Phils’ RISP Troubles Are Overblown

David Murphy just put up an article with the purpose of allaying the phans’ fears about the Phillies’ recent inability to hit with runners in scoring position. He writes:

Lot of chatter today about Runners In Scoring Position, specifically about the Phillies’ inability to hit in such situations over the past week. Since going 7-for-11 with RISP in a 12-5 win over the Cubs on Aug. 12, they are 7-for-29 (.241). While not good, it also isn’t too far off their season average (.257).

For fans, it can be frustrating to watch such a prolific offense struggle so mightily in such key situations. But I’m here to tell you to deal with it.

Why?

Because it is the tradeoff you make when you come to the ballpark to see a team capable of exploding the way the team exploded against Arizona righty Dan Haren tonight. The Phillies scored their first six runs on home runs: a two-run shot by Chase utley in the third, a three-run shot by Ryan Howard in the fifth, and a solo shot by Jayson Werth in the fifth. Of those six runs, three were scored with runners in scoring position.

In short, this team is not built to hit with runners in scoring position. It is built to score runs in bunches, primarily via the home run. I did some number-crunching [...]

Same here! I’m in a number-crunchy mood tonight.

All stats prior to tonight’s bashing of Dan Haren and the Diamondbacks.

The Phillies are in the top-three in all of Major League Baseball and first in the National League in hitting with runners in scoring position. They have an .809 OPS with RISP and have hit 164 HR, best in the NL and third-best in the Majors.

I also found that, using this season’s data, hitting a lot of home runs correlates positively (very weakly) to hitting with runners in scoring position. HR and OPS with RISP had an r-square of .07, barely noticeable.

Furthermore, hitting more home runs correlates to winning much more — but still weakly — to winning games. HR had an r-square of .24 with winning percentage while OPS with RISP had an r-square of .11, both practically meaningless.

The Phillies’ RISP troubles are overblown not because they don’t need to hit with RISP to score runs, but because they actually do.

Responding to Max’s Rant

Max is one of the fine authors of the blog Fire Eric Bruntlett. He has posted a rant in support of Brad Lidge (in response to the plethora of “GTFO Lidge” sentiment across the Interwebs). Most of it is a recap of a conversation he had with a commenter at The Phightins, but I saw a few things I wanted to clarify just so we all have our facts straight. I do disagree with Max but understand and respect his opinion. However, facts are facts, y’know?

I recommend reading his rant first before reading through this simply for the sake of context.

Max says of Lidge, “he’s all we’ve got.”

So, you want Myers as the closer? We tried that experiment before.

With success. In 54 and one-third innings as a reliever, he has a 2.98 ERA. Small sample disclaimer, of course. He averages nearly 3.5 more strikeouts per nine innings as a reliever than as a starter with an identical walk rate and a home run rate nearly half as high.

Madson? Nope. Been there, failed that when Lidge hit the DL.

Lidge was out between June 7 and 25. In that span, Madson definitely didn’t fare well with a 5.00 ERA in nine innings. However, it is nine innings — small sample size. That was pointed out by the commenter Max was responding to, and it’s a salient point. Basing any decision off of nine innings of work is foolish.

Overall, Madson and Chan Ho Park have the two best WXRL among Phillies relievers, both over 1.77. Brad Lidge’s WXRL is not only the worst on the team at -1.61, but it’s the absolute worst in all of Major League Baseball, 664 out of 664.

A possible counter-argument to that is that Lidge is in a tougher spot — after all, the ninth inning is harder than the eighth inning. We can adjust for that using WPA/LI from FanGraphs. Lidge, of course, ranks last in that too at -1.18 (nearly a quarter of a win behind the next-worst reliever, Joel Hanrahan). Madson is at 0.88 and Park is at 0.99. 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.

The commenter Max cites used ERA+ to defend Madson. ERA+ is not a good stat to use to evaluate relief pitchers because of … drumroll please … small sample sizes. Even when we look at a constant like Mariano Rivera who has logged nearly 1,100 innings, it’s still too small of a sample because he’s only pitching 72 innings per season on average. It’s why relievers as a group are referred to as “volatile” — it’s hard to make many matter-of-fact assumptions about them because of such a small sample.

