1) The Bill James Handbook for 2009 is out and now I can make some predictions based on statistical facts.
The Bill James Handbook 2009. ACTA Sports, Publisher, Baseball Info Solutions & Bill James (Skokie, IL, November 2008). This is an essential reference guide for anyone seriously interested in the sport of baseball. As the back cover states, quoting the Wall Street Journal, “Mr. [Bill] James, the statistical oracle.” My good friend (and Mather House Harvard buddy) David Pinto is thanked and accredited by the writers of the book, and I highly recommend Dave Pinto’s excellent blog/website http://www.baseballmusings.com, which is a GREAT baseball website with link outs to virtually all things baseball. Dave used to do all the stat work for ESPN for like 15 years and he is about the smartest guy I know when it comes to baseball statistics, and he used to write the Bill James Handbook for many years. The Bill James Handbook is @$24.00 and is all the money you’ll need to spend on a baseball statbook. If you’re in a fantasy league, first, I suggest you go to rehab and quit this huge waste of time and get back into your marriage and kids, but second, if you’re devoted to the hobby, you will not do better than this book as far as predicting who will do what in 2009 statistically. Finally, this is a fan’s dream of a book. It really settles almost all arguments the right way—with the facts, ma’m, just the facts, to quote Sergeant Joe Friday from Dragnet.
2) The Phillies will repeat in 2009.
The Phillies are a dynasty, with an offensive core of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, with Shane Victorino providing speed, power and glovework in centerfield; Cole Hamels is the best lefthanded starter in the National League, and Brad Lidge is the best closer in the National League. It’s all in the numbers.
3) The Phillies have great pitching and great offense.
The Phillies were second in runs scored last year in the NL with 799 (the Cubs scored 855) and third in the NL in runs and earned runs allowed with 680 runs allowed and 625 earned runs allowed (only the Dodgers and Cubs were better).
4) The Phillies have great defense.
Jimmy Rollins is the best shortstop in the National League, and under the Plus/Minus system, Rollins is the second best defensive shortstop in all of baseball from 2006-2008. Chase Utley is among the top three second basement in the National League. Under the Plus/Minus system, Utley is the top defensive second basement in all of baseball 2006-2008. Pedro Feliz is in the top ten defensively in all of baseball at third base, Shane Victorino is in the top ten in all of baseball at centerfield. Under the Plus/Minus system, Victorino was the 7th best centerfielder in all of baseball in 2008. Under the Plus/Minus system, Feliz is the second best defensive third basemen in all of baseball from 2006-2008. Jayson Werth is a good defensive right fielder, and Raul Ibanez, the new leftfielder, is an upgrade from Pat Burrell; Burrell, according to the Plus/Minus system, was the worst left fielder defensively in baseball from 2006-2008. Carlos Ruiz at catcher has a great throwing arm. By the way, Bobby Abreu scores poorly defensively under the Plus/Minus system, 2d worst defensive right fielder in all of baseball for 2008. That was addition by subtraction, that trade.
5) The Mets Are Not Serious Challengers in the NL East.
The Mets will choke again. Specifically, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado are a year older, and may start to show signs of age related decline. Johan Santana already shows signs that he is injured, while Pedro Martinez was never quite right. Billy Wagner was hurt for substantial portions of last year. They’ve brought in a couple of new guys for the bullpen, but Rodriguez et al. aren’t just filling holes, they’re the life raft for a sinking ship—the Mets’ bullpen last year was awful and coughed up many leads. It’s true that Pelfrey, Maine et al. are some good starters, but without Santana being as good as Hamels, the truth is the Phillies have the better starting staff, starting with Meyers, then Moyer, then Blanton, and whoever they throw as the fifth starter, probably J.A. Happ. What you need to recognize is that Meyers and Blanton are strikeout pitchers, and even Happ and Park can strike out betters. Moyer is just fiendish on the mound when he’s got it going on, as we saw in the postseason. Even though Jose Reyes and David Wright are brilliant young stars, and Beltran and Delgado are aging superstars, the rest of the lineup has holes while the Phillies’ lineup is solid top to bottom. Also, the Phillies have a much better bench than the Mets.
6) No Else is a Serious Rival Except for the Dodgers
The only team I see possibly challenging for the NL Pennant are the LA Dodgers under Joe Torre. They have Manny for an entire year, they have terrific pitching, excellent young talent like Loney, combined with experienced players on the bench and in the field, and Torre manages the clubhouse the way he managed the Yankees, with a winning attitude. I see the Cubs slipping back this year and may the Cards or Rockies or Astros (hi to L. Gray here) coming back up. In the AL, the Yankees will make some noise as will the Red Sox; the Rays are in the toughest division in baseball, while the Angels, As, Twins, Indians (hello to Chris M), etc. all will have tough sledding, along with teams just below like the Tigers. Even if the Phils repeat as NL East Division winners, they will have to beat the Dodgers again, and even if they win the NL Pennant, to become champs, they will have a tough world series against the AL. So nothing is going to be easy.
