Worrying About Contract Incentives

Performance incentives in players’ contracts are becoming more and more common, particularly for old and/or injury-prone players. Players may get some a bonus for making the All-Star team or nabbing a few MVP votes while others get extra cash for reaching certain thresholds, usually based on plate appearances, innings pitched, or the more general games played.

J.C. Romero recently signed a one-year contract with the Phillies worth $1.35 million. As Randy Miller reported on Twitter, Romero can earn an extra $150,000 if he spends 25 or fewer days on the disabled list. On the surface, there doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with that. No one — Romero, his teammates, the Phillies’ brass, or the fans — wants to see the DL days pile up, so if this clause can motivate Romero to put in a little extra time in the weight room or do some additional stretching every day, what’s the harm?

Sports have a clear macho factor, as is illustrated in this article on Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers by ESPN’s Tim Keown. Rodgers was shaken up on a hit but clearly wanted to go back into the game, but his teammate Donald Driver urged him to stay on the sidelines.

This is what progress looks like: On Dec. 12 against Detroit, in a game vital to the Packers’ playoff hopes, Driver walked behind his team’s bench after Rodgers had taken hard shots on consecutive plays, and leaned down to tell his quarterback, “This is just a game. Your life is more important than a game.”

Rodgers stayed out. The Packers lost. There’s a good chance they would have won if Rodgers had been able to continue. The next week, Rodgers wasn’t cleared to play against the Patriots on Sunday night, and the Packers lost again. Matt Flynn played well, but he missed on a few passes and threw a costly pick near the end. It’s not a stretch to say the Packers would have won that game had Rodgers played.

[...]

What Driver did was bad for the team but good for the person. You know how much easier it would have been for him to sit back and hope Rodgers could clear his head fast enough to get back into the game? That’s what Rodgers wanted to do, and it seems as if the Packers’ trainers were either unaware of the situation or otherwise occupied immediately after the injury. Rodgers didn’t want to hear what Driver was telling him, so he stood up and stared back at him.

What Rodgers saw — legitimate concern from a respected veteran who cares about him — was enough to make him realize Driver was right.

Keown cites Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys and Hines Ward of the Pittsburgh Steelers as opponents of “playing it safe”, two clear adherents of the macho zeitgeist in professional sports. Players like Driver — and now, Rodgers — are clearly in the minority.

Baseball players are just as likely to play it stoic. Chase Utley, for one, is well-known for playing while injured, never saying a word about how he’s feeling, and ignoring the Phillies’ training staff. As much as we like to think otherwise, Utley admitting that he is hurting is good for the team. Giving Utley, for example, a contract incentive to keep his mouth shut just exacerbates the problem.

Romero started the 2010 season on the disabled list due to elbow surgery. He has pitched a grand total of 53 and one-third innings in the past two seasons combined. He thinks he needs to prove himself to earn a longer contract after the season. This contract incentive may actually cause Romero to hide any problems in an effort to earn his paychecks in 2012 and beyond. Not only could this be detrimental to the team, but it could be detrimental to Romero’s career.

Incentives based on games played, innings pitched, and plate appearances — anything based on staying on the field more often — are not in the players’ best interest. They are good for the owners and general managers, who will be less likely to be embarrassed by a flop signing. And they are good for managers and coaches, who will be less likely to be accused of improper player usage. They are not good for the players. Any movement aimed at removing these incentives is a step in the right direction.

Could the Phillies Falter in 2011?

It’s nearly January. Most of the excitement of baseball’s off-season has passed and fans are counting down to pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training in mid-February. For journalists and bloggers, there isn’t much to write about — there are only so many ways you can say, “Cliff Lee is pretty good,” after all.

In an effort to fill some space, some decide to play devil’s advocate. Maybe Albert Pujols won’t be so awesome in 2011, you know? Or, as Lincoln Mitchell theorizes, maybe the Phillies won’t be the class of the National League. Based on the way he wrote and argued his points, it doesn’t seem like Mitchell actually believes this; he simply wrote the article to fill some space as we all do at times. Mitchell’s arguments have been made plenty of times by others already, though, so I’d like to take this opportunity to simply squelch some of those oft-used claims.

His words in bold; my thoughts follow in normal typeface. If you are unfamiliar with the acronyms of the statistics that will be mentioned, click the “stats” link at the top of the page.

In the rush to celebrate how good the Phillie rotation now is, it is often overlooked that  Halladay and Oswalt all had better years in 2010 than any time between 2007 and 2009 and that Hamels had a far better year in 2010 than in 2009.

As was written about extensively here and elsewhere, both of Hamels’ prior two seasons were fluky based on BABIP. In 2008, his .270 BABIP helped lower his ERA to 3.09 which stood in contrast to his 3.52 SIERA. In ’09, his .325 BABIP flung his ERA in the opposite direction to 4.32, far away from his 3.55 SIERA.

You may notice that his ’08 and ’09 SIERA are nearly identical. That is because his performance in ’08 and ’09 was nearly identical.

