Chase Utley the Lone Bright Spot as Phillies Drop Season Opener

The Phillies dropped the 2013 season opener in Atlanta to the Braves by a score of 7-5, behind an uncharacteristically-shaky outing from Cole Hamels. Hamels allowed five runs on three home runs in five innings of work and didn’t look very sharp, as Paul Boye pointed out:

twitter.com/Phrontiersman/status/318891346884718593

Chad Durbin, too, failed to impress, allowing all three batters he faced to reach base, ballooning the Braves’ lead from 5-3 to 7-3, allowing what ended up being the winning runs. Michael Young looked poor defensively, but we’ll give him another shot on Wednesday to redeem himself.

The good news is that Chase Utley, robbed of his last three seasons due to a barrage of injury problems, looked fantastic in the first game of the season. He hit a home run to straightaway center field off of Tim Hudson in the fourth and tripled in the seventh, finishing a double shy of the cycle.

Seeing Utley’s power back is great. His isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) hovered between .219 and .249 from 2005-09. As the injuries cut into his production, his ISO dropped to .169, .166, and .173 over the last three seasons. As mentioned in my “bold prediction” post last week, an injury-riddled Utley was still among the most productive players at his position over the last few years. Of the many things the Phillies need to go right this season, Utley enjoying a healthy, productive 2013 is at the top of the list.

As for dropping the season opener, it’s not a big deal. The Phillies lost the season opener in each of the 2007-09 seasons and they turned out just fine. Similarly, Hamels has traditionally had poor results from his first start of the year:

Date Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R BB SO HR GSc
2012-04-09 PHI MIA L 2-6 GS-6 ,L 5.1 8 4 0 9 1 47
2011-04-05 PHI NYM L 1-7 GS-3 ,L 2.2 7 6 2 3 0 21
2010-04-07 PHI WSN W 8-4 GS-5 ,W 5.0 5 3 4 5 1 48
2009-04-10 PHI COL L 3-10 GS-4 ,L 3.2 11 7 1 1 1 11
2008-04-02 PHI WSN L 0-1 GS-8 ,L 8.0 5 1 2 6 1 72
2007-04-04 PHI ATL L 2-3 GS-7 7.0 4 0 1 8 0 76
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/1/2013.

Game graph courtesy FanGraphs.

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42 comments

  1. Corinne

    April 01, 2013 09:47 PM

    Chase Utley’s beautiful game has me in a state of giddy euphoria, but it’s hard to say he was the “lone” bright spot. The performances of Ben Revere and Jeremy Horst were particularly encouraging.

  2. LTG

    April 01, 2013 10:57 PM

    So, was Nix kept on the bench so that they would have a LH pinch hitter? Or do they think he’s so bad at fielding at this point that they’d rather have JMJ hitting against RHP?

  3. Ajay

    April 01, 2013 11:11 PM

    The Phillies are old, but Domonic Brown and Ben Revere are young. That’s a nice treat.

  4. EDGE

    April 02, 2013 12:27 AM

    Charlie liked Mayberry’s career numbers against Hudson. Even though Nix also has decent numbers against Hudson with twice the at bats. I think Charlie has no confidence in Nix. I mean if you’re not going to start him against a RHP who he hits well, might as well not have him on the roster.

  5. pedro3131

    April 02, 2013 04:18 AM

    Chase was everything I love about baseball. Unfortunately, MY and Dom botched a bunch of balls and the rest of the team played indicative of how I feel this season is going to go… But hey… Still better than the 90s

  6. Cheesecrop

    April 02, 2013 04:33 AM

    One down…

    One-Hundred Sixty-One to go!

    We’ll just have to win them all.

  7. jim

    April 02, 2013 06:09 AM

    Typical Phillie fatalistic comments.

  8. Eddie_Pinz

    April 02, 2013 06:32 AM

    I’m encouraged that the offense didn’t look great and still put up 5 runs.

  9. Evan

    April 02, 2013 06:48 AM

    I thought Mayberry and Nix both had similar (if not the same) numbers against Hudson, but Nix had struck out more (larger sample size in the case of Nix). Maybe it was the defense that Charlie went to in the end, and seeing how the corner infielders are a liability, it made sense.

    Ben Revere had a great at-bat against Hudson in the 5th and Horst looked very good. A better appearance from Hamels and the Phils win, but it’s 1 game of a long season. Team still flirts with a playoff spot and Hamels finishes top 3 in CY voting, so not concerned.

