Monday, February 28, 2005

BP 2005 on the Mets

Hola amigos. I know it's been awhile since I rapped at ya...

I've been waiting to bust out the "Anchower lead" and today makes as much sense as any.

Baseball Prospectus 2005 just dropped, and though I haven't had much time to go through it, I thought I'd pilfer a few of their copyrighted comments on Mets players and hope to avoid a cease-and-desist order:

Heath Bell

"This minor league closer is the rare case whose peripherals have been better than his ERAs for three years running, in part because Bell has given up just one unearned run in three years. As Michael Wolverton [BP's reliever stat guru] suggests, we should ignore the difference between earned and unearned runs anyway, focusing on all runs allowed. Roughly comparable to the Rangers' Carlos Almanzar, Bell should be the Mets' top set-up man by the end of the year."

Joe Sheehan called him a sleeper in his chat today, in answer to my question (Cardinal991, New York) about the NL East picture.

Jose Reyes

"It's easy to point to Reyes's hamstring injuries as the reason for his lousy 2004, but the fact is that he's been rushed by the Mets. He isn't ready to hit at the major league level, and his power and batting eye both need serious work. With so many stop-gap middle infield candidates, the Mets should let Reyes go to Norfolk for at least half a season so that he can continue developing as a hitter. He can still be a star."

I've been very curious about the Reyes situation, and would be perfectly happy to see the front office swallow some pride and put Reyes back in the minor league oven. But I just don't see it happening. He'll probably hit lead off, definitely make a ton of outs, and hopefully improve.

Victor Zambrano

"He tied for the AL lead in walks despite being sent to the NL at the trade deadline, which is just an amazing feat. A strained flexor muscle ended his season after three starts with the Mets; he's expected to be healthy in the spring. The Mets traded Kazmir to get Zambrano in large part because of Rick Peterson's convictions. How Zambrano develops from here will go a long way to either cementing or ruining Peterson's reputation. Given Zambrano's age, workload and control, Peterson had better be a miracle worker."

Everyone has heard about Peterson's involvement in Black Friday. "Get Zambrano at all costs," the Rasputin of the Bay Area supposedly whispered in Duquette's ear, "I can fix him." Whether or not this advice was the deciding factor in this disastrous (yes I'm going to go ahead and call it that. You can reserve judgment all you want) trade, the buck stops at the GM's office. I am bearish on Zambrano, but at least he has the makings of a late bloomer.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


Barry Bonds was surly with reporters! He evaded questions! C'mon, Cletus, let's round us up a posse!

Give me a break. Barry's an SOB, and he's not going to answer questions on the BALCO investigation (remember, grand jury testimony is sealed and the leaking of it is a crime) but it doesn't make Steroid Hysteria any less ridiculous.

ESPN's opinion polls on the subject are just rock stupid. Today's is fairly obvious:

"Following Tuesday's news conference, are you more or less inclined to believe Barry Bonds used steroids?"

68.9% More
31.0% Less

How about that? I tell ya, nobody beats ESPN when it comes to getting the hard facts on the general public's gut feelings. That's insight you just can't get anywhere else, except possibly by hanging out at a sports bar for 10 minutes. That was actually one of the more reasonable questions. Recently they ran one with the following question (or a close variation thereof):

"Who is the single season home run champ?"

a. Maris
b. McGwire
c. Bonds

Bizarre question? You bet. The leading vote-getter was Maris.

Probably because the poll was placed directly under 2 or 3 steroid articles, readers were made to understand that the poll question was actually a referendum on the legitimacy of Bonds' single season HR record, and McGwire's before him. There was also a "Is Barry Bonds a Hall of Famer?" question.

This is lunacy. Show me a positive test for a banned substance and I'll start calling for asterisks and banishment and whatever else. But leaked grand jury testimony and Confrontational Press Conference #132? Please.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

I Recant

"We want to win with Mike Cameron." - Omar Minaya

"... Would we be willing to win without Mike Cameron? Sure, but at the moment I haven't seen the offer that will help us win more. Yes, I'm looking at you, Billy. So get ready, Met fans, for some of the most spectacular right field defense you've ever seen played!"
- Omar Minaya's unspoken meaning

This story had some great quotes from Cameron, too:

"There's everything flying all over."
- MC, in an apparent homage to the late Hunter S. Thompson.

