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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Premature Phillies Year In Review

Baseball Prospectus has a neat feature where you can see each team's odds of reaching the playoffs, calculated by simulating the remainder of the season a million times and then taking the percentage of the times that team makes the playoffs. You can also see how a team's playoff odds have fluctuated over the course of the season by clicking on each team's name.

The Phillies, as of this morning, were in a tie for the Wild Card lead, and had a 53.6% chance of making the playoffs. When you consider that on July 26, they had bottomed out with a 1.2% chance of reaching the postseason, their turnaround (and the collapse of most every other NL contender) is stunning. And although I am a big fan of statistical baseball analysis, the game also lends itself to the written word. So, with the Phillies more likely than ever before this season to play October baseball, I want to walk you back through the season - both by looking at the playoff odds around the first of each month, and by looking at what my two favorite Phillies blogs, Balls, Sticks, & Stuff and Beerleaguer, had to say about the squad and the news surrounding it.

April 2
Phillies' record: 0-0, 0 GB (NL East), 0 GB (Wild Card)

From Balls, Sticks, & Stuff:
It's a trade that creates some needed depth for the Phillies, who needed some additional power off of the bench from the lefthand side in pinch-hitting situations and as an insurance against injury, or, poor play from Shane Victorino. Most people expect Victorino to be a good player, but no one can say they know he will. In Dellucci, the Phillies know what they are getting.
From Beerleaguer:
The Phillies probably have the best outfield in the National League with this addition of a bona fide four, with Bobby Abreu, Aaron Rowand, Pat Burrell, Dellucci and Shane Victorino manning the yard. They can afford to give the starters more rest, and wouldn't be in terrible shape if one of them went down. The days of Burrell and Abreu playing every single day are over. The Phillies will get more use out of Dellucci than you think.

May 1
Phillies' record: 10-14, 6 GB (NL East), 6.5 GB (Wild Card), Playoff odds: 5.2%

From Balls, Sticks, & Stuff:
Every fan at some point in a long baseball season, has serious doubts about his team, maybe even threatens weakly to not watch them play anymore games. But if you are a Phillies fan, they sure do make it hard to hang in there.
From Beerleaguer:

Winning would certainly help, but good stories wouldn’t hurt, either. Here are a few possibilities.

Phillies call up Cole Hamels: Hamels’ first Triple-A start is the most significant performance this season: 14 strikeouts, 3 hits, 0 runs is heavy at any level. Hamels is known to be tough. Gavin Floyd, by comparison ... more like a wet noodle.

Phillies fire Charlie Manuel: Goes without saying. Axed managers are good press. It’s also significant because it would represent Pat Gillick’s first big "theoretically" uninhibited move.

Phillies release Alex Gonzalez, purchase the contract of Chris Coste: This very, very minor move might be smart baseball more than good print. The cinderella of spring is a catcher who can play first and third. The Phillies have been pulling their starting catcher early to pinch hit, and Coste would offer more insurance. Alex Gonzalez has been a flat dud without any real purpose to the Phils.

June 1
Phillies' record: 27-25, 5 GB (NL East), 2.5 GB (Wild Card), Playoff odds: 14.2%
From Balls, Sticks, & Stuff:

So it's not every year, but it is certainly a theme that rears its ugly head from time to time. What's puzzling is how the Phillies lineup is nearly the same this year as last, yet instead of overachieving with runners in scoring position, now they have trouble.

When you think about it, considering how inefficient the offense has been, and the well-documented pitching woes, the Phillies are doing quite well to have a winning record.

From Beerleaguer:

With speculation the Phillies, Marlins and Yankees are working on a three-way deal that would land Dontrelle Willis in Philadelphia, Pat Gillick addressed the matter yesterday on Comcast. Gillick said a deal at this stage wouldn’t be wise for the rebulding Marlins, who can only demand more for the 24-year-old hurler closer to the trade deadline.

In one rumored deal, the Phils would send either Pat Burrell or Bobby Abreu to the Yankees for prospects and Aaron Small. The Phillies would flip those prospects and a few of their own to the Marlins for Willis.

July 3

Phillies' record: 37-44, 11 GB (NL East), 6.5 GB (Wild Card), Playoff odds: 2.6%
From Balls, Sticks, & Stuff:

If good ol' fashioned bias doesn't motivate you to vote for Bobby Abreu -- or against Billy Wagner -- take a look at the facts:

Bobby Abreu is on pace for 116 RBI, 157 walks, and 30 stolen bases. He is also tied for fourth in the National League in win shares, hits .341 with runners in scoring position, .327 with runners in scoring position with two outs, and overall, nobody gets on base more than Bobby.

