Crash Bag, Vol. 73: Did You Mean Felman Shrung?

Greetings, Crash Bag readers. I am not Michael Baumann. I’m Liz Roscher, Supreme Blog Mistress over at The Good Phight, and I’m filling in for Baumann this week. He still loves you all very much, though. At least that’s what he said. He could have been lying.

On to the questions!

@ilrosso_: Can you describe the Phillies season in a series of Project Runway gifs?

Project Runway is probably my second favorite reality competition show on TV right now. There’s no eating of nasty things, no surviving on an island for 30 days (or as long as other people can stand you), no singing, no housewives, no hoarding, no ducks, and no creepy tiny beauty queens. The contestants make clothes, and they live and die on their talent. Heidi Klum is gorgeous and marvelously, bluntly German. Tim Gunn is wise and fatherly, if your father wore impeccable suits and dispensed brilliant fashion advice.

Project Runway is about fashion and there is almost no overlap with sports. One season they did design costumes for WWE wrestler women, and then there was the season where they had to design a suit for former football player and noted tiny man Tiki Barber. But while there is a dearth of sports, there is no shortage of DRAMA. Fights, breakdowns, crying jags, temper tantrums, back talking, and endless reaction shots of judges looking at singularly ugly clothing. So, @ilrosso_, I absolutely can describe the Phillies season in a series of Project Runway gifs, owing to the intense DRAMA that makes up every single episode. Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 65: Climb a Staircase of Opponents’ Throats

Editor’s Note: Actually, I’m not the editor, am I? Anyway, this is Baumann, and we’ve got a special treat for you today–for the first time ever, we go outside the Crashburn Alley family for the Crash Bag, with Justin Klugh of That Ball’s Outta Here, among other outlets. You can follow him on Twitter at @TBOHblog

What’s up, nerdlingers?  Continue reading…

Guest Post: Why The Phillies Need To Sell Now

Anthony Rodin is a Phillies and Mariners fan, as well as a freelance blogger whose work has been posted on Phillies Nation and ProBallNW.  You can follow him on Twitter @AntsInIN or e-mail arod1300 [at] gmail [dot] com.

The Phillies have lost eight of their last nine games, with some losses coming in heartbreaking fashion. Even though it is only June 12th, it’s beginning to get late quickly. In the broader sense of the things, the Phillies as a franchise find themselves at a crossroads, with the window for contention rapidly closing. For these and other reasons, I believe that the Phillies need to start selling, and start selling now.

Some may believe that this is tantamount to defeatism or a knee-jerk reaction to a losing streak, or that I’m advocating throwing in the flag early. After all, even after these recent doldrums, the Phillies are only eight and a half games out of first, only five and a half games back of the second wildcard spot. There are more than 100 games left. The Phillies have time and again shown themselves to be a second-half team. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are actually playing baseball and are on their way back. Roy Halladay will be back soon. And besides, this team can’t be this bad…can they?

The problem is that even if Utley and Howard somehow manage to come back by or close to the All-Star Break, and if the Phillies somehow manage to stay healthy for the rest of the year, this is still a deeply-flawed team. In order to compete this year, the Phillies need another bat (third base is the easiest offensive upgrade) and at least one reliever. Those types of pieces are going to be expensive, as the additional wildcard means there will be more buyers than sellers. Even short-term relief rentals will be expensive. To get the necessary pieces to compete, the Phillies will need to fully deplete their already barren farm system. Even this, though, would be a risky gamble, and come 2013 the Phillies would find themselves at the start of a long and painful rebuilding process.

Instead, by trading early, the Phillies can immediately begin the rebuilding process and generate a return that, when coupled with the financial flexibility they have this offseason, should immediately open a new window of contention. In short, rather than punt 2013-2014, the Phillies can compete in the foreseeable future and only sacrifice the next three months.

But why sell early? Why not just wait and see where the Phillies are at the deadline? There are three primary reasons for this: the value of the players the Phillies currently have, the market itself, and the undue pressure that a desperate playoff run will put on Utley, Howard and Domonic Brown.

First, the chips themselves. The most valuable chips the Phillies have are Cole Hamels, Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence. In the current market, ace-caliber pitching and outfield offense are scarce. Thus, these three should command an impressive return. However, their value is only good so long as they are healthy. While Hamels has never been an injury risk, Victorino and Pence have been banged up in the past. Given the current state of the team’s offense especially, Victorino and Pence need to be in the lineup, and are more likely (and expected) to “play through pain.” All it takes is one collision with the wall, one tweaked hamstring or one missed start, before a player’s trade value plummets. By trading sooner rather than later the Phillies are risking less and maximizing their return.

Second, the market itself. Right now there are 18 teams in baseball that are within four games of a playoff spot. That’s 18 potential buyers, and all it takes are two or three teams to get a good bidding war going. The Phillies’ trade candidates are especially valuable. Unless Milwaukee decides to sell and makes Zack Greinke available, Hamels would be the sole ace-caliber starter available. There isn’t a team in baseball that wouldn’t be better with him. The problem is that, while the new collective bargaining agreement created a new wildcard, it also ensured that rental players, or players that will be free-agents this year, don’t yield draft picks. Thus, trading Hamels will most likely fetch less than CC Sabathia did in 2008, or Cliff Lee in 2010. However, there has not been a trade yet in the post-CBA world of an ace for a half season. As such, this is uncharted ground. By trading first, GM Ruben Amaro will not only set the market this year, but for aces in the years to come*. Instead, if Greinke does become available and is traded before Hamels is, the market and package for Hamels becomes defined by what Greinke got.

*The concept of Amaro defining a market terrifies me, but that’s a whole other post.

As for Pence and Victorino, the market for bats is also very shallow. Carlos Quentin is currently thought to be the best bat available, and while he’s had a hot start, he also has injury concerns. If the Phillies are willing to eat salary (and they should be), Pence would be especially valuable, as he is under team control for another year. Of course, he will most likely  cost about $14 million in arbitration, but it’s still cost certainty, and middle- and upper-tier clubs should be willing to spend for power from a corner outfielder. Victorino probably won’t yield a king’s ransom, but should at least fetch an MLB-ready reliever or role player.

