Homegrown Talents: Utley and Howard

Over at Yahoo! Sports, Andrew Simon (@HitTheCutoff) posted the top-ten position-player tandems. It’s a great list, but I couldn’t help but wonder where Chase Utley and Ryan Howard ranked. Simon’s criteria was that both players must have debuted with the same team and must have become regulars within a year of each other. Utley debuted in 2003 and became a regular in ’05 while Howard debuted in ’04 and became a regular in ’06, so they qualify. (Technically, Howard became a regular in ’05, but he didn’t play the full season as the starting first baseman.)

Without giving too much of the list away, Will Clark and Robby Thompson ranked tenth on the list with a combined 68.5 WAR (Baseball Reference version, or rWAR). Jim Rice and Fred Lynn were ninth at 71.2 rWAR. Utley and Howard, each with lots of baseball left in them, sit at 62.3 combined rWAR, putting them just outside the top-ten. In FanGraphs WAR (fWAR), they have 70.5, so they are at least in the same company as those on the back end of the top-ten.

This season, Utley has already posted 1 rWAR in 132 plate appearances. If he gets 300 more PA over the rest of the season, he will finish with about 2.3 more rWAR. Howard is at 1.4 with 345 PA, which puts him on pace for about 700 PA and thus projects about 1.4 more rWAR. An additional 3.7 rWAR would bring the duo to 66 rWAR. They would crack the top-ten easily in 2012 and could make a run at the top-seven. It will be hard to crack #6 as the duo of Reggie Jackson and Sal Bando combined for 101.7 rWAR, about 24 ahead of the pair in seventh place.

The big key to ranking highly on this list, aside from having lots of talent, is longevity. Utley became a regular in ’05 at the age of 26 while Howard earned an everyday job in ’06 also at the age of 26. By comparison, Clark and Thompson were playing everyday at the ages of 22 and 24. Jackson debuted at 21 and earned an everyday job at 22; Bando, 22 and 24, respectively. Additionally, Jackson and Bando finished their careers at the ages of 41 and 37. Utley and Howard didn’t have the benefit of their early-20’s, but they can finish near the top of the list by having long, productive careers, which requires a lot of luck and a lot of hard work, the latter certainly not an unknown trait to the Phillies’ right-side pairing.

Cliff Lee: Where Are the Strikeouts?

As Cliff Lee put the finishing touches on his third consecutive complete game shut-out last night, writers professional and amateur alike took to the laptops to consolidate all of the trivia. First, of course, there is the matter of his CG SHO’s:

Cliff Lee is the first Phillies pitcher to throw 3 consecutive shutouts since Robin Roberts in 1950. [Todd Zolecki]

Lee is up to 4 shutouts for the season. 7 teams haven’t thrown that many. [Jayson Stark]

Nobody has thrown 4 straight shutouts since Hershiser ran off 5 in ’88. Lee is 6th w/ 3 in row since [Jayson Stark]

And then there’s his 32-inning scoreless streak:

Cliff Lee is 3rd Phillies starter in history to run up 30+-IP scoreless streak. Joins Robin Roberts (32.2) & Grover C Alexander (30 & 41.2) [Jayson Stark]

He is more than halfway to Orel Hershiser‘s MLB record 59 and one-third consecutive scoreless innings, a record that doesn’t get approached very often.

How about his month of June?

Since 1950, Cliff Lee has the lowest ERA in the month of June amongst pitchers w/ 40 or more IP. [Corey Seidman]

Cliff Lee’s final June stats: 5 GS, 5-0, 42 IP, 21 H, 1 ER (0.21 ERA), 29 K, 8 BB, 3 CGSHO [@xochristinaxo]

Other ancillary trivia:

Cliff Lee has more wins (5) in June than the Marlins (3) [@Rebeccapbp]

In his 5th start of the month, Cliff Lee has more RBI than runs allowed. [Paul Boye]

There will be more trivia as people play with the parameters, but that’s the bulk of it for now. It’s quite a lot to digest — what Lee has done recently is truly historic, especially considering the more pitcher-friendly eras; Hershiser’s record came in the era directly before the so-called “steroid era” in Major League Baseball, for example.

