Phillies/Padres Series Preview II

The Washington Nationals are so revitalizing, aren’t they? If the Phillies hadn’t played the Nationals at all this season, they’d be 18-18. Instead, they’re 28-20 in first place in the NL East following another sweep of the Nats at home. Now, they fly westward to San Diego to meet up with the Padres at Petco Park.

There are no bargains with the surprisingly-competitive Padres when it comes to starting pitching. After Kevin Correia, the Phillies have the privilege of facing Jake Peavy and Chris Young, two extremely good starting pitchers. Young has had a quality start in five out of his last six starts, and in three of them, he gave up only one run. Peavy has been more pedestrian this season than he had been in his previous two, but is still formidable.

The Padres, as they usually do, have one of the worst offenses in the Majors, averaging less than four runs per game. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez and center fielder Scott Hairston are the only ones hitting at an elite level on a consistent basis. The rest are hovering around the league average or below.

Even worse, the Padres are passive base runners, attemping just 29 stolen bases so far this season. The average NL team has attempted 41; the Phillies have attempted 47. Only two teams — the Brewers and Braves — have fewer base-stealing attempts than the Padres.

The Phillies will take their first shot at replacing Brett Myers in the rotation when prospect Antonio Bastardo takes the hill on Tuesday. PhuturePhillies has a scouting report from Baseball America on Bastardo:

His best pitch is a changeup with good action and depth, and he sets it up with an 87-91 mph fastball. His breaking ball is a slurvy mid 80’s pitch, and he struggles to command it effectively at times. He’s small and wiry, which combined with his injury history leads to questions about his durability.

Be surprised if Bastardo goes longer than five innings unless he pitches absolutely lights-out, and be upset if he does go longer (unless) as he does have stamina/durbility concerns as mentioned above.

The Phillies are usually conservative when it comes to rookies making their big league debuts, though. J.A. Happ only went four innings in his debut in 2007 against the New York Mets. Fabio Castro went five as did Zack Segovia as well in ’07.

Overall, this series pits the National League’s best road team (Phillies, 16-6) against the NL’s second-best home team (Padres, 17-6). The Phillies dropped the previous series between the two teams in Philadelphia, losing two of three.

Let’s get to the match-ups.

Hitting:

Philadelphia Phillies @ San Diego Padres, June 1-3

Philadelphia Phillies @ San Diego Padres, June 1-3

Pitching:

Philadelphia Phillies @ San Diego Padres, June 1-3

Philadelphia Phillies @ San Diego Padres, June 1-3

BDD: Offensive Pro- and Re-gression

At Baseball Daily Digest, I take a look at the bullpens in baseball that have taken a step forward as well as those that have taken a step back.

[...] Put pictures of National relievers (who have pitched 10 or more innings) up on a dartboard and try to hit one with an ERA under 4. You have a one-in-ten chance. Who is the half-eaten banana in the city landfill that is the Nationals’ bullpen? Lefty Ron Villone. In fact, his ERA is not only lower than 4, it’s lower than 0.01. He’s yet to allow a run. Manny Acta might want to let this guy pitch every inning of relief for the rest of the season.

Howard Goes Yard Twice; Bastardo Gets Call

It hasn’t been a good week for the Phillies. They dropped yet another series at home, losing two of three to the Florida Marlins before the Washington Nationals arrived. Then they learned that they’d be losing their statistically-best starting pitcher  for most or all of the season due to a frayed labrum. Overall, what should have been a glorious year coming off of a World Series championship has instead been filled with unmet expectations, tragedy, and declining health and production.

But there have been many bright spots during the season as well, such as Raul Ibanez seemingly defying the laws of nature, putting up MVP-caliber numbers as an old man in baseball years. Ryan Madson has been harder to hit than Lyoto Machida. Oh, and that Ryan Howard fellow — he can rake. And apparently, he can pick it with the glove all of a sudden as well.

Eric Seidman of FanGraphs sent me an E-mail a couple days ago:

Odd Howard stat – he’s got almost identical OBP/SLG to last season right now
2008: .251/.339/.543
2009: .263/.338/.542

I asked him if I remembered correctly that people were bagging on Howard at this time for various reasons related to his hitting. His response: “Well he wasn’t playing Travis Lee-esque defense last year!”

How good has Howard been? He has a 10.2 UZR/150 compared to 2.4 last year and 0.4 in 2007. His UZR/150 this season is fifth-best in the Majors, behind Travis Ishikawa, Chris Davis, Lyle Overbay, and Kevin Youkilis. He committed his first error last Tuesday, but has otherwise been shattering defensive expectations.

Antonio BastardoMore uplifting news: pitching prospect Antonio Bastardo will get to make his Major League debut on Tuesday, filling in for Brett Myers — at least in the short-term. Bastardo has been dominating in the Minors: in nearly 35 innings in AA Reading, he had a 1.83 ERA with 39 strikeouts and 7 walks. Following a quick promotion to AAA Lehigh Valley, he put up a 2.08 ERA in 13 innings with 12 strikeouts and 3 walks.

His ERA has been under 4 at every level and if you exclude his first year in the Gulf Coast League in 2006, it’s been under 3 at every level. There’s a huge difference between dominating Minor League hitters and doing the same at the Major League level, but if there’s anyone in the Phillies’ farm system that can do it at the present moment, it’s Bastardo.

Thankfully, it seems like GM Ruben Amaro will not be following in the footsteps of previous GM’s Gillick and Wade and settling for mediocre pitchers at the trading deadline. From what’s been said, it seems like Amaro is going to wait a while and see how the rotation shapes up, and if he needs to, he’s going to go big or go home. No Jason Marquis or Brad Penny.

Remember the Ed Wade days, when the days leading up to the July 31 trading deadline were among the most excruciating? You were legitimately worried that you’d lose your top prospects for Jack Taschner-type relief pitchers. I can’t believe I’m saying this already, after not pulling any punches on him over the winter, but I actually trust Amaro not to screw up. What do you think? Am I being too naive, or has Amaro earned that level of trust based on what he did in the off-season and what he’s done and said so far during the regular season?

Phillies/Nationals Series Preview IV

Hard to believe, but the Phillies will play the Nationals for their 10th, 11th, and 12th time this season. Seems like the only teams the Phillies play are the Nats and Marlins. Of course, that wouldn’t be a bad thing since they’re 7-2 against Washington and 4-2 against Florida.

The Phillies will send youngster J.A. Happ out for tomorrow’s start, but the Nationals will counter with a young guy of their own in Ross Detwiler, their first round pick from 2007 (selected immediately after Matt Wieters). He’s pitched well in limited action this season: in two starts against the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles, he’s struck out ten, walked four, and allowed just three earned runs in eleven innings.

For some reason, the Phillies don’t seem to hit against pitchers they’ve never seen before. That’s just based on anecdotal evidence, of course, so that could be completely wrong.

Cole Hamels will oppose Shairon Martis on Saturday. In case the name doesn’t ring a bell, click here for a nice memory.

Moyer-Lannan in the series finale. Another poor outing from Moyer, coupled with Brett Myers potentially headed to surgery, could trigger the Phillies’ front office to start scrambling for some more starting pitching.

Ready for some numbers? If you’re new to the Crashburn Alley series previews, the numbers you’re looking at in the next two charts will show you the hitters’ OPS against the slated starting pitching of the opposing team, and the number after that one is the number of career plate appearances that hitter has against the starter. The names aren’t always accurate as teams make last-minute swaps, as the Marlins did when Burke Badenhop started yesterday in place of Hayden Penn. The numbers, however, are accurate.

Washington Nationals @ Philadelphia Phillies, May 29-31

Washington Nationals @ Philadelphia Phillies, May 29-31

The next two charts show you the starting pitchers’ success against the opposing team throughout their careers.

Washington Nationals @ Philadelphia Phillies, May 29-31

Washington Nationals @ Philadelphia Phillies, May 29-31

You hate to demand that the Phillies sweep, but it’s the freakin’ Nationals. They’ve been swept five times already this season, including once by the Phillies in a four-game series. Anything less than three wins is a disappointment.

Is This It for Brett Myers?

Brett Myers has a frayed labrumThe news ain’t so good, folks: Brett Myers may need surgery to fix a frayed labrum. Believe it or not, Brett has been the Phillies’ best starter so far this season despite leading the world in home runs allowed (17 in nearly 64 innings; an average of around 2.5 per game). His departure from the rotation would leave the Phillies’ terrible rotation in shambles. On the bright side, it may light a fire under GM Ruben Amaro to acquire that ace pitcher the Phillies, honestly, have needed for the last three years (with all due respect to Cole Hamels).

Erik Bedard, Roy Halladay, and Jake Peavy are the big names being linked in trade rumors. I, for one, would be completely shocked if any of the three ended up in Phillies pinstripes by August 1, as the Phils have historically been averse to making huge in-season trades where they are the ones acquiring the impact player. Can you think of any they have made in recent memory?

At any rate, what the Phillies will need to replace is part of the nearly 3.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) Brett has been worth in 2007 and ’08 combined. Acquiring any of the three aforementioned will satisfy that without question. There will be some others that may be available as well, like Matt Cain, Brandon Webb, and Aaron Harang.

Cross your fingers, folks, and don’t be afraid to say goodbye to some prospects. After all, this Phillies core only has another two years at the most where it will be this competitive, so it’s in the team’s best interest to forfeit some future talent to go for it all in each of the next two years.

Acquiring one pitcher, however, may not fix all that ails the Phillies’ starting pitching. What about Jamie Moyer, who’s been stinking up the joint (as expected)? Carlos Carrasco could get the call. He’s been pitching much better than his 5.81 ERA in AAA Lehigh Valley would indicate; he has 52 strikeouts and 13 walks (4:1 K:BB) in 48 innings. He’s probably been a bit BABIP-unlucky, which should fix itself should he get the call and have the Phillies’ spectacular defense behind him.

As far as Hamels, Happ, and Blanton, they simply have to go out there and pitch and fix themselves on the fly. Kyle Kendrick is the only other Minor Leaguer the Phillies would feel the least bit comfortable about putting into a Major League game for a start. In other words, he’s Plan Z. Don’t get to Plan Z (no offense to KK).

The Phillies-Nationals series preview will be up shortly.

Howard Commits First Error, Phillies Win Anyway

Ryan Howard... defensive wizard?It took nearly 395 defensive innings, but Ryan Howard finally committed his first error of the 2009 season in tonight’s game against the Florida Marlins. During the top of the ninth inning, reliever Chad Durbin — after getting the first batter, John Baker, to ground out — loaded the bases on a walk, a single, and another walk. Scott Eyre came in to try and put out the fire against lefty Ross Gload.

Eyre threw a slider and two fastballs outside the strike zone to fall behind 3-0 to Gload, then rebounded with two more fastballs for called strikes. Gload grounded the sixth pitch, another fastball, to Ryan Howard, and it looked like a sure-fire double play. However, what ailed him last year came back to bite him again: throwing to second base. He threw wide of second base (covered by SS J-Roll), which bounced well into left field and two Marlins came around to score, shortening the Phils’ lead to 5-2.

The stress wasn’t over, though. Brad Lidge came in to try and shut the door but he walked the first batter he faced to re-load the bases. With one down, Jeremy Hermida grounded out to Howard, who wisely chose not to try for another, more risky double-play; instead throwing to Lidge to get the out at first. On the play, the Marlins scored their third run.

Phillie-killer Wes Helms struck out, mercifully, to end the game and the Phils hung on for the 5-3 win.

The bright spots:

  • Joe Blanton threw seven extremely strong innings. Eleven strikeouts and only five hits and two walks allowed. Eleven strikeouts!
  • Shane Victorino rebounded from his poor ninth-inning decision last night with four hits, including two doubles and an RBI, in five at-bats.
  • Pedro Feliz continues to hit and drive in runs. Two more hits, two more rib-eyes. He’s now hitting .308.
  • Ryan Madson threw another scoreless inning of relief. When will he get a chance to close while the Phillies’ Rome burns at the end of games?
  • Despite the error, Ryan Howard has been playing exceptional defense at first base. Prior to tonight’s game, he had a 10.2 UZR/150 compared to 2.4 last year and 0.4 in ’07.

Vote For Manny 2009

Jason of the blog It Is About the Money, Stupid has created a campaign designed to help get the currently-suspended Dodgers outfielder voted in as a starter for the 2009 All-Star Game in St. Louis. Head over to the website for more information.

As you may expect, any campaign that brings to light the fallacy of the anti-drug fervor and MLB’s laughable drug policies is a worthy campaign. Crashburn Alley is a proud supporter!

Look for more on the All-Star Game from me at Baseball Daily Digest in the next week or two as voting starts to heat up. I’ll go ahead and say it now: how is Raul Ibanez sixth in voting among National League outfielders?

Shane, What Were You Thinking?

Shane Victorino, goatDown by two in the ninth inning, Shane Victorino works a lead-off walk against Florida Marlins closer Matt Lindstrom. With the homer-prone Matt Stairs pinch-hitting, Shane Victorino is not going to stray far from the first base bag. Or so you’d think.

Shane, for some reason, attempted to steal second with his team down by two runs in the ninth inning with a power hitter at the plate. And he was thrown out by catcher Ronny Paulino.

Why? There was no reason to run in that situation. None at all.

On the bright side of things, Ryan Howard crushed two home runs in the game: one well past the center field fence and one about ten rows back in left-center. That’s what Ryan Howard looks like when he’s locked-in.

The Phillies look to rebound against Marlins lefty Andrew Miller.  Joe Blanton will toe the rubber for the good guys.

Phillies/Marlins Series Preview II

The Marlins are in town for a three-game set with the Phillies, who are coming off of a very successful 8-2 road trip that went from Washington to Cincinnati to Bronx, New York. This upcoming series marks the 23rd, 24th, and 25th games against NL East foes, and the Washington Nationals will head to Philadelphia shortly as well. Against the NL East, the Phillies are 13-9 (.591).

The Phillies swept the Marlins the only time the two teams have squared off this season, April 24-26. In that series, the Phillies scored 26 runs and allowed only 9 in what appeared to be a turn-around for the Phillies’ starting rotation, which went 19 innings and allowed only 8 runs (3.79 ERA). As we have seen in the time since, that was just a mirage.

Jamie Moyer and Brett Myers, along with Joe Blanton, are slated to pitch against the Marlins in this series. The Marlins are very familiar with Moyer and Myers, who have pitched a combined 219 innings against them. The Phillies, on the other hand, have relatively little experience against the Marlins’ starters, just a mere 43 innings combined against Chris Volstad, Andrew Miller, and Hayden Penn*.

* I was hoping for another Hayden P.

As you can see, the top of the Phillies’ lineup does the most damage against the Marlins; Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth haven’t hit Volstad or Miller much at all. In case you haven’t seen these charts before, the first number is the hitter’s OPS against the particular pitcher, and next to it is the number of plate appearances that hitter has had against the pitcher.

Florida Marlins @ Philadelphia Phillies, May 25-27

On the other hand, the middle of the Marlins’ lineup pounds Phillie pitching. I propose the Phils not pitch to Hanley Ramirez unless the bases are empty.

Florida Marlins @ Philadelphia Phillies, May 25-27

Finally, the pitching:

Florida Marlins @ Philadelphia Phillies, May 25-27

Florida Marlins @ Philadelphia Phillies, May 25-27

The Phillies are 1.5 up on the Mets and Braves, and 5.5 up on the Marlins. The Braves are on the road in San Francisco, and the Mets are home against the Nationals. Simply winning two of three from the Fish would be just fine to keep pace while the Mets and Braves face weaker opponents.

Hopefully, this is the series where we see Ryan Madson moved into the closer’s role. I don’t think we can stomach another Brad Lidge crash and burn.

BDD: Starting Pitching Pro- and Re-gression

Sticking with my clumsy title, I take a look at the starting rotations that have changed for the better and for the worse in baseball.

Can’t say that this was a surprise. Everyone knew that Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton weren’t as good as they had shown in 2008 with the Phillies during their World Championship run. For some reason, be it awful location or just plain bad luck, the Phillies lead the National League by far in home runs allowed with 68. Arizona is in second place with 52 round-trippers allowed, and the average NL team has allowed 43 homers with a standard deviation of 10, meaning that the Phillies’ HR allowed lies two and a half standard deviations above the mean.

The Phillies/Marlins series preview should be up shortly.