What They’re Saying: Astros Bloggers React to Pence Trade

By now, you’ve read the umpteenth take on the Pence trade from the perspective of a Phillies fan, but what are Astros fans saying about the trade?

Astros County:

But this move had to happen. Because the Astros called him up in April, he got an extra year of arbitration. It’s not impossible to think that Pence could earn $25m over the next two years of arbitration. A team like the Astros can’t have that. He’s simply becoming too expensive, and to be able to have this kind of leverage – a good, young player, with years of team control, in the prime of his career – is a rare opportunity. I know Drayton loves Hunter Pence, probably like a son, maybe like a forbidden lover. But this is about winning for the next ten years, not staring at a guy in right field and thinking, “What a swell player.”

To think that Pence is the only marketable player the Astros have is ridiculous, and a sign that maybe the Astros need a better PR staff.

It’s amazing the Astros were even able to do this, considering their draft history over the past eight years. This is the flip-side of developing talent – to trade them for more prospects in the event that you simply cannot compete with the hand that you’re dealt. It’s similar to spending $5 on a scratch-off, winning $10, and then buying more scratch-offs. That’s what rebuilding is: constantly trying to hit the jackpot. It might not happen, but you have to try. For the Astros, sentimentality hasn’t gotten them anywhere.

Good luck, Hunter Pence. Thank you for being good.

Astros 290:

It is decidedly risky by the Astros to give up a good player like Pence for no proven players, but it’s a gamble that I like and that I view as necessary. They needed to bolster their farm system, and frankly, the way this season is going they don’t need any major league ready players. Taking two top prospects is a gamble I’ll take every time. You never know when a deal could be like when the Astros sent Freddy Garcia, John Halama and Carlos Guillen to the Mariners for Randy Johnson, only to have all three become key players for the club for many years.

Getting two top prospects for a player that is probably due for a regression is a very nice deal. Pence is a career .290 hitter who is batting .309 right now. But his career second half numbers aren’t very impressive and he’s hitting .200 since the All Star break. His 3.0 WAR is the highest it’s been since his rookie year. His trade value may have never been higher than it was right now, and with the bidding war between the Phillies, Braves and perhaps as many as four other teams, the Astros probably got the best value they ever would have for Pence.

And it’s important to remember that they still have their best players. According to Baseball Reference, Pence’s WAR the last three years is 6.3. But Michael Bourn’s is 12.0 and Wandy Rodriguez’s is 9.6. To get two top prospects, even risky ones, for your third or fourth best player is a really nice trade-off.

Crawfish Boxes:

Pence was pulled from Friday’s game with the Brewers and was somewhat emotional as he told his teammates good bye. He’s going to a Philadelphia team with a couple of former Astros that he played with in Brad Lidge and Roy Oswalt. Pence will also provide an upgrade offensively over currentl Phillies right fielder Domonic Brown in the short-term.

It’s the third big-time trade Ed Wade has done with Philadelphia, and this time, it centered on some very big name prospects. Both Cosart and Singleton are good gets, even if I’m a little more down on them than most people will be.

 

Reader Question: Phillies Run Scoring Distribution

J.B. writes:

Hey, Bill, is there any sort of breakdown how the Phillies score runs? Based on purely anecdotal evidence, it strikes me about 60% of the time the Phillies score 3-4 runs 30% of the time, the Phillies score less than that, and 10% of the time the Phillies score 8 or more runs.

I am exaggerating, and I’m sure there’s some nasty confirmation bias here, but my point is that the Phillies’ offense doesn’t look nearly as good if you throw out the occasional big game. Two question sets:

1. Is that true at all? Do the Phillies tend to have more “synergy” games than other teams?

2. Even if it is true, is that true of most teams? Do teams with offense levels comparable to the Phillies tend to score along the same curve (biggest hump at 3-4 runs, mid-size hump on the low end, and a small but significant hump on the high end)? Or are there significant deviations from this?

So here’s what the Phillies’ run scoring distribution looks like compared to all of Major League Baseball (click to enlarge):

The Phillies have played 105 games. In 29 of them (28 percent), they have scored 3-4 runs; in 34 games (32 percent), they have scored 0-2 runs; and in 17 (16 percent), they have scored eight or more. J.B. was close on the 0-2 and 8-plus run buckets, but way off on the 3-4 run bucket.

