Pre-Order “100 Things”

You’ve probably heard me hint that I had been working on and recently finished writing a book. I’m pleased to announce that you may now pre-order 100 Things Phillies Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die with an expected release of March 1, 2012. It should be available on most major websites such as Barnes & Noble, Overstock, and such. Here is a link to the book on Amazon, where you can save 32% with a $10.17 payment.

The book description from Amazon:

Compiling 130 years of the Phillies, this handbook offers dedicated information to fans of Philadelphia’s favorite baseball team. Topics covered include personalities, events, and facts that every fan should know without hesitation, such as important dates, player nicknames, and memorable moments. This guide to all things Phillies also includes a list of must-do Phillies-related activities, which include visiting the birthplace of Grover Clevelend Alexander, finding the best Phillies bars in the City of Brotherly Love, and searching for the remnants of the Baker Bowl.

The book is not centered around Sabermetrics and I tried not to make heavy use of them. As a result, it should be an enjoyable read for baseball fans of all backgrounds.

Just Say No to Heath Bell

Over the last few days, I’ve listened to and heard the off-season blueprints of many a fan and pundit. Surprisingly (at least to me), Heath Bell‘s name was brought up in quite a few of them. While I am against signing relievers to long-term contracts in general, I can understand clamoring for really good relievers even if the contract may be a bit unfavorable.

Bell, however, comes with significant warning signs. First of all, he is 34 years old. The same people I’ve seen claiming the Phillies need to get younger also seem to be in favor of going after Bell, which doesn’t make sense to me. Brad Lidge‘s last three seasons — besmirched by injuries and poor performances — came in his age 32-34 seasons, when he had landed on the 15-day disabled list just once in his career entering his new contract. Needless to say, Bell’s age 34-36 seasons will come with significant risk.

Perhaps most discouraging is the precipitous decline in Bell’s strikeout rate. In 2009-10, when he ranked among baseball’s best relievers, Bell struck out 28 and 30 percent of hitters, respectively. This past season, he struck out less than 20 percent of batters faced. He set a career low in swinging strike rate at 8.3 percent, just the second time in his career he finished with a rate under nine percent.

To put Bell’s performance in context, Chad Durbin finished the season with nearly identical strikeout and walk rates compared to Bell. Durbin struck out 19 percent and walked 8 percent while Bell struck out 20 percent and walked 8 percent. Would you sign Durbin to a three-year, $30 million contract?

Bell ended 2011 with a 2.44 ERA, the third consecutive season he posted a sub-3.00 ERA and the fourth time he’s done it in the last five seasons. Despite having no unique batted ball skills, Bell benefited from a .261 BABIP, part of the reason there was such a disparity between his ERA and the various retrodictors out there (3.67 xFIP, 3.50 SIERA). Essentially, if Bell had normal batted ball luck, he wouldn’t be nearly as high on fans’ wish lists as he is currently.

For a bit of a cautionary tale, look at Jonathan Broxton from 2009 to 2010. If he was a free agent after the 2010 season, some unlucky team would have signed him to a multi-year contract for a lot of money, and he did not have anywhere near the same misleading batted ball fortune as Bell (.366 BABIP). Although Broxton’s woes go beyond not missing bats, some of the same warning signs are present in Bell, who is seven years older.

Now, Jonathan Papelbon is someone I could empathize with coveting. His strikeout and walk rates have ranged from great to incredible, with a career strikeout-to-walk rate at 4.4 (Bell’s is 3.1, for good measure). Even better, Papelbon has been allowing fewer and fewer fly balls (a significant portion of which, by the way, do not leave the infield) and has not been prone to giving up home runs.

If you’re going to sign a reliever to a bad contract, sign Papelbon and stay away from Bell.

A 1993 Retrospective

A few days ago, while doing research for my book, 100 Things Phillies Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, I scanned over the 1993 Phillies page on Baseball Reference. I can’t remember who, but someone aptly referred to that team as Saber-porn when I mentioned it on Twitter. Maybe it’s because 1993 was a year in which blogs and Twitter were not yet a thing, but it seems like that Phillies team doesn’t get its due credit for being Saber-savvy.