In 2010, Hamels changed for the better. His K/9 rose from 7.8 to 9.1 and he induced five percent more ground balls. His BABIP normalized to .296, which is very close to the average around which most pitchers’ BABIP lies. Hamels’ ERA finished at a career-low 3.06. Unlike in previous years, SIERA mostly agreed, placing him at 3.19, good for 11th-best in the Majors.

As for Halladay, he was a bit fortunate in terms of stranding runners, but that is about it. His 2.93 SIERA was about a half run higher than his actual 2.44 ERA, good for first in the Majors. Halladay finished 2010 with the highest K/BB ratio of his career at 7.3. Among seasons in which he made at least 20 starts, he set a career-best in K/9 (7.9) and tied a career-best in BB/9 (1.1). His BABIP (.298) and HR/FB (11.3 percent) were normal.

Yes, Halladay probably strands fewer than 83 percent in 2011. That is pretty much the only noticeable regression to the mean that we should expect from him.

Oswalt, on the other hand, did have a bit of a lucky 2010 season. His 2.76 ERA was separated from his 3.33 SIERA because of a .261 BABIP and a 78 percent strand rate. Over his career (spanning over 2,000 innings), however, he has shown some legitimate ability to strand runners as his career average lies at 76 percent. Halladay, by comparison, has a 73 percent strand rate — much closer to the league average which tends to reside in the 70-72 percent range.

Oswalt has also dealt with chronic back issues which, at the age of 33, aren’t going to magically go away. He has made 30-plus starts in every season going back to 2004, though, which is a good sign. He didn’t miss any time in 2010 due to his back problems, so until it becomes a legitimate issue, there is no cause to simply dock him “points” just because it’s bothered him before and because he’s in his mid-30’s. Let’s not forget that Oswalt’s SIERA ranked 14th in the Majors, slightly behind Hamels in eleventh place.

Mitchell argues that those three pitchers are not flawless, which is true, but it is also true that the Phillies — with Lee — have one-fourth of the best pitchers in baseball. Not even mean-regression can make that seem like a bad thing going into the 2011 season.

While these three pitchers are among the best in baseball, it is likely that collectively they will not be as good in 2011 as they were in 2010, particularly because Lee, Oswalt and Halladay will soon enter the decline phase of their careers.

Just because a player is in his 30’s doesn’t mean he will automatically decline. You have to actually see reason for decline first.

“Yeah, Oswalt is really good… but how old is he?”

“33.”

“Oh, he’s totally going to have a bad season, then.”

It doesn’t work that way. Greg Maddux was 35 in 2001. He finished with a 3.05 ERA. Using the statistics that we know directly correlate to pitcher success — strikeout and walk rates, and batted ball splits (which aren’t available prior to 2002) — we had no reason to think that Maddux, at age 30 to 34, would start to decline. However, Maddux did start to decline starting in ’03 and roughly 32 percent of it can be explained by a decline in strikeout rate (for illustrative purposes):

In 2010, all three of Hamels, Halladay, and Oswalt set or came close to setting career-highs in K/9. There were slight rises in BB/9 for Hamels and Oswalt, but nothing large enough to cause concern.

I’m not arguing that age is irrelevant, but a pitcher moving from 32 to 33 years old isn’t a good enough reason — especially by itself — to expect poor performance, particularly from elite pitchers such as the aforementioned.

[Jayson] Werth will be badly missed in Philadelphia as the Phillies offense without him, while still strong, will be considerably weaker.

There is no question that losing Werth — a 5-win player on average — is a big blow to the offense. But consider that the Phillies lost a lot of players to injury. In terms of days missed, per BaseballInjuryTool.com:

In particular, Utley missed considerable time but was also not the same upon return, either. The injury bug hit the Phillies pretty hard last year and yet they still finished second in the National League in average runs scored per game at 4.77. Imagine what the offense would have looked like with everyone healthy, if Wilson Valdez didn’t accrue 363 plate appearances, and if Greg Dobbs and Juan Castro never existed.

It’s fair to say that the Phillies can make up a good portion of Werth’s lost production simply with everyone being healthy. Even if they do decline offensively, are they going to fall to the bottom of the pack with the Pittsburgh Pirates? At the very least, they will be average offensively, scoring between 4.3 and 4.4 runs per game. A full season of Oswalt (as compared to a half-season in 2010) and a full season of Lee can offset that.

The Phillies are an old team whose entire starting lineup, other than Dominic Brown, will be 30 or over in 2011.

Yeah, yeah, the Phillies are old. That’s an issue for 2013 perhaps, but not necessarily 2011.

The offensive core of Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard is good, but it is not clearly better than the Giants core of Buster Posey, Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell.

I wouldn’t exactly call Ruiz part of an offensive core. And what intrinsic purpose does a “core” serve anyway, other than as a rhetorical device?

Regardless, Utley finished 2010 with a .373 wOBA — a career-worst. Posey finished at .368. Howard was at .367 despite injury and facing a ton of off-speed stuff from left-handed pitchers — his Kryptonite. Huff put up a .388 wOBA, nearly 40 points higher than his career average, in what was a career year. Burrell was at .351.

