Are the Phillies Missing Right-Handed Power?

On Saturday, a commenter left a few comments in favor of trading for Michael Young. The responses (including mine) were mostly snarky, but the suggestion that the Phillies need right-handed power is not uncommon — even Mitch Williams said as much on MLB Network. So I think it is a topic worth discussing.

The claim that the Phillies need right-handed power is another way of saying “opposing teams should be punished for bringing in a LOOGY”. One does not want to organize his lineup such that the opposing manager can bring in his LOOGY for three or four hitters. Having an order that alternates left- and right-handed hitters punishes the opposing team in the following ways that a lineup of same-handed hitters would not:

  • Forces the LOOGY to face a right-handed hitter if the manager wants him to face the other lefties; or,
  • Allows your left-handed hitter to face a tired starter or a right-handed reliever; or,
  • Forces the opposing manager to burn through more relief pitchers than he would like (Tony La Russa style)

The Phillies’ lefties actually handle left-handed pitchers quite well. Chase Utley, surprisingly, has a higher career wOBA against southpaws than he does against right-handers. Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez are both around the league average, each posting a career .329 wOBA.

The other side of it is that Howard is extremely productive against right-handed pitchers. His career wOBA against right-handed pitchers (.424) is 95 points higher than it is against lefties. To put that in perspective, Miguel Cabrera had a .429 wOBA and Michael Cuddyer was at .329 during the 2010 regular season.

In the scenario where the Phillies trade prospects and/or Major League players for Young and his remaining $48 million, we need to ask ourselves if it is really worth the trouble. Remember that these LOOGY situations only come up once per game. Even if it occurs in every game, we are still only dealing with 162 plate appearances per player, quite a small sample size.

By comparing the Phillies’ wOBA splits to the league averages, we can find out approximately how many runs the Phillies are gaining or losing in each match-up. wOBA is converted into runs with the following formula:

( ( Player’s wOBA – League average wOBA ) / 1.15 ) * Player’s PA

We’ll start with Chase Utley:

  • vs. LHP as LH: ( ( .390 – .314 ) / 1.15 ) * 162 = 8.1 runs
  • vs. RHP as LH: ( ( .382 – .325 ) / 1.15 ) * 162 = 10.7 runs
  • Difference: 2.6 runs in favor of facing LHP

Ryan Howard:

  • vs. LHP as LH: ( ( .329 – .314 ) / 1.15 ) * 162 = 2.1 runs
  • vs. RHP as LH: ( ( .424 – .325 ) / 1.15 ) * 162 = 14.0 runs
  • Difference: 11.9 runs in favor of facing RHP

Raul Ibanez:

  • vs. LHP as LH: ( ( .329 – .314 ) / 1.15 ) * 162 = 2.1 runs
  • vs. RHP as LH: ( ( .367 – .325 ) / 1.15 ) * 162 = 5.9 runs
  • Difference: 3.8 runs in favor of facing RHP

Michael Young:

  • vs. LHP as RH: ( ( .362 – .330 ) / 1.15 ) * 162 = 4.5 runs
  • vs. RHP as RH: ( ( .344 – .311 ) / 1.15 ) * 162 = 4.6 runs
  • Difference: 0.1 runs in favor of facing RHP

The benefit of having a right-handed hitter, for the Phillies, is to give opposing managers a deterrent to bringing in a LOOGY for Howard. So let’s compare two similar situations, one where the manager leaves his left-hander in to face Young, and one where he allows his right-handed pitcher to face Howard. Then, we will compare it to the status quo.

  • LHP vs. Utley-Howard-Young: 8.1 + 2.1 + 4.5 = 14.7 runs
  • RHP vs. Utley-Howard-Young: 10.7 + 14.0 + 4.6 = 29.3 runs
  • LHP vs. Utley-Howard-Ibanez: 8.1 + 2.1 + 2.1 = 12.3 runs

Over a full season (just 162 PA), if opposing managers let right-handers face Utley and Howard because they are scared of Young, the Phillies gain about 15 runs (about 1.5 wins). Young’s presence is not a strong enough deterrent. Furthermore, he provides an upgrade of only one-fourth of one win. Roughly ten runs equate to one win, and Young only provides a 2.4 run boost. Keep in mind, though, that this is relative — we are only dealing with 162 PA, or one PA per game.

What if the Phillies kept Jayson Werth? What is the optimal strategy?

  • LHP vs. Utley-Howard-Werth: 8.1 + 2.1 + 10.0 = 20.2 runs
  • RHP vs. Utley-Howard-Werth: 10.7 + 14.0 + 5.9 = 30.6 runs

Not even Werth’s presence would make it optimal to allow Howard to face a LOOGY.

Just for fun, what if the Phillies had Albert Pujols hitting behind Howard?

