The 2011-12 Compendium

This is the main page for the Compendium of the 2011-12 offseason. Bookmark this post for a collection of links to various posts on the different issues and storylines surrounding the Phils, plus the opinions and analysis of the Crashburn Alley staff. This post will be updated as the individual posts update. Bear with us in the early going; we’ll try to keep everything organized and filled with content, but the offseason is young.

A more detailed description of what the Compendium is after the jump:

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Jimmy Rollins’s Contract Status

Last updated: 10/24, 9:15 a.m.

  • Five years is probably too much for Phils, Scutaro an option?: source. – 10/24

Paul’s Take: Marco Scutaro would certainly be an offensive upgrade from the replacement suitors we know in Wilson Valdez and (gulp) Michael Martinez. Scutaro wasn’t necessarily a factor of Fenway Park, either, as his road OPS is comparable to his home split; it was even higher than his home OPS this year. Scutaro won’t fulfill the needs of people fixated on the decrease in age, but on a one-year deal, he would seem a suitable replacement. At this point, to me, he seems a more suitable replacement for 2012 than Freddy Galvis.

Paul’s Take: While I don’t think he’s going to get five years, I have little doubt that he means business and won’t hesitate to sign elsewhere if the price is right. Hey, this is his last big contract, after all. I don’t think it would be wise to give Jimmy – with a .316 OBP since ’09 – five years. Three makes more sense, given his defense should be worth it.
Some advanced metrics have Rollins showing signs of declining range, partially as a result of injuries and partially, perhaps, as a result of age. It’s difficult to discern between the two right now. Phillies fans are aware of Rollins’s stout defensive abilities, to be sure, but there doesn’t seem to be reason to think a healthy Rollins isn’t still a valuable commodity, even with a slowing bat.

Bill’s Take: I’m with Paul. I’m comfortable giving Rollins three years, even with an option for a fourth, but I get uncomfortable guaranteeing four or more years to a player of Rollins’ caliber. Don’t get me wrong, I find Rollins to be very valuable especially given his position, but he is no Troy Tulowitzki. I do, however, grimace at the thought of going year-to-year with one of the many crummy free agent shortstops around or, worse yet, relying on an unproven Freddy Galvis, who has just one potentially-fluky season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley under his belt. Rollins talked about five years, but that’s what he should do — it’s Negotiating 101. I have a hard time seeing him getting five guaranteed years, and for the Phillies’ sake, I hope I’m right about that.

Guest Post: Hunter Pence’s Value

What Was Hunter Pence Worth To The 2011 Phillies?

by John Ricco (@john_ricco) of Turn Two Baseball and Jared Gold (@jgold6393)

After being traded to the Phillies at the deadline in 2011, Hunter Pence took no time in becoming a fan favorite in Philadelphia. He was quick to contribute on-field production and lovable enthusiasm to a team that seemed to struggle offensively in the first half. Both of these traits had the mainstream media often raving that he “balanced the lineup” or “protected Ryan Howard” among other narratives. Pence performed perhaps even better than initially expected. In 50 games as Phillie, he hit for a slash line of .324/.394/.560, good for a wOBA of .405. While these numbers are rather remarkable, they must be looked at in context of the 2011 season.

Around the trade deadline, the Phillies had little doubt whether or not the club would make the postseason. But typical for any strong club, they wanted that blockbuster deal that would really solidify their chances at staying afloat come October. They did just this when acquiring Hunter Pence; he was looked at as a player that could not only help them get there, but make a run at winning a World Series. But just how much did Pence improve the already-great Phillies?

In attempting to answer this question, we built our framework around postseason probability added. The main point of this concept is such: not all wins are created equally. For instance, a team that wins 80 games instead of 79 increases their chances of making the postseason only by a fraction of a percent (roughly 0.4%), yet a team that wins 90 instead of 89 games increases their chances by over 11%. Therefore, when evaluating how a given player has affected his team’s likelihood of making it to October, it is not enough to just look at how many wins he has provided. Rather, we must look at the importance of each additional win.

According to FanGraphs, Hunter Pence was worth 2.6 WAR with the Phillies. The team won 102 games, so theoretically without Pence the Phillies would have won 99.4 games (generously assuming, of course, that Pence’s likely opportunity cost, Domonic Brown, would have performed at replacement level for the remainder of the season). Winning 99.4 games results in a 98.87% chance of making the postseason, while the mark at 102 wins is 99.66%. The difference between these two values is 0.0078. In other words, Hunter Pence added 0.78% – a fraction of a percent – to this team’s probability of making the postseason. Graphically, we can view this as the area under the marginal probability curve. The tiny shaded area represents the additional probability provided by Pence.

