Archive: April 9th, 2008

Willie’s Double Standard

Are pitchers graded on different scales, based on what’s expected of them?

In the SNY postgame after the Mets win over the Phillies, Adam Rubin asked Willie Randolph if judging a performance is specific to the pitcher, and why Pelfrey’s 100-pitch, 5-inning effort was being celebrated while Oliver Perez’s 6-inning, 91-pitch performance was termed “inefficient”. Willie’s explanation was that “it was a different feel”, and that Perez “struggled” during his game while Pelfrey “never struggled”.

Hmmm ….

Not sure I agree 100%. I think that a pitcher who doesn’t struggle at some point in a game, simply hasn’t been in the game long enough or has been lucky. Averaging 20 pitches per inning, as Pelfrey did, is far from efficient. I think he was lucky that he had an early six-run lead that took the air out of the Phillies’ offense. Had it been a closer game, the Phils might have been more focused and worked Pelfrey a bit harder. But that’s speculation.

Personally, I would have (silently) agreed with Rubin — that you grade Perez on a different scale than you do Pelfrey, because you expect Ollie to give you six good innings at minimum, while you have your fingers crossed that Big Pelf can make it past the fourth. At the same time, if I’m Willie Randolph, I can’t say that publicly, because lowered expectations can mess with a kid’s confidence — plus, every player must be handled individually. Pelfrey is a kid who needs positive reinforcement more than anything else, while Ollie is a guy who responds well to being pushed toward perfection. Willie is doing right by both pitchers — Perez needs a push, Pelfrey needs a pull.

There’s a lot more to this game than the numbers.

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Mets Game 7: Win Over Phillies

Mets 8 Phillies 2

Mike Pelfrey is the new stopper …. who’d a thunk it?

Pelfrey threw five full innings, allowing five hits, two walks, and two earned runs, while striking out three and expending exactly 100 pitches. Not an outstanding start, but encouraging and absolutely acceptable from a fifth starter. Too bad he’s a fourth starter right now.

But I don’t want to play down the performance; this is exactly the type of game Pelfrey needed badly to regain his confidence. It’s something he can build on. It’s also exactly what the Mets needed, having lost three straight and nine straight against the Phillies.

Pelf was pitching like a man with a purpose; his body language and focus were outstanding.

And believe it or not, the Mets bullpen didn’t blow it — the relievers threw four innings of shutout ball.

Meanwhile, the offense scored eight runs — on five hits. Phillies pitchers walked nine batters, including 6 bases on balls by starter Kyle Kendrick in two innings of work. All those walks lulled the Philly defense to sleep, and as a result they committed four key errors that led to six earned runs.

With such sloppy play, it’s hard to say the Mets’ offense looked great, but at least they were smart enough to take pitches and get on base. Angel Pagan was the most impressive batter, hitting a double, driving in two, drawing 2 walks, and scoring once.

Notes

Pedro Feliciano looked a little rusty, but nonetheless pitched a scoreless eighth. Carlos Muniz pitched another hitless inning … well done.

Very smart play by Brian Schneider in the bottom of the seventh: while on first base, with one out and Damion Easley on third, Jose Reyes hit a grounder to Chase Utley, and Utley went to tag Schneider but Schneider backtracked, forced Utley to throw to first, thereby also forcing Ryan Howard to tag him for the third out. Before Schneider was tagged, Easley crossed the plate with the eighth run. In a six-run ballgame, it means little, but it nonetheless was very heady baseball.

Jorge Sosa pitched two quick, scoreless innings of relief in his fifth appearance of the year. He is on pace to pitch in 116 games this season.

Carlos Delgado had another base hit to the opposite field, and seems to hit very well with no one on base. Maybe he should be moved up to the two spot. (Kidding.)

In the first two innings, Kyle Kendrick threw a first-pitch strike to 9 of the 12 batters he faced … but walked 6 of them.

Next Game

The rubber match pits John Maine vs. Adam Eaton in another 7:10 PM start on Thursday night.

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Schneider’s Passed Balls

Brian SchneiderMany of you are aware that I’m a catcher and therefore sending me emails about Brian Schneider’s two passed balls yesterday — how can he be such a great defensive catcher yet drop two balls when the supposedly lesser Paul LoDuca dropped two all year?

And no, it can’t be blamed on drinking too much pre-game “Schardonnay”.

First, let me establish that I know a little bit about what I’m talking about here. I caught at the NCAA D-1 level for four years and been banging around in semi-pro leagues for over 15 years since. Many of the pitchers I’ve caught in my life either are, or were, in the Major Leagues. Dozens of others pitched at pro levels around the world. I’ve caught knuckleballers (Jim Bouton), flamethrowers (Joe Borowski, before the arm injuries), and every type in between. That said, I have some understanding of Schneider’s difficulties.

One thing I can say from my experience: it’s a heckuva lot easier to catch most MLB pitchers than most amateur pitchers, because the pros almost always know where the ball is going — often within 2-3 inches. This, however, is the conundrum: when a pitcher is nearly always hitting the target, a catcher can tend to expect the ball to be near the glove.

The second thing I can say is that it can be extremely difficult to catch a guy in a game who you’ve never, or rarely, caught before — particularly if that pitcher has a lot of velocity, a lot of movement, and tends not to hit his target.

