Carlos Ruiz Receives High Defensive Grades

Matt Klaassen posted his catcher defense rankings at Beyond the Box Score. Carlos Ruiz ranked very highly, no surprise there. He finished third overall behind Yadier Molina and Ivan Rodriguez.

Ruiz ranked first in PBWP runs, or the amount of runs saved preventing passed balls and wild pitches. He ranked 22nd out of 120 catchers in CS runs, or runs prevented throwing out runners on the bases.

Back-up catcher Brian Schneider ranked 24th overall in PBWP runs and 73rd in CS runs, good for 27th overall.

Teams with two or more catchers rated as highly as Ruiz and Schneider were the Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins, and New York Mets.

For the rest of the rankings, check out Matt’s work at BTBS.

Downfall of a Goliath

Over at the Baseball Analytics blog, I looked at the surprising decline of Ryan Howard against right-handed pitchers utilizing more heat maps. Surely, this does not bode well for that five-year, $125 million contract extension he signed earlier this year.

Baseball is a great game because it is impossible to achieve optimal strategy. As your opponent makes adjustments to you, you make adjustments to those adjustments, and so on. Lefties threw Howard a bunch of low-and-away sliders, so the first baseman started to look for those pitches more. He was crushing fastballs from right-handers, so those pitchers threw him more soft stuff.

In 2008, one in every two pitches thrown by a right-hander was something hard — particularly four-seam fastballs. That figure dropped to 47 percent in ’09 and 42 percent in ’10.

The following heat map displays the fly ball distance on soft stuff thrown by right-handed pitchers in each of the past three seasons. Two things are apparent on the graph: right-handers have become much more willing to challenge Howard inside, and that Howard became noticeably weaker against pitches on the outer portion of the plate — perhaps the latter as a function of the former.

Jamie Moyer’s Playing Career Likely Over

MLB Trade Rumors reports, via Dionisio Soldevila’s Twitter, that free agent left-hander Jamie Moyer injured his elbow during his latest outing in the Dominican winter league. It is the same elbow that forced him onto the disabled list in late July and means that, barring a miracle, Moyer’s playing career is over.

Moyer finishes his career as one of baseball’s most unique pitchers, having been a reliable hurler deep into his 40’s. He is the only pitcher in baseball history to strike out at least eight hitters in a game at age 47 or older. Moyer also became the oldest pitcher to throw a complete game shut-out:

Player Age Date Tm Opp Rslt
Jamie Moyer 47.170 2010-05-07 PHI ATL W 7-0
Phil Niekro 46.188 1985-10-06 NYY TOR W 8-0
Charlie Hough 46.160 1994-06-14 FLA STL W 7-0
Satchel Paige 46.075 1952-09-20 (2) SLB CHW W 4-0
Satchel Paige 46.030 1952-08-06 SLB DET W 1-0
Jack Quinn 45.076 1928-09-15 PHA CLE W 5-0
Jack Quinn 45.040 1928-08-10 PHA WSH W 8-0
Phil Niekro 45.023 1984-04-24 NYY KCR W 4-0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/7/2010.

Unlike many players even in their late 30’s, Moyer was remarkably effective and reliable as he aged. He made at least 32 starts in each of his age 40-45 seasons and would have done so in 2009 had he not been moved to the bullpen. Rounding up, Moyer averaged fewer than six innings only once in his 40’s (2009). In 2008, Moyer joined Phil Niekro and Charlie Hough as pitchers 45 or older who posted an adjusted ERA of 100 or better.

Player ERA+ Year Age Tm
Phil Niekro 123 1984 45 NYY
Jamie Moyer 118 2008 45 PHI
Charlie Hough 101 1993 45 FLA
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/7/2010.

Moyer’s most important contributions to the Phillies may not have come on the mound, however. Since he was sent to Philadelphia from Seattle, the crafty lefty made a habit of seeking out the young pitchers in the clubhouse and offering to talk shop. He was integral in Cole Hamels‘ progression, as noted by Jerry Crasnick:

When he dispenses advice, it’s more big-picture than baseball specific. “Keep your mouth closed and your ears and eyes open,” Moyer might say. Or he’ll discuss the importance of preparation. “The one day you slack off or fail to work hard, it becomes easier to slack off the next day,” Moyer tells Hamels.

When the two left-handers play catch, Moyer makes it a point to hold his glove across his body, because that forces Hamels to stretch his arm and get extra extension on his throws. It’s the kind of small, subtle detail that fosters good habits over time.