(click to enlarge)

However, the argument will be made that the objective of bringing Pence to Philadelphia was to win a World Series. That being said, it is fairly common knowledge that the postseason is a crapshoot and the best team doesn’t always win. If we average his contributions over the last three years, we can assume his true talent level is roughly 4 wins per year. Pence averaged 156.3 games a season, putting his worth at .0256 wins per game, or .128 wins over a full 5 game series. This is equivalent to just a shade over 1 run during the course of a full NLDS series, making the substantial assumption that it goes to 5 games. Over the past 10 years, the average World Series winner played 15 games, with no team playing more than 17. Even in the highly unlikely scenario of a team that played every possible game in each series (a full 19 games), Pence would have added fewer than 5 runs to the team.

This analysis, of course, treats Pence as a half year rental and disregards his benefits beyond 2011. Right now a number of question marks surround next year’s club and Pence’s future contributions certainly have the potential to be significant in the hunt for the postseason next year. Additionally, we have ignored the intangible qualities for which Pence is so well-known. We love high socks, goofy swings, and funny catchphrases as much as the next fans. Regardless, if we believe Victor Wang’s prospect research to be even somewhat accurate, Jonathan Singleton’s expected value is around $25 million and Jarred Cosart is projected to be worth $15 million. In evaluating his ultimate value, we must ask ourselves: is one meaningful season out of Pence truly worth the cost of dealing $40+ million dollars of top prospects?

Guest Post: Culture Shock

Culture Shock: Patience at the Plate Needed Most for Phillies in 2012

Tom Holzerman (or TH, if you will) is a wrestling blogger found at a few sites on the web, most prominently at his site, The Wrestling Blog. He also has some things to say about other topics, baseball being one of them. If you have any feedback, questions or angry missives, send them to his Twitter, @tholzerman.

Ask a random Phillies fan what the team needs to do most in the offseason, and one might probably get a bevy of different answers, ranging from firing affable yet flawed manager Charlie Manuel all the way down to signing Albert Pujols. For a team that won 102 games in the regular season, it might be hard to justify any major shake-up, but losing in the Divisional Series when the World Series was the only conceivable satisfying goal will leave bad tastes in the mouths of even the most rational fan.

That being said, there are things that need to be done to ensure that 2012 is at the very least as successful as 2011 was, if not more so. From where I sit, it has nothing to do with the actual players as much as it has to do with their philosophies at the plate. The offense came up small in their last three playoff series, and it showed with two devastating series losses. In the Divisional Series last year, pitching and defense (mainly the Reds’ lack of defense) was able to overcome the lack of offensive clout, but against the Giants and Cardinals, it just wasn’t enough.

The reason for this was clearly a lack of patience at the plate. This is both supported anecdotally and statistically. The feeling watching the team against the Cardinals was that the batters were hacking at first pitches, connecting and putting balls in play weakly in play right at fielders. The stats bore truth for those feelings, as the Cardinals saw an average of 14 more pitches per game over the entire series. Furthermore, the disparity in BABIP was a staggering 83 points in favor of the Cardinals. I haven’t done a whole lot of research in the correlation between those two stats, but to the perceptive mind, it makes sense. The Cardinals were choosier with their pitches, and the more pitches a team sees, the likelihood for “mistake pitches”. Even aces throw them. While BABIP is a stat that’s mostly associated with luck, it makes sense that a team would make its own luck through taking pitches and being selective.

The Cardinals provided the blueprint to break the maxim “good pitching beats good hitting”. The Phillies would have been better served to do the same, but instead, they hacked at Chris Carpenter like he was throwing batting practice. The story was the same against Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner last year. There isn’t a magic kryptonite that allows teams to get hits against Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and even Roy Halladay that prevents the Phils from doing the same against other ace-level pitchers. It’s a philosophy, a tangible one that is not currently being espoused by the team.

How can this culture change? If the Phillies were ready to rebuild, then maybe it could come gradually. However, the team is built to compete now. Even if Roy Oswalt leaves town, the team will still have three starting pitchers who’ve averaged over 4 WAR over the last three years (according to FanGraphs), with two in Halladay and Lee who’ve both averaged over 6.5. This team could very easily skate into the playoffs on the strength of their starting pitching. With that rock in place, I believe the team can afford to implement culture shock.

This is going to take more than just replacing Greg Gross as the hitting coach. It’s going to take bringing in players who are already inclined to take pitches, work counts and draw walks to work. IF that means letting Jimmy Rollins walk to the Yankees, Giants or any other team willing to break the bank for him, then as painful as that can be for fans (such as myself, who loves J-Roll and his contributions to the team), then so be it. If it means holding Ryan Howard out of the lineup the entire year to let him recover while going with another option at first, then it has to happen. If it means that Ruben Amaro and Manuel are shoved into a dark room, eyelids taped open and made to listen to readings of Moneyball on loop for 24 hours, then actually, that sounds like a good idea to me.

