Lucas Harrell Angry

The Phillies have faced Houston Astros starter Lucas Harrell twice this year, and twice they’ve sent him into fits of rage. On May 14, Harrell surrendered three runs in five and two-thirds innings as the Phillies went on to win 5-1. Last night, Harrell allowed four runs in five and two-thirds innings, but got the no-decision when the Astros hung a three-spot in the bottom of the eighth en route to a 6-4 victory. As interesting as the game itself were Harrell’s rage antics in the dugout both times. After the jump, you can check out some .gifs of the action.

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Starting Rotation Keys Phils’ Late Surge

On Monday, I looked at the starting rotation’s volatility compared to last year, concluding that overall, the rotation had declined in general and provided fewer elite outings. There is no question that the 2012 iteration has fallen short of expectations, due in large part to age and injury concerns. Since returning from the All-Star break, though, the rotation has surprisingly been a big asset as the team has gone 35-21 in the meantime.

Four of the seven players who have started games for the Phillies since July 13, the first day play resumed after the All-Star Game, have posted an ERA under 3.00: Cliff Lee, 2.66; Kyle Kendrick, 2.72; and Joe Blanton and Cole Hamels, 2.74. Roy Halladay and Tyler Cloyd haven’t been dreadful, with a 4.04 and 4.24 ERA, respectively. Only the now-sidelined Vance Worley had been awful at 5.33. Among all NL starters who have faced at least 100 batters since the break, Lee, Kendrick, and Hamels rank eighth, ninth, and tenth, respectively and are only three of 16 pitchers to have a sub-3.00 ERA in that span of time.

The three starters, despite having nearly-identical ERA’s, have gotten to that point in three separate ways. Hamels’ story is the least-interesting because he has been this good all year long and should garner some top-10 Cy Young votes after the season. He hasn’t been as good as he was last year as he has walked more batters, induced significantly fewer ground balls, and over-performed his xFIP by about 0.30. A 3.31 xFIP, though, still puts him in the top-5 in the National League behind Stephen Strasburg, Cliff Lee, Adam Wainwright, and Clayton Kershaw.

Lee, as predicted, regressed back to his mean after a very unlucky first half that had the entire city of Philadelphia writing him off and nearly running him out of town at the trade deadline. He didn’t get his first win until July 4, the first start after his ERA crossed the 4.00 threshold. Lee, however, had a .330 BABIP going into the All-Star break. Since then, his BABIP is .293 and he has improved his K-BB numbers from 98-20 in 97.1 first-half innings to 76-7 in 84.2 second-half innings. If the Phillies do end up winning the second Wild Card and call on Hamels in the one-game playoff as many expect, Lee would likely pitch Game One of the NLDS if the Phillies were to win.

Kendrick, on the other hand, has benefited from a combination of luck and skill. There is no question the 2012 version of Kendrick is the best to date. His second-half 18 percent strikeout rate easily surpasses his 12 percent career average and he has been very stingy with the walks as well (five percent). He is getting ground balls at a 50 percent clip since returning from the All-Star break, a rate that would be his highest in any full season at the Major League level. Kendrick does have a .234 BABIP in his last eight starts, though, indicating that some of his recent success has been a fluke, especially compared to his career .285 BABIP, which is still 15 points under the National League average.

Only the Braves are close to the Phillies when it comes to second-half starting rotation success. Here are the top-three starters since the break for the Phillies’ Wild Card foes:

If the Phillies are to complete the comeback, they will need the starting rotation to light the way. The pitching staff as a whole has held the opposition to two runs or fewer in eight of the last 11 games, so it should come as no surprise that the Phillies are 9-2 in that span of time. But in the remaining 19 games, Hamels needs to continue being Hamels, Lee needs to continue his progression, Kendrick needs to avoid regression, some sunnier days for Halladay would be nice, and maybe a Dick Ruthven-esque contribution from Cloyd, too. Needing 15 wins in 19 games to reach 87 wins, the Phillies don’t have room for mistakes anymore.

On Optimism and Pessimism

The most prominent subject of conversation lately, in the wake of both of my recent articles dispelling the Phillies’ playoff chances and a pre-season quote from Baumann (“I’m not optimistic. And you shouldn’t be either.”), has been that we as a group — and perhaps stat-heads in general — are too pessimistic, that we’re ruining the fun of a potential historic comeback by the Phillies. The words optimism and pessimism, as well as hope, have been bandied about, as if stat-heads can only be pessimistic and that pessimism blocks out any possibility of hope. I tried dispelling the false choice in the comments and on Twitter, but I’d like to expand on that a bit, if you will.

twitter.com/CrashburnAlley/statuses/245523846000689152

Optimism is not inherently better than pessimism, and both are completely legitimate lenses through which we view the world. Both also have their pros and cons. Optimists can use their worldview as motivation to get through a particularly troublesome time, but they also set themselves up for a harsher fall in the event of failure. Pessimists can use their worldview to reduce their expectations thereby reducing the impact of failure. As it relates to the Phillies’ potential comeback, optimists use their positive thinking to help themselves enjoy the attempt at a comeback, while the pessimists use their negative thinking to brace themselves for a dud.

