Cole Hamels is the Unluckiest Man on the Face of the Earth

A friend of mine has convinced both himself and me that he is the unluckiest person on the planet. He takes the poker game Texas Hold’em pretty seriously and has been playing at various card rooms including the casinos in Atlantic City. When I talk to him after a session, I usually get a report about how he was card dead for six hours or some fish donked off all his chips only to catch a two-outer on the river (translation: a bad player bet away all of his money due to poor decision-making only to be rewarded by catching one of the few cards in the deck that would help him).

I saw the misfortune in person when he and I, along with a mutual friend, made the 90-minute drive down to the Borgata in A.C. All three of us were seated at the same table by the floor manager and immediately dealt in. Both myself and my other friend folded our hands. The friend in question looks down at pocket aces, the strongest possible starting hand in Texas Hold’em. It’s been a few months, so I’m fuzzy on the exact details of the hand, but suffice it to say that a lot of money was put into the middle of the table before any of the community cards were dealt.

After the first three community cards were turned over (the flop), both my friend and his opponent’s chips were in the middle. My buddy flipped over his aces while the other guy revealed pocket jacks, a much inferior hand that will win only once every five times against pocket aces and only once every 20 times when the Jacks don’t connect with any of the first four community cards (flop and turn). The jacks, as expected, don’t hit one of the two remaining jacks to make a better hand on the flop or the turn. But, lo and behold, he hit his miracle two-outer on the river, the fifth and final community card. Mind you, this is the first hand my friend saw after sitting down at the table following a 90-minute drive. Suffice it to say, I then bought into his complaints of bad luck. (I realize that it isn’t even close to being on the list of worst bad beats of all-time; it’s just a case of confirmation bias.)

There is, however, one person on the planet whose bad luck could rival that of my friend.

Colbert Michael Hamels.

The 2008 World Series MVP, the lefty who had a 3.08 ERA during the ’08 regular season, is certifiably unlucky. It is said that Eskimos have a bunch of different words they use to say “snow” (which is not true); in Philadelphia, you need only one word for “unlucky” — Hamels. “Ah, poor John, he had no idea his house was built on top of an Indian burial ground. He got Hamels’d.”

Hamels’ unluckiness has, unfortunately, been perceived as a lack of or a decline in pitching skill. However, smart baseball people have found out what pitchers do and do not have control over on the baseball field. For habitual readers of the blog, you have seen me talk about this ad nauseam, but for those newer to Sabermetrics, let me briefly go over this again.

Pitchers have a lot of control over:

  • Their strikeout rate (K/9)
  • Their walk rate (BB/9)
  • Their ground ball and fly ball rates (GB% and FB%), including infield flies (IFFB%)

Pitchers have little control over:

  • The rate of batted balls are converted into hits and outs (BABIP)
  • The rate at which fly balls land beyond outfield fences (HR/FB%)

Let’s take a look at those stats. First, a chart of his strikeouts and walks per nine innings.

Note: K/9 and BB/9 averages are based on 2007-09 data from HEATER Magazine.

Essentially the same in 2008 and ’09. So far this year, he has had a large increase in strikeouts but also in walks. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is at its lowest in his Major League career (2.7; previous low was 3.0 in ’06). While the increase in walks is concerning, he is walking about as many batters as the average pitcher. The increase in strikeouts is encouraging since pitchers with high strikeouts tend to have a lower BABIP (see: Ryan, Nolan).

The following chart displays Hamels’ batted ball rates since 2006.

More encouraging signs: more ground balls and more infield flies. More ground balls means less fly balls which means less net home runs. More infield flies means weaker contact which means less hits (and less home runs).

As the above charts have shown, Hamels has either pitched similarly in 2009-10 as he did in ’08 or he has improved. Yet the results would not lead one to believe this. Have a look at his BABIP:

That is incredibly unlucky! Since pitchers have little control over BABIP, we expect Hamels’ to rest around .300 but it has been nowhere near that level since 2007. In ’09-10, it has been much, much higher than what we would expect despite his showing characteristics that would lead one to believe his BABIP would be lower than normal.

Hamels’ HR/FB% had been relatively normal, just a percentage point or two higher than the average. This year, however, he has been a bit unlucky on fly balls turning into home runs. It could be due to the small sample of 50 innings, but unlucky is unlucky.

Exactly how unlucky has Hamels been?

In 2008, when Phillies fans thought he was the next Steve Carlton, he actually out-performed his SIERA by more than four-tenths of a run. Last year, he under-performed his SIERA by nearly eight-tenths of a run, and has the same gap through 50 innings this year. All that, despite being essentially the same pitcher with the same stuff throughout most of his Major League career.

