Ron Costello

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The order is
Rapidly fadin'.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.

If you're reading this, you must be a baseball fan — in particular, a Phillies fan. 

So here's the skinny on what's going on with the Phillies and major league baseball: some things you ought to know about.

In today's game, hit-and-runs, bunts, stolen bases, singles, rallies, pinch-hitters, and complete games, are dropping like petals from a rose. They have nearly disappeared from the game.

Blame strikeouts. And throw in base-on-balls while you're at it — they're guilty, too. Strikeouts and base-on-balls are up. With walks and strikeouts up, batting averages are down. 

Batting averages are down because defensive shifts are up, way up. Each time a batter comes to the plate, infielders move around like wine glasses on a cruise ship. Outfielders pull cards from their back pockets, peruse them, and move accordingly.

Sometimes vast areas of the field are left open, like the right side with a lefthanded hitter up. Does the batter try to push the ball in the open area? Most times not. That's part of the reason that strikeouts and walks are up and batting averages are down.

Take the Phillies Carlos Santana, for example. He's hitting .233 and making $15 million. But his walks are up. He's second in the NL with 105 base-on-balls, behind the next Phillies centerfielder Bryce Harper, who has 123.

Mr. Harper's average is down, too, and his strikeouts are up. He's fifth in whiffs in the NL with 160. Think he cares? Bryce? He says 'what's a batting average?;' because he's third in home runs with 34, one behind the NL leader Matt Carpenter. Mr. Harper may be the leader, soon. He's also sixth in RBIs.

Averages down, walks up, strikeouts up, home runs up. 

Am I forgetting anything? Yes. When Harper comes to the plate the whole damn defense moves to the right side of the field. If the diamond were a ship it would capsize.

So does Mr. Harper adjust and try to hit the ball to the left side of the field? What, are you kidding? If he did his home runs would drop and his walks would tumble, and then the Phillies might not offer him that $500 million contract in December.

You think Gabe Kapler will want Mr. Harper to hit against the shift? Get real. Mr. Kapler is the poster boy for the changes in baseball. Before the season ends Kapler whats to start his closer for two innings, that is, if he had a closer. They're fading fast, too.

To Mr. Kapler, all pitchers are equal and the bullpen is simply an area where most of his pitchers sit.

Oh, and because of the ups and downs previously mentioned here, balls put in play are way down. Home runs, popups, strikeouts, and walks being up, means that balls actually hit around the field are down. 

No more hit-and-runs, bunts, stolen bases, singles, rallies, pinch-hitters, defensive gems, and fewer balls hit in play, making the games longer than ever before. Because hitters — the hitters that use to hit the balls in play? — are working the counts now adding to the length of the games.

Working the counts is why strikeouts and walks are up.

Analytics are up through the ceiling, as well. 

Twenty and thirty-something-year-olds sit in the dugouts with laptops and spreadsheets advising managers, pitching coaches, and players on the defensive shifts and other things, such as what type of pitch to throw to Mr. Harper with the count full.

Watch how often the catcher looks in at the dugout just before he gives his signs. The manager tells him what pitch to call, ordered up by a thirty-something with the laptop sitting between Jake the Snake and Nick Williams — on the bench because the computer picked the lineup.

And boring is up, too. Boring is significantly up.

Oh, wait, I nearly forgot. Major league attendance is down. 

Hey, do you think I discovered a correlation here? Maybe the Phillies will hire me for their booming analytics department.

Nah, I'm too old.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

In the late 15th century conventional wisdom said the best way to reach India, China, and Japan — called the West Indies at the time — was to sail south and then east, around Africa.

But an Italian explorer bucked the conventional wisdom and said he could do it by sailing west, across the Western Ocean, later called the Atlantic Ocean.
Did the Phillies follow the pigeons?

Three-quarters of the way there, Christopher Columbus — heading straight toward the Georgia/Florida coastline, choose to follow a flock of terns flying south. As you well know, if you paid attention in school, Columbus sailed into the Caribbean.

Did the Phillies see a  flock of birds and follow them? 

On July 25th the Phillies held a game and a half lead over Atlanta in the NL East. Their young prospects got them to that point.

Hitting, pitching, hustling — and sure, making lots of mistakes — and the guidance of veterans Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta got them there.

