Cole Hamels Desperately Needs Run Support

Another excellent Cole Hamels start, another loss. Hamels has been among the best starters in baseball this season, especially since the beginning of May, but his offense couldn’t hit water if they jumped off the Titanic so long as he’s on the mound. The Phillies continued their scoreless streak in Queens, New York — now up to 36 innings thanks to four consecutive shut-outs — and have not scored a run for Hamels since the top of the seventh inning on August 1 against the Washington Nationals. To make matters worse, Hamels was the one batter in the lineup that prevented R.A. Dickey from tossing a no-hitter tonight.

This dearth of run support has become a well-known problem but to truly grasp the issue, it may be best to look at a chart. I tossed Hamels’ basic pitching information into a spreadsheet (innings pitched, earned runs allowed). Then I counted all of the runs the Phillies offense scored in each start while he was the pitcher (excluding innings in which he was pinch-hit for). I converted each column of information into a rate per nine innings, then calculated the differential. Positive is good, negative is bad. Click the chart to view a larger version in a new window. The starts are listed in chronological order, with his first start on the left. His rain-shortened June 1 start has been excluded.

IP RA RS RA/9 RS/9 (RS-RA)/9
5.0 2 6 3.6 10.8 7.2
5.7 4 7 6.3 11.1 4.8
8.0 2 0 2.3 0.0 -2.3
6.0 6 2 9.0 3.0 -6.0
6.0 4 1 6.0 1.5 -4.5
8.0 1 1 1.1 1.1 0.0
5.0 3 4 5.4 7.2 1.8
6.7 2 3 2.7 4.0 1.3
7.0 1 5 1.3 6.4 5.1
6.3 2 0 2.8 0.0 -2.8
8.0 2 0 2.3 0.0 -2.3
7.0 1 4 1.3 5.1 3.9
7.0 3 9 3.9 11.6 7.7
4.0 5 0 11.3 0.0 -11.3
7.0 3 2 3.9 2.6 -1.3
7.0 3 3 3.9 3.9 0.0
7.7 0 1 0.0 1.2 1.2
7.0 1 0 1.3 0.0 -1.3
8.0 0 0 0.0 0.0 0.0
5.0 3 4 5.4 7.2 1.8
7.0 4 4 5.1 5.1 0.0
7.0 1 0 1.3 0.0 -1.3
8.0 1 0 1.1 0.0 -1.1
153.3 54 56 3.2 3.3 0.1
  • Even differential: 2.4 RA / 2.4 RS (4 starts, 17%)
  • Negative differential: 3.6 RA / 0.7 RS (10 starts, 43%)
  • Positive differential: 3.1 RA / 6.9 RS (9 starts, 39%)

Hamels’ numbers since May 4 (excluding June 1): 122.1 IP, 2.64 ERA, 8.8 K/9, and 2.6 BB/9. He has won only five of those games, lost five, and received seven no-decisions. In that span of time, his offense has only scored four more runs than he has allowed. It’s as if, when Hamels toes the rubber, the offense hits like they’re facing another Hamels.

Lastly, a chart with the raw numbers, in case you’re interested:

Broxton Cocktail

Jonathan Broxton is an elite closer, averaging 12 strikeouts per nine innings with a 2.92 ERA. Asking him to get three outs in a game his team has a 95% chance of winning is a no-brainer. And the overwhelming majority of the time, Broxton will convert the 95% chance into 100%.

Unless it’s against the Phillies.

Broxton has been the victim of some great Phillies memories recently. He added one more to the timeline last night.

The Phillies were down 9-2 going into the bottom of the eighth inning. FanGraphs listed their probability of winning at a whopping 1%. However, the never-say-die Phillies scored four runs on four singles and a double off of Ronald Belisario and Kenley Jansen. Still, their win probability only moved up to 3.6% by the end of the inning with the score 9-6.