However, in the wake of Lee’s tremendous run of success, I find myself… I don’t want to say worried… but quizzical, perhaps?… at Lee’s path to greatness. He started off June with a ten-strikeout performance against the Los Angeles Dodgers, but then the strikeouts started to drop precipitously: seven against the Chicago Cubs, four against the Florida Marlins, three against the St. Louis Cardinals, and five against the Boston Red Sox last night. For those last four starts, that’s a K/9 under 4.9.

There are many possible explanations for the drop in strikeouts, and any, all, or none of them could be true simultaneously. He could have made a conscious effort to induce more contact in an attempt to lower his pitch counts. (It hasn’t worked as his five June starts rank in the top-eight in terms of average pitches per batter faced.) Second, the lower strikeout rate could be a statistical fluke. After all, 35 innings isn’t nearly a large enough sample size. Finally, it could be indicative of injury as it was with Roy Oswalt — in his eight starts from May 17 to June 23, Oswalt struck out 21 batters in 44 and one-third innings, a K/9 of just 4.3. The good news is that, unlike Oswalt, Lee hasn’t shown a decline in velocity with any of his pitches.

This is not to say that Lee hasn’t been able to miss bats this year; in fact, he has done that at a higher rate than at any point in his Major League career. His career high K/9 coming into 2011 was 8.1 set in 2004 with the Cleveland Indians. This year, despite his last four starts, his K/9 sits at 8.8. Six of his 17 starts have seen double-digit strikeouts, a feat he had accomplished just nine times coming into the season. His overall swinging strike rate, at 9.4 percent, is also a career-high among seasons in which he made 10 or more starts. To say he hasn’t been able to miss bats would be disingenuous.

That’s why I’m a bit quizzical. It doesn’t appear that Lee made a conscious effort to induce more contact and it doesn’t appear likely that he’s pitching hurt like Oswalt. So what we’re left with is a statistical fluke, which also happens to be the most reasonable explanation. However, that also applies to his recent run of success. In June, he has a .191 BABIP while inducing ground balls at a 46 percent rate. The line drive rate is low at 12 percent as well. And, of course, the strand rate: 21 hits and eight walks should yield more than one run, even if Lee benefited from six ground ball double plays.

DIPS theory has taught us that a pitcher has the most control over strikeouts, walks, and whether a batted ball is on the ground or in the air. In a single season, pitchers tend not to have much control on the rate at which batted balls are turned into outs (relative to other factors such as his defense and simple randomness), which is why we expect pitcher BABIP to regress to around .300. The best case scenario is that Lee’s strikeouts return, thereby reducing the overall number of batted balls in play. When Lee’s BABIP normalizes, it won’t be nearly as painful — after all, a .300 BABIP on 20 batted balls (six hits) is preferable to 30 (nine hits). It could be the difference between challenging Hershiser’s scoreless innings streak and going up in flames.

First-Half Phillies Awards

As the Phillies head towards halftime in the regular season, the Crashburn Alley crew (Paul, Jeff, and myself) will dole out some mid-season hardware to the Phillies we feel are most deserving. The categories are Most Valuable Hitter, Most Valuable Pitcher, Biggest Surprise, and Biggest Disappointment.

Most Valuable Hitter

Paul: Shane Victorino

It’s a pretty close race between Shane and Ryan Howard for this one on the positional side, but I’ll side with Shane.  He leads the team in slugging and OPS, while playing a better center field than in previous years (BIS currently has him in the top 15 of CFs in runs saved, as opposed to the mid-20s range he had been in). Despite the time he missed due to injury, Shane has 27 extra-base hits and is 12-for-13 in steal attempts. He’s also closing in on his third straight season with double-digit doubles, triples and homers. He’s been a pretty consistent bright spot in a lineup that’s been anything but.

Jeff: Shane Victorino

This one is pretty easy. With the injury to Chase Utley and the recent struggles of Placido Polanco, only two Phillies hitters are even in the running for this award. Ryan Howard is having a good season, posting a .836 OPS through June 27th, but Victorino has been better. The Flyin’ Hawaiian has posted a .857 OPS, and a wOBA of .384. Victorino has already accumulated 3.8 fWAR in only 277 plate appearances (in comparison to 3.7 in all of 2010).While the Phillies offense hasn’t been great in 2010, its scary to think how much worse they could be without the contributions of their center fielder.

