BDD: Amaro is Phils’ Weakest Link

At Baseball Digest Daily, I rip Amaro a new one for his utter lack of logic and complete refusal to use the Phils’ WFC as leverage in the free agent market.

Instead, Jenkins’ and Eaton’s salaries will remain wholly on the books, their bodies filling up roster slots that could be taken by more productive players. Amaro is content paying $6.5 million for a downgrade in left field, $6.5 million for a 46-year-old starter in Jamie Moyer, and $2.5-5 million for a flaky, typically unproductive SP/RP hybrid in Park.

WFC’s and they’re scavenging the free agent market. WFC’s and they’re hoping some food falls off the table.

Mets GM Omar Minaya, despite his team’s embarrassingly pathetic play at the end of each of the last two seasons, is eating at the table. He’s at the back end of a three-course meal. With Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz stains on his bib, he may as well get some Derek Lowe on there, too.

BDD: Rant on Bonds

At Baseball Digest Daily, you’ll be pleased to know that I have ranted yet again on the subject of Barry Bonds. Do enjoy.

There is no definitive answer to the question “Is the use of steroids or HGH immoral?” We understand too little about the subject and pretend to know too much. Instead of knee-jerk legislation and figurehead demonization, let’s admit that we’re still dipping our toes in the pool on this issue. To pretend that outlawing steroids and HGH, and keeping Barry Bonds out of baseball will rid not just Major League Baseball but the United States of America of its drug problems is nothing if not naive.

BDD: Field of Schemes

At Baseball Digest Daily, I interview author Neil deMause, looking for answers regarding the latest round of corruption surrounding the New York Yankees.

In March 2006, the city’s chief tax assessor put the market value for the stadium site at $27 million, far lower than the Yankees wanted. A Finance Department official ordered him to redo the report. Within hours, he jacked up it up to $204 million.

I Remember This Guy

Friend of the blog (and currently On Notice) Bill Conlin has written a column lauding the Raul Ibanez signing for reasons that defy logic. It’s been a while since I FJM’ed an article, so let’s jump right in.

Ibanez may fit perfectly in leftfield

The classy veteran was introduced at the Bank yesterday.

Classy may make you feel warm and tingly inside as a journalist, but it doesn’t bring your defensive +/- from nearly -20 to even, and nor does it raise your OBP twenty points. From all reports, Ibanez is a great guy but I’d rather have Terrell Owens if he’s a better bet to help my team win ballgames. Or a similarly productive player who is younger, comparably priced, and doesn’t cost a first round draft pick (*cough*adamdunn*cough*).

This weather has been awful. My throat is all scratchy.

Both Park and Ibanez will celebrate birthdays early next season. By the All-Star break, the average age of Ponce de Ruben’s first three major league transactions will be 40.

That is what is known as “cagey veteranosity.” A favorite of former Phillies GM Ed Wade’s. Maybe the concerns were spot-on after all: Amaro is much more Wade than Pat Gillick.

Amaro warmed up for Operation Longtooth by swapping lukewarm catching prospect Jason Jaramillo for out-of-favor Pirates receiver Ronny Paulino, 27. The Phillies are playing the change-of-scenery card big time

I wouldn’t really call the swapping of two mediocre catchers a “big time change-of-scenery.” This free agent class is star-studded — Manny Ramirez, C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira to name a few — and Jake Peavy’s name has been routinely bandied about in trade rumors. But, yeah, Ronny Paulino and Jason Jaramillo are up there.

What was Amaro thinking, many have asked, adding another lefthanded, middle-of-the-order hitter to a lineup where Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are already entrenched? Add Ibanez to the engine room and lefthanded hitters will be lined up like shooting-gallery ducks waiting for the league’s managers to mow them down with a parade of lefthanders.

Woe is us . . .

The reason why the handedness really matters is because Charlie Manuel has shown limited dedication to changing his lineup around to maximize production. I will be pleasantly surprised if Manuel’s righty/lefty lineups look like this:

vs. RHP

Rollins, Victorino, Utley, Howard, Ibanez, Werth, Feliz, Ruiz

vs. LHP

Victorino, Utley, Rollins, Howard, Werth, Ibanez, Feliz, Ruiz

There are variations that would yield similar results, but I think these would be the most effective lineups. I’d bet money that Manuel’s LHP lineup is Rollins, Victorino, Utley, Howard, Ibanez, Werth or at least some combination where he has the three lefties 3-4-5.

It just begs for teams to abuse the left-handers in their bullpens.