One word I found fitting to describe that offense was relentless. The Phillies led the league with a .351 on-base percentage. John Kruk, astoundingly, finished the year with a .430 OBP* while Lenny Dykstra wasn’t far behind at .420. Kevin Stocker finished at .409 and Darren Daulton came in at .392. Dykstra, Daulton, and Kruk drew 129, 117, and 111 walks, respectively.

* Is Kruk one of the most underrated hitters off all time? He retired with a .397 career on-base percentage. Since 1961, Kruk is one of just 20 players to finish with a career OBP at .395 or better. The list is filled with current and future Hall of Famers. Obviously, Kruk has the fewest plate appearances of anyone on the list, but it is impressive nonetheless.

The Phillies outpaced the National League with 877 runs scored, averaging 5.4 runs per game. Although the league average RPG increased from 3.9 in 1992 to 4.5 in ’93, it was not yet at “steroid era” levels (e.g. 5.0 RPG in 1999-2000). The Phillies finished fifth in the league with 156 home runs. However, the Phillies led in hits (1,555) and doubles (297) with the second-most triples (51). As expected, the Phillies weren’t mobile on the bases (second-fewest stolen bases, 91) but were efficient (74 percent success rate was second-best).

Manager Jim Fregosi squeezed additional runs out of his team by utilizing platoons in left and right field as well as second base and shortstop. As a result, the Phillies had the best OPS in the league against right-handed pitching (.765) and the second-highest OPS against lefties (.802). In left field, Pete Incaviglia handled lefties (.904 OPS) while Milt Thompson faced mostly right-handers (.745 OPS). In right field, Jim Eisenreich faced right-handers (.816) and Wes Chamberlain faced lefties (.986). Although Mariano Duncan didn’t have much of a platoon split (.721 vs. RHP/.720 vs. LHP), he spent time at both second base and shortstop. Second baseman Mickey Morandini‘s .688 OPS was more than 100 points higher than against lefties whom he faced only about 25 percent of the time. At shortstop, the switch-hitting Kevin Stocker hit lefties well (.936) but faced them at about half the rate as right-handers (.780).

The Phillies finished with the fifth-highest percentage of plate appearances with the platoon advantage (65 percent) despite having only two switch-hitters rack up 100 or more trips to the dish. The four teams ahead of them had the benefit of many switch hitters:

  • New York Mets (77 percent, eight switch hitters)
  • Atlanta Braves (68 percent, four switch-hitters)
  • Florida Marlins (67 percent, five switch-hitters)
  • St. Louis Cardinals (66 percent, five switch-hitters)

Early in 2010, I explained why I felt the Phillies were more Sabermetrically-inclined than they let on. Like the 1993 team, the Phillies teams of the 2000’s drew a lot of walks and stole bases with great efficiency. Additionally, the Phillies have ranked in the top-five in platoon advantage percentage going all the way back to 2005, including having the second-highest percentage in two out of the last three seasons. Is it a coincidence that, under two different managers, the Phillies have been so consistent in seeking the platoon advantage?

The Phillies have left a lot to be desired over the last couple years offensively. Some of the problems can be blamed on injuries (Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins) while others can be blamed on general decline (Placido Polanco, Raul Ibanez). With the team’s weaknesses being patently obvious, it may make sense to go with a platoon at shortstop in the event Jimmy Rollins leaves, find a left-handed hitter that can split time with Polanco at third base, and maybe even use a two-headed monster at first in the wake of Ryan Howard‘s injury. With a starting rotation that figures to be just as elite in 2012 as it was in 2011, the Phillies do not have to scramble to fix their flaws; they simply need to mimic the 1993 Phillies by making smart, calculated personnel decisions.

Ryan Madson’s Free Agency

Previous update (October 24, 2011):

  • The Nationals may be interested in signing Madson: source.

Paul’s Take: Hm. Where have we heard this one before? An impending Phillies free agent being lured to the nation’s capital on the promise of a career payday? Well, it seems Ryan Madson may be the next such Philly player, joining Jayson Werth, to consider fleeing south. Madson has emerged as one of baseball’s better relievers over the past few seasons – 204 strikeouts in 191 innings since the start of 2009, and an even 4:1 K:BB ratio – but the Phils may have used their Get Out of Jail Free card with Madson’s agent, Scott Boras, when they signed him to a three-year deal before that ’09 season. That deal bought out two free agent years, and Madson may be itching to see what he may have missed out on earlier.