Over the last week of July, the club decided it didn't have enough to take the division and went outside the box. Before the trade deadline, the club acquired several players to help carry them through August and September.

This team needs veterans, it said.

You know the rest. The starting pitching after Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta folded like a lawn chair, and several position players went into slumps. I mean, it happens.
The Phillies gave up on the young players like Rhys Hoskins.

Is there a connection? A connection between acquiring the outside players and a sudden nosedive to 7 and a half games back?

Look, here's the thing. The team that carried the Phillies to first place was torn apart and replaced with older, "more experienced" players.

I'd like to know who decided to bring in the older players over the kids that put them in first place — in the first place.

The organization gave up on the team, simple as that.

Suddenly, Asdrúbal Cabrara, 32, is playing short instead of Scott Kingery or J.P. Crawford. Wilson Ramos, 31, catching instead of Jorge Alfaro or Andrew Knapp, and Justin Bour pinch-hitting instead of Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr, Jorge Alfaro, Andrew Knapp or Mitch Walding.

And, here's the head scratcher, José Bautista, 37, playing right, instead of Roman Quinn, Nick Williams, or Aaron Altherr.

They tore the team apart and followed the birds.

Somebody screwed up. Was it manager Gab Kapler, GM Matt Klentak, or VP Andy MacPhail? Or a stupidity- combination-decision? The Phillies are good at making those.

Why the hell did the Phillies change course on the high seas just two months short of the harbor and sail south instead of sticking to the direction they started out on, March 31?


Thirty-seven year old José Bautista in right? Your kidding, right?
Perhaps the tired and inexperienced young players relaxed after the veterans arrived on or after July 31. Maybe they left the heavy work up to the veterans.

Young players will do that. Anybody will do that. The pressure was off them and put on the older veterans.

If the Phillies don't reach the postseason it's not the player's fault; it's management's.

The least management could do now is go back to playing the team that got them to the top and keep Cabrera, Ramos, Bour, and Bautista on the bench — where they belong.

But that makes too much sense.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

There's not much difference between the following two expressions:

Your goose is cooked.
You're a dead duck.

Both are old expressions mostly used today by people over 50. Both use fowl to make a point that — for whatever reason — things don't look good.

Like the Phillies.

Cooked goose or dead duck — both are no longer breathing. With three weeks left in the season, the team appears tired, disinterested, lifeless, and, frankly, dead ducks.

BUT, and it's a big but, there's another fowl expression: Ducks taste the same whether they're shot sitting or flying.  

In other words, in my twisted thinking as a lifetime card-carrying member of the Faithful, the Phillies — in a division so weak no team, even the Nationals with arguably the best rotation in the NL, can get to the top.

With the exception of the Atlanta Braves. But in this division, the exception proves the rule.

The Phillies could stumble into the postseason flying or sitting. I mean, stranger things have happened. Perhaps their manager, as different as chalk and grease, might just will them in.

If you listen to Gabe Kapler, the Phillies are on the verge of winning the World Series, even though they haven't won a season series — yes even against Miami, 30 games under .500 — since August 4.   One reason? The 'Big Fella' has been collecting hits like a democrat collecting votes in Alabama.

Perhaps today, in the rubber game against the Mets, Mr. Velasquez can even his record to 10-10 and get a series win on the road in New York.

For the Phillies, it's as necessary as for the butterfly to escape from the worm to become a butterfly.

Get it?

If there's one player in my mind that represents the twisting turning season of the Phillies, it's Zach Eflin. Remember not long ago when the Baltimore Orioles were auctioning off Manny Machado, and supposedly offered Mr. Machado even up for Mr. Eflin, and the Phillies said "drop dead," which means to die suddenly.

But last night Eflin seemed to be throwing batting practice against the Mets. As the number three man in the rotation behind Mr.  Nola and Señor Arietta, he now appears to be missing the boat, and I hope it's not the  Duck Boat. Especially the one on the Delaware.

All in all, this expression can sum up the Phillies futile quest to win a minor league division with three weeks left: 

He who doesn't have a dog hunts with a cat.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

It was a brilliant move: How to improve the lineup to stay in

Wilson Ramos was a great addition to the Phillies
contention in the NL East without disturbing the core of young players and appease the Faithful.

