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October 6, 2009

Prospectus Today

Series Previews

by Joe Sheehan

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I've drawn the major Yankees/Team X ALDS preview, which obviously won't be available until tomorrow morning thanks to the last reminder of why Calvin Griffith was one of the worst owners in sports history. The Twins never needed a new ballpark because of the Metrodome itself-in six months, it will be obvious that they've made a tactical error-but because their lease made them the Vikings' bitches for nearly 30 years. So instead of a one-game playoff coming on the day after the regular season like every one had before, we get it on Tuesday, with the winner getting to celebrate for about nine minutes before starting the Division Series.

The other three matchups are set, and the official previews for those will be up over the next day or so. Today, I'll take a condensed look at each. Remember that the least important line in all of these, and in every postseason series preview you read, is the last one. It's about the analysis, not the prediction.

Phillies/Rockies

There are enough similarities between the 2007 versions of these teams and the ones that take the field tomorrow to consider this a rematch, as more than half of the starting lineups come back. Where the teams are different is even similar, as each features a stronger starting rotation and a weaker bullpen than were present two years ago. The Phillies remain reliant on their left-handed power core, while the Rockies play strong defense behind a ball-in-play staff.

The Rockies won the matchup handily two years ago, sweeping the Phillies in part because they matched up so well with them. See, the Phillies rely heavily on the home run, then and now. This year they batted .286 on balls in play, 14th in the NL. The Rockies defend balls in play very well, ranking fourth in the NL in Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, and they don't give up home runs, posting the second-highest groundball percentage in the major leagues. They keep the walks down as well; just five NL teams gave out fewer unintentional free passes. By keeping the ball in the park, turning balls in play into outs and limiting walks, the Rockies are a difficult team to score upon.

In 2007, the Phillies hit five home runs in three games, but all were solo shots, and they scored just three runs outside of those homers. If anything, this team seems almost more likely to suffer that fate, as it now has a dysfunctional lineup-a leadoff hitter who posted a .296 OBP-that makes it more likely that homers will come with no one on base and less likely that runs will be scored in other ways. This is a terrible matchup for the Phillies who, even with an improved rotation, may not be able to score enough runs to win. They'll need their starters, which in a postseason featuring fantastic rotations that match up with anyone, to be great if they're to win.

Of course, the potential for trouble scoring runs is just one reason the Phillies need strong starts. Their bullpen is a mess, a mix of injured pitchers, ineffective pitchers, converted starters, and Ryan Madson. While it may not be a disaster-over a week, any bullpen can be good-the potential for late drama in these games will be high. The Rockies' bullpen, which went through a lot of turnover throughout the season, has been effective in its current form. Imports Rafael Betancourt and Joe Beimel have pitched well as Rockies, and rookie Matt Daley was very effective after his call-up. Nevertheless, the late innings of this series are likely to be very interesting, as these are the two least effective pens in the postseason, pending the Tigers' entrance.

Phillies fans love my opinions of Ryan Howard, so let's just reduce the entire discussion to one line: .226/.310/.444 career, .207/.298/.356 in 2009. Jim Tracy has to bring that guy to the plate as often as possible in this series. Any time he allows the other guy, the .307/.409/.661 one, the one who hit .319/.395/.691 this year, to bat in a game-critical situation, he deserves to lose, because that guy is absolutely devastating. It really is that simple. Charlie Manuel isn't going to take Howard out, so if Tracy elects to give up 450 points of OPS in any situation that matters, he's just this side of throwing the game. Tracy is the one manager in this round who can justify carrying an extra relief pitcher, presumably Randy Flores, solely for the purpose of facing one batter. Flores, though a journeyman who threw just 12 innings in the majors this year, would have more use to the team than carrying an extra long man such as Jason Hammel.

I keep coming back to the offensive matchup, and the result of that 2007 series. The two teams played in April and August this year, before and after as far as the Rockies were concerned. In the second series, the Phillies scored 13 runs, hitting five homers and batting .293 on balls in play, so it's not set in stone that they won't score. Still, I think that's the most likely scenario. Rockies in four.

