Crash Bag, Vol. 7: Baseball a la Luhrmann

The Phillies took two out of three from the Rockies this week, and could easily have swept. It’s the most fun I’ve had watching the Phillies in a long while. I’m sure there’s a larger meaning to this, but the best I can do is to comment that baseball is a lot more fun when the Phillies play a team that’s even more clueless than they are.

@tiff1001: “Who would Paul FMK out of you all, and how did he feel about everyone wanting to F him before?”

Binary Tiff is referring to one of the more awkward Crash Pod moments (we’ll get another one going soon, I promise). Back when we were doing game threads, I’d occasionally put up an F/M/K poll about opposing players to amuse the chat folk. For those of you who have never interacted with a sorority girl, you get a list of three people, and you have to choose one to marry (M), one to kill (K), and one to do the F-verb that happens between when you marry a person and when you kill him.

Anyway, Paul wasn’t on the pod, so Ryan, Bill, and I all said we’d F Paul. This is for two reasons: 1) he’s by far the most attractive of the five of us and 2) We knew that saying so would make him really uncomfortable. But take him out of the equation, and this question gets really interesting, because you have your choice to F/M/K either a floating brain in a jar (Bill or Bradley) or an embittered, boozy, sardonic shell of a man (Ryan or me). Anyway, this is an important question, so I didn’t want to speak for Paul, so I asked him. Here’s what he said:

“Yep, this is about as awkward as it gets. My reflexive answer is ‘daw, I can’t answer this and risk tainting a beautiful friendship,’ but since we’re all going out of our way to make you, dear readership, feel as oddballish as we are, I guess I’ve got no choice but to dive in.

First thing’s first: Tiffany, I hate you for this question. That being said, I’ll start with the one-night stand, and that’s Baumann. He’s clearly the life of our party, wouldn’t be regrettable and would almost certainly leave you with a good story to tell around the bar. Ryan’s the one to settle down with. He’s the most level-headed among us, and a gnashing, biting sense of sarcasm goes a long way. That and he retweets lots of funny stuff.

Bill, I’m only killing you because that opens up the throne. Nothing personal. I’ll even make it painless and not subject you to watch any more of this Phillies season as I do it. See? I’m merciful!

Bradley will take pictures for the scrapbook.”

Thanks for chiming in, Paul. I’m sure your desire to F me and tell stories about me while never calling me back will in no way damage our friendship.

I was going to say something about how Paul was too pretty to be funny, but apparently that’s not true. And remember, ladies, he’s single.

@bhayes5: “did you cot for choice?”

Gotta explain this one too. A couple weeks ago, Ryan Howard publicly endorsed Carlos Ruiz for the All-Star Game:

Now, his iPhone autocorrected “vote” to “cot” and “Chooch” to “choice,” which I totally feel him on, because my phone’s autocorrect is a cruel and domineering mistress whose whims are as capricious as a spring breeze and rule with the force and anger of an active volcano. Anyway, this kind of took off, and now #cot4choice is something of an unofficial campaign slogan. I like it.

But, no, I have not Coted for Choice, nor will I. The simple fact of the matter is that it’s not rational to cot for choice, or even to vote for Chooch. I feel like I’ve riffed on Downsian voter theory way too much here, but it applies. Besides, I spent seven years of college and grad school studying political science, and I only learned one thing, so damn if I’m not going to repeat it every time I get the chance. Anyway, the theory goes that R = (P*B) – C, where P is the probability of casting the deciding vote, B is the benefit of a preferred candidate winning, and C is the cost of voting. It’s rational to vote, then, if and only if R is positive. Because the probability of casting the deciding vote is almost always minuscule (in this case, it’s next to impossible that one of my 25 maximum allowed votes will put Chooch over the top), Downs argued, it was never rational to vote, even if the benefits were great and the cost was small.

In this case, not only is P tiny, but B is tiny for me, because while I’d like to see Chooch make the All-Star game, I really don’t care that much if he does, and I care even less if he starts. Plus, even if he doesn’t get voted in to start, he’ll probably make it as a reserve. So the five minutes it’d take me to cot for choice aren’t worth my time, particularly if, as they did last time, it ends in me getting spam from the Kansas City Royals and being too lazy to find the unsubscribe button.

The good news is that if Chooch wins, we get validation that he’s one of the best catchers in the game, and if he doesn’t, we get to laugh at the stupidity and irrationality of the Giants fans who wasted their time voting for Buster Posey.

@JossMurdoch: “Bit dull, but, Is there anyone you think the Phillies could/should move for before the trading deadline?”

Don’t apologize for being dull, Joss. It’s an important question. Rather than dull, I’d characterize you as curious and incisive. Own your dullness and make it an asset.

Anyway, should? No. This team isn’t close enough to the division lead that it makes any sense to add pieces, and it’s not like any of their problems can be smoothed over with one move. The Phillies have the deficiencies they have because of decisions that were made months or years ago, and those same decisions prevent them from smoothing those deficiencies over. I’ve been harping on this for months.

Could they? Absolutely. It’s eminently possible that the Phillies trade Sebastian Valle and Phillippe Aumont for Joel Hanrahan to “fix” the bullpen and flip Trevor May for Ryan Ludwick to fix the offense. I might have picked the wrong season to quit sniffing glue.

@DashTreyhorn: “Pop quiz, hotshot: Hamels wants 10 years at $250MM with full NTC. What do you do?”

Tell him to get it elsewhere. It was lunacy to give that kind of money to Albert Pujols, and it was probably a little nuts to give that money to Alex Rodriguez, who was a 25-year-old shortstop coming off a 10 bWAR season. We baseball nerds like to geek out about Barry Bonds‘ FanGraphs page, but given positional considerations, I’d submit that Rodriguez’s career is every bit as remarkable as Bonds’, especially when you consider that A-Rod’s prime was compared to one of the greatest collections of shortstops ever: Jeter, Early Nomar, Tejada, Renteria, and the end of Barry Larkin and Cal Ripken, Jr. That’s two Hall-of-Famers, one guy who will be in (Jeter) one guy who had a Hall of Fame peak but was rendered ineffective by injuries at age 30 (Nomar), and two very very good players with fringe Hall of Fame cases.

I bring this up because 10-12 years later, we’re talking ourselves into Elvis Andrus and The Aged Marco Scutaro as very good major league shortstops. Back then, a replacement-level shortstop meant Tony Womack or Rey Ordonez. Nowadays, replacement level at shortstop is the kid who plays Joffrey in Game of Thrones. Respect A-Rod is what I’m saying. He may be a centaur self-portrait-owning fool, but we’ll never see the like of him again on the diamond.

What were we talking about? Oh, Hamels and that absurd contract. No, the only way he’s get 10 and 250 is if he puts a bomb on a bus and makes Sandra Bullock drive it more than 50 miles an hour or else it will blow up. Oh, Cole Hamels, quel méchant.

By the way, Sandra Bullock’s character’s beloved Arizona Wildcats are in the College World Series championship series, to be joined by the victor of tonight’s game between the nefarious Arkansas Razorbacks and my South Carolina Gamecocks, two-time defending national champions and protector of whatever is good and just in this world. So tune in, tonight, ESPN2, 9 p.m. If Arkansas wins, there will be no Crash Bag next week due to my having died in a noisy explosion of orange paint and glitter.

Speaking of which…

@seanmkennedy: “Joey pankake”

Joey Pankake indeed! He’s reached the public zeitgeist! On basic cable every night in prime time! My dad made a joke about Pankake being offensively flat. That’s when you know someone’s gone mainstream–when your parents are in on the joke.

Unfortunately, Joey Pankake has done absolutely nothing offensively this College World Series. Pankake singled in the sixth inning against Florida on Saturday, in a game in which he went 1-for-6 and left six runners on base. In 15 plate appearances since, he’s 0-for-14 with a sacrifice bunt. But Michael Roth (did you know he studied abroad in Spain and has been really good in the College World Series the past three years?) and “Hold me closer” LB Dantzler (did you know he has a beta fish named Reptar that’s been the team’s good luck charm this season?) have picked up the slack. So no worries.

@patchak21: “Will we ever see Dom Brown in the majors in the near future?”

No. Never. He’s dead. Juan Pierre is hitting over .300, so who needs Brown? He’s just a defensive liability with attitude issues who will never learn to hit major league pitching, which we know for a fact despite never pitting him against major-league pitching for an extended period of time. Let’s talk about how awful he is and try to trade him before everyone else realizes how awful he is.

But seriously, I’ve sort of compartmentalized Brown. I’ve told myself the Phillies aren’t ever going to give him a shot enough times that I’m starting to believe it. It’s the only way I’ve been able to cope. I suggest you do the same.

@jrobs7777: “Are there (and if so, what) reasonable moves that can be made for a ’13-14 run (without tearing it down completely)?”

This the proxy for all the trade deadline questions this week. For the record, I have no inside sources in MLB, and so if I know more than you do about the inner machinations of the Phillies’ front office, it’s because I read more. Though it’s fun to speculate on what I’d know if Ruben Amaro’s mistress were one of my agents. Maybe running a Road Beef Mata Hari would be the new market inefficiency.I would not be surprised one bit if the Rays were actually doing this–makes you wonder what secrets Brian Cashman’s stalker/side piece told Rays GM Andrew Friedman.

