Phillies Production by Position

The Phillies’ offense has been less than stellar in 2011, the continuation of a trend starting last year. They average about 4.1 runs per game, which is right at the National League average. Considering past offenses fans have grown to love, the relative lack of run support has taken some getting used to. Is the Phillies offense really as mediocre as we make it out to be?

I compared the Phillies’ wOBA by position to the league average, and then converted that into runs above or below average.

Shortstop: Relatively thin position. Only seven qualified shortstops have a wOBA above the National League average .312. Jimmy Rollins hasn’t been a wizard at the plate, but he has been ever so slightly better than the league average at the position.

Center field: Comparatively, center field has a glut of capable players. Although Shane Victorino has been incredibly good, he is one of nine NL outfielders with an above-average wOBA. Victorino has been worlds better than Rollins at the dish, but when you factor in position scarcity, his contributions are diminished.

First base: Another stacked position. 11 first baseman have an above-average wOBA, making it the most offense-heavy position in the league — a surprise to no one. Ryan Howard is barely above the league average offensively, but hopefully he has one of his trademark hot second-halves.

Catcher: Traditionally, catcher and shortstop have been the most offensively-weak and that continues to be the case in 2011. The trio of Carlos Ruiz, Brian Schneider, and Dane Sardinha have combined to be about a half-win worse offensively than the average catcher.

Right Field: The combination of Domonic Brown and Ben Francisco in right field has made the Phillies pine for the days of Jayson Werth (who, by the way, is not having a stellar season in Washington). However, right field is not the worst outfield spot for the Phillies as you’ll soon learn.

Third Base: Third base is not a deep position, but the two-month-long slump of Placido Polanco sunk him well below the league average. While the Phillies search for possible cures, Phillies fans hope he can turn it around in time for the second half.

Second Base: This is not Chase Utley‘s fault. His .382 wOBA is best among second basemen with 150 or more plate appearances. Instead, blame the trio of Wilson Valdez, Pete Orr, and Michael Martinez who filled in for Utley while he was recovering from an injury and racked up 56 percent of all of the plate appearances at second base.

Left Field: Raul Ibanez has had a disappointing season as his traditional hot streaks have been shorter and less frequent while his cold streaks have been longer and more frequent. As a result, the lefty has been nearly 12 runs worse than the average left fielder.

What’s Wrong with Placido Polanco?

Yesterday, we learned that Placido Polanco had earned his second career All-Star nomination. After a great start to the 2011 season, his place on the NL All-Star team seemed all but assured. He played stellar defense at third base, but more importantly finished the first month with a .972 OPS. The Phillies’ offense, which had struggled to score runs, was buoyed at the time by Polanco’s hot bat.

As the calendar turned to May, Polanco cooled down. It was expected, as Polanco’s true talent level with the bat does not yield a .972 OPS. His season OPS dipped below .900 on May 7, but continued plunging. By May 18, it was below .800. On July 1, it had sunk all the way to .695. A cold spell lasting more than two months is no longer a streak but a problem. Unlike last year’s hitting woes, Polanco can’t blame injuries as he has yet to land on the disabled list, though he has the typical wear and tear of the baseball season — bumps and bruises from poorly-controlled pitches and wayward foul balls.

Polanco’s issues seem more mechanical this time around. As the following charts from Texas Leaguers illustrate, Polanco started off pulling the ball to the outfield, but in May and June his batted balls rarely left the infield, and when they did, he hit the ball towards right field.

Overall, Polanco is simply hitting the ball with less authority. Using data from Joe Lefkowitz’s Pitch F/X database, Polanco’s ground ball rate has steadily risen while his line drive rate has declined.

While Polanco’s .632 BABIP on line drives is well below the National League average .712, we are dealing with a relatively small sample size (68 line drives) and his overall trend of weaker contact would help explain it. In previous seasons, Polanco’s ground ball rate ended up in the 45-50 percent range, but he typically made stronger contact than he has been more recently.