Regardless of how the change comes about, change does have to come about. This team is good enough to make the playoffs, but they lack fundamentals that allow them to tackle good pitching. Let’s face it, teams don’t make the playoffs with league average pitchers. Teams don’t need to have four aces to make it to the postseason, and teams don’t have to be stocked with lineups full of all-stars to hit those aces. All they need is patience. The Giants and Cardinals had it in spades in the last two respective postseasons. The Phillies did not. That’s why those two teams advanced and the Phillies did not.

Ed. Note: Thanks to Thomas for the guest post. Check out his blog The Wrestling Blog as well as his Twitter, @tholzerman.

Content Update

As mentioned in my stream of consciousness post after the NLDS, Crashburn Alley will continue to cover the Phillies throughout the off-season and into the 2012 season. At the moment, however, I am putting the finishing touches on a book that will be released in the spring (I’ll post more details about that as I’m allowed). My time over the next week or two will be spent getting that done. As a result, I may not be able to post for a short while.

I’ve told the other writers on board that they can post as their time allows, but I will also be accepting guest posts. If you’ve got thoughts on the NLDS, the 2011 season in retrospect, the off-season to come, or any other Phillies-related subject, feel free to email crashburnalley [at] gmail [dot] com . Include “guest post” in the subject and the name you’d like listed in your byline, as well as links to whatever you’d like to promote, be it your blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc. (can be all of the above). If possible, send your post as a Word document. The post doesn’t have to be statistically-oriented at all; it just has to be unique, interesting, and well-written.

Thanks for your patience. I look forward to digging into the off-season as the Phillies try to add the missing roster pieces to reach the promised land in 2012.

Phillies 2011 Season Ends in Agony, Defeat

The Phillies showed up to spring training in Clearwater, Florida with the weight of enormous expectations resting squarely on their shoulders. Was the starting rotation the greatest ever assembled? Which of the four aces would win the Cy Young award? Just how many games could this team win — 100? 110?

Teams with so much expected of them rarely live up to it, just ask the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who won 116 games and lost in the ALCS to the New York Yankees. Baseball is both adored and scorned for its unpredictability, making for the harshest of heartbreaks and loudest of celebrations.

The Phillies failed to reach their goal of winning another World Series. The upstart St. Louis Cardinals blazed through September, winning 18 of 26 games in the final month, ultimately reaching the post-season when the Atlanta Braves collapsed. The Cardinals entered the NLDS as huge underdogs against the Phillies, but behind solid all-around baseball, the Red Birds took advantage of an under-performing Phillies starting rotation and an anxious lineup that could not score runs in any consistent fashion. For the second straight post-season, the Phillies’ hopes were dashed with Ryan Howard making the final out. To add injury to insult, Howard came up lame running out of the batter’s box, injuring the foot that had been bothering him for much of the second-half of the season.

There are no two ways around it: 2011 is a failure for the Phillies. A team with their payroll, their caliber of pitching — their caliber of players overall, in fact — in a relatively weak league should be expected to win it all. However, in the sadness, let’s not lose sight of the great things that were accomplished this season. The team set a franchise record with 102 regular season wins. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels all pitched incredibly well, and Vance Worley should not be lost in that conversation. Shane Victorino had a career year, as did Hunter Pence (who was even better with the Phillies than the Astros). John Mayberry, Jr. showed he can be a productive Major League player. Ryan Madson continued to pitch as one of the best and most underrated relievers in the game. Antonio Bastardo came out of nowhere to play a crucial role in an otherwise uninspiring bullpen.

Now that the season is over, Phillies fans may have seen a few players for the last time. Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Madson, and Raul Ibanez are free agents while Roy Oswalt and Brad Lidge have contract options that can be declined. All five are players that we have come to know and love over the years, through all of the trials and tribulations. Losing (potentially all of) them would be losing a part of the 2007-11 era that made baseball so fun. Of course, the Phillies will have the means to bring in new faces and we will start the whole process over again. That’s why baseball is so great — there’s always next season, and there are always new players with whom we can get attached. For the Phillies, it’s back to the drawing board, then on to attack 2012 with a vengeance.

. . .

As a bit of a personal aside, thank you, readers, for making this season so fun. This blog has continued to grow and achieve new levels of success, and I can’t thank you enough for making Crashburn Alley a regular stop in your Internet routine. The content will continue to flow in the off-season, so remember to keep stopping by for analysis on the Phillies’ approach to the 2012 season. Additionally, I have had a blast live-Tweeting games — those of you who follow and interact with me on Twitter have made watching Phillies baseball even more fun, something I didn’t think was possible.

