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.”

What’s Eating Joe Blanton?

Rob tackled the Phillies’ Blanton issue on his blog:

When Blanton pitched for the Athletics, he gave up relatively few home runs, just 0.82 per nine innings. But then Blanton joined the Phillies, and that number jumped to 1.35 over 2008 and ’09 despite the shift to a less powerful league (if only because of the pitchers hitting). This year it’s 2.1 home runs per nine. And it’s not just the difference in Blanton’s home ballparks. Since joining the Phillies, Blanton’s ground-ball rates have trended steadily and dramatically downward.

Essentially, everything that could go wrong is going wrong. Blanton’s striking out fewer hitters. He’s giving up more fly balls, and a higher percentage of those fly balls are flying over the wall.

Some of this will naturally self-correct. But some of it, maybe a lot of it, will not. Right now, without a major rebuilding effort, the best case for Blanton might be a decent No. 5 starter. Which would be fine, except the Phillies already have two of those.

Joe Blanton has a 7.28 ERA but a 4.82 SIERA. While a near-five SIERA is pretty bad — Blanton’s ranks 108th out of 140 pitchers with at least 47 innings — it is much, much lower than his ERA which leads us to conclude that Blanton has been the victim of some bad luck along with his poor pitching.

His BABIP so far is .332, even higher than Hamels’ was in his tumultuous 2009 season. Since he isn’t striking anyone out (averaging just under five K’s per nine innings), BABIP becomes more of an issue since hitters are putting more balls in play.

Additionally, while Blanton’s HR/FB rate is at about the same spot as it was last year, Blanton is allowing six percent more fly balls (and six percent less line drives). While pitchers don’t have much control over their HR/FB rate, they do have control over the amount of ground balls and fly balls they allow. 99 times out of 100, you love it when a pitcher reduces his line drive rate for more fly balls. That means the hitter is making poorer contact with the pitches. Unfortunately, hitters are enjoying a 2.7% higher BABIP on fly balls (.152 to .125) and a 2.3% higher BABIP on ground balls (.275 to .252) this year compared to last year for Blanton.

If Blanton wants to enjoy success between now and the end of the season, here’s what he can do:

  • Increase his strikeout rate from 4.98 per nine closer to where it was last year, at 7.51 per nine. Even getting it to 6.0 would be great.
  • Wait for his BABIP to regress.
  • Go back to inducing ground balls. His GB% was around 45% with the Oakland Athletics, but has been around 40% with the Phillies. It’s easy to say “just do it like you used to” as inducing ground balls relies on pitch movement as well as location. Blanton, who was on the disabled list with a strained oblique earlier this season, may not be able to generate the same movement and mastery of his pitches as he used to.

How Cole Got His Groove Back

Cole Hamels is back, ladies and gentlemen. What did he do to bounce back from a tumultuous 2009 season (and April 2010)?

Nothing.

Just as he did nothing to contribute to the swift descent following his impeccable 2008 in which he won the World Series MVP award, the Cole we have watched through 13 starts (12 if you exclude his rain-shortened outing in Atlanta on June 1) has similarly remained constant.

Sure, he added a cut fastball but it has been his worst pitch according to the pitch type values found on FanGraphs. He has actually reduced the use of his three other pitches in favor of the cutter and he still finds himself 11th in the National League in SIERA (among pitchers with at least 65 IP). In his latest start against the Boston Red Sox in which he allowed only one run over seven innings, 65% of his pitches were fastballs and 27% were change-ups. In fact, the fewer cutters Cole has thrown, the more successful he has been.

Hamels has beefed up his strikeout rate, averaging nearly one per inning and about one more per nine innings than in ’09 and ’08. His walk rate has hurdled above three per nine but it hasn’t meant much since he is stranding nearly 83% of base runners. The big key to his success — and this should come as no surprise if you have been reading this blog for a while — has been a regression in batting average on balls in play (BABIP).

