What I’m Thankful For: Yankees Fans

With a hat tip to poster Squire at the Phillies forum Back She Goes, I direct you to a gem of a comment from Vito of New York City posted on an ESPN Chat with Jim Callis (press Ctrl + F and search for “Vito”):

Jim, I have come to the conclusion that cole hamels would look awesome in yankee pinstripes…do you think a deal involving ian kennedy and melky cabrera along with a lesser prospect like coke, would be enought to pry him away from philly?

The sentiment is so ignorant it’s not even deserving of an FJM-style bit-by-bit rebuke. It has to be a joke. No one with a room temperature IQ actually thinks like this, right?

According to this guy, this is what the Yankees’ Opening Day 2009 lineup will look like:

C – Joe Mauer
1B – Mark Teixeira
2B – Ian Kinsler
3B – Alex Rodriguez
SS – Derek Jeter
OF – Carlos Beltran
OF – Grady Sizemore
OF – Adam Dunn
DH – Manny Ramirez
SP – C.C. Sabathia

Speaking of giving thanks, David Cohen has a top-ten thanks list at The Good Phight. Because I know you were going to ask anyway, here are my top five after “Vito”:

  1. Chase Utley giving the FCC something to work on when he dropped an F-bomb on live television.
  2. Harry Kalas.
  3. Awesome blogs (see blogroll on the right-hand column).
  4. Cole Hamels putting the Phillies back on the map both on and off the field.
  5. Hilarious antics (from an observer’s perspective) following a World Series victory.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Update on Chase Utley’s Surgery

Per Scott Lauber:

Phillies second baseman Chase Utley had surgery on his right hip yesterday. The surgery was performed by Dr. Bryan Kelly at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. Utley had an arthroscopic debridement of his labrum and a bony lesion that was present. Dr. Kelly reported the surgery went well and the findings yesterday were consistent with the diagnostic studies performed prior to surgery. It is anticipated that he will have a four- to six-month recovery period as previously described.

Just so you don’t have to grab that medical dictionary, here are the definitions of those those big words:

  • Debridement: the removal of dead, damaged, or infected tissue to improve the healing potential of the remaining healthy tissue.
  • Bone lesion: abnormality of bone tissue.

Utley’s surgery went well and none of the procedures caused any setbacks. To quote Lauber again:

According to the good doctor, a debridement consists of little more than “trimming” the labrum, the best-case scenario for Utley. Based on the Phillies’ description of the procedure, and without knowing Utley’s speed of recovery (we’re guessing it’s pretty good), Kalman said it sounds “pretty reasonable” that Utley could be ready by Opening Day.

We hope Utley is ready by Opening Day, but even if he is, given the Phillies’ easy April schedule, letting him take it easy for another month (playing him lightly) would be an optimal strategy. In April, the Phils play just two teams (vs. Milwaukee and @ Florida) who had a winning record in 2008. They play the Braves, Rockies, and Padres three times and the Nationals six times. May opens with three at home against the Mets.

2009 Philadelphia Phillies Projections

Hop over to The Good Phight where MattS dishes out his projections for the current batch of Phillies in 2009. It’s one of the more thorough projection explanations out there.

Here’s a snippet of his explanation:

Rollins power went down this year, but he appeared to master the strike zone like never before, raising his BB% from 6.4% to 9.4% and his K% down from 11.9% to 9.9% since his MVP season.  His peripherals seem to strengthen this case—his Swing% went down from 42.9% to 39.7% while his Contact% when up from 86.9% to 90.8%.  However, this is mostly a higher (78.0%) contact rate on balls out of the strike zone, almost 10% more than the previous year, which was probably the cause of the .290 BABIP, lower than the previous years’ .303.  I expect a little bit of reversion on all counts: a .298 BABIP, an 8.4 UBB%, 11 K%.

Bad News for Chase Utley, Phillies

We have some bad news per Todd Zolecki:

Chase Utley will have right hip surgery, and will miss the next four to six months.

That means Utley will be back near the end of March at the earliest, missing almost all of spring training. And it could mean that Utley misses the first one-third of the season.

There may be a silver lining — the Phillies could try Jason Donald at second base instead of settling for Eric Bruntlett or a scrub free agent middle infielder. Donald is performing well in the Arizona Fall League: in 91 at-bats, his AVG/OBP/SLG line is .407/.476/.747.

The Phillies shouldn’t, and most likely won’t, overreact to the news, so don’t expect a free agent signing of Orlando Hudson or a trade for Dan Uggla (since the Marlins are going through yet another roster liquidation).