If this unfortunate trend is a result of age — slower bat speed and/or reflexes, perhaps — then there is not much that can be done. It’s baseball cancer. However, if the problem is mechanical, then the trio of Polanco, manager Charlie Manuel, and hitting coach Greg Gross should be able to find a way to fix it before their third baseman sinks to the bottom.

Marlins Series Preview with Dave Gershman

The Phillies will start the second-half of a road trip with the Florida Marlins tonight after having taken two of three from the Toronto Blue Jays. With a history of failing in inter-league play, the Phillies are 9-6 in such games this year, a victory in and of itself. The All-Star break fast approaches, but they will have to get through two division rivals first: the 38-46 Florida Marlins and the 49-36 Atlanta Braves. I swapped some questions with Dave Gershman (@Dave_Gershman) of Marlins Daily to preview the upcoming series with the Fish. His answers are below; you can read mine over at his place.

. . .

1. 14.5 games behind the Phillies in the NL East. Give me one reason why Marlins fans should have the faintest glimmer of hope for winning the division.

Instead of giving you one reason why Marlins fans should have a glimmer of hope, can I give you 10,000 reasons they shouldn’t? I’ll stick with the former. Despite an awful showing over the past month, the potential return of ace Josh Johnson added in with the stellar mix of Nolasco and Sanchez gives the Marlins a solid 1-2-3 heading down the stretch. With that and the continued progression (over the past week) of Hanley, the Marlins do have a shot at the Wild Card. Of course, they really don’t though. And those Marlins fans who do think there is a glimmer of hope are probably the same people who think the Royals and Astros can win their respective divisions.

2. Has Hanley Ramirez been the biggest disappointment for the Fish this year?

I’d say that Hanley has easily been the biggest disapointment, but that doesn’t excuse the terrible performance of the other members of the Fish. Mike Stanton has been extremely cold over the past few weeks, and along with that, the bullpen has struggled a great deal as of recent. However, Hanley has perenially been one of the best players in baseball, and he’s currently having one of the worst seasons of almost anybody in the game. Despite some recent improvements on the field and at the plate, he certainly has been dreadful this year. Here’s to Fish fans hoping that his performance this past week is going to continue.

3. Ricky Nolasco‘s K/9 was 9.5 in 2009 and 8.4 last year. So far in 2011, it’s 6.5. Is there an explanation for this?

Interesting that you should ask that. It sure is true that he’s not getting batters to whiff as much as he previously has, and his contact percentages both in and out the zone have increased this year, but 2011 could arguably be the best year of his career. A 3.43 FIP and the lowest home run percentage of his career are both reasons for his quiet success. In addition, his walk rate is lower than it was during the season he posted his lowest FIP (3.35), so the defense isn’t bailing him out or anything. Back to his K rate, his slider and curve have both been significantly worse than in the past, so that could be a reason. Of course though, it is strange that the K’s have disapeared.

4. On a similar note, Anibal Sanchez‘s strikeout rate jumped significantly compared to the last two seasons while his control has improved. What, if any, changes did he make to warrant this improvement?

Anibal Sanchez has been one of baseball’s bigger success stories this year. To be honest, I think it all has to do with yet another year of complete health (knock in wood) under his belt. He’s throwing his fastball harder and it’s been as effective as ever. Also, he’s throwing his change up more this year, especially out of the zone and batters have been swinging. His slider also has an additional mile per hour attatched to it, which is a prime reason for his many swings and misses. He’s never been a guy to walk the heck out opposing lineups, but his control has improved as you said.

5. Mike Stanton should be in the Home Run Derby, right?

Yes. Next question.

In all seriousness, he definitely should be competiting in the home run derby. Of course, MLB probably has to have the most glamorous guys in the home run derby, and especially the guys who will generate the most money from whichever outlets or ways could be provided. But come on, he has 16 home runs on the year and almost all of those homers have been hit to the freaking other side of the hemisphere, so it certianly would be fun to watch him hit in the Derby.

6. The Marlins will get to face both Vance Worley and Kyle Kendrick, while missing Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Do you think the Marlins win the series?

