Monday, December 28, 2015

It's Your Fault Chip

This past Saturday night was December 26th and I found myself in the company of my Mom for the decisive game of the Eagles season. While my fanhood for the Phillies mostly stems from my Dad, it was my Mom that had nachos ready for the two of us every Sunday right at 1 PM as we watched our Eagles with our hearts on our sleeves. I had texted her earlier in the week that I was excited we’d get to watch the game together as she lives out of market these days and we are rarely together to watch them play. We both knew there was a chance the bad Eagles would show up at the Linc, but we were hoping that would not be the case.

Now, I’ve seen my fair share of awful Philadelphia sports in my day, but the current situation with the Philadelphia Eagles is unique in my 25 year memory of following and rooting for my favorite pro sports teams.

The Sixers in the years between Barkley and Iverson were listless and uninteresting. The current Sixers are an apocryphal laughing stock but at least that’s what they’re trying to be.

Aside from 1993, the Phillies were mediocre at best until the Utley/Rollins/Howard era took over. That came crashing down as we all know.

The Eagles under Rich Kotite and Ray Rhodes were vanilla and pedestrian squads that never had much of a chance to do anything.

Still! Still! I never ever turned my back on any of these teams. Nor did I feel like I actually didn’t like the team, no matter how bad the players were, how inept the men were who coached them, or how questionable the front office tactics may have been. Until now.

I legitimately do not like the Philadelphia Eagles for the first time in my life. And it’s Chip Kelly who made it possible for me to feel so strongly that I publish the fact. I wrote this piece in March of this year when Kelly was concocting his roster with little regard for proven talent. At the time, Chip had shown a modicum of success with back-to-back 10-6 seasons but his resume did not yet include a playoff win and his brash arrogance was starting to rub more people than just me the wrong way. He was setting himself up for a big fall I thought, I just hoped my thinking wasn't correct.

Then came this putrid excuse for a season, a season in which Kelly now had control of every aspect of running this team. The personnel decisions employed by this “genius” were so puzzling at face value that it was hard not to openly question them when they went occurred. The list is staggering.

Cutting Desean Jackson.
Drafting Marcus Smith in the first round of the 2014 draft.
Not re-signing Jeremy Maclin.
Trading Lesean McCoy for Kiko Alonso
Trading Nick Foles and a 2nd round pick for Sam Bradford.
Failing to address issues on the offensive line.
Signing Byron Maxwell for $63 million - $30 million of which is guaranteed.
Signing DeMarco Murray for  $40 million - $26 million of which is guaranteed.
Drafting Nelson Agholor in the first round.

Okay, the cutting of Desean I probably need to get over but there he was again Saturday night for the Redskins helping eliminate his former team from playoff contention for the second straight year in Week 16. I look at cutting Desean as the tipping point in Chip truly believing his scheme is all that matters for winning football games in the NFL. He thought he could eschew talent and by running plays every 20 seconds he could achieve glory. That remains to be seen.

The Marcus Smith pick. My god! The Marcus Smith pick! A classic “what the &^%* were you thinking?!?” pick. First round draft picks in the NFL are the equivalent of gold. There’s 53 guys that make up these rosters, so bringing somebody in that is one of the best 32 players in the world not already on an NFL team should be a sure fire way to improve your football team. I’m not even going to look up the number of plays Smith has participated in because it’s inconsequential but Marcus Smith does not even get on the field for the Eagles. He’s played a handful of downs in his career and was a bust the second Roger Goodell announced him. It was an abhorrent pick. It's  your standard "I’m smarter than everybody else pick so I’m picking this guy that nobody else agrees should be drafted this high" pick. It’s okay to miss in the 3rd and 4th rounds if you don’t miss consistently. You can’t miss in the 1st.

Alright, after cutting Jackson two seasons ago Jeremy Maclin had a career year and was proven talent at the wide receiver position. He may have wanted a bit more money than he was worth on the free agent market but if the Eagles had signed him he’d at least have given Sam Bradford a reliable target outside the numbers and down the field. It’s all well and good if Chip thought Desean didn’t fit the culture of the team, or Maclin had too high a price tag, but it’s not all well and good when Chip neglects to replace the talent he’s jettisoned from the roster. The receivers the Eagles went with this year; Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Riley Cooper, Josh Huff, and Miles Austin didn't exactly pass the muster.

Kiko either getting blocked or chasing somebody way downfield
The trading of all-time franchise leading rusher Lesean McCoy, in his prime, for Buffalo Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso, coming off a torn ACL, sort of made sense and sort of didn’t as offseason moves continued to unfold. Either way, McCoy has proven to still be the back we watched decimate defenses while leaving jock straps in his wake en route to touchdowns and Alonso has proven that he can do a nifty job of mostly getting blocked or chasing opposing running backs and pass catchers.

