Phillies Drop Another Series Opener

The Phillies dropped yet another series opener, this time against the Milwaukee Brewers — their fifth consecutive series-opening loss out of six. The offense continued to struggle, scoring only three runs through 12 innings against Shaun Marcum and the Brewers’ bullpen. The Phillies’ hitters showed better plate discipline, but their nine hits were all singles and they drew only three walks in 50 plate appearances (six percent). They couldn’t mount any offensive threats in extra innings before Kyle Kendrick punted the game in the 12th inning.

I took umbrage with two more of Charlie Manuel’s decisions tonight.

The first problem was using J.C. Romero to start the ninth against pinch-hitter Erick Almonte, Rickie Weeks, and Carlos Gomez. They are all right-handed hitters. I’ve written about why Romero should be used strictly as a LOOGY before — he is absolutely terrible against right-handed hitters (5.33 xFIP) and effective against lefties (3.58 xFIP).

It turned out that using Romero didn’t kill the Phillies as Romero got two outs and narrowly missed a third on an infield single by Gomez. However, Romero came up limping and left the game with a right calf strain. A completely avoidable injury in hindsight, but the egregious offense wasn’t that Romero was injured unnecessarily, but that he was used against right-handed hitters.

The second problem was bunting with a runner on first and no outs in the bottom of the ninth inning with Wilson Valdez at the plate. When I tweeted this, many people responded that Valdez is a double-play machine. I’ve joked around with that on Twitter many times, but the reality is that the GIDP’s are a minor side effect of his ground ball tendency. The run expectancy with a runner on first and no outs is 0.87, which lowers to 0.66 when you give up an out to move that runner to second base. A bunt eliminates the roughly 25 percent chance that Valdez gets a single, which could potentially mean a first and third with no outs (run expectancy: 1.70), or better.

Valdez does hit a lot of ground balls — 60 percent over his career, entering tonight. 154 of his 776 career plate appearances have come with a runner on first base. Only 21 of them ended in a double play (14 percent), so the GIDP threat wasn’t a huge issue.

I have one more gripe, and that’s with the fact that Kendrick is still on a Major League roster with nearly 500 innings under his belt, despite his inability to miss bats (career K/9 is barely above 4.0) and a barely above-average ability to induce ground balls (46 percent) and prevent hits (career .291 BABIP). His career xFIP is 4.72, yet was given $2.45 million by the Phillies in avoiding arbitration. That, when the Phillies have a horde of good, cheap arms capable of handling Kendrick’s low-leverage role in the bullpen, including:

Kendrick’s punting of tonight’s game was extremely frustrating and entirely predictable. However, it really isn’t his fault. The Phillies have had ample time to evaluate him and have wrongly concluded that he is capable of succeeding at the Major League level. Kendrick didn’t steal $2.45 million from the Phillies; they gave it to him. I’m guilty of directing my frustration at him, but it should really be directed at the front office. Kendrick is doing his best in a tough environment, which just isn’t enough.

With the last few posts being rather pessimistic towards the Phillies, how about a tip of the cap to Joe Blanton, who rebounded from two tough starts to begin the season by throwing seven innings of two-run baseball tonight? He’s the forgotten one (literally) among the Phillies’ starters, and is the victim of low expectations, but will be more than capable of holding his own every five days.

Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

This is the first Graph post of the 2011 season. Hooray! Sadly, it’s not a particularly encouraging graph. I’ve complained about the Phillies’ plate discipline on several other occasions here on the blog, but it’s worth pointing out until the problem is fixed. The Phillies haven’t scored more than four runs in a game since they scored 10 runs against the Atlanta Braves on Saturday April 9.

Here’s a graphical look at the Phillies’ overall plate discipline:

In only four of their 14 games have the Phillies beaten the 2010 National League average of 3.83 pitches per plate appearance. The current league average is 3.77; the Phillies’ overall team average is 3.59. Only three players are better than the average: Jimmy Rollins (3.91), Ben Francisco (3.89), and Carlos Ruiz (3.83).

