Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

Last night, Cole Hamels pitched brilliantly against the Los Angeles Dodgers, tossing eight shut-out innings while striking out nine and not issuing a single walk. He earned a game score of 79, something he has done only 15 times in his 162 career starts (9.25%). Hamels’ brilliant season continues; his 2.72 SIERA is .05 behind the MLB lead in SIERA, trailing Roy Halladay (2.68) and Cliff Lee (2.71).

Prior to the season, many wondered if Hamels could repeat or even improve on his great 2010 season. It’s very hard to improve on a 3.06 ERA with a 9.1 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9, but Hamels has done it. His strikeout rate is at the same level, but he has drastically decreased his walk rate (1.8) and is inducing even more ground balls (52 percent) thanks to his cut fastball.

Hamels is for real, and he is one of a triumvirate of potential Cy Young candidates in Philadelphia. Thus, it is no surprise that the Phillies are near or at the top of every major pitching category:

  • K/9: 8.3 (leads MLB)
  • BB/9: 1.9 (leads MLB)
  • K/BB: 2.8 (leads MLB)
  • HR/9: 0.65 (4th in MLB)
  • GB%: 49.5% (3rd in MLB)
  • HR/FB: 7.8% (8th in MLB)
  • FIP: 2.77 (leads MLB)
  • xFIP: 2.88 (leads MLB)

Starts like last night’s — eight innings, one or fewer runs allowed — have been commonplace for the Phillies. They have tossed nine of them thus far, the second-highest total in the Majors. Hamels is responsible for five of them, while Halladay and Lee have two apiece.

Here’s a look at the team totals for such starts.

Only five pitchers have accumulated four or more such starts: Hamels and Kyle Lohse with five; and Jaime Garcia, Ian Kennedy, and James Shields with four apiece. Unlike Lohse, Hamels isn’t getting by with luck (.268 BABIP is only 16 points below his career average); he is consistently dominating hitters start after start.

Hamels hasn’t been included in the same conversation as Halladay and Lee, but with his performance to date, it may be time to recognize him as an elite pitcher. He is arguably the best left-handed starter in baseball, and one very critical piece of the Phillies’ elite starting rotation.

Update: Lots of commentary on Hamels today, so here are some links:

Drew Fairservice, Getting Blanked: Cole Hamels Stands in the Shadow of No Man

It’s weird to think of a former World Series MVP as overlooked or underrated, yet Hamels operates in the shadow of his high profile teammates. On the field, Hamels lets his incredible play speak for him. Off the field, his great love of glamorous photo shoots take him places his cutter never could. It’s the price of being handsome, I suppose. And what a toll it takes.

Dave Cameron, FanGraphs: Which NL Southpaw is Greatest?

I don’t think I can do it, honestly. Lee or Hamels, the hairs are too thin to split. I don’t know that I can declare that either is better than the other. The only thing we can say is that the Phillies probably have the best left-handed pitcher in the National League – it’s just impossible to say who it is.

David Golebiewski, RotoGraphs: Cole Hamels Staying Grounded

Hamels is getting many more grounders with his fastball this year, while also boosting his ground ball rate on cutters and curveballs thrown. His changeup already got a lot of grounders and has continued to do so in 2011. Hitters are putting the ball in the air less often against Hamels, which has helped the 27-year-old decrease his slugging percentage on contact nearly across the board.

Cubs Series Preview with Joe Aiello

Phillies fans have been a bit frustrated with the team’s performance as of late, but Cubs fans have had much more to lament. The Cubs are 12 games under .500 and ended an eight-game losing streak yesterday. Along with that, there’s the always-present clubhouse turmoil found with any under-performing team, as Carlos Zambrano called his team “embarrassing”. To get some more perspective on the Cubs, I caught up with fellow SweetSpot blogger Joe Aiello, of View from the Bleachers, and asked him a few questions to help preview this upcoming series.

. . .

1. The Phillies and Cubs contrast sharply in that the Phillies allow the fewest runs on average while the Cubs allow the most. To what do you attribute the poor performance on the mound?

When you look at the starting rotations, the first major difference is in talent. A rotation that includes guys like Halladay, Oswalt, Lee, etc far surpasses a rotation that includes Doug Davis, Rodrigo Lopez, James Russell, etc. The Cubs have been riddled with injuries in the rotation and have, as a result, given up way to many runs in an area that was penciled in as a strength for the team at the beginning of the season.

2. If the season ended today, Carlos Zambrano’s 2.8 BB/9 would be a career-low. For that control, though, he has sacrificed strikeouts, as his 6.2 K/9 would also be a career low. Do you like his new style, and is it necessary for future success?