7) Adam Eaton and Kyle Kendrick were Dreadful Fifth Starters Last Year Yet the Phillies Won Anyway
The Phillies will improve this year substantially in the pitching department. In 2008, Adam Eaton threw 107 innings with an adjusted ERA of 6.07. Kyle Kendrick threw 156 innings with an adjusted ERA of 6.05. That’s together, 263 innings pitched with an adjusted ERA of @6.06. The Phillies team adjusted ERA was 3.88, so you can see that Eaton and Kendrick were almost double the team ERA. There’s a vast canyon for improving team ERA by bringing in a better fifth starter there. The Phillies as a whole only three 1450 innings last year; that means 18%, or nearly one-fifth of the Phillies innings last year were thrown by Eaton and Kendrick, the horrible fifth starters. Simple math suggests that replacing these guys will lower the team ERA substantially—in fact, the Phillies will probably lead the NL in ERA this year.
8) Chan Ho Park or JA Happ Will be Substantial Upgrades at Fifth Starting Pitcher over Adam Eaton & Kyle Kendrick
The fifth starter this year will either be Chan Ho Park or J.A. Happ. Park in 2008 threw 95 innings, allowing 97 hits, 12 homers, 36 walks and striking out 79, with an adjusted ERA of 4.34; if he throws 190 innings, that would adjust to 194 hits allowed, 24 homers, 72 walks and 158 batters struckout. Happ threw much less, only 33 innings pitched, but striking out 26, only 28 hits given up, 14 walks, 3 homers and an adjusted ERA of 3.55. Moreover, Happ’s minor league stats (he’s a six-foot six lefty) suggest that’s he’s a power pitcher who can strike out hitters; in Las Vegas AAA in 2008 he struck out 151 batters in 135 innings innings pitched. In Ottawa AAA in 2007 he whiffed 117 batters in 118 innings pitched. Happ started 24 games in Ottawa and 23 games in Las Vegas, and he’s not going to turn 27 until October 2009, so he can definitely throw starter innings. Bottom line: between Happ and Park, the fifth starter ERA for at least the back end of 250 innings of Phillies pitching should be much, much better than last year.
9) Kyle Kendrick is a Nice Guy, but He’s Strictly AAA Material
The only way this can get derailed is if the Phillies give Kyle Kendrick another shot as fifth starter. This would be a mistake. Even though Kendrick won a lot of games, he was one of the least effective starters in the National League according to the Bill James Handbook 2009 number crunchers. The basic problems with Kendrick are that 1) he’s just not a strikeout pitcher and 2) he gives up too many hits and homers. Here’s his line for 2008; 156 innings pitched, 194 hits given up (I’m not making that number up), 23 homers, 14 hit batters (very wild), 57 walks (again, wild), only 68 batters struck out, an official 5.49 ERA and an adjusted ERA of 6.05. When you look at Kendrick’s line, it’s obvious that he’s very wild—57 walks in 156 innings pitched, plus 194 hits given up, plus 14 hit batsmen. Now, you can walk a lot of batters and be successful—Nolan Ryan and Bob Feller both did it—but you’d better not be giving up many hits and you’d better be striking out the side, as Ryan and Feller used to do. But if you’re giving up walks, AND giving up lots of hits AND hitting batters and you can’t get strikeouts, well, you probably just can’t pitch in the major leagues. Kendrick is a nice guy, and maybe he can retool and become a middle innings relief guy, if he develops a change-up or a sinker as an out pitch. But from here, based on those numbers, Kendrick needs a season in triple A to refine his approach and then come back to the big team later on. Meanwhile, J.A. Happ is the guy I’d be looking at if I were the Phillies.
10) Who in the World is Carlos Carrasco?
The Phillies should not be auditioning Carlos Carrasco seriously as a fifth starter for 2009. They’re a world champion about to repeat. They don’t need a rookie starting. Carrasco should start out in Triple A and later come onboard and help in the bullpen, maybe, or spot start later in the year if someone gets hurt.
