Some Thoughts on Tuesday’s Game

The Phillies dropped the second game of their four-game set with the Cincinnati Reds, losing 5-4 in a see-saw game. Cliff Lee started and, as has been the case throughout 2012, did not get the victory, remaining at 2-7 on the season. Jonathan Papelbon got the loss, allowing a lead-off solo home run to Zack Cozart in the ninth inning to break the 4-4 tie. It was one of the more interesting games, especially since the Phillies have been presumed dead for a couple months at this point, and I had a few thoughts on the game as it progressed.

Ryan Howard and Right Field

Last week, I pointed out that Ryan Howard wasn’t pulling the ball as much as he used to, which may have been a symptom of simple rust or an inability to put pressure on his back foot, the one he rehabbed so laboriously before returning in July. Howard has made progress pulling the ball as his hit chart since August 16 indicates:

Entering last night’s game, in which he was 1-for-3 with an RBI single, Howard had 10 hits in his previous 23 plate appearances, including three doubles and a home run, each of them to center field or towards right field. His triple-slash line since the 16th reads .455/.478/.727, which is quite a nice sight for the left-hander.

Cliff Lee, Not A Winner

Lee yet again pitched well enough to win, holding the Reds scoreless through six innings last night. The Phillies, however, spotted him just one run. Charlie Manuel sent Lee back out to the mound for the seventh, having thrown only 85 pitches. However, it was his third trip through the Reds’ batting order, and almost all pitchers have worse results the more a lineup sees him in the same game. Over his career, opposing batters have posted a .680 OPS against Lee the first time they see him in a game, .691 the second time, .719 for the third, and .766 for the fourth.

Scott Rolen led off the seventh with a double to left-center, followed by a Todd Frazier walk — the first Lee had allowed all game. Ryan Hanigan singled up the middle, scoring Rolen to tie the game 1-1 and prompting pitching coach Rich Dubee to head to the mound. While this was happening, B.J. Rosenberg was warming up in the bullpen. Since the Phillies are 10 games out of the second Wild Card and behind six other teams, they should be playing for next year, and as such should have brought in Rosenberg or even Phillippe Aumont just to give them some work in a high-pressure situation (the leverage index on Hanigan’s single was 3.94). Lee stayed in the game, striking out opposing pitcher Homer Bailey — why did Reds manager Dusty Baker not pinch-hit for him? — before allowing two more runs on a Zack Cozart sacrifice fly and a Drew Stubbs single to left field.

Lee’s final line read 6.2 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 9 K and he was potentially on the line for a loss. A confluence of bad luck (the Reds had some lucky hits throughout the game), no run support, and some questionable decision-making put him in that position, and this has been the case for many of his starts throughout 2012.

Kevin Frandsen and the 2013 Opening at Third Base

Frandsen had himself a nice game. He made two spectacular diving plays at third base and went 3-for-4, including a game-tying RBI triple with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning. With Polanco having hit so poorly and missing so much time due to injury this season, this has prompted the idea that Frandsen is somehow the Phillies’ answer at third base next season. Frandsen, however, has a career .650 OPS (72 OPS+) in 644 PA spread out over six seasons. Despite the diving plays, Frandsen has never been known for his defense at the hot corner, spending an overwhelming majority of his time in the Minor Leagues at second base and shortstop.

The Phillies’ third base situation is certainly an interesting one, but one thing is certain: Frandsen is not the answer. Polanco hasn’t hit much at all this season (71 OPS+) but he is realistically equivalent to Frandsen in that regard and plays Gold Glove-caliber defense. The question, of course, focuses on his ability to stay on the field. Polanco’s option for 2013 is relatively cheap ($5.5 million) and he can return the value on the merits of his defense alone, but the Phillies will need to have a Plan B in that case. They can pick up Ty Wigginton‘s $4 million option as well (ick!), sign one of the even uglier cheap options in free agency, or trade for a modest utility infielder. It will certainly be interesting to see how the Phillies approach this conundrum in the off-season.

Late-Game Strategy

The Phillies entered the bottom of the ninth down 5-4 and staring down the barrel of the arm of one of baseball’s most dominant relievers in left-hander Aroldis Chapman. You may recall Chapman once threw catcher Carlos Ruiz a 103.5 MPH fastball last year. Ruiz doubled, setting a record for the fastest pitch that went for a hit. The Cuban throws some serious heat, and it’s reflected in his stats. He is currently one of two relievers in baseball history to post a K/9 above 14 and a BB/9 under 2.5 with at least 50 innings pitched. His strikeout rate entering the night was at 48 percent, narrowly ahead of Craig Kimbrel, and way ahead of every other reliever in the game. Oh, and his ERA was at 1.35 with a 0.85 SIERA.