Between Hamels, Pence and Victorino, the Phillies should bring back at least three young players that are close to MLB-ready, with at least one of them being a for-sure above average player. The Phillies also have a lot of money coming off the books next year, with Blanton, Victorino, Hamels and Polanco all hitting free agency. They could trade Hamels, and then sign him in free agency after the season. It might be more expensive than an extension would be, but the lack of progress on that front shows that he may be hitting the market even if he isn’t traded. Between the trade hauls and the financial flexibility, and coupled with the core of Lee and Halladay, the Phillies should be able to compete as soon as 2013.

The third reason to sell now is to alleviate pressure on the rehabbing duo of Utley and Howard, as well as creating a hospitable environment for Dom Brown when he eventually gets called up. Rather than hurrying back for a long-shot run at contention, punting the second half of the season would allow Utley and Howard to go slow and steady, with a focus on being ready Opening Day 2013. As the Phillies playoff chances grow more and more dire, and the team more desperate for any type of good news, Utley and Howard may feel the need to hurry back into the fray even if they aren’t 100%. If they do this, or if they are quickly needed to play the majority of games in the second half, then they could become a risk for a significant injury that not only impacts the rest of this season but 2013 as well. By focusing instead on 2013, the Phillies would be ensuring that Howard and Utley are at their peak of health (whatever that looks like at this point of their careers), and can healthfully and consistently contribute as the next window of contention opens.

As for Brown, a post-sale Phillies team would be a comfortable environment for him. Rather than being hailed as the savior of the Phillies’ offensive woes, Brown would become the face of the future franchise, along with the pieces that the three trades bring in. If the Phillies continue to go for it, Brown will be expected to perform immediately, with one bad week most likely reverting him back to a bench player. By selling early, the Phillies can also see whether or not Brown can stick in center field, or if that’s a need that will need to be addressed in free agency.

The Phillies are quickly finding themselves at a crossroads. They can go all-in for one last-ditch effort at contention in 2012 and hope that the core trio of Pence, Victorino and Ruiz all stay healthy, that Utley and Howard come back and contribute, and deplete their farm system for another bat and relief pitcher. Going this route almost all but ensures that the team will need to rebuild in at least 2013, if not longer, as the team will have even less help in the farm system and no pieces left to trade with. Or the Phillies can trade now, setting the market (rather than being dictated by it), getting maximum value for their three valuable pieces, and begin another multi-year run at contention in 2013, with a healthy core of Lee, Halladay, Utley and Howard surrounded with young, cost controlled stars and financial room to maneuver.

Sell. And sell now.

Guest Post: The Trade Market at Third Base

Anthony Rodin is a Phillies and Mariners fan, as well as a freelance blogger whose work has been posted on Phillies Nation and ProBallNW.  You can follow him on Twitter @AntsInIN or e-mail arod1300 [at] gmail [dot] com.

Hot Corner Hot Stove Update – Introduction and April 

In 2010 it was another starter in Roy Oswalt. In 2011, it was a slugging outfielder in Hunter Pence.  In this young season, a third baseman with power is the Phillies’ most pressing need. They lack internal options and thus will have to scour the trade market for someone at the hot corner.  While the season is barely a month old, it is becoming apparent that Placido Polanco (currently hitting .250/.299/.292) is on his last legs.  Though he may have some utility in the Wilson Valdez/Michael Martinez mold by playing around the infield once or twice a week, Polanco clearly cannot start.

Unfortunately, due to previous trades and a weak farm system, the Phillies have less to work with than in the past, especially when it comes to MLB-ready prospects.  Domonic Brown is the only player in this category, with other players like Tyson Gillies and Phillippe Aumont being relatively close but nowhere near the ceiling of Brown.  Trevor May and Jessie Biddle are still a long ways from the majors, and Biddle especially is having trouble at the lower levels.

Financially, too, the Phillies are squeezed.  Team payroll is at $174.5 million.  The luxury tax threshold for 2012 is $178 million.  That leaves very little wiggle room for the front office to get a deal done under that tax.  Of course, the front office may realize that the window for competing is rapidly closing and could just go all “damn the torpedoes” and exceed the cap anyways.  In my opinion, they can afford to eat financial costs a lot more than paying in prospects, but that may change.

Given all the above, what options are there for the Phillies?  Are there any potential matches out there this early in the season that are worth keeping an eye on as the hot stove heats up?  And if so, what are the costs, both in terms of prospects and money, that would be required to get them? Let’s take a look.  Please, remember that we are dealing with small sample sizes here, and that some players may be off the market as their teams heat up and remain in the race late into the summer, especially with the new second wildcard spot open.  I’ve lumped the candidates into 5 categories: the superstars, the defensive wastelands, the contract dumps, the long-term solutions and a smattering of possible replacement-levels.

The Superstars

David Wright – NYM

2010: .283/.354/.503, 3.9 WAR (Baseball Reference)

2011: .254/.345/.427, 1.4 WAR

2012: .383/.494/.569

Salary: 2012: $15M; 2013: $16M (club option)

Say it with me now: The Phillies are not going to trade for David Wright. The Phillies are not going to trade for David Wright. The Phillies are not going to trade for David Wright.  Got the picture?  David Wright is too expensive, both in prospects and cash. To get Wright, the Phillies would easily have to give up Brown, Aumont and one or two decent prospects to a division rival, even more if the Phils want the Mets to eat some of the salary.  Plus, Wright’s 2013 option is voided if he is traded, essentially turning him into a half-year rental.  Sure, there is nothing to prevent the Phils from going after him, but the free agency market for third basemen next year is not pretty, and lots of teams with cash will be more than happy to overpay for a slugger at a premium position.  Also, the Mets by no means have to deal Wright, as their finances are starting to stabilize as the Madoff case has been settled and the Wilpons aren’t in as dire straits as initially thought. 