Despite the Phillies’ two worst pitchers (which doesn’t say much) taking the mound in two out of the three games, I truly believe the Phillies will take the series, if not sweep. Worley is coming off a good start and Kendrick hasn’t been bad this season. The Marlins can’t seem to hit a lick even when they’re facing terrible pitchers, though.

. . .

Thanks to Dave for his insight on the Marlins. Make sure to stop by Marlins Daily to check out my answers to his questions, as well as information and analysis on the Fish. You can also follow Dave on Twitter (@Dave_Gershman) and read his stuff elsewhere at SB Nation.

Homegrown Talents: Utley and Howard

Over at Yahoo! Sports, Andrew Simon (@HitTheCutoff) posted the top-ten position-player tandems. It’s a great list, but I couldn’t help but wonder where Chase Utley and Ryan Howard ranked. Simon’s criteria was that both players must have debuted with the same team and must have become regulars within a year of each other. Utley debuted in 2003 and became a regular in ’05 while Howard debuted in ’04 and became a regular in ’06, so they qualify. (Technically, Howard became a regular in ’05, but he didn’t play the full season as the starting first baseman.)

Without giving too much of the list away, Will Clark and Robby Thompson ranked tenth on the list with a combined 68.5 WAR (Baseball Reference version, or rWAR). Jim Rice and Fred Lynn were ninth at 71.2 rWAR. Utley and Howard, each with lots of baseball left in them, sit at 62.3 combined rWAR, putting them just outside the top-ten. In FanGraphs WAR (fWAR), they have 70.5, so they are at least in the same company as those on the back end of the top-ten.

This season, Utley has already posted 1 rWAR in 132 plate appearances. If he gets 300 more PA over the rest of the season, he will finish with about 2.3 more rWAR. Howard is at 1.4 with 345 PA, which puts him on pace for about 700 PA and thus projects about 1.4 more rWAR. An additional 3.7 rWAR would bring the duo to 66 rWAR. They would crack the top-ten easily in 2012 and could make a run at the top-seven. It will be hard to crack #6 as the duo of Reggie Jackson and Sal Bando combined for 101.7 rWAR, about 24 ahead of the pair in seventh place.

The big key to ranking highly on this list, aside from having lots of talent, is longevity. Utley became a regular in ’05 at the age of 26 while Howard earned an everyday job in ’06 also at the age of 26. By comparison, Clark and Thompson were playing everyday at the ages of 22 and 24. Jackson debuted at 21 and earned an everyday job at 22; Bando, 22 and 24, respectively. Additionally, Jackson and Bando finished their careers at the ages of 41 and 37. Utley and Howard didn’t have the benefit of their early-20’s, but they can finish near the top of the list by having long, productive careers, which requires a lot of luck and a lot of hard work, the latter certainly not an unknown trait to the Phillies’ right-side pairing.

Cliff Lee: Where Are the Strikeouts?

As Cliff Lee put the finishing touches on his third consecutive complete game shut-out last night, writers professional and amateur alike took to the laptops to consolidate all of the trivia. First, of course, there is the matter of his CG SHO’s:

Cliff Lee is the first Phillies pitcher to throw 3 consecutive shutouts since Robin Roberts in 1950. [Todd Zolecki]

Lee is up to 4 shutouts for the season. 7 teams haven’t thrown that many. [Jayson Stark]

Nobody has thrown 4 straight shutouts since Hershiser ran off 5 in ’88. Lee is 6th w/ 3 in row since [Jayson Stark]

And then there’s his 32-inning scoreless streak:

Cliff Lee is 3rd Phillies starter in history to run up 30+-IP scoreless streak. Joins Robin Roberts (32.2) & Grover C Alexander (30 & 41.2) [Jayson Stark]

He is more than halfway to Orel Hershiser‘s MLB record 59 and one-third consecutive scoreless innings, a record that doesn’t get approached very often.

How about his month of June?

