Guest Post: Phillies and the Closer Situation

While the Phillies get their closer situation sorted out, I felt that this guest post was rather relevant.

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.

What makes a good prospect at closer? I wonder if anyone can answer that question, because I doubt that there are any really good pitchers who start out as “can’t miss” right out of the bullpen. Most pitching prospects, at least the top line ones, start out as provisional starters. Once upon a time, Ryan Madson was looked upon as a starting pitcher, not as a set-up guy or a closer. His career path took a turn that put him in the bullpen because he couldn’t pitch reliably for five or more innings at a time. That’s usually the reason given for taking any pitcher out of contention to be a starter. It’s a lot easier to dominate in one inning consistently and conditionally than it is to be Roy Halladay. It’s all about sample size.

Sample size – it’s a two-word phrase has become somewhat of a bugaboo to traditional baseball journalists. However, it’s an important thing to consider in any statistical measurement of value. It’s why that there’s a floor for at-bats to exceed to be considered for the batting title. Facing between three and five batters a game is important, but performing at the same level while facing between 20 and 30 batters a game is far more impressive. Performing above average at the plate and in the field for nine innings is worth more than one shutdown inning.

That doesn’t mean there can’t be excellent closers. The sample size argument works in a cumulative matter. In his podcast released on October 27th, Jonah Keri talked to Boog Sciambi, who put it into terms that I thought really made it understandable for everyone. In one postseason, Derek Jeter could hit really well, or he could totally not show up. However, as the postseason plate appearances pile up – he’s garnered over 700 – he starts to resemble himself and becomes looked upon as a “good” postseason player. That’s where I’d bring in arguments for the good closers throughout history. Mariano Rivera, for example, could have a good or bad season pitching 70 innings a year – and yes, they were mostly good. The fact that cumulatively, his stats have held up means that he’s a really good pitcher in his own right. It might even suggest that he could have made it as a starter, although the circumstances that were beyond his control at the time put him in the bullpen permanently.

However, those kinds of closers don’t come around all the time. For every Rivera or John Franco or Trevor Hoffman, there are a bunch of Eric Gagnes and Bobby Thigpens, guys who have a few good years as a closer, but inexplicably “lose it”. The fact is that they didn’t lose anything; they never really had it to begin with as an elite pitcher, and that in their elite years, they were able to put it together for a short period of time and make everyone believe they were top-level at something more than just pitching the last inning with a lead.

So, with that in mind, who is the best closer in history? Okay, let’s qualify that question, aside from Rivera, who is the best closer in history? I’d say that it’s not unanimous, but I feel like more than a few people would say Dennis Eckersley. For almost a decade starting in 1988, there wasn’t a more feared name to come out of the bullpen when his team was in possession of the lead. His dominance even earned him the American League Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards in 1992. Another fascinating tidbit in Eckersley’s career is that it began in 1975, and it wasn’t as a journeyman bullpen hand who had to wait for his shot to finish games.

Between 1975 and 1985, Eck was a starting pitcher, at times a really good one. In fact, over two years in 1978 and ’79 for the Boston Red Sox, he posted wins above replacement (according to Baseball Reference) of 6.4 and 6.8 respectively. Putting things in perspective, this year’s favorite to win the Cy Young award in the National League, Clayton Kershaw, posted a 6.9 WAR (BR). During the rest of his career as a starter, he hovered between 2 and 4 wins, excepting three years in the early ’80s when he hit a bit of a decline.

Another starting pitcher who did well for himself as a closer was John Smoltz, who topped out at 6.1 WAR (BR) in 1996, averaged between 3 and 5 wins in most other years as a starter before blowing his arm out in 1999 and was a big reason why the Braves were able to win 14 consecutive division titles. Coming back from his injury in 2001, there wasn’t really a place for him in the rotation, so the Braves used him as a closer. For three years he was in the position full-time between 2002 and ’04, he got a reputation as being a lockdown closer. However, the Braves ended up putting him back in the rotation in 2005. Why would they do that? It’s because pitchers have more value as starters than they do as relievers.

