Phillies-Giants Game Thread 4/17/2012

Another late game, folks. After Roy Halladay‘s excellent performance last night, the Phillies (5-5) throw Joe Blanton at the Giants (4-6) tonight. Blanton (2011 xFIP: 3.15) pitched well in his first start against the Marlins last week, and with the now-handsomely compensated Madison Bumgarner (3.10) on the mound, it’s imperative that Blanton does the same again tonight. Charlie Manuel benched left-handed hitters Laynce Nix and Juan Pierre against tough lefty Bumgarner–though neither is really much good against right-handed pitching either–in favor of a lineup that features three switch-hitters and six righties. We’ll see how this goes.

Lineups

Phillies

Giants

What We Know: 10 Games In

There are no midseason awards at the 1/16th pole. No 10-game all-star lists or MVP and Cy Young Award frontrunners. No postseason locks or clear title favorites. In truth, 10 games can’t tell you most of what you want to know about any team, but just like every painting needs its first brush strokes, so too do the beginnings of a season’s art work take shape after the first decuple. Now, whether that final work is a flawless Mona Lisa - or a disheveled, chaotic Guernica - remains to be seen for all parties, but some trends, patterns and tendencies for the Phillies certainly seem to be emerging. Here’s a bit of what we know after 10 games.

Hamels has a good case for being the star of the show after two starts, with all due apologies afforded to Roy Halladay for simply being himself in the meantime. Cole’s 19 strikeouts are tied for the league lead (as of this writing) with the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez and the Padres’ Aaron Harang; plus, he’s got nine fewer innings pitched than King Felix. Pair that with the lone walk he’s allowed, and Hamels has the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of any pitcher with a calculable figure. To say he’s off to a hot start might be putting it lightly.

 

The key ingredient, as it’s always been, is that one-of-a-kind changeup. He’s generated 21 swings-and-misses on changeups alone so far, another league-leading total through games on Sunday. We’ll see more of this through the year – although I doubt he’ll nearly double the K/BB ratio record, but who am I to doubt? – and some may claim Hamels’s contract status as a motivator. Me? I’m just seeing more of the same.
  • The offense is the offense
I long for the days of yore, when dingers filled the air and the team posted a collective walk rate that wasn’t analogous to Jeff Francoeur. But this is how it is now. The Phillies are drawing walks at a five-year low rate, as Bill points out in the preceding post. Their aggression has awarded them a high team average, but a collective OBP and SLG (better ingredients for run scoring, as we know) that leaves the offense in the bottom tier. We all sort of figured it was going to be like this, but the figures still don’t fail to stun: a .258/.296/.343 team line, fewer homers than Matt Kemp and negligible production from four spots in the lineup.

 

In better news, Hunter Pence, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino are off to nice starts, while Carlos Ruiz continues to stay inexplicably mired in the lower third of the order with an occasional appearance at six. Look, I get it, he’s not a great runner, but this team needs runs and needs ducks on the pond ahead of the guys who are actually producing. Batting Victorino lead-off is wasteful of his production, and batting Polanco second continues to be a waste of Pence and Jimmy Rollins’s production. Unless something changes big-time with Polanco (there’s little to believe something will), the lineup needs a legitimate shake-up, not just a flip-flopping of Jimmy Rollins between one and three.
Perhaps it’s too early to say that the John Mayberry Jr. honeymoon is over, as no 10-game sample is conclusive. In truth, my feeling that Brown will be back in the Bigs before June is old (or perhaps even born) is based less on Mayberry and more on a prediction of general necessity. I’m not about to suggest Brown will be named the LF starter immediately upon his recall, because I’m not about to dole out that much credit. He’s likely to either be a bench bat or a platoon player, barring injury. That’s just how it’s going to be when he’s up; we’ve got the precedent for that. But while Brown’s defense continues to draw (deserved) ire, the bat he possesses will simply look too appetizing to pass up when this team’s offensive struggles persist. And they will persist.

 

What’s more, John Mayberry Jr. isn’t off to a great start, and we all know how damning it can be to be slow out of the gate as an “unproven” player on this club. What’s interesting about Mayberry is that his approach has deteriorated a bit from 2011. Last year, Mayberry chased 28.1 percent of pitches he saw out of the strike zone (give or take a couple percentage points for Pitch f/x variation), but through the first 10 games and 111 pitches seen, Mayberry’s chased 44.4 percent of those OOZ pitches. Pitchers seem to be playing off his tendency to look for pitches over the outer half, but keeping it far enough away to not be a competitive pitch.

Fun with FanGraphs

The Phillies have scored 13 runs in their last two games, both wins. Runs are a welcome sight for Phillies fans, who have been worrying that the offense would be the team’s Achilles heel all season long. They’re not wrong: without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, two of their most productive hitters in recent years, and with subpar replacements, runs will be at a premium throughout the first half of the regular season.

To illustrate how weak the Phillies’ offense has been through ten games, here are some depressing lists, courtesy FanGraphs.

Team ISO
16. Pirates .075
15. Phillies .085
14. Nationals .099
3. Diamondbacks .177
2. Brewers .191
1. Cardinals .206

ISO stands for Isolated Power and is calculated by subtracting batting average from slugging percentage. It is a measure of power hitting, with a higher number indicating more power. The only team weaker than the Phillies has been the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Phillies have hit five home runs as a team with no player hitting more than one himself. Freddy Galvis leads the team with a whopping three doubles.

Team BB%
16. Pirates 4.6%
15. Phillies 4.9%
14. Marlins 5.7%
3. Dodgers 10.9%
2. Nationals 11.0%
1. Padres 11.9%

This is just a simple walk rate, total walks divided by plate appearances. Only two Phillies — Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence — have drawn more than two walks. Juan Pierre and John Mayberry, Jr. have taken a combined 53 trips to the plate and have drawn exactly zero walks. Placido Polanco and Freddy Galvis have drawn one walk each with a combined 70 PA. Even if the Phillies were hitting for power, it wouldn’t matter all that much because no one’s getting on base.

Team BsR
16. Padres -2.1
15. Astros -1.5
14. Nationals -1.3
13. Marlins -1.1
12. Phillies -0.8
3. Giants 0.9
2. Rockies 1.2
1. Diamondbacks 1.2

The above shows the amount of runs created or lost on the bases. The Phillies lead the National League with 10 stolen bases and have only been thrown out once, but have still managed to rank among the worst in the league when it comes to moving around the bases. The biggest offenders have been Mayberry (-0.6), Carlos Ruiz (-0.4), and Laynce Nix (-0.3). The only meaningful positive contributor has been Jimmy Rollins (0.5).

Team wOBA
16. Pirates .224
15. Reds .253
14. Cubs .285
14. Phillies .285
3. Diamondbacks .326
2. Rockies .331
1. Cardinals .372

wOBA, weighted on-base average, is a single number that tells you how good or bad a player or team has been offensively. The league average last year was .316. Obviously, the Phillies haven’t earned high marks at the dish. Pence (.373) and Victorino (.370) have been the only hitters to post a significantly above-average mark, but their 85 combined PA represent only 23 percent of the team’s total PA. The rest have been average to significantly below-average.

The Phillies are hitting for average well. They are tied with the Washington Nationals for the third-highest batting average in the league and have the fourth-highest BABIP as well. That is not a good thing, considering the above. Matt Swartz, friend of the blog, put it best:

twitter.com/Matt_Swa/status/191259650077900800