Humoring the use of an “offensive core”, it’s still quite generous to compare the Giants’ core to the Phillies’.

Overall, the Phillies’ regular lineup is considerably better than the Giants’ at present.

Why are we comparing the Phillies to the Giants, though?

The supporting offensive players like Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco and Shane Victorino are all useful players, but unlikely to be impact players in 2011.

What is the definition of an “impact player”? And why does a team need to have five or six of them to have a good offense? This is just another rhetorical device — I wish people would stop using them!

Still, I would argue that Rollins and Victorino are “impact players” on defense and on the bases. They’re around average offensively — and average isn’t valueless, mind you — but they don’t need to have a bat in their hands to do damage. Even if Rollins’ past two seasons are indicative of future offensive production, he still remains one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball and still runs the bases well (2.7 EQBRR). Victorino is slightly above-average defensively and runs the bases extremely well (5.8 EQBRR).

And, as mentioned above, both Rollins and Polanco missed considerable time due to injury. Polanco in particular played much of the season hurt thanks to Tim Hudson.

There are reasons to expect the Phillies to have some struggles in 2012 and beyond. They may not be able to retain Cole Hamels or Jimmy Rollins; Domonic Brown may not pan out; any of their top four starting pitchers could suffer a tragic injury; Player X’s production could fall off a cliff; et cetera.

But 2011? There are few rational reasons to expect the Phillies to struggle based on presently-available information. Sure, there could be injuries and down years. Those happen, but one cannot expect them unless the information points in that direction. I could win the lottery, but it doesn’t mean I should spend every last penny in anticipation of my winning numbers getting called.

Dom Brown’s Hands

At the Baseball Analytics blog, I used heat maps to verify that Mitch Williams‘ analysis of Domonic Brown seems to be correct: he needs to lower his hands so that pitchers can’t simply throw him up-and-in all the time.

The heat maps indicate that, although he was swinging at up-and-in pitches frequently, he was not successful —  not only in terms of hitting for power, but simply making contact.

Brown finished 2010 with a .271 wOBA, which ranked all the way down in the eighth percentile of Major League hitters with at least 100 plate appearances. If Brown is to blossom into the offensively-potent player the Phillies organization has long thought he would be, he may need to take the advice of Mitch Williams and lower his hands.

Future Phillies Wall of Famers

I was reading a quite interesting thread on a Phillies forum about the recent era of Phillies baseball and how many potential Hall of Famers have recently played or still play for the Phillies. The discussion took a bit of a detour as others wondered how many players will be added to the Phillies Wall of Fame out in Ashburn Alley.

Darren Daulton, a fixture of the 1993 team that made it to the World Series, was inducted last year. He followed the legendary Harry Kalas, whose plaque was proudly mounted in 2009. A look through the list reveals a lot of players from the 1980 World Series champion team, including Tug McGraw, Garry Maddox, and Dallas Green. In fact, of the 32 Phillies Wall of Famers, 13 were a part of the 1980 team.

Presumably, more of the ’93 team will be included, and then the 2008-era Phillies will get their turn. Before we speculate as to which of the more recent Phillies will get their plaque, let’s take a look at the current Wall of Fame and try to find some trends.

The Wall of Fame tends to lag by a few years. The first member of the 1980 team to be inducted was Paul Owens in 1988. He was immediately followed by Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt, and Larry Bowa in ’89 through ’91. Juan Samuel was the first (and only) member of the ’83 team who was not a part of the ’80 team to be inducted (in 2008). And, as mentioned, Daulton was enshrined in 2010 for being a part of the ’93 team.

Between the three eras, we have spans of 8, 25, and 17 years. If that is in any way indicative of the way things will continue, the earliest we can expect a member of the 2008 team to get up on the wall is 2016.

Phillies Wall of Famers played an average of 11 seasons with the team or spent an average of 13 seasons in another capacity (general manager, manager, coach).

Elsewhere, only two inductees never played for the Phillies: former GM Paul Owens, who also managed for three seasons, and Harry Kalas, who was the voice of the Phillies for 39 seasons. Five others played for the Phillies and were seen in another role such as coaching: Chuck Klein, Larry Bowa, Gavvy Cravath, Tony Taylor, and John Vukovich.

Onto the fun stuff: which recent Phillies can we expect to see on the Wall of Fame? I will list my candidates below in no particular order.

Ryan Howard: Unarguably the best first baseman in franchise history. He won the Rookie of the Year award in 2005, the Most Valuable Player award in ’06, and has led the league in home runs twice (’06 and ’08) and RBI three times (’06 and ’08-09). Will undoubtedly finish his career with the second-most home runs as a Phillie. He currently sits at 253, just behind the 259 of Del Ennis, and well behind the 548 of Mike Schmidt.