Ryan’s Take: I’m already wondering whether it is worth signing a reliever to Madson’s actual market value. If the Nationals are going to rerun the 2010 offseason and top that value by 30% or more, I’ll be bidding another bittersweet farewell. Madson, by all accounts, loves pitching in Philadelphia, but it sounds so far as if the offers he’ll be seeing this winter will be impossible to turn down. Amaro’s recent comments about looking outside the organization for a veteran reliever portend a serious overpay on the part of the Phillies. Bill was absolutely right when he wrote that the Phillies would do well to be thrifty in assembling the 2012 bullpen, given all we know about relievers and the market for them. Madson’s possible departure, while a definite loss, gives them an opportunity to re-allocate money to other areas of need, and presently, if you believe Amaro’s media face, the Phillies may squander that opportunity entirely.

Bill’s Take: Not much that I can add here. Regular readers of the blog know how much of a Madson fan I am, but I don’t want to keep him at a Boras price. Even if the Phillies raise payroll a bit, I think they would have  hard time adequately plugging every hole while committing, let’s say, $12 million for Madson starting next season. I also have no qualms about going into 2012 with Antonio Bastardo or Jose Contreras as the closer. The one downside I see to passing over Madson is that Amaro said he wants to get a veteran closer from outside the organization. When I hear that, I think of Heath Bell and cringe.

Guest Post: Where Have All the Prospects Gone?

This is a guest post by Ben Skalina. You can follow him on Twitter @TweetaSkalina. If you would like to submit a guest post, send an email with the subject “guest post” to crashburnalley [at] gmail [dot] com.

Where have all the prospects gone? An examination of the Phillies’ habit of trading prospects for veterans.

Beginning in 2008, Ruben Amaro and Pat Gillick have made a series of headline-grabbing deals for Major League talent, leveraging the Phillies strong minor league system for help to push the senior squad over the tap. The deals, in order:

I am going to withhold comment on the Pence trade for now, as all involved are roughly at the same place they were when the deal was consummated in July.

The Blanton Deal

Kentucky Joe was brought in to provide a steady innings-eating presence in the middle of the rotation in July 2008, and the move paid off big-time as Blanton helped the Phils win their first World Series in 28 years. Despite dealing with injury issues, Blanton has been productive when healthy. He figures as the fifth starter next year.

The Athletics got two of the Phillies top five prospects at the time in return — Outman and Cardenas. Outman has been decent when healthy but has yet to establish himself as capable of holding down a rotation spot for a whole season and has struggled with control as well. Cardenas has yet to make his major-league debut, and as a 24-year-old infield prospect with a .303/.368/.413 career minor-league line projects as more of a utility guy than a starter. Spencer was mostly a throw-in and has not exceeded those expectations.

The Phillies properly assessed Outman’s mechanical difficulties and Cardenas’ ceiling and sold the pair before their value dropped. Blanton’s roughly 5 WAR with the Phillies hasn’t set the world on fire, but he has been a useful player for the team, and his injury problems this season were probably made worse by the team’s poor management of said health issues.

The Lee Deal

This was Philadelphia’s introduction to Ruben Amaro the Dealmaker. All the smoke around the trade deadline centered on the rookie GM trying to pry Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays without giving up Domonic Brown. In the background, though, Amaro quietly found himself an ace who wasn’t even on the trade market. The deal was widely praised, as Amaro was able to pick up Lee and Ben Francisco for a deal centered around a fireballing 18-year-old in A-ball (Knapp).

Knapp has been hurt since the deal went down; he has recorded just 40 innings in the Indians organization to go with a pair of shoulder surgeries. He could get healthy and move quickly, but the odds get longer every time a surgeon cuts his arm open.

Carrasco was pegged as a midrotation talent at the time of the trade, and he seemed to fulfill that potential this season, posting 1.4 wins above replacement on the strength of a 4.28 FIP over 124 innings. He limited the walks and kept the ball on the ground, and looks to be a big part of the Cleveland rotation for the next few years.

Marson and Donald have both settled in as backups, generating a combined 2.6 WAR with the Indians. While both their contributions could have been useful for the Phillies, their relatively fringy impact isn’t something the front office is worried about.

