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.

BDD: Smoltz Can Still Do It

At Baseball Daily Digest, I look at John Smoltz’s pitching splits and conclude that he can still get out Major League hitters. But there’s a caveat.

He had done well rehabbing, making two starts for A Greenville, one for AA Portland, and three for AAA Pawtucket, putting up ERA’s of 1.13, 2.70, and 3.38 respectively. By the end of June, the Sox felt that Smoltz was ready for his first Major League start in over a year. On June 25, Smoltz took the mound against the Nationals in Washington. In five innings, he allowed five runs on seven hits and a walk, and struck out five. Like the Phillies’ Pedro Martinez, expectations weren’t sky-high considering their respective absences from the Majors. It was a feeler start.

Smoltz improved the next time out, allowing one run in four innings against the Baltimore Orioles. That wouldn’t become a trend. Over the remaining six starts, Smoltz would allow 31 runs in 31 innings, and here he is now, hoping that another team needs a right-handed arm for some reason — any reason.

Many think he’s done for myriad reasons. A look at his pitching splits indicates this is not the case, however — he can still do it!

Should the Phils Demote Lidge?

The Phillies paid $8.5 million for Adam Eaton to take his awful pitching somewhere else. Brett Myers was sent to the Minors when he couldn’t build up any momentum as a starter. Chris Coste was shipped to Houston so the team could utilize a good defensive back-up catcher. Chan Ho Park was sent to the bullpen after seven ineffective starts. Jamie Moyer was finally removed from the rotation in favor of Pedro Martinez following 22 shoddy starts.

If there’s one thing the Phillies do well, it’s recognizing a problem and patching it up. In the Pat Gillick and Ruben Amaro era, they have been, almost to a fault, notably loyal. They promised Chan Ho Park that he’d start when they offered him a contract, and they gave him seven opportunities to lock up a spot in the rotation. Adam Eaton had two seasons with a three-year deal to prove that he had the ability to compete against Major League hitters. Moyer had four months of leash this season.

Ruben Amaro and Charlie Manuel need to realize — and they already do most likely — that they have given Lidge more than enough time to turn his season around and he hasn’t shown any progress. He has a -1.64 WXRL (win expectation above replacement, lineup-adjusted), which ranks dead last in the Majors, well behind beach ball-throwers Saul Rivera and Rafael Perez. Meanwhile, there are two relievers on the squad who have done their jobs extremely well in Chan Ho Park (1.78 WXRL) and Ryan Madson (1.74 WXRL).

Yes, Lidge was an integral part of the Phillies’ World Series run last year. He absolutely earned the lax tension on the figurative rope. Four-plus months of a 7.27 ERA is way more than the Phillies could have put up with; they’ve shown their loyalty. But, as the Phillies showed by removing their World Series patches from their uniforms, it’s time to move on from last year and focus on the 2009 playoff run.

Ryan Madson and Chan Ho Park have earned their shot at the closer’s role. Madson, as you may recall, was the interim closer when Lidge was on the disabled list and had a rough go of it, with a 5.00 ERA and two blown saves in nine innings between June 7 and 25. If he wants the promotion, he deserves another shot to prove he’s capable, as he’s been one of the best relievers in the Majors this season. If Madson can’t mesh, then Plan B is Park.

The Phillies simply cannot afford to lose close games this way. Visions of Game 6 of the 1993 World Series start creeping in: Curt Schilling in the dugout with his towel wrapped over his face in certifiable fear of Mitch Williams, and Joe Carter pulling a poorly-located fastball over the left field fence. Lidge can no longer be trusted to hold a one-run lead for one inning, and that’s said with all due respect for the outstanding regular season he had in ’08 and his dominance in the post-season.

Bobby Cox and Logic

Hat tip to The Good Phight.

Another entry for the “NL East Whining” category that I love so much. It seems like the Braves are good for one, maybe two whiny comments about the Phillies and Citizens Bank Park per year. Bobby Cox helped meet the quota last night.