Jimmy Rollins: Rollins became the face of the franchise, breaking out in 2006 with a 25-HR season. In ’07, a year in which he won the National League MVP award, he became one of four other players to post a season with at least 20 doubles, triples, home runs, and stolen bases. Known for his great defense, having won three Gold Glove awards. If his Phillies career extends beyond 2011, he will likely finish second in Phillies history in stolen bases. He currently sits at 343 in fourth place. His pre-season proclamations in ’07 and ’08 seemed to give the Phillies an attitude they had been lacking for nearly 15 years.

Chase Utley: Baseball’s best second baseman five years running (2005-09). He wasn’t a face of the franchise like Howard and Rollins, but had some memorable moments of his own. In the ’09 World Series, he tied Reggie Jackson‘s record for home runs with five. Utley is a five-time All-Star with four Silver Slugger awards and will go down as the best second baseman in franchise history.

Pat Burrell: Spent the majority of his career as a Phillie, posting some great offensive seasons, twice finishing with a .900 or better OPS (’02 and ’07). Currently sits fourth all-time in Phillies history in home runs and seventh in RBI.

Bobby Abreu: One of the most productive players (offensively speaking) in franchise history. Posted five consecutive seasons with a .900 or better OPS (1998-2002), was twice an All-Star, and won one Silver Slugger and one Gold Glove. Has the highest on-base percentage in franchise history among players who played after the Dead Ball Era. Abreu also has the seventh-highest slugging percentage.

Carlos Ruiz: Rapidly became a fan favorite because of his obvious love of the game. He was never expected to become a Major Leaguer, much less a productive one, but he finished 2010 as one of the most valuable catchers in all of baseball. Was the receiver for Roy Halladay‘s perfect game against the Florida Marlins and his no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds in Game One of the 2010 NLDS. Respected by every pitcher that has passed through Philadelphia, especially Halladay.

Brad Lidge: Was a perfect 48-for-48 in save opportunities in 2008, including 41-for-41 during the regular season. Eric Gagne is the only other closer to have a perfect season.

Cole Hamels: Named the MVP of the 2008 World Series as part of a pitching staff of which he was the ace. Led the league in WHIP (’08) and shut-outs (’09). By the time his Phillies career is over, he may be a slam dunk Wall of Famer.

Jayson Werth: His stint with the Phillies was short, but the team made the playoffs every year he donned Phillies red (2007-10). He finished four consecutive seasons with an .860 or better OPS and he played quite well defensively in right field, throwing out a total of 37 runners (avg. about 9 per season).

Ryan Madson: Rarely the closer, Madson has nonetheless been (arguably) the most dominant reliever in franchise history. Finished with a 3.26 ERA or lower in each of the past four seasons. In 2010, he joined Billy Wagner, Doug Jones, and Dick Hall as Phillies relievers with a 4.9 or better strikeout-to-walk ratio, minimum 40 innings.

Jamie Moyer: Set a plethora of age-related records in his four-plus seasons as a Phillie. Won 56 games in his age 43-47 years with the Phillies. His start in Game Three of the 2008 World Series was crucial to their winning in five games over the Tampa Bay Rays. Became known as a pitching guru; a secondary pitching coach behind Rich Dubee. Also respected as a leader in the clubhouse and for his charitable efforts with the Moyer Foundation.

Charlie Manuel: The toast of the town managed the Phillies since 2005 to an aggregate .560 winning percentage (avg. 91 wins per 162 games). Led the Phillies to four consecutive post-season berths, three consecutive NL pennant bids, two World Series, and one title. His team led the Majors in wins in 2010. He is also credited, as a hitting guru, for helping many of the hitters out of slumps.

Pat Gillick: Although he was the GM for a short time (three seasons), he left his mark on the team. He helped end the Phillies’ long playoff drought and made some very significant transactions, including trading away Jim Thome and Bobby Abreu, and acquiring Brad Lidge. He also gave Jayson Werth a shot at redemption which turned out to be one of the most important signings in franchise history.

Chris Wheeler: Like Harry Kalas, “Wheels” has been part of Phillies games for a long, long time — 34 years, to be exact. At times, he can be “goofy” (as he would say) but he has been as much a part of Phillies baseball as any of the players.

Depending on what happens in the future, cases can be made for Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Shane Victorino, and Ruben Amaro Jr., among others.

If you can think of some other candidates or disagree with any of those listed above, feel free to share in the comments below.

Predicting Carlos Ruiz’s Offensive Output

By all accounts, Carlos Ruiz had a fantastic 2010 season. He played solid defense behind the plate, handled one of baseball’s best pitching staffs (including calling both the perfect game and no-hitter thrown by Roy Halladay), and had the fourth-highest wOBA among catchers with at least 300 plate appearances. FanGraphs credited him with about 4 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which ranked third-best in the Majors.

Clearly, we should expect Ruiz to once again be among the game’s best backstops in 2011. Right?

I’m not so sure, for a couple reasons relating to his offense.