As for the second question, the team directly ahead of the Phillies in average runs per game is the Colorado Rockies. The team directly behind the Phillies is the Milwaukee Brewers. I added them to the graph (click to enlarge):

While there are small deviations, nothing jumps out as statistically significant. If we put them in buckets:

  • 0-2 runs: PHI 32%, COL 26%, MIL 25%
  • 3-4 runs: PHI 28%, COL 34%, MIL 35%
  • 5-7 runs: PHI 24%, COL 25%, MIL 28%
  • 8+ runs: PHI 16%, COL 15%, MIL 12%

The Phillies do appear to be slightly less “consistent”, but merely a good week for them or a bad week for the others could flip the tables, so it is not all that revealing.

Just for the sake of comparison, here is how the 2011 Phillies stack up with their 2009-10 iterations:

If the Phillies could have absolute control over their run-scoring, they would emulate the 2009 offense for sure, but also keep in mind just how much offense has declined since then. In ’09, the average NL team scored 4.4 runs per game; in ’10, that declined to 4.3; and now in ’11, that average is all the way down at 4.1.

Phillies Acquire Hunter Pence

After painful days of speculation, the Phillies finally made the big splash at the trade deadline in acquiring Hunter Pence from the Houston Astros. In return, the Astros will get top prospects Jarred Cosart and Jonathan Singleton, as well as Josh Zeid and a player to be named later. Compared to previously-reported hauls involving uber-prospect Domonic Brown, Phillies fans are fine with giving up the two prospects and two filler players.

However, it does appear that the Phillies overpaid in acquiring Pence. For a similar price, the Phillies likely could have pried B.J. Upton from the Tampa Bay Rays, who is more than a year younger and has a higher ceiling. In the event the Phillies re-sign their outfield acquisition, Upton is better in the long-term.

Going back to the Ryan Howard signing, Ruben Amaro does not like to let the chips fall where they may, choosing instead to act quickly, even if it means not getting proper value on his acquisitions. In engaging in a public auction with the Atlanta Braves and other teams, the Phillies drove up Pence’s price. They kept Brown, which seemed to be the one and only goal of the Phillies’ front office, something they accomplished for the fourth time (see the acquisitions of Roy Hallday, Cliff Lee, and Roy Oswalt).

Pence does upgrade the outfield. He has a career +5 UZR/150 in the outfield and has stolen more than ten bases in each of his previous four seasons, on pace do do the same in 2011. As for offense, Pence’s career average wOBA is .353, which compares well to the current MLB average .312. On the season, he is at .365, a career-high. Contrary to reports, he does not hit left-handed pitchers much better than right-handed pitchers, with a career average wOBA at .359 and .353, respectively. In 2011, he is actually hitting right-handers better, .369 to .341.

There is room for immediate concern with Pence as well. His ISO, a measure of raw power, is currently at .163, a career-low and the fourth consecutive year his ISO has dropped. Citizens Bank Park is a bit more homer-friendly to right-handed hitters than Minute Maid Park (HR park factors at 116 and 107, respectively; over 100 is above-average), so Pence might see the ISO rise, but the overall trend is discouraging.

Additionally, Pence has been riding an abnormally high BABIP. Hitters have significantly more control over BABIP than pitchers, but they are still prone to good and bad luck. Pence’s BABIP is currently at .370, more than 40 points above his career average. From 2008-10, it ranged from .301 to .308, an even larger gap from his current numbers. Specifically, Pence is getting luckiest on ground balls, turning them into hits at a .342 clip compared to his career .303 average. Fly balls have become hits at a .169 clip compared to his .145 average, while line drives have dropped a bit, at .710 compared to his .734 career average.

If Pence were making better contact, the change in BABIP may be somewhat explainable, but the evidence actually points to him making weaker contact. As mentioned above, his ISO has been in straight decline. He has also hit more infield fly balls: 13 percent, an increase of more than three percent from last year. Furthermore, there has been no significant changes in his batted ball splits.

As mentioned in my article for ESPN last night, Pence’s regression appears to have already started in the last two months.

[…] [Pence] has cooled off considerably in the past two months: In April and May, he posted an .830 and .914 OPS respectively; in June and July, his OPS dipped to .757 and .744, respectively. His first two months were BABIP fueled with a lot of power (.376 BABIP, .190 ISO) while his last two months have seen both numbers drop (.354 BABIP, .119 ISO).

Finally, Pence isn’t projected to be much of an upgrade overall. The ZiPS projection system, found at FanGraphs, predicts a .353 wOBA for Pence between now and the end of the regular season. For Brown, ZiPS sees a .343 wOBA and .337 for Raul Ibanez. If we assume 200 PA for each player, the difference between Pence and Brown is less than two runs (roughly one-fifth of a win), and the difference between Pence and Ibanez is less than three runs (about one-third of a win).