Dodgers/Cardinals

One of the more interesting contrasts in the first round is between a team that concentrates virtually all its positive performance into about six roster spots, and a team that gets production from more than 20. The Cardinals have the best player in baseball, two of the NL's top three pitchers this year, and a few other contibutors. The rest of the roster is unproductive, hardly worthy of mention. The Dodgers won't get many votes on award ballots-Matt Kemp is a mid-ballot MVP candidate, and that's about it-but they have eight above-average players in the lineup, a good bench, and a ridiculously deep bullpen.

Because the postseason tends to be about your front-line talent, the Cardinals are dangerous. They can get a disproportionate number of innings from their good starting pitchers, and they never have to get into their very weak bench, or put their relievers in spots where they may be exposed. If the starters keep the games low-scoring, a big blow from Albert Pujols or Matt Holliday may be enough for a win.

The Dodgers may not have two starters vying for hardware, and they may be a bit confused as to who their better pitchers are-Randy Wolf is not better than Clayton Kershaw-but they can keep teams off the board. Starting two lefties should help against a Cardinals lineup that had a big split this season, although it does expose them to the big right-handed bats in the middle of the lineup. Come the late innings, the Dodgers have a large advantage with a deep and talented bullpen that can strike people out, play matchups, or get a key ground ball.

Ryan Franklin made the All-Star team, racked up 38 saves and ended the year with a 1.92 ERA. To his credit, he has become a groundball pitcher since leaving the AL, which is one reason why he was able to hold the closer role all season. The bigger reason, though, is that he was pretty lucky: despite a 20% line-drive rate and a 45% groundball rate, Franklin allowed just a .269 average on balls in play. Beyond that, he gave up just two homers all season for a HR/FB of 3.2%. The league is around 10%. I'm going to predict that one of the three Cardinals' losses in this series comes when Franklin's luck runs out, and one of the others comes when Kershaw takes his turn. Dodgers in five.

Angels/Red Sox

This is like one of those NBA seasons where the two best teams end up playing in the conference semifinals for no apparent reason. The Angels and Red Sox are probably the second- and third-best teams in baseball, in some order, and one isn't making it to the semis.

Because the teams are so good, I was prepared to call this a toss-up, but the more I looked at the matchup, the more I saw that this is just a bad draw for the Angels. Their rotation is much better than its overall stats now that everyone is healthy, but their top two starters still don't match up with Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, and their big edge in the #4 and #5 spots is all but mooted in a Division Series. They give up a huge edge in the bullpen, and their vastly improved offense is basically on par with the Sox.

I'm fascinated by what the Angels did this year, completely changing their style of play, essentially on the fly, under the same manager who'd had so much success for a decade. Mike Scioscia will get credit for managing through the death of Nick Adenhart, and the storyline around this team will be tied to their success in the face of tragedy. But it's the on-field story that is much more interesting. The Angels hit more home runs and drew more walks than in any year but Scioscia's first, 2000. They've struck out more than any Scioscia team. They still run second in the AL with 210 stolen-base attempts, but were caught a league-high 62 times and are a slower team than any Angels team since 2000.

To make that kind of adjustment and succeed is rare for any manager, much less one who has been successful and has built an image on playing another style. Scioscia is still trying to be aggressive on the bases, but he has been willing to play guys, such as Kendry Morales, who might not have had a role on his teams in the past. He deserves all the credit in the world for this.

Even though they faced nominal challenges from the Rays and Rangers, there was never really a sense that the Red Sox were in danger of missing the postseason. They played the season almost as a warmup, trying different starting pitchers, different lineups, moving guys around to different roles. The entire bullpen in front of Jonathan Papelbon has been in flux, and the lineup has been a work in progress since the Victor Martinez trade. Starting tomorrow, though, the Sox will be putting their best team on the field, and that team is fantastic. The Sox have a strong lineup, bolstered by Martinez; their defense is better for the acquisition of Alex Gonzalez; Clay Buccholz's strong second half made the rotation deeper; the Billy Wagner trade added a power arm who eats up left-handed batters in a way Hideki Okajima doesn't, and made an already strong bullpen an absolute terror.