Studies have shown both optimism and pessimism to have legitimate uses. A study from The National Bureau of Economic Research in May 2005 found a statistically significant link between optimism and work ethic. On the other hand, a study published in The International Journal of Aging and Human Development found that elderly people who were pessimistic — especially about death — were less likely to fall victim to depression.

What has bothered me is the conflation of these worldviews and their connection to being able to enjoy what the Phillies have been doing and what they may be able to do in the upcoming weeks. The common theme is that those of us who recognize the statistical improbability of a comeback are unable to hope that it happens, or will be unable to enjoy it when it does. Saberists have been making predictions since time immemorial, and I can’t think of one who predicted doom-and-gloom for his rooting interest that watched with chin-on-palm and a scowl. Kyle Kendrick is a great example as he has been a Sabermetric whipping boy since 2007, but he has taken a big stride this year that has legitimized at least a portion of his success. There are no Saber-savvy Phillies fans who watched his brilliant start last night angrily, throwing empty beer bottles at the TV screen.

There is also the implication that optimism is, by default, the correct lens through which to be a sports fan. There is no one correct way to be a sports fan; it is what helps you best enjoy what it is you spend your time obsessing over. If you attend every single Phillies home game and you enjoy it, that’s great. That method of fanaticism is in no way more valid than the fan who chooses to watch the games from the comfort of his La-Z-Boy recliner. If you hate stats and you enjoy baseball better without them, that is absolutely fine. Saberists have no moral high ground in the great fan debate because they pore over spreadsheets.

What we could stand to do is to have mature conversations about our mutually-shared favorite teams and try to see the point of view from the other side. As a pessimist, I can certainly appreciate the zeal on the precipice of a historic comeback, and the optimists should be able to appreciate our muted enthusiasm in the face of staggering odds. At the casino, I can empathize with a gambler’s rush of a big run at blackjack while also refusing to play myself because I realize that I will most likely walk away with empty pockets. The pessimists aren’t trying to rain on the optimists’ parade, and optimists aren’t parading their enthusiasm in front of the jaded pessimists. It’s two different mindsets crowding the same space on the Internet as if it were a bad sitcom.

As the Phillies embark on their final 21 games, instead of fighting with each other, we should instead cozy up next to each other and watch our favorite team maybe make a run at it. We work best as a team. The pessimists act as the hand holding the balloon string, preventing the optimists from drifting into the clouds. The optimists help the pessimists loosen up their ties and have some fun. Fun we wouldn’t have nearly as much of without each other.

Stop Screwing Around and Trade Juan Pierre Already

Scuttlebutt is that the Phillies and Orioles are talking about a trade involving Juan Pierre. But those talks have hit a snag. Such news could prompt any number of reactions, but my favorite is this one.

“Immovable WTF??” indeed.

When the Phillies signed Pierre in the offseason, then started playing him, I envisioned something worse than what he’s become. Specifically, I imagined a formidable volcano, its base somewhere in short left field at Citizens Bank Park, that was home to an angry and vengeful god. Except this volcano god would subsist not on the sacrifice of virgins, as the volcano gods of old did, but instead on outs. I imagined Juan Pierre, holding a spear and dressed in traditional Maori warrior garb, dragging bushel after bushel of outs up the mountain and tossing them into the caldera. Dozens, hundreds of outs. Enough outs to satisfy the hunger of ten angry volcano gods.

But you know what? He hasn’t been that bad. He’s blooped, bleeped and BABIPed his way to a 92 OPS+ and a 104 wRC+. Even as a bad defensive corner outfielder, both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference have him at 1.2 WAR this season. Now, no one’s going to confuse him with Rickey Henderson (or even Ricky Ledee) with those numbers, but for less than a million dollars on a one-year contract? That’s a bargain.

Now, August 31 is not actually the trade deadline. July 31 is the non-waiver trade deadline, but after that date, anyone who clears waivers can still be moved. No player acquired after August 31, however, can be added to the postseason roster, so September trades, particularly for free agents-to-be like Pierre, are rare.

But the Orioles, who are, somewhat inexplicably, very much in contention for a division title, need outfield depth. For a team with designs on winning the toughest division in baseball, the Orioles have seen an awful lot of the likes of Steve Pearce and Nate McLouth. With the expanded rosters, Pierre is probably worth a stab if the price is right. I don’t think I’d give up an asset for 3 weeks of Juan Pierre, but depending on the asset, it wouldn’t be the craziest thing in the world.

So it was probably the Phillies who shot this deal down. According to the rumor, the Phillies didn’t trade Pierre because they “wouldn’t get much in return.”

I’m sorry, what?

Juan Pierre has 3 weeks left on his contract. He will generate no draft pick compensation as a free agent. The Phillies, in Domonic Brown and (I can’t believe I’m saying this) Darin Ruf, have two guys who could use at-bats in left field far more than Pierre. Going into tonight’s games, the Phillies had a 0.7 percent chance of even making the play-in game (though as the Phillies are up 3-1 through 6 1/2 innings as this is posted, that number will probably go up some if the score holds). Nevertheless, they’ll need to stage a comeback on the order of the 2007 Colorado Rockies to even get into a one-game playoff to get to a playoff series where they’ll be handed every disadvantage. If you go back to their lowest point, a Phillies playoff appearance would mark the second-greatest comeback in baseball history. Hold that thought–we’ll come back to it.