It’s mere speculation, but it seems like this was the play that hurt Utley. Justin Upton of the Arizona Diamondbacks took him out at second base to break up the double play. That game was on May 5. Up to that point, Utley had put up a slash line of .357/.432/.762. After that game, he had a slash line of .273/.363/.472. Still not bad, and this is not to say that Utley was going to OPS 1.200 the rest of the year, but it seems like the Upton slide was the play which hurt Utley’s hip.

This is further confirmed if we look at the ten games before and after the game: .333/.409/.590 before and .143/.225/.229 after. Reduce it to five games and it becomes .316/.409/.789 before and .059/.150/.059 after. In fact, it took Utley seven games after that slide to get a hit that was not a single — he hit a home run off of Tom Glavine on May 14.

If this is indeed true that Justin Upton is the culprit, then we can add him to a list similar to Steve Buscemi’s in the movie Billy Madison:

Somewhat of an Update

I apologize for the lack of meaningful content lately here at Crashburn Alley. I’ve been a bit busy with real life and it will probably stay that way until about mid-December. As usual, I’ll try and be faithful with Phillies and general baseball news. Just an FYI for anyone who may be constantly clicking the refresh button here like I am.

In the meantime, check out some interesting posts from some great blogs:

Philly Media Overreaction to MVP Results…

…and my overreaction to their overreaction.

Overall, the BBWAA got things right with the awards, though after first place, it gets messy. For instance, Edinson Volquez, who had pitched 80 innings between 2005-07 and is clearly not a rookie, received three second-place votes for NL Rookie of the Year. Brandon Webb undeservedly received 73 total points in the NL Cy Young voting, behind winner Tim Lincecum’s 137. The most offensive result, though, was the 308 total points — including 37.5% of the first-place votes — given to Ryan Howard. Albert Pujols won, of course, but it should have been unanimous.

If you haven’t read Eric Seidman’s rant against the BBWAA, hop on over to FanGraphs.

I’m not going to spend too much time complaining about the BBWAA since it’s been done already. Instead, I’m going to complain about the Philly media’s overreaction to Howard’s “loss” to Pujols in the MVP voting. At the end of September, I concluded that Howard “ain’t even close” to being the NL MVP:

  • His overall .875 OPS (prior to tonight’s game) ranks 21st in the National League and tied for 5th among NL first basemen.
  • [...] he ranks 11th among all MLB first basemen in VORP and 13th among all MLB first basemen in PMLVr.
  • [...] you have Albert Pujols and his ridiculous 1.099 OPS and amazing defense as well as Lance Berkman’s 1.044 OPS and nearly as amazing defense. Howard isn’t exactly a Hoover with the glove[...]

Before I go on whining about the Philly media, I want to point out that there’s probably a reason why they write these columns. My “ain’t even close” article about Howard’s MVP candidacy would be about as popular in the Philly papers as a bad case of herpes. Regardless of how well I support my argument, or how well-written it is (neither of which actually are “well”), the simple fact that I’m arguing against a Philly player will make my popularity sink like the Dow Jones. So, it may be that Phil Sheridan and Sam Donnellon don’t actually believe what they’ve written since their job is to write for a Philly audience, and I can’t imagine that either of them wants to intentionally sag his coolness. Regardless, it’s in print, so it’s worthy of being criticized.

We’ll start with Phil Sheridan’s article, MVP voting is out of whack.

Pujols was not an embarrassing selection, not with his excellent numbers, but was still the wrong selection. And that should embarrass the association enough to do what it should have done long ago: get out of the business of voting on baseball’s postseason awards – as well as the Hall of Fame.

It’s odd that I agree with his conclusion — the BBWAA has no business voting on these awards — yet completely disagree with his reasoning.

If the MVP is the player with the best all-round statistical season, a computer could figure that out. And a computer might well have spit out Pujols’ name this season. He was terrific.

But Howard got hot in September, hitting 11 home runs and driving in 32 runs to carry the Phillies into the playoffs. That’s the very definition of valuable.

Oh.

Pujols, September: .321 AVG/.427 OBP/.702 SLG

Howard, September: .352 AVG/.422 OBP/.852 SLG

That’s really splitting hairs, and there’s such a big difference in SLG because we’re only talking about around 100 plate appearances. What about the rest of the year?