It was argued that McCoy’s contract was too expensive and that you always needed to “sell high” on running backs and get rid of them early because you never know when they may break down. Alonso was thought to be a maniac in pursuit of the ball after his outstanding rookie season in Buffalo. Throughout a somewhat injury plagued season Alonso has proven either one of two things. One is that he is just not healthy, or two is that he is just not any good. Either way, the Eagles are clearly the losers 15 games after this blockbuster trade.

You’ve heard the argument as to why the Shady McCoy trade may have made sense, but the subsequent moves authored by the Chipper start to contradict prior theories. After the Bradford deal, Chip went ahead and signed the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year  and rushing champ Demarco Murray. Not only did this move replace McCoy but it took away perhaps the best player from the division rival Dallas Cowboys. But if the financial aspect of keeping Shady McCoy was not appealing to Chip, it did nothing to stop him from spending significant money on Murray. Not only that, even more money was spent on Ryan Mathews who was brought in to be the backup to Demarco.

As a casual fan, it’s not too difficult to see that a ton of money is being spent on running backs while the depth of talent at the wide receiver position certainly appeared lacking heading into the season.

When watching NFL broadcasts it is not uncommon to hear the old adage “football games are won in the trenches” and this boils down to whether or not your offensive and defensive lines can win the battles with the people they are lined up against. Going in to the season the Eagles were solid at center and both tackle positions but Chip once again found it unnecessary to bring back players with proven talent in Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis for the offensive line. Chip did not draft an O-lineman and simply went with the prior season’s backups, Matt Tobin and Allen Barbre, to replace a veteran starter in Herremans and a pro bowler in Mathis. Well, ask Demarco Murray what he thinks about that offensive line if you can get him to comment off the record.

Moving on, we get to the signing of Byron Maxwell and the ungodly amount of money bestowed upon a guy who was the 4th best player in his former team’s secondary (note there are four starters in a secondary). From the very first game of the season it was clear that Maxwell was not worth the money. I’m not saying that Julio Jones (Falcons wide receiver) wouldn’t beat most of all cornerbacks on any given Sunday, but Maxwell was not even putting up a fight. If you’re paying a cornerback like he’s Darrelle Revis then I don’t want to see constant separation from the wide out and chasing done by the cornerback. If the receiver is making plays because the throws are good and the receiver is great then so be it, but that was almost never the case the entire season for Maxwell. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry as I continued to watch him get beat time and time again all season.

Cris Carter thinking to himself he could still do this if lined up against Byron Maxwell

A prime example of Maxwell being nothing but a chump was the hugely embarrassing Thanksgiving Day loss to the Detroit Lions. Perhaps the best wide receiver in the game, and surely an all-time great future hall-of-famer Calvin Johnson plays for the Lions. On this day, the Eagles other starting corner Nolan Carroll broke his ankle early in the game. Somehow, rookie second round pick Eric Rowe wound up with the Johnson assignment and proceeded to get torched for 3 TDs by Megatron. A lot of things went wrong that day and who knows how defensive coordinator Billy Davis is playing his assignments, but why is Byron Maxwell getting paid $62 million by the Eagles to not cover the other team’s best wide receiver? Explain that one to me, Chip.

After whiffing in 2014 on Marcus Smith you’d think the Eagles would really be doing their homework and nailing down a sure fire can’t miss athlete in the 2015 NFL draft. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2015 stats for the Eagles' first round pick out of USC, wide receiver Nelson Agholor.

12 games / 41 targets / 21 catches / 260 yards / 12.4 yards per catch / 21.7 yards per game / 1 TD

That’s mind numbing. The Giants selected wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr with the 12th overall pick in the first round of the 2014 draft and here are his rookie year stats.

12 games / 130 targets / 91 catches / 1305 yards / 14.3 yards per catch / 108.8 yards per game / 12 TDs


I can’t say definitively that this is a fair comparison or that Agholor is officially a bust but these two division rivals each selected a wide receiver in the first round of the last two drafts and that’s the production for those two picks. Ouch. 

That makes next to no value out of back-to-back first round picks. Which makes for a bad football team.

If you’ve been paying attention you can tell I skipped over the Sam Bradford for Nick Foles and a second rounder trade. This may have been the one move Kelly made, that with a season of hindsight, that does actually look favorable for the Eagles. The 2nd round pick and the ton of extra money paid to Bradford not withstanding, it looks like Sam may actually be a legit NFL QB. It does not hurt that Foles fell flat on his face in St. Louis either, though I was not rooting for that fate for Nick. It’s hard to say that Sam could be elite because of the lack of talent and shear dysfunction that the Chipper has surrounded him with but he definitely has some talent himself. As the season progressed, it was clear that Bradford was getting more comfortable in the system and was capable of making almost any throw. The struggles the Eagles have endured this season were certainly not on the arm of Sam Bradford.

Wow, I’ve only gotten through the personnel decisions. Buckle up. It’s time for how the team actually played.

