At Baseball Daily Digest, I examine the leadership of the recent Phillies and Mets teams and conclude there’s at least some relationship present.
[...] There’s no way to quantify the effect of leadership, but there’s something to be said for the culture in the Phillies organization that has developed under the reign of manager Charlie Manuel and GM’s Pat Gillick and Ruben Amaro.
Phillies players have not submitted to the iron fist of a dictator but to the invisible hand of democracy. Unlike former manager Larry Bowa, Manuel has rarely had to resort to clubhouse tirades and the ruining of post-game spreads. Instead, he has let the players do the talking and mostly, the silence has been deafening.
Andre Dawson was recently elected to the Hall of Fame, which in and of itself caused some controversy. Many felt that while he was a great hitter, he didn’t merit Hall of Fame inclusion not unlike Jim Rice. The other controversy that came about revolved around the logo on the cap that would adorn his head on his plaque — it will be of the Montreal Expos and not the Chicago Cubs.
It makes sense — after all, he spent 11 of his 17 seasons in Montreal. He won his Rookie of the Year award, three of his four Silver Sluggers, six of his eight Gold Gloves, and twice finished second in MVP balloting as an Expo. As a Chicago Cub, he won his only MVP award, but earned just one Silver Slugger and two Gold Gloves.
However, I am not writing this to opine or offer solutions on the matter. I bring it up as an example of a controversy that may once again arise at the end of Roy Halladay’s career.
Halladay has spent his last twelve seasons in Major League Baseball in Canada as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. He is now a Phillie until at least 2013 and most likely ’14 assuming his option is used. In all likelihood, barring a monumental failure of a stint in Philadelphia, Halladay will sign an extension towards the end of his current contract to stay in the City of Brotherly Love. That may extend his tenure in Philadelphia to 2016 when he would be 39 years old.
If he retires before his age 40 season and the Phillies have kept him, that will mean he’ll have spent twelve seasons in Toronto and seven in Philadelphia. Dawson spent eleven in Montreal, six in Chicago, and two each in Boston and Florida.
When he retires, Roy Halladay is close to being a lock for the Hall of Fame. He was and still is an anomaly, having notched 49 complete games in his career in an era in which bullpens are used more than ever. In the 2000’s, only 35 pitchers racked up at least five complete games in one season for a total of 52 pitcher-seasons. Roy Halladay owns four of those (8%). Furthermore, only eight pitchers in the 2000’s have tossed at least four shut-outs in a season; Halladay is one of them, accomplishing the feat last year.
Halladay’s career .661 winning percentage is 18th on the all-time leaderboard. By the time he retires, he could be in the 250 win club (which has 46 members) and the 3,000 strikeout club (15 members). His career ERA+ is 133, tied for 27th on the all-time list.
It is rational to assume that Roy Halladay will have a solid Hall of Fame case at the end of his career. That, of course, will bring up the speculation as to which hat Halladay will wear on his plaque. As a Blue Jay, he made the All-Star team six times and won a Cy Young and finished in the top-five on four other occasions (the last four years, actually).
He has, however, never reached the post-season. Not his fault, of course, but almost all Hall of Fame pitchers have some post-season success on their resumes. If Halladay helps the Phillies reach the post-season on multiple occasions and pitches well in his playoff appearances (winning a World Series would really help), and if he can make a few All-Star teams, and if he can earn some Cy Young votes (the hardware would, again, really help), then a legitimate case can be made that he should go into the Hall of Fame with a Phillies cap.
After an off-season filled with mostly serious analytical posts here at Crashburn Alley, we need some levity. Take your thinking caps off and relax for a bit. What I am going to attempt to do today is assign key Phillies players a theme song for 2010 based on songs in my iTunes library. For the sake of simplicity, the relationship is entirely based off of the song’s title.
I invite you to share, in the comments section below, your suggestions for theme songs.
Without further ado…
* * *
1B Ryan Howard
The Mars Volta, “Goliath”
The Phillies need Howard need to be the goliath out of the #4 spot in the lineup if they are to defend their throne as the National League’s most potent offense. Howard has hit no fewer than 45 home runs and driven in no fewer than 136 runs since getting regular playing time in 2006.
