Jonathan Papelbon and Leverage Index

I know it seems ungrateful to gripe about reliever usage in the wake of a comeback win against a division rival, so I’m trying not to do that here. Instead, this is more about a head-scratching moment in the ninth inning last night, the latest episode of bizarre…no, I’m sorry, patently suboptimal yet completely orthodox usage of Jonathan Papelbon by Phillies manager Charlie Manuel.

To recap: the Phillies won a game last night in which more than half the runs were scored in the ninth inning. The Phillies, who traded blows with New York all night, scratched out a run in the top of the 8th, held that lead through Jose Contreras in the bottom of that frame, and then hammered three Mets relievers into tiny pieces to the tune of six runs in the ninth.

Now, the Phillies had Jonathan Papelbon up in the bullpen at the start of the inning, because in all likelihood, the Phillies were not going to score and they’d head into the bottom of the inning up one run. For all the griping we do here about the save rule, up one run in the ninth inning is precisely the kind of situation in which you’d want to use your best reliever. But after Jimmy Rollins‘ home run stretched the lead to four runs, using Papelbon became less of a necessity. Even with a four-run lead, though, I probably would have used Papelbon anyway had the Phillies gone down quickly, just because he was already warm. I forget exactly when Papelbon sat and Valdes started warming up, but I think it was sometime after Rollins’ home run. Correct me if I’m wrong.

But then the Mets started booting the ball around the infield and the Phillies tacked on three more runs. At this point, Uncle Cholly called for Valdes because you don’t need your relief ace to pitch when you’re up seven runs. Valdes struggled mightily, just as we’d expect from someone who looks like Danys Baez and is named after Raul Ibanez and Wilson Valdez.

Thus, we found ourselves with a runner on second, two out, and the Phillies up five runs, and the lilting strains of Every Time I Die’s “Ebolarama” start piping over the television as Papelbon was recalled from the bullpen. To get one out in a five-run game. I know the Mets had scored two runs in a hurry and someone who couldn’t do math might describe the bottom of the ninth inning as a “threatening rally,” but come on. Here’s the win probability chart from last night’s game:

The nice thing about such charts is that they allow you to see if the game hangs in the balance in so many terms. Valdes’ three-run (Papelbon let his inherited runner score), 2/3 IP performance actually resulted in a WPA for Valdes of -.001. When he entered the game, the Phillies had a 99.7 percent chance of winning. When he left, that had dropped to 99.5. Manuel used Papelbon over Valdes (or any other pitcher) to get one out before surrendering four runs, plus Andres Torres on second. I think that I would place an even-money bet on almost literally any pitcher at any level of professional baseball to record one out before allowing four runs against the Mets. Papelbon’s WPA, by the way? .002. Glad the Phillies panicked over a rounding error enough to use their best reliever to fix it.

I know it seems like Papelbon nipped a rally in the bud, but he didn’t need to. And while he only threw eight pitches, he spent a lot of time warming up, which causes fatigue on its own. So because he had to warm up twice, we might as well count this as if he’d had to register a three-out save. Again, not necessarily the end of the world, but another instance of Jonathan Papelbon playing when he should have sat or sitting where he should have played.

Oh, and in other bullpen weirdness, Seattle’s Hisashi Iwakuma was credited with a save for successfully protecting a 12-run lead last night. Here’s the graph.

Source: FanGraphs

Good job, Statistic That Determines All Reliever Usage in MLB.

The Hunt for Red Choochtober

The turning point in this evening’s game was undoubtedly the pinch-hit, two-run, game-tying home run by Carlos Ruiz. Go ahead and re-read that sentence and tell me if any of those qualifiers can be changed to make it more awesome. Maybe if it had been a walk-off, but let’s not get greedy. Anyway, His Royal Chorchitude has been nursing a hamstring injury that’s prevented him from catching so far this week, so having him pinch-hit caused a little bit of discussion between Phillies manager Charlie Manuel and his coaching staff. I actually have for you a transcript of that discussion.

Captain 2nd Rank Viktor Manuel: This game is seven bloody innings old. Sitting at the bottom of the division like an idle schoolboy.
Starshina Mike Fontenot: Passing two out in the top of the seventh.
Captain Manuel: Send up  Schneider!
Starshina Brian Schneider: Sending up Schneider.
Captain Manuel: Inquire with the training staff about the possibility of going to Ruiz as a pinch-hitter. (lights cigarette) Seven innings. The entire division is after them.
Starshina Brian Schneider:  Safe and secure at second base.
Captain Lieutenant Yevgeni Mackanin: Captain, training staff reports Ruiz as a pinch-hitter possible…but not recommended.
Captain Manuel: (stubs out cigarette, thinks a moment) Go to Ruiz as a pinch-hitter.
Lieutenant Mackanin: Captain! What is it? Where are we going?
Captain Manuel: We’re going to kill a Met, Yevgeni. We’re going to kill Bobby Parnell.

Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

The Phillies scored more late-inning runs tonight, scoring six runs in the ninth inning to cushion their lead in an eventual win against the New York Mets in the series finale. Their late run-scoring has become a trend as we move into June. It is an odd phenomenon, considering that the Phillies have one of the worst benches in the league (.611 OPS). Nevertheless, here is what their run-scoring distribution looks like:

The ninth-inning breakdown by player:

Name PA BA OBP SLG OPS
Shane Victorino 23 .227 .261 .591 .852
Freddy Galvis 23 .174 .174 .261 .435
Hunter Pence 19 .412 .474 .765 1.238
Carlos Ruiz 17 .400 .471 .667 1.137
Jimmy Rollins 17 .154 .353 .154 .507
John Mayberry 16 .133 .188 .133 .321
Placido Polanco 15 .357 .357 .500 .857
Ty Wigginton 14 .417 .429 .750 1.179
Juan Pierre 14 .538 .571 .538 1.110
Mike Fontenot 5 .667 .800 .667 1.467
Hector Luna 4 .333 .500 1.333 1.833
Laynce Nix 4 .250 .250 .500 .750
Brian Schneider 4 .250 .250 .250 .500
Pete Orr 4 .000 .250 .000 .250
Jim Thome 2 .000 .000 .000 .000
Cliff Lee 1 .000 .000 .000 .000
Cole Hamels 1 .000 .000 .000 .000

I tend to go with Occam’s Razor in explaining this — it’s merely coincidental. It will be interesting to see if this holds at the end of September, or if this has merely been a fluke.