When Moyer hit the DL earlier this year, Hamels told reporters that the old man was a mentor not just to him, but to everybody on the pitching staff.

Even Raul Ibanez called Moyer a mentor:

Moyer, whom Ibanez calls a mentor and was one of the first people he called when considering signing with the Phillies last winter, sounds less like a teammate and more like a father listing criteria for his daughter’s suitors when he recalls what he liked about the young player.

“He was respectful, humble, even-keeled, responsible, hardworking,” Moyer says.

Moyer was, some might say, the Phillies’ second pitching coach after Rich Dubee. Many think he’ll be welcomed with open arms into coaching or managing once he officially calls it quits. It seems like a natural transition after defying the odds until he was nearly 50 years old.

Although he was not expected to be a part of the 2011 Phillies squad, Moyer earned millions of new fans in Philadelphia with his yeoman’s work ethic and community outreach. Whatever he decides to do now that his playing career is over, whether it’s coaching or continuing his charitable efforts, he will be remembered as one of baseball’s all-time great competitors and as an all-around great person.

Dom Brown’s Plate Discipline Against Southpaws

In yesterday’s post, we discussed Domonic Brown and why he should get regular playing time in 2011, rather than platoon with a right-handed hitter. The idea of platooning Brown stems from reliance on a small sample of chances against left-handed pitchers in which he struggled. In total, Brown faced lefties 14 times and saw 56 pitches — essentially four games’ worth of data.

His .069 wOBA against lefties was not impressive in the least, but you can chalk that up to small sample variance and an adjustment period between Triple-A Lehigh Valley and the Major Leagues. The left-handers in the Majors are significantly tougher to hit than those in the Minors.

Furthermore, as noted yesterday, Brown had a history of hitting well against lefties in the Minors.

Matt Gelb reported, as of his writing in late July, Brown had been hitting .318 against southpaws with Triple-A Lehigh Valley prior to his promotion. Bill Root made a similar observation for SI.com, saying, “Impressively, the left-handed power hitter has hit left-handed pitching at a .282 clip in his career; his ability to hit southpaws will only accelerate his learning curve in the majors.”

I went to look at some of those pretty heat maps from Baseball Anlaytics and I left feeling confident about Brown’s ability to progress.

As the top prospect in the Phillies’ organization, Brown was heralded for his elite plate discipline. Dave Huppert, manager of the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, said:

I am most impressed with his plate discipline and how he can cut down on his swing with two strikes.

In his Minor League career, he drew walks at a 10.5 percent clip, which is good for a Major Leaguer let alone a prospect. Plate discipline entails not only laying off unfavorable pitches, but swinging mostly at the favorable ones as well. The following heat map shows that Brown had a great idea of the strike zone, even against left-handers.

Almost all of the red is in the strike zone, and the blips outside are extremely small samples — individual pitches. The heat map above includes all pitches.

Against hard stuff Brown is almost exclusively in the strike zone.

By process of elimination, you can deduce where Brown swung at the soft stuff, but just for sake of completion:

Against soft stuff, Brown stayed mostly within the strike zone.  The two pitches inside — one by his ankles, one by his belt — are change-ups. The three pitches outside include two sliders and one curve.

Even with two strikes, Brown didn’t go out of his way to swing. Against all pitches with two strikes:

This approach is impressive for any player, let alone a young player with just 70 Major League plate appearances. Brown is already ahead of many of his hitting peers in terms of simply handling same-handed pitching. There is no reason to retard that progress by putting him in a platoon.

Dom Brown Needs 600 PA in 2011

As Phillies fans brace for the loss of right fielder Jayson Werth, they look towards a bright future that includes phenom prospect Domonic Brown. Brown was not impressive in his 35 games at the Major League level, finishing with a triple-slash line of .210/.257/.355. Even worse was his performance against left-handed pitching: .077/.071/.077 in 14 plate appearances.

Brown’s struggles can be blamed partially on his irregular playing time in August and September. He battled a quadriceps injury as well as reduced playing time, since Charlie Manuel refused to cut into 38-year-old Raul Ibanez‘s time on the field.

With the off-season bringing a flurry of rumors, many fans are speculating on platoon partners for Brown in 2011. SI.com‘s Jon Heyman writes that the Phillies have interest in re-acquiring San Francisco Giants outfielder Aaron Rowand or signing free agent Magglio Ordonez. David Murphy notes that Jeff Francoeur and Matt Diaz are lesser-known, cheaper options to join Brown in a platoon.