Anyhoo, I bring that up because I don’t like doing fake trades. I would trade Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence immediately, but I don’t know to what team and for whom, because not only am I not in Ruben Amaro’s mind (or bedroom), but I am not in the mind of 29 other MLB GMs. Or rather, 28 MLB GMs and the man who lives in Dan O’Dowd’s finger who tells him what to do. So anyway, I’d trade Victorino and Pence for whatever near-MLB-ready prospects I could get in return, call up Domonic Brown and Phillippe Aumont immediately, and float Jonathan Papelbon‘s name in trade rumors. Someone’s going to get desperate and try to grab him, and getting his salary off the books, in concert with clearing Placido Polanco, gives you enough money to re-sign Cole Hamels. Which I’d also do immediately, even if it means paying more than would have been necessary two years ago, because all it takes is one idiot owner (see Mike Ilitch of Detroit, in the Prince Fielder saga) to ruin everyone’s fun with a free agent.

But the fact of the matter is that 2013 is a lost cause. The Phillies could have contended pretty much continuously and indefinitely if any thought whatsoever had been given to what would happen in 2012 and 2013 back in 2010.

@euphronius: “Do Charlie and Amaro lose their jobs after this disaster? Why or why not.”

No. Absolutely not. I don’t think Uncle Cholly should, because he seems to be keeping everyone happy more or less (which is easier to do for, say, Hunter Pence than, say, John Mayberry), and his in-game managing is 1) relatively insignificant when compared to the composition of the roster and 2) a reaction to trying to squeeze blood from a stone. Ruben Amaro has dealt him a crap hand and he knows it, and he’s trying like crazy to extract any value from it. I betcha he’s just as frustrated as we are.

Amaro should lose his job, but he won’t, because You Can’t Fire a General Manager Until the Team Has Been Bad For a Long Time. He should have been fired when he suggested trading for Hunter Pence last year, but the results were still good, so no one in upper Phillies management cared to think about the process. As it stands, he’s going to keep trying to contend until it’s obvious the Phillies are broken, then he’s going to get a chance to rebuild, then he’s going to fail, and then he’s going to lose his job.

The fact of the matter is, disasters like this one (or the Mets or Dodgers) are the result of a long history of bad decisions, and it’s going to take even longer for things to get bad enough to warrant his firing. To take the Mets example, Omar Minaya overspent to build three really good teams in 2006, 2007, and 2008. But he wasn’t fired until the Mets had 1) gutted their farm system 2) run up a phenomenal bill on contracts to players who were either too old or too injured to perform, effectively pricing them out of the free agent market 3) engaged in a series of embarrassing off-field incidents involving his handling of Tony Bernazard and Willie Randolph and 4) had missed the playoffs for four consecutive seasons, the last two by humiliating margins.

So there’s about a five-year lag between when Minaya really screwed the Mets up and when he got fired. Because when a GM saws off a team’s leg, either through ignorance, short-sightedness, or blind self-preservation, it takes a couple years for the team to fall apart, then a couple more years for it to become clear he can’t rebuild it. And even after that, it takes a couple more years for the new general manager to fix everything. And that’s assuming you hire the right guy, as the Mets did with Sandy Alderson, and not a Ned Colletti, like the Dodgers did. I believe Ruben Amaro will pay for his mistakes with his job, but not for another three years or so. And by the time the Phillies rebuild, we might not get another set of playoff runs until the 2020s. That scenario is probably on the pessimistic side of realistic.

Let’s end on a note that doesn’t make me want to drink bleach. On to this week’s edition of Absurdity with Tim.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Would you still watch baseball if the telecast was directed by Baz Luhrmann?”

Almost certainly yes. I watched basketball despite it being narrated by Billy Packer for years, and I don’t even particularly like basketball. You’d have to hand the telecast over, to, like Uwe Boll or something before I stopped watching baseball.

That said, baseball directed by Baz Luhrmann would be quite something. I’ve only seen two Baz Luhrmann joints: Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge!, and while I thought both were completely overwrought, I can’t say I disliked either. In fact, Moulin Rouge! made me cry the first time I saw it. Though my own personal taste in film direction is more along the lines of Peter Berg or Ridley Scott–capable of doing the big, sweeping epic but in a completely personal style. Low lighting, understated music, muted dialogue, lots of handheld cameras. In fact, the polar opposite of Baz Luhrmann.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Luhrmann, this is a pretty understated scene for him:

If you want him at his full, unabashed lunacy, go watch the trailer for The Great Gatsby or this scene. Or this scene. At his best, Luhrmann is fun, whimsical, and adventurous. At his worst, his movies look like an episode of Glee on PCP. Imagine Zack Snyder for women.

Anyway, baseball a la Luhrmann would be fun in a lot of ways. It would be the brightest sporting event ever televised. It would involve lots of dancing and big musical numbers, exciting flashing lights and big, expensive CGI effects. He’d probably dye the turf turquoise, and force T-Mac and Sarge to wear satin suits with big floral headdresses. Baseball tends to have lots of earth tones, so a dash of color would be good now and then. Plus, you get John Leguizamo.

On the downside, I imagine Luhrmann would spend innings at a time cutting between Shane Victorino smiling and Bryce Harper dealing with a facial tic, and we’d see home runs from a vantage point that starts from an aerial shot, then zooms down to ground level, eventually snaking along the infield dirt until we’re looking up at the home plate umpire, legs spread like the Colossus of Rhodes, holding his mask high above his head in triumph and ecstasy, with a demure yet flirtatious and sexually inviting expression on his face.

The seventh-inning stretch would involve flashing lights and a cabaret number starring Jacek Koman, who for some reason was invited back to Gatsby after his star turn in Moulin Rouge! as a narcoleptic tango dancer. In short, it would be like a combination of Baseketball and a Cher concert.

Though if I’m honest, the Miami Marlins are pretty close to this already. Let’s just stop fooling ourselves and go Full Luhrmann down in South Florida.

That’ll wrap it up for this week. Write in for next Friday to crashbaumann@gmail.com or on Twitter to @atomicruckus using the #crashbag hashtag. And fair warning: if you ask me about the Phillies’ short-term or long-term future, I’m going to depress the living daylights out of you.

 

Mourning Ryan Howard

Phil Sheridan published a fantastic piece of stathead troll bait yesterday, lamenting Ryan Howard‘s absence and fantasizing about what his presence in the lineup could have meant to the Phillies. Some choice quotes:

Howard’s extended absence this season won’t settle anything. Probably nothing will. But the state of the Phillies offense without Howard – and, yes, without Chase Utley, too – certainly has provided a bit of credence to the argument that Howard’s impact is far-reaching.

[...]

The presence of Jim Thome in the lineup for a nine-game interleague trip helped support the point. In 60 games under National League rules, going into Wednesday’s sweaty meeting with the Colorado Rockies, the Phillies scored a total of 244 runs. That’s 4.1 runs per game.

In nine games with Thome as the designated hitter, the Phillies scored 53 runs. That’s 5.9 runs per game. Add nearly two runs per game to those other 60 and maybe the Phillies aren’t chasing anybody in the NL East.

[...]

This is not pure science. Granted, there were other variables in play here besides Thome. But there’s no getting around it. The lineup just felt different with Thome’s bat in the middle of the order.

[...]

Howard’s critics dismiss the RBI as a primitive statistic, one that says less about a hitter than about the on-base percentage of the hitters in front of him. Watch the Phillies strand runners on base every night and the good old RBI doesn’t seem so worthless and quaint.

Howard, in the worst season of his career last year, posted a .253/.346/.488 line. Bad for him, of course, but not terrible. It put him near the positional average, as fellow Sweet Spotter Jack Moore pointed out.

twitter.com/jh_moore/status/215913844550279168

Could the Phillies use an average player? Absolutely. Among Phillies with at least 70 plate appearances, only Juan Pierre, Hunter Pence, and Carlos Ruiz have been better than the league average offensively. And Pierre has the gaudiest sub-.750 OPS you’ve ever seen. Phillies first basemen — a combination of Ty Wigginton, John Mayberry, Hector Luna, Laynce Nix, and Jim Thome — have posted a .265/.325/.425 line, so the power has certainly been missed but that’s about it.

However, Sheridan’s assumption that the Phillies would be significantly better is not correct. Last year, with a full season of Howard, the Phillies averaged 4.4 runs per game, about 6.5 percent better than the league average. This year, the Phillies are averaging 4.3 runs per game, three percent better than the league average. Over a 162-game season, the difference is 16 runs.

Most of the difference is attributed to Chase Utley’s absence. In 2010-11, two injury-plagued seasons and the low-point in his career, he posted a combined .267/.367/.435 line. Phillies second basemen — a combination of Freddy Galvis, Michael Martinez, Pete Orr, and Mike Fontenot — have combined for a .250/.277/.394 line. The quartet also stole just one base in three attempts, compared to the 27 bases Utley stole in 29 attempts in his most recent two seasons. And while Galvis was more than adequate defensively filling in for Utley, the playing time given to the other three certainly cut into the Phillies’ run prevention as they are nowhere near the caliber of Utley in the field.

I will give Sheridan credit for this, however: Hunter Pence hasn’t been good at driving in runners this year. The key words, of course, are “this year” because Pence otherwise has been equally as efficient on a percentage basis.