In 2008 when he had tremendous success, his BABIP was .270, much lower than the traditional .300. In ’09 when he was painful to watch pitch, his BABIP was .325. This year, which has thus far met his ’08 and ’09 seasons somewhere in the middle, his BABIP is .308. Since pitchers don’t have much control over BABIP, the regression is simply due to Phillies’ defenders turning batted balls into outs and good ol’ fashioned luck. The extra strikeout per nine has been icing on the cake, as is his newfound dominance over left-handed hitters.

What else could have contributed to his success?

I noted after his second start in April that he may be toying around with release points but Pitch F/X guru Harry Pavlidis was helpful in reaching the conclusion that the machines were calibrated differently as the two starts were at two different ballparks. The calibration, though, seemed to only affect vertical measurement. Hamels has shifted his release point towards the left-handed batter’s box as the following graphs will illustrate:

The release point hasn’t made much of a difference though because hitters are making the same amount of contact and swinging and missing at similar rates as last year.

Season Contact% SwStr%
2006 72.3% 12.8%
2007 73.9% 13.6%
2008 76.9% 11.5%
2009 75.2% 11.9%
2010 75.6% 10.7%

Others will note the increase in velocity, as his fastball hit 94 MPH or higher 46 times in his most recent start in Boston. While it was great to see, his fastball hasn’t been like that all year as the velocity chart from FanGraphs illustrates.

For the third straight year, you can chalk up most of Hamels’ performance to BABIP luck. Just imagine how good he’ll be when his HR/FB rate (over which pitchers also have little control) regresses down from 16.5% to the more appropriate 10-11%. He has the potential to reach Nolan Ryan territory if he can kick the Twilight habit.

Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

Two graphs in two days? I must be on a roll. Actually, I meant to post this a few days ago but never got around to it. Last week at Baseball Daily Digest, I attempted to quantify the throwing arm of St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina by comparing their opponents’ base-stealing aggressiveness and success to the rest of Major League Baseball. The results were staggering — Molina is one hell of a catcher, as the charts and tables in the article illustrate.

So I decided to do the same for Carlos Ruiz, who is regarded as a good pitch-blocker and a great game-caller. You don’t hear much about his arm and there’s a reason for that: it’s average. Only in 2007 did he nab runners significantly above the National League average, 31% to 25%. Since 2008, he has been a few percentage points below average.

The following chart depicts a scatterplot with data going back to 2005. On the X-axis (horizontal), each teams’ opponents’ stolen base attempts — a.k.a. aggressiveness — is charted. Markers towards the left depict passivity. On the Y-axis (vertical), each teams’ opponents’ stolen base success is charted. Markers towards the bottom depict base running failure. So the further southwest the markers are, the better for the catchers.

Everything has been normalized into a z-score, which tells you how many standard deviations from the mean a particular data point lies. For instance, last year, opponents attempted to steal 132 times against the Phillies’ catchers. The average stolen base attempts against in the National League in 2009 was 128. By subtracting the league average from the Phillies’ number, and then dividing that difference by the standard deviation (25), we come up with our z-score of 0.16. That simply tells us that opposing teams ran against Ruiz and the Phillies at about an average rate.

Year Team SB CS SBA SB% SBA Z SB% Z
2007 PHI 84 39 123 68% -0.26 -0.89
2008 PHI 109 34 143 76% 0.47 0.77
2009 PHI 95 37 132 72% 0.16 0.23
2010 PHI 34 10 44 77% -0.15 0.67

Numbers are accurate as of a day or two prior to the publishing of the Molina article on June 7.

Obviously, the methodology is not perfect as I use team totals instead of individual totals. This is simply because I lack database skills and it is too time-consuming to piece together data on all catchers over the last five or so years. Overall, however, this more than does the job at putting a catcher’s ability to control the running game into perspective.

Things Ruiz is good at doing: blocking pitches in the dirt, calling games.

Things Ruiz is average at doing: hitting, controlling the running game.