11) Phils – Best in Baseball at Stealing and Taking the Extra Base The Phillies are the best in baseball at baserunning. The Bill James Handbook for 2009 built up a chart of which teams did the best job in moving first to third, second to home, first to home, and guess which team was the best in baseball in seizing those opportunities? If you said the Philadelphia Phillies, you would be correct. The Phils move first to third 55 of 195 chances, second to home 98 of 163 chances, and first to home 29 of 55 chances, taking 142 total bases, while being doubled off only 18 times, and making only 36 base-running outs, one of the lowest out totals in baseball, and grounding into only 108 doubleplays, again, one of the lowest GIDP totals in baseball. The net gains for the Phils from baserunning and from stolen bases (Rollins, Victorino, Werth and Utley all stole 20 or more bases, Rollins and Victorino 30 or more), was a net gain of 114 bases, the largest such advantage in baseball. Those were extra bases the Phillies took on the basepaths without the benefit of a hit just by good baserunning. The fact is that the Phillies have one of the fastest and best running lineups in baseball, with Rollins, Victorino, Werth and Utley in the lineup. All four of these guys can steal, take the extra base, and go first to home on any extra base hit. These guys more than make up for Howard, Feliz or Ruiz being slower. In addition, guys like Rollins, Victorino, Werth and Utley make the opposing pitchers nervous and cause them to make extra throws to first base. Finally, because the Phillies were so successful stealing, taking the extra base, etc., they had very few situations where they could ground into the double play. About the only time they wouldn’t run was when Ryan Howard was up with a man or men on first, and even then sometimes Charlie Manuel would run, just to confuse opposing managers. This chart is at page 320 of the BJH for 2009.
12) Phils – the Best Bullpen in Baseball
The Phillies have by far the best bullpen in baseball. The only guys who weren’t any good last year were Tom Gordon, who is gone, Adam Eaton and Kyle Kendrick and it’s doubtful we’ll see Eaton or Kendrick in the bullpen. Lidge and Madsen were money, and it remains to be seen if the Met’s new additions will be as good as Lidge or Madsen. Losing Clay Condrey is not good, but J.C. Romero will be back after his suspension, and he pitched very well last year. Chad Durbin was outstanding for the Phils last year.
13) Charlie Manuel – the Best Manager in Baseball
Charlie Manuel has now established that he is one of the best managers in baseball. He’s now logged seven seasons as a manager with the Indians and Phillies, and the results don’t lie. He won 90 and 91 games in two of his three seasons with the Indians, made the playoffs, and had only one bad season with them, in 2002. With the Phillies, he has won 88, 85, 89 and 92 games, and made the playoffs last year and won the World Series this year. Compare this to so-called brilliant Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who from 1997-2000 inclusive, with Curt Schilling, Bobby Abreu and Scott Rolen in the lineup, managed to win 68, 75, 77 and 65 games for the Phillies. Manuel as Phillies Manager last year beat Joe Torre and the Dodgers in the NLCS to win the pennant, and Torre is arguably, along with Bobby Cox, the greatest manager of our day. Then Manuel encountered not the Boston Red Sox but the Tampa Bay Rays and Joe Maddon in the World Series, which in many ways was a challenge. Then the Commissioner of Baseball and the Networks conspired to create the famous rain-shortened delayed Game Five, which effectively neutralized the Cole Hamels pitching advantage the Phillies had in that Game. Two days later, Manuel came up with managing brilliancy after managing brilliancy, handling his pinch-hitters and bullpen brilliantly and completely out-managing his opponents Tampa Bay and Maddon to win the world championship in a suspended game five that will live forever in Philadelphia sports history. Charlie Manuel’s average record after seven years of managing is 88-74, not including playoff wins, a .543 winning percentage, and that’s better than lifetime managing winning percentage of such so-called brilliant managers as: Lou Piniella, Jimmy Leyland, Manager Jack McKeon, Tony LaRussa, Felipe Alou, Buddy Bell, Dusty Baker, Terry Francona, Bruce Bochy, Joe Maddon, Jerry Manuel, Phil Garner, Joe Girardi, Ozzie Guillen, Mike Hargrove, Clint Hurdle, Bob Melvin, Willie Randolph, Buck Schowalter and Jim Tracy. In fact the only managers with a HIGHER lifetime winning percentage than Charlie Manuel currently are Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, Ken Macha, Grady Little and Mike Scioscia. As we know, Torre, Manuel, Cox and Scioscia have all won World Series championships, but only Torre has one more than one World Championship in that grouping. If Charlie Manuel repeats this year with the Phillies, he not only stands a chance to gain in career winning percentage on these all-time great managers, but also he will join Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa and Terry Francona as the only multi-World Series winning managers. Of this grouping, only Manuel will have been a consistent winner in his entire managerial career, since we know that Torre had some bad years earlier in his career managing in the National League. Consequently, if Manuel were to repeat this year, he would have a legitimate claim at the Hall of Fame as a Manager inductee; in fact, his credentials for the Hall of Fame even if he just wins the division or makes it as a wild card a couple of more times seem guaranteed. There is little question that Charlie Manuel has been the greatest manager in the entire history of the Phillies’ organization, and I mean going back to 1883 when the club was a minor league outfit which had just arrived in Philadelphia struggling to survive a move from Worcester, Massachusetts.