From Beerleaguer:
Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Tom Gordon will represent the National League in the all-star game, happening Tuesday, July 11. Bobby Abreu is one of five players vying for the final spot among the Internet fan vote.

It's one of the worst seasons in years, yet the Phillies could send as many as four players to the all-star game.

August 1
Phillies' record: 49-55, 14 GB (NL East), 5.5 GB (Wild Card), Playoff odds: 2.6%
From Balls, Sticks, & Stuff:

"Realistically, I think probably it would be a stretch to think we're going to be there in '07."
~ Pat Gillick, general manager, Philadelphia Phillies

Put that in your pipe and smoke it Phillies phans.

Gillick made the statement after announcing he had dealt Bobby Abreu, one of the best players to ever don the red pinstripes, and Corey Lidle to the New York Yankees for four guys who, if they showed up at your front door, you would ask, "Selling cookies to support the local Little League?"

From Beerleaguer:

A seismic salary dump and a gaggle of unheralded prospects are all that's left as the dust settles on the Phillies trade deadline proceedings. In part one, Beerleaguer analyzes how well the club succeeded in making themselves more flexible as they begin reshape themselves.

I’ll get right to the gist of it: Have the Phillies succeed in making themselves more flexible? The answer is yes, but only to a certain extent. This is a purge that is only getting started, and will likely continue after the season concludes.

However, a look around at the remaining players finds some lingering dead weight that should have been moved right now.

September 1
Phillies' record: 67-66, 15.5 GB (NL East), 1 GB (Wild Card), Playoff odds: 20.5%
From Balls, Sticks, & Stuff:
By blowing a two-run lead in the ninth inning in last night's Phillies' game against the Nationals, thereby spoiling Ryan Howard's historic homerun and a chance for the Phillies to tie for the lead in the NL Wild Card race, Arthur Rhodes has now joined a certain other someone whose name will never appear in this space again.
From Beerleaguer:

If Ernesto clears, the Phillies have announced that Jon Lieber will start in the 1:05 game tomorrow, with Jamie Moyer pitching game two. Scott Mathieson, who was called up along with Eude Brito yesterday, was originally scheduled to pitch tomorrow's game one.

SimonSausages beware: Phillies acquire Randall Simon
In other news, the Phillies have added to their bench yet again by acquiring first baseman Randall Simon from Texas for cash considerations.

September 21
Phillies' record: 79-73, 13.5 GB (NL East), 0 GB (Wild Card), Playoff odds: 53.6%
From Balls, Sticks, & Stuff:
Since Jamie Moyer made his first start for the Phillies on August 22, the Phillies starting pitchers have an ERA of 3.89 with a K/BB ratio of 3.09 and a .722 winning percentage. Interestingly, during that stretch the starters have a 2.91 ERA at home and a 4.38 ERA on the road.
From Beerleaguer:

Myers and Hamels represent perhaps the best September one-two punch in the NL, an amazing feat all things considered. Hamels is a buck rookie who still doesn’t have the starts necessary to qualify for statistical recognition. The other is still tinkering with two pitches, a splitter and a more established changeup. This month, Myers is 2-0 with a 2.40 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. Hamels is 1-1 with a 2.75 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. They have combined to strike out 53 batters in seven games.

These are the types of performances the Phillies will need in October. I can’t believe I just wrote that.

What a freakin' roller coaster ride this team is. The magic number is 11.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Why I Score Baseball Games

I score every baseball game I go to. This makes me something of an anomaly among baseball fans my age. Even the most attentive twenty-something fans don't usually bring a scorebook and pen (and yes, whiteout) along to the game. Most fans my age are there to drink and heckle, and I'm all for this as well, as long as someone's going out to the concourse to get my beer for me. I don't want to miss an at bat.

I still remember one game I went to back in 2003 - the Labor Day game against the Red Sox, memorable to most Phillies fans because of the classic double bullpen collapse. (You can click on the image to see it in greater detail.)I remember it equally because I went with a friend of mine who wasn't a huge baseball fan. She was amused at my panic to make it to Vet Stadium in time for the first pitch, confused when I pulled out the scorebook and pen, and just flat-out stunned later in the game when, after making a mistake, I produced some whiteout and corrected it.

The two questions I get most often about my scoring are, "Do you score every game you go to?" and "Why do you do it?"

