With the season's one-third mark coming up this week, it's time to revive a semi-regular feature at The Good Phight: Gillick's Guys, a look at how the player acquisitions of GM Pat Gillick have performed for the Phillies this season.
You might remember the basic premise. At the time of Gillick's hiring in November 2005, he described his job as "adding five wins" to an already-strong team that had won 88 games the previous season, barely missing the playoffs. When last we checked in at the end of 2006, after an up-and-down but ultimately disappointing 85-win season, we knew the team had fallen short.
In Gillick's first year, there was a notable difference in quality between his pitching acquisitions and his positional pickups. Led by Tom Gordon--almost entirely on the strength of his all-star first half--and August pickup Jamie Moyer, the pitchers made a net positive contribution. On the hitting side, the story was different, as only since-departed David Dellucci really stood out. Aaron Rowand was a slight disappointment, and reserves like Abraham Nunez, Sal Fasano and Alex Gonzalez badly hurt a Phillies team that, once again, narrowly missed out on a postseason berth.
Though the sample size is still small enough for one good game--or even one great at-bat, like Greg Dobbs' pinch-homer in last night's loss to Arizona--to skew the conclusions, Gillick is looking considerably better this year, particularly on the batting side.
Rowand has been close to the best player on the team, Greg Dobbs has been a revelation, and Jayson Werth and even the much-maligned Nunez have had their moments. Only Wes Helms, whose pickup I applauded at the time, has been a clear disaster thus far.
The pitchers have offered a slightly more mixed picture. Moyer has been very solid, but free agent addition Adam Eaton and trade pickup Freddy Garcia have struggled somewhat (though both have looked better of late). In the bullpen, Antonio Alfonseca has been adequate; Francisco Rosario might not show the results yet, but his stuff pretty clearly merits some excitement. As we discuss below, the biggest criticism Gillick has absorbed from the mainstream press probably has to do with the moves he didn't make--specifically, not getting more relief help. But that's a questionable premise.
Here are the numbers. "PA" is plate appearances, "WPA" is "Win Probability Added," a measure of a player's win contribution that indicates how much each specific play he made altered the outcome of a game; "VORP" is "Value Over Replacement Player," a measure of how many runs a player contributed beyond what a replacement-level player at the same position would contribute if given the same percentage of team plate appearances.
As we second-guess Pat Gillick and the Phillies organization, it's only fair to second-guess ourselves as well. The two acquisitions I was most excited about this off-season were Freddy Garcia and Wes Helms; they've been, respectively, middling and lousy. I was less unhappy with the Eaton signing than some of my TGP brethren; the numbers suggest they were correct in their condemnation, but Eaton has been a pretty solid pitcher over his last four starts, as the team has heated up. With the Phils' offense, he just needs to deliver six or seven innings allowing four runs or fewer; he's done that in seven of his ten starts on the year.
I felt like Dobbs and Werth represented decent gambles on cheap talent, and Dobbs in particular--he's earning $385,000 this season--has made Gillick look very, very good.
The Alfonseca pickup wasn't well regarded by anyone in these parts, and I still think that was a justified response despite his adequate performance thus far. He's getting paid just $700,000 (plus potential bonuses for performance) for the '07 campaign; if the Phils had added, say, Joe Borowski, whom they signed pending a physical which he failed, it's safe to say the move would have drawn howls of protest. Borowski has 17 saves for Cleveland--but his ERA (6.75) is more than two points higher than Alf's, and his VORP (-2.3) suggests he's been a net negative for the Tribe. Another oft-mentioned name was lefty Mike Gonzalez, acquired by the division rival Braves for slugging first baseman Adam LaRoche with less known players also going each way in the deal. As you've probably heard, Gonzalez is out for a full year with Tommy John surgery, and he had an injury history the Braves presumably knew about. With these things in mind, It seems reasonable to say the jury is still out on whether or not Gillick and the Phillies were wrong not to overpay, in the free agent or trade market, for bullpen help. If Brett Myers and Tom Gordon come back strong, Mike Zagurski proves to be for real, and Rosario develops into a useful situational guy, Gillick could wind up having the last laugh here as well. That's one we'd be very happy to share with him.