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Talking Phillies with Christina Kahrl of Baseball Prospectus

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The editors and writers of the always informative and entertaining Baseball Prospectus invited the editors of the various SBNation blogs to interview the authors of their team's respective chapters in this year's Baseball Prospectus 2007 annual.  I spoke to Christina Kahrl, editor and one of the original "founding five" of BP and author of this year's Phillies chapter, to ask her some questions about her contribution to this season's volume, and the Phillies in general.

The Abreu trade:  Can mere payroll flexibility justify dumping such a good player?  Despite his decline in power, he's still a run producer.

Yes, he is, and while I advanced the argument in the book that payroll flexibility was the sine qua non for the Abreu deal, and the extent of how well that was employed will only really show up in how well the Phillies do this year, it was still a lousy deal for the Phillies.

Can the team expect similar offensive output from new right fielder Shane Victorino as it got last season from the Abreu/Dellucci/Victorino aggregate? Will Victorino's presumably great defense make up much of the difference?

Shame on you, Peter, that's like a tee-ball question, and if I can't go yard with it, then it's shame on me. The easy answer is 'no,' but that's because you're still talking about a right fielder, who might make two or three plays per night, most of which they handle indistinguishably well, against four or more plate appearances, which Victorino will never be able to employ to as great effect as Abreu (ever) or Dellucci during his insane hot streak. It's a pity, because I like what Victorino can do for a team, either as a frequently-used fourth outfielder or as a regular center fielder, but as an every RF, you end up giving away a lot of the runs this offense gains by employing Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins at defense-oriented positions.

Do you think it would have made more sense to trade Rowand, trade for or sign a mid-level right field thumper, and place Victorino in centerfield?

Yes. I'm not sure if Rowand's reputation for head-cracking desperation in the field would have reduced the offer, and I might worry that having dealt Thome to get Rowand might generate unrealistic expectations about what they'd get in return, but Victorino would have generated almost nothing as a bargaining chip. Shopping Rowand and playing Victorino would have made all sorts of sense.

What do you see as Michael Bourn's ceiling?  Outside of the very, very young Adrian Cardenas, he's the organization's only remotely exciting position prospect.

I think the suggestion that Bourn could post a .350 OBP as a regular center fielder with more sock than the waterbug types and with a better arm than you generally see from them as well makes him pretty interesting. I don't expect a much higher ceiling than that (.350-ish OBP, slugging over .400 in his peak), but add in the defense, and you have the guy who will make Rowand obsolete, and put Victorino back in a fourth outfielder role.

As for the state of the system, your point's well taken, although I probably like Mike Costanzo more than I should.

Freddy Garcia: The virtues of an above-average innings-eater are obvious, especially in the National League. However, I see him as no better than the third best starter on the team. Is he really a difference-making, "get-over-the-hump" type of pitcher?

Yes, because having that third guy who's good is the difference between a team you can safely project into the upper 80s and the upper 70s in wins. It's why I'm picking the Phillies to win the NL East.

In the long-term, are the Phillies wise to wait before signing Ryan Howard to a long-term deal?  Given his body type and skill set, would letting him walk after 2011 (when he'll be 32) be the worst idea in the world?

No, it wouldn't be, but the question is whether or not things get nasty in the meantime, and whether that brings things to a head. They renewed him this year, and an arbitration fight could make things unpleasant. Say the wrong thing, get in a messy argument with the club, and maybe you sour what ought to be a wonderful four- or five-year stretch. What makes sense--and what a lot of teams are doing--is signing someone like this through their arbitration-eligibility seasons. If the Phillies do that, and make it clear that this doesn't necessarily mean they're closing the
door after 2011, they get the benefits of erasing any friction, while preserving their freedom of action in case Howard's in decline by that point.

How bad is Rod Barajas?

He's sort of a poor man's Dave Duncan (the player), and without the helpful suggestions on ways to make a ball break. Some sock, some defense, and actually perhaps handier than the Brad Ausmus types, because pinch-hitting for Barajas in a high-leverage moment doesn't involve nearly so much drama.

Jimmy Rollins as a leadoff hitter:  Do his speed and considerable extra-base hit totals outweigh his low OBP?