The Red Sox may not have kept pace with the Yankees all year, but that never seemed to be the goal. Through all of the panic in Boston over the team's performance, Theo Epstein and Terry Francona always seemed to be planning for October 7. They drew a very difficult assignment, but their edges on the pitching staff are going to be the difference. Red Sox in four.

As far as tonight goes…

Twins/Tigers

Having home-field advantage is an edge for the Twins, who are 101-61 at the Metrodome the past two seasons, including 13-5 against the Tigers. Having Scott Baker available is a help; he's their best active starting pitcher who, after opening the season late with two disaster starts, has nearly a 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 30 starts. The day off probably helps them more than the Tigers, given that they worked their bullpen very hard last week and are a bit more reliant on strong relief pitching.

I want Rick Porcello to weigh against all that, because I think he's going to have an amazing career, be a strikeout/groundball pitcher with command, win awards, battle with Felix Hernandez in the seventh game of an LCS or World Series in a way that we tell our kids about. I'm just not sure he's there yet, and while his results have been fine of late-a 3.00 ERA in his last seven starts-there are so many warning signs that he's exhausted that I can't be confident of his performance tonight. Porcello has just 15 strikeouts in those seven starts, covering 42 innings, and it's not like he's been a groundball machine: 77 grounders, 72 flies, 31 line drives in that time. He has just three strikeouts in his last 17 1/3 innings, walking five men in that time. He's simply putting too many balls in play to survive.

It's one game, and anything can happen. Porcello could give up a lot of at-'em balls and leave allowing one run in seven innings, and the Tigers bullpen could get the job done. Porcello, who also has a great mind for the game, is a 20-year-old pitching deeper into a calendar than he's ever done before, going to the mound with a fraction of the stuff he normally has, and eventually that catches up with you. As a fan, I would like him to have one more big night. As an analyst looking at his recent work, I'm skeptical as to what he has left in the tank. The Twins have the better starter in a place where they've been a .600 team. Anything can happen, but they start with the edge.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  The Who,  The Call-up,  Manager Of The Year

40 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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jmanig

When you say Calvin Griffith is the worst owner is sports history, you're referring to his stated reasons for moving the Senators to Minnesota, right?

He's also the worst Montrealer in history, BTW. I always try to forget that he was born here.

Oct 06, 2009 12:24 PM
rating: 0
 
David Laurila

A notable consideration in the Red Sox-Angels series is that Boston ranked dead last in stolen bases allowed and percentage of runners caught stealing. That could be a factor, as the Angels will surely try to take advantage.

Oct 06, 2009 12:26 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

You could make a similar point in the Phillies' favor.

The problem I have with this is that I can't remember a series being settled by one team stealing a lot of bases since maybe Rickey Henderson in 1989. Individual steals, like Dave Roberts', have mattered, but have we ever looked back at a series and thought, "wow, the stolen bases were the difference"?

Oct 06, 2009 12:29 PM
 
Rob_in_CT

Another factor is defense, no? A-Gon has helped, apparently (I have no idea, really, but I'll buy it if you say so), but the Sox put up a terrible defensive efficiency number (28th or 29th in baseball, if I recall correctly) this season, and it wasn't just SS that was the problem. LF, 3B, C and apparently even CF were problems (and SS, but they've supposedly fixed that). They're good at 1B, 2B, RF and SS. I don't know how the Angels rate out, but they almost have to be better.

So it may not just be the Angels running wild: it may be that they got to run wild by getting on due to leaky Sox D. The Sox have the edge at #1 starter, #2 starter and bullpen. The lineups are essentially even. Defense could even things up for the Angels, though.

Oct 06, 2009 14:04 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

Sox DER wasn't good, but when you adjust for parks, using PADE, you find they're middle of the pack (ninth in AL). You have to adjust for the ballpark, especially for a quirky park like Fenway.

Alex Gonzalez is better than Nick Green defensively.

Oct 06, 2009 14:59 PM
 
Rob_in_CT

Ah, ok. That makes some sense.

