Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

Last night, the Phillies made two base running blunders against the Marlins. In the second inning, Darin Ruf was on first base when Kevin Frandsen hit a ground ball single to right field. Ruf decided to test Giancarlo Stanton, well-regarded around the league for his cannon of an arm, by attempting to advance to third base. Stanton’s throw reached third baseman Chris Coghlan on the fly and Ruf was a dead duck.

In the bottom of the third, starter Brian Flynn uncorked a wild pitch with Carlos Ruiz on first base. Ruiz easily advanced to second, but upon seeing that catcher Jeff Mathis hadn’t yet corralled the ball, attempted to get to third base as well. First baseman Ed Lucas retrieved the baseball and fired to Coghlan at third. Ruiz was out with plenty of room to spare.

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A Chase Utley Replacement Flowchart

Starring: Chase Utley (not pictured), Michael Martinez, Pete Orr, Darin Ruf, Josh Fields, and Cesar Hernandez.

The Phillies, stunningly, opted to bring up Michael Martinez to replace Utley. The switch-hitting Martinez is carrying a .226/.297/.274 line through 118 plate appearances with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. As the following flow chart will show you, the decision doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

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Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

It is May 13. The Phillies have played 39 games and only three players have crossed the double-digit walk plateau. Michael Young is the team leader in walks with 17 and he has a career-high of 58 in a single season (2005). As a point of comparison, former Phillie Pat Burrell walked 114 times by himself in 2007 — nearly double Young’s career-high. Burrell crossed the double-digit plateau on April 19 in his team’s 14th game in ’07. The Phillies have the third-lowest on-base percentage in the National League, and they have scored four runs or fewer in each of their last five games and in 28 of their 39 games overall (72 percent).

Yeah, it’s bad.

A cursory glance at the Phillies’ individual walk rates might make you think it’s not so bad as six of 13 players (min. 30 PA) have a walk rate above the 8.1 percent National League average. As the following chart shows, however, when you look at who is getting the majority of the plate appearances, it isn’t players prone to take a free pass.

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Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

As you’re well aware, the Phillies’ offense hasn’t been great to start the 2013 season. They rank fourth from the bottom in average runs per game at 3.47 compared to the National League average 4.33. They rank in the bottom-third in all three triple-slash stats as well as weighted on-base average (wOBA).

You’ll hear this a lot over the next month-plus, but it’s worth repeating over and over: it’s still very early. No Phillie has logged his 70th plate appearance of the season yet. To put this in perspective, if Chase Utley has a 2-for-4 night tonight against the Cardinals, he will raise his batting average 15 points to .298.

That being said, we can still use what little stats we have descriptively rather than predictively. The following chart compares the Phillies’ wOBA by position to the league average.

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Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

The Phillies have led the National League in average batter age for three consecutive years, according to Baseball Reference. They finished with the second-oldest offense in 2009 and the third-oldest in 2008 as well. It’s no secret that the Phillies’ roster is comprised mostly of past-their-prime players, which has led to predictable unreliability due to injuries and declining performance.

It is difficult to grasp just how much the Phillies have invested in older players, though, so I’ve gathered some data to illustrate this better. Using available salary data from Cot’s Contracts, I put the combined salaries into age buckets. First, the raw data:

* Age refers to a player’s age as of June 20, 2013, which is the cut-off date used by Baseball Reference. Because their 2013 salaries are not yet known, pre-arbitration players (such as Ben Revere, Domonic Brown and John Mayberry) are not included.

Player 2013 Salary Age
Roy Halladay $20,000,000 36
Michael Young $16,000,000 36
Cliff Lee $25,000,000 34
Chase Utley $15,285,714 34
Jimmy Rollins $11,000,000 34
Mike Adams $5,000,000 34
Carlos Ruiz $5,000,000 34
Ryan Howard $20,000,000 33
Jonathan Papelbon $13,000,000 32
Laynce Nix $1,350,000 32
Kevin Frandsen $850,000 31
Cole Hamels $20,500,000 29
Kyle Kendrick $4,500,000 28
John Lannan $2,500,000 28
Antonio Bastardo $1,400,000 27
Delmon Young $750,000 27

And the salaries combined into individual age groups:

Age 2013 Salary % of Total
<= 26 $0 0%
27 $2,150,000 1%
28 $7,000,000 4%
29 $20,500,000 13%
30 $0 0%
31 $850,000 1%
32 $14,350,000 9%
33 $20,000,000 12%
34 $61,285,714 38%
35 $0 0%
36 $36,000,000 22%
>= 37 $0 0%

Let’s make it simpler. The same data put into concise age buckets:

Age 2013 Salary % of Total
<= 26 $0 0%
27-31 $30,500,000 19%
32-36 $131,635,714 81%
>= 37 $0 0%

The Phillies are not paying anyone younger than 27 years old more than $750,000. Over four-fifths of their total payroll, at present, is going to players 32 years old or older.

