Sunday, December 30, 2007

Speed Drain

In 2007 the Phillies had the best offense in the National League. The Phils had a variety of offensive weapons, none more potent than their ability to steal bases with ease. The Phightens stole 138 bases but more significantly were caught only 19 times. The Phillies pilfered bags more efficiently than any other team in the Majors. With the Phillies roster set it’s a good time to evaluate whether speed will be weapon in Charlie Manuel’s repertoire.

The Phillies have lost several key speedsters from last season’s team. Michael Bourn, Aaron Rowand, Tadihito Iguchi, and Abraham Nunez stole a combined 33 bases last season. The departing base thieves represent nearly a quarter of the Phillies stolen base total form last season. The new Phillies except for So Taguchi won’t be diving into second any time soon. In addition both Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino set career highs for stolen bases. It’s not unreasonable to expect a drop off in production. Hopefully the Phillies offense will be able to compensate for the downshift in velocity.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Bargain Bin

One lesson the Phillies painfully learned in 2007 is that 5 starting pitchers are not enough. Besides Brett Myers and Cole Hamels the Phils rotation makes me nervous. Kyle Kendrick stuck out only 49 batters in 129 innings. Unless his strike out rate comes up everything I know about baseball says that Kendrick will have a rocky 2008. Jamie Moyer is old enough to be Kendrick’s dad. Moyer’s track record says he will pitch 200 innings for the fortieth season in a row. However, logic suggests that Moyer will eventually run out of gas and spend time on the disabled list. Presumably the fifth starter will be Adam Eaton. I think Eaton is much better than his atrocious 2007 statistics suggest. If Adam is healthy than he could be a useful piece. Unfortunately I would not be surprised if we hear the news in spring training that he will be getting season ending surgery.

That leaves Pat Gillick looking through the bargain bin searching for starting pitching. One option is Josh Towers. Yes the Josh Towers that was non-tendered by the Blue Jays. But wait, ask yourself if you were Pat Gillick and had a time machine and could go back in time and sign Carlos Silva to a cheap one-year deal would you? Because if you would then take another look at Towers. Lookout Landing has a fantastic post on the remarkable similarities between both hurlers. In terms of swinging strike percentage, home runs allowed, and ground ball rate Silva and Towers are the same pitcher. Gillick might also want to sign Towers because he drafted him when he was the general manager of the Orioles. Josh Towers might be the cure to the Phillies starting pitching woes.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Should the Phillies go after Otsuka?

As I look over the list of the free agent relievers I am puzzled. Especially given the huge contracts that middle relievers have been signing this off-season. Will someone tell me how Ron Mahay got a two year eight million dollar contract?

The Phillies have certainly improved their bullpen since the end of the 2007 season. Assuming the Phillies carry 12 pitchers they will have 7 spots for relievers. Brad Lidge will be the closer, J.C. Romero will serve as set up man, with Ryan Madson, and Tom Gordon in middle relief. If I had to guess I think the last three spots would go to Chad Durbin, Clay Condrey, and Adam Eaton. That’s a solid group but the Phillies could still improve.

There has been great speculation that the Phillies will try to sign reliever Akinori Otsuka. At first I thought Akinori Otsuka would be a great fit as a middle reliever for the Phillies. Otsuka has a microscopic 2.44 career ERA. However, looking into Otsuka it became clear why he was non-tendered by the Texas Rangers. The first issue is the problem of his health. Otsuka spent a lot of time spent on the disabled list last season. If he’s not healthy there’s no reason to sign him. The second reason for concern is his statistics. Each season he has spent in the Majors his strike out rate have gone down and his walk rates vacillated up and down. That’s not good. If healthy and if the Phillies sign him to a one-year contract for a reasonable price then it could be totally worth it.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Bench Talk

In 2007 the Phillies opening day bench consisted of Abraham Nunez, Greg Dobbs, Michael Bourn, Jayson Werth, and Rod Barajas. With the signing of So Taguchi the Phillies 2008 bench has been set. Eric Bruntlett, So Taguchi, and Chris Coste will take the place of Abraham Nunez, Michael Bourn, and Rod Barajas respectively. These three roster moves mark a huge upgrade to the Phillies bench.

Eric Bruntlett who came over in the Brad Lidge trade is a much better hitter than Abraham Nunez. Bruntlett is a strong defensive player. He has almost no power and hits for a mediocre average but can steal a few bases and will take pitches. So Taguchi is an experienced veteran. He doesn’t have as much raw talent as Michael Bourn but he is an excellent pinch hitter and won’t make any of the rookie mistakes that Bourn made last season. Chris Coste is a good baseball player and Rod Barajas is not. By my count Barajas cost the Phillies 3 wins all by himself.

A strong bench is essential ingredient for any good baseball team. It is unlikely that a baseball team will make it through a whole season without having a position player spend some time on the disabled list. It is a tremendous asset for a team to be able to plug in another player. Having strong pinch hitters and defensive replacements gives Charlie Manuel more weapons late in games.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Phillies Agree to Terms with Jenkins

In the past few seasons Charlie Manuel has chosen to platoon several positions with mixed results. In 2005 Kenny Lofton and Jason Michaels split time in center field and last season third base responsibilities were split three ways between Wes Helms, Abraham Nunez, and Greg Dobbs. To fill the void after the departure of Aaron Rowand the Phillies will move Shane Victorino to center field. The Phillies now plan to platoon right field using Geoff Jenkins against righties and use Jason Werth against lefties.

I don’t think this is a good move for the Phillies. Geoff Jenkins is the very definition of a player in decline. His on base percentage is going down and his strikeouts are going up. Jenkins will hit for a bad average and reasonable power. The Phillies don’t need another left handed hitter like Jenkins who can’t get on base. Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino are both switch hitters. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Greg Dobbs are all left-handed. Geoff Jenkins isn’t anything special.

I’m a big believer in Jason Werth. Werth can hit for power, steal some bases, and unlike Jenkins will take pitches. In addition he has good defensive range and has a strong arm. The Orioles originally drafted Werth in the first round but he had his career derailed by injuries. The Phillies should give him an opportunity to play. When Victorino went on the disabled list Jason Werth stepped in and played very well. Why not let him play?