Ruben Amaro’s Greatest Hits

I got into a discussion over the weekend with a friend who was shocked that I can’t recognize every song on my iTunes. This comes from years of sharing with friends and being told to check out this band or another and never really getting around to it, as well as my not really being a Serious Music Person anymore. This is particularly true when it comes to the old classics–rather than assimilating a band’s entire catalog and poring over deep album cuts, as often as not I like to just pick up the Greatest Hits album, even for a band I really really like, like Talking Heads or Queen. I get all the old favorites with relatively little of what didn’t work. Purists probably think it’s lazy, and they’re probably right, but I don’t care.

But what if we did the same thing for general managers? What if we went through Ruben’s oeuvre and took stock of his biggest moves? The Phillies, near as I can tell, have enjoyed an unprecedented run of success for several reasons: 1) A fantastic streak of luck with high draft picks under Ed Wade, 2) a fantastic streak of luck with scrap heap pickups under Pat Gillick, and 3) an infusion of cash to the payroll under Amaro that brought the team from baseball’s upper middle class to the tier of team that gets protested by college students who are cheesed off they missed the ’60s.

One note: anyone who’s read my stuff over the past 30 months has probably figured out where this is going, so I’d like to qualify whatever invective comes next by admitting there’s a lot I don’t know. There’s more to the general manager’s job than making trades and signing players, and I don’t know how Amaro’s performed in those areas. More goes into transactions than just the GM’s whim. Again, I am ignorant of such considerations. I don’t know what he thinks, or how, and really, I’m judging him as a proxy for the Phillies’ front office as a whole. Equivocation over, let’s go through some of those big moves and see what he’s done.

Dec. 12, 2008: Raul Ibanez signed to a three-year, $31.5 million contract

Not an auspicious start. Amaro, in his first major deal since taking over, lets 32-year-old left fielder Pat Burrell walk. Knowing that Burrell’s best years were probably behind him, and that several core players would need to be locked up long term, this was a shrewd move. However, Amaro replaced Burrell with a player who was five years older, coming off roughly the same offensive season with no better defensive results, and was left-handed, unlike Burrell but like Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. And paid almost twice as much over the life of the contract to do it. Make no mistake, while Ibanez was awful in Philadelphia after a blistering first two months of 2009, Burrell was worse in Tampa. But perhaps the best move would have been not to sign either one.

Dec. 15, 2008: Jamie Moyer signed to a two-year, $16 million contract

Hey, $8 million a year for a guy who averaged 15 wins and just under 200 innings over the past two seasons and won you a World Series game? Sounds great if you make absolutely no effort to learn that he was entering his age-46 season and that you’d be plunking down mid-rotation money for a guy whose age and stuff screamed replacement-level. Moyer’s 2008 was one of only two times since 2003 in which he was was more than a win above replacement by bWAR. So naturally he deserved multiple years and multiple millions of dollars.

July 15, 2009: Phillies sign Pedro Martinez to a one-year contract

Awesome. The Phillies were in a position where they didn’t know what they were getting out of Cole Hamels and Moyer, and they needed another arm to try to repeat. It was cool seeing one of the best pitchers of all time up close, and he actually pitched pretty well, posting a 117 ERA+ and a 4.6 K/BB ratio in nine starts. There’s no such thing as a bad one-year contract.

July 29, 2009: Jason Donald, Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, and Lou Marson traded to the Cleveland Indians for Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco

I thought this was lunacy at the time, because for some reason I was enormously high on Jason Knapp of all people, and I wasn’t convinced that Lee’s 2008 Cy Young season was anything more than a fluke. I apologize for being so aggressively stupid. Lee went on to become a fan favorite and solidify his status as one of the best pitchers in the game, while just about everything has gone wrong for the Indians. Donald and Marson haven’t really hit much, Carrasco still hasn’t become the solid mid-rotation starter the Phillies had hoped he’d be, and Knapp has had two shoulder surgeries since the trade and hasn’t thrown a regular-season pitch in almost two years. The Phillies were undisputed winners here.

Dec. 3, 2009: Placido Polanco signed to a 3-year, $18 million contract with an option for a fourth

Polanco’s been okay. Having Chase Utley, who hits like a corner infielder, makes up for Polanco hitting like a middle infielder at least a little bit, and his defense has made him a useful player through the first two years of the deal. However, Amaro jumped too early at Polanco, not sticking around long enough to find out that Adrian Beltre could be had for one year at $9 million. Not the worst deal of his tenure, but just one of a litany of instances in which Amaro jumped at the chance to lock up a player in his mid-30s long-term without really waiting to see if there was a better option out there.

Dec. 16, 2009: Travis d’Arnaud, Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for Roy Halladay; Cliff Lee traded to the Seattle Mariners for Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies, and J.C. Ramirez.

This is probably the biggest day of Amaro’s tenure thus far. If two pitchers of Halladay’s and Lee’s caliber were ever moved by the same team on the same day, I don’t remember it. It’s essentially a move of one top-line starting pitcher and three top-line prospects for the best pitcher in the game and three slightly lesser prospects. The argument for trading Lee was that the Phillies couldn’t afford to keep both Lee and Halladay after Lee hit free agency, and Halladay was the guy the Phillies wanted all along. Best to grab Halladay, sign him long-term, and cash in on Lee to replenish a depleted farm system.

