Rounding Out the Roster

By the look of things, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. could be done adding to the roster for a while. The Winter Meetings are on the horizon, but the Phillies have few spots left to fill and will be closely monitoring the shortstop market as their primary focus. Jimmy Rollins is expected to seek a five-year deal, something that should and probably will make the Phillies apprehensive.

How best to round out the roster? Let’s take a look at what a realistic roster, at the present time, would look like.

Infield (8):

Outfield (5):

Starting Rotation (5):

Bullpen (7):

Let’s start with the infield. Obviously, Howard will start the year on the DL. Additionally, Jim Thome isn’t going to be able to play everyday or even semi-regularly as he hasn’t played more than 20 innings in the field since leaving the Phillies after the 2005 season. Thome hits right-handed pitching significantly better, so a platoon is clearly a necessity at first base. Wigginton, recently acquired, does not have much of a platoon split but does hit left-handers slightly better. A third option could be John Mayberry, Jr., who crushed lefties in his first dose of semi-regular playing time last season.

The most logical way to fill the void at first base appears to be giving Thome two or three starts a week (against right-handed pitching only) with the remaining starts going to Wigginton and Mayberry. As the Wigginton signing is a direct response to Howard’s Achilles injury, that is the likely role for the former Baltimore Oriole; however, were it up to me, I would let Mayberry get the majority of at-bats against southpaws at first base. It remains to be seen exactly how Charlie Manuel will split up the playing time, but Wigginton’s bat profiles better with less playing time at first base.

Second base isn’t too hard to figure out; one need only search for the man with the L.A. Looks hair gel. In the past, Manuel promised to give Utley time off during the season, but it did not happen on a regular basis. After returning to the lineup on May 23 last year, Utley started 100 of the final 116 games (86 percent). I’d like to see that change in 2012, especially since Placido Polanco can slide from third to second and Wigginton can take over at the hot corner. This would be particularly useful against a tough lefty.

As mentioned, Polanco will be found at third base. After a great April (.972 OPS), Polanco tanked, posting a depressing .591 OPS the rest of the way. Although he has already more than paid for his three-year, $18 million contract already, he has shown signs of aging and decline. He set career-lows in isolated power (.062), batting average (.277), and wOBA (.304) in 2011. While Wigginton won’t provide much of an upgrade (especially when factoring in defense), it would be helpful to Polanco’s long-term durability if he were to be given a day off every week.

The question on everybody’s mind right now is “Who will be the Phillies’ shortstop in 2012?” Rollins is seeking a five-year deal and it is very hard to see the Phillies doling out such a contract to a 33-year-old with a recent injury history. Outside of Rollins and Jose Reyes, the shortstop market is very thin, so the most likely scenarios involve the Phillies bringing Rollins back, relying on Wilson Valdez, putting all their eggs in the basket of Freddy Galvis (very unlikely), or signing a free agent (such as Rafael Furcal or Alex Gonzalez) to a team-friendly one- or two-year deal.

Let’s say the Phillies are unable to bring back Rollins and Reyes gets his mega-deal somewhere else. I would be content with the Phillies moving on with a player like Gonzalez, who plays above-average defense and hits just well enough to be average at his position (NL average wOBA for shortstops last year was .309; Gonzalez’s career average is .296). Furcal is better all-around, but also riskier as he has spent considerable time on the disabled list during the past two seasons (58 days in 2010; 69 days in 2011). In the past, I’ve pointed out that an elite team like the Phillies should aim to reduce variance as much as possible, so Gonzalez fits ever so slightly better than Furcal, and he will be cheaper as well (most likely). Rumors have Furcal seeking a multi-year deal, and the shortstop market may just be barren enough that a team is desperate enough to agree to such a deal.

The return of Rollins will significantly affect how the Phillies fill out the rest of the roster. If they are not on the hook paying him eight figures in 2012, they will have more payroll space to patch up other areas and even sign Hamels to a contract extension. For instance, the Phillies could sign Michael Cuddyer (assuming he will be available at that point), or go after a left-handed outfielder such as Johnny Damon or David DeJesus. Perhaps the extra payroll flexibility allows Amaro to bring in another reliever as well.

The outfield is more or less set. Victorino and Pence will be found in center and right field, respectively. Left field can be filled a number of ways in the absence of Raul Ibanez. The Phillies have three immediate candidates for the position in Mayberry, Francisco, and Brown. Previously, however, Amaro stated that he wanted Brown to get another full season in Triple-A, so that leaves the Phillies with two right-handers. As mentioned, depending on exactly where the Phillies stand with respect to their payroll, a lefty could be brought in, and there are a swath of lefty outfielders available: the previously mentioned Damon and DeJesus, as well as Ibanez, Laynce Nix, Jason Kubel, and Kosuke Fukudome, among others.

Personally, I would immediately rule out Ibanez, Nix, and Fukudome. Damon seems like a great fit. Corey Seidman went over the pros and cons at Phillies Nation recently, writing:

Damon would also bring some speed, which can’t be said of any of the other impact leftfielders on the Phils’ radar. Damon is the only one of the bunch who could be penciled into the two-hole just as well as the six-hole.

[...]

If Damon can be had on a one-year, $4.25-4.5 million deal, he’s pretty much a no-brainer. Signing Damon would give the Phils three solid depth bats – Damon, Ty Wigginton, Jim Thome – for less than the cost of one year of Michael Cuddyer.

DeJesus is the best of the bunch when it comes to defense. Like Damon, he is coming off of a career-worst season offensively (his first season outside of Kansas City). In a typical year, DeJesus hits close to .300 with above-average on-base skills, so he would be an asset hitting at the top of the lineup behind Victorino. Kubel is your typical mediocre left fielder with occasional power. Although the Phillies ranked seventh in the league in slugging percentage last year, they were nearly as unimpressive in the on-base department, and given the lack of diversity in the lineup, Damon and DeJesus seem like much better fits.

Moving on… the pitching is, of course, the easiest part of this equation. The starting rotation is more or less set in stone with Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Worley, and Blanton. In the last year of his three-year contract, Blanton (earning $8.5 million) could be used as trade fodder during the summer if he shows improvement and good health in the first three or four months. Other than that, there is nothing exciting going on with the rotation, aside from the inevitability of a Hamels contract extension.