Let’s assume the Phillies aren’t going to make the playoffs. If Pierre walks, the Phillies get nothing. If they trade him, they get a minor leaguer, albeit likely one whose odds of making a major-league impact are just as long as the Phillies’ odds of making the playoffs this season. The Orioles ain’t trading Dylan Bundy for a three-week rental on a fourth outfielder.

But still, something, literally anything, is better than nothing. Pierre has zero long-term future in Philadelphia, so if the Phillies get back a sixer of Natty Bo and the a copy of the fifth season of The Wire on DVD, the Phillies win the trade. There is literally no reason for the Phillies to hang on to Pierre. Even if they want him back next season, he’ll be a free agent, and if he refuses to re-sign, who cares? There will be other free-agent outfielders this winter, the vast majority of whom will be better than Pierre. Could they be holding out for a better org guy in return? Maybe, but there’s a pretty good chance the Orioles either trade for a different outfielder or stand pat entirely. Better to take an offer while you know one is on the table.

So the only possible reason to keep Juan Pierre is to help the team this season. I gave up on the Phillies’ playoff chances months ago, but maybe Ruben Amaro isn’t so easily convinced. Fair enough–he runs the team, so if he wants to be optimistic, that’s his prerogative.

So let’s think about what that says: that someone in the Phillies’ front office believes that the difference between staging the second-greatest comeback in major league history and not staging the second-greatest comeback in major league history is Juan Pierre.

For God’s sake–just get rid of him already.

 

Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

If it seems like the Phillies’ starting pitching hasn’t been as good this year as it was last year, it’s because it hasn’t. The fearsome foursome of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt contributed to a league-best 2.86 ERA — nearly a half-run better than the next-best team, the San Francisco Giants. This year, that ERA rose to 3.81, only the sixth-best mark in the league. It’s been a rough year: Halladay had an injury problem, Lee has dealt with incredibly bad luck, and Vance Worley‘s season recently ended with elbow surgery. It hasn’t all been bad news, though, as Kyle Kendrick has had two incredibly good runs of pitching and Tyler Cloyd has looked mostly good since being called up recently.

It is generally difficult to compare something so broad as “starting pitching” from one year to the next, but we can get a rough idea using game score. While far from a perfect metric, it does give us an idea as to how the pitching has changed between 2011 and ’12. The following chart shows the frequency of Phillies starters’ game scores by buckets, with 50 being the average.

Percentage-wise, the 2012 Phillies had more “elite” pitching performances, game scores of 71 or higher. Meanwhile, the 2011 Phillies had more “slightly above average” performances, game scores between 51 and 70. The latter matters more because they occur more often: 64 of 140 games fell between 51-70 this year, and 70 of 162 occurred last year. Meanwhile, only 23 games reached 71 or higher this year, and only 46 did last year.

In terms of individual performances, all four of Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and Worley saw their average game score decline. The now-departed Joe Blanton saw a modest increase, Kendrick stayed about the same, and Cloyd has been about as good as Oswalt was last year, though in 20 fewer starts.

2011:

2011 Average GS Starts St Dev
Cliff Lee 64.1 32 18.6
Cole Hamels 62.1 31 15.8
Joe Blanton 46.4 8 13.1
Kyle Kendrick 52.5 15 15.2
Roy Halladay 63.3 32 13.1
Roy Oswalt 51.4 23 15.0
Vance Worley 56.4 21 16.6
Total Average 58.8 162

2012:

2012 Average GS Starts St Dev
Cliff Lee 57.2 25 15.0
Cole Hamels 60.0 27 12.5
Joe Blanton 51.9 20 18.7
Kyle Kendrick 51.2 20 19.4
Roy Halladay 55.0 21 17.1
Tyler Cloyd 51.3 3 21.6
Vance Worley 48.6 23 14.1
Total Average 54.2 139

Another interesting item to look at is the standard deviation of each pitcher’s game score in both seasons. The standard deviation tells you the spread of data around the average — the larger the number, the more volatile the pitcher was overall. For instance, Halladay’s average game score in 2012 is 55 with a standard deviation of 17, so roughly 68% (why 68%?) of his starts fell between a game score of 38 and 72. Indeed, 21 of his 32 starts (66%) were between those two numbers.

From 2011 to ’12, Lee, Hamels, and Worley saw their standard deviation shrink along with their average game score, so not only were they worse on average, but their starts overall were more frequently mediocre, rather than sometimes elite. Put another way, Lee’s 2011 standard deviation of 19 is partially due to eight of his 32 starts producing a game score of 80 or better. This year, only one of his starts — a memorable one — was 80 or better.

I don’t mean to imply that more volatility in starters is always a good thing. Cy Young favorites in their respective leagues, R.A. Dickey has an average game score of 63 with a standard deviation of 19, while David Price has an average game score of 61 with a standard deviation of 16, for example. However, because runs cannot go below zero, it is more rewarding to post a game score 19 above your average rather than 19 below, since there’s almost no change in win expectancy if you allow five runs instead of six, as opposed to a huge swing in win expectancy if you allow one run rather than two.