Bill: Shane Victorino

As Paul and Jeff rightly point out, and as I wrote recently, Victorino has certainly been the backbone of the Phillies’ offense. If you had told me last year that, at mid-season, Victorino would be the Phillies’ offensive MVP, I’d have laughed at you and tried to figure out which prescription drugs you were abusing. However, the departure of Jayson Werth, the injury to Chase Utley, and offensive tragedy in the outfield corners have left the door wide open for the Flyin’ Hawaiian. While I don’t think he can maintain such a high level of production over the second half of the season, there is no doubt he has been a force to be reckoned with in the first half.

Most Valuable Pitcher

Paul: Roy Halladay

I thought about giving this to Cole Hamels just to be a little different, but really, Doc is the slam-dunk choice here.  A 7.7 K:BB ratio, a 2.40 ERA in 127.1 IP,  five complete games and the best B-R WAR of any pitcher in baseball. Hamels is close – very close, actually – but Halladay is having a better year in 2011 than his 2010 Cy Young campaign. Believe it: this guy’s becoming more of a Hall of Famer with each passing start.

Jeff: Cole Hamels

This is a two horse race between Doc and King Cole. So let’s compare the numbers. Halladay is 10-3 with a 2.40 ERA, 8.7 K/9, 1.1 BB/9, and a 2.68 SIERA. Hamels is 9-4 with a 2.49 ERA, 8.7 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, and a 2.76 SIERA. You couldn’t go wrong picking either one as MVP, so I’m going off the trail a little. The only real difference I could find between these two aces is with the bat. Hamels has posted a slash line of .229/.250/.286 while Halladay has only managed aline of .073/.095/073. Cole has a higher OBP than Atlanta Braves 2nd baseman DanUggla (.250 vs .244). For that fun fact alone, he wins the tiebreaker over Doc as my pitcher MVP.

Bill: Roy Halladay

As much as I want to give it to my pre-season Cy Young pick, I have to hand the award to Doc Halladay whose 2011 season has been a tiny fraction better than Hamels’. I’ll try not to echo Paul too much, but Doc has an equivalent strikeout rate as Hamels, but a better walk rate and has pitched 15 more innings with a lower ERA. It’s a negligible difference for analytic reasons, but for simply awarding the best pitcher, that’s how Halladay wins it: by the slimmest of margins.

Biggest Surprise

Paul: Antonio Bastardo

Sure, I liked the chances of Bastardo turning into a better reliever than starter, but I foresaw neither the height of his effectiveness nor the speed at which he became so good. Rocking a 0.96 ERA (400 ERA+) through 28 innings this season, Bastardo is doing his own, left-handed Brad Lidge impersonation with a fastball/slider combo that’s produced 33 strikeouts against 13 walks. Considering he isn’t even arbitration-eligible until 2013, the Phils seem to have found a great piece for their bullpen at great value.

JeffCharlie Manuel

Cholly has taken some grief on this site in the past over his use of the pitching staff, so it’s only fair to point out when out when credit is due. The most surprising thing to me this season has been Charlie correctly handing late innings to young relievers Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes. Given the injuries to the pen, I fully expected Danys Baez and Kyle Kendrick to pick up the high leverage innings. Instead, he has allowed the youngsters to pitch in high leverage situations and they have responded. Stutes has put up a 2.92 ERA in 24 2/3 innings, while Bastardo has a 0.96 ERA in 28 innings. Charlie has finally picked talent over experience, and for that, credit is due.

Bill: Kyle Kendrick

I have been very pessimistic towards Kendrick, but I have to commend him on his great contributions to both the starting rotation and the bullpen. As most pitchers will tell you — including Kendrick’s teammate Vance Worley — it’s hard to be a swingman, bouncing between the rotation and the bullpen. However, over the last four years, Kendrick has done that with good results. Saberists like myself expect his success to run out soon, but it hasn’t thus far in 2011. In over 47 innings, Kendrick has a 3.23 ERA and had one outstanding start against the Florida Marlins recently, in which he threw seven innings of one-run baseball. As a reliever, nine of his 14 outings have been scoreless. Going into the season, he was expected to make very few spot starts, especially with Worley ahead of him on the depth charts, and he was only supposed to pitch as a mop-up reliever. Given some unfortunate injuries, Kendrick has made the most of it and helped the Phillies out when they most needed him.