The verdict is in: Cole Hamels is the unluckiest man on the face of the Earth. Even my friend would agree.

As always, a gentlemanly doff of the cap to the great FanGraphs for the data.

Phillies Bullpen Report

Brad Lidge: Lidge has been placed on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to May 10, per Matt Gelb. He writes, “[Elbow] inflammation had not improved when Lidge played catch before today’s game.” Lidge had decent results in three and one-third innings, striking out three and walking one. For those counting at home, he had two shutdowns and no meltdowns. He has been throwing his slider a lot more instead of his fastball, which may indicate that he is still overcompensating for his ailing elbow.

Jose Contreras: The interim closer in the absence of both Lidge and Ryan Madson. He has been by far the Phillies’ most effective reliever to date. In 13 and two-thirds innings, the Cuban has struck out 18 and walked a mere two batters. Pick your ERA retrodictor; they all love his performance so far. Including today’s game, he has converted five shutdowns and one meltdown (the walk-off home run by Nate McLouth in Atlanta). There shouldn’t be any worries about him closing out games, but the Phillies are in a lot of trouble if he joins the weary and wounded on the disabled list.

Antonio Bastardo: Bastardo has been called up — again — now that Lidge is back on the DL. While he showed decent strikeout stuff in his short stint in the Majors earlier this year, he has struggled with control. He seemed like he was on the right path when his BB/9 was below 4.0 in his stops at AA, AAA, and the Majors last year. However, in five and one-third innings with the Phillies in 2010, he has walked four and struck out five. In his more recent stop at Lehigh Valley, Bastardo struck out eight and walked three in three and two-thirds innings.

Danys Baez: Despite possessing a fastball that reaches the mid-90’s and a curve that is 16 MPH slower on average, Baez has had a lot of trouble striking hitters out. He has issued seven walks and struck seven hitters out in 16 innings of work. His K/9 has been on the decline in every season since 2003. It’s hard to believe that someone still in his early 30’s could be finished, but Baez hasn’t pitched well and there is no indication that this will change going forward. The sooner the Phillies realize this and remove him from high leverage situations, the better.

David Herndon: Call him the Kyle Kendrick of the bullpen if you must, but he has been on the short end of the stick far too often this year. He went into this afternoon’s game against the Brewers with a 4.50 ERA but a .410 BABIP. The trend continued today as he allowed three of the four Brewers he faced to reach base on three hits. He doesn’t strike anyone out, but he rarely issues walks and two out of every three batted balls are on the ground. He has had at least a runner on first base with less than two outs 16 times this season. He has induced the ground ball double play six times.

Chad Durbin: Durbin struggled with control last year, averaging more than six walks every nine innings but he did increase his strikeout rate from 6.5 in 2008 to 8.0. Early in 2010, he has kept that strikeout rate but cut his walk rate nearly in half, down to 3.2 per nine. He has a 2.04 ERA in 17 and two-thirds innings, but he has benefited from a very low .200 BABIP. Some of the fortune is due to a change in his batted ball rates. In ’09, 18.5 percent of batted balls were line drives; only 10 percent this year. 39.5 percent were ground balls last year; 50 percent this year. The line drive rate isn’t sustainable, but if the Pitch F/X data is to be believed — and it has had some classification issues in the past — Durbin has been throwing his two-seam fastball a lot more often, which would explain the spike in ground balls induced. Thus far, he has logged five shutdowns and one meltdown.

J.C. Romero: As expected, Romero has been the least reliable member of the Phillies’ bullpen to date. He has walked four batters in three and one-third innings and, surprisingly, left-handed hitters have done most of the damage against him so far. Right-handers have managed just a .250 OPS in the very small sample while lefties have hit for a 1.250 OPS. Walks and an inability to retire lefties is an unacceptable combination from Romero.

Nelson Figueroa: Figgy hasn’t pitched since May 3 and it’s easy to see why he is likely to be the odd man out once J.A. Happ is taken off of the disabled list. Figueroa’s value comes from his versatility: the Phillies don’t have a lot of pitching depth, so he has the ability to make a spot start in the event of an injury — ski rental related or not — to be an interim starter in the event of poor performance, or to pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen. Despite my insistence earlier in the season that he was underrated, he has pitched poorly in his 14 and two-thirds innings with the Phillies after being cut by the New York Mets.

Scott Mathieson: Mathieson is my new obsession. In 16 and two-thirds innings with Lehigh Valley this year, he is averaging nearly ten strikeouts and just over two walks per nine innings. He has an ERA under 1 at 0.54 after finishing the 2009 season with similar production after returning from Tommy John surgery in late June. Mathieson is worth giving a shot while the Phillies have two key relievers on the mend in Lidge and Madson. However, as Matt Swartz of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, the Phillies may be inclined to keep his salary deflated due to his service time of two years and 71 days because settlement funding is not an option to pay players with. GM Ruben Amaro said last week that he doesn’t think any pitchers in the Phillies’ Minor League system are “ready to be called up.”