Bottom of the ninth, enter Broxton, he of the career 4.91 ERA in 14.2 IP against the Phillies, highest among any team against which he has logged 11 or more innings. Was his lack of success against them running through his mind? Was he recalling:

  • August 24, 2008: The Phillies are behind 2-1 with runners on first and second with two outs in the ninth. Shane Victorino reached on a single and Andy Tracy reached on a walk (Kyle Kendrick pinch-ran for him). When the second out of the inning was recorded, the Phillies had a 14.5% chance to win. Pedro Feliz brought the Phillies up to 61.3% with a game-tying single to right field. Feliz played the role of hero again in the bottom of the eleventh, hitting a walk-off three-run home run off of Jason Johnson.
  • October 13, 2008: Game 4 of the National League Champsionship Series. The Phillies entered the top of the eighth inning behind 5-3. Shane Victorino tied the game with a line drive two-run home run down the right field line off of Cory Wade. Wade recorded the second out of the inning, then allowed a single to Carlos Ruiz before being pulled for Broxton. What happened next will be forever vivid in the memories of Phillies fans: Matt Stairs put one of the most beautiful swings on a Broxton fastball, hitting one of the most beautiful home runs, putting the Phillies up 7-5, the score by which they would win.
  • May 14, 2009: The Phillies are behind 3-1 with two outs in the ninth. Broxton struck out Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth to start the inning, but Raul Ibanez singled and Greg Dobbs walked to bring up Carlos Ruiz. After falling behind 0-2 and fouling off two more tough pitches, Ruiz hit a double to deep right-center, scoring runs two and three to tie the game. The Phillies went from 1.6% to win after Werth’s strikeout to 61.1% after Ruiz’s double. The Phillies, however, ended up losing as Chad Durbin allowed two runs to the Dodgers in the top of the tenth. Ramon Troncoso nailed down the save.
  • October 19, 2009: Game 4 of the NLCS again. The Phillies enter the bottom of the ninth trailing 4-3. Raul Ibanez grounded out for the first out of the inning, bringing up Matt Stairs. In what can only be described as sheer nervousness, Broxton walked Stairs on four pitches, three of which were low and outside. Carlos Ruiz was subsequently hit with a pitch, putting runners on first and second. Greg Dobbs lined out for the second out of the inning, bringing up Jimmy Rollins. And then this happened. Rollins laced a double to right-center, scoring the tying and go-ahead runs for a walk-off victory that put the Phillies up three games to one in the NLCS.

Back to tonight. The Phillies are down 9-6 entering the ninth inning. They have a 5% chance to win.

Broxton hit Polanco to start the ninth inning, then walked Mike Sweeney and Jayson Werth to load the bases with no outs. Ben Francisco hit a ground ball that went through Casey Blake‘s legs, scoring two runs to bring the Phillies within one run. Carlos Ruiz, always the hero, ended the game with a two-run double to left-center. Once again, Broxton walked off the field failing to have nailed down the save against the Phillies.

Here’s a look, in chart form, of Broxton’s failure to hold the Phillies scoreless. (Via FanGraphs)

It would be interesting to find out if the Phillies have information on Broxton that the rest of the league does not. While five games constitutes a very small sample, the odds of the Phillies coming from behind the way they have are astronomically low. There is likely something more to this than simple statistical variance, whether it’s Broxton’s jitters or some juicy information the Phillies have in their scouting reports.

Manuel, Romero Make Romero Look Bad

J.C. Romero has walked a lot of hitters since he became a regular reliever in 2000 with the Minnesota Twins. 351 of them to be exact.  Some of those walks were meaningless, while others decided the fate of his team in a close game. None of his 350 walks entering Tuesday night’s appearance against the Los Angeles Dodgers was as embarrassing as his 351st — a free pass issued to fellow relief pitcher George Sherrill, who logged exactly zero plate appearances prior. Yes, that’s right: J.C. Romero walked a relief pitcher.

It is likely that Romero is still not 100% from his off-season elbow surgery. In fact, Romero himself says that the surgery is the culprit. Via Matt Gelb:

“I have to get used to being healthy again,” he said. “My muscle memory has to be the way it was before. In the beginning, I was effective this year but my arm speed was slower and my hand was slower.

“But now, I feel real strong. So I have to make sure my hand stays on top of the ball every pitch like it was before my surgery. That’s all.”

The fact is, however, J.C. Romero simply never was that good, even before his injury last year. He always walked batters at an unacceptably high rate (career 5.2 BB/9) and he isn’t a maven of strikeouts as his K/9 didn’t cross 6.7 between 2006-10 (aside from ’08) and he never induced 10% or more swinging strikes.

Romero’s 4.38 ERA seems high, but he is actually much worse than that ERA indicates — his SIERA is 5.63. Since becoming a Phillie in mid-2007, he has done a great job of avoiding his SIERA thanks to a ridiculously low BABIP (.236 to .239) and a ridiculously high strand rate (81-90%). Both of those are unsustainable and should not be expected going forward.

