Ryan Madson’s Dominance

Over at the Baseball Analytics blog, I took a look at potential 2012 free agent Ryan Madson. If you frequent Crashburn Alley, you’ve probably heard me make some of the same points before, but the pretty charts should make it worth the read anyway.

Madson will enter the final year of a three-year contract in 2011. Although the Phillies have a lot of money coming off of the books, including Brad Lidge potentially, Madson — represented by super-agent Scott Boras — should garner a lot of attention from the other 29 teams in the Majors. He is a guy with dominant stuff that can close on just about any team.

Chase Utley’s Power Outage

One thing that has been on my mind for a while is Chase Utley‘s power hitting against right-handed pitching before and after his thumb injury. As you may recall, Utley tore a ligament in his thumb that caused him to miss nearly two months of the regular season. Overall, Utley’s season was still productive but still below what we’ve come to expect from him. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it an “average to poor” season, as a Beerleaguer reader dared, but he was certainly not the same guy even after he was taken off of the disabled list.

Utley had a staggeringly amazing .434 wOBA against left-handed pitching this season, but only .337 against right-handers. It is quite odd that a left-handed hitter would have such a drastic platoon split in favor of same-handed pitching, but this is the case with Utley.

Here’s a look at Utley’s isolated power (ISO) against RHP before and after his thumb injury:

Before the injury, Utley essentially had tremendous power in the lower left quadrant of the strike zone, and even a little below. After the injury, if you split the strike zone into nine areas, Utley has lower-left and upper-middle for the most part.

The biggest change has occurred in his ability to handle breaking pitches. Here are the same two images as above, except we are only looking at “soft” stuff now:

The sample size for the top graph is 428 pitches; 257 for the bottom.

My theory is that Utley’s thumb is still a problem, sapping his power. Left-handed pitchers pitch Utley low and outside. Right-handers do as well, but pitch inside on a more frequent basis. Hitting inside pitches puts more pressure on the wrist and thumb given the direction in which the bat makes contact with the ball. Additionally, hitting softer pitches requires good bat control which is related to hand strength and dexterity. A thumb injury such as Utley’s will sap both attributes, which is why he has seen such a precipitous decline in his power hitting.

Data courtesy Baseball Analytics.

Cole Hamels’ Cut Fastball

Using the Baseball Analytics data, I went and looked at Cole Hamels‘ cut fastballs. Earlier in the season, fans weren’t too thrilled with it since it seemed like right-handed batters were killing it and Hamels didn’t know how to use it effectively.

Here’s a look at Hamels’ cutters against right-handed hitters from April through the end of June:

And Hamels’ cutters against RH from July through his last start in the NLCS:

Obviously, huge changes in results. In the second half, the cutter was put in play 23 times:

  • 11 ground balls
  • 8 fly balls
  • 3 pop-ups
  • 1 line drive

Of the 23 balls in play, only four were hits.

When Hamels was learning the cutter, it was thought of as nothing more than a show-me pitch. With dedication to improvement, Hamels has developed it into a legitimate out-inducer — likely why his K/9 went from 8.8 in the first half to 9.5 in the second half. He is no longer a predictable two-trick pony.

Hamels struggled yesterday in Game Three of the NLCS against the Giants, but it wasn’t because of his cutter; it was his four-seam fastball to right-handed hitters.

In 2010, when Hamels threw up and in to right-handed hitters, his wOBA against went from the 71st percentile to the 14th percentile. In the upper-right quadrant inside the strike zone, Hamels dropped to the 6th percentile.

While Hamels made great strides with his cut fastball, it was his bread and butter — the four-seamer — that failed him yesterday.

The Decline of Raul Ibanez

I was recently given trial access to a great baseball database, which you can see used on a regular basis over at the Baseball Analytics blog. There is a multitude of data available to parse in almost any way, shape, and form. I was like a kid in a candy store. The first thing I wanted to analyze was the decline of Raul Ibanez, so that’s what I did.

