On The Edge Blog

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Gotta love some February trash talk!

Oh Carlos Beltran, nobody likes a copycat!

It seems that the Mets' center fielder Carlos Beltran wishes he were as cool as National League MVP Jimmy Rollins, because he's suddenly making predictions about who the "team to beat" is in the National League East.

I'm going to be a little delusional here and assume that Beltran read my column last week, in which I broke down the two team's rosters and deduced that the Phillies came out on top even after the Mets added Johan Santana. That has to be the reason he made the following prediction.

He told the New York Daily News, "With him [Johan Santana] now, I have no doubt that we're going to win in our division...So this year, to Jimmy Rollins, we are the team to beat."

Last year, Jimmy Rollins declared the Phillies as the team to beat in the National League East, and it took six months for the Phillies to reach the top of the division, but they made it there on the final weekend of the season.

Jimmy Rollins did not respond back to Beltran's claim, having already made his prediction for 2008: 100 wins for the Phillies.

Last week, I compared the Phillies to the Mets; this week brings the more important comparison of the 2008 Phillies versus the 2007 Phillies.

So, are the Phillies capable of reaching 100 wins?

The 2007 version of the Phillies won 89 games last year. Are the 2008 Phillies 11 wins better than last year's team?

Starting in the bullpen, the 2008 Phillies are worlds ahead of the 2007 group of relievers.

First of all, the closer position belongs to a healthy player (Brad Lidge) instead of Tom Gordon. Flash blew three out of his first eight save opportunities without throwing a curveball, and then was shut down for nearly three months with arm trouble. Since taking over for Billy Wagner as Houston's closer in 2004, Lidge has converted between 80 and 85 percent of his save opportunities, so that's one or two more wins right there.

Then looking at the rest of the bullpen, Antonio Alfonseca will not be closing (blowing) games in red pinstripes this season. Old 12-fingers blew three of his 11 save opportunities when Brett Myers and Tom Gordon were on the disabled list, so add another win there and we're up to 92 wins.

Overall, the bullpen is improved from last year. Lidge, Gordon, J.C. Romero (a full season), Ryan Madson, and Chad Durbin sure look better than their counterparts at the start of last season, which included Geoff Geary and Alfonseca.

Now to the starting pitching.

Cole Hamels should improve in his second full season in the league, but 15 wins are a nice conservative estimate. Jamie Moyer has pitched at least 199 innings in nine out of the last ten seasons, so his production should be similar to last year's numbers. Adam Eaton can't possibly be worse than last year (I hope), or Kris Benson or another Kyle Kendrick-type call-up will replace him. Kendrick, who put up ten wins in 2007, gets a full season to show what he can do. Considering he replaced the pathetic one win that Freddy Garcia contributed in the first two months of last season, figure an extra two or three wins in that spot.

Now for the big upgrade: Brett Myers. How many wins is a full season of Brett Myers worth over the group of scrubs that trotted out to the mound last year? A rough estimate is five to ten wins. An all-star season makes him worth 12 extra wins, but that's pushing it for a guy switching back from a closer to a starter. If Myers can put up 15 wins in 2008, the Phillies should be able to reach triple digits in the win column.

The Phillies' pitching staff is improved, but is the lineup?

Aaron Rowand, and his 27 homers, is gone, but he'll be lucky if he's half as productive in 2008 for the Giants as he was in 2007. Taking his place is Geoff Jenkins. Jenkins won't produce as well as Rowand did, but that should be balanced out by inserting Pedro Feliz's bat in place of the Wes Helms/Abraham Nunez/Greg Dobbs black hole that occupied the hot corner in 2007.

Now for the biggest wild card of them all: Can the Phightins fight off the injury bug?

Last year, the Phillies had enough injuries happen to key players to last a decade, let alone one season. I don't need to go through the entire list, but among the casualties were Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, Cole Hamels, Brett Myers and Tom Gordon.