The Phillies’ starting pitching problems have been rather easy to diagnose this year: age and injuries, mostly. But it’s also true that the staff as a whole declined and was, perhaps, too consistent.

Another Look at the Phillies’ Playoff Chances

With a sweep of both yesterday’s double-header and the series overall with the Colorado Rockies, the Phillies moved to within six games of the second Wild Card in the National League. The 81-60 Atlanta Braves appear to be the presumptive first Wild Card winner, 5.5 games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals in second place. Behind the Cardinals are the Dodgers (1.5 games), Pirates (2.5), Brewers and Phillies (6.0), and Diamondbacks (6.5). In their last 10 games, the Phillies have gone 8-2 when they were previously considered dead in the water. Of the teams ahead of them, the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Pirates have losing records in the same span of time, creating some space for the Phillies to enter the mix.

Baseball Prospectus had the Phillies at 0.2 percent to make the playoffs before yesterday’s double-header (they haven’t yet updated), while Cool Standings puts them at 0.7 percent following the games. While 0.7 percent looks better than 0.0 percent, the difference is not that meaningful — the Phillies still have a long road ahead of them.

In prior looks at the playoff race here, we assumed that 89 wins would be the threshold for the second Wild Card, but as it stands currently, 87 wins would be enough. The Cardinals, currently in the lead, have a .536 winning percentage. In order for the Phillies to win the Wild Card at 87 games, no other team in the mix can win more than 86, obviously. So what is the minimum winning percentage for the Phillies, and what is the maximum winning percentage for the others?

The Phillies have to win at least 18 of their remaining 22 games, an .818 winning percentage. The Cardinals can play no better than .500 baseball at 11-11. The others can, at best, experience only moderate success.

Team W L Wpct
STL 11 11 .500
LAD 12 9 .571
PIT 14 9 .609
MIL 17 5 .773
ARI 17 4 .810
PHI* 18 4 .818

*Minimum winning percentage; others are maximum.

The Phillies’ remaining schedule is as follows:

  • Sept. 10-12 vs. Marlins (.447)
  • Sept. 13-16 @ Astros (.314)
  • Sept. 17-19 @ Mets (.464)
  • Sept. 21-23 vs. Braves (.574)
  • Sept. 25-27 vs. Nationals (.614)
  • Sept. 28-30 @ Marlins (.447)
  • Oct. 1-3 @ Nationals (.614)

Realistically, the Phillies would have to sweep the Marlins in both series, as well as the Astros and Mets, then win at least five of their nine remaining games with the Braves and Nationals. At any rate, finishing out the season at least 18-4 would bring them to 24-6 to close out the season, an .800 winning percentage. If the Phillies were to accomplish this feat, it would be more improbable and more impressive than each of their late-season runs to claim the NL East crown in 2007 and ’08. Even if it’s not likely, it is nice that the Phillies are still playing somewhat meaningful baseball in September after all of the adversity they went through in the previous five months.

Crash Bag, Vol. 18: A Cacophony of Squeaky Octopi

I own a stuffed octopus. It used to belong to the son of a friend of mine, but I inherited it after the young boy outgrew it. This octopus is special–each of its eight tentacles has a squeaker tuned to one note of a major scale. The possibilities for such a toy are endless–on one visit, I sat down and figured out how to play the 1812 Overture and Crazy Train on this octopus, among other compositions, so my friend gave me the toy with the understanding that I’d enjoy it more than his kids ever did.

I bring this up because I think all things should have a musical component. Life is more fun when you’re surrounded by musical instruments. I discovered that if you tap a certain point on the steering wheel of my car in a certain way, it sounds like a cowbell, which comes in handy when I’m on a long road trip and the urge to listen to “Low Rider” by War strikes me.

When I’m dictator of the world, different parts of everyday objects will be tuned to different pitches. So when you’re bored, say, in a meeting, you can tap out an impromptu steel drum cover of Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years.” If the spirit so moves you. It’ll be paradise. Mankind will be blanketed in a cacophony of squeaky octopi, and we’ll all be too happy to oppress each other. It’s the way of the future.

@threwouttime: “when will phillies postseason tickets go on sale?”

My guess? Sometime in late summer 2014.

But that reminds me–we had a request from @erhudy for a recipe for “a delicious bacon-wrapped monkfish.” So I’m not one of those baseball bloggers who needs to show off how much he knows about cooking and how much he cares about what he eats. I eat (by mass) probably more fried chicken than any other food group. My viewpoint toward cooking is: “Put in oven/on stove, heat until it changes color, douse in Frank’s Red Hot.” That’s how I cook chicken, beef, vegetables, bread, fish, mutton, rice, venison, bread, eggs, everything. I can cook (I take great pride in my chili), but I’d rather just heat up some frozen chicken and frozen cauliflower and pour Frank’s on them until they taste good.

Anyhoo, not only am I not a gourmet myself, but I really don’t like fish, so I submit this recipe by renowned chef Emeril Lagasse. Got some bacon, some monkfish and about an hour? Knock yourself out. And give me some–I’m hungry.

But I’ll answer another question, since I dismissed the first one.

“what will min-marts BA be at seasons end? .100? Higher? Lower?”