As much as I’d like to see Mathieson get his shot, the Phillies’ decision to keep him down to have an extra year of control before free agency is easily justifiable. If the Phillies continue to have health and performance issues, though, Amaro may be forced to turn to Mathieson, who Bill Conlin reports as hitting 98 MPH with his fastball.

Chad Durbin 5 1 4
Jose Contreras 5 1 4
Brad Lidge 2 0 2
Antonio Bastardo 1 0 1
Kenneth Herndon 2 2 0
J.C. Romero 1 1 0
Nelson Figueroa 2 2 0
Danys Baez 3 4 -1
Ryan Madson 2 3 -1

Brewers Series Preview: Jack Moore

The Phillies are in Milwaukee for a three-game series against the Brewers. You read that right: they are in Milwaukee. The series has not been moved to Philly but you can be damn sure the team will be trying to steal the Brew Crew’s signs. Jamie Moyer will open the series against former Phillie Randy Wolf; Joe Blanton will start game two against Chris Narveson; and Cole Hamels will hopefully wrap up a series sweep against Doug Davis.

I caught up with Jack Moore whose blog Disciples of Uecker is part of the ESPN SweetSpot blog network as well. You can also catch Jack’s work at FanGraphs. Jack’s answers to my questions are below; my answers to his questions can be found here.

. . .

1.The Brewers have put up double-digit runs in six games this season with a total of 87 runs (14.5 per game). In the other 28 games, they have scored 97 runs (3.5 per game). To what do you credit the offensive inconsistency?

This is a textbook case of selection bias. You’re never going to see a powerful offense (say, 5+ runs per game) keep their output between 4 and 7 runs for the entire season. What makes the Brewers offense so good is that they have the ability to bust out and score double digits on any given night. That said, there is a certain amount of inconsistency due to how right handed heavy the lineup is as well as how home run reliant the offense is.

2. What can the Brewers do to improve the starting rotation? After Yovani Gallardo, there is a lot of mediocrity.

They already cut Jeff Suppan from the starting rotation, which was a key move as far as improving the Brewers’ chances at the playoffs. His replacement, Chris Narveson, is a soft tossing lefty, but he has a very good changeup and he racked up 8 Ks in only 5.2 innings against a very good Arizona Diamondbacks lineup in his last start. Doug Davis has been pitching much better than his 7.56 ERA would suggest – he’s running a massive .415 BABIP, as seemingly every ground ball has found a hole while he’s been pitching. The problem is that there just isn’t any sort of #2 or better type talent in the organization beyond Gallardo, and I just don’t think there’s anything that can be done to solve that outside of a major move like a Prince Fielder trade.

3. Trevor Hoffman struggled in April but was able to nail down a save last Friday. Is he in danger of losing his job or are the Brewers attributing his lack of success to a fluke? If he does lose his job, who is most likely to take his job?

I think the Brewers are willing to ride Hoffman out, in part because of how ridiculously well he pitched last year. I doubt that he’s close to losing his job, although I do think he should be out – I wrote yesterday that I believe that Hoffman’s career is effectively over. If he loses the job, the next in line is likely Carlos Villanueva. Villanueva is currently running a ridiculous 11.17 K/9 that will probably settle around one per inning, and his changeup is an excellent pitch that can be used to neutralize left handed hitting. He also throws a slider and a curveball – all of his secondary stuff is very good.

4. Casey McGehee wasn’t an offensive powerhouse during his career in the Chicago Cubs Minor League system. However, he has burst onto the scene as one of the Brewers’ go-to bats, especially while Prince Fielder’s stick has been cold. Do you know if McGehee made any adjustments or received advice that led to his newfound success at the plate?

McGehee’s success is absolutely baffling to me. He burst onto the scene with a solid spring training in 2009 and as far as I know, nothing has changed since then. He somehow found some sort of power stroke after leaving the Cubs system – maybe a Brewers hitting coach found something with his swing, but that’s never been truly discussed or pointed out by the media around Milwaukee. This year, his walk rate has even seen a bump over 11%, which would go even farther towards cementing him as a legitimate major league hitter.

5. Speaking of Fielder, we have both been watching our first basemen hit the skids. Like Ryan Howard, Fielder has had trouble hitting lefties despite enjoying tremendous success against them over his career (.907 OPS against LH starters). Is he being pitched differently than in the past?