Enter Oliver Perez — a guy who throws a 93-95-MPH fastball with lots of movement, and who would not be confused with Greg Maddux when it comes to control. Add in the fact that Schneider missed the bulk of spring training due to hamstring issues, and you have a recipe for passed balls.

Yes, Brian Schneider is getting paid tons of money to catch in the big leagues, so you might say there’s no excuse for two passed balls in one game. However, given his unfamiliarity with Ollie at this stage of the season, I’m willing to give him a break on that first one. It was a 3-0 pitch and Schneider was expecting a straight fastball somewhere near the middle of the plate. Instead, a swerving fastball went running way inside (a wild fastball is much tougher to block / stop than a breaking pitch, because with a breaking pitch you expect the ball to break down or sideways while a fastball is expected to have a truer, or at least consistent, flight path). After looking at the replay, I’ve decided the official scorer made a mistake — it should have been ruled a wild pitch. Generally speaking, however, most scorers refuse to score a wild pitch on a ball that doesn’t first touch the dirt — don’t ask me why.

On the second passed ball — which I also watched on replay several times (gotta love the DVR) — it looked to me like the blame could have been shared between Schneider and Heilman. Before setting up his target, Schneider was leaning toward the inside, I presume to get the batter Shane Victorino thinking that the pitch was going to be inside. Right before Heilman started his motion, Schneider leaned back over to the outside, where he wanted the pitch, but didn’t move his feet. Heilman’s changeup had more movement than usual, and was a good foot or foot and a half off the plate. Though Schneider was already leaning that way, it appeared that he was expecting (or hoping) the ball to take a turn back toward the plate instead of continuing outside. And the way it popped out (and has been popping out), it looks as if he’s using a new glove — but if that’s the case I’d be surprised.

Remember now, Heilman walked Carlos Ruiz to start the inning, and eventually walked Victorino on that at-bat, so his control was off. Although Schneider had previously caught Heilman and knew how his pitches moved, he hadn’t yet caught Aaron on a “bad day”, and may have expected him to be more precise. No excuse for letting that ball get away, but I can understand how and why it happened.

As the season progresses, and Schneider becomes more familiar with the pitching staff and their pitches, we’ll see that he is indeed an upgrade — defensively. Whether he’ll do anything other than hit weak ground balls to the right side, however, is another question entirely.

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More Phrom Phillies Phans

After the Home Opener loss yesterday, I phigured you haven’t heard enough about the Phillies … so herewith more pheedback from Phillies phans, this time phrom Jonathan oph The Good Phight.

1. With the Mets acquisition of Johan Santana, do you see them as the Phillies’ main competition for the NL East title, or are the Braves a more threatening club?

Mets are definitely a more threatening club. The injury to Pedro hurts, but Santana, Maine and Perez (who I thought could compete for a Cy Young 3 years ago) is solid. Hudson seems like the odds are going to catch up with him and Smoltz and Glavine are almost as old as Shea.


2. How do you feel about Brad Lidge in the closer’s role and Brett Myers in the starting rotation? Is this the best use of the team’s arms?

Lidge has the best strikeout rate in the history of the game for a pitcher that has thrown as many innings as he has. The mental component is a question mark, but really, is it more of a question mark than on Brett Myers. Myers had back to back season of ERAs under 4.00 (which is considered elite now) and is best used in the starting rotation.


3. I think Geoff Jenkins and Pedro Feliz are going to have fun in CBP … how do you feel about these particular acquisitions?

Jenkins is a decent addition if he only hits righties, but at his price and his declining numbers, you have to hope he really has a good year this year. His forecast doesn’t look too bright. Feliz is the biggest mistake that Gillick made this offseason. His OBP is putrid and his power is probably seen its best days despite being in the CBP. Factor in that he is on the wrong side of 30 and I would have been happier with a Dobbs/Helms platoon. At least you didn’t have to pay even more for that. Considering that the Giants may have the worst offensive team in the league and didn’t re-sign him should be an indicator there.


4. What is the key to the Phillies’ success this season?

The key to the Phillies success is what happens in the 3rd, 4th and 5th rotation spots. I am not too high on any of those guys. Assuming for a moment you win every game with Myers and Hamels (hypothetical here), you only need to win one game with those three guys each time around the rotation. Hopefully that is the least we’ll get from them.


5. Who on the Phils will be biggest surprise in 2008?

Pat Burrell. Not that he is a surprise to me as I have been a big Burrell supporter over the years, but he often gets kicked around in the media here. He has been remarkably consistent over the last 3 years and I think we may see even more in his contract year.

6. Is Shane Victorino an everyday centerfielder?

Absolutely, but mostly because everyday centerfielders aren’t that great. Shane plays above average defense and hits about league average which is good to have at such a cheap price at a tough position.


7. Prediction: who is the Phillies’ team MVP in 2008?

Most likely Chase Utley (as he was last year). Rollins gets the glam, but Utley plays solid defense at second and has a much better OBP and SLG than Rollins. Of course, Hamels may be just as important, but I prefer to keep Cy Youngs and MVPs separate.

Thanks again to Jonathan. Be sure to check out The Good Phight for Phillies information.

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