Since 1950, Cliff Lee has the lowest ERA in the month of June amongst pitchers w/ 40 or more IP. [Corey Seidman]

Cliff Lee’s final June stats: 5 GS, 5-0, 42 IP, 21 H, 1 ER (0.21 ERA), 29 K, 8 BB, 3 CGSHO [@xochristinaxo]

Other ancillary trivia:

Cliff Lee has more wins (5) in June than the Marlins (3) [@Rebeccapbp]

In his 5th start of the month, Cliff Lee has more RBI than runs allowed. [Paul Boye]

There will be more trivia as people play with the parameters, but that’s the bulk of it for now. It’s quite a lot to digest — what Lee has done recently is truly historic, especially considering the more pitcher-friendly eras; Hershiser’s record came in the era directly before the so-called “steroid era” in Major League Baseball, for example.

However, in the wake of Lee’s tremendous run of success, I find myself… I don’t want to say worried… but quizzical, perhaps?… at Lee’s path to greatness. He started off June with a ten-strikeout performance against the Los Angeles Dodgers, but then the strikeouts started to drop precipitously: seven against the Chicago Cubs, four against the Florida Marlins, three against the St. Louis Cardinals, and five against the Boston Red Sox last night. For those last four starts, that’s a K/9 under 4.9.

There are many possible explanations for the drop in strikeouts, and any, all, or none of them could be true simultaneously. He could have made a conscious effort to induce more contact in an attempt to lower his pitch counts. (It hasn’t worked as his five June starts rank in the top-eight in terms of average pitches per batter faced.) Second, the lower strikeout rate could be a statistical fluke. After all, 35 innings isn’t nearly a large enough sample size. Finally, it could be indicative of injury as it was with Roy Oswalt — in his eight starts from May 17 to June 23, Oswalt struck out 21 batters in 44 and one-third innings, a K/9 of just 4.3. The good news is that, unlike Oswalt, Lee hasn’t shown a decline in velocity with any of his pitches.

This is not to say that Lee hasn’t been able to miss bats this year; in fact, he has done that at a higher rate than at any point in his Major League career. His career high K/9 coming into 2011 was 8.1 set in 2004 with the Cleveland Indians. This year, despite his last four starts, his K/9 sits at 8.8. Six of his 17 starts have seen double-digit strikeouts, a feat he had accomplished just nine times coming into the season. His overall swinging strike rate, at 9.4 percent, is also a career-high among seasons in which he made 10 or more starts. To say he hasn’t been able to miss bats would be disingenuous.

That’s why I’m a bit quizzical. It doesn’t appear that Lee made a conscious effort to induce more contact and it doesn’t appear likely that he’s pitching hurt like Oswalt. So what we’re left with is a statistical fluke, which also happens to be the most reasonable explanation. However, that also applies to his recent run of success. In June, he has a .191 BABIP while inducing ground balls at a 46 percent rate. The line drive rate is low at 12 percent as well. And, of course, the strand rate: 21 hits and eight walks should yield more than one run, even if Lee benefited from six ground ball double plays.

DIPS theory has taught us that a pitcher has the most control over strikeouts, walks, and whether a batted ball is on the ground or in the air. In a single season, pitchers tend not to have much control on the rate at which batted balls are turned into outs (relative to other factors such as his defense and simple randomness), which is why we expect pitcher BABIP to regress to around .300. The best case scenario is that Lee’s strikeouts return, thereby reducing the overall number of batted balls in play. When Lee’s BABIP normalizes, it won’t be nearly as painful — after all, a .300 BABIP on 20 batted balls (six hits) is preferable to 30 (nine hits). It could be the difference between challenging Hershiser’s scoreless innings streak and going up in flames.

First-Half Phillies Awards

As the Phillies head towards halftime in the regular season, the Crashburn Alley crew (Paul, Jeff, and myself) will dole out some mid-season hardware to the Phillies we feel are most deserving. The categories are Most Valuable Hitter, Most Valuable Pitcher, Biggest Surprise, and Biggest Disappointment.

Most Valuable Hitter

Paul: Shane Victorino

It’s a pretty close race between Shane and Ryan Howard for this one on the positional side, but I’ll side with Shane.  He leads the team in slugging and OPS, while playing a better center field than in previous years (BIS currently has him in the top 15 of CFs in runs saved, as opposed to the mid-20s range he had been in). Despite the time he missed due to injury, Shane has 27 extra-base hits and is 12-for-13 in steal attempts. He’s also closing in on his third straight season with double-digit doubles, triples and homers. He’s been a pretty consistent bright spot in a lineup that’s been anything but.