It’s true that both Chase Utley and Ibanez hit lefties much better than most left-handed hitters do, but it’s not just about individual production. Their handedness will mean that Ryan Howard will also be facing southpaws. Howard’s the #4 hitter, so presumably he will be up in a lot of situations where he needs to drive in runners. Ensuring that he will be facing a left-hander late in the game will minimize the probability of him driving in those runners.

Never mind that righty-swinging Pat Burrell averaged 141 strikeouts during his nine seasons here and never struck out fewer than 120 times. Is that the kind of consistency you’re happy to have?

Pat Burrell and the word “inconsistent” are mutually exclusive. From 2004-08, his OBP ranged from .365 to .400 and his SLG .455 to .507, including .502 to .507 the last four seasons, all above-average numbers.

Raul Ibanez has averaged 103 strikeouts over the past three seasons. He’s not that much more contact-prone than Burrell.

In seven seasons as a regular player, the late-blooming Ibanez has averaged 93 strikeouts.

Conlin went back four more seasons than I did. Is Ibanez the same hitter he was in 2002 with the Kansas City Royals? I doubt it. As Ibanez has gotten older, he’s developed more power, and — surprise, surprise — he has increased his swing-and-miss percentage as well.

His ISO his first four seasons as a regular (2002-05): .243, .160, .168, .156.

  • Average strikeouts per 500 AB in this span: 74.5.

His ISO his past three seasons as a regular (2006-08): .227, .188, .186

  • Average strikeouts per 500 AB in this span: 87.8.

His .305 average against lefties last season appears to be a statistical anomaly and should be discounted.

I wouldn’t exactly call it an anomaly. He had an .865 OPS against lefties last season, by far the highest of his career, but he also OPS’ed .780 and .769 in 2004 and ’05. For his career, he has a .733 OPS against ‘em.

Unsurprisingly, his OPS against lefties is highly correlated with his BABIP against lefties: there’s a .44 R-squared, using his 2002-08 numbers (there’s a bit of double-counting involved that can’t be avoided, so it’s probably a bit lower). Despite its reputation, Citizens Bank Park’s outfield walls are at about normal depth in all areas (if the measurements are accurate), so Ibanez will have an average amount of area for his hits to drop in, as opposed to the spacious outfield of Safeco. So, you might see a lower-than-usual BABIP across the board from Ibanez because he’s moving to a smaller ballpark.

The best news? He has faced Mets ace Johan Santana 34 times and has a .353 average.

That’s awesome. So, he’s going to have 550 at-bats against Johan Santana?

Manuel will be juggling his lineups at a time when the National League is a little short of quality lefthanders. Santana has been something less than advertised – very good, but not exceptional

Johan Santana had only one season in his career from 2002-07 where he posted a higher ERA+ than he did in ’08 for the Mets. In ’04, he posted a 182 ERA+, 16 points higher than the 166 ERA+ he had last season.

It’s true that Santana’s K/9 is at its lowest point since he became a regular starting pitcher and his BB/9 is the highest since 2003, but that’s like criticizing Michael Jordan because he only scored 40 points in a game.

Only four of the 24 winningest pitchers in the National League last season were lefthanders.

Let’s use a better metric than wins and losses, but something Mr. Conlin will understand.

Top-two leaders in ERA, MLB: Johan Santana, Cliff Lee. 100% left-handed.

Top four: Santana, Lee, Lincecum, Sabathia. 75% left-handed.

To extend it to 24 pitchers is to bias the sample size because there are more right-handers than left-handers.

Does Wolfie scare you?

No, but Johan Santana does, regardless of Raul Ibanez’s presence.

Ryan Howard hit more home runs off lefthanded pitchers last year (14) than did any righthanded hitter but teammate Jayson Werth, who blasted 16. MVP Albert Pujols hit 11. Sleep easy.

Ryan Howard had 237 at-bats against left-handers. Pujols had 158. Howard’s HR rate against lefties is one HR per 17 at-bats; Pujols’ is one per 14.

And despite all those home runs, Howard still put up an OPS 220 points lower against lefties than against righties.

Chase Utley batted .277 against lefthanders last season, despite the hip injury that restricted his swing. And guess who was No. 3 behind Howard in homers off lefthanders? You’d be right if you said Utley, with 13 bombs.

Chase can hit lefties well; Howard used to be able to; Ibanez treads water. And it’s true that this trio of lefties worries you less against LHP than other lefty threesomes, but why would you intentionally increase the probability that lefty specialists are brought in? Do you honestly prefer that the trio face LHP than RHP?

Think of all the righthanded pitchers who will have to face a lefthanded gantlet when Utley is back in a lineup that will include switch-hitters Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, Utley, Howard and Ibanez.

