O Batter, Where Art Thou?

I don’t know if you guys were aware, but Cliff Lee is really good at throwing baseballs. We seem to have forgotten this in the hype over the frankly insane notion that it might be wise to trade Cliff Lee to…some other team for some other ballplayer. But that has not come to pass, thank God. Tonight? Seven innings, no runs, five hits, one walk, seven strikeouts, and with the bat, 1-for-3 with a stolen base, a run and an RBI. A “screw you for even thinking about trading me” performance if ever I saw one.

We’ve all wondered how Cliff Lee became so good at baseball.  When Lee rejoined the Philliesin 2011, he caught a ride to Spring Training with Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard. Lee told Hamels, Rollins and Howard during that car ride.

Cliff Lee: You folks going past Clearwater?
Cole Hamels: Sure, hop in.
Jimmy Rollins: How you doin’, son? Name’s Jimmy. These two soggy sons of bitches are Cole and Ryan. Keep your fingers away from Ryan’s mouth, he ain’t eaten for 13 years, ‘cept Subway footlongs, cheese steaks and grooved fastballs.
Cliff Lee: Thanks for the lift, sir. My name’s Cliff. Cliff Lee.
Hamels: How you doin’, Cliff? Say, I haven’t seen a ballclub here for miles. What’re are you doing out in the middle of nowhere?
Cliff Lee: I had to be at that crossroads last midnight. Sell my soul to the devil.
Rollins: Ain’t it a small world, spiritually speakin’? Cole and Ryan just been baptized and saved. I guess I’m the only one still unaffiliated!
Hamels: This ain’t no laughing matter, Jimmy.
Rollins: What’d the devil give you for your soul, Cliff?
Lee: Well, he taught me to throw this here baseball real good.
Hamels: Oh, son, for that you traded your everlasting soul?
Lee: Well, I wasn’t usin’ it.
Howard: I’ve always wondered, what’s the devil look like?
Rollins: Well, of course, there are all manner of lesser imps and demons, Ryan, but the great Satan hisself is red and scaly with a bifurcated tail and he carries a hayfork.
Lee: Oh, no, sir. He’s half-Mexican, half-Jewish. With empty eyes, and a big hollow ego.  And he travels around with an enormous sack of money and no grasp of the long-term consequences of his actions.
Howard: And he told you to go to Clearwater?
Lee: Well, no, sir. That was my idea. I heard there’s a man down there–he pays folks money to pitch for his baseball team. They say he pays ’em extra if’n they pitch real good.
Rollins: Clearwater, huh? How much he pay?


Overall Thoughts on the Phillies at the Deadline

With potentially six players on the move, the Phillies ended up dealing only two today prior to the 4 PM deadline: Shane Victorino to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. In return for Victorino, the Dodgers sent to Philadelphia reliever Josh Lindblom, pitching prospect Ethan Martin, and a player to be named later or cash. The Giants sent outfielder Nate Schierholtz, catching prospect Tommy Joseph, and another pitching prospect Seth Rosin. Also as a response to losing Pence, the Phillies have recalled former top prospect Domonic Brown from Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

There are two things to keep in mind when analyzing the Pence trade: one fewer year under team control with the Giants than the Phillies did when they acquired him from the Astros. Not only that, but the Giants will have Pence’s most expensive and final year of arbitration, when he is projected to earn around $14 million. Second, clearing Pence’s projected salary from the ledger is the biggest net benefit for the Phillies, not the players the Giants sent over. The Phillies have close to $130 million committed to just seven players going into 2013. That the Phillies got a decent, projectable prospect in return is icing on the cake.

Joseph is a good get for the Phillies with the downfall of catching prospect Sebastian Valle. Scouts have soured on him as he hasn’t made any strides in his first year at Double-A Reading. In 325 plate appearances, Valle has a .281 on-base percentage backed by an 83-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which is just abysmal. While Joseph isn’t worlds ahead, his on-base issues are tied more to his low batting average and made up for with his prodigious power — he hit 22 home runs last year as a 19-year-old with Single-A San Jose.

The Victorino deal was to be expected, especially since the Phillies had been hot on Lindblom’s trail for a few days. He has, like so many Phillies relievers this year, had trouble limiting home runs, but otherwise, he has an above-average ability to miss bats and he has time on his side as he is only 25 years old. He’ll be under team control for a while, giving the Phillies a lot of cost certainty at the back end of their bullpen.

As for Martin, he still has an opportunity to blossom, but as a 23-year-old in Double-A, he is running out of time to harness his control issues. In 118 innings with Chattanooga this year, he has averaged just under five walks per nine innings. Although he has been used exclusively as a starter this year, it seems like he would profile best as a reliever should he ever make it to the Majors.