Congratulations to any Cardinals fans who may be stopping by to read. In particular, I’m happy for Matthew Philip of ESPN Sweet Spot’s Fungoes blog as he was kind enough to spare some time to come over to the dark side and speak with us before the series began. Let’s hope for a competitive and entertaining League Championship and World Series.

Phillies Lacking Plate Discipline in NLDS

After the first two innings in Game One of the NLDS, when the Phillies made six outs on 12 Kyle Lohse pitches, you knew something was wrong. The Phillies aren’t a bad team in terms of plate discipline, though certainly not as good as they had been in years past. They ranked right in the middle of Major League Baseball during the regular season, averaging 3.8 pitches per plate appearance. However, in the NLDS so far, the Phillies have averaged 3.4, 3.6, and 3.4 pitches per plate appearance in Games One through Three, respectively.

Here’s a look at the individual hitters:

Hitter P/PA
Halladay 4.5
Utley 4.2
Howard 4.1
Madson 4.0
Rollins 3.4
Victorino 3.3
Ruiz 3.3
Mayberry 3.3
Ibanez 3.3
Pence 3.2
Polanco 3.1
Lee 3.0
Francisco 2.5
Hamels 1.5
Average 3.5

When Roy Halladay is leading the team in pitches seen per plate appearance, your team is not performing optimally. Only four hitters (two non-pitchers) are above the average, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.

The following chart plots the average number of pitches seen per batter in each inning along with the runs they scored in each inning. (Click to enlarge)

The Phillies have scored in three of the nine innings in which they averaged at least four pitches seen per batter; six times in 14 innings in which they averaged at least 3.33 pitches seen per batter; and just once when they averaged 3.25 or fewer pitches seen per batter.

Taking pitches doesn’t just help directly with run-scoring, though — it helps with tiring the opposing starter, forcing his team to dig into their bullpen earlier than they would prefer. That helps with both the game currently being played as well as future games with that team. The Cardinals, who have been working Phillies pitchers very well, have forced Ryan Madson into the game in each of the first three games in the series. Madson has thrown 43 pitches total, the most he has thrown in any three consecutive team games since August 8-10, all against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Madson didn’t pitch again for a week, but the Phillies don’t have the luxury of awarding time off in the post-season.

Although the Cardinals trail the series two games to one, it’s hard to argue that they haven’t been playing a more professional brand of baseball than the Phillies, even if they have been extremely BABIP-lucky (.403) throughout the series.

Cliff Lee and BABIP

Cliff Lee left the seventh inning of Game Two down 5-4 with runners on first and second, no outs. It was quite a disappointing start for the Phillies’ second ace as the lefty allowed 12 hits and forked over a four-run lead. It was the third consecutive mediocre post-season start for the lefty, which screamed “Narrative!” for writers across the nation.

For a fun game, I will provide two lines of pitching statistics. Your job is to pick one of them to start Game 7 of the World Series.

  • Pitcher A: 20.2 IP, 5.66 ERA, 14 K, 10 BB, .286 BABIP
  • Pitcher B: 17.2 IP, 7.13 ERA, 22 K, 3 BB, .463 BABIP

If you picked Pitcher A, you picked Steve Carlton. If you picked Pitcher B, you picked Cliff Lee.

Carlton put up that line in his three starts prior to the 1980 post-season; Lee compiled his in the 2010 World Series and Game One of the 2011 NLDS. Most people will recognize that the gap in ERA is meaningless given the small sample, and they will also recognize that Lee’s strikeout-to-walk ratio is much superior and that he has been BABIP-unlucky.

Carlton had a great post-season in 1980, finishing with a 2.30 ERA in four starts as he led the Phillies to their first championship in franchise history. Those who are giving up on Lee now would have given up on Carlton after the 1978 post-season, wrongfully so.

Arguably the most important thing to come out of the Sabermetric movement has been the realization that pitchers have very little control over the outcomes on batted balls (thanks, Voros!). Sure, there are exceptions like Nolan Ryan and Matt Cain, but the overwhelming majority of pitchers will find themselves close to the league average around .300. For instance, Roy Halladay‘s career BABIP is .295 while Adam Eaton‘s is .301. The difference between one of the best pitchers of this generation and one of the worst is six hits over a sample size of 1,000 batted balls. Halladay, of course, separates himself from the pack with tremendous defense-independent abilities: not issuing walks, missing bats, and inducing weak ground balls.