But the question is who would have been better to keep between Burrell or Ibanez. Considering that it cost three years, $30 million, and a first-round draft pick for Ibanez, and it may have cost one year, $16 million in arbitration if Burrell accepts and a first-round pick if he doesn’t… and then consider that they’re about the same in terms of production (just over two wins above replacement), it makes no sense to sign Ibanez and, in hindsight, it made no sense to not offer Burrell arbitration.

Manuel will have some flexibility. You could see a lineup

Call me ignorant, but I have no confidence in Manuel’s lineup creation abilities. Last season, it made too much sense to break up Utley and Howard in the order, but he didn’t do that. Utley was in the #3 spot for 128 games (31 games in the #2 spot) and Howard was in the #4 spot for 154 games.

The Phillies just got through paying $14 million a year for a guy who hit .257, struck out a ton, clogged the bases, hasn’t driven in 100 runs since 2005, has never scored 100 runs, and is a seven-inning player.

Conlin is actually questioning Burrell’s offensive value! Burrell’s career OPS+ is 119 and it’s ranged from 122 to 128 from 2005-08.

Raul Ibanez has a career OPS+ of 113. The last four seasons, it’s ranged from 115 to 125.

And what makes anyone think that Ibanez won’t be “a seven-inning player” as well? He’s equally as bad defensively, is older, and is playing for a manager who has a defensive substitution fetish.

I leave you with this small thought to tuck away for a snowy day. What if it’s coming up on the reporting date for pitchers and catchers and Pat Burrell still has no offer in his years and numbers ballpark?

Any port in storm, right?

Yes, one of the best right-handed hitters available will be jobless in February. The economy may be bad, and unemployment may be hitting record levels, but not in baseball. Burrell may not get an average annual value on his contract greater than what he was likely to have been awarded in arbitration, but he will be offered a contract sooner rather than later. You don’t pass up a 119 OPS+ especially if you can DH him.

Phillies Sign Jamie Moyer, Chan Ho Park

Chan Ho Park is 35 and will be 36 at the end of June 2009. He looks like a newborn child compared to Jamie Moyer, who turned 46 in mid-November. Both were signed by the Phillies today in what continues to be a perplexing offseason by new GM Ruben Amaro.

I’ve mentioned a couple times in the past couple weeks that I don’t expect Moyer to be anything like his 2008 self. Moyer was one of the beneficiaries of the Phillies’ miraculously overachieving defense that was +74 according to John Dewan’s Fielding Bible. He doesn’t strike anyone out, so he depends on his fielders converting the excessive amounts of balls in play into outs. It’s much more likely that the Phillies are closer to the +18 defense they had in ’07 as opposed to last year’s version. If this holds true, Moyer’s production will sag as well.

The Park signing also makes little sense. Before last season, he hadn’t put up good numbers since 2001 at the end of his first stint in Los Angeles. Last year, when he was used primarily as a reliever by the Dodgers, he put up a 125 ERA+ in 95 and one-third innings. His home/road splits told the story: 2.18 ERA at home, 4.50 on the road. Dodger Stadium had a 95/94 batting/pitching park factor according to Baseball Reference.

From the Phillies’ official website:

According to The Korea Times, the deal is a one-year, $2.5 million contract with performance bonuses that could push it to $5 million.

[...]

“…they considered me a starter, I signed with Philadelphia.”

2.5-to-5 million dollars. It may be a pittance to Alex Rodriguez, but it’s not chump change when you’re talking about a #5 starter or a mop-up reliever. Unfortunately, the article informs us that Park is under the impression that he will be a starter. Hopefully, the Phillies have made no official promises to him and he has to compete for it in spring training with J.A. Happ, Kyle Kendrick, and Carlos Carrasco.

There is no question that someone like Kendrick could have done the same job Park will be doing for 10-20% of the price. The Park signing is superfluous.

Assuming Moyer’s two-year contract is in the neighborhood of $9 million annually, this would bring the Phils’ payroll to around $135 million, a steep increase from last season. And it would essentially put a lid on the Phillies’ ability to acquire any more players unless through trade. At this point, the Phillies don’t have too much to offer besides scrap nobody else wants, like Adam Eaton, Geoff Jenkins, Kendrick, and Chris Coste.

It seems it would have been a better use of money to have simply signed Derek Lowe instead and shed some payroll by trading Eaton and Jenkins for next-to-nothing provided that the other team(s) take on the salary (a common occurrence). Maybe this thought is why I am not and will never be a general manager of anything, but it just doesn’t make sense.