Probably higher, just because I can’t imagine a major league hitter finishing the season worse than .115/.169/.192. I guess it really shouldn’t surprise us that Mini-Mart’s OPS is .361, because when you have so little power and such bad plate discipline, it’s hard to overcome a .115 batting average. I’m not sure what he’s doing in the majors, honestly. Actually, I am sure what he’s doing: making lots of outs.

The way casual fans view Mini-Mart is actually a pleasant surprise. Sure, most people decry his appalling lack of baseball skill for someone in his profession, but I’ve heard multiple people rave about his defense and baserunning, or his youth and potential for the future. Never mind that all of those things bear not even a casual relationship with fact, but I like what it says about humanity. We all know Michael Martinez is a terrible hitter, so therefore he must be a good defender and baserunner. Well, actually, the best thing I can say about his defense and baserunning is that he’s better than Ryan Howard in both facets of the game. But given that, he’s got to have room to improve, right? Well, no, he turns 30 next week, so if you don’t know him by now, you will never never never know him. No you won’t.

The same thing goes for Michael Young, who is a smallpox scar on the face of the Texas Rangers. Young once won a batting title, and can play multiple positions in the same way that Martinez can: if you put him in the lineup at, say, third base, he will stand there for nine defensive innings and occupy a particular point in space. But observers (among them Rangers manager Ron Washington) have been concocting a story about what Young adds to the team from a standpoint of morale, that he brings intangible value as a team leader, which excuses his being, by both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs WAR, the worst player in the major leagues this year whose name isn’t Jeff Francoeur. Now, even if this were true, I’m not sure how he couldn’t add this value from the bench while Jurickson Profar or Mike Olt batted in his place, but that’s another story.

Anyway, that we make up (as in “fabricate in the face of overwhelming empirical evidence to the contrary”) reasons to value Young and Martinez speaks to a tendency to look for value in our fellow humans where none exist. It’s impossible, we assume, for a baseball player to be as entirely worthless as Michael Martinez appears to be. The statistical record indicates that he’s a fetid, squishy garbage bag of week-old bat carcasses left outdoors overnight in the Alabama heat. But surely he can’t be that bad. So let’s look for reasons in the fuzzier regions of the game–defense and intangibles–to find some value in something that we know, deep down, to have none.

It’s a charitable and warm reflex from a community that is too often neither. I think I’ve just talked myself into the idea of Michael Martinez as being life-affirming, rather than infuriating. This has been a good morning so far.

But let’s not lose focus.

@Estebomb: “Just exactly how bad is Michael Martinez?”

Very much so. In fact, I’ve invented a new word to describe it: “blemmorhagic.” It’s a portmanteau of “blinding” and “hemmorhagic,” because watching Michael Martinez play baseball is like losing your sight while bleeding internally. I hope you like it.

@fotodave: “what is the most pressing need for the Phil’s in the offseason? 3B? LF? Relief?”

None?

The Phillies’ relief corps was awful this season. But add Papelbon to a healthy De Fratus, a healthy Stutes, a healthy Herndon, Phillippe Aumont and some combination of Tony No-Dad and Jeremy Horst and you’ve got a bullpen that, if it’s not good, then at least has enough young guys who throw hard that it probably won’t be awful. This goes double if the Squirtle that is Aumont evolves into a fully-formed Blastoise. You only need two or three really good relievers before it stops mattering how far Josh Lindblom‘s fastball gets hit.

So for the bullpen, Ruben Amaro would be best-served doing the same thing in 2013 that he did in 2012. And before someone trots out that monumentally stupid “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result” nonsense, let me point out 1) the hypocrisy of using the same “Axiom unsupported by facts/Q.E.D.” line of rhetoric and expecting it to work this time and 2) that the definition of insanity is actually something else. I’m sorry that other people have read the same fortune cookie you have, but reciting quotes with sketchy attribution (I know this one is said to have come from Albert Einstein) without context or understanding doesn’t make you impressive. It makes you look like a stone dullard, particularly when everyone else has heard those sayings as well, and (if they have any sense) disregarded them.

I find it absolutely preposterous that in 2012, 43 years after man first walked on the surface of the moon, that there are people, in the United States, many of whom are not functionally illiterate, who walk around on the street under the impression that saying “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result” merits any response other than being beaten to death with a shopping cart. Do you think that there’s anyone who’s still impressed by your knowing that quote? I’d suggest perhaps peddling such “wisdom” to a more receptive audience, perhaps some tribe in Indonesia who’s yet to discover fire, but I don’t want to pollute their gene pool as well.

So third base.

Bill wants the Phillies to trade for Chase Headley. Or so he says. I think he’s actually just saying that in an attempt to pass the Turing Test. I’ve never met Bill in person, nor even seen a photograph of him, so I’ve spent the past three years operating under the assumption that he’s a very clever computer program that’s reached self-awareness. So this maniacal trade-for-Chase Headley nonsense is an attempt to give the appearance of human fallibility to throw us off the scent. Don’t be fooled–every minute you believe trading for Chase Headley to be a good idea brings Bill one minute closer to creating Skynet. I, suffice it to say, don’t think trading for Chase Headley is a good idea, and am totally comfortable heading into 2013 with the cast of Mean Girls penciled into the lineup at third base.

