Investigating Ryan Howard’s Decline

Last night against the Cincinnati Reds, Ryan Howard hit two home runs and drove in three runs. The latter moved him up to 102 on the season, tied with Prince Fielder for the most in the National League. It also marked the sixth consecutive season in which Howard has driven in 100 or more runs. Along with 29 home runs, the narrative has been that Howard is having another typically great season.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. Howard is sitting on a career-low wOBA at .352, more than 30 points below his career average and 14 points below his previous career-low in 2008. His overall power, as measured by isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average), does not begin to compare with his 2005-09 seasons. Elsewhere, he cuts into some of his offensive production with well below-average base running (per FanGraphs, his -6.4 base running runs ranks second-worst in baseball) and he isn’t anything more than an average first baseman defensively. As a result, Howard has just 1.3 fWAR, placing him among the likes of Edwin Encarnacion and Alcides Escobar, not among the likes of Joey Votto (6.7 fWAR) and Adrian Gonzalez (5.7) as the narrative would have you believe.

With Howard’s five-year $125 million contract extension set to kick in after the season, there is a lot of reason for concern. He turns 32 years old in November and he isn’t developing any new skills to offset his offensive decline. Add in the fact that teams take extra steps to turn him into an out — by using a defensive shift and by utilizing left-handed relievers — and you have a potential recipe for disaster.

The problem this year has been more than his production against lefties, which is down about 30 points in wOBA compared to his career average; rather, it has been his performance against right-handed pitchers, whom he has typically battered for the bulk of his offensive production. His wOBA against RHP is down more than 40 points from his career average, amplified by the 230 extra plate appearances he has had against them as opposed to lefties.

As pointed out in early June, Howard simply isn’t going to left field the way he used to, both making the infield shift more of a nuisance and giving the pitchers extra room to make their pitches. The trend has continued, as the following spray charts from Texas Leaguers illustrate:

Howard is having a down-year in BABIP as well. His .297 mark is the second-lowest of his career and is about 30 points below his career average. For pitchers, we usually write this off as a fluke, but BABIP for hitters is different and tends to be representative of skill.

2011

Career

NL 2011

Ground

.164

.197

.237

Fly

.127

.176

.137

Line

.824

.753

.709

The increase in line drive BABIP isn’t meaningful since he hits fewer of them in comparison to the other two batted ball types and thus is more prone to randomness. Additionally, we can write off some of the decline in ground ball BABIP to randomness as well as the efficiency of the infield shift. The fly balls make up the bulk of the issue.

This appears to be a quality-of-contact problem, which is unfortunate since Howard’s eye at the plate has slightly improved. After three  years of consecutive decline in BB%, Howard brought it back up to 11%, just a shade below his career average. Additionally, against right-handed pitchers, Howard is swinging at more fastballs and less at off-speed stuff. The following table shows the rate at which he swung at each pitch type against RHP:

2010

2011

FB

43.1%

51.3%

SL

48.9%

44.5%

CU

45.3%

34.1%

CH

55.4%

50.8%

In a typical year for Howard, this change would lead to tremendous offensive production. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to turn this improved plate discipline into extra-base hits or even singles. Instead, he finds himself sandwiched between Jhonny Peralta and Matt Joyce in slugging percentage at .489.

For many people, seeing Howard’s high HR and RBI totals alongside declines in most Sabermetric statistics is hard to resolve. But even if you don’t buy into WAR, or even wOBA, it is very difficult to put a nice shine on a soon-to-be 32-year-old first baseman about to begin a five-year, $125 million contract who is declining in the only area in which he provides value. As Joe Posnanski put it last year:

That is to say … [Howard] has what Bill James has called “old-player skills.” Bill, you probably remember, immortalized Tom Brunansky by pinning him as the Old Player Skills Buddha. The concept is that players with old player skills (power and plate discipline, for instance) but without what you would have to call young player skills (speed and the ability to hit for average, for instance) tend to grow old quite fast. Brunansky was a very good player who expired between age 31 and age 32. There are many similar stories.

Maybe Howard ages gracefully, and there is enough inflation between now and 2016 to make the contract somewhat normal. But, as Posnasnski wrote, it’s not a bet the Phillies are likely to win. At $5 million per fWAR, the Phillies will be paying Howard as a four-win player in 2012. Howard would need to have a scorching-hot September to even come close to a two-win season in 2011.