Howard:

Advances
Year Age <2,3B Scr % 0,2B Adv %
2004 24 4 1 25% 2 1 50%
2005 25 23 14 61% 19 13 68%
2006 26 41 20 49% 29 21 72%
2007 27 54 18 33% 27 6 22%
2008 28 42 23 55% 17 6 35%
2009 29 56 30 54% 30 15 50%
2010 30 44 21 48% 31 15 48%
2011 31 48 23 48% 16 7 44%
8 Yrs 312 150 48% 171 84 49%
MLB Averages 51% 56%
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/22/2012.

Pence:

Advances
Year Age <2,3B Scr % 0,2B Adv %
2007 24 23 10 43% 20 12 60%
2008 25 44 20 45% 30 19 63%
2009 26 24 10 42% 37 19 51%
2010 27 33 18 55% 27 16 59%
2011 28 43 22 51% 22 14 64%
2011 28 29 14 48% 17 12 71%
2011 28 14 8 57% 5 2 40%
2012 29 23 9 39% 15 7 47%
6 Yrs 190 89 47% 151 87 58%
MLB Averages 51% 56%
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/22/2012.

Pence is down to 39 percent driving in runners on third base with less than two outs. People hate to hear this explanation, but it’s very likely random and not meaningful in any way, especially based on his previous career numbers (see also: Howard in 2007) and the small sample size. For example, the difference between 48 and 39 percent seems large, but in 23 opportunities, Howard’s 48 percent would only account for two extra runs, or one-fifth of a win. Over a full season, it is less than half of one win. Otherwise, Pence has been Howard’s equal or better in those situations.

The last damning bit of evidence that we are still, in 2012, vastly exaggerating Ryan Howard’s impact is this: Phillies’ #4 hitters this year (mostly Pence, Carlos Ruiz, and Jim Thome) have posted a .282/.354/.513 line. Last year, Phillies #4 hitters (almost all PA belonging to Howard) posted a .250/.342/.477 line. In 2010, Phillies #4 hitters (again, mostly Howard) posted a .271/.351/.490 line. Believe it or not, but the Phillies this year have gotten more production out of the cleanup spot than they have with Howard in 2010-11.

The biggest benefit a healthy Howard would have had on the team is pushing Ty Wigginton out of a regular spot in the lineup. Wigginton has accounted for 49 percent of the Phillies’ PA by first basemen, and has a .785 OPS to show for it. That’s not terrible, mind you, but Howard’s career-low .835 OPS last year would have been much more preferable. And, say what you will about Howard’s defense, but he is definitively better than Wigginton. Additionally, Wigginton’s bat would have been used more often as a pinch-hitter, and he may have been able to be productive in that role as currently, Phillies pinch-hitters have combined for a .612 OPS, the 12th-highest in the National League.

In the end, though, if you are spending time mourning the loss of Howard and not Utley, you are poorly allocating your tears. According to Baseball Reference, Howard was worth two wins above a replacement level player in 2010-11 combined while Utley was at 9.4 WAR. FanGraphs mostly validates that, putting Howard at 3 WAR and Utley at 9.3 WAR. There is good news, though: Utley may rejoin the Phillies before the calendar flips to July. Perhaps with Utley back in the lineup, the Phillies can get on one of their patented second-half rolls and make a historic run at a sixth division title.

Joe Blanton and the James Shields Parallel

Phillies fans are familiar with James Shields as he was the only Rays starter to contribute to a victory in the 2008 World Series. In Game 2, Shields threw five and two-thirds scoreless and the Rays went on to win 4-2. Shields would earn the moniker “Big Game James” although his post-season ERA has since inflated to 4.98. Now 30 years old, Shields has seen his share of ups and downs, having posted a 5.18 ERA in 2010 and a 2.82 ERA last year while leading the league in complete games and shut-outs.

Shields has been a lightning rod for discussion among Rays fans, writers, and talk show hosts alike. Jason Collette, of DRays Bay and Baseball Prospectus, recalled that fans did not want Shields to be given the privilege of starting a post-season game against the Texas Rangers. Manager Joe Maddon gave him the nod anyway, but Shields allowed four runs in four and one-third innings. Collette remembered fans showering the right-hander with boos as he exited the game. Those in the Rays media focused only on the results rather than the underlying peripherals, writing him off entirely.

This is relevant because it seems like Joe Blanton is experiencing some of the same potentially temporary woes as Shields. A query of Baseball Reference’s Play Index yields only the two among ERA-qualified pitchers since 1993 who have posted an ERA+ under 80, a strikeout-to-walk ratio above 3.0, and a HR/9 above 1.5.

Player ERA+ SO/BB HR/9 Year Age Tm
James Shields 75 3.67 1.50 2010 28 TBR
Joe Blanton 78 6.17 1.68 2012 31 PHI
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/21/2012.

Blanton, of course, has been plagued by home runs recently. In his first eight starts, he allowed just two in 48.2 innings. In his last seven starts, he has allowed 15 in 42.1 innings. Unlike Shields, though, Blanton isn’t the subject of radio rants or armchair psychoanalysis because the expectations are lower. He is the 31-year-old #5 starter with a career 4.37 ERA.

Still, however, there is a parallel. It is historically unusual for a pitcher to have such great peripherals but still get hit extremely hard the way Blanton has and the way Shields did back in 2010. Collette pointed out that pitch sequencing played a big role in Shields’ performances two years ago. He said:

[Shields was] overusing his cutter, got too predictable when he fell behind in the count, and his curveball was a show-me pitch in 2010 and not the weapon it is now. He was heaving FB/CH then with [the cutter] as his third pitch usage wise and curves something he flashed 0-0, 0-1 and that’s it. He would tend to try to front door the cutter rather than backdoor is as he does now and if he got around on it, boom.

Of the 717 pitches Shields threw in a hitter’s count (1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 2-1, 3-1, 3-2) in 2010, 535 were fastballs (75%). Opposing hitters posted a staggering .425 wOBA in a hitter’s count and .453 against fastballs specifically in a hitter’s count. The following year, fastballs accounted for 470 of the 773 pitches (61%) Shields threw in hitter’s counts. Additionally, in 2010, Shields allowed 11 home runs on the first pitch. As of today, Shields has allowed 35 in his career, so nearly one-third of them came in 2010 alone. All 11 of those home runs were on fastballs. Between 2011-12, batters hit 17 of 36 home runs (all counts) on fastballs.

Tommy Rancel of ESPN Florida also pointed out that, in the years since, Shields has worked on his mechanics, including biomechanics as well as focusing on pitch location, throwing lower in the zone now than he had in 2010.

Blanton, on the other hand, does not attribute his recent woes to mechanics at all. Per David Hale on May 29:

Joe Blanton is lost.

On video, there is no difference. He wind-up, his grip, his delivery – he sees no difference between what he’s doing now and the mechanics that worked so well through the first six weeks of the season.

But something is wrong, and anyone who has witnessed one of Blanton’s last three starts is acutely aware.

Nine of the 17 home runs Blanton has allowed have come on fastballs, so batters are picking up his change-up and slider as well. And, unlike Shields, Blanton doesn’t struggle specifically on the first pitch, although his first pitches haven’t exactly been outstanding (.474 wOBA allowed). Blanton’s results in count types:

  • Hitter ahead: .396 wOBA (44% fastballs)
  • Even count: .438 wOBA (49% fastballs)
  • Pitcher ahead: .224 wOBA (35% fastballs)

Obviously, location is an issue. Here’s a look at pitch location on all of the home runs he has allowed this season:

But why now, rather than all season long? Blanton hasn’t varied his location when you compare his recent stretch of batting practice starts to the eight that preceded it.

One possibility is that it is just random. Pitchers have allowed home runs in bunches. Blanton’s current streak of eight games with at least one home run allowed is only the fourth-longest in the last two years alone. Phil Hughes recently ended a stretch of 12 consecutive starts; Brian Matusz and Jeremy Bonderman had 11 consecutive such starts in 2011 and ’10, respectively; and Joe Saunders, Tim Wakefield, and Brian Bannister allowed homers in nine straight in 2010.

It isn’t even out of character for Blanton himself. Between May 15 and June 24, 2010, he allowed 12 home runs in eight starts spanning 48 innings with a 2.5 K/BB. In 2009, Blanton had nine starts in which he allowed two or more homers. Over his career, Blanton has allowed one homer for every 10 fly balls (10%). That rate is up to 17% this year, but given the small sample, it isn’t an incredible jump considering that, since coming to the Phillies, his HR/FB rate has actually been around 13-14%.

If Blanton himself and his team aren’t pointing to any non-statistical reasons for his recent woes, then I am even more comfortable in labeling his recent seven starts as a fluke. Teams, especially the Phillies, are quick to explain away their players’ faults by citing mechanics, for instance, but since they are not, it seems as if even the Phillies themselves are not concerned. And even if the Phillies did cite something like arm slot, it wouldn’t hold up. Per Brooks Baseball, here is a look at Blanton’s vertical and horizontal release points over the years:

Vertical Release Point

Horizontal Release Point

As mentioned above, Blanton’s peripherals have been quite spectacular: his 6.17 K/BB is second-best in the Majors behind Colby Lewis of the Texas Rangers (7.00). Blanton’s walk rate is also second-lowest behind Lewis, and his strikeout rate is at the league average (19%). Even in his last eight starts in which he allowed those 15 home runs, Blanton’s strikeout and walk numbers have been spectacular (39 K, 5 BB), even better than in his first seven starts (2 HR; 35 K, 7 BB).

