Archive for Phillies

Lenny Dykstra Was Indicted Again

Art imitates life, and vice versa. I wouldn’t presume to call the words I scribble on these electronic pages “art” — and yet they, too, seem to imitate life. You see, way back in February, back before 26 of baseball’s 30 teams had been eliminated and hope still sprang eternal, I wrote about former Mets and Phillies outfielder Lenny Dykstra and his fantastic claims of extorting umpires. Dykstra, it should be noted, took a surprising amount of pleasure in what was, if true, undoubtedly an illegal exercise.

Now, on the topic of the former illegal exercise, one finds the following recent reprot:

To be fair, this isn’t Dykstra’s first run-in with the criminal justice system.

Since retiring from baseball, Dykstra has served prison time for bankruptcy fraud, grand theft auto and money laundering, and he declared bankruptcy in 2009, claiming he owed more than $31 million and had only $50,000 in assets.

Cocaine and methamphetamine charges don’t represent new territory for an ex-ballplayer: Esteban Loaiza pled guilty to the same this past August. A so-called “terroristic threat” would appear to be something altogether different, though.

Under Section 2706(a) of Title 18 of the Pennsylvania State Code, the crime of “terroristic threats” is defined thusly:

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Elegy for ’18 – Philadelphia Phillies

“I love September, especially when we’re in it.”

Willie Stargell

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”

– Albert Camus

“@*%(#*&%.”

— Phillies fans, 9/18

The Setup

What precisely makes a dynasty is a point of some contention. Many believe that, however strong a run a team produces, if that run ends in something less than multiples titles, then the result can’t possibly be considered dynastic. I’m a little more liberal with the term than most, however, and I think the late-00s and early-10s version of the Phillies can rightly be regarded as a dynasty, simply for the length of time for which they remained one of the best clubs in the league. As for championships, they claimed just the one, but it’s also a lot easier to win the World Series when only two teams qualify for the playoffs, as was the case in baseball for a long time.

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Job Posting: Phillies Baseball Research and Development

Please note, this posting contains multiple positions.

Position: Quantitative Analyst (full-time and summer), Baseball Research & Development

Description:
As a Quantitative Analyst (QA) or QA intern, you help shape the Phillies Baseball Operations strategies by processing, analyzing, and interpreting large and complex data. You do more than just crunch the numbers; you carefully plan the design of your own studies by asking and answering the right questions, while also working collaboratively with other analysts and software engineers on larger projects.

Using analytical rigor, you work with your team as you mine through data and see opportunities for the Phillies to improve. After communicating the results of your studies and experiments to the GM and executive staff, you collaborate with front office executives, scouts, coaches, and trainers to incorporate your findings into Phillies practices. Identifying the challenge is only half the job; you also work to figure out and implement the solution.

Responsibilities:

  • Conduct statistical research projects and manage the integration of their outputs into our proprietary tools and applications (e.g., performance projections, player valuations, draft assessments, injury analyses, etc.)
  • Communicate with front office executives, scouts, coaches, and medical staff to design and interpret statistical studies
  • Assist the rest of the QA team with their projects by providing guidance and feedback on your areas of expertise within baseball, statistics, data visualization, and programming
  • Continually enhance your knowledge of baseball and data science through reading, research, and discussion with your teammates and the rest of the front office
  • Provide input in architecting the storage of baseball data

Required Qualifications:

  • Deep understanding of statistics, including supervised and unsupervised learning, regularization, model assessment and selection, model inference and averaging, ensemble methods, etc.
  • Meaningful work experience with statistical software (R, S-Plus, SAS, or similar), databases, and scripting languages such as Python
  • Proven willingness to both teach others and learn new techniques
  • Willingness to work as part of a team on complex projects
  • Proven leadership and self-direction

Preferred Qualifications:

  • BS, MS or PhD in Statistics or related (e.g., mathematics, physics, or ops research) or equivalent practical experience
  • 0-5+ years of relevant work experience
  • Experience drawing conclusions from data, communicating those conclusions to decision makers, and recommending actions

Position: Software Engineer (full-time and summer), Baseball Research & Development

The work of a Software Engineer (SWE) or SWE intern at the Phillies extends well beyond merely coding. As a SWE you contribute fresh ideas in a variety of areas, including information retrieval, networking and data storage, security, machine learning, natural language processing, UI design and mobile to shape the evolution of the Phillies baseball analytics systems.

Our ideal engineers will have a versatile skill set, be enthusiastic to handle new challenges and demonstrate leadership qualities. You will work closely with end-users across Scouting, Player Development and the Major League Coaching Staff while building software tools from the ground up. By identifying appropriate design specifications through collaboration with those end-users, you will build applications that conform to user needs.

Specific areas of focus may include, but are not limited to, the draft, free-agency, player valuation, player development, in-game strategy, and injury prevention. As a SWE you will have the opportunity to use your technical expertise to create software solutions that impact decision-making at the Phillies.

Responsibilities:

  • Improve existing platforms and design new proprietary applications to be used directly by the GM and executive staff
  • Collaborate with front office executives, scouts, coaches, and medical staff regarding the design and technical specifications of software solutions for Baseball Operations
  • Work together with Baseball R&D department to help optimize the Phillies baseball analytics systems, including crafting solutions to efficiently and effectively synthesize, organize and present data from multiple third-party sources
  • Help to augment the technical knowledge of the entire Baseball Operations department by providing training, mentorship and support on the use of all applications and tools built by the team

Required Qualifications:

  • BS degree in Computer Science, similar technical field of study or equivalent practical experience
  • Software development experience in one or more general purpose programming languages (including but not limited to: Java, C/C++, C#, Go, Objective C, Python or JavaScript)
  • Interest and ability to learn new technologies as needed
  • Experience working with two or more from the following: web application development, Unix/Linux environments, mobile application development, design thinking, machine learning, natural language processing, and data architecture
  • Proven willingness to both teach others and learn new techniques
  • Proven leadership and self-direction

Preferred Qualifications:

  • Master’s, PhD degree, further education or 4+ years experience in engineering, computer science or other technical related field
  • Prior experience managing/leading a technical team

To Apply:

Interested applicants for either position should submit both their resume and an answer to the following question:

How would you decide whether a minor league position player prospect is ready to be promoted to the major leagues? (250 word limit)

Tip: There’s no defined right or wrong answer. Responses are used to get some insight into how you approach problem solving and baseball in general.