Phillies Best Individual Offensive Seasons, 2006-11

On Twitter recently, there has been discussion of Shane Victorino‘s MVP candidacy. The case has been made quite often, including here, but the latest twist involves comparing Victorino to Jimmy Rollins in 2007, when the shortstop overtook David Wright and Matt Holliday for top honor in the National League. That led me to wanting to find the best offensive seasons relative to the team’s overall output, using wRC, found at FanGraphs.

The following are the top five offensive seasons ranked by the amount the player contributed to the team’s overall offense. Quite simply, the equation is (Player’s wRC / Team’s wRC).

Ryan Howard, 2006

151.1 wRC, 873.6 team wRC (17.3%)

Howard is the leader here by a wide margin. Not only was Howard the bulk of his team’s offense, he was tops in all of baseball, besting Albert Pujols in second place with 142.5 wRC. When factoring in defense and base running, Howard wasn’t really the MVP, finishing more than two fWAR behind Pujols and sitting in 10th place overall among all Major Leaguers. Nonetheless, Howard took home the hardware with sexy traditional stats including a .313 batting average, 58 home runs, and 149 RBI.

Chase Utley, 2008

121.8 wRC, 791.0 team wRC (15.4%)

In another year, Utley very well may have won the MVP award, but his 8.3 fWAR was not enough to overtake Albert Pujols at 9.1. Utley finished eighth overall in wRC, tops among second basemen. Surprisingly, this was only Utley’s third-best season in terms of wRC, finishing a shade higher the previous year (121.9, 13.2%) and with a few extra runs in 2006 (129.2, 14.8%). Utley set a career-high with 33 home runs and finished with 100-plus RBI for the fourth consecutive year.

Chase Utley, 2009

123.8 wRC, 815.3 team wRC (15.2%)

With Howard hitting a bunch of homers and driving in runs en masse, Utley’s contributions in 2009 went relatively unheralded. The big changes in Utley’s offensive repertoire from 2008 to ’09 included a four percent increase in walks and nine additional stolen bases. Utley finished sixth overall in wRC, but was once again left out of the MVP discussion given the great season Albert Pujols was having. Utley received 84 vote-points in NL MVP balloting, less than a fifth of Pujols’ first-place total of 448.

Jayson Werth, 2010

114.9 wRC, 755.8 team wRC (15.2%)

In his final year under contract before hitting free agency, Werth had a career year. Among all Major Leaguers, he finished 11th in wRC, setting a career-high with a .397 wOBA as well. He benefited from a slightly-high .352 BABIP, which dropped nearly 70 points in 2011. Most importantly, Werth was a big part of the Phillies lineup as players went down left and right. Of their eight regulars, six Phillies spent time on the disabled list; Werth was not one of them, playing in 156 regular season games. Among all Phillies from 2006-11, Werth has the biggest gap between himself and the second-best offensive contributor: Werth represented 15.2% of the Phillies’ offense while Ryan Howard was a bit behind at 12.4%.

Chase Utley, 2006

129.2 wRC, 873.6 team wRC (14.8%)

As Howard took home the NL MVP award, Utley flew under the radar as an important cog in the Phillies’ offense — a big reason why Howard was able to amass so many RBI. Utley ranked eighth in MLB in wRC. Among second basemen, no one came close to Utley; the second-best offensive second baseman that year was Dan Uggla with 94.5 wRC. Utley actually finished ahead of Howard in fWAR, 7.3 to 6.2 on account of his elite base running and world class defense. The 2006 NL MVP race focused prominently on Howard and Albert Pujols, but perhaps it should have been Pujols and Utley.

Chase Utley. Pretty good at baseball.

What the Phillies and Rays Learned About BABIP

As strange as it may sound, Cole Hamels and James Shields have a lot in common. While one earned a championship ring and World Series MVP honors in 2008 and the other did not, both have strongly benefited and suffered from the effect of BABIP. BABIP is a stat that many analysts use to infer how much of a pitcher’s successes and failures are due to factors outside of his control, such as randomness and quality of defense. Generally speaking, the average BABIP is around .300 and tends to regress back to that over longer periods of time. For example, Adam Eaton‘s career average BABIP is only .005 higher than that of Roy Halladay, .298 to .293. Over 1,000 balls in play — Eaton will give up only five more non-home run hits than Halladay.

For Hamels, 2008 was a magical season. At 24 years old, he was the ace of the Phillies’ rotation. His team had broken a lengthy playoff drought the previous year, but were swept out of the NLDS by the Colorado Rockies with surprising speed. If the Phillies were to take the next step, Hamels needed to continue his progression. He logged over 227 innings during the 2008 regular season, finishing with an ERA barely above 3.00. He started the playoffs off in style, tossing eight shut-out innings against the Milwaukee Brewers and finished the post-season with a 1.80 ERA in 35 innings, helping his team win both the first and last games of the World Series against the Rays.