The answer to the first question is yes. Occasionally - and this is a very rare occasion - I won't score a game I go to, at least not in person at the game. But I will go back to the game log online and transcribe it into my scorebook so I have a record of it. I've done this only one time that I can recall in at least the last five years, which must encompass over 120 games. The occasion was $2 beer night at a Portland Beavers game earlier this summer; I went to the game with a group of seven or eight people, and it just wasn't going to be feasible to pay close enough attention to the game, let alone all the substitutions.

The answer to the second question isn't as simple. Part of me just does it out of habit and ritual - I've been doing it at least since high school, and now I feel like it would be a shame to stop, since I have such a complete record of every game I've attended. Every single game - major league, minor league, and college - that I've been to since July 1, 2002 is in one of my two scorebooks. I have loose scoresheets from games before that.

Another reason I do it is because one day, I want to be able to show my kids/grandkids/friends/etc. the books. I think it's really cool to look back at a scoresheet from years ago and see the names of the players, some obscure, some Hall of Famers, and see how they happened to fare on some random day. I'm not the only one - take a look at Jane Leavy's excellent biography of Sandy Koufax, A Lefty's Legacy, and you'll see that between the epigram and the table of contents, before the book even begins, is a copy of the scoresheet from Koufax's perfect game. You could also check out Paul Dickson's The Joy of Keeping Score, which directly addresses exactly what I'm talking about.

Koufax's perfect game is a perfect example of another reason I score games - because you never know what you'll see. In my books are the All-Star Game tie from 2002,and a 2005 Spring Training game where a player hit a grand slam and then passed a runner on the basepaths; he was credited with a three-run single and an out.

I bring this all up because the last two games I've attended happened to feature some of the rarest events you could see on a baseball field.

On August 26, I was in Long Beach to see a Golden Baseball League game between the San Diego Surf Dawgs and the Long Beach Armada. Independent minor league teams are prone to gimmicks - the Armada earlier this season featured Jose Canseco as a knuckleballer - and so with both teams already eliminated from the playoff race, the Armada attempted to make pro baseball history by becoming the first team to play two players in all nine positions during a single game. Take a look at the positions listed for Randall Shelley and Jason Collette:

Then, last night, I was at Dodger Stadium to witness something even rarer than a perfect game or an unassisted triple play - I watched the Dodgers bang out four homers in four at bats to erase a four-run lead in the bottom of the ninth. Ironically, I had been rooting for Marlon Anderson to get one more at bat so he could go for a double to complete the cycle; he ended up being the one to hit the fourth homer. As you might have heard, Nomar Garciaparra then followed up with a walk-off homer in the 10th, rewarding the crowd that didn't try to beat the traffic with the most exciting Dodger Stadium moment since Kirk Gibson's homer in the '88 Series.

See the note in the upper right? It's been over 40 years since four batters have left the yard back-to-back-to-back-to-back. I think it would be cool to see the scorecard from May 2, 1964, when the Twins were the last team to do it.

And that, dear reader, is why I score games. Because 40 years from now, that might not have happened again, and I will be able to look at a scorebook from 2006 and recount the time when [possible] Hall of Famers Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Kent, and Trevor Hoffman all were involved in one of the wildest, improbable come-from-behind victories in baseball history.

And yes, this is my way of bragging that I was there.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


I've done a lot of complaining (mostly not in this forum) about the quality of announcers and talking heads on television in recent times. I was raised on old-school Philly announcers like Harry Kalas, Merrill Reese, and Gene Hart, so I'm partial to their no-nonsense, call-it-like-it-is approach to games. In Los Angeles now, I don't listen to Vin Scully nearly as much as I should. He's perhaps the best I've ever heard. Those are the guys I really like.

On the other hand, there are the uninformed out there, which FireJoeMorgan.com does an excellent job skewering. Its namesake, in particular, is the chief culprit. In fairness, he didn't refute the notion that Vin Scully is the best announcer in one of his ESPN.com chats (dissected here), but as is his wont, he also didn't answer the question as to who the best announcer is.

There are also those whose shtick has worn so thin you can see through it. Chris Berman is the prime example of this, although there are many others. (Stu Scott, and to a lesser extent, John Madden and Woody Paige come to mind. Yes, I know ripping Madden is almost heresy, but his video game makes him much more of a legend than his announcing, or even his coaching, at this point.) I was not looking forward to seeing Berman at halftime of the late Monday Night game last night, because I knew we'd be faced with "Woop!" and "The Rrrrrrrraaaaideeeeehs" and myriad dumb nicknames. Admittedly, as my mom was eager to point out in Berman's defense, I used to love the nicknames. That was also in the early '90s, when I also wore sweatpants to middle school on a daily basis.

