Why I’m Rooting for Brett

Throughout 2009, I prepared myself for a rather unimportant event: Brett Myers’ leap into free agency. Many thought he was finished with the Phillies when he frayed his labrum in May. He, of course, worked his tail off to get back into a Phillies uniform and made a concerted effort to contribute to the team in a limited role out of the bullpen during the month of September. When he was left off of the NLCS roster several months ago, I recollected my favorite Myers moments.

Brett MyersMyers is part of a lot of my favorite Phillies moments of the decade. Perhaps the oddest is when he took that line drive off of his head in Chicago, stayed in and nearly out-dueled Mark Prior in a 1-0 game. Then you have those at-bats in the 2008 NLDS and NLCS against C.C. Sabathia and Chad Billingsley. That knee-buckling curve that clinched the division on the last day of the regular season in 2007.

Myers is easy to hate, but he may have been the Phillies’ Forrest Gump. He wasn’t exactly the catalyst for it all, but he found himself involved in many different ways. Now that he’s in a Houston Astros uniform, he still has everybody talking with his proclamation that he’d like to “stick it” to the Phillies.

I don’t have a problem with what Myers said. In fact, I like it and we should expect no less from a player as competitive as him. And I’ll be honest: I’ll be rooting for the guy when he’s not pitching against the Phillies.

As mentioned above, Myers is easy to hate: he hit his wife, he’s outspoken and a bit arrogant, and he just looks like someone that deserves our loathing. And at that rate, Myers and I likely have nothing in common. I’m pretty sure that if we hung out, we’d be bored with each other*. So I don’t really have a solid investment in Myers in hoping for his future success, but hear me out.

Does Myers like reading books and playing Rock Band? I don’t like guns and beef jerky. I’m pretty sure Match.com would not pair us.

On the domestic abuse incident: First of all, his wife has forgiven him and has stayed with him through it all. Secondly, he showed genuine remorse and went to marriage counseling to try to resolve his issues. I figure that if his wife can forgive him, so can I. And I’m not one to judge. I refuse to hold this — as far as we know, an isolated incident — over his head in a holier-than-thou fashion as I am not holier than Brett Myers or anyone for that matter. I have my own skeletons in my closet (as Barry Bonds would say) as does everyone else passing judgment.

As baseball’s steroid “issue” shows, baseball fans tend to be very judgmental. If we could, we would burn Bonds and Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro at the stake like Salem witches. We would tar and feather them. For what? Because they (in Bonds’ case allegedly) put chemicals in their body to alter performance. Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill!

I refuse to pass judgment on Myers as long as that incident is isolated. That’s not meant to justify it — all violence is reprehensible whether against a man or woman — but simply to do what many people have trouble doing in this supposedly Christian nation: I am forgiving Brett Myers, as his wife has.

Work Ethic: For all the criticism Myers receives, one thing is for sure: he has quite a work ethic. He has worked his tail off to return to the baseball diamond not once but twice ahead of schedule. Last season, Myers could have taken it easy and played it safe, but he wanted to help ensure the Phillies’ success in September.

He last pitched on May 27 and resumed pitching on September 5. That’s three months and nine days. Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus called the torn labrum — which landed Myers on the disabled list — “baseball’s most fearsome injury” back in 2004. He noted:

Of the 36 major-league hurlers diagnosed with labrum tears in the last five years, only midlevel reliever Rocky Biddle has returned to his previous level.

Of course, as time has progressed we have learned more about the injury and it’s likely that Myers had much better medical treatment than his predecessors. But to recover from such a devastating injury in three months and nine days? Credit that to his incredible work ethic.

Teammate: Few pitchers have the ability much less the willingness to convert from a starting pitcher to a reliever. John Smoltz, of course, comes to mind as does the great Dennis Eckersley. Myers did exactly that for the Phillies in 2007 and became a crucial factor in the Phillies breaking their playoff drought.

