Apr 30, 2009

Slice of a Season: Part 2 of 18

Since the baseball season is long (a marathon, not a sprint they always say). Let's keep track of the Phillies 2009 season in digestible bites. A weekly wrap-up doesn't give justice to the ups and downs that a team goes through because it's so uneven.Therefore, I've decided to summarize the season in 9 game swaths, the equivalent of 3 series, barring rainouts and schedule unevenness. Plus, 9*18=162...I like even numbers.

Slice of a Season: 2009, Slice 2

Slice Record: 6-3
Cumulative Record: 10-8
Standing at Slice's End: 0.5 games behind suddenly reeling Marlins
Opponents that hurt the Phillies: Brewers, Padres
Opponents that helped the Phillies: Marlins, Nationals
Wins to Remember: Scoring 7 runs in the 9th to defeat the Braves 7-3 on April 24, 2009. Recovering from 2 different 4 run deficits with 2 grand slams to win 13-11 against the Nationals on April 27, 2009.
Loss to spill milk over: Giving up 4 runs in the 9th to lose to Padres 8-5 on April 18, 2009.
Nobody's perfect: But Brad Lidge was close for awhile
Bats do help: When facing Dave Bush (no-hit the Phillies until the 8th inning) and Braden Looper
New favorite opposing pitcher: Cody Ross, outfielder, Marlins
Nemesis Alert: Josh Johnson
Needs a 4 leaf clover and a rabbit's foot: Cole Hamels
Hitting Heroes: Chase Utley, Raul Ibanez, Ryan Howard, Pedro Feliz, Shane Victorino
Need Adjustments: Jimmy Rollins, Chris Coste, Greg Dobbs
Fire Starters on the Mound: Brett Myers, Joe Blanton, Scott Eyre
Holding the Fort Down: Clay Condrey, Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin, Jaimie Moyer

Let's call them the April comeback kids. The wins at Florida and against Washington were especially noteworthy, showing all you need is a decent bullpen and really potent bats to compete in the NL East. Ibanez and Utley are tearing up the league right now with Ibanez leading the league in .SLG and total bases. Feliz is drawing walks and flashing power and Howard's strikeout rate has declined since last year. On top of that production, Matt Stairs is the man, and I won't hear anyone else say otherwise. The team still has an .OPS above .800; that is really, really good. J-Roll...where hast thou gone?.....first base is but 90 feet away for you to tend to.

The pitching has improved enough to not be a complete liability. Hamels has shown flashes of returning to form, but a Prince Fielder line drive to the shoulder probably is not one of the top 100 feelings in the world. Myers is volatile like an organic solvent, and Blanton has shown himself to be hittable (14.6 H/9 IP). The middle bullpen has been solid with Condrey, "Everyday" Durbin, and Madson holding the opponents down until the offense decides to score after inning 7. It would be nice if the team ERA dropped below 5 at some point this season.

Overall, sweeping the Marlins in Florida was a great way to punctuate April, and allows them to clinch a winning April record for the second straight year. Game on, division rivals, game on. The race has truly begun.

A peek ahead: The conclusion of the Nationals series, the first and second series against the Mets, and an encounter with the Cardinals

Apr 28, 2009

Fantasy Baseball: Team Checkpoint 1

Three weeks of the season have come and gone. Everyone's favorite first week mighty mite, Emilio Bonifacio, has pulled a Chris Shelton and gone back into fantasy hibernation....Albert Pujols has been otherworldly (again), and Zack Greinke decided to give the other team a fighting chance by revealing he's not completely invincible.

As of this date, this is when standings begin to matter in a Rotisserie league. You have made your initial roster moves (in my case, mostly to pick up new closers and closers in waiting), shedding fantasy deadweight and trying to latch onto breakout performances. You've also exercised the power of the bench for those disappointing high round picks (Alexei Ramirez or Cole Hamels anyone?) and felt a slight twinge at the prospect of using the DL spot for great players (A-Rod, Vlad, Brandon Webb).