Let’s say, hypothetically, he doesn’t blow another save the rest of the season, for whatever reason.

If my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle.

It’s still 8 so far in his Phillies career.

Eight blown saves in about 44 innings in four months.

I understand that Lidge was awesome last year and he deserves some slack for his struggles this year. However, the Phillies simply can’t rest on their laurels and be content with winning it all last year, and it’s an insult to their ever growing fan base to do so. Continuing to employ someone who is incompetent at his job is not only a slap in the face to the paying fans, but it’s just not good decision-making, especially not when you have two — soon to be three — viable options right in front of you.

I don’t begrudge Lidge for his struggles, not one bit. I just want to see the team succeed above all else. If Manuel leaves Lidge in, I won’t be upset unless it ends up costing the Phillies a playoff spot or a chance to move on in the playoffs (“pulls a Mitch”).

I do know this: in his 8 blown saves this season, the team is 3-5.

I don’t get this logic: is Lidge blowing saves somehow a good thing now? Simply put, would you rather your closer blow eight saves, or would you rather him not?

how unlucky Lidge has seemed in his blown saves this season. It seems that in each one of them, there was always another seeing-eye or bloop single, or bad error by the defense, or awful call by the umpires, or terrible clutch hitting by the offense that contributed more to the blown save/loss than Lidge actually did.

There are certainly others at fault other than just Lidge. However, his strikeout rate is down nearly 2.5 hitters per nine innings and he’s walking about 1.25 more per nine. His .353 BABIP isn’t statistically significant (career average .325) and his 6.09 FIP speaks to his 7.21 ERA. No matter how you slice it, Brad Lidge has just been awful this season and it’s not bad luck.

This season, he’s increased his fastball use — which he’s been unable to locate, and which has lost nearly a full MPH of velocity — and decreased his slider use. That fastball is moving about a half-inch less horizontally and is, on average, about an inch higher than it was last year (as is his slider).

Again – not a fucking chance in hell I want to put our close games in the hands of Madson. I’d rather trust Beardo with the ball in the 9th.

Hitters facing Madson in high-leverage situations have put up a collective sub-.700 OPS against him. Lidge, in high-leverage: .921 OPS.

By the way, I looked up ERA+, or adjusted ERA, it’s the most confusing fucking stat I’ve ever seen. Here is its Wikipedia page, and here’s a Yahoo! Answers question about it. If you know what it means, please explain it to me. What’s the home park factor? Why would anyone want to use it?

ERA+ adjusts for league and park factors. It’s easier to pitch in the National League because the pitcher hits instead of a designated hitter, so the ERA is adjusted to reflect this. And, of course, it’s easier to pitch in Seattle than in Cincinnati, so ERA is then adjusted to reflect that as well.

To quote Sal Baxamusa in his THT article Moving Beyond ERA+,

ERA+ and other numbers normalized to league average are among the most illustrative and accessible of the “new” statistics. They have clear interpretations, are easy to compute, and come as close to a full story as one number can.

Again, ERA+ isn’t a great statistic to use to measure relievers simply because of the small sample size.

WXRL is much more efficient because it compares the reliever to a replacement-level reliever,adjusts for the strength of the line-up he’s facing, and accounts for the team’s chance to win (a reliever who has a 1-2-3 inning with a ten-run lead doesn’t get nearly as much credit as a reliever who does the same with a one-run lead). You still need to be aware of the small sample size, but WXRL is more descriptive than ERA+ for relievers in the same sample.

. . .

In conclusion, none of the statistics show Lidge as a favorable option over Madson, Park, or Myers. And there have been no signs that Lidge will improve for the final six weeks. To think otherwise is to base your argument on faith, and at that point, you may as well also believe that Eric Bruntlett’s going to OPS one thousand for the final six weeks, too.