Thursday, February 26, 2015

"Pat the Bat" Now Pat the Wall of Famer

During his playing career, Pat Burrell had the nickname 'Pat the Bat' hung on him. 
Now the man who played 9 seasons in the City of Brotherly Love and became one of the most popular ball players in club history despite often being perceived as a disappointment has another title: Phillies Wall of Famer.
On July 31st, Burrell will be formally feted when he becomes the 38th individual honored with a plaque out in Ashburn Alley and a permanent place of remembrance in team history.
Burrell also becomes the first player, the 2nd individual following manager Charlie Manuel a year ago, from the 2008 World Series champs to be so honored.
According to CBS3 in Philly, Burrell released this statement on being informed of the honor: "It’s a tremendous honor and privilege to be added to the Wall next to Philly’s all-time greats. My family and I couldn’t be more grateful for the support from fans. Their votes are the reason that I will now be enshrined in Phillies history.
For the longest time, the former 1st overall 1998 draft pick by the Phillies appeared to be a classic overly self-indulgent, under-achieving professional athlete. 
On the field, the 25-30 homer and 85-90 RBI seasons that he was putting up most years simply seemed short of his potential.
Meanwhile, the team itself was falling short of expectations as it became a regular contender over his first half-dozen seasons in the early to mid-2000's. 
That all finally began to change with the September 2007 rally to an NL East crown, and then was put to rest with the 2008 World Series championship.
Burrell finished 3rd in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2000, following a season in which he had 18 homers and 79 RBI. 
He upped that to 27-89 the following year, and then in 2002, Burrell appeared to really break out. He hit .282 with 37 homers, 116 RBI, scored 96 runs and received votes in the NL MVP balloting.
"It’s a tremendous honor and privilege to be added to the Wall next to Philly’s all-time greats." ~ Pat Burrell
That great 2002 season gave way to a disastrous 2003 in which he batted just .209 and hit just 21 homers. 
However, Burrell battled back with an improved 2004 in the team's first season at Citizens Bank Park, and then became a force again over the next three seasons as the team became a big winner.
In that run to the 2008 World Series crown, Pat Burrell was a key piece of a multi-talented Phillies attack.
He banged a pair of homers in the clincher as the Phils dispatched the Milwaukee Brewers in the NLDS. He homered again in the important opening game of the NLCS, a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Then came the World Series vs the Tampa Bay Rays. Burrell had a giant 0-14 horse collar hanging around his neck when torrential rains led to a suspension of Game 5 with the scored tied at 2-2 headed to the bottom of the 5th.
When the game resumed two days later, it was again tied at 3-3 when Burrell stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 7th. 
In dramatic fashion, he drove a ball to the deepest part of the park in fair territory in dead center field. It clanked off the very top of the wall, missing a go-ahead homer by just a couple of feet.



Burrell rolled into 2nd base with a double, the biggest hit in his Phillies career. As the crowd roared it's appreciation, not just for the hit, but for his career, he was removed for pinch-runner Eric Bruntlett.
Everyone in the ballpark was very much aware that if the Phillies did indeed win this game, with Burrell due to become a free agent in the off-season, this could very well be his final time on the field for the team.
Two batters later, Pedro Feliz smashed a single back through the box, scoring Bruntlett with the go-ahead run. It would turn out to be the World Series-winning run, and Burrell had been the one to get the rally started.
That did indeed turn out to be Pat Burrell's last hurrah in a Phillies uniform, though he would have one more as a member of the team, riding atop a Clydesdale-drawn coach with his bulldog Elvis at the front of the Phillies championship parade.
Pat Burrell
Pat the Bat (arm raised) was always popular with fans, especially the ladies.
Burrell was extremely popular off the field, in and around both Philly and the team's spring home in Clearwater, Florida. 
He was always willing to hang out with fans, and is known to have frequently brought rounds of drinks at local pubs for the entire house.
And his exploits with the ladies are, well, let's just say that the handsome, single, wealthy man was extremely popular with, and accessible to, the fairer sex
He always exuded charisma, with both male and female fans, and what that often undefinable quality is, it no doubt helped his popularity over the years.
Burrell would go on to play in parts of two seasons each with the Rays and the Giants after the Phillies portion of his career ended. He would even win another World Series as a member of the 2010 San Francisco club.
But this summer, thanks first to voting by the fans themselves, and finally to the selection of a reviewing panel, Pat Burrell will take his place among the immortals of one of professional sports oldest franchises. 
He is sure to be joined by a number of his fellow 2008 World Series champs in the coming years. Congratulations, Pat the Bat, on a well-earned and deserved honor.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Ryne's Hope