Jeff: Shane Victorino

This one is pretty easy. With the injury to Chase Utley and the recent struggles of Placido Polanco, only two Phillies hitters are even in the running for this award. Ryan Howard is having a good season, posting a .836 OPS through June 27th, but Victorino has been better. The Flyin’ Hawaiian has posted a .857 OPS, and a wOBA of .384. Victorino has already accumulated 3.8 fWAR in only 277 plate appearances (in comparison to 3.7 in all of 2010).While the Phillies offense hasn’t been great in 2010, its scary to think how much worse they could be without the contributions of their center fielder.

Bill: Shane Victorino

As Paul and Jeff rightly point out, and as I wrote recently, Victorino has certainly been the backbone of the Phillies’ offense. If you had told me last year that, at mid-season, Victorino would be the Phillies’ offensive MVP, I’d have laughed at you and tried to figure out which prescription drugs you were abusing. However, the departure of Jayson Werth, the injury to Chase Utley, and offensive tragedy in the outfield corners have left the door wide open for the Flyin’ Hawaiian. While I don’t think he can maintain such a high level of production over the second half of the season, there is no doubt he has been a force to be reckoned with in the first half.

Most Valuable Pitcher

Paul: Roy Halladay

I thought about giving this to Cole Hamels just to be a little different, but really, Doc is the slam-dunk choice here.  A 7.7 K:BB ratio, a 2.40 ERA in 127.1 IP,  five complete games and the best B-R WAR of any pitcher in baseball. Hamels is close – very close, actually – but Halladay is having a better year in 2011 than his 2010 Cy Young campaign. Believe it: this guy’s becoming more of a Hall of Famer with each passing start.

Jeff: Cole Hamels

This is a two horse race between Doc and King Cole. So let’s compare the numbers. Halladay is 10-3 with a 2.40 ERA, 8.7 K/9, 1.1 BB/9, and a 2.68 SIERA. Hamels is 9-4 with a 2.49 ERA, 8.7 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, and a 2.76 SIERA. You couldn’t go wrong picking either one as MVP, so I’m going off the trail a little. The only real difference I could find between these two aces is with the bat. Hamels has posted a slash line of .229/.250/.286 while Halladay has only managed aline of .073/.095/073. Cole has a higher OBP than Atlanta Braves 2nd baseman DanUggla (.250 vs .244). For that fun fact alone, he wins the tiebreaker over Doc as my pitcher MVP.

Bill: Roy Halladay

As much as I want to give it to my pre-season Cy Young pick, I have to hand the award to Doc Halladay whose 2011 season has been a tiny fraction better than Hamels’. I’ll try not to echo Paul too much, but Doc has an equivalent strikeout rate as Hamels, but a better walk rate and has pitched 15 more innings with a lower ERA. It’s a negligible difference for analytic reasons, but for simply awarding the best pitcher, that’s how Halladay wins it: by the slimmest of margins.

Biggest Surprise

Paul: Antonio Bastardo

Sure, I liked the chances of Bastardo turning into a better reliever than starter, but I foresaw neither the height of his effectiveness nor the speed at which he became so good. Rocking a 0.96 ERA (400 ERA+) through 28 innings this season, Bastardo is doing his own, left-handed Brad Lidge impersonation with a fastball/slider combo that’s produced 33 strikeouts against 13 walks. Considering he isn’t even arbitration-eligible until 2013, the Phils seem to have found a great piece for their bullpen at great value.

JeffCharlie Manuel

Cholly has taken some grief on this site in the past over his use of the pitching staff, so it’s only fair to point out when out when credit is due. The most surprising thing to me this season has been Charlie correctly handing late innings to young relievers Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes. Given the injuries to the pen, I fully expected Danys Baez and Kyle Kendrick to pick up the high leverage innings. Instead, he has allowed the youngsters to pitch in high leverage situations and they have responded. Stutes has put up a 2.92 ERA in 24 2/3 innings, while Bastardo has a 0.96 ERA in 28 innings. Charlie has finally picked talent over experience, and for that, credit is due.