On the balance, both teams got what they needed out of this swap. The Indians were able to get some controllable young talent in exchange for a player they were going to have to trade away. The Phillies got an elite starting pitcher in his prime and a useful fourth outfielder, and sold Knapp at his absolute peak value.

The Halladay Deal

Roy Halladay. The end.

I’m sure the Phillies would like Travis D’Arnaud back, however. The .311/.371/.542 (.231 ISO)(!) line he put up at AA last year would fit in any lineup, and elevated D’Arnaud to one of the most talked-about prospects in baseball.

Again, both teams got what they wanted in this deal. The Phillies dealt from their organizational strengths at the time and the Blue Jays got back a nice mix of high-upside talent. If you include Anthony Gose as part of the Blue Jays’ return for Halladay (via Brett Wallace via Michael Taylor) they got back three potential above-average regulars, a nice haul considering they had little leverage in the deal.

The Oswalt Deal

This was another coup for Amaro, as he nabbed one-and-a-third seasons of Oswalt (plus $11 million to cover something like half of his salary for that time) in exchange for little more than Anthony Gose. Oswalt was fantastic during the 2010 stretch run, posting a 3.13 FIP and 7-1 record, and overall contributed 4.5 WAR to the Fightins at a cost of $12 million, assuming the team takes his $2 million buyout this winter.

A lottery ticket centerfield prospect, Gose made a huge jump forward in 2011, posting career highs in walk rate and Isolated Power. His final .253/.349/.415 line bested league average by 24 percent. When you throw potential 75-80 grades for his throwing arm and baserunning (69 steals in 84 attempts this year), he represents the complete package in a centerfielder. With a good start at AAA in 2012 he could be in the majors sometime next year.

Villar was aggressively promoted to AA alongside Gose for 2011, and kept his head above water with a .231/.301/.386 line. Considering he only turned 20 in May, it was a pretty good season.

Overall, the Phillies shouldn’t regret this deal, but they did pay a heavy price, giving up two choice up-the-middle prospects for Oswalt. That said, Oswalt filled a need relatively cheaply and ranged from good to great when he was healthy for the Phillies, and neither Gose nor Villar was essential to the future.

The Conclusion

In total, the Phillies have given up six blue-chip prospects — Knapp, Drabek, D’Arnaud, Gose, Singleton and Cosart — plus several others who project as big-league subs at worst. Looking at the current Phillies roster and the holes to be filled this offseason and next, there isn’t a ton of overlap beyond Shane Victorino and Anthony Gose.

Still, the Phillies have not mortgaged their future. The ATM machine that is Citizens Bank Park continues to spit out cash for the Phillies’ management team to spend. If Jimmy Rollins isn’t at shortstop, and Ryan Madson isn’t closing, there are appropriate resources to patch those holes.

The important thing to note is that the machinery which produced these useful trade chips continues to churn out talent. The fivesome of Trevor May, Jesse Biddle, Brody Colvin, Jon Pettibone, and Julio Rodriguez are regarded highly both in the organization and around baseball. Freddy Galvis made huge strides in 2011. The draft brought a pair of high-upside shortstops to the system in Tyler Green and Mitchell Walding. Teenagers Brian Pointer and Maikel Franco had strong showings in the low minors. I could go on and on.

Can the Phillies afford to trade away three or four of their top 10 prospects every year? Maybe they can. They have shown they will do what it takes to hold onto the true cream (Domonic Brown) while letting other teams pick at the seconds. And despite all the trades, they system has produced plenty of talent for the big club: Brown, John Mayberry, Antonio Bastardo, Vance Worley, Michael Stutes and Michael Schwimer all saw extensive action in 2011, and Justin De Fratus, Joe Savery and Phillippe Aumont figure to join them in 2012.

The sky is not falling. The window is not closing. Even if Jimmy Rollins leaves in free agency this year, and Shane Victorino does next year, new players will take their place. The Phillies will continue to win.

Thanks to Ben for the submission. Follow him on Twitter @TweetaSkalina.

Keep Howard Off the Plate?

One of the common refrains during the playoffs was that Ryan Howard was too far off the plate, hindering his ability to reach outside pitches. It is true: Howard was further off the plate than he had been last year. Compare the following two screen caps.