By some miracle, Placido Polanco was able to make contact with a Chapman fastball and placed it perfectly in the hole between the third baseman and shortstop, giving the Phillies a lead-off base runner. Against a reliever who doesn’t miss bats so prodigiously, a follow-up bunt may in some capacity be defensible. But not against Chapman. Nevertheless, Jimmy Rollins followed up by laying down a sacrifice bunt, but Chapman fielded the bunt and threw a bullet to second base, forcing Polanco out at second. Using the win expectancy tables from The Book, the home team’s win expectancy drops from 35.3% to 29.6% even with a successful bunt. Never mind that the left-handed and powerless Juan Pierre was due up. The Phillies have decided to bunt in some unfortunate situations before, but this was among the worst, ignoring the fact that the game was meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

Game graph courtesy FanGraphs.

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27 comments

  1. Tom G

    August 22, 2012 09:38 AM

    May I make a request? At the end of the season, someone should add up all of the decreases [and rare increases] in run scored expectancy by the bunt plays and see how many runs it cost the Phillies over the course of the year.

    It probably adds up to the equivalent of less than a win or right around one win, but couple that with the runs lost by having a .300 OBP in the leadoff spot, the bullpen blowups, etc. and this season has been death by a thousand tiny cuts.

  2. Pencilfish

    August 22, 2012 10:14 AM

    In my opinion, there is another interesting story line the remainder of the season: John Mayberry.

    If Frandsen is not the answer at 3B, I can’t see how Mayberry is the answer in the outfield or as the RH bat behind Howard (.678 OPS in 305 AB’s this year with a large split between RH and LH pitching). Mayberry is just a 4th (or 5th) OF whom the Phillies should use mostly as a late inning defensive replacement or as a pinch-hitter against LH pitching.

    Paying Polanco $5.5 million just means less money for a replacement for Mayberry.

  3. Eric

    August 22, 2012 10:17 AM

    Tom G,

    I’d like someone to look at how many runs Juan Samuel has cost this team over the last couple of seasons. It seems at least every other game or so he’s sending someone that should probably stick at third. Not speaking to a situation in this game, but just in general.

  4. Bill Baer

    August 22, 2012 10:23 AM

    @ Tom

    The data in the run/win expectancy tables is based on empirical data, so you pretty much have it already, just not Phillies-specific.

  5. nik

    August 22, 2012 10:42 AM

    Any chance Cody Asche can play 3rd base next year? He’s been tearing up AA in his first full season. If the Phillies are high on him, they can go in with Frandsen, see how Asche does in the spring and make a move only after he shows he’s not ready.

  6. Bill Baer

    August 22, 2012 10:51 AM

    I’m skeptical of a guy who went from a .537 OPS in the New York Penn League to an average-heavy .818 OPS in the Florida State League and the Eastern League. At any rate, he’d need to prove himself at Triple-A for at least a majority of a season before I’d consider him for any role on the Major League roster.

  7. Eric Longenhagen

    August 22, 2012 11:08 AM

    Regarding Asche…

    Even if you like the bat enough to think he profiles at 3B (I’m not quite there but league average at 3B this year is .260/.320/.410 so maybe he makes enough contact to do it) his glove does not. He’s just not a good defender. I’ll see him a few more times this week but for me right now he’s a guy who spends the next couple seasons working at 1B, 3B and both OF corners to become a cheap/versatile bench bat

  8. Richard

    August 22, 2012 11:24 AM

    I don’t know if it’s quite certain that Frandsen isn’t the answer. While he’s no doubt just hitting a hot streak against pitchers who have little reason to avoid pitching to him, 644 PAs spread out over 6 seasons isn’t much to go by, either, really. That said, I wouldn’t want to go into next season counting on him.

  9. jauer

    August 22, 2012 12:15 PM

    Can Galvis play third as well as he can play second? Or, at least, close to as well as Polanco can? If so, why pay 5.5M for a broken-down guy who can hit slightly better when you have the option of Galvis?

    Assuming Howard can produce at just at or above league-average for a first baseman, you will conceivably have above average offense coming from 1B, 2B, SS, and C, so you can definitely devote 3B to defense-only (this is why the Rollins extension was probably Amaro’s best move in a while). I don’t think it’s unreasonable to *slightly* overpay a CF — my choice is Upton –, platoon schierholtz/mayberry, give Brown a spot, and go all-defense at third for 500K.

  10. jauer

    August 22, 2012 12:21 PM

    I’d also sign Matt Diaz, give him a first-baseman’s mitt, and have him platoon with Ryan Howard. That could happen, right?

  11. Ryan

    August 22, 2012 02:38 PM

    @jauer

    Signing anyone to platoon with Ryan Howard is out of the question as far as our front office is concerned.

    I still think that we need a significant offensive upgrade somewhere. Whether it’s in one of the outfield spots or at third, I don’t know, but it’s definitely necessary. The only way we become a contender again without another big bat in our lineup is if Howard and Utley both perform up to their pre-2009 levels. I don’t think that it’s reasonable to expect that. I also think that we need a back end of the bullpen type veteran. I love using our young arms for cost controlled efficiency and I understand that bullpens fluctuate wildly from season to season based on small sample sizes and usage, but we need someone consistent back there who can stabilize the 8th inning until one or more of those young arms steps up. Our bullpen has been awful this season–probably the biggest reason that we haven’t been able to contend. It’s gotten to the point where Charlie has no faith in it and leaves his starters in too long as a result. You can’t possibly tell me that our starters would be pitching so deep into games if we had Madson/Lidge circa 2008 or even Bastardo/Madson circa 2011.