Kevin Youkilis – BOS

2010: .307/.411/.564, 4.8 WAR

2011: .258/.373/.459, 4.3 WAR

2012: .219/.292/.344

Salary: 2012: $12M; 2013: $13M club option ($0.5M buyout)

Youkilis probably won’t be on the market, as the Sox are actually starting to play some decent ball and the rift between Valentine and Youkilis seems to have been smoothed over.  However, if the Sox scuffle in divisional play and find themselves in fourth or fifth come the trade deadline, Youkilis could be available as the Sox look to get younger and shed some payroll.  Youk would fit right in with the rest of the ancient Phillies infield and he is a tremendous injury risk.  However, he would also bring some much-needed patience to a free-swinging ballclub and his defense is at least league average.   To get Youk though, if he is on the market, the Phils will most likely have to get rid of their last few elite prospects, with May and Brown being requisites in the trade with at least two more mid- or lower-level guys with some projectability.  Getting Youk would, in short, turn an already depleted farm system into something looking like Depression-era Oklahoma.

The Defensive Wastelands

Mark Reynolds – BAL

2010: .198/.320/.433, 0.4 WAR

2011: .221/.323/.483, 0.5 WAR

2012: .158/.284/.228

Salary: 2012: $7.5M; 2013: $11M club option ($0.5M buyout)

Reynolds’ free-swinging ways would fit right in with the Phillies, as he has led the league in strikeouts for four straight years.  However, he also has prestigious power when he connects, belting 44, 32 and 37 homers in the last 3 years.  He would also add some balance to a still lefty-heavy lineup, providing some serious pop from the right side. Unfortunately, his glove is simply atrocious and eliminates almost all of the value his bat brings. Coupled with his high salary, especially for 2013, Reynolds shouldn’t be too expensive in terms of prospects and may not be a bad fallback choice, especially if the offensive woes continue into the summer.

Edwin Encarnacion – TOR

2010: .244/.305/.482, 1.6 WAR

2011: .272/.334/.453, 1.0 WAR

2012: .322/.376/.678

Salary: 2012: $3.5M

Encarnacion is on a tear this year, belting six homers already.  He’s more patient, cheaper, and less of a defensive abomination than Reynolds.  Unfortunately he’s a free agent after this year, making him a rental.  For the Phils, a three-month rental may not make sense, as losing even a middling prospect for such a short term player is a poor use of scarce resources.

Wilson Betemit – BAL

2010: .297/.378/.511, 1.3 WAR

2011: .285/.343/.452, 1.3 WAR

2012: .241/.268/.481

Salary: 2012: $1M; 2013: $1.75M; 2014: $3.2M player option (vests at 700 PA between 2012-2013)

Betemit has been an above-average bat and below-average glove for a few years now, and is signed relatively cheaply through at least 2013.  The reason he’s here instead of the long-term solutions is that his glove is below-average, though not nearly as bad as Reynolds’.  Betemit is a bit of a free swinger, but has power and bats from both sides (with a pretty substantial platoon split).  If Baltimore does eventually collapse as so many think they will, they have a couple of options that should be on the Phillies’ radar.

Mark Trumbo – LAA

2011: .254/.291/.477, 2.1 WAR

2012: .304/.373/.543

Salary: Arbitration-eligible beginning in 2014

There’s a reason why Trumbo is here and not the Long Term Solutions group.  Trumbo is atrocious at 3B. He is easily the worst glove in this category.  The only reason he’s at 3B to begin with is because the Angels have about 38 1B/DH/corner outfield types and they need to find some way to get all their bats in the lineup.  Thus began the Mark Trumbo Experiment, which has resulted in him making three errors in just nine chances.  He is not a long-term solution at third base for anyone.  He really doesn’t have much of a position in the field outside of first base, and the Phils have that position locked down for the next half decade.  Plus, because he is club controlled for so long, the Angels will probably charge a hefty price in prospects, which just doesn’t make sense when the return is a guy with a sub-.300 on-base percentage.

Contract Dumps

Chone Figgins – SEA

2010: .259/.340/.306, 1.1 WAR

2011: .188/.241/.243, -0.5 WAR

2012: .209/.274/.337

Salary: 2012: $9.5M; 2013: $8.5M

Full disclosure: I am a Mariners fan, and I want this bum off my team.  To Figgins’ credit, his line this year isn’t indicative of his performance.  He’s hitting more line drives but still has a .262 BABIP.  He’s connecting with the ball a lot better than he has since his Mariners contract began in 2010 (he has more home runs than even Albert Pujols!).  He can also play numerous positions — shortstop, second base, and any outfield position if necessary.  Concerning is the fact that his walk rate is down and his K rate is way up (24.2%; his previous career high was 16.2% in 2010).  Due to his high price tag, Figgins should come cheaply in terms of prospects, and the Mariners have enough salary room that they can eat the remainder of the 2012 salary.  The question is whether or not he’d truly be an upgrade over Polanco or Wigginton, or if his career is just as over as Polly’s.

Replacement-Level

I’m not going to do a full breakdown of each player here, but there are numerous guys who might be available at the trade deadline who should be cheap in both money and prospects, but who offer only a marginal upgrade over Wigginton/Polanco.  These include Casey McGehee, Jack Hannahan, and Chris Johnson. Yeah, not a lot to get excited about there, though Hannahan’s glove is really good. 

Long-Term Solutions

These are guys who the Phils should target in a trade and then, if necessary, extend them.  There is a dearth of talent at third base right now (as this post is highlighting), and if the Phils can lock down a productive or cheap (or both) bat at the position for the next few years, they should do it.

Chase Headley – SD

2010: .264/.327/.375, 3.6 WAR (.289/.334/.432 away from Petco)

2011: .289/.374/.399, 2.0 WAR (.330/.399/.465 away from Petco)

2012: .253/.388/.470

Salary: 2012: $3.475M, under arbitration through 2014

It’s hard not to like Headley, especially after seeing him destroy the Phils recently in San Diego.  Headley’s numbers have been deflated by Petco (as you can see), but he is a patient gap-hitter with a solid glove.  Headley’s patience is something the Phillies desperately need, and playing 82 games at Citizens Bank Park instead of Petco should help his numbers. With Zimmermann out, one could make the argument that Headley is among the top 3 third basemen in the NL right now.  Because he’s cheap and club controlled, Headley would most certainly cost the Phillies a fortune.  However, in looking at the free agency market for the next couple years, a corner OF like Domonic Brown is going to be a lot easier to find than an above average 3B.