Here’s an excerpt:

Having watched Ibanez in his time as a Phillie, I have noticed his problems with fastballs. At 38 years old, it seems like his bat speed has been in decline and thus has been rather helpless trying to make solid contact on fastballs. The following images show his in-play slugging percentage on fastballs, the first showing data from April 5 to June 13, 2009 and the second showing everything since.

Spoiler: the results? Not good.

Is Ben Francisco Invisible?

As mentioned yesterday, it is usually not a great idea to make changes just because they didn’t work out in a game or a small set of games. For example, Roy Halladay struggled in the Phillies’ Game One loss. Most people recognize that it was an uncharacteristically mundane start from Doc and that he will likely be better in future starts. Almost every sentient person in the world would not skip him in the rotation because mean-regression is blatantly obvious in this regard.

However, it is smart to make changes based on principles — facts we know to be true. There are two items, among others, we know to be true that should inspire some more tactically-efficient changes from Charlie Manuel:

Francisco, at the very least, should have been a defensive replacement for Ibanez in each of the first two games of the NLCS. As Ibanez’s non-catch of a Pat Burrell fly ball in Game One and his last-ditch diving effort on a Burrell line drive in the ninth in Game Two both indicate, he leaves a lot to be desired defensively. He finished 2010 with a -8.4 UZR/150 and has a career -2.3 career rating. On the other hand, Ben Francisco has a career 3.4 rating.

That Manuel hasn’t subbed Francisco in for Ibanez defensively hasn’t hurt the Phillies… yet. It almost did last night in the ninth inning. But Manuel should start to make the substitution starting in Game Three — especially given the spacious outfield in AT&T Park in San Francisco — before it becomes an issue.

Francisco really should have been in the starting lineup in Game Two against Jonathan Sanchez, and should be in Game Four against Madison Bumgarner. Francisco has the higher career wOBA against lefties, .350 to .330. This year alone, Francisco’s .384 wOBA against lefties way out-paced Ibanez’s .318.

Manuel showed in Game Two that he is willing to make some logically-sound changes. The batting order was as close to optimal as the Phillies are ever going to get under Manuel’s reign. He split up the left-handed hitters by batting Chase Utley second and Placido Polanco third, ahead of Ryan Howard. That forced Giants manager Bruce Bochy to consider allowing Polanco and/or Jayson Werth to face his left-handed relievers, or burn extra relievers in an effort to maintain the platoon split advantage. On the other hand, Manuel didn’t listen to sports talk radio, where there were chants for Wilson Valdez to get the start over Jimmy Rollins.

Manuel isn’t ignorant to defensive replacements as he did it frequently when Burrell was here in Philadelphia. Burrell’s game logs from 2008 indicate that he was lifted for a defensive replacement in 73 games. Ibanez isn’t much better than Burrell defensively, so the lack of a defensive substitution is puzzling to say the least. It would be nice to see Francisco utilized to increase the Phillies’ advantage by another percentage point or two.

Oswalt Pitches Phillies to 1-1 Split

The Phillies evened the National League Championship Series at one game apiece, defeating the San Francisco Giants 6-1 behind a strong eight-inning performance by Roy Oswalt, and a seventh-inning bases-clearing double by Jimmy Rollins.

Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez battled the inconsistent strike zone of home plate umpire Dan Iassogna, walking three batters in the first inning, including a controversial RBI ball four to Jimmy Rollins that was a strike according to Pitch F/X.  Sanchez allowed the second run when Shane Victorino led off the bottom of the fifth with a double down the left field line, then advanced to third and home on Chase Utley and Placido Polanco outfield fly balls. Otherwise, Sanchez limited the damage.

Right fielder Cody Ross accounted for the only Giants run in the fifth inning, when he drove an inside fastball over the left field fence for his third solo home run of the series.