If you’re still reading at this point, it’s a safe bet to assume you watched the de facto division championship debacle between the Redskins and Eagles in Philadelphia Saturday night. It’s hard to watch and not be angry right? I don’t want to watch a sport and be angry, but all season long I just found myself either desolate and depressed, or downright pissed and ready to lose it, when watching this excuse for a cohesive football team.

Everything that happened Saturday night was a microcosm of the Eagles entire season. Score on the opening drive with ease, then look like you don’t know what you’re doing on offense for the rest of the half. Make a few plays on defense, then turn into a sieve and allow back-to-back touchdowns while making Kurt Cousins look like Joe Montana in the first quarter. Gain some momentum on a drive, then fumble the ball away. Find a man open past the sticks on 3rd down? It goes right through his hands. Run a 5 yard crossing route on 3rd and 7, that’s the best. Find Nelson Agholor behind his man in the end zone? Well it hit him in a bad spot, his hands. False start? Procedure penalty? Sure. Try a pretty neat trick play on a punt return that uses Darren Sproles as a decoy? Not only is it not executed well when Kenjon Barner runs backwards for a -3 yard return, but he also did not get on the field in time and was called for a penalty. Is this not a play they’ve practiced a million times!?! And they still get it wrong. Score a gigantic momentum changing TD with much maligned benched running back Demarco Murray bowling through defenders on an impressive 5 yard run. Come out the very next possession and run a variation of the bullshit shotgun run to Murray that is flawed in so many ways – mostly Murray not catching the pitch – and it fails in the worse way imaginable and ends with Dante Hall returning it for a TD to end the Eagles woeful season, mercifully.

This game was like a replay of the entire season. Bad penalties. Bad tackling. Bad turnovers. Bad hands. The worst hands in the NFL. The Eagles  receivers could not catch a cold, it’s probably the most pathetic aspect of a team with a lot of pathetic aspects.

I believe the Demarco Murray situation is the biggest indicator of Chip Kelly’s lack of ability as both the general manager and the head coach of the team. Murray is a double edged sword who is cutting Kelly with both sides. If Kelly the GM thought it would be a good idea to bring in the guy who was the best running back in the NFL the season before he should know right? Because he knows Kelly the coach should be able to make it work with a guy who rushed for 1845 yards a season ago.

When Shady McCoy was traded 9 months ago there was a ton of talk about how he was too shifty of a back for Kelly’s offense. That Kelly needed a one cut and go type of back, the type of back Murray is supposed to be. In his 2014 season with the Cowboys, Murray ran something like 80% of the time with his QB under center and 8 yards deep. He ran between the tackles and busted off tough runs at generally better than 5 yards a clip. This season. Whoa, this season. All he does is run sprints to the sideline with Sam Bradford handing him the ball awkwardly out of the shotgun. He generally has to deal with a defender or two in the backfield because of Turnstile Tobin or Jason Kelce (who had the worst season of his career) not making a block. It does not take a genius to figure out that these plays are not working. It takes a guy who thinks he’s a genius to be so stubborn to run the same ineffective play over and over again with the same results.

A familiar sight for Eagles fans.

So is it the coach’s fault that Murray has become a lightning rod bust or the GM’s fault who brought him in to an offense that he was not well suited for? I believe either way that’s Chip Kelly’s fault. I’ll make a concession that it does look like Murray has lost a step this season, but there’s no way he fell off a cliff like the one Chip Kelly shoved him over.

Every defense the Eagles faced seemed to find the Eagles lack of play calling imagination to their liking this season. It has been constantly talked about that Chip Kelly runs about 8 plays. You've got the shallow cross to Zach Ertz. Shallow cross to Jordan "Butterfingers" Matthews. The screen to Sproles. The shotgun read option sprint in any direction to Murray or Mathews. A shutgun run up the middle. And then maybe a guy will go deep but he doesn't have any speed for the defense to worry about so nothing is open underneath either. This is a simplification of course, but when you watch every game it does feel quite accurate. 

Scheme over talent huh Chip? Just a matter of executing eh Chip? Well, why isn't this team you put together out scheming and out executing their opponents? Shit, 8-8 would have gotten the Eagles into the playoffs this year but it's clear the Redskins were a better football team. Oh well.

Can’t wait for next season. Hopefully Riley Cooper is still starting at wide receiver.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

So Long Ruben

To be honest, we knew ya a bit too well Rube.

No lie, as I was sitting down to write this my wife states she doesn’t even know who Ruben Amaro is. God bless her. She hasn’t had to deal with the horror at anywhere near the level most of us have had to bear witness to. Ruben Amaro’s extraordinary run is over in Philadelphia starting at the end of the season when his contract will not be renewed.

So I reeled off the quick facts for her. These have certainly been written before on the pages of this blog but let’s do a refresher of the Phils finishes since Amaro took over for a team coming off it’s second ever World Series victory in 2008.