The bullpen may see one more outsider brought in, but any remaining gaps will be filled internally and shouldn’t be the cause of heated debate. Kendrick is an interesting case as he is arbitration-eligible for the second year. The Phillies paid him $2.45 million to avoid arbitration last year. MLB Trade Rumors projects Kendrick at $3.2 million this year, so the Phillies have the option of simply releasing him. Although he posted unexpectedly good results last year (3.22 ERA), his performance leaves a lot to be desired and doesn’t project to be anything better than a replacement-level pitcher. Such an arm, of course, would not be worth upwards of $3 million.

To recap, these are the important story lines between now and spring training:

  • First base sans Howard (Thome, Wigginton, Mayberry)
  • Shortstop with or without Rollins
  • Left field, whether it is filled from within or externally
  • Extending Cole Hamels

At the moment, the Phillies have roughly $125 million committed to 13 players. There are five potential arbitration cases (Hamels, Pence, Kendrick, Valdez, Francisco) and a handful of players earning at or slightly more than the Major League minimum (Mayberry, Herndon, Bastardo, Worley, Stutes, Schwimer). MLB Trade Rumors projects the five arbitration-eligibles to earn a combined $31 million. Taken all together, the Phillies are at about $160 million, just barely under last year’s $166 million Opening Day payroll. The luxury tax has been set at $178 million, which gives the Phillies under $20 million of wiggle room. Amaro will certainly have to perform some financial gymnastics to address the final questions, which makes the next three months all the more intriguing.

Phillies Players and Popularity

At FanGraphs yesterday, fellow Sweet Spotter Jack Moore demonstrated just how little the Internet baseball community cares for Barry Bonds. Plotting players’ career WAR with their ELO rating, the overwhelming majority of players did not stray far from the trendline. Bonds, however, ranked 26th in the ELO rating despite having the second-highest WAR of all-time (just 0.2 behind leader Babe Ruth). I guess when you’re generally perceived as a prick and are the poster child for steroid use in sports, people tend not to like you.

Moore’s method is an interesting way to visualize a player’s popularity (or in Bonds’ case, the lack thereof), so I wanted to see how Phillies players fared. Using essentially the same methodology, I plotted the Phillies’ top-50 leaders in WAR using their overall career WAR with their ELO rating. The further up you go, the better the player actually was, and the further right you go, the better the player is perceived to be or to have been. An easy way to sum it up is to look at the trendline: players below it are overrated and players above it are underrated, with the distance from the trendline showing the degree to which a player is valued.

Ryan Howard should stick out, as he is (predictably) the most overrated of recent Phillies. The rest of the Phillies are slightly under the trendline because their careers are not yet finished. As they move forward, players like Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth will improve their WAR and move closer to the line. Scott Rolen is slightly underrated, likely an amalgamation of his injury-shortened seasons, under-appreciation of defense, and a few offensively-disappointing seasons.

Hamels sticks out as overrated, but it’s actually because he has just six seasons under his belt and his 2006 and ’09 seasons really weigh him down. ELO seems to underrate relievers as well. Halladay should be on the other side of the line before his career with the Phillies is up. Unsurprisingly, Curt Schilling is rated almost perfectly.

If you’d like to fool around with the spreadsheet, you can grab it here. It has 99 players: 50 position players and 49 pitchers. I removed one pitcher because his WAR wasn’t listed for some reason. If you’d like to waste some time rating players, stop by Baseball Reference’s ELO page.

Thanks to Jack Moore for the idea. Make sure to follow him on Twitter (@jh_moore), read his stuff at FanGraphs, and check out Disciples of Uecker.

Brief Thoughts on the NL MVP Award

Ryan Braun took home the National League Most Valuable Player award yesterday, nudging out Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the presumed favorite. Both rWAR and fWAR had Kemp in the lead. Baseball Reference considered Kemp the better hitter, while FanGraphs had him just slightly behind Braun. It’s not exactly an upset but the results will certainly lead to some interesting conversation and debate.

Overall, the ballot wasn’t terrible, but there were a few surprises. The most glaring finish was Ryan Howard in 10th place, just 13 points behind Roy Halladay. Halladay, of course, was expected to be a heavy contender for the NL Cy Young award after posting the best season of his career. Meanwhile, Howard had arguably the worst season of his career. Still, he hit 33 home runs and drove in 116 runs, which seems to be good enough for BBWAA voters. Of all 26 players that received votes, Howard had the second-lowest rWAR (2.7, tied with reliever John Axford and ahead of shortstop Starlin Castro). Howard’s rWAR was by far the lowest among players in the top-15. Even among his own teammates, Howard had the ninth-best rWAR, with just 0.2 more than Hunter Pence and John Mayberry, Jr. despite 350-400 more plate appearances.

After beating out Halladay for the NL Cy Young award, Kershaw somehow finished behind Halladay in NL MVP voting with 29 points, which included just one fifth place vote and one sixth place vote.

Along with Howard and Halladay, four other Phillies received votes: Shane Victorino (13th, 18 points), Cliff Lee (15th, 12 points), Pence (16th, 10 points), and Carlos Ruiz (23rd, 1 point).

As with any award, the down-ballot nominees are pretty much irrelevant, so there’s nothing worth getting flustered over.