For starters, Ryan Howard should be able to avoid his trip to the disabled list because his offseason bulk this year is in his shoulders and not his stomach. Cole Hamels swears his injury last year was avoidable, and the Phillies responded to his claims by getting him his own chiropractor, so hopefully he can stay healthy. On the downside, Chase Utley is a gamer, so he won't start ducking out of the way of fastballs targeting his wrists, and Tom Gordon is even older than last year, so we can probably mark them down for infirmary visits in 2008.

My overall guess for the Phillies is less injuries to key players, and better pitching all around. That has to be worth 11 more wins. Right?

No matter what, isn't it great to have some real hope, instead of our normal February false expectations?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Don't crown the Mets just yet

I hope you have February 14 circled on your calendars, because it is one of the most important days of the year.
No, not Valentine’s Day! Although, happy Valentine’s Day, Ashley! (That’s how you score major relationship points.) I’m talking about the day that Phillies pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater, Fla., for spring training!
And the biggest story line of the Phillies spring training is how are they possibly going to topple the juggernaut New York Mets and their left-handed savior Johan Santana, despite being the actual defending National League East champions.
Now I’d be stupid to say that the Mets didn’t improve by trading for Santana, but they didn’t jump the Phillies in talent like some members of the New York-centric media would have you believe. In fact, Santana wasn’t even the best pitcher to change teams this off-season. That title belongs to Dan Haren, who was traded from the A’s to the Diamondbacks.
Santana, while great in the past, was quite average last year, going 15-13 with a 3.33 ERA. In comparison, the Phillies ace, Cole Hamels, went 15-5 with a 3.39 ERA, while playing in the beer league softball field known as Citizens Bank Park.
What makes me so confident that Santana is on his way down, and that the Mets just paid more than $150 million for a pitcher whose best years are behind him? Look at the more “statistical” numbers. Wins and losses are about the team more than anything the pitcher does (remember Eric Milton’s 14-6 record with the Phillies in 2004?). But stats like K/BB, batting average against, slugging percentage against, and on-base percentage against are where you find out the true value of a pitcher.
Each year since Santana’s lights-out 2004 season, his batting average against, slugging percentage against and on-base percentage against have gotten worse. His K/BB numbers have gotten worse each of the last two seasons, as well.
So what does this all mean? This means that hitters are starting to figure out Santana, and that his fastball/change-up combination isn’t as devastating as it once was.
More importantly, when the Phillies traded two spare parts and a never-will-be for Brad Lidge, the Phillies made the better move to bolster their starting rotation.
Santana is replacing Tom Glavine in the Mets rotation, while making Brett Myers a starter means that guys like J.D. Durbin, J.A. Happ, and Fabio Castro won’t make starts for the Phillies. That’s a big difference. While Glavine is well past the prime of his career, the difference between Santana and Glavine is smaller than the difference between Myers and those random guys the Phillies threw out there every fifth day. I’m not saying that Myers is better than Santana, but it is more of an upgrade for the Phillies.
In 2008, Hamels and Myers should out-perform Santana and an aging Pedro Martinez. The rest of the starting rotations are a toss-up, as neither team knows what it will get from the likes of Kyle Kendrick, Jamie Moyer, Orlando Hernandez, John Maine, Adam Eaton, and Oliver Perez. I’d give the edge to the Mets on the back-end of the rotation, so that makes the two teams pretty even in starting pitching.
You know what? While I’m in the comparing mood, let’s look at the rest of the rosters!
On quick glance, Chase Utley, the Phillies second baseman, and David Wright, the Mets third baseman, cancel each other out. Both players are perennial MVP candidates and produce similar numbers. (This means I’ll compare Pedro Feliz to Luis Castillo in the breakdown.)
First base: Ryan Howard vs. Carlos Delgado
I have to give a big edge to the 2006 National League MVP. On a down year, RyHo smacked 47 homers and drove in 136 runs. In comparison, Delgado hit just 24 homers and drove in 87 runs. Our big fella even batted 10 points higher, and was 59 points better in on-base percentage.
Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins vs. Jose Reyes
How could I possibly go against the reigning National League MVP? Both players are lead-off hitters, and the only category that J-Roll doesn’t dominate Reyes is stolen bases (78 for Reyes, 41 for Rollins). The rest of the categories fall in J-Roll’s column. Rollins hit for a higher average, had 18 more homers, 47 more RBIs, 20 more runs scored, 8 more triples, and won a Gold Glove Award!
Second/Third base: Pedro Feliz vs. Luis Castillo
This one is a toss-up. The Phillies’ new third baseman hit 22 homers last year. In comparison, the Mets’ second baseman hit a total of just 25 extra-base hits, but Castillo makes up for that with a consistent .300 batting average. Both are considered to be top players defensively at their respective positions. Castillo has won three Gold Gloves since 2003, and Feliz led all third basemen in the NL in fielding percentage last year.
Catcher: Carlos Ruiz vs. Brian Schneider
This one is a complete toss-up. Neither player could break a piñata with a Louisville Slugger, let alone carry a baseball team offensively, and last year, each player hit just six homers and drove in 54 runs. Ruiz batted 24 points higher, but Schneider is a career .252 hitter, so one season with a higher batting average isn’t enough to give the edge to Ruiz offensively. Schneider is considered to be the better defensive catcher, but both players threw out 31 percent of base-stealers last year, so it’s another statistical tie. Let’s just say that if either player is being mentioned in September as carrying their team, neither squad is headed for the playoffs.
Center field: Shane Victorino vs. Carlos Beltran
Big edge to the Mets here. Carlos Beltran is one of the best center fielders in the game. Victorino gets the edge in stolen bases, but that’s about it. Beltran is good for 30-40 homers per year, more than 100 RBIs, and is a true five-tool player.
Left field: Pat Burrell vs. Moises Alou
If Alou was five years younger, this would be Alou in a landslide, but he’ll turn 42 this year, and hasn’t played more than 100 games in a season since 2004. Pat Burrell, who frequently hears the boos from the Philly faithful, has hit 91 homers and driven in 310 runs in the last three seasons. As much as we may not like him, he gets on base and brings guys home when there are ducks on the pond. I can only count five other left fielders that I would choose over Burrell: Manny Ramirez, Matt Holliday, Carlos Lee, Barry Bonds (yep, if it meant a championship, I’d take Bonds on my team), and Alfonso Soriano. If Alou plays a full season, the edge goes to Alou, but if he can’t reach triple digits in games played, the edge goes to Pat the Bat.
Right field: Geoff Jenkins vs. Ryan Church
Jenkins is a proven right fielder who will give the Phillies 25 homers and 80 RBIs in 2008. The Mets are hoping that Ryan Church can turn into an everyday player and give them 15-20 homers after they let Shawn Green walk and traded Lastings Milledge. Edge to Jenkins.
Bullpen: Brad Lidge, Tom Gordon, J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson vs. Billy Wagner, Aaron Heilman, Duaner Sanchez
After watching the first five months of last season, it’s hard to believe it, but the Phillies actually have a solid bullpen! Tom Gordon and J.C. Romero were unbelievable last September, but Gordon is 40 years old, so it’s hard to say for certain what he’ll do this year. Brad Lidge should step comfortably into the closer role for the Phillies, and Ryan Madson was having an excellent season, with a 3.05 ERA, before ending the year on the disabled list. For the Mets, Billy “the Rat” Wagner is still one of the best closers in the game, but it is pretty shaky in front of him. Other than Heilman, who is essentially a healthier version of Madson, there isn’t much there to bridge the gap between the five-inning starts of Pedro and El Duque to Wagner. Edge to the Phillies...slightly.
So what did we find out? The Phils are better at first, second, shortstop, left field, right field, and in the bullpen. The Mets come out on top at third and center field. It’s a toss-up at catcher and in the starting rotation. The overall edge goes to the Phightins!
Most importantly, the Phillies are the defending champions, so it’s still on the shoulders of the Mets to erase last year’s epic collapse and overtake the Phillies. And as the great Ric Flair always says, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man,” and right now the Mets couldn’t beat any man wearing a Phillies jersey, let alone the National League East champion Phillies.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