Things Ruiz is bad at doing: resisting ice cream.

Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

On Twitter (and at The Good Phight), I have been making plenty of jokes at the Phillies’ expense. For example, I have claimed, jokingly, that the offense of the 2000 Phillies squad — which finished 65-97 and dead-last in the National League in average runs per game at 4.37 — is better than the current amalgamation of hitters. The 2010 Phillies are 32-29 and rank eighth in the NL in average RPG at 4.46. I decided to investigate further and it turns out that I’m on to something. Really.

My offensive metric of choice was weighted on-base average (wOBA). If you’re unfamiliar with wOBA and would like to learn more, click this link or this link.

Numbers were compiled before Saturday’s 10-2 shellacking and Sunday’s 5-3 victory in Boston.

The 2010 offense, through 59 games, is only .004 better than the ’00 offense, hardly a difference. The only positions at which the ’10 team has a noticeable advantage are second base (Chase Utley vs. Mickey Morandini, Marlon Anderson, and Kevin Jordan) and center field (Shane Victorino vs. Doug Glanville). The notable advantages of the ’00 team are shortstop (Desi Relaford, Tomas Perez, and Alex Arias vs. Wilson Valdez, Juan Castro, and Jimmy Rollins), left field (Ron Gant and Pat Burrell vs. Raul Ibanez), and right field (Bobby Abreu vs. Jayson Werth). Additionally, the pinch-hitters on the ’00 team are significantly better than those of the present group.

The following graph depicts the Phillies’ year-to-year wOBA.

Of course, the ’00 Phillies were not only hurt by their league-worst offense, but also by their league-worst bullpen (5.72 ERA) and average starting rotation (4.39 ERA). The ’10 starting rotation has a 3.94 ERA and the bullpen 3.61. As such, the ’00 team’s Pythagorean winning percentage was .426 whereas the ’10 team’s is .542.

While the offenses are eerily impotent, the ’10 Phillies will not experience the same level of failure as the ’00 team simply due to pitching despite the recent efforts of Joe Blanton and Jamie Moyer.

At Baseball Daily Digest, I analyze the anatomy of a losing streak.

Contest: Win A Copy of “Beyond Batting Average”!

Lee Panas, author of the blog Tiger Tales, has been kind enough to pass along a paperback copy of his book Beyond Batting Average. The book will be awarded to the winner of this contest.

The contest: Predict the performance of the Philadelphia Phillies’ hitters in the next week (six games).

  • How many runs will the Phillies score between Tuesday, June 15 on the road against the New York Yankees through Sunday, June 20 at home against the Minnesota Twins?

There may be a tie, so the following predictions will be tie-breakers, in order.

  • Ryan Howard home runs:
  • Ground ball double-plays hit into by Wilson Valdez:
  • Raul Ibanez’s slugging percentage on June 21:
  • Hits by Greg Dobbs as a pinch-hitter (hits as a designated hitter will not count):
  • Extra-base hits (doubles, triples, and home runs) by Chase Utley:

Simply copy and paste all six predictions (the contest question along with the five tie-breakers) with your answers in the comments below. Provide an e-mail address that you check often that way there are no problems should you win.

In the event that two or more entrants leave identical predictions (very unlikely), the oldest entry wins. Entries are valid up until the first pitch of the Phillies-Yankees game on Tuesday, June 15.

The winner will be announced on Monday, June 21. If I do not hear back from you within 48 hours from the time of my e-mail, I will award the book to the runner-up. In order for the book to be shipped to you, I will need a valid shipping address. If you do not feel comfortable sharing this information with me, I can put you in direct contact with Mr. Panas.

If you do not win but are still interested in purchasing the book, click this link. There, you can preview the first 30 pages of Beyond Batting Average and purchase it either as a downloadable file or as a real book.