2009 – Lost to the Yankees in the World Series. 93-69 Division Winner

2010 – Lost to the Giants in the NLCS. 97-65 Division Winner

2011 – Lost to Cardinals in NLDS. 102-60 Division Winner

2012 – Missed the playoffs. 81-81 3rd place

2013 – Missed the playoffs. 73-89 4th place

2014 – Missed the playoffs. 73-89 Last place

2015 – LOL – On pace right now for 60-102. Dead last in the Majors

I didn’t go into that kind of detail, but she got the idea from what I said. Her response was classic:

“So why didn’t they fire him already?”

She’s correct in asking that but I’ll try to explain why it’s more complicated than the results.  I don’t want to come off as a Ruben apologist but rather a Ruben pragmatist. I have to preface this explanation by saying I’m going on record that the Phillies should have made this move sooner, so you don’t lose your shit with some of what I have to say.

First of all, let’s operate under the idea that the Phillies do not run their baseball team at anywhere near the cutthroat sophisticated way teams like the Cardinals, A’s,  or Astros do. Whether it’s an outright admission is up for debate, but they place more stock into loyalty than your average organization worth $1.25 billion. At least that’s what their actions tell us.

Ruben Amaro is a Phillie for life. His father, Ruben Amaro Sr. won a gold glove playing short stop and first base for the infamous ‘64 team a year before Ruben Jr. was born. He was a bat boy for the 1980 Championship team. Shit, I remember Lenny Dykstra going down at the beginning of one of the mid 90s seasons and Ruben ____ing Amaro being his replacement.

So after he spent about a decade as an assistant GM, under Ed Wade and Pat Gillick for the most part, he was handed the keys to a Ferrari with a stack of blank checks in it. And damnit if he didn’t shove the window for another title as wide open as he could for the next three years.

My one caveat to not generally agreeing with the decisions made by Ruben from the immediate post World Series era is the trade of Cliff Lee to Seattle.  Rube screwed that up two different ways and it foreshadowed future missteps. The first screw up was that he flat out didn’t need to trade Cliff Lee. Every one and their mother could see that Cliff Lee was the real deal after his Cy Young in 2008 and and sheer dominance in the 2009 postseason. But okay, he was trading Lee on the same day he was landing Roy Halladay. Some how this softened the blow, but it was still a head scratcher. However, the fatal blow, and really the story of Ruben’s tenure here, was his whiff on the young talent he got back for Lee. None of it panned out, I'm looking at you Phillipe Aumont.

Sorry, for the tangent there but it was a necessary point that needed to get made in the why hasn't he been fired yet? story line.

Ruben knew he had offense in spades so he sought starting pitching at the beginning of his tenure. Eventually Lee came back, Hamels returned to glory, and Halladay was the best pitcher in baseball until he wasn’t. The 2009-11 Phillies were all better on paper, and certainly better regular season teams, than the 2008 team. In ’09 they ran into a better team in the Yankees. In ’10 and ’11 they just didn’t play to their potential and that’s not on Ruben. It’s on the players.

From there it was a complete lack of understanding the landscape in front of him. His team was sputtering out and he didn't move anywhere near quick enough to avoid certain disaster.

The offense failed in 2011. The offense built on Ryan Howard (already extended), Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley.  He went ahead and ran Utley and Rollins back, moves that clearly point to loyalty and sentimentality (and ticket sales) over pivoting and retooling. Rollins and Utley, and of course Howard, continue(d) to shrink in to shells of themselves  while Lee and Halladay couldn’t stay on the field or even in the league for that matter.

So there’s ownership and higher management, who have long been attached to individuals that may not be able to provide the most benefit for the ballclub any more, staring at a guy who'd spent his entire life in and around every level of the organization. They gave Rube a reprieve for his botched decisions, which also included several failed drafts, because they saw the logic in some of his moves but that some things were out of his control.

A guy who was more ahead of the curve, and perhaps had more willingness to turn the page on a golden era could have staved off the Phillies being really bad. It’s obvious the Phils would see drop off from a team like the 2011 one, but to become the worst team in baseball was avoidable if more shrewd decisions had been employed.

Finally, today the new president of baseball operations, Andy MacPhail, got in front of the media and said what he needed to say alongside the largest minority owner of the Phillies John Middleton. MacPhail cited needing a fresh perspective and that seeing Ruben out of town was a requirement for that. MacPhail had to have known that the only way the fans would take the team seriously again was if Ruben was shown the door. He did allude to the decision becoming tougher than he originally thought it would be due to Ruben's handling of all the trade deadline deals. We can hope that revisionist history will have Ruben somewhat salvaging his legacy in Philadelphia with the talent he acquired in the Cole Hamels deal as well as the others he made during his last month as the official man in charge. That's just hope at this point.

