On Ryan Howard and Lefties

Over at The Good Phight, John Stolnis wrote an interesting article about Ryan Howard‘s early success against left-handed pitchers, specifically in the walks department. Howard’s struggles against southpaws are well-documented, particularly here, so it’s been a welcome sight to see him laying off the low-and-away slop over the first 15 games of the season. Stolnis recaps Howard’s pinch-hit appearance against Braves starter Alex Wood, a lefty, in which the first baseman worked the count and eventually drew a walk, setting up Ben Revere‘s go-ahead RBI single to drive in Domonic Brown from second base.

It’s true: in the small sample of 62 plate appearances Howard is walking at a markedly higher rate (16%) than he had been dating back to 2008, including between seven and nine percent over the last two seasons. His 2014 walk rate is nearly as high against lefties (15%) as against right-handers (17%). The obvious question must be asked: is it sustainable?

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Jonathan Papelbon Doesn’t Think Velocity Matters Much. It Does.

Corinne Landrey has you covered on Jonathan Papelbon‘s start to the season overall. I’d just like to respond to something the closer said after Thursday afternoon’s game.

Papelbon was asked by the media about his velocity, which was measured in the low-to-mid 90′s during his save Thursday, after having registered in the high-80′s during spring training. While he hasn’t gotten back up to 95 MPH like he used to throw, seeing him consistently around 93 MPH has been a welcome sight.

Here’s what Papelbon had to say, via CSN Philly:

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Jonathan Papelbon Having a Good Start to 2014

What if Jonathan Papelbon has a good season?

I’ll wait for you to stop laughing.

C’mon, it’s not that funny.

During the third game of the season, Papelbon had a disastrous outing after entering the game in the 9th inning with a 4-2 lead. He retired only one of the seven batters he faced, gave up four hits and two walks including a bases loaded walk-off walk to Shin-Soo Choo. It was ugly and it seemed to confirm the doomsday narrative surrounding Papelbon at this point is career: his velocity has declined and without it he can’t succeed.

But then a funny thing happened, Papelbon dominated relief appearance after relief appearance. Look at Papelbon’s line this season, excluding the Texas disaster:

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Some Fun Trivia on Cliff Lee’s Start vs. Braves

Cliff Lee was at times awe-inspiring and at other times frustrating in his start against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night. But by the end of the night, he had struck out 13 and walked one en route to a complete game effort in which he took the tough-luck 1-0 loss. Opposing starter Julio Teheran was a bit more effective, scattering three singles over nine innings, as the 23-year-old earned his first career shutout.

It wasn’t the first time we’ve seen Lee take home the tough-luck loss — it brought back memories of the time when Lee shut out the San Francisco Giants over 10 innings but got the no-decision when Matt Cain blanked the Phillies over nine, and then Antonio Bastardo gave up a walk-off RBI single.

In fact, it was the fifth time in his career that Lee pitched a complete game and still got the loss. It was the second time he had done so while allowing one run, matched in his last start against the Braves on September 27, 2013 (coincidentally, he also struck out 13). There’s plenty more trivia:

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The Phillies’ Bullpen Hasn’t Been Overworked

Among the many criticisms about the Phillies that have been tossed out there since the start of the season, the most recent has been that the starting rotation hasn’t been going deep enough into games, forcing manager Ryne Sandberg to rely on his bullpen more heavily and more frequently than he would like. Sandberg himself said as much in Bob Brookover’s column posted this morning:

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Be Patient, Temper Expectations for Ken Giles

Last night’s bullpen meltdown brought calls for Double-A reliever Ken Giles to a fever pitch. Giles, 23, has gotten off to a fast start with Reading, striking out 14, walking two, notching five saves, all without allowing a single run in six innings of work. Giles throws a fastball which reaches the triple digits along with a power slider. GM Ruben Amaro said of the Phillies promoting Giles earlier on WIP, “I think you have to think about it.”

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Sometimes Bad Things Happen to Good People

Monday night’s game against the Atlanta Braves was ugly for myriad reasons; the bullpen responsible for nearly all of them. To recap, it was a fairly close game after seven innings. Starter Roberto Hernandez yielded only two runs to the Braves, on a two-run home run by Evan Gattis. Mario Hollands pitched a scoreless seventh inning. The Phillies managed just one run off of Braves starter Ervin Santana, which came on a second-inning solo home run by Ryan Howard. Once it got to the eighth inning, things got out of hand.

Reliever B.J. Rosenberg took the mound and the Braves brought the lumber. Evan Gattis, Dan Uggla, and Andrelton Simmons hit back-to-back-to-back solo home runs in rapid-fire succession, putting the game seemingly out of reach at 5-1. Luis Garcia relieved Rosenberg and was able to escape the eighth with no further damage. Entering the bottom of the eighth, the Phillies’ win probability sat at a meager four percent.

Just as the Braves’ bats woke up, so too did the Phillies’. Luis Avilan relieved Anthony Varvaro and was immediately put to the test by the top of the Phillies’ lineup. Tony Gwynn, Jr. walked, and Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley both singled to load the bases. Ryan Howard struck out (hey, it was against a lefty!), but Marlon Byrd picked him up with a two-run single to right field. Domonic Brown put the cherry on top of the inning with a go-ahead three-run home run to make it 6-5 in favor of the Phillies. Their win probability stood at 84 percent at the conclusion of the bottom of the eighth.

Closer Jonathan Papelbon had pitched in three consecutive games, so manager Ryne Sandberg opted to have the normally-reliable Jake Diekman close out the ninth, but it was not to be. Diekman could not hit the strike zone whatsoever. The lefty walked B.J. Upton to lead off the top of the ninth, then fell behind Freddie Freeman before he tapped a grounder to Utley at second base, who flipped to second base to get the lead runner, but he was a hair too late. Diekman walked Justin Upton to load the bases. With his back against the wall, Diekman fired some 97-98 MPH fastballs by Evan Gattis and retired him on strikes for the first out, revealing light at the end of the tunnel. But it was not to be, as Uggla joined Gattis in the two-homer party, crushing a grand slam to left field to give the Braves a 9-6 lead. At the conclusion of the top of the ninth, the Phillies were back down to four percent win probability. This time it stuck. David Carpenter closed out the bottom of the ninth with Craig Kimbrel resting with a sore shoulder.

Source: FanGraphs

Now that the recap is over and we have context, time to get into the meat of the matter:

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Jimmy Rollins’ Walk-Off Home Run in .gifs

Jimmy Rollins was the hero on Saturday night as the Phillies walked off 5-4 winners against the Miami Marlins. Despite Giancarlo Stanton‘s efforts, hitting two home runs — including one that went 470 feet — and knocking in three runs, the bullpen was able to keep the Phillies in the game in the eighth, ninth, and tenth innings before Rollins took Dan Jennings deep for a solo home run.

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