In Gagne’s perfect year, he posted 4.3 WAR (BR). That was good for 21st among pitchers in Major League Baseball. Every single pitcher ahead of him was a starter. Getting to 4 wins as a reliever is elite in a single season relative to other relief pitchers (more impressive seasons were Rivera’s 1996 as a set-up man to John Wetteland – 5.4 WAR (BR) – and an EPIC 7 win 1975 from Goose Gossage, for example), but compared to the rest of the league, that’s not really that great. Given that a relief pitcher has to be absolutely lights out in order to get to that level of wins, and it just doesn’t bear out that the position is worth spending big money on. There would have to be a reliever who put in several years of getting between 3 and 5 wins on the market before I would even consider spending big money on a closer. If anything I’d just be looking for a good pitcher to put there. At this point signing Madson or Heath Bell to a long term, big money contract to pitch one inning in between 40 and 60 games would be a waste of money.

I’m not even advocating that a barebones, league-minimum player would be the best option, although I wouldn’t be adverse to that. If the Phillies went into 2012 with Antonio Bastardo as their closer, I’d be perfectly fine. However, maybe the Phillies would be better served going after a starter to fill the role of closer, much like the A’s did in 1987 and the Braves did in 2001. Obviously, signing CJ Wilson as the closer wouldn’t be feasible since he’ll command starter money to be a starter. However, with Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee in the top three starter slots and Vance Worley and Joe Blanton filling in as the fourth and fifth starters, it might not be all that farfetched to try and sign, I don’t know, an aging starting pitcher hovering around 3 wins per year who might want to win a title before he retires like Hiroki Kuroda or a former can’t miss starting pitching prospect who has the stuff but has never been able to translate that into a real career due to injuries or inconsistency like Rich Harden to close out games at a discounted price, using the siren’s call of being on a team that is so close to winning a title they could taste it.

It might be more expensive than going forward with Bastardo, Jose Contreras or a minor leaguer like Justin DeFratus or Philippe Aumont, but it would totally be less expensive than giving Madson or Bell $15 million a year. With a team like the Phillies’ resources, throwing anywhere between $2 and $5 million at a closer would free up a lot of money to go after a marquee free agent at a position like shortstop, leftfield or third base. Because really, money paid out should really be proportional to the sample size produced, am I right?

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

Phillies Linked With Yoenis Cespedes

If you were on the Internet yesterday, you probably heard about Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes. The highly-touted outfielder has drawn the interest from at least one-third of the teams in Major League Baseball, including the Phillies, according to Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports. If you watch the YouTube video below, it’s hard not to get a little psyched about the guy’s potential. Even more so if you read Kevin Goldstein’s narration of the video at Baseball Prospectus.

If you’re wondering how international signings work, Dingers Blog posted a primer here. The last four paragraphs deal with Cubans. It’s not particularly complicated, but interesting nonetheless.

Bill’s Take: Given the holes on multiple fronts that the Phillies need to fill with a limited budget, I wouldn’t expect to see the Phillies in hot pursuit of Cespedes, but you never know. The Phillies don’t have any center fielders nearing a call-up and Shane Victorino becomes a free agent after the 2012 season, so Cespedes could cover the Phillies for the next five years or so. However, it is more likely that the Phillies will work out an extension with Victorino during the season or trade him by the July 31 deadline in order to fill that hole.

The Phillies are suspected to have between $30 and 40 million left to round out the roster. Furthermore, they have been more heavily linked with relievers Ryan Madson and Jonathan Papelbon. Assuming that one of the two is signed for something near $10 million annually, the Phillies still have to sign Cole Hamels to an extension, find a shortstop, address left field and first base somewhat, and round out the bench and bullpen with $20-30 million. Given the widespread interest in Cespedes, I can’t see the Phillies competing in and winning a bidding war for his services unless Ruben Amaro plans to dumpster-dive to fill out the 2012 roster.

Paul’s Take: To be frank, I don’t know much. Like all of you, I had never even heard of this gentleman until about a week ago, when that hysterical promotional video made its way around the web.