The full results:

Player, Team 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th Points
Ryan Braun, Brewers 20 12 388
Matt Kemp, Dodgers 10 16 6 332
Prince Fielder, Brewers 1 4 11 9 1 3 2 1 229
Justin Upton, D-backs 1 8 11 6 3 1 1 1 214
Albert Pujols, Cardinals 1 6 11 6 4 2 166
Joey Votto, Reds 4 3 2 8 3 3 4 1 135
Lance Berkman, Cardinals 1 2 6 3 7 2 4 3 118
Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies 3 4 8 5 4 69
Roy Halladay, Phillies 1 1 1 6 2 3 52
Ryan Howard, Phillies 1 3 1 1 1 3 39
Jose Reyes, Mets 1 1 3 4 3 31
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers 1 1 2 5 2 29
Shane Victorino, Phillies 3 3 3 18
Ian Kennedy, D-backs 1 2 1 16
Cliff Lee, Phillies 2 1 1 12
Hunter Pence, Astros/Phillies 1 1 1 10
Pablo Sandoval, Giants 1 1 7
John Axford, Brewers 1 2 7
Michael Morse, Nationals 1 1 5
Carlos Beltran, Mets/Giants 1 3
Miguel Montero, D-backs 1 2
Yadier Molina, Cardinals 2 2
Starlin Castro, Cubs 1 1
Craig Kimbrel, Braves 1 1
Carlos Ruiz, Phillies 1 1
Mike Stanton, Marlins 1 1

Source: BBWAA.com

“Ty Wigginton Performs Under Pressure”

You’ll hear the words “performs under pressure” bandied about to describe many players in baseball, usually in the context of a baseball game. For newly-acquired utilityman Ty Wigginton, it means a lot more. This article from the St. Petersburg Times, circa 2007, describes a real-life pressure situation in which Wigginton quite literally delivered.

When his wife, Angela, went into intense labor two weeks early, Ty ended up delivering their son in the bedroom closet of their new North Carolina home.

“He was out in less than a minute,” Ty said Friday. “One or two pushes, and he was ready to see the world.”

The baby was healthy. The delivery, given the circumstances, was smooth. But it was not without drama. And some chaos.

Angela lying on the floor of the walk-in closet. Their 3-year-old son, Chase, sick and scared, locked in the adjacent bedroom, screaming, “Is Mommy o-tay?” Ty getting step-by-step instructions from a 911 operator, then having to give Angela the phone so he could have both hands free to tie the umbilical cord with a lace he took out of his shoe.

“I think adrenaline took over. It’s kind of all a blur,” Ty said. “It was unbelievable.”

Ty Wigginton. Clutch. But not that kind of clutch.

Phillies Deal for Ty Wigginton

While Philadelphians were getting ready to watch Sunday Night Football between the Eagles and Giants, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. continued to add to the 2012 roster by trading for utilityman Ty Wigginton from the Colorado Rockies. Wigginton is entering the second year of a two-year, $8 million deal signed prior to last season, providing a cheap plug at the various holes the Phillies still have, particularly at first base and left field, as well as their need for a capable back-up infielder.

The Phillies had previously been linked with free agent Michael Cuddyer, formerly of the Minnesota Twins. Signs seem to indicate that Cuddyer is seeking a contract similar to the one the Phillies gave to Raul Ibanez prior to the 2009 season (three years, $31.5 million). By comparison, the Wigginton trade allows the Phillies to accomplish nearly as much while spending very little — various reports said the Phillies would be sending either a player to be named later or cash. Buster Olney reports that the Phillies are eating half of Wigginton’s remaining salary for the 2012 season. Wigginton also has an option for 2013 worth $4 million with a $500,000 buy-out. Essentially, the Phillies can get two years out of Wigginton if he produces, and if he doesn’t, they have a very cheap escape route.

On the surface, the Wigginton trade seems quite good, but there are a couple of red flags. The first is his defense. No matter what metrics you use, or even if you use your eyes only, there is just no way to speak highly of his defense. Versatile as he is, he does not play above-average defense at any position, infield or outfield. If you buy into UZR, he has been worth -77.3 defensive runs since 2002, or roughly -7.5 wins. His career WAR is 6.6. Essentially, if he had simply played average defense, he would be more than twice as valuable as he is currently. Even rWAR (Baseball Reference) speaks poorly of his glove work, putting him at four wins below replacement over the last three years, speaking solely about his defense.

Additionally, Wigginton’s offense has been nothing to write home about recently. Wigginton posted a .370 wOBA in 2008 with the Houston Astros which put him on the map. After signing with the Baltimore Orioles as a free agent, his wOBA dropped to .311 in ’09 and .316 in ’10. Wigginton signed with the Colorado Rockies last year, but he didn’t fare any better, posting a .322 wOBA while playing half his games at Coors Field.

The general consensus seems to be that Wigginton will spend some of his playing time — as much as half or more — at first base. If that turns out to be the case, Wigginton will have to improve with the bat to justify his playing time. The average National League first baseman had a .350 wOBA last season. However, even if Wigginton posts a .320 wOBA in 250 PA at first base, he will only be a half-win worse than a league-average first baseman given the same amount of plate appearances. Meanwhile, in 2011 the average third baseman posted a paltry .314 wOBA and the average left fielder was at .332. Wigginton at his worst is about average between the two positions. Depending on where he spends the remainder of his time, he can give the Phillies exactly what they paid for. At the price of $2 million, he only has to produce about a half-win above a replacement-level player to justify his spot on the 25-man roster.

Obviously, versatility is the big draw. It was specifically what drew the Phillies to Cuddyer as well. The Phillies have two items on their itinerary: find a shortstop and figure out Cole Hamels‘ future. With limited payroll flexibility, the Phillies also had to address the less-pressing needs with the roster, but the Wigginton acquisition can kill many birds with one stone. Not only can he play first base, perhaps as part of a two- or three-headed monster, but he can spell Placido Polanco at third base and play in left field. Of course, a Plan B in the event of an injury is also nice to have, so Wigginton is not a bad back-up plan in the event things head south the way they have in each of the past two seasons.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of the trade is that it saves the Phillies from signing Cuddyer to a very ill-advised multi-year contract. As mentioned, the prevailing thought is that Cuddyer is seeking a contract similar to the one Ibanez got several years ago, which is too much money for an aging, one-dimensional (even if versatile) player. Wigginton is not as potent with the bat as Cuddyer, but the difference between being on the hook for $2 million for one year (potentially $6 million for two years) is a lot better than $30 million over three years.

Compared to other realistic options for the Phillies, the Wigginton acquisition looks good. He will not contend for the NL MVP award, but his cost relative to his production will be better than anything else the Phillies could have done. Chalk one up for Smuggy.

