Because It Needs to be Said

Scott Mathieson made his return to the Major Leagues tonight against the Minnesota Twins. It did not go well. He allowed two runs on three hits and only recorded two outs. Based on that, one is bound to conclude that Mathieson struggled but that was not the case.

Delmon Young was Mathieson’s first obstacle. The right-hander got ahead 1-2 then tossed a fastball about a foot off the plate, hoping to induce a defensive swing, but Young laid off. On the next pitch Young grounded a low and inside fastball into the hole between third base and shortstop. Placido Polanco got leather on it but was not able to corral the ball allowing Young to reach safely with a single.

Mathieson got ahead of Nick Punto 0-2, then threw two high-and-away fastballs for balls one and two, an attempt to get Punto to fish and either swing and miss or pop the ball up. On the sixth pitch of the at-bat, Mathieson finally broke out a breaking ball. The curveball was down the middle but below the knees. Punto took a very defensive swing and was able to weakly ground the ball into right field for a single.

Danny Valencia, with runners on first and second and no outs, got ahead 2-0 but weakly fouled out to catcher Brian Schneider for the first out.

Denard Span worked the count 1-1 before hitting a line drive back up the middle, loading the bases with one out.

Orlando Hudson was Mathieson’s final batter. Perhaps nervous, Mathieson’s first pitch was a fastball in the dirt that skipped away, allowing a run to score and two base runners to advance. He rebounded and got ahead in the count 1-2, breaking out the change-up for a called strike two on the third pitch. He attempted to get Hudson fishing with a rising fastball but to no avail. Finally, he came back with a fastball which Hudson grounded to shortstop Wilson Valdez for the second out, allowing another run to score.

The tally? Three ground balls, a weak foul pop-up, and a line drive. All in all, I’d say Mathieson performed just fine.

Another complaint I expect to hear is that Mathieson is a one-trick pony, as 19 of his 22 pitches were fastballs. However, that is likely not to be the case going forward. When Mathieson came in, the score was 9-3 so the modus operandi is simply to throw strikes and get the game over with as soon as possible. Additionally, the kid was making his first Major League appearance since September of 2006. The orders were, likely, to simply pump fastballs to get his feet wet. Mathieson did each of his other pitches exactly once: his change-up, slider, and curve. So it was more of a trial run than anything.

His fastball looked good, maxing out at 99 MPH and averaging 96 MPH. I liked his use of the high fastball to induce bad swings. Unfortunately, the Twins are third in the American League in walks, so their ability to lay off of those high fastballs is to be commended.

I thought Mathieson pitched well despite the box score. If you tell me ahead of time that a pitcher will face five batters, inducing three ground balls and an infield pop-up, I’ll tell you that the pitcher should enjoy a lot of success.

Why Roy Halladay Will Not Win the Cy Young

Over the past few days, “Ubaldo Jimenez has been lucky” articles have been making the rounds. Matt Swartz penned a great one at Baseball Prospectus. Jack Moore of FanGraphs and Disciples of Uecker called one of Jimenez’s starts “unimpressive”. Joe Sheehan included Jimenez in a list of lucky pitchers in an article for Sports Illustrated.

Yeah, that .239 BABIP doesn’t have staying power, nor does his stranding of over 91 percent of base runners. Neither does the HR/FB rate at 3.8 percent — pitching his home games at Coors Field, no less. If I’m a betting man, I’m with Swartz and Moore and Sheehan — I’m betting on Jimenez regressing to that mean.

Still, Jimenez finds himself in waters charted rarely throughout baseball history. Including Jimenez, only four pitchers since 1980 won 13 games in their teams’ first 66 games according to Baseball Reference.

This is a Phillies blog, so why am I wasting so much time praising Jimenez? In mid-February, I wrote that Roy Halladay has a strong case as a Hall of Famer and that would only be helped by adding some more hardware to his mantle, be it a World Series trophy or MVP award, or a Cy Young award. Halladay, with a 2.36 ERA, has five complete games and three shut-outs including a perfect game to his credit in 2010. He is expected to be a heavy contender for the NL Cy Young award, awarded during the off-season. No other pitcher in baseball has compiled more Wins Above Replacement (WAR) than Halladay. Not even Jimenez.

I don’t write this to say that Jimenez is going to impede Halladay’s progress as a Hall of Famer — that would be ridiculous — but to highlight the one clear and present threat to some end-of-season hardware for Doc. We all want Doc to get his mitts on that hardware, right?

Jimenez currently has a 1.15 ERA and is on pace to accrue 248 and one-third innings by season’s end. That means he is on pace to hurl another 147 and one-third innings. In order for his ERA to cross the 2.00 threshold, Jimenez would have to allow 43 runs over those 147.3 innings (2.63 ERA). To cross the 3.00 threshold, Jimenez would have to allow 70 runs (4.27 ERA).

Halladay currently has a 2.36 ERA and is on pace to accrue 271 innings by season’s end, meaning he is on pace to hurl another 164 innings. Let’s say Jimenez finishes with a 2.00 ERA. Halladay would have to allow 32 runs in his next 164 innings (1.76 ERA) to match Jimenez. If Jimenez finishes at 3.00, Halladay would have to allow 62 runs in 164 innings (3.41 ERA) to match him.

