Another Joe Morgan Chat

This was another solid showing from Mr. Morgan. Let’s get serious:

Joe Morgan: One thing that I’ve taken notice of this year has been the fact that the stars are still being the stars. They’re being consistent from the beginning of the season. Whereas, we’re finding that a lot of teams that were supposed to be at the top of the division are struggling, but the star players are still playing like stars. I’m specifically talking about guys like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Pujols, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Jeter. Guys like that are playing consistent. I think that separates them even more from the pack.

What do Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez, David Ortiz, Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore, Carlos Lee, Mark Teixeira, Jason Bay, Jose Reyes, RYAN HOWARD, Matt Holliday, and Michael Young have in common? They are “star players” that have gotten off the bad starts. Morgan’s opening statement is gibberish. He is making things up.

Q: What are your thoughts on A-Rod walking over the mound against Oakland?

Morgan: I have to admit that I have been corrected, because I didn’t know that unwritten rule. I’ve seen different reports. One said that he stomped on the rubber. The other said that he walked over the mound. But I was never told or thought about the fact that you should never walk over the mound. The pitcher said that was his mound, but it could be the Yankees’ pitcher’s mound too, right? If he’s standing on the mound, I understand that. But I don’t think he was. If that’s the case, then pitcher’s shouldn’t stand in the hitter’s batting box. I find it humorous that it was a big deal other than the fact that it was A-Rod. I still think that players are jealous of him because of the money he’s made. I guarantee you that he’s not the only one that’s run over a mound this year.

So help me God, I agree with the last three sentences of Morgan’s response. Let’s move on before I think about this too much.

Q: Is Ryan Howard really worth 25 mil/year?

No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. NO.

Morgan: Well, let’s put it this way. If Joe Mauer is worth 23 or so. A guy that hits 40 plus HRs and drives in 140 runs a year and Joe Mauer has never done that, then I would say yes. Howard produces numbers and that’s what we’ve come to in this game is about numbers. I don’t necessarily like the fact that it’s about numbers, but he produces them. It also begs to question, what is Albert Pujols worth?

Ugh. Okay, so I was going to devote an entire post to the absurdity of Ryan Howard’s fat new extension. But now I see an opportunity to criticize Joe Morgan’s analysis and Howard’s deal, and I can’t pass that up. I’m not even going to make a big stink about how Morgan, like the Phillies, looked at Howard’s RBI totals and decided that he’s worth $25 million a year because of them. Rob Neyer has already written about this, and if you’re reading this blog, you probably don’t need to be convinced that RBI is a worthless statistic. Instead, let’s just focus on two things that the Phillies apparently chose to totally ignore: Howard’s (gasp!) performance and his age.

Contrary to popular belief, Howard is not an elite player. Part of this is that the offensive standards for first basemen are quite high. The other part is that, well, Howard’s performance is not elite. He can’t hit lefties. His career .225/.308/.442 line against southpaws, which is already bad, masks the fact that this ability has been in steep decline since 2006. Look it up, it’s striking. His walk rate has also been declining since 2007. Add this to his mediocre defensive ability and it paints a pretty grim picture, once you get past his huge RBI totals.

Also contrary to popular belief, Howard is not all that young. He’s 30 years old. Many people seem to forget that Howard’s first full season (2006) came when he was 26 years old. This isn’t entirely his fault; the Jim Thome era was winding down in Philadelphia, and the Phillies didn’t have a place to play Howard. But 26 years old is still awfully late to be making a full-season debut. Howard’s meant that he broke into the big leagues right at his prime. Sure enough, his 2006 season (.313/.425/.659) was monstrous even to statheads like me. He was quite good in 2007 too, but since then, there have been hints of decline. And let’s not forget how big, lumbering, unathletic 1B/DH types tend to break down earlier than other players. Howard’s top five “most similar players” through age 29 are Richie Sexson, Cecil Fielder, Mo Vaughn, Willie McCovey, and David Ortiz. Not auspicious.

