Archive: November, 2009
Brett Myers and Cole Hamels are friends. They ride together to the ballpark nearly every day. And they did not have a confrontation last night, according to Myers and another team official who was present.
Good evening from the World Series, game 5 edition. Charlie Manuel said that he will not hold a team meeting today, but will speak to every player individually. The Phillies obviously face a steep climb against an excellent team, but their best pitcher is ready to go. And, as you know, this is not a team that rolls over.
Some interesting stuff from Manuel in his pregame meeting with the beat writers on Brad Lidge, Cole Hamels and that memorable Johnny Damon play.
The Phillies signed Lidge to a three-year, $37.5 million extension last season, a contract that Manuel said the pitcher deserved.
“There’s a reason why you’re a long man,” Manuel said. “There’s a reason why you’re a sixth inning guy, a seventh inning guy and a closer. There’s a reason for that…Lidge was perfect last year. Stuff-wise, when he’s on, he’s got two out pitches. He’s our top pitcher down there. He is out best pitcher, and that’s why he makes $13 million a year, and that’s what we signed him for.
“How about those games we lose in the sixth and seventh inning, too? Nobody sees those games. They don’t’ remember this. Lidge is the closer. He got signed to be the closer here for three years.”
Manuel did say that Lidge will need to work during spring training to improve his ability to hold runners on first base. Many times this season before Damon’s steal, runners stole second against Lidge and later scored key runs.
“There are things he is going to improve on, and holding runners is one of them,” Manuel said.
Manuel made similar comments about starter Cole Hamels, who also endured a letdown season.
“There’s no reason why he can’t be the same player we project,” the manager said.
When Johnny Damon stole second and began running toward third base in an important play Sunday, Manuel looked first at catcher Carlos Ruiz.
Despite the fact that pitcher Lidge was closer to the base than Ruiz, Manuel said today that he expected Ruiz to cover third.
“I’ll be very honest with you,” he said. “If we’re going to go over that and discuss it every day, in that situation, for me, [Carlos] Ruiz is going to cover third because he’s faster than Lidge and a better fielder and all that. He would be the guy that I would say to cover third base.”
“Let me tell you something: Every year we go to spring training, and when we go over our fundamentals and bunt plays, we might spend 10 minutes on that play,” Manuel said. “We might talk about it two times. That’s the first time I’ve seen that play happen against us. That play comes up sometime. I said there was a miscommunication. If you’re going to play the game in the right way, you talk about baseball from a fundamental standpoint. But what I’m saying is that play don’t come up that often. It’s kind of an instinct play. You’ve got to be heads-up in the game. You’ve got to know how you’ve got your defense set, and who’s going to cover third base.”
That ninth inning happened quickly, and contained a lot of weird stuff worth breaking down. Johnny Damon’s smart baseball was the key. With the inning nearly over, Damon fouled off five pitches, and guided the ninth pitch of a game-changing at-bat into left field for a single.
“The whole thing just came down to a really good at-bat by Damon,” said Brad Lidge. “He fouled off some good sliders.”
After the single came a moment that will be long remembered, and long-maligned in Philadelphia. With Mark Teixeira batting, Damon stole second. Upon arriving there, he saw third baseman Feliz on the base, because the infield had shifted to defend against the lefthanded batter. With no one covering third, Damon continued.
OK, let’s slow down on this play. It seemed like Lidge should have covered, though no one would say it—except Damon.
Here are quotes from the relevant people. “It’s the catcher or pitcher,” said Charlie Manuel “Evidently, there was some miscommunication there….Usually it’s the catcher tries to get down there.”
Said Lidge: “To be honest, that’s not really something you go over a lot. I don’t know who is supposed to cover on that.”
Neither did Feliz. “That’s a play, we never got anybody to say, OK, you got to go out there, you got to go here.”
Damon expected to see Lidge on third. “We have talked about it throughout the year, especially when Mark is up,” he said. “I was just trying to be aggressive and get into scoring position, and it just worked out where there was a throw. The third baseman covered (second), and the pitcher did not,” cover third.
Jimmy Rollins deflected blame from Lidge to himself. `”I take responsibility for it,'' Rollins said. ``I make sure the pitcher knows that he knows on a steal he has to cover third. At that time I didn’t really mention anything to Brad, so when he made the pitch in his mind it was just a regular steal. But with the way the defense is set up it’s my job he makes sure he knows to go to third. I’m the captain of the infield. That’s my job.”
Lidge unraveled after that. He hit Teixeira, then allowed a double to Alex Rodriguez and a single to Jorge Posada. And that, folks, was your ballgame.
Hey, the Phillies could not escape their issues the past two nights. Two very talented pitchers, Lidge and Cole Hamels, had tough seasons. It made sense that they would struggle at some point during the postseason. It certainly doesn’t make sense to trade either one of them, as some agitated emailers have suggested. You trade players when their value is high, not after they under-perform. Those guys could very well help the Phillies in 2010. This season, however, was apparently un-redeemable for the two pitchers.
Everyone knows that Cole Hamels did not pitch well last night. But there appears to be a growing debate on whether anything is "wrong" with Hamels. Recently, Baseball Prospectus's Matt Swartz presented a thorough and interesting study of Hamels' performance, and concluded that the pitcher's regular season was not significantly different from 2008. He cited many stats like BABIP that are more useful than wins and earned run average. He made many valid points, as BP writers usually do, and I learned a lot while reading it. And he was right: In some ways, Hamels' issues have been overstated.
Yesterday morning, smart baseball man Rob Neyer made an argument similar to Swartz's, but used hyperbole to misrepresent an Inquirer story. He cited Jim Salisbury's report that Hamels planned to learn a new pitch next year, then mocked the idea that something is wrong with Hamels as "simply preposterous."
Neyer went on to present a tired caricature--the equivalent of labeling bloggers as losers in their mothers' basement--of baseball writers as having a "sick, 20th century obsession with wins and losses and ERA."
I think you readers would agree that no Philly sportswriter has argued this year that wins and ERA represent what has been wrong with Hamels. Salisbury cited wins and ERA, but only as a small part of a nuanced argument. So let's cast aside petty stereotypes--isn't it so, like, 2004 to say that newspaper writers don't care about statistical analysis?--and look at the facts. Here is a partial list of what was wrong with Hamels in 2009:
--He had a sore elbow in March, April and May. I know that because he told me later in the summer.
--He did not begin training until later than usual, because he took on too many post-World Series commitments.
--Even on days when his pitches were working, he responded poorly to adverse circumstances, and allowed bad innings to snowball. He admits this, and his manager, GM and coach agree. It is also obvious from watching his body language.
--Though his velocity was as good as last year, he has to overthrow to get his fastball in the low-90s. That sometimes resulted in poor location and home runs allowed.
--The lack of a quality third pitch allowed hitters to guess what was coming. Take A-Rod last night: Hamels started him off with a change-up for strike one, so the hitter figured he would see a fastball within the next few pitches. When one arrived on the next pitch, A-Rod was ready, and clocked it into the Jeffrey Maier camera.
It is factually incorrect to say that nothing was wrong with Hamels this year; at the very least, his elbow hurt. I'm not writing this to rip the pitcher, or pile on after a bad night--I actually admire his self-awareness and find his struggle for maturity fascinating and his honesty refreshing. I just felt a responsibility to correct the record on a point important to the Phillies, and hopefully to restore a more reasonable tone to the debate.