"I'm a helluva guy."
- MC, on whether he resents Beltran for moving him to right. Yes, it was said in jest, but he's been whining about the move like a helluva little girl.

Anyway, I don't want exhibition games to start with me on record with a prediction that the Braves will finish 4th in the division. I can't explain exactly what I was thinking.

It may have been the hurt talking. So many seasons of watching the Mets be so much worse than the boys from CNN/Coca-Cola/Delta-ville. Something snapped and I said something that obviously isn't true and I apologize.

I can stand by the Phils as my favorites, but I simply lack the huevos to put the Mets ahead of the Perpetual NL East Champs. The Marlins? Maybe, but what I meant to write was:

1. Philly
2. Atlanta
3. Fish
4. The New Mets
5. Natty Lights

Yeah, I take it all back.


Vinny's been all over the Cameron situation.

Gammons reports that Seattle has been discussing Randy Winn and Scott Spiezio as "bait" for Cameron. I don't have much love for Cammy, but that's chum.

I just completed the first of what will probably be several fantasy drafts. I have very few steals, but the hitting is fearsome at almost every position, and the staff has Unit, Halladay, and depth. Ryan, Takatsu, and Toronto Closer-For-Now Justin Speier. I figure it's easy money.

BP's Top 50 Prospects just dropped. I for one am shocked and appalled at the omission of Ryan Garko. At least we can be sure that the list was not compiled without plenty of spirited roundtable discussion. It sounded like Kahrl and Sheehan were about to throw down over to what extent Jeff Francis's ranking should be tempered by the Colorado factor. Call them nerds if you must, but these are serious men.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Keepers and the Hype Monkey

I just made my first trade of the offseason in my keeper league, and am trying to shake the Buyer's Remorse that always hits me right after a deal is consummated, except for those rare few which are such obvious fleecings that all I can do is giggle and try not to feel too guilty.

This was not one of those, however. I gave up Odalis Perez, whom I had for a paltry $7, and the rights to A-Rod at $40 which I was not going to exercise anyway. In return I received Rafael Furcal at market price ($17), and the Jeremys Affeldt ($1) and Bonderman ($10). I addressed my two glaring weaknesses at SS and RP, but can't shake the feeling that my pitching is going to be much worse for the loss of Odalis, whose game far exceeds his reputation due to the miserable run support he got last year.

But enough about me, let's talk about Jayson Stark.

Reading Stark's latest work, it occurs to me that an expression to which I was introduced only recently fits him to a T. The term is "hype monkey." A hype monkey, as it was explained to me, is someone who throws out superlatives with such reckless abandon that they soon lose all meaning whatsoever. Rather than simply saying a movie is funny, it must be "the funniest movie ever made." You get the idea.

Stark apparently thinks that being a Yankee is, like, the craziest thing ever, and Randy Johnson couldn't possibly be prepared for it. Now I've never been a Yankee, although another Brian R. Doyle sure as heck was. I do, however, have some idea of what Yankee fans are like, and what the press coverage is like, etc. And I'm just not convinced that playing for the Bombers is such a radically different proposition than playing for any other team, save for the money and the short right field porch. Stark apparently disagrees:

"He'll be expected to dominate now because he has to. That's what he's doing here. He has been brought to this time, this place, this team because the entire season has been built around the concept that having a nonstop, relentless, left-handed dominator is merely the key to everything." [Emphasis Stark's]

Hype Monkey.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

From the horse's mouth

The horse in question being BP's Nate Silver, who designed PECOTA was good enough to respond to my question in today's chat (The screen name refers to my alma mater, not the defending NL champs or the Catholic prelate):

Cardinal991 (New York): How bad does it look for Jose Reyes? His 2005 PECOTA is so bad, does he still project to be an above-average SS down the road? His star has faded about as fast as any once-coveted prospect I can recall.