The Phillies don't have a ton of great options for leadoff, but I'd rather see that power being delivered with men aboard, instead of with the less-frequent guy in scoring position because the pitcher didn't end the inning and got a successful sac bunt down.

Tom Gordon and the bullpen:  Panic?

I wouldn't. Other than the regrettable resurrection of Pulpo, there's a functional group here, and I'm happy to see Matt Smith stick for situational LOOGYdom. Pinning down relief pitching performance is like trying to predict how much of a splatter you get from one tomato versus another; sometimes, it sticks, but more often, your expectations end up a bit of a mess. Leaving Ryan Madson in one role should help.

Did the Phillies make the right decision to place Jon Lieber in the bullpen (albeit temporarily)?

As opposed to... ? A six-man rotation is a non-starter. He should have
been dealt already.

Does "The Jamie Moyer Story" end this year?

Perhaps. But moving to the NL is a great way to keep things rolling for a little while longer.

You were very critical, and rightly so, of Brett Myers' domestic problems last season.  The Phillies handled the situation very poorly, letting Myers pitch the next day, followed by managing owner Bill Giles' statements tacitly stating that the press may have overreacted and questioning whether the event took place as reported.  How should the team (and the league) have handled the situation?  Is domestic violence an "epidemic" in MLB or was this mostly an isolated incident?

If you broadened the scope beyond MLB, I think you could talk about there being a problem in pro sports in general, but I don't think there's a compelling case that there's an epidemic in baseball in particular.

That's not the same thing as saying that there's an unacceptable level of domestic violence that's tolerated in this country, as well as an unfortunately cynical effort by some state and local law enforcement types to pervert domestic violence laws by only applying them to married couples. As far as the Phillies and MLB specifically, though, there's a basic problem --innocence before a conviction is a basic right for all of us as citizens, and in today's fast news cycle, a team and a sport can get caught flat-footed, as the Phillies were. The fact that Myers' wife didn't press charges can be taken to mean all sorts of things, but that's where anything we could say is speculative at best. Coming out with a position fast might have been prejudicial to Myers' defense, and might have put the Phillies in an impossible legal situation. Basically, I guess I see this as a nightmare scenario for everyone involved, and like some of the support services that are offered to players with other off-field issues or who have problems with addictions that they'd like to address before they're indicted for anything, I'd like to see this as something that the sport addresses pro-actively through the provision of marriage counseling beyond the counseling that the MLBPA makes available to its members. I know that sounds crunchy, and I know any proposition of counseling to pro athletes comes with perhaps an even greater stigma as it does to the population at large, but creating a culture of support is a better tack than just wishing these problems didn't exist. It's a tough sell, but it's the sort of thing you want to see addressed. If we wind up in a world where this sort of question doesn't have to be asked, it's a better world as well as a better day for the sport.

Where do you see Kyle Drabek in five years?  Carlos Carrasco?

I'm always going to be a cynic where young pitchers are concerned, and guys like Drabek are one of the reasons why. There's very little
consensus on his up-side, and there seem to be good chances that Drabek could be repairing a scragged joint or out of baseball, as opposed to
coming off of a first good year in The Show in five years. Carrasco is a much better bet to have made it up by then, and providing the club with a
fine homegrown No. 3 in the rotation.

Does Cole Hamels miss any time this season?  If so, how much?

Erg, that's very much a dartboard question. I say he makes exactly thirty starts, and makes one trip to the DL for exactly two weeks; the odd skipped start or push-back doesn't count.

Where do you fall in the Pat Burrell debate? Disappointment and failure to live up to his potential, or be thankful for what you've got?

I'm a Popeye-inspired existentialist: he is what he is. Would it be cooler if he mastered a more situational, contact-oriented stroke against RHPs with runners in scoring position? Sure, but that might also entirely scrag his game--when Rick Burleson tried to teach Mark McGwire to hit to the opposite field, it generated the worst year of McGwire's career. He crushes lefties, and if you give him 150 starts, you get good overall production. If you can explain it to him that, now and again, you'll pinch-hit for him with a quality lefty bat off of the bench, and selling him on how that's part of trying to win a game, that would be a bit more pragmatic, but when what you've got is Greg Dobbs, there's no sale to be made. I know, it's a weird thing to wind up a Phillies interview with "Where have you gone, Greg Gross?", but that's the stunted tactical environment of today's game.