Talking Mets-Phillies with SNY.tv

I took a few minutes to chat about the upcoming Mets and Phillies series with Ted Berg (@OGTedBerg) of SNY.tv. We briefly talked about some injuries, the Phillies’ offensive decline, and the great pitching staff. (Now with more Worley!)

You can listen here:

Consider that a taste of what you can get every Tuesday at 3 PM ET and Wednesday at 2 PM ET on WOGL 98.1 HD-4 with the “Stathead” show.

Be sure to check out the series preview with Joe Janish. Click here for his answers to my questions, and click here for my answers to his questions.

Mets Series Preview with Joe Janish

The Phillies begin a trek through the NL East today, starting with the surprisingly hot New York Mets. Their six-game winning streak was snapped by the Washington Nationals last night behind a strong start from Livan Hernandez. The Mets have benefited from the incredible production of Ike Davis and a strong bullpen, covering up a lackluster starting rotation. Meanwhile, the Phillies only recently broke out of an offensive slump and will look to overpower the Mets in the upcoming three-game set.

I swapped questions with Joe Janish of Mets Today (@MetsToday) to help preview the series with our readers, so be sure to jump over to his blog to see what I had to say about the Phillies.

. . .

1. The Mets have gone on a roll recently, although their six-game winning streak came to a halt last night. To what do you attribute the success?

Part one is timing; they caught a so-so Diamondbacks club that was regressing to their mean and when their bullpen was a little shorthanded. Then they went to DC to play a terrible Nationals team that was further decimated by the absences of Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman and the idiotic managing of Jim Riggleman. Part two is that the Mets’ offense woke up, possibly sparked by the return of Jason Bay. Bay, Ike Davis, and David Wright are red-hot, and nearly everyone else in the lineup is hitting well lately — in particular, Jose Reyes, Dan Murphy, and Carlos Beltran, who despite making a lot of outs recently is getting good at-bats and hitting the ball hard. And the bullpen is suddenly pitching lights-out, though I attribute some of that to the slumping opposing hitters.

2. I think everyone who follows baseball is amazed at just how good Ike Davis has been. Is this a breakout year for him?

I hope so. It’s early and Ike is red-hot right now. He’s been going to left field frequently and that’s definitely helped his batting average. If he keeps doing that he may be able to avoid the streakiness that comes with his long swing.

3. David Wright catches a lot of heat in New York, but has been producing thus far. Is any of the criticism justified, or is he just a pariah as a result of the team’s recent misery?

David Wright will forever have “haters”, and part of it is because the Mets have positioned him as the face of the franchise and the franchise has yet to win a pennant since he’s been in New York. It doesn’t help that in the past two years Wright has been more streaky than ever before and he seems to pick up more detractors when he’s cold. Another part of the negativity is due to Wright not being perceived as leader. The Mets have not had enough strong personalities who give the press good stories and you need to have those types playing in the media capital of the world. Due to his ability to provide story-worthy quotes, R.A. Dickey has been a media darling and as a result is perceived by the public as a “leader”. In contrast, Wright has always provided the “right” quotes — you know, the typical cliches — and as a result is a boring interview and ergo, not seen by fans as a leader. In New York, you can’t get away with that unless you are getting “clutch” hits in World Series games. Wright regularly makes “big” plays and gets “clutch” hits but many fans tend to focus on his failures.

4. Carlos Beltran has been hitting well to start the season. Do you expect that to continue?

Yes. Beltran has been a great hitter for almost 15 years now and his bat speed and discipline are as good as they’ve ever been. You’ll notice he often gets close calls from the home plate umpires, which doesn’t hurt, either. The only question is whether his knees will hold up long enough to convince other teams he’s worth trading for at the deadline.

5. The Mets will go up against Vance Worley, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee. Assuming you enjoy the match-up against Worley, would you rather the Mets face Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels? What combination of Phillies’ starters is most favorable for the Mets?