Pujols, April-August: .364 AVG/.468 OBP/.643 SLG

Howard, April-August: .324 AVG/.324 OBP/.490 SLG

Games in April count the same as games in September. If you play .500 baseball from May-August, and win 0 of 28 games in April and 28 of 28 in September, you’re still a .500 team.

The group-think association argument for Pujols, if I’m smart enough to get it right

You’re not.

is that he single-handedly kept the Cardinals in the wild-card race.

No, the argument for Pujols is that he was far and away the most valuable player in the Majors. He put up a legendary 190 OPS+ but also played well above-average defense at first base.

That is brilliant, except it ignores the presence of Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel and Troy Glaus (so much for “single-handedly”)

Ryan Howard had Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, and Chase Utley hitting in front of him, and Pat Burrell (and Werth/Victorino at times) hitting behind him.

The Cards finished fourth in their division, 151/2 games behind the Cubs. Replace Pujols with an average NL first baseman and what happens? Do they drop all the way to fifth?

The Cardinals won 86 games. It’s very rare for a team to win 86 games and finish fourth. And the argument is a bit misleading — they were only a half-game behind Houston because they played 162 games and the Astros played 161.

Further, why should Pujols be punished because the Cubs were good?

Pujols had a 190 OPS+. The average NL 1B had a 105 OPS+. That’s, like, huge.

The association seamheads love to throw around stats – OPS, VORP, ASPCA – to make a case for Pujols.

Writers poking fun at acronyms is about as played out as the airline peanuts joke that stand-up comedians use. It’s not original and it’s never funny. ASPCA? If you’re going to clutch on to lame jokes, at least pick a funny acronym like NAMBLA.

Yes, he struck out less and hit for a higher average.

And a higher OBP and a higher SLG and wasn’t a liability for half the season and played Gold Glove-caliber defense.

But Howard won actual baseball games in an honest-Abe pennant race.

Howard won them? You mean the Phillies won them?

The Wild Card race not an “honest-Abe” race? The Cardinals won their last six games and only finished four games behind the Wild Card-winning Milwaukee Brewers.

He had 11 more home runs than Pujols, scored five more runs than Pujols, and drove in 30 more runs than Pujols.

Ostensibly, it seems Sheridan is citing Howard’s home runs to claim that he’s a better power hitter. But slugging percentage will tell us that. Pujols: .653; Howard: .543. Oh.

A difference of five runs scored is meaningless, and the runs scored metric is not dependent on the player himself but on the teammates who bat behind him. Ditto RBI, but it’s dependent on the players who bat in front of the player in question.

Notice there are no decimal points involved there, only whole numbers that made a difference in real baseball games.

Since when does a decimal point denote that a statistic doesn’t “make a difference”? And what does that say about batting average? ERA? WHIP?

And since when do whole numbers “make a difference”? I feel like I’m back in my fifth grade math class.

Also, these rhetorical questions I’m asking will have to end soon.

That takes care of the logic.

Yes, in the sense that hanging up the “Mission Accomplished” banner ended the War in Iraq.

But the point is that the association’s voting is rife with personal agendas, flawed logic, favor trading, and plain old sloppiness.

Pot, meet kettle. You might notice that he’s black. Feel free to make him aware of this fact.

Now on to Donnellon’s article, Pujols is MVP but don’t discount Howard’s value.

To preface this, Donnellon does admit very early on that Pujols is the MVP — in fact, it’s in the title. So, he’ll get some points back at the end.

So how did Howard, with all those punchouts, with that below-average batting average and those late-inning struggles, knock in 30 more runs than Pujols this season?

RBI is an “incomplete” metric, as David Grabiner explains here.
How did he manage 48 home runs in a season that so often looked as if it would be his worst?

This is a bad question; it should be, “How many home runs would Howard have hit if he wasn’t terrible for half the season?”

Presence, that’s how. He looks massive up there, looks different than Pujols, more malicious. He swings different than Pujols, too. Whether he struck out, drilled a groundout to the leftside, or hit one of those towering home runs, Howard was, to opposing pitchers, a panic attack, each and every game.

Which is why Howard drew less than half the intentional walks that he drew last year.

Which is why in 2008, Pujols got intentionally walked 34 times to Howard’s 17.

Statistically all home runs count the same. Psychologically they do not. Whether you are in the stands, at a bar, sitting on your sofa, you felt that. And you felt the anxiety on the other side.

It’s one thing if you say, “I like Howard because his home runs make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.” It’s another thing to say matter-of-factly that Howard is a legitimate MVP candidate because of those feelings.