Brief Thoughts on the NL Cy Young Award

Clayton Kershaw ran away with the National League Cy Young award yesterday, earning 27 of 32 first-place votes. Roy Halladay received only four while teammates Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels finished in third and fifth place, respectively. It is not surprising that Kershaw won, but it is somewhat shocking that he won so convincingly. Leading up to the announcement, the common thought seemed to be that the trio of Kershaw, Halladay, and Lee were very close in nearly every statistical category that any of them could win it. Ultimately, the voters — who traditionally have cited the importance of playing for a contending team — felt that Kershaw’s edge in the traditional stats gave him the edge.

Ian Kennedy was another surprise, finishing fourth in voting ahead of Hamels. Kennedy’s 21-4 record looks quite nice compared to Hamels’ 14-9, but he received 0.7 runs of support per game. Over 33 starts, that amounts to 23 additional runs. That’s not to say that Kennedy didn’t deserve to be in fourth place, but he did inexplicably receive a first place vote while Hamels didn’t receive any first-through-third place votes.

Other oddities included relievers John Axford and Craig Kimbrel getting votes as well as Ryan Vogelsong, riding the momentum of four very surprising months between April and July — his first four months in the Majors since 2006. Yovani Gallardo received two percent of the voting share despite a 3.52 ERA.

Overall, the results seem fine even if the distribution of the votes is a little peculiar. The down-ballot nominees are largely irrelevant, so I don’t think fans can make many complaints about how the Cy Young balloting played out.

Pitcher, Team 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th Points
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers 27 3 2 207
Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies 4 21 7 133
Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies 5 17 9 1 90
Ian Kennedy, Arizona Diamondbacks 1 3 6 18 3 76
Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies 2 13 17
Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants 1 5 7
Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee Brewers 1 3 5
Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants 1 1 3
John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers 2 2
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves 2 2
Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants 1 1
Ryan Vogelsong, San Francisco Giants 1 1

Source: BBWAA.com

Is the Phillies’ Offense A Concern?

The past two seasons have been rather disappointing for the Phillies. Ruben Amaro constructed what can best be described as superteams, but the Phillies have exited the post-season with a whimper at the hands of the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals, both teams considered prohibitive underdogs at the time. In the 2010 NLCS, the Phillies scored 20 runs in six games against a daunting Giants pitching staff. More disappointingly, after the Phillies trounced the Cardinals for 11 runs in Game One of the 2011 NLDS, they managed just ten runs in the final four games of the series, including a goose egg in all nine innings of the rubber match.

As a result of the depressing finishes, the big concern for the Phillies going into the off-season is offense, or at least that’s what the fans and media would like you to believe. The truth is that the Phillies’ offense is fine and has been fine for quite some time. Fans, of course, are used to the powerhouse offenses of the mid-2000′s that put up 700-plus runs with reckless abandon. The end of the decade saw a dramatic shift in offense across the expanse of Major League Baseball. The league average runs per game has been in decline since 2008 and with it many components of run-scoring, such as overall hits, doubles, home runs, walks, and strikeouts (which have gone up). Whatever the cause may be — stricter drug policies, better and younger pitching, etc. — 2011 saw offense at its lowest level since 1992, when baseball had 26 teams.

When you compare the Phillies’ offensive output, it has more or less declined at the same rate as the league. Peep the following line graph:

Another way to visualize the data is to use an “index” that compares the Phillies’ offense to the league’s and scales it such that 100 is considered average, over is above-average and under is below-average. That is done as such: ((Phillies RPG / League RPG) * 100)

  • 2007: Phillies 5.51, NL 4.71 (117)
  • 2008: Phillies 4.93, NL 4.54 (109)
  • 2009: Phillies 5.06, NL 4.43 (114)
  • 2010: Phillies 4.77, NL 4.33 (110)
  • 2011: Phillies 4.40, NL 4.13 (107)

The three percent decline in offense, relative to the league, from 2010 to ’11 is lower than the decline from ’07 to ’08 (eight percent) and ’09 to ’10 (four percent). If offense wasn’t a concern for you in either of those years, then it shouldn’t be now.

There are symptoms that can be identified and hopefully treated, though. For instance, the 2011 Phillies collectively walked at their lowest rate (3.33 per game) since 1998 (3.14). Similarly, they stole bases at their lowest rate (0.59 per game) since ’06 (0.54). Only one of their ten hitters with 250 or more plate appearances hit .280 or better (Carlos Ruiz). Ruiz was also the only hitter in that threshold with an on-base percentage above .360.

Sure, the last two post-seasons left a very sour taste in our mouths, but it was not evidence of a systemic problem. By tweaking a few small components here and there (speed at the top of the line-up here, good on-base skills here…), the Phillies can turn an above-average offense back into a league-leading offense.

Ruben Amaro and Multi-Year Contracts

One does not earn the nickname “Smuggy” without putting his reputation on the line. Since taking over for Pat Gillick after the 2008 season, Ruben Amaro has been the daredevil GM in Major League Baseball, putting together arguably the best starting rotation of all-time and signing Ryan Howard to one of the largest contracts in baseball history. Although the Phillies haven’t won a World Series under Amaro, they have continued to reach the post-season and even set a franchise record for wins (dating back to 1883) with 102 just this past season.

Amaro’s signature move came in the winter after the 2010 regular season. At the time, the media had been reporting that the bidding war for Cliff Lee‘s services was down to the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers, with Texas considered the slight favorite as Lee’s wife had a bad experience with some Yankees fans. Suddenly, a “mystery team” emerged, a term initially met with skepticism and derision. On December 14, the Phillies announced that they and Lee had agreed on a five-year, $120 million contract. Both Yankees and Rangers fans were left mouth agape as Phillies fans celebrated getting their guy back.

Everything Amaro did in getting the Lee deal completed was done essentially in the stealth of night, as this article by Nick DiUlio of PhillyMag.com illustrates:

Still, it wasn’t happening. Every time Amaro made an offer, the Lees asked for just a little bit more. The Rangers were offering Lee $138 million for six years. And the Yankees were offering him the choice of either a six-year, $138 million deal or a seven-year, $148 million contract. Amaro simply wouldn’t be able to bridge the gap.