Five-Year Trends with the Phillies Offense

I don’t need to tell you that the 2012 season was a disappointment. The Phillies failed to reach the post-season for the first time since 2006, thanks to several big reasons — injuries befell the team like a plague, the young bullpen didn’t meet expectations for most of the year, and the starting pitching regressed. Today’s chart will focus on the effect that first reason had on the offense.

Injuries, of course, force a player to sit on the bench, but they also cause lesser players to get a larger share of the playing time. For instance, while Ryan Howard was out, Ty Wigginton played 62 games at first base with a total of 208 plate appearances. Likewise, Freddy Galvis got the lion’s share of the playing time at second base (50 games, 178 PA) in Chase Utley‘s wake before suffering an injury himself. Neither replacement held a candle to his predecessor offensively, which drastically affected the Phillies’ offense.

The following chart shows the amount of runs above average per 600 plate appearances the Phillies got from each position over the last five years.

Since ten runs roughly equates to one win, each horizontal line signifies about one win.

The runs above average data:

PHI C 1B 2B 3B SS LF CF RF
2008 -5 8 31 -17 1 -1 10 1
2009 8 17 23 -15 -2 6 11 17
2010 19 7 9 -9 -11 5 5 20
2011 1 -2 -5 -11 7 2 23 1
2012 26 -9 -5 -9 10 -5 -4 -1

Runs above average was calculated by finding the difference between the Phillies’ positional wOBA and the National League average, dividing by 1.15 (that number is used to put wOBA on the same scale as on-base percentage), and multiplying it by 600 (plate appearances).

The Phillies received above-average offensive contributions from just two positions — catcher and shortstop — after having no fewer than five such positions qualify in the previous four years. Let’s look at each position one at a time.

Catcher

Carlos Ruiz‘s 2012 season was the culmination of expectation-defying season after season. He moved into the upper echelon of catchers, joining names like Buster Posey and Yadier Molina before succumbing to a foot injury. In fact, among catchers with at least 400 PA, Ruiz had the second-highest wOBA at .398, trailing Posey at .406.

Erik Kratz was also a pleasant surprise, coming up from the Minor Leagues to become one of the best back-up catchers in baseball — at least, before September hit. The Phillies, like most teams around baseball, rarely got anything out of their back-up catchers, so 2012 was a pleasant surprise with Kratz’s arrival. Going forward, however, we should expect both players to regress offensively.

The Phillies will pick up Ruiz’s $5 million option for the upcoming season. As a result, 2013 will be Ruiz’s last year before free agency, who will be 35 years old entering 2014. The Phillies will use the season to judge catching prospects Tommy Joseph, Sebastian Valle, and Cameron Rupp. The 32-year-old Kratz has a good shot at becoming the team’s back-up catcher when the regular season begins.

First Base

In the first year of Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract extension, the big left-hander missed the first three months of the season. Many felt he returned from his injury too early, as his defensive mobility and ability to run the bases both lacked severely, and his offense was nothing to write home about as well. Of the 47 first basemen who logged at least 250 trips to the dish in 2012, Howard’s .303 wOBA ranked 38th. The biggest disappointment was the loss of Howard’s pull-side power. Howard broke his toe at the end of the season, but should be ready to go when spring training begins in February.

There aren’t too many changes the Phillies can make at first base unless they can, through some stroke of black magic, find a team to take on some portion of Howard’s massive contract. However, I recently suggested that the Phillies consider utilizing a platoon at first base, letting Howard face only right-handed pitchers while pairing him up with a right-handed hitter (John Mayberry, Darin Ruf, etc.) to take care of the lefties. While the Phillies should expect some improvement after Howard has an entire spring to get himself in the flow of things, they shouldn’t expect any more than league average offense unless they get creative and open-minded.

Second Base

It has been disappointing to see Chase Utley miss so much time over the last two seasons. Utley had been baseball’s best second baseman by far between 2006-10. According to FanGraphs, Utley’s 37.2 WAR is nearly double that of runner-up Dan Uggla‘s 19.5. Baseball Reference paints a similar picture, putting Utley at 37.0 WAR and second-place Robinson Cano at 20.2. In Utley’s absence during the 2012 season, the Phillies relied on the light-hitting Freddy Galvis. Of the 51 second baseman to accrue at least 200 PA, Freddy’s .267 wOBA was the eighth-lowest.