Fielder is a notoriously slow starter. He has a 120 wRC+ in April for his career against a 140 overall mark. He still has a .374 OBP, and despite his mammoth power only 10.8% of his fly balls are going for home runs. There’s no way that number stays that low – soon he should return to his career level of 20% – nearly twice that. As far as his struggles against lefties go, it doesn’t appear that Prince has really been pitched any differently – this might just be an example of how splits really aren’t predictive until we get a ton of data. Prince is still young, and we would probably be better off assuming that his splits are closer to those of the typical left handed batter than completely neutral as his current marks suggest.

6. Alcides Escobar hasn’t received good marks from UZR since he was called up to the Majors. Since he is not much with the bat, is this concerning? Do you disagree with his UZR rating?

I’m not worried at all. UZR is completely meaningless in this sample size, and I really wouldn’t even be concerned if he ran a negative UZR this season. Escobar’s hands haven’t been great so far, but that could just be nerves from his first season in the big leagues. He has absolutely tremendous range and a very good arm, and those two things will add up to a great defensive shortstop almost every time. As far as his bat goes, his ISO of .135 is much higher than I expected. He’s way too quick to post a BABIP below .260 like he is now, and his numbers should start to pick up soon. Something like .275/.320/.390 is not out of the question at all, and although that doesn’t sound very impressive, I’ll take it all day from a solid defensive shortstop.

7. The Brewers had a bad night on the bases against the Braves on Wednesday but are overall 24-for-28 (86%) on the bases. The Phillies have had similar success on the bases over the past few years for which we credit Davey Lopes. Is Ed Sedar, the Brew Crew’s first base coach, to thank or have the Brewers simply picked their spots exceptionally well?

Ed Sedar is amazing. He’s a big, tough looking guy, and then he opens his mouth and sounds like this (go to about 0:40). I’m not ready to give him credit for the Brewers discovery of the running game, however. Sedar has been around for a few years now, and the Brewers were only successful on 64.7% of steals last season and 73.9% in 2008. No, I think the real credit goes to the increase in team speed. J.J. Hardy was tremendously slow despite his fielding prowess, and he’s been replaced by the speedy Escobar. Mike Cameron had some speed but wasn’t exactly a base stealer. Carlos Gomez, his replacement, will miss this series with a shoulder injury, but he already has 6 SBs and hasn’t been caught yet. Ryan Braun has always been a solid base stealer, with a career 79% success rate (57/72). That gives three very solid options, and the Brewers are also generally good at picking their spots, which means you’re not going to see Prince or McGehee running ever.

. . .

A doff of the top hat to Jack for providing some insight into the Milwaukee Brewers. I am not looking forward to watching Ryan Braun hit against Phillies pitching. In his career, Braun has hit the Phillies harder (1.184 OPS) than any other team against which he has accumulated 70 or more plate appearances. With the top two offenses in the National League going at it, both teams may want to preemptively get their relievers warmed up.

Howard’s Power: Where Is It?

Ryan Howard signed a five-year, $125 million extension a few weeks ago. Many Phillies fans loved it, but number-crunchers winced at the thought of having a one-dimensional power hitter through his age-36 season. The prevailing thought was that it is not a good idea to pay so much money to the type of player that typically does not age well. No one, however, questioned that he would be productive in the early stages of the deal.

Presently, Howard has his batting average up to .290. Great, so that means an OPS of about .900?

.797, more than 150 points below his career average. His previous career-low in slugging percentage was .543; his 2010 SLG is .464. Over his career, 48 percent of his hits have gone for extra bases, but that percentage has dropped to 32.5 percent in 2010.

More disturbing is that, while he has cut his strikeouts by six percent, his walk rate has also been cut to nearly one-third of his career average 12.6 percent. He has had a significant loss in power with an isolated power (ISO) of .174 compared to his career average .300. 30 percent of fly balls hit by Howard have cleared the outfield fence over his career; only 16 percent have so far in 2010. Going into the season, there was roughly a 95 percent chance that he would have a HR/FB% between 19 and 31 percent, so he has thus far been defying the odds.

His last 10 hits have been singles and he continues to struggle against left-handed pitching.

What happened to Ryan Howard’s power?

It appears that, given his decreased walk and strikeout rates, Howard is simply trying to make more contact. The plate discipline stats at FanGraphs back this up. While his overall swing rate hasn’t changed much between 2009 and ’10, he has swung at pitches inside the strike zone nearly six percent less and more than eight percent at pitches outside the strike zone. Howard’s contact rate on pitches inside and outside of the strike zone have increased at about the same rate, six to seven percent.