I Spy A Perfect Collapse

Yes! Finally one of my football predictions came true! I said a few weeks ago that the Patriots wouldn't win the Super Bowl, and it actually happened!
Why couldn't the Eagles ever prove me right!?!
More important than the block pool I was in or the 12 to 1 odds I had for the Giants (to quote Bill Simmons "You know, if gambling was actually legal") was the fact the Patriots were beaten on the scoreboard, beaten physically, and most importantly, beaten mentally.
And now, I predict, begins the fall of the Patriots dynasty.
Like all dynasties throughout history, over-confidence, corruption, betrayal and age eventually bring down even the mightiest of rulers.
This is the offseason that it all happens to the Patriots. Write this down (or at least remember reading it): the dynasty will crumble.
We just saw the overconfidence stage on Sunday.
During the Super Bowl, several Giants players said that some of the Patriots players weren't even focused on the game, and were talking about which party they were going to after the game ended. They seemed to think that no matter what they did, they would come out on top and didn't have to worry about the game.
Bill Belichick was so over-confident in thinking that the Giants defense couldn't stop his offense, he went for it on fourth and 13 from the 31-yard-line instead of kicking a 48-yard field goal. Naturally, the Giants stopped Brady and the Pats offense and Belichick's boys sputtered the rest of the way.
Next comes corruption: Just before the Super Bowl, Sen. Arlen Specter (RPa.) called out NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for destroying the tapes that showed the Patriots illegally spying on other teams. Specter said that he was concerned about how quickly Goodell destroyed the tapes, and how limited the investigation was when he looked into the matter.
After being spurned in his previous attempts to speak with the commissioner, Specter is now looking to expand his inquiries and question Goodell, Matt Walsh, a former New England employee who may have taped opponents during his years with the Patriots, Bill Belichick, and lastly, Tom Brady, to see if he gained an advantage from any of the videos.
Honestly, I think this is going to be the most devastating blow to the Patriots dynasty. Politicians may look dumb when they are fighting with each other in the House or the Senate, but they certainly don't like being made to look foolish by businesses and normal citizens. Specter, a die-hard Eagles fan, would not have started this fight if he did not believe that he could cause some real damage to the Patriots.
Earlier in the season, Goodell fined Belichick and the Patriots a total of $750,000 and took away the 31st pick in the 2008 NFL draft, but left himself with the ability to further punish New England if more damaging evidence of wrongdoing was discovered.
Considering Goodell didn't investigate anything before 2006 and basically took Belichick at his word that those few tapes were the extent of the cheating, I'm pretty sure that more illegal behavior is bound to be exposed.
After Belichick goes down, New England will be betrayed from the inside.
While obviously not as serious as Brutus' betrayal in Julius Caesar, the Patriots will see several stars jump ship this offseason. Randy Moss and Asante Samuel, both Pro Bowl players, are going to be free agents, and most likely will follow their greed to the highest bidder, leaving the Pats scrambling for a number one cornerback and a number one wide receiver.
Lastly comes age. You can't stay on top forever. The Patriots are an old team. Their linebackers jokingly sit in rocking chairs during position meetings because they are so old. Junior Seau, Teddy Bruschi, and Mike Vrabel - all standout linebackers - could call it quits this offseason or find father time really catching up to them in the coming season. We already saw glimpses of it this year, as those linebackers seemed more vulnerable to the short pass than usual.
Now, I'm not saying that the Patriots aren't going to make the playoffs next year. Any team led by Tom Brady has a chance to contend, but the dynasty is crumbling and they will never be this dominant again.
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Name: Matthew Fleishman, Yardley News Editor
Location: United States

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