Unlike Shields, there may not be any more to this story than chaos in the universe. That, more than anything, should make Phillies fans feel better about Blanton going forward. The Phillies are no longer baseball’s superpower when it comes to starting pitching (3.89 starters’ ERA), but they can make progress in that area as Blanton regresses towards the mean and as Roy Halladay makes progress recovering from his strained right latissimus dorsi. For Blanton, the key should simply be getting ahead of hitters and otherwise being himself — an average pitcher.

Thanks to @JasonCollette and @TRancel for providing perspective as Rays analysts.

Greetings From Clearwater – Midseason Meaningless Hardware Edition

Originally written by Bradley Ankrom.

It hasn’t been the most encouraging half-season of baseball down on the Phillies farm. There have been a couple of bright spots, notably the play of Cesar Hernandez, Jesse Biddle, and Lisalberto Bonilla, but plenty of disappointment. Let’s take a look around the farm and hand out some meaningless virtual hardware.

HITTER

PA

AVG/OBP/SLG

HR

SO%

BB%

SB

SB%

BIP

ALTHERR, A

21

LWD

LF

274

.234/.296/.367

4

20%

7%

20

80%

.283

ALVAREZ, M

22

CLR

LF

77

.184/.195/.197

0

34%

1%

2

67%

.280

ASCHE, C

22

CLR

3B

258

.346/.376/.449

2

13%

5%

9

82%

.390

BARNES, J

25

CLR

DH

62

.145/.226/.164

0

31%

10%

0

.216

BARNES, J

25

REA

DH

56

.208/.286/.229

0

16%

9%

0

.250

CASTRO, L

23

REA

RF

231

.288/.320/.442

4

16%

3%

4

44%

.328

COLLIER, Z

21

CLR

CF

67

.367/.403/.517

1

12%

6%

2

100%

.396

DUGAN, K

21

LWD

1B

195

.253/.344/.447

6

24%

9%

3

100%

.311

DURAN, E

21

CLR

SS

209

.258/.297/.340

1

15%

4%

4

40%

.302

ELDEMIRE, G

23

LWD

RF

227

.210/.344/.293

1

22%

15%

18

82%

.282

FRANCO, M

19

LWD

3B

260

.207/.269/.338

6

15%

7%

1

50%

.223

GALVIS, F

22

PHI

2B

200

.226/.250/.363

3

14%

4%

0

.253

GILLIES, T

23

REA

CF

192

.280/.349/.423

2

16%

6%

7

64%

.328

GONZALEZ, G

21

LWD

2B

126

.181/.230/.181

0

19%

6%

5

100%

.228

GONZALEZ, G

21

PHL

2B

3

.000/.000/.000

0

67%

0%

0

GREENE, T

19

WPT

2B

4

.333/.500/1.000

0

25%

25%

0

.500

GREENE, T

19

LWD

SS

89

.147/.270/.267

1

42%

15%

2

100%

.263

GREENE, L

19

WPT

LF

4

.000/.000/.000

0

50%

0%

0

HERNANDEZ, C

22

REA

2B

273

.316/.341/.444

1

14%

5%

12

52%

.364

HEWITT, A

23

CLR

RF

201

.249/.303/.432

8

30%

5%

6

60%

.322

HUDSON, K

21

LWD

CF

206

.202/.262/.271

1

31%

4%

22

81%

.296

JAMES, J

23

REA

CF

227

.252/.286/.408

6

27%

5%

5

45%

.319

MARTINEZ, H

22

LWD

1B

182

.262/.330/.341

0

18%

8%

1

100%

.323

MOORE, L

21

LWD

C

116

.177/.319/.271

1

25%

14%

0

0%

.242

OVERBECK, C

26

LEH

1B

252

.255/.298/.413

6

20%

6%

0

.300

PERDOMO, C

22

LWD

2B

152

.206/.276/.279

1

8%

7%

6

67%

.218

POINTER, B

20

LWD

LF

209

.222/.321/.417

7

31%

11%

7

78%

.300

POINTER, B

20

WPT

RF

4

.000/.250/.000

0

25%

25%

1

100%

QUINN, R

19

WPT

SS

5

.250/.400/.250

0

20%

20%

0

.333

RUF, D

25

REA

1B

272

.329/.393/.547

11

17%

9%

2

100%

.361

RUPP, C

23

CLR

C

185

.220/.281/.333

4

19%

8%

0

.256

VALLE, S

21

REA

C

213

.259/.277/.413

7

26%

3%

0

0%

.312

WALDING, M

19

WPT

3B

4

.250/.250/.250

0

50%

0%

0

0.5

 

PITCHER

W-L-S

G

IP

FIP

WHIP

SO/BB

SO9

BB9

H9

HR9

AUMONT, P

23

LEH

1-0-8

18

18.0

4.04

1.78

1.53

13.5

8.5

7.5

0.5

BIDDLE, J

20

CLR

3-3-0

12

60.3

2.92

1.24

3.33

10.4

3.1

8.1

0.4

BIRMINGHAM, J

23

LWD

0-0-0

9

7.7

7.77

2.35

0.56

8.2

11.7

9.4

0.0

BONILLA, L

22

REA

2-1-1

14

22.3

2.20

1.12

3.44

12.5

3.6

6.4

0.4

BONILLA, L

22

CLR

1-1-1

10

13.3

1.60

0.98

4.50

12.1

2.7

6.1

0.0

BUCHANAN, D

23

REA

3-5-0

12

72.3

4.41

1.33

1.74

5.0

2.9

9.1

0.9

CLOYD, T

25

LEH

7-1-0

10

64.7

3.57

0.91

2.92

6.4

1.8

6.4

0.7

CLOYED, T

25

REA

3-0-0

4

25.0

2.45

1.00

6.67

7.2

1.1

7.9

0.4

COLVIN, B

21

CLR

3-4-0

16

63.7

4.78

1.65

1.36

7.5

5.5

9.3

0.7

DE FRATUS, J

24

CLR

0-0-0

1

1.0

3.40

1.00

0.0

0.0

9.0

0.0

DIEKMAN, J

25

PHI

1-0-0

13

10.7

2.66

1.78

2.29

13.5

5.9

10.1

0.0

DIEKMAN J

25

LEH

1-0-5

13

15.3

0.96

1.04

7.33

12.9

1.8

7.6

0.0

DUKE, R

23

LWD

0-2-3

9

9.7

3.39

1.45

4.00

11.2

2.8

10.2

0.9

DUKE, R

23

CLR

0-1-0

13

21.0

2.21

1.10

4.67

12.0

2.6

7.3

0.4

GAILEY, F

26

REA

2-2-0

15

13.3

4.48

1.88

2.33

9.4

4.1

12.8

1.4

GAILEY, F

26

CLR

0-0-0

4

3.3

2.20

2.70

2.50

13.5

5.4

18.9

0.0

GARNER, P

23

CLR

3-3-0

12

62.3

4.56

1.62

1.15

6.5

5.6

9.0

0.4

HOLLANDS, M

23

LWD

0-1-0

9

21.7

3.23

1.48

3.00

8.7

2.9

10.4

0.4

HOLLANDS, M

23

CLR

3-0-0

3

16.0

2.84

0.69

14.00

7.9

0.6

5.6

0.6

HYATT, A

26

REA

1-0-0

3

17.0

4.70

1.29

2.11

10.1

4.8

6.9

1.6

HYATT, A

26

LEH

2-6-0

10

51.0

5.46

1.57

1.43

5.8

4.1

10.1

1.6

JOHNSON, J

22

PHL

0-0-0

1

1.0

2.41

1.00

27.0

0.0

9.0

0.0

JOHNSON, J

22

REA

0-0-0

6

5.3

1.37

1.31

11.8

1.7

10.1

0.0

KNIGGE, T

23

CLR

3-1-5

25

34.0

2.67

0.97

2.64

7.7

2.9

5.8

0.0

MANZANILLO, E

20

LWD

0-5-0

11

49.3

4.57

1.91

1.42

6.8

4.7

12.4

0.4

MARTINEZ, L

20

LWD

3-4-0

12

58.3

6.25

1.65

0.83

4.6

5.6

9.3

1.2

MAY, T

22

REA

6-4-0

13

69.7

3.87

1.31

2.70

9.4

3.5

8.3

1.0

MORGADO, B

23

LWD

2-0-0

8

15.3

4.18

1.57

2.33

8.8

4.1

10.0

0.6

MORGADO, B

23

CLR

0-0-0

3

7.3

4.08

0.95

3.50

8.6

2.5

6.1

1.2

MORGAN, A

22

CLR

2-6-0

12

68.0

3.00

1.19

4.00

10.1

2.5

8.2

0.7

MURRAY, C

22

LWD

1-3-4

20

30.7

3.95

1.60

1.92

7.3

3.8

10.6

0.3

NESSETH, M

24

LWD

5-1-2

16

41.3

4.37

1.31

1.22

6.1

5.0

6.8

0.2

PETTIBONE, J

21

REA

6-5-0

14

86.7

3.45

1.34

2.43

5.8

2.4

9.7

0.5

RAMIREZ, J.C.