Please note, the summer intern positions are paid.

Please submit your resume and question response to analytics@phillies.com no later than Wednesday, October 31, 2018. Applications not sent to analytics@phillies.com will not be considered.


The Worst DRS We’ve Ever Seen

Officially, the Braves have sewn up the NL East, after having completed a four-game weekend sweep of the Phillies. The division was already more or less decided, but an unlikely Phillies sweep could’ve at least brought it down to the wire. Instead, the Phillies will play out the string, while the Braves get themselves set for the playoffs. On the one hand, the Phillies can’t be too disappointed — they would’ve been arriving a year or so ahead of time. On the other hand, the Braves arrived a year or so ahead of time. And this is a plot of the 2018 Phillies’ playoff odds:

As recently as August 7, the Phillies were in first place and 15 games over .500. Since then, they’ve gone an NL-worst 14-28, while the Braves have gone 27-19. Very obviously, when a team collapses, several components have to be involved. One thing I’ll highlight, though: dating back to August 8, according to Baseball Savant, Phillies pitchers have ranked seventh in baseball in expected wOBA allowed, while Braves pitchers have ranked 16th. And yet, Phillies pitchers have ranked 26th in baseball in actual wOBA allowed, while Braves pitchers have ranked third. Call it noise if you want. I’m certain that’s a part of it. The other part is defense. The Phillies’ team defense has let them down, and as the headline suggests, they’re on the verge of establishing a new record.

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Defense, Contact Quality, and the NL Cy Young

This year’s National League Cy Young race invites multiple interesting questions about how best to evaluate pitching performance. Jacob deGrom, for example, is the league’s leader in ERA by a healthy amount; however, he’s also recorded only as many wins as reliever Jeremy Jeffress. Max Scherzer is having another great season, but his .255 BABIP compels one to consider whether his 2.31 ERA is the product of luck or defense (although the Nationals have recorded below-average defensive numbers both by UZR and DRS). Aaron Nola, meanwhile, has recorded a similarly low BABIP even as Philadelphia has produced NL-worst figures both by UZR and DRS. Finally, while the race has been viewed as a three-person contest for some time, it’s also possible Patrick Corbin has inserted himself into the conversation with a fantastic second half.

Sorting through the candidates is difficult. Ultimately, one’s choice for Cy Young will depend on how one weighs what a pitcher can and cannot control — and how best to quantify those effects. To start, here are some general metrics that should be familiar to FanGraphs readers.

National League Cy Young Contenders
Metric Max Scherzer Jacob deGrom Aaron Nola Patrick Corbin
IP 202.2 188 188.2 179.2
K% 34.4% 31.3% 26.6% 31.3%
BB% 5.8% 5.7% 6.8% 5.9%
HR/9 0.93 0.43 0.62 0.65
BABIP .255 .290 .251 .293
ERA 2.31 1.68 2.29 3.01
FIP 2.66 2.08 2.86 2.38
WAR 6.7 7.3 5.4 6.0
Blue=Leader
Orange=2nd Place

Based on these numbers, Jacob deGrom is the pretty clear favorite for Cy honors, with Max Scherzer an equally clear runner-up. What’s less clear, however, is that the results of a vote would produce a similar outcome, as both pitcher wins and other versions of WAR are likely to influence writers — and arrive at different conclusions than the figures here. Below, I’ve included some different versions of WAR, each of which paint the field in a different light.

National League Cy Young Race and WAR
Metric Max Scherzer Jacob deGrom Aaron Nola Patrick Corbin
WAR 6.7 7.3 5.4 6.0
RA9/WAR 7.6 7.9 7.3 5.7
BRef 8.7 8.1 9.4 4.4
BPro 7.2 6.6 6.1 5.5
Blue=Leader
Orange=2nd Place

Here we see a version of reality that suggests greater parity in the race. Averaging the numbers above, we’d still put deGrom first, Scherzer second, and Nola third, but Scherzer actually places ahead of deGrom in two of the four metrics, while Nola and Scherzer are more closely situated. Examining how each of WAR metrics arrives at its destination can help inform how to use them. Last week, Eno Sarris took a look at some of these same issues in a discussion of how large a role luck ought to play in Cy Young voting. There is also the question of what defines “luck” in the context of pitching, what sort of control a pitcher exerts over certain outcomes, and what role a a pitcher’s park ought to play in our evaluations of him.

The metrics above all feature different inputs which, naturally, lead to different results. In the version of WAR used at FanGraphs, those inputs are innings, strikeouts, infield flies, walks, and home runs — along with factors for league and park. DeGrom leads by this particular measure because his strikeout, walk, and homer numbers are all great. Scherzer has good walk and strikeout numbers but a closer-to-average home-run rate. Nola features slightly inferior (although still excellent) strikeout and walk numbers — plus a good home-run rate — but he falls behind Corbin, who has good numbers in all three.

The next metric, RA9, is another version of WAR carried at FanGraphs — one which, in this case, simply considers the number of runs a pitcher allows while also factoring for league and park. That’s how Nola, with the very good ERA, jumps up near Scherzer, though still short of deGrom. RA9 includes runs that were scored or not scored due to defense and sequencing, but does not try to make any adjustments for those factors.

Baseball-Reference begins with something like FanGraphs’ RA9 calculation but makes further adjustments for opponent and team defense, which is a significant factor in this year’s race. Nola tops the Baseball-Reference WAR leaderboard because of how well he’s prevented runs despite Philadelphia’s poor defense. Generally the effects of these defensive adjustments are muted, but because Nola appears to be headed for one of the 10 best bWAR seasons of the last 50 years, this case invites some scrutiny. Patrick Corbin suffers from the opposite scenario: Arizona has recorded strong defensive numbers, meaning he receives a “penalty” of sorts for his contribution to run-prevention.

Here are the overall team defense numbers by DRS, which Baseball-Reference uses, and UZR, which is included in WAR for position players but not pitchers here at FanGraphs.