I don’t think we baseball fans give enough credit to players willing to switch positions, especially from a position at which they have excelled for a long period of time. Even if his salary stayed constant, I don’t think a CPA would enjoy sorting mail for the entire office, even if it would help the company out.

Myers had logged exactly one save in his Minor League career and zero prior to 2007. In the two seasons prior as a starter, he had compiled ERA’s of 3.72 and 3.91, certainly decent numbers for a middle-of-the-rotation starter. Myers went from a position of comfort to a position of uncertainty to help the team out. There was no guarantee that Myers would have been as successful as he was, and it was more likely than not that Myers would fail, potentially costing himself millions of dollars. He did it anyway.

Watching Myers pitch over the past couple years, admittedly, has been tough. He gave up way too many preventable home runs for my liking and he seemed to defeat himself when dealing with adversity on the mound. He certainly was not productive enough to earn himself the clemency I am awarding him, and he wasn’t exactly a Good Samaritan either. Still, I appreciate what he did in his time as a Phillie and I’ll be rooting for him in Houston.

The Phillies and Sabermetrics

A friend of mine works at a hot dog slash burger joint in Chester, PA. I stopped by one day to taste-test the goods, and he recommended a special sauce they have. So of course I tried it and liked it. When I caught up with him later, I asked him what was in that sauce.

“I have no idea,” he said.

Interesting that the business does not even let its employees know what is in the sauce, like the recipes for KFC or Coca Cola.

Why do I bring that up? Apparently, the Phillies don’t utilize statistics in player evaluation. From Doug Miller on MLB.com:

“I think defensive statistics are the most unpredictable stats there are,” says Charley Kerfeld, a former big league reliever who now serves as a special assistant to Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr.

“And since I’ve been here, we don’t have an in-house stats guy and I kind of feel we never will. We’re not a statistics-driven organization by any means.

“I’m not against statistics. Everybody has their own way of doing things. But the Phillies believe in what our scouts see and what our eyes tell us and what our people tell us.”

I’m skeptical as to Kerfeld’s honesty here, though he is certainly correct about the uncertainty of defensive metrics. For the same reasons that Coke and KFC and my friend’s burger joint don’t want us to know their secret ingredients, neither do the Phillies want everyone to know their thought processes in player evaluation. Such publicity would adversely affect them particularly in trades and drafting.

For instance, imagine Franklin Gutierrez — the slick-fielding center fielder for the Seattle Mariners — is on the trade market and the Phillies and the Boston Red Sox are the finalists in the sweepstakes. If the Red Sox know that the Phillies are proponents of defensive metrics, then they know that the Phillies may be willing to get into a bidding war for Gut’s services. So, the Red Sox wouldn’t jump out with an offer; instead, they would wait for the Phillies to do so.

Similarly, imagine the Phillies are trying to trade Jimmy Rollins. He is known more for his glove than his bat (sans 2007). The Phillies, by publicizing their use of defensive statistics, may alienate potential suitors because they realize that the Phillies could be valuing Rollins more highly than other teams and thus would not be willing to submit an offer or engage in a bidding war.

Simply put, teams do not want anyone to have access to their thought processes. If anything, Kerfeld is likely running a misdirection. That’s because the Phillies have consistently been among baseball’s elite defensive squads going back to 2002.

Note that the UZR data on FanGraphs only goes back to 2002.

It’s highly unlikely that the Phillies lucked their way into teams as consistently elite as their defensive squads have been. That’s not to say that, secretly, Phillies officials are poring over UZR and plus-minus data. Instead, the Phillies likely use a little of everything to various degrees. They probably do consider the word of scouts highest, then video scouting, and various sets of defensive data whether it’s UZR, +/-, PMR, or their own brand.

Another Sabermetric principle is that walks have value. The Phillies, since 2002:

From 2002-07, the Phillies were either first or second in the NL in drawing walks. They can thank Bobby Abreu for that, of course. But again, it’s highly unlikely they just happened to find walk-prone hitters like Abreu, Pat Burrell, and Ryan Howard on the team.