Nate Silver: Reyes' PECOTA has also faded about as fast as anybody that I can remember, at least in the three long years that I've been doing this. PECOTA expected him to stay healthy and post a .261 EqA last year, which would have been fantastic for a 21-year-old shortstop; instead he got hurt and had an ugly .237 EqA. He's off the Roberto Alomar career track and on the Garry Templeton career track.

In Monday's post (conveniently linked for those unwilling or unable to scroll), I pointed out the ugly prognosis for Reyes. It's a hollow vindication to have Mr. PECOTA himself confirm that it's time to ratchet expectations down many, many notches from 2002. Here is Templeton's career. He did make three All-Star teams, but damn Nate, that's still ice cold.


Baseball America has named Carlos Quentin the Diamondbacks' #1 prospect. No surprise there. He did hit 357/433/533 at Double-A El Paso after his promotion last year, and while it's true that El Paso is one of the more hitter-friendly locales in the minor leagues, Quentin is only 22. Some organizations have better prospects, but the D-Backs are not one of them. He's still recovering from Tommy John surgery, which sounds strange for a position player, but BA praises him for showing that "bulldog mentality" by playing through the injury at Stanford. Ugh.

I cannot wait for some Spring Training results and storylines (even the "Griffey feels 100%" one) to take Jose Canseco off the front/back pages. I don't think I'm alone.

It's old news by now, but the Twins did themselves a huge favor by locking Santana up. Both sides were happy to avoid arbitration, huh?

Twins: "We're not willing to pay you $6.8 million. Five is the best we can do."
Santana: [lifts up AL Cy Young award in one hand and birth certificate dated March '79 in the other]
Arbitrator: "6.8 it is."

Monday, February 14, 2005

Ramon Castro: Free and loving it

Did you know that Omar signed Ramon Castro? I hadn't realized it until recently, but I like it. A cause celebre among statheads, Castro was expected to break through last year for the Marlins. He was coming off a 2003 in which he put up a 937 OPS in 57 at-bats. Sure that's an insignificant sample, I remember thinking, but it looked so good.

So I was excited. I went ahead and drafted him in one of my fantasy leagues (not in the last round, either). What happened, of course, was an unmitigated disaster. He dropped a 135/231/260 line right on the the collective heads of the stathead community, in only 97 ABs but that's about as many outs as the Marlins could stomach. He struck out about a third of the time.

I don't know what the story was. He was facing sexual assault charges, which could have been a distraction (the poor guy!). Lucky for him he pleaded no contest, thus avoiding jail time, this past November. In December, the Mets signed him to a minor league contract. The guy's probably a creep, but on the other hand his minor league record is quite impressive, and he's still only 28! The way I see it, he'll be a creep whether or not he's a potentially great backup catcher for the Mets, so he might as well be a potentially great backup catcher for the Mets. Is that so wrong?

Friday, February 11, 2005

"Don't you dare!": Reyes's Forecast for '05

Remember when Jose Reyes looked so good as a SS prospect that the Mets were the envy of every team in baseball... or at least pitied somewhat less? Well stop reading if you're squeamish, because here is what PECOTA, Baseball Prospectus's wholly empirical and eerily accurate forecasting system, expects from him in 2005:

418 AB, 6 HR, 25 BB, 57 K with a line of 262/304/374

Even at shortstop, those numbers are atrocious. But here's the real beauty part: PECOTA also assigns a percent chance that a player will significantly improve over their baseline forecast. In Reyes's case that number is about 9%, and he's got a 1 in 4 chance of improving on that line at all.

I wish I could say that this quantitative doomsaying was at odds with what I've seen of Reyes, but, in the words of Eli Cash, "I can't say no." With precious few extra-base exceptions, he's a free swinging, light-hitting shortstop. Sure, he's still 22, but he's also our starting shortstop. The slack has to end at some point, and if he doesn't beat that projection I'd say he will have passed it.

At least the forecast is sunnier for his double play partner, as Kazuo is expected to post about a 740 OPS with good speed.

Aside: Apparently, in my eager anticipation of the Mets signing Delgado, I "made" him a Met on my PECOTA spreadsheet and never changed it back. Sorting by team and then by VORP, it's a much nicer sight to see Beltran-Delgado-Wright as the top three than Beltran-Wright-Matsui, but what's done is done. Now the Marlins don't appear to have prospect Josh Willingham as their third most productive player.


