Lance Parrish Syndrome

To those born with the considerable luck to be fans of teams not named the Phillies, the name Lance Parrish probably conjures up images of one of the top catchers of the 1980s. Indeed, a quick check of his career numbers shows a guy who was a near perennial All Star (8 times), possessed good power (324 career homers) and seemed to be decent behind the dish (3 Gold Gloves).

Yet to Phillies fans, he was the biggest bomb of the 80s not dropped on Osage Avenue.

Because a closer look at Parrish's career, and we see two years--smack in the middle of his long career--when his ability to hit a baseball disappeared. Of course, those were his two years playing at Broad & Pattison, where he arrived as a savior--one of the biggest free agent signings in team history. Those two years featured his lowest OPS+ (outside of his final year when he was 39), an OBP just north of .300 and the lowest outright BA and OPS of his career (.663 in 1988). His hitting never returned to the level of his Detroit days (and it was equally dreadful in 1989 for the Angels) but he got back on track in 1990 and had a decent end to his career. Sadly, though, his lasting contribution to many Phans was an early lesson in how players who don the red and white pinstripes tend to, well, stink up the joint.

I was reminded of Lance Parrish a few weeks back, after Mike Piazza nailed an Ugie Urbina pitch that threatened to hit an SUV in one of Piazza's suburban Philadelphia car dealerships. A familiar feeling was coming to mind, and I recalled Parrish's wispy mustashe and feeble swing.

Some fans were a little frightened when Urbina one of MLB's most extreme fly ball pitchers, was brought in to pitch in homer friendly Citizens Bank Park, but even they had to be surprised by his results:

2005 in Detroit:
27.1 IP, 21 H, 9 R, 4 HR, 14 BB, 1.28 WHIP, 2.63 ERA

2005 in Philly (thru 7.11.2005):
13.1 IP, 8 H, 10R, 5 HR, 10 BB, 1.35 WHIP, 6.75 ERA

He has given up more runs and homers in under half innings, quite a feat even considering the move to a much more hitter-friendly park. Of course, in trading for Urbina Ed Wade contradicted his own preseason claim that he wanted more groundball pitchers, but Ed was almost certainly blinded by Ugie's closer credentials and World Series ring to check his incredibly unbalanced GB/FB ratios.

Sadly, this "Lance Parrish Syndrome" seems to have infected the franchise since their last mullet-filled trip to the playoffs in '93. And in the past seven seasons, we've been subjected to "Ed Wade's Fecal Touch," where everything our GM touches seems to have an un-Midas touch.

So, with a pack of Pepto Bismol by my side, I went searching for a few of the prime examples of "Lance Parrish Syndrome," where acquisitions performed noticeably worse when the joined the Phils (thanks Baseball Musings!) :

Jon Lieber:
Pre Phils as full time starter (1997-2004)
81-72, 4.14 ERA, 6.7 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, 1.12 HR/9, 3.87 K/BB

2005 Phils
8-8, 5.09 ERA, 5.6 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 1.86 HR/9, 2.65 K/BB

The latest to join this infamous club, Lieber started off well this year and has summarily fallen off a Cliff Politte. He's already walked more batters and given up more homers this year than in 66 more innings for the Yanks last year.  His greatest contribution seems to be helping Brett Myers learn to pitch better. Perhaps the master now needs the student's advice.

Kevin Millwood:  
Braves (152 games from 1997-2002):
75-46, 3.73 ERA, 7.5 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, .94 HR/9, 2.77 K/BB

Phillies (59 games from 2003-2004)
22-18, 4.36 ERA, 7.3 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, .88 HR/9, 2.46 K/BB

Millwood was thought to be a steal for Johnny Estrada, and it seemed that for once, we had fleeced the Braves. And out of the gates, Millwood seemed to be the mythical "ace" that everyone seems to get their Underoos in a bunch about, when he jumped out to a 6-1 record and no hit the Giants (and gave me one of my favorite baseball games I've ever attended). From that point on, though, Kevin fell apart in the second half of 2003, and accepted arbitration at seasons end. In 2004, he was either injured or just plain unlucky. In fact, in a new wrinkle to Lance Parrish Syndrome, Millwood's unluckiness was well documented by Baseball Prospectus in their BABIP rankings. To make matters worse in the eyes of phans, he appeared out of shape, was unable to pitch well against the Braves and Estrada had a freakish year at the plate for the Braves. Though his numbers were not as awful as Parrish's, it was easy to see some parallels--supposed savior, two subpar years, a "don't let the door hit you on the way out" feeling of closure.

Eric Milton:
Twins (165 games from 1998-2003)
57-51, 4.76 ERA, 6.5 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 1.36 HR/9, 2.66 K/BB

Phillies (2004 season)
14-6, 4.75 ERA, 7.2 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 1.93 HR/9, 2.15 K/BB

I wasn't going to include Milton on this list because his 2004 season (despite his great luck in terms of W/L) was inline with his career numbers, but I thought he was interesting because he gave up homers at a near comical rate--a trend that has continued into this year in Cincinnati, where he has embarrassed that fine city more than Nick Lachay ever could. Also, Carlos Silva, whom the Phils dealt to acquire Milton, has been 21-11 with a sub 4 ERA for the Twins since the trade. And while the trade took place before a game had been played at CBP, Silva's extreme ground ball tendencies and miniscule walk rate would be ideal for the new yard.