NL Cy Young Race and Team Defense
Metric Max Scherzer Jacob deGrom Aaron Nola Patrick Corbin
UZR -13.2 -27.1 -38.2 14.8
DRS -50 -79 -113 105

There is obviously a much larger spread with the DRS figures, as defensive adjustments alone mean a difference of 24 runs between Nola and Corbin, which is about four times as much as the difference by UZR.

Over at Baseball Prospectus, their Deserved Run Average (DRA) metric accounts for as many aspects of a pitcher’s game as possible and attempts to factor for everything including park, opponent, catcher, umpire, and pitch effectiveness to determine how many runs a pitcher should have allowed with all those variables rendered neutral. By their methods, Scherzer leads over deGrom, with Nola and Corbin a ways behind.

There’s certainly an argument to be made for considering the strength of a defense behind a pitcher, and reason dictates that a defense can help or hurt a pitcher’s run-prevention numbers. Defense alone, however, isn’t going to fully explain the difference between a pitcher’s FIP and ERA. Luck is involved, as well. We can use Statcast information to determine just how much defense and luck might be involved, though it won’t do a good job separating those two factors. For starters, here are the xwOBA and wOBA figures for each of the pitchers above.

NL Cy Young Race, Defense, and Luck
Name wOBA xWOBA Difference
Max Scherzer .245 .256 -.011
Jacob deGrom .240 .257 -.017
Aaron Nola .247 .266 -.019
Patrick Corbin .256 .289 -.033
League .312 .322 -.010

In terms of what a pitcher has deserved to concede based on quality of contact, strikeouts, and walks, Scherzer has gotten just about what we might expect, while deGrom and Nola aren’t far off expectations. Corbin is the outlier here, and there is a case to be made that Arizona’s defense is partially responsible for his good fortune. What’s interesting, though, is that Corbin’s ERA is actually much higher than his FIP. This could mean that Corbin has been rather fortunate this year on home runs or that the contact he’s conceded on balls in play has been of higher quality than the sort conceded by other pitchers.

We can remove the most skill-based aspects from above by taking out strikeouts and walks and looking at xwOBA on just batted balls.

NL Cy Young and xwOBA on Contact
Name wOBA on Contact xwOBA on Contact Difference
Max Scherzer .340 .357 -.017
Jacob deGrom .317 .345 -.028
Aaron Nola .296 .325 -.029
Patrick Corbin .343 .397 -.054
League .364 .379 -.015
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Here we see almost no effect on Scherzer’s outcomes, with a slight benefit for deGrom and Nola, and then a big help for Corbin. You’ll note that the league-wide numbers are off by 15 points from each other, likely due to a potentially dead baseball, as the estimates on launch angle and exit velocity are based on previous seasons, when the ball was perhaps a bit more lively. As we are looking at numbers between pitchers in this season alone, the comparisons still provide value. What happens when we remove home runs and look solely at batted balls? See below.

NL Cy Young and xwOBA on Balls in Play
Name wOBA on BIP xwOBA on BIP Difference
Max Scherzer .256 .310 -.054
Jacob deGrom .287 .325 -.038
Aaron Nola .251 .296 -.045
Patrick Corbin .292 .361 -.069
League .293 .334 -.041
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

In theory, these numbers factor in both defense and luck on batted balls this season. As we can see, it appears that, whatever poor defense has victimized Nola has likely been evened out by good fortune. The same is true for deGrom. Scherzer, meanwhile, appears to have received a slight benefit, with Corbin being the recipient of some good defense in Arizona. This probably doesn’t leave the reader with any definite conclusions. We have a better idea about the quality of contact and how defense might have affected run totals — which is to say not much — but the extent to which a pitcher exerts control over that contact is also a matter of debate.

If you believe that a pitcher controls very little of opponent contact — or, alternatively, are unsure of the level of control — the version of WAR hosted here at FanGraphs is your main resource. If you believe that a pitcher is wholly responsible for the quality of contact he concedes and also that defensive quality doesn’t move the needle much in one direction or another, RA9/WAR makes some sense for you. If you believe further adjustment needs to be made for defense, bWAR can provide some help. If you want a more granular look at individual pitches, DRA provides guidance. If you just want something based entirely on xwOBA, a crude attempt is made below.

While the question of value is somewhat objective, there is some subjectivity involved, but if making a decision on the Cy Young, it’s important to have as much information as possible to determine why one pitcher might be better than the other. It isn’t enough to simply prefer one stat over another and blindly rely on it because you generally agree with the methodology. Look at how the results are reached to make the best possible decision.

*****

As promised in the final paragraph above, here’s a rough approximation of WAR based on xwOBA:

NL WAR Based on xwOBA
Name IP xwoba xWAR
Max Scherzer 202.2 .256 7.1
Jacob deGrom 188.0 .257 6.5
Aaron Nola 188.2 .266 6.0
Patrick Corbin 179.2 .289 4.4
Zack Wheeler 167.1 .293 3.9
Clayton Kershaw 137.1 .277 3.9
German Marquez 164.1 .294 3.8
Noah Syndergaard 128.1 .277 3.8
Mike Foltynewicz 157.0 .291 3.8
Ross Stripling 110.1 .262 3.7
Jack Flaherty 132.1 .280 3.7
Jameson Taillon 164.0 .299 3.5
Miles Mikolas 173.2 .304 3.4
Tyler Anderson 153.2 .302 3.2
Alex Wood 144.1 .299 3.1
Walker Buehler 110.2 .279 3.1
Kyle Freeland 176.1 .312 3.0
Nick Pivetta 145.0 .304 2.9
Jon Gray 157.1 .309 2.9
Anibal Sanchez 113.2 .288 2.8
Kyle Hendricks 169.2 .313 2.8
Vince Velasquez 134.0 .302 2.8
Sean Newcomb 149.1 .314 2.4
Wei-Yin Chen 118.1 .305 2.3
Zack Greinke 181.1 .324 2.3
Kenta Maeda 117.0 .306 2.3
Zach Eflin 114.0 .306 2.2
Steven Matz 133.2 .314 2.2
Joe Musgrove 103.1 .301 2.2
Jake Arrieta 154.2 .322 2.1
Jhoulys Chacin 168.0 .327 2.0
Carlos Martinez 108.2 .310 2.0
Jose Urena 151.0 .325 1.9
Tanner Roark 170.1 .329 1.9
Trevor Williams 148.2 .330 1.6
John Gant 96.0 .314 1.6
Derek Holland 152.2 .331 1.6
Stephen Strasburg 107.0 .320 1.5
Robbie Ray 97.1 .317 1.5
Madison Bumgarner 105.2 .326 1.3
Julio Teheran 159.1 .338 1.3
Junior Guerra 135.0 .334 1.2
Gio Gonzalez 151.1 .337 1.2
Joey Lucchesi 110.1 .330 1.2
Luis Castillo 148.1 .338 1.2
Brent Suter 101.1 .329 1.1
Jose Quintana 147.2 .339 1.1
Rich Hill 108.2 .332 1.1
Tyson Ross 143.2 .339 1.1
Luke Weaver 133.1 .338 1.0
Andrew Suarez 139.1 .341 1.0
Zack Godley 159.2 .343 0.9
Mike Montgomery 107.2 .336 0.9
Matt Harvey 138.2 .343 0.8
Chase Anderson 150.1 .346 0.8
Ty Blach 110.0 .345 0.6
Trevor Richards 102.2 .345 0.5
Ivan Nova 146.2 .351 0.5
Eric Lauer 95.2 .346 0.4
Chad Bettis 112.0 .349 0.4
Tyler Mahle 109.0 .348 0.4
Sal Romano 134.2 .354 0.2
Jon Lester 158.0 .360 0.0
Clayton Richard 158.2 .362 -0.2
Dan Straily 122.1 .369 -0.4
Chris Stratton 126.1 .374 -0.7
Tyler Chatwood 103.2 .378 -0.9
Homer Bailey 106.1 .382 -1.0
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
Min. 400 batters faced. Numbers through Saturday.

Joe West, Austin Davis, and the Theater of the Absurd

A while back, I wrote about Angel Hernandez and his lawsuit against Major League Baseball. In said piece, I noted that “[p]layers in both the American and National League voted Hernandez one of the game’s three worst umpires. (In case you’re wondering, Joe West was worse in both leagues.)”

It’s time to talk about Country Joe West. West hasn’t sued anybody lately, but he did manage to get himself in a kerfuffle involving the Phillies, Austin Davis, and a piece of paper.

So as to prolong the suspense, it’s worth noting why West is considered a bad umpire. Unlike Angel Hernandez, his reputation isn’t necessarily for creative calls. In fact, back in 2007, The Hardball Times named him baseball’s most consistent umpire (though he called this balk on Tony Cingrani).

No, West is more known for his colorful personality. He was suspended for calling Adrian Beltre the “biggest complainer” in baseball. And he also likes staring matches. Like this staring match with Madison Bumgarner.

And this staring match with Jimmy Rollins.

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Daily Prospect Notes Finale: Arizona Fall League Roster Edition

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Note from Eric: Hey you, this is the last one of these for the year, as the minor-league regular season comes to a close. Thanks for reading. I’ll be taking some time off next week, charging the batteries for the offseason duties that lie ahead for Kiley and me.

D.J. Peters, CF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Level: Double-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: 7   FV: 45+
Line: 4-for-7, 2 HR, 2B (double header)

Notes
A comparison of DJ Peters’ 2017 season in the Cal League and his 2018 season at Double-A gives us a good idea of what happens to on-paper production when a hitter is facing better pitching and defenses in a more stable offensive environment.

D.J. Peters’ Production
Year AVG OBP SLG K% BB% BABIP wRC+
2017 .276 .372 .514 32.2% 10.9% .385 137
2018 .228 .314 .451 34.0% 8.1% .305 107

Reports of Peters’ physical abilities haven’t changed, nor is his batted-ball profile different in such a way that one would expect a downtick in production. The 2018 line is, I think, a more accurate distillation of Peters’ abilities. He belongs in a talent bucket with swing-and-miss outfielders like Franchy Cordero, Randal Grichuk, Michael A. Taylor, Bradley Zimmer, etc. These are slugging center fielders whose contact skills aren’t particularly great. Players like this are historically volatile from one season to the next but dominant if/when things click. They’re often ~1.5 WAR players who have some years in the three-win range. Sometimes they also turn into George Springer.

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Welcome Back, Hector Neris

A little less than four weeks ago, I wrote about Phillies rookie Victor Arano. Originally expected to play only a minimal role (if any role at all) with the club this season, Arano has paired with Seranthony Dominguez to lead a Philadelphia bullpen that has aided the club’s surprising pursuit of a division title. Arano’s opportunity to provide meaningful innings would not have been possible had certain other relievers for the Phillies not fallen by the wayside. Tommy Hunter (0.5 WAR) and Pat Neshek (0.6 WAR) have certainly been serviceable, but they’ve fallen a little short of expectations. As for projected closer Hector Neris, he’s fallen well short of them, putting up a 6.90 ERA, 6.39 FIP, and -0.7 WAR through the end of June before earning a demotion to Triple-A.

Neris was recalled to Philadelphia on August 14th and has looked like an entirely different pitcher since his return. In the smallest of samples, Neris has struck out 16 batters, walked one, and allowed three hits in 26 batters faced. This performance — one of the best two-week stretches by a reliever this season — would have been entirely unexpected given his first half. His return comes at a time when the rest of the Phillies’ bullpen performance has been flagging, and his continued excellence will be a necessity if the team wants to emerge from a crowded Wild Card field.

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Joey Bats Joins the Phillies

Jose Bautista is on the move again. On Tuesday afternoon, minutes before their window to complete a waiver-period trade expired, the Mets and Phillies agreed to a deal that will send Joey Bats from the NL East’s fourth-place team to it’s second-place one. In exchange, the Mets, who signed the 37-year-old outfielder on May 22 after he was released by the Braves, will receive either a player to be named later or cash, preferably in unmarked bills.