With all of his success in 2008, though, there was reason for pessimism going into 2009. His K/9 had declined from 8.7 in 2007 to 7.8 while his walk and ground ball rates stayed relatively static. Moreover, he benefited significantly from a .259 BABIP. ERA retrodictors such as xFIP and SIERA had him pitching at an ERA level more than a half-run higher, around 3.60.

Hamels spent a lot of time in the off-season on the media circuit, appearing on talk-shows and showing up at many media events to promote his and his team’s enormous success. Who could blame him? Unfortunately, he spent less time than usual getting in baseball shape in the winter, and it manifested in spring training and at the start of the 2009 season. In his first start on April 10, Hamels could not get out of the fourth inning, surrendering seven runs on 11 hits. Most importantly, he struck out only one of 22 batters faced.

While Hamels was not quite that bad over the course of the 2009 season, it certainly got him off on the wrong foot and his inconsistency snowballed. He pitched through the seventh inning only 10 of his 32 starts and did so on back-to-back occasions only three times. Nevertheless, the Phillies reached the World Series for the second consecutive season, but were ushered out by the New York Yankees in six games. Hamels’ post-season was awful compared to his showing in 2008. In four starts, he posted an ugly 7.58 ERA and never got through six innings. After an ugly start in Game Three of the World Series, Hamels was brutally honest with the media, saying, “I can’t wait for it to end. It’s been mentally draining.” Unsurprisingly, that didn’t sit well with Phillies fans, especially not after the Phillies lost in the final round.

In the off-season, Hamels received an enormous amount of criticism, quite surprising given how much praise he was given exactly one year ago. Fans and media accused the young lefty of being soft and for letting his prior success get to his head. The Phillies were in trade talks during the off-season and fans were hoping Hamels could be used to leverage Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays. Ultimately, the Phillies received Halladay and kept Hamels, but sent Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners for a handful of prospects in amounted to two separate trades.

Going into 2010, there was reason for optimism with Hamels, despite the amount of vitriol fans sent in his direction. Performance-wise, 2009 was almost identical to his 2008, but the results couldn’t have been more different. Hamels’ K/9 stayed at 7.8 and his BB/9 at 2.0 while his ground ball rate remained at 40 percent. ERA retrodictors had him in exactly the same spot as in 2008; in fact, his FIP at 3.72 was exactly identical in both years. Unfortunately, Hamels was done in by bad BABIP luck. His 2009 mark of .317 was nearly 60 points higher than in ’08. As a result, Hamels allowed more base runners and stranded fewer of them, finishing with a 4.32 ERA.

Sabermetrically-oriented analysts called for a return to form for Hamels, while Phillies fans dissatisfied with his ’09 performance gave up on him. Hamels took the criticism to heart, spending more time in the off-season keeping himself in baseball shape and even working on a new pitch, a cut fastball. Hamels’ 2010 started off on the wrong foot, finishing April with a 5.28 ERA after five starts. Still, Saberists urged for patience.

As if on cue, Hamels turned the corner, tossing eight innings of one-run ball against the St. Louis Cardinals on May 4. By the end of July, his ERA was under 3.50 and Hamels had taken it to the next level. Not only did Hamels’ BABIP regress (to .289), he improved in two areas: K/9 (9.1) and ground ball rate (45 percent). The cut fastball gave him another wrench in his already-potent fastball-change-curve arsenal. Where, in the previous two seasons, ERA retrodictors had him around 3.60, Hamels finished below 3.30 in 2010.

Most importantly, he showed up in top form for the playoffs, dominating the Cincinnati Reds with a complete game shut-out in Game Three of the NLDS and keeping the San Francisco Giants at bay in Game Three of the NLCS. The Phillies were not able to reach the World Series for the third consecutive year, but fans took solace in the fact that their young ace was back. They happily included him in “four aces” discussions along with Halladay, Lee, and recent acquisition Roy Oswalt.

The Tampa Bay Rays went through something similar with right-hander James Shields. Shields’ 2008 was phenomenal, both in the regular and post-season, but he appeared to take a step back in ’09. Unlike Hamels, though, Shields’ struggles amplified in 2010. He finished with a 5.16 ERA and made one ugly start in the ALDS against the Texas Rangers, allowing four runs and failing to make it out of the fifth inning. The Rays lost the series in five games to the eventual World Series runner-up.