  10. NavyJoe

    April 02, 2013 07:03 AM

    I don’t believe Dom Brown botched “a lot” of balls. In fact, it’s debatable whether the ball hit over his head was even catchable. Were there even any other questionable plays that he was involved in?

  11. jr

    April 02, 2013 07:19 AM

    Brown got a bad jump on a ball that dropped in front of him. Though, not sure he would have caught the ball anyway. Either way, he was down low on the reasons why the Phils lost last night.

  12. humbug

    April 02, 2013 07:42 AM

    Ryan Howard managed to hit one ball not directly into the shift. I’ll call that a win.

  13. CB

    April 02, 2013 08:17 AM

    I was encouraged that Tim Hudson had a high pitch count.

  14. hk

    April 02, 2013 08:24 AM

    LTG,

    Did any media member ask Charlie why he started JMJ? I know it’s beating a dead horse, but I would have sure liked to see Nate Schierholtz in RF against Hudson last night instead of JMJ.

  15. Jonny5

    April 02, 2013 08:32 AM

    Mike Young reminded us why we think his defense is indefensible. Ryan Howard reminded us he’ll be at/near the top of the KO list if he remains healthy. Chase Utley reminded us of why we love him so…. Durbin reminded me of how Charlie picks his veterans over better youthful relievers in situations he shouldn’t (which angers me greatly). Hamels reminded us that he is indeed human. Other than that it was baseball as usual for me and oh how I missed it….

    I’d like to see reasons for why Durbin was used in a close game over better options. Anyone? His spring training numbers were clearly puke and I’d only use him in blow outs, or if I had to until he proved otherwise.

  16. hk

    April 02, 2013 09:00 AM

    Jonny,

    You answered your question about Durbin in your first paragraph. He’s a veteran and Cholly loves himself some veterans (see Qualls, Chad).

  17. seanm0520

    April 02, 2013 09:13 AM

    Long-time reader, first time poster, but just wanted to chime in quickly in disagreeing that Utley was the lone bright spot, as others have also noted is, in our opinions, incorrect. Was he the most shining bright spot? I won’t argue that. He looked great all game. A few other notes that I thought were encouraging as we move forward with 2013.

    Brown at the plate – got some solid contact and worked a walk. He’s going to have a great BB/K ratio and I’m really excited to see all of the questions surrounding him get answered this year (one way or the other).

    Hamels’s velocity – It was up a tick from last season, averaging 92, which is a great sign early. All in all, I don’t think he pitched terrible. He certainly didn’t pitch well, but the HR’s were the damage. But this is nothing new for Hamels when it comes to the first start of the season. I dug these numbers up quickly:

    2013 1st start: 5 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 3 HR
    2012 1st start: 5 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 9 K, 1 HR
    2011 1st start: 2.2 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 0 HR
    2010 1st start: 5 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 5 K, 1 HR
    2009 1st start: 3.2 IP, 11 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 HR

    Nothing to worry about here.

    Horst & Aumont – Liked what I saw from both of them. That 94-96 runner that Aumont throws that breaks to RHP’s ankles is pure filth. Both should be solid, young options.

    Howard’s mobility – Looked like vintage Howard in the field and at the plate (swing & miss at everything inside) but he looked 100% trying to beat out that infield dribbler.

    Some poor things from last night:

    Amaro continues to prove he’s awful in FA signings. Young is atrocious in the field and there should be zero optimism here.

    Rollins & Revere not being able to get the ball out of the infield.

    Durbin. Enough said.

  18. Jonny5

    April 02, 2013 09:21 AM

    HK, You spoke the name that Phillies fans rarely dare to utter. It’s rumored that if you say his name 3 times while having an assplosion on the toilet he will appear in the bullpen of your rooting interest to assplode on the mound. Be careful how you use that name sir or he could tossing yesterday’s Tomatoes and Meatballs to the opposing team to feast upon. The horror…..

  19. LTG

    April 02, 2013 09:33 AM

    hk,

    Not that I’ve seen. But we can be sure of one thing now. When D. Young returns, he will play everyday and create tons of outs from the 5-hole against RHPs.

