The worst pitcher among the Phillies’ “big four” in 2010 was Roy Oswalt, whose 3.46 xFIP ranked twelfth in Major League Baseball. The Phillies have one-third of baseball’s top-12 pitchers from 2010.
It’s a great time to be a Phillies fan.
The worst pitcher among the Phillies’ “big four” in 2010 was Roy Oswalt, whose 3.46 xFIP ranked twelfth in Major League Baseball. The Phillies have one-third of baseball’s top-12 pitchers from 2010.
It’s a great time to be a Phillies fan.
Texas Rangers beat writer T.R. Sullivan is reporting that the Phillies have signed free agent left-handed pitcher Cliff Lee. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News is reporting that it is a five-year deal. Joel Sherman says it is “in the 5 yr, $100M range”.
In the wake of losing Jayson Werth to the Washington Nationals, the Phillies could have done nothing and been fine heading into 2011, but GM Ruben Amaro made sure that the Phillies would continue to be among the premier teams in Major League Baseball.
The Phillies already have nearly $147 million committed to 18 players with three arbitration cases left to settle. Assuming Lee will earn around $20 million in 2011, that brings the Phillies’ payroll up to $167 million, a 21 percent increase from last year’s Opening Day payroll. Presumably, this leaves them little flexibility to round out the rest of the roster and thus will be doing so with cheaper options, mostly in-house. Between now and spring training, Amaro will try to unload the hefty contracts of Raul Ibanez and/or Joe Blanton.
According to Baseball Reference, Werth was a four-win player on average over the last three years while Lee has been a 5.5-win player. On that exchange, in a vacuum, the Phillies made a slight upgrade but do have some risk to account for with an outfield that will include some variation of Ibanez, Shane Victorino, Domonic Brown, and Ben Francisco.
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Bloggers have often been critical of the media when they discuss Sabermetrics. The criticism has usually been somewhat justified as the media hasn’t always taken a sunny disposition towards statistical analysis. Recently, though, we have seen a sea change in the attitudes of most in the media. As a result, Sabermetrics is no longer that niche, taboo subject met with instant derision. It is now a well-respected method of analysis sweeping into Major League front offices.
Paul Hagen’s latest article for the Philadelphia Daily News is an excellent indication of the media’s growing acceptance of Sabermetrics. Viewing articles on Philly.com is usually a big no-no for me because of the Satan-spawned auto-play video ads. However, Hagen discusses the supposed lineup protection that Ryan Howard will be missing now that Jayson Werth moved on to the Washington Nationals. Logic and quotes from SABR’s Gary Gillette are used to provide the reader with reasons to adopt this alternative view of the game of baseball. It’s a great read and I highly recommend reading the full article, auto-play ads be damned. (Nothing this can’t fix, anyway.)
Because as everybody knows, without a legitimate righthanded threat behind him, Howard won’t get a pitch to hit all season long.
The kicker, of course, is that conventional wisdom frequently is somewhere between off base and flat wrong. And Gary Gillette, a writer and member of the board of directors of the Society for American Baseball Research, suggests that fretting about who will replace Werth in that slot is probably much ado about nothing.
“Everything I’ve looked at in the past has either showed no effect or minimal effect. In fact, sometimes it was the opposite,” he said yesterday at the Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort.
There’s another point to be made here. The point of a lineup is not to feature one player. It’s to maximize the number of runs a team scores.
So how often Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco and Chase Utley get on base in front of Howard is more crucial to how many RBI he gets than who bats behind him. And if he doesn’t get good pitches to hit, he has to be disciplined enough to take a walk if he isn’t seeing something he can handle.
Along with Hagen, other good Saber-friendly writers in the Philly media include Matt Gelb, David Hale, and David Murphy. For as much complaining as we bloggers do when it comes to the media, the fact is that a good portion of them have made room on the stage for us stats junkies. Writers like Hagen should be applauded for doing the responsible thing: providing the alternative viewpoints to their readers to let them make their own informed decisions.
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On a sadder note, Philly-Twitter favorite Logan Morrison’s father recently passed away. If you’re on Twitter, please take a minute to send him your well-wishes. Logan is a great guy and I’m sure he would be very appreciative of such kind sentiment in his time of need.