Speaking as a Mets fan, I’d prefer to see Chad Ogea, Brandon Duckworth, and Andy Ashby. As a baseball fan and pitching coach, I very much look forward to these Mets-Phillies games precisely because I enjoy watching great pitchers like Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, and Hamels.

6. Do you buy the Marlins’ early-season success?

I do, and though I won’t make any predictions, I won’t be surprised if they keep up their current pace. Their pitching — both the rotation and the bullpen — is as solid and deep as any in the NL. Javy Vazquez is the only weak link they have on the entire staff, and if all the pitchers stay healthy, they should carry the team to at least 85-90 wins. Further, their offense has yet to really get going. A few guys are hitting over their heads, but Hanley Ramirez, John Buck, and Omar Infante are all slumping, and Mike Stanton hasn’t yet flashed his power. If they ever learn to play decent fundamental baseball and get a real third baseman, they could win the division.

. . .

As usual, thanks to Joe for stopping by and answering some questions about the Mets. Make sure to visit Mets Today for news and analysis of the Mets during the season, and definitely check it out today to read my take on the Phillies for the Mets fans.

Statistically Regressing the Phillies’ Offense

EDIT: Petti noticed an error in his calculator. He e-mailed me the updated numbers. As such, the post has been edited to reflect the changes.

At Beyond the Box Score, Bill Petti (@BillPetti) did some number-crunching, looking at the actual production (in terms of wOBA) from baseball’s best and worst hitters and comparing it to a regressed version, using each hitter’s numbers over the past three years. Petti described his process:

To gain some perspective on the early returns this season I decided to regress all batters with >=40 plate appearances by their 3-year average batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and their 3-year average HR/FB rate. The chart above presents the top-15 and bottom-15 batters in terms of the difference between their actual wOBA this year and what we would expect given their 3-year averages in BABIP and HR/FB.

Petti made his calculator public, so I downloaded it and ran the numbers for the Phillies. Below are the results.

Name Actual Adjusted Regressed
Raul Ibanez 0.231 0.236 0.293
Ryan Howard 0.362 0.344 0.408
Carlos Ruiz 0.304 0.309 0.328
Jimmy Rollins 0.306 0.307 0.321
Wilson Valdez 0.279 0.274 0.282
Ben Francisco 0.337 0.322 0.328
Shane Victorino 0.363 0.35 0.336
Placido Polanco 0.415 0.419 0.347

In graph form (click to enlarge):

Five of the eight hitters come out looking better after the regression. Ibanez goes from a .231 wOBA to .293, but that is still well below average (around .315). Howard had a .046 point regression up to .408, and Rollins went up .015 to .321. Ruiz jumped 24 points to .024 while Valdez had barely any change at all, moving only three points.

Polanco fell the hardest, from .415 to .347, an 68-point plunge. Victorino and Francisco were hit for 27 and 9 points to .336 and .328 respectively.

It’s not the most encouraging analysis, for sure, but things could be worse. The offense hasn’t been good lately and there aren’t any excuses for that, not even bad luck. That won’t change by any significant margin unless the Phillies get Chase Utley back and at his previous level of production, Domonic Brown makes a speedy rebound from a broken hamate bone, or if they get creative as Eric Seidman hypothesizes at Brotherly Glove.

Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

EDIT: There was a typographical error in the original post. This post has been edited to reflect the correct information.

After Kelly Johnson stole second base in the top of the third inning during tonight’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, I got the feeling that the Phillies haven’t been throwing out base-stealers all that often. I took a stroll over to Baseball Reference and found out that, unfortunately, is the case. Base-stealers are 18-for-22 running on the Phillies, a success rate of 82 percent. The league average stolen base success rate hovers in the 70-75 percent area.

Carlos Ruiz has been known as a solid defensive catcher, but that mostly comes from his great ability to block pitches in the dirt. Brian Schneider used to be quite good at catching runners, but given his age and significantly reduced playing time, his 21 percent caught stealing rate last year pales in comparison to his 37 percent career average.