  20. Greg

    April 02, 2013 09:40 AM

    Gonna be a long year with Roger Dorn over there at third…

  21. NickFromGermantown

    April 02, 2013 11:38 AM

    “Long-time reader, first time poster”

    Has anyone ever posted this on a comment before? lol

  22. chad

    April 02, 2013 12:45 PM

    the tweet that says cole barely used his curve seems incorrect. in last nights game, it accounted for 9% of his pitches. in 2012, it accounted for 8.9% of his pitches. so, that seems about average.

    what did differ from his historical averages is that he used his cutter 22% of the time, whereas last year he used it 9%. also, his changeup % was down by about 10% from last year’s average.

  23. Shine Box

    April 02, 2013 01:26 PM

    Gotta disagree. Utley was not the lone bright spot. Revere looked good, Aumont looked good, the overall patience with At-bat’s looked too. Remember, the Phils chased Huddy after 4.1 innings. That’s not too shabby. That game goes a whole different direction if Charlie doesn’t leave Durbin in for more than one hitter. Buck up camper, sunny days are ahead.

  24. Sissi B

    April 02, 2013 01:34 PM

    I’m curious, since I’m no baseball expert, how much of an effect the catcher has on the pitcher having a bad game. I haven’t heard it mentioned but I thought it was worth a shot. Maybe he would have been better if Chooch would have been there?

  25. MattWinks

    April 02, 2013 01:39 PM

    The killer was the Howard AB with second and third and 1 out. All he needs to do there is put the ball in play and he swings wildly for the fences and strikes out. You also know they can’t shift you too much because Rollins walks home so you can pull one and if it goes through you have two, if not you have one. He did do it later in the game to get pad his RBI total, but in the big spot he went up hacking.

    Young is terrible at third base. Brown and Revere both looked good especially Revere’s 10 pitch AB in the 5th. This team has talent, especially when Utley is healthy but you can’t make dumb decisions like Durbin and expect to win.

  26. shaack

    April 02, 2013 03:17 PM

    @Sissi B

    You could make a case that an excellent catcher can influence the pitching by calling a better pitch sequence, and video evidence of Jose Molina shows that there is either a skill or talent to framing pitches for strikes the clearly aren’t.

    However, a catcher can’t make a pitcher hit his spots. Cole was inaccurate last night, and wasn’t hitting his locations properly. It happens.

    A catcher may, circumstantially, be able to help a pitcher (framing non-strikes). Unless he’s maliciously calling a game of fastballs down the middle, he’s not going to make a pitcher worse.

  27. LTG

    April 02, 2013 03:38 PM

    Haack,

    “there is either a skill or talent” makes it sound like you are working with a distinction between ‘skill’ and ‘talent’ (the ‘either’ makes it sound this way). Are you? If so, what is it?

  28. shaack

    April 02, 2013 04:09 PM

    A talent would be unteachable (you cannot teach a player to run faster), while a skill would be something that can be improved and refined (a player can improve as a base stealer or baserunner regardless of foot speed).

    Jose Molina is such an insane outlier in his ability to frame pitches for strikes that are clearly out of the strike zone, and no one else has been documented to be able to do it like he does. Because of that I don’t know if it’s something that can be coached in other players, or he just has some sort of innate sense for how to do it that can’t be replicated.

    To see what I’m talking about with Molina, take a look at these articles about him.

    www.baseballnation.com/2012/5/16/3024755/jose-molina-rays-defense-brett-lawrie-framing

    www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=18896

  29. Phillie697

    April 02, 2013 04:32 PM

    I’ve always thought of pitchers and catchers to be in a partnership. Sure a good receiver like Crash Davis can most certainly help out Nuke LaLoosh, but I’m sure a vet like Roy Halladay will make any catcher look good too.

    However, it’s been known that pitchers with superior control have used their pitching locations to “expand” the strike zone. Greg Maddux comes to mind, who is a master of doing something earlier in the game to set up something later when he needs it. Can a vastly superior catcher, one with the mind of a Greg Maddux, do the same for the pitchers he handles? Interesting question… With pitchers we don’t care, since that’ll be reflected in the stats that we usually measure them with (part of the total package). How do we quantify it for a catcher tho?

  30. hk

    April 02, 2013 05:07 PM

    How does Charlie get a pass for rushing out of the dugout to yank Durbin before Francisco was announced as a PH, thereby enabling Atlanta to use a right-handed PH against Horst and save Francisco in case he was needed later? In all my years of watching baseball, that’s the 2nd time I’ve seen a manager make this mistake…and Charlie was the manager who did it the first time, too (in a game against Washington a few years ago). The funnier thing than the fact that a MLB manager made this mistake is hearing the media bend over backwards to defend him. Mike Missanelli just blamed the bench coach for this…as if a bench coach should have to say to a manager, “wait until they announce the PH before you go make the change.”