If we were basing this job on performance then it’s clear that Ruben stopped being effective early in his tenure. The moves he made, and the moves he didn’t deem necessary to make, should have doomed his fate when the Phils were missing the playoffs in 2012 and 2013 despite spending a combined $340 million, good enough for 2nd in the MLB in that span. But my wife didn’t ask me when should they have fired him. She asked why they hadn’t already.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Mets' Turn

You know the camera adds a few.. hundred pounds.

Man, am I tired of these painful losses piling up against the Mets. If there’s one team I’d really rather not see the Phillies lose to it’s those underachievers from Queens. The Phils have now dropped 10 straight against their division rivals. 10 STRAIGHT! The Mets are 13-1 against the Phils this season and are 73-58 on the season, 6.5 games up on the even more underachieving Nationals.

That means the Mets are a measly 3 games above .500 at 60-57 against the rest of the MLB. It’s one thing to be losing a ton of games to the same team.. But to basically hand the division over to the Mets on a silver platter because the Phils can’t seem to play competent baseball against a team that can certainly pitch, but only recently learned how to hit is just maddening as a fan. In the 14 games the Phils have played against the Mets this year, the Mets have ran up 86 runs while only allowing 44. That’s right, the Mets are averaging just over 6 runs per game while the Phils are barely pushing across more than 3. The Mets +42 run differential against the Phillies accounts for 76% of their +55 run differential on the season. In other words, the Mets are an average at best baseball team unless they’re playing the Phillies.

Another incredibly frustrating part of this is that 42 year old professionally fat Bartolo Colon has absolutely dominated the Fightin’s in his 4 starts against them this year. He is 4-0 with a 2.33 ERA in 27 innings with 29 strikeouts and only 1 home run allowed. His total numbers for the season are pedestrian at best at 12-11 with a 4.42 ERA while currently leading the league in hits allowed. The man is listed at 5’ 11” 285 pounds. SMH.

Most people from this area will tell you the team that they “sports hate” (sports hate is a term Bill Simmons came up with because you don’t really hate these teams or players in real life, it’s just a sports hate)  the most is the Cowboys or New York Football Giants. But not me, I’ve always had a generous helping of sports hate in my heart for the Mets. It stemmed from the mid-aughts when the Phils were up and coming and the Mets had their flash in the pan.

Billy Wagner always rubbed me the wrong way, especially some comments he made about teammates not pulling weight and then he went and blew a game late in the 2005 season that cost the Phils a chance at the Wild Card. Then he went to the Mets and that added to my sports hate. But the biggest thing was really going to Citizen’s Bank Park to see a Mets game and seeing all of the goddamn Mets fans invade the ballpark. If it’s one thing that really gets to you as a fan, it’s seeing the visiting team get cheered more loudly than the home team at your ballpark. There was plenty of that in the 4 game shellacking the Mets put on the Phils last week. Man, it just really irks me. That’s where my sports hate stems from and now it’s coming full circle.

I’ll tell you what though, what the Mets are doing to the Phillies right now doesn’t mean jack squat compared to the hurting the Phils put on them in 2007. In 2007, the Mets were coming off a wire-to-wire runaway division win and were looking to do it again. Then came the Phils. In late August the Mets held a 6 game lead when they came to Philadelphia only to get swept out in a 4 game series that included several memorable games including a walkoff single from Chase Utley in an 11-10 barnburner of a day game. Two weeks later the Phils went up to Queens and the division lead was back up to 5.5 for the Mets, who got swept yet again by the relentless ’07 squad.

From there the Phils never looked back. They took the division in '07 and the four following years, leaving the Mets to wallow in self-pity. So what the Mets are doing now, beating up on a hapless squad that doesn’t have a chance to be good anyway, is frustrating as a fan who sports hates the Mets so much. But it’s got nothing on ripping the heart out of an actual contender and laughing on your way to the playoffs. Take your division this year New York, you’re earning it on the backs of Jerome Williams, Jerad Eickhoff, and Hector Neris. Good luck getting any team from the NL Central in the playoffs.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Man - Chase Utley

Chase Utley had plenty of broadcasters call his games during his 13 year career in Philadelphia. Two lines in particular stick with me.* In a 2006 game he was stealing 3rd when Ryan Howard hit a chopper to the right side. He ran through the bag and sprinted for home and beat the throw with a feet first slide. Harry Kalas was astounded at this, as were the rest of us, as he exclaimed “Chase Utley you are The Man!”

That nickname stuck, with good reason. It was the kind of heads up hustle play that defined Chase Utley’s run as the greatest 2nd baseman in Phillies’ franchise history. He had a knack for situational baseball that was innate. Chase knew what to do, when to do it, and how to do it better than anybody on the Phillies during their incredible streak to end the first decade of the century.

“Short, compact.”

