I thought this was the low point for Steve Phillips, I really did. At the time, it seemed impossible for someone to say something dumber than, basically, “a center fielder that is hitting .370/.467/.584 is hurting his team.” But I think I’ve finally learned to never, ever underestimate Phillips’ singular and unparalleled penchant for stupidity. Because today, Phillips said he would trade Stephen Strasburg for Roy Oswalt if he were running the Washington Nationals. If you are already as avid a baseball fan as I am, then I don’t need to explain to you why this ludicrous. But if you aren’t, I’ll explain it to you, because I’m your buddy.
I’m a little late to the party on this one, but the most recent bit of stupidity from ESPN’s Steve Phillips warrants mentioning, however tardy.
As you might know, the much–maligned former general manager went off the deep end a little bit in a recent Mets-Braves broadcast. Phillips apparently partook in the current fad amongst baseball analysts and sports radio hosts, which is the diagnosis of what exactly is wrong with the New York Mets (answer: it’s May). The popular conclusion to this diagnosis – thanks partly to the team’s own GM – is usually that the Mets lack an “edge” or the toughness necessary to win consistently. Phillips did nothing to correct this ambiguous and useless sentiment. Instead, he offered a more specific criticism by targeting center fielder Carlos Beltran as a symbol of what is wrong with the Mets. Of course, his argument maintained the total ambiguity that so often characterizes a poorly conceived position on an issue. Many writers took note of Phillips’ dumbfounding tirade and responded with an appropriate mix of disbelief and chagrin. I’d recommend you check out Ted Berg, Bob Raissman, Sam Page, and Joe Posnanski’s responses in particular.
Steve Phillips’ recent chat on ESPN.com provided an opportunity for him to clarify, amend, and reconsider his clearly wrongheaded position on the Mets and Carlos Beltran. As a general fan of clarity and accountability, I was more than a little interested in Phillips’ response to the inevitable question about his infamous denunciation. Indeed, the last question of the chat was an admirably restrained disagreement with Phillips’ position. In light of the overwhelming evidence against Phillips’ argument, I was sure he would concede at least some ground. I was totally wrong:
Beltran Stays (New York): Steve, while I respect your work, I disagree with your statements about Carlos Beltran on Sunday Night Baseball. The guy has done nothing but produce, and name me a CF who’s better in the game right now.
Steve Phillips: If the Mets don’t make the playoffs, I firmly believe they need to reconfigure the core of this team. While Beltran does have talent, I just don’t see him as a winning player. Even after my comments on Sunday night, Beltran let a fly ball drop in between himself and Angel Pagan in the Dodger game. I see him putting up numbers but not making plays to win games. I would take Torii Hunter, Grady Sizemore, Curtis Granderson, and Nate McLouth over Beltran, and use the financial difference to improve the team in other ways. Beltran isn’t a $17 million dollar a year player. He just doesn’t have the kind of impact for that kind of money.
Steve Phillips: Many people think that Alex Rodriguez is the best player in the game, but he’s never won anything. I look at Beltran in a similar fashion as Rodriguez–a great talent that just doesn’t seem to have what it takes to win championships. Maybe the Mets can keep him and add pieces to the core around him and still win. But when you’re dealing with a budget and the screams of immediacy in New York, I’m not sure the Mets can wait to piece it together around him. I know there are a lot of people who disagree with me, but it’s just the way I see it. Beltran is a very good person and a solid citizen, in addition to being a guy who puts up numbers. I like him, I just don’t think they can win with him.
Once again, Phillips reveals that he is simply not a smart person. His arbitrary labeling of Beltran as a non-“winning player” illustrates his total ignorance of how baseball works while doing nothing to cut through the pervasive ambiguity of his argument. Allow me to be perfectly clear about the fact that Beltran is an exceptional, wonderful, Hall of Fame-caliber baseball player. His .370 batting average ranks first in baseball among outfielders. That goes for his .467 on-base percentage. His .584 slugging percentage ranks eighth. He does these things while providing extraordinary baserunning and defense. Phillips just cannot seem to grasp that these numbers represent the careful recording of real-life events that have occurred in real-life baseball games played by real-life baseball players. “Putting up numbers,” particularly those of Beltran’s caliber, is synonymous with “making plays to win games.” It’s also ridiculous and unfair to say that Beltran “just doesn’t seem to have what it takes to win championships.” He’s been on some horrendous teams and some unlucky teams in his career. That’s why he hasn’t won a World Series.
I wonder if Phillips thinks the same of Tony Gwynn, Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Thome, or any other Hall of Fame-caliber player that hasn’t won a championship. I’m guessing he’d draw yet another arbitrary and ambiguous distinction to keep Beltran separate from those players.