There is no individual in a Phillies uniform more directly invested in a turning of the page from the 'Glory Years' of the previous decade to a new beginning for the franchise than manager Ryne Sandberg.
Hired to replace Charlie Manuel, who himself had gone from a hick country buffoon in the eyes of many fans to the beloved World Series-winning "Uncle Charlie" in the span of just a couple of seasons, Sandberg has been stuck with the aging, high-salaried nucleus of Manuel's once-great championship team.
Now the Baseball Hall of Famer, who was a winner throughout his minor league managerial career, is looking to mold the Phillies in his style. 
Yesterday, Sandberg welcomed the entire team for the first official day of full squad workouts, and he spoke to them about the direction and manner in which he wants to lead them this season.
"We had a nice meeting this morning, organizationally. We obviously have a lot of new faces in camp so that goes a long way with the new players, recognizing everybody, meeting everybody in the organization. Also, I was able to set some parameters and things that I'm going to be looking for in the spring and some of the priority things. So that was loud and clear."
Those parameters specifically addressed issues that have plagued the team, and which the skipper is determined to change immediately and into the future as long as he is at the helm. 
"We want to be a good baserunning team, we want to be a good situational hitting team." He said that one of the keys will be to stress "doing all the little things right."
"I was able to set some parameters and things that I'm going to be looking for in the spring and some of the priority things. So that was loud and clear." ~ Ryne Sandberg
Doing those little things right consistently - working the count, situational hitting, going the opposite way, taking the extra base, bunting, fielding balls cleanly, proper defensive positioning, hitting cutoff men - consistently well over the course of a full 162-game season will often prove the difference between winning and losing, between getting buried in the standings and contending for the playoffs.
A year ago, the Phillies finished with a 73-89 record and in last place in the N.L. East division. They scored 619 runs and allowed 687 runs against. That 68-run differential was the 7th-worst in all of baseball. But when you break it all down, the reason for his emphasis on those "little things" becomes apparent.
The 2014 Philadelphia Phillies scored an average of 3.82 runs per game, while allowing an average of 4.24 runs per game. That's about a half-run per game difference. 
If Sandberg can find a way for his team to score another run per game and/or allow a run less, by playing more fundamental baseball, then he has a winner instead of the last-place loser that most prognosticators are envisioning.
Sandberg has a guaranteed contract through next year, and an option for the 2017 season. Taking into account all of the circumstances surrounding the team in his tenure thus far, many of which are continuing into this season, he has been given some length to his rope by fans, media, and most importantly by the very management that has publicly proclaimed a rebuild.
While his job does not appear to be in imminent danger, the fact is that he is a professional sports manager. They all have an expiration date. If the 2015 team should collapse, that won't all be laid at the feet of the players. The manager will have to answer for at least a part of such a development.
It was clear from his statements yesterday and in his public attitude that Ryne Sandberg remains hopeful that the Phillies can surprise the fans and pundits, and even their own management in the coming season. 
A big part of his own responsibility will be finding a way to extend his hope to the fans, and the way his team plays will go a long way towards accomplishing that, win or lose.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Chase Utley Fighting Father Time