As for base running, through 105 games, Pence has been worth about two runs above average going by EQBRR (found at Baseball Prospectus), while Brown has been nearly three runs above average (net loss of one run) and Ibanez has been one run above average (net gain of one run). Defensive stats, especially through only 105 games, are very unreliable, so let’s just use our eyes on this one and say that Pence is an upgrade over both players, significantly more so for Ibanez.

All told, if the Phillies cut Ibanez’s playing time in favor of Pence, they will see more of an improvement. If, however, the Phillies limit Brown’s playing time, they will be eating into their own gains. Charlie Manuel will truly decide just how much value Pence brings to the Phillies. With Pence and Brown, the Phillies’ outfield is set through 2012, and depending on what the future holds for Shane Victorino, potentially longer.

Now, for an alternate take, here’s Jeff Barnes (@Utley4God):

There’s no debate, the Phillies overpaid for Hunter Pence. By trading two elite prospects for the good, but not great outfielder, they gave up more value then they should. In virtually every situation this would drive me nuts, but this may be an exception.

Here are the facts:
The Phillies are a better team in 2011. If they reduce Raul’s at-bats for Pence, they are much better. If they reduce Dom’s, they are slightly better. But either way, the team added Pence and subtracted Francisco (guessing, may have to change if announced).

They have their outfield set for 2012. With a weak free agent class, this is an important factor.

Their lineup is more balanced, which could be a good asset heading into October.

If you are going to overpay for a win-now move, the time to do it is when you are truly (or the move makes you) World Series contenders. If they properly allocate at bats (Read: take from Raul) the rest of the season, this could be a big improvement for a team that didn’t need much. But Charlie Manuel runs this team and he loves his veterans. So for now, we’ll grade this trade: Incomplete

The Lost Art of Patience

To read a similar take on Dom Brown with an eye to the future, check out Bill’s article on ESPN Sweet Spot.

I’ve finally had enough.

I took it rather well for a few days, this incessant whisper from a fraction of the fanbase that Domonic Brown is not just trade bait, but should be dealt. The reasoning seems varied, but it seems to boil down to the notion that Domonic Brown is not now – nor will he ever be – better than Hunter Pence, and, as such, the two should be swapped.

It seems that, if one area of this very good Phillies club should be upgraded, it’s the offense. With Carlos Beltran off the market as a new member of the San Francisco Giants, the best possible upgrade is no longer available. Enter Pence, whose skillset and rumored availability put him squarely in the second tier of available outfield bats. Pence is enjoying a productive season, hitting .307/.354/.467 with 11 HR in 426 plate appearances entering Thursday. Pros and cons of his ability and season stats abound, but this post is not about Pence.

No, this post is about the perception of Brown. Brown, a man who entered his first Major League game to a standing ovation and entered the 2011 season as a near-consensus top five prospect in all of Minor League baseball, now finds himself rumored to be on the trading block. None of us knows for sure if he’s really being dangled, thanks to the airtight nature of the Phillies’ front office, but the very thought of giving up so soon being embraced so easily by some fans discourages me.

Dom Brown, he of the 23 years and 328 days of age, is not Jason Heyward. He has not emerged as a regular starter and set the world on fire. What he has done, though, is accomplish far more than perception seems to be giving him credit for.

  • .251/.343/.406 season slash. The AVG is 5th among NL rookies, the OBP is 3rd and the SLG is 4th.
  • 5 HR in 201 PA. Not great, but when you consider Brown’s hamate injury in the spring and the fact that Pence has 11 HR in 426 PA, it doesn’t seem so bad.
  • Be team-controlled. This isn’t so much an accomplishment as it is a characteristic. Brown will not qualify as a Super Two after the 2012 season, so his arbitration years won’t start until after 2013. He will make in the neighborhood of $450k in the meantime.

That last point stick as the most salient, to me. Across last year and this one, Brown has played just 87 games – little more than half of one season – and his production is on par with what Raul Ibanez has done in twice the playing time. Since that’s not so flattering these days, I’ll say instead that Brown’s .749 OPS ranks 4th among Phillies regulars (behind Victorino, Utley and Howard) and 5th overall (also trails Mayberry). His walk rate is the highest on the team, and he has nearly as many walks as he does strikeouts.

All of this, and he’s cheap for two more full seasons. Cheap, on a team with the following players entering arbitration or hitting free agency between now and the winter of 2012: Roy Oswalt, Jimmy Rollins, Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson and Cole Hamels. Some of the players named are just money off the books, but they’ll need replacing. Is it that much of an upgrade to add Hunter Pence for two seasons – likely at upward of $20 million combined in that time – than have Brown for five more? Sure, this team has a “window,” but it sure isn’t closing when this season is over. Is it worth tying up that much money in a good-not-great player when better-to-star caliber players will need replacing or new contracts?