Shields was the blame for many of the team’s woes. As a result of his awful regular season, fans were very unhappy when he got the nod against the Rangers in the ALDS. They had already referred to him as Big Blast James (as opposed to the Big Games James moniker he earned in 2008) and James Yields. One fan was so unhappy with him that she took umbrage with his heritage.

Shields, however, was significantly better, unbeknownst to many people. On a per-nine scale, he averaged nearly 1.5 more strikeouts and ERA retrodictors identified him as a third of a run better than in the previous two seasons and more than a run and a half better than his 2010 regular season ERA. He was undone by a lofty .341 BABIP. If anything, fans should have been quite optimistic about the right-hander, but such is the chasm between performance and results.

Shields has since returned to form. Thus far in 2011, he has increased his K/9 from 8.3 to 8.6 and induced grounders at a slightly higher rate. In 27 starts, he has a 2.96 ERA and a whopping 10 complete games — even challenging the esteemed Halladay and Lee in that regard. His SIERA is an astounding 2.99, telling us that his performance this year is quite real.

Many who entrench themselves firmly in the anti-Sabermetrics camp disregard BABIP because they feel it vastly underrates how much control a pitcher has over his fortune. As Hamels and Shields have illustrated, though, BABIP is actually an excellent tool that can help us more accurately assess a pitcher’s strengths and weaknesses. While there are certainly some pitchers that aren’t properly accounted for using BABIP (e.g. Matt Cain), it does its job well for its purpose. If more people take the time to understand and properly use this statistic, the less players like Hamels and Shields are unfairly hounded for events entirely out of their control.

Schedule Inflexibility Hurts Phillies, Orioles, Others

The threat and eventual reality of Hurricane Irene caused many teams along the East coast to reformat their remaining schedules. The Phillies, for instance, rescheduled their Sunday afternoon game with the Florida Marlins to Saturday as part of a day-night double-header. Irene showed up early and washed both games out, forcing the Phillies to move both games to September 15, their last scheduled off-day of the regular season. From August 29 to September 28, the Phillies will play 33 games in 31 days.

The Baltimore Orioles have had it tougher than anyone. Along with hurricane preparation, they have had to deal with the suicide of team icon and fan-favorite Mike Flanagan. The Yankees, in an attempt to save their last remaining off-day on September 15, wanted to schedule a double-header for Friday, but the Orioles had already planned a tribute to Flanagan and did not agree to the change. Of course, this started some back-and-forth between representatives of both teams.

Ultimately, the problem lies with Major League Baseball and its rather inflexible scheduling. We had warning of Irene several days in advance, but the most any team could do was to schedule day-night double-headers either to the end of the upcoming series or to a remaining series in September, if one existed. Or, they could move a game to one of the few remaining off-days left before the end of the season.

In the past, MLB has received criticism for downtime in the post-season. As a result, the Division Series now starts on September 30, giving teams just one off-day after the end of the regular season. The DS is scheduled to last through October 7, so if the any series goes all five games, the winning team could play the very next day as the League Championship Series starts on October 8.

The MLB schedule assumes the best possible outcome, which is that all games are played as scheduled; acts of God are not an interference. While, in some years, this may turn out to be the case, when an act of God does mess up the scheduling, MLB should be more flexible in giving teams additional days in which to make up their games. A team should not be forced to cram two double-headers into a schedule that no longer includes off-days in the next calendar month.

What the inflexibility forces teams to do is take unnecessary risks with their players. There is a reason why the MLBPA agreement stipulates that teams cannot be scheduled to play on more than 20 consecutive days — injury risk. The Players Association is there to look out for the players’ best interests; MLB does not, insofar as the players continue to make them money.

Wouldn’t it be an awful post-season if the Phillies limped into the post-season with several additional players on the DL because of the unfair and inflexible scheduling, and couldn’t put their best lineup on the field? If you are a fan of a team not involved in the post-season, would you watch a game where the Phillies put out a lineup that includes Wilson Valdez at shortstop, Michael Martinez at third base, and Ben Francisco in the outfield? How would that be good for baseball?

As the MLBPA agreement will be up for debate after the season, it is a good time to add more stipulations to the scheduling rules and add in some flexibility. Balancing that flexibility with the concerns of the season being too long — there have been suggestions to cut the regular season by a few games — will be tough, but ultimately, it will have everyone’s interests at heart: the players first and foremost, valuing their short- and long-term health; the teams, for the aforementioned reason; the fans, by ensuring that teams have a reasonable ability to put the best team on the field at all times; and MLB, by protecting its assets (the players).