However, his production against left-handed pitching has been trending down each season and this weakness was exposed to the world by the New York Yankees in the World Series, holding the slugger to a .631 OPS in 25 at-bats. It’s bad news if teams finally catch on to this and abuse the mis-match.
2B Chase Utley
Dream Theater, “Constant Motion”
It seems like Utley is always in constant motion, whether he’s on the bases or in the infield with his trusty leather glove at second base where he has consistently been one of baseball’s best defenders.
Last year, Chase Utley stole 23 bases. That is a good number. In fact, it was a career high for the Philadelphia Phillies’ All-Star second baseman. Even more remarkable was that Utley was not caught stealing once all season.
Since caught stealing statistics were first consistently recorded in the National League in 1951, there have been three major leaguers who have stolen at least 20 bases in a season without being caught once. Kevin McReynolds did it in 1988 with the New York Mets, and Paul Molitor matched the feat in 1994 with the Toronto Blue Jays.
3B Placido Polanco
Soundgarden, “Never the Machine Forever”
Aside from a pressing need for a better third baseman than Pedro Feliz, one of the reasons the Phillies signed Placido Polanco is his bat control. He has a reputation for striking out very rarely, putting the ball in play and often in a way that advances base runners. However, his OBP last year fell nearly 20 points below his career average. Additionally, he set a career low GB% and a career high FB%, contributing to a .295 BABIP that is — surprise — twenty points below his career average.
As is the question with Jimmy Rollins, do these signs point to the beginning of the end of a fantastic career, or is it a simple blip on the radar screen? Polanco can’t be a machine forever.
SS Jimmy Rollins
Silversun Pickups, “Growing Old Is Getting Old”
Was his sub-par season — both at the plate and in the field — an aberration, or is it the first step towards the end of Jimmy Rollins’ career? It seems that his problem last year was due to hitting too many fly balls, nullifying his speed. From 2008 to ’09, he had an increase of 10.5% in fly balls hit. As a result, his BABIP hit a career low .253 compared to his career average of .295. If Rollins can get back to getting on base at an above-average rate, then he can also get back to putting his speed to good use. Should Rollins bounce back, the Phillies may have one of the most dangerous 1-2 punches in baseball in Rollins and Polanco.
LF Raul Ibanez
From the start of the season until June 17, Raul was indestructible, compiling a triple-slash line of .312/.371/.656 along with 22 HR and 59 RBI in 280 plate appearances. When he returned on July 11, he was a different player. In the 285 plate appearances between his return and the end of the season, he put up a triple-slash line of .232/.323/.448 with 12 HR and 34 RBI.
I’m pretty sure the 2010 Raul wants to call upon the indestructible Raul from the first half of last season.
CF Shane Victorino
Coheed and Cambria, “The Running Free”
After attempting 41 and 47 stolen bases and successfully stealing 37 and 36 in 2007 and ’08 respectively, Shane Victorino dropped to merely 25 bags in 33 attempts last season. It wasn’t because he was getting on base less — his on-base percentage improved by .006; he was likely being more tentative on the base paths. The Shane we all know and love runs free on the bases.
RF Jayson Werth
Chevelle, “To Return”
Jayson Werth is a free agent after the 2010 season comes to a close, and most of us have come to grips with the fact that he likely will not return. He has become a superstar, a five-tool player and he will get paid like one. However, all of us will have hope that Werth will want to return to the franchise that turned him into a superstar — the franchise that gave him a shot when no one else was willing.
SP Roy Halladay
Boston, “More Than A Feeling”
This doesn’t really need an explanation. If Phillies fans aren’t in love with Roy Halladay when they see him pitch in spring training, they will when they see him on Opening Day against the Washington Nationals. And yes, that will be much, much more than a feeling.
SP Cole Hamels
A Perfect Circle, “Weak and Powerless”
Hamels has, for several years, been considered the future of the Phillies. He dominated Minor League hitters, then came up to the Majors and left opposing hitters befuddled from 2006-08. He hit a rough spot last year and everybody attributed that to character flaws and off-the-field activityinstead of an abnormally high BABIP (.325). Hamels is supposedly weak and powerless now, but he’ll be out to prove his detractors wrong in 2010.