Biggest Disappointment

Paul: The corner outfielders

Domonic Brown, Ben Francisco, Raul Ibanez and John Mayberry, Jr. haven’t produced. Between them, they’ve combined for 21 homers and 54 extra-base hits in 760 plate appearances, with a community slash line of .226/.307/.372, which is just unacceptable. Whether they actually can produce at a higher level for the rest of this season remains to be seen.

JeffJoe Blanton

In the offseason, I wrote about the value in not trading Big Joe. He outperformed his ERA last year, and it was reasonable to project him to compile a season with a ERA closer to 4 than 5. With numbers like that, he would have been a real asset either pitching for the Phillies, or as a trade chip later in the season. Unfortunately, his elbow injury eliminated this opportunity. Joe has only made 6 starts and has been mostly ineffective. He’s expected back soon, and can hopefully fill the void created by Roy Oswalt’s injury. But to this point of the Phillies season, Joe Blanton’s elbow has been the biggest disappointment.

Bill: Roy Oswalt

Oswalt’s season has been a disappointment on two fronts: his performance and his back problem that forced him onto the disabled list recently. His K/9 dropped precipitously from 8.2 last year to 5.3 in 2011. He lost velocity on all of his pitches, most important of which was his curve, which dropped by more than three MPH. Overall, his ERA was 3.79 before he went on the DL, which isn’t bad by any means, but it isn’t what we have come to expect from the right-hander. His ineffectiveness turned the Phillies’ fearsome foursome in the starting rotation into, simply, a terrorizing threesome (insert joke here).

Who are your MVP’s, surprises, and disappointments? Let us know in the comments.

Believe the Hype

During the off-season GM Ruben Amaro assembled quite a formidable pitching staff. It required swiping Cliff Lee from the clutches of the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees, but he did it. The pre-season hype was quite exaggerated. “Best rotation of all time,” some would say. “Historically great,” others crowed. Many chalked it up to the excitement of having Roy Halladay, Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels — all veritable aces in their own right — wearing the same uniform.

As the first half of the regular season wraps up, however, the Phillies really are embarking on rarely-seen terrain. After yesterday’s 3-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics, they have allowed 257 runs in 79 games, a pace of 527 runs (500 earned) over a full 162-game season. According to a Baseball Reference search, only 30 teams have allowed 530 earned runs (the database cannot search for overall runs allowed) or fewer in a season. Bob Gibson‘s 1968 St. Louis Cardinals lead the pack at 409 ER allowed.

Rk Tm Year ER
1 STL 1968 409
2 CHW 1966 440
3 SFG 1968 442
4 NYM 1968 449
5 DET 1968 449
6 PIT 1968 454
7 NYY 1968 455
8 LAD 1963 466
9 OAK 1968 476
10 STL 1969 477
11 SFG 1967 478
12 ATL 1968 479
13 LAD 1964 487
14 PIT 1965 495
15 ATL 1974 500
16 CIN 1964 501
17 STL 1985 505
18 STL 1966 505
19 LAD 1983 506
20 MON 1988 508
21 HOU 1980 511
22 MIN 1967 511
23 BAL 1964 512
24 NYY 1978 516
25 SFG 1965 521
26 SDP 1978 522
27 SFG 1964 523
28 NYY 1964 527
29 STL 1973 528
30 NYY 1970 530
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/27/2011.

Of course, the offensive environments in those years was different than it is now. At least, it was. As this chart will show…

…the offensive environment of the past 20 or so years has been much different than it had been previously. As such, we should adjust for era when we try to compare seasons. That is what a stat such as ERA+ attempts to do.

When we do that for the 30 teams mentioned above, we find one team below average (1968 Oakland Athletics), eight between 100-109, 119 between 110-119, and two above 120 (1969 Cardinals, 1974 Atlanta Braves).

The 2011 Phillies have an ERA+ of 125, which is higher than any of the 30 teams that had allowed 530 or fewer earned runs. If you exclude Joe Blanton, every member of the starting rotation has an above-average ERA+:

Even the bullpen is to be commended as the Phillies have the sixth-best bullpen ERA in the National League at 3.10. Five relievers have an above-average adjusted ERA:

David Herndon is right on the edge at 99 as well.