Better yet, why are some so quick to give up on Brown as a lost cause? If anything, Philadelphia should be somewhat accustomed to slow starts. Chase Utley, Cole Hamels and even Mike Schmidt started their Philly careers without blowing everybody away, yet with patience, coaching and experience, they are turned into excellent players. Brown has the potential to be the next Philly star, better than the guy he’s rumored to possibly be traded for. If only we’re given the chance to see it happen.

Plate Discipline Key to Phillies’ Offensive Success

While most of the baseball community frantically F5’s MLB Trade Rumors, I would like to point out something that piqued my interest as I was perusing FanGraphs. The Phillies’ offense has the fourth-best walk-to-strikeout ratio in baseball at 0.54. The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and St. Louis Cardinals have a three-way tie for first place at 0.57. Individually, the Phillies have the sixth-highest walk rate and the fifth-lowest strikeout rate.

Team

BB%

K%

BB/K

Cardinals

9.0%

15.7%

0.57

Red Sox

9.7%

17.1%

0.57

Yankees

10.0%

17.5%

0.57

Phillies

8.8%

16.2%

0.54

Mets

9.2%

17.2%

0.53

Rangers

7.5%

14.8%

0.51

Athletics

8.2%

16.6%

0.50

At the moment, four Phillies are walking at least as often as they are striking out:

Interestingly, Utley’s BB/K ratio has improved in every season dating back to 2006. His walk rate peaked at 12.6 percent in ’08, then declined along with his strikeout rate. Utley’s current strikeout rate is six percent lower than his career average. Since strikeout and walk rates stabilize between 150-200 PA and Utley has accrued 228 to this point,we can make a reasonable conclusion that his improved plate discipline is real. However, has it come at the expense of his power? He is sitting on a .200 ISO at the moment, which is a career-low, excluding last year’s injury-shortened season. Overall, Utley has been incredibly productive since returning to the lineup (.391 wOBA), so the change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, Utley is 32 years old and hitters do lose power and improve plate discipline as they age.

There is nothing too interesting about Ruiz’s walk and strikeout rates. Over the past four seasons, Ruiz has shown himself to have a very good eye at the plate. He has walked more than he has struck out over the course of his career, so 2011 is just par for the course. Many fans will point out that his production has declined from last year (.366 wOBA to .332), but as I pointed out in December, Ruiz was getting lucky on balls in play and should be expected to regress:

Overall, he was pitched almost exactly the same. The weird thing is, even though Ruiz’s power shifted to the outside part of the strike zone, he had tremendous success going to left field. Per FanGraphs, his career wOBA going to left field is .395. In 2010, that number sat at a lofty .509. Was it due to batted ball luck? You betcha! His career average BABIP to left is .295; last year, it was .413.

In 2011, you can count on Ruiz being the jewel of the pitching staff’s collective eye and playing decent defense. Expect his offensive output to regress significantly, to around the league average in the .325-.330 [wOBA] range. That is plenty good for a Phillies offense that will still be among the league’s best.

Polanco, currently on the shelf but close to a return, is similarly uninteresting. However, he has had a slight increase in walks. His current 8.1 percent walk rate would easily be a career high, representing nearly a three percent increase over his career average. His current 7.8 percent strikeout rate would tie a career-high, excluding his 1998-2000 partial seasons. Polanco’s problems since May (.537 OPS) have more to do with a lack of quality contact than changes in walk and strikeout rates.

Finally, there’s Rollins, who I recently argued should be taken off of the market. Since winning the NL MVP award in 2007, Rollins changed into a different hitter. In 2006 and ’07, his ISO was .200 and .235 respectively. Since then, his power has declined, particularly in the last two years (.131 and .129). Rollins also became more selective at the plate. From 2001-07, Rollins’ walk rate never climbed above eight percent; in the four seasons since, it has been 9.3, 6.1, 10.2, and 9.2 percent. Additionally, from ’01-07, Rollins’ strikeout rate fell below ten percent just once; in the four seasons since, it has been 8.8, 9.7, 8.1, and 9.2 percent. While Rollins is no longer a 20-20-20-20 threat, his improved place discipline has made his power decline rather tolerable and is a big reason why he is still among the game’s elite shortstops.