23

REA

0-2-3

16

27.3

4.81

1.24

1.29

5.9

4.6

6.6

1.0

RAMIREZ, J.C.

23

LEH

0-0-0

4

5.0

1.04

0.80

8.00

14.4

1.8

5.4

0.0

RODRIGUEZ, J

21

REA

4-1-0

13

73.7

3.52

1.26

2.16

8.7

4.2

7.2

0.4

ROSENBERG, B.J.

26

LEH

1-0-0

12

22.3

2.64

1.21

4.67

11.3

2.4

8.5

0.8

ROSENBERG, B.J.

26

PHI

0-1-0

2

1.7

9.13

2.40

3.00

16.2

5.4

16.2

5.4

ROSENBERG, B.J.

26

REA

1-0-3

5

8.0

3.18

0.88

9.00

11.2

2.2

5.6

1.1

SAVERY, J

26

PHI

0-2-0

16

20.3

4.66

1.28

2.60

5.8

2.2

9.3

1.3

SAVERY, J

26

LEH

0-0-2

4

5.7

3.75

0.88

6.00

9.5

1.6

6.4

1.6

SCHWIMER, M

26

LEH

2-1-6

15

18.3

3.48

1.20

4.50

9.3

2.5

8.3

1.0

SCHWIMER, M

26

PHI

0-1-0

12

13.3

4.56

1.35

1.12

6.1

5.4

6.8

0.7

SHREVE, C

24

REA

0-1-1

5

5.7

4.64

2.12

0.60

4.8

7.9

11.1

0.0

SHREVE, C

24

CLR

1-1-2

13

20.0

4.35

1.15

3.17

8.6

2.7

7.7

1.4

SHREVE, C

24

LWD

2-1-0

6

15.0

4.60

1.27

2.29

9.6

4.2

7.2

1.2

SOSA, J

22

CLR

3-3-3

26

33.0

3.49

1.36

3.60

9.8

2.7

9.5

0.8

STEWART, E

21

LWD

3-6-0

14

69.3

4.55

1.31

1.20

6.2

5.2

6.6

0.4

WRIGHT, A

22

CLR

6-1-0

13

69.0

3.55

1.41

2.23

8.7

3.9

8.7

0.4

First-Half Player of the Year: Cesar Hernandez has swung one of the most consistent bats in the organization over the season’s first two months, and has already established a new career high in doubles and is sitting one triple shy of his career-best. Hernandez has plus speed but isn’t a burner, and could use some work on his base stealing technique after being thrown out in 48 percent of his stolen base attempts this year. He’s had three or more hits in five games this year, including four- and five-hit efforts on May 4 and April 17, respectively. Scouts aren’t totally sold on the pop in Hernandez’s bat, and while most believe he’ll be a big leaguer, few expect him to develop into a first-division regular.

First-Half Pitcher of the Year: Jesse Biddle was a mess at the start of the season, with an ERA approaching eight after his first three starts. Since April 26, however, he’s gone 3-1 with a 1.84 in nine starts, including eight-consecutive outings where he allowed two runs or fewer and a stretch of six-straight quality starts. His command has wavered at times, but on the whole he’s lowered his walk rate while increasing his strikeouts. He still has a few things to work on – holding runners, gaining consistency with his fastball command, etc. – and should spend all year in Clearwater.

First-Half Breakout: Despite struggling in his professional debut last summer, the Phillies dispatched third baseman Cody Asche to Clearwater for his first full season. Last year’s fourth-round pick out of Nebraska, Asche has ranked among the Florida State League’s leaders in batting average for most of the year, and currently owns a .346/.376/.449 line. He hasn’t displayed much power this year, but some scouts believe he could eventually hit 8-10 home runs annually. That will play in the majors if he’s able to stick at third base, which isn’t a guarantee. If he has to move across the diamond, his future becomes much less interesting.

Other First-Half Storylines:

At the end of April, the Lakewood outfield of Aaron Altherr, Gauntlett Eldemire, and Brian Pointer was hitting .286/.389/.533; since then they’ve combined to go .185/.284/.378, and Pointer was demoted to short-season Williamsport earlier this week. Of the three, scouts are least bullish on Pointer, whose diminutive size and lack of athleticism are stark contrasts to Altherr and Eldemire. Altherr’s combination of age and tools makes him the best prospect, and he’s shown some signs of life with the bat in recent weeks. Eldemire has patience and speed, but more than half of his times on base have come via a walk or hit-by-pitch.

Tyler Cloyd threw a no-hitter in his season debut at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, but was forced back to Double-A when the IronPigs rotation became overcrowded. He went 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA in four starts for Reading before being recalled to Triple-A in early-May. For the year, Cloyd has run up an impressive 10-1 record to go along with a 2.21 ERA and 0.94 WHIP, though his success has done little to change scouts’ opinion of him. Cloyd succeeds with ordinary stuff by getting ahead of hitters with a heavy sinking fastball and relying on his defense to get outs behind him. His luck this year has made him more confident and, in turn, more aggressive. There’s a chance he makes it as a big-league middle reliever, but he has little chance of starting for a competitive ball club.

Phillies top prospect Trevor May got off to a strong start at Reading, carrying a perfect 5-0 record and 2.40 ERA into May, but the wheels fell off in the season’s second month. He’s looked better in his last two starts, striking out 15 batters while walking three over 11 1/3 innings. May’s slider is his fourth-best pitch, and he tends to lose his mechanics when he messes around with it, which could be the root of his May struggles. He’s expected to spend the second half in Reading, but a September call-up to Philadelphia isn’t out of the question.

 

Did the Phillies Collapse?

When referring to sports teams, the word “collapse” is usually brought out when a team has a lead in its division very late in the season, but inexplicably defies the odds to miss the post-season. The Phillies have been a part of a few over the years, some good and some bad. Most recently, the Phillies were the beneficiaries of the Mets’ late-season woes. In 2008, the Mets had a 3.5-game lead in the division with 17 games to go, but went 7-10 while the Phillies won 13 of their final 17 games to seal the deal. The previous year was very similar, but the Mets squandered an even bigger division lead. With 17 games left, the Mets had a seven-game cushion in the NL East, but finished out the schedule 5-12 while the Phillies went 13-4, clinching on the last day of the season.

The most famous collapse in Phillies history, though, came in 1964. Gene Mauch’s squad had a 6.5-game lead with 17 games remaining and their manager could see the finish line in sight. Mauch leaned on his two aces Jim Bunning and Chris Short on short rest to seal the deal, but it turned out to be the wrong strategy. Bunning never had more than three days rest in the month of September while posting a 4.06 ERA, including a 7.36 ERA in the five starts during the collapse. Short also never had more than three days of rest in September despite posting a 3.00 ERA in the month. However, he posted a 4.40 ERA in his final five starts to close out the year. The Phillies went 4-13, including ten consecutive losses, to close out the season, squandering their near-certain playoff berth to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Timing is important in the storyline, of course. Teams have lost 13 of 17 before, but few of them timed them perfectly with the end of a season while desperately holding on to first place. It makes for a very intriguing story, one that will be passed down from generation to generation. Another part of baseball’s narrative machine is the saying, “you can’t win the division in April, but you can lose it.” Obviously, that’s true of any month, really. For example, the Phillies’ 17-8 record in September 2008 certainly helped, but it would have been nice in April or May as well.

This year’s iteration of the Phillies have lost 12 of 16 games in June, falling from 2.5 games out of first place to nine games. Because it happened in June and not at the end of September, this can’t be described as a “collapse”. However, this recent nightmare makes it likely that the Phillies will not be in a position to collapse in September. They may even return from the All-Star break as sellers, saying goodbye to franchise stalwarts like Cole Hamels, Shane Victorino, and Joe Blanton. Under these unique circumstances, can we refer to the recent stretch of games as a collapse? Given how much further down in the division the Phillies sunk and how poorly the Phillies have played on both sides of the ball, so to speak, it’s debatable.

I compared the final 17 games of 1964 and the most recent 17 games to get a feel for how both teams fared. I also compared their performances to the league average. Below, you’ll see hitting and pitching stats. In the “scale” rows, 100 is average; below 100 is below-average and above 100 is above-average. Remember that higher is worse for ERA, walks, and home runs.

AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO
1964 PHI .233 .296 .350 .646 .117
1964 NL AVG .254 .311 .374 .685 .120
Scale 92 95 94 94 98
2012 PHI .256 .314 .403 .717 .147
2012 NL AVG .252 .318 .398 .716 .146
Scale 102 99 101 100 101

The 2012 Phillies have hit ever so slightly better than the league in most categories while the 1964 Phillies were significantly below the league average.

ERA K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9
1964 PHI 4.14 5.4 2.3 2.36 0.64
1964 NL AVG 3.54 5.7 2.7 2.11 0.8
Scale 117 95 85 112 80
2012 PHI 4.73 8.9 2.6 3.43 1.07
2012 NL AVG 3.93 7.7 3.2 2.43 0.9
Scale 120 116 81 141 119

The Phillies’ pitching has been worse despite better components, and they have had problems all over. Vance Worley is the only starter with an ERA below 4.50 since June 2. In the bullpen, everyone not named Jonathan Papelbon or Antonio Bastardo has had trouble recording outs as well.

