Monday, February 13, 2006

Sloooow News Day

What do you make of the Alex Gonzalez signing? It looks likes the Phillies have too many guys who can do the same thing in Abraham Nunez and Tomas Perez. What does this mean for David Bell, and shouldn't the Phillies be looking for a fifth outfielder?
-- Adam D., Mt. Laurel, N.J.

You make a valid point about what Gonzalez represents, and I agree that it's a curious move, as Gonzalez and Nunez are interchangeable. That said, Gonzalez represents another veteran presence who can play multiple positions, and manager Charlie Manuel suggested that they may be tried in the outfield. Gonzalez or Nunez can fill in at first against tough lefties, or steal at-bats away from Bell at third base. Bell and Nunez are the two players who should be concerned. Manuel insisted Bell is his starter at the hot corner, but conceded he'll go with the hot hand. Should Bell produce, one of them could be shopped for an outfielder.

I realize this is just Ken Mandel from (new picture for Ken by the way, very sexy) answering a Phillies fan mail bag and not necessarily representative of the Phillies organization's true beliefs so take it with a grain of salt, but his response still brings up an interesting subplot that has been lurking all offseason long and is definitely something to watch early on in the season - how often will Charlie Manuel and the Phillies use Alex Gonzalez or Abraham Nunez at first base to "protect" Ryan Howard from lefthanded pitchers? Is this a good idea or a bad one? Does Howard deserve some time against lefties so that we have some actual statstical proof he can't hit major league lefthanded pitching? Maybe it makes some sense to sit Howard on days he'll be facing "tough lefties" - it would be a shame for Howard to go into a funk and develop bad habits trying to hit these tough lefties, but maybe this whole notion is just an old school baseball myth? I'm not sure I have the answers to any of these questions right now. I do, however, have a general idea on what to do with Ryan Howard at first.

The Phillies should ultimately decide that Ryan Howard should be given plenty of chances against lefties of all shapes and sizes throughout the season. I'd be willing to bet that he winds up being a better option at first base against lefthanders than either Alex Gonzalez or Abe Nunez even if his splits against lefties are poor in the early going - this isn't so much due to a belief in Howard, but more a reflection of how I feel about his competition for playing time at the position. This isn't to say that Howard should always play against all lefthanders even when the Phils are in the middle of the playoff race come August - if he still has horrible numbers then, you'd have to consider sitting him more often. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it (notice the when and not an if...optimism).

I'm all for platooning when there are proven people in place - Howard has not yet proven he can't hit major league lefties while Gonzalez and Nunez are not what I would consider to be proven lefthanded hitting threats. Until we know for a fact that Howard can't do the job at first against lefties AND a proven alternative is ready to fill in for him in such situations, the reigning National League Rookie of the Year should be given a chance to play everyday no matter the handedness of the fellow on the mound.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought Nunez was a switch hitter who is a better Lefty. If that is true I see the Gonzalez signing as A) an improvement on Thomas Perez, B) a platoon player with Nunez as Bell is given to KC, C) a good Shortstop if Rollins goes down, D) a faster runner and then E) time at first base.

We will see!


9:10 AM  
Anonymous braveswin said...

xxx- What about Terry Jones? I was reading about his comparisons to Chippa. Couldn't he become a possible 3B of the future?

9:44 AM  
Blogger XXX said...

SirAlden -

Against lefties last year, Nunez hit .324/.398/.392 - better numbers across the board than his numbers versus righties. I should point out this he only had 74 at bats against lefties so it is difficult to really deduce much from that small a sample. I normally use ESPN's stats page to find statistical splits (they have three year splits), but Abe's page isn't working for me and all I'm left with is the 2005 data.

I agree with points A-D about Gonzalez, but I'm just not sold on the fact that he is a better option than Howard even against tough lefties. If Jim Thome was still around, healthy, and coming off a big year like Howard, then I don't think the discussion would be taking place even though we know what we know about how Thome historically has struggled with lefthanders. From '99-'04, Thome played an average of 151.5 games a year - doesn't seem like he sat for all too many tough lefties during those seasons. Howard is obviously not yet in Thome's class as a player, but I still think if he is going to have to be exposed to lefthanding pitching at some point and the sooner he is, the better he'll be.

All that being said, there is really no right or wrong answer to this debate. It almost comes down to personal preference and baseball philosophy in a way. Only time will tell what the future holds for this team...

Braveswin -

Terry Jones is a very interesting name to throw out there. He missed all of 2005 with an injury, so he is a huge unknown heading into '06. Best case scenario is for him to play in A ball with Lakewood to start the year and maybe earn a promotion to high A Clearwater along the way. This best case scenario still puts him at least 3 seasons away from from being major league ready - not the best of news considering he'll be 23 in March.

Nothing in his minor league numbers jump out and scream prospect at you anymore, but the Phils organization was once quite high on him as you mentioned. They believed he could be a slugging 3B who plays just enough D to get by - maybe a poor man's Troy Glaus. Gotta believe that those high expectations will never be reached although it still wouldn't come as a shock to see Jones in the majors someday down the line. He just won't be the impact player some had hoped he could be. If somebody asked me right now if I had to predict his future with my life on the line, I'd probably bet he'll never reach the bigs with the Phils. You just never know with these prospects though.

The Phils have some real intriguing guys at 3B in the system now - Mike Costanzo and Welison Baez are the headliners, Tim Kennelly and Brad Harman (currently a 2B) are two Aussies with a lot of promise, and another '05 draftee (like Costanzo) Clay Harris could be a sleeper.

Can't say I'd trade any one of them for Eric Campbell though - how about Tomas Perez straight up for him? I'd even through in the exclusive negotiating rights to B.J. Surhoff to pave the way for his return trip to Atlanta. You've got the Braves hook up - I'm sure you could make it happen.

By the way, for anybody who happens to stumble onto this - there's gotta be a better site that shows splits (mostly just need lefty/righty stuff) - anybody out there know of any good ones? I'm trying to phase ESPN out of my system completely these days...

2:48 PM  
Anonymous braveswin said...

I wouldn't take Surhoff in a pickup softball game.

5:12 PM  
Blogger XXX said...

That's cold, man. Poor B.J.

8:36 PM  

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