They came up with two veteran players before the end of the trade deadline in July and traded low-level minor league players for them: Asdrúbal Cabrera and Wilson Ramos. Wilson was iffy, but if the baseball Gods breathed approval, perhaps he'd get over his hamstring injury and return to the hitter and catcher he can be.
It almost worked.

Mr. Cabrera has struggled since joining the team, hitting just .211, with two home runs in 25 games. But he's starting to show life. Mr. Ramous started out making Matt Klentak and Andy MacPhail geniuses — hitting .400 with five RBIs in five games. 

But the baseball Gods didn't cooperate and Mr. Ramous developed a sore wrist — the left, which holds the glove that catches 95-plus MPH fastballs. Hamstring and wrist, typical nagging injuries for a 31-year-old catcher.

But he's rebounded and he played well Sunday against Toronto. The Buffalo is a hell of a catcher.

The bottom line: The veterans, Cabrera and Ramos haven't been enough for a young team that goes in and out of slumps, plays poor defense, and has frequent bullpen meltdowns. Plus a centerfielder who makes more dumb mistakes that a little league outfielder, no offense to the little league.

But Mr. Cabrera and Mr. Ramos are solid players, and if the Phillies are smart, they'll hold on to them for next season. They are perfect for a young, struggling team.

So here's the good and the bad with the Phillies. First, the bad. A number of the young players are making their way through a first big league season: Nick Williams, Rhys Hoskins, Jorge Alfaro, Scott Kingery, and Roman Quinn, and several young pitchers. They're tired. They have aching muscles, sore or tender arm muscles, and just weary. Not accustomed to the strain on their minds and bodies over 164 games and six months of baseball.

Frankly, I don't know how they do it.

The good news is they are young, in their twenties, and can suck it up. They're only three games back despite losing, with five weeks left. Cabrera and Ramos will get better.

Phillies need Carlos Santana to get hot.

They're coming home for six games with the Nationals and Cubs. In September they host the Cubs, Nationals, Miami, and Atlanta for 11 games, with the last three games of the season at home with Atlanta. 

The team plays better at home. They are 41-22 at home, compared to 28-38, away.

The Phillies need somebody to get hot. The likely candidates are Franco, Obdubel, Hoskins, Williams, and the veterans Cabrera and Ramos.

Even a hot Carlos Santana can carry the team. Listen, if Hector Neris can strike out the side, anything is possible.

Exciting baseball over the next five weeks and the Phillies are still in the thick of it.

Monday, August 20, 2018

God summoned his Archangels together.

God wasn't happy.

So he summoned his three assistants, the Archangels of professional sports in America, the angels of basketball, football, and baseball.

He wanted to know what was up.

He first spoke to the angel of basketball, Lord Angel Lear. "I'd like a report on the three-point shot we put into the NBA," God said, "how are we doing with that?"

"Just fine," Angel Lear answered, "it took a  while but with the analytics you inserted, the three-pointers have increased from 2.8 three's a game in 1980, to 18.4 a game in 2012, and great news, last year in the NBA a fifty percent increase to 27 three's a game."

"Terrific news, Lear," God said. "with so much practice I instilled, and the numbers, man's free will discovered hitting the three is easier than shooting a two-point jump shot. Good job, Lear, good job."

Then God turned to Lord Angel Marian Motley. "Motley," God said, "how are those new quarterback protection rules I put in, teams scoring more?"

"Well God, " Angel Motley replied, "the defenses, especially the linebackers and secondary, say the new rule changes help protect the quarterbacks. I spoke with Concrete Charlie at the spring ball for the deceased and he said the new rules suck. He said you can't even grab-ass a quarterback anymore."

"Careful, Motley," God said, "I don't favor that kind of talk unless you are referring to the Catholic Church."

"Sorry, God. But the passing game has exploded. In 1977 the passing yards per game were at 141.9, but last season its shot up 224.4."

"Outstanding, Motley, outstanding."

Then God turned to Angel Musial. "What about baseball, the man, how are my changes doing there?"

Angel Musial cleared the papers on his lap. Shuffled them a little, and said, "God, it's taken hold quickly. Things are moving along swiftly." Angel Musial was a bit nervous; he hasn't been an angel long in God years.