Oct 07, 2009 06:24 AM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

Isn't VMart better than Varitek at this? I presume he'll play catcher for almost all the series, which might mitigate this a bit

Oct 06, 2009 14:14 PM
rating: 0
 
BillJohnson

I think you're missing something with the LA/STL series. The significant first-half/second-half production split that St. Louis showed, even with the September meltdown, came about largely through addition of guys who mash lefties (Holliday, Lugo, an admittedly dinged-up DeRosa), and every bit as important, subtraction of guys who were putty in a port-sider's hands (the egregious Chris Duncan and equally unfortunate Joe Thurston). I would not go so far as to say it now does the Cardinals a favor to start a southpaw against them, but it's not nearly the advantage that it was earlier in the season.

Oct 06, 2009 12:40 PM
rating: 5
 
SamHughes

Hmmm. The Phillies, who led the league in runs scored, have a "dysfunctional lineup." Curious choice of words....

Seriously, if Rollins hits the way he did the first half of the year, the Phils could indeed be in trouble. But chances are the games will be decided by something weirder, like Jorge de la Rosa's groin.

Oct 06, 2009 12:40 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

A lineup with a .296-OBP leadoff hitter is dysfunctional, and carving up the data into fragments doesn't change that. They led the league in runs because of a host of other reasons.


Oct 06, 2009 12:44 PM
 
SamHughes

Given that "dysfunctional" is usually used to mean that something doesn't function very well (ask Bob Dole), I'd still say that's an odd choice of words to describe that lineup. It functions very well for what it's supposed to do--produce runs--no matter what the reasons are.

Now, if you said that Rollins is a dysfunctional leadoff hitter, especially this year, I'd agree with you.

Oct 06, 2009 13:54 PM
rating: 10
 
jeffstoned

All of which reasons you deem less important than the one that supports your "dysfunctional" argument.

Joe, I know you've got a lot invested in the Phillies falling short--you ripped them all last year, with the cherry being that prediction that the Rays would beat them 90 times in a full season of matchups, and you kept picking the Mets this year into, what, August?--but this seeming desperation for events to bear out your analysis has severely weakened the analysis.

This entire mini-preview is about the Phillies and their weaknesses. Some of them are valid, of course; we dread our bullpen too, and there are lefty pitchers--Pedro Feliciano, Mike Gonzalez, Arthur Rhodes, et al--who render Howard helpless. (Still, your characterization of him as a "platoon player" might be the most ridiculous and overwrought bit of pseudo-analysis this side of sports radio.) But what about the Rockies? This is a .500 team against lefty pitching, and I think it's fair to say that most of the lefties they faced this season aren't at the level of Lee, Hamels, and Happ. Did this even enter your thinking?

Maybe you'll be proven right and the Rockies will win in four; we all know that in a short series between good teams, any outcome is possible. But the deeper issue for your work as an analyst--and it's clear in much of your work, way beyond the regular and predictable swipes at the Phillies--is how your own blind spots have grown in recent years.

Oct 07, 2009 09:14 AM
rating: 2
 
3n2sports

I like the analysis of the Phillies offense. I'm surprised that you didn't harp on the potential trio of lefties Philadelphia could throw against a line up that has its share of weaknesses to lefties. That seems like the favorite story of the day in other analyses.

It's possible this could be a very low scoring series.

Oct 06, 2009 12:54 PM
rating: 2
 
faithdies

It doesn't seem like Joe addressed any weaknesses the Rockies might have or addressed a single positive the Phillies might bring.

Oct 06, 2009 12:57 PM
rating: 4
 
3n2sports

To be fair to Joe, he analyzed a series with an intro, conclusion, and 4 brief paragraphs. If the longer preview that gets published looks like this than I'll be disappointed, but it's fine work for a brief snapshot of the series.

The Phillies offense is the big story of the series after all.

Oct 06, 2009 13:02 PM
rating: 1
 
j11forbes

Still somewhat problematic when a series preview - no matter how brief - fails to mention either team's starting rotation. I don't really care about how he predicts the series will end. Still, I expect a series preview to contain at least some brief analysis of the starting pitchers each team will throw out there.

Oct 06, 2009 15:40 PM
rating: 1
 
faithdies

The Phillies as hitters have rather impressive numbers against each of the Rockies starters. Jayson Werth in particular tees off on them pretty regularly.