The Cubs traded Kyle Farnsworth for very little, sticking with this offseason's organizational strategy of kicking the talent to the curb. He never did really harness his guatamalan-ness (his natural heat), but he was a damn servicable right arm who could fan some batters. It just means more work for Hawkins, Remlinger, and onetime "Closer" Joe Borowski. Jim Hendry has stumped me with this one.

The Giambi situation is indeed bizarre, but I'm not as disappointed as some that his apology didn't contain any explicit confession whatsoever. This "he apologized, but for what?" business is pure rubbish. Everyone knows what he's apologizing for. People just want to hear a detailed account so they can cross-check it with their copies of "Juiced." I don't know whether Giambi really was legally restricted from spilling his guts, but since we all have a pretty good idea what he's been up to I'm not sure what the rush is. Grand jury testimony is supposed to be sealed anyway.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

We can make you stronger, faster...

Rick Peterson takes the boys down to Alabama for biomechanical evaluation. Sure it seems unlikely, but when you need the latest in sports medicine technology, you've got to make a run for the Mason-Dixon line. Braden Looper apparently doesn't have much time for it, but Bartolome Fortunato, who MST3K fans might agree looks like the "Amazing Colossal Man," seems to find the motion-capture process rather enjoyable.

I'm a believer in the Oakland philosophy of player evaluation and player development, and I'm glad to see Peterson get some much deserved credit for the success of the A's staff. "The Big Three" were and are extremely talented pitchers, but several teams have had similar talent that they have not been able to keep healthy. Some of them are downright scornful of Peterson's little color-coded notebook, which he uses to track practically each pitch his guys throw. Apparently it's not cool to take your job seriously.

Should the Mets rotation fail to perform well and stay healthy, I don't think it will take very long at all for the local news coverage to switch from "Peterson is ahead of his time" to "Peterson is a charlatan fruitcake who should have stayed out west where he belongs." But I'm enjoying it while it lasts.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005


That's the headline on the back page of today's Daily News, with a picture of Pedro lifting what appear to be 15 lb. freeweights over his head. Seeing it on the subway this morning, I couldn't help but think that if you didn't know that the little Dominican guy with hair from "Sexual Chocolate" was one of the most feared athletes of his generation, he'd look a little ridiculous... but we do so he doesn't. Besides, as Eric and others have pointed out, he may have to carry the rotation with very little help from starters 2 through 5.

Tim Kurkjian says (Insider) that the Mets are the most improved team of the offseason, but not a playoff team, though they still have "the potential to contend." This is apparently Tim's entry into the Most Cryptic Prediction contest that's so popular at ESPN this time of year. I might as well go ahead and make mine now, before exhibition games start and I get all excited when Victor Zambrano goes 4 innings without walking a batter ("Peterson cured him! Praise Jesus!"):

NL East order of finish: Philadelphia, Florida, New York, Atlanta, Washington.

Call me crazy. I know a few other members of the MetsDaily "Blog Squad" have prudently taken Atlanta (because they always do) and Florida (rotation and Delgado). As much as I dislike all Philly teams, I think they have the best roster, and as much as I respect the Cox/Mazzone brain trust, I don't think they have the horses this year. Realistically I think every team in the division but the Nationals has a fighting chance for the Wild Card.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Jose Canseco, Pariah

Buster Olney is really all over the place in his article on the Canseco tell-all. Should his accusations and "revelations" be taken with a few hundred milligrams of salt? Of course, he writes, but "Canseco's broader assertion -- that there were a lot of steroids in baseball, dating far back -- fits perfectly with all the anecdotal evidence and sport-wide assumptions."

Perfectly, huh? No joke? Wouldn't just about any clubhouse needle story from Olney's "steroid era" (he dates it 1987-2004, which itself seems suspect) fit "perfectly" with anecdotes and sport-wide assumptions? Isn't there some obligation for newshounds like Buster to look into whether his very specific accusations are, ya know, true?