Phillies Should Shake Up Bench

With the offense slumping, many Phillies fans are begging for changes to be made. Demote Raul Ibanez, call up Domonic Brown; designate Greg Dobbs for assignment; give Ben Francisco more playing time; trade for Mike Lowell. Some of the suggestions are quite large in magnitude; others are nit-pick alterations.

As we found out at the end of May, the culprits for the Phillies’ offensive slump are Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jayson Werth. Aside from trading Werth — something that won’t happen unless the Phillies fall completely out of the playoff picture — there isn’t much that can be done to reduce the impact the three hitters have besides changing their position in the lineup. So any major changes that are made, such as demoting Ibanez and promoting Brown, are unlikely to have a meaningful impact on the offense and there is the chance that any such moves could backfire both in terms of performance and in terms of money.

However, the Phillies can make a change, just for show, and it doesn’t have to have any real impact.

Charlie Manuel relies very heavily on his starting eight and as such, bench players are less meaningful to the Phillies. This is something free agents take into mind when deciding if they should sign with the Phillies — Ross Gload did so in the off-season when he decided to leave the Florida Marlins. He realized he would have less at-bats with the Phillies despite having the same exact role as he had in Florida, but he valued the opportunity to win a championship highly.

Since bench players are nearly invisible in Philadelphia, GM Ruben Amaro can kick Greg Dobbs, Juan Castro, and even Ross Gload to the curb and replace them with similarly cheap bench bats. Dobbs is owed $1.35 in 2010 before hitting his third year of arbitration. Gload earns $1 million this year and $1.6 million in ’11. Castro will make $750,000 and the Phillies can buy out the last year of his deal for $50,000 in ’11. These are not expensive players and the Phillies have a history of paying players to simply go away, see: Geoff Jenkins and Adam Eaton. The Phillies are paying $1.25 million and $500,000 respectively to keep them away.

After eliminating three players, we need some replacements. Who could they be?

  • Andy Tracy, 1B/3B (AAA): 36-year-old career Minor Leaguer who never got a real opportunity at the Major League level despite compiling good numbers in the Minors. Currently hitting for an .834 OPS for Lehigh Valley with a good walk rate. Has played first base exclusively while in the Phillies’ system, but has had experience at third base. Could easily replace Greg Dobbs.
  • John Mayberry, OF (AAA): Decent hitter with some power, but poor strike zone judgment has been his downfall. Had some Major League experience last year with the Phillies, but did not drop any jaws. OPS’ing just over .800 for Lehigh Valley. After Ben Francisco, the Phillies don’t have a reliable right-handed bat off the bench as Juan Castro is impotent offensively.
  • Cody Ransom, 3B/SS (AAA): Minor League numbers have been in decline since 2007 but he has consistently shown decent power with slugging percentages in the high .400’s from 2006-08. Has played mostly on the left side of the infield throughout his Minor League career but has played at third base almost exclusively for the Phillies this year, where he plays above-average defense according to Baseball Reference’s Total Zone fielding metric. Since Juan Castro has been poor with his glove as well as his bat, Ransom would likely out-produce him if given an opportunity.
  • Tagg Bozied, 1B (AA): Has bounced around in the farm systems of five teams before landing with the Phillies. Bozied has compiled some impressive power numbers, mostly in AAA. In AA Reading, he has a .909 OPS including a .535 SLG with 9 HR. Over 91 percent of his defensive innings have come at first base. As a right-hander he could spell Ryan Howard against a tough left-handed starting pitcher and otherwise replace Ross Gload. Bozied has a .933 OPS against southpaws over his Minor League career. The soon-to-be 31-year-old has never gotten the call to the Majors despite the prodigious power numbers.

Besides the obvious benefit of potentially striking lightning in a bottle with one of these replacements, the Phillies also send a positive message to fans — “Hey, we are just as frustrated about the offense as you are, and we’re doing something about it” — without making too much of an impact on the team. And if you believe in the “sending messages” theory in the clubhouse (I don’t), kicking Dobbs, Castro, and Gload to the curb could tell the rest of the squad that no one’s job is guaranteed.