But Lidge, who has allowed four earned runs in his the two previous innings he’d completed this week, pitched around a walk to Greg Norton and then breathed a sigh of relief when left fielder Raul Ibanez ended the game by catching Nate McLouth’s long opposite-field drive along the warning track.

“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.”

Yeah, that’s right Bobby: Ryan Howard’s home run to left-center had nothing to do with Turner Field, but your home park had everything to do with keeping Nate McLouth’s fly ball in front of the fences.

You can’t make up logic like that.

Here’s an idea: Hit the baseball better. Ryan Howard sat on a Rafael Soriano slider and crushed it just like he sat on and crushed a Ryan Dempster slider the previous day. If your fly ball didn’t leave the yard and you don’t have winds from a monsoon blowing the ball in, then you could have done a better job of making contact.

Just once, I’d like to go an entire season without hearing the Braves make some pitiful excuse for losing to the Phillies.

Phillies/Braves Series Preview III

Going into Chicago having lost eight of their last eleven games and reeling from a series sweep by the Marlins at home, the Phillies kicked into high gear and used the broom on the Cubs. J.A. Happ had a solid start on Tuesday, Pedro Martinez had a decent debut on Wednesday, and Cliff Lee was once again dominant yesterday. Raul Ibanez and Ryan Howard broke out of their slumps, Jimmy Rollins continued to scorch the baseball, and Shane Victorino… uh, had a beer thrown at him (the fan at fault has since turned himself in).

The Phillies roll into Atlanta on a roll, five games up on the third-place Braves. After this series, the Phillies and Braves will match up six more times in two series before the end of the season. Winning this series, effectively pushing the Braves to six games back, will force Atlanta to play well above .500 baseball the rest of the season and take at least four of the six remaining match-ups.

Atlanta will throw out their two best pitchers in Jair Jurrjens and Javier Vazquez, as well as Kenshin Kawakami who the Phillies had problems with back on May 10. Of course, the roster then looks foreign: Brett Myers has been injured, and Miguel Cairo and Jack Taschner are currently playing for the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs.

The Phillies will counter Jurrjens with Joe Blanton, who has allowed three earned runs or less in eight straight starts and has a 2.28 ERA in those 55 innings.

The struggling Cole Hamels will oppose Kawakami. Hamels hasn’t had back-to-back quality starts since June 16 and 21, and has allowed 4 and 6 earned runs in his last two starts. In both starts, he failed to reach six innings.

Finally, Rookie of the Year candidate J.A. Happ will oppose Vazquez, who the Phillies have traditionally hit despite his great K/BB rates. Nine of Happ’s last ten starts have been quality starts, and he’s allowed two earned runs or less and pitched at least six innings in three straight. Now with enough innings to qualify, Happ sits at #8 on the NL leaders in ERA list. His 157 ERA+ is, as you might expect, tops by far among Phillies starters.

So, the Phillies are hoping for more of the same from Blanton, Happ, and the offense, and a bounce-back from Hamels. Additionally, they’re going to have to figure out Jurrjens and Kawakami who have career 2.27 and 3.00 ERA’s against the Phillies respectively.

Hitting

Pitching

Bronson Arroyo Is Awesome

Regular readers of the blog know how I feel about the performance-enhancing drug issue, and I’m not going to get up on my soapbox again (for now, anyway). But I did want to point out how awesome Cincinnati Reds starter Bronson Arroyo is. Here are some great quotes from Bob Nightengale’s article for USA Today:

“I take 10 to 12 different things a day, and on the days I pitch, there’s four more things. There’s a caffeine drink I take from a company that (former teammate) Curt Schilling introduced me to in ’05. I take some Korean ginseng and a few other proteins out there that are not certified. But I haven’t failed any tests, so I figured I’m good.”

[...]

“I do what I want to do and say what I want to say,” says Arroyo, who will make $9.5 million this season as part of a contract scheduled to pay him more than $38 million from 2006 to 2011. “But society has made this such a tainted thing. The media has made it where people look at it in such a super-negative light. I’ve always been honest. I’m not going to stop now.”