Logan Morrison’s Twitter: @LoMoMarlins
This great first full week of December will round out with a guest post from Daniel Podheiser (@DanPodheiser on Twitter). He writes for the Bullpen Talk blog and will shortly become the sports editor at The Register Citizen. Dan will be discussing how the Phillies can hold serve despite losing one of the most productive hitters in baseball in Jayson Werth.
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The loss of Jayson Werth shouldn’t come as a surprise to most Phillies fans, but in the wake of his recent signing with the Nationals, many are beginning to revisit the question of how the Phillies are going to replace his production in the lineup.
First off, let’s face it: Werth has been one of the greatest outfielders in Phillies history over the past two years, and his 2010 season was simply remarkable. His .397 wOBA was second among NL outfielders to Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez, and his 5.0 WAR (according to Fangraphs) ranked sixth. Furthermore, as noted earlier in the week , Werth was especially difficult to get out at all points in the count, as he posted a .319 wOBA with two strikes.
Werth’s production is going to be missed. You can rest assured that the platoon combination of Domonic Brown, Ben Francisco and/or a new right-handed hitter like Josh Willingham or Cody Ross won’t combine to play like Werth did in 2010.
But let’s step back and take a deep breath, Phillies fans — the 2011 Phillies are going to be just fine, if not better than 2010.
On Aug. 10, in an article on The 700 Level, I proclaimed the 2010 Phillies to be the best team in franchise history. As we head into 2011, there’s only reason to assume this team will be even better.
Consider this: From the moment Jimmy Rollins got hurt in mid-April, the Phillies didn’t play with their everyday lineup until late in September. Of the entire Opening Day roster, only Werth remained healthy throughout the entire season.
The 2011 Phillies are adding player value simply through the merits of health. They’re getting back the best second baseman in the game, Chase Utley, for an entire season. Jimmy Rollins‘ value has gone down over the past few years, but he still remains one of the top shortstops in the game. Ryan Howard was having an excellent season before he went down in early August, and Carlos Ruiz, who has turned into one of the most productive catchers in the big leagues, missed a bulk of time, as well.
You could argue that the Phillies’ offense in 2011 will actually be better, and score more runs, than the 2010 squad, even though Werth is gone. The Phils were shut out 11 times last year, and from mid-May to about a week after the All-Star break, the lineup was as inconsistent as it’s been in the Charlie Manuel era. That probably won’t happen again this year.
But even if the ’11 and ’10 offenses are a wash, the Phillies have one thing that no other team in the entire league has: H2O.
A full season of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt will give the Phillies a rotation unlike anything the league has seen since the Atlanta Braves early in the decade (or, perhaps Clemens-Pettitte-Oswalt with Houston in 2005).
That trio will not only strike fear into every team it faces; it will also provide the bullpen with excellent rest when it takes the mound — 60 percent of the time, to be exact.
Do the 2011 Phillies have a weakness? Sure. Right field is not as stable as it was two months ago. It’s nothing to write home about. But by June, when the Phillies have asserted themselves as the clear favorites in the NL once again, not even this guy will be able to remember what was so cool about Jayson Werth‘s beard in the first place.
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With Joe Blanton fat jokes going out of style, left-handed reliever Dennys Reyes will likely provide some comic relief for Phillies fans. ESPN’s Enrique Rojas reports that the hefty lefty is close to signing with the Phillies on a one-year deal with a club option for 2012.
Reyes, who will turn 34 in April, isn’t an inspiring pitcher by any means. In 2010, Reyes set a career-low in K/9 (5.9) and posted an obscenely high BB/9 (5.0). Essentially, he’s a heavier version of J.C. Romero.
If used strictly against lefties, Reyes can be effective. Since 2002, Reyes walked right-handed hitters on a much more frequent basis, averaging 5.3 per nine innings compared to 3.70 against lefties. In terms of xFIP, Reyes has been about a full run better against lefties. The following chart displays his xFIP by year against right- and left-handed batters.
Also of note is Reyes’ penchant for inducing ground balls. Since 2002, when batted ball data was recorded, nearly 56 percent of batted balls have been on the ground. However, that figure has been decreasing every year since 2006.
It’s a “meh” signing for the Phillies, but at least it gives us laypeople plenty of opportunity to show off our comedic chops.