Knowing what we know now, that d’Arnaud would turn into perhaps the top catching prospect in the game, that Aumont, Gillies, and Ramirez perhaps weren’t as good as we once thought…for that matter, whatever has become of J.C. Ramirez? He might as well be playing volleyball with Tom Hanks on a deserted island. Anyway, knowing what we know about those guys, and that Taylor would be flipped for Brett Wallace would be flipped for Anthony Gose (more on him later), this trade looks slightly less good than it did two years ago.

In a perfect world, one in which the Phillies had known that they’d have the money to spend on Lee as a free agent, and one in which they knew what would become of the prospects they traded for, the wisest decision would probably have been to flip Joe Blanton instead for whatever they could get, but that’s a lot of hindsight.

Given the choice to either make these trades or not make them, I’d do it again, without hesitation.

Dec. 31, 2009: Danys Baez signed to a two-year contract

I know the Phillies’ bullpen–after the return of Chad Durbin and J.C. Romero to Earth, and the unfortunate death of Brad Lidge–went from being a strength in 2008 to possibly costing them the World Series in 2009. But I’m not sure how that warrants giving any free-agent middle reliever a two-year, multimillion-dollar deal, particularly when he hasn’t been effective in five years. There’s no logic there. Repeat this statement for the less for signing of Jose Contreras three weeks later than his two-year extension after the 2010 season.

April 26, 2010: Signed Ryan Howard to a five-year, $125 million contract extension.

I started this project because I was trying to pinpoint the exact moment I figured out that the Phillies had absolutely no idea what they were doing from a roster construction standpoint. It wasn’t the day the contract was announced, because I literally could not fathom at the time how huge a mistake it was, but it was over the following weeks, when it dawned on me that Howard was an average first baseman, and the Phillies had given him the first half the A-Rod deal for the decline phase of his career.

July 29, 2010: Traded Anthony Gose, Jonathan Villar, and J.A. Happ to Houston for Roy Oswalt

There’s not getting around this one: Amaro took Ed Wade to the cleaners. Oswalt was very good in a season and a half in Philadelphia, and the Phillies sold high on a one-year fluke in Happ. If these are Amaro’s Greatest Hits, this is his “This Must Be the Place.”

Nov. 1, 2010: Jayson Werth granted free agency

Thank God Rube didn’t try to beat Washington’s offer for Werth. I like Werth as much as the next guy, but you’d have to have taken complete leave of your senses to try to beat 7 years, $126 million for a 32-year-old who had only spent three full seasons as a starter.

Dec. 9, 2010: Selected Michael Martinez in Rule V Draft.

It’s still unclear to me what, exactly, Martinez contributes to the team, or why he spent 234 plate appearances contributing it last season. But hey, just because he didn’t even make it to AA until age 26 and had a career minor league OBP of .315 doesn’t mean he’s not a prospect! Let’s keep him on the roster all year–we’d sure hate to lose such a find as Martinez.

Someone needs to make it known that the Johan Santanas and Roberto Clementes (or even the Shane Victorinos or Derrick Turnbows) of the Rule V draft are extremely rare, and the reason these guys are left unprotected is that they’re almost universally crap.

June 6, 2011: Phillies select Larry Greene with the 39th pick in the Rule IV Draft

I bring this up because the Phillies reached for a kid from the middle of the woods in Georgia who had never faced top-level pitching and as a high schooler was already too musclebound to play anywhere but first base in the major leagues. On a personal note, the Phillies passed on University of South Carolina outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., a potential top-15 pick who slipped to No. 40 (one spot after the Phillies) because of an injury from which he’d already recovered by the time the draft came around. Bradley has speed, contact skills, and one of the best batting eyes in the minor leagues, and thanks to having played three years of college baseball at the highest level, in addition to being older than Greene, will be major-league ready long before the guy who got drafted before him.

I know you’re sick of hearing me complain about Greene-over-Bradley, because it’s all I talk about, but this pick is representative of two problems with the Phillies’ draft philosophy: first, that their reliance on free agency has robbed them of first-round draft picks that allowed them to get at the very best amateur talent. And second, that they have consistently taken high schoolers from areas with relatively low levels of competition.

The most sure prospects are major-college guys. These players play for good Pac-12, Big 12, ACC or SEC teams (or a traditional mid-major power like Rice or Long Beach State) and have already been facing minor-league-level competition, often on television and in high-visibility events, for three years. These players are lower-risk and reach the majors quickly. Bradley is such a player as this, as were Pat Burrell and Chase Utley. More recent examples: Evan Longoria, Troy Tulowitzki, David Price, Buster Posey, and Tim Lincecum. Don’t get me wrong, these guys flame out all the time, and Bradley might too. But the hit rate is much higher on top-level college players in the draft, and the Phillies haven’t spent their first pick on one of those since Joe Savery in 2007.

There’s even a difference between tiers of high school players. The best players in the Southeast, Texas, and California get scouted a ton. If they go to a big enough school or get scouted enough live, you might know as much about a high school prospect as a major college prospect–this was why the top of last year’s draft had high schooler Dylan Bundy thrown in with UCLA’s pair of aces, Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer. Bundy had been scouted to death by every team, and was quite polished as  a high schooler. Because they were scouted so thoroughly and played against other talented amateur players, no one really doubted Cole Hamels, Josh Beckett, or Clayton Kershaw, even though they were all high school pitchers, theoretically the riskiest draft investment.

By contrast, the high schoolers the Phillies have been drafting–not only Greene but Jesse Biddle and Anthony Hewitt as well–come from schools that, either by size or location, are outside the traditional amateur scouting crucible. We know they’re big and can either throw hard or hit hard, but we don’t know how they’ll fare against professional-level competition, or at least, we know with less certainty than if they had played three years at Florida State.