=====

If you want to say that Howard had a good season, overcame a lot of adversity, and helped the Phillies win the World Series, go right ahead. There is nothing factually incorrect with those statements. But to say he was as or more valuable than Pujols is to ignore that he was not even the most valuable player on the left side of the Phillies’ infield. And he can come up anywhere from fourth to sixth on the Phillies’ “most valuable” list depending on what metrics you use to make your judgment. When you expand the pool to the entire National League, Howard isn’t even top-ten material.

The real MVP of the Phillies is Chase Utley. Dave Cameron explains exactly why at FanGraphs.

BDD: Alexei Ramirez is Overrated

At Baseball Digest Daily, I conclude that the second baseman of the Chicago White Sox is overrated:

The future doesn’t portend well for Ramirez, either. Among all Major League hitters with at least 300 plate appearances in 2008, Ramirez had the third-highest percentage of swings at pitches outside the strike zone (O-Swing%, found at FanGraphs). Not surprisingly, Ramirez brings up the rear among AL 2B in pitches per plate appearance at 3.27. Iwamura led the way at 4.14.

Those metrics both match up with his low walk total — 15 unintentionals in 509 PA (FanGraphs lists his BB% at 3.6% which ties for the sixth-lowest walk rate in the Majors). The kid simply has an extremely poor idea of the strike zone. That can be fixed, of course, but not without some hard work and dedication.

Another disappointing metric is his line drive rate, 16.6% in 2008. A higher line drive percentage is positively correlated with success because line drives have a much higher probability of leading to hits (.718 BABIP) than ground and fly balls (.237 and .142 BABIP, respectively). And, obviously, hitting a line drive means that you did some or all of the following: picked up the ball out of the pitcher’s hand, read the rotation on the ball, and had good mechanics in putting a swing on the ball (among others). Using the +.120 method of finding an expected BABIP ( LD% divided by 100 plus .120), we find that he even slightly overshot his otherwise average 2008 BABIP of .296.

BDD: 2008 Review, Xbox 360 Style

At Baseball Digest Daily, I’ve reviewed the 2008 season, highlighting the achievements as if they were made on the Xbox 360.

If you’re feeling generous, click here to hop over to U.S.S. Mariner. Dave Cameron is one of many bloggers up for a $10,000 scholarship. He has a big lead right now but nothing’s ever certain, so reward him for his awesome blog with a vote. U.S.S. Mariner has all the details.

Analyzing the Phillies’ Latest Trade Dream

Rumors have it that the Phillies are pursuing Colorado Rockies left fielder Matt Holliday with vigor. Per CNNSI:

Any teams interested in acquiring Holliday understand that they will be getting him for only one year. Several teams have shown interest, including the A’s, Mets and Rays, but so far it appears the Phillies may have the best chance among those teams.

Just think about the headlines should a trade be completed… “Phillies trade Adam Eaton to Rockies for Holliday” … “Phils Acquire Holliday, Send Geoff Jenkins Packing” … “Phillies’ bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer sent to Colorado for Holliday” …

Just kidding — that’d be awful. Billmeyer is awesome.

That’d be nice, though, wouldn’t it? Of course, the Rockies aren’t stupid and would get their money’s worth in trading one of the game’s best hitters. CNNSI suggests the Rockies would want Shane Victorino back along with some youngsters, namely Lou Marson, Jason Donald, or Carlos Carrasco.

Would the trade be worthwhile? Holliday would simply be a one-year rental unless new GM Ruben Amaro plans on locking him up long-term, but he has to deal with the ballooning salaries of a number of arbitration-eligible players including Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels. In other words, Holliday would be a Phillie for one year and one year only.

It wouldn’t be worth it if the Phillies gave up one of their starting outfielders (Jayson Werth, Victorino) to acquire Holliday, an outfielder himself. It’s particularly useless in giving up Victorino because he plays the premium outfield position, has great speed, and above-average defense with a great throwing arm. Victorino was only slightly less valuable than Holliday in 2008, all things considered (not that we should expect Victorino to string together a bunch of ’08 seasons in a row). Additionally, the Flyin’ Hawaiian is going to be cheap at least for the next couple seasons as he enters arbitration: he made just under a half-mil in ’08; Holliday is due $13.5 million in ’09.

In terms of prospects, Jason Donald would be the easiest to relinquish since he’s roadblocked at shortstop by Jimmy Rollins, and probably wouldn’t translate well at another position, defensively speaking. The Phillies would have nowhere to play him anyway; the infield is set with Howard, Utley, Rollins, and Feliz/Dobbs/Bruntlett.