And I thought the plan in left field was Domonic Brown, with some Nate Schierholtz/John Mayberry platoon in right. I’d be cool with that, I guess, if they got a decent center fielder in free agency. There are more and better options in center, but we’ll get to that later, after we interrupt this programming for some political coverage.

more powerful duo: Halladay/Hamels or Clinton/Obama”

Halladay’s showing his age and Obama has the nuclear launch codes. I’ll go with Clinton/Obama. But seriously, Obama has the launch codes, so if you don’t vote for him you’ll be killed with a cruise missile.

@bxe1234: “Did you play little league/HS baseball and what position? Who’d you model your stance after?”

I played little league, but not high school. I was terrible. I was pudgy, and I wore glasses, and not only was I not the coach’s kid, but I wasn’t the coach’s kid’s best friend, so I found myself in the outfield and in the bottom of the lineup. There was one year where one coach took an interest in actually teaching me how to play baseball rather than indulging his inner Billy Martin, and I actually learned how to hit, so Coach John Dailey, if you’re reading this, I thank you.

But I played a little bit of second base, a little third base and a lot of right field. I started thinking about baseball critically about the same time Derek Jeter came up to the majors, so I was a huge Jeter fan. I don’t know that I modeled my stance after anyone in particular, but Jeter was my idol. I held my hands up high and tried to inside-out the ball like Jeter, and I kept my feet closed to try to get some power to the opposite field. It didn’t work. Jeter inside-outed more than 3,000 major league hits and I had washed out of little league by 6th grade.

@TonyMcIV: “People keep saying, ‘oooh sign Bourn, or ooh sign Hamilton for CF!’ I think it’s crazy, but it depends on Mayberry doesn’t it?”

It is crazy, and it has nothing to do with Mayberry. Bourn and Hamilton are both going to be outrageously overpriced in free agency. So signing one of them does have the virtue of fitting in well with the Phillies’ recent policy on free agents, even if it isn’t good baseball policy as such. I’d much rather go with either B.J. Upton, who I’ve said before is almost as good as Bourn and will sign, I believe, for much less. With Hamilton, you’ll be paying for a former No. 1 draft pick and AL MVP, batting champion and home run champion. What you’ll get is the decline phase of a player who misses 30 or more games a year anyway as a matter of principle. Not smart.

That people think that buying the best player at the highest price is hardly surprising in an age where pride in one’s ignorance of economics is a political asset. Call it Death by Hadden.

Oh, look, the boss wants a question answered.

@CrashburnAlley: “Great song or greatest song?”

Are you pissed that I outed you as a computer? Apparently this song is a thing on the internet, but I hadn’t heard it until just now. It’s actually not as terrifying as I expected it to be. I will say this: ain’t nobody having more fun than the guy in that video. Nobody. I hope one day to enjoy myself a fraction as much as Psy, whoever he is, is enjoying himself in that video.

And no. Believe me, anything the Koreans can do, the Russians can do crazier.

@ETDWN: “The music played at CBP is terrible. What kind of jams would you play if you were in charge of in game entertainment?”

I’m probably the last person you want in charge of the music at CBP. I’d probably just hire @bravesorganist (a must-follow if you’re on Twitter) and let him do his thing.

But if I were forced to DJ Phillies games myself? I’d probably go heavy not on current insipid pop earworms (“Call Me Maybe” would be interdit in my stadium), but from the insipid pop earworms of a generation ago. We would do the Macarena every half-inning. We would do the Macarena during mound visits, and in between Jonathan Papelbon‘s pitches. We would do the Macarena during stolen base attempts.

@jondgc: “How great is that new Sportscenter commercial?”

Quite good. ESPN’s SportsCenter commercials have been uniformly excellent for what must be 20 years now. It’s a great premise, that all the athletes ESPN covers live and work at the Bristol studios, and it’s led to some hilarious advertisements. Clayton’s is great, but it falls outside my personal top five. What are those top five? I thought you’d never ask.

@geatland: “Feeling serious hockey anxiety, so if you were going to make the Phils a hockey team, what are the line combinations?”

Yeah, we’re going to have a lockout, because we’re okay with a society than enables multi-million-dollar corporations to unilaterally roll back their employees’ wages. How is it that we’re okay with perpetuating the idea that companies are entitled to economic security but people aren’t? And more important than that, I had big plans to go to All-Star weekend this year. The cruelest trick the NHL could play on America is removing the only way Columbus, Ohio in January could be fun.

Anyway, Phillies line combinations:

  • Rollins/Utley/Howard. I imagine Utley as a Mike Richards/Ryan Kesler type of center, a grinder with elite skill. Rollins can be the Peter Bondra type, and we can park Howard in the slot to clean up the garbage. Even Zdeno Chara would need the Army Corps of Engineers to move Howard out from in front of the net.
  • Lee/Hamels/Brown. A solid second scoring line if you can get over having three lefties in one unit.
  • Nix/Bastardo/Frandsen. The grinders. Frandsen’s neck-beard alone is NHL-ready.
  • Aumont/Lindblom/Kratz. That’s an average height of 6-foot-5 and an average weight of 252 pounds. Eat me, Milan Lucic. Aumont also has the added advantage of actually being Canadian.