That’s the other line that sticks in my head most about Chase Utley. Our old friend Gary “Sarge” Matthews liked to describe Utley’s powerful swing this way whenever he’d rip a ball in the gap or send one deep into the right field seats. My god was that swing a thing of beauty. I can’t recall watching anybody who had quicker or more powerful wrists than Chase. He would just turn on a ball and send lasers all over the diamond with remarkable consistency. He was a line drive hitter and that swing would go through the zone and have that signature abrupt follow through that almost recoiled after he’d make his contact. It truly was a thing of beauty that Philadelphia fans did not take for granted.

Utley was traded to the Dodgers today in an effort to give him another shot at winning it all while making room for younger players for the Phillies. So if you’ll just allow me to wax poetic for a bit..

I can remember very early on in his career catching a game at the Vet, so this had to be his rookie year of 2003. He still hadn’t quite broken through to playing every day and fans were growing antsy because they could see the talent. The Phils already had a pretty stellar 2nd baseman in Placido Polanco but Chase was not to be denied. I don’t remember the exact details of the game but Utley played and had an outstanding game and my father and I had sports radio on waiting our turn to get out of the damn parking lot. Every single call-in was more of the same. When are they going to play Utley every day? They have to start playing Utley every day! What the bleep is Bowa doing he’s gotta play Utley every day!

Well, by 2005 Chase was the every  day 2nd baseman and his 5 year run from 2005-2009 was arguably the best 5 year stretch put together by a 2nd baseman in the history of the game. I know WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is a tough stat to digest conceptually but it does generally list the best players in the game at the top of its rankings. Here is a list, and it’s a list that is actually unfair to Utley. I looked at the best 2nd baseman in the past 30 years by WAR and cumulated their top 5 seasons to see how Utley stacked up. The reason this isn’t quite fair to Chase is because his top 5 seasons all happened consecutively. The only other guy on this list to have his top 5 seasons come consecutively was Craig Biggio, anyway here’s how Chase stacks up.

Chase Utley
Robinson Cano
Ryne Sandberg
Roberto Alomar
Craig Biggio
Dustin Pedroia
Jeff Kent

So yeah, Utley was easily the best in the game at 2nd base for the second half of the Aughts. In fact, the only player who racked up more WAR in the same 2005-2009 timeframe was Albert Pujols (44.4). Chase Utley was the 2nd best baseball player in the Majors for that 5 year run and there’s not much of an argument against it. Also, for comparison sake, Ryan Howard’s 58 home run campaign in 2006 only warranted 5.2 WAR. This stat takes your defense into serious consideration obviously.

If we want to get technical, Rogers Hornsby, who once called Jimmy Dugan a talking pile of pig shit, was statistically the best 2nd baseman of all time. But he was playing when we still called World War I the The Great War.

The numbers are staggering for a second baseman. Five consecutive seasons over 20 HRs (3 of those were over 30), 4 consecutive seasons over 100 runs, 5 consecutive seasons over 100 RBI, and remarkably he is the all-time leader in stolen base percentage averaging 15 steals a season for his career.

But numbers tell maybe half the story of Chase Utley. 

In 2007, Utley was on his way to the MVP award when John Lannan broke his hand with a fastball. He missed a month in the second half of the season and this allowed Jimmy Rollins to step in and take the award. What I remember about this though was making it to the campus bar at Temple the night Utley returned from that injury. The Man went 4-4 the night he came back and we were all FREAKING OUT.** That’s the kind of stuff we’re talking about when we talk about Chase, his sense of the moment and owning that moment. From there the Phils took off and embarrassed the Mets to take the division. Howard won the MVP in ‘06, Rollins got it in ‘07, but the entire time we always knew that Chase Utley was the best player on the team. He was smart, he was clutch, and he did it with such a stoic no nonsense nose to the grindstone attitude you couldn’t help but think Chase Utley was basically the coolest guy alive. It didn’t hurt that he was easy on the eyes for the ladies either.

I’ve talked about this one before but it bears repeating. In the second half of the clinching game of the 2008 World Series he made the quintessential Chase Utley play to preserve a tie game and get out of a dangerous jam. With 2 outs and the game tied 3-3 with man on 2nd for the Rays a ball was hit up the middle and Utley got to it with little to no shot to get the runner at first. Still, he faked the throw to first and fooled the guy who was rounding 3rd at the time and the runner decided to head home. With the ball still in his hands Utley had the runner by a country mile and was able to almost lob the ball into Chooch to tag out what would have been the go ahead run. Maybe some other guys make the same play, but Chase Utley makes that play 8 days a week, inning over, and the Philadelphia Phillies are your World Champions of Baseball. Goosebumps.

Of course, he went ahead and pushed his cool up another few notches, as if it were possible, with his proclamation in Citizen’s Bank Park the day of the victory parade. I’ll let this video do the talking here.