Back at the end of March, I wrote that Romero should be used strictly as a LOOGY on account of the .200 difference in OPS against right-handed and left-handed batters (.810 to .601 respectively). That has generally been the case as 39% of the batters Romero faced in 2007 were left-handed, 44% in ’08 and ’09, and 55% this year. However, these are Romero’s last three appearances (8 batters faced, one out recorded; 5 ER, 2 HR, 3 BB, 1 K):

  • August 5 @ FLA: Chad Tracy (LH) is announced as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the seventh. Charlie Manuel brings in Romero for the lefty-on-lefty match-up. Tracy is pinch-hit for by Donnie Murphy, who promptly hits an RBI ground-rule double. Romero issues two walks to Hanley Ramirez and Logan Morrison before being lifted. Basically, it came down to Roy Oswalt facing a left-handed batter in Chad Tracy versus Romero against Murphy. Given Romero’s platoon splits and Tracy’s .695 and .612 OPS the past two years, taking Oswalt out of the game was foolish. It wasn’t as if Manuel had no idea the Marlins would pull that maneuver — it’s common managerial strategy.
  • August 6 vs. NYM: Danys Baez recorded two outs in the top of the ninth, but was pulled with runners on first and second when the left-handed Chris Carter was announced as a pinch-hitter. Charlie brought in Romero for the lefty-on-lefty match-up, but Carter was swapped for the right-handed Mike Hessman. The result? Three-run home run to bring the Mets to within two runs at 7-5. The Phillies manager was burned in the same situation two days in a row by two different managers.”Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”
  • August 10 vs. LAD: This appearance wasn’t as egregious as the previous two, but it’s just further evidence that Romero should only be used as a LOOGY, if and only if there is no chance he will face a right-handed hitter. The Phillies were down 13-7 in the top of the ninth. Romero was asked to simply record three outs as quickly as possible. He hit Andre Ethier with a pitch, then struck out James Loney, both left-handers. The right-handed Casey Blake then deposited a two-run home run over the left field fence. Romero capped his evening with that egregious walk to Sherrill.

The Phillies simply need to realize that Romero is not a good relief pitcher, regardless of what his ERA since 2007 is telling them. As long as he is on the roster, they need to coddle him by making sure he only faces left-handed batters and never use him in a high-leverage situation. He currently has the fifth-highest average leverage index upon entering the game, ahead of nine other relievers that have spent time on the Phillies’ roster.

Because of his left-handedness and the Phillies’ lack of reliable left-handed relievers, Romero’s ineffectiveness will have to be tolerated through the rest of the season. But it doesn’t mean that he has to continue being asked to pitch in unfavorable situations.

The Dog Days of August

If you’ve stopped by recently, you may have seen their “The Dog Days of August” feature, including the two blurbs I contributed on Raul Ibanez and Jimmy Rollins. More importantly, though, SportsNation has some poll questions and they’re looking for your votes. Like any true patriot American, I cast my ballot and I’ll explain the reasoning behind my votes below.

How will the regular season end for the Phillies?

Baseball Prospectus currently gives the Atlanta Braves a 79% chance at making the playoffs, including 69% to win the NL East and 10% to win the Wild Card. The Phillies are at 47% (29%, 18% respectively). Still, I voted that the Phillies would win the NL East.

Why? Well, I’m biased of course. But the Phillies also have a rather easy remaining schedule, as Tommy Bennett pointed out:

The Phillies’ schedule also provides relief. The team will play a majority (57 percent) of its remaining games at home, where it is 36-19 (compared to 26-30 on the road). The Phillies’ remaining opponents collectively play slightly below average offense for the league (by True Average); their opponents also have a slightly below average pitchers’ strikeout rate and a worse than average unintentional walk rate. That doesn’t mean the schedule is a cakewalk — the Phillies play 24 games in 23 days in one stretch — but it gives them a good chance at hunting the Braves and Giants (they have three left versus the Giants and six left versus the Braves, with those six being split — three home and three away; the season ends with three games between the Braves and Phillies).

How will Raul Ibanez perform for the rest of the season?

The obvious answer here is “somewhere in the middle” of “similar to his first half (.243 AVG, sub-.400 SLG)” and “similar to his last 22 days (1.064 OPS)”. Joe Pawlikowski went over Raul’s time in Philly in a recent post at FanGraphs, including a quote from myself back on June 7:

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.