Just to throw an idea out there, teams could have a “flex week”, which is basically a week after the regular season where they would have time to make up any games not able to be reasonably rescheduled during the regular season, assuming they must be made up (i.e. would have an effect on post-season berths or seeding). The start of the post-season would be pushed back to allow these games to be made up. If no team needs to take advantage of this “flex week”, then the playoffs kick off as scheduled.

Obviously, that’s just one rough idea, but it’s a start and better than what exists currently, which is a rigid, unforgiving schedule that benefits exactly no one.

Sarge Is Awesome [.gifs]

Just a warning to you low-bandwidth, slow-computer people: there will be many .gifs after the jump, so don’t click through if you can’t handle it.

Staked to a four-run lead, the New York Mets wanted to get Mike Pelfrey through the bottom of the sixth inning as he was at the end of his rope, throwing over 120 pitches. With two outs and the bases empty, he had to get past Placido Polanco before hitting the showers. Polanco, as he always does, worked the count well, fouling a few pitches off and getting to 2-2. Pelfrey decided to throw him an inside slider, but went a bit too far inside, nearly hitting Polanco. Those of us watching on TV wondered if the ball grazed his uniform, but alas, it did not. 3-2 count.

Pelfrey then started jawing at Polanco for seemingly no reason. Broadcaster Tom McCarthy speculated that it was because Pelfrey thought Polanco was trying to lean into the pitch to get a free trip to first base. Polanco was as surprised as anybody to hear the criticism. The .gifs show this story unfolding in hilarious fashion. Click the link to watch the scene.

Continue reading…

The Cost of Injuries

Last year, one of the more popular recurring articles here was the accounting of the Phillies’ various injuries. If you can recall, the Phillies were absolutely ravaged by them last year; in fact, the only regular position players not to miss time due to an injury were Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez. This year is a different story. While the Phillies have had to deal with injuries, the effect has not been felt nearly as much on account of the extreme amount of success they have enjoyed throughout the season. After 128 games last year, the Phillies were 71-57, two games behind in second place. This year, they are 83-45, six games ahead in first place.

The Phillies’ WPHL broadcast posted this interesting graphic in the opener on Tuesday, detailing the long list of injuries suffered this year:

For those keeping score at home, that is 15 different players losing time to injury.

Using information from Cot’s Contracts, we are able to find out how much the injuries are costing the Phillies. Below is a table with the totals and a graph to put it in perspective.

Player Absent $/Gm $ to Date Cost
Lidge 100 $70,988 $9.09M $7.10M
Oswalt 56 $98,765 $12.64M $5.53M
Blanton 100 $52,469 $6.72M $5.25M
Utley 46 $92,593 $11.85M $4.26M
Contreras 111 $15,432 $1.98M $1.71M
Victorino 26 $46,296 $5.93M $1.20M
Polanco 33 $32,407 $4.15M $1.07M
Madson 20 $27,778 $3.56M $0.56M
Schneider 41 $9,259 $1.19M $0.38M
Ruiz 13 $16,975 $2.17M $0.22M
Rollins 3 $52,469 $6.72M $0.16M
Hamels 2 $58,642 $7.51M $0.12M
Romero 14 $8,333 $1.07M $0.12M
Brown 44 $2,556 $0.33M $0.11M

(click to enlarge)

Players listed as day-to-day were excluded, as was Brian Bocock.

The 14 players above have combined for nearly $28 million in missed time, not including the pro-rated salaries of the players who were added to the 25-man roster as replacements, such as Dane Sardinha, Pete Orr, Mike Zagurski, and Juan Perez.

Compared to mid-September last year, the Phillies have actually had more money spent on injured players, even though fewer players have been injured. On September 18, 2010, injuries had cost the Phillies $19.2 million on 582 DL-days. This year, $27.8 million has spent spent on 609 DL-days. Additionally, only one player had spent 70 or more days on the DL — J.A. Happ, 88 days — while three have done so this year. In fact, three players have lost 100 or more days to the DL: Brad Lidge and Joe Blanton with 100, and Jose Contreras with 111.

What is important to note is that the Phillies’ injuries in 2011 have targeted mostly non-essential players. Brad Lidge was, at best, a #3 on the Phillies’ bullpen depth chart going into the season. Roy Oswalt was #4 in the rotation behind Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels; Joe Blanton was #5. At various points last year, the Phillies went without half or more of their starting infield. As an example, when Halladay threw his perfect game against the Florida Marlins on May 29, 2010, Wilson Valdez started at shortstop and Juan Castro started at third base.