Carlos Ruiz BABIP
by Batted Ball Type
2010 Career
Ground 0.276 0.226
Fly 0.124 0.125
Line 0.765 0.707

For starters, Ruiz benefited from a .335 BABIP. While hitters have a lot of control over their BABIP, Ruiz’s previous high was .283 in 2007 and he has a career average .280. There was barely a change in his batted ball splits, so there is no legitimate explanation for such a large jump in BABIP. So what happened?

Compared to his career averages, Ruiz was five percent luckier on ground balls and six percent luckier on line drives. With 143 grounders and 64 line drives, that’s an extra 11 hits. It may not seem like a lot, but if those 11 hits were instead outs, Ruiz’s batting average would drop from .302 to .272.

Ruiz set a career high in slugging percentage, but it’s entirely explained by luck on balls in play. Ruiz’s isolated power (ISO) actually dropped 25 points to .146. Even more interesting was how Ruiz’s power shifted from the inside part of the plate to the outside.

2009 ISO on balls in play:

2010 ISO on balls in play:

(Heat maps via Baseball Analytics)

Overall, he was pitched almost exactly the same. The weird thing is, even though Ruiz’s power shifted to the outside part of the strike zone, he had tremendous success going to left field. Per FanGraphs, his career wOBA going to left field is .395. In 2010, that number sat at a lofty .509. Was it due to batted ball luck? You betcha! His career average BABIP to left is .295; last year, it was .413.

In 2011, you can count on Ruiz being the jewel of the pitching staff’s collective eye and playing decent defense. Expect his offensive output to regress significantly, to around the league average in the .325-.330 range. That is plenty good for a Phillies offense that will still be among the league’s best.

Act Like We’ve Been Here Before

To the right you’ll find the cover of today’s Philadelphia Daily News (click to enlarge). The headline is quite celebratory in nature: “Philadelphia, city with a superiority complex.”

Hey, it’s been a good week in Philly, after all: the Phillies got Cliff Lee, the Eagles pulled off one of the all-time greatest comebacks against the Giants on Sunday, and the Flyers are the cream of the NHL crop. It is a great time to be a Philadelphian.

Conversely, it’s not as great a time in New York. The Yankees have missed out on all of the top free agents and trade candidates, the Mets will be lucky to sniff .500 in 2011, the Giants were on the losing end of Sunday’s memorable game, the Rangers are eight points behind the Flyers, and so forth.

Given the rivalry between the two regions, some back-and-forth nose-thumbing is to be expected. Philly has certainly been on the receiving end of some New York bravado. However, the rash of “Philly > New York” sentiment over the past couple days seems excessive and, in some cases, unprofessional. Inferiority complex, much?

Take Stan Hochman’s article for the Daily News as an example. He brainstorms possible nicknames for the Phillies’ four aces, but he couldn’t resist taking a potshot at New York:

I had a patriotic theme, “Armed Fources” plus “Deadly Fource” and “Brute Fource” but baseball is not a violent game, unless you’re sitting in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium wearing the other team’s gear.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It sounds like every generic insult about Philly fans.

The always-interesting Marcus Hayes has his own smug take on the rise of Philly sports in his latest article, titled “Philly teams are putting a fork in New York”.

Something is in the air in Philadelphia.

Carried by a light wind, it makes its way south, down the turnpike. It is distinctly New York in aroma. Is it those honey-roasted nuts they sell out of street carts? Is it the hot dogs?

The swamplands of New Jersey?

Ah. Wait.

It is the smell of New York misery.

It is a rancid thing for Giants and Mets and Rangers fans, and only a little better for the Yankees faithful.

For Philadelphians, it is ambrosia.

Never has it smelled more delicious than this week.

Hayes does mention, at the end of the article, that Philly still does not have any advantage in terms of championships — the ultimate goal for all teams involved. On Twitter, David Murphy pointed out that New York won those championships more recently in three of the four major sports.

Great week for Philly, no question about it. Some bragging is acceptable, nay earned. But wouldn’t we look better to outsiders, who still view Philly fans as boorish animals, if we simply shrugged our shoulders at all of this? Ho-hum. Act like we’ve been here before.

Instead, radio switchboards are alight with controversy brewing. Arguments will be had, people will get upset for no meaningful reason, and maybe that’s the ultimate goal for the media people responsible for fueling this fire: move more papers, attract more listeners, sell more advertisements. If that is the case, New Yorkers should know that the Philly media does not represent all — or even most — Philadelphians.

Rivalries are fun. Trash-talking is fun. It can, unfortunately, be taken too seriously, ruining the fun for the rest of us. This Philly sports fan, for one, repudiates the latest salvos and hopes New Yorkers and the rest of the national scene doesn’t think any less of us for it.

J.C. Romero Is Still An Option

In his live chat at Baseball Prospectus today, I asked Eric Seidman about the Phillies’ LOOGY options and who he prefers. He said:

Dennys Reyes. Oh wait, nevermind. Scott Eyre still retired? How about the J.C. Romero from 2007? I think Joe Beimel would be a good fit. I’d also take a flier on Ron Mahay. Realistically, I’d be more comfortable forgoing the idea of a LOOGY and just building a solid overall bullpen. And as iffy as Romero looked last year, he still finished 2nd to Boone Logan in my 2010 LOOGY Awards, which measured the numbers lefty batters produced against a lefty specialist, relative to how those same batters performed against all other lefty pitchers. Maybe bring him back at a bargain price.

