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Are the Phillies Missing Right-Handed Power?

Posted By Bill Baer On February 14, 2011 @ 8:02 am In MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Sabermetrics | 15 Comments

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.


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