Sunday, February 26, 2012

Does Atlanta's Pitching Come Close to Philadelphia's?

By Amy McGinnis

My short, biased answer is, of course, "No."

Even with the back end of our starting rotation leaving small question marks, there is simply no other team in MLB with three aces.  That being said, I think Atlanta comes closer than New York, Washington and Miami in the NL East's quest to match Philadelphia's pitching.

There really isn’t room for argument when your team has Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. Although I do see a few teams in baseball with great pitching staffs - Angels, Rays and Giants to name a few - I think that the Braves fall just short. Long gone are the days of Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz; however, it seems that the Braves are doing their best to compete with Philadelphia’s pitching in 2012.

The #1 and #2 spots in Atlanta’s rotation should be Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens.  RHP Tommy Hanson is built like Roy Halladay, but he pales in comparison. In 2011, Hanson went 11-7 with a 3.60 ERA and a 1.169 WHIP. The then-24-year-old pitched no complete games last season. It’s actually sort of unfair to compare Hanson to Halladay; Doc is superhuman, anyway.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Jurrjens is Jair’s interview during the July 9th game at Citizens Bank Park when Cliff Lee went yard. “Oh no, no, no … are you kidding me?” Classic. Last season, Jurrjens went 13-6 with a 2.96 ERA and a 1.224 WHIP. All three of these statistics are better than his five-year career averages. The RHP is only 26, but has had knee problems that could prove to be an issue in the future.

Tim Hudson (16-10 in 2011 with a 3.22 ERA and 1.140 WHIP) is expected to be out until the end of April or beginning of May due to a back operation. The RHP played the entire 2011 season while injured. An injured pitcher in his mid thirties doesn’t pitch that well as a fluke. If he is able to make a full recovery, I expect Hudson to post good numbers. In his absence, Brandon Beachy will most likely pitch in the #3 spot. Beachy had a 7-3 season in 2011 with a 3.68 ERA and a 1.207 WHIP. Not bad for his first full season in the bigs, but not exactly on par with Hudson, either.

In the #4 spot, I expect to see Mike Minor, a LHP who went 5-3 last season with a 4.14 ERA and a 1.488 WHIP. In my opinion, Minor is a run-of-the-mill #4. He performs well enough (and could show improvement over time, especially since he is only 24), but for now, he’s a good addition to the rotation and fits in well as a #4.

I’m eager to see who earns the #5 spot.

Atlanta is most dangerous in their bullpen. Philadelphia made some offseason adjustments to its bullpen, most notably, adding Jonathan Papelbon. I fully expect our ‘pen to perform well. It would be na├»ve, however, to ignore what the Braves have in store.

To begin with, Atlanta’s bullpen is very young. What they may lack in years of experience, they make up for with raw talent. Arodys Vizcaino, Cristhian Martinez and Anthony Varvaro all provide depth to the bullpen, but Jonny Ventners and Eric O’Flaherty as setup men are fierce. Of course, they’re setup men for Craig Kimbrel, the Braves’ closer. This kid is unreal. He has a 96 mph fastball and posted 17.4 K/9 in 21 appearances (not a typo). Kimbrel is reason enough for Braves fans to fill that stadium (maybe they’ll start to catch on).

Though there have been some roster changes in the NL East this offseason, I think Atlanta offers the best pitching behind Philadelphia. The bullpen should more than make up for any gaps in the starting rotation, and I plan to enjoy watching the Braves try to keep up.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Female Fanbase

By Amy McGinnis

We all know that Phillies fans have a certain reputation that is generally less than favorable and, in my opinion, not an accurate picture of the fanbase as a whole.  It seems to me that Phillies fans are the ones who are able to give you fair illustration of what the fans in this city are like.  Yes, there are some who are over-the-top and belligerent; however, for the most part, we're an intelligent and passionate group of people.  Well, what about female Phils fans? The reaction I get from male fans is sometimes interesting, to say the least.  I've been told to get back in the kitchen on more than one occassion.  I wanted to see how other women in the stands feel about it.  I talked to Karrie Woodruff, Stacey Lucas and Colleen Lucas, three ladies who know their stuff.  (They're all spoken for, by the way, so calm down.)