2011

2010

While the camera views are slightly different, you can see that Howard’s foot is on the chalk of the left-handed batter’s box in the image from this season (September 15 vs. Marlins) while his back foot is in the middle of the batter’s box in last year’s image (April 17 vs. Marlins).

The question is: did this actually hinder his ability to reach outside pitches and put quality swings on them? As best as I can tell, the answer is no. Using data and heat maps from ESPN Stats & Information, I compared Howard’s numbers on the outer-third of the plate and further in 2010 and ’11. (Click to enlarge)

2011

2010

Howard’s coverage wasn’t quite as good up in the strike zone, but he handled lower pitches better. Overall, the difference is minimal.

Year AVG OBP SLUG OPS K% BB% HR% BABIP wOBA ISO
2010 .271 .359 .473 .832 24.9% 12.5% 5.5% .323 .347 .202
2011 .256 .363 .458 .821 24.6% 14.7% 5.1% .307 .342 .202

On outside pitches classified as “hard” (fastballs, cutters, sinkers, and splitters), there wasn’t much of a difference. Howard’s ISO dropped from .277 to .265 while his average rose from .311 to .353. On soft pitches, Howard’s ISO didn’t change by much (.125 to .149) but his BABIP dropped significantly, from .298 to .222. Maybe it’s the quality of contact being made? Starting with fly balls:

2011

2010

Howard actually hit “soft” pitches further in 2011 than in 2010. The location of pitches on which he hit line drives changed, however.

2011

2010

Many of the line drives hit up in the zone in 2010 were fly balls in 2011. It could be a classification error, but it may also be a decline in quality of contact.

Additionally, Howard’s ground/fly ratio changed. In 2010, it was equal (38/38); in 2011, he hit more ground balls (44/34) with an equivalent amount of line drives (15/16)*.

*Note: Raw totals, not percentages.

As mentioned, Howard’s overall BABIP dropped. Here is a specific breakdown by batted ball type on “soft”, outside pitches:

Type 2011 2010
Ground .102 .225
Fly .222 .256
Line .824 .800

The location of pitches that Howard hit on the ground changed as well.

2011

2010

Obviously, Howard should not be hitting pitches up and outside on the ground; he should be lifting those over the left field fence. It stands to reason that, while moving off the plate didn’t have a significant impact on his production overall, it did change his success on pitches in certain locations.

Hitting is not just based on mechanics and timings; it is also based on comfort and feeling. If there is no significant impact of his standing further away from the plate, but he feels more comfortable there, then he should stay off the plate. However, Howard might be able to improve his odds of success by moving closer and pushing outside pitches over the left field fence the way he used to circa 2005-09.

The Fallacy of Age

Several things are true of older players, generally speaking. One, their overall production tends to decline with every passing year. Two, they become more and more injury prone. And three, their price relative to expected production, injury risk, and the general player pool at their position is too high. For these reasons, Phillies fans — particularly those Sabermetrically-inclined — opposed the long-term deals awarded to Brad Lidge, Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, and even Cliff Lee to a lesser extent.

There is no question the Phillies are made up mostly of veterans. In 2011 among all Major League teams, the Phillies had the highest average age for position players at 31.5, about three years older than the MLB average. Even without Jamie Moyer, the Phillies sent out the seventh-oldest pitching staff, averaging 29.2 years of age, about a year older than the MLB average.

Given the injury bug that bit the Phillies in each of the past two seasons, along with the general late-season breakdowns of several players and the disappointing performances in the post-season, the theme of the off-season for Phillies fans and even GM Ruben Amaro is that the team needs to get younger. If Jimmy McMillan ran the team, he would have said, “the players are too damn old.”

As a catch-all slogan, it is a fallacy and it tends to be a post hoc explanation. Had the Phillies gone on to win the 2011 World Series, the headlines would have extolled the team’s “veteranosity”. The Phillies didn’t win just because they had talented players; they won because of the experience of players who had been there and done that!

However, the Phillies lost, so certainly Placido Polanco‘s 2-for-19 post-season is clear proof that he’s too old to be an everyday player, or at least that’s what some people would like to think. Rather than take the Phillies at face value, people create narratives to explain the unsatisfactory results. Nevermind that the oldest team in baseball won 102 games during the regular season with the best pitching staff and an above-average offense. Nevermind that Jamie Moyer made 32 or more starts in every season between 2001 and ’08, his age 38-45 seasons and he did so while posting an ERA eight percent better than the league average. Lance Berkman, at the old age of 35, posted one of the best offensive seasons in the last 50 years.

