Red Sox-Phillies Game Thread 5/18/12

Inter-league play is back, rejoice, rejoice. It’s a battle of Eastern division cellar-dwellers as the 18-20 glass cannon Red Sox have arrived in Philadelphia for a three-game set. The Phillies are on a roll, having won their last five games, surpassing the .500 mark for the first time since Opening Day. The Red Sox had a five-game winning streak recently come to an end, but they’ve won six of seven after losing eight of nine.

Calling the Red Sox a “glass cannon” refers to their wholly offensive approach — they rank second in the American League, averaging 5.4 runs per game, and they also rank second-last with 5.1 runs allowed per game. As a result, they play a lot of high-scoring games, which couldn’t be any more the opposite for the Phillies. Although the offense has come alive recently, they have scored three or fewer runs in 18 of 39 games. Tonight’s pitching match-up epitomizes the two teams completely: reliever-turned-starter Daniel Bard (4.91 xFIP) opposes Cy Young candidate Cole Hamels (2.89).

Lineups

Red Sox

Phillies

Crash Bag, Vol. 2: Battleship and Chooch

MLB suspended Bob Davidson, the umpire who picked a fight with Charlie Manuel so he could throw him out of the game on Tuesday, for one game. According to the “his repeated violations of the Office of the Commissioner’s standards for situation handling,” which might be the least clear, most unnecessarily twisted sentence I’ve ever seen in a press release. I minored in advertising and PR in college, during which time I met some truly stupid people. I bet any one of those folks could suffer repeated brain trauma, shotgun a couple beers, and then compose a non-explanation explanation for Davidson’s suspension that does not hold baseball fans, the English language, and our liberal democratic way of life in such brazen contempt.

Here’s how that press release should have read: “Bob Davidson is going to sit out a game because he’s incapable of behaving like an adult. Charlie Manuel is going to sit out a game because Major League Baseball would rather we all just chose to ignore the impropriety of its employees’ actions rather than criticizing them honestly.”

Remember, this Crash Bag is not possible without your questions, so send them to crashbaumann@gmail.com or via Twitter with the hashtag #crashbag. We’re also soliciting questions for Twitter Q and A for this weekend’s podcast, so if you want your questions answered on the Crash Pod, perhaps by someone who’s capable of giving an opinion in less than 600 words, send those in with the hashtag #crashburn.

Let’s roll.

@TheMuzz34: “I would like to hear everyone’s thoughts on jimmy moving forward- I had high hopes but he just looks worn down…”

I’m going to see Battleship this weekend, most likely by myself. It never occurred to me that this movie would be any good, but I’m a massive Peter Berg fan. Friday Night Lights is one of my favorite movies, and when my attempt at the Great American Novel is adapted into a movie, I want Berg to direct it. I love his work. So when he was linked to this $200 million pastiche of blue lens filters and terrible actors, I was optimistic. And then I saw the trailer, and despaired. There are two possibilities for a movie capable of creating this trailer: the first is that Berg took charge of this film on a bet, and is in the process of executing a perfect long-con, in which he drops trou and wiggles his gentleman-parts at Michael Bay, one-upping the master of the explosions-over-substance summer blockbuster while simultaneously thumbing his nose at a form of cinema he considers beneath him. Ideally, Battleship is the self-aware summer blockbuster, the movie that delivers thrills, explosions, and scantily-clad women while acknowledging that it is junk food, and sharing a wink and a chuckle with the audience at its own expense. The pinnacle of this genre is Independence Day, which is, incidentally, my favorite movie of all time.

The second is that a man whose work I admire immensely mails in a snow shovel’s worth of cat vomit.

That’s kind of what it’s like to watch Jimmy Rollins, whom I love more than any other Phillies player of my lifetime, drag out a .232/.290/.290 slash line with all the grace of a dog that’s lost both its hind legs to cancer. At age 33, he’s probably never going to win another MVP award, but he’s still playing good defense, and we’re still too early on in the season to give up on anyone. So the answer is somewhere in the middle: he might be a little worn down, but I’d put money on him picking up the pace before too long and clocking in a full-season OPS somewhere in the neighborhood of .700. That’s not great, particularly for a leadoff hitter, but it’s just fine for a good defensive shortstop.

@ileakoil: “Who is that random Asian guy that’s always shown just hanging out in the Phillies dugout?”

That’s Vance Worley. He came up last year and has been a fixture in the Phillies’ rotation ever since. He’s a fun dude and quite a good pitcher. I think you’d like him.