Over the past two seasons at ages 34 and 35, Chase Utley has effectively managed the bad knees that threatened to end his tremendous career prematurely. 
Moving into 2015 at age 36, there remains an issue that he will find even more difficult to manage, a looming showdown with Father Time.
After losing the first month and a half of the 2011 season, and then almost the entirety of the first three months in 2012, Utley found the proper balance and combination of rest, exercise, and therapy to stay on the field in both 2013 and 2014.
In 2013, Chase played in 131 games, the most he managed since 2009. He topped that a year ago when he played an astounding 155 games, the 4th highest total of his now 12-year career.
In 2013, Utley hit .284 with 18 homers and 64 RBI. Last season he hit .270 with 11 homers and 78 RBI, and returned to the All-Star Game for the first time since 2010.
Today, on the eve of the official reporting date for the 2015 Philadelphia Phillies full squad, Utley addressed reporters in a continuing series of press conferences by the team's veteran core.
"I think we have a much better team than people think...I know the veterans in there haven’t given up." ~ Chase Utley
Much as with the pitchers who preceded him in recent days, Chase seemed upbeat and unwilling to concede a season that pundits, fans, and even team management believes is lost before it has even begun.
The Phillies de facto leader now that his longtime doubleplay partner Jimmy Rollins has moved out to their native California, addressed the loss of the franchise icon: "He taught me a lot, he helped me out. I thought we made each other better."
As with those previous press conferences, the issue of a potential trade during the season was introduced. And as with the pitchers, Chase said that he would deal with any situation if such actually materialized, but for now was focused only on helping the 2015 Phillies to overcome the naysayers.
Chase Utley
After a dozen seasons, Chase plays his first without Jimmy. (Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
Utley then went on to mimic the positivity of those pitchers with his various comments in the presser: “I think we have a much better team than people think...we have two number one guys at the top of our rotation...we all know that we have a very good bullpen. We’re going to filter in some younger guys offensively, give them a chance to play a little bit more, see what they can do....I’m not counting ourselves out whatsoever...I know the veterans in there haven’t given up."
The 2nd baseman, who has played for no other team in his big league career, remains a fan and organizational favorite. 
In fact, right now he is easily the most popular player on the Phillies roster. “I really enjoy playing with this organization, they’ve done a lot for me, personally...I want nothing more than to play for this organization for as long as I can."
This 2015 season is potentially his final one in a Phillies uniform. It is the last guaranteed season in his contract. He has $15 million vesting options for each of the next 3 seasons as well, but those will each only kick in with his reaching 500 plate appearances in the preceding season.
Reaching those 500 plate appearances and guaranteeing another season, and another $15 million contract, will get increasingly harder as Father Time continues to battle the player christened "The Man" by the late beloved broadcaster Harry Kalas.


Chase now begins moving into his upper-30's, a time when time runs out for almost all ball players. Phillies fans need to realize this, appreciating and enjoying every game that he is able to continue beating the clock. 
One of these seasons, maybe this coming season, the last of the sand will finally run out of his career hour-glass. One thing is certain: Chase Utley will not go down without a fight. 
Utley believes that the team can surprise. He believes that he, Ryan Howard, and the pitching staff still have some tricks up their sleeve, still can perform at a high level. Wouldn't it be wonderful if he is right, and all the pundits and critics wrong?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Phillies Arms Agreement