Overall, injuries this year haven’t had much of an effect on the Phillies’ ability to perform. Not only have they had significantly more breathing room, but they have had their optimal lineup (or close to it), both in terms of offense and pitching, for much of the season. The Phillies may have lost more in salary, but this year’s injury bug is not nearly as threatening.

Update on Shutdowns/Meltdowns

With the recent implosions by Phillies relievers, coupled with the season-ending injury of Jose Contreras and the debut of Michael Schwimer, much of the discussion about the Phillies recently has centered around the bullpen. After all, the starting pitching has been pristine as always and the offense has not caused any concerns ever since Chase Utley came back. As the Fightins are the class of the National League, the big concerns lie not with the rest of the regular season, but with the playoffs. Will the Phillies’ bullpen be good enough in October?

About a month ago, I wrote about the bullpen using stats from FanGraphs called shutdowns and meltdowns. The two stats track a reliever’s contributions to his team’s chances of winning the game. Increase the probability of winning by six percent or more, get a shutdown; hurt your team’s odds of winning by six percent or more, get a meltdown. At the time, it was no surprise just how well the Phillies graded out. To that point, Ryan Madson had been lights out and Antonio Bastardo was nearly unhittable.

With two depressing losses against the Washington Nationals — one where Madson gave up six runs in the bottom of the ninth, and another where Bastardo allowed a two-strike, two-out game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth — the bullpen was starting to look vaguely human. Fans on Twitter started worrying and talk radio callers prophesied doomsday scenarios; the team on pace for 105 wins was growing a bald spot!

The bullpen is not an issue — not even close. The Phillies have the second-best shutdown-to-meltdown ratio in all of baseball at 2.8 percent, exceeded only by the Atlanta Braves (3.1) and tied with the San Francisco Giants. That’s quite good company to keep. The Phillies also have the fewest meltdowns in baseball with just 35. The Boston Red Sox have the second-fewest with 40; the MLB average is 53.

Obviously, a factor in the Phillies rarely melting down is having few opportunities in which to melt down. The starting rotation eats up the lion’s share of the innings, a fact that should surprise nobody. In fact, in four fewer games, Phillies starters have pitched 37 more innings than the Milwaukee Brewers in second place with 799.2 starter innings pitched. Additionally, Phillies starters have tossed 15 complete games, a whopping nine more than the Los Angeles Dodgers, in second place with six.

On an individual level, Bastardo ranks among the elite. Just five relievers in Major League Baseball have a shutdown-to-meltdown ratio at 10.0 or greater; Bastardo is one of them.

Name Team SD MD TOT SD/MD
Greg Holland Royals 19 1 20 19.0
Jonny Venters Braves 43 3 46 14.3
Jonathan Papelbon Red Sox 27 2 29 13.5
John Axford Brewers 37 3 40 12.3
Antonio Bastardo Phillies 30 3 33 10.0

Madson isn’t far behind at 24-4 with a SD/MD ratio of 6.0, good for eighth place.

The Phillies may not have the best bullpen in baseball, but they are as safe as anybody if the starters can get through seven innings with a lead. Going into the post-season, the Phillies are just fine with the bullpen as presently constructed.

Your Twitter Questions Answered

Contracts and likelihood aside for a moment, who would you rather have at 1B: Ryan Howard or Jim Thome? (@TVGugs)

Ryan Howard, and it’s not as close as you’d think. Thome hasn’t played first base since 2007 and he hasn’t played there regularly since he was last a Phillie in 2005. I couldn’t see Thome being an asset defensively at first base. And for all the grief that Howard gets from the Saber crowd, he’s not awful defensively. It seems like first basemen are underrated defensively by UZR, so I take his 0.2, -12.6, and -4.6 marks from 2009-11 to tell me he’s about average. Offensively, the two players are about the same with Thome being a little bit better in the getting-on-base department.

With advanced metrics, where does Carlton’s ’72 season rank all-time? (@Pat_Donovan)

Unfortunately, FanGraphs doesn’t have a Play Index and Baseball Reference won’t let you search for FIP with its PI, so I can’t give a straight-up answer to that. However, I think it’s safe to say his 2.01 FIP (which was only four points higher than his ERA) is among the best. Not quite as good as 1997-2001 Pedro Martinez, but elite nonetheless. Martinez’s dominance was quite impressive because it came in the apex of the super-offense era (I refuse to call it the “steroid era”) when the average AL team scored five runs per game; in 1972, the average was 3.5 runs per game.