…but since August 20th, when ESPN’s Steve Phillips said it’s “too little too late” for the Yankees with respect to catching the Mariners in the AL Wild Card race (despite being 0.5 back), the Mariners are 5-12 (including convincingly losing 2 out of 3 to the Yankees this week). The Yankees have a 3 game lead in the Wild Card, which is, of course, not insurmountable. But Christ almighty, the Mariners’ eventual regression was so obvious even to me – an unpaid Vanderbilt student. Steve Phillips, paid ESPN baseball analyst, had no idea that the Mariners were going to regress so mightily.
It wasn’t that hard to predict. And I am never going to let this go. A 0.5 game deficit in the Wild Card…”too little too late”…with nearly 40 games to play. What a joke.
Baseball Tonight just ran a segment about the Seattle Mariners’ recent (predictable) woes. After summarizing their 9 game losing streak, Karl Ravech turns to the analysts for analysis. Of course, the one to dissect their problems is John Kruk, and not the adjacent Steve Phillips, who has done nothing in recent weeks but assure viewers that the Mariners will make the playoffs, and the Yankees will not.
This is arguably nitpicking, but I find this annoying. Phillips is on record – ESPN chats, BBTN, radio spots – as saying that the Mariners have what it takes to make the playoffs, and that the Yankees’ run is “too little too late.” Even though Phillips’ analysis can be and has been proven demonstrably false, I have yet to see him held accountable for his awful, woeful insight.
Of course, this is not like demanding someone be held accountable for war crimes or any other even moderately serious issue. It’s baseball, baseball is fun, and arguing about it is even more fun. But man, I wish ESPN would routinely return to analysts’ predictions – whether they be true or false – in order to both further enlighten the viewer and to hold analysts responsible for their predictions.
This really is amazing:
Vinny (New York): With a gun to your head, still Seatle over the Yanks for the Wild Card? Yankees are looking pretty impressive, just taking care of most people’s “best team in baseball.”
Steve Phillips: The Yanks looked good beating an undermanned Tigers team, I agree with you. But I think the Mariners will hold on and win the Wild Card. Their starting pitching is just good enough and their bullpen in unreal. They have one of the best defenses in babseball, and they are starting to produce on offense. I think it is too little too late for the Yankees to make the playoffs.
Firstly, I debate the notion that the Tigers were “undermanned”. The only key player they were missing was Placido Polanco. Starters Kenny Rogers and Andrew Miller are on the DL, but the Yankees faced Nate Robertson, Justin Verlander, Chad Durbin, and Jeremy Bonderman. All except Durbin are their regular starters, and he’s actually as good as Miller and Rogers have been this year. Lastly, there’s Joel Zumaya, but the Yankees were leading late in most of the games anyway, which (according to current bullpen management) means Zumaya wouldn’t have been in many of the 4 games. In short, I don’t think the Tigers were undermanned. But this is nitpicking compared to the rest of Phillips’ response.
[Seattle’s] starting pitching is just good enough and their bullpen in [sic] unreal.
“In” unreal. Nice. Each clause in this statement is false. Seattle’s starting pitching is 27th in baseball with a 5.02 ERA, and 25th with an .802 OPS against. Their bullpen is not “unreal.” I will bet you a nickel that Phillips only thinks their bullpen is awesome because they have JJ Putz, who is, in fact, awesome. Seattle’s bullpen is definitely good – 11th in baseball with a 3.81 ERA and 7th with a .692 OPS against. This is not, however, “unreal.” I know ERA is an imperfect evaluative tool, but it is worth mentioning that the Yankees’ bullpen ERA is better than Seattle’s (3.76). Marginal, I know. But still.
They have one of the best defenses in babseball, and they are starting to produce on offense.
Seattle is 26th in baseball in defensive efficiency. Again, I will bet you that Phillips thinks the Mariners are awesome on defense because they have Ichiro and Yuniesky Betancourt. Also maybe because they don’t commit many errors. But we know that errors are a poor tool for evaluating players, because errors are usually the result of a blatant mishandling of a ball, and balls can only be blatantly mishandled if the player can actually get to it. So, players with great range may commit more errors than Derek Jeter a player with terrible range, because their range affords them more opportunities to screw up. Got it?
Seattle’s OPS by month: .723, .778, .764, .695, .871. Let’s play a game called “Find The Outlier.” If you guessed that .871 is the outlier, you’re right. Implied in Phillips’ phrasing is that the Mariners are finally performing up to their full offensive potential. So let’s say the Mariners’ full offensive potential is in the mid-.800s. How many teams in baseball have an OPS in the mid-.800s? Zero. Well, the Yankees are at .832, so maybe them. So, according to Steve Phillips, the Mariners – in August – are finally blooming as an offense. The previous 5 months were a slump. The Real Mariners are hitting at a (would-be league-leading) .871 clip.