Like Bill, though, I see financial constraints as a hindrance here. If this guy wants Aroldis Chapman money, I don’t know how that fits into the payroll with other needs more pressing. I can see how the allure of a player like Cespedes – a supposedly solid defensive center fielder with nice offensive upside – would draw big-time interest, but with so many teams supposedly interested at this point, it seems tough to put the Phils near the front of the pack.

Ryan’s Take: The Cuban free agents have a way of exploding onto the market with a comet’s tail of hype and folk legends for obvious reasons. Not only is there an added element of mystery about the player’s true ability, but I would bet there is also an intelligence cold war being waged between teams, just under the surface; none can be sure how much data any other has gathered on the player, which is important as the market for him takes shape. To those of us with only the video to go on, there are a few things that are obvious. For one, he has physical tools for days — he can jump very high, run very fast, and do a variety of squats and lifts with assorted giant weights, grand pianos, old-timey anvils, human beings, etc. attached (I’m even leaving out “explosive ability” and “core power” which, per the video, entail jumping up and down a lot of times consecutively, and thrusting your crotch into an unfortunate spotter’s face, respectively). For another, he appears to have a tremendous amount of power, and a swing that looks mechanically sound and conducive to sustaining that power. Of course, power is only useful if you can put the ball in play, and it remains to be seen how well he can do that against the caliber of pitching that exists in the MLB, replete with secondary pitches that are likely better than anything he’s seen in a league that Keith Law characterizes as “equivalent to low Class A or worse.” We’re also unable to make any inferences about his plate discipline, which itself involves a giant competitive leap for a Cuban player coming to the majors.

The Phillies aren’t known for making big IFA splashes, but, now that they’ve established a new spending power, it might be time to take full advantage of what that market has to offer. Last season’s Hunter Pence trade put the Phils’ system in an unfortunate state, and it would be nice, with the departure of Jon Singleton, to add a bat with Cespedes’ potential to it. But other big market teams are reportedly quite high on him, which will drive up his price. He’s also “26,” so he’s not really a “prospect” per se, and if it turns out that he’s major league ready in the near future, the Phillies don’t necessarily have a spot for him (granted, they could always keep Domonic Brown roasting in the organizational bronze bull for no reason at all). At the right cost, Cespedes is definitely a worthy pursuit, but the Phillies should invest generously in Cole Hamels and a starting shortstop first.

A Closer Look at Michael Cuddyer

With the Phillies reportedly in serious pursuit of free agent Michael Cuddyer, I find myself caught in something of a time warp whenever I hear him mentioned. I still play MVP 2005 every once in a while. To me, even as the rosters get more dated with each passing year, it’s still a nearly infinitely replayable game.

I bring this up because, whenever I would play with my good buddy Baumann from Phillies Nation, Cuddyer would always have the biggest impact on the game. He’d make diving plays at third base. Come up with a solid double to drive home Lew Ford. You know, 2005-type things.

Of course, the Michael Cuddyer of 2011-12 bears no resemblance to Fake Michael Cuddyer from ’05. Since the end of that ’05 season, Cuddyer has logged all of 107 innings at third base (all in 2010) and spent most of his time in the outfield and at first base. He doesn’t seem like a logical fit to supplant Placido Polanco, so we’ll move forward assuming that a potential signing of Cuddyer would mean time in the corner outfield spots and at first. He’s spent some time (read: very little) at second base, too, but with one of Wilson Valdez and Michael Martinez expected on the roster come Opening Day, there’s already a more viable backup option there.

Cuddyer handles lefties very well. His .311/.403/.589 slash in 176 PA against them last year is Victorino-esque, and his career OPS is more than .100 points higher against lefties than righties. That isn’t to say he’s unplayable against right-handers; he’s just especially dangerous against southpaws. And that’s an antidote to something Phils fans had heard about for a couple of seasons now: how the club and everyday lineup is too lefty-heavy. And really, the complaints aren’t exactly unfounded as it relates to LHB performance vs. LHP.