Over the last three days, three different Phillies veteran pitchers sat at the dais in Clearwater to answer reporters questions. 
Cliff Lee on Thursday, Jonathan Papelbon on Friday, and Cole Hamels on Saturday have differences in their individual situations, but also share some important similarities.
An unbiased examination, without any agenda regarding the media-driven storyline of distraction and awkwardness at this Phillies spring training, of what the three actually said shows that they are basically in agreement.
The three pitchers have all been involved in trade speculation during the off-season as Phillies brass publicly acknowledged an intentional move away from high-salaried older players towards a complete rebuilding effort.
But in their statements and in their answers to reporters questions, they all are on the same page. They want to win, they have confidence in the talent here, they all remain intensely competitive and unwilling to concede to deterioration in their individual effectiveness, they all have enjoyed their time in Philly and look forward to that continuing.
"I'm going to do everything I can to help this team win. Hopefully, we're contending and hopefully, we're in the World Series in Philadelphia." ~ Cliff Lee
While much attention was paid to Lee's playful use of a 'Magic 8-ball' to field some of the questions, the substance is much more important: "I'm going to do everything I can to help this team win. Hopefully, we're contending and hopefully, we're in the World Series in Philadelphia. I mean that should answer every single trade question I could possibly be faced with until whenever. Because that's the answer."
Papelbon came out for his interview with a "Fan Favorite" t-shirt, a play on his villain role, which has come largely because he has quite often been painfully honest as the team, a contender when he signed, has deteriorated around him.
The veteran closer, acknowledged internally as a solid mentor for the improving young bullpen, said: "I still think we can compete. Is that crazy for me to think that? You tell me. I'm still not so sold on this entire rebuilding. I know that that's one of the things that myself and some of the veterans that are going to be coming into camp want to probably sit down with Pat, Ruben and Ryno."
Then it was Hamels turn: "I've made my home in Philadelphia since the very beginning. This is where I'm fully committed.
He later said: "Right now I know that as we start, I think we're 0-0 — I think everybody's in first place. So you know it's something where we get to do something special. I know from what we all understand, I don't think media has written anything about how we're going to compete and win our division. So it's something for us to take as a group and to go out there and prove to people the type of players that we are."
There has been much speculation in the media in the aftermath of Hamels presser in particular that he was giving political answers. Some in the media just love to get into player's heads, and especially love to put words in their mouths. But the players clearly have their own mouths, and they spoke with them over the last three days.
"I still think we can compete. Is that crazy for me to think that? You tell me." ~ Jonathan Papelbon
All three of these pitchers are veterans. All three are extremely well paid. All three are healthy, if you count Lee's assessment of himself and the stories coming out regarding his bullpen sessions to this point. All three have a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies for 2015. None has demanded or requested to be traded.
Cole Hamels
Cole Hamels wants to win, is preparing to make that happen in Phillly if he stays.
All three also have expressed sincere desires to be with a winning team. There is, of course, nothing wrong or unusual with such a desire.
Everyone knows that Phillies management believes that is not likely to happen here for the next couple of seasons. That management has publicly stated so, and also publicly stated that it wants to move on and rebuild with youth.
The three Phillies pitchers who spoke over the last three days are all prepared to move forward professionally in red and white pinstripes, and to pitch in front of the fans at Citizens Bank Park again in 2015. All will ensure they are ready to do their part to help the team win baseball games.
For a media that wants to get them on record as stating that they want to be traded, that wants to stoke fires of dissension publicly to make for good copy, as Howard Eskin clearly did with Hamels yesterday, these last three days must be very frustrating.
None did anything but act professionally, albeit in a couple of cases with a humorous tinge, speaking of their support for their teammates, and speaking to their affection for the city and the fans here in Philly.
Yes, they know that they can be traded. Yes, they want to win. But all three demonstrated with their words their agreement that the former is out of their hands almost completely. 
They are moving forward, preparing to make the latter happen right here, if at all possible. Now, let's see if the media allows them to prepare in peace. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

What Fans Seem to Have Forgotten About Ryan Howard

There are quite a few fans in the Philadelphia area who seem to have forgotten just how great Ryan Howard was to the Phillies in the last decade. Or, if they do remember, simply don't realize or remember some of the details.
Let's take a couple of minutes to remember.
First, the on-field accomplishments. Ryan Howard was the 2005 National League Rookie of the Year in a season in which he played the entire month of April, and then again from mid-May through the entire month of June, in the minor leagues. He announced his presence with authority, drilling 22 homers and driving in 63 runs in just 348 plate appearances.
He followed that up with his first full MLB season in 2006. The result: a slash line of .313/.425/.659, with a franchise-record 58 homeruns and 149 RBI. 
For that first-year effort, he is named the National League Most Valuable Player, wins the NL Silver Slugger at 1st base, and is an NL All-Star for the first time.
In 2007, pitchers and scouts begin to make adjustments on him. He responds with a 47-homer, 136 RBI campaign. 
While his average drops to what will become a more career-like .268, his on-base percentage remains at a lofty .392 and his slugging of .584 remains among the best in the game. He finishes 5th in NL MVP voting.
Now comes 2008, and 48 more homers, 146 more RBI, and he is 'The Big Piece' in the heart of the order as the Phillies win just the 2nd World Series title in the 126-year history of the franchise to that point. He finishes as the runner-up in NL MVP voting.
Ryan Howard
Howard became 'The Big Piece' in helping lead Phils to '08 world championship.