Yes, it’s true that reaching outside the traditional scouting hotbeds can land you a Brett Lawrie or Mike Trout every so often, but you risk a lot when you do that every single year, as the Phillies have under Amaro. If you hit every time, or most of the time, you can gain an advantage, but if you don’t, which is more likely, you wind up with a team of major leaguers on the wrong side of 30, no one in the high minors to replace them when they’re gone, and nowhere else to turn except the free agent pool, which seemingly gets older, weaker, and more expensive every year.

Again, I’m not sure how much of this is Amaro’s fault, but if you want to know why the Phillies are old and no relief is on the way, the first place you should look is the starting rotation, which was bought at a high price in prospects (though Vance Worley was a third-round pick out of a powerhouse college). The next is the draft.

July 29, 2011: Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton, Josh Zeid, and Domingo Santana traded to Houston for Hunter Pence. Domonic Brown demoted to AAA.

The top two minor league prospects in the system for an average outfielder who has had two really good seasons thanks to inexplicable and temporary surges in line drive percentage and, by extension, BABIP. Before a hamate fracture in spring training 2011, it would not have been not out of the question for Brown to match Pence’s .341 wOBA in 2010. Instead, the Phillies lucked into the two best months of Pence’s career, and to make room demoted Brown, who was ostensibly learning from the first everyday major league experience of his career, instead of benching Ibanez, who, like Pence, was still dining out on his first two months as a Phillies player having been the best two months of his career. Never mind that Brown, at the time, was outperforming Ibanez in every facet of the game.

I can’t see how anyone with more than a passing understanding of the game can look at these two transactions and think they were a good idea in either the short or long term. This trade wasn’t even risky or shortsighted. It was just wrong.

Not to put too fine a point on it.

Nov. 14, 2011: Jonathan Papelbon signed to four-year, $50 million contract with vesting option

Generally speaking, no relief pitcher is good enough or pitches enough innings to warrant an eight-figure annual salary. Apart from Mariano Rivera, no relief pitcher is reliable enough to make it desirable to lock him up for more than two, maybe three years, or prudent to do so.

Not even Jonathan Papelbon.

Dec. 8, 2011: Laynce Nix signed to a two-year, $2.5 million

He’s actually hit quite well, so maybe bad process yields a good result, but remember that Danys Baez thing? This is where the Phillies gave a multi-year major-league deal to a thirtysomething who was never all that good to begin with instead of giving the job to a younger minor leaguer who would be cheaper, lend greater roster flexibility if he has options, and has the potential to 1) improve or 2) surprise you by playing well. But no, that didn’t work out the last time the Phillies didn’t try it. Better to pay more than market value for a commodity no one is wants. So I’ll move on.

Dec. 19, 2011: Jimmy Rollins signed to a three-year, $33 million contract with a vesting option

This is a market-value deal to re-sign a decent player, albeit one with particular historical significance to the Phillies. But given the state of the shortstop market right now, a defensive player of Rollins’ caliber who adds anything whatsoever with the bat is a worthwhile investment, even if said bat has seen better days. This was a solid, if not particularly shrewd move.

Jan. 17, 2012: Cole Hamels signed to a one-year, $15 million contract

I think this has been the most exhausting writing experience of my time at Crashburn Alley, and for the coup de grace, perhaps the worst contract since Ryan Howard’s. It’s instructive that the Phillies leapt over themselves to re-sign Howard for more than he was worth years before it was necessary to re-sign him at all, and Hamels, who is younger and better than Howard, goes unsigned past this year.

These two deals, side-by-side, represent what’s most frustrating about Ruben Amaro as a GM: he’s capable of pulling off a sneaky blockbuster and isn’t afraid to take risks to grab top talent, which is more than can be said for many of his contemporaries. But in the end, he’s the leader of an organization that values Ryan Howard more than Cole Hamels, and that’s why the Phillies are clinging to the end of their window, a window that, given long-term planning and more insightful player evaluation, didn’t need to end ever.

Ryan Sommers made an offhand comment while we were recording our last podcast that he’d be okay with the Phillies going into rebuilding mode if someone else was doing the rebuilding. But we don’t know when that will come, or even if it will, because it’s entirely possible the Phillies think they can re-sign Shane Victorino, throw a ton of money at Carlos Lee in the free agent market this winter, and contend in 2013 even if Hamels walks. For that matter, it’s possible that Ruben Amaro is under the influence of an alien power through the Ktarian game and the only reason the Phillies re-signed Rollins or tendered Ryan Madson at all is that they’ve got Wesley Crusher and the young Ashley Judd running around undoing RAJ’s mistakes before the Phillies get taken over entirely.

The point is that given what we know about the Phillies’ inner workings, we’re left with no choice but to judge based on process, which has at times looked really good but at other times looked unspeakably bad. The end result: I don’t want to go through a rebuild with Amaro in charge, but he can’t get fired until they start losing, (and lest I risk losing my ticket-buying status through negativity, I don’t think that’s happened yet, but winter is coming), and by the time that happens, it will have been too late for years.

If this greatest hits compilation is any indication, we can conclude that the process is to find older players, pay too much for them, and keep them for too long. I don’t want that to be the Phillies’ modus operandi going forward, but until the reunion tour and the comeback album, I don’t know what other conclusion to draw.

Explaining the Phillies’ Second-Half Surges

On his blog, Tango shows a simple way to forecast a team’s final record using only their won-lost after 46 games:

This is a pretty simple one to do.  Take a team’s W/L record after 46 games, double it, and add 35 W and 35 L.

I decided to run the experiment on the 2007-11 Phillies:

Last year, after 46 games, they were 28-18. 28(2)-18(2) = 56-36. 56+35 = 91 wins, 36+35 = 71 losses. They were 102-60.