Could southpaws be to blame for this? In 2009, 36 percent of his plate appearances were against lefties; 35 percent this year. While his performance against them continues to dwindle (.579 OPS this year), he has not faced them in any greater amount in 2010 than he has in the past. It is interesting to note that Howard swings a lot more at fastballs thrown by left-handed pitchers: 61 percent to 48 percent.

2009 was the beginning of the Breaking Ball Era for Howard. Between 2005-08, he saw between 51 and 58 percent fastballs; last year, he saw only 45 percent and that rate has held constant so far in 2010 as well. However, unlike last year, he is simply not hitting fastballs well at about one run below average per 100 fastballs. Having seen more than 200 fastballs this year, that puts him at more than two runs below average already.

It has been clear since his MVP season in 2006 that opposing managers are fearful of Ryan Howard. While he has been intentionally walked less and less, that has gone hand-in-hand with his increased plate appearances against left-handed pitchers. This is not a tactic soon to be abandoned.

Howard needs to take an approach similar to that of Barry Bonds, who gave him hitting instruction during the off-season: recognize how opposing managers and pitchers are (not) pitching to him, accept it, and wait for his pitch. It has been said that Bonds may have seen only one pitch throughout an entire at-bat at which he could reasonably swing. The same may hold true for Howard, what with all of the low-and-away sliders he has been seeing.

If Howard sees his pitch, great: hack away. Strikeouts are fine as long as he is generating his prodigious power to the tune of at least a .550 SLG. If Howard doesn’t see his pitch, great: take. Walks are fine as well.

What’s not fine is a power hitter to whom the Phillies owe $19 million this year and $145 million in 2011-16 turning into a singles hitter with evaporating plate discipline.

Charlie Manuel: What the hell? Keep Crying

The Phillies were accused by the Colorado Rockies and the New York Mets of stealing signs from the bullpen. Not surprising news, given that this has been par for the course over the past few years. Most managers would play it safe with a “no comment” but not Charlie Manuel. He gave us a gold mine of quotes when responding to the allegations.

Via Todd Zolecki:

“Absolutely no,” Charlie Manuel said of the accusations. “Absolutely (bleeping) no. Absolutely not.”


So why do so many teams think the Phillies are stealing signs?


“Because we beat them,” Manuel said. “That’s why. What the hell? Keep crying. I’m sure if they can steal signs they’ll steal them. And believe we will, too, if we can get them. Yeah, we will. Legally. If you’re dumb enough to let us get them then that’s your fault. That’s been in the game for a long time.”

For those comments alone, Charlie Manuel could run for mayor unopposed.

Remember when he was universally hated by Phillies fans in 2005 because he wasn’t Jim Leyland? Times sure have changed. Chuck can say and do whatever he pleases. It must be a nice feeling.

When asked about the allegations by the Mets, Manuel had a suggestion:

“Somebody ought to check on the Mets if they did (complain) because their … home record is out of this world and they’re losing on the road,” Manuel said. “That’s a good indication sometimes, if you want to know about signs and (stuff). When I see somebody is 17-2 at home and 4-12 on the road I kind of get concerned about that. That kind of crosses my mind.”

While I don’t quite buy Chuck’s logic (small sample size), I sure do appreciate the sentiment.

As far as I’m concerned, the Phillies are doing absolutely nothing wrong as long as they’re within MLB rules. Every team should be attempting to steal the other team’s signs and if they’re not, they’re not doing their jobs.

Tip of the cap to @Phylan for the awesome shot of Mick Billmeyer doing his job.

Finally, Crossing Broad gives us another reason to worship Chuck:

Now, you can take this one with a grain of salt, this is hearsay at its finest.  A source, who is rather connected, said Charlie Manuel attended dinner with Tommy Lasorda in New York the night before Game 1 of the WORLD SERIES.  According to source, who was in attendance, Charlie remained out late (1:30am, really Charlie?) and got very drunk.

Fair enough.

Here’s where it becomes the thing legends are made of.  When my source said, “Charlie, don’t you have a game in like 16 hours?”, Charlie replied “Fuck it. I have Lee pitching”.
Can we just give him his plaque on the Wall of Fame at Citizens Bank Park already? Hell, give him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I don’t care if the quote is unverified!

Phillies Stealing Signs? So What?

There is mischief afoot in Colorado! The Phillies Comcast broadcast last night reported that the Phils were concerned about the Rockies stealing signs (UPDATE: This was likely just Tom McCarthy making an error in judgment). Comments today have cited the Colorado Fox Sports affiliate “catching” bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer sitting in the bullpen with a pair of binoculars and Shane Victorino in the dugout using the bullpen phone. Of course, this would not be the first time the Phils have been accused of cracking codes.