Alberto Callaspo – LAA

2010: .265/.302/.374, 1.8 WAR

2011: .288/.366/.375, 4.5 WAR

2012: .182/.217/.182

Salary: 2012: $3.15M; 2013: arbitration-eligible

Callaspo is the 4-WAR guy you’ve never heard of.  While his batting line isn’t exactly sexy, he makes good contact and avoids making strikeouts.  He’s solid defensively at third base, and can also play shortstop and second base competently.  Callaspo isn’t a guy you build a team around, but he is an excellent companion piece to an already-existing core, a guy who can play a position of value well above replacement level for cheap.  The Angels are still trying to find their best lineup, which cost Callaspo playing time this year.  The Phils should even be able to get him without sacrificing Brown, though given the current state of the Angels bullpen, you figure Phillippe Aumont would have to be involved in some fashion.

Kyle Seager – SEA

2011: .258/.312/.379, 0.9 WAR

2012: .278/.288/.417

Salary: Arbitration-eligible beginning in 2015

Yes, another Mariner.  Seager’s a contact-heavy gap hitter with some pop.  He plays a solid third base, but can play second base and shortstop as well.  Like Callaspo, he’s a good young complementary piece who could lock down a position of need for the next half decade.  He’s had a rough April in terms of patience (1.4 BB%), and while he’s never drawn a lot of walks, he doesn’t strike out a lot, either.  Domonic Brown would likely have to go to Seattle in a deal involving Seager, but considering Brown’s tenuous ride with the Phillies thus far, it may be a good match for both sides. The Mariners have plenty of depth at 3B (Alex Liddi, Figgins, with Francisco Martinez and Vinnie Catricala due up the next couple years) that they can afford to trade him.

That’s the market. At this point, it’s still wide open since there are no clear buyers or sellers.  As the calendar turns from May to June, though, we’ll revisit this list and begin to separate out those who aren’t available, and add in any newcomers.

Guest Post: Giants series displays flaws in Manuel’s strategy

Mitch Goldich has previously written for espnW.com and is currently a sports blogger for The Huffington Post.  Follow him on Twitter.

Baseball, like every other sport, is a results-oriented business.  At the end of the day—or the season—the only things that truly matter are wins and losses.  Sometimes this is unfortunate, as it often muddies the way coaching decisions are evaluated.

Should we pinch hit with a righty?  Should we go for it on 4th-and-1?  Should we foul before they can attempt a three-pointer?  Either side of those coins will routinely be praised or ridiculed, depending on whether or not the game is won.

One popular draw of the sabermetric movement is that the reliance on empirical data forces observers to judge the process instead of the outcome.  While the majority of people focus on what happened, the statistically-informed focus on what should have happened.

Enter Charlie Manuel.  Manuel was criticized because on Wednesday night he used Jim Thome as a pinch hitter, and then left Thome in when a left-handed pitcher was brought on to face him.  Had Thome gotten a hit (or even a sac fly), the old-school crowd would have praised Manuel because of the outcome.  He “knows his ballclub.”  He “pushes the right buttons.”  He “instills confidence in his players.”

Thome struck out, and Manuel was ripped.

Interestingly, his rationale for leaving Thome in was more disturbing than the act.

Matt Gelb writes that Manuel explained, “Thome is 2 for 11 off the guy [Javier Lopez] with three strikeouts.  That means he put the ball in play eight times.  If he hits a ball, as big and strong as he is, we have a chance to score a run.”

This is troubling for several reasons.  First, note that Manuel particularly liked the matchup even though Thome was batting .182 off of him.  Second, Placido Polanco was available to hit for Thome.  Polanco is not only right-handed, but was the third hardest batter to strike out in the NL last season.  Finally, most damning of all, let’s dive deeper into Thome’s 11 at bats that were the basis for the decision.

Year PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP
2003 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000
2004 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000
2005 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000
2006 3 2 1 1 0 0 0 1 1 .500 .667
2007 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000
2008 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1.000 1.000
RegSeason 12 11 2 1 0 0 0 1 3 .182 .250

As you can see, there were three in 2003, three in 2004 and only five within the last seven years.  The decision was made primarily based on at bats that occurred when Thome was an everyday first baseman, with an OPS over .950 and a WAR above 4.0.

Manuel has always relied heavily on batter vs. pitcher data, so it’s hard to be surprised by his thinking.  The disturbing trend is that he continues to do so with an increasingly older team, relying on increasingly older sets of data.  Manuel has to understand that his players, particularly his aging players, are not who they were in their primes.

Reliance on outdated statistics displays a strange form of bias, akin to being unable to separate in his mind the players on his roster from the players they used to be.  Making decisions today based exclusively on data from more than half a decade ago is like trying to win on Jeopardy! by studying yesterday’s clues.

Consider the first game of the Giants’ series, against Tim Lincecum on Monday night.

Gelb wrote in his game preview (and I have no reason to doubt him), “Why is [Juan] Pierre starting over John Mayberry Jr., who is the superior defender, in a big ballpark? It probably has to do with these career numbers vs. Lincecum.”

Gelb didn’t break them down by year, but I will.

Year PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP
2007 3 3 1 0 1 0 2 0 0 .333 .333
2008 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333
2009 7 6 4 1 1 0 1 1 0 .667 .714
RegSeason 13 12 6 1 2 0 3 1 1 .500 .538

Sure, Pierre has had success against Lincecum.  But the data shows just 12 at bats, much of it four or five years old, all during a stretch when Pierre was a .294 hitter, which he has not been in the years since.

While these at bats are at least more recent than Thome’s against Javier Lopez, it’s wrong to allow this miniscule sample size to carry more weight than the hundreds of at bats since.