In his latest column, the great Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly mentions the plethora of right-handed bats the Phillies could target to platoon with some left-handed hitter in right field, be it Domonic Brown or Ross Gload. Three of those hitters are free agents (Matt Diaz, Jeff Francoeur, and Scott Hairston) while seven different options (Juan Rivera, Josh Willingham, Mike Morse, Aaron Rowand, Cody Ross, Delmon Young, and Michael Cuddyer) could be acquired in a trade.
Since the role of the right-handed hitter would be to perform well against southpaw pitchers, let’s take a look at just how good each hitter performs in that match-up going by weighted on-base average (wOBA), my preferred metric for analyzing offensive production.
Click the chart below to view a larger version.
An average wOBA is equal to the league average on-base percentage. Last year excepting, that OBP has been around .330 to .335. So all ten hitters are above-average when facing LHP, but only four have been elite hitters against them. Jeff Francoeur is the worst realistic option — no surprise there — while post-season pest Cody Ross and Phillie-killer Matt Diaz are among the best.
Going by only 2010 performance, we see that the two Nationals and two Twins — Morse, Willingham, Young, and Cuddyer — performed better than their career averages while Hairston and Rowand notably under-performed. Francoeur stayed right around his career average, which is nothing to write home about.
As mentioned in this article, the Phillies should be aiming to minimize variance. Players like Morse and Young both hit very well against lefties in 2010, but well above what they had traditionally hit against lefties over their careers. While they certainly could have made some adjustments at the plate, which would explain the better performance, it is still very likely that their production regresses to the mean. The Phillies would then be paying essentially for 2010-level production when they should be expecting something smaller.
Thus, it seems that among the ten candidates, Willingham is the best option with Ross a close runner-up. Both have had very consistent production against lefties over the last three years and that production has always been elite.
If GM Ruben Amaro decides that the price tags on those two outfielders are too hefty, he can fall back on a reliable in-house option by the name of Ben Francisco. He has a career .352 wOBA against lefties over his career and hit .384 against them last year. Francisco is arbitration eligible for the first time, meaning he’s cost controlled through 2013. If the Phillies give Francisco enough playing time between now and then, and he emerges into a productive player, they could potentially earn some draft pick compensation if and when he leaves for free agency whereas players like Francoeur and Rowand would not provide that benefit.
When it comes to filling this roster spot, Amaro needs to swing for the fences or go home. Go get Willingham or Ross, or be happy with a very affordable and familiar face in Francisco.
Oh, but Werth gets scarier. He compiled a .319 wOBA in two-strike counts during the 2010 season. The average hitter posted a .247 wOBA. Even when the pitcher is fortunate enough to get ahead of Werth, he still has a veritable mountain to climb before he can claim success. Bad news for pitchers everywhere, but especially for those wearing Phillies red.
The Nationals may have overcommitted and overpaid Werth, but they did sign one heck of a hitter.
The guest posts continue, this time with an entry submitted by Ryan Sommers, author of the Phillies-themed blog Chasing Utley. He also happens to be one of my favorite tweeters — do yourself a favor and start following @Phylan.
Today, Ryan looks at the potential playoff expansion in Major League Baseball.
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After receiving a heavy dose of press during the November general manager meetings, the tabled proposal for expanding the playoffs to ten teams now seems like a certainty. Bud Selig has been typically coy when asked about it, but it’s sure to find favor with the curious jumble of personnel he has assembled into the Special Committee for On-Field Matters, set to convene at the winter meetings in Orlando next week. Among the managers, general managers, owners, and team presidents that constitute the Committee, it’s difficult to imagine any opposition to the additional opportunity for contention and obvious financial incentives assured by the proposal. The change will likely have to wait for the negotiation of a new collective bargaining agreement for the 2012 season, but that seems to be the only hurdle at this point.
The plan, as it’s been floated, involves adding one wild card slot to each league, and staging either a one or three game playoff between the two wildcards prior to the Division Series. Proponents point out that this adds additional incentive for winning one’s division, as the team that emerges from this wildcard round will start the Division Series with someone other than their number one starter on the mound. Selig, many of the general managers, and other proponents of the plan have hinted at “fairness” concerns, with some writers and fans going so far as to suggest that a ten team playoff will strengthen the contention of small market teams. Even if these notions had validity, they don’t override the problems that the proposal presents, but it’s also worth pointing out that fairness — be it an issue of stacked divisions or financial disadvantage — hardly enters the picture here.