"But," Angel Musial continued...

"But? What do you mean Musial,  but? I don't want buts; you want to go back down as a pitcher?"

"Well," Angel Musial said, "Since analytics have taken over the game, it's made it much more difficult for the batter."

"How so, Musial?" God demanded, "Speak up man, speak up."

"With all the analytical ways you gave them, the defenses have shifted each time a hitter comes to the plate. The teams hired these 20 and 30 somethings that study the direction of the batted balls and move the defenses accordingly."

"Go on," God said, "is there more?"

"Yes, Sir, a lot more," Musial replied. "Since the defenses have shifted, the hitters decided to go for the fences, since they can't get a ball through the holes, anymore, like Paul Wagner and Nellie Fox did.

"That made the pitchers change," Angel Musial explained.

"The pitchers? What the hell did the pitchers change for?" God yelled.

"Well," Angel Musial answered nervously, "The pitchers started throwing harder, given the new arm and shoulder muscles you gave them. Instead of keeping the heater down and away, they started throwing up and hard. The average heater in the majors today is in the mid-nineties."

"Holy, moly," God stammered in surprise. "Then what happened, Musial?"

"Well,"Angel Musial said, "the hitters adjusted. They began working the counts. They'd wait for their pitch, and then drive it out of there, like our friend Harry says at the all-saints tournament. So, as a result, the batters started striking out more."

"Striking out more? I thought we were supposed to increase scoring, not strike out more."

"But God," Musial said, a little panicky, "home runs are way up."

"They are? Good.  Is there statistical evidence? You know I like statistical evidence, Musial."

"Yes, Sir. At this last All-Star game, ten home runs were hit in ten innings. And at the same All-Star game, 15 pitchers threw an average of 96 mph."

"Now let me get this straight, Musial. Because of the analytics I placed in the techies' brains, they shifted the defenses to cut down on the singles and doubles.

"That forced the hitters go for the long ball, which made the pitchers throw harder. The hitters got angry and waited, making the pitchers throw more, laying off pitches they couldn't hit over the fence.

Musial was nodding.

God continued: "That created more strikeouts but also more home runs. Do I have it right, Musial?"

"Yes, Sir, and more walks because, remember, the hitters worked the counts. But you should know that attendance is down. Fewer people are attending the games, about 1500 less per game across both leagues, according to my records."

"Hmm," God said, bringing his finger and thumb to his chin. "Throwing harder, shifting defenses, working the counts, striking out, walking more, and going yard. Musial, what have I done to the 'grand ole game?'

"But there is one positive, Sir."

"What's that, Musial."

"Comcast SportsNet decided to remove Tom McCarthy from the tv broadcast booth."

"What, that guy who talks nonsense instead of baseball? Oh, thank God." 

"Wait, that's me."

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The  2011 Phillies won a 102 games, a franchise record with the Four Aces: Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and Oswalt. Considered the best four starting pitchers in either league and hailed by some as the best four-man rotation in baseball history.
The Faithful will love Bryce Harper.

What I remember about that season is that you couldn't go anywhere in the city without seeing Phillies hats, red t-shirts, and game jerseys with names on the back like Howard, Utley, Rollins, Halladay, Lee, and Hamels. They were everywhere.

In my lifetime I had never witnessed Philadelphia so excited about the Phillies. 
And it can happen again. Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. It will come down to which team has the most money to spend and isn't afraid to spend it. 

This season the Angels Mike Trout will be paid $33.25 million. The Dodgers Clayton Kershaw $33 million, and Boston's David Price $30 million. They are the highest paid players in the game.
Manny Machado's bat in the Phillies lineup.

But by Christmas, a new bar may be set, with the most significant free agent class in baseball history on the market. The Phillies and Atlanta surprised everyone by their climb to the top, but if they don't add top free agents in 2019, they won't — and they can't — compete.

They are just not good enough.

Look no further than the Boston Red Sox, the best team in baseball with a .705 winning percentage. The Red Sox wouldn't be the best team if it hadn't put together a combination of youth within the organization — Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley, Jr. — and free agents. 