Jimmy’s injury… does this make it more or less likely he re-signs with the Phillies? Or, no effect? (@FelskeFiles)

Unless the injury is more serious than we think, and if it affects his performance, then it will be a hot button issue, but for now, it’s not going to affect anything. As long as Jimmy can use the off-season to recharge the ol’ batteries, there will be a few teams getting in line early to negotiate with him if the Phillies don’t get to him first. There just aren’t that many great shortstops in baseball, so if teams have to take a risk with an injury-prone player, they will. Jose Reyes is going to get a boatload of money in the off-season and he hasn’t even reached 100 games played this season.

what team is the least favorable post season matchup for the Phils? Giants? Brewers? Braves? (@bje79)

I think it’s pretty clearly the Atlanta Braves. The NL West may as well be the Triple-A of the National League, and the Milwaukee Brewers have been extremely lucky especially as of late. At the moment, they are out-performing their Pythagorean record by seven games. If the Braves are able to get Jason Heyward rolling (and in the lineup consistently), the Braves could be trouble in a best-of-seven series. On a good night, their starting pitching can go toe-to-toe with the Phillies’, so it is just a matter of a few favorable rolls of the die. And there is just no recourse once they get to the eighth inning with a lead.

Whom do you see as the Phillies closer in 2012? (@tholzerman)

That’s a tough question. I can see them going down any number of paths: re-signing Ryan Madson, going with Antonio Bastardo, or going after a free agent. At the moment, the Phillies already have $113 million tied up in 2012, going to nine players (assumes Roy Oswalt and Brad Lidge‘s contracts will be bought out). I see the Phillies retaining Rollins at something close to three years, $39 million, so bump that up to around $126 million to ten players. The Phillies have been mindful of the luxury tax at $178 million, so that leaves them with a bit over $50 million for 15 roster spaces.

The next question is figuring out what it would take to retain Madson’s services. Given that his agent is Scott Boras and that he has emerged as a top-tier reliever with closer experience, I don’t see him settling the way he did back in 2009. If the Phillies have learned anything from the Brad Lidge scenario, it’s that bad things happen when you tie up a lot of money and years into a relief pitcher. It’s tough to say if they did learn that lesson; if they did, Bastardo will get the nod.

If I had to put it in percentages, I’d say 45% they stay with Madson, 45% they go with Bastardo, and 10% they go with a free agent closer.

Would it be too arrogant of the Phillies to let Cliff Lee DH a game in the World Series? (@skirkmcguirk)

Yes. But seriously, though, he can’t be any worse than Ross Gload, right? Lee’s .592 OPS puts him ahead of Pete Orr (.590), Michael Martinez (.550), Brian Schneider (.539), and Gload (.530) — and just behind Wilson Valdez (.592). Lee’s two homers tie or exceed everyone else’s total on the bench except Ben Francisco (6) and John Mayberry (10).

who is your favorite player excluding Ryan Howard? (@Giving_Chase)

Chase Utley. Not even close.

I’ll ask a serious question – What’s the max $ you’d give to Rollins? (@LoganDobson)

PECOTA sees Rollins as a ~2.3 WARP player on average over the next three years. At $5 million per WARP, he would be worth about $11-12 million annually. I would be fine between 3/$36M and 3/$42M but I could see him getting offered more than that if his health problems aren’t an issue and if Jose Reyes makes a killing on the open market. I don’t have a problem if the Phillies overpay Rollins a bit.

What do you expect from John Mayberry, for the remainder of this year and next? (@DashTreyhorn)

I have to play Debbie Downer with Yayberry. I think his success this year is a combination of a small sample size, pitcher unfamiliarity, and favorable conditions — he usually pinch-hits or starts games in situations that would favor him. He has had the platoon advantage in 41 percent of his plate appearances. To put that in perspective, among right-handed hitters with 200 or more plate appearances, only Xavier Nady (51%) and Matt Diaz (50%) have had the platoon advantage more frequently than Mayberry.