The table below, spanning from 1995 (the first year with a wild card-era postseason) to 2010, shows the hypothetical 2nd wildcard winner in a 10 team playoff system, their record, and their payroll rank according to USA Today’s MLB payroll database.
Your immediate reaction is probably “Hey! The Phillies would’ve made the playoffs for six straight years!” Hold that thought for the moment. The first thing to note is that these outcomes don’t support the notion that smaller market teams would benefit in some way from expanded playoffs. Only eight of these teams were ranked in the bottom third of league payroll, while twelve ranked in the middle third, and fourteen in the top third. Regardless of your position on the payroll advantage, it’s obvious that a ten team field does nothing to relieve it. In fact, it presents an additional significant obstacle for a small market team bidding for a World Series appearance from the wild card slot. The 1997 and 2003 World Champion Marlins would’ve had to jumble their pitching rotation in a must win series just to reach the Division Series — the former against either the Dodgers or Mets, both of whom finished four games behind them, and the latter against the Astros, also four games worse. Likewise for the 2002 Anaheim Angels and 2004 Boston Red Sox, who won their championships after reaching the postseason via the wildcard. Adding a second wildcard won’t increase the likelihood of bids like these for teams of any market size. It will dampen it, by handicapping both wild card teams at the outset of the playoffs.
Meanwhile, you’re letting worse teams reach the postseason. The overall winning percentages of the hypothetical second wildcard teams from 1995-2010 was .549 in the NL and .548 in the AL, compared to .563 and .582 for the actual wildcard teams in the respective leagues. On average, then, the second wildcard team is an 89-73 team, falling two games behind the average NL wildcard team and five behind the average AL wildcard team over that span. This may not sound too egregious, and if it was for another five or seven game series against the other wildcard contender, it might not be. But the logistical challenges of a playoff system that already reaches into early November constrains the discussion to either a one game playoff or a three game series. Hamstringing what are usually 90+ win teams with a dangerously short series against an inferior opponent doesn’t seem to serve the interest of “fairness” at all. As an alternative to adding a team, consider this suggestion: divisions are eliminated, and only the top four teams by record from each league advance to the postseason. This relieves one irksome feature of the current system: weak division winners that receive a higher seed than a superior wild card team, which can also result in another superior team being bounced from the playoffs altogether. Such was the case in nine of the sixteen seasons between 1995 and 2010. Seeding the playoffs by record and not divisional outcomes eliminates this effect, while avoiding the problems of a ten team system. This is not an option that Selig and others would ever consider pursuing, but it serves to illustrate that more “fairness” can be squeezed from sound alterations to the playoff structure than from the mere addition of competitors. Lengthening the Division Series from five to seven games is another such alteration, reducing the emphasis on strong front-end rotations in favor of a stronger overall roster, and softening the impact that randomness can have on the outcome of a short playoff series. Instead, Selig is considering the addition of an even shorter series.
As for the Phillies, it’s true that the second wild card would have meant trips to the playoffs in 2005 and 2006, but the 8 team record-seeded system would have also — in both years, inferior division winners advanced at their expense. How it impacts them going forward is contingent upon a lot of uncertain factors concerning their organizational philosophy. The Phillies won 97 games in 2010, and, with the exception of Jayson Werth, will look very much the same in 2011. But some key core talents are entering their decline phase, and at least two of their divisional opponents are taking serious steps toward greater competitiveness. Ruben Amaro hasn’t had to rebuild a team yet, but he will soon, and with his propensity for doling out large contracts to aging veterans, the process could create a team that is bi-polar in composition and tending towards mediocrity. Consequently, the Phillies may well find themselves in the 87-91 win range that would benefit from the second wild card. It’s unclear what the ten team playoff might do to the marginal economic value of each win, but it’s not unreasonable to assume that its peak — which Nate Silver calculated to be at about 91 wins — might be bumped down a bit by the increased ease of qualifying. If that were the case, given the booming attendance at Citizen’s Bank Park, ownership might be inclined to reel in the hefty payroll somewhat. This would make Ruben Amaro’s (questionable, in my opinion) asset allocation ability even more vital to a team re-engineering its personnel make-up. It’s speculative, yes, but the Phillies may be one of the teams most likely to feel the impact, positive or negative, of the added wildcard.