Let’s fill out the defensive pairings while we’re at it.

  • Halladay/Schierholtz. A nice combination of size and speed. This pairing gives me a little bit of the Matt Carle/Chris Pronger feeling.
  • Ruiz/Galvis. The puck-moving pair. If Freddy Galvis were Scandinavian, we’d be talking about him right now the way we talk about Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
  • Wigginton/Polanco. I tried to think of an NHL player as immobile as Ty Wigginton. I settled on Howie Morenz, because he’s been dead 75 years. Don’t give this pairing more than 5 or 6 minutes a night.

Goalies:

  • Papelbon. Because he’s got that kind of vacant-yet-possibly-homicidal affect that worked so well for Patrick Roy.
  • Worley. Because he sweats like he’s wearing 30 pounds of foam rubber and Kevlar anyway.

@uublog: “Sunday’s game in Atlanta was the worst gut punch loss since…?”

Blowing a six-run lead, including allowing five runs in the ninth, in September, to the Braves, with Chipper Jones delivering a walk-off home run as the final insult? That really does check all the boxes, doesn’t it?


Source: FanGraphs
That’s the win probability graph from Sunday. It’s hilarious. I want to get a cup of coffee with that graph, then let it tickle me until I have trouble breathing.

But when it happened, I looked up at the TV, chortled, and went back to mowing down the barbecue chicken wrap I was eating. It didn’t bother me on an emotional level, and I’m the kind of person who can go transcontinentally mad over a college football game that involves Vanderbilt. Here’s why.

  • I was really really hungry and nothing was distracting me from that wrap.
  • It happened rather quickly. It wasn’t within the realm of possibilities for me that the Phillies would lose that game until it was already over. A truly devastating loss is slow and painful, a death by a thousand small cuts. Frankly, it’s difficult for baseball to engender that kind of crushing dread. If anything, it’s more painful to lose by failing to come from behind, given numerous opportunities, than to lose by blowing a big lead. Like, say, Game 5 of last year’s NLDS. We were totally cool until about three batters from the end. It’s not the thing itself that’s most impactful, it’s the anticipation of the thing.
  • Most importantly, the season’s been over since, like, mid-June. If Jones’ home run had knocked the Phillies out of the pennant race, that’d be one thing. But this was just an awful and meaningless loss in a season full of awful and meaningless losses.

But yeah, you know those people who say they’re going to miss Chipper Jones when he retires? I’m not one of them.

@DangerGuerrero: “Do you think Phillies fans would be nicer to Jimmy Rollins if he had a big mean dog that growled a lot?”

Yes, I do think Phillies fans would be nicer to Jimmy Rollins if the Phillies hadn’t gotten rid of Brett Myers.

Good Crash Bag. Let’s go eat.

 

Phillies Bullpen Shockingly Good in August

The Achilles heel of the 2012 Phillies — sorry, Ryan Howard — has far and away been the bullpen. For most of the year, they have squandered leads large and small, sinking the Phillies to the bottom of the NL East. In May, the bullpen’s worst month, they posted a 5.23 ERA. Even after a few months of very slow progress, the Phillies still rank 12th in the National League in bullpen ERA at 4.42.

GM Ruben Amaro filled out his bullpen by signing Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year, $50 million contract and otherwise relying on cheap veterans and young pre-arbitration arms. Unfortunately, a few of the younger guys went down quickly, including Michael Stutes, David Herndon, and Justin De Fratus. Veteran Jose Contreras went down early as well, and the Chad Qualls signing did not pan out. Antonio Bastardo had some growing pains, punishing the Phillies for thinking he could handle the eighth inning with aplomb. Elsewhere, Michael Schwimer, Jake Diekman, B.J. Rosenberg, and July acquisition Josh Lindblom had their own struggles contributing in relief.

The past month, however, has seen a lot of progress among almost everybody. Their aggregate 3.79 ERA is a significant improvement for them, but more importantly, they had a 2.95 SIERA, third-best in the National League during the month. SIERA is an ERA retrodictor that looks at the factors a pitcher most controls — strikeouts, walks, ground and fly ball rates (all independent of defense) — to tell you what a pitcher’s underlying talent really is, on the same scale of ERA. So the bullpen’s 2.95 SIERA, compared to their 3.79 ERA, tells you that they were a lot better than their results indicated last month.

As a whole, the Phillies’ bullpen led the way in strikeout rate at 30 percent. The closest team to them was the San Diego Padres at 25.8 percent. Strikeouts are great and incredibly important to a pitcher’s success, but they had two issues that led to their demise: walks and home runs. The Phillies led the NL in walk rate at 10.6 and had the third-highest home run rate, averaging 1.1 per nine innings. However, the blame can be pinned almost entirely on Lindblom and Rosenberg. Lindblom allowed 11 walks and three home runs in 12.2 innings, while Rosenberg walked three and allowed two home runs in 8.1 innings. Combined, the two accounted for 44 percent of the walks and 56 percent of the home runs the bullpen allowed in August.

