastball over his head that will provoke ANY hitter at ANY level (even a clear accident, as Mike Krukow pointed out), despite the obvious tension coming off both hurler and hitter, the victor merely swung and scurried.

No jawing, no flexing, no nothing.  Instead, only boring dignity and class.  The way it should be done.

What more need be said?  What possible posture could speak more volumes than the timely four-bagger?  Nothing and none.

It’s something the old school understands, which means it’s something Utley understands.

It’s something I hope I would’ve understood had I the necessary physical tools and/or the requisite mental profile to play the game at it’s highest level.  But I didn’t.

Thankfully, with players like Chase Utley still in the game, I can still pretend.



Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

Pablo Sandoval and NL All-Star Snubs: It’s Your Time, but Manuel Says Otherwise

July 12, 2009 by  
Filed under Fan News

“Feel the wind and set yourself a bolder course…you’ll sail the perfect line…in your time.”

—Bob Seger, “In Your Time”

It should have been this year, 2009, but it’s coming for Pablo Sandoval.  Sooner or later, he will get his due and the entire baseball world will realize how special this player is.  Until then, I’ll do my best to hasten that day’s arrival.

With that in mind…

What’s the matter, Charlie Manuel?  Couldn’t figure a way to get Matt Stairs and Carlos Ruiz on the team?

I mean, without Stairs’ October bomb, there are no World Series rings in the City of Brotherly Love.  And Ruiz was one of the postseason heroes from behind the dish.

And how about ace Cole Hamels or Mr. Perfect, Brad Lidge?

Hamels was both the National League Championship Series and World Series Most Valuable Player; the Philly closer never blew a save all year.  Let’s get them to St. Louis for the 2009 All-Star Game as well.

Why not?

If you’re gonna blatantly reach for one of your own guys, why not REALLY reach?

Shoot, grab Jamie Moyer—at least I’d have some perverse form of respect for you instead of a total lack thereof.

Forget Pablo Sandoval for one hot second.

As much as it kills me to do this, Little Panda and his obscene first half of achievement aren’t even the scope of it anymore.  Well, they are—they’re just the parts I’ve already told. Twice.

Suffice it to say the disrespect has only gotten deeper.

But it’s also spread.

Fellow San Francisco Giants fans, brace yourselves—I’ve got to advocate for a Los Angeles Dodger.  Even worse, it’s one I’ve discovered a special disdain for due to his arrogance (although he seems to have smoothed that a bit).

Matt Kemp warranted a nod over Jayson Werth.

Unfortunately (or fortunately…I’m so confused), that’s debatable because the Philadelphia outfielder is having a pretty insane season.  Statistically, it’s slightly better than Kemp’s, but Kemp has been a vital cog for the best team in The Show over the first half.  Hence, I’d lean toward the Bum.

Just threw up a little in my mouth.

Only slightly, though.

So, instead of focusing on one of the deserving Phightin’s, let’s settle on Ryan Howard.  Because Kemp laps big dawg and you can dilute the Dodger taint by throwing in Michael Bourn’s name as well as that of Mark Reynolds and Little Money:

Player        R   2B 3B  HR   RBI  SO  SB   OBP   SLG  AVG

Reynolds   55  17   1   24   62   120  15  .353  .545  .262

Howard     53  20   2   22   66   101   4   .342  .532  .258

Sandoval   41  24   3   15   55   47    4    .387  .583  .334

Kemp        48  12   6   11   50   76   19   .388  .502  .324

Bourn        56  15   8   3    25    70   32   .364  .412  .290

Look at those numbers.  Tell me how you choose Ryan Howard.

If you’re going for power and run production, then Mark Reynolds has him beat unless you’re gonna argue three more doubles, four more RBI, and an extra triple makes up for Howard’s deficiencies in runs, home runs, stolen bases, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and average.

Forget about strikeouts; if you’re considering either of these gusts of wind, you’re not worried about whiffs.

And if you’re not basing the decision on pure run production, then Howard becomes the joke of the group.