The Phillies’ Minor League system isn’t deep at the top (at the AAA and AA levels) and Carrasco is both the system’s best pitcher and the closest to being Major League-ready, unless you count J.A. Happ. If the Phillies go into ’09 with a rotation of Hamels-Myers-Blanton-Moyer-Happ (with Kyle Kendrick picking up mop-up duty in the bullpen, or working on his stuff in AAA), they have to hope that no one struggles or gets injured as there would be very little from which to choose from as a replacement — just Kendrick and Adam Eaton.

If you recall back to late-July, the Phillies were inquiring about several players including Holliday, but almost every team wanted catching prospect Lou Marson. Correctly, the Phillies declined every request for Marson. Let’s be honest: despite his amazing World Series performance, Carlos Ruiz should not be an everyday starting catcher, and Chris Coste isn’t much better and won’t be around forever. Good catchers are hard to come by, and the Phillies have a legitimately good catcher in Marson — Amaro should put a big, red “not for sale” sign on him.

Assuming a trade does get worked out — and this is why the off-season is awesome: very few of the trade rumors pan out — how much value would Holliday bring to the Phillies? Baseball Prospectus put him at 9.5 Wins Above Replacement Player last season. Their replacement level is very low, so he’s not actually worth 9.5 WARP in today’s game. Pat Burrell was worth 6 WARP. In-house replacements — some combination of Geoff Jenkins, Greg Golson, and Greg Dobbs — would likely significantly under-perform both totals.

Unlike Burrell, Holliday has some range in left field. Even playing in one of the most spacious outfields among all Major League ballparks, Holliday posted the third-best RZR among qualified LF in the Majors, behind only Carl Crawford and Fred Lewis; Burrell ranked dead last on that list.

Holliday’s most surprising statistics of 2008 weren’t his OPS and RZR; it was his stolen base total and success percentage: 28 and 93.3%, respectively. He’s a big guy — 6’4″, 235 according to his B-R page — so it’s impressive that he not only steals that many bases, but does so at such a high success rate (70-75% is considered to be around the break-even point where stealing bases becomes a worthwhile endeavor).

We haven’t even talked about the offense yet, and already I’m starting to salivate — are you? In his five seasons in the Majors, his OBP has increased every single season and his SLG did until last season, but it was still impressive.

Matt Holliday OBP and SLG, 2004-08

There is a concern: Holliday, over his career, has been much better at Coors Field — a very hitter-friendly ballpark — than on the road: a 1.068 OPS at home to .803 on the road. There is good news: Citizens Bank Park is also hitter-friendly, and less spacious, so the Phillies would essentially be getting the Matt Holliday we all know and love.

Food for thought: Holliday’s overall offensive numbers might be suppressed a bit since he plays in the most pitching-heavy division in baseball: the NL West, with such names as Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, Jake Peavy, Chris Young, Derek Lowe, Tim Lincecum, and Matt Cain. He’d move to the NL East, where you really only have to worry about Johan Santana, who is left-handed (Holliday has an .892 OPS against lefties in his career). The only non-Phillie, non-Santana starting pitchers in the NL East to post an ERA under 4.00 in 2008 were Ricky Nolasco, Jair Jurrjens, Mike Pelfrey, and John Lannan.

A trade for Holliday makes sense if we assume that the Phillies’ starting rotation is fine, and it is as long as Moyer re-signs. The Phillies, otherwise, are one twisted ankle or index finger blister away from having to send Kendrick or Eaton to the bump — that alone should be enough to scare GM Amaro into pleading with Derek Lowe to come to Philadelphia. As I mentioned in this entry, the Phillies realistically will only have about $20 million with which to address the 25% of their roster that is still questionable.

Matt HollidayIf Moyer cheaply re-signs — something like $8 or 9 million for one season — with the Phillies, that would leave them with enough salary flexibility to afford Holliday, and the other pieces (5th OF, middle relief) are fixable with cheap players that will be laying around in February and March, or in the system. And the most realistic best-case scenario is that the Rockies take a deal like Happ-Carrasco-Golson, or — even better — they take on Geoff Jenkins as well to offset about $7 million in salary. Worst case scenario is Amaro sending Marson and Ryan Madson and/or Victorino to the airport, Colorado-bound.

It’s highly likely Matt Holliday won’t be wearing a Phillies uniform when spring training rolls around, but it’s fun to dream about. While we’re dreaming, can you imagine what the Phillies’ SB numbers would look like with Holliday?