A look at Cuddyer’s In Play Slug heatmap (right) against lefties in 2011 shows some decent plate coverage. The cold spot down and in is a little surprising to see from a RHB against a lefty, but the strong showing in the heart and on the outer edge – from the top to the bottom of the zone, too – does compensate. Cuddyer also seems to fare better on pitchers in the lower portion than anything at the letters and up.

The drawback to that, naturally, is that Cuddyer can find the high pitches a bit too appetizing. Inside Edge reports Cuddyer as having a chase rate on pitches up and out of the zone near 50 percent, a weakness pitchers are sure to target with two strikes during the season. Pitches in on the hands also tend to draw Cuddyer’s attention often. It will be interesting to see how long his hands have the speed to turn on pitches in, especially if his next contract carries him through his age 35 season.

Cuddyer is also a candidate for the infrequently-used right-handed Ted Williams shift. When he puts the ball in play to the outfield, he’s pretty equal-opportunity. Most of his home runs tend to be pulled, but he’s not dependent on left field for hits past the infield.

Ground balls, on the other hand, are a bit of a different story. The Inside Edge spray chart (left) shows that, on balls in play since the start of 2010, Cuddyer pulls the ball a great deal. Now, this might not make a difference, again considering how little the right-handed shift is used. Either way, Ryan Zimmerman, David Wright (maybe?) and Chipper Jones should be on their toes if/when Cuddyer comes to the plate.

What we have in Michael Cuddyeris a nice player; a guy who plays some different positions (none particularly well defensively) who appears appetizing to the Phillies for a variety of reasons, none of which should be confused for being the best player available. He would be a nice addition at the right price – as any player would – but to me, Cuddyer makes the most sense on a two-year deal. A three-year deal to Raul Ibanez ended on a rather sour note, Placido Polanco looks to be slowing as he enters his third year and Joe Blanton has a nerve issue in his pitching arm as his third year approaches. Three-year deals for Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz and Shane Victorino, plus the recently expired Ryan Madson, look to provide counterbalance. But those latter four were all at least three years younger than Cuddyer is currently when they signed. Apples and oranges, etc.

Would Cuddyer be a good fit for this Phillies club? I tend to think so on the surface. He’s no star player, but he does represent an upgrade from Raul Ibanez on both sides of the ball. The thing I’m struggling with is Domonic Brown’s eventual place in all of this. Signing Cuddyer to a multi-year contract – paired with Hunter Pence’s two remaining years of team control – leaves no place for Brown this season. Now, Ruben Amaro has stated that he wants Brown to basically spend the whole year in Triple-A, so that may be a moot point for ’12. Moving forward, though, what’s the plan? Does Cuddyer become your third baseman after Polanco’s deal expires, with Brown finally slotting in a corner outfield spot? Another wrinkle to the saga of the once-top prospect being curiously handled. It will be interesting to see how Cuddyer’s potential addition affects Brown’s future in Philadelphia; a future that seems muddier every week.

Phillies Bring Back Jim Thome

The Phillies, as seems to be a common theme these days, shocked the baseball world yesterday when they announced the signing of Jim Thome on a one-year, $1.25 million deal. Since he was traded from the Phillies after the 2005 season, Thome has spent most of his time in the American League as a designated hitter. In his very brief stint in the National League with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2009, he served as a pinch-hitter.

The Thome signing is believed to be a response to Ryan Howard‘s injured Achilles. Thome, of course, hasn’t played in the field regularly since 2005, but it wouldn’t be unprecedented that the Phillies would ask him to make the switch — all Thome has to do is look across the diamond at Placido Polanco, who the Phillies acquired after the 2009 season. In his time since leaving the Phillies in 2005, Polanco hadn’t played a single inning at third base, but he moved to the hot corner anyway. Of course, Polanco played superb defense at second base and has since proven to be one of the best defensive third basemen as well. Moving from DH to first base is an entirely different animal and, at the age of 41, it is questionable if Thome can handle playing the field even on a platoon basis.