The pre-season hype may turn out to be completely justified. If the Phillies continue to pitch as well as they have throughout the first three months, they could finish with the best pitching staff since the 162-game schedule was implemented for both leagues in 1962. While the league-wide decline in offense explains some of the Phillies’ success on the mound, it doesn’t explain nearly enough.

(By the way, the Braves are right behind the Phillies with a team ERA+ at 124.)

Heath Bell and Bullpen Help

Buster Olney kicked up some dust Friday when he tweeted a tweety tweet about the Phillies knocking on doors, looking for relief help.

Seemingly content with the state of the bench – at least, prioritizing it below the ‘pen – Ruben Amaro, Jr. looks to have run out of patience with regard to the health issues of Jose Contreras and Brad Lidge. In tandem with the likely loss of Roy Oswalt for what appears to be a not-insignificant amount of time, the rationale is understandable.

Oswalt, who has averaged more than six innings per start in his time with the Phillies, will now yield time to whichever one of Kyle Kendrick or Vance Worley wasn’t going to be the regular fifth starter anyway, and that shift could put extra strain on the ‘pen. Worley has averaged exactly five innings per start in the Majors – and exactly 5.2 IP per start through his minor league career – and Kendrick has averaged just better than 5.1 IP per start as a Major League starter.

Either way you slice it, that’s an average of one extra inning per start that the Philly ‘pen will need to cover, and neither Kendrick nor Worley will be available to do the work any longer.

The core bullpen trio of Madson, Bastardo and Stutes has performed admirably to date. Combining for 81.2 IP, 89 K and 32 uIBB with a 1.76 cumulative ERA, these three have been up to the task all season. Beyond them, however, lies a murky sea of uncertainty. Danys Baez, since his majestic, five-inning relief appearance May 29, has an 11.88 ERA in 8.1 IP. J.C. Romero is gone. David Herndon, while continuing to get ground balls, yields only modest work; sort of this era’s Clay Condrey.

With word leaking that the Phillies have interest in Heath Bell, then, it seems like Amaro is not content to let Herndon start pitching high-leverage innings. As good as the top three have been, they can’t pitch every game. Ask Pedro Feliciano how that method works out.

A reliever like Bell would simultaneously lighten the load on the three most reliable relievers – two of whom aren’t the most seasoned of veterans, for what that’s worth – while adding an arm that’s produced 341.1 IP of 2.56 ERA baseball with 9.5 K/9 since 2007.

Again, this is always assuming the price is right, but Bell seems more and more like a guy the Phillies could really use. He’ll be entering free agency this winter, having exhausted his final bit of arbitration eligibility, and earns a wage the Phillies can probably afford. As of May 30, the MLB Trade Rumors’ unofficial Elias projection had Bell slated to be a Type A free agent. As Bell is certain to seek a multi-year deal worth quite a bit of money, he would absolutely decline arbitration.

Guessing which prospects would be of fair value is not really my style, and I can’t attest to what San Diego may covet, should Bell be available. What I do believe is that Bell is a solid arm this bullpen may not need right now, but will almost certainly need soon.

Athletics Series Preview with Dan Hennessey

The Phillies wrapped up a short six-game road trip against the Seattle Mariners and St. Louis Cardinals, splitting both series overall. They have returned home to Philadelphia to prepare for the Oakland A’s for another inter-league series. The A’s are a bit like the Phillies: strong with pitching, but have struggled offensively. The degree of struggle makes all the difference as the A’s have averaged just 3.6 runs per game while the Phillies average 4.1 per. To help preview what figures to be a pitching-heavy series, I caught up with Dan Hennessey (@DanHennessey31) of fellow Sweet Spot blog Baseballin’ on a Budget and asked him a few questions. He did the same with me, so trek on over to BoaB afterwards to check out my take on the Phillies.

. . .

1. The A’s are coming off of a sweep of the San Francisco Giants, and are on a five-game winning streak overall. Just five games out of first place in the AL West, do you see the A’s being contenders going into the second half?

No.

The A’s, despite being just five games out, are chasing a more talented team, the Texas Rangers. Texas suffered through major injury problems this spring (Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, etc.) and still managed to hang onto the division lead. The A’s needed to take advantage of that stretch and didn’t capitalize. The rotation is now without four of its best six pitchers, and not a single hitter has even been average. As of a couple weeks ago, every single regular had underperformed his projections. I don’t think there’s any question that the A’s will be “opportunistic sellers” at the deadline this July.