So by the afternoon of December 12th — three weeks after Kristen Lee had pleaded with Amaro not to break her heart again — “The deal was dead,” Amaro says. “We said, ‘That’s it. We’re done. It’s dead. Out. Done.’”

Conceding defeat, [Assistant GM Scott] Proefrock sent [Lee's agent Darek] Braunecker a text. “I feel sick about this,” he wrote. Braunecker’s response: “I feel the same way.” It was that response, so emotional, so devoid of cunning and games, that gave Proefrock the feeling that maybe, just maybe, there was still a shred of hope. They would make one last offer: $120 million. Five years.

Later that night, Amaro’s cell phone rang. “Ruben?” Once again, the voice of Braunecker on the other end. “You got Cliff back.”

Amaro doesn’t utilize Moneyball principles when constructing a roster. In fact, the Phillies are considered one of the few teams left in baseball that aren’t particularly progressive. Instead, Amaro takes his team’s one big advantage — money — and throws it at the best players available. With that approach, he has acquired Lee as well as Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Hunter Pence while keeping the core players around. Under Amaro, the Phillies’ Opening Day payroll rose from $98 million in 2008 to $113 million in ’09, then to $138 million in ’10 and $166 million last year.

Because of the risk involved with big contracts, Sabermetrically-inclined people tend to wince at just about everything Amaro even hints at doing. The Phillies are agreed to a contract with reliever Jonathan Papelbon just days after a four-year, $44 million deal with Ryan Madson fell through. The Papelbon contract, like many of Amaro’s contracts, has been met with distaste, but let’s review all of the multi-year contracts Amaro has handed out since he became GM of the Phillies. Perhaps he is on to something the rest of us are missing.

It would be very easy to take every contract and compare it to a dollars/fWAR metric, but I’d rather just review some descriptive stats to provide a general feeling. I am personally not a fan of using WAR for pitchers (especially relievers) and WAR for position players is reliant on rather unreliable defensive data. So, let’s start from the top.

12/12/2008 Raul Ibanez (free agent) 3 years, $31.5M

Ibanez posted a .342 wOBA, above the league average (between .312-.324). The bulk of his value came in the first half of the 2009 season, when he went into the All-Star break with a 1.015 OPS. The second half saw just a .774 OPS in part due to a groin strain. While still above-average, Ibanez’s 2010 season was his first since 2003. Ibanez completely tanked in 2011, finishing with an OPS barely above .700. In all three years at a non-premium position, Ibanez was a defensive liability and was a detriment on the bases. fWAR values Ibanez at $18 million over the three years. Even without using that, I think it’s safe to say that the Ibanez contract was a flop, especially considering that it isn’t difficult to find offense at that position at a cheaper price.

12/15/2008 Jamie Moyer (re-signed) 2 years, $13M

Between 2009-10, at the ages of 46 and 47, Moyer pitched to a 4.90 ERA. At the time, the Phillies did not have a super-rotation, so Moyer factored into the middle of a starting rotation that figured to include Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, and Joe Blanton. That said, given Moyer’s age and uninspiring peripherals, the money could have been better spent on a more reliable option for the back of the starting rotation. The deal wasn’t a flop like the Ibanez contract, but the Phillies certainly didn’t get positive value out of it.

1/18/2009 Cole Hamels (extension) 3 years, $20.5M

One does not need to closely examine the statistics to conclude that this was a good deal. At the time, Hamels was coming off of a great season, posting a 3.09 ERA during the regular season and winning World Series MVP honors as well. The sky was the limit for the 25-year-old, who had several years of potentially-costly arbitration ahead of him. It was absolutely the right move for the Phillies to buy out all but one of his remaining arbitration years.

However, Hamels quickly earned the ire of the Phillies fan base when his 2009 season went into the toilet. Hamels finished a topsy-turvy regular season with a 4.32 ERA. Unlike the previous post-season, the Phillies could rely on someone else, namely Cliff Lee. Hamels’ struggles continued in the post-season, resulting in him wishing for the season to end after his start in Game Three of the World Series against the New York Yankees. Needless to say, Hamels put his nose to the grindstone and came back a new man in 2010. He refined his curve and added a cutter, helping him dramatically increase the rate at which hitters swung and missed. Over the three years of the deal, Hamels’ ERA is 3.36, right in line with defense-independent metrics. Along with Lee and Clayton Kershaw, Hamels emerged as one of the top-three left-handed starters in baseball. Yes, this deal was absolutely a good call from Amaro.

2/8/2009 Ryan Howard (extension) 3 years, $54M

Doesn’t this contract look like a pittance compared to his more recent contract? At the time this was signed, Howard had yet another season with 45+ home runs and 130+ RBI. The traditional metrics made the guy look like a god, even though his performance had been on a three-year decline and teams had already figured out his weakness (left-handed relievers throwing sliders low and away). However, the Phillies did not have any other options at first base and Howard figured to be a big part of any successful Phillies teams in the future. With an average annual value of $18 million, the deal paid Howard very handsomely, but the three-year duration gave the Phillies ample room to maneuver in the event that Howard declined precipitously.

Over the three years of the deal, Howard posted a .372 wOBA, well above the league average, but it was only the 11th-highest mark among first basemen. Although Howard’s 2009 season was quite good, the following two years were mediocre relative to other players at his position, and he did not bring any other tools to the table such as defense or base running. fWAR values Howard at $33 million between 2009-11, roughly 60 percent what he was to be paid. Although Howard certainly didn’t live up to the contract performance-wise, I think Amaro was justified in offering it given the short length and the team’s position at the time. Let’s call it a push.

12/1/2009 Brian Schneider (free agent) 2 years/ $2.75M

Amaro signed Schneider to play back-up to Carlos Ruiz, getting roughly 25 percent of the playing time behind the dish. Schneider was decent in 2010, posting a .324 wOBA, but disappeared in 2011, finishing at .227. However, he wasn’t signed for his offense; he was simply supposed to handle his pitchers and play non-terrible defense, which it seems like he did. Furthermore, he quickly earned the trust of 2011 Rookie of the Year candidate Vance Worley, catching in a majority of the right-hander’s starts. Whatever Schneider lacked in stats, he made up for in “other stuff”. Nothing wrong with this deal.