Throughout the game Sunday night, Saber-minded tweeters kept cursing the luck dragons for Lee’s outing. Meanwhile, traditionally-minded fans cursed Lee for pitching poorly in a crucial game. Naturally, debates rose over the validity of BABIP. Lee’s defense-independent stats (nine strikeouts, two walks, 45 percent ground balls) were good and didn’t merit his fate. BABIP wasn’t taking into account just how hard Lee was getting hit, some suggested.

If you compare the outcome of batted balls last night compared to Lee’s average on the season, you can understand why some felt he was the victim of bad luck. I posted the data in the comments of the game recap:

Batted ball distribution: 9 ground balls, 4 outfield fly balls, 3 infield fly balls, 4 line drives

Expected hits based on Lee’s 2011 BABIP…

Ground balls: .241 * 9 = 2
Actual: 5 (+3)

Outfield flies: .132 * 4 = 1
Actual: 2 (+1)

Infield flies: .010 * 3 = 0
Actual: 0 (even)

Line drives: .661 * 4 = 3
Actual: 4 (+1)

Allowed three more ground ball hits, one more outfield fly ball hit, and one more line drive hit than expected.

So, let’s actually watch the game again and see if Lee was really hit hard. I’ve made .gifs of each of the 12 hits Lee allowed. Afterwards, I’ll provide my own judgment on the hit. You, of course, are allowed to disagree but make a solid case in the comments as to why.

Rather than overload your browser with 12 .gifs, I’ve linked them next to the description in brackets. Click on it to open the .gif in a new window.

First Inning

Rafael Furcal triples on a fly ball to right-center. [Link]

  • Verdict: Well-hit fly ball, absolutely preventable by Lee pitching better.

Second Inning

David Freese doubles on a line drive to right field. [Link]

  • Verdict: Well-hit line drive. However, Hunter Pence could have judged the ball better and held it to a single as opposed to a double. We’ll give half-credit on this one (single).

Fourth Inning

Yadier Molina singles on a ground ball up the middle. [Link]

  • Verdict: Not a particularly well-hit ball. Given that Molina is not fleet of foot, it’s very likely Rollins throws him out if he fields this cleanly. Certainly, the Jimmy Rollins of 2009 or prior would have been able to get to the ball without so much as diving, so this isn’t really Lee’s fault here. The outcome of this grounder was very dependent on the quality of the shortstop’s defensive abilities.

Ryan Theriot doubles on a ground ball down the right field line. [Link]

  • Verdict: This is just bad luck for Lee. Because there were runners on first and second, Ryan Howard was able to play off the first base bag. If, instead, there was just a runner on first base, Howard would be on the bag holding the runner and Theriot’s hit instead turns into a 3-6-3 or 3-6-1 double play (assuming Howard makes a good throw to second base). This hit was completely defense-dependent.

John Jay singles on a ground ball to right field. [Link]

  • Verdict: Jay just smothered this ball, not particularly well-hit but just placed well. If it’s five feet to the right or to the left, it’s an out.

Rafael Furcal singles on a line drive to left field. [Link]

  • Verdict: This was labeled a line drive but I don’t think it was hit well enough to merit the classification. In reality, it was a weakly-hit fly ball with a low trajectory. This goes back to Colin Wyers’ suggestion of bias in batted ball data. In an article for Baseball Prospectus, Wyers said, “no matter how much we massage the data, there simply is not a way to objectively define the difference between a fly ball and a line drive. It is inherently a subjective and somewhat arbitrary distinction.” In looking at the .gif, I don’t think Lee did anything wrong. He made a good pitch (an inside cut fastball off the plate), did not miss his spot (check out Furcal’s triple in the first inning to see him miss his spot), but Furcal just put it where the fielders were not. I can’t fault Lee on this.

Sixth Inning

Ryan Theriot doubles on a line drive to left field. [Link]

  • Verdict: Lee simply caught too much of the plate here and Theriot put a good swing on it. Lee could have gotten an out on the pitch if he had located it better.

John Jay singles on a ground ball to left field. [Link]

  • Verdict: As with his single in the fourth, there was simply nothing Lee could have done about this. He made a good pitch and hit his spot, but Jay simply put it where there were no fielders. Just bad luck for Lee.

Skip Schumaker singles on a ground ball to second base. [Link]

  • Verdict: Just by the description, you know it’s not Lee’s fault. This is heavily influenced by the positioning of the middle infielders, who were leaving the middle of the field open in order to corral any ground balls to the right of third base and to the left of first base. If Schumaker was a bit slower, or if Utley makes a slightly better throw, or if Schumaker doesn’t dive head-first, the call may have been different. Lots of variables in this one, but none of them can be pinned on Lee. He made another good pitch and hit his spot.