Age is a very important factor. It can make or break a long-term contract; make a correct decision and reap the surplus value, or choose incorrectly and live with the consequences of wasted money and a dead roster spot. As a theme, though, it is simply excuse-making. That is especially true for a big market team like the Phillies, which can sign free agents almost with reckless abandon and ship away top prospects on a whim, getting younger is less important than simple, efficient talent evaluation.

Going into 2012, the Phillies don’t need to get younger; they need to get better. And avoid bad luck.

What Went Wrong with Carlos Ruiz?

I know, the title implies that Carlos Ruiz had a bad season, which he didn’t. But he did significantly drop off in offense compared to his 2010 season. In terms of OPS relative to the National League average, Ruiz was 20 percent worse, dropping from .857 to .754.

Last December, I crunched the numbers and concluded Ruiz’s offensive output last season was fluky based on his BABIP and where those hits were falling. I wrote:

Expect his offensive output to regress significantly, to around the league average in the .325-.330 range. That is plenty good for a Phillies offense that will still be among the league’s best.

Ruiz finished with a .332 wOBA, not bad. His BABIP on ground balls declined by more than 30 points. Given that he hit 151 ground balls in total during the 2011 regular season, the decline resulted in five fewer hits than he would have had last year. His luck on fly balls and line drives remained about the same.

More importantly, his batting average on batted balls to left field declined by more than 100 points, from .413 to .311. You can see the shift in the following heat maps, which show his BABIP on all hits to left field. (Click to enlarge)

Starting with 2010:

2011:

Ruiz overall made worse contact than he did last year. While his overall batted ball rates did not change much, his infield fly rate nearly doubled from 7.2 percent last year to 13.3 percent in 2011. The jump doesn’t have a significantly adverse effect on his batted ball fortunes because of the overall small number of infield flies (18), but it does illustrate the decline in quality of contact from last year.

It’s unlikely we’ll ever see Ruiz as productive as he was in 2010 unless he makes significant changes. He is a guy with mediocre power that will walk about as much as he will strike out and his offense should suffice at a very demanding position. The Ruiz you saw in 2009 and ’11 (.337 and .332 in terms of wOBA) is what should be expected going forward.

Heat maps courtesy ESPN Stats & Information

Phillies Should Utilize A Thrift Store Bullpen

The bullpen has seemingly always been a problem for the Phillies. Whether it was the 1980 bullpen that barely made it to the finish line, the 1993 ‘pen, that imploded, or the revolving door bullpen the Phillies implemented between 1995 and present, there has never been that one constant. Sure, Billy Wagner was good for the two years that he was here, Brad Lidge had that perfect season, and Ryan Madson came out of nowhere to become one of the most dominant relievers in baseball, but the latter two are gone after this season having only been key cogs in the Phillies’ bullpen dating back to 2007 (’08 for Lidge).

With the off-season comes a plethora of unsolicited advice from fans and media types alike. The focus has mostly been on the shortstop position, and rightly so, but the Phillies have a bullpen in flux that cannot be ignored. The Phillies went into the season with the back of the bullpen including Madson and Lidge, as well as Jose Contreras, J.C. Romero, and Danys Baez. Prior to September call-ups, that changed to Madson, Antonio Bastardo, Michael Stutes, and Lidge; Contreras threw only 14 innings over the course of the season while Romero and Baez were both booted from the roster.

For the most part, the evolution of the bullpen was completely unexpected. No one saw Bastardo being as dominant as he was, nor did anyone expect Stutes to pitch in so many high-leverage situations. That is par for the course for most teams when it comes to the bullpen: they are all just rolling dice. After the 2011 regular season, less than half of the teams in the National League stayed within 0.20 of their bullpen ERA the previous season. Equally as many teams (seven) shifted by a half run of ERA or more.