The Major League minimum salary is $400,000 so calling on three of the above four players would cost roughly $1.2 million prorated over the remaining 105 games (about $1 million). That would put them a hairline over the $140 million payroll mark the organization set in the off-season. Essentially, swapping bench bats is a low-risk, medium-reward move with ancillary P.R. benefits. And personally, I would rather pay six guys (three of whom become unemployed) $4 million to OPS .700-ish than three guys $3 million to OPS .400-ish.

Should the Phillies Break Up with Raul?

At Phillies Nation, Corey Seidman has authored a thought-provoking piece on what the Phillies should do with Raul Ibanez going forward. I encourage you to read the whole article because he backs up his arguments with a lot of facts and logic. But to quickly sum up, Corey suggests the Phillies ask Raul to wave his no-trade clause, eat his salary (roughly $8.5 million remaining in 2010 and $11.5 million in ’11) and have him go to another team. If he doesn’t waive the NTC, the Phillies simply cut ties with him, eat the salary, and move on into the Domonic Brown era.

Corey’s arguments make a lot of sense. After all, Raul is 38 years old, OPSing only .712, and playing poor defense in left field. However, I do disagree with his suggestion. The decision to cut Ibanez seems to be based on his prolonged slump in 2010 and a poor performance last year when he returned from a groin injury. His second-half performance in ’09 looks especially bad compared to how he began the year, on an MVP-pace that earned him his first All-Star selection — in the starting lineup, no less.

In the first half of ’09, Raul hit 22 home runs, drove in 59 runs, and compiled a slash line of .312/.371/.656. In the second-half, after battling with a groin injury, Ibanez hit 12 homers, drove in 34 runs, and compiled a slash line of .232/.323/.448. While the .771 OPS is not great, it is more in line with what we should have expected from Ibanez. After all, Ibanez benefited from a freakishly high HR/FB rate above 21% over the entirety of 2009, much higher than his career rate at 13%. Raul’s second-half struggles were somewhat due to his groin injury but mostly due to regression to the mean and comparing those results to his first-half results.

From the start of the ’09 season until his last game before going on the DL on June 17, Raul hit 78 fly balls. Since we know he hit 22 HR, we now know that his HR/FB rate was 28%. In the second half, he hit 67 fly balls with 12 HR for a HR/FB rate of 18% — still high, actually, but definitely more realistic. This year, Raul hasn’t been so lucky as his HR/FB rate is only 5%. Just as we did last season, we expect Raul’s HR/FB% to not stay constant, but to more closely reflect that of his career average 13%.

Additionally, Raul hasn’t just been unlucky with home runs; he has been BABIP unlucky as well. His career average is .304 but only .250 so far in 2010. It mostly has to do with line drives as his BABIP on liners is only .600 compared to the ’09 Major League average of .724.  Hitters don’t have too much control over their line drive rate so crediting it to randomness is entirely warranted here.

Let’s say that Raul turns the normal 13% — and not 5% — of his 60 fly balls into homers: three homers becomes eight. Raul has hit 30 line drives, so if he gets normal BABIP luck, he gets an extra 4 hits. If we credit Raul with an extra five homers and four singles, his OPS goes from a miserable .712 to .823. While that is a good illustration of some of Raul’s poor luck, it also shows the folly of the small sample size. We are, after all, only talking about 205 plate appearances (excluding yesterday’s game against the San Diego Padres). At this point, the only reliable statistics are (per Corey’s brother Eric, formerly of FanGraphs):

50 PA: Swing %
100 PA: Contact Rate
150 PA: Strikeout Rate, Line Drive Rate, Pitches/PA
200 PA: Walk Rate, Groundball Rate, GB/FB

—–

250 PA: Flyball Rate
300 PA: Home Run Rate, HR/FB
500 PA: OBP, SLG, OPS, 1B Rate, Popup Rate
550 PA: ISO

At present, we have about two-thirds of the necessary sample size to reliably use HR/FB and merely half of the required PA for our slash stats. Ibanez isn’t quite as bad as he has looked, although a month ago I noticed that his bat looked like it was slowing down. He is closer to the Ibanez of 2008, who OPS’ed .837 with 23 HR, than the Ibanez we have been watching with an OPS of .712 and 3 HR. Furthermore, Ibanez is actually showing good plate discipline, increasing his walk rate to nearly 14%, up from 10% last year. He has also cut his strikeouts down to 17%, down from 24% last year.