There’s a reason small sample sizes aren’t dependable.  For an example, let’s go back to Wednesday night’s game and think about why Polanco was available to pinch hit in the first place.  Polanco was on the bench not only because of his early season struggles, but because Manuel wanted Ty Wigginton to start at third base against Matt Cain.

“How did I decide on it,” Manuel asked himself.  “Nix is 8 for 20 with a homer off this guy. Wigginton is 3 for 9 with a homer. Those guys have seen them, have some hits on him, so why shouldn’t I put them in the lineup?”

Yes, Wigginton was 3-for-9, for a shiny .333 average and a homer.  But stats can fluctuate so much over nine at bats.  One of those three hits was a ground ball through third base in a 10-1 ballgame.  If that ball had been gobbled up for an out, making Wigginton a career .222 hitter against Cain, would he have been on the bench?  The point is that one measly ground ball on one random day, and one homerun (at Coors Field by the way), shouldn’t matter as much as his 1,000 at bats over the last two years, in which he batted under .250.

The blame doesn’t all fall on Manuel when the Phillies’ offense comes up empty.  Ruben Amaro built this roster, and Manuel has other coaches to help him make in-game decisions.  Plus, I’m just like everyone else: Had Thome popped a homerun, I’m probably not writing about this.

The roster and the injury bug have dealt Manuel a bad hand.  To his credit, he has not publicly used that as an excuse.  If he did, it probably wouldn’t be well-received, but I think it would be defensible.  If he disregarded important statistics like career platoon splits or contact rates to play a star, or go with the hot hand, that too would often be defensible.

But for him to repeatedly explain after games that his decisions are based on statistics—and then use insignificant or outdated ones—shows a lack of understanding about how the decision-making process works.  That, to me, is indefensible.

Guest Post: Maikel Franco Profile

Throughout the year, Crashburn Alley will be accepting guest posts. If you would like to contribute, submit your entries to CrashburnAlley [at] gmail [dot] com.

Today’s guest post is from Ben Skalina. You can follow him on Twitter @TweetaSkalina.

. . .

The Best Phillies Prospect You Haven’t Heard of Yet: Maikel Franco

Who is this guy? Franco was signed in January 2010 out of the Dominican Republic, and played most of 2011 as an 18-year-old third baseman with Williamsport in the New York-Penn League.

What did he do? Franco showed advanced plate discipline against older players, posting a nearly even strikeout-to-walk ratio (10.9% BB, 13.1% K) over 229 PAs in Williamsport. Bumped up to Lakewood in the Sally league for a brief 17-game stint, Franco struggled mightily and was returned to the NYPL. He also showed a nice line drive stroke with the Cutters, mashing 20% of his contact for line drives.

His .287/.367/.411 line in Williamsport was 24 percent better than league average, and scouting reports indicate he should be able to hold down third base going forward. At any rate, The NYPL is a difficult hitting environment, due in large part to the recently-drafted college pitchers who dominate the level. For Franco to hold his own against savvy pitchers three or more years his senior portends well for his future.

What are his red flags? No prospect (except for Bryce Harper) is perfect, and Franco is no different. His .124 ISO with Williamsport was low for a corner position, and he’ll need to hit for more power going forward to be viewed as a legitimate prospect. Additionally, his inability to hit of anything in his short Lakewood experience (.123/.149/.200) raises some eyebrows. Franco does not profile as a premium athlete (0 career SB), so he’ll need to hit his way through the system and be wary of gaining extra weight.

What’s next? Franco should head to Lakewood for a full season as the Blueclaws’ third baseman, where he’ll play most of the season as a 19-year-old. If Franco can continue to display good plate discipline while increasing his power output he could challenge Sebastian Valle at this time next year as the Phils’ top hitting prospect.

What could he be? Franco currently looks like he could develop into a league-average third baseman, hovering between 2 and 3 Wins Above Replacement annually. If his power develops, and you squint really hard, some 20-home run seasons could be out there, too.

Why care? With the loss of Carlos Rivero, Franco is the Fightins’ most realistic third base prospect. He was rated the number 4 prospect in the NYPL by Baseball America, and Marc Hulet had him 6th in his Phillies Top 15 at Fangraphs.

. . .

Thanks to Ben for profiling a lesser-known prospect. If you enjoyed his work, you can follow him on Twitter @TweetaSkalina.

Guest Post: Phillies and the Closer Situation

While the Phillies get their closer situation sorted out, I felt that this guest post was rather relevant.

Tom Holzerman (or TH, if you will) is a wrestling blogger found at a few sites on the web, most prominently at his site, The Wrestling Blog. He also has some things to say about other topics, baseball being one of them. If you have any feedback, questions or angry missives, send them to his Twitter, @tholzerman.

What makes a good prospect at closer? I wonder if anyone can answer that question, because I doubt that there are any really good pitchers who start out as “can’t miss” right out of the bullpen. Most pitching prospects, at least the top line ones, start out as provisional starters. Once upon a time, Ryan Madson was looked upon as a starting pitcher, not as a set-up guy or a closer. His career path took a turn that put him in the bullpen because he couldn’t pitch reliably for five or more innings at a time. That’s usually the reason given for taking any pitcher out of contention to be a starter. It’s a lot easier to dominate in one inning consistently and conditionally than it is to be Roy Halladay. It’s all about sample size.

Sample size – it’s a two-word phrase has become somewhat of a bugaboo to traditional baseball journalists. However, it’s an important thing to consider in any statistical measurement of value. It’s why that there’s a floor for at-bats to exceed to be considered for the batting title. Facing between three and five batters a game is important, but performing at the same level while facing between 20 and 30 batters a game is far more impressive. Performing above average at the plate and in the field for nine innings is worth more than one shutdown inning.

That doesn’t mean there can’t be excellent closers. The sample size argument works in a cumulative matter. In his podcast released on October 27th, Jonah Keri talked to Boog Sciambi, who put it into terms that I thought really made it understandable for everyone. In one postseason, Derek Jeter could hit really well, or he could totally not show up. However, as the postseason plate appearances pile up – he’s garnered over 700 – he starts to resemble himself and becomes looked upon as a “good” postseason player. That’s where I’d bring in arguments for the good closers throughout history. Mariano Rivera, for example, could have a good or bad season pitching 70 innings a year – and yes, they were mostly good. The fact that cumulatively, his stats have held up means that he’s a really good pitcher in his own right. It might even suggest that he could have made it as a starter, although the circumstances that were beyond his control at the time put him in the bullpen permanently.