As of this writing (after Sunday’s games, but before Baseball Reference updated), the Phillies are third in the National League in on-base percentage at .349, but .298 of that comes from batting average. The Cincinnati Reds led the league in batting average last year at .272, and the NL average was .255, so we should expect the Phillies’ average to fall even further down. Subsequently, their OBP and thus their run-scoring, will suffer as well — unless they start drawing walks.

In last week’s post examining the Phillies’ power potential, I talked about how much the absence of Chase Utley and Jayson Werth will be felt, and that is just as true in terms of on-base percentage as well. Werth has a career .365 OBP and Utley is at .380. One of Utley’s unique on-base skills is his propensity to get hit by pitches. He led the league from 2007-09 with 76 total plunks, looking quite Biggio-esque in the process. The HBP’s represented about 10 percent of Utley’s total times on base, which is quite significant.

Charlie Manuel has been known as a miracle worker when he gets his hitters in the batting cages, but plate discipline is not something that can be learned overnight. If the Phillies don’t fix this problem soon, we could be in store for offensive droughts we haven’t seen since May 22-27 last year, when they were shut out in four of five games.

Another Head-Scratcher from Charlie

On Tuesday, I wrote a bit about Charlie Manuel’s curious decision to pinch-hit the right-handed John Mayberry against a right-handed reliever, rather than the left-handed Ross Gload. Manuel has never been known for his in-game decision-making, but he laid another egg tonight against the Florida Marlins.

With the Phillies up 3-2 in the seventh inning, Manuel started the inning with lefty J.C. Romero against the left-handed-hitting Logan Morrison. Good decision. Morrison beat out an infield single, not really Romero’s fault though it would have been nice if his arms were a couple inches longer. With several right-handed hitting Marlins due up, Manuel went out to the mound to get Romero, and brought in Danys Baez. Again, can’t really fault him for that.

However, only Antonio Bastardo was warming up in the bullpen. Ryan Madson was in the bullpen with a sweatshirt on, just hanging around and acting all cool. Baez, as expected, worsened the situation, walking Gaby Sanchez, and allowing a single to John Buck to load the bases. In what looked like the start to an improbable wriggle out of a tough spot, Donnie Murphy popped up to second baseman Pete Orr. The situation, however, worsened when former Phillie Greg Dobbs dumped a single to left field, scoring Morrison and Sanchez, putting the Marlins ahead 4-3. Madson was nowhere to be found. Manuel strode out to the mound, removed Baez, and brought in Bastardo, who ended the threat.

In the eighth inning, Madson took the hill with the bases empty and retired the Marlins without a problem. Jose Contreras pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning as well.

So, you’re in an important spot in the ballgame. You need outs, particularly ones that don’t involve the ball being put in play. You can choose from these pitchers (2010 stats):

K/9 BB/9 xFIP
Madson 10.9 2.2 2.75
Baez 5.3 4.3 4.80

It makes complete logical sense to go with the guy with half the strikeout rate and twice the walk rate. [End Bizarro world logic.]

On the offensive side of things, I was extremely disappointed yet again with the Phillies’ plate discipline. Marlins pitchers threw 129 pitches to 38 batters, an average of 3.4 pitches per plate appearance. Roy Oswalt saw 11 pitches in his two at-bats before he was removed with back problems.

Coming into tonight’s game, the Phillies had seen the second-fewest pitches per plate appearance in the National League at 3.61, just ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers at 3.59. They trailed the rest of the National League in walks with a paltry 28 in 460 plate appearances (6.1 percent).

Overall, it was not a great night of Phillies baseball, but hopefully they can continue their trend of dropping the first game of the series, then winning the remaining two.

Today: Draftstreet.com $150 Free Fantasy Baseball Challenge

If you missed it Wednesday, you still have time to sign up for Draftstreet.com‘s $150 fantasy baseball freeroll, exclusive to Crashburn Alley readers. The top five places will earn cash. All you have to do is set up a fantasy baseball roster for tonight’s games. Setting up your team isn’t as easy as it sounds, as you’ll have to balance your roster within a $100,000 budget. Grabbing Halladay at $16,000 means you may have to sacrifice quality elsewhere on your roster.