I’ll conclude this with perhaps the most damning bit of evidence that the Phillies are Sabermetrically-inclined: base running.

According to EQBRR on Baseball Prospectus, the Phillies ranked first in all of baseball in 2006 and ’07 (13.3 each), second in ’08 (13.4), and sixth in ’09 (0.5). Last season aside — likely caused by Jimmy Rollins’ down year which cut his base running opportunities significantly — the Phillies have been not only elite but once again consistently elite. It’s one thing to have a fluke season here and there but the Phillies are incredibly consistent.

Sabermetric studies have shown us that the “break-even” point in stolen base success rate is close to 75%. The Phillies’ success rate on the base paths will astound you:

  • 2004: 79%
  • 2005: 81%
  • 2006: 79%
  • 2007: 88%
  • 2008: 84%
  • 2009: 81%

Once again, not just elite, but consistently elite.

Of course we don’t know for sure, but I’d be shocked if the Phillies weren’t heavy proponents of Sabermetrics. They show all of the symptoms. You’ll know for sure if you ever see Amaro sporting a pocket protector or using a slide rule.

BDD: With Chapman, Reds Can Hope

At Baseball Daily Digest, I suggest the Reds have reason for optimism in the coming years thanks to a young core of talent.

Consider the Philadelphia Phillies when thinking of what the Reds’ future may hold. The Phillies, while a bit more successful than the Reds prior to their 2007-09 properity, built up a lot of hope in their Minor League system. They drafted Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Michael Bourn, Gavin Floyd, and Cole Hamels, most of whom eventually accentuated the likes of Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell for years.

The talent lived up to the hype: Utley turned into the best second baseman in baseball, Howard became one of the game’s premier sluggers, Hamels dazzled in the 2008 post-season; and the Phillies otherwise turned their prospects into talent elsewhere (such as trading Bourn to acquire closer Brad Lidge, who had a perfect season in ‘08).

BDD: The Insignificant Hall of Fame

At Baseball Daily Digest, I lay out my reasoning for not caring about the Hall of Fame.

I can’t imagine why a Hall of Fame induction would change anybody’s opinion about anything. Was Van Halen any less of an incredibly awesome rock band before their 2007 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Did you look at their discography and think to yourself, “They were good… but not ZZ Top good”?

Scott Eyre Retires

Todd Zolecki of MLB.com reports the sad news:

Eyre, 37, will not be playing baseball this summer. He said in a telephone interview Thursday with MLB.com that he is retiring after 13 seasons in the Majors. He finished his career 28-30 with a 4.23 ERA in 617 appearances with the Chicago White Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs and Phillies.

I was rooting for the Phillies to reach an agreement with him considering he fit their needs for a LOOGY specifically. Instead, we’ll reflect on the 1.3 great seasons Eyre spent in a Phillies uniform, and on a 13-year career that really took off in 2005.

For the Phillies, Eyre put up a 1.88 ERA in 14 innings in 2008 and 1.50 in 30 innings last year. Over his career, he has held lefties to an OPS nearly 100 points lower than that of righties. Aside from his pitching prowess, Eyre appeared to be a great teammate well. He gushed about the Phillies’ clubhouse many times on his blog and there’s no doubt he was a factor in that.

Fortunately for Eyre, he gets to retire with a World Series ring earned in ’08 with the Phils. He came so close in ’02 with the San Francisco Giants when they lost to the Anaheim Angels in seven games.

Zolecki has Eyre’s upcoming post-baseball plans:

He is loading the family into an RV and heading West.

“We’re just going to drive through Utah, Oregon, Yosemite, Idaho,” Eyre said. “We don’t have anything planned. It’s my wife, my two kids and four dogs in an RV.”

Happy trails!