12/3/2009 Placido Polanco (free agent) 3 years, $18M

While many were focusing on free agent third basemen like Adrian Beltre and Chone Figgins, Amaro shrewdly focused on second baseman Placido Polanco. Polanco had earned a reputation as a defensive wizard while with the Detroit Tigers, spending every single inning at second base. Amaro, however, felt that Polanco could be an asset at third base for the Phillies while his bat control could be an asset in the #2 spot in the lineup.

Amaro was correct about Polanco’s glove, and that alone may be enough to pay for the contract. However, Polanco did have the worst offensive season of his career in 2011, finishing with a .304 wOBA. He did not live up to the “bat control” hype as Polanco set a career-low in batting average (.277) and strikeout rate (eight percent). The Polanco signing coincided with the Phillies’ shift from an offensively-focused team to a pitching-and-defense-focused team, so the lack of offense hurt less than it otherwise would have while his defense was more important. fWAR, with its ever-unreliable UZR metric, values Polanco at $29 million over the first two years of the contract. Even if UZR is grossly overstating Polanco’s defensive prowess, it is hard to argue that this contract was bad in any way (other than that Polanco is not Beltre).

12/15/2009 Ross Gload (free agent) 2 years, $2.6M

The Gload contract is a tale of two seasons. In 2010, Gload was reliable, providing occasional power from the left side off of the bench. He finished with a .348 wOBA. With a hip injury that nagged at him all season, Gload’s 2011 was the worst of his career. He had just eight extra-base hits (all doubles) as his wOBA dipped to .266. Given the relative strength of his 2010, he was overall a net positive. fWAR values him at about $1 million overall between the two years. Still, I have a hard time faulting Amaro for this. It’s a push.

12/16/2009 Roy Halladay (extension) 3 years, $60M

There’s not much to say about this other than that this deal is pretty awesome. In the first year of the deal, Halladay pitched a perfect game in the regular season and a no-hitter in the NLDS. Oh, and he took home the NL Cy Young award unanimously with a 2.44 ERA (2.80 xFIP). Halladay improved in 2011, finishing with a 2.35 ERA (2.71 xFIP). At the time, the Phillies were famously sticking to a policy where no players received a multi-year contract of four years or more, one reason why Halladay agreed to such a team-friendly deal. With Halladay’s blessing, the Phillies lured Cliff Lee back to Philadelphia with a five-year deal. (Halladay’s intangible value!) If you think this contract was bad, you are taking crazy pills.

12/31/2009 Danys Baez (free agent) 2 years, $5.25M

Baez was awful while with the Phillies. In fact, he was so bad, the Phillies released him with two months remaining on his deal. Baez finished 2010 with a 5.48 ERA, but he was inconceivably worse last year when he left the Phillies with a 6.25 ERA. It wasn’t exactly a buy-low deal; Amaro signed a pitcher with an injury history and declining peripherals on a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract. Given the volatility of relievers and the relative ease at which one can be found cheaper than $2.5 million per year, this contract was doomed from the start.

1/21/2010 Joe Blanton (extension) 3 years, $24M

In retrospect, this deal looks very bad since Blanton missed most of the 2011 season with an injury and he finished the 2010 season with a 4.82 ERA. Blanton, though, is an underrated pitcher who provides value when he isn’t injured or bitten by bad batted ball luck. In his time with the Phillies, Blanton’s xFIP is 3.87, ever so slightly above the league average. Still, given the Phillies’ strength in the rotation (Halladay, Lee, Hamels at the time), the Phillies could have simply taken Blanton to arbitration, then let him walk as a free agent. Most generously, this deal can be regarded as a push.

1/21/2010 Shane Victorino (extension) 3 years, $22M

As you can tell by the date, Amaro wanted to get his arbitration-eligible players their multi-year extensions and be done with the whole thing. In the previous four years as a regular with the Phillies, Victorino played great defense with one of the best arms in the game and ran the bases very well with great efficiency stealing bases. At the time, his bat was very underrated as he posted a .350 or greater wOBA in three consecutive years between 2007-09. Victorino’s production dipped slightly in 2010, but rebounded in a big way this past season. Through the end of August, Victorino found himself in the NL MVP conversation, but he tapered off in the final month, killing any hopes of earning some hardware. Overall, Victorino hit for a .372 wOBA, setting a career-high in strikeout-to-walk ratio and isolaTed Power. fWAR values Victorino at $41 million over the first two years of the contract. Even if fWAR is completely off-base in evaluating Victorino’s contributions, he has certainly been quite valuable since signing this deal.

1/24/2010 Carlos Ruiz (extension) 3 years, $8.85M

The unsung hero of the Phillies teams of the “playoff era”, Chooch was a no-brainer when it came to offering a contract extension. Every pitcher that has passed through Philadelphia — besides, perhaps, Vance Worley — has sung Ruiz’s praises. The guy expertly handles his pitchers, calls a good game, and is among the game’s best at blocking pitches in the dirt. Most impressively, he was an offensive monster in 2010 as his .366 wOBA was the fourth-highest among catchers with at least 350 plate appearances. The Phillies had no reliable Major League-ready catching prospects and the readily-available free agent catchers are as volatile as relievers, so it made perfect sense for the Phillies to extend Ruiz. Even if Ruiz didn’t have a great 2010 season, the contract was a huge bargain.

12/14/2010 Cliff Lee (free agent) 5 years, $120M

This contract is ever so slightly cheaper than the most recent Ryan Howard extension. The important distinction between the two is that Lee’s position is at one of great value, while Howard’s is not. Still, a five-year deal with an average annual value of $24 million is incredibly risky, especially for a pitcher. With the Indians, Lee was not exactly a model of consistency nor perfect health. However, Lee had three consecutive years (spanning 667 innings) where he was among the best pitchers in baseball both in terms of results and peripherals.

Lee arguably had the best season of his career in 2011, the first year of his contract. He finished with a 2.40 ERA (2.68 xFIP) and found himself in the conversation for the NL Cy Young award, along with Halladay and Clayton Kershaw. The contract will ultimately pay him through his age-36 season, not exactly his prime years. Ultimately, this is a deal that will be judged on results rather than the circumstances. Even without Lee, the Phillies would have had one of the best rotations in baseball (even if not historically great) and they didn’t advance past the NLDS with him in the first year, so it seems a bit superfluous. Amaro, though, signed Lee to an incredibly expensive contract to win another championship. If it happens, the risk is justified.