By Sabermetric accounts, Halladay has thus far been the better pitcher. His 3.04 SIERA is vastly superior to Jimenez’s 3.47. Of course, we know that these awards are not dictated by Sabermetric merits but by the Baseball Writer’s Association of America who are tickled pink by won-lost records and earned run average. With Jimenez at 13-1 and Halladay at 8-5, if Doc wants to win the NL Cy Young award, not only is he going to have to pitch lights-out baseball (and that is certainly not an impossible task given his pedigree) but he is going to have to hope Jimenez falls off the proverbial cliff.

Davey Lopes Squeals on Chase Utley [Updated]

From David Laurila’s Prospectus Q&A with Phillies first base coach Davey Lopes:

David Laurila: You’ve received a lot of credit for the team’s improved baserunning in recent years. What have you done in that regard?

Davey Lopes: Actually, just getting them to pursue going first to third, and the guys that we feel have base-stealing ability—getting them to utilize their speed more. Over the last few years, it’s been pretty successful, but this year we’re a little bit slow for whatever reason.

DL: Slow in what way?

Lopes: The numbers. Mainly the stolen-base attempts are just not there like they have been in the last three years that I’ve been a part of the organization. One reason is that Jimmy Rollins is hurt and he’s our main guy as far as attempting to steal bases. Vic [Shane Victorino] is starting to pick it up. And Jayson [Werth]—and I use the term loosely—is not very aggressive at all, for whatever reason, this year. Chase [Utley] has been hampered by a little bit of a knee injury. That’s more than likely why our numbers are down, but it’s still confusing to me as to why they haven’t been as aggressive in attempting to steal.

[...]

DL: You mentioned that the team isn’t running as well this season. Is that reversible, or indicative of a team that is maybe getting a bit older and slower?

Lopes: Well, I wouldn’t say that it’s not reversible, but the only way that it’s going to get any better is to, a) Get Jimmy Rollins back and he’s healthy; b) The other guys that aren’t attempting to run need to start putting pressure on the defense by running. Now, I can’t force them to run. All that I can do is point out certain things, and then it’s up to them. But Victorino is starting to come along, and right now he is really the only one running, or attempting to steal, because Jimmy is hurt. Chase has had some problems with his knee, and Jayson has had a horrendous slump for the last month or so. So I think that once they just get back to hitting, and back to winning—these things help us win. When you get on base and the opposition presents you with an opportunity to steal a base—if we don’t capitalize, we’re only defeating what we’re built around.

Since May 25 (21 games), Utley is 12-for-76 (.158) with two extra-base hits (two doubles) and a .270 OBP/.184 SLG. A knee problem would certainly explain Utley’s offensive woes. However, by all accounts, he has played fantastic defense. His UZR/150 is at 16.3, just a bit higher than his career average 14.0. If Utley’s knee was truly problematic, we would expect it to also translate into poorer defense, no?

Perhaps the knee injury has simply forced Chase to alter his swing mechanics. From a Jayson Stark article at ESPN on June 4:

Once again this week, let’s check in with some of America’s most brilliant scouting minds:

[...]

On Chase Utley: “He looks like he’s not seeing the ball. He’s shooting the bat out like he’s just trying to make contact, instead of firing the bat out to try and drive it. It just looks like he’s not seeing it out of the pitcher’s hand, and that’s what’s always made him so good, why he hits left-handers so well. He just sees the ball so well. But not right now.”

The big difference in the spray charts (thanks, Texas Leaguers!) before and during his offensive slump are pitches he pulls down the right field line.

Also notable is that, in the smaller span of games, Utley has a similar amount of ground balls to the right side of the infield.

That Utley is nursing an injury should come as no surprise to anyone as he is well-known for hiding his wounds. Unfortunately, as bad as he has been hitting, the Phillies can’t afford to give him an extended period of rest as a lineup consisting of both Juan Castro and Wilson Valdez is begging for a shut-out.

UPDATE: GM Ruben Amaro disputes Lopes’ claim that Utley is injured. Via Jim Salisbury:

Amaro had a sharp response to Lopes’ comment on Friday afternoon.

“Davey Lopes is not a doctor. He’s not our spokesman. He has given out wrong information,” Amaro said in a telephone interview with CSNPhilly.com. “Chase is not injured. There is no injury. I will dispute what Davey says. That is false and incorrect information.”

Amaro, for the first time, did admit that Utley has dealt with some soreness in his knee. Amaro was not sure which knee was affected.

“He has had some intermittent soreness like any other player has over the course of a season,” Amaro said. “Guys get soreness in their wrists, their ankles. Pitchers get soreness in their shoulders after they throw. That does not mean they are injured. Every guy who puts an ice pack on is not injured.”

Amaro was asked if the team had administered an MRI on Utley’s knee.

“No,” Amaro said. “There is no injury. It is not an issue. I don’t even think he’s on our injury report.”