In previous years, the Phillies have always been in the top-half in BB-K ratio. They used to be a team that hit for tremendous power, but as the lineup got older and injuries became more commonplace, the power waned and the plate discipline improved. Currently, the Phillies rank eighth in the National League in batting average, slugging percentage, and OPS. The reason why they have the league’s sixth-best runs-per-game average is their elite plate discipline.

Giants Series Preview with Chris Quick

The Phillies welcome the defending champion San Francisco Giants for a three-game series in the City of Brotherly Love. Looking to avenge last year’s NLCS defeat, the Phillies will send Rookie of the Year candidate Vance Worley to the hill to face Tim Lincecum in the series opener. The next two games will feature Cole Hamels against Barry Zito, and Kyle Kendrick against Matt Cain in what figures to be a low-scoring series. I caught up with Chris Quick of Bay City Ball (@BayCityBall), part of ESPN’s Sweet Spot blog network, to help preview the series. His answers to my questions are below. You can find my answers to his questions over at BCB.

. . .

1. Enjoying your time as a fan of the defending World Series champions?

I am enjoying it, but at the same time, I’m ready to move on a little. That’s not to say that I’m ungrateful for what 2010 meant to me, and a lot of other fans, but the afterglow is nearly gone and I’m ready to go for another title. I think teams that get trapped in the “we won the World Series!” mindset are doomed to make poor decisions. Let’s hope the Giants are ready for the next step, whatever that might mean. But, that’s sports, it’s a “what have you done for me lately” business.

2. How do the 2011 Giants compare to the 2010 Giants? Better, worse, about the same?

Similar in some ways, but different in others. The biggest thread between 2010 and 2011 is, of course, the fantastic pitching. The Giants have a top-three rotation in the National League right now and the things the bullpen has done should be considered cruel and unusual. Really, the pitching has been beyond outstanding. As fans of this team, we’re definitely spoiled when it comes to pitching.

On the other side, the offense has really been struggling since the year started. Losing Buster Posey for the season was a huge shock to an offense that was never projected to mash from spots one through eight. Injuries have kept the best possible configuration for the offense off the field. Add in Aubrey Huff‘s 2009 impression, Miguel Tejada being terrible, and a few other factors, and the offense has been, by most metrics, the worst in the NL. I think the biggest difference between last year’s team and other versions was the inclusion of a league average offense. That’s it. Getting a league average offense did wonders for the team when combined with it’s elite pitching. It’s going to be hard to win with an offense that ranks dead last.

3. You have the authority to make one transaction for the Giants before the July 31 deadline. What move do you make?

I trade for “non-terrible hitting catcher”. I know he’s out there somewhere. I’m generally really terrible at trade scenarios, but the Carlos Beltran chatter seems to grow a little louder each day. A  Beltran-Paulino package seems to make sense for the Giants.

4. The Giants are the only team left in the NL without a player with 10-plus homers. As a team, the Giants rank 13th in the NL in AVG, OBP, and SLG. Do you expect the offense to improve, or are the Giants simply a team predicated on pitching and defense?

It’s hard to see the offense improving much. That could be the pessimist in me, but key performers from last year like Aubrey Huff have been really, really bad. I think for better or worse, the Giants have to win with their pitching. That strategy leaves for a lot of 2-1 wins (and loses) and it can be incredibly frustrating at times. The good news is that Pablo Sandoval is having a terrific year with the bat (.363 wOBA) and a guy like Brandon Belt provides the chance for above-average offense. Whether or not the Giants will play Belt with regularity is another question entirely.

5. Much has been made about the emergence of Ryan Vogelsong. Are you aware of any reasons the Giants were able to find him and fix him?

Vogelsong’s season is truly one of those reasons why I think we all love baseball so much. To call it improbable seems like a huge understatement. We’ve sliced, diced, and examined his season a few times on the website and I think we always come away scratching our heads. His stuff is good; he generally throws a FB 90-92 with good movement that he’ll pair with a solid curveball. He also throws a slider and changeup. What has made his season has been the control and command of his pitches. This is a guy that was walking 5.9 batters per nine last year in AAA — and now he’s walking 3.06 per nine in the majors.

It’s all predicated on his control. In short: it’s an amazing story that I’m not sure how to explain. I kind of like it that way, but his stuff is good, he’s not doing it with smoke-and-mirrors.

6. Do you think the Giants could take down the Phillies in the playoffs again as they did last year?

Sure. The playoff format makes for interesting games and anyone can get hot at the right time. In last year’s playoffs the Giants were (or it felt like they were) constantly underdogs. In the end, they won the World Series. I think anyone would take their chances with the Giants’ pitching in a playoff scenario.