4/26/2010 Ryan Howard (extension) 5 years, $125M

Also known as the contract that split the Phillies’ fan base. Amaro did not want to allow Howard to hit free agency at the same time as Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, so he signed the 30-year-old to a five-year, $125 million contract extension that started in 2012, meaning that the contract would end after Howard’s age-36 season. For all of the warning flags present when Howard signed his initial extension, the same flags remained and more had cropped up. Still, the extension was universally hailed by all in the Phillies community except the Sabermetrically-inclined.

When the 2010 season finished, Howard had a typical offensive season with a .367 wOBA. However, his walk rate declined for the third consecutive season and his isolated power hit a career-low at .229 (it was .292 in the previous two seasons). Managers countered him with left-handed relievers who threw a heavy amount of sliders low-and-away. Howard showed little to no adaptability. In 2011, Howard improved his walk rate, but had the worst offensive season of his career as his wOBA dropped to .354. He showed increased preference to pull, which had a negative effect on both his power and plate coverage. Additionally, while he put in a lot of work improving his defense at first base, it could be considered only average at best. Even before the contract kicked in, it appeared to be a colossal failure.

Then, on the last play of the Phillies’ 2011 season in Game Five of the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals, Howard injured his Achilles running out of the batter’s box. The injury has the potential to put the kibosh on his entire 2012 season, the first year of the extension. If given the power, I think every Phillies fan would now undo the extension granted to Howard on that fateful day in late April, 2010. Of all the multi-year contracts Amaro has dished out, the Howard contract is the worst and there are no others in the same stratosphere.

Recap

  • bad
  • 12/15/2008 Jamie Moyer (re-signed) 2 years, $13M
    • bad
  • 1/18/2009 Cole Hamels (extension) 3 years, $20.5M
    • good
  • 2/8/2009 Ryan Howard (extension) 3 years, $54M
    • push
  • 12/1/2009 Brian Schneider (free agent) 2 years, $2.75M
    • good
  • 12/3/2009 Placido Polanco (free agent) 3 years, $18M
    • good
  • 12/15/2009 Ross Gload (free agent) 2 years, $2.6M
    • push
  • 12/16/2009 Roy Halladay (extension) 3 years, $60M
    • good
  • 12/31/2009 Danys Baez (free agent) 2 years, $5.25M
    • bad
  • 1/21/2010 Joe Blanton (extension) 3 years, $24M
    • push
  • 1/21/2010 Shane Victorino (extension) 3 years, $22M
    • good
  • 1/24/2010 Carlos Ruiz (extension) 3 years, $8.85M
    • good
  • 12/14/2010 Cliff Lee (free agent) 5 years, $120M
    • unknown
  • 4/30/2010 Ryan Howard (extension) 5 years, $125M
    • bad

    Going by groupings:

    • Free agents: 2 good (Schneider, Polanco), 2 bad (Ibanez, Baez), 1 push (Gload), 1 unknown (Lee)
    • Extensions: 4 good (Hamels, Halladay, Victorino, Ruiz), 1 bad (Howard [second]), 2 push (Howard [first], Blanton)
    • Re-signings: 1 bad (Moyer)

    When it comes to free agents, Amaro is more or less breaking even. He’s had better success on extending players as four of the seven can be deemed successful. Of them all, the Howard, Lee, and Papelbon contracts (each either recently started or to begin in 2012) stick out the most and, ultimately, Amaro’s legacy will be judged by them and not by his noteworthy mid-season acquisitions.

    A Closer Look at Jon Papelbon

    Well, yesterday was fun, huh? It seems like giving out a huge contract or making a(t least one) blockbuster trade is a rite of passage for every offseason under the Ruben Amaro Jr. reign.

    The latest addition to this big, happy family is none other than long-time Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, he of the intense pitcher-face, long pauses between pitches and often exuberant reactions to saves. He’s also a pretty darn good pitcher. Sure, giving four guaranteed years and $50 million – I’m still in the stage where I wince while typing that – to any reliever that isn’t prime Mariano Rivera is sure to raise as many questions as it does eyebrows.

    For now, though, we’ll put that aside to check out some of the things that have made Papelbon so effective.

    Papelbon rebounded from a shaky 2010 to post another solid season in ’11 with great peripherals. He’ll only pitch 60-70 innings a season, but rest assured that those innings will be good ones. Papelbon finished his fifth consecutive season of logging 10-plus strikeouts per nine, but what makes him more than just a simple power pitcher is that he actually commands his stuff; not only that, he loves to challenge hitters and still has the stuff to blow by them.

    In 2011, Papelbon lived in the upper part of the zone, as shown to the right. The vast majority of the pitches from the belt to the letters were fastballs, and seeing as his average fastball was 95 mph, it’s a bit easier to see how he can overmatch hitters.

    There’s interplay with Papelbon’s stuff, too. You can have a fastball that touches the mid-90s and still get knocked around (ask Danys Baez) but you need secondary stuff to make it effective. And vice versa: offspeed and breaking pitches can be ignored or sat on if the hitter knows there’s an ineffective fastball backing it up (ask 2009-11 Brad Lidge). With Papelbon, the mid-90s fastball is supported by an excellent splitter, a pitch that drastically changes the batter’s eye level and throws off timing.

    Again, bear in mind how often Papelbon hits the upper part of the zone with the heater, than take a look at the map to the left.

    The splitter was a pitch Papelbon was eschewing in favor of more heaters, as there was talk of the pitch possibly leaving his shoulder sore. The splitter is a notoriously taxing pitch. Really, with that fastball to lean on, it’s no surprise he was still effective, but when the splitter is a prominent part of the arsenal, Papelbon is that much more dangerous.