  • LHP vs. Utley-Howard-Pujols: 8.1 + 2.1 + 17.6 = 27.8 runs
  • RHP vs. Utley-Howard-Pujols: 10.7 + 14.0 + 16.6 = 41.3 runs

Not even Pujols could dissuade a manager looking to bring in his LOOGY. Opposing managers would rather face one incredibly productive hitter (Pujols’ 17.6 runs) with his left-hander than two (Pujols’ 16.6 runs and Howard’s 14.0 runs) with a right-hander.

Howard’s production is so extremely good against right-handers and his production is so average against left-handers, that there is no reason to allow him to face a right-handed pitcher in a high-leverage situation. If the Phillies want to see Howard face LOOGYs less, Howard needs to vastly increase his production against lefties (or, conversely, drastically lower his production against right-handers).

(Remember, the above graphic is in a sample size of only 162 PA)

There are no right-handed hitters that should cause opposing managers to pause before bringing in a LOOGY unless those hitters are equivalently (or more) extremely good against left-handed pitching compared to right-handed pitching. The basis of platoons is maximizing the number of these favorable match-ups.

It is not worthwhile for the Phillies to acquire a hitter simply because he is right-handed. And, as pointed out last Wednesday, Young would not provide an upgrade at third base or shortstop, the only two positions where he would reasonably fit in, effectively washing out — and worse — any match-up related advantages.

Braves 2011 Season Preview with Peter Hjort

Baseball is officially under way as pitchers and catchers report to spring training. Every team goes into spring training with hope as well as some pertinent questions. To get a feel for what other teams are looking for, I caught up with three SweetSpot bloggers: Peter Hjort for the Atlanta Braves blog Capitol Avenue Club, Joe Janish for the New York Mets blog Mets Today, and Harper Gordek for the Washington Nationals blog Nationals Baseball. As we don’t have a Marlins blogger, I also spoke with Michael Jong of Marlin Maniac. Those will be posted throughout the week once a day.

Today, we’ll start with Peter Hjort and glean some knowledge about the Braves.

. . .

1. How would you rate the off-season for the Braves?

They did well. Frank Wren was able to upgrade the offense and balance the line-up by acquiring Dan Uggla and only had to part with a 25-year old potential set-up man and a 29-year old utility player to do it. They won’t have as strong of a bench or bullpen in 2011, but Braves fans have to like the team they’ll be going with next year as well as the fact that their farm system is still more or less completely intact.

2. Does Jason Heyward have a shot at winning the NL MVP award in 2011?

Sure, if he stays healthy. He was hitting like an MVP-candidate before he injured his thumb last year. If he can put that injury behind him and manage to play 140+ games at full strength, there’s no telling what Heyward will do. Heyward staying healthy for an entire professional season would be unprecedented, so we must temper our expectations in that regard, but, regarding ability, the hype is real.

3. The offense figures to be much improved with the addition of Dan Uggla, prospect Freddie Freeman, and a healthy Chipper Jones. Will they be among the NL’s best offenses?

Yes, I think so. They’ve got a good amount of power in the line-up and their first five or six hitters figure to all post on-base averages between .350 and .420. There are some question marks surrounding Alex Gonzalez and Nate McLouth, but even if they get very little from the pair they should be among the NL’s best offenses. If the aforementioned question marks fall on their faces, Atlanta has the flexibility to make an in-season acquisition.

4. Billy Wagner‘s retirement leaves a void in the 9th inning. Fredi Gonzalez hinted that he will platoon Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters. Do you prefer the platoon, or would you rather Kimbrel have the role all to himself?

I don’t really care that much. Obviously you’d prefer to have them leveraged in situations that are most beneficial to the team (read: platoon), but I don’t think endorsing one strategy over the other is worth more than a quarter of a win a season or so. Of the two, I’d probably rather see Kimbrel close full-time because Jonny Venters‘ ground-ball tendencies and left-handedness give him more opportunities to be matched up favorably.

5. Are there any players we should be keeping an eye on during spring training?

Nate McLouth, for one. He’s the starting center fielder and nobody seems to know what he’s capable of–though I expect a better season than he managed in 2010. Jason Heyward‘s thumb is something to monitor, as well as Chipper’s ACL. Rookies Craig Kimbrel, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Freddie Freeman, and Stephen Marek all figure to have some type of impact on Atlanta’s 2011 season. Finally, all eyes will be on Julio Teheran–the organization’s top prospect–as he gets his first extended look in Spring Training.

6. If you had to guess on the Braves’ final record and place in the standings, where would you put them?

94-68, 2nd in the NL East, Wild Card winner.

. . .

Thanks to Peter for sharing his thoughts on the Braves. Keep up with the Braves during spring training and throughout the 2011 season — bookmark Capitol Avenue Club.