Team 2011 ERA 2010 ERA DIFF
ARI 3.71 5.74 -2.03
CHC 3.51 4.72 -1.21
MIL 3.32 4.48 -1.16
PIT 3.76 4.57 -0.81
FLA 3.44 4.01 -0.57
PHI 3.45 4.02 -0.57
CIN 3.55 3.97 -0.42
LAD 3.92 4.07 -0.15
WSN 3.20 3.35 -0.15
ATL 3.03 3.11 -0.08
COL 3.91 3.99 -0.08
HOU 4.49 4.49 0.00
STL 3.73 3.73 0.00
SFG 3.04 2.99 0.05
SDP 3.05 2.81 0.24
NYM 4.33 3.59 0.74

Relievers are notoriously hard to predict, particularly because the sample sizes are too small. Madson finished the year with 60.2 innings pitched. Roy Halladay, on the other hand, surpassed that total after his eighth start on May 10. Needless to say, Halladay’s first eight starts of the season hold very little predictive value. It feels like relievers’ stats should stabilize quicker, but they don’t; they are just as prone to the randomness of the universe as any other player.

Unless the price is right and you are dealing with Mariano Rivera-types who are eerily consistent from year to year (Madson would fall into this category), it seems the best strategy is to spend as little money as possible on the bullpen and hope for the best by utilizing pitchers with good defense-independent skills. Of the 58 relievers that threw 50+ innings and posted an ERA lower than 3.00 during the 2011 regular season, only eight of them (14%) had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.0 or lower. Five of those eight had a ground ball rate at 50 percent or higher (six if the threshold is lowered to 49 percent).

The Phillies have five arms that could be key contributors to the bullpen that are not yet arbitration eligible: Bastardo, Stutes, David Herndon, Michael Schwimer, and Justin De Fratus. Meanwhile, Jose Contreras will still be around in the final year of his two-year contract, earning $2.5 million. With the five youngsters at a cheap price (let’s say $450,000 apiece) and Contreras, the Phillies could run with a bullpen costing them around $5 million. As a result, the Phillies would have much more freedom to address their other needs.

The Phillies should say no to Heath Bell, to Jonathan Papelbon, to Jose Valverde and any other expensive relievers out there. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like GM Ruben Amaro is going to, per Bob Brookover:

Amaro said that even if the Phillies do not re-sign Madson, they plan on going outside the organization for an experienced closer. Whether it’s Madson or somebody else with experience at the role, it’s likely to cost at least $10 million […]

The contract, to whomever it may be, has the potential to be just as hamstringing as the Raul Ibanez contract. If the Phillies play it smart, they’ll walk past the department stores and shop at Goodwill. Then they may give themselves enough room to adequately plug the shortstop hole, sign Cole Hamels to a contract extension, address third base and left field, and find a new bench corps.

Placido Polanco and the Third Base Situation

Last updated: 10/13, 12:30 p.m.

  • Charlie Manuel ponders an upgrade at the hot corner: source.

Paul’s Take: Third base for the Phillies is something like the goaltender position for the Flyers. Back in the day, there was a stalwart at the position, but recent years have found little stability or above-average production. Placido Polanco, signed before the 2010 season, has been hurt and producing offense more typically found in middle infield positions. As Aaron Gleeman mentions over at Hardball Talk, Polanco’s .702 OPS is 20th among third basemen since the start of 2010. Polly is owed $6.25M in 2012, and he’ll almost assuredly remain the starter when healthy.
What might behoove Amaro would be a search for a quality backup. The Phils missed out on acquiring guys like Wilson Betemit who, while not a superstar, did provide the Tigers with 15 extra-base hits in 40 games after being acquired. Polanco had 19 extra-base hits all season.

Ryan’s Take: The Phillies have a lot on their shopping list right now, including some pieces that probably take a higher priority than a position where there is already an established starter. To his credit, Polanco provided excellent defense even while playing hurt in 2011. But, facing possible offensive regression by Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino, and with Ryan Howard’s 2012 effectiveness in serious doubt, that might not be enough on it’s own. Normally I would accept him retaining the full-time job as a foregone conclusion, but to hear a manager as fiercely loyal as Charlie Manuel even mentioning an “upgrade” makes me wonder if falling short of the NLCS this season may have put him in a more pragmatic state of mind. Considering that Polanco posted a .364 wOBA last year against left-handed pitching, compared to just .281 against right-handers, might a platoon be in order?