The potential financial gains from the expanded playoffs haven’t been quantified, but they’re sure to be substantial, and there is no question that they are what motivate Selig (Craig Calcaterra called it “nothing but a money grab”). This aspect probably deserves a bit more than bitter dismissal; we are all, after all, fans of baseball, and changes that swell the coffers and perhaps increase public interest ultimately have at least some value to us. Overriding that, though, is the undeniable damage dealt to the importance of regular season games, and the usefulness of the playoffs in rewarding the strongest teams. There is a healthy balance to be struck between baseball the business venture and baseball the competition, but a ten team playoff surely fails to achieve it. The MLB is far from the poorhouse, and, more importantly, is tangled in some issues that strike closer to the core of “fairness” than the exclusivity of the playoffs — the meagerness of instant replay, an insufficient Division Series, and the treatment of minor league players, to name a few. The expanded playoffs will probably be instituted without issue, and perhaps after a few years will be indifferently accepted by even the stodgiest of purists, but it will still represent a missed opportunity to alleviate some real problems that don’t turn Bud Selig’s profit-tuned nose.
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Check out Ryan’s newly-renamed blog Chasing Utley for his thoughts on the Phillies throughout the winter and into the 2011 season.
If you wish to submit a Phillies-related guest post, send it to CrashburnAlley [at] Gmail [dot] com along with any questions or comments.
In a surprising turn of events, former Phillies right fielder Jayson Werth agreed to a seven-year, $126 million deal with the Washington Nationals. The Boston Red Sox were believed to be the favorites to sign Werth, but the Nationals committed a lot of money over a long period of time for the free agent outfielder’s services.
Although the Phillies made repeated efforts to sign Werth, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the 2011 outfield in Philadelphia would include Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, Domonic Brown and a right-handed platoon partner while Werth took his services to a new address.
Werth has been among the most productive players in baseball since becoming a regular part of the Phillies’ lineup. Over the past three years, only Ryan Braun and Matt Holliday compiled a higher wOBA among NL outfielders. Along with elite offensive contributions Werth ran the bases extremely well, stealing 60 bases in 68 attempts (88%) and played a great outfield, racking up 30 outfield assists in four years as a Phillie. The Nationals are getting a multi-talented player, for sure.
The Phillies’ brass will continue to deliberate on what to do in right field. Throughout the off-season, GM Ruben Amaro hinted that the team was searching for a right-handed platoon partner to team with Domonic Brown. There is now a possibility that Brown starts the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley while a different platoon (perhaps Ben Francisco and Ross Gload) handles right field. However, Todd Zolecki notes that right-handed bats on the Phillies’ radar include Matt Diaz, Jeff Francoeur, Carlos Quentin, and Scott Hairston.
Matt Gelb pointed out that the Phillies will not receive a first round draft pick as compensation as expected because the Nationals’ first round pick is protected.
Werth averaged 5 WAR per season with regular playing time in the last three seasons. Matt Klaassen crunched the numbers and found that, assuming 10 percent inflation, the Nationals will be paying Werth as if he is a 4.5 WAR player in 2011 with a 0.5 WAR decline each year. Werth will turn 32 on May 20, so that presumption by the Nationals may be a bit too rosy. However, the signing may be just the thing Washington needs to attract fans and prepare to build a winning franchise. With a core that includes veteran Ryan Zimmerman and future hope in Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, the Nationals’ reign on fifth place in the NL East may come to an end.
Meanwhile, the Phillies will be banking on the emergence on the top prospect they repeatedly refused to trade in Dom Brown. Reports of his demise in the Dominican Winter League may be greatly exaggerated. Although Brown did struggle, he did only play in nine games — an extremely small sample size to say the least. Furthermore, pairing Brown with a platoon partner will greatly stunt his development. Since the Phillies made such valiant efforts to keep him in red pinstripes, it makes no sense to refuse to let him hit against left-handed pitching. How do you learn how to hit lefties other than by facing them in real game situations?
In the wake of the Werth news, the Phillies actually walk away looking good from a PR perspective. Some fans were upset that the organization wasn’t willing to break open the vault to keep the right fielder in town, but even the staunchest Werth fans will agree that a seven-year, $126 million deal for a soon-to-be 32-year-old is, at the very least, risky and short-sighted. The Phillies don’t need to do anything drastic to maintain credibility as Nationals fans embrace their new star player.
2011 is the year we see why Brown was a coveted asset, or why it was a mistake to plan around him.
The Phillies have to go all-in with Brown.