Seventh Inning

Allen Craig triples on a fly ball to center field. [Link]

  • Verdict: This is a tricky one. Although Lee missed his spot, he didn’t make a bad pitch. Give Craig credit for putting a good swing on the ball. Additionally, if Shane Victorino reads the ball better off the bat, he catches the fly ball easily. Instead, he took a bad first step and it cost him as the ball glanced off of his glove. I think this is an out 100% of the time if Victorino reads the ball better, so I’m not assigning Lee any blame here.

Albert Pujols singles on a line drive to left field. [Link]

  • Verdict: This is a tough one to judge since the TBS broadcast team was busy looking at shiny objects while baseball was being played. It looks like Lee just left a first ball cutter over the middle of the plate and Pujols hit the ball hard. I give Lee the blame on this since he could have had a better outcome with better pitch selection and better location.

Lance Berkman singles on a fly ball to shallow right field. [Link]

  • Verdict: Nothing you can do about this. Not a terrible pitch, mediocre location, but it induced a horrible swing out of Lance Berkman, but the weakly-hit fly ball dropped before any fielders could get in range. Not at all Lee’s fault.

Summary

  • Furcal triple: Lee’s fault
  • Freese double: Lee’s fault (but just a single)
  • Molina single: nope
  • Theriot double: nope
  • Jay single: nope
  • Furcal single: nope
  • Theriot double: Lee’s fault
  • Jay single: nope
  • Schumaker single: nope
  • Craig triple: nope
  • Pujols single: Lee’s fault
  • Berkman single: nope

In the end, I only have Lee on the hook for four of the 12 hits. Now, to be fair, I’d have to do the same exercise for the eight batted ball outs, but the point of this exercise should be evident. As mentioned, Lee pitched well in the areas that didn’t involve his fielders: he struck out nine in six-plus innings of work, walked two, and induced ground balls at a 45 percent rate. If you roll the dice again with the same defense-independent numbers, Lee will have a much better night a majority of the time. As many will point out, though, baseball games are only played once and Lee’s results are what they are.

However, we can be a bit more fair and rational when assigning blame for the Phillies’ loss in Game Two. The Phillies’ offense, for example, went down in order in four consecutive innings between the third and sixth innings. Even if Lee forked over the lead, the Phillies should have been expected to push across at least one more run after they went up 4-0 after two innings. Unfortunately, they did not and the Phillies lost an otherwise winnable playoff game.

Kudos to Tony La Russa

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably saw me griping about Cardinals manager Tony La Russa during Game Two. La Russa made quite an impact on the game in various ways, and in retrospect, I don’t think I should have been directing my ire at him.

Balls and Strikes: La Russa felt that home plate umpire Jerry Meals wasn’t calling a fair strike zone, referring to “two different strike zones” in a mid-game interview with the TBS broadcasters. Cameras caught La Russa barking at Meals several different times throughout the game. The complaining seemed to have an effect as Meals’ strike zone was more Cardinal-friendly as the game progressed.

I made a few snarky tweets about La Russa on Twitter, but I honestly had no problem with his complaining. Dayn Perry (@DaynPerry) put it best:

Have my probs with TLR, but he’s always got an angle. Don’t like it? Blame umps for caving or ur mgr for not being as skilled a bitcher.

Meals’ strike zone did appear to change — should La Russa be faulted for using Meals’ lack of confidence in his own calls to carve a slight edge for his team? We would be applauding Charlie Manuel if he was the one yelling from the dugout. The ire should have been directed at Meals, and at Major League Baseball for letting a mediocre umpire call an important post-season game.

Pitching Changes: Fans hate pitching changes, and for good reason: they completely mess with the flow of a baseball game. For the same reason, I hate the commercial “policy” with football, where they will kick off, go to commercial, and then play the first down. The break just feels unnecessary.

La Russa used four pitchers to face four batters and get three outs. In the eighth inning, Marc Rzepczynski hit Chase Utley with a pitch and was immediately lifted for right-hander Mitchell Boggs. Boggs got Hunter Pence to ground into a fielder’s choice for the first out. La Russa went to the mound for a second time, lifting Boggs for lefty veteran Arthur Rhodes. Rhodes threw three pitches to strike out Ryan Howard. Out came La Russa; Rhodes exited. Right-hander Jason Motte entered, retiring Shane Victorino on a fly ball to center.