The Phillies broke the game open in the seventh after Oswalt led off the inning with a line drive single to center field. Victorino bunted him to second, forcing reliever Ramon Ramirez to intentionally walk Utley. Polanco then ripped a single back through the middle. It appeared the Phillies would have to settle for a bases loaded, one out situation, but Oswalt ignored third base coach Sam Perlozzo’s hold sign and scored easily.

The Giants then brought in left-hander Jeremy Affeldt to pitch to Howard. Polanco and Utley pulled off a double-steal, but Howard was unable to make contact, striking out for the second out of the inning. After Affeldt intentionally walked Jayson Werth, manager Bruce Bochy brought in his third reliever of the inning in Santiago Casilla. Rollins, batting left, lined a low-and-inside fastball to right-center field, narrowly missing the Phillies’ first post-season grand slam since Game Two of the NLDS against the Milwaukee Brewers. Three Phillies crossed home plate as Rollins jogged into second base, with two hits and four RBI on the night.

Oswalt found himself in trouble in the eighth inning, walking Pablo Sandoval with one out, and serving up a hit to Freddy Sanchez with two outs. Charlie Manuel chose to let Oswalt finish the inning rather than make a call to the bullpen. Oswalt got Aubrey Huff to line out to center field to end the threat. He finished with nine strikeouts and allowed only three hits.

Ryan Madson pitched a scoreless ninth, working around a lead-off walk to Buster Posey and a two-out Travis Ishikawa single, to ensure the Phillies would fly to San Francisco splitting the first two games. Both teams will have the day off tomorrow to travel and will resume the series on Tuesday with an official start time of 4 PM ET.

No Need to Panic After Game One Loss

The Phillies dropped the first game of a playoff series for the first time since the 2007 National League Division Series against the Colorado Rockies. This is a bit of an unfamiliar feeling to most fans, who had to watch the ace of the starting rotation labor through seven innings while the offense failed to manufacture runs last night in Game One of the NLCS.

Expectedly, some fans are already demanding Charlie Manuel make drastic changes to right the ship that has, apparently, gone adrift.

Jimmy Rollins is 1-for-15 so far in the 2010 post-season, with the lone hit being a single. Rollins failed to even make productive outs, popping out with a runner on first and one out in the second inning and striking out with a runner on first and no outs in the fourth. He struck out with a runner on first base and two outs (and a full count) in the eighth inning, the Phillies’ best attempt to tie the game.

In his last 22 games to end the regular season, Rollins compiled a .598 OPS including only five extra-base hits in 87 plate appearances. Fans want to see Rollins benched in favor of Wilson Valdez. Rollins, in an injury-plagued season, finished with a .317 wOBA, just a few points behind the league average. Valdez, on the other hand, finished way behind at .294. Rollins walks more, strikes out less, hits for more power, and runs the bases better. Defensively, Valdez has a slightly better UZR/150 but Rollins has 11 times the defensive innings.

It is true that Valdez filled in admirably for Rollins while he battled oblique and hamstring injuries, but Rollins at 75% health is better than Valdez at 100%. Valdez is benefiting from low expectations while Rollins is suffering from high expectations. Don’t be fooled — there’s a reason why Valdez could never hold down a full-time job.

Other fans are, once again, calling for the promotion of Carlos Ruiz in the batting order. Ruiz had the third-highest OPS of the Phillies’ starting eight, including the highest on-base percentage. A promotion seems logical but a decent portion of his success is directly related to his hitting in front of the pitcher. If first base is open, most managers will direct their pitchers to pitch around and eventually unintentionally-intentionally walk Ruiz to face the much weaker-hitting pitcher. In other situations, Ruiz will see a lot of predictable pitches since opposing pitchers want to avoid turning the lineup over.

Ruiz is smart for recognizing how he’s being pitched and capitalizing on those situations. But if you move him from 8th to, say, 6th (Rollins’ spot), there is no guarantee that he has similar or better success. Overall, batting order — unless intentionally constructed in the least logical fashion — doesn’t affect run-scoring by a significant margin, especially within a span of seven games. So it’s usually better to keep hitters in the spots in which they are most familiar.

