BDD: It’s Always Classy in Philadelphia

I’ll shut up about it soon, but I can’t stress enough how much class the Phillies organization has shown over the years. It makes it that much more enjoyable to follow them as a fan.

It is because he has been such a good person and a good teammate and a good example that tonight, with a seven-run lead and one out left before the Phillies won their game against the Houston Astros and celebrated their division title, manager Charlie Manuel strolled to the pitcher’s mound to remove Scott Eyre from the game. The band Drowning Pool blared through the speakers once again, and Lidge emerged from the bullpen to a standing ovation from the Philadelphia crowd for the honor of once again notching the last out before a division title.

Business As Usual: Phils Clinch Division

During the Ed Wade era here in Philadelphia, we wondered if we would ever sniff post-season air. We were exposed to the Chris Brocks and Joe Roas of Major League Baseball much too frequently for such hopes to have a life span of more than a couple seconds.

How little we knew and how low our expectations were.

Pat Gillick took over Wade’s job after the 2005 season and quickly bolstered the team with some sly roster maneuvers. Just two years into Gillick’s reign, the Phillies finally achieved that vaunted post-season berth thanks to a collapse of epic proportions by the New York Mets. One can just imagine how sweet that victory champagne tasted in the clubhouse. For half of the teams in baseball, a simple post-season appearance is an achievement in and of itself; for the Phillies, who hadn’t been there since 1993, were unsatisfied with a meager three-game appearance abruptly ended by the Colorado Rockies in ’07.

The ’08 Phillies came out on a mission. They did not take baseball by storm; they did not even take the NL East by storm. It took, as in ’07, a last-minute coup de grace to leap into meaningful October baseball. Gillick, architect supreme, may not have drafted and cultivated the breadwinners that turned the gears, but he peppered that home-grown talent with guys you’d never expect to positively contribute to a championship-winning baseball team — guys like Joe Blanton and Pedro Feliz.

The Phillies did, of course, win that championship, the first since 1980. They went into the ’08 post-season, kicked some tail and took some names, winning the series 3-1, 4-1, 4-1 and never once lost a game in front of the home fans.

Gillick, having done many times what most GM’s would love to do just once — construct championship-winning baseball teams — stepped down and fresh blood in the form of Ruben Amaro took the helm. It doesn’t happen often, the button-pusher behind a World Series-winning team stepping down immediately afterward. With the change, many involved in the success of the ’09 Phillies could have resisted or become complacent. Not the Phillies.

47 games into the season, the Phillies wrested control of the NL East and that was it — that lead was never relinquished. It was the most dominant Phillies team since, well, 1993. So dominant that fans had to work themsleves into a frenzy when the Phillies were only 99.2% to win the division instead of 99.7%.

What did Amaro do to bolster the roster? Unlike Gillick, he did not trade a couple of B-level prospects for a middle-of-the-rotation starter or a utility player. He replaced fan-favorite Pat Burrell with Raul Ibanez, who would right now be a heavy contender for the NL MVP award if not for a groin strain that hampered half of his season. Amaro also went out and gave up some significant talent for last year’s AL Cy Young award winner in Cliff Lee, and signed free agent Pedro Martinez, who is a Hall of Famer the second he is five years separated from his last Major League pitch. That just doesn’t happen to the Phillies. Good players never wanted to play here before!

It is with the overt moves of Amaro and the shrewd machinations of Gillick that the Phillies have won the NL East division for three years running, the first time that has happened in Philadelphia since the 1976-78 teams.

When you look at teams like the Washington Nationals and the Pittsburgh Pirates, you empathize. We know what that is all about. It contrasts starkly to what has been going on in Philadelphia these last few years. We are so fortunate to be able to watch the great game of baseball played every night by these professional athletes — these classy, professional athletes.

Winning back-to-back championships is even harder. Improbable, even. Only three National League teams have ever done it. If there’s one thing we have learned about these Phillies, it’s that they are capable of achieving anything.

It was only nine years ago that the Phillies notched their seventh-straight season of sub-.500 baseball. Here we are now, NL East division winners three years running, and a mere 11 wins away from a second straight championship. In retrospect, it was worth trudging through the failures of the Ed Wade administration because it made this — all of this — taste that much better.

Charlie Manuel Can Adapt!

All season long, Charlie Manuel — known as a “player’s manager” — stuck his head in the sand and ignored the struggles of Brad Lidge. For five and a half months, he did this. For five and a half months, the Phillies didn’t pay any mind to their post-season chances. With two weeks left in the season, the finish line in sight, and a lack of any kind of improvement on the part of Lidge, Manuel and GM Ruben Amaro switched horses mid-stream.

When Amaro delivered the news that Lidge would no longer be closing out games for the Phillies, he did not specify who would be taking over the role. From FOXSports.com:

“At some point, we’re going to have to juggle, be creative, figure out who that person is — whether it’s by matchups, closer-by-committee, whatever it takes.”