Bill: Kyle Kendrick

I have been very pessimistic towards Kendrick, but I have to commend him on his great contributions to both the starting rotation and the bullpen. As most pitchers will tell you — including Kendrick’s teammate Vance Worley — it’s hard to be a swingman, bouncing between the rotation and the bullpen. However, over the last four years, Kendrick has done that with good results. Saberists like myself expect his success to run out soon, but it hasn’t thus far in 2011. In over 47 innings, Kendrick has a 3.23 ERA and had one outstanding start against the Florida Marlins recently, in which he threw seven innings of one-run baseball. As a reliever, nine of his 14 outings have been scoreless. Going into the season, he was expected to make very few spot starts, especially with Worley ahead of him on the depth charts, and he was only supposed to pitch as a mop-up reliever. Given some unfortunate injuries, Kendrick has made the most of it and helped the Phillies out when they most needed him.

Biggest Disappointment

Paul: The corner outfielders

Domonic Brown, Ben Francisco, Raul Ibanez and John Mayberry, Jr. haven’t produced. Between them, they’ve combined for 21 homers and 54 extra-base hits in 760 plate appearances, with a community slash line of .226/.307/.372, which is just unacceptable. Whether they actually can produce at a higher level for the rest of this season remains to be seen.

JeffJoe Blanton

In the offseason, I wrote about the value in not trading Big Joe. He outperformed his ERA last year, and it was reasonable to project him to compile a season with a ERA closer to 4 than 5. With numbers like that, he would have been a real asset either pitching for the Phillies, or as a trade chip later in the season. Unfortunately, his elbow injury eliminated this opportunity. Joe has only made 6 starts and has been mostly ineffective. He’s expected back soon, and can hopefully fill the void created by Roy Oswalt’s injury. But to this point of the Phillies season, Joe Blanton’s elbow has been the biggest disappointment.

Bill: Roy Oswalt

Oswalt’s season has been a disappointment on two fronts: his performance and his back problem that forced him onto the disabled list recently. His K/9 dropped precipitously from 8.2 last year to 5.3 in 2011. He lost velocity on all of his pitches, most important of which was his curve, which dropped by more than three MPH. Overall, his ERA was 3.79 before he went on the DL, which isn’t bad by any means, but it isn’t what we have come to expect from the right-hander. His ineffectiveness turned the Phillies’ fearsome foursome in the starting rotation into, simply, a terrorizing threesome (insert joke here).

Who are your MVP’s, surprises, and disappointments? Let us know in the comments.

Believe the Hype

During the off-season GM Ruben Amaro assembled quite a formidable pitching staff. It required swiping Cliff Lee from the clutches of the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees, but he did it. The pre-season hype was quite exaggerated. “Best rotation of all time,” some would say. “Historically great,” others crowed. Many chalked it up to the excitement of having Roy Halladay, Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels — all veritable aces in their own right — wearing the same uniform.

As the first half of the regular season wraps up, however, the Phillies really are embarking on rarely-seen terrain. After yesterday’s 3-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics, they have allowed 257 runs in 79 games, a pace of 527 runs (500 earned) over a full 162-game season. According to a Baseball Reference search, only 30 teams have allowed 530 earned runs (the database cannot search for overall runs allowed) or fewer in a season. Bob Gibson‘s 1968 St. Louis Cardinals lead the pack at 409 ER allowed.

Rk Tm Year ER
1 STL 1968 409
2 CHW 1966 440
3 SFG 1968 442
4 NYM 1968 449
5 DET 1968 449
6 PIT 1968 454
7 NYY 1968 455
8 LAD 1963 466
9 OAK 1968 476
10 STL 1969 477
11 SFG 1967 478
12 ATL 1968 479
13 LAD 1964 487
14 PIT 1965 495
15 ATL 1974 500
16 CIN 1964 501
17 STL 1985 505
18 STL 1966 505
19 LAD 1983 506
20 MON 1988 508
21 HOU 1980 511
22 MIN 1967 511
23 BAL 1964 512
24 NYY 1978 516
25 SFG 1965 521
26 SDP 1978 522
27 SFG 1964 523
28 NYY 1964 527
29 STL 1973 528
30 NYY 1970 530
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/27/2011.

