July 11, 2008

The Phillies Corrections

A discussion my wife and I had last night:

Me: Did you see the Phillies won today?
Her: They did? I didn’t realize they played a day game. They didn’t mention it on [sports radio]
Me: Nah, they never talk about it when they win. They only talk about it when they lose. Or about yesterday’s loss. Or about the bad things that happened in today’s win…

Here’s the story with the Phillies this year: They’re in first place in the NL East, as they have been for virtually the entire season. They got off to a huge start- reversing the last several years of bad Aprils- before running into trouble in June, getting crushed in interleague play. Since then they’ve been up-and-down- sweeping the Braves, losing 3-of-4 to the Mets, winning a series against St. Louis. Their record is 50-43, and they’ve outscored their opponents by 80 runs (other than the Cubs, no NL team has a run differential better than +28).

The team’s strengths include run scoring, power, an excellent bullpen, and relatively solid starting pitching from Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer, as well as the fact that they’ve only used 6 starting pitchers, the least in baseball. Weaknesses include a lot of strikeouts, no real dominant starters other than Hamels, an off-year for 2007 MVP Jimmy Rollins, especially poor hitting from catcher Carlos Ruiz, and a meltdown by former #1 starter Brett Myers, now back in Triple-A.

The team seems aware of their need for another top starter, and made a run at C.C. Sabathia that failed because they couldn’t put together as good a package as Milwaukee could. Indeed, most of the team’s top prospects- pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Antonio Bastardo, catcher Lou Marson, and infielder Jason Donald- are at AA Reading; their AAA team in Lehigh Valley is baseball’s worst.

So, in other words, they’re a pretty solid team with a handful of fixable flaws. Their fans, however, don’t appear to see it that way; if a perusal of either sports radio station or the comment sections of most team blogs or Philly.com posts about the team, you’d think they were having a terrible year.

Here are a few arguments I’ve heard made about this team in the last few weeks, and why I think they’re dead wrong. Yes, all of these are real arguments that I’ve actually heard in good faith:

- The Phillies don’t really care about winning, because they’re too cheap to spend and the owners are perfectly content to sell out every game.

The old “Phillies are cheap” standby is recited as conventional wisdom, always, no matter how much the team has proved it wrong. The Phils’ payroll, according to various sources, is on one side or the other of $100 million, placing it around tenth in baseball. That’s about twice the payrolls of such contenders as the Marlins, Rays, and Twins. You can complain about how the team spends their money, but “cheap” is the wrong word to use.

And besides, in the last two years the Phils have given Chase Utley 7 years and $83 million and- just last week- Brad Lidge for three years, $39 million.

- The Phillies are just going to do nothing at the deadline, like they always do.

Last year, the Phillies traded for Kyle Lohse at the deadline, and he helped get them into the playoffs. The year before, they traded Bobby Abreu, and then (before the waiver deadline) got Moyer, who is still contributing now.

Like the “cheap” canard, the “they never do anything at the deadline” story is one that was true six or seven years ago, but hasn’t been since Pat Gillick took over, or since the team came into Citizens’ Bank Park.

- This team strikes out too much!

Last year, the Phillies were third in the National League in strikeouts, with 1,205. They were also first in the NL in runs scored, with 892. This year, they’re seventh in strikeouts and second in runs. Pretty much all teams that hit lots of homers strike out a lot; clearly, offense isn’t this team’s problem.

- Ryan Howard is the new Dave Kingman! Every time up he either hits a home run or strikes out!

Howard has 125 strikeouts and 27 home runs; he also has 47 walks and 12 doubles. He’s a major slugger, despite his .234 batting average, and undoubtedly one of baseball’s most valuable players, despite the strikeouts and below-average defense.

- Everyone on this team just wants to hit a home run all the time!

You talk about that like it’s a bad thing.

- The Phillies’ failure to get Sabathia shows their lack of commitment to winning, as opposed to the Brewers, who didn’t mind taking one run at a championship.

Most of the Phils’ nucleus (Howard, Utley, Rollins, Hamels) is signed or under their control for years to come, meaning their window to win extends far into the future. The Brewers have a shorter window and have said they’re going for it this year before retooling. Trading multiple top prospects for a guy (Sabathia) three months from free agency would be monumentally stupid, especially because- if Sabathia were gone, Brett Myers traded and Jamie Moyer retiring- it could leave the Phils with almost no pitchers next year.

A trade for Erik Bedard, who is signed for one more year, would make more sense, as well as one for Roy Oswalt or possibly A.J. Burnett (if he agreed to not opt out of his deal), since they’re signed beyond this year.

- If Carlos Carrasco is so good, why isn’t he in the majors right now? They think he’s too good to trade, but not good enough to be in their rotation?

That’s because he’s a prospect, and “prospects” aren’t ready yet. If the Phillies see Carrasco as a potential top-of-the-rotation starter, they’d be wrong to trade him, especially if it comes back to bite them in the end. Should the Phils have traded Cole Hamels for more immediate help, when he was in AA?

- Why can’t Carrasco/Donald/Bastardo/Marston come right in the majors from AA? Kyle Kendrick did last year!

Kendrick was the exception and not the rule; the number of players who make an impact coming straight from AA is a short one, only a handful of players every year. Those people are in AA for the same reason everybody in AA is in AA- because they’re not ready to be at a level higher than AA. Marson in particular would be a stretch, since AA catchers tend not to be able to handle pitching staffs of contenders in pennant races.

- The Phils must be thrilled Burrell didn’t make the All-Star team, because it means they’ll have to give him less on his contract!

This isn’t an arbitration case. Burrell is a free agent, and the Phils will be bidding against other teams; whether or not he was an All-Star should have no effect whatsoever on how much he gets in free agency. (Note: I’ve heard two different talk show callers in two days make this argument; both of them, no doubt, were calling for Burrell’s unconditional release a year ago.)

So enjoy the second half of the Phillies season- next week, the Twins! (Probably not really.)

Posted by Stephen Silver at July 11, 2008 03:52 PM

The real reason people complain is Philly peeps don't feel right if they aren't miserable and complaining - it's the true Philly sport.

Posted by: M D at July 11, 2008 03:58 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?