Glengarry Greg Gross

The Phillies are run-averse at the moment, as they have failed to score more than four runs in every game since April 9 against the Atlanta Braves. The cold streak culminated in a disappointing 4-0 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks last night. Ian Kennedy threw a complete game shut-out, an accomplishment that not even Roy Halladay has achieved yet.

The Phillies players were downtrodden last night, but the coaches were irate. Greg Gross threw a tantrum in the clubhouse and gave one of the most compelling speeches in the franchise’s history. I was the only journalist granted access to the clubhouse during this debacle. Below is the transcription. There is some salty language, so please don’t read if you are easily offended.

. . .

Greg Gross: You’re talking about what? You’re talking about — bitching about that pitch you missed, some son of a bitch fielder got lucky, some pitch you’re trying to corkscrew, so forth. Let’s talk about something important. They all here?

Charlie Manuel: All but one.

Greg Gross: I’m going anyway. Let’s talk about something important. Put. That coffee. Down. Coffee’s for hitters only. You think I’m fucking with you? I am not fucking with you. I’m here from downtown. I’m here from Amaro and Montgomery. And I’m here on a mission of mercy. Your name’s Ibanez? You call yourself a hitter, you son of a bitch?

Raul Ibanez: I don’t gotta sit here and listen to this shit.

Greg Gross: You certainly don’t pal, ’cause the good news is you’re fired. The bad news is you’ve got, all of you’ve got just one week to regain your jobs starting with tonight. Starting with tonight’s game. Oh? Have I got your attention now? Good. “Cause we’re adding a little something to this month’s hitting contest. As you all know first prize is the Phillie Phanatic hot dog gun. Anyone wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of batting gloves. Third prize is you’re fired. Get the picture? You laughing now? You got scouting reports. Amaro and Montgomery paid good money, get their names to hit them. You can’t hit the pitchers you’re given, you can’t hit shit. You ARE shit. Hit the bricks pal, and beat it ’cause you are going OUT.

Shane Victorino: The scouting reports are weak.

Greg Gross: The scouting reports are weak? Fucking scouting reports are weak. You’re weak. I’ve been in this business 15 years…

Raul Ibanez: What’s your name?

Greg Gross: Fuck you. That’s my name. You know why, mister? You drove a Hyundai to get here. I drove the Phillie Phanatic’s eighty-thousand dollar go-kart. THAT’S my name. And your name is you’re wanting. You can’t play in the man’s game, you can’t hit them – go home and tell your wife your troubles. Because only one thing counts in this game: Circle the bases which are lined. You hear me, you fucking scrubs? A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Connecting. Always be connecting. ALWAYS BE CONNECTING. A-I-D-A. Attention, Interest, Decision, Action. Attention – Am you paying attention? Interest – Are you interested in scoring runs? I know you are, because it’s hit or walk. You hit or you hit the bricks. Decision – Have you made your decision to swing or take? And Action. A-I-D-A. Get out there – you got the pitches coming in. You think they came in to get out of the rain? A guy don’t throw a pitch over the plate lest he wants you to hit it. They’re sitting out there waiting to give you the runs. Are you gonna take it? Are you man enough to take it? What’s the problem, pal?

Raul Ibanez: You – Gross. You’re such a hero, you’re so successful, how come you’re coming down here wasting your time with such a bunch of bums?

Greg Gross: You see this bat? You see this bat?

Raul Ibanez: Yeah.