I’m rather indifferent to a pitcher’s style. All I care about is the win. A few years ago, Edwin Jackson threw a dreadfully ugly no-hitter that was littered with walks. All that mattered was that he got the win. The same is true for Zambrano. What I think we’ll see going forward is the way he’s pitched lately. His velocity from his youth is gone. He routinely sits in the high 80’s and low 90’s for his fastball.

3. Matt Garza has been a favorite of Saberists as he is at or near the top of every list for stats like FIP, xFIP, and SIERA. Did the Cubs work with him on anything specifically that caused his strikeout rate to balloon?

I’m not a saber guy, which makes me laugh because I couldn’t even wager a guess at what those stats are or how to evaluate them. I’d be interested in seeing how many of Garza’s strikeouts have come at the hand of a pitcher. That would be my partial explanation for the increase in strikeouts. In the end, I think we’ll see a regression to the mean (trying to bring out what little saber talk I have) in the strikeout category with a slight increase due to league change.

4. After a great rookie campaign in 2010, Tyler Colvin hasn’t been able to rekindle that magic. What’s gone wrong for him? Could his struggles possibly be related to his getting hit with a shard of a broken bat last year?

I’m glad you mentioned the second part of the question because it was the first thing that crossed my mind. It’s hard to know what the cause of the decline is, but I would wager a guess with three factors. First, a lack of consistent playing time, being blocked by Soriano, Byrd and Fukudome early in the season. Second, the infamous sophomore slump, and third the shard of bat.

5. The Cubs have stolen 15 bases in 23 attempts, base running futility matched and exceeded only by the Atlanta Braves. Do you think the Cubs need to be more aggressive and efficient on the bases?

The problem is that it’s not a lineup built for base stealing. The only true base stealing threat on the team is Tony Campana. Guys like Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro have potential to steal 15 bases in a season, but none really light it up.

6. The Cubs will get to face Kyle Kendrick, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee. If you were given the privilege of choosing, which three Phillies starters would you choose to give the Cubs the best chance of winning? I assume Kyle Kendrick is an immediate first pick.

I’d like them to face Spahn, Sain, and then pray for rain. I figure we can muster at least a split with those guys since they’re dead. That would mean a series that wasn’t a loss. In all seriousness, look at our record and play of late. We aren’t beating any starters. Kyle Kendrick has the potential to toss a perfect game.

7. Put on your prognostication glasses and give us your prediction for this series. Who wins?

Phillies in a sweep and it’s not even close.

. . .

Thanks to Joe for taking the time to provide some insight on the Cubs. Be sure to stop by VFTB to catch my take on the series as well as further Cubs news and analysis during the season.

Ryan Madson and the Free Agent Closer Class of 2011-12

Please give a warm welcome to a new writer for Crashburn Alley, Paul Boye. Paul has written for Phillies Nation, worked as a video scout for Baseball Info Solutions, and spent time in the player development and video departments of a Major League team. You can follow him on Twitter @Phrontiersman and from now on will be able to get his highly-respected thoughts on the Phillies right here.

– Bill Baer

The emergence of Ryan Madson as a near-elite reliever has been both a welcome surprise and a key component of the Phillies’ recent success. You’re no stranger to this site singing the praises of Madson, and for good reason.

But with Mad Dog’s impending free agency looming, and the price tag elephant in the room seemingly growing larger with every multi-strikeout save, it’s worth wondering just where Madson fits in with some of the other top relievers set to be free agents this winter.

Among those relievers are names like Heath Bell, Jonathan Broxton, Jonathan Papelbon and Francisco Rodriguez, four hurlers who have spent the bulk of the last three seasons in the ninth inning. For better of for worse, these guys will all be signed to close games and earn saves, just as Madson seems primed to be.

Just as with Jayson Werth last season, speculation and curiosity abounds as to just how much Madson stands to make on the open market. It’s all but guaranteed he won’t be signing an extension this summer – credit that to Scott Boras or whomever you like – and any sort of hometown discount also seems unlikely at this point.

Bad news for Phils fans, but (potentially) great news for Madson. What’s more, Madson’s numbers since the start of the 2009 season match up quite favorably with the top names of the impending free agent class: the aforementioned Bell, Broxton, Papelbon and K-Rod. Just how favorably may even surprise you.

To put it visually, here are some abridged leaderboards. These are leaders among those who have relieved in at least 80 percent of their appearances since the start of 2009 with at least 120 innings pitched.