Raul could continue to hit well and he could also go back into an offensive slump. But the most likely scenario is that he hits somewhere around his career .351 wOBA between now and the end of the season.

Is Jimmy Rollins still an elite player?

Rollins’ .331 wOBA ranks seventh among all shortstops with at least 230 plate appearances. His 11.9 UZR/150 over the past three years is the best among all shortstops. He’s been worth 1.8 WAR in an injury-plagued season in which he has played only 52 games.

Many fans point to Rollins’ declining bat. It is definitely true that Rollins has not been anywhere near as productive offensively in 2009-10 as he was in prior years. It has a lot to do with his approach at the plate. The past two years, his BABIP has been .251 and .257 — very low totals. Unlike pitchers, hitters do have a large say in BABIP results. Rollins’ is low because he has been trying to hit more fly balls. In ’08, 45% of his batted balls were ground balls and 31% were fly balls. The past two years, those rates have dropped to 40% and 42% respectively. Fly balls result in a lower BABIP than ground balls, hence why Rollins hasn’t been as offensively potent.

If Rollins goes back to a ground ball approach, he can hit well enough to keep himself among baseball’s elite shortstops. However, if he’s simply average offensively, he can still find himself ranked among baseball’s second tier of shortstops (i.e. anyone not named Hanley Ramirez, Derek Jeter, or Troy Tulowitzki).

Whose return is more key to the Phillies’ success going forward? (Chase Utley or Ryan Howard)

This is total Crashburn bait. Currently, the poll results have Utley narrowly edging out Howard 53% to 47%. Obviously, that makes me want to rip my face off. Over the past three years, Utley has been twice as valuable as Howard in terms of Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Utley plays a premium position, is better offensively (.395 to .383 wOBA over the past three years), and plays immaculate defense (16.1 to Howard’s -2.4 UZR/150 over the past three years).

Many people think I hate Howard and the response to this question isn’t going to help resolve that image, but the Utley-Howard debate is a joke. Utley is far and away baseball’s best second baseman while Howard isn’t among baseball’s top-five best first basemen.

What is a bigger factor for the Phillies going forward? (Strength of the rotation or weakness of the bullpen)

As shown in the recent post on kwERA, the important guys in the ‘pen all grade out nicely in terms of strike zone dominance. Their SIERA aren’t too different either. Really, the bullpen will be just fine if we can somehow convince Charlie Manuel to only — and I mean only — use J.C. Romero against left-handed batters and drop Danys Baez off at the curb. Otherwise, Manuel has done a decent job of giving higher-leverage innings to his better relievers.

The National League average bullpen ERA this year is 4.14. The Phillies’ is 4.06. Meanwhile, the NL average starters’ ERA is 4.10 while the Phillies’ is 3.89 and that’s barely including the presence of Roy Oswalt. The trio of Roy Halladay, Oswalt, and Cole Hamels is arguably baseball’s best 1-2-3 while Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick are right where they belong, in the #4 and 5 spots respectively. The Phillies clearly separate themselves from the pack with their starting pitching and it will play a huge role in their success or failure in attaining another playoff berth.

In the comments below, share how you voted and the thought processes you used to reach your conclusions. Also feel free to express your disagreement with my conclusions.

The Transformation of Cole Hamels

Cole Hamels‘ last start, in which he allowed one run and struck out 11 Mets in seven innings, signaled his return into the good graces of fans in Philadelphia. Cole was the whipping boy after a disastrous start to the 2009 season, through the post-season in which it was believed that he wished to quit before the World Series was over, to even two weeks ago. Fans and media alike memorized their talking points and used them ad nauseam. Everything he did was used against him, from appearing in TV commercials to carrying a dog in a backpack to doing a photoshoot with his wife to being from California and having a nasally voice. Whatever it was Cole did, it irked Philadelphians.

Funny thing, that winning. It can change irrational behavior rather quickly.

A grassroots campaign of sorts was started during the second half of the ’09 season, aiming to deflect the criticism of Hamels by pointing out the similarities between his ’08 and ’09 efforts. Myself, Matt Swartz of Baseball Prospectus, Paul Boye of Phillies Nation, and Dash Treyhorn of The Fightins — among many others — tried to rationally explain to fans that Cole simply had an unlucky season, that it was okay to keep faith in the southpaw. Given the heavy use of Sabermetrics, many people entrenched themselves in their anti-Hamels dogma even further, and all of a sudden there was a rift in the Phillies community, exemplified by “The Endless Debate” video made by @LONG_DRIVE.

Cole’s bad luck continued into the start of the 2010 season as he had a 5.28 ERA through his first five starts. The bleating reached a crescendo when Hamels allowed four home runs in six innings of work against the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 23. Although Roy Halladay was extremely good, as expected, Hamels’ struggles made the fan base yearn for Cliff Lee, viewed as unfairly and unnecessarily deported from the organization during the winter.

On May 17, the Phillies had just emerged victorious over the Pittsburgh Pirates 12-2 and extended their lead in the division to five games with a 24-13 (.649) record. The Phillies, despite that stupid Cole Hamels, were well on their way to another playoff berth. And then it happened. Yes, it.

The offense went into a tailspin. The Phillies were shut out five times in an eight-game span, including an entire series against the New York Mets. For once, the Phillies struggled and Hamels wasn’t to blame. And the offense wasn’t just bad, it was anemic. The scapegoat went from Hamels to Greg Dobbs and Jayson Werth.

While people were pointing fingers and shouting expletives at the offense, something magical happened: Cole Hamels righted his ship. From his next start sans offense (May 21) to present, Hamels has made 15 starts and pitched a total of 95 and two-thirds innings. He struck out 97 batters (9.2 K/9), walked 26 (2.4 BB/9) and compiled a 3.01 ERA. Of course, he’s only 3-6 in that span of time, which of course has been used against him. However, in those 15 games, his offense only provided him with 52 runs (avg. 3.5 per game) but 10 of those came in one game on June 19 against the Minnesota Twins (and the Phillies lost).

Hamels’ last two starts (21 strikeouts in 14 innings) have put him back on the map, so to speak, but his success had gone largely unnoticed given the offensive woes, the Werth drama, Halladay’s success, and the acquisition of Roy Oswalt.

So what is the big difference between 2009 and ’10?

Many — especially those who are well-versed in the Sabermetric defenses of Hamels — will point to his BABIP. It currently sits at .304 compared to .325 last year. The .021 difference, over 550 batted balls, accounts for about 12 hits. While the 12 hits can certainly make an impact, it is not quite as large as the .270 to .325 jump from ’08 to ’09 that had everybody selling his stock.

Base State of Hamels HR
Year Empty Runners On
2008 61% 39%
2009 58% 42%
2010 73% 27%

BABIP does have an effect on a pitcher’s strand rate. An average strand rate is around 72%. Cole’s, from ’08-10 was 76%, 72%, and 82%. Clearly, he has been better at stranding runners but it isn’t entirely due to BABIP; it is also due to a bit of home run luck and due to a legitimate skill. Only six of the 22 home runs Hamels has allowed (27%) have been hit with one or more runners on base and only one was hit with two or more runners on base. A pitcher doesn’t have a whole lot of say in when he gives up his home runs, be it with the bases empty or with runners on. So Hamels has been a bit fortunate on the timing of his gopher balls.

Additionally, Hamels has bolstered his strikeout rate substantially. The past two seasons, he had been averaging under eight strikeouts per nine, still an above-average rate. However, this year, he has skyrocketed his punch-outs to an average 9.2 per nine innings. Strikeouts are great for pitchers for obvious reasons: the ball isn’t put in play and thus the safe/out result is not subject to a roll of the dice; and pitchers who strike out a lot of hitters tend to have a lower BABIP.

To what can we attribute Hamels’ strikeouts, despite the fact that he is inducing exactly the same amount of swings-and-misses this year as he did last year (12%)? Hamels has added 2 MPH of velocity onto his four-seam fastball, nearly the same amount on his change-up, and he’s introduced a cut fastball that has accounted for 13% of his pitches. Cole now has four pitches that keep hitters guessing as opposed to the three (and oftentimes two, given his mediocre curve) he had last year.

Hamels Pitch Selection, 3-1
Type 2010 2009
Four-seam 82% 67%
Change-up 14% 31%
Curve 2% 2%
Cutter 2% 0%

Cole has found himself in pitcher-friendly counts (0-1, 0-2, 1-2) two percent more often, which amounts to about 16 more pitcher-friendly counts over 814 batters (the amount he faced in ’09). He is also not giving in when the count is 3-1. Hitters slugged .846 after a 3-1 count against Hamels in ’09; they are slugging only .280 this year.

While none of these changes are large in magnitude, when combined with the other little changes, they add up to a pitcher perceived as much improved. Really, Hamels is very similar to the guy we’ve seen the past few years and SIERA agrees:

2007: 3.20 (9th in MLB)

2008: 3.52 (15th in MLB)

2009: 3.55 (18th in MLB)

2010: 3.28 (8th in MLB)

Cole Hamels is one of the best pitchers in baseball. Nobody can deny that now.

Phillies kwERA

Mike Fast put up a great article at The Hardball Times, highlighting the leaders in kwERA. What is kwERA? Fast explains:

A few years ago, Guy M and Tom Tango came up with a neat toy called kwERA that works a little bit like FIP, except that it ignores a pitcher’s home run rate. It’s a measure of strike zone dominance.

The formula is kwERA = [5.30] – 12 * (K-BB)/PA.

I hadn’t heard of kwERA before, so I tossed some numbers into a spreadsheet to see what the Phillies looked like.

Note that I used TBF (total batters faced) as opposed to the PA in Fast’s column. It didn’t change anything, but since TBF is one of the columns, it makes it easier to follow. Also note that I used the full season stats for Roy Oswalt and J.A. Happ, including their starts with their new teams. Lastly, Fast initially used 5.40 as a constant, but notes in the comments that it is league-dependent. As such, the constant I used instead is 5.30.

Ryan Madson 4.57 21.7 93 4 25 0.04 0.27 0.23 2.59
Roy Halladay 2.17 178.0 705 21 158 0.03 0.22 0.19 2.97
Jose Contreras 3.55 38.0 159 12 40 0.08 0.25 0.18 3.19
Roy Oswalt 3.53 135.0 549 36 124 0.07 0.23 0.16 3.38
Cole Hamels 3.56 139.0 586 46 138 0.08 0.24 0.16 3.42
Brad Lidge 5.09 23.0 103 14 28 0.14 0.27 0.14 3.67
Chad Durbin 3.43 44.7 189 15 40 0.08 0.21 0.13 3.71
Average 3.97 67.7 283 19 53 0.07 0.19 0.12 3.89
Joe Blanton 5.86 106.0 469 26 72 0.06 0.15 0.10 4.12
Jamie Moyer 4.84 111.7 460 20 63 0.04 0.14 0.09 4.18
Antonio Bastardo 5.11 12.3 54 9 13 0.17 0.24 0.07 4.41
Nelson Figueroa 3.46 26.0 104 9 15 0.09 0.14 0.06 4.61
Kyle Kendrick 4.37 127.7 534 34 64 0.06 0.12 0.06 4.63
David Herndon 4.08 35.3 156 10 16 0.06 0.10 0.04 4.84
Danys Baez 4.95 36.3 167 20 20 0.12 0.12 0.00 5.30
J.C. Romero 2.59 24.3 111 20 17 0.18 0.15 -0.03 5.62
J.A. Happ 4.03 22.3 82 15 10 0.18 0.12 -0.06 6.03

For you visual learners (click to open a larger version):

Those pesky Sabermetrics keep finding ways to make Madson look good and Happ bad! After all, Happ is a “Cliff Lee lite” and Madson doesn’t have a closer’s mentality.

Overall, though, the findings shouldn’t really surprise you.  Halladay and Oswalt are at the top and Baez and Romero are at the bottom. Lidge may be the other surprise given that his control (5.5 BB/9) has been such an issue, but he averages more than a strikeout per inning pitched. Additionally, kwERA ignores home runs and Lidge has given up five of them in 23 innings of work and his HR/FB is at a whopping 18%.

kwERA doesn’t differ a great deal from other ERA estimators such as SIERA, as the differential ranges from -0.27 (Kendrick, 4.90 SIERA) to +0.46 (Figueroa, 4.15 SIERA). But I still thought it was interesting to look at — hopefully you did, too.

(inb4 “kwERA? More like kwEERA! LoLz!1!1!!!”)

Mike Sweeney to Fill the Howard Void

Todd Zolecki, via Twitter:

Phillies acquire first baseman Mike Sweeney from the Seattle Mariners for a player to be named later or cash considerations.

Since Ryan Howard was placed on the disabled list, Sweeney’s role is to help the Phillies bridge the gap. At one point in his career (1999-2002), Sweeney was an extremely productive hitter but chronic back problems and two knee surgeries limited him to under 1,000 plate appearances from 2006-09.