[...]

“People can think what they want of me,” he says. “I don’t give a f—-.”

[...]

“I can see where guys like Hank Aaron and some of the old-timers have a beef with it,” Arroyo says. “But as far as looking at Manny Ramirez like he’s (serial killer) Ted Bundy, you’re out of your mind. At the end of the day, you think anybody really (cares) whether Manny Ramirez’s kidneys fail and he dies at 50?

“You were happy if the Red Sox won 95 games. You’d go home, have a cookout with your family. No big deal.”

[...]

“If Mark McGwire is hitting 60 homers, the only thing that matters is his performance,” Arroyo says. “People don’t own teams to lose money. If you ask any owner whether they would rather make $20 million and come in last place or lose $20 million and win a World Series, there’s only one guy who honestly would take that championship: George Steinbrenner (of the Yankees). Nobody else.”

[...]

“That stuff’s like bubblegum compared to steroids,” he says. “You’re playing (night games) in L.A., you fly across the country, and you’re pitching a day game at Wrigley (Field in Chicago). You telling me you don’t want something to wake you up? You have half this country, maybe more, that can’t function without a cup of coffee.

“You don’t want me to get Albert Pujols out? Give me a break. If you give me (the amphetamine) Adderall, and I strike out Pujols in the seventh inning with the bases loaded, there’s a pretty good chance I’m going to want to take that Adderall the next time.”

[...]

If not for the home run record falling, first with McGwire and then with Bonds hitting 73 home runs in 2001, Arroyo says there would be no drug testing.

“It might be dangerous,” he says, “but so is drinking and driving. And how many of us do it at least once a year? Pretty much everybody.”

It’s also time, Arroyo says, to stop blaming baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, players union executive director Don Fehr or other officials.

“You think this country really cares about what ballplayers put in their bodies?” Arroyo asks. “If we really care, why are we pumping Coca-Cola in every kid’s mouth, and McDonald’s, and Burger King and KFC? That (stuff) is killing people.

[...]

Maybe there are players who are ashamed of playing in the steroid era, Arroyo says, but he is proud. He made it. He survived.

“I don’t regret a thing,” Arroyo says. “Neither should anyone else.”

All that quoting would make the AP’s head spin. At least it’s USA Today!

A lot of MLB execs are going to criticize Arroyo for his candor, and he’ll probably get punished in some way, shape, or form. And then you’ll have the sportswriters and a vocal subset of fans who lambast him for not being ashamed of what he’s put in his body. I, for one, applaud Arroyo for being honest and not being fooled into feeling embarrassed of wanting to succeed in a high-pressure sport.

The irritating factor with the PED issue, of course, is the hypocrisy. Arroyo aptly points out such hypocrisies with his examples citing coffee, alcohol, and fast food. If you don’t want performance-enhancing drugs in the sport, that’s fine, but be consistent: if steroids are banned because they’re unhealthy, then ban all unhealthy things like alcohol, chewing tobacco, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, et cetera; and if steroids are banned because they enhance performance, then ban all performance-enhancing substances (you know, the ones Arroyo brazenly takes because they’re not outlawed).

Knowing such change comes at a snail’s pace in baseball, I’m content having a new hero in Major League Baseball in Bronson Arroyo.

If we’re really interested in learning about what really happened in the Steroid Era, then we need to motivate other players to open up like Arroyo did without fear of being punished or becoming outcasts. Very few players are willing to gamble with their public persona and future earnings as Arroyo did, so we need to remove most of the risk.

That’s going to be hard to do. There are already man-hunting groups on Facebook dedicated to bringing down the fan who launched a cup of beer at Shane Victorino during last night’s game in Chicago. Baseball fans, and really Americans in general, are a vengeful bunch. We love justice. As such, we shouldn’t bicker when athletes are caught red-handed and still try to slither away, or retreat into a bubble instead of opening up about it — we don’t give them any reason to share.