Sorry, I’m going with the previous 5 months’ data.
I think it is too little too late for the Yankees to make the playoffs.
Ah, he ends with flourish. A quick look at the standings shows that the Yankees are 0.5 games behind the Mariners in the Wild Card. In light of the following facts…:
- The Yankees’ offense is the best in baseball, the Mariners’ is 12th
- The Yankees’ starting pitching is 19th, the Mariners’ is 27th
- The Yankees’ defense is 15th, the Mariners’ is 26th
- The Yankees’ bullpen is 8th, the Mariners’ is 11th
- The Yankees have scored 735 runs and allowed 575; the Mariners have scored 604 runs and allowed 589
…Steve Phillips says the Yankees – with 38 games to go – will not catch the Mariners. Think about that. The Yankees have made up 3.5 games in the last month on the Red Sox, which is actually a good team that is playing right around their expected level. So obviously making up half a game on an average team that has been incredibly, ridiculously lucky this year is impossible. ESPN.com itself shows that the Yankees’ expected record – given their run differential – is 77-47 (their actual record is 70-54). The Mariners should be at 62-59 (their actual record is 69-52). Therefore, Seattle should expect a correction soon.
Now, I’m not saying that the Yankees will definitely overtake the Mariners. Baseball is a crazy game, and Seattle may hold on. Who knows. What I am saying is that, in light of all the available evidence, it is ludicrous to say that “it is too little too late for the Yankees.” Ludicrous.
Our self-appointed job here at Fan Interference is to ridicule and correct the mistakes of professional baseball writers. But it should also stand to reason that if one of them says something uncharacteristically smart or insightful, we should point it out also. Picking up on a pet peeve of Special K’s, I found a choice nugget in Steve Phillip’s weekly online chat. Normally, the former Mets GM is intolerable on the air, always trying to sneak big economic jargon into simple trade stories. But here’s what he had to say about the Red Sox’ suspect credentials this year:
- Jim Nj: The Red Sox bats are shaky shut out against Texas and Now Seattle. What moves can be made to make sure the Sox don’t get shut out 45 games this year, and get the pitchers more wins? 1 win was taken from Wakefield another from Dice-K I will take 2-3 runs allowed by a starting pitcher every ouoting.
Steve Phillips: I agree with you that, if Matsuzaka gives up 3 runs in 7 innings every time out, he’ll win 15 games for sure. He certainly pitched well enough to win yesterday. The Red Sox offense is off to a bit of a slow start. The main culprit is Manny Ramirez. This season, like last year, Manny just doesn’t seem locked in. I think JD Drew will have a productive season behind Ortiz and Manny, but there are some holes in the lineup that could limit overall production. Mike Lowell looks like he might be slowing down a little bit, and I have questions about Dustin Pedroia and Coco Crisp at the bottom of the lineup. There’s just not enough sock to go with the big 3 in the middle. People think I’m crazy to pick the Red Sox 3rd in the East, but when you look at the ‘ifs’ for this team, you have to have some concerns.
Steve Phillips: Here’s what I mean; the Red Sox can go to the playoffs IF Curt Schilling doesn’t drop off and IF Josh Beckett can be the ace they traded for and IF Wakefield and Jon Lester can win 12 games each and IF Papelbon can stay healthy all season and IF they can find someone to take the ball in the seventh and eighth innings and IF they get decent production from Crisp, Lowell, and Pedroia. It may happen, but experience shows that not everything does.
You might remember that Peter Gammons, Jayson Stark*, and even the dear-to-our-hearts Buster Olney predicted Boston will win the AL East under the assumption that all these hypotheticals are certainties; so it’s nice to one of the regulars breaking through the Bristol-based hype machine for an instant. I know, this is kind of like rewarding the slacker student for finally doing what’s expected of him, but still: baby steps.
*I just noticed the unnecessary letter “y” in Stark’s first name. What a jerk.
I’m watching the Yankees-Tigers Spring Training game, and Steve Phillips says something like this (sorry it’s not verbatim, I am not blessed with TiVo):
“The thing that fans sometimes don’t understand is that the difference between a major-league player and a minor-league player isn’t the player’s velocity [sic], or break on his pitches, or his skills. It’s the consistency of his performance.”
Well Steve, it would seem that some former general managers (that would be you) don’t understand that the consistency of a player’s perfomance is usually, gasp!, based on the velocity of his pitches, the break on his pitches, and his skills in general. Doesn’t that make sense? If a player has above-average skills, he will consistently perform well.