2. A couple former Phillies are in the A’s starting rotation. How have Gio Gonzalez and Josh Outman looked so far this year?

Gio’s been terrific. He’s limiting walks, which have plagued him throughout his career, while continuing to strike out almost a batter per inning. He’s basically a two-pitch pitcher (fastball/curveball, very occasional changeup), but he’ll throw either pitch in any count and is commanding his fastball much better.

Josh Outman was the seventh stater coming out of spring training after missing the last year and a half after Tommy John surgery. Of course, he’s now the A’s third best starter and has pitched fairly well so far in his six starts. His strikeout rate is way down so far, and it’s only been 35 innings, but it’s something to watch going forward.

3. No regulars in the lineup have an OPS+ over 100. Is this a chronic problem? Can Jemile Weeks and Scott Sizemore help the offense?

Two of the A’s Opening Day infielders (Daric Barton, Kevin Kouzmanoff) are now in Triple-A; offseason acquisitions David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui have been mostly awful. Only Josh Willingham has come close to being productive. Sizemore and Weeks can help, but they’re average players at best, not the game-changing offensive forces the A’s desperately need.

4. Andrew Bailey recently made his return. How much does his return help the bullpen?

The bullpen performed well in his absence, but Bailey’s return helps to define roles. We saw with Brian Fuentes and Bob Geren that roles and expectations were not always communicated; that shouldn’t be a problem with Geren out and Bailey stabilizing the back end of the bullpen. Fuentes, Grant Balfour, Brad Ziegler, and Joey Devine have all been very good this year. A lot of them might find themselves on other teams come August.

5. Bob Geren found himself in hot water, but was fired two weeks ago. Do you think that was the correct solution to the team’s problems?

Bob Geren, for all the disfunction in the clubhouse, didn’t make a single out this season. The correct solution to the team’s problems would be to find hitters that, you know, hit, and to not have four starting pitchers go on the DL within six weeks of each other. Bob Geren wasn’t helping, but he certainly wasn’t hurting as much as some A’s fans suggested.

6. The A’s will draw Cole Hamels, Vance Worley, and Roy Halladay. Let’s ignore Worley for the moment: which of Hamels and Halladay is a better match-up for the A’s?

Hope for rain? The A’s struggle against even the most mediocre pitchers; they probably won’t have much of a chance against either ace. That said, I’ll say Hamels. The A’s are a right-handed heavy lineup (though the splits don’t suggest they’re that much better against lefties), and Halladay’s command and patience will likely be too much.

7. Grab your crystal ball and give us your prediction on how the series will play out.

Two of three for the Phillies, and it might not be particularly close. I’d say it’s more likely to be a Phillie sweep than a series win for the A’s.

. . .

Many thanks to Dan for his rather straightforward analysis of the A’s and what to expect in this series. Make sure to add him on Twitter and check out his blog for his thoughts on the A’s.

Links for Wednesday

The Phillies defeated the St. Louis Cardinals with an avalanche of runs in the eighth inning. The Cardinal bullpen completely imploded, allowing nine runs in relief of Kyle McClellan. Meanwhile, Roy Halladay was excellent as usual, but was unable to pick up his tenth win. It was his shortest outing since Opening Day, however.

Not much exciting stuff going in on Phillies-land at the moment, so today’s post will just highlight some of the great stuff found around the Internets. If you haven’t already, check out the official Crashburn debut of Jeff Barnes as he tries to see what the future holds for Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Another recent addition, Paul Boye, makes the case for Cole Hamels as the starting pitcher for the National League in the All-Star Game.

You’ll want to check out this post, which links to a video of what I think is the funniest baseball-related video of all time. It’s probably not work-safe, so be warned.

Mandy Housenick and Marcus Hayes dropped stupid bombs on Daily News Live recently. @TonyIsDynamic did some great video splicing that you must see.

While Boye focused on Hamels’ All-Star hopes, I looked at Shane Victorino‘s. He has, surprisingly, been a tour de force in the Phillies’ offense.

Tune into Phillies 24/7 98.1 WOGL HD-4 with your HD radio today to catch the latest edition of “Stathead”, hosted by myself and Jeff Sotolanno. We talk about Victorino, All-Stars, right-handed bats to look for, and Jimmy Rollins.