Bonus: Grab your crystal ball and tell us how you think this series will play out. The pitching match-ups are Lincecum-Worley, Zito-Hamels, and Cain-Kendrick.

Missing Halladay and Lee for this series is huge boost for the Giants. I’ll say the Giants can win 2-3; Lincecum beats Worley; Hamels beats Zito; Cain beats Kendrick.

. . .

Many thanks to Chris for taking time to share his perspective as a Giants blogger. Jump over to Bay City Ball to see what I had to say from the Phillies side of things. The crew at BCB do a great job of analyzing the Giants using Sabermetrics. Check out Rory Paap’s recent post on the Giants’ bullpen — there is one chart that is mind-boggling. Here’s hoping the Phillies give them something new to write about.

Phillies Pitching Dominant, Including the Bullpen

The Phillies completed their 100th game of the season yesterday, a 5-3 victory over the San Diego Padres. To mark the milestone, many dug through historical data for juicy tidbits of trivia. My contribution was this on Twitter:

Phillies have allowed only 332 runs in their first 100 games. That’s the lowest total in franchise history after the Dead Ball Era.

As the heralded faces of the pitching staff, the trio of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels receive the lion’s share of the credit for those marks. Rightly so, as the three have pitched nearly half of the team’s 910 innings. Any of the three could go into the 2012 season as the defending NL Cy Young award winner.

However, lost in the shuffle is the outstanding performance by the back end of the Phillies’ bullpen. With a perfect ninth inning yesterday, Antonio Bastardo continued a trend of dominant Phillies relief pitching. Bastardo’s ERA dropped to 1.42 while Ryan Madson sits at 2.02 and Michael Stutes at 3.38. Going into the season, only Madson was high on the Phillies’ depth charts, so the contributions by Bastardo and Stutes have certainly been unexpected. The bullpen as a whole has only blown three saves, and two of those came before the ninth inning.

Last year, FanGraphs made an attempt to improve stats for relief pitchers, since saves and holds do a very poor job on their own. They created “shutdowns” and “meltdowns”, where a pitcher increases or decreases his team’s chance of winning by six percent, respectively. Six percent is the chosen threshold to scale it to saves and holds. It is a more accurate representation of a reliever’s contributions with no arbitrary inning criteria.

Thanks to the trio in the bullpen, the Phillies have the fewest meltdowns in baseball with 28 and the third-best shutdown-to-meltdown ratio (78-to-28). Bastardo’s SD-MD “record” is 24-2; Madson, 19-3; Jose Contreras, 6-1; Stutes, 13-7.

Team

SD

MD

TOTAL

SD/MD

SD%

MD%

Giants

112

37

149

3.0

75.2%

24.8%

Braves

115

41

156

2.8

73.7%

26.3%

Phillies

78

28

106

2.8

73.6%

26.4%

Padres

93

38

131

2.4

71.0%

29.0%

Reds

85

39

124

2.2

68.5%

31.5%

Pirates

99

48

147

2.1

67.3%

32.7%

Marlins

93

49

142

1.9

65.5%

34.5%

Mets

75

42

117

1.8

64.1%

35.9%

Diamondbacks

79

45

124

1.8

63.7%

36.3%

Brewers

80

46

126

1.7

63.5%

36.5%

Nationals

88

52

140

1.7

62.9%

37.1%

Rockies

78

48

126

1.6

61.9%

38.1%

Cubs

69

46

115

1.5

60.0%

40.0%

Dodgers

58

40

98

1.5

59.2%

40.8%

Cardinals

71

57

128

1.2

55.5%

44.5%

Astros

48

48

96

1.0

50.0%

50.0%

Due to the great starting pitching, the Phillies’ bullpen has had significantly fewer chances than most of their National League counterparts; however, they have performed admirably when asked and it should be recognized alongside the work of the aces.

The Cole Hamels Rebound

Cole Hamels turned in his best start of the season on Friday against the San Diego Padres, tossing eight strong innings before deferring to Ryan Madson to close out the game at 3-1. Hamels allowed one run on three hits, striking out ten (tying a season-high) and walking only one. It was a stark contrast to his previous start against the New York Mets on Saturday, when he allowed seven runs and failed to get through the fifth inning.

Although his results were stellar, Hamels was not himself leading up to his start on Friday. In his prior seven starts, he posted a 2.96 ERA but struck out only 33 in 45 and two-thirds innings, a per-nine rate of 6.5. In the 13 starts prior to that selection, he struck out 91 in 90 and two-thirds innings, a per-nine rate of 9.0. Hamels wasn’t being hit hard recently nor did his batted ball profiles change in any significant way; he simply wasn’t missing bats.