But, come on, it’s Madson, right? Park has been injured, Myers recently came off of the DL and is still fighting his way to full-strength — who’s it going to be? J.A. Happ? Nope. Durbin, Condrey, Walker? No, no, no. So, although Amaro never named a closer, he may as well have — Madson was the only logical option.

Of course, Mad Dog also has the closer traits that we all identify with. The 95-MPH fastball, the ridiculous off-speed stuff (for Lidge it was his slider; for Madson, it’s his change-up), the odd delivery. He has closer written all over him. And he has, you know, actually been a great reliever for the past three seasons.

So tonight, in a game the Phillies should have been able to, and did win, Manuel used Madson in the eighth inning with a three-run lead. Lidge, Durbin, Walker, et. al. sat in the bullpen and watched him shut down the Astros 1-2-3 in the eighth.

Should have saved him for the ninth, Charlie.

He did.

Madson took the mound again for the start of the ninth to face the top of the Astros lineup: Matsui, Tejada, Berkman, Lee, and Pence, one through five. The worriers thought about his supposed ninth-inning struggles — the .778 OPS hitters have notched in the ninth against him as opposed to the .662 OPS in the eighth inning. But, of course, we’re dealing with that small sample size where anything can happen.

As if to make sure none of us were breathing easy, Madson allowed singles to two of the first three hitters. With runners on first and second and just one out with the tying run coming to the plate in the form of Carlos Lee (who had gone yard earlier in the game against J.A. Happ), a pow-wow was held at the pitcher’s mound. He had thrown at least one breaking ball in each at-bat in the ninth thus far.

After the mound visit? Nothing but heat. Madson threw four fastballs in the strike zone to Lee, getting him to swing and miss for strike three. With one out left and Hunter Pence at the plate, Madson stuck to his heat, quickly getting ahead in the count 0-2. After a 96 MPH fastball taken for a ball, Madson froze Pence with a 97 MPH fastball for strike three. Game over.

Ryan Madson is your new closer. Get used to it and enjoy the ride, however long it lasts.

Only twice before this season had Madson been used for two inning relief appearances. With the Phillies having played lackadaisically recently and the Braves playing their best baseball all year, Manuel decided to stop toying around with the NL East division lead. He went to the best reliever he had and asked him to get not just three, but six very important outs. Charlie Manuel adapted.

That’s all we ask for.

This Isn’t Looking Good… Or Is It?

Your 2009 Philadelphia Phillies bullpen, ERA’s in September:

  • Brad Lidge: 9.34 in 8.2 IP
  • Sergio Escalona: 7.38 in 3.2 IP
  • Tyler Walker: 6.51 in 9.2 IP

This isn’t looking good. Or is it?

  • Ryan Madson: 3.49 in 10.1 IP
  • Chad Durbin: 2.13 in 12.2 IP
  • Clay Condrey: 0.00 in 3.2 IP

Of course, Brett Myers, Scott Eyre and J.C. Romero are recovering from injuries with Chan Ho Park on the shelf, and Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer out in the ‘pen as mop-up specialists. A year separated from sporting one of the most formidable, most organized, least-worrisome bullpens in baseball, the tables have turned and many Phillies fans are on the verge of needing A.A. for ninth innings what with all of the disarray.

Yet, even with that disarray, the Phillies are still middle-of-the-pack in most categories when it comes to the bullpen:

  • IP: 461, 19th out of 30 MLB teams
  • K/9 rate: 7.7, 15th
  • BB/9 rate: 4.12, 8th
  • K/BB rate: 1.86, 19th
  • HR allowed: 46, 22nd
  • WHIP: 1.388, 17th
  • BABIP: .291, 19th

It still looks decent with WXRL:

  • Madson: 2.25
  • Park: 2.08
  • Durbin: 0.89
  • Condrey: 0.39
  • Walker: 0.28
  • Escalona: 0.11

That’s right: the above six relievers — familiar faces here in September — have combined to contribute about six wins to the team. The only Phillies reliever with a WXRL in the negatives that is still on the roster is Lidge. Andrew Carpenter, Rodrigo Lopez, and Jack Taschner haven’t seen MLB action in a while.

Comparing this year to last year:

  • Phillies’ starters, 2009: 4.20 ERA with a .775 opponent OPS
  • Phillies’ relievers, 2009: 3.98 ERA with a .715 opponent OPS
  • Phillies’ starters, 2008: 4.23 ERA with a .756 opponent OPS
  • Phillies’ relievers, 2008: 3.22 ERA with a .703 opponent OPS

If we take Brad Lidge out of the equation, the ’09 bullpen ERA drops to 3.50.