If you’re the fantasy baseball type, I’ll be going over upwards of 10 starting pitchers you should be targeting. You can find that at Baseball Prospectus every Friday.

Finally, to end the self-promotion, I’ll be doing a live chat on Wednesday, June 29 with the guys at Fire Brand AL to discuss the Red Sox-Phillies series.

At Baseball Prospectus, Derek Carty crunched the numbers again to find out when various stats stabilize for both hitters and pitchers.

Tangotiger explains Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to the uninitiated. If you’d like to learn more about it, or if you’re skeptical of the stat, I highly recommend reading what Tango had to say.

At FanGraphs, Dave Cameron reviews Batting Average on Balls in Play. In another post, he arrived at a very shocking conclusion: Shane Victorino is better than Ryan Howard and has been over the past five-plus seasons. Would you have been behind a five-year, $125 million contract extension for the Flyin’ Hawaiian?

Colin Wyers, of Baseball Prospectus fame, has been one of the few that has been openly critical about the quality of data many of us use on a daily basis. This post from Lookout Landing is a prime example of Wyers’ complaint.

Drew Fairservice, a fellow ESPN SweetSpot blogger, analyzes the efficiency of the Phillies’ starting rotation for The Score’s Getting Blanked blog.

Zoo With Roy does the hard-hitting analysis, comparing Roy Halladay and Matt Holliday. I think we know who comes out on top.

At Beyond the Box Score, Bill Petti finds that Cole Hamels has been prettay, prettay, prettay good.

Eric Seidman of Brotherly Glove expects the Phillies’ bullpen to be young and cheap next year.

David Hale’s notes about the Phillies are always good, but I loved this bit:

Funny scene from the clubhouse today: Chase Utley was watching some game film and having a very in depth discussion with hitting instructor Greg Gross about his swing. Gross discussed the particulars of keeping his weight centered through his swing and a bunch of other technicalities I don’t understand. When they were through talking, Gross took about five steps to his left, where Domonic Brown was watching an episode of “Swamp People” on his iPad. Gross laughed and stopped to discuss the particulars of catching alligators, too. He’s a true Renaissance Man.

Phillies fan-favorite Logan Morrison of the Florida Marlins criticized Hanley Ramirez for being late to new manager Jack McKeon’s pre-game meeting.

At The Good Phight, Schmenkman allays concerns that the Phillies can only beat up on bad teams.

David Schoenfield claims that the American League is better than the National League. Given that the post has 2,316 comments, I’m guessing he caused quite a stir.

Phillies Nation got some nice pub at MLB.com.

Other stuff:

Crashburn writers on Twitter: @CrashburnAlley@Phrontiersman@Utley4God

Crashburn on Facebook

Centipedes are more of a threat than Iran and should be taken seriously.

The link dump will end with a couple of YouTubes. It’s the Internet, so how about a cat? I mean, a really awesome cat. If you’re not familiar with Maru, check out the plethora of videos on mugumogu’s channel.

Finally, let’s go with some music. I hadn’t been a fan of this type of music, but Parov Stelar is getting me into swing house.

If you liked that, other suggested tracks are Catgroove, Matilda, Let’s Roll, and Shine, all from his album Coco.

 

 

The Funniest Baseball Video of All Time

Not Phillies-related, but you’ll enjoy this. Some of it is probably not work-safe. The narrator in the video is playing 98 Koshien, which is apparently a Japanese baseball video game for the Playstation. I have the video started at what I thought was the funniest part, but you can click here to watch the video in its entirety.

(h/t @JeffMilnazik)

Now this next pitch is only used if your second baseman is not performing up to your standards. Just turn around, look him in the face, and start rubbing your nipples at him.

Marcus Hayes would be so proud.

I Award You No Points

To keep up with the times, Daily News Live had to up its daily dosage of stupid. They brought Marcus Hayes and Mandy Housenick on to talk about the Phillies. Apparently, the two were trying to set new personal highs.

Watch if you dare to risk a brain hemorrhage. Hat tip to @TonyIsDynamic for the hilarious video splicing.