He has the lowest average, lowest on-base percentage, an obscene amount of Ks (which would also doom Reynolds in this equation) while not outpacing any of the other candidates appreciably enough to compensate.

And those are simply raw numbers.

Consider the composition of the team:

Catcher (2)—Yadier Molina, Brian McCann

First base (4)—Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Howard

Second base (3)—Chase Utley, Orlando Hudson, Freddy Sanchez

Third base (2)—David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman

Shortstop (2)—Hanley Ramirez, Miguel Tejada

Outfield (7)—Raul Ibanez, Ryan Braun, Brad Hawpe, Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, Justin Upton

Anything jump out at you there?

Like having four first basemen while there’s not even a backup for each outfielder?  Or only two capable stars at such important positions as catcher, shortstop, and the hot corner?

How about when you realize Reynolds and Sandoval patrol third base—the Arizona Diamondback is almost as brutal with the mitt as Howard while Sandoval is approaching sublime territory (he’s not quite there yet)—while Bourn and Kemp do the same in the big green?

And don’t give me the “first base is the deepest position” argument.

You already had three guys there, which qualifies as deep on this team.  Furthermore, that argument only holds water if Howard were the next most deserving first sacker on the docket.

I’d argue Todd Helton or Lance Berkman wears that mantle since each can hang with the big Phillie’s offensive production and neither is a blundering disaster with the leather.

Which is what makes this whole thing so blatantly and undeniably ridiculous.

Ryan Howard doesn’t belong on the team based on pure production.  He really doesn’t belong on the team considering the depth at the position he plays.  And he really, really doesn’t belong there when you factor in the unilateral dimension of what he brings.

Home runs—that’s IT (and, even there, Adam Dunn would’ve been a better option).

So Ryan Howard is from St. Louis, so what?

Hey, I was born in the STL.  Can I get on the team?

Does Ryan need a free trip home in this tightening economy?  Do his boyhood haunts need to see him at an All-Star game actually in St. Louis to know for sure he’s a star?

Odd, I would’ve thought the 2006 NL MVP award or the trip to that year’s All-Star Game or the 2009 World Series would’ve convinced them.  How much recognition does one man need?

But Chuckles Manuel isn’t alone.

The madness has even reached its tentacles into the American League, where Tampa Bay Ray manager Joe Maddon skimmed over Ian Kinsler in order to nab Carlos Pena as a replacement for Dustin Pedroia.

I won’t get too into that one, but both Kinsler and Pedroia play the same position.  Furthermore, most rational baseball minds know the Ranger should not only be at the Mid-Summer Classic, he should be starting.

Now, the second base dynamo gets to watch from home.

He’s not on the team because Maddon needed to reward another one of his guys.  According to the link, the rest of the starting infield was on the squad so, apparently, Joe couldn’t leave off the fourth.

Heaven forbid.

Pena makes five All-Stars for the Rays, who currently slumber in third place of an admittedly rugged division.

So, it begs the question:  What exactly is this game?

Is it an All-Star game for 2009?  Or is an excuse for 2008 World Series participants to trot out all their favorite guys on yet another national stage?

If it’s the latter, fine.  But let’s call it that—this outright deception is for the birds.

And I’m merely a San Francisco Giant fan, angry the most deserving All-Star (Pablo Sandoval) isn’t at the game.

What if you had a nice little cash bonus fading into oblivion because Manuel tabbed a player he “wanted to go?”  What if your next contract is a little lighter because you have to put “All-Star worthy” instead of “All-Star?”

What if you’re Michael Bourn or Mark Reynolds or Matt Kemp or (gulp) Pablo Sandoval and you suffer a career-ending injury in the second half?  Say “adieu” to your one and only chance at All-Star glory.

I guess you can take solace in Ryan Howard’s hometown fans seeing him play in his second All-Star Game.


Luckily for Pablo Sandoval and San Francisco Giant fans, Little Panda has given every impression his slight will be fuel for a second-half rampage.

One that will, by the benevolence of the Baseball Gods, linger for an entire career’s worth of All-Star appearances and reverent recognition.