14) A Brief History of the Phillies
This is the finest era of Phillies baseball in the history of the franchise. There have only been a few great eras of Phillies baseball. One was the 1890s, when the outfield was led by Hall of Famer Ed Delahanty, and the club consistently finished 2d, 3d or in the upper half of the league. While they didn’t win pennants, they were winners for about ten years, and since they were the only baseball club in Philadelphia, attendance was very good. The next good period for the Phillies was the 1910s, when the club was led by Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander (the only pitcher named for one president, Grover Cleveland, and played by another in a movie, Ronald Reagan) (by the way, a great flick), the best pitcher in all of baseball, Dave “Beauty” Bancroft at short and other great players. That 1910s team won only one NL pennant in 1915, but was upper division for several years, and had there been a Cy Young Award, Alexander would have won about five in a row. But the A’s were the Philadelphia team that the city loved from 1901-1953, pretty much, as they won multiple pennants and world series, especially from 1905-1914, and again from 1929-1931, and did very well other years. The Phillies did not have a good squad again until the “whiz kids” of 1950 led by Hall of Famers Robin Roberts, Richie Ashburn et al. While they won only one pennant, and the team has been disparaged for not breaking the color line, they were a good team that played fine seasons, and they finally broke the dominance of the As and attracted the hearts of Philly fans. The next good team was the 1964 Phils team led by Hall of Famer Jim Bunning, and could have been Hall of Famer Dick Allen, who had one of the greatest rookie years in baseball history in 1964. The September collapse of the 1964 Phils we will skip over, except to say, they were a great team, and deserved to win one or more pennants. Dick Allen returned in 1976 to play first base for the beginning of a Phils dynasty led by Hall of Famers Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt, and outstanding players like Bob Boone at catcher, Larry Bowa at shortstop, later joined by Pete Rose and Joe Morgan along the way, a dynasty that won multiple division titles, pennants, playoff games, a World Series, and threatened to repeat only to lose the 1983 world series, a dynasty that would last from 1976-1983. The dynasty might have gone further had the Phillies not made a couple of bad trades in the winter of 1983. They had three second basemen in their farm system—Juan Samuel, Ryne Sandberg and Julio Franco. The Phillies made an error and decided to trade two of these players, instead of keeping all three and converting them to other positions, like shortstop or first base. All of them could have hit enough for any infield position. Sandberg was traded with Larry Bowa for a shortstop whose name I can’t even remember, and the Cubs won the NL East Division in 1984 as a result. Franco and four other Phillies were traded for Von Hayes, a five tool lefthanded outfielder who put up some good numbers for about five years, but then went into a premature age-related decline. Franco, as we all know, retired just last year, I think, at age 50. I’m pretty sure he’s still playing somewhere in Mexico, and still hitting .300 and slugging homers. I really liked Julio Franco because for a long time, as long as he was a pro, there was someone older than me playing in the big leagues. Ryne Sandberg has retired and is already in the Hall of Fame. It’s a shame to think how good the phillies might have been with Sandberg and Schmidt for a few years there—Schmidt won the MVP in 1986 or 1987—batting third and fourth—but that goes in the category of what-if. The next great phils team was the Dykstra-Kruk-Schilling bad boys team of 1993, which was really a great team, but a one-year wonder, last to first, and back to last again the next year. A lot of pitchers on that team had their greatest seasons ever that one year, guys like Tommy Greene and Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams, and then never were able to throw effectively again. You’d have to say they gave it all. After than, the core dissipated, and started winning in other cities—Hollins went to Minnesota and won, Dalton went to Florida and won, Schilling went to the Red Sox and won, Rolen went to St. Louis and won—it seemed there was a lot of magic to the 93’ phillies that was infectious, the team knew how to win, but couldn’t put it back together again in Philadelphia. Now we have another juggernaut here in Philly, and these Phillies are a lot like the 1976-83 Phillies team, a dynasty, except only better. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard together are equal to Mike Schmidt—and Cole Hamels is just as good right now as Steve Carlton was back in the day, though it remains to be seen if Hamels can pitch twenty five years like Carlton did. Lidge is better than Tug McGraw was in his best seasons, and you’d have to say the rest of the club and starters and bullpen are actually better than the Phillies of 1976-83.
