Drew Fairservice: February 2010 Archives

chimp-piggy-back.jpgPersonal commentary among our beloved beat grunts is at an all-time high. Fans received an unprecedented amount of information from the hard-working scribes stationed in the southern reaches of our continent. In between regaling us with epicurial exploits or inundating us with photos of anyone in team-branded merchandise, team-specific writers serve up a daily dose of spring training tropes. While The Best Shape of His Life story is a well-worn and well-documented story shell, the growth of Proclamation of Greatness/Feigned Awards Outrage story is a personal favorite of mine.

Marvel at the bravery of Yankees manager Joe Girardi, as he not only predicts a Gold Glove in Robinson Cano's future, he laments the voters egregious oversight in 2009.

The thing about seeing your players all the time, I had a chance to see what he did on a daily basis and I find it hard to believe that anyone played better than he did

Shocking! The guy you watched every day appeared better in your eyes than the guy you shot sidelong glances at two or three times last year! The delicious irony of Derek Jeter's manager praising anyone's ability to go to their right is too much for me to take.

You might be shocked to learn Tony La Russa was once a lawyer, but it's true! As such, he's accustomed to building strawman arguments and telling absolute fabrications to the faces of loved ones. When asked about the hotly contested Cy Young race of 2009, La Russa couldn't resist using the media filter to prop up his rotation mainstays:

"I was very disappointed," La Russa said. "Lincecum is a great pitcher but in this particular year I don't think he outpitched our two guys. We've already turned the page on that one but it was disappointing."

You hear that, two excellent pitchers at the top of your game? You manager, the venerable field manager is in your corner! Remember that when he's yanking you for a key lefty on lefty matchup in the bottom of the fourth inning during a six run game.

The defense matters gospel continues to sweep its way across the baseball landscape. While some see it as a great way to support and protect a virginal pitching staff; others, like Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd, think defense is reason enough to hoist hotshot shortstop Troy Tulowitzki into the National League MVP discussion. "If they look at the whole picture, yes," said O'Dowd. While Tulo does play a more important position than incumbent Albert Pujols, his numbers will never, ever measure up to the King. WAR and the assorted evaluative metrics include defense and positional adjustments yet Pujols still rises head and shoulders above plucky Tulowitzki.

Matt Kemp's story is a little different. While not being anointed a potential MVP from within his organization, writers the nation over recognize the five-tool greatness of the Dodgers centerfielder. Sage old media handler Joe Torre did what he does best when asked about Kemp's off-field exploits: he referred to Derek Jeter.

I had Derek Jeter and I remember calling him in after his first year about the fact that he was single, the city of New York and all that stuff," Torre said. "He assured me that his priorities were in order and they were."

While Derek Jeter's never been so fortunate to win an MVP, he has won numerous undeserving awards throughout his storied career, so Kemp is in good company. Kemp is also in the company of Troy Tulowitzki and countless other excellent National League stars who'll never sniff an MVP so long as Albert Pujols is around. Something not entirely lost on the coaches and GMs who seek to praise their never-to-be officially recognized charges.

pinkbeard.jpgWhile the beat writers assigned to the 29 other teams in baseball prepare their "Best Shape of His Life!" articles, the Phillies scribes find themselves amidst a crash course in Halladay Lore 101. The stories of the legendary work ethic and dedication to fitness are flying out of Lakeland, sending Phillies fans and bloggers into a tizzy from which they'll never recover. The stories of leadership by example and the positive impact on the rest of the team are the kind of P.R. you just can't buy. Luckily for the good people of Philadelphia, all the stories are true. The man really is larger than life.

This site has strayed from its "pandering to our dedicated Phillies readership" core values for too long, so why not throw the doors wide open? After carefully gauging the early, measured returns on Twitter and around the internet by a typically reserved and pessimistic group of diehards, let's indulge in some baseless speculation. How many Ws might Roy Halladay have beside his name come October? Could it be a significant number like 20 or even 30?