Oct 06, 2009 12:50 PM
rating: 1
 
3n2sports

The standard argument here is that the sample sizes in batter vs pitcher comparisons are ridiculously small. In stats they tell you to look for an N = 30. In baseball you want at bats in the hundreds before drawing any conclusions. Until then you can explain away any match up with the word "variance"

Oct 06, 2009 13:00 PM
rating: 0
 
faithdies

I understand sample size. It just seems like there was a conclusion reached and the numbers were cherry picked to suit that feeling. With that said, I will stop being contentious in this post, haha. Sorry.

Oct 06, 2009 13:06 PM
rating: 0
 
Mountainhawk

It's all good. If you asked Joe last year, I'm sure he had the Brewers in 4, the Dodgers in 6, and the Rays in 6. (Only that last one is for sure, though, as Jaffe wrote the other two for BP).

Oct 06, 2009 13:34 PM
rating: -3
 
chaneyhey
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Here are my predictions --- Cards in 3; Phillies in 4, Yankees in 3, and Angels in 5. Here's my problem with predictions by experts ---- there's really no accountability. Every week I see Lou Holtz make some stupid prediction and I say to myself ... what makes him an expert? So, I guess what I am saying is it would be really really cool if the people on BP would track the accuracy of their predictions and state so before making another prediction. Otherwise, these predictions carry the same weight as my previous emails to my brother and friends this morning predicting playoff winners (and no, I don't gamble).

Oct 06, 2009 13:37 PM
rating: -6
 
jwdinnin

I don't think any of the writers here purport to know how the series will turn out (and nor to they claim to be experts in such matters). See, e.g., the second paragraph to this article.

Oct 06, 2009 13:52 PM
rating: 3
 
Rob_in_CT

These predictions are just a guy's opinion, and despite the analysis done they don't mean much. Anything can happen in a short series, so even if Joe is on the money with all this stuff (unlikely), he could end up being wrong with each and every prediction.

Oct 06, 2009 13:57 PM
rating: 0
 
SaberTJ

Didn't Joe make a disclaimer at the beginning of the article stating that it's more about the analysis and not the prediction?

It always seems people whine on here because BP didn't say something nice about their team. I don't read BP because they do or do not pick my team to win. I read BP because they give SOOOO much better insight and analysis than the mainstream media. So enjoy reading an educated baseball analyst and relax.

Oct 06, 2009 14:04 PM
rating: 14
 
twinkies25

Amen to that!!! These are smart people, and we all have one thing in common, we love baseball, and we love insightful, and good baseball writers who know the game. So, sit back and enjoy, because we're lucky BP doesn't charge 100 + bucks for these articles, because that's really what they are worth.

Oct 06, 2009 17:03 PM
rating: 3
 
ScottyB

First off, Holtz is one of the all-time great college coaches, so he's knows a little bit of what he's talking about when analyzing college football.

One of the things I heart about BP is that they are the only site I know of that actually does what you criticize them for not doing. Every year, they line PECOTA up against all other prediction models to determine if they are doing a good job. Joe ran a series this past offseason in which he went through (I think) every team and looked at what they did versus what he compared them to do. Didn't he do something at the AS break with this too?

Oct 06, 2009 14:19 PM
rating: 3
 
akachazz

It's all about showing your work to me. Holding analysts accountable for predicting a playoff series is retarded. Regular season predictions should be a bit more accurate, but as long as I'm seeing why you're predicting what you're predicting, it's good by me.

Oct 06, 2009 15:21 PM
rating: 4
 
markbhey

Agree brother hey. Track records would be nice.....

Oct 06, 2009 17:57 PM
rating: 0
 
Bogomil
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I don't think BP line's up PECOTA up against all other prediction models every year. I'm not sure we have empirical evidence for its supremacy over, say, Chone, BHQ, BJO, or what have you.

Oct 06, 2009 14:41 PM
rating: -6
 
ScottyB

ok. versus 6 decent opponents each year

Oct 06, 2009 16:15 PM
rating: 0
 
Christopher Miller
(88)

yes, nate silver has written an article comparing pecota to the other systems each year. And BP usually runs an article reviewing their pre-season predicitons. Joe, in particular, will review what he picked and offer self-criticism.