Strikeouts/9 IP

3. Broxton – 11.74
10. Papelbon – 10.51
13. Bell – 10.10
14. Rodriguez – 9.99
16. Madson – 9.90

Walks/9 IP

18. Madson – 2.48
41. Papelbon – 3.19
43. Bell – 3.26
75. Broxton – 3.93
t-86. Rodriguez – 4.24

Strikeout/Walk Ratio

8. Madson – 4.00
17. Papelbon – 3.30
21. Bell – 3.10
25. Broxton – 2.98
49. Rodriguez – 2.36

If you subtract intentional walks, Madson’s ration becomes even more impressive, and improves by a lot more than the others.

Strikeout/uIBB Ratio

Madson – 5.21 (+1.21)
Papelbon – 3.69 (+0.39)
Broxton – 3.40 (+0.42)
Bell – 3.32 (+0.22)
Rodriguez – 2.87 (+0.51)

And, finally, WAR (B-R)

5. Bell – 5.6
9. Papelbon – 4.4
13. Madson – 4.2
t-26. Rodriguez – 3.2
t-65. Broxton – 1.4

Madson’s early-season run of dominance has put him on the map, but this has been going on for a while now. Madson’s recent performance has put him in prime position to make a big wad of money in the coming years – especially with the reliever contracts doled out in recent years – but whether that money will come from the Phillies’ pockets remains to be seen.

Crashburn Live Chat, Tuesday @ 6 PM ET

Updated. See end of post.

I may be the last blogger on the planet to get on board with this, but I am going to start hosting live chats on the blog once a week, starting tomorrow night at 6 PM ET. As we move forward, we’ll figure out together what works and what doesn’t. Currently, my schedule leaves Tuesday nights as the best time for a live chat, but that can change depending on a whole host of factors. For now, the chat will start at 6 PM ET and end at 7 PM, just before the live broadcast starts. At that point, I’ll be on Twitter, where you can get my instantaneous and lightly-researched opinions on the game as it unfolds.

You can leave questions ahead of time in case you can’t join us live. Talk about anything you want, whether it’s about the Phillies, baseball in general, Sabermetrics, etc. It should be a great way for us to interact. When I polled the readership a few weeks ago, many expressed apprehension about participating in the comments because they lacked the statistical acumen to hold their ground in a discussion. So if you would like clarification on a Sabermetric concept, or if you’d like to throw in your two cents that you felt hesitant to leave previously, please take this opportunity to do so!

As this is something meant to benefit the Phillies community at large, please keep the questions and comments civil.

Click here to go to the chat

Also, a reminder: you can tune in to 98.1 WOGL HD-4 with your HD Radio to listen to Phillies 24/7. “Stathead”, with myself and Jeff Sottolano, airs at 3 PM ET on Tuesdays and re-airs at 2 PM ET on Wednesays.

Update: Paul Boye (@Phrontiersman), will be joining me in the chat tomorrow. He has written for Phillies Nation, worked as a video scout for Baseball Info Solutions, and spent time in the player development and video departments of a Major League team.

Chase Utley Isn’t Back… Yet

Chase Utley finally broke out of his shell yesterday, going 3-for-5 with three singles, a walk, and a stolen base in a 7-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. He went into the game with a .195 batting average, .298 on-base percentage, and a .293 slugging percentage in 41 at-bats. His much anticipated return had yet to live up to expectations, but it was nice to see him have a productive game.

Although he had good results yesterday, there is still some cause for concern. Utley entered yesterday’s game hitting line drives at just a ten percent rate, nearly half of his career average. His ground ball rate was down over four percent and his fly ball rate was up over ten percent compared to his career averages. We need 150-250 plate appearances before we can be confident in what the data tells us, but the data does show what has actually happened thus far, which is that Utley has been making very weak contact.

Yesterday was no different. Utley notched all three of his hits on ground balls to right field, grounded into a force out, and hit a weak fly ball to left field. Once again, no line drives to speak of.

Furthermore, Utley seems to be hitting the ball weakly to the opposite field. Unlike his teammate Ryan Howard, it is uncharacteristic of Utley to be hitting the ball this way. Compare his spray chart, courtesy Texas Leaguers, from this year to that of 2009, his last full healthy season.

2011

2009

The overwhelming majority of Utleys’ hits in 2009 went to right field. For Utley, pulling the ball is a high-percentage opportunity to reach base.

His slow start is, of course, very understandable. He missed the entirety of spring training and has not had as much time as the others in getting reacquainted with the grind of a 162-game baseball season. Instead, he played some rehab games for a while and was immediately tossed into the fire with the burden of high expectations (despite what some writers claim to the contrary). I even wrote on this blog that the addition of Utley could be worth about six wins, assuming he was back to his old self.

It has been clear thus far that Utley is still trying to shake off the rust. Hopefully his performance yesterday is an indication of better things to come, but we have learned that the steadfast second baseman is, in fact, human.