You may recall that in late March, I argued that Romero should be used strictly as a LOOGY. He is garbage against right-handed batters but has shown a legitimate ability to dominate left-handed hitters. If the Phillies are simply looking for a LOOGY, why not take another shot with Romero? Romero still wants to be a Phillie, after all:

“Maybe this is a door that opens for me to go back to Philly,” said Romero, the Phillies’ top lefty reliever the last four seasons with a 2.60 ERA over 260 relief appearances since 2007. “I hope so. My family loves it in Philly. I love it in Philly. I hope it works out and I can be back there. I felt they were closing the door for me when they signed Dennys, but everything happens for a reason.”

Here are the facts, using Romero’s career splits:

  • vs. RHB: 6.8 K/9, 6.9 BB/9, .292 BABIP, 5.34 xFIP
  • vs. LHB: 8.2 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, .266 BABIP, 3.61 xFIP

Romero made over $4 million in 2010, but he is now 34 years old, has an injury history, and he will be used sparingly as the situations allow. A pay cut is absolutely defensible and Romero realizes it:

“You have to understand that I’m not asking for $4 million,” Romero said. “That’s what I made at my best. It’s not like I’m expensive right now.”

Romero noticed that Lee left money on the table to return to Philly. He hinted that he’d do the same.

“What Mr. Cliff Lee did was a class act,” Romero said. “Sometimes being comfortable and in a place where you can make a difference means more than money. Hopefully, the Phillies and my agent will talk again.”

Let’s get this done, Ruben.

Guest Post: Why The Phillies Should Keep Big Joe

Today’s guest post is written by one of my favorite people on Twitter, @Utley4God. He argues that the Phillies should keep Joe Blanton, whom they will be trying to trade between now and the start of the 2011 regular season.

. . .

You already know the story: late Monday night, word broke that Cliff Lee was coming back to Philadelphia. In the days since, this move has been extensively analyzed and there isn’t much left to say. My quick analysis: “Fantastic”.

Due to Ruben Amaro’s history, Philadelphia immediately began to worry. “Does this mean Cole Hamels is on the move?” became everyone’s favorite question. Thankfully, tweets from Jon Heyman, Ken Rosenthal and others eased our fears. Joe Blanton was going to be moved to help clear payroll room for Lee.

Blanton is scheduled to make 17mm over the next two seasons (8.5mm per). He is coming off a season where he posted a 4.82 earned run average. In response to his poor year, the expectation is the Phillies will have to eat between $8-9 million to move Blanton and the rest of his contract. While most would argue the Phillies are a better team with Joe as the fifth starter, I believe it even makes economic sense to hang onto Big Joe a little longer.

There is no question Blanton had a bad season last year. A 4.82 ERA will scare even the most stat-friendly GM. But, if we dig a little deeper, it doesn’t look so bad. As you can see below, it looks like Joe’s declining ERA is actually due to poor luck on balls in play rather than a decline in skill. The profile of balls hit against him actually improved from 2009 to 2010 (LD% down, GB% up). He also improved his strike out to walk ratio. This led to an improvement in his FIP and xFIP year over year. Joe seems to have gotten hit with the patented Hamels bad luck train, and would be a great bounce-back candidate as his luck will likely normalize in 2011.

Year Age ERA SO/BB FIP xFIP BABIP
2009 28 4.05 2.76 4.45 4.07 0.302
2010 29 4.82 3.12 4.34 4.06 0.331

Even with an improvement in performance, that doesn’t explain why it would make sense for the cash-strapped Phillies to keep a fifth starter making $8.5 million per year. If a team calls and offers to take the full contract for a C-level prospect, Ruben should say yes as quickly as he did to the Roy Oswalt trade. However, if as expected, the Phillies are forced to eat half the contract to move him, they should hold onto Blanton until at least the All-Star break. The belief here is that if Blanton’s performance improves as expected, a team would be much more likely to take on the full contract. This scenario would have the Phillies paying $4.25 million and getting a half-season of Blanton rather than paying $8.5 million and filling those starts with Kyle Kendrick.

In a slightly worse scenario, it takes a full year for Joe to re-establish some value. This would leave the Phillies money neutral to making the trade now, but would still provide the value of filling 30 starts with Blanton rather than Kendrick.

In a worst case scenario, Blanton struggles for another full season and the Phils are still forced to pay a part of his salary next year to move him. This would make the “Keep Big Joe” a financial loss, but judging by his underlying statistics, this scenario seems unlikely.

If the Phillies really need to pay half of Blanton’s salary to move him, it would make sense from a expected performance and economic sense to hold onto the big right hander (who is still very well in his prime) for at least a little while longer.

Not to mention, he could be a nice insurance policy if one of the aces goes down with an injur…….. actually forget I said that, I’m not prepared to imagine that.