Now is the time to make the true roster evaluation. Consider the following factors:

1) Who is overperforming/underperforming/performing to their established skill level on your team? Each player is on your roster for a reason. Determine where they have fit in so far and whether they continue to fit in. Now is a good time to make deals. You can reach for someone who seems to be overperforming, but seems to have established a new level of performance. Age and opportunity both play large roles in this evaluation.

a) If they are overperforming, can this be sustained? For example, no one is going to have a .SLG% of .800 or more this season (most likely). Likewise, an .OBP above .500 is also unsustainable as well as an ERA under 2.00.

b) If they are underperforming, what is the underlying reason? Is it a nagging injury? Is it place in the lineup? Is it lack of opportunity? Is it an ungodly number of strikeouts per plate appearance? Is it allowing a HR every other inning? Is it the K/BB ratio?

2) What is the current makeup of the standings for each individual category? and where do you stand? This is the evaluation you should be making for whether to improve players at certain positions or alter the make-up of your team.

There were severe extremes in standings before this time. For example, my team ERA was 7.95 a week into the season...it has since dropped. There are still large swings in the standings from day to day. This is because of the nature of sample size of the statistics relative to a whole year's performance. Wins, saves, and SB are especially vulnerable to large fluctuations at this time. Even ratio categories like WHIP and AVG are subject to smaller ones.

Look at your cumulative stat rating in each category. Hopefully, you're in the middle of the pack or above the pack in most. The goal is to maximize points by the end of the year. Standings don't matter, but relative value in each category does. By the end of May, categories tend to stabilize (especially the ratio categories). Make a move now.

3)What is the projected output for your roster? Is your mix that you thought you drafted to win fantasy gold still sufficient?

Every year, players not only outperform or underperform their skill and talent levels, but also contribute differently than you expect. For example, Jacoby Ellsbury is a player you draft primarily for steals and runs....he has 10 steals and 12 runs, right on target. Counter to that is Michael Young, who was drafted for AVG and runs...he now has 6 HR, approximately half of his preseason projection. Will he keep a .600 SLG?...no, but he will probably surpass the 12-14 HR range he was originally projected for.

4) ERA, WHIP, and saves can be still be won by picking up closers-in-waiting. If you have three or more solid closers in a 12 or more team league, you are in good shape. Consider filling in those extra, unused pitching slots with high K/IP relievers or with set-up men with probable loser opportunity. Look to the fluid situations in Milwaukee, Tampa, Toronto, etc. to bolster your bullpen.

5) Do you have room for your injured players? With most leagues having only one DL spot, when two or more of your expected contributors gets injured, it makes it difficult to maintain roster flexibility. Decide who you want to keep or better yet, who you want to prevent your opponents from picking up. In one league, I have both Vlad Guererro and John Lackey hurt. I won't drop them, but it creates a thin roster until one of them returns.
And the best advice is smile, it's still April. Optimism is rampant. The next checkpoint is in two weeks; it offers a different strategy.

Apr 23, 2009

The Junior High Countdown: 116. 1993 Select Rookie/Traded

Select was a first year semi-premium set released by the Score/Pinnacle company in 1993. It was fairly popular and showcased a soon-to-be ubiquitous dufex technology. So what better way to capitalize on success than to extend it to an updated edition touting rookies! and traded players, a tried and true practice since 1981 Topps Traded made its auspicious debut. Alas, the execution of the set leaves it here, near the bottom of the countdown.

Design: The front had blue foil along the two side borders with the name and Select logo in gold foil. The back featured a second photo of the player, a Select stat, and 1992's stats. The most appealing part for me is the mention of the transaction date in the copy in which the players changed teams.

Details: It was released in the autumn of 1993 with a grand fanfare. Limited production run! New uniforms! Rookies galore! All were true....

It was distributed in 24 pack boxes of 12 cards apiece, differentiating itself from its traded set brethren from that year. It is 150 card set, of which half are rookies. Inserts were the 10 card All-Star rookies (inserted 1 per 58 packs) and special inserts of Nolan Ryan, Mike Piazza, and Tim Salmon (total: 3-4 per case).