Before I get ahead of myself, I'd like to note that I am not attempting to criticize any females who enjoy baseball for different reasons.  I know there are plenty of women who enjoy the nice weather and tight pants.  My goal is to shine a light on those of us females who know and love the sport.  That being said ... what is it like being a female Phillies fan?

Stacey says that her favorite part of baseball is the comeback, and Colleen agrees.  The thrill of a rally in the 8th, a walk off homerun ... anyone who says baseball is boring hasn't watched a game with these girls. Karrie enjoys the strategy involved in the game.  Personally, I love that there is no time limit on games.  We've all been to the Vet and CBP into the wee hours, thinking, "Guess I'm just not sleeping tonight.  Oh well."

I love that, among four women, we have four different favorite players.  Karrie likes Jim Thome, explaining, "He doesn't juice, he plays hard, always give it his all and loves the game. Plus, as much as he gives on the field, he gives that much off the field to the community he is in. I also like the way he holds that bat before he settles into his ready stance."  Colleen likes Jimmy Rollins, citing his "cocky confidence" and "total understanding of Phils fans." It seems that Stacey and I are in the same boat: when asked who our favorite players are (Chase Utley and Cole Hamels, respectively), a lot of the time men smile at the answer and say, "Of course he is." I have explained myself more times than I care to admit as to why Hamels is my favorite.  His changeup, the focus and maturity he has acquired over time, the way he pitches rather than just fires the ball, the way he reminds me of a taller Tom Glavine ... I could go on.  Stacey likes Utley because he "plays the game like it should be played." She describes his fielding as "old school," and she loves that he hustles everything out, "even a clean shot to the second baseman."  As much as I love talking about baseball, I almost dislike being asked who my favorite player is, because I feel the need to qualify my answer.

I wondered if Karrie, Stacey and Colleen got similar reactions from men when it became apparent that they know what they're talking about.  I will say that, generally speaking, our answers are the same.  Guys seem surprised that when we open our mouths "Ohmygawd he's so hot" doesn't come out.  I think that when I was younger, I felt the need to try to prove myself in conversations; I got over that.  It seems that it doesn't occur to some men that girls know baseball (Colleen says, "I don't think it should be that big of surprise").  In all of our experiences, that initial amazement usually diminishes rather quickly.  It seems that most men think it's cool when a woman can enjoy sports with him.

I love raising my three daughters to be Phillies fans.  I love watching games with them, answering their questions about everything that's going on in the game, and knowing that they're likely to fall in love with baseball the same way I did.

Of course, especially with a winning team like the Phillies, fandom can become very trendy.  I think all four of us agree that we don't care if other people, male or female, enjoy baseball for different reasons than we do.  Every single one of us knows, appreciates, and loves different things about the sport.  That's what makes for good conversation and even debate.  Everyone brings something unique to the table.  Just don't bring a condescending attitude, because someone with a uterus just might run circles around you with her knowledge.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Keeping Kendrick

By Amy McGinnis

This weekend, the Phillies announced that they signed an extension with Kyle Kendrick,who had originally signed a one-year deal for $3.585 million in an effort to avoid arbitration.  The extended contract is set to pay Kendrick $7.5 million over two years, locking him up through the 2013 season.

I've heard different opinions about this move.  There are some fans who think that an emergency starter isn't worth that kind of money.  These are probably the same fans who like to criticize Kendrick and use him as a scapegoat when things aren't going well.  I've never really understood the disdain for Kyle.  He's not Roy Halladay.  He never will be.  Then again, no one ever will be.  Doc is a freak of nature.  That being said, Kendrick has served this team decently well as a starter and as a relief pitcher. 