There’s an argument to be made that Howard is only the fourth most valuable Phillie (certainly behind Chase Utley and Roy Halladay, probably behind Jayson Werth, and possibly behind Jimmy Rollins). Extending his contract – needlessly, and right at the beginning of his decline phase – is poor business by itself, and even worse when his salary will be the second-highest in the game.

Q: What is your early assessment of the Cubs? There seems to be a better vibe than last season- thank you Marlon Byrd.

Morgan: I’m not close enough to it to give one guy credit, but I do believe that they have a better feel and chemistry this year. But chemistry is not going to be why they win. I’m still a little suspicious of the talent on that team. I have to say I was surprised the other day when they put Zambrano in the bullpen when he pitched 6 or 7 innings that day and gave up only a few runs. I’m not sure the Cubs have found their way yet. Byrd was a great addition to the team, but we still have to wait to see if they’ll win the division.

I would like to coolly direct you to this chat from July of 2009, when Matt in Jacksonville asked Morgan about the Cubs’ woes. Predictably, Morgan pinned most of their problems on the personality of the team, saying there was something “different” about them. Of course, the answer was that the Cubs weren’t hitting, but that would have been too logical. Anyway, the implication was that the personality (or chemistry, if you prefer) of the clubhouse was a significant factor in their futility.

Today, Matt in Chicago (same Matt? I hope so) asks Morgan basically the same question: what’s the deal with the Cubs? And Morgan, to my complete and utter amazement, says that the Cubs’ chemistry has improved, but “chemistry is not going to be why they win.” In fact, according to Morgan, “talent” is necessary to win games.

So, let’s recap. In 2009, the Cubs had an iffy team personality, which needed to change because it was holding them back. In 2010, the Cubs have pretty good chemistry, but you know what, chemistry doesn’t really matter all that much compared to talent.

Q: Mr. Morgan, what do you think of the Giants Tim Lincecum? If you could compare him to one pitcher, who would it be?

Morgan: Obviously, he has proven to me that he is going to, he’s not yet there, a great pitcher. Being blunt with you, I didn’t think he should have won the Cy Young last year. Wainwright, to me, had the best season of a pitcher last year. Lincecum went 2-3 down the stretch. I still believe that he’s going to be a great pitcher. All that said, he’s phenomenal in the way he handles pitchers this year. He’s so much better in that way this year. When he gets behind in the count, the hitters don’t have an edge. He goes to a changeup instead of throwing a fastball over the plate.

I just think you have to wait a little bit before comparing him to a Juan Marichal. I would compare them, because they both use the fastball and a lot of other pitches. But if you look at someone that’s pitching now, I would say Johan Santana, except he’s lefthanded. When Santana was in Minnesota and threw harder, I would say they were a great match. They use the same pitches and have great stuff.

Morgan compares Tim Lincecum to Juan Marichal one sentence after saying we shouldn’t compare Tim Lincecum to Juan Marichal. Because “they both use the fastball and a lot of other pitches,” no less. Words fail me.

Q: Who’s the best pitcher in the NL?

Morgan: You have to start with Halladay, until last night. He was undefeated until then. Lincecum has not been defeated. He’s pitched great. The stars are being stars. I pointed out the hitters earlier, but the star pitchers are doing well too. The guy who has pitched well and maybe wasn’t supposed to is Mike Pelfrey. The Mets were looking for a No. 2 behind Santana and it’s been Pelfrey. Brad Penny has pitched well. Barry Zito. There have been a lot of pitchers doing well this year and some haven’t gotten wins this year. I’ve been impressed with a lot of pitchers. That’s just to name a few.

What do Jair Jurrjens, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Jake Peavy, Mark Buerhle, Gavin Floyd, Carlos Zambrano, Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, and Cole Hamels have in common? They are “star pitchers” that have gotten off to bad starts. More gibberish.

Morgan (in closing): I’m broadcasting the Phillies-Mets this weekend. There’s a lot of talk about Howard, but I’m always asking people, what about Chase Utley? He’s the best hitting second baseman in the league. He drives in runs and scores runs. He’s a much better player than he gets credit for.

Chase (ha!) that thought, Joe.

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