Although the 2012 Phillies haven’t performed as badly as the 1964 Phillies at the end of the season and it may not be colloquially referred to as a collapse, their 4-12 run will be the stake in the Phillies’ heart if they indeed approach the July 31 trading deadline as sellers. It is certainly not how the Phillies saw the 2012 season unfolding, even with the first-half absences of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. As Matt Mullin tweeted to me recently, the Phillies are proving Murphy’s Law with the ever-increasing adversity standing between them and defending their five-year run atop the NL East.

The Legend of Pitcher Vance

Nothing too heavy in the way of analysis here, just some fun food for thought. Last year, Vance Worley led the National League in strikeouts looking, which made us wonder if it was a sustainable characteristic. Through ten starts, Worley has shown that his propensity for the backwards-K is indeed sustainable as he is once again atop the leaderboard in that category.

2011 Leaders Strikeouts Looking (KL)

Name Team K KL KL%
Bartolo Colon NYY 122 75 61.5%
Vance Worley PHI 119 65 54.6%
Cliff Lee PHI 238 97 40.8%
Jason Hammel COL 86 34 39.5%
Tim Stauffer SD 128 49 38.3%
David Price TB 218 83 38.1%
Mike Pelfrey NYM 105 39 37.1%

2012 Leaders Strikeouts Looking

Name Team KL K KL%
Vance Worley PHI 36 59 61.0%
Bartolo Colon OAK 26 55 47.3%
Clayton Richard SD 22 52 42.3%
Cliff Lee PHI 32 77 41.6%
Joe Blanton PHI 28 68 41.2%
David Price TB 32 78 41.0%
Mike Minor ATL 24 59 40.7%

Worley relied on his fastball for his called strike threes more than every pitcher in baseball except for one: Bartolo Colon. Here is a detailed look at the pitches used for called strike threes last year.

And in 2012:

What’s obvious is that Worley’s pitch classifications have changed between 2011 and ’12, since he obviously hasn’t changed his pitch repertoire. The pitches that were classified last year as “fastballs” are now in their own category as “sinkers”. For all intents and purposes, Worley is still relying almost exclusively on fastballs for his called strike threes.

Anyway, here is how the league’s right-handed pitchers approach right- and left-handed batters for their backwards-K’s.

And Worley himself in 2011:

Worley in 2012:

As you can see, very little has changed in Worley’s approach between 2011 and ’12. Worley has 205.2 innings under his belt, which isn’t enough for us to make any strong conclusions about his future, but if he can continue to paint the corners as well as he has and the league isn’t able to catch up, then he could very well become a valuable part of the Phillies’ starting rotation for years to come, especially if this is indeed Cole Hamels‘ last season in Philadelphia.

Fun with Pitcher Wins and Losses

One of the more interesting storylines to this depressing season is Cliff Lee, still without a win through 11 starts.

twitter.com/ESPNStatsInfo/status/214311686906191872

If you comb through areas where fans express uneducated opinions (e.g. message boards, talk radio, mainstream website comments), you’ll find a lot of frustration with Cliff Lee because he has zero wins, even though he has been quite good throughout the season. I have already cited some of the usual Sabermetric stats to illustrate that, but I’d like to take a different approach by going through each of Cliff Lee’s start and comparing it to the league last year to see how most pitchers fared.

Please note this is just for fun.

  • April 7 @ PIT: 6 IP, 1 ER, 66 game score (no decision)
    • Matching IP/ER: 63 wins (48%), 16 losses (12%), 51 no decisions (39%)
    • Matching GS: 25 wins (51%), 12 losses (24%), 12 no decisions (24%)
  • April 13 vs. NYM: 7 IP, 4 ER, 58 game score (loss)
    • IP/ER: 4 wins (13%), 17 losses (55%), 10 no decisions (32%)
    • GS: 24 wins (39%), 17 losses (27%), 21 no decisions (34%)
  • April 18 @ SFG: 10 IP, 0 ER, 85 game score (no decision)
    • IP/ER: no data
    • GS: 3 wins (50%), 0 losses, 3 no decisions (50%)
  • May 9 vs. NYM: 6 IP, 2 ER, 59 game score (no decision)
    • IP/ER: 64 wins (37%), 42 losses (25%), 65 no decisions (38%)
    • GS: 20 wins (39%), 9 losses (18%), 22 no decisions (43%)
  • May 15 vs. HOU: 8 IP, 1 ER, 77 game score (no decision)
    • IP/ER: 39 wins (72%), 7 losses (13%), 8 no decisions (15%)
    • GS: 11 wins (73%), 0 losses (0%), 4 no decisions (27%)
  • May 20 vs. BOS: 7 IP, 5 ER, 44 game score (loss)
    • IP/ER: 0 wins (0%), 5 losses (100%), 0 no decisions (0%)
    • GS: 14 wins (26%), 23 losses (43%), 16 no decisions (30%)
  • May 25 @ STL: 7 IP, 3 ER, 53 game score (no decision)
    • IP/ER: 26 wins (34%), 30 losses (39%), 20 no decisions (26%)
    • GS: 26 wins (46%), 14 losses (25%), 16 no decisions (29%)
  • May 30 @ NYM: 6 IP, 3 ER, 51 game score (no decision)
    • IP/ER: 28 wins (24%), 50 losses (42%), 40 no decisions (34%)
    • GS: 20 wins (29%), 27 losses (39%), 22 no decisions (32%)
  • June 5 vs. LAD: 7.2 IP, 2 ER, 70 game score (loss)
    • IP/ER: 6 wins (60%), 2 losses (20%), 2 no decisions (20%)
    • GS: 22 wins (61%), 1 loss (3%), 13 no decisions (36%)
  • June 10 @ BAL: 6 IP, 4 ER, 48 game score (no decision)
    • IP/ER: 18 wins (17%), 52 losses (49%), 37 no decisions (35%)
    • GS: 11 wins (23%), 20 losses (42%), 17 no decisions (35%)
  • June 16 @ TOR: 7 IP, 5 ER, 35 game score (no decision)
    • IP/ER: 0 wins (0%), 5 losses (100%), 0 no decisions (0%)
    • GS: 2 wins (6%), 20 losses (65%), 9 no decisions (29%)

If you add up the percentages, Lee would have on average 3 wins, 5 losses, and 2 no decisions based on IP/ER data from 2011.

Date W L ND
Apr 7 .48 .12 .39
Apr 13 .13 .55 .32
Apr 18  1.00  .00  .00
May 9 .37 .25 .38
May 15 .72 .13 .15
May 20 .00 1.00 .00
May 25 .34 .39 .26
May 30 .24 .42 .34
Jun 5 .60 .20 .20
Jun 10 .17 .49 .35
Jun 16 .00 1.00 .00
SUM 4.05 4.55 2.39

Doing the same for Game Score:

Date W L ND
Apr 7 .51 .24 .24
Apr 13 .39 .27 .34
Apr 18 .50 .00 .50
May 9 .39 .18 .43
May 15 .73 .00 .27
May 20 .26 .43 .30
May 25 .46 .25 .29
May 30 .29 .39 .32
Jun 5 .61 .03 .36
Jun 10 .23 .42 .35
Jun 16 .06 .65 .29
SUM 4.43 2.86 3.69

Support-neutral wins and losses from Baseball Prospectus matches up with the observational data, putting Lee at 5 wins and 4 losses (2 no decisions). If Lee had those 4 or 5 wins, even with 3 to 5 losses, there wouldn’t be nearly as much frustration directed at him. Unfortunately, Philadelphia fans have a tendency to blame the scant quality players for their respective teams’ failures.

Why the Phillies Should Grab Manny Ramirez

twitter.com/Athletics/status/213804378627379200

1. He posted an on-base percentage above .400 in his age 37 and 38 seasons (.418, .409) with considerable power (.241, .162 ISO) in a limited amount of playing time.

2. His less-than-savory personality traits — if true — are irrelevant. What, his perceived issues as a teammate are going to drop the Phillies from nine games back to 20? The upside is that he helps reverse the recent freefall in which the Phillies have lost 10 of their last 13 games.

3. He wouldn’t take meaningful playing time away from anyone important. John Mayberry has a .599 OPS and Juan Pierre‘s contributions are heavily overrated because of a gaudy .326 batting average. Man-Ram’s defense would be a downgrade but would be more than made up for if he gets back to his 2009-10 ways, which is not inconceivable.

4. He would be very cheap to acquire. Ramirez signed a Minor League contract with the Athletics that would pay him a salary of $500,000 if promoted. The Phillies would need to guarantee Ramirez MLB playing time to entice him to sign, but he has no leverage in asking anything more than what he was getting from the Athletics.

5. It would be a very interesting signing that would help cull some of the angry fan sentiment at least for a short period of time. The upside is that he becomes a fan favorite like Pedro Martinez; the downside is that he struggles and fans lose faith in him, in which case you’re back where you started.

6. Ramirez could potentially be a trade chip. Teams are looking at Jim Thome after his recent inter-league hot streak and the Phillies will have to get creative to keep his bat in the lineup when they return to NL play. Maybe Ramirez catches fire as well, and if the Phillies don’t make up significant ground by the middle of July, they can flip Ramirez to a contender for a living, breathing Minor Leaguer that could be of use in the near future.