Oct 06, 2009 22:15 PM
rating: 3
 
emanski

The Rockies rotation is all RHP, so obviously there'll be no benching of Howard. Benching him only makes the other manager's job easier - he knows exactly when to neutralize Howard and is relieved of making more than one Howard-related decision per game.

Utley's and Ibanez' reverse splits foil Howard nicely. Victorino, Utley, Ibanez, Werth and even Ruiz are platoonproof. (Feliz, you won't notice either way.) Tracy can't really make a reliable decision with the LH relievers, unless he puts them in for Howard and takes them out for Ibanez every time, and even that would be silly.

One could say Jimmy Rollins is an even less dangerous player vs. LHP than Howard. Although Rollins' OBP is .332 since July, not leadoff-quality but not sub-.300 either.

Sucking against LHP is a relatively OK flaw to have, especially against 2009 Colorado. If the Rockies' secret weapon is Randy Flores, my guess is the Phillies will take their chances.

Oct 06, 2009 16:01 PM
rating: 4
 
jkaplow21

Joe, if the Phillies do win, please, just say you were wrong rather than saying they were lucky. I am not saying you are wrong, but I am sick of people trying to justify a lost position.

Oct 06, 2009 19:34 PM
rating: 0
 
SamHughes

Joe doesn't need to say he's wrong about this or any other prediction. He's making predictions based on his analysis, and given the crapshoot nature of the playoffs his analysis could be basically right even if the final results don't bear that out.

Besides, as a Phillies fan I kind of enjoy the Reverse Black Cat effect his predictions have had over the years.

Oct 07, 2009 07:59 AM
rating: 1
 
jwillie

The Twins Win!!!!!!! Baby Jesus is going to have to carry this team on his back to beat the hated Yanks. They have owned us in the playoffs over the past 7 years, but this is the year. Metrodome magic baby.

Oct 06, 2009 20:53 PM
rating: -2
 
mltepper

jkaplow21, I think Joe basically admits that the prediction is a crap shoot. So it might be luck if the Phillies win, but it's just as much luck involved if the Rockies win as well. That's the way at least I at least think is the correct way of looking at things.

By the way, my one gripe with this column is that while it is a snapshot, the Phillies/Rockies section just seems to be harping on Philadelphia's issues, there is nothing about the Rockies other than they should carry an extra lefty reliever ... I'd rather hear more about the Rockies because I'm a Phillies fan and I know all about their pros and cons already.

Oct 06, 2009 21:06 PM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

A word on process:

The way we do the playoff previews is that there's one king-sized breakdown of each series. Eric Seidman, I believe, had Phillies/Rockies, and it will be up shortly. I drew the Yankees/Team X preview this year, and that will be up...well, before gametime, but after today's PT. Stay tuned. These are in-depth pieces.

Because of my role as the general columnist, I'll write something about the series for which I don't have the major assignment. These will be what you saw yesterday, touching on storylines or analytical points that I find interesting. They will not go as deeply as the main previews by design; there's no reason to undercut the other writers. That I didn't touch on this facet or that trait of a team is a feature, not a bug. The main previews do that.

This has been the practice around here for a while. Hope this helps.

Oct 07, 2009 08:33 AM
 
amazin_mess

The gang at BP is no more likely to pick correctly than we are - but it's still fun as hell to get their take on who will win and, most importantly, why.

Oct 06, 2009 22:42 PM
rating: 5
 
antoine6

Well, the Phillies are certainly showing why most of us think they're a lot better than Joe apparently does.

3-time NL East champs, World Series champions, owners of the 2nd best run differential in the NL this year--yeah, crazy to think they might actually be good, huh?

Oct 07, 2009 14:38 PM
rating: 0
 
dputro
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Nice call again on the Phils, Joe. It's finally gotten to the point where BP will not get my subscription dollars next year because I'd rather give a random homeless guy my money and let him tell me about baseball than pay BP. I don't think I'm a typical Philly "The Whole World Is Against Us" fan, but your articles over the last two years smack of a guy who's more at home in front of an Excel sheet than at a ballgame. I simply don't think you know what you're talking about.

Oct 12, 2009 19:56 PM
rating: -4
 
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