For those at home, the inning went like this:

  • (end of previous inning) Commercial break
  • Chase Utley at-bat
  • (pitching change) Commercial break
  • Hunter Pence at-bat
  • (pitching change) Commercial break
  • Ryan Howard at-bat
  • (pitching change) Commercial break
  • Shane Victorino at-bat
  • (end of inning) Commercial break

Given that roughly five minutes elapses between the end of the previous at-bat and the start of the next, fans were treated to about 25 minutes of advertisements and, generously, five minutes of actual game play. As a fan, that is just awful. But the fault shouldn’t lie with La Russa — he was just doing what any good manager does, which is putting his team in the best possible position to succeed. Whether he actually did or not is debatable, but he didn’t act nefariously.

Instead, the blame should go to Major League Baseball, which sets up the framework that allows for five-minute breaks in between pitching changes. There are plenty of solutions to this problem. For one, a team could be allowed to make only a fixed amount of non-injury-related pitching changes per inning. Or any pitching changes beyond the first would not allow the new reliever to have warm-up pitches on the field, negating the commercial break. But nothing happens if fans don’t speak up to the right people and in the right medium. Change in baseball happens at a glacial pace, so if fans really hate the current set-up, they need to speak by making phone calls and sending letters and emails to the powers-that-be, instead of making sarcastic comments on Twitter (as I did). Even better, speak with your wallet: don’t subscribe to MLB.tv or MLB Network (et cetera) until the requisite changes are made.

One thing is certain: La Russa did not do anything wrong by making three pitching changes in one inning.

Hit-and-Run: All right, after devoting many words to defending La Russa, I get to criticize him here.

Albert Pujols had singled to lead off the top of the ninth inning against Ryan Madson, bringing up Lance Berkman. Pujols has been dealing with a bad heel (so painful that he took a cart to the team bus after the game), so why would you make him run the bases unnecessarily? To be fair, Berkman isn’t a strikeout waiting to happen, but there is no way Pujols was going first-to-third on anything in front of an outfielder. With the count 3-2, La Russa put Pujols — bad heel and all — in motion. Berkman hit his fourth foul ball of the at-bat and Pujols returned to first base. On the eighth pitch, Berkman swung and missed at an 84 MPH change-up for the first out of the inning. Pujols was in motion again, and Ruiz fired to second base.

Ruiz’s throw reached second base at about the time Pujols reached the halfway point between first and second. Pujols engaged in a half-hearted run-down before being tagged out for the second out of the inning.

La Russa managed rather well to that point. I’ll never understand why he chose to hit-and-run with Pujols at first base. What makes it more mind-boggling is that La Russa pinch-ran for Pujols last night with Gerald Laird (Gerald Laird!), acknowledging his first baseman’s ailment. Overall, though, La Russa had a solid game and shouldn’t have taken as much grief as I saw on ye olde Internets.

Phillies BABIP’d to Death, Drop Game Two

Throughout the month of September as we looked ahead to the post-season, you heard myself, Ryan Sommers, and Paul Boye reference the mythical “small sample variance” as our biggest fear, more so than anything else. That variance was on display in Game Two of the NLDS tonight.

Rafael Furcal tripled to start the game, but Cliff Lee kept him there with a strikeout, an infield fly ball, and a ground out. Shortly thereafter, the Phillies got to Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter early, working deep counts and drawing walks. With the bases loaded, Ryan Howard knocked in two with a single up the middle in the first. Raul Ibanez tacked on another before the inning ended, putting the Phillies up 3-0 quickly. Carpenter walked to the dugout having thrown 30 pitches.

In the top of the second, Lee again worked around a lead-off extra-base hit, notching two strikeouts and a ground out to end the inning unscathed. In the bottom-half, the Phillies continued to work Carpenter. With two outs, the Phillies added an extra run on a double, walk, and a single. Carpenter had thrown another 26 pitches, putting him at 56 on the night through just two innings.

With a smooth third inning, it looked like an easy night for Lee. After all, how often does he cough up a four-run lead? But, as we’ve learned, a pitcher can still perform well but end up with unpleasant results. That’s exactly what happened to Lee starting in the fourth inning.

Lee got ahead of Lance Berkman 0-2, but could not put him away, eventually walking last night’s lone batsman for the Cardinals. After David Freese struck out, the Cardinals strung together three hits — a double sandwiched by two singles — scoring two runs, bringing them within two runs at 4-2. Nick Punto struck out, seemingly ending the threat, but the always-pestering Rafael Furcal hit a line drive to Raul Ibanez, plating one more run and requiring a perfect strike from the Phillies’ left fielder to prevent the tie game. Ruiz was forearm-shivered at the plate by John Jay, but held on for the third out.

The Phillies were then tasked with adding insurance runs against the Cardinals’ bullpen, something they certainly did with relative ease last night. However, Fernando Salas entered the game in the fourth and retired the Phillies in order on three ground balls. In the fifth, Lee appeared more comfortable, striking out two more Cardinals and inducing another infield pop-up. The Phillies remained silent on offense in the bottom-half of the fifth, going down in order once again.