Reader Email: Two-Out Runs

Reader Matty sent in this email:

Hi Bill,

I just came across your blog and was looking at all of the statistics you monitor. One of the things I’ve noticed for a long time but that I never hear anyone talk about is runs allowed after retiring the first two batters in an inning.

As a lifelong and diehard Phillies fan, I get so frustrated when a pitcher fails to get the third batter in the inning after retiring the first two. In fact, it happens so often that I’m surprised that the sports radio talk shows and TV analysts don’t ever mention it. Over the years, I have seen so many promising innings turn into a nightmare for the Phils, and it all starts with two outs and no one on base. The inability of a pitcher to get that third hitter after retiring the first two has lead to more runs than I can remember. Once that third batter reaches base, the flood gates open and it’s one run after another. In fact, when a Phillies pitcher gets the first two batters out, I often joke that the other team has them right where they want them.

You might remember the 2009 world series at-bat by Johnny Damon in the 9th inning. Lidge retired the first two hitters, and had Damon down 0-2 in the count. Lidge then gave up 3 runs. Yes, two outs and no one on base, and an 0-2 count on the third batter……and allowed 3 runs! The rest is history.

Oswalt did it earlier this season. Got the first two batters in an inning and then couldn’t get anyone out after that. Allowed 3 runs on five straight hits after having two outs and no one on base.

And that’s just two examples out of many. I’m sure it can’t be me. There must be others who notice this, but yet I never hear anyone bring it up.

So I’d love to hear your take on this Bill. Is there a way to monitor this? A list of pitchers and their runs allowed after retiring the first two batters in an inning?

Matty

Two out runs are painful, aren’t they? You can see the finish line just inches away and then it all starts to fall apart. As a fan, it is certainly frustrating to watch.

When we objectively analyze statistics, though, we need to separate our emotions from the conclusions we are trying to reach. Is a two-out run really worse than a run scored with zero outs or one out? It feels different, but it holds no extra weight.

But Matty also suggests that pitchers have a legitimate skill in preventing those two-out runs. As with other concepts such as clutch hitting and lineup protection, there hasn’t been any evidence that points to this phenomenon existing. Furthermore, one needs to think about the quality of the data that would be involved in such a study.

If you click here, you will be directed to the portion of Roy Halladay’s splits that portrays his performance based on the number of outs in an inning. It just so happens that Halladay performs best when there are two outs. We need to ask ourselves many questions here, the first of which is, “Is it meaningful?”

Converting Halladay’s performance in the various out-states into wOBA, we come up with .314 with no outs, .293 with one out, and .290 with two outs. The National League average wOBA for the respective out-states is .321, .317, and .303. Converting Halladay’s wOBA into runs, Halladay has been 21 runs above average with no outs (3,493 PA), 67 runs above average with one out (3,213 PA), and 35 runs above average with two outs (3,086 PA). If we prorate that to 300 PA (generally how many PA a pitcher has in each situation in a given season), Halladay is 1.8, 6.3, and 3.4 runs above average, respectively.

No matter which way you slice it, Halladay’s performance with two outs is not meaningful in any way. Cliff Lee has a similar split, as does Roy Oswalt. If you can think of a starting pitcher that is significantly better with two outs than with zero outs or one out, I would be glad to take a look (assuming we are dealing with an appropriately-sized sample), but at least as it pertains to the Phillies, no one gains or loses effectiveness based on the number of outs in the inning.

Additionally, there will be various forms of selection bias at play, which affects the reliability of the data:

  • Veteran pitchers tend to finish innings (meaning they are prone to more one- and two-out situations than younger pitchers)
  • Pitchers with good reputations tend to finish innings (semi-related to the above)
  • Pitchers that are currently pitching poorly are less likely to get further outs (due to their own incompetence or the manager’s refusal to let them pitch further)
  • Pitchers with better defenses will face more one- and two-out situations
  • National League pitchers will face more one- and two-out situations due to the lack of a DH and the presence of the pitcher in the lineup, as well as the increased use of sacrifice bunting
  • For relievers, some tend to start innings while others tend to come in with runners on base and, if they’re lucky, one or two outs already recorded.

More reasons for selection bias abound, almost all of them need to be considered before taking the data at face value.

Finally, as the above chart illustrates, the Phillies really aren’t any worse on the whole than other teams with two outs. Their .672 OPS allowed with no outs ranks 13th out of 16 (NL average is .729); their .652 OPS allowed with one out ranks 14th out of 16 (NL average is .717); and their .679 OPS with two outs ranks 9th out of 16 (NL average is .681). The standard deviation on the OPS allowed ranges from about .040 to .060. So, the most certain thing you can say about the Phillies’ performance is that their true talent level with two outs is somewhere between .640 to .710. And that’s just the lazy way to get a feel for the talent range.