“and no, I don’t mean Vance Worley. :)”

Oh. Well that’s a tougher question. I asked Pat Gallen, the Phillies beat reporter for ESPN 97.5 The Fanatic, and editor of Phillies Nation. Pat, by the way, holds the dual honor of being both the nicest and most attractive man in Philly sports media. He also tells me that the man you seek is Phillies assistant trainer Dong Lien. So there you go. Thanks, Pat.

@Billy_Yeager: “If smooth Freddy plays all season, does he have a chance at “snagging” a gold glove? P.s. I love you.”

I love you too, Bill. But you knew that already. It’s too early for the advanced stats to say anything conclusive about Galvis at second base, but scouts have been raving about his glove throughout his time in the minors, and he certainly looks good.

Unfortunately, being a good fielder has nothing to do with winning a Gold Glove. The best way to win a Gold Glove is to have won one before. The second-best way is to be a really good hitter, and the third is to make a bunch of flashy plays. Some guys do all those things, win the Gold Glove, and are actually good fielders, like Adrian Beltre, Troy Tulowitzki, and Adrian Gonzalez. Sometimes, most notably in the case of Chase Utley, you can do all those things, be the best defensive player at your position, and not get a sniff of Gold Glove mention.

But Galvis doesn’t have a longstanding track record, and if he doesn’t OPS at least .600, not only will he not hit well enough to get the voters’ attention, he might not stay in the lineup. So while I think Galvis is a top-notch defensive second baseman, I’d bet heavily against his winning the Gold Glove.

@TheBridgerBowl: “who makes the all time phillies team at each position and rotation? Had to be around 3 seasons min.”

(cracks knuckles)

Okay, for this, I’m going all the way back to 1883 with this one, but I’ll be considering later players with more weight than players from father back, because the quality of play now is much better than it was in the past, thanks to improvements in scouting, medicine, and race relations, among other things. Also, for simplicity’s sake, I’m only counting players’ contributions with the Phillies, because no one wants me to say Joe Morgan was the best Phillies second baseman of all time. So I’ve listed my all-time Phillies best at each position.

Catcher: Darren Daulton (ask me again at the end of the season, and I might say Carlos Ruiz)
First Base: Ryan Howard (John Kruk did as much in less time, but Howard gets credit for his 2006 season, plus he’ll add more value as time goes on, plus first base is probably the weakest position for the Phillies)
Second Base: Chase Utley (and it’s even less close than you think)
Third Base: Mike Schmidt (Scott Rolen actually had similar rate stats, but not for as long, and in a much more hitter-friendly environment)
Shortstop:
Jimmy Rollins (Larry Bowa and Granny Hamner were both good, but Rollins’ bat puts him almost as far ahead of them as Utley is ahead of Tony Taylor)
Left Field: Sliding Billy Hamilton (35.7 rWAR in 6 seasons in Philly, 58.2 rWAR in 13 seasons for Ed Delahanty. Proof positive that Bill wrote about the wrong Hall of Fame outfielder.)
Center Field:
Richie Ashburn (no discussion needed)
Right Field:
Bobby Abreu (the fans may have hated him, but I’d put his offensive production up against any Phillies player since Mike Schmidt)
Pitchers: Robin Roberts, Steve Carlton, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Curt Schilling, Cole Hamels. One Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee finish three full seasons (our arbitrary cutoff), I’d have no problem including one or both of them over Schilling and/or Hamels (if he doesn’t re-sign). Apologies to Jim Bunning.

What I take from this list is that most of the best players in Phillies history are playing right now. And most of the rest either played for the team that won the pennant in 1993 or the team that lost 97 games in 2000. In short, even now, it’s never been better to be a Phillies fan.

@thomeshomies: “If Chooch is to start the All-Star Game, he’s going to need a good slogan. I task you, @atomicruckus, with creating that slogan.”

I’ve never been asked a more important question in my life. Never. And to be honest, I’m at a loss.

What we need here is a slogan that at once captures the playfulness of a man who’s shaped like the Android mascot and at the same time excels at baseball with the same kind of intimidating detachment that makes Roy Halladay so great. It’s different from the detachment of Cliff Lee, who just can’t be bothered to care, but Chooch of late, has taken on Halladay’s attitude of the opponent being an inconvenience to the perfect brand of baseball he intends to play.