It seems like the platoon is a foregone conclusion. Why platoon Brown, the only prospect the Phillies have guarded, in his first full season in the big leagues? Why stifle his development? Why try to fix something that isn’t broken? Matt Gelb reported, as of his writing in late July, Brown had been hitting .318 against southpaws with Triple-A Lehigh Valley prior to his promotion. Bill Root made a similar observation for SI.com, saying, “Impressively, the left-handed power hitter has hit left-handed pitching at a .282 clip in his career; his ability to hit southpaws will only accelerate his learning curve in the majors.”

Why not platoon Ibanez, who has an OPS 90 points lower against southpaws than against right-handed pitching in his long career? Ibanez is older, much worse defensively, and has less to offer with his bat.

Another foregone conclusion seems to be that the platoon partner will come from outside the organization. Cash-strapped as it is, it would make more sense for the team to use Ben Francisco — who will likely be awarded less than $1 million in arbitration — in a platoon. Francisco has a career .350 wOBA against left-handers compared to Ibanez’s .330.

Platooning Ibanez and Francisco in left field allows Brown to rack up north of 600 plate appearances in 2011, which is exactly what he needs to develop into an elite Major Leaguer. By sheltering young players from environments in which they struggle, the problem is only exacerbated. Brown will never learn how to hit Major League lefties unless he is exposed to them. Sure, he may struggle, but this is the route the Phillies chose to take by coveting him as a prospect and being unable to budget in a new contract for Werth.

How Do You Replace Davey Lopes?

The Phillies and first base coach Davey Lopes were unable to come to an agreement on a salary, meaning that the base running guru will not return to the team for the 2011 season. Jim Salisbury reports:

“We just had a difference of opinion on what I felt my worth was,” Lopes said by telephone. “That’s all. It was a really tough decision because I loved my time in Philadelphia, I loved working for [manager] Charlie Manuel, and I have the utmost respect for everyone in that organization.

Already expected to lose right fielder Jayson Werth to free agency, the departure of Lopes will sting the Phillies.

Just how big of an impact did Lopes have? I tried to come up with an answer in a 2010 season preview at The Hardball Times, posted at the end of March.

With first base coach Davey Lopes, the Phillies’ base runners have been historically great. In 2007, Lopes’ first year on the job, the Phillies stole bases at an 88 percent success rate, setting an all-time Major League record. In ’08 and ’09, their success rates were 84 percent and 81 percent, respectively. From 2007-09, the Phillies were the most efficient baseball team in terms of stealing bases.

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The team has also become more aggressive under Lopes. In the three years prior to his hiring, 2004-06, the Phillies were just in the top half to top one-third in the majors in terms of base-stealing aggressiveness (attempts to steal). With Lopes, from ’07-09, the Phillies have been in the top one-fourth to one-sixth.

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While it is obvious that Lopes has made his runners attempt to steal second more often, he has also done the same at third base. Phillies runners have become more aggressive trying to steal third base.

image

It isn’t just blind aggression, either. From 2007-09, the Phillies successfully stole third base 85 percent, 89 percent, and 72 percent respectively, well above the 75 percent break-even point in two out of the three years.

Despite a rash of injuries this year, the Phillies still managed to place fourth in the National League in total steals with 108 (league average was 91) and continued to set the pace in efficiency with an 84 percent success rate.

It is commonly accepted that first and third base coaches are easily replaced, and for the most part they are. But Lopes was given a much larger-than-average amount of autonomy by Charlie Manuel, allowing him to leave his unique footprint on the team’s running game.

While in the Minor Leagues, Jimmy Rollins stole bases at a 76 percent rate. In his Major League career prior to Lopes, he stole bases at an 80 percent clip. Under Lopes, that success rate went all the way up to 88 percent. For Victorino, those rates were 72, 69, and 82 percent respectively (though, to be fair, the latter includes all of his time as a regular position player). For Utley, his success rates were 70, 82, and 92 percent. Jayson Werth‘s rates were, 81, 85, and 88 percent. In all cases, the Phillies’ four best base-stealers all improved under Lopes’ tutelage.

Sadly, there is no replacing the wisdom of Davey Lopes and the Phillies’ running game will suffer because of it.

If the disagreement in salary is over something relatively small like $50,000, the Phillies made a mistake in not relenting. Cutting Lopes loose over a relatively small amount of money is an error in judgment.