Housenick: I think you should’ve DH’ed Chase. I don’t think Chase should’ve been playing second base. Not to mention — nobody wants to hear this — but Wilson Valdez has a better fielding percentage than Chase Utley. I’m not saying he’s a better player, but you’re not losing anything when you play Wilson Valdez [unintelligible] Chase Utley. I’m not saying he’s a better player —

Hayes: He’s a much better second baseman than Chase Utley, who’s average at best. I don’t care what kind of fantasy stats you want pull out and, you know, range statistics… Chase Utley is a go-to-his-left second baseman, period. I know he made one play this year to his right, but if you compare him to a guy like Brandon Phillips — that’s a second baseman.

More, uh, intellectually-honest takes on Utley’s defense:

What are these charts showing us? Against right-handed batters, Utley and Phillips look about the same. They both have minus plus/minus scores to their left. But their positive scores to their right more than make up for the difference. Both players appear to be shifting well over to the right when a right-handed batter is up. They have a harder time getting to the balls to their left, but there are fewer of those. They more than make up for the missed plays by making more plays on the greater number of balls to their right.

Now for the Left-Handed Batters side of the chart. It’s the whole key to Chase Utley. What appears to be clear from this chart is that both players are shifting left against left-handed batters, but Utley is going further. Phillips is missing plays to his right, but gets a few extra to his left. Utley is missing even more plays to his right, but is really making up for them on plays to his left. To the tune of +37, 30 more extra plays than even Brandon Phillips is making. That’s huge.

So what makes Utley so good? Simple answer: Positioning. And more specifically, positioning against left-handed batters.

Now keep in mind that not all left-handed batters are created equal. If you look at Defensive Positioning System in the Fielding Bible, you’ll see that. Utley has to vary his positioning by batter, even against different lefties, to maximize his performance. But, in general, the key appears to be that he is moving closer to first base against lefties than virtually any other second baseman in baseball. BIS Video Scouts, who watch every game and chart nearly everything you can imagine, have said the same thing. Utley has a strong tendency to position himself towards hitters’ pull side.

Tonight, the best player from 2007-9: 2B Chase Utley.

Consistent greatness is Chase Utley‘s calling card. His wOBAs from 2005 through 2009 have all been inside the range of .389 to .420. His UZRs during that stretch vary only from +9.8 to +20.5. In the last five seasons, Chase Utley‘s worst season, 2006, had him as a 6.8 WAR player. His best, 2008, he was an 8.1 WAR player.

For five seasons Chase Utley (38 total wins) has been just a smidgen less valuable than Albert Pujols (40.4 total wins) has been. Thank goodness that he is losing his mind in this World Series because hopefully now he’ll start getting more credit. He’s been close to the best player in baseball over the last half-decade and how many people would have included him in the top ten?

Single-season UZR isn’t totally reliable, but even if we go over the past three calendar years, Utley is still far and away the best defender at second base in baseball.

Utley has been the best defender at second base in four out of five seasons from ’05-09. That means he should have four Gold Glove awards, right? Wrong. The award was won by Luis Castillo in ’05; Orlando Hudson in ’06 and ’07; Brandon Phillips in ’08; and Hudson again in ’09.

The problem with fielding percentage is that it unfairly punishes players with good range and rewards players with poor range by ignoring range entirely. Hayes scoffed at the thought of range being a consideration in evaluating defense, but if a player simply stands at his position and doesn’t move left or right, his fielding percentage better be a clean 1.000. Players with more range get to more batted balls, but that also means their odds of misplaying the ball — simply by virtue of the scaling difficulty as the amount of ground covered increases — rise as well.

Dismissing fielding percentage isn’t a Sabermetric ideological thing, either; it’s a logic thing. Ben Jedlovec does a great job of explaining defensive stats in this article he published recently for ESPN:

Errors provide useful information. When the official scorer assigns an error, we know that the fielder has gotten to the ball and either bobbled it, made a bad throw or committed some other miscue on a play that would normally be made successfully. The fielder screwed up, and he should be penalized for it; hence, he is charged with an error.

However, there are well-documented issues with using errors to evaluate fielders. For starters, there is often room for disagreement in the official scorer’s ruling. Additionally, errors don’t appropriately account for a fielder’s range; if a shortstop is a step slow and doesn’t reach a ground ball through the hole, he’s not likely to be charged with an error, although other shortstops might have made the play.

I never thought I’d see the day where Intentional Talk would provide more intellectual commentary than Daily News Live.