I'm technically off the clock this week, but before I disappear, I wanted to run some things down, mostly as a way of clearing my head of all the baseball-related nonsense that is blocking my path to inner peace, but also hopefully for your information and entertainment.
Before we get into baseball, I wanted to send a quick shout out to Eagles head coach (and, I can only assume, loyal High Cheese reader) Andy Reid for his game-calling performance last night against the Giants. Apparently, Reid finally uncovered the box in his garage where he had stored his old Football 101 textbook, which enabled him to go back and read the first chapter, "Running on First Down: The Ancillary Benefits."
I have a friend, who may or may not write a column for the Daily News, who likes to roll his eyes whenever the hoi polloi bemoans the Playstation-like nature with which Reid typically plays a football game. He likes to pooh-pooh the notion that Reid is out of control with his run/pass distribution, pointing to the overall statistics to make his point. For example, he would likely point out that Reid called running plays on 44 percent of the Eagles' snaps, which doesn't appear to be a whole lot different than the 40 percent he usually calls. And that might be true - Over a 65-play game, that equates to just 2.5 more running plays than Reid normally calls. My friend would also point out that Reid called for a run on a lower percentage of plays against the Giants last night than he did in the Eagles' loss to the Cowboys a month ago.
But this is where overall statistics can be mis-leading. See, Reid's handicap isn't just the amount of runs he calls -- it is when he calls them. You guys know the Reid Special by now: Pass on first down, run on second (preferably out of shotgun), pass on third down. There are several problems with this strategy, including that there are far more things that can go wrong when you pass the ball than when you run. You can throw an interception. You can fumble. You can get sacked. You can throw an incomplete pass. When you run the ball, you either gain yards, lose yards, or fumble.
But the biggest benefit is that 1st-and-10 is a truly even count. And when you run on first down, it increases your likelihood of succeeding in throwing the ball on first down later in the game. Against the Giants last night, in situations where the Eagles weren't running their two-minute offense, Reid called first-down running plays on 14 occasions, compared with just six first-down passing plays. So while Reid called 44 percent runs overall, he called runs on 70 percent of his first down plays.
Is it any wonder that DeSean Jackson was running wide open all over tarnation in the second half? What down did his 60-yard touchdown catch come on? First down. In the third quarter. After the Eagles had worked to establish their first-down running game.
How does that compare to some of the Eagles' recent losses? Glad you asked.
at San Diego: First down runs - 6; First down passes - 26
vs. Dallas: First down runs - 9; First down passes - 16
at Oakland: First down runs - 7; First down passes: - 20
So in the Eagles' three losses with Donovan McNabb at the helm -- one of which came against the 21st-ranked rush defense in the NFL and another against the 30th ranked -- Reid has called passing plays on 62 of 84 first-down plays (when the Eagles were not running their two-minute offense), which equates to 74 percent of the time.
Two names to ponder from the list of player who were recently non-tendered:
RHP Matt Capps, Pirates: As dreadful as Capps' 2009 numbers were, his ERA was still 1.41 lower than Brad Lidge's and his five blown saves were less than half of Lidge's 11. A surprise non-tender by the Pirates, Capps will be just 26 on Opening Day. Like Lidge, he is a fastball/slider guy with velocity that last year averaged 93.5 MPH (per FanGraphs). He also throws a change-up. From 2006-08, he posted a 3.04 ERA and 1.055 WHIP in 210 appearances. While he seemed to struggle with his command at times last season, who knows how much of that had to do with playing for a going-nowhere team. When Amaro talks about low-risk, high-reward type of players, this probably isn't the type of guy he had in mind. Capps has a huge ceiling, but probably will take a decent committment to sign. He made $2.2 million last year and likely would have received an arbitration raise that pushed him over $3 million. But he has such big upside, you have to think the Phillies will look at him.
RHP Chien Ming Wang, Yankees: In many ways, Wang would fit perfectly with the Phillies. He is a sinker-ball pitcher who allowed just 21 home runs in 64 starts in 2006-07. He has made just 24 starts over the last two seasons, thanks to an ankle injury in 2008 and shoulder surgery last season, so he likely will be in the market for a low-base, incentive-laden type of deal. Seems like the perfect guy to try to take a flier on. But Wang's agent recently told ESPN's Buster Olney that the pitcher might not sign for months - reports say he might not be ready to pitch until May. So it would make sense for him to wait until closer to that date, as his market value would likely increase with his health. Also, according to a recent report by Bill Madden of the New York Daily News, Wang is looking for guaranteed money, not a minor league deal.
Now that Chad Durbin has been offered a contract for the 2010 season, the Phillies have four relievers locked up. They figure to carry seven for the bulk of the season, which leaves three open spots. One of those will likely be filled by a cheap, young player like Sergio Escalona or Antonio Bastardo (my money is on Bastardo). If Kyle Kendrick does not win a spot in the rotation on Opening Day, he could stick, although it would seem to make more sense to keep Kendrick starting in the minors since whoever does start the season as the No. 5 starter (Jamie Moyer or a veteran free agent signee to be named later) will have some questions to answer early in the season.
Factoring in a 2010 salary for Durbin that is likely to sit somewhere between $2 million and $2.75 million, as well as a $450,000 salary for the young reliever TBA, the Phillies would have roughly $132 million committed to 23 players. RAJ has indicate the payroll likely won't creep much higher than $140 million. So we can estimate that the Phillies have about $8 million to spend on two relievers and depth for the rotation.
More and more, it looks like they'll be counting as much on internal improvements from Brad Lidge and J.C. Romero as they will on any big-ticket free agent. I think a likely situation is that they end up taking a flier on someone like Capps or John Smoltz, then leaving themselves some financial wiggle room so A) They can make a play for a guy like Fernando Rodney or Jose Valverde if he himself unsigned in late-January and is forced to take a below-market deal, B) They can afford to go out sign a starter like Wang or Pedro Martinez who might not be signed by Opening Day C) They can evaluate their bullpen over the first couple months of the season, then try to swing a deal for an upgrade at the trade deadline.