Kendrick has a  fastball that sits around 90-93, and since he had been using it entirely too much, he has changed his repertoire somewhat over the past few years.  His changeup is average, and he knows enough to not really use his curveball.  Kyle replaced his slider with a cutter, which has been looking better and better.  Is Kendrick an ace? No.  Is he a solid #4 or #5? I think so. 

Something we need to remember is that KK is only 27 and has the potential for continued growth.  Don't look at his 8-6 record from 2011.  Look at his 3.22 ERA and 1.221 WHIP (both were his best since he has been with the Phils).  Aside from the numbers, Kendrick seems to do what is asked of him without complaining.  I'll take that attitude any day of the week.

It remains to be seen how the back end of the rotation will look once the season is underway.  One thing is for sure: I want to see Kyle give fellow RHP Vance Worley a run for his money.  Some healthy competition will only benefit the pitching staff, and Vance is entering his sophomore season with all eyes on him.  I really do like both pitchers, but I think Kendrick's experience might give him an edge.  At the end of the day, I want both of them to bring it. 

I don't mind debating the matter with other fans, but I have nothing to say to people whose only argument is "Kendrick sucks." Come up with something better than that and we'll talk.  Until then, I'm counting down til Phils-Yanks on March 3rd.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Perspectives From Fans Throughout the NL East

By Amy McGinnis

I think I speak for all of you when I say ... thank God baseball is back.  Spring Training is officially underway, now that pitchers and catchers have reported in Clearwater, and as a Phils fan, I couldn't be happier.  It makes me wonder, though, how fans throughout the NL East feel about the upcoming season.  After all, I don't typically hear their points of view.  I started asking around, looking to pick the brains of fans.  Thanks to Facebook (and a few of my friends who were happy to throw friends of theirs under the bus and volunteer them for me), I was able to get my hands on some.  Well, sort of.  I couldn't find a Marlins fan.  Anywhere.  Seriously.  I searched.  I went so far as to lurk on their fan pages, and no one would talk to me, even after I promised that my intention was not to make them look bad.  So, there you have it, kids ... the Marlins' fanbase is not represented in this post because no one would admit to being a part of it.  That being said, I'd like to genuinely thank the following people for their time and input: Chris Leming (Mets fan), Chris Innella (Phillies fan), Bob Klossner (Nationals fan), and Steven Holloway (Braves fan).

Obviously, these four men have different views; however, what I find interesting is the similarity among their feelings toward their own teams.  They're all die-hards.  Steven Holloway says that Atlanta is his team "no matter what." Bob Klossner, who grew up in the D.C. area, says that he's probably the only person in San Francisco wearing a Nats hat.  Chris Leming finds being a Mets fan to be frustrating at times, but will "root for them anyway, savor the good times, and hope they overachieve." Chris Innella sums up being a Phillies fan in a few short words: "It's a way of life." For each of us Phils fans, there's a fan in another city who feels the same way about his baseball team.  Apparently, Mets fans don't appreciate that the world views them as obnoxious loudmouths (sound familiar?).  Chris Leming tells me that Mets fans are well-informed, intelligent, and passionate; he adds, "We know our baseball." Funny that Chris Innella used essentially the same words about Phillies fans.

Let's look at each of the four teams (sorry, any Marlins fans out there ... show yourselves next time). 

Leming says that for the upcoming season, the Mets' budget reduction isn't helping any (he adds, "Thanks, Bernie Madoff.").  Since money is an issue, he'd like to see improvement in the farm system.  His suggestions for ways the Mets can win the NL East in 2012? Easy: minimal injuries.  For the Mets, that is. It would also take "season-ending injuries for Roy Halladay, Shane Victorino, Cliff Lee, Tommy Hanson, Craig Kimbrell, and Brian McCann."  Leming, like many of us, is interested to see how Miami's new ballpark will impact the season. 