This year, in 110 PA with the Seattle Mariners, Sweeney hit for a 118 OPS+ which is exactly at his career average. His ISO is as high as it has been since 2005 with the Royals and his walk rate is as high as it has been since ’06. But wait, there’s more! Sweeney has been tearing it up for Seattle’s Triple-A affiliate in Tacoma. Last night, he had three hits in four at-bats, including two home runs and four RBI. Overall, he has a 1.054 OPS in 50 PA during his rehab assignment.

Defensively, Sweeney likely leaves a lot to be desired as he has almost exclusively been a designated hitter. Dave Cameron of U.S.S. Mariner, who has watched Sweeney since the start of last season, doesn’t see Sweeney working out too well at first base. Via Twitter, he wrote:

With no malice intended towards Sweeney, do Phillies really think he can play the field? He hurt himself every time he tried this year.

He physically can’t do it. Not kidding – he plays the field, the next day he’s unavailable.

Given the Phillies’ rash of injuries, the addition of Sweeney could potentially add more heartache to a rough season.

Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports via Twitter that Charlie Manuel intends to use Sweeney as the everyday first baseman. Sweeney does not have much of a platoon split: .824 OPS against left-handers and .864 against right-handers. I have seen a lot of people wondering why there won’t be a platoon with Sweeney and Ross Gload, but it won’t make much of a difference. Gload is actually hitting lefties much better this year and his career OPS against right-handed pitchers is a lot lower than Sweeney’s.

All told, this is a low-risk (virtually no-risk) move that could end up rewarding the Phillies greatly. Even if Sweeney does not emulate Ryan Howard — and no one is expecting him to — he is a solid upgrade over Cody Ransom and Greg Dobbs, the two other options aside from Gload who could play first base.

Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

More bad news, via Matt Gelb on Twitter:

[Ryan] Howard to the DL.

Although Howard himself and Charlie Manuel spoke optimistically about his left ankle injury, this was viewed an inevitability by just about everyone else. The black cloud continues to hang over the Philadelphia Phillies.

It’s been a while since we’ve updated the “Salary Lost to Injury” data, so that is today’s topic. Since we last discussed injuries, Jamie Moyer and Shane Victorino have joined Howard on the sidelines while Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, Placido Polanco, J.A. Happ, Ryan Madson, and Antonio Bastardo racked up more injury time, costing the Phillies plenty of cash money not to mention the loss in on-field production.

The injury timeline (click to view a much larger version):

The data:

Player Absent Injury $/Gm $ to Date Injury Cost
Chase Utley 35* R Thumb Sprain $92,593 $9.81 M $3.24 M
Brad Lidge 41 R Elbow Surgery/
$70,988 $7.52 M $2.91 M
Jimmy Rollins 58 R Calf Strain $46,296 $4.91 M $2.69 M
Ryan Madson 63 R Big Toe Fracture $27,778 $2.94 M $1.75 M
Placido Polanco 19 L Elbow Bruise $30,864 $3.27 M $0.59 M
J.C. Romero 22 L Elbow Surgery $24,691 $2.62 M $0.54 M
Jamie Moyer 13* L Elbow UCL $40,123 $4.25 M $0.52 M
J.A. Happ 88 L Forearm Strain $2,901 $0.31 M $0.26 M
Chad Durbin 18 R Hamstring Strain $13,117 $1.39 M $0.24 M
Carlos Ruiz 20 Concussion $11,728 $1.24 M $0.23 M
Shane Victorino 6* R Abdominal Strain $30,864 $3.27 M $0.19 M
Joe Blanton 24 L Oblique Strain $6,173 $0.65 M $0.15 M
Ryan Howard 1* L Ankle $117,284 $12.43 M $0.12 M
Brian Schneider 13 L Achilles Strain $6,173 $0.65 M $0.08 M
Antonio Bastardo 26 L Elbow Ulnar Neuritis $2,500 $0.27 M $0.07 M
Juan Castro 5 L Hamstring Strain $4,321 $0.46 M $0.02 M
TOTAL 452 $56.01 M $13.58 M

* Still on disabled list

And another chart:

Just by spending one day on the disabled list, Howard has already cost the Phillies more ($120,000) than Bastardo, Brian Schneider, and Juan Castro did (individually)  with their entire stints on the DL — $80,000, $70,000, and $20,000 respectively.

The team as a whole has gained an additional 121 DL days and an additional $4.5 million in salary since the last update. Fortunately, though, the Phillies have had most of their soldiers heal up as the percentage of salary lost to injuries has decreased from 36% from our last update to 24% presently.