When he will be in the lineup, though, Thome will be a force. Despite his age, he posted a .362 wOBA during the 2011 regular season. Although that is his lowest mark of the past six years, it is well above the league average (between .310 and .315) and rare to find in a player of his age. His .362 wOBA would have been second-best on the Phillies among players with 300 or more plate appearances.  More impressively, Thome was one of only 17 Major Leaguers in history (min. 300 PA) age 40 or older to post an OPS 30 percent or higher compared to the league average. The list is littered with Hall of Famers:

 

Rk Player OPS+ PA Year Age Tm
1 Ted Williams 190 390 1960 41 BOS
2 Barry Bonds 169 477 2007 42 SFG
3 Willie Mays 158 537 1971 40 SFG
4 Barry Bonds 156 493 2006 41 SFG
5 Edgar Martinez 141 603 2003 40 SEA
6 Brian Downing 138 391 1992 41 TEX
7 Moises Alou 137 360 2007 40 NYM
8 Dave Winfield 137 670 1992 40 TOR
9 Stan Musial 137 505 1962 41 STL
10 Carlton Fisk 136 419 1989 41 CHW
11 Harold Baines 135 486 1999 40 TOT
12 Darrell Evans 135 609 1987 40 DET
13 Carlton Fisk 134 521 1990 42 CHW
14 Ty Cobb 134 574 1927 40 PHA
15 Brian Downing 132 476 1991 40 TEX
16 Jim Thome 131 324 2011 40 TOT
17 Willie Mays 131 309 1972 41 TOT
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/5/2011.

Thome has traditionally been better against right-handed pitching compared to left-handers, but that wasn’t the case last year. It was the first time he posted a platoon split that favored southpaws. In terms of wOBA, he hit lefties at a .385 clip; right-handers only .353. If Thome is to fit into a platoon at first base or serve as a pinch-hitter, when he will be used almost exclusively against right-handers, he needs to be a lot better against them. Looking at the data, there wasn’t any large shift in performance although Thome’s isolated power vs. RHP was at a career-low, excluding his injury-plagued 2005.

Naturally, there are concerns about Thome’s defense. Thome hasn’t played regularly in the field since leaving the Phillies. While it’s hard to imagine he completely forgot how to play defense in the last six years, there are a lot of little things at first base that are mastered only through repetition (e.g. footwork). Thome will have ample time to get reacquainted with the position during the off-season and spring training, so we will simply have to wait to see how that part of the issue is addressed.

The other concern is that he is simply not physically able to play the position, in terms of stamina and range. If the Phillies happen to face ten right-handed starters in a row, as they did between May 5-15 during the 2011 regular season, can they count on Thome to be in the lineup every day without a significant decline in performance? Will the gradual wear-and-tear of first base — for example, holding a runner on first base and dashing back as the pitcher delivers — erode his durability as the season progresses? These are questions that, simply put, nobody knows the answers to and will not until the season is under way. Nevertheless, they are legitimate concerns, especially considering it is rather unprecedented that a 41-year-old DH six years running is asked to move back into a defensive position.

On the other hand, if Thome is instead asked to serve in more of a bench role, is he one of those players whose offensive contributions decline without regular at-bats? Some pinch-hitters complain of “getting cold” if they are not given the opportunity to take their hacks every so often. When Thome gets on base as a pinch-hitter late in the game, will the Phillies always lift him for a pinch-runner? This may necessitate carrying only an 11-man pitching staff. All of these concerns should have been addressed as the Phillies contemplated signing him.

On the surface, the Thome signing is very savvy. At the cost of just $1.25 million, Thome need only be a 0.3-WAR (FanGraphs) player, something he has been every year between 1994-2011 excluding 2005. With Thome now in the fold, it will be interesting to see how the Phillies round out the rest of the roster. MLB Trade Rumors reports that the Phillies are very interested in Michael Cuddyer, noting that he could play at both corners in the infield and outfield. A Thome/Cuddyer platoon at first base would undoubtedly be more offensively productive than Ryan Howard would have been.