The well has run very dry for Berman and his nicknames. For example, he called the Redskins' Ladell Betts "Ladell 'Dickey' Betts" tonight. That is not a nickname. That's just taking someone else's name (Allman Brothers Band guitarist Dickey Betts) and putting it in there. That's about as creative as if I called Donte' Stallworth "Donte' 'John' Stallworth." For god's sake, at least call him something like "Place Your" Betts. At least that's a commonly used phrase. It's no worse than "Jake 'Daylight Come And You Gotta' Delhomme," which is particularly stupid, because the lyrics to the Banana Boat Song go "Daylight come and I wanna go home." Not "You gotta go home." Woop!

And finally, although I like Tony Kornheiser very much on PTI, I'm just not a fan of him in the broadcast booth. Why? Because it's gimmicky, just like it was when MNF tried to put Dennis Miller in the booth. What's wrong with some actual football analysis?

This is why I loved tonight's MNF B-team of Brad Nessler, Ron Jaworski, and Dick Vermeil. Nessler called the game straight. Jaworski and Vermeil are terrific analysts, and they were much more articulate than certain other athletes-turned-color-men. (You talk about awful color analysts, Joe Theismann is an awful color analyst. If you noticed, in tonight's game, sideline reporter Bonnie Bernstein said "You talk about..." as she led into a report - and Jaws and Vermeil had actually been talking about the report's subject! I was stunned to hear the phrase used appropriately.)

Apparently I wasn't the only person who was impressed with the Nessler-Vermeil-Jaws team. I really hope ESPN gets enough positive feedback on that crew that the trio gets some good announcing gigs.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

"As Lonely As Paris Hilton In A Mormons Service"

I can't believe I only just discovered this. It's the Bill Simmons Column Generator, which was linked on Deadspin over the summer, when I was only reading sporadically in between Volcanoes games and drinking beer.

I created my own Simmons column, which I would like to share with you.

The Sports Guy Goes to an Auction

So I'm sitting there the other day watching ESPN2 and I see that Bobby Abreu had a great game. There is nobody, with the possible exception of Grady Little, that I dislike more than Bobby Abreu. In the pantheon of people that 'Make the Sports Guy the guy who's playing short in Boston right now,' these two are a 'the guy who's playing short in Boston right now.

The phone rings. It's my friend Bish. outraged! Bish is always willing to discuss our mutual distaste for Bobby Abreu. Don't get me wrong--we respect his abilities. But he's the the guy from King of Queens of sports. Totally annoying, yet on TV all the time. Bish mentions that it would be nice if Bobby Abreu caught a case of herpes at the beginning of September, paving the way for the Red Sox to the playoffs like Mack Strong on the clear.

Bish points out that the chances that Bobby Abreu will come down with herpes in September are minimal, but that if we expanded the possibilities, there would be a greater chance for debilitating success. As usual, Bish is a crazy genius.

Here is what we came up with:

4. Bobby Abreu receives a vicious Suplex from Tim Wakefield in front of 40,000 fans jammed into Bright Arena.

(On a side note, has there ever been a greater moment in sports than when when the guy hit the other guy with a chair? I don't even care if it was fake, that was sweet. That rivals when when Ray meets his Dad for 'Most Inspiration Non-Real Sports Moment 2006.)

3. Bobby Abreu is informed by his wife that their child was not fathered by him but rather by either Chris Reitsma or Ed Wade.

2. Bobby Abreu hangs scrapbook-style clippings of Ian Ziering and Daniel LaRusso in his locker and is immediately put on the DL.

1. Bobby Abreu meets Ryan Seacrest from American Idol, falls in love, and leaves team to begin filming 'My Fair Yankee.'

After we finish with the conversation about Bobby Abreu we turn ourselves to the real topic of conversation, the upcoming draft of the Michele Tafoya is Sexy Memorial Baseball Association, a new fantasy league that Bish and I will be joining this year.

Ordinarily, I'm never an advocate of partnering up to own a fantasy baseball team. That's like getting picked up by Heather Mitts and going back to her place, only to find out that Shawn Kemp is already there. If the best you get is to share, sometimes it's not worth it at all, right?

However, this league only had one slot open, so Bish and I agreed to partner up, in the hope that one of us could switch over and manage the next vacancy. After much debate, and eliminating the excellent possibilities of 'Naked Trivial Pursuit with muffins' and 'Mike Fetters's Shiny boozes as potential team names, we settle on 'Flop The Nuts.'

The thing that's exciting about this league is that it's an auction format league, which is totally different than a draft league. I mean, it seems as though it would be the same as a draft league, but it's not. It's like the difference between NHL 93 and NHL 94-you take out fighting and add one-timers, you've got a whole different game, even if they are both hockey. Any good sports fan knows that undefined but not everyone knows how to do an auction.