Crash Bag, Vol. 6: The Mustache

I have found the solution, ladies and gentlemen! I think the Phillies can solve their offensive woes! All they have to do is hit off Twins pitching every game. I don’t think the Blue Jays would mind borrowing Nick Blackburn and starting him all three games this weekend, would they?

We touch on a wide range of topics (strangely, most are actually related to baseball this week), so let’s get started.

Nick in Manayunk: “Is Chooch the best catcher in Phillies history? My knowledge of early Phillies history isn’t that great, but he has to be better then all the catchers in recent memory, (Dutch, Lieberthal, McCarver, Boone)”

Well, Nick, I’ll answer your question with a question:

@thomeshomies: “Remember Sal Fasano? He was the best, especially because of those converted Billy Wagner shirseys”

Of course I remember Sal Fasano. I’ve always been intrigued by the Fasano love, because he only played 50 games as a Phillie, and was just unspeakably bad, even for a backup catcher. And yet he’s one of the most beloved figures of recent team history. I was never a huge Fasano fan, but I remember getting a little heart flutter when I toured the Louisville Slugger museum when I was in college (yes, I did spring break in Louisville one year) and they were making Fasano’s bats.

It’s actually quite easy to figure out what made Fasano so beloved–it was the mustache. Seriously, you see that mustache? Fasano’s going to teach you to speak English with that mustache. He looked like Richard Schiff playing a Confederate Civil War officer.

As a fan of the mustache and multiple-time participant in Fu Manchu February, I want to take Sal Fasano as an example of why the mustache is cool. Wear a mustache and you know what people say? “DURRR YOU LOOK LIKE A CHILD MOLESTER.” First of all, that’s very clever–I’ve never heard that before. What a novel insult. I commend you on your incisive wit and creativity. Allow me to retort: having a mustache doesn’t make someone a child molester. On the other hand, saying that someone looks like a child molester because he has a mustache immediately marks you as someone with the rhetorical skill of a barnacle. Saying I look like a child molester because I have a mustache doesn’t hurt my feelings. What does hurt my feelings is that you think I’m so insecure as to be emotionally wounded by a line that hasn’t been funny in 15 years, and that you think I’m dumb enough to believe that your repeating that line makes you clever.

Second, if I’m going to accuse someone of being a child molester based solely on his resemblance to tired stereotypes, I’d look for an unmarked white van or a cardboard box marked “Free Puppies” before I looked for a mustache.

Boy, that got out of hand. I guess the point is that Sal Fasano is proof positive that mustaches are awesome, and anyone who says otherwise is a stone dullard.

(EDIT: @_magowan wrote in with the following: “ALL THAT FASANO TALK AND NO MENTION OF HIS CURRENT CAREER AS THE NEW HAMPSHIRE FISHER CATS MANAGER!?!” So I should probably acknowledge that Sal Fasano is managing the double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in the Blue Jays system. Or rather, his mustache is managing the double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in the Blue Jays system. The editorial staff apologizes for the oversight.)

And while we’re at it, you know what type of facial hair really makes you look creepy? A goatee, particularly a well-manicured one. Either go full-beard or trim it down to a a Van Dyck, because no, thank you, I don’t want to go back  to your bro’s place and do Jager shots.

What was the question again? Oh, yeah, is Chooch the best Phillies catcher of all-time?

Right now, I’d say no, but it’s close enough that it’s worth a discussion. I’d take Chooch for certain over Lieberthal, Boone, and McCarver, and as to the best-ever question, I went with Daulton a few weeks ago, but with every two-run double Chooch hits, the gap gets closer. Even though Daulton was pretty useless for the first five years of his career, he turned into a monster when he took over as the starter in the 1990s, culminating in 1992, when he posted 7.4 fWAR and a .402 wOBA, an absurd mark for a catcher. Chooch has never even been close to that good over a full season (though he’s at 3.2 fWAR in 57 games this season, so who knows?), but he’s been more consistent than Daulton, who was inconsistent in addition to being injury-prone.

It might seem weird, but Ruiz and Daulton, as players, have the same biggest strength: plate discipline. Daulton looks like he stepped off the set of Baywatch while Ruiz looks less like a lifeguard than he does an Ewok, so that comparison might not spring to mind. But Daulton had a career 14.5% walk rate, which is an absurd number for a catcher. Likewise, Chooch (10.6% career walk rate) has always been able to get on base even when he’s not hitting well. But Daulton has an edge there, and a significant edge in power, while Chooch is the better defender. It really boils down to how much you want to penalize Daulton for being a nonentity from 1983 to 1989. I’ll still take Daulton, but Chooch is closing the gap.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Say you have to set up a 32-team Champions League for international baseball. Who makes it in? Does an MLB team always win? Is it any better viewing than the WBC? Who wins the 2011 tournament?”

I think there are two things that baseball could adopt from soccer that would work quite well. The first is a more formalized transfer market that makes international player movement more fluid, and the second is to increase international competition. The WBC is a good first step, and the longer it goes on and the more entrenched it becomes, the bigger a deal it will become. Traditionally, baseball has been a big deal in North/Central America and the Caribbean, Venezuela, Japan, South Korea, and Australia. But thanks in part to the proliferation of the international game, the game is starting to take off in new places in Asia and Europe–Italy and the Netherlands in particular. The more international competition there is, the faster that will happen, and the more baseball will spread to places like China and Brazil, where it could really take off.

I actually think a Champions League would be a foolish idea for two reasons. The first would be travel. Professional baseball is only played at the highest level in the United States, Canada, and Japan. And if you’re going to pit the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals against the defending Japan Series champion Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, you’re going to travel. As the crow flies, St. Louis to Fukuoka is 6,814 miles. Compare that to the driving distances for the four UEFA Champions League semifinal venues from this season:

  • Madrid, Spain to Munich, Germany: 1,226 miles
  • London, U.K. to Barcelona, Spain: 1,486 miles

That’s nothing. The Rockies and Mariners are both more than 800 miles from the closest major league city. Even these two relatively far-flung Champions League semifinals are a medium-length road trip on an American scale. The best baseball teams are about as geographically proximate as the best soccer teams. But in baseball, the best teams are in two countries, while the best soccer teams are spread out over half a dozen.

The second is competitive balance. If you want the 32 best baseball teams in the world, odds are at least 28 of them would be from Major League Baseball, with the rest coming from Japan. I think it would be fun to pit the winner of the World Series against the winner of the Japan Series, but the professional game isn’t as internationalized in baseball as it is in other sports.

If you’re pitting country against country, baseball is every bit as internationalized as hockey or basketball, and not that far behind soccer, where the international game is every bit as important as the club game, perhaps the only major team sport in which that is the case. But there are more than a dozen professional leagues in soccer in which the top teams can engage in competitive competition–we saw a Cypriot team in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League this year. The top talent does overwhelmingly go toward North America in hockey and basketball, but I bet that there are plenty of European teams that could give the best in the NBA or NHL everything they could handle over a best-of-seven series.

Not so in baseball. If you’re making a ranking of the best baseball leagues in the world, you’d get the two MLB leagues, the two Japanese leagues, the Mexican League, the two AAA leagues, the two AA leagues, and probably the SEC or the Pac-12 before you get to anything European or Korean. I’d bet that the Rangers or Cardinals goes 100-0 against the Italian or Dutch champions, and that the University of Florida or UCLA breaks even at the very least.

So while I’d be in favor of a true World Series between the American and Japanese champions (in a magical world where pitcher fatigue doesn’t matter), we need to have more than two decent leagues for that to happen.

@elkensky: “The Phillies only win the WS in presidential election years (80; 08). Are there any poli-sci models that explain why?”

Unfortunately no, not that I’m aware of. I used to have a model that correlated the Phillies’ success in a playoff series to the height of the opposing shortstop, but it’s fallen apart since 2009. However, one could make the case that the Phillies enjoy their greatest success when the Republicans run an absolutely ancient dude from the West against an idealistic liberal Democrat with exactly four years of experience in Washington. That’s a little bit of a stretch, and I doubt that we’ll see those exact circumstances again anytime soon.

I don’t think the solution lies with politics, or at least not presidential politics. However, I will say this: the Summer Olympics have been held in a Communist country exactly twice: the USSR in 1980 and the People’s Republic of China in 2008. In those years, and only in those years, have the Phillies won the World Series. So the person the Phillies need to get rid of this season is not Shane Victorino, or Domonic Brown, or Joe Blanton. It’s David Cameron. If the British government falls in a coup and is replaced with a left-wing authoritarian state in the next six weeks, the Phillies have a puncher’s chance at winning the World Series again. Otherwise, we’re going to have to pray that Pyongyang gets the Games in 2020.

@cog_nerd: “For an older team, should they have more aggressive PTs and trainers given that Utley and Halladay are both rehabbing injuries that seemed to have been under treated at the player’s behest?”

This is a good question. About two years ago, I heard Henry Abbott of ESPN’s TrueHoop say that medical advances are going to be the next great technological advance in sports. I’m pretty sure it was Abbott, at any rate. Trying to gain an edge in team fitness and nutrition is a huge deal in other sports, particularly soccer and basketball. The Phoenix Suns have gained a tremendous advantage from their medical staff, which has not only kept Steve Nash and Grant Hill on the court (miraculous in and of itself) but done so into their late 30s.