The most notable rookies are Sterling Hitchcock?!? Granted, 1993-1994 card sets did not have the strongest rookie class, but at least include the draft picks from the 1993 draft since it was such a late-season release. My favorite veteran cards that I own are Andres Galarraga as a Rockie, Charlie Hough as a Marlin, and Fred McGriff as a Brave.

There was only a 1950 case run, meaning ultimate scarcity! Get your hands on them quickly before they're gone! Pack prices during release were $7.50 per pack...without any rookies driving the product....just controlled scarcity.

Impact: Case numbers would continue to be released by Score/Pinnacle and other companies to give the illusion of scarcity. This would also be the only Select R/T set released.

Summary: The bottom line is the bottom line. What am I getting for $7.50 per pack? Blue, chipping cards with a questionable checklist and very few impact players. This was also the height of the insert boom, and it didn't even have the cursory inserts per box to whet the appetite. The odds of receiving a card of intrinsic value were slim to none. This is Select...it had been established very few months earlier as the progenitor of Dufex. I want to see inserts and Dufex at least once per box.

Also, packed out traded products as a stand-alone set don't really work for me unless it's showing new players compared to other sets' checklists. Give me the boxed set, let me figure out the names of which rookies to follow, and let it lie. 1991 Topps Traded was too abundantly packed out whereas this set was so scarce it artificially inflated the price to a point where it was uncollectable. As the scan above shows, so much potential...so little fulfillment. And this is why it ranks so low...good design, good concept, fatally poor execution.

Apr 21, 2009

Slice of a Season: Part 1 of 18

Since the baseball season is long (a marathon, not a sprint they always say). Let's keep track of the Phillies 2009 season in digestible bites. A weekly wrap-up doesn't give justice to the ups and downs that a team goes through because it's so uneven.
Therefore, I've decided to summarize the season in 9 game swaths, the equivalent of 3 series, barring rainouts and schedule unevenness. Plus, 9*18=162...I like even numbers. I'm behind on this one because of being out of town this weekend.

Slice of a Season: 2009, Slice 1
Slice Record: 4-5
Cumulative Record: 4-5

Standing at Slice's End: 4 games behind 8-1 Marlins

Opponents that hurt the Phillies: Braves, Padres, weather

Opponents that helped the Phillies: Rockies

Ignominious First: Allowing Washington to win their first game of the season

Nemesis Alert: Derek Lowe

Win to Remember: Scoring 8 runs in the 7th and one in the 8th to defeat the Braves 12-11 on April 8, 2009

Loss to spill milk over: Losing 8-7 to the Padres on April 17, blowing 7-1 lead after 4 innings

Hitting Heroes: Chase Utley, Raul Ibanez, Ryan Howard

Need Adjustments: Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chris Coste

Fire Starters on the Mound: Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, Chan Ho Park

Holding the Fort Down: Clay Condrey, Scott Eyre, J.A. Happ

The first slice of the season breaks down simply. When the hitting was on, the pitching was not. And the pitching was never really on during this time period. When your team ERA is approaching 7 and the opponent's BA allowed is .300, it is difficult to consistently win ballgames. Three straight games of allowing exactly 8 runs marked the end of the time period (Update: The streak was extended to 4 straight games). The offense has shown flashes of power and capability. They have performed with an .OPS of nearly .800. However, the top of the lineup is not getting on base enough to take advantage of the healed Utley, slimmer Howard, and focused Ibanez. Jayson Werth also needs to perform well to avoid having three lefties in a row in the middle of the lineup for late-game situations.

A peek ahead: The rest of the series with the Padres, a series with Milwaukee, a series with the 1st place Marlins

Please let me know how to improve this feature and make it more comprehensive. Also, please suggest categories to add.

Apr 17, 2009

A Collection Divided....Can Not Stand!