In 2009 and 2010, after 46 games, they were 26-20. 26(2)-20(2) = 52-40. 52+35 = 87 wins, 40+35 = 75 losses. They were 97-65 in 2010 and 93-69 in 2009.

In 2008, after 46 games, they were 24-22. 24(2)-22(2) = 48-44. 48+35 = 83 wins, 44+35 = 79 losses. They were 92-70.

In 2007, after 46 games, they were 23-23. 23(2)-23(2) = 46-46. 46+35 = 81 wins and losses. They were 89-73.

Interesting that the Phillies have been so consistently an outlier to Tango’s method, which does work well. Recently, a commenter asked me why the Phillies have been such a strong second-half team and I didn’t really have any ideas. The only two that I had were mid-season acquisitions and rising temperatures, but they were speculative at best. It’s a subject that I have been thinking about ever since and haven’t come up with any better explanations.

I ask you, dear reader, to help me brainstorm hypotheses for this phenomenon. Or is it just random?

Looking for testable hypotheses; nothing like “Charlie rallies his troops with a speech!”

Phillies Lacking on the Bases

A base-stealing wizard in his playing days, Davey Lopes joined the Phillies in 2007 as a first base coach. Due in large part to his wisdom, the Phillies transformed into one of baseball’s most aggressive and most efficient base-stealing teams. Their ability to take an extra base was crucial in 2008, when they ended their World Series drought, then approaching 30 years. Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, and Jayson Werth repeatedly went into double-digit stolen base totals with success rates in excess of 80 percent.

Even outside of stealing bases, the Phillies took advantage. In ’07 and ’08, the Phillies finished third and second in Equivalent Base Running Runs (EQBRR), a stat from Baseball Prospectus which measures base-advancement on hits, outs, balls on the ground, balls in the air, and stolen bases.

As the Phillies have gotten older and moved on from Lopes, who left after the 2010 season, their base running abilities have declined. They had the third-worst EQBRR last year and have been the worst in baseball so far this year. They’re still stealing bases — their 37 stolen bases is the fourth-most in the National League, and their 83 percent success rate ranks at the top as well. They are hurting themselves on the bases in other ways.

Five players have cost the Phillies at least one run, according to EQBRR: Placido Polanco (-1.1), Pete Orr (-1.3), John Mayberry (-1.3), Cole Hamels (-1.4), and Hunter Pence (-2.0). Comparatively, only one Phillie has added at least one run: recent call-up Mike Fontenot (1.0). In fact, only five Phillies have contributed positively at all: Fontenot, Brian Schneider (0.4), Jimmy Rollins (0.2), Cliff Lee (0.2), and Freddy Galvis (0.2).

Pence exemplified the Phillies’ incompetence in Sunday afternoon’s loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Phillies were down 7-1 in the top of the sixth inning. Pence had led off with a double against starter Adam Wainwright, bringing up clean-up hitter Carlos Ruiz. With the count 1-2, Wainwright threw his patented curve ball in the dirt. Catcher Tony Cruz kept the ball within his reach. At the same time, Pence broke for third base. Cruz quickly recovered the baseball and fired to third baseman David Freese to nail Pence for the first out of the inning.

As Paul Boye noted on Twitter at the time:

twitter.com/Phrontiersman/status/206835147335675904

Down six runs, there is virtually no shift in win expectancy by successfully advancing to third base. In fact, the win expectancy table listed in Tango/Lichtman/Dolphin’s The Book doesn’t even list figures for a six-run deficit. Scoring that one run, at the risk of an out, is not the goal. Rather, the goal is quickly accumulating as many base runners as possible while making as few outs as possible. The Phillies’ on-base percentage is .319 and they had 12 outs remaining. If you use PA/OBP as a proxy for base runners, the Phillies are averaging about three base runners per run (598/200), as they have not displayed much power this season. To score six runs, they would need about 18 base runners in the remaining four innings. That seems like quite an uphill battle, and it is, but it is certainly not impossible. After all, the Phillies banged out 18 hits in the series opener against the Cardinals on Thursday.

Should Pence have been doing all of that complex theoretical math in his head while on the bases? No, but he should have been running through various scenarios while standing on second, such as A) he is not going to attempt to steal third base, B) he will take a shorter lead off of second base than normal, and C) he will advance to third base on a wild pitch or passed ball only if the ball is well beyond the catcher’s reach. Two feet to the catcher’s right, of course, does not constitute “well beyond”.

The Phillies are two games over .500, which is about as good as we have expected them to be without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard through the first two months of the season. They have succeeded despite giving away runs and, eventually, wins with poor bullpen management, bunting, and incompetent base running. Imagine how good they could be if they plugged these relatively minor holes — they could once again become the class of the NL East.

Freddy is Fun

Freddy Galvis has a .279 wOBA, the third-worst mark on the team and among the 20-worst in all of baseball. Yet he has been the most exciting player to watch in baseball in the first two months, at least in this writer’s humble opinion. He has been making Ozzie Smith-style plays routinely throughout the season, filling in for Chase Utley, who had been the best defensive second baseman in baseball going back to 2005. And Galvis was brought up as a shortstop!

Yesterday afternoon, Galvis made two plays that stuck out in my mind. The first was on a Justin Turner line drive single to center.  You can see what  unfolded afterwards in the .gifs below. Note the simultaneous defensive wizardry and field awareness of Galvis.

The second great play came in the fourth inning when Galvis turned a 4-3 double play. It is not a particularly difficult play, as most second basemen would turn a 4-3 double play here. What struck me was how nonchalantly Galvis makes a strong, off-balance throw to first base, and how accurately he does so. Note the subtle footwork as well.

I have not bothered to look up the defensive stats he has compiled thus far, as the sample size is so small as to be completely irrelevant. (UZR takes 2-3 seasons to stabilize.) Simply from a fan’s perspective, I have not enjoyed watching another player more than Galvis, and this is coming from Chase Utley’s biggest fan.