Braves fan Steven Holloway also has his eyes on the Marlins and their offseason acquisitions.  It remains to be seen if new Marlins talent will draw more ticket sales, though.  How would Atlanta do a better job filling seats? "Better offense," says Holloway. "And winning." He also mentions that he and fellow Braves fans would hate to ever see McCann, their "hometown hero," leave Atlanta.

In light of the Nationals' campaign to take back their ballpark from Phillies fans, I have to wonder what their plan is to draw local sports fans.  Bob Klossner says that it's possible if Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth play to their potential.  The addition of Brad Lidge (you're welcome, Washington) and Gio Gonzalez to the bullpen is "vital," he notes.  If Werth could just bump his batting average by a good 60 points, he'd be able to provide some run support.  Additionally, Ryan Zimmerman's health is a concern for Nats fans, considering there isn't really a viable replacement for third base.

I wasn't going to include a Phillies fan in this post, because I assume that most of us have the same perspective.  While that may be true, I asked my friend Chris Innella anyway, because he's more articulate than I am and I knew he would represent our fanbase well.  Innella notes that there have been several changes throughout the division, and is excited for the additions the Phils have made to their bench and bullpen.  Wigginton, Nix, Thome and Pierce offer our bench an "offensive edge over last season" and Papelbon, Willis and Horst should add "quality depth to our young 'pen."  Although he'd like to see the pursuit of some younger talent, Chris thinks that the NL East is winnable if the Phils continue to do what they've been doing the past five years.  After all, we have the best pitching rotation, one of the better lineups, a new bench, an improved bullpen, and of course, Chooch.  No one calls a game like Carlos Ruiz. 

I asked each of the guys which team is the biggest threat in the NL East.  It's no surprise that the unanimous answer was Philadelphia; however, everyone seems to agree that we should start to see things change within the next few years.  Holloway says that the Phillies simply "have the strongest pitching rotation." Klossner adds that even without Howard in the lineup, the Phils are "very, very dangerous." Personally, I'm happy to see the rest of the division start to stack their teams as if they're ready to compete.  I enjoy the race.  On another personal note, I think it's a sad state of affairs when Miami is paying a ton of money to bring quality baseball to a town that doesn't seem to care.

I'm excited for the season to start, and it seems that fans from all over the East look forward to it, as well.  I'm grateful to have gotten insight into the minds of fans from other cities. 

I'd also like to thank Courtney Bennett and Joe Wombough for pointing me in the direction of Bob Klossner and Chris Leming. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Oswalt Remains Unemployed

By Amy McGinnis

With ten days left before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in Clearwater, it seems that Ruben Amaro, Jr. has no plans to offer Roy Oswalt a contract.

Little Roy is seeking a one-year contract, but with the Phils, there seems to be one thing standing in his way. "We really don't have any room for him. We have five, six starters, and our resources are about where we want to be right now," Ruben said. "I think he wouldn't mind coming back, but I don't know that's feasible or a real possibility."

Joe Blanton and Roy Oswalt missed portions of the 2011 season due to injuries, and some would say that the two RHPs are interchangeable.  It makes sense: each has four pitches, postseason experience, and less-than-stellar numbers from their abridged season last year.  The biggest difference is that Blanton will be making $8.5M this season, and Oswalt appears to be set to make nothing. 

If we look at last season's numbers, they're not a fair assessment for either pitcher, since Oswalt pitched 139 and Blanton pitched just 41.1.  The fact is, though, that Blanton's 1-2 record, 5.01 ERA and 1.476 WHIP fall just short of Oswalt's 9-10 record, 3.69 ERA and 1.338 WHIP.

So, let's visit a fantasy land for a minute where another team would agree to take Blanton for this season.  I would love to have Oswalt back for one more year.  I've always been a big fan of his.  His tempo still impresses me, because he wastes no time between pitches.  He and Blanton each throw a fastball in the low 90s, but Oswalt always looks more aggressive.  In addition to the fastball, Blanton and Oswalt both throw a curveball, slider and a changeup (Oswalt added the Vulcan changedup in 2010). 