In 2009, its back to the World Series, thanks in no small part to Howard's 45 homers, 141 RBI and a greatly improved .279/.360/.571 slash line. 
He is an NL All-Star for the 2nd time, finishes 3rd in the NL MVP balloting, and is the Most Valuable Player of the NLCS.
Now comes his 2010, when some say he began to slip. 
Let's put "slip" in perspective during the PED-testing era when power was drastically reduced from the game: his 3rd NL All-Star appearance in a season with 31 homers, 108 RBI, a .276/.353/.505 slash.
Not too shabby by any standard, except perhaps the very lofty one he set for himself over those first five seasons. Oh, and let's remember, he turned 30 years old that year.
In 2011, the Phillies behind the 'Four Aces' rotation win a franchise-record 102 games and the club's 5th consecutive NL East crown. 
But that team could also still hit. At 31 years of age, Howard bangs another 33 homers, knocks in 116 runs, and finishes 10th in the NL MVP voting. 
He may be slipping as he ages, but he's again, for a 7th consecutive season, one of the most feared sluggers in the game.
We all know what happened at the very end of that disappointing 2011 playoff. The horrific injury on the final out of the NLDS. The ankle injury takes away much of his power over the next two seasons, years in which he goes from 32 to 33 years of age.
We also know that the Phillies, looking at that 7-year history of dominance, reward him with a massive contract guaranteed for the next 6 seasons. His injury happens before the contract can even kick into effect. While a decline could be foreseen by anyone, the massive decline caused by the injury could not.
Howard bounces back to some extent, with a 2014 season in which he again seems completely healthy. Of course, now he was 34 years of age. Still, he cranks 23 homers and knocks in 95 runs for a team that has virtually nothing around to support him.


Phillies fans got to enjoy 7 seasons, from 2005-2011, of absolute dominance in the middle of the team batting order from Ryan Howard. 
They gave him standing ovations. They oohed and ahhed over his massive homerun blasts into the furthest reaches of Citizens Bank Park. They wore his red #6 shirsey all over the ballpark every spring, summer, and fall.
Is it possible that everyone has suddenly forgotten all of that, or has completely lost all appreciation for it?
Some are resentful of the contract situation. Let's take another look at that past, on those terms. 
When he was winning Rookie of the Year in 2005, Howard was being paid the major league minimum salary. His 2006 NL MVP campaign? Howard made $355,000 for it. 
How about that '07 follow-up, a top-5 MVP season and the club's first in the playoffs? Howard made $900,000 for that one.
So the Phillies, and we fans, got three huge seasons from Howard for the grand total of about $1.5 million dollars. 
He won $10 million in 2008 and then $15 in 2009 in record arbitration awards, but in viewing his numbers, he was still a bargain. 
And remember this as well: Howard's earning were repressed by the team keeping him in the minors in 2004, when he was clearly ready, because they still had Jim Thome.
The fact of the matter is, yes, the devastating injury that stole his 2012 and 2013 production was an incredible drain on the team. But it was also a freak occurrence that neither he nor the team could see coming. And the fact of the matter is, he also earned that money all the way back in the previous decade.
You can dislike Ryan Howard for whatever your personal reasons may be, but to me they are irrelevant. 
Howard is one of the most important players in the history of the Philadelphia Phillies franchise. He is the 2nd-greatest slugger in team history, and it's greatest 1st baseman. Try to appreciate that legacy before the next time you decide to boo him.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Galvis is the Phillies Stopgap Shortstop

