2013 Resolutions for the Phillies

It’s that time of year again, when people vow to hit the gym more often, lay off the greasy food, and be more pleasant. Those who have lived up to their resolutions by the end of the month — hell, even the end of the week — can feel a bit of pride. The Phillies are among the resolution-makers as well, and I was able to do some digging to find some of them.

“I resolve to give Chase Utley and Ryan Howard more scheduled rest, and actually do it this time.”

Much, at least here, has been made of the Phillies’ failure to play it safe with their injured superstars. Even as far back as 2010, after Utley’s first injury-plagued season, it was apparent the second baseman would have to take it easy every now and then. The Phillies did say both would be given more rest in 2012, but it never happened:

Utley returned on June 27 after battling his way back from a knee injury while Howard returned on July 6 despite being less than 100 percent recovered from his Achillies injury. Although the Phillies intended to give the two plenty of time off, Utley has taken four of 29 games off (two of the four included pinch-hit appearances) while Howard has taken four of 22 games off (three pinch-hit appearances).

The Phillies could sit Howard against tough left-handed starters and Utley after a few games in a row, perhaps a day game after a night game which is usually “getaway day” as well.

“I resolve to hit even more ground balls than usual this year.”

Since 2010, Revere leads all hitters in ground ball rate at 67.7 percent, ahead of second-place Derek Jeter at 63.6 percent. Because Revere has no power — his .044 ISO is the lowest among all hitters in the same span of time — hitting balls on the ground is crucial to his offensive success. Grounders allow him to utilize his speed and put pressure on defenders, and they also become hits much more often than fly balls (24 percent to 13.5 percent in 2012).

Early in Jimmy Rollins‘ career, fans would get frustrated because instead of putting the ball on the ground, Rollins would tomahawk pitches up into the sky, only to be caught by an infielder. He had this idea that he was a power hitter (2006 and ’07 would prove him right somewhat), but let his best offensive tool become less useful. While it’s unlikely Revere will ever fancy himself a home run threat, he will become dead weight offensively if his ground ball rate falls back towards the rest of the league (45 percent).

“I resolve to prove that my 2012 season was just a fluky bad season.”

The list of players aged 35 or older who have put up historically bad seasons, as Young did last year, does not bode well for the Phillies’ new third baseman:

twitter.com/CrashburnAlley/status/276464896080769024

Then again, nothing about Young’s career has really gone according to plan. The veteran has logged over 3,000 defensive innings at three different positions while spanning the chasm between below-average bat to one of the league’s better hitters.

The bulk of Young’s offensive value comes from his ability to make solid contact. He has a career .334 BABIP. Among hitters with at least 5,000 PA since 2001, that ranks seventh out of 82 qualified players. His BABIP dropped to .299 last year, perhaps related to a six percent increase in his ground ball rate. Unlike Revere, Young wants to put the ball in the air because he doesn’t have the speed to leg out grounders, and because he has the ability to hit for power. Additionally, Young doesn’t draw walks often (career 6.6 percent), so it’s all the more reason for him to make solid contact his number one priority in 2013.

  • Ryan Howard

“I resolve to go the opposite field against left-handed pitching more often.”

As Howard has aged, his bat speed has slowed and it will continue to get slower. Left-handed pitchers, the bane of Howard’s existence, have enjoyed success against him more recently by throwing breaking pitches low and away. Since 2009, Howard has the sixth-highest swing-and-miss rate (48.5 percent) in the L-L match-up on pitches in the low-and-away quadrant of the strike zone, behind Matt Joyce, Carlos Pena, Bryce Harper, Josh Hamilton, and Jack Cust. His .278 wOBA on those pitches effectively turns him into Jason Bartlett.

The following hit chart shows the locations of all batted balls on pitches in that low-and-away quadrant of the strike zone.

You can see lots of ground outs between first and second base. That is partially due to the shift many teams employ on Howard given his pull-happy tendencies. Going to the opposite field more often would have the added benefit of not only increasing his hit rate, but reducing the effectiveness of the shift, and potentially the employment of it altogether.

  • Chase Utley

“I will stop being Mr. Tryhard.”

Hustle is the most overrated virtue in professional sports. The reward of beating out an infield grounder is massively outweighed by the risk of injury, both immediate and long-term. We saw that up close and personal with Utley over the years, who would stomp his foot onto the first base bag seconds after the second baseman had tossed the ball to first base for the force out. He would routinely be near or at second base by the time an infield pop-up landed in an infielder’s glove, and he was commonly found in a full sprint on batted balls that were obviously foul.

All of that effort took a toll on Utley’s body, forcing him out of the lineup in 34 percent of the Phillies’ games in the last three years. Did all of that effort pay off? Was it worth the risk? Unfortunately not. According to FanGraphs, Utley has posted 12.6 Wins Above Replacement since 2010. The other six players the Phillies have used at second base since then have combined for 1.3 WAR — essentially replacement-level. Since Utley averaged .04 WAR per game, the 164 games he missed effectively cost the team more than 6.5 wins. You’d be hard-pressed to find six games in the last three years where Utley’s hustle meant the difference between a win and a loss.

“I resolve to not change a damn thing.”

Lee’s 2012 season was interesting. He was among the game’s best pitchers, but you’d have never known it by looking at his 6-9 record. He was the victim of abysmal run support and the bullpen was often horrible once he left the game, as Bill Parker (@Bill_TPA) pointed out at The Good Phight:

[…] as you might expect of one who pitched brilliantly and won six games, Lee was backed up by an awful bullpen, posting an ERA very near 5.00 in 60.2 innings; the same bullpen was brilliant for Hamels, with a 2.39 ERA in 64 innings.

Statistically, Lee had what was arguably the second-best season of his career, after his incredible 2010 output. In 2012, Lee once again led the league in walk rate (3.3 percent) and K%-BB% (21 percent). After an unlucky first half that left him with a 4.13 ERA at the end of June, Lee finished the year at 3.16, amidst all of the talk radio frustration and the clamors for his ouster (to Los Angeles!).

The Phillies, once again intending to rely heavily on their starting rotation, will need Lee to be among the game’s best starters if they want to contend for the division title.

“I resolve to improve my control.”

Aumont’s control is the one thing that will prevent him from being an elite reliever. With an electric fastball and a slurve that will buckle your knees, Aumont already has the stuff to dominate Major League hitters — it’s just a matter of controlling those pitches consistently. Of the 65 batters he faced at the end of the 2012 season, Aumont walked eight unintentionally (12 percent). To put that in perspective, let’s look at his bullpen mate Jonathan Papelbon, who faced 284 batters and walked 17 unintentionally. In the same amount of PA as Papelbon, Aumont would have walked 35, or twice the amount of Papelbon.

His control issues have been with him for as long as he has played professional baseball. Having faced 1,462 batters in his five-year Minor League career, Aumont walked 177 of them unintentionally (also 12 percent). If Aumont can improve his control, he could potentially become to the Phillies what Craig Kimbrel is to the Atlanta Braves.

“I resolve to demand Domonic Brown be a regular part of the Phillies’ lineup.”

As mentioned last week, the Phillies need to “[crap] or get off the pot” when it comes to Brown. That means either give him a full season of uninterrupted playing time to prove himself at the Major League level, or trade him before his value is completely gone. His last two seasons have been plagued with injuries, stunting his progress, but this followed his 2010 season in which he was promoted to the Majors in late July, but become a bench bat within weeks. To say the Phillies have mishandled Brown would be an understatement.