Beneath the spangled lights so dim, stacked upon the concrete floor
In rows of two by two, march the memories of yore
Through wax they come, and sit in cardboard pale
Not to be exposed or touched, by sunlight nor by air

For they are the forgotten placards lain
Between the cracks of childhood days
Images of diamond heroes strain
To be sorted, shuffled, and displayed

I went back to my childhood home in PA two weekends ago, and it frustrates me as a collector that nearly all of the cards that I accummulated before 2003 are sealed in waterproof containers in my father's basement. I'm a completist by nature and I have no idea what I have and what I don't have for the various sets and players that I have collected over the years.
It would take hours to search through it all, and I'm usually in for a visit for a few days; I don't want to spend all my time doing this. Also, I have no room in my apartment to store them. I barely have enough room to store the ones I have.
As a result, all my wantlists (currently under construction) and cards available for trade are for cards that I have acquired since 2003. Still, there is an overall hollow feeling about my collection. It can be everything I say it is, but I don't really know what to say.
Has anyone else experienced moving cross-country and having to leave things behind? How do you cope with it? Any other collectors out there know of the dreaded cross country split where their collection is concerned?
I need help how to best resolve this, mostly for peace of mind.

Apr 14, 2009

Harry Kalas

I return from vacation in Spain and this, unfortunately, is the news that greets me upon the perusal of the news that day. As you can probably infer from the posts on the blog, I am a Phillies fan and Philly native (living in that area apart from school until I was 24).

Spring and summer were spiced with the intermittent sprinklings of baseball games and baseball experiences. The voices of the green seasons were Harry Kalas, Richie "Whitey" Ashburn, Andy Musser, and Chris Wheeler for many years of my childhood. They gave explanation and meaning to events on the field as I huddled with a blanket arching over my clockradio straining to hear the game happenings. This occurred frequently since my bedtime was before 9:00 until I was 10 years old and of course; most games started at the punctual time of 7:35.

The voice of Harry Kalas and his interplay with Richie Ashburn during their 3 innings together on the radio and then on the TV broadcast enriched those lean Phillies years. There was an understated combination of seriousness and excitement to his approach that brought the fans closer to the baseball diamond.

In my memory, he was punctual with the score, the count, and all the other numbers a young boy needs to know as he listens or watches a game. He taught me that Mike Schmidt's full name was Michael Jack Schmidt, that Lenny Dykstra's real name was "Nails", that it was really Darren "Dutch" Daulton, and the Krukker was the moniker for John Kruk.

His most signature calls, of course, are "It's Outta Here!" (usually preceded by long drive to xxx field, way back!....) and "Swing and a miss, sttt-ruck him out!". They were classy and lent stirring punctuation to these occurrences.

My favorite thing that he said was when he disagreed with an umpire's call. He didn't argue or rail about it. He simply stated, "Straight down the middle for a ball."

The fact is that he will be missed since listening to Phillies games will not be the same. And though I have never met him, there are many stories out there about his kindness and charitable nature.

His voice and presence are etched in all our memories and recorded for all to recall. Here's to Harry Kalas.

Apr 5, 2009

On Vacation

I'm on vacation until April 13th. Everything will resume when I return. Happy opening night!

Apr 2, 2009

Phive Days of Phillies: Day 2-Heart

In preparation for the upcoming 2009 season breathing down the necks of the world, I will feature some aspect of the Phillies that can ultimately lead to a successful season.

Let's go with something a little more ambiguous and undefinable today since I am feeling a little undefined myself . What can be considered heart? We all know we "gotta have it" as sung by the ballplayers in "Damn Yankees." We know that it's a certain something that goes beyond talent and inculcates itself into a player's persona.

Hearts must radiate; they must pump vigorously to feed the rest of the organs with nourishment. Is it ability to perform under pressure? Is it a determination? Is it grind the bat and ball into your hands until enough friction is created to heat a Winnebago? Is it an attitude?

I think what heart is, in the sense I will describe, is the baseball lifeforce. This is in what the sense of the game transpires, the need to construct each play as they were intended, with mental focus and drive and physical ability.
How does one measure heart? Well, strictly, you can't. And it isn't about 100% vs. 110% effort, it is the bloodline of baseball coursing through the generations.