In Which Rational Philadelphians Headdesk

It’s Chase Utley overkill here at Crashburn Alley. But the “Utley sucks” meme has continued to spread and it must be stopped. Jack McCaffery shot the most recent salvo of stupid, titling his article “It’s time for Phillies to move Chase Utley to the outfield”. Take a minute to let that soak in. Really immerse yourself in the aura of that statement; respect the courage it took to actually send that to his editor; respect his editor for not returning the file back to McCaffery with “LOL” next to it.

I’m worried about beating a dead horse, as Utley has been covered fairly substantially here since the Phillies were eliminated from the playoffs. However, Twitter seemed to be in agreement that this article needed a good fisking, so here we are. You know the drill: his statements will be posted in bold; mine will follow in normal typeface.

Chase Utley has been haunted by one injury after the next.

In an article that will very clearly disparage Utley, this statement implies that the injuries indicate a flaw — something that is Utley’s fault. Utley landed on the 15-day disabled list twice in his career (broken hand in 2007, torn thumb ligament earlier this season). He’s never been on the 60-day DL. Since 2004, he’s missed a total of eight days for “day-to-day” woes.

I don’t think there’s any question that Utley plays hurt a lot, but he is not a medical case fit for an episode of House.

His defense at second base has gone from acceptable to poor.

Yes, if by “acceptable to poor” McCaffery means “elite to elite”. As this article detailed, there has been no better defensive second baseman in baseball since 2005 than Utley.

Even if you are skeptical of UZR, you can’t deny that ALL reliable defensive metrics are in agreement that Utley plays a mean second base. As mentioned in this article:

[Utley] is second to Mark Ellis in Revised Zone Rating (RZR) .862 to .842, has made the most Out Of Zone plays (OOZ) with 137, and racked up the most Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), nearly doubling the second-highest total of Ellis, 60 to 33.

And no, errors are not reliable. Oftentimes, defenders who have more range make more errors. If I play second base, my range is going to be super small because I’m unathletic and thus I will get to fewer balls. Therefore, I will have substantially fewer opportunities to make errors than someone like Utley. Utley has tremendous range. In terms of runs over the past three seasons, Utley leads all qualified second basemen with over 39 range runs. The runners-up are Mark Ellis and Brandon Phillips with 15.4 range runs.

His offensive production is deteriorating at troubling speed.

This “deterioration” has come at “troubling speed”? McCaffery’s next thesis: “Day turns into night way too fast”.

Despite his injury, Utley still finished the 2010 season tied in wOBA with Hanley Ramirez and Joe Mauer at .373. That’s pretty good company, no?

So exactly what was so outrageous again about the notion of moving Utley to the outfield earlier in his career?

1. He’s super good defensively at second base.

2. The Phillies had/have a glut of outfielders, including a top prospect in Domonic Brown they had sitting on the bench for two months last season because they had nowhere to put him.

3. Moving Utley to the outfield cuts into his value, much like moving Joe Mauer to first base. In calculating WAR, a second baseman is credited one-fourth of a win while a corner outfielder is debited three-fourth’s of a win, for a total of one full win.

Loosely based on the Alfonso Soriano-Robin Yount model, the idea was to provide full protection of Utley as a power hitter by minimizing his inning-to-inning physical stress.

Clearly, Utley wears down as the season progresses from his balls-to-the-wall style of play. The solution isn’t panicking and moving Utley to a corner outfield position; it’s giving him more days off during the season.

And even if his injury history cannot be directly linked to where he plays on defense, heightened physical wear is an accepted cost of middle-infield work.

Said another way, “And even if the facts go against my argument, I am going to restate my argument emphatically nevertheless.”

Now, McCaffery just randomly veers off into a tangent about Cliff Lee. How it’s related to Utley is not clear.

Here’s the deal, take it or leave it. This will be the last blast of the Cliff Lee trade. The topic may arise again in context, but this will be the last 15-yard-penalty pile-on.

Nonetheless, here it comes: From the moment that disaster struck the Phillies, the apologists hid behind one hope. None of it will matter, they kept saying, if the Phillies go to or win the World Series. Well, the Phillies didn’t do any of the above, and instead watched Joe Blanton go less than five innings of a pivotal NLCS loss.

Joe Blanton would have started Game Four of the NLCS even if the Phillies had kept Lee. If the Phillies went into the season with a rotation of Roy Halladay, Lee, and Cole Hamels, then GM Ruben Amaro never trades for Roy Oswalt.