Amaro started off well enough by making two slight improvements in trading Greg Golson for John Mayberry, and Jason Jaramillo for Ronny Paulino. Then, he essentially lost two first-round draft picks by complementing non-arbitration to Pat Burrell (a Type A free agent*) with the signing of Raul Ibanez (a Type A free agent). And today, he spent between $10-15 million on two old, average pitchers who are much more likely to fail miserably than to succeed greatly.

* Information on compensation for Type A free agents can be found here.

Since you asked (you obviously didn’t), how would I grade Amaro’s moves thus far? On a scale of 1-to-10 with 10 being great and 1 being awful…

  • Golson for Mayberry: 5
  • Jaramillo for Paulino: 5
  • No arbitration to Moyer*: 8
  • No arbitration to Burrell*: 8
  • Signed Ibanez: 2
  • Signed Park: 1
  • Signed Moyer: 4

* This is without the hindsight of later dealings.

World F-king Champions. Pfft. These are moves that the Kansas City Royals would make.

BDD: Happ > Kendrick

At Baseball Digest Daily, I suggest that the Phillies should pick J.A. Happ over Kyle Kendrick for the #5 spot in the rotation, assuming that Jamie Moyer is re-signed.

Marcel projects a 4.28 ERA for [Happ] in ‘09 — a 0.43 difference between Happ and Kendrick. Pretty significant. What should be a slam dunk decision might end up turning into a blunder at the end of spring training that could cost them several wins throughout the year.

Now, it might not be as dumb as not offering arbitration to Pat Burrell, then going out and signing an older but very similar player in Raul Ibanez… but illogical nonetheless.

Reaction to Ibanez Signing

I’m late in writing about the Phils’ recent signing of free agent outfielder Raul Ibanez to a three-year, $30 million contract, but I think most thinking human beings recognize that it was an illogical signing at best. The differences between Ibanez and Pat Burrell are few, but those few all point to Burrell being the better option.

The similarities: Both play poor defense; both are likely to OPS+ around 120 and probably higher; both are Type A free agents.

The differences: Ibanez is five years older and is left-handed.

I defended GM Ruben Amaro Jr. not offering arbitration to Burrell (and Jamie Moyer) at the time, but it was with the following caveat:

The subtraction of Burrell (-20) might offset any regression to the mean by the rest of the gang, but not if he’s replaced by someone like Ibanez, who is nearly as poor a defender.

Eric Seidman has elaborated on the signing at FanGraphs and no doubt many of the other popular baseball analysis websites have analyzed it as well.

To put a cap on Ibanez’s defense, check out these animated GIF’s courtesy a poster (#17 in the comments) at Baseball Think Factory:

- Lawn Dart!
Bad Angle!
He didn’t want to fumble or bobble the Fingal dopple!
Into The Wall!
Ichiro Just Can’t Believe This Sh*t
It’s A Trap!
The sad part about this one is that you can see it in his eyes – he knows it’s not going to end well.

Putting This “Situation” to Bed Quickly

Before it becomes a huge issue as Craig Calcaterra predicts (I also owe him a hat tip), let me just address Cole Hamels’ comments on WFAN radio:

In an interview on WFAN today with Joe Beningo and Evan Roberts, [Cole] Hamels was promoting the Phillies’ World Series DVD when he was asked outright, “Do you think the Mets are choke artists?”

“Last year and this year I think we did believe that [they were choke artists],” he said. “Three years ago we didn’t because they smoked everybody, and I think we all thought they were going to win it all. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. But, yeah, that’s kind of what we believed and I think we’re always going to believe that until they prove us wrong.

“For the past two years they’ve been choke artists.”

A) It’s true — the Mets are choke artists. 5-12 in their last 17 games in 2007, and 7-10 in their last 17 in ’08. The Phillies, on the other hand, went 13-4 in their last 17 in ’07 and 13-3 in their last 16 in ’08.

B) Hamels has every right to talk. Most of the time, when a player starts talking trash, all you need is some credentials to justify the statements. For instance, you wouldn’t accept someone calling Hank Aaron’s 755 career HR derogatory names unless that man was Barry Bonds, who has surpassed the Hammer with 762.

Hamels was the MVP of both the NLCS and the World Series, putting up a 1.93 and 2.77 ERA respectively. In his career, he has a 2.70 ERA in September as well. So Hamels has every right to talk.

C) When the Phillies have talked trash to the Mets, they have backed it up. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins called his team “the team to beat” prior to the 2007 season, and then went out and won the NL MVP and led his team to its first post-season berth since 1993.

Prior to the start of the ’08 season, Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran focused on Rollins, and said that the Mets were the team to beat. The Mets once again floundered in September while the Phillies rolled to their second straight division title and eventually a World Series championship. Furthermore, Rollins predicted the Phillies would win 100 games. Counting the post-season, they won 103.

I’m sure, as Calcaterra mentioned, that the New York media will go crazy over this and it may trickle down. Hopefully, this becomes a non-issue because that’s what it is; it’s just a cocky young player trash-talking after getting a bunch of hardware to put on his mantel. In poor taste, maybe, but not wholly unwarranted and certainly not undeserving criticism.

Phillies Make A Slight Upgrade

Phillies, Pirates Swap Catchers

The Phillies and Pirates completed a swap of catchers on Wednesday, with Ronny Paulino going to Philadelphia in exchange for Jason Jaramillo.

With catcher Lou Marson arguably the Phillies’ #1 prospect, Jaramillo was between a rock and a hard place. For whatever reason, the Phils seem committed to Carlos Ruiz despite shortcomings both on offense and on defense (at least that which we can accurately log).

Regardless of what the Phillies got, getting anything of decent value for Jaramillo was a win. The acquisition also frees up Chris Coste to be a third-string utilityman of sorts, as well as to become the primary right-handed hitter off the bench.

Marson will likely start the season at AAA with Ruiz once again the #1 catcher and Paulino backing him up. Don’t expect anything special out of Paulino, as he has a career 86 OPS+, which is about average for a catcher. If, for some reason, Paulino rekindles his 2006 ways and puts up a .360 OBP, the Phillies will have struck gold at a time when they could have panicked and overpaid for other well-known players like Mark DeRosa.

New GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has made two deals since taking over for Pat Gillick, and I’m happy to say he’s won both of them. The first, Greg Golson to the Texas Rangers for John Mayberry, may not have any noticeable impact but it was a deal simply worth making. Greg Golson didn’t appear to be the five-tool player everybody thought he could be and Mayberry, a power-hitting right-hander, could be useful down the road especially if there are injuries to any of the Phils’ outfielders.

Another aspect of the Paulino trade to consider is that it makes either Ruiz or Coste available to be packaged into a trade. The Phils are heavily rumored to be the third team involved in a trade that would send Jake Peavy from the San Diego Padres to the Chicago Cubs, with DeRosa coming back this way.

Recapping the action of the last 24 hours, the Yankees got C.C. Sabathia, the Mets got Francisco Rodriguez and are close to acquiring J.J. Putz, the Indians got Kerry Wood… and the Phillies got Ronny Paulino.

And that’s just fine.

On Relievers Blowing

Blowing leads. Get your mind out of the gutter, would you?

Baseball Think Factory’s Mike Emeigh did some research on relievers and their propensities for lead-blowing. The criteria:

Reliever performance when starting the ninth inning with a lead of three runs or fewer, 1954-2008, minimum 100 leads

Some Philly notables (note that these are overall career percentages):

Bold indicates the player is still active.

  • Brad Lidge, 10% (12th-best)
  • Ugueth Urbina, 10.8%
  • Todd Jones, 10.8%
  • Tom Gordon, 11.3%
  • Mike Williams, 11.5%
  • Billy Wagner, 11.7%
  • Jose Mesa, 12.6%
  • Roger McDowell, 12.9%
  • Dan Plesac, 13.3%
  • Ricky Bottalico, 14.2%
  • Mitch Williams, 14.6%
  • Jeff Brantley, 15.3%
  • Roberto Hernandez, 15.3%
  • Antonio Alfonseca, 15.6%
  • Mike Timlin, 16.4%

I eyeballed the list so I may have forgotten a few — let me know if you spot ‘em.

It’s interesting to note how many great relievers the Phillies had, but unfortunately it was when they were over the hill. This essentially proves that Ed Wade had a “veteran reliever” fetish.

I think they have a hotline for that now, actually. You call and Dan Plesac will talk to you over the phone about how he led teams with his veteranosity.

On a non-Phillies note, check out the total number of leads Mariano Rivera had relative to everyone else and his 9% BL. The only ones even close to him are Trevor Hoffman (10%) and Todd Jones (about 11%).

Lastly, it’s also interesting to note — on the Phillies’ list above — how many of them are members of the sports media. Todd Jones has been writing for The Sporting News (not sure if his retirement changes that), Dan Plesac will be on the new MLB Network, both Ricky Bottalico and Mitch Williams are analysts for Comcast Sportsnet, and Jeff Brantley covers Reds games.