Overall, the one thing that the calls for change have in common is that they’re overreactions to small sample sizes. Rollins’ 15 at-bats — and even the 87 regular season PA cited above — are much too insignificant and thus not useful for drawing any conclusions.

Yes, the Phillies were rather ineffective manufacturing runs in Game One, but they were just as bad — if not worse — during the 2008 post-season and they ended up winning it all. In Game One of the ’08 World Series, the Phillies left 11 runners on base, including six in scoring position. Game Two had the same stats.  They left six on in base in Game Three before the bats woke up in Four, and left 12 on base (7 RISP) in the fifth and final game.

It’s only natural to worry about the offense, especially going up against an elite starting rotation, but let’s give the Phillies a chance to even it out first.

Lincecum, Giants Top Phillies in Game One

The Phillies dropped Game One of the National League Championship Series to the San Francisco Giants behind an uncharacteristically human effort from ace right-hander Roy Halladay. Although Halladay did not walk any Giants hitters, he was around the middle of the plate too often and paid the price with two Cody Ross solo home runs, a Pat Burrell RBI double, and a Juan Uribe RBI single.

Both Halladay and Giants ace Tim Lincecum were battling the inconsistent strike zone of home plate umpire Derryl Cousins. Halladay responded with a few too many hittable pitches. He was not helped when Raul Ibanez failed to catch a Burrell fly ball against the left field wall in the top of the sixth inning, leading to the Giants’ third run. The pitch before, Halladay had walked off the mound thinking he had thrown a called strike three to end the inning, but Cousins stood motionless, beckoning the author of baseball’s second post-season no-hitter back to the mound, only to further expand his team’s deficit.

Lincecum was not as sharp as a two-time defending National League Cy Young award winner should be, but was able to get out of several situations where the Phillies threatened to score runs. The Phillies had the lead-off runner on in four of Lincecum’s seven innings but aside from the home runs, they never advanced a runner with a batted ball.

The Phillies’ offense was predicated on the home run, scoring their three runs on a solo shot by Carlos Ruiz in the bottom of the third and a two-run shot by Jayson Werth in the sixth. Aside from that, the Phillies were inefficient manufacturing runs and hitting with runners in scoring position — an issue that noticeably plagued them throughout their championship run in 2008.

Both teams’ bullpens held serve, keeping the score 4-3 in their two respective innings of work. Ryan Madson pitched a clean top of the eighth inning, retiring all three batters he faced. In the bottom of the eighth, Giants left-hander Javier Lopez retired lefties Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and Brian Wilson finished the inning by striking out Jimmy Rollins. Werth had reached base on a single to left-center and was running with a 3-2 count to Rollins, vastly increasing the Phillies’ odds to tie the game.

Brad Lidge kept the Phillies within one run with a scoreless ninth, escaping a bases-loaded one-out nail-biter. Wilson finished the job with three more outs in the bottom half of the ninth. Raul Ibanez, Ross Gload, and Shane Victorino each struck out in the ninth. Victorino had the benefit of pinch-runner Wilson Valdez — the pinch-runner for Ruiz, who was hit by a pitch — running on a 3-2 pitch, but was not able to make contact.

The Phillies drop the first game but have the opportunity to even the series tomorrow night before flying out to San Francisco for Game Three. Roy Oswalt will oppose Jonathan Sanchez.

Notes: Halladay allowed two home runs in one game to one batter for the first time since September 4 when Corey Hart of the Milwaukee Brewers accomplished the feat. … Halladay went 11 and one-third innings before allowing his first hit and run of his post-season career. … Halladay allowed his first hit since the eighth inning on September 27 against the Washington Nationals, and his first run since the seventh inning on September 21 against the Atlanta Braves. … The Phillies lost the first game of a post-season series for the first time since the 2007 NLDS against the Colorado Rockies.

Dom Brown or Greg Dobbs?