Therein lies the true solace…

“There’ll be peace across the great unbroken void…in your time.”


Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

Hey Philly, Wake the @#%! Up: Vote for Pablo Sandoval

July 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Fan News

Philadelphia is the City of Tough Brotherly Love, right?

And they’re intelligent sports fans—baseball being, perhaps, first and foremost amongst that knowledge base.  So you guys can handle the truth without candy coating.

In all sincerity, I mean no disrespect.  I love and admire the loyalty you shower upon your guys.  Even better, I appreciate how you reserve your unconditionality for players who are truly deserving.  Bedrock human-beings like Chase Utley and Donovan McNabb (most of the time on the latter).  That said…

Quit being dumb:

Sandoval—38 R, 23 2B, 3 3B, 13 HR, 48 RBI, 3 SB, .328 average, .381 OBP, .945 OPS

Victorino—60 R, 22 2B, 6 3B, 6 HR, 39 RBI, 13 SB, .306 average, .369 OBP, .832 OPS


There is just no comparison.  Anywhere.  Take a closer look.

You can even throw Little Panda’s bugaboo up there and it doesn’t hurt his offensive case—he’s whiffed 44 times, but the Flyin’ Hawaiian’s gotten nothing but air on 39 occasions.  Given Sandoval’s outright dominance over Victorino in almost every category, five extra punch-outs doesn’t mean much.

Then there’s the matter of defense.

It’s only a slight stretch to call Pablo Sandoval a superlative defensive third baseman in this his first full year at the hot corner.  At any level of baseball.

And Little Money got his other nickname because he is a catcher by trade and showed a remarkable likeness—both in flair for dramatics and physical proportions—to Big Money Bengie Molina.

Philadelphia fans, think of what that means for the All-Star squad.

Because Yadier Molina rode the hometown vote into the starting slot, he will get most of the playing time behind the dish. Brian McCann, the only backstop truly worthy of All-Star acknowledgement, cannot make an early appearance because, as is, the team has only the two capable of donning the Tools of Ignorance.

Consequently, a potent offensive option will be atrophying on the bench, relegated to some late game work.

With Little Money on the roster, McCann is freed up and the whole shebang has more flexibility.  Did I mention Sandoval’s a plus defender?

Meanwhile, Shane Victorino is an awesome defender and a fearless competitor.  He’s also an outfielder.  Yaaaawn.

He’s a joy to watch, but he doesn’t add much to a cast already glistening with defensive Illuminati.

And that’s the larger picture, Philly fans—I’m trying to appeal to your reason and self-preservation.

YOUR team is the defending National League Champions.  YOUR team has got to be the favorite, at this point, to make a return trip to the World Series.  The PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES arrive in St. Louis for the Summer Classic with a real sense of utilitarian commitment.

I’m sure Utley, Ryan Howard, Charlie Manuel, and Raul Ibanez (if he were playing) are very motivated by that home-field advantage carrot that’s dangling out there.

So why aren’t their fans voting that way?

Pablo Sandoval offers distinct advantages over Shane Victorino regardless of the angle from which you approach the matter.  He offers better ability to get on base and generate runs—the runs scored disparity is more a function of the anemic Orange and Black supporting cast than a flaw in Little Panda’s game—and he packs flexibility in his equipment bag.

For those who care, Sandoval’s also far more deserving.  But why should that matter?

Shoot, the only guy who should be even close to Pablo Sandoval is Matt Kemp, and that’s simply because I’d never expect Los Angeles Dodger fans to vote for a San Francisco Giant—even a clearly more deserving one.

Just as I hope they’d never expect me to return that particular favor.

But I hope they’re listening with a shred of their ear in La La Land because, if the Phightin’s are not the prohibitive favorite heading into the back 81, then it’s their Bums wearing the tag.

Which means even the City of Angels should want Pablo Sandoval in the All-Star Game and just as badly.

Painful though it may be for both fanbases and cities, it’s in your best interest for the real hardware.  So keep that in mind and bite the bullet.

Vote for Pablo.



Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies