BDD: What, Exactly, is J.A. Happ?

At Baseball Daily Digest, I investigate Happ’s success this season: is it real or just an illusion?

It’s true: Happ hasn’t been giving up hits when his opponents are threatening to score. The only situations in which opponents have an OPS higher than .600 against him are:

  • Runner on first: .781 OPS
  • Bases empty: .725 OPS
  • Runner on second: .678 OPS

How to Lose with Grace

From The 700 Level is a quote from Cliff Lee following his shellacking at the hands of the whiny Atlanta Braves:

“Ballpark? Whatever,” Lee said. “I got hit today because I was throwing pitches down the middle. That had nothing to do with the ballpark. It was me throwing balls down the middle and them not missing them. They’re good hitters. The ballpark is an excuse. Yeah, maybe in another ballpark a couple of those would have been fly balls, but they weren’t. They were home runs. It’s my job not to throw the pitches where I did.”  

I’ll also quote The 700 Level’s commentary:

See that, Braves? That’s how you lose with some stugots. Somehow I like Lee even better today than yesterday, despite the loss.

If an Atlanta Brave got shelled like Lee did, he’d blame everybody except himself. It was the ballpark. No, it was the umpire. No, it was the hostile Philadelphia crowd. No, it was the rainy weather the past few days. No, it’s because it’s the end of August. No, it’s because the Braves’ fielders didn’t corral every batted ball. No, it’s because Bobby Cox stole Jobu’s rum.

All right, I promise this is the last time I’ll whine about the Braves’ whining… until the next time they whine.

BDD: 2008 Free Agent Analysis

At Baseball Daily Digest, I analyze the 2008 free agent class.

The most valuable left-handed hitter is Raul Ibanez, who is making $6.5 million this season and prorates to be worth over $17 million. The least valuable LHH is Jason Giambi who is making $4 million and has been worth nearly negative $3 million.

The most valuable right-handed hitter is Casey Blake, who is making $5 million this season and prorates to be worth over $18 million. The least valuable RHH is Manny Ramirez, who is making $25 million and has been worth over $12.5 million.

Brian McCann, Walk This Way…

…right off of this conveniently-located cliff.

Hat tip to The Good Phight. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“He’s got so much power, and this is a high school field,” Braves catcher Brian McCann said of Howard, who has four homers and seven RBIs in his past two games against the Braves, including a two-homer game Aug. 16 at Atlanta.

It’s like clockwork. Two or three times a year whenever the Braves get pounded by the Phillies, they whine about the ballpark. Click the link above, “NL East Whining” for some sad music from the world’s smallest violin.

Hit Tracker Online has classifications for 35 of Howard’s 37 home runs. Only 10 (27%) classified as JE or JE/L (Just Enough/Lucky). Another 10 were ND (No Doubt), and 15 were PL (Plenty). Here’s a further breakdown of his home/away HR splits:

Howard has hit two more “wall-scrapers” on the road than at home, and he’s hit four more “no doubt” home runs. As usual, an Atlanta Brave has whined about something unsubstantiated by facts.

Don’t forget that both teams have to play in the same park. It’s not like McCann has to toil away 162 games a season in the pitcher-friendly confines of Turner Field while the Phillies play 162 in CBP; he gets to hit there too!

And he likes it. McCann has hit three home runs (one ND, two PL) in Philly this year along with a 1.054 OPS in 30 plate appearances. Throughout his career, McCann has a .887 OPS in 147 PA, his highest OPS in any stadium in which he’s accumulated 70 or more PA.

Instead of being classy and simply respecting the opponent that beat them, or at the very least saying nothing at all, the Braves always call to arms and take to the press following the game. For an organization that has produced some of the game’s great players, they also produce a very high percentage of crybabies. I want to like John Smoltz, I really do. And I want to like Brian McCann, but every time the Braves’ players open their mouths, I want to Spartan Kick them. I can’t think of a less classy organization in baseball… the Blue Jays, maybe?

Rant almost over.

Further down in the AJC article linked above, we have a quote from starter Tommy Hanson on the first homer Howard hit:

Hanson gave up an opposite-field homer to Howard to the nearby left-field bleachers, an easy poke for the left-handed slugger.

“I don’t even think it was a strike,” Hanson said. “It was a slider, up. I was trying to make a quality pitch. Left it up a little bit.”

McCann said: “With a guy that strong, he doesn’t even have to come out of his swing. Playing here, he can wait as long as he can and just flip ’em to left.”

So Howard hit a pitch that may not have even been a strike (it wasn’t according to Pitch F/X) for a home run. You know what you do in that case? You tip your hat to the batter for putting a good swing on a pitch most hitters would pop up to the third baseman.

Of course, there’s McCann showing up with a back-handed compliment of Howard. You stay classy, B-Mac.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a quote from Braves manager Bobby Cox two weeks ago following a Phillies win in Atlanta:

“We played in the wrong park tonight,” Cox said. “If we’re in Philadelphia, we’ve probably got five homers, at least four. The long fly balls just weren’t traveling. I knew Utley’s was out and I knew Howard’s was out.”

Get your story straight, Braves!

Bad Moments in Managing

Charlie Manuel has had it easy lately. That tends to happen when you win a World Series. Nevertheless, good strategy should be the goal whether you’re the lowly Washington Nationals or the king of the proverbial hill as the Phillies are. It is blind to name and number and can always be employed no matter what. Good strategy in baseball is like eating healthy at the dinner table: no one’s forcing you to eat that double bacon cheeseburger, but it tastes so good!

Charlie probably felt that way during the Pirates series. Hey, it’s the Pirates, who cares? We can beat them with our eyes closed!

The first game of the series saw Manuel use Lidge for the fourth day in a row. Hitters have an OPS thirty points lower against Lidge, throughout his career, when he’s coming off of a day of rest as opposed to pitching consecutive games in a row. Logic and physiology suggest that using a reliever four days in a row is not the optimum strategy.

Game two against the Pirates was another gut-wrencher. Cole Hamels pitched eight shut-out innings only to have it blown by Ryan Madson, who allowed a game-tying solo home run to Brandon Moss in the ninth inning. Madson, of course, was the substitute closer since Lidge finally got a day off.

Manuel’s fault in this game came not from using Madson, but from not pulling Cole Hamels earlier. Yeah, Hamels pitched great and the bullpen has been lousy, but after eight innings, Cole had thrown 123 pitches, a season high. Hamels only eclipsed 123 once last season, when he threw 125 pitches against the Braves on July 3. Hamels last season had the seventh-highest Pitcher Abuse Points total, according to Baseball Prospectus.

This year, he has the fourteenth-highest total, and if last year is any indication, he’ll make up some ground as the season nears its end. Hamels finished up the 2008 regular season with six consecutive starts with at least 100 pitches thrown. Of course, most of those starts were absolutely necessary to ensure a playoff berth. This year, the Phillies have a luxury of a seven game lead at the end of August. There’s no need to tax their starting pitchers, especially since the bullpen has been so well-rested:

  • Tyler Walker last pitched on August 25
  • Chan Ho Park last pitched on August 24
  • Chad Durbin last pitched on August 23
  • Jamie Moyer last pitched on August 18
  • Scott Eyre last pitched on August 16

Manuel always talks about giving his bench guys some at-bats because they’ve been inactive for a while. Wouldn’t the same thought process apply to relievers?

Last night’s start would have been a perfect opportunity to use Scott Eyre. J.A. Happ, while he pitched extremely well, threw 114 pitches through eight innings. Again, there was no real reason to tax his arm as if his continued pitching was the only way to ensure victory against the now 53-72 Pittsburgh Pirates.

Scott Eyre had been warming up in the bullpen when Pirates’ left-hander Garrett Jones stepped to the plate in the bottom of the eighth. As you know, Jones hit the lead-changing two-run home run off of Happ that inning that eventually led to a Phillies loss. Left-handed hitters have a .654 OPS against Eyre this season, 86 points lower than the OPS right-handers have against him. Eyre was fresh, Happ was running out of gas. Why not switch?

Even though the Phillies did not capitalize on the many opportunities they had offensively, good baseball tactics could have prevented both of the losses. Instead of a 1-2 stint in Pittsburgh, it could have been 3-0, and instead of being up seven games, the Phillies could be up eight or nine.

The Phillies have had golden opportunities to essentially knock the Marlins and Braves out of NL East contention, and they just haven’t been able to do it. It is such a luxury to be able to kick back and relax for the last two weeks of the season rather than the way the Phillies are used to doing it in the last few days.

Of course, the poor use of strategy in the Pittsburgh series pales in comparison to the running blunder of not replacing Brad Lidge with Ryan Madson, Chan Ho Park, or anyone else. Just saying, is all.

Knee-Jerks Unfair to Madson

The criticism of Brad Lidge has been deserved for his performance between April and present. There have been very few outings of his this season that have ended without a cold sweat. He leads the world with the lowest WXRL, and he’ll be setting career highs and lows in all the wrong categories. Don’t want him to pitch the ninth inning for the Phillies? Neither do I.

When it comes to Ryan Madson, though, somehow the leash is much shorter. Yeah, Lidge deserves a lot of slack for how great he pitched last year… but he ran out of rope about two months ago. Madson and Chan Ho Park have been the Phillies’ best two relievers this year, but for some reason, if Madson screws up, he deserves to be banished to Kyle Kendrick duty. At least, this is the case if you read any of the knee-jerk reactions following tonight’s Brandon Moss home run on Twitter.

Including his appearance tonight, Madson has given up runs in 11 of his 64 appearances (17%). Compare that to Brett Myers — another fan favorite Plan B instead of Madson — from 2007: he gave up runs in 10 of 48 relief appearances (21%). Park, last year with the Dodgers, allowed runs in 18 of 49 relief appearances (37%).

The common justification for keeping Madson as the set-up guy instead of the closer is that he’s struggled as the closer this season. That, of course, is true. He’s blown five overall saves, including two blown saves and a loss in the ninth inning.

However, that’s a small sample size. Most people probably hate hearing the three s-words from stat nerds by now, but it’s an important principle to adhere to, simply because there’s so much that can affect the way numbers appear in a small sample. The larger the sample, the more likely the numbers will reflect reality. Flip a fair coin ten times, and you may get heads seven times. Does that mean that you have a 70% chance of flipping a coin and getting heads? Of course not.

In reality, there’s not much difference in the meaningful statistics between the eighth and ninth inning for Madson, given the small sample. I went into detail in a response to Max from Fire Eric Bruntlett last week.

There is no reason to regard Madson so disfavorably. Likewise, there is no reason to favor Park and Myers so favorably. The fact is, all three have what it takes to close out the ninth inning with a lead of one to three runs. All three have different ways of achieving the same goal, some more graceful or some more exciting than others. Should Lidge be replaced by any of the three — and he should — there should be no bickering about the decision since there’s no way to definitively prove that one is vastly superior to the others.

Yeah, Ryan Madson blew another lead in another rare opportunity to close. It’s frustrating, especially coming directly after another ugly blown save from Brad Lidge. But don’t let the frustration from Lidge, and Madson’s boringness color your perception of the Phillies’ closing options. Every single team in baseball would jump at the opportunity to add Madson to their bullpen. Set-up guys with 2+ WXRL do not grow on trees.

Trust in Madson.

Just Saying, Is All

  • May 15, 2009: BDD: Let Madson Close!
    • …the Phillies can’t possibly afford to let Lidge work out his pitching issues in high-leverage innings, especially not when they have a viable back-up known affectionately as “Mad Dog”.
  • May 24, 2009: Lidgerdemain
    • …Lidge seems to be the only person who hasn’t shown up for the season yet…
  • June 6, 2009: Can Madson Close, Please?
    • It’s time to take this season seriously and demote Lidge out of the closer’s role and promote Madson.
  • July 13, 2009: Phillies Mid-season Pitch Values
    • Worst… Brad Lidge: -9.4 wFB/C (fastball runs above average per 100 fastballs; it was -12.2 going into the game against the Pirates)
  • August 19, 2009: Responding to Max’s Rant
    • Even if we give Lidge credit for the tougher inning, he’s still more than two wins worse than the other two options I’ve suggested (Madson and Park).

Fireworks at Nationals Park

I’ll post a couple more videos and a bunch of pictures from the Brewers/Nationals game, but that’s going to take a bit of time, so I figured I’d at least get something up. This is the fireworks show that fans were treated to following the Nats’ 7-3 loss to the Brewers. Fans who chickened out because of the rain missed it. Nyah-nyah.

Apologies for my shoddy camera work.

Funny story: while I was taping this, there was a little girl who was walking up the steps towards the concessions. She saw I was taping the fireworks and didn’t want to get in the way, so she stopped and held up the flow of people behind her. You may hear me at around 50 seconds saying “you can go” to her. It was so cute — consideration for others at that age.

Crashburn Alley Goes to Washington & A.C.

Content will be sparse for the next few days. I’m heading to Washington, D.C. to catch the Brewers-Nationals game ($1 tickets!). I’ll be Twittering from time to time if you’d like to keep up, and on Saturday, I’ll post pictures if I have time. Sunday and Monday, I’ll be in Atlantic City at the Texas hold’em tables.