SP Jamie Moyer
Audioslave, “Your Time Has Come”
Jamie’s time has come. He’s 47 years old and on the mend from several off-season surgeries. We all know he, like Brett Favre, can play forever and they’re “like kids out there”. But unlike Favre, the jury’s out on whether or not Moyer can still play at a high level. If last year — 4.94 ERA in 25 starts — is any indication, the answer is no.
SP J.A. Happ
Silversun Pickups, “There’s No Secrets This Year”
As we’ve gone over countless times here on the Interwebs, J.A. Happ is expected to regress in large part due to that low BABIP of his in 2009. That may not be his only contributor to a downfall in 2010, however.
He threw a fastball 85% of the time last season: 70% four-seam and 15% cut. Happ will need to utilize off-speed pitches (change-up and/or a curve ball) more often going forward so that hitters are kept honest and can’t sit on his fastball. If he doesn’t, there will be no secrets and he’ll be victimized on a more frequent basis.
CL Brad Lidge
Aesop Rock, “None Shall Pass”
In 2008, “None Shall Pass” was his motto, as he never allowed a meaningful base runner to cross home plate. He went perfect in save opportunities not just in the regular season but in the post-season as well. All told, he was asked to close the door 48 times and he closed the door 48 times.
2009 was a different story. In fact, it was about the exact opposite of his ’08 campaign — he was allowing meaningful base runners to score on a nightly basis it seemed. 2009 was a nightmare of a season for him any way you slice it — a period of time Lidge would like to completely erase from his mind going into a brand new season.
RP Ryan Madson
Between the Buried and Me, “The Primer”
Primer is a coating used to prepare your walls for painting. According to Wikipedia, primer “ensures better adhesion of paint to the surface, increases paint durability, and provides additional protection”.
Similarly, Ryan Madson will be Brad Lidge’s set-up guy. If he is able to be the dominant eighth-inning reliever that had a 3.55 K:BB ratio last year, the back of the Phillies’ bullpen is on its way to looking like a Rembrandt.
I consider this a great opportunity for the BBWAA to fix what’s wrong — a chance for them to win back the disenfranchised, a group to which I belong. Okay, that’s a little self-centered, let me put it this way: it’s a great opportunity for the BBWAA to fix what’s wrong. Period. The case of Frank Thomas highlights a lot of the bad logic some of the writers have used and will use.
So a mini-argument broke out on Twitter today. No one got hurt, fortunately, but feelings may have been bruised. It all started when radio host Kent Covington suggested that the starting rotation in Atlanta is better than the one in Philadelphia, which is not an outrageous claim in and of itself. However, he suggested that the Phillies’ duo of Roy Halladay and J.A. Happ is only marginally better than the Braves’ duo of Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson.
As a proclaimed radio host, I’m sure his intention was just to ruffle some feathers. He did so successfully, as his Twitter feed is mostly a litany of responses to outraged Tweeters. I don’t write this to call him out, however. It was a thought-provoking claim and it broke up the monotony of the baseball-less winter.
Still, I was curious. Is the Braves’ rotation better than that of the Phillies? Which rotation in the NL East is best? To answer these questions, I took the PECOTA projections from Baseball Prospectus (using WARP) and each team’s starting five according to the playing time projections from Heater Magazine. Here’s what I found:
PECOTA thinks the Phillies’ rotation is tops, about 1.5 WARP better than the Braves’ five. Additionally, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels are the top two pitchers in the NL East according to the projections.
A nifty chart for you visual learners (click to enlarge):
Note: Pitchers are ordered by WARP, not by probable spot in rotation.
Of course, these are just projections and the baseball season will never pan out exactly as the projections say they will.
Kent lost me when he attempted to put Jair Jurrjens on the same pedestal as Roy Halladay. In several Tweets, he said:
Didn’t forget a/b Halladay. Jurrjens posted 2.60 just ERA. Halladay has never posted an ERA that low in a full season.
Jurrjens has yet to prove he can be quite the innings horse that Halladay is, but my point is, Halladay isn’t 1995-Maddux.
Jurrjens had better ERA, opposing average, & fewer HR’s. Now then, I agree that Halladay had a tougher road in the AL East…
…& I’m not even saying that Jurrjens is better than Halladay. But when you look at numbers, it’s hard to make a credible…
argument that Hallday’s in a completely different class. The facts just don’t support that claim.