On a tangential subject, I disagree with Corey on simply cutting ties with Ibanez. If the Phillies can find a taker for him and get a warm body in return, even if they have to eat the rest of his salary, that’s fine. But there is no reason to simply throw him away while still paying his salary. He is a better hitter than everybody else on the Phillies’ bench. Even if he becomes a Matt Stairs-esque pinch-hitter, that’s fine. Getting him to accept that role may be difficult, however.

Corey makes salient points about bench versatility. If the Phillies demote Ibanez, they become very outfield-heavy with Greg Dobbs, Ross Gload, and Ben Francisco. When Jimmy Rollins returns, Wilson Valdez will likely get the boot back to Triple-A (if he goes through waivers unclaimed, something that has already occurred once this year), meaning Juan Castro will be the back-up for both middle infield positions. With Rollins’ calf, that’s a shaky proposition and someone is bound to claim Valdez if he continues to pass through waivers. At third base, Dobbs would be the only one capable of backing up Placido Polanco, who had missed a few games due to a bruised elbow.

Cutting Ibanez isn’t the best option in that scenario. Instead, when Rollins comes back, the Phillies can cut either Dobbs or Gload and keep both Castro and Valdez (both capable of fielding at third base) on the roster. Dobbs and Gload are pretty much the same player: left-handed, replacement-level bench bats with poor defense. If Ibanez is demoted and kept on the roster, the Phillies should cut Dobbs or Gload, preferably Dobbs. Dobbs’ salary is only $1.35 million this season before hitting free agency in 2011, while Gload is only owed $1 million this year and $1.6 million next year.

Of course, Corey wants Ibanez cut more so to usher in the Dom Brown era. Brown is hitting well in AA Reading with a .969 OPS and has improved each year he has been in the Minors since 2006 as an 18-year-old in the Gulf Coast League. The Phillies wouldn’t call up Brown to pinch-hit or to even platoon with the right-handed Ben Francisco; they would only bring him up to play full-time, which would essentially require Ibanez to be out of town (unless he’s keen on getting 100 PA the rest of the season).

Playing Brown full-time also allows the Phillies to know exactly where they stand when deciding whether or not to offer Jayson Werth a contract in the off-season. If Brown plays well, the team may feel it does not have to pay Werth $15 million over each of the next four or five seasons when they can have Dom Brown with similar production at the same position making the Major League minimum $400,000. As such, the Phillies could patch up other areas in need of repair.

That is, I believe, the strongest argument for cutting Ibanez. Otherwise, I don’t see a reason to cut ties with a left-fielder who, while he may be 38 years old, is more likely to OPS in the high .700’s or low .800’s going forward than his current production in the low 700’s.

Yes, Ibanez is struggling, but if I can preach one concept to Phillies fans, it’s patience. It took patience to see Cole Hamels through his early-season struggles; it will take patience to see Joe Blanton through his. It took patience to see the Phillies through their terrible two-week offensive slump and they still may not be out of it despite scoring five and six runs in their past two games. There are a lot of factors out of a player’s control in this great game called baseball, and to panic because a bunch of those breaks haven’t fallen our way is not a good idea. I don’t want to say Ibanez is fine because I do think his bat has slowed down, but I am more concerned with Ryan Howard than Ibanez if you catch my drift.