Greg Gross: That bat made it to first base more than you. I had a .372 on-base percentage in my career. How often’d you get on base? You see pal, that’s who I am, and you’re nothing. Nice guy? I don’t give a shit. Good father? Fuck you! Go home and play with your kids. You wanna work here? Hit! You think this is abuse? You think this is abuse, you cocksucker? You can’t take this, how can you take the abuse you get in an at-bat? You don’t like it, leave. I can go out there tomorrow with the materials you’ve got and go 2-for-3 with a walk. Tomorrow! In two hours! Can you? Can YOU? Go and do likewise. A-I-D-A. Get mad you sons of bitches. Get mad. You want to know what it takes to win games? It takes brass balls to win baseball games. Go and do likewise, gents. Runs are out there. You pick them up, it’s yours. You don’t, I got no sympathy for you. You wanna go out in that game tonight and hit, HIT. It’s yours. If not, you’re gonna be shining my shoes. And you know what you’ll be saying – a bunch of losers sittin’ around in a bar. ‘Oh yeah. I used to be in the Majors. It’s a tough racket.’ These are the new scouting reports. These are the Greg Gross scouting reports. And to you they’re gold, and you don’t get them. Why? Because to give them to you is just throwing them away. They’re for hitters. I’d wish you good luck but you wouldn’t know what to do with it if you got it. And to answer your question, pal, why am I here? I came here because Amaro and Montgomery asked me to. They asked me for a favor. I said the real favor, follow my advice and fire your fucking ass because a loser is a loser.

Requested: Your Feedback

I am interested in receiving from feedback from you, my lovely readers, regarding this blog and some new ideas. I created a brief survey for you to take when you have a couple minutes to spare. Click here to take it.

A while ago, I used to participate in ESPN live chats during Phillies games. I found them fun and a great way to interact with Phillies fans and readers of the blog. Unfortunately, I had to stop participating because I consolidated my electronics — I bought a TV that doubled as my computer monitor. So I can’t watch TV and use the computer at the same time without it being an inconvenience. However, I am probably going to purchase a cheap laptop some time in the near future, and I’m thinking about doing live chats here on the blog. Part of the survey gauges your interest and preferences with such an endeavor. Please be honest!

If you have any additional questions or comments related to improving the blog, feel free to drop a note below or send it to my e-mail, CrashburnAlley [at] Gmail [dot] com. Constructive criticism is encouraged.

Should Roy Halladay Have Thrown 130 Pitches?

Roy Halladay pitched excellently against the San Diego Padres on Sunday afternoon, striking out 14 hitters in eight and two-thirds innings. The ninth inning had a similar feel to the ninth in his start on April 13 against the Washington Nationals. In both games, Halladay was working on a shut-out, but had a high pitch count going into the final inning. Both times, Charlie Manuel opted to let his star pitcher attempt to finish the game, and in neither case did he accomplish that goal.

Halladay led the league in complete games in each of the past four years, and in complete game shut-outs in each of the past three years. If there is one pitcher in baseball conditioned to such a heavy workload, it’s Halladay. He has thrown 110 or more pitches in each of his previous four starts, and did so in 17 of his 33 starts last year.

Those who think Halladay should be out there in the ninth inning with a high pitch count in a close game usually lament the current era of baseball for “pampering” pitchers. However, it’s less about pampering and more about risk-aversion and protecting assets. Managers and pitching coaches who hold their pitchers to pitch counts are being cautious, and the Phillies should be just as cautious. After all, they have Halladay signed through 2014 potentially, as well as Cliff Lee through 2016 (potentially), and both Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt through 2012 (potentially). Assuming all options are exercised, the Phillies have $263 million committed to their four best starters, and that’s without accounting for Hamels’ final year of arbitration.

If the Phillies had no solid options behind Halladay, and if the game was close, I could understand sending Halladay back to the mound with 113 pitches. According to FanGraphs, though, the Phillies had a 97 percent chance to win when the top of the ninth inning ended. Furthermore, despite that Jose Contreras went on the 15-day disabled list, the Phillies had two reliable arms that could have gotten three outs in Ryan Madson and Antonio Bastardo. The Phillies get nothing extra from letting Halladay finish the game. Halladay gets the extra notch in the “CG” and “SHO” columns on Baseball Reference, but the Phillies risk a lot (fatigue, injury) for nothing in the regular season in April.

Entering yesterday afternoon’s game, the Phillies had the third-highest total innings pitched by starters, behind the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves (both had two extra games in hand). The Phillies had the lowest total innings pitched by relievers.