Roster Management

Aside from Cliff Lee, it seems that some of the Phillies from 2009 we grew to love have switched addresses in the stealth of night. If you’re like me, you like to keep tabs on the players even after they turn in their red pinstriped uniform. Here’s a list of the Phillies in new homes:

Traded

  • LHP Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners
  • Prospects RHP Kyle Drabek, OF Michael Taylor, and C Travis D’Arnaud to the Toronto Blue Jays (Taylor was then traded by the Jays to the Oakland Athletics for 3B Brett Wallace)

Signed as Free Agents

  • IF Eric Bruntlett to the Washington Nationals: Minor League contract
  • RHP Clay Condrey to the Minnesota Twins
  • C Chris Coste to the New York Mets: one year, $0.65M
  • 3B Pedro Feliz to the Houston Astros: one year, $4.5M
  • RHP Rodrigo Lopez to the Arizona Diamondbacks: Minor League contract
  • LHP Jack Taschner to the Pittsburgh Pirates: Minor League contract

Non-Roster Invitees

  • C Paul Hoover
  • IF Andy Tracy

Still Free Agents

  • C Paul Bako
  • 1B/DH/PH Matt Stairs
  • IF Miguel Cairo
  • RHP Chan Ho Park
  • RHP Brett Myers
  • LHP Scott Eyre
  • RHP Tyler Walker
  • RHP Pedro Martinez

And the new guys… well, at least most of them are new anyway.

Traded

  • RHP Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays (signed to three-year, $60M extension with $20M 2014 option)
  • Prospects RHP Phillippe Aumont, OF Tyson Gillies, and RHP Juan (J.C.) Ramirez from the Seattle Mariners

Re-Signed

  • RHP Chad Durbin: one year, $1.635M

Arbitration Eligible

  • RHP Joe Blanton
  • C Carlos Ruiz
  • OF Shane Victorino

Signed as Free Agents

  • RHP Danys Baez: two years, $5.25M (2008 team: Baltimore Orioles)
  • 1B/OF Tagg Bozied: Minor League contract (2008 organization: Pittsburgh Pirates)
  • IF Juan Castro: one year, $0.75M with 2011 club option (2008 team: Los Angeles Dodgers)
  • IF/PH Ross Gload: two years, $2.6M (2008 team: Florida Marlins)
  • 3B Placido Polanco: three years, $18M plus 2013 mutual option (2008 team: Detroit Tigers)
  • C Brian Schneider: two years, $2.75M (2008 team: New York Mets)
  • RHP Ryan Vogelsong: Minor League contract

Rule 5 Draft

  • RHP David Herndon

Non-Roster Invitees

  • OF Chris Duffy
  • IF Cody Ransom
  • IF Wilson Valdez
  • LHP Bill White
  • OF Dewayne Wise

The Phillies are still looking to add a #5 starter and at least one reliever before the regular season starts. GM Ruben Amaro stated that veteran starter Jamie Moyer would be unlikely to go at the start of the regular season, so the Phillies are searching for a suitable fill-in. Along with the Moyer announcement, Amaro also said that it would be unlikely that left-hander Scott Eyre and right-hander Chan Ho Park pitch for the Phillies in 2010. Southpaw J.C. Romero and righty closer Brad Lidge, like Moyer, may not be ready for the start of the regular season either.

At the moment, the Phillies can simply patch those minor holes internally. Right-handed sinkerballer Kyle Kendrick is the favorite to usurp Moyer’s spot in the rotation at the moment, and Antonio Bastardo, Scott Mathieson, and Sergio Escalona could take the open seats in the bullpen. Of course, with such youth comes great uncertainty and the Phillies certainly would like to reduce the amount of question marks in a bullpen plagued by them throughout the 2009 season.

David Murphy Tweeted, “Phils have touched base with agents for [Chien-Ming] Wang and [Ben] Sheets”. Either would be a risky, yet potentially rewarding signing assuming the type of incentive-laden contract that oft-injured veteran pitchers usually get. Wang is recovering from shoulder surgery and Sheets had a torn flexor tendon in his throwing elbow.