Last year, during the World Series, both the New York Yankees team and Los Angeles Dodgers third base coach Larry Bowa — a former Phillies shortstop and manager, and former Yankees third base coach — accused the Phils of stealing signs. That angered center fielder Shane Victorino, who pointed to the Phillies’ lack of success against the Yankees as evidence that they are clearly not guilty.

In 2008, the Boston Red Sox called the Phillies out for sign-stealing despite losing two of three games in the series. The New York Mets did the same in ’07 as the Phillies swept them in a crucial four-game series. The Mets had the most elaborate accusation (surprisingly). From the New York Post:

Allegedly, the camera in center field provides footage to a video room. A coach stationed in the corner of the Phillies’ dugout has a buzzer in his pocket. Based on the signal he receives from the video room, he then yells a code to the batter – such as his first name – to relay what pitch is coming. One Met said he’s heard from three different former Phillies in the past year alleging foul play at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phillies have been investigated several times but have never been found guilty. Stealing signs is only against baseball’s rules if electronic devices, such as cameras, are used. Joe Mauer, catcher for the Minnesota Twins, was famously “caught” last year in a game against Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers. Mauer relayed the location of the pitch to Jason Kubel by touching his helmet with his hand.

Preventing sign-stealing is easy, though. All it requires is for the “victims” to change their signs or to not use them at all. The Phillies went the latter route against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS last year. Per Danny Knobler:

The Phillies were so concerned about the Dodgers stealing their signs in the National League Championship Series that for one crucial at-bat, they gave no signs at all.

It was in the fifth inning of Game 5. The Phillies led 6-3, but Manny Ramirez came to the plate representing the tying run. Rafael Furcal, who the Phillies suspected of sign-stealing, was on second base.

When reliever Chad Durbin came into the game to face Ramirez, he and catcher Carlos Ruiz scripted the entire at-bat before it began. For the entire five-pitch at-bat, which ended with Ramirez bouncing back to the mound, Ruiz never gave one sign.
Stealing signs is a game of cat-and-mouse that will continue to thrive so long as non-electronic methods remain legal (and they should remain legal). Poker is a great example of how picking up little pieces of information can go a long way. Players and managers/coaches should be rewarded for alertness and punished for recklessness.

Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

Happy Halladay, everyone!

Here’s something to get you through the next few hours until Roy takes the mound in Colorado tonight.

J.C. Romero had another shaky outing last night, the second out of five appearances in which he has allowed a run. Overall, he has walked four batters in two and two-thirds innings. His fastball thus far is, on average, three MPH slower than his career average of 91.5 MPH. His slider has accounted for one out of every four pitches he has thrown in 2010 compared to about one out of every six over his career.

You may recall at the end of March, I recommended that Romero be used strictly as a LOOGY in lower-leverage innings because he is not nearly as good as his ERA has indicated in his time with the Phillies. Behold:

Romero has severely out-performed his ERA estimators in his two and a half seasons with the Phillies going into 2010. He has been extremely fortunate, stranding 86 to 90 percent of base runners with a BABIP between .236 and .239 since 2007. As great as Romero has looked, those are simply unsustainable numbers, especially when coupled with his unacceptable walk rate that has been between 5.8 and 7.0 since ’07.

Simply put, Romero is a poor man’s Oliver Perez. Would you trust Ollie in high-leverage situations? Neither would I.

On the topic of relievers, check out my explanation of the new shutdown/meltdown statistics at Baseball Daily Digest.

This Old Guy?

In this reading of the script from the film Big Daddy, the Philadelphia Phillies will play the role of Vanessa and the Atlanta Braves will play the role of Sonny.

Vanessa: Sonny, that’s what I was trying to tell you before: I found someone.

Sonny: This old guy?

Vanessa: He’s already achieved so much and yet he’s still goal-oriented and still focused. He has a five-year plan.

Sonny: What is it? “Don’t die”? I can’t believe this shit.

(Skip 35 seconds into the video.)

Jamie Moyer gave the Phillies a Halladaysian performance tonight, pitching all nine innings en route to a two-hit complete game shut-out of the milquetoast Atlanta Braves offense (and yet, still an offense envied by the Houston Astros). Troy Glaus was the only Brave to notch a hit off of Moyer, getting two of them in three at-bats. The rest of the Braves lineup, particularly Chipper Jones and Nate McLouth, were baffled by the left-hander’s ability to hit his spots and mix speeds effectively.

Meanwhile, the Phillies were able to provide more than enough offense to back Moyer against Derek Lowe. In 75 and one-third career innings against them, Lowe held the Phillies in check with a 2.87 ERA and a 2.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Lowe, however, had been ineffective in his previous 33 innings in 2010.