. . .

Make sure to follow @Utley4God on Twitter for his thoughts on the Phillies throughout the 2011 season. Hopefully, he’ll do the right thing and start a blog.

Do you agree that the Phillies should keep Blanton? Share your thoughts in the comments.

In 2011, Chase Utley Needs PTO

Ever since taking over at second base for the Phillies in 2005, Chase Utley has been a cornerstone of the franchise and one of Major League Baseball’s best players. His contributions come in many forms:

  • Offense: Five consecutive seasons with a wOBA at .389 or higher. (The league average is around .330.)
  • Defense: Five seasons with a UZR/150 at +12 or better.
  • Base running: Five seasons with 13 or more steals and a career stolen base success rate at 88 percent.

Today is Chase Utley‘s birthday. (Happy birthday, Chase!) He is now 32 years old. He missed 51 days during the 2010 regular season, almost all of them due to a torn thumb ligament. Even when he returned, he wasn’t the same hitter.

Utley isn’t exactly a case for chronic injury like some other players, but his max-effort style of play combined with his age and non-zero injury history creates a little cause for concern. It is true that two of Utley’s three serious injuries — a broken hand and the torn thumb ligament — are freak injuries that can happen to anyone at any time in the wrong circumstances. However, past injuries can pop up again in the future and can lead to other injuries, especially for players in their 30’s.

Fans have already suggested that, as an injury-preventative measure, Utley be given scheduled days off during the regular season going forward. Charlie Manuel hasn’t publicly said anything indicating that he plans to adhere to this, although he did say he would rest Utley more often going into the 2010 regular season.

Utley played in the Phillies’ first 36 games of the 2010 regular season. He missed two days battling an illness, then played in every game leading up to his thumb injury on June 28 — 36 consecutive games. After returning on August 17, he was given one day off on the 22nd, then played in every game until the Phillies clinched the division in Washington, D.C. against the Nationals on September 27.

If you’re counting, that is exactly two voluntary days off in 43 games, post-injury.

You know Utley wasn’t happy taking those two days off when he was sick in May. There have been many reports that, in the past, Utley refused to take a suggested day off, lending to his reputation as a gritty gamer. It’s great to see from an athlete, many of whom simply coast their way to the next paycheck.

It is time, though, to demand that Utley take days off. His performance clearly tapers as the season progresses:

Utley is significantly better than anyone who would play in his stead (i.e. Wilson Valdez). If Valdez were to replace Utley over an entire 162-game season, the difference in production would be felt immensely. Over a much smaller chunk of games, though, the difference isn’t likely to cost the Phillies more than a game or two. The upside is that they may gain those one or two losses — or more — back later in the season as Utley is better-rested and thus more productive.

Chase Utley needs to be benched in 2011. Who’d have thought we’d ever be legitimately saying that?

Regarding the title: in case you’re not hip to acronyms, PTO is paid time off.

Guest Post: Phillies Worst Individual Seasons

With an exciting week nearing its end, it’s time once again for a guest post. Dave, a frequent commenter here and a Twitter compatriot, submitted an article in which he looks at the worst individual seasons by Phillies players over the last 20 years. When you’re done reading, head over to Dave’s blog Where Is Ben Rivera? and his Twitter feed (@WheresBenRivera).

. . .

It was the worst of times; it was the worst of times

A few months back, a friend asked me, “Who do you think was the Phillies’ worst position player in the last—“

Desi Relaford,” I blurted out.

You see, I dig conversations like this. Maybe it’s the masochist in me, but I love reminiscing on the terrible Phillies teams of the late 80’s and early 90’s. This shouldn’t be too surprising, considering my blog is named after a former fifth starter, and I once dedicated an entire post to this man. It keeps me humble. As a Boston resident, I am subjected to water cooler talk like this:

Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez are nice, but I really wanted Cliff Lee too.”

When I hear an outcry for trading Chase Utley after his sub-par NLCS, I cringe. The Phils have four consecutive NL East crowns. Our fantastic second baseman had a rough six game stretch. Let’s all take a deep breath. Times are good. Life is good.

Anyways, I’m new to the Sabermetrics game. When you guys were reading Moneyball years ago, I was creating dynasties for PS2’s MVP Baseball.

(Side note: I learned the hard way that you can’t build your pitching staff solely around knuckleball pitchers. Steve Sparks really labored at the back-end of the rotation).

While stat guys focused on OB%, I was wondering how many saves Billy Koch needed to win the Rolaids Relief Man Award (I know. Hindsight is 20/20).

I slowly gravitated towards the Sabermetric-side of thinking. It started with the walks—why must Pedro Feliz swing at every first pitch— and moved on to xFIP and SIERA. I learned that Cole Hamels didn’t have a bad 2009; he was just unlucky.

I then wrapped my head around WAR.

This convoluted opening brings me to today’s post. If I chose the worst Phillies position players (by individual season) from the last twenty years, what would their collective WAR be?