Now onto the moves the Phillies didn’t make… Joe Blanton, Juan Pierre, and Ty Wigginton stayed put despite reported interest in all three players. Blanton seemed like the best bet to be moved, but the Phillies were hung up on paying a certain percentage of his remaining salary. The Baltimore Orioles were very interested in acquiring him and the two teams nearly made a deal, but it never went through. As a result, Blanton will be put on waivers in August, or will otherwise leave the Phillies via free agency after the season. The Phillies don’t have a lot of leverage in negotiations involving Blanton anymore, but if they get nothing for him before he becomes a free agent, it will be considered a failure.

Interest on Pierre and Wigginton was more faint, but the Phillies should have jumped at any opportunity to ship them out of town. Pierre has had a great season, but he doesn’t fit into the team’s long-term plans and will become a free agent after the season. Perhaps GM Ruben Amaro sees Pierre accepting a one-year Major League deal to stick around for 2013, but otherwise, the Phillies passed on several opportunities to move him. Likewise, the Phillies ignored interest in Wigginton, particularly from the Yankees, who were looking for a third baseman to replace Alex Rodriguez. The only reason not to move Wigginton is if Amaro is considering picking up his $4 million option for 2013, but we should all hope that isn’t the case.

Overall, this trading season for the Phillies went about as well as they could have reasonably hoped. It would have been great to move Blanton, Pierre, and Wigginton, but there will still be time for that in August. Otherwise, the Phillies were able to clear some money off the books and lightly restock their mediocre Minor League system. The 2013 squad will need a new center fielder and a new third baseman and neither issue was addressed with their deadline deals, so it seems as if Amaro will address those via waivers in August, or via free agency and trades in the off-season. We saw the Phillies play the role of sellers for the first time since 2006 and it was certainly a weird experience, but they came out of it all right.

Related links:

  • I talked about the Phillies at the deadline on the Getting Blanked podcast [Link]
  • I answered a few questions for Sound of Philly [Link]

Phillies Send Hunter Pence to San Francisco

In a move considered a counter to the Los Angeles Dodgers acquiring Shane Victorino, the San Francisco Giants have acquired right fielder Hunter Pence from the Phillies according to Jon Heyman. The Phillies acquired Pence from the Houston Astros at the deadline last year in exchange for prospects Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton, Josh Zeid, and Domingo Santana. That price was paid for Pence’s presence in a 2011 post-season run, as well as two extra years under arbitration — his third and fourth. The Giants will get Pence for the final two months of this season, and then have him in his final and most expensive year of arbitration, when he will get a raise on his $10,400,000 salary for 2012.

Pence’s brief stint in Philly ends, but he remains in rare territory. He is one of five Phillies outfielders since 1950 to take at least 600 trips to the plate with the club and post an OPS+ of 125 or greater, right behind old friend Jayson Werth.

Player OPS+ PA From To BA OBP SLG OPS Pos
Bobby Abreu 139 5885 1998 2006 .303 .416 .513 .928 *9/8D
Greg Luzinski 133 5321 1970 1980 .281 .363 .489 .852 *7/39
Jayson Werth 130 2114 2007 2010 .282 .380 .506 .885 *9/783
Hunter Pence 126 676 2011 2012 .289 .357 .486 .842 *9
Wes Covington 126 1544 1961 1965 .284 .343 .471 .814 *7/98
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/31/2012.

In return for Pence, the Phillies get outfielder Nate Schierholtz, 20-year-old prospect Tommy Joseph, and another player. Schierholtz is a 28-year-old left-handed hitter who has played part-time in the outfield for the Giants since 2009. He has come on strong in the last two years, posting a .325 wOBA, right around the league average for a corner outfielder. Everyone raves about his defense though, as he has played a strong right field in San Francisco — one of the toughest outfields to traverse — and has one of the best outfield arms in baseball. Schierholtz earned $1.3 million in his first year of arbitration this past off-season and will be arbitration-eligible in the next two season as well. Relative to Hunter Pence, Schierholtz is much cheaper and gives the Phillies much more financial flexibility.

One issue with Schierholtz is that he absolutely cannot hit left-handed pitching. Over the last two years, he has a .232 wOBA against southpaws compared to .355 against right-handers. The Phillies simply must use him in a platoon, likely with John Mayberry, who has posted a .294 wOBA against RHP and .370 against LHP over the last two years.

Joseph was taken in the second round of the 2009 draft. A catcher who can play first base, Joseph ranked #2 in Baseball America’s top-10 prospect list for the Giants, and #4 in Kevin Goldstein’s top-11 prospects list. Goldstein  concludes that Joseph has good power potential, but doesn’t have a great game plan at the plate. With Double-A Richmond, Joseph was under-performing with only eight home runs in 335 plate appearances with a .705 OPS, but he is young for the level and has plenty of time to adapt and grow. The Phillies may see him as the heir to the 33-year-old Carlos Ruiz in a couple years, or he could be used in a future trade.

