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.