I'm especially interested in Canseco's accounts of the Rangers clubhouse, where he claims to have introduced Pudge Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, and Juan Gonzalez to the wonders of anabolic steroids. If you were to pick three guys from that team who people could easily imagine juicing, and people would pay to read about, those would be the three. Palmeiro has already denied it, though we already know he's not above "better living through chemistry." This allegedly took place, of course, during George W. Bush's ownership of the club, but I will leave the painfully obvious cocaine jokes to less dignified commentators.

In short, lots of guys were/are taking drugs to play better. This didn't start in 1987, and didn't end in 2004. Some of Canseco's accusations are probably true, but how can we trust a man who has repeatedly lied before, especially when he sports a tan like this?

Monday, February 07, 2005

Previewing the NL East - Washington Nationals


Livan Hernandez had lost a lot of his World Series MVP luster in the two years prior to his acquisition by the Expos. As he entered his prime, he appeared to be getting bigger rather than better, and useful more for the sheer quantity of innings he could provide than their average-to-good quality.

In 2003, however, he suddenly became rather awesome. He struck out more batters (career high 6.87 K/9), walked fewer, and generally became very difficult to hit. He wasn’t quite as good last year, and his massive workload has to catch up to him at some point (doesn’t it?), but Hernandez is without a doubt the Nationals’ franchise player.

The demon that possessed Esteban Loaiza’s body for the duration of the 2003 season has apparently been exorcised. While the gate to the spirit world ought best remain closed, this is nonetheless an unfortunate development from a baseball standpoint. As the Yankees discovered firsthand after trying to acquire the nearly unhittable demon, “plain” Esteban is an average pitcher at best, and will probably remain so as a National.

Tony Armas, Jr. has been on everyone’s list of potential breakouts for a few seasons now. He’s now on the list of players most likely to suffer a major injury, pitching a total of 103 innings over the last two years. He’s still 26, so he can’t be removed from the first list yet, but he may never return to his buzzworthy form of 2001.

One bright spot in an otherwise worrisome bullpen is Cal State - Fullerton product Chad Cordero, who had a very nice year in 2004. Here is his line at age 22:

82.2 83 43 8 2.94

That’s a very nice season, and the strikeout numbers bode well for the future. The ERA, however, is probably misleading.

For one thing, his Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) was an unusually low .278*. He also induced 111 fly balls, against only 67 groundballs, which suggests he was lucky to only watch 8 of them leave the park. In short, if he pitched exactly the same way in 2005, he’d probably allow quite a few more runs. It’s hardly damning criticism of a guy his age, but he’s not a great reliever yet.


I’m not going to go through the entire National lineup because there’s not very much to say and even less of it is nice, but there are a few players worth mentioning.

Brad Wilkerson didn’t get credit for a breakout season last year, but he did hit 32 home runs and his 872 OPS was top-20 in the NL, just behind Miguel Cabrera. He will continue to hit for power, maybe moreso this year, and draw a lot of walks, thus generating offense while remaining under the radar of the more batting average-oriented.

Jose Vidro endured a dreadful slump early last season. His split for the month of May: 207/277/315 in 92 AB. That will put a damper on the ol’ season line, but Vidro caught fire in June and almost got it up to his career norms. He should remain one of the league’s best-hitting second baseman.

Despite his dismal slump at the end of last season, Nick Johnson is probably still a very good hitter, but he may have to follow Casey Martin’s lead if he’s ever going to play a full season. If he petitions the commissioner’s office to allow him the use of a specially-outfitted cart of some kind, I bet he’d post a 450 OBP with 25 homers and 30 doubles. He’s got hitting skills, I’m sure of it. His body’s just a wreck, is all. Why should he be denied his dream?

The acquisitions of Christian Guzman and Vinny Castilla are pretty much textbook blunders. Too much money? Of course but that’s the least of it. What’s really bad is a) the length of the contracts, and b) the mediocrity of the players acquired.

With the likes of Carlos Beltran, Tim Hudson, Carlos Delgado and Pedro Martinez coming to the NL East, the Nationals are probably headed for a long debut season. It’s almost impossible to imagine them finishing ahead of any of the four other teams in the division, even if everything goes their way.

At least they’ll look good doing it. God those are ugly.