Regardless of what happens, it will be great to see Thome back in Phillies red. His tenure in Philadelphia ended rather abruptly and, given his reputation as a person and a player as well as his relationship with Charlie Manuel, Philadelphia and Thome are a natural fit.

On Targeting Players

On Twitter, I get asked the question “What do you think about getting [Player X]?” question frequently. I feel bad because I always give a hem-and-haw answer, which seems unhelpful. In the case of free agent targets, I tend to respond, “if the price is right and the contract isn’t too long” and go from there. For trade targets, it usually starts with, “If the Phillies don’t have to give up too many premier prospects and/or money”.

I wanted to go a bit more in depth as to why my replies on that are so non-descript. When you brainstorm potential player acquisitions, you should always take economics into account. I would love it if the Phillies signed Albert Pujols. All Phillies fans would, probably. However, it would be even more awesome if he signed a five-year, $30 million contract as opposed to a ten-year, $475 million contract.

So the two players I was asked about today were free agents Michael Cuddyer and Joe Nathan, both long-time teammates on the Minnesota Twins. Reports have the Phillies as very interested in acquiring Cuddyer’s services, chiefly because of his ability to play both corners in the infield and outfield. In discussions involving Cuddyer and the Phillies, I see a lot of absolute statements, but rarely are contract details taken into account. Cuddyer would be a great get for the Phillies on a cheap one-year deal or perhaps something similar to what the Colorado Rockies gave Ty Wigginton (a similarly-versatile, but slightly less-talented and less-revered version of Cuddyer): two years, $8 million. Instead, if Cuddyer is chasing a contract similar to what the Phillies gave Raul Ibanez (three years, $31.5 million), then it is not so good.

As for Nathan, who pitched 44.2 innings last year after missing the entire 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery, it is more of the same. If the contract is low-risk, the Phillies have little to lose in going after him. If the contract is similar to what they gave Brad Lidge (three years, $37.5 million), then it makes little sense.

When you think of player targets, use a sliding scale. The fewer dollars and fewer guaranteed years, the better (and the less production you require to live up to it); the more dollars and more guaranteed years, the worse (and the more production required to live up to it). All of this is relative to market value, of course.

I enjoy providing insight to you on this blog, via email, and on Twitter, so I wanted to use this space to clarify why my replies may seem unhelpful at first glance. Generally speaking, anyone who tells you that a team definitely should or should not acquire a player without taking the market into account is giving you bad feedback. And that’s why I try not to make absolute statements about players the Phillies are targeting.

Guest Post: Reviewing Chase Utley’s NLDS Base Running

This is a guest post from Andy M. of the blog Charlie’s Manuel.

People have been criticizing Chase Utley for his baserunning on Hunter Pence’s groundball in Game 4. The main criticism is that he made the first out at third base. But he didn’t. Pence would have been out at first anyway if Utley simply stayed put. The out was made when Pence hit the weak grounder, not when Utley was thrown out. Had Albert Pujols stayed on first base to receive the throw and retire Pence, then threw Utley out, Utley may have gotten less criticism because it would have been the second out at third base. However, I don’t think Pujols would have been able to throw out Utley if he stayed on the base for Pence (both throws would have been longer, less momentum for Pujols to generate a good throw, and Pujols would have been less likely to attempt a throw had they already gotten an out on the play).

Using Tom Tango’s run frequency matrix, a player has a 40% chance of scoring if he is on second base with one out with no other baserunners. This would have been the situation if Utley stayed at second.

After Utley was retired, the base-out state was 1 out with a man on first. There is a 28% chance of the baserunner scoring in that scenario.

If Pujols stayed on first base to retire Pence and allowed Utley to advance to third (Utley probably assumed Pujols would stay on first to get the out), there would have been a 67% chance of Utley scoring from third with only one out.

How often Utley would have to be safe at third to make this a good base-running play? I assigned the Phillies 0.67 runs if Pujols stayed put on first base and Utley was on third with one out, .40 runs if Utley stayed on second base, and 0.28 runs if Utley is thrown out at third with Pence safe at first.