Have fun with it, and feel free to share your results here in the comments.

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The Halcyon Days

Not too long ago, the page was turned on a dark era of Phillies baseball. They bet the future of the franchise on top prospects Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Little did they know they would re-brand the club as an offensive powerhouse.

In 2005, the Phillies hit 167 home runs, just six more than the National League average. In ’06, thanks to Howard, Utley, and Pat Burrell, they hit 216 round-trippers in total, with that fearsome trio accounting for 119 of them. The Phillies tagged 213 in ’07 en route to ending a playoff drought, a league-best 214 in ’08 when they won it all, and another league-best 224 in ’09 when they attempted to repeat as champions.

Last year, an injury-plagued season, the Phillies only managed to hit 166 home runs, just 16 more than the league average. They allotted Wilson Valdez 363 plate appearances as well as 136 for Greg Dobbs, who OPS’ed .583, and 136 for Juan Castro, who OPS’ed .475. Only two regulars finished with a slugging percentage above .500 (Howard and Jayson Werth), compared to five on the 2007 roster.

The news hasn’t gotten any better for the Phillies in 2011. They are without Utley for at least “a while” forcing Valdez into an everyday role, Werth moved on to another team, and Ben Francisco is the everyday right fielder. This is without mentioning that Jimmy Rollins‘ potential is still unknown after two poor, injury-plagued seasons, and Carlos Ruiz is expected to regress offensively. The days of the Phillies posting prodigious power numbers may be over.

While some of the offensive regression is related to a league-wide drop, the Phillies have tumbled faster than one would expect. The following two graphs display the hitters’ fly ball rate and their home run per fly ball rate.

[Image currently unavailable]

I included the 2011 numbers just for illustrative purposes. The sample size for this year is still small, so we can’t make any legitimate inferences yet.

However, there is reason to believe the Phillies can fall further. Utley has averaged 42 percent fly balls over his career; Valdez 20 percent; Werth 41 percent; Francisco 45 percent. And in terms of HR/FB%, Utley averaged 14 percent; Valdez four percent; Werth 16 percent; Francisco 10 percent.

Rollins has evolved into a more frequent ground ball hitter as well, averaging over 58 percent this year and nearly 46 percent in 2010. Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, Ruiz, Brian Schneider, and Placido Polanco each hit ground balls at a 45 percent rate last year.

To make matters worse, the Phillies’ plate discipline leaves a lot to be desired. At the time of this writing, the Phillies are tied for last in the National League in walks with just 24 in 390 plate appearances (6.2 percent). The bulk of the Phillies’ offense thus far has come from an unsustainably-high BABIP.

To summarize:

  • The Phillies have been excessively fortunate on balls in play not being converted into outs by opposing pitchers and defenses
  • The Phillies are not drawing walks, or even seeing many pitches relative to the league average
  • The Phillies do not have the same type of power in the lineup that they had relied on in previous years

The Phillies will miss Utley more than many people realize, and the drop-off from Werth to Francisco (and, later, Domonic Brown) cannot be discounted. It’s a good thing GM Ruben Amaro stocked up on starting pitching, because the Phillies will need to win more low-scoring games than they’re used to going forward.

Draftstreet.com $150 Free Fantasy Baseball Challenge

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Fantasy Baseball Freeroll

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Baseball season has arrived and it’s time for fantasy baseball. But not the full-season, six-month kind. I’m talking about a one-night showdown. Crashburn Alley has teamed up with DraftStreet.com to offer an exclusive free contest to you, the loyal Crashburn Alley readers. The freeroll will have $150 in cash prizes, the top 5 get paid, and it is totally free to sign up. How can you not get in on this?