Boston's J.D. Martinez, five years, $110 million; left-hander David Price, seven years, $217 million; and right-hander Rick Porcello, four years, $82.5 million, and several others.

The Phillies have no more excuses. With a low payroll and most of their young players' club controlled — three-four years away from free agency — and after investing that Comcast and Comcast SportsNet money, the team has no choice but to spend.

And spend means Mr. Harper and Mr. Machado. Or, at least one of them if not both.

And it won't be easy. The free agent sharks will be after them, as well: the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, and Dodgers, to name a few. Atlanta will need free agents, too, and with a low payroll, can also spend big.

For the first time in years, Atlanta and the Phillies have tasted the blood of winning. That has to push them to be competitive in the 2019 free agent market.

Anything less will be a snub to the Faithful and the young players on the roster. Anything less will send a message that the Phillies are more interested in its television revenue than its fanbase.

The Phillies rotation and bullpen can be improved, too, but
Machado and Harper and sold out CBK.
they're close — closer than Atlanta is with its rotation and bullpen.

Harper and Machado. Like Halladay and Lee, would excite this city, return CBP to sellout crowds, and move Phillies baseball back on top.

Can you picture opening day with Aaron Nola on the mound and Machado at short and Harper in right, hitting third and fourth?

Harper and Machado.

Say their names. Get familiar with them. They'll be here soon.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Phillies haven't let success go to their heads. The suits upstairs — led by President Andy MacPhail, with Matt Klentak getting OJT — have kept things real.

Look, here's the thing, back on March 29, the opening game in Atlanta, no one expected the Phillies to be in contention in mid-August. Best case scenario: Get as close to .500 as possible, and let the younger players get experience.

That pretty much was the sentiment, and indeed, there were no higher aspirations.

Phillies President Andy MacPhail.

Locked in a weak division, the NL East, with Washington folding like a chair, New York dropping like a lost quarter, and Miami being Miami, dumping salary, the Phillies and Atlanta rose to the top. Both teams young, with promising futures, they are currently battling it out to win either the division or a Wild Card.

But the Phillies kept their plan in perspective.

The lineup Tuesday night against Boston didn't look much unlike the lineup on March 29, the season opener in Atlanta. The Phillies added three Miami castoffs to the roster: Infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, DL'd catcher Wilson Ramos, and Matt Stairs lookalike pinch-hitter, Justin Bour. Plus, left-handed relief pitcher Aaron Loup from Toronto.

The four thirty-year-old-somethings still have plenty of baseball life left and may or may not be with the Phillies next season. They are good additions to strengthen the team offensively and defensively without breaking the bank and without — this is the most important without — taking the focus off younger players. Manager Gabe Kapler is using them well.

So that's where we stand. Two games behind Atlanta, 12 games above .500, and a realistic shot at the postseason.

Nonetheless, even without making the postseason, here is what the 2018 Phillies have accomplished:

1) They breathed excitement back into the Faithful who believe the Phillies are not just a contender now, but a future contender with a pipeline of talented, young players.

Will Bryce Harper be in red pinstripes next season?

2) By sticking to their guns on building, they gave significant playing time to young players under club control — 3-4 years away from free agency — combining a low payroll with the millions — no, we haven't forgotten about that — raked in with the TV pact signed with Comcast and Comcast SportsNet in 2014. Raising our cable rates and putting Tom McCarthy in the broadcast booth.

3) In what could be the best free agent class in years, it caught the attention of stars such as Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, and Boston's left-hander Drew Pomeranz, among others, setting the course for a 2019 championship run. 

These players well know there is no better place to play championship baseball than in Philadelphia.

4) And finally, the organization has built a management team both on the field and inside the system. A field manager who has embraced analytics and is comfortable with making unconventional decisions with the lineup, the bullpen, and player positioning. 

GM Matt Klentak. Great OJT in the front office.

With the retirement of Andy MacPhail — someday, who knows when, hopefully, he'll stay a while — a management and scouting core headed by Matt Klentak will ensure winning in Philadelphia for the future.

Yes, watching the Phillies is enjoyable, but watch out with a nip and tuck here, a well placed Harper or Clayton Kershaw there.

If the Phillies make the postseason, great! Whether they do or not, get ready for the 2019 season.

In South Philadelphia, the Phillies will rule.