Remember how good Ryan Howard was when he entered the league? Pitchers tried to get him out every which way and Howard kept hitting the ball out of the ballpark. Eventually, though, they found his Achilles heel — left-handed pitchers throwing slop that breaks low and away, out of the strike zone. The same will happen to Mayberry. We have yet to see how he adapts, so the real test has yet to come.

victorino’s MVP chances? (@mikemcgoo)

Unless he goes on a tear over the next six weeks, I’d say pretty slim. Justin Upton is an outfielder having a better year and he is a much more well-known name, so if he keeps it up, I think he ends up with the hardware. If the Arizona Diamondbacks reach the post-season, he will only gain more favor of the “MVP must come from a playoff team” crowd.

Additionally, Victorino has missed time with two stints on the DL and a two-game suspension. While Upton has played in 127 games, Victorino has only played in 97. At FanGraphs, TangoTiger polled the readers to see how much playing a game was worth, and came away debiting a player 0.35 runs for missing a game. 30 games times 0.35 is 10.5 runs, or a little over one win.

Victorino should at least be in the discussion, though.

beyond this year, what would be the ideal lineup next season for the phillies (assuming no signings)? (@santo_caruso)

With the caveat that lineup construction doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, I’d go with Victorino-Utley-Pence-Howard-Rollins-Ruiz-Mayberry-Polanco-Pitcher. Not sure how that matches up with the most optimal lineup, but I think it makes sense.

Are the Phillies going to make ANY free agent signings this winter? If so, what position and who is possible? (@AntsinIN)

A lot of it depends on how the negotiations with Rollins play out. If Rollins leaves, they could go after a lower-tier shortstop; I don’t see them getting involved in the Jose Reyes sweepstakes. Also, as mentioned above, I could see them signing a free agent closer like Heath Bell.

Which reliever do you trust the most right now after Madstardo? And how would Worley figure in the playoff ‘pen?

Personally, I like Michael Schwimer even though he’s only pitched three innings in the Majors. He has decent strikeout stuff and good control, both two very important things to have as a reliever (and as a pitcher in general). If you want to hold his lack of MLB experience against me, my next answer would be David Herndon. I’ve been harsh to the guy in the past, but he found a way to miss more bats while still getting the same amount of ground balls. He is significantly better than he was last year.

If you could choose the stats shown on the scoreboard at CBP, what would you pick (keeping in mind the audience)? (@bsullivan_)

I’d just take RBI off. People don’t look at the scoreboard to analyze a player, so cluttering it up with more advanced stats would be pointless. But I would totally remove RBI because the continued ubiquity of the stat engenders bad habits.

Is mayberry making a case for the startimg OF job next year? (@CubeSide)

I wanted to answer “no” to this question, but really, he is. Domonic Brown isn’t doing so well in Triple-A right now (granted, it’s a small sample) and Mayberry has been on a tear. Everyone should hope that Brown has the left field job to himself going into 2012, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case. After all, teams love to add competition and making Brown fret may be another means of motivation.

What’s your stance on the cy young? Lee is making a statement so Doc isn’t such an easy shoe-in…

Overall, I really don’t care about anything the Baseball Writers Association of America gets involved with anymore. I used to care about the awards but they’re just not a big deal to me anymore. As to who wins, there’s still time for a late push, but Roy Halladay is the overwhelming favorite at this point.

What we do about power off the bench? (@Caoimhin89)

It’s not much of a problem. Everyone remembers the Matt Stairs home run, but 99% of the important plate appearances in the playoffs will be taken by players in the starting lineup. Having a bat off the bench who can pop a home run is a nice thing to have, but not a necessity. The Phillies are fine going into the playoffs with the bench they have currently, assuming Rollins is able to get back in the lineup.

realistic odds Phils add Thome on waivers? (@mthompson303)

Zero percent. Well, it’s non-zero, but virtually zero, anyway. Hard to see Thome not being claimed by 29 other teams.

should the Phillies leave Mayberry in and use Raul as a LHB off the bench or keep splitting the time bt them? (@yiliu5)

If there is anything to Ibanez’s monthly trends, going forward with Ibanez playing every day may not be so bad. Barring that, Mayberry is significantly more productive than Ibanez not just offensively, but defensively and on the bases as well. We’re at the point where Ibanez is simply a liability and the less playing time he gets, the better.

Twitter Q&A

As I was preparing to head into Philly to tape today’s episode of “Stathead“, I received note that the show was cancelled and would return next Tuesday. So, I have a bit of free time and there’s nothing in the blog queue. To fill both my free time and get some content up for you guys, I’m going to do a Twitter Q&A, completely stealing the idea from Craig Calcaterra. If you’d like to ask me a question about the Phillies, follow me on Twitter, then send me a question. I’ll try to answer them all, but don’t take it personally if I don’t get to yours.