By the way:

  • Oswalt, 2010 regular season: 2.76 ERA
  • Lee, 2010 regular season: 3.18 ERA
  • Oswalt, 2010 playoffs: 2.75 ERA (2.37 excluding his stint as a reliever in the NLCS)
  • Lee, 2010 playoffs: 2.51 ERA

If a World Series was supposed to make people forget Lee, then the lack of a World Series by rule had to supply the opposite effect.

People forgetting about Lee isn’t relevant. What is relevant is whether the trade was the correct move at the time. Many people have strong opinions veering on both sides, but a fair decision can’t be reached until we see the fates of the prospects (Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies, and J.C. Ramirez).

Although the prospects didn’t appear to pan out in 2010, they still have plenty of room to grow. And at the very least, the Phillies ended up getting a half-season out of a very good starter in Oswalt, who is under contract for at least one more season for $9 million. If the Phillies think he’s worth it in 2012, they have a $16 million club option they can pick up, or buy him out for $2 million.

What would have happened is the Phillies would have either felt too out of the picture and traded Lee at the trading deadline, or they would have let him walk in free agency as a Type A free agent and recouped one first round draft pick. For an easy comparison, here’s what the Phillies have and would have had in each scenario following the 2010 season:

  • Kept Lee: Halladay-Hamels-Blanton-?-? rotation in 2011; one compensatory pick (likely at the end of the first round, negating its value immensely)
  • Traded Lee: Halladay-Oswalt-Hamels-Blanton-? rotation in 2011; Oswalt under contract for a cheap price well below market value; Aumont, Gillies, and Ramirez; one compensatory pick when Oswalt walks after the 2011 or ’12 season

I don’t think you can make an argument that Lee would have been significantly better than Oswalt and kept the Phillies alive in the post-season. There’s the whole chaos theory thing, but also that Oswalt pitched just as well and arguably better both in the regular season and in the post-season.

It’s just one more reason why trading the dominant left-handed pitcher of his time for three minor-league nobodies is the worst big-league sports trade in Philadelphia history.

What a gross exaggeration.

  • January 27, 1982: Ryne Sandberg traded by the Philadelphia Phillies with Larry Bowa to the Chicago Cubs for Ivan De Jesus. As a Cub, Sandberg compiled nearly 58 WAR in a Hall of Fame career. In three seasons with the Phillies, de Jesus put up 2.7 WAR.
  • July 30, 2006: Traded by the Philadelphia Phillies with Cory Lidle to the New York Yankees for C.J. Henry (minors), Jesus Sanchez (minors), Carlos Monasterios and Matt Smith. Henry was a bust. Sanchez put up decent numbers last year in Clearwater. Monasterios is now a Dodger, having done nothing as a prospect in the Phillies’ system. Smith was a decent LOOGY for nine innings in 2006 but hasn’t been in professional baseball since 2008. Abreu, meanwhile, was worth 17.3 WAR since departing from Philadelphia. Yes, the trade was a salary dump more than anything, but it still is one of the most damaging trades in Phillies history.

You can add the Curt Schilling, Scott Rolen, and Ferguson Jenkins trades in there as well. The Lee trade is easily defensible and comes nowhere near the “worst big-league sports trade in Philadelphia history”. But whatever helps you sell newspapers, Jack.

Now, Lee rant aside, McCaffery spent a lot of time at the beginning of his column whining about Utley’s injuries, hypothesizing ways to cure his ailments. McCaffery wraps up his article contradicting everything he said.

Somehow, Brett Favre ignored a severe ankle injury and started his 292nd consecutive game Sunday. He’s 41.

So what does that say? It says that too many other pro (and college) athletes miss too much time with similar injuries because they’d rather be babied, talked about and massaged. That’s what.

Wouldn’t moving Utley to the outfield because of his injuries fall under the “babied” and “massaged” categories?

Furthermore, playing while hurt is exactly why Utley appears to have hurt the Phillies this year. There’s something to be said for machismo and pain tolerance, but to a point. Playing while hurt to the detriment of a team is dumb and the problem shouldn’t be exacerbated by sportswriters looking to place athletes in neat groups, like “babied” and “gritty”.

I would prefer Utley to admit when he’s not feeling 100%. I would prefer Charlie Manuel to recognize this even if Utley doesn’t say anything, and to give Utley more regular days off during the season. I would prefer that Ruben Amaro mandate extra days off for Utley. And I would prefer the media not to pat athletes on their (aching, sore) backs for refusing to take days off. I would appreciate it even more if those same sportswriters wouldn’t place those athletes in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t so long as the team doesn’t win a championship” quandary.