Via Todd Zolecki on Twitter, the Phillies were deciding between Domonic Brown and Greg Dobbs for the final spot on the NLCS roster:

NLCS roster undecided. Likely down to Dobbs/Brown. Dobbs can play INF. Brown has speed/bat. Health concerns 4 Polly/JRoll might help Dobbs.

Matt Gelb tweeted that the Phillies gave the rose to Brown.

It’s not a terribly important decision as neither is likely to see much playing time all things being equal. The debate comes down to security against convenience. Are the Phillies willing to gamble on the health and effectiveness of Placido Polanco and Jimmy Rollins by not carrying an extra infielder in Dobbs? Or would the Phillies rather forgo Brown’s better offensive output (despite what his 70 MLB plate appearances say) by bringing Dobbs as a security blanket?

The Phillies already have a left-handed pinch-hitter in Ross Gload, so the odds of seeing Brown in a regulation game are already lowered, barring an injury to one of the relatively healthy outfielders. Defensively, Brown is behind Ben Francisco on the depth chart.

If one of Rollins and Polanco is too hurt to play, the Phillies will go with Wilson Valdez as a replacement. If both are hurt, then both Valdez and Dobbs are in the lineup. It’s not likely to happen but the probability is nonzero, given how gingerly Rollins ran the bases in the NLDS and Polanco’s staggering ineffectiveness since August. After Valdez, the Phillies would have no one qualified to play third base.

As the Phillies showed in the middle of the season, they can win games without half of their starting infield. You can’t just throw your hands up and say, “Well, if Rollins and Polanco are out, then the Phillies lose anyway.” Should that happen, the Phillies would have to get creative. Mike Sweeney at third? Carlos Ruiz? He did play one inning at third base on August 26, 2008. Dobbs, as bad as he is defensively (career -4.7 UZR/150), would be much better at third base than any emergency substitute.

Playing third base may look easy, especially having watched Polanco all year, but there are a lot of little things that players pick up with experience: footwork, throwing, decision-making, etc. If Andres Torres drops a bunt down the third base line, you’d rather have a somewhat experienced third baseman making the bare-handed throw to first base. Same deal if the bases are loaded with one out in the bottom of the ninth. Remember that double play that Troy Glaus turned for the Atlanta Braves in Game 2 of the NLDS? That decision — to attempt the double play rather than go home — comes from experience playing the position.

Ultimately, the decision probably won’t matter. But if the decision were mine — and perhaps it’s a good thing it wasn’t — I’d have hedged my bets and gone with Dobbs over Brown.

Phillies-Giants NLCS Preview: Q & A with Chris Quick

Four wins separate the Phillies from their third consecutive World Series appearance. The confidence of Phillies fans is at a year-long high. Roy Halladay will start Game One fresh off of holding the National League’s best offense to zero hits, and hasn’t allowed a run since the seventh inning on September 21. Cole Hamels threw a complete game shut-out of his own to wrap up a series sweep of the Reds in Game Three. The bullpen is well-rested, and the walking wounded position players have had about a week to rest. Things couldn’t have come together any better for the Phillies.

The Giants, however, are no pushovers. They may not have the same caliber offense as the Phillies, but their pitching is not to be trifled with. To get an idea exactly what to expect from the Giants, I swapped questions with Chris Quick of ESPN SweetSpot blog Bay City Ball. His answers to my questions (in bold) are found below; my answers to his questions can be found over at his blog.

. . .

1. The Phillies are well-known for their fearsome trio of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, plus Joe Blanton. The Giants have some great starters of their own in Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Jonathan Sanchez, plus Madison Bumgarner. How do the two staffs compare in your estimation?

I think both staffs are really close in terms of talent. Halladay and Lincecum are both top flight starters in the NL. It’s hard to beat either when it comes down to it. I would probably give a very slight nod to Oswalt over Cain. Sanchez has matured a lot this year and his K-rate for a LHP is rare. Cole Hamels, however, is the better pitcher. The Giants win in the 4th spot. Blanton is incredibly consistent each year, but Madison Bumgarner has more upside and he’s equaled Blanton in WAR — 1.9 to 2 wins — in about 50 fewer innings pitched.