The only reason I highlight this is to stress the use of BABIP in analyzing pitchers. Frequent readers of this blog are likely tired of me harping on this, but it is so important. BABIP does not correlate from year to year. When that BABIP significantly deviates from .300 (the league average), barring an obvious explanation, we attribute that season to luck and label the season an outlier. Both Hamels’ 2008 and ’09 seasons were outliers thanks to the respective .270 and .325 BABIP.
Jurrjens last year had a .273 BABIP, which is nearly as low as Hamels’ in ’08. What makes it worse for him is that he didn’t have the favorable strikeout and walk rates (and subsequent K:BB ratio). Thanks to the depressed BABIP, Jurrjens was also able to strand an abnormal amount of runners — nearly 80% to be specific.
Jurrjens struck out a meager 6.36 and walked 3.14 per nine innings, a K:BB ratio of just over 2:1. It’s decent, but nothing awe-inspiring.
Halladay, meanwhile, struck out 7.83 and walked 1.32 per nine innings last year, which gave him a K:BB ratio of nearly 6:1. He had a BABIP of .313. As noted here, Halladay has compiled his eye-popping numbers in the most offensively-potent division in the Majors: the AL East. It is very reasonable to expect his numbers to improve given the weaker level of competition in the NL East.
In no universe, except the Bizarro universe, is Jurrjens comparable to Halladay. PECOTA puts Jurrjens at about 3 WARP in 2010; I will bet the under on that. Halladay is at about 4.5 WARP; I’ll take the over. And I’m not just being fannish — I’m the guy calling for a significant regression for J.A. Happ for reasons along the same lines as Jurrjens.
Pitchers who are at least one standard deviation above average in strikeouts enjoy the benefit of even lower BABIPs than moderately high strikeout pitchers. These extreme power pitchers have overall BABIP of about .285, and this drop in BABIP is consistent among all four count types.
If I’m a Braves fan, I’m putting my eggs the basket of Tommy Hanson; not Jair Jurrjens. Anything that Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, and Kenshin Kawakami give is dessert.
There was something askew with him the whole season. He spent too much time in the off-season posing for magazines, appearing on television shows and lending his persona in advertisements. He got cocky; he wasn’t focused; he was immature; he lacked the mental strength to go through another 162-game grind after reaching the pinnacle of baseball. Right?
Of course, as we found out, Cole’s poor 2009 was mostly due to poor luck on batted balls in play (BABIP), but the reputation still remains. Some fans and media types were suggesting Cole should have been packaged in a trade that brought Roy Halladay to Philadelphia and kept Cliff Lee.
Another Phillie has been making the rounds this off-season with his newfound fame: Shane Victorino.
Clearly, baseball isn’t the only thing on Shane Victorino’s mind. He’s been married, been to J-Roll’s wedding, gone to UFC and NBA games, and attended the Grammy Awards. This has “ugly 2010 season” written all over it!
If Shane does have a bad 2010 season, will the fans and media concoct crackpot theories explaining his freefall? Will we admonish him for having a life outside of baseball?
Of course, Shane is more likely to stay in line with his previous achievements as he improved his walk rate and cut his strikeout rate in ’09 while maintaining a steady BABIP, ISO, and wOBA. None of his plate discipline splits indicate a cause for concern. But in the event he does go into a tailspin and the crackpot theories start a-swirlin’, I’ll be right here linking back to this post.
It’s the cardinal rule in baseball: performances are inversely correlated with off-the-field fun. As off-the-field fun rises, baseball performance decreases. I think I read that somewhere in The Book.
On the rebound after hitting rock bottom, former Met and Phillie favorite Lenny Dykstra is back in the investing game. Jane Wells at CNBC has it:
I’m not sure where he’s living, but Lenny Dykstra is back in the investing game. The baseball great who filed for bankruptcy last year and lost both of his homes now has a Web site called Nails Investments.
“Each week we provide our subscribers with Key Option plays designed to make $1000 or more,” the Web site says. For fees ranging from $89 a month (The Single) to $899 a year (The Homerun), you can have access to Dykstra’s forecasts. The Homerun also gives you access to a monthly live conference call—”Speak with and Ask Lenny Questions”—and an autographed baseball.
For $20, he should work on a wad of tobacco for a half hour and broadcast it via web cam. Clients would start lining up around the block. That’s the Nails we all grew to love.