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Daily

Hitting

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1B 1 pt IBB -.25 pts
2B 2 pts HA -.25 pts
3B 3 pts HB -.25 pts
BB .8 pts ER -.75 pts
HR 4 pts INN .75 pts
HP .8 pts K .75 pts
R 1.5 pts L -.75 pts
RBI 1.5 pts S 3 pts
SB 2 pts W 1.5 pts
KO -1 pt CG 1 pt
GDP -1 pt
CS -1 pt
SAC .8 pts

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Rosters: C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, 3 OF, 2 U, 2 SP, RP, P

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Charlie Being Charlie

I was going to write a post detailing some poor in-game strategy from Charlie Manuel, but Corey Seidman did a great job over at Brotherly Glove.

Down 5-1 in the seventh inning, the Phillies loaded the bases with one out. Blanton’s spot in the order came up, so the decision to pinch-hit was a no-brainer. But with only righty Tyler Clippard loosening in the bullpen, Ross Gload should have been called on. I tweeted this at the time, noting that even if Mayberry were to hit a grand slam, it’s the wrong decision.

Why? Several reasons.

  1. Gload is an opposite-handed hitter to the righty Hernandez, Mayberry is not
  2. The “hot-hand” argument does not work, because Gload is 2-for-6 and three of those outs were hard-hit balls
  3. Most importantly, Mayberry is an extremely inexperienced major league hitter – the type that Livan Hernandez regularly feasts on

Sure enough, Mayberry chased two mid-60s breaking balls and struck out swinging. Livan came out, Clippard came in, Victorino struck out. Fire extinguished.

For #3, I’d also add that John Mayberry struggles with anything that isn’t a straight fastball.

And to quote myself on Twitter:

Anyone who defends Charlie Manuel’s in-game tactics should watch that John Mayberry at-bat on loop for ten years.

Harsh, but fair.

“Stathead” Airs @ 3 PM ET Today on 98.1 WOGL HD-4

Just a reminder, in case “Stathead” isn’t a part of your routine yet. The new statistically-focused show “Stathead”, with myself and Jeff Sottolano, airs today at 3 PM ET on 98.1 WOGL HD-4. We’ll talk about the best and worst plays of the first nine games, what we think about the offense, the surprising starts from some unexpected sources, and Cole Hamels’ first two starts.

Here’s the original post with a bunch of information relevant to the show, and here is the program schedule. The show will re-air tomorrow at 2 PM ET in case you can’t catch it today. If you listen, I’d love to hear your feedback — positive and negative — here in the comments, on Twitter, or via e-mail.

Quick Notes on Cole Hamels’ First Two Starts

Cole Hamels‘ second start of 2011 was better than his first start, to say the least. He made it past the third inning, struck out more batters (8 to 3), and walked fewer (1 to 2). His first start induced boos from Phillies fans at home; his second start induced boos from Braves fans on the road.

There are quite a few differences in his two starts, to say the least, and they go beyond surface comparisons. From perusing Pitch F/X data, here are some notable differences I could spot:

  • Velocity: Hamels hit 94 MPH or greater just once in 68 pitches (two percent) against the New York Mets. He did so 15 times in 102 pitches (15 percent) against the Atlanta Braves.
  • Strikes vs. Balls: Hamels threw 37 strikes (54 percent) against the Mets; 62 strikes (61 percent) against the Braves.
  • Swinging strikes: Hamels induced six swinging strikes (nine percent) against the Mets; 13 swinging strikes (13 percent) against the Braves.
  • Cut fastball: Hamels threw 17 cutters (25 percent) against the Mets; eight cutters (eight percent) against the Braves.
  • Change-up: The change accounted for under 20 percent of Hamels’ pitches against the Mets; over 30 percent against the Braves. It induced only one swinging strike against the Mets (eight percent); nine against the Braves (29 percent).

If you’d like to peruse the information, check out Brooks Baseball. (Hamels vs. Mets — Hamels vs. Braves)

Just from watching the game, I thought his change-up looked phenomenal, probably because he was locating it so well and inducing a bunch of swings-and-misses. I’m banking on a lot more of Hamels from Game Two rather than Hamels from Game One.