*For those unfamiliar with this pitching statistic, it’s been shown to be a better measure of luck than skill, so Cordero’s low BABIP suggests that his H/9 and ERA were lower than they should have been, given his pitching performance. For more, check out the original, nay seminal article by Voros McCracken.


As convenient as it may sound, I am (and always have been) a New England Patriots fan, so I'm obviously excited to see them add to their resume as the best team of their era. The Eagles played a tough game, but were simply overmatched. The game was made to look a lot closer by their last touchdown, which was the result of a flukish blown coverage by a replacement safetly.

The Tigers gave Magglio Ordonez a 5-yr/$75MM contract. Here's what Baseball Prospectus's Joe Sheehan wrote last week: "If Magglio Ordonez signs for anything close to what Scott Boras is apparently asking for--five years at more than $10 million per--then the signing team is completely insane." Hmmm... And he's getting MUCH more than that. Don't hurt'em Joe.

Apologies for the inactivity at the end of last week. I was in Vegas enjoying another hobby at the Bellagio $4-$8 tables. Phil Ivey made an appearance (at the high-stakes tables, of course).

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Scott Stewart, huh?

I admit I thought's choice of headlines was a little funny. Mets Beef Up Bullpen, accompanied by a photo of Stewart back in his Montreal heyday, appearing to have a second chin in the works.

That was back in 2003, and given his performance last year (6.58 ERA in 34 games, split between two lucky teams) he may have assumed it was a career and let himself go a little since. I imagine him reporting to camp looking like Bob Wickman's mirror image, but maybe just for my own entertainment. In any case he's not a very good reliever, but he's the kind of guy the Mets are going to have to depend on this year.

Remember the John Franco, Turk Wendell, Dennis Cook bullpen? Around 1998? Yeah, me too. That group was much better.

The two minor league contracts are about what you'd expect. 28 year-old Eric Junge, in 26.1 innings for Triple-A Scranton, posted a 9.91 ERA. You could try to find a Major League Equivalent for that small sample over at BP, or you could just file him under "Awful" and move on.

Jed Hansen has a little more going for him. In 463 at-bats for Triple-A Omaha, he hit 27 home runs with an OPS of 871. Remarkably, he also played at least twenty games at the following positions: OF, 1B, 2B and SS. Joe McEwing soured me a little bit on the virtues of versatility, but I don't think Super Joe slugged 505 anywhere above rookie ball. Hansen's downside? The 33 candles on his next birthday cake. They can't all be prospects, ya know.


Carlos Delgado handles his bidness, and you have to respect it. The AP reported yesterday that Delgado loves the Florida state tax code so much, he'll effectively be taking it with him should, God forbid, he get traded to a team that plays in some bleeding-heart welfare state. Maybe the Wilpons should start doing some lobbying in Albany.

Flushing Local isn't very optimistic that the Mets are a better team than they were last year. I can't say I agree with her conclusion, but the position-by-position breakdown is pretty on the mark. I would recommend it to anyone who's expecting a division title in 2005.

Toby at Mets Minor League Report is hopping mad about the Minky-Blade deal, which has already been criticized by others including myself. I mention it because my old college buddy is even madder than I am. He's really mad. Maybe the maddest.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Previewing the NL East - Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies were arguably the league's biggest disappointment last season.

Having been picked by many if not most to unseat Atlanta as division champ, Larry Bowa's squad took the lead briefly in July before losing 9 of 10 and falling out of the race for good.

Their record stood below .500 in September, and it took a late-season streak against the Marlins to salvage 2nd place.

Was it a lack of chemistry? Poor situational hitting? No. It was rather a sudden, vicious and staff-wide case of gopheritis.

2003 6.61 1.98 0.89 4.04
2004 6.58 2.13 1.32 4.45

Some of that whopping 48 percent increase can be attributed to Citizens Bank Park, which ranked 5th among all Major League parks in homer-friendliness, just behind Coors Field... but only 13 percent.

The Philadelphia rotation was a shambles virtually all year, with Randy Wolf and Vicente Padilla injured for stretches at a time. Brett Myers, whether he thinks so or not, was clearly not ready for prime time, striking out fewer than 6 per nine and generally getting knocked around to the tune of a 5.56 ERA .