What was the problem? Hamels’ velocity was never alarming. Via Joe Lefkowitz’s site (click to enlarge):

FF: Four-seam fastball; FC: Cut fastball; CH: Change-up; CU: Curve

His pitch selection didn’t differ, as the following chart illustrates:

Pitch selection by handedness plus or minus one standard deviation:

RHB

  • Change-up
    • April 5 to June 8: 17.8 +/- 5.3
    • June 14 to July 16: 17.9 +/- 6.4
  • Curve
    • April 5 to June 8: 6.8 +/- 4.3
    • June 14 to July 16: 8.1 +/- 4.3
  • Four-seam fastball
    • April 5 to June 8: 40.8 +/- 10.9
    • June 14 to July 16: 35.7 +/- 12.6
  • Cut fastball
    • April 5 to June 8: 10.4 +/- 3.2
    • June 14 to July 16: 9.6 +/- 6.1

LHB

  • Change-up
    • April 5 to June 8: 4.7 +/- 3.0
    • June 14 to July 16: 5.1 +/- 4.2
  • Curve
    • April 5 to June 8: 3.0 +/- 1.7
    • June 14 to July 16: 3.3 +/- 3.3
  • Four-seam fastball
    • April 5 to June 8: 16.2 +/- 8.1
    • June 14 to July 16: 15.4 +/- 10.0
  • Cut fastball
    • April 5 to June 8: 3.0 +/- 1.7
    • June 14 to July 16: 3.3 +/- 3.3

Finally, although swings and misses were down in the latter selection, there was no particular pitch making the difference.

Swing and miss averages plus or minus one standard deviation:

  • Change-up
  • April 5 to June 8: 6.5 +/- 2.9
  • June 14 to July 16: 5.7 +/- 4.0
  • Curve
    • April 5 to June 8: 1.4 +/- 1.1
    • June 14 to July 16: 1.0 +/- 1.4
  • Four-seam fastball
    • April 5 to June 8: 3.1 +/- 1.6
    • June 14 to July 16: 2.3 +/- 1.4
  • Cut fastball
    • April 5 to June 8: 1.5 +/- 1.7
    • June 14 to July 16: 1.1 +/- 0.7

    Is it possible that it was all random? A pitcher whose K/9 was 9.1 last year, sits at 8.4 this year, and is 8.5 for his career — could he simply have gone down to 6.5 for a span of seven starts just by sheer randomness? It appears that that is exactly the case. In fact, it is a great illustration of exactly why small sample sizes are met with such skepticism among the statistically-minded. When we notice a trend, we have been trained to think that there must be an underlying cause; we need a reason to fit our narrative, and randomness is such a boring plot line.

    The good news is that Hamels righted his ship in his last outing against the Padres, notching his 18th double-digit strikeout performance of his young career. He has matched last year’s Cy Young winner, Roy Halladay, pitch-for-pitch all season long. Not even an unfortunate bout with the baseball gods could sidetrack him from helping lead his team to the post-season.

    Phillies Should Take Rollins Off the Market

    This article was prepared unknowing that Matt Gelb and David Hale covered the same subject. For a similar take with a different spin, check out Gelb’s article for the Inquirer and Hale’s for Delaware Online.

    With three-fifths of the regular season already over, the potential end of Jimmy Rollins‘ Phillies career is closer than many realize. The 32-year-old shortstop has been a fixture of the Phillies since 2001, but his continued presence in Philly has been pushed aside with the looming free agency of Ryan Madson and (potentially) Brad Lidge, as well as the final year of arbitration for Cole Hamels. The Phillies have a lot of important decisions to make once their season is over; retaining Rollins is on the itinerary, but it doesn’t appear to be at the top of the list.

    Quietly, Rollins has rebounded from two awful, injury-plagued seasons in 2009 and ’10. In ’09, he accrued 725 plate appearances, but his overall production plummeted: his on-base percentage fell below .300 and his .250 batting average was his lowest since ’02. Last year, Rollins suffered three injuries: a calf strain, a re-aggravation of the calf strain, and a thigh strain. As a result, he came to the plate only 394 times, most of them as a shadow of his former self. His batting average dipped below .250 and hit for considerably less power; his .131 ISO was his lowest since ’03.

    In ’09 and ’10 combined, Rollins posted less fWAR than he did in ’08 alone (5.6 to 5.4). Phillies fans, as a whole, seemed to quickly jive with the idea of turning over a new leaf at shortstop. A slow start to the ’11 season by Rollins and a surprisingly productive start by prospect Freddy Galvis in Double-A Reading only seemed to reinforce those feelings. (Galvis is currently hitting .265/.319/.389.)