In baseball, position players tend to peak around age 30. I don’t know what the answer is, not being a doctor, but there’s got to be some combination of nutrition, fitness, and preventative medicine that extends the physical peak of an athlete another couple years. And that’s not even getting into any sort of biometric study that helps prevent degenerative joint issues like Utley’s, or corrects mechanical flaws that lead to elbow and shoulder injuries in pitchers. It’s widely speculated that the Tampa Bay Rays are onto something here, considering how healthy their pitching staff has been over the past five years, despite it including Jeff Niemann. Niemann was part of a Rice University pitching staff in 2004 that included three future top-10 picks. All three suffered catastrophic arm injuries, it is speculated, due to abuse in college, and the Rays are doing something to keep Niemann on the field and have seen their faith rewarded.

So to answer your question, absolutely. One doesn’t often say this, but in sports, doctors are relatively cheap. A top-notch training staff, even a large and well-equipped one, probably doesn’t cost more than a couple million dollars. Another year or two of prime Utley, Howard, and Halladay makes that a worthwhile investment.

@DashTreyhorn: “Cole Hamels. Better than Schilling?”

As a Phillie? I think so. Overall? Not a chance in hell. Schilling was really at his best in the five years after leaving Philadelphia, and, I believe, deserves enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. It’s eminently possible that Hamels (who was better younger than Schilling and is almost as good now as Schilling was with Arizona) puts together a better overall CV than Schilling when all is said and done. Schilling didn’t turn into a monster (you know, the kind that posts a K/BB ratio of 9.58 over a full season, as Schilling did in 2002) until after he turned 30. Hamels started quicker, but he’s still got a ways to go before he matches Schilling’s accomplishments over a full career.

That said, if I’m going to pick one or the other to run a video game company, I’d take Hamels.

@lizroscher: “Thome wants to talk to Manuel about options to keep playing after interleague is over. What could they be? Are they realistic?”

Boy, that crazy Jim Thome‘s been swinging a hot bat this past week or so, hasn’t he? He’s started at DH in each of the Phillies’ six interleague games this week, and he’s been good enough that I’m going to draw some truly irresponsible conclusions from a small sample size.

Thome has played in 20 games this season for the Phillies. He’s started ten games, reached base in nine, and recorded at least one hit in eight of those. In his other ten appearances, Thome is 0-for-10 with no walks. Now, that’s a really small sample, but it’s not exactly news that players in general perform worse as pinch-hitters than they do as starters. And when you’re trying to talk yourself into Hunter Pence and Carlos Ruiz as power threats, anyone who puts up .458/.536/.917 in any span is going to get some attention. I don’t expect Thome to keep hitting at this rate, but he’s a damn sight better with that bat than Ty Wigginton or whoever else would be playing first base, and it’s not like Wigginton or John Mayberry is so much better defensively that Thome to even out the difference.

If defense were the only issue, I’d start Thome at first every day, but the scuttlebutt is that Thome literally can’t play the field without breaking down. And given that he’s a lefty and Wigginton and Mayberry are both right-handed, a straight platoon puts Thome on the field more than half the time. I think that option is to literally only play him once or twice a week, but given how well he’s hit as a DH and how awful he’s been as a pinch-hitter, that’s going to be unsatisfying. I’m not sure I told you anything you didn’t already know.

Oh, and I don’t care how well Thome’s hitting. The DH is still stupid.

That’s all for this week. If you’re yearning for more baseball on Saturday night after the Blue Jays-Phillies game, South Carolina and Florida face off in the College World Series at 9. Michael Roth takes on Hudson Randall in a matchup of amazing college pitchers who probably won’t make it as pros. Should make for a pretty awesome game, so if you love baseball, tune in and go nuts along with me.

And for next week, send in your questions to crashbaumann (at) gmail (dot) com, or via Twitter either to me directly at @atomicruckus or with the #crashbag hashtag. Have a pleasant weekend, and enjoy the ballgames.

Perspective with the Bullpen

With the Phillies 9.5 games behind the first place Washington Nationals, there has been plenty of blame to go around. Whether it’s been injuries, the recent incompetence of the starting rotation, or the historically-bad situational hitting, the Phillies have found a way to fail in new and interesting situations. The most consistently-bad aspect of the team, though, has been the bullpen. After Jonathan Papelbon and recently Antonio Bastardo, there simply hasn’t been a reliable arm that Charlie Manuel can call on in important situations. The bullpen’s collective 4.44 ERA is the third-worst in the National League, thanks to the repeated failures of Chad Qualls, Jose Contreras, Joe Savery, and Michael Schwimer, among others who have had a smaller share of innings.

As a fun game, I compiled four stats for each Phillies reliever (min. 10 innings) this season and compared them to the relievers (min. 20 innings) of another very successful MLB team. The stats chosen are K%, BB%, K/BB, and xFIP because they are the quickest to stabilize and the most elucidating.

Go through the stats and make a selection. At the end, you will learn the identity of the mystery team if you don’t put the pieces together before then. Click on only one link for each set.

Closer

A B
K% 30% 32%
BB% 4% 12%
K/BB 7.25 2.63
xFIP 2.78 3.01

Select: Player A | Player B

Set-Up

A B
K% 35% 20%
BB% 11% 7%
K/BB 3.10 3.55
xFIP 3.18 3.55

Select: Player A | Player B

LOOGY

A B
K% 29% 20%
BB% 2% 15%
K/BB 13.00 1.37
xFIP 2.94 4.34

Select: Player A | Player B

Four Relievers (ordered by IP)

A B
K% 16% 17%
BB% 6% 10%
K/BB 2.57 1.80
xFIP 3.65 4.31

Select: Player A | Player B

 

A B
K% 15% 11%
BB% 5% 6%
K/BB 3.00 1.79
xFIP 4.21 4.32

Select: Player A | Player B

 

  A B
K% 27% 16%
BB% 4% 13%
K/BB 5.00 1.20
xFIP 2.79 4.70

Select: Player A | Player B

 

A B
K% 14% 19%
BB% 14% 12%
K/BB 1.00 1.53
xFIP 5.58 4.92

Select: Player A | Player B

 

If you haven’t figured it out yet, all of the B players come from the World Series champion 2008 Phillies. The ’08 bullpen led the league in ERA at 3.22. If you chose correctly according to the stats, you should have picked mostly 2012 Phillies relievers above, and that should surprise you. If the ’12 relievers are better, then why are they near the bottom in ERA and the ’08 bullpen at the top?

  • Grounders: The ’08 bullpen featured three relievers with a ground ball rate above 50 percent: J.C. Romero (61.5%), Clay Condrey (54.3%), and Ryan Madson (51%). The 2012 ‘pen features two, and neither at the height of Romero: Chad Qualls (54.5%) and Jose Contreras (51.4%). As a team, the 2012 ‘pen has a 40.7% ground ball rate compared to the 48.8% rate of 2008.
  • Home Runs: Grounders are good because when they are hits, the extent of the damage is usually a single, and a double in rare circumstances. A fly ball, obviously, can travel beyond the outfield fence for a home run. This is why the average for the two batted ball types are nearly identical, but there is a huge disparity in power (.021 ISO for grounders, .371 for fly balls). The 2008 bullpen had one member allow more than one home run per 10 fly balls: Romero (14.3%). The 2012 Phillies feature four: Qualls (28.6%), Joe Savery (13.6%), Jonathan Papelbon (11.1%), and Jose Contreras (10%). As a team, the 2012 Phillies are at 12% compared to the ’08 Phillies at 8.5%.
  • Sample Size: Two-plus months doesn’t even begin to approach an acceptable data set when you consider we are talking about relievers who individually account for fewer than five percent of his team’s total innings. The bullpen leader in innings is Chad Qualls at 26. Comparatively, starter Cole Hamels reached 26 innings on April 25. Would you use Hamels’ month of April for anything but the most general of observations? It is possible that the bullpen’s collective true talent includes a HR/FB of 12%, but we don’t know that with two-plus months of data. It is more likely that the relievers individually regress towards the league average 10%, which means Qualls won’t give up homers at a 28.6% rate going forward, for example.
  • Defense: The Phillies remain one of baseball’s elite defensive teams, but the data includes a large majority of games involving Freddy Galvis and Placido Polanco. Galvis was recently injured and will be out for “a significant amount of time“. Galvis came out in the fifth inning on June 6, which was the first game that Polanco was absent as well. In the seven games that followed, the Phillies committed 11 errors, including eight by infielders (Ty Wigginton, 4; Mike Fontenot, 2; Jimmy Rollins; Michael Martinez). There were several more that weren’t scored as errors as well. Of course, errors are a very rough way to measure defense, but there’s no game-by-game UZR (and even if there was, it’d be just as questionable). Generally speaking, though, the Phillies’ defense has been much worse recently than it was to start the season.

Based on the things a pitcher has the most control over, the bullpen has actually done a decent job. Their collective 2.89 K/BB is second-best in the league behind the Cincinnati Reds (2.93) and fourth among all 30 teams. Their 3.75 xFIP places them in the top-ten in the Majors as well. Using SIERA, which better accounts for batted ball profile, the Phillies move into the top-five at 3.16. The bullpen isn’t nearly as bad as they have looked through 64 games, and that is an important realization because if the Phillies are able to make up some ground in the next month and go into the deadline looking to add players, they should abstain from paying for relievers based on two months of volatile bullpen data.