Every team, even the best, experiences these problems plenty of times throughout every season. The Phillies have been extremely lucky the past few years since they have not only been relatively injury-free, but have had the luxury of enjoying the primes of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jayson Werth with enough payroll flexibility to keep them in town. The Phillies have not had to deal with the thought of dumping a crucial member of the team off at the nearest exit. Sure, they ate the salaries of Adam Eaton and Geoff Jenkins, but no one viewed them as mainstays in the Phillies organization as Eaton was a back-of-the-rotation starter and Jenkins had already lost his starting job to Werth.

The 2010 season has been a real struggle for Raul Ibanez and the Philadelphia Phillies, but it is not unique. The Atlanta Braves are wondering if they are ever going to get anything out of Nate McLouth; the New York Yankees have been waiting for Curtis Granderson to find his power; the Houston Astros are trying to find out who took away Carlos Lee‘s offense. Over the next four months those three hitters will, most likely, improve offensively not because someone found a mechanical flaw or they fixed their timing (although that could certainly happen), but because they are simply regressing to their mean. I can flip a coin ten times and get eight tails. If I continue to flip a coin 100 more times, I should expect that coin to come up tails not 80% of the time, but 50% — its true probability. The same holds true for Raul and many other struggling baseball players.

Jon Garland Blames CBP for Loss

Via Matt Gelb:

[Padres starting pitcher Jon] Garland: “This ballpark is a joke, in my eyes. But it’s something you have to deal with. There are good ballparks, and bad ballparks. Hitters love it here, and pitchers hate it. As long as this ballpark stands, it’s going to be like that.”

Garland gave up six runs on ten hits in seven innings of work. Walter Johnson he is not. To be fair, Garland didn’t pitch poorly and Jayson Werth‘s home run did look like an easy fly out. However, Werth’s homer was not aided by the dimensions of the ballpark but by the early June heat.

It seems every year, a few visiting players complain about the “bandbox” that is, supposedly, Citizens Bank Park. The reputation is unwarranted, however. Using ESPN’s park factors:

  • 2010: 1.20 (over 1.00 favors hitters), 8th in MLB, 5th in NL
  • 2009: 1.01, 16th in MLB, 10th in NL
  • 2008: 1.02, 11th in MLB, 7th in NL
  • 2007: 1.42, 1st in MLB

As you can see, in the last two and one-third seasons, Citizens Bank Park has been a hair above-average in terms of homer-friendliness. If Garland’s complaints were made in 2007, he may have a point. CBP has been playing rather fair.

Coming into tonight, Garland had a 2.15 ERA for the San Diego Padres, whose home games are played in Petco Park. Using the same park factors from ESPN:

  • 2010: 0.82, 23rd in MLB, 12th in NL
  • 2009: 0.72, 29th in MLB, 16th in NL
  • 2008: 0.74, 30th in MLB
  • 2007: 0.69, 29th in MLB, 15th in NL

Additionally, Garland’s BABIP was a paltry .258 and he had stranded 80% of base runners, about 10% higher than the average. Garland’s 4.50 SIERA is more than double his 2.15 ERA.

Looks like Jon Garland wants to have his cake and eat it too. If Citizens Bank Park is a “joke”, then so too is Petco Park.

Any time a pitcher wants to complain about CBP, they should ask “What would Armando Galarraga do?” As you know, Galarraga was on the verge of a perfect game when umpire Jim Joyce called Jason Donald safe — when replays showed he was clearly out by a full step — on an infield single. Instead of throwing a fit and yelling at the umpire, Galarraga simply smiled and retired the 28th batter for his complete game shut-out. He did not bad-mouth Joyce in the media; in fact, he shook Joyce’s hand when exchanging the lineup card the next afternoon.

As Joe Posnanski wrote:

Galarraga pitched a perfect game on Wednesday night in Detroit. I’ll always believe that. I think most baseball fans will always believe that. But, more than anything, it seems that Galarraga will always believe it. The way he handled himself after the game, well, that was something better than perfection. Dallas Braden’s perfect game was thrilling. Roy Halladay’s perfect game was art. But Armando’s Galarraga’s perfect game was a lesson in grace.