After nine-plus seasons with the Blue Jays — highlighted by six All-Star appearances, two home run titles, the team’s first two trips to the postseason since their 1992 and ’93 World Series wins, and the franchise’s most iconic hit since Joe Carter’s — Bautista found himself out of work this past winter. Not until April did he sign a minor league deal with the Braves, for whom he played just 12 games, hitting .143/.250/.343 with two homers in 40 plate appearances before being released. Two days later, and less than a week after losing both Yoenis Cespedes and Juan Lagares to injuries, the Mets picked him up. Between the absences of those two players — now out for the season due to foot surgeries — plus injuries to Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier and a dearth of better ideas, the team gave Bautista 302 plate appearances, in which he hit a modest .204/.351/.367 with nine homers, a 104 wRC+, and 0.4 WAR. He was very hot in June (.250/.434/.536, 161 wRC+), but otherwise, not so much:

Between his Atlanta and New York stints, Bautista is walking in 16.4% of his plate appearances, a rate in line with his heyday, but both his 11.1% swinging strike rate and 28.7% strikeout rate represent career highs. His Statcast numbers look considerably better than last year and suggest he’s been a bit unlucky:

Jose Bautista Via Statcast, 2015-2018
Season EV LA wOBA xwOBA Dif
2015 92.0 16.7 .389 .389 .000
2016 91.6 14.8 .355 .370 -.015
2017 88.3 17.0 .295 .309 -.014
2018 90.5 19.7 .315 .339 -.024
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

On the other hand, Bautista is pulling the ball on 50.8% of his balls in play, a bit above his career rate (47.2%), and a frequency that’s easily countered by infield shifts. Both his 47 wRC+ against those shifts and his .253 BABIP overall are in the general vicinity of his recent body of work, and are contributing to a batting average that’s flirting with the Mendoza Line.

Losers of 19 out of 36 games since the All-Star break, the Phillies (70-61 overall) are 3.5 games behind the Braves in the NL East and 2.5 back in the wild card race. Their playoff odds have fallen from 46.8% to 40.3% in that span. Their second-half struggles have more to do with deteriorating run prevention than sagging offense; their 94 wRC+ since the break is actually three points better than it was prior. The production they’ve been receiving from the three positions where Bautista has taken 63 of his 66 starts this year (right field, left field, and third base) has improved from the first half to the second: right fielder Nick Williams’ wRC+ has risen from 102 to 119, left fielder Rhys Hoskins’ from 122 to 159, and third baseman Maikel Franco’s from 102 to 123. Their clearest need for an upgrade in a role that Bautista can fill is as a pinch-hitter, as theirs have batted just .202/.266/.331 for a 59 wRC+, the league’s second-lowest mark.

In all, the addition of Bautista is a minor move, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth making. On a team with few position players who have tasted the postseason (Asdrubal Cabrera, Wilson Ramos, Carlos Santana), they’ve added another, a guy who might have a few big hits left in that bat.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Bautista — who as a rookie in 2004 played for four different major league teams — is now the third player to play for three teams within the same division in the same season, after Bob Reynolds (Orioles, Tigers, and Indians, oh my!) in 1975 and Kelly Johnson (Yankees, Red Sox, and Orioles) in 2014.


Strength of Schedule and the Pennant Races

No team plays a completely balanced scheduled over the course of a season. Some divisions, naturally, are better than others. Because intradivisional games account for roughly 40% of the league schedule, there is necessarily some irregularity in the strength of competition from club to club. Interleague play, which represents another 10% of games, also contributes to this imbalance. Given the sheer numbers of games in a major-league campaign, the effect of scheduling ultimately isn’t a major difference-maker. Talent and luck have much more influence over a club’s win-loss record. In any given month, however, scheduling imbalances can become much more pronounced.

Consider this: at the beginning of the season, just one team featured a projected gain or loss as large as three wins due to scheduling. The Texas Rangers were expected to lose three more games than their talent would otherwise dictate. Right now, however, there are eight teams with bigger prorated schedule swings than the one the Rangers saw at the beginning of the season — and those swings could have a big impact on the remaining pennant races.

To provide some backdrop, the chart below ranks the league’s schedules, toughest to easiest, compared to an even .500 schedule.

The Diamondbacks have a pretty rough go of it. Outside of five games against the Padres, the other “worst” team they play is the San Francisco Giants. They have one series each against the division-leading Astros, Braves, and Cubs along with a pair of series against both the Dodgers and Rockies. If Arizona were chasing these teams for the division or Wild Card, their schedule would present them with a good opportunity for making up ground. Given their current status, however, it just means a lot of tough games down the stretch.

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Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 21

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In the twenty-first installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Patrick Corbin, Zach Eflin, and Sonny Gray — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Patrick Corbin (D-backs) on His Slider

“My slider. When I was really young, I asked my father how to throw a breaking ball, and he showed me this grip. It’s something I’ve stuck with throughout the minor leagues and the big leagues. It’s been my best pitch, and it’s kind of neat that my father showed me the grip.

“I can’t remember exactly when it was, but probably around 10 years old, maybe the first couple of times I played catch with my father. He always used to say he loved throwing it at the left-handed batter’s hip and having him freeze, only to have the ball break over the plate. That’s something I’ve always remembered and taken with me.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 8/16/2018

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Bryse Wilson, RHP, Atlanta Braves
Level: Triple-A   Age: 20   Org Rank: 12   FV: 45+
Line: 8 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 13 K

Notes
Bryse Wilson touched 97 several times last night and sat 93-95 late in the outing. He pounded the zone with his fastball (72 of 98 pitches were for strikes) and blew it past several hitters up above the strike zone. His slider (mostly 83-85, though he lollipops some slower ones into the zone for first-pitch strikes) flashes plus but is mostly average and is only capable of missing bats when it’s out of the zone. Wilson’s changeup is fringey and firm, without much bat-missing movement, but the velocity separation off of the fastball is enough to keep hitters from squaring it up, and it’s going to be an effective pitch. The entire package (Wilson’s physicality and stuff) looks very similar to Michael Fulmer and Wilson’s delivery is much more graceful and fluid than it was when he was in high school, when scouts thought it would impact his ability to command the fastball and possibly move him to the bullpen.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 8/15/18

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Tanner Houck, RHP, Boston Red Sox
Level: Hi-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: 4   FV: 45
Line: 7 IP, 4 H, 0 BB, 1 R, 7 K

Notes
The Red Sox have been tinkering with Tanner Houck’s arm slot and pitch grips throughout the year in effort to find the best combination of pitch types for him. Earlier in the year that involved raising his arm slot and incorporating more four seamers into his mix, but now Houck’s fastball and arm slot look more like they did in college. His results have been better of late as he’s walked six and allowed nine runs combined over his last six starts. His low slot makes it easier for lefties to see the ball out of his hand and Houck will still need to find a way to counteract this issues to profile as a starter.

