Just Say No to Former Phils

Between the time 49-year-old Jamie Moyer requested his release from the Baltimore Orioles and recently signed with the Toronto Blue Jays, there was some buzz that the former Phillie could return for one last hurrah. Moyer, of course, spent time with the Phillies between 2006-10, posting a 4.55 ERA. Moyer missed all of 2011 before signing with the Colorado Rockies in January. The veteran never found his groove, making ten starts to the tune of a 5.70 ERA before he was released.

Even when he was healthy, he was never all that productive. Sure, his 3.71 ERA in 2008 was great, but it was an obvious outlier as it was the first time since 2003 he had posted an ERA below 4.25. That ’08 season was sandwiched by a 5.01 ERA in ’07 and 4.94 in ’09. Moyer is, more than almost anyone else in baseball, very reliant on the defenders behind him converting batted balls into outs. Between 2007-12 among pitchers with at least 700 innings pitched (starting in at least 95% of appearances), only 12 pitchers have struck out fewer batters per nine innings than Moyer.

Player SO/9 IP ERA+
Aaron Cook 4.04 767.2 103
John Lannan 4.71 751.0 103
Jon Garland 4.81 863.0 103
Mark Buehrle 4.85 1147.2 118
Joe Saunders 4.99 987.2 106
Jason Marquis 5.01 825.2 95
Carl Pavano 5.01 751.0 91
Mike Pelfrey 5.07 875.0 92
Brad Penny 5.10 713.1 96
Roberto Hernandez 5.31 860.0 92
Kyle Lohse 5.46 885.1 98
Paul Maholm 5.49 1001.2 92
Jamie Moyer 5.59 723.0 93
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/26/2012.

That is not a list of names that gets you excited about baseball. Perhaps most importantly, though, is that Moyer’s production is easily replicated by the veterans in Triple-A such as Scott Elarton, or the younger players like Tyler Cloyd and Austin Hyatt. Since you know what you’re going to get out of Moyer, why not roll the dice with someone who has paid his dues in the system? The best case scenario is that you get rewarded with a breakout like Kyle Kendrick in 2007; the worst case scenario is that you get a Moyer-esque performance anyway.

The other former Phillie that has appeared on the radar is Brad Lidge, recently designated for assignment by the Washington Nationals. As he often did with the Phillies, Lidge battled injuries and ineffectiveness in his short stint with the Nats, appearing in only 11 games and posting a 9.64 ERA. In his 9.1 innings, he struck out 10 but also walked 11. He has never been a maven of control, walking about 12 percent of the batters he faced while with the Phillies between 2008-11.

For as bad as the Phillies’ bullpen has been, the one thing they have been doing right is avoiding the free passes. Their combined 8.9 percent walk rate is tied with the San Francisco Giants for the fourth-lowest rate in the National League. As they also have the fourth-highest fly ball rate at 36.7 percent, adding Lidge’s lack of control to the mix would make for some disastrous scenarios (13 of the 23 home runs Phillies relievers have allowed have been with the bases empty). And, as with Moyer, Lidge doesn’t add anything that the Phillies can’t already get from within their Minor League system. Lidge’s high-strikeout, high-walk approach can be replicated by Phillippe Aumont, for instance.

Moyer and Lidge were certainly big pieces of the puzzle back in 2008 as they helped the Phillies end their 28-year playoff drought, but they both individually had fluky outstanding seasons that year. In the time since, they have shown that when they are able to consistently stay on the 25-man roster, they are merely replacement-level players. As old and injury-prone former Phillies come back through town looking for work, the only response necessary is a simple “no, thank you”.

Raul Valdes Now An Important Part of Phillies Bullpen

The Phillies bullpen has been a source of complete insanity over the past three months. Whether it’s been Jonathan Papelbon being too clutch, the young guys getting injured (David Herndon and Michael Stutes), or Chad Qualls knocking over a vat of gasoline in every appearance, it has been very stressful in the late innings. One reliever, however, has been bucking the trend for most of the last two months: 34-year-old journeyman lefty Raul Valdes.

Valdes agreed to a Minor League contract with the Phillies back in November, spending April and the first half of May with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. In 27 innings, he posted a 3.00 ERA with 36 strikeouts and two walks. As the Phillies’ bullpen surrendered to dysfunction, the Phillies promoted Valdes along with fellow lefty Jake Diekman in an attempt to bring some calmness back into the late innings.

Given his age, previous Major League experience (70.2 innings), and lack of success (4.58 ERA), the expectations weren’t high for Valdes. He was simply the latest exterminator asked to poke a hornet’s nest with a stick. The results, though, were surprising. In his first stint with the Phillies between May 16 and June 7, Valdes allowed only three runs (all in one appearance) in 12.2 innings while striking out 13 and walking one. He was demoted to make room for right-handed reliever B.J. Rosenberg, but was quickly brought back, making his next appearance on June 23 against the Tampa Bay Rays. In two frames, Valdes struck out four, walked none, and allowed only one hit.

Valdes has struck out at least one batter in 10 of 12 appearances, including five multi-strikeout outings. He has dominated right-handed hitters (.339 OPS) more than lefties (.524), using a fastball-slider combination with the occasional change-up. His fastball location charts are quite funny and help explain why he has had success thus far:

Valdes has been effective enough among an under-performing bunch and is deserving of being trusted in more important situations. Valdes has only entered a game to face a situation with a leverage index of 1.00 or greater three times. He could share the eighth-inning role with Antonio Bastardo, who has been under a heavy workload in June, throwing 20 or more pitches in seven of nine appearances with a 6.75 ERA.

After spending time with the Chicago Cubs, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, and New York Yankees, it appears that Valdes is finally seeing the success he envisioned when he signed as an amateur free agent out of Cuba in 2004. For the Phillies, he couldn’t have picked a better time to be the rock among an avalanche of failure. Now, we simply hope that the Phillies’ 4.48 bullpen ERA isn’t contagious.