Then, in 2009, still at the peak of his powers, he went full Reggie Jackson on us in the World Series against the Yankees. I can remember the stat now, he was the first left handed batter to hit two home runs off a left handed pitcher in a World Series game since Babe Ruth. Remarkable. He did that in Game 1 off CC Sabathia and that was probably the last truly great "we're gonna win this whole thing" moment for the near dynasty of the Utley era Phillies. His 5 homers in that series are tied with Jackson for the most ever in a World Series.

From there his health failed. Namely his knees. He missed significant portions of the next three seasons including essentially the first half of 2011 and 2012. He rebounded some in 2013 but things for Utley and the Phils were never the same. His peak was incredibly high, but like many players and the team in general, the run was cut a bit shorter than we all thought it should be. But I’m not here to remember the lean times.

I'm here to remember Chase Utley for being Brian Dawkins and Allen Iverson rolled in one, except he won a Championship. I will remember Chase Utley for that short, compact swing. I will remember him for being out by a step on any ground ball he ever hit to second base. I will remember him beating out double play balls because he willed beating out double play balls. I will remember him hustling and running harder than anybody else did because for him there was no other way. I will remember the way he put his head down and sprinted on every pop-up, knowing he was cursing at himself. I will remember the ease with which he flipped balls out of his glove to Ryan Howard. I will remember the greased back hair, the dry sense of humor, the power, the incredible instincts, the ability to come through more often than not, and perhaps most of all I will remember him for being a winner.

Thank you, Chase. For everything.

*I have to admit I’m tearing up as I write this.
**Tried to rely on just memory for this but on further review he went 3-5 and the Phils beat the Mets 9-2 in late August. Few drinks that night I'm sure.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

What The Cole Hamels Trade Means

That's Weird.

The inevitable happened this week. The man perhaps most responsible for the only championship for a Philadelphia sports team in my lifetime got shipped off to the Texas Rangers for a restocking of the Phillies farm system. The Phillies have needed to trade Cole Hamels for the past few years but as the dust is settling on this trade, early indications have you believing they may have sold him at near peak market value. No-hitters can help that. Here is the entire trade breakdown, which took almost two days to make official.


Cole Hamels (Phillies paying $9.5 million of the $82.5 million left on Hamels deal)

Jake Diekman


Matt Harrison – oft injured former All-Star starting pitcher. Think Chad Billingsley. The Phillies will pay out the $33.5 million left on his contract and he has back issues that make you think he may never start a game for the Phils.

Jorge Alfaro – Catcher – Minor League prospect.

Nick Williams – Outfielder – Minor League prospect

Jake Thompson – Pitcher – Minor League prospect

Alex Asher – Pitcher – Minor League prospect

Jerad Eickhoff – Pitcher - Minor League prospect

Alfaro and Williams are the keys to the deal for the Phils. While the Phillies did not land top Rangers’ prospect Joey Gallo (I said Jerry Gallo), Ruben, or whomever is making decisions in that muddled mess the Phils call upper management, did get the 3rd and 5th ranked prospects out of the Rangers system. Teams just don't give up their best offensive prospects these days, they're too valuable at too cheap a price.

Alfaro just turned 22 and has been hitting with consistent power and average at single A and double A levels. The same can be said for the 21 year old left fielder Williams. Most talking heads and people who know what they’re talking about, or at least  people who act like they know what they’re talking about, are saying that this deal is a win-win for both teams at this time. Of course, the Rangers have a proven commodity locked up for the next three years, albeit at a significant price, and the Phils have 6 guys that may or may not contribute in a big way.

Time will tell, but this deal certainly feels like it borrowed a bit of a Sam Hinkie way of thinking, or at least Billy Beane. The Phils got a diverse group of talent back that is giving them the best chance to find All-Star level or better players. With so many holes in the current lineup, the Phils can use all the talent they can assemble.

It feels like a smart way to go about rebuilding the franchise. The brass is giving the team a better chance to grow talent within the farm system that can eventually contribute to a winning ballclub. I still need some accountability for the current mess the Phils are in though. They hold the best record in Major League Baseball in the more than two weeks since the All-Star Break at 12-2. It’s astounding that they have been capable of this sustained amount of great play. Despite this miraculous run, they are still a game and a half worse than the Marlins for the worst record in baseball. They are +35 in run differential since the Break, tops in the Majors, and still -125 on the season. The next worst in the Majors is the Braves at -70. The NL East is pretty bad, huh? Well, the Phils are still the worst of the bunch.

This Hamels move, the shipping of Jonathan Papelbon out of town to the Nationals for staring pitching prospect Nick Pivetta - another guy with a chance to contribute, have been smart moves. Getting anybody to take Papelbon was a plus to get his contract and his attitude off the books. Even sending Ben Revere to the Blue Jays for a few more pitchers feels like it makes sense. Everybody saw Revere’s ceiling and said that’s fine we’ll see ya later, thanks for the memories Benny.