Mickey Moniak, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
Level: Hi-A   Age: 20   Org Rank: 14   FV: 40+
Line: 2-for-4, 2B, 3B

Notes
While his overall line is still disappointing, Mickey Moniak is slashing .298/.341/.465 since May 22. He’s made a subtle swing change that has him taking a using bigger leg kick with his knee driving back toward his rear hip (similar to the one Adam Haseley adopted while in Clearwater this year) and he’s also striding closed which has helped Moniak deal with stuff on the outer half, which had been a problem for him as a pro. I’ve asked teams for updated reports on Moniak and the pro side of the industry think he has tweener outfielder tools but acknowledges it appears he’s been playing a level ahead of his ability so far. The industry considers him a big leaguer but thinks it’s going to take some time.

Bryan Abreu, RHP, Houston Astros
Level: Low-A   Age: 21   Org Rank: 28   FV: 35+
Line: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 0 R, 10 K

Notes
Bryan Abreu has generated varying reports throughout the year, at times 92-94 with a 50 breaking ball and 40 control (which is barely a prospect) and others when he’s been up to 97, sitting 94-95 with big vertical action on one of two his breaking balls. He’s accrued double-digit strikeouts in two of his last three starts and has a 69:13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 42.4 innings this season. The Astros are great at installing coherent pitching approaches into their prospects, most of whom are high-spin fastball/breaking ball guys who work up in the zone with their heaters, an approach which leads to more strikeouts. This, combined with Houston’s piggyback approach (where hitters don’t often see the same pitcher three or more times), leads to lots of strikeouts. I think the fastball (which is pretty straight) plays better out of the bullpen and I’m skeptical of Abreu’s short-term walk rate improvement because I’ve still got scouts questioning his command and it’s been an issue for Abreu in the past. I have him projected in relief and have added him to Houston’s team page on The Board.

Meandering Thoughts

Kiley wrote today about how he thinks the Rays have identified pitching subtypes that have skills to fit somewhere on the value spectrum between the perhaps unnecessary extremes of typical six or seven-inning starters and single-inning relievers. I’d like to talk about a few other oddball skillsets that might have a place on a 25-man roster as they help perform traditional and necessary on-field tasks but come in atypical packages. I’ve given them names that that the Cespedes Family BBQ kids will improve upon.

Waxahachie
This role, in which a player acts as relief specialist who can also play the outfield, has actually been utilized in the recent past and has been explored by other clubs in the minors even more recently. Outfielders with superlative arm strength or pitchers with plus athleticism could put an extra late-inning hitter or two at platoon disadvantage. The Astros have done this with Tony Sipp, bringing him in to face a lefty before sending him to the outfield while someone else gets righties out, and then returning Sipp to the mound to face another lefty. It seemed Houston might have hoped Rule 5 selection Anthony Gose would have been able to do something similar, but he didn’t make the team out of spring training and was returned to Texas.

Texas also has several candidates for this type of role in Gose (who is also a 70 runner and good defensive center fielder), James Jones (plus runner, plus outfield defense, low-90s with loopy breaking ball on the mound) and Jairo Beras (right-handed, mid-90s fastball, plus-plus raw power) who have all converted to the mound but have one or two other useful skills that could enable them to be deployed in the right situation.

James Jones, LHP, Texas Rangers from Eric Longenhagen on Vimeo.

Former big league OF Jordan Schafer would seem to have fit this archetype as well and he was used in various ways by different clubs (Atlanta played him in the outfield, the Dodgers tried to make him a base-stealing specialist for the 2016 stretch run and St. Louis tried him on the mound) but never in several different roles at once.

Rick Ankiel, who is attempting a big league comeback, is perfect for this kind of role, too. He could shuttle back and forth from the outfield to the mound a few times, while also pinch hitting when it makes sense to have a power-before-hit bat at the plate and pinch-running on occasion.

If someone like this already exists in the Rays system it’s RHP/OF Tanner Dodson, who the Rays wanted announced as a two-way player when he was drafted out of Cal in June. Dodson sits in the mid-90s on the mound and is also a plus runner who hit near the top of Cal’s lineup last year. He’s not polished in center and has a slap/slash approach at the plate, but there’s premium arm strength and speed here.

Pull-Side Infielder
There are certain hitters who don’t pull the ball enough to merit a shift but still pull the ball on the ground more often than hit it the other way and, perhaps, that means your rangiest infield defender should just play on the hitter’s pull side, even if that means swapping your 2B and SS, hitter-by-hitter. I think this idea is half-baked but I’d argue the Brewers are candidates for something like this right now as they’re playing Travis Shaw out of position at second base to shoehorn better hitters into their lineup. In my opinion, they should be swapping Jonathan Schoop and Shaw, hitter by hitter, something to maximize Schoop’s defensive touches and minimize Shaw’s. Perhaps my name for this type of thing is too narrow but the concept interests me. Tampa Bay has a slew of bat-first 2B-types who are either athletically viable all over the field in a dynamic defensive equation like this (Vidal Brujan, Nick Solak, Lucius Fox) or benefit from being hidden by it (Brandon Lowe, Taylor Walls, Jake Cronenworth)


Sunday Notes: Niko Goodrum Got Comfortable and Became a Tiger

Niko Goodrum has been a find for the Tigers. His 232/.297/.435 slash line is admittedly ho-hum, but he’s providing plenty of value with his versatility and verve. Reminiscent of Tony Phillips, the 26-year-old former Twins prospect has started games at six positions. In his first Motor City season, he’s served as both a spark plug and a Swiss Army Knife.