Who knows, maybe Arroyo can be the crusder for drug-using athletes we thought former NBA player John Amaechi would be for the gay community. Arroyo can be at the front of a protest march of ‘roided-up athletes: “We’re here! We’re juiced up! Get used to it!”

BDD: Pedro F/X

At Baseball Daily Digest, I thumb through Pitch F/X data to analyze the debut made by Pedro Martinez for the Phillies.

It’s interesting to look at — from the first base view — how similar his change-up and slider are, especially considering they only differ by about two MPH. Obviously, looking at the bird’s eye view, his change-up moves towards a right-handed hitter while his slider tails towards a left-handed hitter. Most pitchers would love to have even one pitch that moves as well as that; Pedro has two, one for lefties and one for righties.

As expected, Pedro was at around 87 MPH with his fastball — definitely not the hard-throwing Pedro we came to love in the late-1990’s when he was with the Boston Red Sox. However, as Jamie Moyer proved last season, you don’t need to throw hard to succeed if you have intelligence, and Martinez might know a thing or two about pitching.

Jamie Should Be Upset

Per David Murphy:

In an off-the-cuff statement that lasted several minutes while sitting in the stands at Wrigley Field, the veteran lefthander said he felt “a little disheartened” and “a little bit like I’ve been mis-led” after the Phillies informed him that they were giving his spot in the rotation to Pedro Martinez.

“I most certainly do not want to be a distraction,” Moyer said. “I’m not happy with the decision the Phillies have made.”

With a 5.47 ERA and 1.508 WHIP through two-thirds of the season, should Moyer be surprised that he lost his spot in the rotation? Probably not.

Is the Phillies’ brass justified in demoting Moyer? Absolutely.

Is Moyer’s anger justified? Yes.

Aside from being the oldest player in Major League Baseball, and being a famously great teammate and pseudo-coach, Moyer is at the root of it all a human being. Any man who is told that he’s not good enough to do his job anymore should and most likely does feel emasculated. It’s not a stats thing. If Moyer studied his Baseball Reference page for a couple minutes, he’d probably agree with Ruben Amaro. But it doesn’t mean Moyer should lay down and take it.

As explained at The Good Phight, there are some economic factors that went into the decision-making as well. Moyer stands to make $250,000 for every successive ten innings he accumulates starting at 150, and he’s at 123 now. He has averaged about five and two-thirds innings per start, so he’d need about five more starts to reach the 150-inning mark. With this demotion, it’s highly unlikely — barring injuries or absolutely, stunningly-awful performances from Pedro Martinez — that he reaches those markers.

Now, by defending Moyer’s anger, I’m not criticizing Amaro’s decision. It was the right decision to make, aside from using a platoon with the #5 spot in the rotation, as I suggested at Baseball Daily Digest. Performance-wise and economics-wise, it puts the team in a better position to win.

In Boston, we saw a similar reaction to a veteran player getting pushed out of his role when the Red Sox released John Smoltz. Upon hearing the news, Smoltz apparently left the team without even clearing his locker. If Moyer and Smoltz weren’t upset, you’d have to call into question their spirit of competition; if they didn’t care, then what motivation was there prior?

I’m expecting this event to polarize Phillies fans and analysts alike, and that’s not going to be fun to read, listen, or watch because both sides are right.

Technical Issues

For the last couple days, I’ve been unable to access Crashburn Alley due to a problem with my ISP (Comcast) being unable to connect to the server that handles this website, which is somewhere in Seattle and hosted by Qwest. So, I apologize if you were affected by the technical issues.

While that issue appears to be over, I’m having some technical issues of my own with my computer. I’m making some upgrades and things aren’t going as smoothly as I had hoped. This shouldn’t last too long, but if there’s a lack of posts, that’s why. Right now, I’m looking at a purplish screen partially as a result of the screws not retracting properly.

I apologize for the inconvenience, regular posting should resume once I get these technical issues wiped up.