Let’s say 70% of the time*, the first baseman leaves the base and guns down Utley (.70*.28 = .196 runs). That means 30% of the time, the first baseman stays on the base, gets one out, and Utley is safe at third (.30*.67 = .201 runs). Add those two values together, and the decision to run to third base is worth about .397 runs, whereas staying on second base is worth 0.40 runs. So, it seems that a 30% success rate for Utley in that scenario is the break-even point.

*I also doubt that 70% of major league first-basemen would leave the bag, allow Pence to get to first, and then make a good throw on Utley. My guess would be about a third (at most) of all first baseman would leave the bag in that scenario.

Utley only needs to be safe at third base on that play 30% of the time in order to make it a good decision.

Furthermore, we haven’t even discussed the following possibility: If Pujols came off the base and made a poor throw to third, and both runners were safe, Utley would have had an 88% chance of scoring with 1st and 3rd and nobody out.

When you factor in that possibility (even if that possibility happens 3% of the time, the break-even point falls to 28%) along with the added run expectancy with Pence also on the basepaths, the break-even point is probably closer to 25% for Utley.

It was a gamble for Utley, and I am glad he took it. He only needs to be safe 1 out of 4 times to increase the Phillies’ chances of scoring, but unfortunately for us, we live in a universe parallel to the one where Pujols stayed on first base.

If you enjoyed this article, check out more great stuff at Charlie’s Manuel.

Carlos Ruiz Again Rates Among Game’s Best Defensive Catchers

It’s one of my favorite times of the year: Matt Klaassen (@devil_fingers) posts an update of his fantastic catcher defense ratings at Beyond the Box Score. In past iterations of the ratings, Carlos Ruiz has graded out very well and this version is no different. Klaassen’s aggregate rating put Ruiz as the fifth-best defensive catcher in all of Major League Baseball, adding roughly six runs above what a league-average catcher would provide. Those six runs translate to roughly two-thirds of a win.

Rank Player Age Tm PA FERuns ThERuns PBWPRuns CSRuns Total
1 Matt Wieters 25 BAL 4971 -0.9 2.2 6.8 7.1 15.2
2 Miguel Montero 27 ARI 4903 0.6 -1.7 3.3 5.7 7.8
3 Lou Marson 25 CLE 2872 0.8 -0.6 2.3 4.7 7.2
4 Kelly Shoppach 31 TBR 2601 0.0 0.7 2.6 3.5 6.8
5 Carlos Ruiz 32 PHI 4327 0.4 1.3 6.4 -2.4 5.7
6 Wilson Ramos 23 WSN 4038 1.1 0.1 1.7 2.3 5.2
7 Ramon Hernandez 35 CIN 2832 0.8 1.3 -0.1 3.1 5.1
8 Yadier Molina 28 STL 4896 1.3 0.7 2.4 0.6 5.1
9 Nick Hundley 27 SDP 2726 0.8 -1.2 1.6 3.4 4.6
10 Ryan Hanigan 30 CIN 2906 0.1 0.4 2.6 1.4 4.5

FE: Fielding Errors; ThE: Throwing Errors; PBWP: Passed Balls/Wild Pitches; CS: Caught Stealing.

As per his reputation, Ruiz was among the best at blocking pitches in the dirt, which prevents wild pitches and passed balls. Chooch happened to lag behind in throwing out base-stealers. Had he been league-average in that category, he would have jumped ahead of Miguel Montero in second place.

If you use Klaassen’s metric as a replacement for FanGraphs’ defensive rating for catchers, Ruiz moves from 2.8 to 3.6 WAR. Only seven other catchers in baseball finished the year with more value. Meanwhile, just three Phillies regulars ranked ahead of Ruiz: Shane Victorino (5.9), Chase Utley (3.9), and Jimmy Rollins (3.8). Quietly, Ruiz has become a critical factor in the team’s success, especially when you consider other qualities such as game-calling and handling a pitching staff.