However, those kinds of closers don’t come around all the time. For every Rivera or John Franco or Trevor Hoffman, there are a bunch of Eric Gagnes and Bobby Thigpens, guys who have a few good years as a closer, but inexplicably “lose it”. The fact is that they didn’t lose anything; they never really had it to begin with as an elite pitcher, and that in their elite years, they were able to put it together for a short period of time and make everyone believe they were top-level at something more than just pitching the last inning with a lead.

So, with that in mind, who is the best closer in history? Okay, let’s qualify that question, aside from Rivera, who is the best closer in history? I’d say that it’s not unanimous, but I feel like more than a few people would say Dennis Eckersley. For almost a decade starting in 1988, there wasn’t a more feared name to come out of the bullpen when his team was in possession of the lead. His dominance even earned him the American League Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards in 1992. Another fascinating tidbit in Eckersley’s career is that it began in 1975, and it wasn’t as a journeyman bullpen hand who had to wait for his shot to finish games.

Between 1975 and 1985, Eck was a starting pitcher, at times a really good one. In fact, over two years in 1978 and ’79 for the Boston Red Sox, he posted wins above replacement (according to Baseball Reference) of 6.4 and 6.8 respectively. Putting things in perspective, this year’s favorite to win the Cy Young award in the National League, Clayton Kershaw, posted a 6.9 WAR (BR). During the rest of his career as a starter, he hovered between 2 and 4 wins, excepting three years in the early ’80s when he hit a bit of a decline.

Another starting pitcher who did well for himself as a closer was John Smoltz, who topped out at 6.1 WAR (BR) in 1996, averaged between 3 and 5 wins in most other years as a starter before blowing his arm out in 1999 and was a big reason why the Braves were able to win 14 consecutive division titles. Coming back from his injury in 2001, there wasn’t really a place for him in the rotation, so the Braves used him as a closer. For three years he was in the position full-time between 2002 and ’04, he got a reputation as being a lockdown closer. However, the Braves ended up putting him back in the rotation in 2005. Why would they do that? It’s because pitchers have more value as starters than they do as relievers.

In Gagne’s perfect year, he posted 4.3 WAR (BR). That was good for 21st among pitchers in Major League Baseball. Every single pitcher ahead of him was a starter. Getting to 4 wins as a reliever is elite in a single season relative to other relief pitchers (more impressive seasons were Rivera’s 1996 as a set-up man to John Wetteland – 5.4 WAR (BR) – and an EPIC 7 win 1975 from Goose Gossage, for example), but compared to the rest of the league, that’s not really that great. Given that a relief pitcher has to be absolutely lights out in order to get to that level of wins, and it just doesn’t bear out that the position is worth spending big money on. There would have to be a reliever who put in several years of getting between 3 and 5 wins on the market before I would even consider spending big money on a closer. If anything I’d just be looking for a good pitcher to put there. At this point signing Madson or Heath Bell to a long term, big money contract to pitch one inning in between 40 and 60 games would be a waste of money.

I’m not even advocating that a barebones, league-minimum player would be the best option, although I wouldn’t be adverse to that. If the Phillies went into 2012 with Antonio Bastardo as their closer, I’d be perfectly fine. However, maybe the Phillies would be better served going after a starter to fill the role of closer, much like the A’s did in 1987 and the Braves did in 2001. Obviously, signing CJ Wilson as the closer wouldn’t be feasible since he’ll command starter money to be a starter. However, with Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee in the top three starter slots and Vance Worley and Joe Blanton filling in as the fourth and fifth starters, it might not be all that farfetched to try and sign, I don’t know, an aging starting pitcher hovering around 3 wins per year who might want to win a title before he retires like Hiroki Kuroda or a former can’t miss starting pitching prospect who has the stuff but has never been able to translate that into a real career due to injuries or inconsistency like Rich Harden to close out games at a discounted price, using the siren’s call of being on a team that is so close to winning a title they could taste it.

It might be more expensive than going forward with Bastardo, Jose Contreras or a minor leaguer like Justin DeFratus or Philippe Aumont, but it would totally be less expensive than giving Madson or Bell $15 million a year. With a team like the Phillies’ resources, throwing anywhere between $2 and $5 million at a closer would free up a lot of money to go after a marquee free agent at a position like shortstop, leftfield or third base. Because really, money paid out should really be proportional to the sample size produced, am I right?

Ed. Note: Thanks to Thomas for the guest post. Check out his blog The Wrestling Blog as well as his Twitter, @tholzerman.

Guest Post: Reviewing Chase Utley’s NLDS Base Running

This is a guest post from Andy M. of the blog Charlie’s Manuel.

People have been criticizing Chase Utley for his baserunning on Hunter Pence’s groundball in Game 4. The main criticism is that he made the first out at third base. But he didn’t. Pence would have been out at first anyway if Utley simply stayed put. The out was made when Pence hit the weak grounder, not when Utley was thrown out. Had Albert Pujols stayed on first base to receive the throw and retire Pence, then threw Utley out, Utley may have gotten less criticism because it would have been the second out at third base. However, I don’t think Pujols would have been able to throw out Utley if he stayed on the base for Pence (both throws would have been longer, less momentum for Pujols to generate a good throw, and Pujols would have been less likely to attempt a throw had they already gotten an out on the play).

Using Tom Tango’s run frequency matrix, a player has a 40% chance of scoring if he is on second base with one out with no other baserunners. This would have been the situation if Utley stayed at second.

After Utley was retired, the base-out state was 1 out with a man on first. There is a 28% chance of the baserunner scoring in that scenario.

If Pujols stayed on first base to retire Pence and allowed Utley to advance to third (Utley probably assumed Pujols would stay on first to get the out), there would have been a 67% chance of Utley scoring from third with only one out.