  31. EDGE

    April 02, 2013 08:01 PM

    I thought the Phil’s were going without a bench coach this year.

  32. EDGE

    April 02, 2013 08:02 PM

    I thought they were going without a bench coach this year. That mistake is embarrassing though, for Charlie.

  33. LTG

    April 02, 2013 08:18 PM

    Haack,

    I see. I’m not sure much falls in the talent side of that distinction. You can run faster by increasing leg strength. But you can’t, say, increase the speed of reactions in your fast-twitch muscles. We might call the latter a talent, although it is not what we usually mean by ‘talent’. On the other hand, I’m cool with useful stipulations.

    And, yes, I am aware of the pitch-framing studies and Molina’s special prowess. While he might just have a knack for it, an intrepid young catcher could study his film and learn to do what he is doing. I see no reason why what he’s doing isn’t reparable. It will just take time for others to do it successfully.

    697,

    Here is how you quantify partially a catcher’s contribution to a pitcher’s success:
    www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=15093#95868

    hk,

    I just went back and watched that part of the game. I don’t think you’re right that Francisco wasn’t introduced. And if he wasn’t there is evidence that the bench coach was at fault. First, Francisco is listed as a PH in the box score. Second, the radio announcer said that Francisco had been announced before Charlie left the dugout. Third, the bench coach waves Charlie out, as if Charlie asked him to make sure Francisco had been announced and he said yes. Fourth, McCarthy reported that Francisco hadn’t been announced yet without citing any reliable source (“We’re told…” by whom?).

    Really, the lesson is don’t listen to the TV broadcast. It might be the object of righteous ridicule but it avenges itself on your information set.

  34. LTG

    April 02, 2013 09:57 PM

    I hope everyone is watching Darvish in the 9th!

  35. SJHaack

    April 02, 2013 10:29 PM

    @LTG

    I was using that example as a play on the cliches “You can’t teach speed” and “Speed never slumps”. There are physical limits on how much faster a person who’s not 6’3″ with a sprinter’s physique can become, but you can refine your skill and technique to become a better baserunner no matter your muscle mass or body type.

    Jose Molina might be able to teach pitch framing to someone, or someone may very well be able to study him and mimic it. He just happened to be so far beyond everyone else until Lucroy recently that I’m not putting any stock into pure learned technique. Catching coaches certain teach pitch framing.

  36. hk

    April 03, 2013 06:47 AM

    LTG,

    Thanks for pointing that out. As late as 5:30 yesterday, Mike Missanelli was discussing the blunder as if it happened. FWIW, later in the show, Missanelli explained to his audience why he was right and Keith Law was wrong about the Ryan Howard contract extension. I guess that’s what I get for listening to Mike Missanelli.

  37. Pete

    April 03, 2013 10:43 AM

    I believe T-Mac is contractually obligated to make the viewer think Domonic Brown could have gotten to every single ball hit in his direction.

  38. Phillie697

    April 03, 2013 11:16 AM

    LTG,

    I don’t trust those studies yet. Catchers don’t catch enough different pitchers to normalize their raw numbers to league average. I know the study attempted to adjust for this by only using pitch data from the specific pitchers they catch, but the problem with that is that we’re then talking about relatively small samples, a large chunk of which contributed by the very catcher we’re trying to measure. Plus, as mentioned before, a catcher can be God’s gift to framing, but if the pitcher can’t deliver, it doesn’t do much good; Jose Molina catching 5 Edinson Volquez probably wouldn’t look very impressive. The study itself acknowledge these problems.

  39. LTG

    April 03, 2013 11:41 AM

    Those objections are fine. But they only establish that we need larger data sets that will become available over time as the Pitch/FX era continues. The abstractions required to measure framing will inevitably create error-bars, but that is true for every sabermetric metric out there. The basic method is solid, and the accuracy of the measurement should increase over time.

  40. LTG

    April 03, 2013 11:42 AM

    Whoops, also meant to write:

    Since your question was just a general how-to question, I figured that article would answer it even if the particular results are not yet reliable.

  41. Phillie697

    April 03, 2013 11:48 AM

    I still think the methodology needs refining. I don’t quite know how to separate the inevitable correlation between catcher/pitcher pairs, and looks like neither does the author.

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