Pre-Auction preparation is important. First, it is important to choose a date when the auction will take place. This is easy. Choose the date when the whipped guy does not have to watch chick flicks, and that's your date. Finding the whipped-guy-can-make-it date is crucial for auction success. (speaking of which, what is with all these girlfriends who think that 'fantasy draft' is code for 'I'm going to have my buddies over to watch The Cars perform songs by Curtis Pride while I foot massage? Though that would be cool.)

Next, and more difficult, is the auction location selection. Many times people will choose to have their auction in a the bar. This is a bad idea. Nothing good can come of this; at the end of the day every person in the room is going to be hell yeah! and have an extremely sore undefined after four hours.

No, the auction must be held in someone's house-biggest furnished basement wins. The coolness of the wife/significant other can be a deciding factor if two people have similar options-say, if owner A has a NHL 06 arcade game, but owner B has a case of PBR. Nothing will kill a fun evening faster than the host's wife emasculating him with a 'Why don't you tell your friends that?.' We have selected next Tuesday night, at 8 pm, at a guy's house where his wife will be in going to the bathroom together, and therefore unable to disrupt the festivities.

I will not be sharing with you my player ratings for this coming season-after all, Ben Fineman doesn't play poker with the hand face up-but I will give you some insight into my auction strategy. The thing is, an auction has so much more of an influence on your season than a draft does. In an auction, every player in the league is at your disposal. Everyone starts out equal. It's the libertarianism of fantasy sports.

It's also like a triathlon. It requires endurance, it requires stamina, it requires concentration and planning. Without further ado, here is my 'Sports Guy Auction Strategy Guide':

Round One-get him with the jab

Once the auction starts, timing and strategy are much more important than they are in a traditional draft. The first hour or so of the auction has to be spent feeling out your opponents. Are they particularly loyal to the San Diego Padres? Do they have a tendency toward sarcasm? You are looking for weaknesses that you can exploit later on. Store these like reciepts

Here is a good place to test people by chucking out a few names of guys you-d never want on your team-aging, oft-injured players, like Ken Griffey Jr., or over-hyped rookies that will never pan out like Travis Lee.

Everyone is going to get some good players at this point, so make sure you don-t overpay and find yourself begging for money like Turtle asking for Vinny Chase's AMEX Black.

Round Two-Have a Sense of economics

In round two, there will be one moment that defines your draft. Things will be going along smoothly, and all of a sudden you'll get involved in a bidding war on a player. It's not unlike a big pot in a no-limit hold-em tournament-you'll have your Warden Norton-Andy Dufresne in the Shawshank Redemption moment, and you need to decide what to do.

Oftentimes, this will come down to a single dollar, here or there-if you bid $40 for David Wells, you know you'll get him, but you're facing a bid with the clock ticking. Are you going to be a hero, carried off the field like Aaron Boone? Or are you Rich Kotite, skulking off the field into the jeering history of your team's fans, with only your family still willing to speak with you. Now is your moment. Set the tone.

Round Three-Moving Day

Hour three of the draft is moving day, like the third day of The Memorial. You need to shoot a 68. This is where you'll fill out a lot of the players that, while less smoking, make up the core of your team. Do not discount the importance of moving day. If you wait until the next phase to build the core of your team, you'll find yourself as lonely as Paris Hilton in a Mormons service.

Moving day is the time to make things happen for your team. This is where you are going to define the season that you have. If you end up moving day by taking an accurate mix of future stars, injury-risk players, and the guy who's playing short in Boston right now, you'll be okay.

Round Four-The Game of Trivial Pursuit

By the end of the fantasy auction, the endeavor has become longer than my...well, it's a long. The only thing it can be compared to is a game of Trivial Pursuit, played among friends. Something that, at the beginning of the endeavor, seemed like such fun, but by the end of it, is just a group of people banging their heads against the wall, adamantly trying to finish what they started, the joy of competing against your friends replaced with a desire to prove that you are the Duke of All Trivia and that is that.

In this phase of the auction, you must be careful. This is the 'Do I fuckin' amuse you?' moment of the draft. People will be exploding like volcano, screaming incomprehensible things like Bernie Mac and threatening to seethes if they do not get their way.

Just bite your lip, set your jaw, and try and endure. It's a long season coming forward.

'Hey everyone! Come see how good I look!'

Oh, and speaking of Deadspin, check out who was the runner-up in their Minor League mascot of the year contest. Cheers!