Like Howard, the Phillies are expecting Utley to have a full spring training and enter 2013 ready to go. Unlike Howard, however, Utley can still contribute in other ways when his bat isn’t all there by playing superb defense, running the bases well, and making excellent decisions. Next season will potentially be Utley’s last in a Phillies uniform, though. With his age, injury history, and salary expectations, the Phillies may feel they are best suited moving on with Utley. A lot of that will depend on the improvements Galvis makes in one of the many roles in which the Phillies can utilize him going forward.

Third Base

Ever since Scott Rolen left, third base has been a veritable offensive black hole for the Phillies. There was David Bell, then Abraham Nunez, then Pedro Feliz, then Placido Polanco. The Phillies will likely buy out Polanco’s contract for $1 million rather than pick up his $5 million mutual option for 2013. As a result, they are looking at a rather barren market for third basemen. It is not going to be easy to put them back in the green, so to speak (referring to the above data table). Many speculate that Kevin Frandsen could be a part of their plans, at least for the coming season, while others are interested in seeing Galvis handle the hot corner. There are, realistically, no great solutions to the Phillies’ third base situation, so it is going to be by far their biggest concern going into the off-season.

Shortstop

“Welcome back Jimmy Rollins,” we say, wiping our brow. The Phillies could have ended the Rollins era in Philadelphia when he became a free agent after the 2011 season, but the two sides agreed to a three-year, $33 million contract to keep him around through 2014. Rollins’ 2009-10 seasons were disappointing and injury-plagued (respectively), which prompted the idea that the Phillies might have been able to put Galvis at shortstop and move on. Thankfully, Rollins had a very successful season. His .177 isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) was the fourth-best among all everyday shortstops, and it was his highest since 2007 when he won the NL MVP award. His 4.9 WAR, per FanGraphs, was also the third-best in the Majors behind Ben Zobrist and Ian Desmond.

Shortstop is now the least of the Phillies’ concerns going into 2013. Barring an unfortunate injury during the off-season or spring training, the Phillies can write Rollins’ name in pen and focus their attention elsewhere.

Left Field

For as good as Juan Pierre appeared throughout the season, his offensive contributions still fell below the league average and failed to recapture the offense provided by Raul Ibanez. Pierre hit .307, but 86 percent of his hits were singles. With 37 stolen bases in 44 attempts (84%), he was able to effectively extend singles into doubles (27 steals of second base) and triples (10 steals of third base). Overall, though, the lack of power from a corner outfield position was a concern all year.

Domonic Brown came up late in the year and spent his time in both left and right field. However, with the Phillies looking both internally and externally for right fielders (e.g. Nate Schierholtz; Nick Swisher, et. al.), Brown has a good shot to be the everyday left fielder on Opening Day. Brown didn’t do anything particularly impressive, but it makes more sense for the Phillies to rely on the 25-year-old than to bring back the 35-year-old Pierre. A full season with regular at-bats, which Brown has gone without in each of the past two seasons, might help him reach his potential as well.

Center Field

The Phillies’ offense declined the steepest in center field for two reasons: Shane Victorino regressed heavily from a career-best 2011, and John Mayberry didn’t hit well when he took over center field after Victorino was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in late July. Victorino posted a career-high .368 wOBA in 2011, but could only muster a .317 mark in his four months with the Phillies and .297 in two months with the Dodgers. Mayberry didn’t help much with his .303 wOBA.

With a giant question mark in center field, the Phillies are expected to be players for one of the many free agent center fielders, such as Michael Bourn. Even beyond the free agents, there will be various options that may become available via trade, such as Denard Span, which was discussed here recently. Victorino could even be brought back on a short, team-friendly deal if he ends up drawing little or no interest in free agency. With the lowered expectations at catcher, first, and second base, as well as the question mark at third base, the Phillies need to play their cards right in bringing aboard a center fielder.

Right Field

Like Victorino, Hunter Pence had a great 2011 (.377 wOBA) but regressed heavily in 2012 (.340). The Phillies sent Pence to the San Francisco Giants in late July, replacing him mostly with Domonic Brown (.309). The Phillies have a number of ways to address the right field situation, such as acquiring a free agent (Nick Swisher), utilizing an in-house platoon (Nate Schierholtz, Mayberry), or using Brown in right field while addressing left field in another way. Right field is not as high a priority as third base or center field, so don’t expect the Phillies to swing for the proverbial fences here.

Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

The end of the regular season is nigh and for the first time since 2006, the Phillies will be scheduling golf outings in October. To the Phillies’ credit, they made it interesting all the way into late September, but a 9-19 June and a constantly-rotating door to the infirmary kept them out of the post-season. That’s not to say there weren’t good things to take from the season — the emergence of Carlos Ruiz, the surprisingly-productive bargain-bin grabs in Juan Pierre and Kevin Frandsen, the progression of Kyle Kendrick, and a great September from the young bullpen give us reasons to look forward to 2013.

There is no question, though, that the 2012 team is a far cry from its predecessor. Half-seasons from Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, trading away Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence, and bupkis from third base dragged the Phillies down. The following charts show the season-to-season changes among hitters.

Note: All stats that follow were compiled prior to yesterday afternoon’s game.

Thanks to Carlos Ruiz and Erik Kratz, the Phillies got a 172-point boost in OPS from the catching position, representing the biggest change between seasons. On the other side, the Phillies lost 111 points in OPS from first base. Ryan Howard returned to first base in early July after the Phillies had given 200 plate appearances to Ty Wigginton and nearly 150 to the combination of John Mayberry, Laynce Nix, and Hector Luna. The not-so-fearsome foursome couldn’t quite reproduce a healthy Howard’s production.

Smaller changes occurred at second base (+.053), center field (-.057), and right field (-.075). The latter two were affected, of course, by the regression of Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence and their replacements following their late July trades.

The Phillies also received significantly worse starting pitching in 2012. Roy Halladay was a far cry from his Cy Young-winning self in 2010 and Cy Young-runner-up self in 2011, finishing with a 4.49 ERA, the first time it had been above 3.00 since 2007 (3.71). Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, while great, weren’t quite as good as in the previous season. Meanwhile, Vance Worley did not repeat his great rookie season while Joe Blanton hovered around replacement level. The most pleasant contributor was Kyle Kendrick, who had two separate scoreless inning streaks of 20 or more innings during the season. Here’s a look at the changes among Phillies starters who made at least 10 starts, ordered from lowest ERA to highest.

If you’re wondering about each pitcher’s specific ERA, enjoy this table:


2011 2012
Halladay 2.35 4.49
Lee 2.40 3.12
Hamels 2.79 3.11
Worley 3.01 4.20
Kendrick 3.22 4.08
Blanton - 4.59
Oswalt 3.69 -

Here is the same exercise done for relievers, minimum 20 games:

And the table:

2011 2012
CL 2.37 Madson 2.23 Papelbon
RP1 1.40 Lidge 1.20 Horst
RP2 2.64 Bastardo 2.90 Valdes
RP3 3.32 Herndon 4.10 Diekman
RP4 3.63 Stutes 4.32 Bastardo
RP5 3.86 Romero 4.46 Schwimer
RP6 6.25 Baez 4.60 Qualls
RP7 6.86 Rosenberg

The Phillies got nearly identical production from their closers (Ryan Madson and Jonathan Papelbon) and their best non-closer reliever (Brad Lidge and Jeremy Horst). Where the Phillies really lost quality was in middle relief. 2011 featured four relievers with an ERA between 2.64 to 3.86; 2012 featured just one: Raul Valdes. After Valdes, the next-best ERA was Jake Diekman‘s 4.10.

What does the overall picture look like?

  • Offense
    • 2011: .717 OPS
    • 2012: .718 OPS (+.001)
  • Starting Pitching
    • 2011: 2.86 ERA
    • 2012: 3.87 ERA (+1.01)
  • Relief Pitching
    • 2011: 3.45 ERA
    • 2012: 3.92 ERA (+0.47)

The precipitous decline in pitching caused the Phillies to go from 102-game winners in 2011 to the low-80′s in 2012. They were the 14th team of the 2000′s to reach triple digit wins. The largest regression among those teams involved the Seattle Mariners, who went from 116 wins in 2001 to 93 the next year, a 23-game swing. The 2011 Phillies won 102 games and currently sit at 80, close to the 23-game freefall. The Phillies’ decline, though, is worse in magnitude as 93 wins is normally good enough for a playoff spot; the Mariners just happened to play in the same division as the 101-win Athletics and 99-win Angels in 2002. The Phillies are just hoping to finish over .500, which typically isn’t nearly good enough to reach the post-season, save the 2006 Cardinals.