Qualls Ain’t Cutting It

Chad Qualls gave up two more home runs yesterday afternoon, the fifth and sixth he has allowed on the year in 19 innings of work. His ERA jumped to 4.82 in what has been a forgettable season for the veteran right-hander. The Phillies took a relatively cheap flier on Qualls and it simply hasn’t worked out, at least thus far. At $1.15 million, it isn’t the kind of costly mistake that will set the franchise back for years.

Still, his demise was predictable. Paul Boye noted, when the Phillies signed him, that opposing hitters were making contact more often and of better quality. That has held true in his 19 innings. One out of every four batted balls is a line drive (career average 18%), his ground ball rate is down to one out of every two batted balls (career average 58%), and more than one out of every three fly balls has been a home run (career average 14%). Qualls’ walk rate is also at a career-high 8.2% and his strikeout rate is the second lowest of his career at 15.3%, making for his first career K-BB ratio below 2.0.

His xFIP and SIERA are at 3.93 and 3.76, respectively, painting a more optimistic picture of his performance to date and the performance we are likely to see going forward. Indeed, a 37.5% HR/FB is unsustainable. However, so is his 88% strand rate. Five of the six home runs Qualls has allowed have come with the bases empty even though he’s given up 17 non-HR hits and walked seven more.

One possibility is to use Qualls exclusively as a ROOGY — a right-handed one-out guy. Over his career, he does not have much of a platoon split, but he has fared worse and worse against left-handed hitters as his career has gone on. This year, he has a 5.24 xFIP against them compared to 2.79 against right-handers. Additionally, lefties have accounted for five of the six home runs he has allowed.

Due to the relative lack of depth in the bullpen, the Phillies can’t simply kick Qualls to the curb. They can, however, reduce his role in the bullpen by using others in medium- to high-leverage situations until he shows improvement. With an offense that has been hit or miss and a starting rotation now in limbo with injures to Roy Halladay and Vance Worley, the Phillies can’t afford to be inefficient with their bullpen any longer.

Crash Bag, Vol. 3: Niners vs. Logicians

I’m not even going to bother with an intro this week, because we’re leading right off with what is unquestionably the best question anyone’s asked in three weeks of the Crash Bag.

@Wzeiders: “How closely does this Phillies team resemble the Deep Space Niners?”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Deep Space Niners, it’s the baseball team made up of the crew of the eponymous space station in the seventh season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. That episode, “Take Me Out to the Holosuite,” was unbelievably silly, perhaps a necessary diversion from the throes of the Dominion War, one of the darkest storylines of the darkest Star Trek series. Anyway, Captain Sisko, commander of the station and a huge baseball fan, is challenged to a game by Captain Solok, a Vuclan Starfleet academy classmate of Sisko’s who disdains humans in general and Sisko in particular.

Solok figures that if he and his Vulcan crew can beat Sisko’s team at Sisko’s own game, he’ll prove his superiority once and for all. Hijinks ensue, as do a bunch of interesting bits of trivia about the episode.

But to answer William’s question, yes. A lot. For starters, the strength of the Phillies’ team is its starting pitching, and the Niners’ pitcher, Sisko’s son Jake (played in the show by Kenny Lofton‘s nephew, as it happens), was by far the best player on the team. One can make parallels between the intensity of Worf and the intensity of Roy Halladay, and between the size, agility, and acrobatic defensive play of Ezri Dax and Freddy Galvis. Dr. Bashir, who comes in to play second halfway through the game, is a genetically enhanced superman, and one could make the argument that Chase Utley, who–we hope–will come in halfway through the season to play second base, is also superhuman.

But most of all, they remind me of the Phillies because we’ve seen a lot of this:

./Star Trek: Deep Space Nine/season7/baseball1.gif

So if you’re looking for a reason to hope for a team that’s long on pitching and has a lineup full of people who can’t really hit, don’t think of the 2010 Giants–think of the 2375 Deep Space Niners.

@SoMuchForPathos: “If you were tasked with writing a bildungsroman about any Phillie or IronPig, who would it be and what would happen?”

(googles “bildungsroman”)

Oh, a coming-of-age story. That I can do.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to try to write a book about Domonic Brown at some point. But for now, I think I’d do one of those semi-messianic science fiction stories in the vein of Harry Potter, Star Wars, Ender’s Game, and I think you could make the argument that Dune was a coming-of-age story of sorts, though I’ll admit it’s probably been 10 years since I’ve read the book. And I tried to watch the movie a while back, and it was unspeakably horrible. My now-fiancee loves Dune and I was all up to watch Jose Ferrer, Patrick Stewart, and Kyle McLachlan, but I had never seen a David Lynch movie before, and Lord Child, was it tedious.

Anyway, I think in my bildungsroman, Carlos Ruiz is the youngest son of a spaceship mechanic who is thrust into the midst of an interstellar war between the humans and a hostile alien race. When the aliens destroy the asteroid his family lives on, he volunteers to become a starship pilot, eventually rises to command his own ship, then goes on a suicide mission to rescue the president of Earth, succeeding and surviving in the process.

In this story, I think Brian Wilson would play the evil alien leader, with Yadier Molina as his underling, whose ugliness is matched only by the brutality of his men. Roy Halladay would be the president, who is betrayed and captured by a duplicitous alien envoy, played by Cody Ross. Ryan Howard is the commander-in-chief of the human starfleet, and Chase Utley is the grizzled starship commander who trains young Chooch but is heroically and heart-rendingly killed in battle.

Cliff Lee is the mouthy, emotional first officer of Utley’s ship, who ascends to command on Utley’s death and sends Chooch on the mission to rescue Halladay. Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence are the absentminded, hyperactive engineering savants who run the engine room, and Jimmy Rollins is the smooth-talking commander of the ship’s fighter squadron.

Jonathan Papelbon plays the smarmy space station commander with a heart of gold who sells Chooch the access codes to the alien defense network.

And David Wright is the beautiful alien woman Chooch falls for, but can never make his love known until the war is over.

Be right back–gotta go write a bildungsroman.

@agent_neon: “My roommate makes “meow” noises every time Ty Wigginton does anything at all on the field. He thinks ‘Ty Wigginton’ sounds like something you’d name a cute little kitten. So I guess this leads to two questions: 1) What is wrong with my roommate? 2) What animals would you associate with the Phillies players?”

1) He’s broaching the topic of getting a kitten in a non-threatening fashion. Buy him a kitten. But make sure it hunts mice. My cat doesn’t hunt mice, which makes her kind of like a bottle that doesn’t hold water–kind of useless.

2) Let’s just do this man-by-man:

  • Carlos Ruiz: Koala.
  • Ryan Howard: Bison. Bison are one of my favorite animals, and I think the Big Piece would make a great bison.
  • Chase Utley: Jack Russell terrier. Not all that big, but kind of nasty, even though everyone thinks he’s cute.
  • Jimmy Rollins: Sea lion. I’ve said this before, but if there were something that was to a sea lion what a dog is to a wolf, I’d have that pet and move to the beach. I want some sort of amphibious predator.
  • Placido Polanco: Beluga whale. Go ahead, try to argue.
  • Juan Pierre: Mouse
  • Shane Victorino: Woodpecker
  • Hunter Pence: Penguin
  • Roy Halladay: Chimera
  • Cliff Lee: Some sort of herding dog, I think. A collie, maybe?
  • Cole Hamels: Some sort of falcon
  • Joe Blanton: Slow loris
  • Kyle Kendrick: Echidna
  • Antonio Bastardo: Scorpion
  • Jonathan Papelbon: A bloodhound in an argyle sweater
  • Freddy Galvis: Ocelot
  • Ty Wigginton: He’s too big to be a regular housecat, no matter what his name might suggest about kittens. I could see him being a pillbug, maybe. Either way, I don’t think he’s particularly feline.

@AntsinIN: “For 2013-2016 which OF would you prefer: Brown/Pence/Vic or Brown/Hamilton/random AAAA guy? Assume similar cost.”

Oh, look at Mr. Serious with his serious question. Really I’d rather not have either. The similar cost thing might be a stretch, because once Pence hits free agency, I think he and Victorino will cost more together than Hamilton and the random quad-A dude. But assuming that, it depends on the quad-A guy. This scenario precludes the possibility of Tyson Gillies or some other minor league outfielder coming good, or the Phillies making a shrewd scrap heap pickup on the order of 2007 Jayson Werth. Though with the Phillies’ recent track record of not developing prospects or being shrewd, maybe we can safely assume that the quad-A guy will be replacement level.

All other things being equal, I think I’d rather have Pence and Victorino than Hamilton and a Laynce Nix type. I think we’re seeing the best of Hamilton right now, and while he’s in a conversation with A-Rod and Barry Bonds for most naturally gifted position player I’ve ever seen, he’ll be 32 at the start of next season, and I’d be inclined to stay away from a 32-year-old center fielder who has only once played more than 133 games in a season, no matter how well he’s hitting.

I was going to bring up this post about how Hamilton is swinging more or less indiscriminately right about now, and getting away with it because he’s hitting everything he sees. But that doesn’t have as much oomph as a criticism when the alternatives are Pence and Victorino. Anyway, it boils down to this: Hamilton would have to be better than both Pence and Victorino combined, and I don’t see that happening, due to aging and injury, over the next four years. Victorino and Pence each individually had a higher rWAR total than Hamilton last year. No matter what, I can see Pence and Victorino being serviceable regulars going forward, 2-3 WAR players. Given the Phillies’ organizational philosophy of paying 2-WAR players like 5-WAR players, it only makes sense that they’d remain here going forward.

The only way Hamilton/Joe Average is a better play is if Hamilton remains a 6-WAR player or so well into his late 30s, and I’d take the under on that line.

@DashTreyhorn: “Better name? Gauntlett Eldemire or Benedict Cumberbatch?”

Balthazar Getty.

@TheBridgerBowl: “If the 2012 phillies were going to have an ultimate showdown type fight, who would prevail?”

Let’s imagine a serious of one-on-one fights, not a melee, because in that case I could imagine everyone just sort of whaling on each other until everyone’s dead except the fastest guy, and I don’t think “Shane Victorino” is the answer we’re looking for.

Hand-to-hand, no weapons, this would be interesting, because to my knowledge, none of the Phillies have any advanced hand-to-hand combat training. If I’m wrong, let me know, but it’s not like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who’s a 46th-degree black belt in something or other and once blindsided AC Milan teammate Rodney Strasser with a roundhouse kick in practice, is on the roster. Ibra also got into a fight with then-teammate Oguchi Onyewu at practice once. Ibrahimovic is listed 192 cm tall and 84 kg, which is 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, though he looks even bigger. Onyewu, being American, is measured in feet and pounds, and stands 6-foot-4 and weighs in at 210. Both of them are soccer players, which means they’re quick and neither has an ounce of fat on him. No, really, you break that fight up. I’m right behind you.

Anyway, with that in mind, I’d be inclined to think brute strength and reach would be the qualities that do you best in a one-on-one match. Assuming everyone’s healthy, you have to like the biggest guys: that’s Ryan Howard (6-4, 240) and Roy Halladay (6-6, 230). Jose Contreras is 6-4, 255, but he’s too old and creaky to last long. I think he gets dismantled by a quick, scrappy counterpuncher like Utley or Cliff Lee. Ditto the younger, but still slow Chad Qualls. I think on the other end, John Mayberry has a unique blend of size and quickness–he’s got some foot speed and a long reach at 6-foot-6, and I think Hunter Pence, listed at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, might be the best bet to knock off Howard or Halladay.