One of the least discussed and yet most important and interesting players for the coming 2015 Philadelphia Phillies season is their stopgap shortstop, Freddy Galvis
I've discussed Galvis a couple of times this off-season over at TBOH, and now as spring training opens, it's important to tie it all together.
For the last 14 seasons, Jimmy Rollins came to Clearwater, Florida for spring training as the team's unquestioned shortstop starter, and for a couple of springs prior, there was a countdown of sorts as to when he would take over that position.
For the 1998-2000 seasons, between the '93 NL champs starter Kevin Stocker and the full-time arrival of JRoll, the position was kept warm by Desi Relaford, and for a time by Alex Arias. Everyone knew their limitations. Good gloves, weak bats.
What goes around, comes around. Now, over a decade and a half later, here we go again. Galvis very closely matches a description of Relaford: a couple of years as a big league backup, has shown a good glove and arm on defense, not many offensive tools.
This time around it will be top prospect J.P. Crawford for whom Phillies fans are waiting. Crawford turned 20 years old just last month. Rollins was 21-years old when he was called up and permanently took over as the starter in September of 2000.
"Galvis has been a disappointment so far for the Phillies. He has only hit .218 in 550 career plate appearances, including just .176 last season." ~ Michael Stern, TBOH
The Phils are looking for something similar out of Galvis: a stopgap season or two. Give us a year and a half or so to allow Crawford about 800 more plate appearances and some all-around finishing work in the minor leagues.
With the club publicly acknowledging that it is in rebuilding mode, fans need to keep in mind that much of the rebuild will come not at the major league level, but at AA Reading and AAA Lehigh Valley. 
That is where top prospects like Crawford, Aaron NolaZach EflinRoman Quinn and others will toil for most of 2015, some into 2016. On the field at Citizens Bank Park, meanwhile, the big league Phillies need to continue putting out a team. 
What can fans expect to see out at shortstop now, with the iconic Rollins gone off to chase another championship in Los Angeles? Freddy Galvis, that's what.
As Michael Stern wrote in his TBOH 'Best/Worst Case' piece on Galvis just a couple of weeks back: "Galvis has been a disappointment so far for the Phillies. He has only hit .218 in 550 career plate appearances, including just .176 last season. That is not an encouraging number from the guy who is probably your everyday starter at shortstop."
There is enough of a track record for Galvis to get a firm read on his offensive capabilities. 
In the 3,369 plate appearances that he accumulated across parts of 8 minor league seasons, Galvis hit for a .253/.302/.344 slash line with a grand total of 32 homers, 285 RBI, and 89 steals. He has never hit more than 8 homeruns, and has only reached 20 stolen bases once.
"In 2,739 chances as a minor league shortstop, Galvis committed 72 errors, compiling a .974 fielding percentage. That number is quite high for a shortstop" ~ Ethan Witte, TBOH
In those 550 plate appearances at the big league level with the Phillies over parts of three seasons, his slash line is .218/.259/.362 and he has 13 homers, 55 RBI, and just 2 stolen bases.
It's pretty clear that Freddy can run into a fastball now and then and hit it out of the park. Now and then meaning about once every 2-3 weeks at most. And unless something major changes in his game suddenly, he is not a threat on the bases.
Back in December, our resident stats maven at TBOH, Ethan Witte, also took a look at Galvis
In evaluating him defensively, Ethan noted: "In 2,739 chances as a minor league shortstop, Galvis committed 72 errors, compiling a .974 fielding percentage. That number is quite high for a shortstop, who by the nature of the position, more often than not gets the most fielding chances in the infield."
In the big leagues, albeit always as a backup or injury substitute playing in short stretches of games and seasons, Galvis has upped his defensive game. He has a .994 Fielding Percentage as a shortstop for the Phillies. But that is over an extremely small sample size of 171 chances spread across just 303.1 innings and 41 games.
Now, Freddy Galvis is likely being called upon to start at least 3 times that many games here in the coming 2015 season. 
While we don't know how he might respond to regular, everyday playing time, the now 25-year old likely is what he is: a solid glove, light bat ballplayer.


Phillies fans should expect quality work from Galvis in the field. Jimmy Rollins was a Gold Glove-caliber defender most seasons, winning the award four times between 2007-2012. 
Galvis will be hard-pressed to match that kind of sensational defense, but JRoll's presence will not be missed so much in the field as in the batting order.
The fans should not expect quality work from Galvis at the plate. Our "best case" projection for him came in at a .255 average with 13 homers and 50 RBI. 
While that batting average would be very much in line with what Rollins has produced over the last half-dozen seasons, the power numbers are extremely generous, as projections go.
Freddy Galvis is the Phillies stopgap at shortstop, not the answer or the heir apparent. For now, Phillies fans have to be content with plain vanilla, where for 15 years they got to watch chocolate raspberry with whipped cream and a cherry on top. 
There are worst things than vanilla. I like vanilla. But vanilla at shortstop won't win you many ballgames. Hurry up, J.P. Crawford.