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.