Pedro Martinez is still a free agent. However, Martinez is looking for more money than the Phillies have available and there is still no reason to assume that he can still handle making 30-plus starts in a season.

Aside from the aforementioned, Drew Carpenter and recent free agent signee Ryan Vogelsong will at least get an audition for the #5 spot. And aside from those two, the Phillies’ last resort will be the dregs of the free agent pool where the likes of Tim Redding, Eric Milton, and Livan Hernandez reside.

As for relievers, of the thirteen free agent lefties still available (excluding Eyre), only three of them are under the age of 35: Horacio Ramirez (30), Will Ohman (31), and Joe Beimel (32). Only Beimel, of the thirteen lefties, is coming off of any kind of a decent 2009 — he 3.58 ERA in over 55 innings between the Washington Nationals and Colorado Rockies. He’s had a sub-4 ERA in each of the past four seasons since he’s become an everyday reliever.

Per FanGraphs, Beimel has averaged 0.5 WAR per season since 2006, which is worth about $2.2M in free agent dollars, which matches up with his $2M salary in each of the past two seasons. Despite the decent investment it appears to be, that may be cutting it much too close to the Phillies’ self-imposed $140M payroll limit.

The results of the upcoming arbitration hearings for Joe Blanton, Carlos Ruiz, and Shane Victorino will tell us exactly how flexible the Phillies can be in rounding out the last few spots on the roster. Don’t worry if the Phillies decide to resort to internal options, as these are not roster spots crucial to the team’s success.

BDD: Red Sox, Beltre Can Thank Phillies

At Baseball Daily Digest, I explain why both the Boston Red Sox and recent signee Adrian Beltre can thank the Phillies for the pact:

Due to the Phillies quickly signing Polanco to a below-market deal (and Seattle’s signing of Chone Figgins coming shortly thereafter), the price tag on Beltre was effectively lowered and his leverage in negotiations was significantly weakened. Beltre and his agent couldn’t threaten to sign elsewhere for more money, which allowed the Sox to wait the market out in this game of chicken.

The LOOGY Situation

Third baseman. Check.

Ace pitcher signed to long-term deal. Check.

Versatile bench. Check.

Bullpen depth… pending.

The Phillies and right-handed relief pitcher Danys Baez recently agreed to a two-year deal, leaving the team with two bullpen spots to fill. Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin, and J.C. Romero have their slots already, but both Lidge and Romero have had elbow surgery and will be handled delicately so it’s possible that the Phillies will have to find as many as four worthy candidates.

Internally, the Phillies can round out the last two to four spots with: Antonio Bastardo (L), Sergio Escalona (L), Scott Mathieson (R), and Mike Zagurski (L). Of course, there’s always free agent Scott Eyre who may still be re-signed.

It looks as if the Phillies have a lot of depth from the left side, so they have some decisions to make. Obviously, re-signing Eyre would be ideal as he is a proven commodity as a left-handed reliever while the others have minimal Major League experience.

Antonio Bastardo

Bastardo made his Major League debut in his fourth season of professional baseball. With the Phillies’ starting rotation in a quandary, Bastardo was called upon to make a spot start against the San Diego Padres on June 2. He allowed only one run in six innings, and backed it up his next time out by holding the Los Angeles Dodgers to two runs in five innings.

However, as inter-league play began, Bastardo’s beginner’s luck began to fade. In three starts against the Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, and Tampa Bay Rays, he allowed 14 earned runs in under 12 innings, which resulted in a demotion.

In his short time with the Phillies, opposing lefties actually hit him better than right-handers, .846 to .827 in OPS. However, lefties struck out more (at about twice the rate of righties) and enjoyed a very high .409 BABIP, signaling that Bastardo may be more effective against them than we think.

Bastardo’s fastball/slider/change-up arsenal is best-suited for him in a LOOGY (left-handed, one out guy) role.