    The slider is still something of a work in progress. One of the big reasons why Papelbon wasn’t converted into a starter – as he was for the majority of his time in the minors – was the lack of an effective third pitch. As a reliever, two plus pitches can definitely be enough, but if Papelbon can continue to demonstrate an effective slider in 2012 and beyond, he should remain very, very effective for a while. Perhaps, as it improves, he can even use it against left-handed batters (from 2010-11, Papelbon threw his slider to lefties only three percent of the time) and be a three-pitch guy to all hitters.

    While 2010 was likely considered his worst year – even though, relatively speaking, it wasn’t all that bad – a big rebound in 2011 almost certainly played a big part in the Phillies front office seeing Papelbon as worthy of four guaranteed years and a lot of money. Via Inside Edge, here’s a comparison of a few next-level categories for Papelbon between 2010 and 2011.

    click here for a larger, more readable version

    Fastball command was improved, as was efficiency and the amount of hitters’ counts that ended up resulting in outs. What really jumps out at me, though, are the “Dominance” and “Overall Effectiveness” sections. Papelbon was good in both areas in 2010, to be sure, but the numbers go off the charts in ’11.

    What all of this amounts to is a fine relief pitcher who should accumulate plenty of quality outs. Whether he’s worth the kind of money he’ll be paid will almost certainly be in question for the life of the deal, but there’s little denying that the Phils have added a fine piece to their relief corps.

    Phillies Sign Jonathan Papelbon

    The story just hit its apex. Just days after a four-year, $44 million deal with Ryan Madson fell through, the Phillies signed free agent reliever Jonathan Papelbon, according to Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com. Salisbury reports that the contract is worth over $50 million.

    Bill’s Take: Papelbon is a very good pitcher, arguably better than Madson in many ways. The former Red Sox closer finished the 2011 regular season with a 12.2 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9, setting a career-high with a strikeout-to-walk ratio approaching nine — that’s in Cliff Lee territory. He has been more or less dominant since becoming a fixture in the Boston bullpen in 2006. Still, Papelbon has not exceeded 70 innings in a season and the Phillies are paying, presumably, upwards of $12 million per season for one inning of dominance once every two or three nights on average.

    Additionally, the amount of money being spent on a closer can potentially hamstring the Phillies’ ability to find an adequate shortstop and sign Cole Hamels to a contract extension. As has been said here many times recently, one does not need to allocate large sums of money in the bullpen in order to find success. Relievers — even those as consistently elite as Madson and Papelbon — are notoriously volatile on a year-to-year basis, so it makes more sense to shift your money to more reliable causes such as shortstop and the starting rotation.

    It seems like there will be almost unanimous distaste for the Papelbon deal. The stat-heads will hate that a reliever got such a lucrative contract while traditionalists will dislike the guy’s personality. Let’s not forget, though, that he is a very good reliever — even if his genus is unpredictable — with the potential to be the frontman of a dominant bullpen.

    Contract: no. Personality: no. Skills: yes.

    Ryan’s takeJonathan Papelbon is an elite reliever, and has had sustained success in that role since 2006, sustaining a 200 ERA+ over six seasons. But this is just too much money and too many years for any reliever, save maybe Mariano Rivera. Relievers are a volatile breed by nature, and they pitch a vanishingly small portion of a team’s innings. Since 2006, Papelbon accounts for 4.6% of the Boston’s innings pitched. Most of his appearances involved high leverage innings, yes, but the point remains: free agent relievers, especially closers, are paid more than they’re really worth, and they’re not a safe enough bet to merit longer term contracts.

    Take Brad Lidge, who received an extension from the Phillies following his excellent 2008 season. He was two years older than Paplebon is now, and had, in 461.2 innings as a full time reliever (Papelbon: 395.1), managed an excellent 144 ERA+ (Papelbon: 200). Pat Gillick gave Lidge more or less the same deal that Papelbon is now receiving, except a year shorter in base length (3 years, $37.5 million with a 2012 club option). I don’t have to tell you what an albatross that turned out to be. Granted, Lidge had serious injury concerns, and there is no reason to suspect Papelbon will crater in the same way, but the Phillies had a lesson on the danger of big money reliever deals that was impossible to miss, and appear to have missed it.

    Had they taken it, and instead (as Bill has previously suggested) deployed their bevy of young arms as a cheap, internal solution, supplementing cheaply as necessary, this money could have been used to reap more value in areas of need. They would’ve kept their draft pick, and Ryan Madson would have walked, netting them more pick compensation to salve their depleted farm system (this benefit, of course, hinges on the outcome of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement). They did not take the lesson, though, and now Jonathan Papelbon is The Closer in Charlie Manuel’s bullpen. This means that the Phillies won’t even derive maximum value from their huge investment. Charlie Manuel has never leveraged his bullpen assets properly, and it’s a guarantee that Papelbon will see plenty of low leverage 9th innings, and sit on the bullpen bench while lesser pitchers labor through the most important plate appearances of the game because they don’t happen to come in a save situation. And what if Papelbon does run into problems? Remember this quote from 2009?

    “Lidge is our closer,” Manuel said before the Phillies played the Washington Nationals. “You’ve definitely got to show confidence in him.”

    The Phillies signed Lidge to a three-year extension midway through his stellar 2008 season.

    “We signed him. He was perfect last year. Everybody knows about that,” Manuel said. “We signed him to a long-term deal as our closer. I’ve always looked at him as our closer.”

    Remember how much it took to get Charlie Manuel to stop relying on that tired refrain?

    Of course, we knew that the Phillies would not likely stay cheap and flexible with the bullpen. We knew that Ruben Amaro was intransigent in his desire to add a bonafide MLB “closer,” and that he could have picked worse options (Heath Bell, for one). And it is unlikely that this will impede the cash-flush Phillies from giving Cole Hamels a much-needed extension, and acquiring a starting shorstop. But for these things to bring us comfort, we have to first surrender ourselves to the spurious logic that constrained the Phillies to the best of some bad options. And when future misallocations of resources start to pile up and actually hurt the team’s financial flexibility, you’ll have to hope that the Amaro-induced Stockholm Syndrome is still strong enough. In 2015, when the Phillies are spending $36 million or more on a relief pitcher and an aging first baseman alone, I wager that “well it could have been worse!” won’t really be comforting.