It’s not just Halladay that is getting overworked early by Manuel. Hamels threw 126 pitches through eight shut-out innings against the Padres on Friday, a game the Phillies won 2-0. He entered the eighth with 109 pitches. There is just no reason to have him out there, and Hamels did appear fatigued. His fastball usually sits around 91 MPH, but averaged just 89.5 MPH in the eighth inning.

Jose Contreras, recently placed on the disabled list, needed 20 or more pitches to get through four of his eight one-inning appearances. He had pitched in five of the Phillies’ seven games from April 15-21, throwing a total of 81 pitches.

I know I’ve been very critical of Manuel over the years. The Phillies have been very successful under his leadership. Every player that has passed through Philadelphia since 2005 has sworn by him. There’s something to be said for the way he deals with his players, and maybe that’s enough to outweigh his strategical miscues. While failure to abuse a platoon match-up will only lead to one loss maximum, overworking starters can lead to multiple losses and even to injuries — effects that can be felt years down the road. Being mindful of pitch counts isn’t “pampering” pitchers; it’s being smart and putting your team in the best position to win as many games over the long haul as possible.

A Game for the Armchair Scouts

If there’s one group Saberists don’t like, it’s the people who back up their outlandish claims with “I watch the games”. Being able to pinpoint minute details in baseball players is a skill that takes years to master — that’s why professional scouts are so universally revered.

I came across an interesting game called “the eyeballing game”. You are asked to accomplish various tasks using your mouse and your eyeballs. For instance, the first task is to slightly adjust a shape to make a parallelogram. Click here to play the game. When you finish, you should have a greater appreciation for just how imperfect your eyeballs are, and why we should always defer to the facts and figures when possible.

(h/t Back She Goes)

My results:

  • Parallelogram: 2.8
  • Midpoint: 2.2
  • Bisect angle: 8.4
  • Triangle center: 5.5
  • Circle center: 4.0
  • Right angle: 10.5
  • Convergence: 4.1
  • Average error: 5.36

Odds and Ends After Thursday’s Win

Ryan Howard went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts against the San Diego Padres on Thursday, the 19th time he has struck out four or more times in a game. Click here for the rest.

Roy Oswalt wasn’t sharp, but the Padres came into the night with the second-worst offense in the league, averaging 3.33 runs per game. Even worse, they had been shut out four times in 18 games. Oswalt and the Phillies’ bullpen made it five.

Antonio Bastardo was impressive. Charlie Manuel needed him to pitch multiple innings to allow Ryan Madson a night off, and Bastardo looked very sharp. Despite allowing a walk and a hit in one and one-third innings, he struck out two batters in impressive fashion, bringing his K/9 up to 12.4. His 4.5 BB/9 won’t fly over a larger sample of innings — if Bastardo can improve his control, the Phillies may have yet another late-innings weapon in the bullpen to go along with Madson and Jose Contreras.

David Herndon was, as usual, not impressive. As depressing as this is to realize, he is a poor man’s Kyle Kendrick. Herndon has struck out only two hitters while walking five in eight innings of work. There really is no reason why the Phillies should be carrying him on the roster, especially since they seem intent on keeping Kendrick around.

Contreras needed 26 pitches to get through the ninth inning. A tight strike zone didn’t help, but it marked the fourth appearance in which Contreras needed 20 or more pitches to get three outs. Thankfully, he is five-for-five in save opportunities. Maybe a day off will let him recharge the ol’ batteries.

Overall, Phillies hitters did a much better job of working counts, making the starting pitcher throw more pitches, and getting into the opposing team’s bullpen earlier. Previously, I had written that the Phillies were doing poorly in that regard, but they forced Padre pitchers to throw 174 pitches to 42 hitters, an average of 4.1 pitches per batter. Phillies hitters drew seven walks in total, a season-high.

The Phillies improve to 12-6 with Cole Hamels slated to start tomorrow against Clayton Richard at 7:05 ET.