However, before you whip out the wallet, realize that Lenny has been accused of fraud by his two brothers and his mother, as well as his former employees. ESPN’s Mike Fish reported that Nails is the subject of “at least 24 legal actions”. All of them are outrageous and almost unbelievable until you realize that it’s Lenny Dykstra. Fish describes one of the stranger lawsuits:
He’s even been sued by a die-hard Mets fan who was the best man at his wedding 20-some years ago, though that New York investor claims there is no bad blood.
The post-baseball investor Nails is almost as compelling as the hustling outfielder of the mid-1980’s and ’90’s. It’s a slowly-developing train wreck.
This subject has been covered ad nauseam already, but I’ve had this written for a while now and I don’t want it to go to waste. Originally, it was going to be published in an e-book, but that fell through. As a result, you get to enjoy the content at no cost. If you frequent the blog, the concepts need no introduction, but I originally wrote it for a less Sabermetrically-inclined readership.
Cole’s Curious Conundrum
If you were conscious at any point from the second half of the 2009 regular season through the playoffs, surely you heard the incessant armchair psychoanalysis pertaining to Cole Hamels, the Phillies’ left-handed pitching phenom and MVP of the ’08 World Series. There was something askew with him the whole season. He spent too much time in the off-season posing for magazines, appearing on television shows and lending his persona in advertisements. He got cocky; he wasn’t focused; he was immature; he lacked the mental strength to go through another 162-game grind after reaching the pinnacle of baseball. Right?
The funny thing is, the Cole of ’09 wasn’t much different than the Cole of ’08 — if there is any difference at all. Sure, his ERA was nearly one and a quarter runs higher and his WHIP increased by .2, but aside from superficial statistics like those, Cole appeared to be surprisingly… himself.
I know that is hard to believe after watching him achieve mediocrity in his four starts during the ’09 playoffs, where he never once finished the sixth inning — something he did each and every time in his previous six post-season starts. However, the data analysis that will follow proves that the Cole you saw last year was essentially the same guy that took the bump two years ago. Hopefully, upon reading this article, your Hamels-related fears are assuaged.
Hamels won 10 games and lost 11, the very definition of mediocre. However, we all know by now the fallacy of the won-lost record. Along with the 21 decisions, Hamels had 11 no-decisions. In those ND’s, the team went 6-5 and Hamels allowed 26 runs in 66 and one-third innings (3.53 ERA). The bullpen, meanwhile, allowed 17 total runs (including unearned) in 14 innings (10.93 RA) in the no-decisions that resulted in Phillies losses.
Hamels’ ERA overall was ugly but it is reasonable to think that if the bullpen had been more helpful to him that he would not have been exposed to such harsh public criticism from the media and fans. While the expectations are different, Joe Blanton finished 2009 with 12 wins and an ERA above 4, yet fans were ambivalent about the prospect of trading him to create payroll space during the off-season.
When we analyze pitching data, we have to discriminate between what pitchers can and cannot control. On the statistic BABIP (batting average on balls in play), J.C. Bradbury of the blog Sabernomics writes, “While pitchers may have some ability to prevent hits on balls in play, the effect is small. And any effect a pitcher does have is reflected within DIPS metrics.” (DIPS stands for Defense-Independent Pitching Statistics, which removes the effect of the pitcher’s defense.) Essentially, if a pitcher isn’t any different from one year to the next, but has a significant change in his BABIP, we can attribute that difference to luck, for lack of a better word. This is the BABIP equation, taken from its Wikipedia entry:
Hamels in 2008 enjoyed a .270 BABIP, which is about thirty points under the general average of .300. He finished with a 3.08 ERA and arguably deserved consideration for back-end votes in National League Cy Young balloting. 2008 was very good for Hamels and really, really good for his Phillies.
Last season, that BABIP went way up to .325. For as far below the average it was in ’08, it was nearly equally as far above in ’09. Hamels finished with a 4.32 ERA. Instead of singing his praises, Phillies fans were pondering an appropriate ranking for him among the most disappointing Phillies of ’09. During the off-season, some fans even speculated that the Phillies should consider trading him as a means to both acquire Roy Halladay and keep Cliff Lee.