Simply put, the bullpen isn’t nor will be as bad as it has shown or seemed to be in the last week or so. Brad Lidge has been the only consistently poor performer. The success of the Phillies’ bullpen in the post-season will largely rest on the successful comebacks of Myers, Eyre, and Romero as well as the remaining contributors staying with the status quo.

Teams have hiccups many times throughout the season. Sometimes the Phillies go through stretches where they don’t hit, or where their starters are absolutely terrible. The bullpen, as enigmatic as it has been, is also prone to such hiccups. It is simply part of the game and not a true reflection of the ‘pen’s true talent level, which is somewhere around average (above-average if we remove Lidge from the equation) — not bad but not great either.

How to Slump and Still Create Runs

Jayson Werth is in a slump that has encompassed his last 35 plate appearances. He looks completely lost at the plate, having notched only one hit in that span and struck out 14 times. There’s no way Werth has helped the Phillies at all during his slump, hitting fifth in the lineup, right?

Well, yeah, there is a way. He has drawn six walks and been hit by a pitch, and has also stolen one base in one attempt. That’s right, while Werth was hitting .042 prior to today’s game with the Brewers, his OBP was at .250. Further, Werth has driven in four runs: two with his only hit in 35 PA on September 22, and two more with productive outs in each of the last two games against the Brewers.

As an example, when Jimmy Rollins went hitless in 31 PA between June 19 and July 1, he only had an OBP of .129. Players like Werth, who can draw a walk (he’s second only to Chase Utley in that area), can continue to earn their spot in the lineup even when they’re taking some awful cuts at the plate.

They say speed never slumps. It does, but humoring that, neither does intelligence, and Jayson Werth has shown in his three years with the Phillies that he is a very smart hitter with his ability to work counts and draw walks. Werth will soon emerge from his slump, but in the meantime, Charlie Manuel can still feel justified in writing his name on the lineup card.

What If Jimmy Was Good All Year?

Let’s have a fun little thought experiment. What if July-to-present Jimmy Rollins had existed between April and the end of June? As we’re all aware of, Jimmy had a terrible first half, putting up a .572 OPS in 325 plate appearances. Since then, he’s hit for an .813 OPS in 372 PA.

The only tools needed for our experiment are:

I went ahead and plugged in all of the numbers — the Phillies’ batting order and their respective OBP and SLG. Then I selected the 1959-2004 model and clicked submit. This is easy!

The current Phillies lineup — including Rollins’ current level of production — comes out to 5.017 runs per game with the most optimal at 5.156.

For the second test, I simply replaced Rollins’ current OBP and SLG with that of his second half, .323/.490.

That lineup comes out to 5.183 runs per game with the most optimal lineup at 5.298. So, we can say that first-half Jimmy cost the Phillies .166 runs per game, or 13 runs over 81 games, a bit more than one win.

Should you have any questions about how the calculations work, click on the lineup analysis tool link above (or here) and click on the linked names after “Based on work by”. Cyril Morong’s article at Beyond the Box Score in particular is a great read.

Just for fun, I wanted to see how much better Carlos Ruiz has been than Paul Bako offensively. As above, the current Phillies line-up will score 5.017 runs per game. Replacing Ruiz with Bako brings them to 4.849 runs per game, a difference of .168, nearly the same difference between Good Jimmy and Bad Jimmy! Of course, it’s advantageous to rest a catcher so the total difference between the two catchers isn’t as large as the lineup analysis tool indicates. But it’s a fun thought experiment.

BDD: A’s Have A Bright Future

At BDD, I look at the many bright spots that made up the Athletics’ pitching staff this season.

Gio’s problem, as it is with so many other young pitchers, is control. He has walked 56 batters in under 99 innings, a walk rate of over five per nine innings. Hitters have been fortunate on balls in play with a .362 BABIP and they’re not swinging all that often. If he had enough innings to qualify, his 42.3 swing percentage would be tied for fourth-lowest in the Majors. Further, his 75.2 contact percentage would be tied with Tim Lincecum for fourth-lowest in baseball. When he’s around the strike zone, he is dominant.

Put Lidge on the Playoff Roster

Twitter was not a pleasant place for Phillies fans after Brad Lidge blew his eleventh save of the season last night. Among all the frenetic Tweets, it was not hard to get sucked into the delirium. Just about everybody is on board with kicking Lidge not just out of the closer’s role, but out of the bullpen entirely. Some think he shouldn’t make the playoff roster.

Lidge can still serve a purpose, although limited, as a reliever in the playoffs. In the NLDS last year, the Phillies’ starting rotation accounted for 71% of the innings; 58% in the NLCS, and 73% in the World Series.

In the NLDS last year, Lidge accounted for 9% of the innings as the closer. The next-highest percentage was 3% by Scott Eyre and Clay Condrey. Brad Lidge logged 11% of the innings and Ryan Madson 10% in the NLCS; J.C. Romero threw 11% of the innings and Brad Lidge 5% in the World Series.