Lee got two quick outs in the top of the sixth, seemingly on a roll. With two outs, though, Ryan Theriot doubled to left to keep the Cardinals’ offense going. Theriot quickly scored on a seeing-eye single to left by Jon Jay, tying the game. Skip Schumaker singled afterwards to continue the threat, but Lee was able to retire Furcal, allowing the sell-out crowd at Citizens Bank Park to breathe a sigh of relief.

The Phillies went down quietly again in the sixth, the Cardinals’ fourth consecutive 1-2-3 inning. Lee, with over 100 pitches thrown, took the hill for the seventh inning. Ahead of lead-off hitter Allen Craig 1-2, Lee left a change-up over the plate, which Craig smoked to deep center. Victorino misjudged it at first, which cost him. The ball glanced off his outstretched glove, rolling towards the center field fence. Craig wound up on third base without a play. Pujols plated Craig with a well-hit line drive single to left field. The hits just would not end for the Cardinals, then with 11 hits total and ahead 5-4. Berkman, hitting right-handed, blooped a single just beyond first base, the last straw for Charlie Manuel. Lee exited the game having allowed 12 hits in six innings of work with nine strikeouts and two walks. His game ERA was 7.50 but his game FIP was 1.10, showing the disparity between performance and results. Lee induced a lot of weak contact, but many of the Cardinals’ batted balls found gaps in the defense.

Brad Lidge entered the game to attempt to end the damage. In very limited playing time, Lidge stranded 90 percent of base runners during the regular season. Given the performance of Michael Stutes last night and the Phillies’ general lack of confidence in their middle-relief, a solid outing from Lidge was needed. Lidge got the first out on a David Freese ground ball fielder’s choice. Manuel then chose to load the bases by intentionally walking Yadier Molina, hoping Lidge could induce a ground ball double play out of the always-pesky Theriot. It worked — Theriot weakly grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat and the inning.

To that point, the Cardinals were batting over .500 on balls in play, while the Phillies — having been retired in order in four consecutive innings — were a shade under .300 (the league average over a significantly larger sample is .296). The Phillies, behind one run, attempted to manufacture a run in the bottom of the seventh, but their first two hitters made outs, running the streak of consecutive outs made by Phillies hitters to 17. Jimmy Rollins ended it with a line drive single to left. The TBS cameras saw Rollins being a bit liberal with his lead off of first base and was eventually picked off by lefty Marc Rzepczynski, ending the threat.

The top of the eighth was another test for the Phillies’ bullpen. Antonio Bastardo had pitched terribly in the month of September. Rich Dubee suggested the lefty was tipping his pitches, while Bastardo himself said he couldn’t get the same feel for his pitches he had previously. Bastardo didn’t really answer any questions. He walked the lead-off batter, then got two outs on a sacrifice bunt and a strikeout before giving way to Vance Worley. Worley got the third out on a fly ball to right field. All told, the Phillies ended up where they started in terms of what they felt about their middle relief.

Down one run with six outs remaining, the Phillies needed to call upon the post-season magic that had aided them in the past. The bottom of the eighth inning was taken over by Tony La Russa, however. Rzepczynski led off the inning by hitting Chase Utley with a pitch, then was taken out for right-hander Mitchell Boggs. Boggs retired Pence on a ground ball fielder’s choice. La Russa lifted him for lefty Arthur Rhodes to face Ryan Howard. Howard struck out on three pitches, and Rhodes was promptly replaced with Jason Motte. Motte finished the inning by getting Victorino to fly out to center field. Three outs, four different pitchers used by the Cardinals — seven on the night.

La Russa made his impact felt in the top of the ninth as well. Against Ryan Madson, Albert Pujols led off with a broken bat seeing-eye single to left field. Madson worked to a 2-2 count against Lance Berkman, at which point the Cardinals’ manager decided to put on a hit-and-run with Pujols at first base, even though he has been playing with a painful foot injury. Berkman swung and missed, and Ruiz fired to second base. Pujols hadn’t even made it halfway between first and second by the time the ball reached second base. The first baseman got in a lackadaisical run-down and was retired for the second out. Madson ended the inning by striking out Adron Chambers.

The Phillies went down quietly in the ninth against Motte. A strikeout, a weak fly ball, and a weak ground ball ended the game, knotting the series at 1-1. They had just one base runner reach base between the fourth and ninth innings, and the plate discipline that was so crucial to their four early runs disappeared entirely.

The Cardinals and Phillies will board planes and head to St. Louis for Games Three scheduled for Tuesday. Cole Hamels will oppose Jaime Garcia in a battle of lefties.