In this fantasy land of mine, Blanton gets picked up and we suddenly have room for Little Roy (insert inappropriate joke about Roy and Joe taking up the same amount of room).  I like Oswalt's attitude and grit.  Remember Manny Ramirez's line drive to the back of Little Roy's ear? Oswalt stood up and adjusted his hat.  Dubee had to say, "Yes, you are leaving this game to get checked out."  Remember Oswalt playing left field in August 2010? I love that little redneck and I think swapping him for Blanton for 2012 would reap big rewards.

To be fair, I don't mean any disrespect to Blanton.  I think he serves well as a #4 or a #5.  He catches a lot of criticism in this city, and most of it is unfounded.  My intention is not to badmouth Big Joe, so save the hate mail.  I prefer Roy Oswalt, though, and I think he'd make a good addition to our rotation this season.  In my fantasy land, anyway.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Farewell to Andy Musser

By Amy McGinnis

Andy Musser served as a Phillies broadcaster for 26 years, including covering two World Series.  In 2001, he left the organization to pursue other endeavors.

On Sunday, January 22, Andy passed away in his Wynnewood home.  The cause of death has not yet been made public. He was 74 years old and leaves behind a wife of 50 years, children and grandchildren.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my sympathy to the Musser family, as I wish them peace and strength at this tough time. 

Andy, say hello to Harry for us. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Look at the Vanimal

By Amy McCormick

Our famous pitching rotation of 2011 was expected to bring home another World Series trophy for this city.  We all know how that worked out.  With injuries for Oswalt and Blanton, we had some holes to fill.  An obvious choice was RHP Vance Worley, who had surprised most of us in September of 2010 when he was able to hold his own on the mound. 

In 2011, Worley posted an 11-3 record with a 3.01 ERA.  More of last season's stats (skip ahead if numbers make your head hurt): 131 2/3 IP, 119 K and 46 BB.  His averaged 8.1 strikeouts, 3.1 walks and 0.7 homeruns per nine innings pitched.  That's the quantitative data, and it's pretty self-explanatory.

In a qualitative sense, Worley was great at locating his sinker and getting called strikes.  Do you remember watching hitters swing and miss?  Neither do I, because it didn't happen often.  Why was that? Well, to begin with, Worley doesn't have much of an off-speed pitch.  It also helped that many batters were facing him for the first time, not knowing exactly what to expect.

What should we expect this season?  From opponents, I think we can expect batters to look alive.  There's a lot of footage of Vance for teams to watch at this point.  If this is the case, then I think it's safe to say that what worked in 2011 will not work in 2012.  In my opinion, he'll need to keep batters guessing - get them to swing and miss pretty consistently - if he wants to continue to be successful.  Called strikes aren't going to cut it; I think we'll see batters getting aggressive.

I like Vance Worley, for a few reasons.  I think he's a talented kid who has potential to be a solid #4 or #5.  I was impressed with him when he was originally called up from Lehigh Valley because a lot of kids his age can buckle under the pressure (looking at you, Dom Brown).  In a post-game interview once, when asked what had gone wrong during the game, he stated, "I sucked." I loved it.  No excuses, no blaming anyone else.  He recognized that his performance that night was just not good enough and that he would need to do better.  It's refreshing to me when a professional athlete admits that openly.  What I want to see is a continued sense of what works and what doesn't. 

There's a lot of chatter about fans expecting Vance to unravel during his sophomore season, and while that is based on previous experiences, I don't think it's a fair expectation for Worley.  I am optimistic that he will recognize that he needs a strong off-speed pitch and that he needs to work the corners.  And who knows - maybe opponents will be too preoccupied preparing to face Roy, Cliff and Cole, and they won't do their homework on Vance.  Stranger things have happened.

I want to see big things from this kid.  I've seen enough that I recognize his talent and skill - now I need for him to prove to me that he can switch things up enough to succeed this season.