The Phillies mounted offensive threats in the first and second innings but squandered them due to an aggressive approach and Lowe’s ability to induce ground balls. In the third inning, Shane Victorino and Placido Polanco made for two quick outs, but Chase Utley kept the inning alive with a tennis-like back-handed single to left that left Lowe visibly frustrated. Ryan Howard smoked a single to right field to bring Jayson Werth to the plate with runners on first and second and two out. As if to repeat what he did yesterday, Werth did not disappoint as he drove a Lowe offering over the left-field fence to put the Phillies on the board 3-0.

The game was put out of reach in the fifth when the Phillies loaded the bases with two outs for Raul Ibanez. Ibanez hit a line drive that had enough backspin to sink before left fielder Matt Diaz could get leather on it. Wilson Valdez drove in the sixth and seventh runs with a single up the middle, officially ending Lowe’s night.

As the Phillies were scoring runs, Moyer was economically holding the Braves at bay. Between the two singles off the bat of Troy Glaus in the second and eighth innings, Moyer retired 18 consecutive Braves. In the ninth inning, he retired the Braves in order — including old friend Eric Hinske — to become the oldest pitcher in baseball history to toss a CG SHO at 47 years and 170 days old.

Braves Series Preview: Peter Hjort

The Phillies are looking towards the Atlanta Braves after winning their last two series, taking two of three from the New York Mets and three of four from the St. Louis Cardinals. The Phils have received great starting pitching as Cole Hamels flirted with a complete game shut-out (before a nitwit ran onto the field), Kyle Kendrick tossed seven shut-out innings, and Roy Halladay held the likes of Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, and Colby Rasmus at bay in seven innings yesterday.

Meanwhile, the Braves are headed in the opposite direction. After a nine-game losing streak, they swept the Houston Astros but recently lost two of three to the surprisingly upstart Washington Nationals. The only reliable offense has come from Jason Heyward; Chipper Jones has a .400 OBP but his SLG is 15 points below that mark. Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson have been the only reliable starters. While the bullpen has been lights-out as expected, the Braves haven’t been able to get to Billy Wagner with a lead very often — he has only racked up three saves.

The starting pitching match-ups for the series:

  • Derek Lowe vs. Jamie Moyer
  • Kris Medlen vs. Joe Blanton
  • Kenshin Kawakami vs. Cole Hamels

To know what to expect, I tossed a few questions to fellow ESPN SweetSpot blogger Peter Hjort of Capitol Avenue Club and Beyond the Box Score.

. . .

The Braves almost got no-hit by Scott Olsen and were recently no-hit by Ubaldo Jimenez. Are you concerned about the offense?

I think they’ll score enough runs to contend.  Some guys aren’t producing, and that’s mostly a function of poor luck on balls in play.  But it’s not a particularly good offense.

Is Chipper Jones simply a singles hitter now? He has a .375 SLG and just 2 HR.

Well, he’s 38 years old and his bat isn’t as quick as it used to be.  I wouldn’t say he’s a singles hitter, he’s still capable of driving the ball.  I don’t think we’ll ever see him post an ISO of .200+ again, though.

The bullpen has performed well as expected. The rotation is another story. After Hanson and Hudson, it seems like Braves fans are praying harder for the back of the rotation than Phillies fans. What do you make of what was perceived to be the Braves’ biggest strength going into the season?

Jurrjens had been a wreck mostly due to injuries.  Lowe and Kawakami have been just awful.  Hudson hasn’t been that good, either–his strikeout and walk rates concern me.  Quite simply, they’re going to need to get more from the rotation.  The guys they have are capable of pitching well, but if they don’t the team better make some changes–they can’t contend with Hanson and 4 below-average starters.  Kris Medlen will make his first start of the season on Saturday and I wouldn’t be surprised if he pitches well enough to make it impossible for the Braves to move him back to the bullpen when Jurrjens returns.  People easily forget that before they were called up last year, Medlen was decidedly out-pitching Tommy Hanson.

Last Saturday, you used some math to show that the Braves weren’t as bad as they appeared. Do you still buy that?

Of course.  They’re a better team that their record indicates, I knew that before I started writing the article.  All the Base Runs stuff did was demonstrate they’ve also played better than their record.

What can the Braves do to improve the team by August 1? Any other Jason Heywards waiting in AAA?

Well, unfortunately, there’s not another Jason Heyward anywhere.  Their top position player prospect–Freddie Freeman–may eventually get the call to play 1B if Troy Glaus doesn’t turn it around.  Jordan Schafer is rehabbing in Rome right now and once he shows he’s ready, he’ll be the club’s every day center fielder.  They might have to dip into their bag of prospects to acquire a starting pitcher, left fielder, or first baseman in order to stay in the race, though.

. . .