**Note** I only choose starters who registered 400 plate appearances. Seemed as good a number as any.

Cather: Mike Lieberthal

Pickings were slim, and Liebey was certainly serviceable. I would have loved to thrown Rod Barajas on this list, but I fear he would read this, mutate into some green creature, and then clobber two home runs next time at the Bank.

If memory serves (note: numbers not exact), Lieberthal led the league in double plays with runners on first and third, with less than two outs, for the better part of a decade.

2004 WAR: 1.1; .271/.335/.447

First Base: Travis Lee

This was an easy one. Phillies fans have been spoiled by Howard and Thome this decade, and according to Chris Wheeler, Rico Brogna “saved three hundred runs a year” with his glove at first base. Wheels would never exaggerate, so I see no reason to verify this number.

Some Philly fans hated Travis Lee, because he ‘looked’ like he didn’t care (My father for one). I didn’t mind so much that Travis Lee enjoyed surfing; on off-days, he could lather himself up with surf board wax for all I cared. But I couldn’t look past the .265/.331./.394 from our first baseman.

Quick aside: It was good to earn some extra mileage from the Schilling trade when Figueroa joined the 2010 team. I’m not willing to give that trade a concrete grade just yet.

2002 WAR: 0.6

Second Baseman: Marlon Anderson

Life B.U. (Before Utley) was a sad existence, and this position offered many strong candidates. I thought about going old school—penciling in Randy Ready or Tommy Herr—but I played it safe and went with old reliable: Marly.

Marlon Anderson was a highly-touted second round pick, who was pegged as the second baseman of the future. It was not to be. Marlon Anderson was a hipper, trendier Cristian Guzman.

In 2002, Anderson hit .258/.315/.380.

2002 WAR: 0.5

Shortstop: Desi Relaford

As a young lad, I loved Desi Relaford. We were exactly alike. Small statures, middle infielders, both choked up on the bat—both couldn’t hit a lick.

In 1998, Relaford hit .245/.293/.338. Those numbers dwarf in comparison to Mark Portugal’s line from that same season.

1998 WAR: -0.8

Third Base: Charlie Hayes

I had to dip into the archives for this one. Despite what my six year old self may have you believe, Charlie and Von are not related. And Hersey Hawkins and Johnny Dawkins weren’t cousins just because their last names rhymed.

1990 Charlie Hayes’ biggest competition in this contest was…1991 Charlie Hayes. It truly was an evenly-contested match-up.

Winner? The 1991 Charlie Hayes and his .230/.257/.363 line.

1991 WAR: -0.8

Right Field: Ruben Amaro Jr.

Yeah, I know. I didn’t believe it either. Amaro recorded 426 plate appearances in 1992—just “de-WAR’n” 1991 Dale Murphy.

I seemed to have blocked out this 1992 team, although I vaguely remember being a big Stan Javier supporter.

The fans in the right field seats at the Vet couldn’t see past the *smug*, as Rube quietly recorded a .219/.303/.348 line.

1992 WAR: 0.4

Center Field: Ricky Otero

Ever notice that whenever someone mentions random Phillies, or lousy Phillies, or favorite Phillies, Ricky Otero’s name is always brought up? Otero is the poster boy of the Phillies in the 1990s—the little engine that bridged the years between the grunge movement and the Boy Band craze.

Ricky Otero blasted on to the scene with Philadelphia. Through his first seven games, Ricky was hitting .357/.457/.464. What some smart people referred to as ‘sample size,’ my twelve year old self was talking future All-Star game reserve. If sixth graders could drive, I would have taken my mom’s station wagon to Modell’s and purchased a #15 road jersey.

Alas, it was smoke and mirrors. Otero finished the year with a .273/.330/.348 line.

1996 WAR: -0.6

**Note** Doug Glanville certainly gave Otero a run for his money at this position.

Left Field: Wes Chamberlain

I don’t feel good about this one, but options were limited. Wes recorded just 417 PA’s in 101 games in 1991, so he barely met the plate appearance requirement.

By the way, if you’re trying to track down Wes Chamberlain’s ‘top-10 most wanted baseball cards,’ click on his B-R page for a complete list. Wes’ 1994 Dunross card made for a great stocking stuffer last Christmas.

In 1991, Chamberlain hit .240/.300/.399

1991 WAR: 0.1

Catcher: 2004 Mike Lieberthal (1.1)

First Base: 2002 Travis Lee (0.6)

Second Baseman: 2005 Marlon Anderson (0.5)

Shortstop: 1998 Desi Relaford (-0.8)

Third Base: 1991 Charlie Hayes (-0.8)

Right Field: 1992 Ruben Amaro Jr. (0.4)

Center Field: 1996 Ricky Otero (-0.6)

Left Field: 1991Wes Chamberlain (0.1)

Total WAR: 0.5

Times are indeed good.

. . .

Thanks to Dave of Where Is Ben Rivera? for a well-researched piece on some facepalm-inducing seasons from our 1990-2010 era Phillies. Can you think of any other awful seasons? Share them in the comments below.