Likely? Not even remotely. Possible? Maybe. Many things work in the favor of Roy Halladay, the Phillies, and people who like round numbers. Coming to an inferior league is certainly one of them. Facing a pitcher or guy not good enough to start at least twice a night doesn't hurt. Exchanging 4-5 starts versus the Yankees for 4-5 starts against the Mets (Halladay versus Francoeur &mdash the first ever 2 pitch strikeout) can only pad the stats and win total. But there are concerns. Pressing concerns about the worsening nature of things in Philadelphia.

How much will the Phillies miss the steady glovework of one Mr. Pedro Feliz at third base? As a ground ball machine, Halladay relies on rangy glovemen (like former Phil Scott Rolen!) sucking up ground balls. As eternal cynic and Pedro Feliz superfan Robert Iracane tells it, incoming third baseman Placido Polanco hasn't played the hot corner in 8 years. Not to mention another year on the Ibanez odometer, the toll of unfortunate fame and bedazzled t-shirts on Shane Victorino.

Throw in a bullpen in minor crisis mode and you certainly don't have a sure thing. There are only two sure things: one is Halladay. Expect the new ace to perform at his usual levels: maybe a baserunner an inning, 4 strikeouts for every walk, a home run allowed every other start. He'll battle, and he'll scowl, and he'll generally make the CBP a better place to be.

The other sure thing is the Phillies in 2010 will win more games than Halladay's former employers usually did. Roy Halladay took a loss or no decision in 2009 while surrendering 3 or fewer runs 8 times. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard will do their darnedest to see that improve. Personally, I don't think the impact of changing leagues can be overstated. I really, really think Halladay is going to eat up the National League like Kyle Kendrick consuming Roy's sweatbands. I think his strikeouts will go up while his walks go down. A pitcher that prides himself on efficiency and controlling his pitch count can only benefit from a league with less emphasis on "the big inning."

So what do we think will climb higher? His win total or the adulation of an entire region of the eastern seaboard? Is 25 in play? Would 20 be a disappointment or triumph?

WARts and All

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twoheaded.jpgHold on to something solid, I'm going to blow your mind: Ryan Howard isn't good against left-handed pitching. His numbers are bad against the southpaws; it affects the way teams pitch the slugger and all Phillies around him. In our current Golden Age of life-enriching stats, this is a bad thing. The bounty of metrics can meter out exactly how much this lessens his value to the team, but what is lost in all this how great Ryan Howard still is.

This isn't unique to Howard. It seems to me the newfound appreciation of well-rounded players has an ugly side. Namely: players deficient in one particular area are overly denigrated and diminished by hypercritical fans.

Look, we all wish for a local nine staffed exclusively by five tool Chutelys and Beltrans, with Ryan Zimmerman and Evan Longoria duking it out for ABs at the hot corner, but that simply isn't reality. There just aren't that many studs to go around. If anything, the tragic flaw of your garden-variety neighbourhood superstar makes for a more interesting experience. Take Howard, for instance. His line versus left-handed pitching is awful, as stated above. But consider two things:

  1. His violent treatment of right handed pitching.

  2. The overwhelming confidence associated with Ryan Howard facing right handed pitching.

A guy like Howard hits right handed pitching so hard and so well, when he steps in against a poor, unfortunate righty, Phillies fans can't help but assume something good will come of it. Bad at bats versus LOOGYs come and go, but The Fear lives forever. Just ask Jim Rice!

Don't think I've eschewed the statty way or was the recent victim of violent head trauma; evaluative stats are still key to my appreciation of the game, especially when taking a long look at a player's body of work come Hall of Fame time. Nor am I suggesting absolution for extremely limited players like Bengie Molina. I mere suggest (hope for) a separation of church and state. Evaluate players for their contributions without becoming dogmatic and unfeeling.

So let your Pandas swing freely and your Dunns take their ironclad gloves to the field. Jay Bruce forgot how to hit? You'll always have him unleashing frozen ropes from the right field corner. Concerned B.J. Upton fell asleep on second base? He's probably tracking fly balls that haven't yet been hit. The cold, deadness of winter may lend itself to analysis and big picture thinking, but the thoughts of slick double plays, opposite field home runs and headfirst slides into green-grassed outfields keep my heart warm as Spring Training approaches.