A doff of the cap to Peter for his insight on the Braves. Make sure you stop by Capitol Avenue Club for anything Braves-related. Peter is dealing with the death of his computer, so you may want to stop by and console him.

The Phillies appear to have gotten lucky with the pitching match-ups as they will miss both of the starters, Hudson and Hanson, who are actually producing this year for the Braves. However, Chase Utley is the only Phillie who has hit Derek Lowe with any kind of authority, with a 1.204 OPS in 27 plate appearances. Everyone else has a sub-.625 OPS. The Phillies have hit Kenshin Kawakamhi hard in limited opportunities. Current Phillies have nine hits in 34 total plate appearances against Kris Medlen. Ryan Howard has the only extra-base hit, a home run.

On Punching Bags

These past few days have not been kind to the city of Philadelphia. Aside from losing Hall of Famer and all-around great guy Robin Roberts at the age of 83, the city has received two black eyes in the form of nitwit fans trespassing on the field of play. Many in the mainstream media used it either as a jumping-off point or directly as reasoning for a screed against Philly fans.

You see, Philly fans are a boisterous bunch. They hurl batteries all the time, and they absolutely hate Santa Claus (insert Bill O’Reilly’s “War on Christmas” crusade). Men laden in replica Phillies and Eagles jerseys stampede towards local malls to pelt Santas with snowballs. And when they’re done, they regurgitate yesterday’s lunch on the nearest kid.

Were you to believe the narrative painted by the media, you would have no choice but to believe that this is the modus operandi of Philly fans. Must not sleep, must annoy others.

Are Philly fans really as bad as the media claims? The Santa incident was in the 1960’s, the J.D. Drew battery incident was in the 1990’s, and the puke and trespass incidents came within mere weeks of each other after more than a decade without incident. In fact, 99 percent of Phillies games come and go without incident. 99 percent of Eagles games come and go without incident. 99 percent of Flyers games come and go without incident. And the Sixers don’t draw a crowd, so there is no chance for an incident. (Zing!)

Does fandom of Philadelphia teams or simply residence in the Philly area predispose one to act boorishly? I fail to see a correlation. After all, was it not New York football Giants fans who, during a Giants-Saints game shortly after Hurricane Katrina, pelted New Orleans fans with insults such as “Where’s your swimmies? I hope you have your swimmies!” and “You deserve what you got. New Orleans people are stupid.” How about the Mets fan who killed his mother because his team lost? Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad had “a well-worn Mets cap” in his Connecticut apartment. Are all New York Mets fans insensitive, temperamental, homicidal sociopaths?

As much as it pains me to admit it: absolutely not.

A fan in Oakland tossed a cherry bomb that burned an eight-year-old boy’s leg in 2003.

Then-Royals coach Tom Gamboa was assaulted by two fans — father and son — in 2002 who ran onto the field.

Then-Astros right fielder Bill Spiers was assaulted in Milwaukee in 1999 and suffered a black eye, a bloody nose, and whiplash.

Outside of baseball, former tennis star Monica Seles was stabbed by a Steffi Graf fan during a match in Hamburg in 1993. Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson fought with Detroit Pistons fans in 2004.

Many other examples abound and there is no common sports-related thread linking them. Philadelphia isn’t even the only city that has field trespassers. They’re in Pasadena, Washington D.C., and even Minneapolis. The problem instead is a meme bolstered by the confirmation biases of millions of people. Most likely, you had forgotten about or had never even heard of many of the incidents listed above, but you will certainly not forget the Philly-related incidents. Philadelphia has a reputation and any little thing that happens becomes further evidence that the conclusions about the city are true.

The truth is, there are attention-seekers all over the country. Philly doesn’t have them in any greater numbers percentage-wise than any other metropolitan city. But because of the reputation, when a Philly fan gets out of line, it’s a country-wide incident. When a San Diego fan gets out of line, it’s yesterday’s news.

The media is mostly to blame for this as most sensationalize these events in an effort to inspire click-throughs or self-promotion (both on a company and individual level). Readers/viewers/listeners have no choice but to believe that Philly is a safe haven for malcontents given the way the issues are presented by the media.

A few days ago on Twitter, I wrote:

If you hate people because they come from different country, you’re a xenophobe. But it’s okay if you hate someone from a different city. ??

There is no basis for the habitual lashing Philadelphia gets in the media. It is outright ignorant and lazy. Rivalries are fun. City-to-city xenophobia is a different story. It is not necessary to paint with such a broad brush. Most Mets fans I have spoken with either in person or via the Internet have been kind people. I’m sure most Mets fans can say the same about their interaction with Phillies fans. Can we at least admit that?

We are better than this. If you truly think Philadelphia is a terrible city, send Mayor Michael Nutter a letter with your suggestions for improvement.