If Galarraga had given up that home run to Jayson Werth, would he have whined about it after the game to the media around his locker?

Let’s Talk Starting Pitching

With all of Philadelphia in a malaise over the Phillies’ offense, the effort from four of the five starting pitchers has been overlooked. Joe Blanton, still trying to find his stuff six starts after recovering from a strained left oblique, has been the odd man out. Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer, and even Kyle Kendrick (relatively speaking) have been rather effective so far in 2010.

Roy Halladay

  • Perfect game on 5/29/10 against the Florida Marlins
  • 5 complete games, 3 shut-outs
  • Averaging 7.2 IP per start, on pace for 34 starts and about 262 innings, which would be the highest IP in a season by a Phillie since Curt Schilling tossed 268.2 in 1998
  • 9 of 11 starts have qualified as quality starts
  • On pace for 213 strikeouts, would be the 14th most in Phillies history since 1920
  • Leads all Major League pitchers (with at least 50 IP) in SIERA at 2.96

Cole Hamels

  • Gave up three runs or fewer in five straight starts before rain-shortened outing on Tuesday in Atlanta (six straight even if you count that start)
  • Four of previous five starts — excluding Tuesday — have been quality starts
  • Averaging a strikeout per inning
  • Struggled to put away left-handed hitters entering 2010, but is holding them to a .273 OBP and .268 SLG in 2010 likely due to his new cut fastball
  • 3.51 SIERA is ninth-best in the National League and 16th overall

Jamie Moyer

  • Has completed six innings in nine out of ten starts
  • Earned a complete game shut-out against the Atlanta Braves on 5/7/10
  • While not exactly Cy Young material, he has kept the team in every game in which he has pitched, never surrendering more than five runs
  • Walk rate (1.8 per nine innings) is at its lowest since 1998

Kyle Kendrick

  • Has left the game without allowing a run three times: 4/20 @ ATL (8 IP), 5/5 vs. STL (7 IP) and 5/28 @ FLA (6 IP)
  • Quality starts in three out of his last four outings
  • Has walked two or fewer in each of his last six starts
  • Reached the sixth inning in five out of his last six starts
  • ERA now a respectable 4.62, down from 5.04 (and a matching 5.01 SIERA)

The Phillies’ offense may have fallen from their perch atop the National League in offense, but the pitching has come together. Even the bullpen has been reliable in the wake of injuries to Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge, although they have not had too many opportunities for shutdowns and meltdowns while the offense has been slumping. Before today’s series finale in Atlanta, the team ranked sixth in the league in runs allowed per game at 3.98, just behind the Braves at 3.96. Having allowed only two runs to the Braves on Wednesday, that average drops to 3.94.

It is a crying shame that the Phillies have been wasting these great pitching performances with a dreadfully impotent offense over the past two weeks. After the 5-1 victory to open up the series with the Boston Red Sox, the Phillies had a run differential of +69 for a Pythagorean winning percentage of .676. In other words, based on run differential, the Phillies played like like a 110-win team. In the last 11 games, the Phillies’ run differential is -36, or a Pythagorean winning percentage of .073, which comes out to a 12-win team in a 162-game season.

If the Phillies hit like a bottom-feeding offensive team, averaging 3 runs per game, the Pythagorean winning percentage would come out to .303, 49 wins in a full season. If the Phillies had hit like they normally do, averaging 5 runs per game, the Pythag equals .548, an 89-win team.

BEGIN END G RS RA PWL XW XL XW-162 XL-162
4/5 5/21 41 224 155 .676 28 13 110 52
5/22 6/2 11 14 50 .073 1 10 12 150
4/5 6/2 52 238 205 .574 30 22 93 69

Glossary | PWL = Pythagorean W-L record | XW = Expected wins | XL = Expected losses | XW-162 = Expected wins per 162 games | XL-162 = Expected losses per 162 games