How often Utley would have to be safe at third to make this a good base-running play? I assigned the Phillies 0.67 runs if Pujols stayed put on first base and Utley was on third with one out, .40 runs if Utley stayed on second base, and 0.28 runs if Utley is thrown out at third with Pence safe at first.

Let’s say 70% of the time*, the first baseman leaves the base and guns down Utley (.70*.28 = .196 runs). That means 30% of the time, the first baseman stays on the base, gets one out, and Utley is safe at third (.30*.67 = .201 runs). Add those two values together, and the decision to run to third base is worth about .397 runs, whereas staying on second base is worth 0.40 runs. So, it seems that a 30% success rate for Utley in that scenario is the break-even point.

*I also doubt that 70% of major league first-basemen would leave the bag, allow Pence to get to first, and then make a good throw on Utley. My guess would be about a third (at most) of all first baseman would leave the bag in that scenario.

Utley only needs to be safe at third base on that play 30% of the time in order to make it a good decision.

Furthermore, we haven’t even discussed the following possibility: If Pujols came off the base and made a poor throw to third, and both runners were safe, Utley would have had an 88% chance of scoring with 1st and 3rd and nobody out.

When you factor in that possibility (even if that possibility happens 3% of the time, the break-even point falls to 28%) along with the added run expectancy with Pence also on the basepaths, the break-even point is probably closer to 25% for Utley.

It was a gamble for Utley, and I am glad he took it. He only needs to be safe 1 out of 4 times to increase the Phillies’ chances of scoring, but unfortunately for us, we live in a universe parallel to the one where Pujols stayed on first base.

If you enjoyed this article, check out more great stuff at Charlie’s Manuel.

Guest Post: Where Have All the Prospects Gone?

This is a guest post by Ben Skalina. You can follow him on Twitter @TweetaSkalina. If you would like to submit a guest post, send an email with the subject “guest post” to crashburnalley [at] gmail [dot] com.

Where have all the prospects gone? An examination of the Phillies’ habit of trading prospects for veterans.

Beginning in 2008, Ruben Amaro and Pat Gillick have made a series of headline-grabbing deals for Major League talent, leveraging the Phillies strong minor league system for help to push the senior squad over the tap. The deals, in order:

I am going to withhold comment on the Pence trade for now, as all involved are roughly at the same place they were when the deal was consummated in July.

The Blanton Deal

Kentucky Joe was brought in to provide a steady innings-eating presence in the middle of the rotation in July 2008, and the move paid off big-time as Blanton helped the Phils win their first World Series in 28 years. Despite dealing with injury issues, Blanton has been productive when healthy. He figures as the fifth starter next year.

The Athletics got two of the Phillies top five prospects at the time in return — Outman and Cardenas. Outman has been decent when healthy but has yet to establish himself as capable of holding down a rotation spot for a whole season and has struggled with control as well. Cardenas has yet to make his major-league debut, and as a 24-year-old infield prospect with a .303/.368/.413 career minor-league line projects as more of a utility guy than a starter. Spencer was mostly a throw-in and has not exceeded those expectations.

The Phillies properly assessed Outman’s mechanical difficulties and Cardenas’ ceiling and sold the pair before their value dropped. Blanton’s roughly 5 WAR with the Phillies hasn’t set the world on fire, but he has been a useful player for the team, and his injury problems this season were probably made worse by the team’s poor management of said health issues.

The Lee Deal

This was Philadelphia’s introduction to Ruben Amaro the Dealmaker. All the smoke around the trade deadline centered on the rookie GM trying to pry Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays without giving up Domonic Brown. In the background, though, Amaro quietly found himself an ace who wasn’t even on the trade market. The deal was widely praised, as Amaro was able to pick up Lee and Ben Francisco for a deal centered around a fireballing 18-year-old in A-ball (Knapp).

Knapp has been hurt since the deal went down; he has recorded just 40 innings in the Indians organization to go with a pair of shoulder surgeries. He could get healthy and move quickly, but the odds get longer every time a surgeon cuts his arm open.

Carrasco was pegged as a midrotation talent at the time of the trade, and he seemed to fulfill that potential this season, posting 1.4 wins above replacement on the strength of a 4.28 FIP over 124 innings. He limited the walks and kept the ball on the ground, and looks to be a big part of the Cleveland rotation for the next few years.

Marson and Donald have both settled in as backups, generating a combined 2.6 WAR with the Indians. While both their contributions could have been useful for the Phillies, their relatively fringy impact isn’t something the front office is worried about.

On the balance, both teams got what they needed out of this swap. The Indians were able to get some controllable young talent in exchange for a player they were going to have to trade away. The Phillies got an elite starting pitcher in his prime and a useful fourth outfielder, and sold Knapp at his absolute peak value.

The Halladay Deal

Roy Halladay. The end.

I’m sure the Phillies would like Travis D’Arnaud back, however. The .311/.371/.542 (.231 ISO)(!) line he put up at AA last year would fit in any lineup, and elevated D’Arnaud to one of the most talked-about prospects in baseball.

Again, both teams got what they wanted in this deal. The Phillies dealt from their organizational strengths at the time and the Blue Jays got back a nice mix of high-upside talent. If you include Anthony Gose as part of the Blue Jays’ return for Halladay (via Brett Wallace via Michael Taylor) they got back three potential above-average regulars, a nice haul considering they had little leverage in the deal.

The Oswalt Deal

This was another coup for Amaro, as he nabbed one-and-a-third seasons of Oswalt (plus $11 million to cover something like half of his salary for that time) in exchange for little more than Anthony Gose. Oswalt was fantastic during the 2010 stretch run, posting a 3.13 FIP and 7-1 record, and overall contributed 4.5 WAR to the Fightins at a cost of $12 million, assuming the team takes his $2 million buyout this winter.

A lottery ticket centerfield prospect, Gose made a huge jump forward in 2011, posting career highs in walk rate and Isolated Power. His final .253/.349/.415 line bested league average by 24 percent. When you throw potential 75-80 grades for his throwing arm and baserunning (69 steals in 84 attempts this year), he represents the complete package in a centerfielder. With a good start at AAA in 2012 he could be in the majors sometime next year.