The Phillies' heart levels are listed below.

Miles and Miles of Heart: Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Jaime Moyer

Franklin Institute Sized Heart: Greg Dobbs, Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin, Chris Coste

Fiery Thunderhorse Heart: Brett Myers, Brad Lidge, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth

Wild Hearts Never Broken: Ryan Howard, Pedro Feliz, Carlos Ruiz, Matt Stairs, Joe Blanton

New Adrenaline Inspired Heart: Raul Ibanez, Chan Ho Park, Jack Taschner, J.A. Happ

Outsized Heart: Scott Eyre, Eric Bruntlett, Clay Condrey

Apr 1, 2009

Phive Days of Phillies: Day 1-Power

In preparation for the upcoming 2009 season breathing down the necks of the world, I will feature some aspect of the Phillies that can ultimately lead to a successful season.

The power of the Phillies is evident. Last year, they had a .438 SLG, ranked 2nd in the NL, and they also hit 214 HR, 1st in the NL. Four players hit 20 or more home runs, four players hit 30 or more doubles,and three players had an AB/HR ratio less than 20.

Of these players from last year, Pat Burrell waved a fond farewell to the City of Brotherly Love and made a snowbird's trek to Tampa to rest his foot for all 9 innings per game as a DH. His replacement is Raul Ibanez, a 36 year old lefty, who hopefully has enough juice to add some horsepower to the Phillies 8 cylinder engine.

The individual ratings on the power scale(which I just made up) are the following:

Quasar: Ryan Howard-Like the collision of galaxies billions of light years away, Howard can illuminate the night sky with a rain of blinding flashes of light that can barely be identified as a baseball. He had 48 HR, .543 SLG, and a 12.7 HR/AB ratio. He also led the league in opposite field HRs, showing power to every field in every park. He should be a lock for 40 HRs and many demoralizing strikeouts...with immense power.

Supernova: Chase Utley-His game is versatile and his power is evident. With stellar blasts of energy and excitement, he burns through pitchers' meager offerings. He hit 33 HR and 41 2B last year. Expect more of the same as his surgically repaired hip will allow him to pivot with the same immense burst as the first half of 2008.

Volcanic Eruption: Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez-Both corner outfielders with enough power to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting opponent populace. Both had .475+ SLG with 20+HR. They will drive in runs and they will make the other team's eat ash as yet another rally is extended by the rumblings of their power.

Sky Cannon: Matt Stairs-One swing, one glorious trip to the stratosphere, one trip around the bases. Stairs cemented his place in Phillies lore with the HR off Broxton in game 5 of the 2008 NLCS. His swing from the heels and make contact with any fastball works well as a pinch hitter off the bench. Lo, the poor two-seamer that enters his path of destruction.

Particle Accelerator: Shane Victorino and Jimmy Rollins-Quickness defines them, but when they get their subparticles to collision velocity, enormous power can result. It's just that their focus is not there. Both had 8+ triples, 10+ HR, and .430+ SLG, showing that speed also brings power to the table. They will advance further by harnessing the field and using footspeed and batspeed to power the way.

Corvette Engine: Greg Dobbs-Only obstacles in the roadway (not enough playing time) prevent him from reaching the top capability for the whole season. But with 9 HR in 226 AB and a .491 SLG, maximum effort was attained on each drive. The pistons are always primed and ready to overcome the friction of a right handed pitcher.

Ocean Cruiser: Pedro Feliz and Chris Coste: Can hit HR at a fairly good clip (9 HR in 274 AB for Coste and 14 HR in 425 AB). For them, it will seem like nothing is happening in the power department for weeks at a time, and then the engines are turned on to bypass the treacherous currents of opposing pitchers. Pop-ups and dead periods are the price to pay for manning such an unwieldy vessel.

Living Room Light: Carlos Ruiz and Eric Bruntlett: No power to speak of, but will help the team in other ways. Can hit the occasional HR to provide dim glow over stadium crowd.