Sergio Escalona

Escalona made his MLB debut in mid-May and spent the rest of the season being juggled from the Majors to the Minors. Overall, he was effective despite the 4.61 ERA — he only allowed runs in three of his 14 appearances.

In his brief MLB experience, he has succeeded about equally against lefties and righties a trend that continued from the Minors. With the Phillies, opposing lefties had a suppressed BABIP (.231) and he strikes out righties about twice as frequently.

He throws four pitches, three of which benefited him last year: his fastball, curve ball, and slider. His change-up, a pitch that would help him out in a left-on-left match-up, was his only subpar pitch last season. At present, Escalona would be a better fit in a mop-up role as opposed to being called on to get out a tough left-handed hitter.

Mike Zagurski

Zagurski missed all of the 2008 season with a hamstring injury, and battled elbow problems early in ’09. Despite the health issues, Zagurski was effective last year in AA Reading, posting a 3.57 ERA.

Throughout his Minor League career, he has limited lefties and righties about equally but has been hampered by the lefties’ .383 BABIP. In his brief stint with the Phillies in ’07, Zagurski limited lefties to a .502 OPS and didn’t allow any home runs to them.

Like Bastardo, Zagurski utilizes fastball/slider/change-up, a good selection of pitches to have against same-handed batters.

Scott Eyre

Since being acquired from the Chicago Cubs in 2008, Eyre has been a godsend in the Phillies’ bullpen. In his 14+ innings in ’08, he posted a 1.88 ERA, and a 1.50 in 30 innings last season. Over his lengthy Major League career, he has held lefties to an OPS nearly 100 points under that of right-handers, .812 to .717.

Other than Eyre, there aren’t too many appealing left-handed options on the free agent market. Will Ohman and Joe Beimel are the only two who could draw any kind of appeal, and they don’t compare any more favorably to the Phillies’ internal options considering cost.

Ruben Amaro Jr. has talked about the team’s payroll limit of about $140 million throughout this off-season. The team is at $118 million currently with the arbitration cases of Joe Blanton, Shane Victorino, and Chad Durbin pending. With salary assumptions of $6 million, $4.5 million, and $2 million respectively, that would put the Phillies over $130 million. Then there’s the built-in salaries of non-arbitration-eligible players: J.A. Happ, Carlos Ruiz, Kyle Kendrick, Ben Francisco, and any of the other young players the Phillies will use throughout the season.

All totaled, the Phillies may, generously, have $5 million of wiggle room relative to the $140 million cap. There are available funds, a pressing need, and a cure for the need in Eyre, but the Phillies don’t want to hamstring themselves from having the flexibility to make in-season maneuvers that could benefit the team.

Previously, Eyre has gushed about the Phillies organization:

I just want to say this is the most fun group of guys I’ve played with during 11 years in the big leagues.

[...]this group of guys is making it very hard for me to say, “Hey, I’m going to go home and retire.”

The Phillies would love to have Eyre back, but the bullpen is not in dire straits if he chooses to retire instead. Both Bastardo and Zagurski are serviceable second options and they can round out the seventh spot with Mathieson, Escalona, or someone else from within. In the meantime, the Phillies would simply need to hope J.C. Romero stays in good health.

With spring training a couple months away, the Phillies have already done the heavy lifting. The team’s brass will have two months to mull over their bullpen options and a month to evaluate their players in Florida before handing out their roses a la The Bachelor.

New Decade, New Look

Crashburn Alley is due for a WordPress upgrade, so if the blog starts looking funny, you’ll know why. Do not be alarmed, it is only me going in way over my head.

See you on the other side!

UPDATE: Working on a new theme at the moment, not 100% sure if I’ll stick with it. In the process, I somehow deleted my entire blogroll, so if you don’t see yourself on the new edition, leave a comment here, send me an e-mail, or mention this in a Tweet and you’ll be on there.

UPDATE #2: And the new theme is up. Let me know if you experience any issues and I’ll do my best to resolve them.

UPDATE #3 (Jan. 7, 2010): Went back to old reliable.