One obvious solution, it would seem, was to get rid of Eric Milton, winner of the Golden Neck Brace award. In just 201 innings of work, the once-promising lefty was responsible for 43 souvenirs.

Appropriately, Milton will peddle his wares in Cincinnati this year, having been signed by scouting aficionado Dan O'Brien to a shocking 3yr/$25.5MM contract. Apparently O’Brien considers HR allowed to be a sign of guts.

It was not all addition-by-subtraction this winter for the Phils, as Jon Lieber was brought aboard to take over as the [cough] ace of the staff.

Lieber is a fine pitcher with eerie command coming off a year in which he would have clearly been the class of the Philly starters. His career rate of 1.11 HR/9 is certainly respectable, and his groundball/flyball numbers back it up, but he would probably be the worst staff ace among playoff contenders (now that STL has Mulder).

22 year-old Gavin Floyd looks like the real deal, beating fellow prospect Cole Hamels to the majors and flashing an excellent line in 28 1/3 IP: 24 K, 16 BB, 1 HR(!), 3.49 ERA. Forget the walks. That's freakin' awesome. Priority 1 for Philly management has to be keeping Floyd's arm intact through the injury nexus. Tell him to go easy on the curveballs for awhile, if you have to, but keep him healthy.

The biggest question for me is whether Randy Wolf will be healthy and return to his 2002 form, when he posted a 3.20 ERA with very good peripherals. Still only 28, I'd expect a healthy Wolf to make Lieber the #1 starter in name only.

The bullpen, should they coax 70 innings out of Billy Wagner, should be the best in the division.

Tim Worrell doesn't seem to be aging. He had an off year ERA-wise in 2004, but his 64K/21BB ratio was the best of his career. His age 37 year should be about as good as his last three, which is good.

Ryan Madson doesn't throw like Francisco Rodriguez, but looks to be among the best young relievers in baseball. In 77 innings he only walked 19 and surrendered just 6 home runs. Hitters may not strike out against him, but they're not likely to get on base either.

The good news for the Phillies last year? Their offense put plenty of runs on the board. 840 to be exact, which ranked third in the league, and closer to the Cardinals (855) and Giants (850) than the Braves (803).

The Abreu-Thome tandem is preposterously good, combining for 72 HR, 75 doubles, 231 walks and 40 steals (all Bobby's, naturally).

I suspect partly due to having played against the Yankees in the postseason (back in his Cleveland days), Thome gets his due recognition as a masher of baseballs. Meanwhile, and it's becoming a cliche, I know, but it's true: Bobby Abreu is still the most underrated player in the game.

Abreu went 30-40 while getting caught a mere 5 times, hit .301, approached a 4-digit OPS, drove in over 100 runs, scored close to 120, played a great right field... yet most baseball fans couldn't pick him out of lineup. Were it not for the aforementioned team pitching woes, which, bizarrely, hitters get blamed for in award balloting, he would have made the short list for MVP.

It wasn't just a late-season hot streak creating a false impression, Jimmy Rollins (289/348/445) really did break out last year, and then he turned 26 in November. He looks like a safe bet to avoid the Pokey Reese career path, and a decent bet to enjoy a better peak than Rafael Furcal, who's a few months older.

Doug Glanville having mercifully gone to his great reward, Kenny Lofton will be taking over in center field. Lofton's 346 OBP in 276 AB last year suggests his hitting skills are better-preserved than his body, but should he miss time or lose another step in the field, a very qualified Marlon Byrd will answer the bell.

The rest of the lineup is pretty much the same as last year, which is good. Chase Utley will start at second ahead of Polanco. The 26 year-old former Cotuit Kettleer has shown the potential to hit for Jeff Kent power, if not Jeff Kent average. It's enough to compensate for the fact that he's still not sure what this "strike zone" is that everyone's talking about.

All things considered, I think the Phillies can be expected to improve on last year's record, and be in the division race to the very last. They should give up fewer home runs, if not for their offseason moves than simply because it'd be hard to give up any more.

They should get more innings out of Wolf and Padilla, not to mention Floyd, and now that Smoltz is a starter they have the best closer in the division hands down. Then there's that offense. In short, Mets fans, it's a little bit scary.