SIERA Through 17 Games

Last year, Matt Swartz and Eric Seidman came up with a great pitching metric called SIERA, or Skill Interactive Earned Run Average. It is a lot like FIP and xFIP, but it specifically accounts for a pitcher’s batted ball skills, as well as his strikeout and walk rates. Last year, Roy Halladay led all of Major League Baseball in SIERA at 2.93, although that was significantly higher than his 2.44 ERA. Cliff Lee finished fourth; Cole Hamels 11th; and Roy Oswalt 14th. After the Phillies signed Lee in the off-season, I wrote, “The Phillies have one-third of baseball’s top-12 pitchers from 2010″ (at the time of the writing, Oswalt was 12th; there may have been slight tweaks in the Baseball Prospectus database that altered the rankings slightly).

The fearsome foursome could certainly make up one-third of baseball’s top-12 (or 14, if you’d prefer) in 2011 as well. It is still too early in the season to tell, though. In fact, Baseball Prospectus has not yet posted the 2011 SIERA leaderboard (here is last year’s). I, however, am curious and used my handy-dandy spreadsheet to take a quick look. Here are the inputs:

Name TBF SO BB GB ofFB ifFB
Halladay 117 25 5 45 22 3
Lee 132 28 4 37 32 8
Oswalt 71 14 4 26 16 5
Hamels 73 18 5 22 12 1
Blanton 80 14 4 31 12 3

TBF: Total Batters Faced; SO: Strikeouts; BB: Walks; GB: Ground Balls; ofFB: Outfield Fly Balls; ifFB: Infield Fly Balls

The output, in SIERA, which is scaled to ERA:

  • Halladay: 3.18
  • Lee: 3.24
  • Oswalt: 3.70
  • Hamels: 3.13
  • Blanton: 3.65

Perhaps surprisingly, Hamels has been the best of the bunch so far, contrary to his 4.32 ERA. He is the victim of a .367 BABIP, pitching quite well otherwise — getting a lot of swings and misses, being stingy with the free passes, and inducing a bunch of grounders. My Cy Young pick for the National League, Hamels is in for some regression in the BABIP department, but it should be slightly counter-balanced by his home run rate, as the lefty has yet to allow a round-tripper.

Least surprisingly, Halladay came within a hair of first place in the Phillies’ rotation, in terms of SIERA. Not quite the swing-and-miss maven, Halladay instead found success in rarely issuing walks and getting ground balls in bunches. He is the odds-on favorite to once again lead the Majors in SIERA. Should that happen, expect yet more hardware to appear on Halladay’s mantle in the off-season.

Lee rounds out a tightly-packed top-three. His strikeout and walk rates are better than Halladay’s, but lags behind in SIERA due to his sub-40 percent ground ball rate — roughly 13 percent lower than Halladay’s. He has been a bit BABIP-unlucky, so you should expect his 3.91 ERA to drop quite quickly.

Blanton ranks fourth, perhaps surprisingly. He has actually been quite good: his 7.3 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, and 54 percent ground ball rate are excellent, especially for a #5. Blanton is the most unlucky of the Phillies’ five, sitting with a .373 BABIP and the highest HR/FB rate on the team (13 percent).

Oswalt, who has recently been bothered by back problems, is in fifth. His strikeout and walk rates are good, as is his ground ball rate, but are not quite as good as that of Hamels, Halladay, and Lee when taken together. Additionally, Oswalt has been BABIP-lucky. His .240 BABIP should eke its way towards .300 in future starts, but it would be nice if Oswalt could continue his nice streak of luck that started when he joined the Phillies last season.

Finally, let’s have a quick peek at SIERA for the Phillies’ eighth- and ninth-inning guys, Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras.

  • Madson: 2.26
  • Contrears: 2.53

Both have been great thus far. The Phillies are fortunate to have two extremely good arms pitching in most of the high-leverage innings.

Note: I used batted ball data from FanGraphs, which had not yet updated with information from Wednesday’s games. As such, I went into the play-by-play from yesterday’s afternoon match against the Milwaukee Brewers and interpreted the data myself. The data is subject to human error, which could be significant given the small sample sizes. If any errors are spotted, feel free to point them out in the comments.