I think it comes down to three guys: Halladay for his reach and endurance–ain’t nobody going to outlast him; Howard for his knockout power and thick build. For all we talk about his body type and big first basemen not aging well, Howard isn’t fat like Mo Vaughn. He’s got that Blind Side left tackle build–big torso, long arms and legs, huge in the thighs and butt. I think he could outpunch anyone on the team and take some punishment on the body as well.

But here’s what I like about Pence. He’s giving up at least 10 pounds, probably more, to Halladay, and 20 pounds, probably more, to Howard, but I think he can stick and run, at least for a while. Remember that episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia where Mac and Dennis enter Charlie in an underground fighting ring because of his amazing ability to take physical punishment? I think Pence could do that. I think if he could avoid the big left hand from Howard, he could prevail in the end.

That said, if the Iron Pigs are allowed to play, Phillippe Aumont, despite being a native French-speaker who wears glasses, would probably destroy everyone on the 25-man roster. He’s listed at 6-foot-7 and 255 pounds and throws bullets–it stands to reason he could drop a decent punch as well. Plus he grew up in Canada, so he probably played some hockey and fought growing up.

Thanks for your questions, boys and girls. We almost didn’t get enough questions this time around, so if you want to see this feature continue weekly, write in for next week using the #crashbag hashtag or to crashbaumann@gmail.com.

Until then, have a pleasant Memorial Day weekend, and go Phillies.

 

Phillies Win First Game of 2011 NLDS Rematch

The Phillies went back to St. Louis for the first time since last October, when they lost the National League Division Series in five games. Joe Blanton opposed ground ball savant Jake Westbrook; however, it was anything but a pitcher’s duel, reminiscent of Game One of the NLDS. The Phillies jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead after three trips to the plate, but the Cardinals fought back and tied the game at 7-7 after five innings. Neither team’s bullpen could stop the bleeding, the Cardinals allowing three runs and the Phillies allowing two, good enough for a 10-9 victory.

It was one of those wins that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. As the score indicates, the game was sloppy all the way around. The Cardinals’ four-run fourth inning can be credited to great hitting, but also due to poor fundamentals as Ty Wigginton was late getting into position to cut the throw off from center field on Carlos Beltran‘s line drive single that drove in the second run, and Shane Victorino overthrew the cut-off on Yadier Molina‘s single to center, which brought the Cardinals to within two at 6-4. Blanton was hit hard, allowing five line drives  on 18 balls in play. He also surrendered two home runs, both in the fifth inning to Matt Holliday and Molina.

On the offensive side, the Phillies were very fortunate on batted balls in the first two innings. Shane Victorino barely beat out what could have been an inning-ending double play, allowing the first run to score. Shortly thereafter, Ty Wigginton hit a ground ball up the middle that was just out of the range of shortstop Rafael Furcal, putting the Phillies up 2-0. Freddy Galvis followed up with a single past the diving Tyler Greene at second base, scoring runs three and four in the inning. In the second inning, Jimmy Rollins led off with a weak, looping “line drive” to right field, also barely out of the reach of Greene. With two outs and Hunter Pence on first base, Carlos Ruiz singled up the middle, again outranging Furcal. The two would subsequently be knocked in on a Victorino line drive to left-center. With normal batted ball luck, the Phillies might have had one or two runs rather than six.

Despite the impact of luck, it was good to see the Phillies pound out 18 hits in the game. Placido Polanco, Ruiz, Wigginton, and Galvis each had three hits. Polanco has quietly gotten back on track. Since April 25, he is hitting .326 with a .786 OPS. Ruiz continues to hit as his OPS crossed 1.000. Wigginton had been slumping badly, as he had a .410 OPS in the month of May entering the night, but he added two singles and an eventual game-winning solo home run in the eighth inning. Galvis, the team leader in doubles, added two singles and a double. Although he has a sub-.700 OPS, he is still exceeding expectations as many did not believe he would be able to have any success against Major League pitching at this point in his career.

Ruiz, who has essentially done everything a baseball player can do this year, ran the bases quite swiftly on the two-run double by Victorino in the second inning. Starting on first base, Ruiz motored around the bases and expertly slid in at home plate. If you’re keeping score at home, Ruiz this year has handled the pitching staff, called games, blocked balls in the dirt, thrown out base-stealers, hit for average, hit for power, and even provided value on the bases.

On the flip side, the Phillies’ bullpen continued to falter. The Phillies entered the night with the second-worst bullpen ERA in the league at 4.78. Chad Qualls surrendered a solo home run to David Freese in the seventh, bringing the Cardinals back to 9-8. Lefty Antonio Bastardo allowed a run in the eighth on a lead-off double followed by a single and a sacrifice fly, putting the score at 10-9. Fortunately, Jonathan Papelbon was able to work around a one-out single in the ninth to preserve the win for the Phillies.

The ten runs marks the most the Phillies have scored in a game since losing 15-13 to the Braves on May 2. They reached double-digit runs for only the second time on the season, and they had scored a total of eight runs over their previous four games. Still, the Phillies only drew three walks, continuing an ongoing problem. They entered the night with the second-lowest walk rate in the league at 6.7%, well below the average 8.3%. The Phillies have also struck out at the lowest rate (17.1%; NL average 20.1%). With a below-average ISO (.126 to .140), they are a very contact-oriented team and thus very prone to the outcome of balls in play. Against teams with high-strikeout starting pitchers and good defenses, the Phillies will struggle. For example, the Phillies are 2-4 against the Nationals, who lead the league in both strikeout rate (23.5%) and defensive efficiency (.732) and park-adjusted defensive efficiency (3.29).