  12. Frank Reynolds

    August 22, 2012 03:13 PM

    I might be okay with keeping Kratz and Frandsen around as bench/back up players if we can sign them to a minor league deal( I have no idea what Kratz’s contract situation is). It would also give me hope that Frandsen would take Mini Mart’s roster spot.
    Bill
    Are we stuck with Mini Mart next year?

  13. BobSmith75

    August 22, 2012 03:57 PM

    No mention of how Lee made a mistakes in the 7th inning either? Lee did pitch well enough to win yesterday overall but he seemingly can do no wrong on this site.

  14. Phillie697

    August 22, 2012 03:58 PM

    Given the recent development at outfield, I think it’s conceivable we can afford both Upton and Melky. One of them has to work out, right? Melky’s performance can’t be all attributed to roids, right? I advocated vehemently of not signing him for 5/80 previously, but if we can sign him for 3/15 now? Sign me up!

    @Ryan, you just named one guy as “reliable 8th inning guy” in 2011 who is still on our roster, who now you call unreliable. That right there underscores the unreliability of relievers. What makes you think anybody we sign out there will be better or more reliable, unless you’re willing to pay closer money for a 8th inning guy ala Yankees and Soriano? And no, I do not advocate we pay closer money for a 8th inning guy.

  15. Bill Baer

    August 22, 2012 04:01 PM

    Melky’s performance is almost entirely due to an unsustainable BABIP. As is Kevin Frandsen’s, for that matter.

  16. Phillie697

    August 22, 2012 04:01 PM

    @BobSmith75,

    “A confluence of bad luck (the Reds had some lucky hits throughout the game), no run support, and some questionable decision-making put him in that position.” Apparently you forgot to read some words.

  17. Phillie697

    August 22, 2012 04:02 PM

    @BB, at 3/15, it’d be a cheap gamble.

  18. Bill Baer

    August 22, 2012 04:06 PM

    $15M per year? You’re not going to get him at 3/$15M total. Otherwise, $15M AAV isn’t cheap. I balked at 3/$31.5 for Ibanez.

  19. Phillie697

    August 22, 2012 04:10 PM

    Well I’m hoping his suspension will kill his market value (yes I meant 3 years at $15M total). No, he’s not worth $15M a year. Hell he’s not worth $10M a year. I would have a hard time paying him $8M a year.

  20. hk

    August 22, 2012 04:24 PM

    BB,

    It’s not just Melky’s BABIP which has risen significantly over the past two years. Prior to last year, his career ISO was in the low .120′s. Over the past two seasons, his ISO is .166. The interesting thing to me will be to see whether both his BABIP and his ISO regress, in which case he will go back to being right around replacement level or if the power stays while his BABIP regresses. If the latter happens, he could reproduce a season like last year in which he produced a .322 BABIP (which is potentially sustainable) and 4.2 WAR and be a great value.

  21. hk

    August 22, 2012 04:28 PM

    Phillie,

    Melky’s value will obviously go down because of the suspension. If the drop is as significant as you suggest – that he’ll only get an AAV of $5M, he’ll probably sign a one year deal and attempt to prove that he can be both clean and valuable before becoming a free agent again after the 2013 season. That being said, I would not be opposed to the Phils giving him a one year, incentive laden deal.

  22. Phillie697

    August 22, 2012 04:39 PM

    @hk,

    Yep, that’s exactly what I’m thinking. Because of his suspension and the expected value drop, I’d kick the tires on him at the very least to see what comes. Remember, he might also think to himself, “crap I can’t use the juice anymore, I might go back to my sucky self again. I might have to take whatever money I can get right now.”

  23. Andrew R.

    August 22, 2012 04:46 PM

    What if we signed Torii Hunter to play RF, BJ Upton to play CF and kept Brown in LF. Would moving Galvis to 3B be a little more acceptable then?

  24. LTG

    August 22, 2012 05:38 PM

    With Dom’s hose I can’t imagine why he wouldn’t get RF, not to mention it fits his handedness better.

    Hunter looks like another chance to get stuck with a bad contract. If he’ll settle for 2 years 10-15 M, great; but otherwise, no.

  25. Andrew R.

    August 23, 2012 10:53 AM

    Good point on keeping Dom in RF.

    That’s what I assumed. I wouldn’t mind slightly over-paying Hunter if it’s just for one year. Even 2 years at $14M a piece would be very generous. I would never give him more than that.

    Besides, having Torii in the OF with Brown would provide him with a great mentor, we’d get a RH bat, and excellent LF defense which we haven’t had since…..??? Ron Gant?

  26. LTG

    August 23, 2012 02:14 PM

    I doubt Gant was still a good defender when we had him, what with his “gigantism.”

    Given Hunter’s consistent production both saberly and traditionally, I doubt we can get him at less than 3/40. In other words, it will take Ibanez money to sign Hunter.

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