Is BABIP entirely to blame for Hamels’ failures last year? No, not entirely, but it looks like it had a huge impact on his fortune the past two seasons. That becomes more evident when we utilize ERA estimators such as FIP, xFIP, and tRA. Before the actual numbers, we need to get the equations out of the way. Don’t worry, you won’t need your calculator as FanGraphs.com does all the heavy lifting.
FIP = (HR*13+(BB+HBP-IBB)*3-K*2)/IP
xFIP = ((FB*.11)*13+(BB+HBP-IBB)*3-K*2)/IP
tRA (the FanGraphs version) “involves assigning run and out values to all events under a pitcher’s control and coming up with an expected number of runs allowed and outs generated in a defense and park neutral environment”.
When we account for what Hamels himself is directly accountable for, we see that he has been the same pitcher the past two seasons. In fact, according to FIP, he has been exactly the same. xFIP has him as very slightly worse last season while tRA has him as slightly better.
It’s not enough to simply point to a few ERA estimators and wrap up the analysis. Thanks to the plethora of statistics available at FanGraphs, we can actually look at the characteristics of Hamels from year-to-year. First, a look at his strikeout, walk, and home run rates per nine innings:
Nearly identical numbers. Moving onto his batted ball rates:
Hamels allowed the same amount of fly balls and “turned” 1% of his line drives into ground balls. Additionally, he allowed 0.5% fewer home runs per fly ball. If anything, opposing batters were performing worse against him. It should be noted that it is highly likely that the small changes in those rates are due to random fluctuation, not to anything inherent to Hamels’ skill.
Finally, a look at the characteristics of the batters Hamels faced:
The prefix O- stands for pitches outside of the strike zone and Z- stands for pitches inside the strike zone.
What this table tells us is that opposing batters were swinging less outside the zone 4% less from ’08 to ’09, yet made contact nearly 2.5% more. However, those same hitters swing nearly 2% more at pitches inside the strike zone yet made contact nearly 4% less. Overall, Hamels was in the strike zone 0.6% less in ’09 than in ’08.
The following graphics, using Pitch F/X data, will display each of Hamels’ three pitches from both an overhead and a side view from 2007-09. Click each image to view a larger version.
The above graphic simply combined the three previous graphics into one, so it is easier to spot the differences. Frankly, there’s not a whole lot of difference. There are subtle differences but that would be due to randomness as no one pitcher’s averages would be identical from one year to the next.
The graphic below shows the release point of each of Hamels’ pitches from 2007-09.
Again, not a lot of difference. If anything, Hamels was more consistent with his release points in 2009 than in ’08. Check out the messy release points beyond the positive 1.5 line on the horizontal axis in 2008.
We have looked at BABIP; ERA estimators; strikeout, walk, and home run rates; batted ball rates; and Pitch F/X data. The only significant difference found is his BABIP. It is conclusive that Hamels was just about the same pitcher in his amazing 2008 season as he was in his disappointing ’09.
Does this mean that Hamels will be as good in ’10 as he was in ’08? No, it does not. For as unlucky as Hamels was with BABIP last year, he was about as lucky in ’08. Hamels’ true talent level lies somewhere in between the two seasons. This is echoed by the projections on FanGraphs.com. Bill James puts Hamels on a 3.43 ERA in ’10; CHONE at 3.80; and the fans at 3.51. For comparison, the following pitchers had ERA’s in the 3.40-3.60 range last season: Jon Lester, Justin Verlander (who finished third in AL Cy Young voting), Ubaldo Jimenez, and Joel Pineiro.
Hamels is fine, folks! Don’t give up on him because of his 2009 showing.
The 2010 Twins are a new breed in a new stadium. According to Cot’s Contracts, the team will enter the season with a payroll exceeding $93 million, $22 million more than their previous payroll high of $71 million in 2007. During the off-season, instead of settling for cheap home-grown talent, VP-slash-GM Bill Smith signed veterans Orlando Hudson and Jim Thome to one-year deals, traded young center fielder Carlos Gomez to the Milwaukee Brewers for seasoned shortstop J.J. Hardy, and avoided arbitration with eight players.
These new acquisitions signal a continued focus on offense, a theme that has only been in vogue in the Twin Cities recently. From 2001-07 the team was league average or worse offensively but the recent emergence of Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, and Jason Kubel along with the steady production of Justin Morneau has allowed the Twins to slug their way to a win.