The point of the above is to illustrate that Brad Lidge can be put on the post-season roster and will not truly screw up the Phillies’ chances to win all that often, if at all. As a closer in the playoffs last year, he only pitched in 9 and one-third innings in 14 games. Since Lidge also wouldn’t be a set-up guy (hopefully) and he isn’t an OOGY-specialist, he wouldn’t do much damage with the limited innings he’d be getting.

Further, Lidge should not be left off the post-season roster because of this:

  • 3 years/$37.5M (2009-11), plus 2012 club option
  • 2009:$11.5M, 2010:$11.5M, 2011:$11.5M, 2012:$12.5M club option ($1.5M buyout)

That’s the contract the Phillies signed him to last year. Based on his awful, awful season, he isn’t a tradable commodity anymore. No one will trade for him unless the Phillies strap a wad of million-dollar bills to his back. For better or worse, the Phillies are stuck with him. So, you don’t want to do anything that could cause unnecessary stress, such as leaving Lidge off of the post-season roster, and you also don’t want to place Lidge in situations he’s proved he’s unable to handle.

If Lidge is left off the post-season roster, he might — and remember, this is just a thought exercise — become a distraction either during the playoffs or during the off-season (he may, for instance, demand a trade). If Lidge is left in the closer’s role and blows yet another save or two in the playoffs, he may be done as a professional baseball player mentally and/or he may be the cheese that stands alone in the clubhouse.

It’s not a fortunate situation to be in, and as in the political spectrum, neither side has it 100% right. The Lidge-haters are wrong in that Lidge doesn’t need to sit home in October, and Charlie Manuel is wrong in that Lidge cannot be used in high-leverage situations. A simple demotion is all that is needed to both preserve the Phillies’ chances in the post-season and to preserve Lidge’s future in Philadelphia.

Dude

Dude… Brad, I just wrote a nice post about how I like the Phillies. And then you had to blow your eleventh save of the season. Just saying, is all.

  • Lidge has allowed at least one run in 29 of 63 (46%) appearances.
  • He’s allowed two or more runs in 15 (24%).
  • He’s allowed multiple hits in 20 (32%).
  • He’s walked at least one batter in 26 (41%).
  • He’s dead last in WXRL and it’s not particularly close. He’s #723 of 723. Lidge has a WXRL of -2.562. #722, Toronto’s Brian Wolfe, has a WXRL of -1.371. Yeah, Lidge has been twice as bad as the second-worst reliever in Major League Baseball.

What more does Lidge have to do to justify a demotion?

Tarp Memories

The Phillies have a lot to look forward to with a 95+ win season and a division title within arm’s reach. A World Series championship repeat could be in order. Just about everybody and their mother is having a great season, except for dear old Brad Lidge (and a slow start from Jimmy Rollins). However, as I watch the Florida Marlins grounds crew struggle putting the tarp on the field at Land Shark Stadium, I can’t help but look back.

The image to your right (courtesy Deadspin) depicts your Philadelphia Phillies helping out the Colorado Rockies grounds crew put the tarp on the infield at Coors Field back on July 6, 2007. Looking back, it was probably the best pseudo-baseball memory of the Phillies I can think of. While most people would have slunk back to the clubhouse for a few rounds of cards, the Phillies noticed the troublesome winds in Colorado were giving the Rockies grounds crew heaps of trouble. As you may expect, the tarp needs to be put on the field as soon as possible, otherwise it creates a lot more work on the back end when the tarp is lifted and the field is tended back to playable conditions. The Phillies personnel helped the grounds crew work through the troublesome weather conditions.

They did not stop a robber who was stealing an old lady’s purse, nor did they save two orphans and their kittens from a burning building, but they did show a rare act of human kindness from people we normally would not expect let alone require it from. In the world of American sports, we are used to the ingrates like Milton Bradley, Terrell Owens, and Michael Vick. Despite the underwhelming coverage of the good in the media, the ingrates are outnumbered by the kind-hearted, and such was especially the case that day.

In a cruel twist of fate, the Phillies were quickly dispatched by the Colorado Rockies in the NLDS that year, losing all three games. But it all worked out for the good guys when they won the World Series last year. Maybe nice guys don’t always finish last.

Looking back on that, I have realized that I don’t just love this Philadelphia Phillies team because they’re great baseball players who have a penchant for winning lots of “important” baseball games. I’m fanatical about the Phillies because they — for the most part — are made up of some of the nicest guys in the game. I can’t vouch that I’d feel this way if they were instead going through a Kansas City Royals run of abysmal failure, but it would soften the blow somewhat.

I find the tarp memories significant because I think I’ll be recalling them nearly as frequently as Chase Utley’s WFC exclamation, the NL East-clinching double play last year, Harry the K singing “High Hopes”, and Charlie Manuel yelling, “This is for Philadelphia!”