15) Bring Back Pete Rose and Ban the Steroid Guys Instead.
One thing we don’t have is a player like Pete Rose, he was a true Hall of Famer, even if baseball wants to bar the doors, there isn’t a player in the Hall of Fame as good as Pete Rose, and I include Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth, because no one wanted to win as badly or was willing to do so many things to win a ballgame, as Pete “Charlie Hustle” Rose was willing to do each and every day on the ballfield. He lived to win, and he won because that’s what he lived for. I’ll always think of him fondly because he brought us the 1980 World Series Championship, and because he lit a fire under Mike Schmidt, and because he looked right with a Phillies cap on, and because he was the third Hall of Famer on that 1980 team (I’d probably add Bob Boone, by the way), and I don’t really care if he bet on baseball. I’d sentence him to time served and welcome him back if I was the Commissioner. Heck, with all the disgraced steroid users in the game, Pete Rose would be a shot in the arm for baseball right now. HE PLAYED THE GAME THE RIGHT WAY, HE DIDN’T CHEAT. So what if he bet on the ponies? I’m sure half of all the accountants, lawyers, investment bankers and other important people on Wall Street have bookies and keep them plenty busy, even in this horrible economy. No one is banning them from their livelihoods. There’s no commissioner to supervise CEOs from going to the Kentucky Derby, in fact, if you go to the Kentucky Derby or Saratoga Racetrack in August, you’ll see nothing but CEOs with young girls, gambling their money away or worse, wasting it on their own horses. How is this any different from what Pete Rose did? And no one is banning Alex Rodriguez from baseball, even though what he did using steroids is more disrespectful to the integrity of the game than betting on baseball. Pete Rose is about 1/1000ths as guilty of corrupting baseball as Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez, Jose Conseco and the whole lot of those steroid users. Bring back Pete Rose! We need guys like Pete Rose, guys who would go to Geno’s, eat a cheesesteak, sign about a thousand autographs, maybe pick up the local waitress, and then go out the ballpark and PLAY BASEBALL THE WAY IT WAS MEANT TO BE PLAYED. Pete Rose used to RUN to first on walks. He’d slide on every play. If the play was close at home, he’d try and destroy the catcher. He always went all out on ever fly ball, every grounder, every single foul ball. He backed up other fielders just in case, which is how he caught that foul ball that fell out of bob Boone’s glove in the World Series for out two in the ninth. He ALWAYS was running hard to get the extra base. If he hit a single that wasn’t right at the left or right fielder, Rose was gone to second, stretching it to a double. No matter where the ball was hit, if he was on second, he was taking a big lead and was going to try and score, and test your arm doing it. He always knew the situation; how many outs, what the score was, who was playing where. If you needed a ball to the right side of the infield, he gave you one. If you needed a bunt, he gave you one. If you needed a home run, he’d jack one out of the park, because he could do that when he needed to also. He did whatever was required to win. At age 40, Pete Rose was ten times the player that most guys would ever be at age 25. He was the best I ever saw, bar none, and I include many great players in that list, guys like Hank Aaron, Mike Schmidt, Ken Griffey Jr., and so forth. Pete did more with less natural ability than anyone who ever played the game. He could switch hit, he could run, he could field almost every position (he played second base, third base, first base, left field in his career) and he played major league baseball long enough to collect more than 4,000 hits. I say if Pete Rose played in Joe Jackson’s era, he’d of been better than Joe Jackson, and if Joe Jackson had played in Pete Rose’s era, Joe Jackson couldn’t have touched Pete Rose. If Pete Rose had played against Babe Ruth in the 1920s, and Pete Rose had decided to hit homers for a year, Pete Rose could have hit 70 of them I believe. I think Pete Rose could have been better than any ballplayer in any era at any time. That’s how good I think he was, how good I think he is, and Bud Selig, the Commissioner of Baseball, is wrong to bar Pete Rose from the game, while allowing known perjurers liars and convicts to populate the clubhouses in the form of these steroid users. It’s a double and triple standard of justice that I can’t get on board with, and neither should you. I support the players union but I don’t support what’s going on. Let’s ban all the cheaters and let’s rehabilitate a man who stood for decency and fair play on the field, and let him apologize, and let’s forgive him his trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Let’s forgive Pete Rose.
–Art Kyriazis Philly/South Jersey
Home of the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies
March 10, 2009