Individually, six relievers posted a SIERA below 3.75:

  • Antonio Bastardo: 1.55 (5.14 ERA) in 7 innings
  • Raul Valdez: 1.84 (0.93 ERA) in 9.2 innings
  • Jonathan Papelbon: 2.17 (2.84 ERA) in 14.1 innings
  • Michael Schwimer: 2.58 (7.04 ERA) in 7.2 innings
  • B.J. Rosenberg: 3.36 (4.52 ERA) in 8.1 innings
  • Jeremy Horst: 3.61 (3.90 ERA) in 11 innings

That’s without mentioning Phillippe Aumont, who joined the Phillies in late August. Four relievers — Valdes, Papelbon, Bastardo, Schwimer — had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of four or greater. Although Bastardo’s walk rate was high at 10 percent, he struck out one batter for nearly every two he faced. Comparatively, Aroldis Chapman‘s strikeout rate on the season is 47 percent. In other words, for the last month, Bastardo has been getting strikeouts at a rate comparable to the most dominant reliever in baseball this season.

September hasn’t started out as positively for the Phillies, especially with Sunday’s devastating loss. Still, the overall defense-independent stats on the season paint a very optimistic picture for the bullpen going forward. On the season, their 3.31 SIERA ranks seventh in all of baseball and fourth in the NL. A 2013 bullpen that includes Papelbon, Bastardo, Aumont, and a few more of the plethora of young arms the Phillies have at their disposal should make for some reliable late innings, a shocking concept after the relentless failures we have seen throughout this season. Whether through a direct decision or through circumstance, the Phillies have crafted for themselves a formidable bullpen that will have staying power for years to come.

Cloyd vs. Aumont

I’m a massive Phillippe Aumont fan. I’d like to make an itemized list of reasons why this is so:

  • He completely flummoxed Wilson Valdez in his major league debut, and the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
  • He’s enormous. He reminds me of Alain Bernard, the French swimmer Jason Lezak out-touched in the relay in Beijing, and who, more than any other person I’ve ever seen, made me think, “Boy, that guy is enormous.”
  • On a related note, he’s a native French-speaker, which tickles me for some reason.
  • He looks like the last chance to salvage something from the Second Cliff Lee Trade.

As a result, I’ve been getting all hot and bothered by Aumont recently, all the while trying to downplay the potential impact of his fellow rookie Tyler Cloyd. I couldn’t make a list of reasons why I like Cloyd the way I just did with Aumont, but there’s a very real possibility that while I’m sitting in a corner prattling on and on about Aumont and Justin De Fratus, Cloyd could wind up being the most valuable of the three, even if they all reach their full potential.

People say that starting pitchers are more valuable than relievers in almost all cases. They say this because it’s true. Given the current pattern of reliever usage (one inning per appearance with a particular emphasis on facing same-handed batters), even the best relievers are only going to throw 70-80 innings a year. Jonathan Papelbon, in his first six full seasons in the majors, never threw less than 58 1/3 innings nor more than 69 1/3 innings. Even mediocre starters will throw at least twice, sometimes three or four times as many innings as a closer.

This has multiple consequences: First, in order to have anywhere near a starter’s value, those few innings have to be very good indeed, even when you assume that a closer or top-end setup man will pitch in higher-leverage situations, on the whole, than a starter. It’s possible to extend a reliever’s workload (to, say, 60 appearances and 120 innings or so, entering in high-leverage situations rather than save situations), but the way they’re used now, it’s hard to generate much value in so few innings.

Second, the shorter season for relievers leads to swings in performance that make Medea look like Mr. Rogers. Perhaps the most impressive thing about guys like Papelbon and Mariano Rivera is that they’ve been able to keep up their performance for so long. So even if Aumont overcomes injury, command and makeup concerns to become an effective back-end bullpen guy, there’s no guarantee he’ll remain one.

Not that Cloyd, with his high-80s fastball, is likely to become anything more than a fifth starter, either. But who’s the more valuable commodity going forward?

The simple answer is that starters are more valuable than relievers for two reasons–they pitch more innings and they’re more rare. Very few relief pitchers are born that way. Almost all are failed starters, including Papelbon, Rivera and Aumont. They fail for one or more of a number of reasons, it’s the inability to turn over a lineup, flaky mechanics, the inability to develop more than two pitches, the inability to throw strikes consistently–but they fail. If you put Cole Hamels in the bullpen, where he could throw for max effort, only needed to use his two best pitches and only needed to face hitters once, he’d be by far the best reliever in the game.

So while Cloyd can’t throw in the upper 90s and break off a curve that makes your knees buckle when you watch it on television, Aumont can’t get through a lineup three times without issuing more free passes than the guy who collects the Coke cans at Six Flags. Each can do something the other can’t.

Assuming both reach their full potential, Aumont will probably be more valuable–a good closer is worth about 2 fWAR, but so is a decent No. 4 starter. It’s easy to get excited about the big bullpen arm, but even if Aumont is the Rivera to Papelbon’s Wetteland, he’s probably not going to contribute any more value than, say, Vance Worley.

I’m going to continue talking dirty to myself in pidgin French whenever Aumont takes the mound, but if Cloyd is even marginally better than Kyle Kendrick long-term, he’ll be one worth getting excited about.