The biggest component of the deal for the Phillies, though, is clearing Pence from the books. He is owed $3.5 million for the final two months (the Phillies are sending money to the Giants to cover some of this) and is expected to earn $14.3 million in arbitration in the off-season. The Phillies have roughly $113 million committed already, so having another $14 million free gives the organization a lot of breathing room.

UPDATE: The third player in the Pence deal is Seth Rosin, a 23-year-old pitcher who has spent the year with Single-A San Jose. Rosin has shown good command and an ability to miss bats, but he has to repeat it at higher levels before any excitement is warranted.

Phillies, Dodgers Agree on Deal Involving Shane Victorino

The Phillies and Dodgers have agreed to a trade involving Shane Victorino, according to Todd Zolecki. The Blue Crew, of course, would get the mercurial center fielder while the Phillies are receiving young right-handed reliever Josh Lindblom and Double-A right-hander Ethan Martin. That Victorino is headed elsewhere is no surprise as he is a free agent after the season and will not be signed to a contract cheaply. Getting value for him now makes a lot of sense for the Phillies.

Lindblom is a 25-year-old right-hander who has worked exclusively out of the bullpen for the Dodgers. His Minor League resume is less than impressive (4.30 ERA), but has shown his ability to strike out hitters persists even at the Major League level. In terms of raw swings and misses, Lindblom ranks 16th among all National League relievers with 96, right ahead of Jonathan Papelbon with 95. For the Phillies, the most attractive feature is Lindblom’s relative cheapness and his lack of service time. With under a full year of service time, they’ll have one pre-arbitration year left with him before his four years of arbitration-eligibility.

Like his new Phillies colleagues, Lindblom has had a lot of trouble keeping the ball in the yard, even at pitcher-friendly Chavez Ravine. In 47.2 innings, the fly ball-prone right-hander allowed nine home runs, accounting for more than 16 percent of his fly balls allowed. But, thanks to a low BABIP (.266) and very unsustainable base runners stranded rate (93 percent) his 3.02 ERA is well under the retrodictors such as FIP (5.05) and xFIP (4.33). SIERA, however, likes him, putting him at 3.66.

Per FanGraphs, Lindblom is almost all fastball-slider, as they account for 91 percent of his pitches thrown this season. Here’s where he typically throws his fastballs towards right- and left-handed hitters:

And the sliders:

As you can tell, Lindblom lives on the outside edge of the plate. Opposing hitters have posted a .281 wOBA against him on pitchers on the outer-third of the plate, .254 on pitches in the middle (surprisingly!), and .370 on pitches on the inside-third of the plate. Four of the nine home runs he has allowed this year have been on the inside corner.

Lindblom is already a serviceable reliever good enough to handle the seventh or eighth inning for the Phillies, but he has plenty of room — and, most importantly, time — to grow. The Phillies will have him for potentially five more years after 2012, so there is a distinct possibility he blossoms into a valuable late-innings reliever like Ryan Madson did.

The second player coming over to Philadelphia, 23-year-old Ethan Martin, has spent this season with Double-A Chattanooga. The Dodgers’ first round pick in 2008, he has battled control issues in his professional career as his 14 percent walk rate signifies, but still has some potential if he can ever battle those demons. His fastball-slider combo profiles best as a relief pitcher, but assigning him to a specific role is putting the cart before the horse.

The Dodgers get a fast, switch-hitting outfielder in Victorino. Lately, he has had problems hitting from the left side (.282 wOBA vs. RHP), but is about average in a typical year. He can hit anywhere in a lineup, which is a feature that some managers still value, and he’s still a very efficient base-stealer (24-for-28, 86% this year). Reunited with Davey Lopes, the Dodgers are hoping for even more production on the bases.

To keep their outfield fresh, the Phillies have recalled on-again, off-again outfielder Domonic Brown. Once the top prospect in the system, Brown has battled injuries and sky-high expectations amid his inability to hold down a MLB roster spot. However, he had been tearing up Triple-A pitching since returning from his latest disabled list stint as Twitter friend Michael Stubel pointed out:


Overall, the Phillies came out okay with this trade. It’s likely they could have gotten something more valuable than a relief pitcher and a Minor League throw-in, but it’s better than nothing and Lindblom should eat up high-leverage innings for years to come. The added bonus is regular MLB playing time for Brown, who has yet to have a fair shake at the opportunity. And Victorino’s departure, obviously, signifies a new chapter in the Phillies’ history as they move further and further away from the 2007-11 “golden era”.

UPDATE: The Phillies will get a player to be named later or cash along with Lindblom and Martin.