David Bell:
Pre Phils as full-time starter (711 games from 1998-2002)
.262 BA, .321 OPB, .417 SLG, .738 OPS

Phils (2003 to present)
.255 BA, .328 OPB, .385 SLG, .713 OPS

A quick look at the numbers suggests that David Bell has performed almost at the same level of mediocrity with the Phils as he did on several other ML teams. However, Bell's arrival was soured by a putrid 2003 campaign, where he batted a "Parrish in '88"-esque .195 with an OPS of .579 and moronically played through injuries while the team had playoff hopes. What annoyed fans even more were the constant allusions to "Cool Pop Up" Bell's clutchness, attitude and professionalism by the Phils PR and broadcasting teams. To his credit, Bell had a career year in 2004, but has returned to his same sub-average self this season.  

Jim Thome:
With Indians as full-time starter (1165 games from 1995-2002)
.292 BA, .426 OBP, .588 SLG, 1.013 OPS

Phils (2003 to present)
.259 BA, .384 OBP, .531 SLG, .926 OPS

I didn't want to include him on this list. I really didn't. But all of that lost OPS is very frightening, and doesn't seem to be getting better any time soon. In fact, since last year's All Star Break, he's put up a .795 OPS with just 21 homers. Big contracts to players past their peak age is never smart, and it looks like Jim's deal could cripple the Phils for the next few seasons.

Andy Ashby:
Pre-Phils as full time starter (from 1994 to 1999)
67-56, 3.49 ERA, 6.2 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, .91 HR/9, 2.61 K/BB

Phils (16 games in 2000)
4-7, 5.68 ERA, 4.5 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 1.51 HR/9, 1.34 K/BB

All analysis aside, I hated this guy. He got a big contract, pitched like a toilet seat and complained his way onto the Braves.  Oh, and we traded Adam Eaton, he of the 9-2 record and 3.42 ERA, to get this bum. Insult, meet injury. Injury, insult.

In the interest of space, time and, ultimately, my sanity, here are some of Ed Wade's acquisitions to his pet project, the bullpen. Ed's soft spot--some might call it a fetish, others an addiction-- for veteran, middle aged relievers is well documented, but what's shocking is how poorly some have performed upon arriving to Philly.

Among the "close-your-eyes-when-he-pitches" variety

Turk Wendell (2001)
Turk had all the ingredients to be a fan favorite in Philly--he was weird, fantastically unkempt and prone to yelling at opposing players. Unfortunately, the moment he arrived, he began dishing up home runs in astonishing bunches. In 2001, his ERA with the Mets was 3.51, while with the Phils it was 7.47. He then re-enacted the 1985 classic Turk 182! by missing the next 182 games with injuries.

Mike Williams (2003)
In 2002, Mike Williams had a sub 3 ERA and 46 saves. After Ed applied the Fecal Touch, he threw up an ERA pushing 6 and was out of baseball by the end of 2003. Sure, Williams had been horrendous in '03 for the Pirates, but Wade seemed infatuated with his stature as an All Star closer.

Roberto Hernandez (2004)
"Blowberto" was not a very good pitcher the few years before his awful 2004 with the Phils, but he brings a new dimension to this dreadful list by posting an impossible 1.69 ERA with the Mets this year. He seemed like a nice guy, which keeps my voodoo doll of him free of pins. For now.

Anyway, this is depressing me, and I'll just list the other relievers Ed Wade has acquired. Without reviewing their stats, let's just say that these guys gave  Chris Wheeler seemingly limitless occasions to say "he left that pitch middle in, and major league hitters are gonna make you pay for that".

Doug Nickle (1998)
Scott Aldred (1999)
Trevor Miller (2000)
Ed Vosberg (2000)
Jose Santiago (2001)
Dennis Cook (2001)
Hector Mercado (2002)
Mike Timlin (2002)
Mike Williams (2003)
Felix Rodriguez (2004)
Todd Jones (2004)

As I hand out airline barf bags to those who suffered through this list, please keep in mind it isn't a universal trend. Cory Lidle has pitched well in his near year here, and Placido Polanco--and Placido Polanco's head--had the three highest OPSes of their career while in Philly. But other than these two, it's been a depressing look back through

So, it comes time to wonder why this performance drop-off seems so commonplace for the Phils. Could it be poor coaching? Certainly, the last three coaching regimes here have left plenty to be desired with in-game decisions, but one near constant is how players fail to develop on the Phils. Many of the coaches have also had an annoying habit of trotting out ineffective vets in favor of younger producers.

Could it be acquisitions that were past their primes? Thome, Bell, Lieber and nearly every reliever fall into that category, which is a big, fat indictment on Ed Wade.

Could it be they were never that good to begin with (Eric Milton, I'm looking at you)? Again, another strike against Ed.

Could it be the Phils have a bad environment for winning? Losing is ingrained in the franchise, but this strikes me as a load of old school phooey. There have been too many "worst to first" stories in sports the last few years to make me believe that myth. Moreso, I think Ed Wade has just gotten fleeced too many times in trades and free agency. Wade's ouster might not provide the long hoped-for cure to Lance Parrish syndrome, but it would at least provide a long overdue second opinion.