Losing to the Brewers is Not an Option

Responding to adversity. Timely hitting. An offense that simply would not give up an out, chipping away at a seemingly insurmountable lead, batter by batter, man by man. It was just like the good old days. And it was all thanks to an impromptu team meeting led by Charlie Manuel and Chase Utley before the ninth inning.

Flight Director Charlie Manuel: So you’re telling me you can only give our guys one more run of support? That brings them to about there. (Taps loss column on standings.) Gentlemen, that is not acceptable.
Engineer Roy Halladay: Charlie! Charlie! We gotta talk about run support here.
EECOM Chase Utley: Whoa, whoa, guys!  Run support is everything. Run support is everything.
Halladay: What do you mean?
Utley: Without it they don’t pitch for us,  they don’t pitch easier with men on, they don’t turn our season around…We gotta start scoring runs. Now. We’re not going to make it to the ninth inning.
Manuel: What do  you mean scoring runs?
Utley: With Halladay’s start, the Brewers scored six runs. At that rate the team is dead in two innings, not four or five. We gotta get this team to score four more runs.
MOCR Engineer Carlos Ruiz: How many? You could win a Kendrick start with four runs, Chase!
Utley:  We’ve got to Rollins on base, Pierre, Howard, Pence, Ruiz, the whole smack.
FIDO John Mayberry: Whoa, put Pence on? What if he needs to run the bases? Charlie, he won’t even know which way he’s pointed!
Utley: The more time we talk in here the more outs they waste out there. I’ve been looking at the data for the past inning.
Manuel: That’s the deal?
Utley: That’s the deal.
Manuel: Okay, Chase. The minute Savery finishes his inning, we’ll start putting men on base. (Utley leaves, Manuel turns to address the team.) Now in the meantime, we’re going to have a frozen offense out there. In a couple minutes we’re going to have to power it up using nothing but Francisco Rodriguez‘s inability to find the strike zone.
Juan Pierre: It’s never been tried before.
Ty Wigginton: Hell, we’ve never even simulated it before, Charlie.
Manuel: Well we’re going to have to figure it out. I want people in our on-deck circle timing breaking balls. I want you guys to find every pitch: every slider, every fastball and every change-up that Rodriguez throws up there, then I want you to talk to the scouts we sent ahead to chart the things. Find out how to squeeze every baserunner out of this goddamn pitcher. I want that scoreboard to tick all the way to seven with time to spare. We’ve never come from behind in the ninth inning and we’re sure as hell not going to lose another one on my watch! Failure is not an option!

 

Jonathan Papelbon in Freefall?

All season long, the Phillies have been vying for the Worst Bullpen championship. At first, their strategy involved not using their best reliever, Jonathan Papelbon, in high-leverage situations, but then relief corps stalwarts started to pitch in by allowing obscene amounts of home runs. Chad Qualls, for instance, allowed seven home runs in 31.1 innings before being shipped to the New York Yankees. After that, there was a motley crew of young arms ready to surrender winnable games at a moment’s notice. Just in recent memory, Antonio Bastardo (July 6), Michael Schwimer (July 13), and Jake Diekman (July 18) have done their part.

It can be argued, though, that a lot of that was to be expected. Many warned of Qualls’ eroding skill set when he was signed before the season, and bullpens rife with kids aren’t all that reliable to begin with anyway. The most surprising and disappointing part of the Phillies’ bullpen lately has actually been Papelbon himself, the prize of the past off-season. The Phillies signed him to a four-year, $50 million contract expecting him to replace Ryan Madson, but he has been anything but reliable lately. Since June 20, Papelbon has appeared in 11 games, allowing runs in six of them to the tune of a 6.57 ERA. To that point, he was 17-for-17 in save opportunities, but is 4-for-7 since.

The good news is that Papelbon isn’t in disrepair. Since June 20,  he has a K/BB ratio in excess of 4.0, striking out 17 in 12.1 innings. The issue appears to be BABIP-related, especially towards right-handed batters. The following table shows Papelbon’s BABIP against left- and right-handed batters as well as the number of plate appearances (in parentheses).

BABIP Up To 6/20 Since 6/20
vs. LHB .300 (50) .391 (35)
vs. RHB .212 (52) .583 (25)

The sample sizes are small, so there isn’t anything monumental to find here — just bad luck in general. The .091 BABIP difference to lefties only accounts for three extra hits in 35 PA, while the .371 BABIP difference to RHB accounts for nine extra hits in 25 PA. Where are these hits landing?

First, the LHB:

And the RHB:

In the fourth hit chart, the right-handed batters have a cluster of hits down the right field line. That’s neither an area to which Papelbon has traditionally allowed hits, nor is it an area that indicates that Papelbon has been getting shelled. These two well-struck baseballs are included:

Papelbon’s numbers on the season overall are right in line with his career averages, except for one thing:

2012 Career
K% 29.6% 29.5%
BB% 5.6% 6.6%
K/BB 5.33 4.49
BABIP .323 .279

With a 3.03 xFIP and 2.36 SIERA, Papelbon should simply continue pitching the way he has been and the chips should start falling back in his favor. His last month has simply been the latest straw in the Phillies’ bale of 2012 problems, but it is also easily correctable.