Overall, two very talented staffs with some great arms. I think it’s going to be a coin-flip most likely.

2. Matt Cain has made a habit of out-performing his ERA retrodictors like xFIP and SIERA. Why do you think this is?

It’s really hard to say. I think part of it is the home park (LHB have a hard time hitting home runs to their pull-field) that Cain pitches in. Sportswriters like to say that Cain has ‘figured it out’ but he’s really been the same guy that he’s always been. His control has gotten better each year over the past three years. And, for things like xFIP, for whatever reason, he rarely gives up home runs even though he’s an extreme flyball pitcher.

3. The Phillies scored, on average, about a half-run more per game than the Giants. Are Giants fans apprehensive about the offense going into this best-of-seven series against the Phillies?

I think so, even if they wouldn’t like to admit it. In the NLDS against the Braves, the Giants never really hit the ball that well and every game was decided by one run. The Giants’ pitching has been fantastic this year, but pitching against an offensive team like the Phillies has got to be stressful for the pitchers. Too many mistakes and it’s going to be hard to make up the difference. It’s a fine line to walk. But, I think if anyone can contain the Phillies — it’s the Giants’ pitching staff.

4. The Giants finished last in the National League in stolen bases. Will they be able to manufacture runs in other ways?

Do double-plays count as manufacturing runs? The Giants don’t do a lot of the ‘little things’ and I doubt they’ll start in the playoffs. The team’s penchant for hitting into double-plays might mean that Bochy starts runners more often, but that’s about it.

5. Pat Burrell is making another homecoming to Philadelphia. We loved him when he was here and he’ll get a great reception when he steps to the plate for the first time in Game One. How have Giants fans warmed up to Pat the Bat?

Yes. Burrell has been one of the more pleasant surprises of this year. He looked terrible in Tampa Bay but since returning to the NL with the Giants, he’s been one of our best hitters. His defense is still bad — as Phillies’ fans know — but his approach to hitting is extremely refreshing on a ‘hack first, ask questions later’ team.

6. The Giants were rated by UZR as the second-best defensive team in Major League Baseball. Of players with at least 300 defensive innings at one position, none had a negative grade. Do you agree with UZR? Have the Giants emphasized defense as an organizational priority?

The Giants’ UZR rating is one of the weirder things that I’ve seen, statistically, this year. The defense is a weird mix. For whatever reason, it just works. I don’t know how, it just does. Andres Torres plays the best CF in the NL but often he’s flanked by guys like Pat Burrell or (thankfully not for the NLCS) Jose Guillen. The infield is also a mixed bag. Pablo Sandoval is average-ish but his defense has been spotty this year. Juan Uribe has filled in nicely at SS, but his days a full-time starter at SS are done. The right side of Sanchez-Huff has been solid and Posey has been very good behind the plate.

Huff, in particualr, has played really good defense for a guy that has been DH’ing for a good portion of the past three years. I was skeptical of his defense before the year, but he arrived at camp noticeably in better shape and he’s made every play that’s been asked of him. The Giants seem to emphasize defense but they aren’t chained to that idea. With the inconsistent offense this year, the team has often traded defense for offense.

7. Game One will see a match-up of the two-time defending NL Cy Young award winner and the likely 2010 winner. Would you take the over or under on: 1.5 combined runs scored; 17.5 combined strikeouts; 5.5 combined hits?

I’ll say: Over/Under/Over.

. . .

Thanks to Chris for providing some Giants-related insight. Make sure to keep up with the enemy over at Bay City Ball and on Twitter (@BayCityBall).

If you’re not following me on Twitter and want to hear my oftentimes snarky, sometimes serious thoughts, follow @CrashburnAlley.