Villar was aggressively promoted to AA alongside Gose for 2011, and kept his head above water with a .231/.301/.386 line. Considering he only turned 20 in May, it was a pretty good season.

Overall, the Phillies shouldn’t regret this deal, but they did pay a heavy price, giving up two choice up-the-middle prospects for Oswalt. That said, Oswalt filled a need relatively cheaply and ranged from good to great when he was healthy for the Phillies, and neither Gose nor Villar was essential to the future.

The Conclusion

In total, the Phillies have given up six blue-chip prospects — Knapp, Drabek, D’Arnaud, Gose, Singleton and Cosart — plus several others who project as big-league subs at worst. Looking at the current Phillies roster and the holes to be filled this offseason and next, there isn’t a ton of overlap beyond Shane Victorino and Anthony Gose.

Still, the Phillies have not mortgaged their future. The ATM machine that is Citizens Bank Park continues to spit out cash for the Phillies’ management team to spend. If Jimmy Rollins isn’t at shortstop, and Ryan Madson isn’t closing, there are appropriate resources to patch those holes.

The important thing to note is that the machinery which produced these useful trade chips continues to churn out talent. The fivesome of Trevor May, Jesse Biddle, Brody Colvin, Jon Pettibone, and Julio Rodriguez are regarded highly both in the organization and around baseball. Freddy Galvis made huge strides in 2011. The draft brought a pair of high-upside shortstops to the system in Tyler Green and Mitchell Walding. Teenagers Brian Pointer and Maikel Franco had strong showings in the low minors. I could go on and on.

Can the Phillies afford to trade away three or four of their top 10 prospects every year? Maybe they can. They have shown they will do what it takes to hold onto the true cream (Domonic Brown) while letting other teams pick at the seconds. And despite all the trades, they system has produced plenty of talent for the big club: Brown, John Mayberry, Antonio Bastardo, Vance Worley, Michael Stutes and Michael Schwimer all saw extensive action in 2011, and Justin De Fratus, Joe Savery and Phillippe Aumont figure to join them in 2012.

The sky is not falling. The window is not closing. Even if Jimmy Rollins leaves in free agency this year, and Shane Victorino does next year, new players will take their place. The Phillies will continue to win.

Thanks to Ben for the submission. Follow him on Twitter @TweetaSkalina.

Guest Post: Hunter Pence’s Value

What Was Hunter Pence Worth To The 2011 Phillies?

by John Ricco (@john_ricco) of Turn Two Baseball and Jared Gold (@jgold6393)

After being traded to the Phillies at the deadline in 2011, Hunter Pence took no time in becoming a fan favorite in Philadelphia. He was quick to contribute on-field production and lovable enthusiasm to a team that seemed to struggle offensively in the first half. Both of these traits had the mainstream media often raving that he “balanced the lineup” or “protected Ryan Howard” among other narratives. Pence performed perhaps even better than initially expected. In 50 games as Phillie, he hit for a slash line of .324/.394/.560, good for a wOBA of .405. While these numbers are rather remarkable, they must be looked at in context of the 2011 season.

Around the trade deadline, the Phillies had little doubt whether or not the club would make the postseason. But typical for any strong club, they wanted that blockbuster deal that would really solidify their chances at staying afloat come October. They did just this when acquiring Hunter Pence; he was looked at as a player that could not only help them get there, but make a run at winning a World Series. But just how much did Pence improve the already-great Phillies?

In attempting to answer this question, we built our framework around postseason probability added. The main point of this concept is such: not all wins are created equally. For instance, a team that wins 80 games instead of 79 increases their chances of making the postseason only by a fraction of a percent (roughly 0.4%), yet a team that wins 90 instead of 89 games increases their chances by over 11%. Therefore, when evaluating how a given player has affected his team’s likelihood of making it to October, it is not enough to just look at how many wins he has provided. Rather, we must look at the importance of each additional win.

According to FanGraphs, Hunter Pence was worth 2.6 WAR with the Phillies. The team won 102 games, so theoretically without Pence the Phillies would have won 99.4 games (generously assuming, of course, that Pence’s likely opportunity cost, Domonic Brown, would have performed at replacement level for the remainder of the season). Winning 99.4 games results in a 98.87% chance of making the postseason, while the mark at 102 wins is 99.66%. The difference between these two values is 0.0078. In other words, Hunter Pence added 0.78% – a fraction of a percent – to this team’s probability of making the postseason. Graphically, we can view this as the area under the marginal probability curve. The tiny shaded area represents the additional probability provided by Pence.

(click to enlarge)

However, the argument will be made that the objective of bringing Pence to Philadelphia was to win a World Series. That being said, it is fairly common knowledge that the postseason is a crapshoot and the best team doesn’t always win. If we average his contributions over the last three years, we can assume his true talent level is roughly 4 wins per year. Pence averaged 156.3 games a season, putting his worth at .0256 wins per game, or .128 wins over a full 5 game series. This is equivalent to just a shade over 1 run during the course of a full NLDS series, making the substantial assumption that it goes to 5 games. Over the past 10 years, the average World Series winner played 15 games, with no team playing more than 17. Even in the highly unlikely scenario of a team that played every possible game in each series (a full 19 games), Pence would have added fewer than 5 runs to the team.

This analysis, of course, treats Pence as a half year rental and disregards his benefits beyond 2011. Right now a number of question marks surround next year’s club and Pence’s future contributions certainly have the potential to be significant in the hunt for the postseason next year. Additionally, we have ignored the intangible qualities for which Pence is so well-known. We love high socks, goofy swings, and funny catchphrases as much as the next fans. Regardless, if we believe Victor Wang’s prospect research to be even somewhat accurate, Jonathan Singleton’s expected value is around $25 million and Jarred Cosart is projected to be worth $15 million. In evaluating his ultimate value, we must ask ourselves: is one meaningful season out of Pence truly worth the cost of dealing $40+ million dollars of top prospects?