I admire the elegant simplicity of the “Vote4Chooch” Twitter campaign, but we probably want something a little more inspiring. Maybe “Carlos Ruiz: Like other catchers, only funnier and better at baseball.” Or we could have a campaign of panhandlers begging for money and All-Star votes–the “Mooch For Chooch” campaign, as it were. Or “Catch Panamania!” Actually, I really do like the “Catch Panamania!” slogan, or at least I would have if not for the one I’d go with:

“Vote Ruiz: Because I’m Sick to the Sight of Yadier Effing Molina.”

@dmc0603: “who do you expect to regress to the mean (in a good/bad way)? what phillies will likely keep up their current stats?”

I hate to be the buzzkill, but there’s no way Carlos Ruiz puts up a .432 wOBA for the rest of the season. He’s coming down some. Another .400 OBP season isn’t out of the question, and at this point, it’s possible that he hits 15 or 20 home runs, but he’s not going to post a 1.000 OPS. It’d also expect Juan Pierre not to have a .388 OBP, because his BABIP right now is about 60 points above his career average at a time when he’s never had less bat speed and less foot speed. Likewise Laynce Nix, when he returns from injury. He’s hitting more line drives than ever, which is good, but his BABIP is 100 points above his career average.

The good news is that apart from those three guys, just about everyone else is due to pick up the pace some. Neither Shane Victorino nor Hunter Pence is as good as last year’s production suggests, but neither is the kind of guy who posts a full-season OBP around .300, either. Expect both of them to pick it up some. And as I said above, Jimmy Rollins isn’t the same player he was five years ago, but there’s no way he’s this bad now. I don’t know if we can expect Placido Polanco and Freddy Galvis to hit much better than they are right now. I think a  lot of really good defense and a lot of soft ground balls are in the cards for those two.

As for the pitchers, it’s mostly about getting healthy. Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay are pitching really well, even if they haven’t been getting wins, but that will change. Otherwise, maybe Blanton and Bastardo cool off some? I think there’s a lot of unsustainable weirdness–good and bad–going on with the offense, but the pitching is more or less where it should be.

@Wild_Phils: “so say worley is out for the season, do we go kendrick, oswalt, baby ace, or some kind of trade?”

Well, there’s this Oswalt weirdness, but based on nothing at all, I’d be surprised if he came back to the Phillies. Just a hunch. Also, to be clear, this question came in before Worley’s MRI came back clean (meaning he has no elbow at all, if I understand correctly). But let’s assume the worst. My understanding is that Trevor May (who’s the closest thing the Phillies have to a “baby ace”) is nowhere near major-league ready, so the smart money is on Kendrick as the No. 5 starter until Worley comes back, whether that’s by Memorial Day or Armageddon.

The one potentially interesting option is Scott Elarton. The Phillies famously took a flyer on Elarton this spring training, and he pitched well, despite not having pitched in the majors since 2008 and not having pitched effectively in the majors since 2000, when his 4.81 ERA translated to a 103 ERA+, which gives me a headache to think about. Nevertheless, Elarton is 5-1 with a 2.06 ERA in eight starts for the Iron Pigs right now, which makes one wonder if he might be a suitable No. 5 starter. Of course, that’s thanks to a .237 BABIP and in spite of a K/BB ratio of 1.71, which makes one wonder if he’d get lit up like the The Colony at the end of the Battlestar Galactica finale, or whether his interactions with major league hitters would resemble something more mundane, like the Fairchild Air Force Base disaster.

@SoMuchForPathos: “What are the major role players on the Phillies going to be doing in ten years?”

This is my favorite part of any movie, the epilogue, where you find out what happened to all your favorite characters after the movie ended. So as of 2022, what will the following Phillies players be doing? Here’s my guess.