So what I’m trying to say is; all this wheeling and dealing is making the Phils seem like the future could be a little closer than we thought, but that is not a reason to grant Ruben Amaro a reprieve. A better GM would’ve diverted course when he saw that mountain in front of him rather than flying the plane straight into it, as has been discussed on this blog before.  I’m frightened his stench from the past trades, contracts and picks has stayed in a bed he shit long ago and could still rub off on these trades and any future transactions. I just need him gone and then I can start to feel good about this team and it’s future again. I don’t think that’s much to ask when the results on the field have been exponentially worse each year he has been the GM.

Go Phils.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Cole Hamels No Hits the Cubs

A bearded Cole Hamels no-hit the Chicago Cubs on Saturday July 25th in Chicago.

I got a text from my father that Cole had his no-no going with 9 strikeouts through six innings Saturday. Luckily, I was in a spot where I was able to turn on Comcast SportsNet for the start of the bottom of the 7th and watched Hamels annihilate the Cubs 3, 4, and 5 hitters with three straight strikeouts on 13 pitches.

He struck out cleanup hitter Jorge Soler for the third time on the day and Soler broke his bat over his knee (on his 2nd attempt – first one had to hurt) in frustration. Matt Stairs quipped from the booth “best contact he’s made all day” and I had a chuckle.

Hamels is the only legitimate major league player (bullpen excluded) on the Phillies in 2015 and has been the subject of constant trade rumors for essentially two years straight. He came into the game giving up 13 runs in his last two starts that only spanned 6.2 innings. Regardless of his past success, those two starts could not have had the buyer's in the market too keen on the southpaw.

Hamels may be able to put on a front and say the incessant trade talk does not affect his game but it’s hard to believe that he's been able to focus on his starts the same way he always has throughout his brilliant 10 year career in Philadelphia. Nevertheless, Hamels has been solid this season the prior two starts not withstanding.

So with the trade deadline bearing down on Ruben Amaro and the Phillies, Cole Hamels really needed to have a vintage performance to put any doubts potential suitors have about his game to rest. In perhaps the biggest start Hamels has had since late 2012 (the Phils were in the Wild Card chase a bit in September that year), he delivered what is almost certainly the best regular season performance of his career.

Hamels struck out 13 and walked two on his way to the first no-hitter of his career.* I did not catch the first 6 innings of the game, but watching innings 7 through 9 reminded me why I’m a fan of baseball again, and it had been a while.

I haven’t had that giddy knots in my stomach feeling watching the Phillies since Ryan Howard tore his Achilles what feels like a century ago (It was 4 years).

The 8th inning was tense, wow. After getting ahead of catcher David Ross with 1 out, Hamels left a ball up and Ross crushed one deep into the left center field gap. Odubel Herrera was on his horse coming over from right center making an arc on the warning track and circling under the deep fly ball. Odoobs fell to the ground as he made a running catch to preserve the no-hitter. He got up and slapped his glove in excitement and we all could exhale. The next batter, pinch-hitter Kyle Schwarber, sent a hot shot grounder back up the box that certainly had a chance to make it through the infield but Hamels stuck out his glove and snared it. He was heading to the 9th inning with a zero still hanging in the hits column for the Cubs on the south side of Chicago.

The broadcast did not go to commercial after the Phillies' half of the 9th inning – not sure I’ve ever seen that before - and Tom McCarthy started waxing poetic. The coolest stat he got to reel off was that the Cubs had the longest non no-hit streak in the Majors at over 7000 games. The Cubs hadn’t been no-hit in 50 years and the last man to do it was Sandy Koufax. Whenever you’re doing something that was last done by Sandy Koufax you know you’re in the rarest of air there is.

The first two outs of the 9th were uneventful, a grounder to third base and Hamels 13th strike out of the game. The last out had to test some mettle of course. Hamels got ahead of dangerous rookie Kris Bryant but the third baseman was able to work the count full. On the 3-2 pitch he sent a deep drive to dead centerfield and Odoobs was making sure this ball would not get over his head. In fact, he over ran it and the ball was coming down at the base of the warning track. Odoobs had gone too far! But at the last second he was able to leap forward and make a shoestring catch to complete the no hitter for the second greatest left handed pitcher in the Phillies' century plus history.

Odoobs made this game ending catch a bit harder than it needed to be.

What a moment!

The Phils are abysmal and even their recent play (7 out of 8 wins since the All-Star Break) has not been enough to make you think they’ll win 63 games.

But if this was Cole Hamels last start as a Phillie it really is a fitting way for him to end his career here. Cole Hamels has been nothing short of fantastic when he’s donned the red pinstripes for our Philadelphia Phillies. He’s come up big in the biggest moments and put a smile on our faces every 5th day for a decade straight. Here’s to hoping this performance was his one last gift to Philadelphia. It helped us enjoy baseball again, if only for a quick afternoon, and should help bolster any package of prospects the Phillies are seeking in return for their ace’s services.

*Hamels pitched 6 innings in a combined no-hitter last Labor Day against the Dodgers.