All of the above really just tells us that you can’t draw any conclusions about talent based on out-state, especially for individual players in individual seasons. If players do have a legitimate skill that makes them better or worse based specifically on the number of outs in an inning, then we need to see evidence for that. Given our current data, we cannot yet draw any conclusions other than fail to reject our null hypothesis, which is that there is no discernible difference between our various sets of data.

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.

CLICK HERE TO PLAY

 

Room for the Starting Rotation to Improve?

This statistical nugget was posted by @Slap_Bet on Twitter during Wednesday’s Phillies/Nationals game:

Phillies starters have the second highest babip in the majors

And it’s true! Via Baseball Reference:

Team G BAbip
CHC 54 .337
PHI 56 .324
HOU 56 .306
MIL 56 .301
FLA 54 .300
SDP 56 .300
WSN 55 .299
CIN 57 .298
LAD 57 .296
STL 57 .295
NYM 55 .295
SFG 55 .289
PIT 54 .285
ARI 56 .283
ATL 57 .275
COL 55 .273
TOT 890 .297
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/2/2011.

The breakdown by starter:

Pitcher G BAbip
Joe Blanton 6 .376
Vance Worley 4 .358
Cliff Lee 12 .344
Roy Halladay 12 .316
Roy Oswalt 9 .302
Cole Hamels 11 .296
Kyle Kendrick 2 .280
Team Total 56 .324
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/2/2011.

The Phillies’ staff as a whole allows the fourth-fewest line drives in baseball (17.4 percent) and gives up hits on them at nearly the National League average (72.1 percent to the NL’s 71.4 percent). They also allow the fifth-fewest fly balls (34.2 percent) as well and give up hits on those at exactly the NL average (13.8 percent).

By the process of elimination, or sheer knowledge of the staff, you may be able to deduce that Phillies pitchers must induce a lot of ground balls. They do, at the third-highest clip in the Majors (48 percent). Those have not been converted into outs at a 27 percent rate, 3.4 percent above the NL average. With 723 ground balls induced, the additional 3.4 percent accounts for about 25 hits, or roughly 13 percent of the 195 total ground ball hits.

Using the current distribution on ground ball hits (93 percent singles, seven percent doubles), and the linear weights assigned to events in wOBA, we can get a general idea of how harmful the below-average conversion of ground balls into outs has been so far.

(.93 * 25) = 23 singles, (.07 * 25) = 2 doubles

(23 * .77) = 18 runs for singles, (2 * 1.08) = 2 runs for doubles; 20 runs total (or roughly two wins)

Is the culprit just bad luck? The Phillies have the third-worst defensive efficiency in the Majors at .698. They also have the ninth-worst UZR at -8.2. Looking at specific players reveals that only the second basemen (Wilson Valdez, Pete Orr, Chase Utley) have been harmful defensively among the infielders. The trio combine for a -3.6 UZR which is negated by Placido Polanco (+3.5), Ryan Howard (+0.1), and Jimmy Rollins (0.0). So, no, the infield is not truly to blame.

So, let’s take a look at Phillies’ pitchers’ BABIP on ground balls.

Pitcher G BAbip
Roy Halladay 12 .309
Cliff Lee 12 .308
Joe Blanton 6 .297
Roy Oswalt 9 .286
Cole Hamels 11 .245
Kyle Kendrick 12 .220
Vance Worley 6 .182
Team Total 56 .270
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/2/2011.

Remember, the NL average is .236, so everyone but Kendrick and Worley has been unfortunate in this regard. Halladay, Lee, Blanton (if and when he returns), and Oswalt should not be this unlucky on grounders going forward. That means that tweets like this and this should become more and more infrequent. In combination with this information and comparing their ERA to your retrodictor of choice (mine is SIERA), we can set our expectations for the rotation going forward.

  • Halladay: 2.56 ERA / 2.66 SIERA
  • Lee: 3.94 ERA / 2.81 SIERA
  • Hamels: 3.01 ERA / 2.62 SIERA
  • Oswalt: 2.70 ERA / 4.13 SIERA

In the big picture, Hamels should continue to be great, Halladay should improve slightly, Lee should improve greatly (assuming his cutter isn’t a problem, which would run contrary to many popular theories floating around), and Oswalt should get a bit worse despite BABIP regression as his strikeout rate is way down. Assuming Kendrick doesn’t make two to three complete disaster starts, the Phillies rotation appears to have better things in store as the 2011 season moves along.