    Rollins appeared to have hit his stride with a 4-for-4 day against the Oakland Athletics on June 26. But he followed that up with one hit in his next 17 at-bats spanning four games. Was that all the future holds for J-Roll? One good day for every four bad days? Since the start of July, however, Rollins seems to have actually hit his stride. In 17 games, he has posted a .988 OPS with eight extra-base hits (four doubles, four homers) and five stolen bases.

    On the season, Rollins has walked exactly as often as he has struck out (40 times). His batting average and on-base percentage are at pre-2009 levels while his power is quickly catching up. His elite defense has never wavered and he is still as smart and as aggressive a base runner as he has always been. His 3.3 fWAR through 98 games this season has already surpassed that of the previous two and he is on pace for 5.3 fWAR in 700 PA. Only five shortstops have been more valuable than Rollins this year.

    J.J. Hardy, sitting on 2.1 fWAR, recently signed a three-year, $22.25 million contract extension with the Baltimore Orioles. The market for shortstops will be thin, with just Jose Reyes and Rollins leading an underwhelming group that includes Alex Gonzalez, Nick Punto, and Cesar Izturis. If the Phillies feel that committing Hardy-esque money to Rollins is ill-fated, they would have to take one of three actions: do nothing and rely on Wilson Valdez, Michael Martinez, and Galvis; go with one of the underwhelming free agent shortstops mentioned; or make a trade for a shortstop (such as Jhonny Peralta). Of course, a fourth option does exist, which is out-bid several other teams for the services of Reyes, but it is very unlikely and almost impossible that the Phillies do so.

    When you consider the available options for both the Phillies and Rollins, the continued marriage between the two makes a lot of sense. The Phillies retain a quietly very-productive shortstop who doubles as a powerful marketing tool; Rollins stays the face of a franchise, one that will have a great opportunity to win a World Series in each of the next several years. It may not happen now or even soon, but a contract extension for Rollins makes too much sense.

    Davey Lopes Effect in L.A.?

    I studied “the Davey Lopes effect” last year, an attempt to find a source for the Phillies’ success on the bases. The details are below the third question in this “Five Questions” bit about the Phillies I did at The Hardball Times. If you peruse the numbers, I think you’ll see a clear trend where the addition of Lopes coincides with improvement in both stolen base attempts (particularly third base) and success rate.

    A difference in opinion on Lopes’ salary led to his parting from Philadelphia and eventual move to Los Angeles. Compared to the league average, the Dodgers have stolen eight more bases and have been thrown out seven fewer times. Matt Kemp, with 27 stolen bases in 30 attempts (90 percent) is personally responsible for 37.5 percent of the total stolen bases and 34 percent of the total attempts, so he should be the primary focus.

    Going into 2011, Kemp was a liability on the bases. He was 104-for-143 (73 percent), which is above the general 70 percent threshold for base-stealing to be worthwhile, but he was disappointingly 19-for-34 (56 percent) in 2010. With the addition of Lopes, Kemp has become an extremely threatening base runner, in addition to his progression as a talented hitter (.968 OPS). He has attempted to steal third base six times, which is tied for a career high with two-fifths of the season remaining.

    Outside of Kemp, the Dodgers have been relying on speedy young players and grizzled veterans for stealing bases. Tony Gwynn Jr. and Dee Gordon are 22-for-28 (79 percent) combined, while Jamey Carroll, Aaron Miles, and Juan Uribe are a combined 8-for-8. For the young players, it is impossible to use the stats to see a Lopes effect; for the vets, they have not attempted nearly enough stolen bases for a difference to be meaningful.

    On a team level, the Dodgers as a whole are significantly better off this year than they had been in 2010. Although the Dodgers had the fourth-most stolen base attempts last year, they had the third-worst success rate (65 percent) and they barely broke even in 2009 (71 percent).

    Perhaps most importantly, though, the Dodgers have attempted to steal third base 16 times, 12 successfully (a pace for 26 attempts). Lopes’ trademark with the Phillies was making them aggressively take third base. As my article at THT illustrated, the Phillies went from the third percentile on third base attempts in 2006 to 97th in ’09. The Dodgers attempted to steal third 13 times last year with nine successes and were 12-for-19 in ’09.

    It is still much too early to say that Lopes has significantly affected the Dodgers’ base running, but there are some clear trends. It appears that Lopes brought the same philosophies that turned the Phillies into aggressive, efficient base running machines to Los Angeles.