He came to Detroit on the cheap. After toiling for eight years in the Minnesota system, Goodrum arrived as minor league free agent with just 18 MLB plate appearances under his belt. He’s more than earning his league-minimum money. While the aforementioned offensive numbers are pedestrian, the switch-hitter has driven his fair share of baseballs up gaps. His 24 doubles and 12 home runs rank third on the team, and he’s legged out two triples to boot.

Goodrum recognizes that his ability to play all over the field is a major reason he’s getting an opportunity with the rebuilding Tabbies. Another is that he’s finally found himself.

“I’m not searching anymore,” Goodrum told me. “I think that when you’re trying to find your identity of who you are, including what type of hitter you are, the game is a lot harder. When you believe in the things that are in you, your ability will start to show.”

Goodrum feels that corner was turned two years ago. Read the rest of this entry »


Justin Bour Heads to Philadelphia

As reported by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the Philadelphia Phillies acquired first baseman Justin Bour and cash considerations from the Miami Marlins for a minor-league pitcher who is yet to be named.

That a first baseman who can hit a little bit went in a minor August trade is another data point on just how little first baseman with some offensive pep are valued in baseball in 2018. It kind of makes you wonder about the team’s public stance to not let their players go cheaply; while Bour’s oblique injury came at a bad time for a deadline trade in 2017, I can’t help but think that a hitter coming off a .289/.366/.536 season could have fetched more than this over the winter. Yes, Bour has larger-than-typical platoon splits for a left-handed batter, with a 210-point difference in career OPS vs. RHP and LHP, but in some ways, that actually makes it easier for his new club to find a role for him. Also, he makes practically nothing in baseball terms ($3.4 million in 2018) and has two additional years before free agency.

ZiPS Projections, Justin Bour
Year BA OBP SLG G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2019 .249 .344 .494 128 421 55 105 17 1 28 83 62 123 1 124 -2 1.7
2020 .245 .338 .478 121 400 50 98 16 1 25 76 57 114 1 118 -3 1.2

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Sunday Notes: A New Red Dabbles in Data, and a New Ray Likes the Simple Life

What kind of pitcher did the Reds get when they acquired Lucas Sims in the deadline deal that sent Adam Duvall to the Braves? By and large, they got a former first-rounder who has had spotty results in his smattering of big-league outings, yet little left to prove at the minor-league level. Blessed with plus stuff, he remains a tantalizing young talent.

The 24-year-old is getting smarter about his craft. Aware that he should “always be looking for that next step to stay ahead of the curve,” Sims has begun dabbling in analytics. He’s not diving in head first, but his toes are definitely in the water.

“I’ve recently gotten into it, but not to the point where I’m getting overwhelmed with it,” Sims explained earlier this summer. “I’m taking a couple of things here and there, basically whatever resonates with me. I’ve started getting into the spin-rate stuff, and which types of pitches are most effective in certain situations.”

The young right-hander had a colorful answer when asked if his four-seam spin rate is above-average.

“Yeah, but I don’t know exactly what it is,” Sims admitted. “I saw that it was green, and he said green is good.”

The ‘he’ in question was Alex Tamin — “one of our analytics guys” — whose official title with the Braves is director of major league operations. Color-coded assessments weren’t all that Tamin passed along. Sims has also begun “looking into effective spin, and trying to make sure I get true spin.”

Just how much further he dives in with his new team remains a question.

“You don’t want to end up getting paralysis by analysis,” Sims told me. “I don’t want it all in front of my face at the same time — I’m not trying to learn a million things at once — but I’m definitely looking forward to getting into it a little more. If something is going to make me better, I’m all for it.”

Sims made his first appearance as a member of the Reds organization last night. Pitching for Triple-A Louisville, he allowed one run over five innings, walking none and punching out six.

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What style of hitter did the Rays get when they acquired Austin Meadows in the deadline deal that sent Chris Archer to the Pirates? By and large, they got a potential middle-of-the-order bat, albeit not one with a power hitter’s profile. And he’s certainly not a three-true-outcomes guy. The 23-year-old outfielder believes in putting the ball in play, ideally on a line.

“My approach is to be aggressive in the zone,” said Meadows, who was hitting a solid .292/.327/.468 at the time of the trade. “In the first at bat of a game you need to get an idea of how your timing is, and how your swing feels — there’s a lot that goes into it — but for me it’s about moving my bat through the zone on pitches that I can hit. I need an aggressive mindset. I can’t be passive up there.”

His aggressive mindset doesn’t include trying to drive balls out of the ballpark. He said as much when I talked to him in spring training of last year, and not much has changed.

“I’ll always believe in swinging down on the baseball and creating backspin,” said Meadows. “If I do that and hit the ball well, it can go out. I’m not trying to hit the ball out. I know that other guys are — other guys are believers in it — but personally, I try to swing through the ball and hit hard line drives. If it goes out, it goes out.”

Meadows does possess some pop. His gap-to-gap approach has produced five long balls in 165 big-league plate appearances, so it’s not as though he’s Frank Taveras or Jason Tyner. Launch angle is simply not his cup of tea. Nor is compromising what comes naturally.

“I’ve always been the hitter that has good hands and keeps things simple,’ stated the 2013 first-round pick. “I think simplicity keeps you in this game for a long time. Simplicity in anything will last you a long time in life.”

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Joe Musgrove doesn’t feel that pitching in Pittsburgh is much different than pitching in Houston. Not when it comes to what he’s doing on the mound. The Pirates are “big on fastball usage and throwing the fastball inside,” and that’s always been part of his attack plan. And while new team is less bullish on high heat, they haven’t asked him to move downstairs.

“There isn’t as much analytics stuff on this end as there was with the Astros,” Musgrove shared with me in late June. “But they’re starting to trend that way, and we’ve talked more and more about using fastballs up in the zone. That’s something I learned in Houston, and it’s something I’ll continue to do.”

As you might expect, the 25-year-old right-hander enjoyed his conversations with Astros pitching guru Brent Strom.

“We talked analytics stuff a lot,” said Musgrove, who came to Pittsburgh in last winter’s Gerrit Cole deal. “We talked tunneling, and how the fastball up in the zone provides you that much more protection for the stuff you’re spinning down over the plate. If you emulate those two off that same high-fastball line, one is going to continue riding out and the other is going to break off it. It’s about disguising your pitches.”