Of the 38 players that have spent at least one day on the Phillies’ 25-man roster, 15 of them have spent time on the disabled list. That is a whopping 39% for those of you keeping score. Then consider that Paul Hoover, Dane Sardinha, Domonic Brown, Mike Zagurski, Scott Mathieson, Vance Worley, and Andrew Carpenter have barely spent any time on the roster.

*Note: I originally included Juan Castro in my count, but he never spent time on the DL. However, his hamstring injury did cause him to miss some time which is why he is included in the table above.

My comment on the Phillies for this week’s power rankings at ESPN, posted yesterday, read:

Injuries continue to decimate the Phillies’ roster. Yet somehow they are within 2.5 games of first place in the NL East.

It is quite amazing that a team decimated this badly by injuries is still within (now) three games of first place. The Phillies won 17 of 31 games so far without Utley and will now have to tread water without Howard as well.

Talk about the Phillies’ flaws all you want (and I will), but this team has overcome a tremendous amount of adversity this year. We are very fortunate to still watch our favorite team compete for a division crown.

Tonight’s lineup has Raul Ibanez hitting second, Ben Francisco fifth and Ruiz sixth, and includes both Cody Ransom and Wilson Valdez. Be very grateful if they play .500 baseball in August, then hope that the Phillies can go on a patented September hot streak with the return of Utley.

Lidge Tipping His Pitches?


Moments before Ryan Zimmerman sent Brad Lidge‘s fastball over the centerfield fence in the ninth inning, the third baseman sent Adam Dunn a message.

Zimmerman fouled off a slider, looked at Dunn in the on-deck circle and laughed before hitting a three-run homer to give the Washington Nationals a 7-5 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday night.

“He let me know I’m not hitting again,” Dunn said. “It’s like, ‘You don’t get the win today.'”

Aside from simply not having the same velocity or control on either fastball or slider, this sounds to me like the Washington Nationals knew what was coming before it ever left Brad Lidge‘s hand. The pitch that Zimmerman hit to win the game was an absolute cookie but it sounds to me like there was some idiosyncrasy that the Nationals picked up to give them an edge.

“I guess you have to tip your hat every once in a while,” Lidge said. “I don’t want to do that tonight, but I have to. Hopefully, I’ll get another chance to do it because I feel pretty good.”

The average velocity on Lidge’s fastball is down to 92.5 MPH compared to 93.6 MPH last year and 94.3 MPH the year before. The average velocity on his slider is 0.7 MPH slower. While his strikeout rate is back to his plateau from 2008 and earlier, his walk rate is up to 5.7 per nine innings — easily the highest rate of his career. From 2005-08, Lidge’s ground ball rate fell around 42 and 46 percent; the past two seasons, it has fallen to 39 and 38.5 percent respectively.

Lidge’s failures are not a product of BABIP. Presently .324, his career average is .329. One can make a case that he’s been home run lucky, but given the small sample of innings, his HR/FB at 17 percent is not outrageously higher than his career average 11 percent.

Note: All stats used do not include his loss against the Nationals as this article was posted early Sunday morning before FanGraphs updates its statistics.

So we know that Zimmerman was clearly extremely confident that he would hit the game-winning home run off of Lidge. It could have been sheer coincidence that he said that and got a fresh-baked cookie from Lidge, but it is more likely representative of some quirk Lidge has that tips his pitches. And we know that the quality of Lidge’s pitches have dropped considerably from 2008. That, combined with his naturally high walk rate, makes for some anxious moments in the ninth inning.

Charlie Manuel has been in Lidge’s corner every step of the way  and it doesn’t appear like any changes are imminent, but Ryan Madson ought to get a shot at the ninth inning sooner rather than later. Unlike Lidge, Madson rarely walks hitters as he is averaging 1.5 walks per nine innings. Madson averages 9.8 strikeouts per nine and induces a lot of ground balls — 54 percent, to be exact. His 2.71 SIERA is right behind that of Heath Bell, the well-respected closer of the San Diego Padres, and slightly ahead of future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera.

If Manuel sticks with Lidge through August the way he did last year, he will likely end up costing the Phillies several games. Winning the World Series may have garnered Manuel more rope, so to speak, but he is quickly running out. Refusing to use a perfectly good relief pitcher in Madson in favor of a clearly ineffective reliever in Lidge should be punishable by termination of employment.