  • Carlos Ruiz: Running a camp for underprivileged inner-city kids in Miami.
  • Ryan Howard: I have no idea, but I bet the sun will be shining and he’ll be having the time of his life.
  • Chase Utley: Managing a combination pet rescue and vineyard from his palatial Spanish Colonial Revival-style mansion in Northern California.
  • Jimmy Rollins: Managing in the major leagues.
  • Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence: Sitting on the hood of Pence’s Jeep Wrangler on the beach in Monterrey, smoking a bowl and talking about how funny Napoleon Dynamite was.
  • Vance Worley, Cole Hamels, and Antonio Bastardo: Probably pitching in the majors, still. Hamels hit Joey Pankake in the back in the former No. 1 overeall pick’s first major-league at-bat in 2016.
  • Cliff Lee: Calling Phillies games on CSN alongside Scott Franzke following the tragic incident in which Tom McCarthy strangled Chris Wheeler and Gary Matthews to death during the 2016 season.
  • Roy Halladay: Rumored to be living on an island off the coast of Argentina where he hunts man, the most dangerous game.
  • Juan Pierre: Don’t know. Probably bunting and getting thrown out trying to steal somewhere.
  • Placido Polanco: Law school.
  • Kyle Kendrick and Jonathan Papelbon: Missing after having spent the summer of 2018 vacationing on Roy Halladay’s island off the coast of Argentina.
  • Joe Blanton: Under the hood of a 1971 Chevy Nova he and I are fixing up together. At night we head down to the local bar and reminisce about the good old days over beers.
  • John Mayberry, Jr.: Taking scuba diving lessons.
  • Ty Wigginton: Head baseball coach at his alma mater, UNC-Asheville, the only Division I baseball team that plays in Birkenstocks.

I think that’s a pretty solid sample.

Thanks for writing in, everyone. Enjoy the weekend, write in for the podcast, and remember, the policy is that if you see a Crashburn Alley writer out at a bar, you have to buy us a beer.

Should Carlos Ruiz Bat Fourth?

The one common refrain during Carlos Ruiz‘s current hot streak has been “when will Chooch bat cleanup?” That is certainly something I’ve been asked frequently on Twitter and seen in the comments here on the blog. In 15 May games, Ruiz has a 1.237 OPS with four homers and a stolen base thrown in for good measure. He also happens to rank sixth in OPS among all Major League players, behind players like Matt Kemp and Joey Votto. Yeah, he’s been pretty good at the dish.

2012 has been an otherwise disappointing offensive season for the Phillies, but Ruiz has been the rock of the lineup, prompting manager Charlie Manuel to move him from the #7 spot, where he had been in 19 of his first 20 starts, to #5 where he’s been in each of his last three starts.

Despite leading the team with nine homers and 27 RBI, Hunter Pence has been lackluster thus far. His .342 wOBA is still above-average, but when he isn’t hitting home runs, he isn’t doing much of anything at all. He has just seven doubles and one triple, and his .253 batting average and .301 on-base percentage echo that. As the team’s best hitter typically bats cleanup, fans have been clamoring for Pence to hit third and Ruiz to hit in the cleanup spot to salvage more run-scoring opportunities.

Generally speaking, though, the effect of an “ideal” batting order is vastly overstated when it comes to scoring more runs. To illustrate this, I used the Baseball Musings Lineup Analysis page and ZiPS rest-of-season projections. Here were the results:

Most Optimal Lineup

4.22 runs per game: Ruiz-Victorino-Polanco-Pence-Rollins-Galvis-Wigginton-Pitcher-Pierre

Suggested Lineup (Ruiz cleanup)

4.03 runs per game: Rollins-Pierre-Pence-Ruiz-Victorino-Wigginton-Polanco-Galvis-Pitcher

Least Optimal Lineup

3.75 runs per game: Galvis-Pitcher-Victorino-Pierre-Wigginton-Polanco-Rollins-Ruiz-Pence

Additionally, the difference between a lineup where everything else is the same except the 3-4-5 is Pence-Ruiz-Victorino (4.03) instead of Victorino-Pence-Ruiz (4.06) is about 0.03 runs, or fewer than four runs over the remaining 123 games. Ten runs roughly equates to one win, so we’re talking about less than one-half of one win over the next 123 games based on ZiPS’ projections, found on FanGraphs.

Fans and talking heads tend to make lineup construction out to be a much, much bigger deal than it actually is. The key to a good lineup is simply getting your best players up to the plate as much as possible, and taking advantage of platoon match-ups when possible. The Phillies haven’t done a whole lot of the former, as Jimmy Rollins and his .269 wOBA have led off in 19 of 39 games, Placido Polanco (.298) has hit second in 22 games, and Rollins has also been slotted in the #3 spot 19 times. If we’re splitting hairs, Ruiz should actually bat first in the lineup, since he’s been the best hitter.

In the long run, it doesn’t make a lot of difference as the true key to lineup construction is personnel. Have a look at the 2007 Phillies’ roster which averaged 5.5 runs per game (the league average was 4.7). Charlie Manuel could have thrown names in a hat and picked out a lineup that would score 5.5 runs per game. With this roster, you’re looking at a league-average offense until Chase Utley and Ryan Howard return, and that’s not going to change whether Ruiz is hitting first, fourth, or sixth.