Opposing hitters are seeing something new from the former first-round pick (The Blue Jays drafted Musgrove in 2011, and shipped him to Houston a year later). A pitch he threw sparingly in recent seasons is now a primary weapon. Read the rest of this entry »


Victor Arano and the Power of Movement

It’s August 3rd, and the Phillies are still in first place in the National League East with a 60-48 record. They’ve slid a bit off of their June 1st pace, but that’s not totally unexpected. Despite this, they still remain in good position among teams in the playoff hunt. According to our playoff odds, they have a 45.3% chance of winning the division and a 59.9% chance of making the postseason in general.

One key that has helped drive the Phillies to their first-place position is the success of a few rookie relievers in a bullpen that has already exceeded preseason projections and generated 3.5 WAR with 55 games to go. The group was expected to be led by Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek, and Hector Neris — projected to put up 1.1, 0.8, and 0.6 WAR, respectively. But these three relievers have combined for just 0.4 WAR so far, with Neris demoted to Triple A. Instead, it’s two rookies who have been the premier relief options for the team. Seranthony Dominguez has been discussed here before, and has ascended to the closer role since Neris’s demotion. However, it’s the emergence of Victor Arano that has put the Phillies bullpen in a position to help push the team toward the playoffs.

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The Manager’s Perspective: Gabe Kapler on Staying the Course

Gabe Kapler’s first season as a big-league manager is going well. Following a tumultuous 1-4 start that had more than a few Philadelphia fans in a tizzy, Kapler’s club has gone on to become one of baseball’s biggest surprises. Considered not yet ready for prime time by the vast majority of prognosticators, the youthful Phillies instead lead the National League East under his guidance.

Kapler himself was viewed by many as not yet ready for prime time. The 43-year-old former outfielder’s previous managerial experience consisted of one year in the minors, and that was back in 2007 in the South Atlantic League. He spent the past three seasons as the director of player development for the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he furthered his reputation of being innovative, if not a bit unorthodox, in his methods and approach.

He’s been a rock in his current role. With the month of August upon us, and his team firmly in contention for an unexpected playoff berth, Kapler has shown that he’s very much ready for prime time. He’s also proven — and this is something he expects from his players — that he can take a punch and get back up to fight harder and smarter the next day.

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Gabe Kapler: “As a player, you don’t have a choice but to live and breathe the phrase ‘control what you can control.’ Baseball can be a brutal game. You square up every ball and nothing drops for a hit for two weeks straight, and every day you watch your average drop further with no end in sight. You feel sick, but you know, because of how many times you’ve done it before, to stay the course. You’re confident that you can recover.

“As a manager, I find myself leaning on that phrase even more than I did as a player. I trust in it, especially with recent exposure to the natural ebbs and flows. I’ve seen it work for people I trust and respect. While this season has been enlightening on many levels, my belief that our commitment to preparation, process, and constant iteration and improvement is the one constant, controllable aspect of this job. Read the rest of this entry »


Phillies Catch an Upgrade in Wilson Ramos

Weeks ago, Wilson Ramos appeared to be the ideal trade target for the catching-deficient Nationals given his previous experience with the team (2010-16) and their current Replacement-Level Killer-esque production, but a funny thing happened on the way to Washington, DC. A left hamstring strain forced Ramos to bow out from the All-Star Game, the Nationals continued their descent into disarray, and now the Rays have traded the nearly 31-year-old backstop to the Phillies in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations.

Ramos, who also missed the first 76 games of last season due to a torn ACL, has been doing catching drills and is likely to begin a rehab assignment soon. He’s enjoyed a strong season at the plate, hitting .297/.346/.488 with 14 homers in 315 PA, good for a career-best 130 wRC+. That’s a significant upgrade over what the Phillies have gotten from the 25-year-old Jorge Alfaro (.254/.305/.398, 85 wRC+) or 26-year-old Andrew Knapp (.223/.318/.372, 87 wRC+) on the offensive side, no small matter for a team whose 92 wRC+ ranks 10th in the NL.

Assuming that Ramos replaces Knapp in some kind of pairing with Alfaro, who has started 70 of the Phillies’ 106 games behind the plate, this looks like a defensive upgrade, as well. Via the version of Defensive Runs Saved that doesn’t include pitch framing, Ramos has been average this year, Alfaro two runs below average, and Knapp five below average, while via the framing-inclusive version, the numbers are -1, 0, and -10 runs, respectively. According to Baseball Prospectus’ numbers, Ramos has been 0.9 runs below average overall but dead even on framing, not as good as Alfaro (7.4 runs above average overall, 8.5 above average via framing) but significantly better than Knapp (-5.7 runs overall, -4.3 via framing), who’s gotten about half as much playing time.

As for the return to Tampa Bay, obviously, there’s no scouting report to offer on PTBNL. Ramos’s $10.5 million salary made him the highest-paid Ray, but as with Denard Span earlier this year and Evan Longoria and David Price previously, that title is always a temporary one. Like the mortality rates among those crowned the oldest living human, there’s no mystery about the turnover.


Let’s Make Some Trades

Harper to the Yankees? It’s not not possible.
(Photo: Lorie Shaull)

There are only 24-ish hours remaining until baseball’s trade deadline and, truth is, I’m a bit impatient. Until free agency opens up in about a hundred days or thereabouts, this is truly our last great opportunity to let our imaginations run wild. Sure, we can conjure up some fun trades in August, but our whimsical mind-meanderings just aren’t as exciting when all of the players we trade have to go through imaginary revocable waivers.

Against my worse judgment, to which I typically cater, I endeavored to make my last-minute deadline trades to retain at least a whiff of plausibility. So, no blockbuster Mike Trout deal, no winning Noah Syndergaard in a game of canasta, and no Rockies realizing that they have significant other needs other than the bullpen.

Bryce Harper to the Yankees

Washington’s playoff hopes have sunk to the extent that, even if you’re as optimistic as the FanGraphs depth charts are and believe the Phillies and Braves are truly sub-.500 teams as presently constructed, the Nats still only are a one-in-three shot to win the division. If you’re sunnier on Philadelphia or Atlanta, those Nats probabilities lose decimal places surprisingly quickly.

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