Of course, the offensive environments in those years was different than it is now. At least, it was. As this chart will show…

…the offensive environment of the past 20 or so years has been much different than it had been previously. As such, we should adjust for era when we try to compare seasons. That is what a stat such as ERA+ attempts to do.

When we do that for the 30 teams mentioned above, we find one team below average (1968 Oakland Athletics), eight between 100-109, 119 between 110-119, and two above 120 (1969 Cardinals, 1974 Atlanta Braves).

The 2011 Phillies have an ERA+ of 125, which is higher than any of the 30 teams that had allowed 530 or fewer earned runs. If you exclude Joe Blanton, every member of the starting rotation has an above-average ERA+:

Even the bullpen is to be commended as the Phillies have the sixth-best bullpen ERA in the National League at 3.10. Five relievers have an above-average adjusted ERA:

David Herndon is right on the edge at 99 as well.

The pre-season hype may turn out to be completely justified. If the Phillies continue to pitch as well as they have throughout the first three months, they could finish with the best pitching staff since the 162-game schedule was implemented for both leagues in 1962. While the league-wide decline in offense explains some of the Phillies’ success on the mound, it doesn’t explain nearly enough.

(By the way, the Braves are right behind the Phillies with a team ERA+ at 124.)

Heath Bell and Bullpen Help

Buster Olney kicked up some dust Friday when he tweeted a tweety tweet about the Phillies knocking on doors, looking for relief help.

Seemingly content with the state of the bench – at least, prioritizing it below the ‘pen – Ruben Amaro, Jr. looks to have run out of patience with regard to the health issues of Jose Contreras and Brad Lidge. In tandem with the likely loss of Roy Oswalt for what appears to be a not-insignificant amount of time, the rationale is understandable.

Oswalt, who has averaged more than six innings per start in his time with the Phillies, will now yield time to whichever one of Kyle Kendrick or Vance Worley wasn’t going to be the regular fifth starter anyway, and that shift could put extra strain on the ‘pen. Worley has averaged exactly five innings per start in the Majors – and exactly 5.2 IP per start through his minor league career – and Kendrick has averaged just better than 5.1 IP per start as a Major League starter.

Either way you slice it, that’s an average of one extra inning per start that the Philly ‘pen will need to cover, and neither Kendrick nor Worley will be available to do the work any longer.

The core bullpen trio of Madson, Bastardo and Stutes has performed admirably to date. Combining for 81.2 IP, 89 K and 32 uIBB with a 1.76 cumulative ERA, these three have been up to the task all season. Beyond them, however, lies a murky sea of uncertainty. Danys Baez, since his majestic, five-inning relief appearance May 29, has an 11.88 ERA in 8.1 IP. J.C. Romero is gone. David Herndon, while continuing to get ground balls, yields only modest work; sort of this era’s Clay Condrey.

With word leaking that the Phillies have interest in Heath Bell, then, it seems like Amaro is not content to let Herndon start pitching high-leverage innings. As good as the top three have been, they can’t pitch every game. Ask Pedro Feliciano how that method works out.

A reliever like Bell would simultaneously lighten the load on the three most reliable relievers – two of whom aren’t the most seasoned of veterans, for what that’s worth – while adding an arm that’s produced 341.1 IP of 2.56 ERA baseball with 9.5 K/9 since 2007.

Again, this is always assuming the price is right, but Bell seems more and more like a guy the Phillies could really use. He’ll be entering free agency this winter, having exhausted his final bit of arbitration eligibility, and earns a wage the Phillies can probably afford. As of May 30, the MLB Trade Rumors’ unofficial Elias projection had Bell slated to be a Type A free agent. As Bell is certain to seek a multi-year deal worth quite a bit of money, he would absolutely decline arbitration.

Guessing which prospects would be of fair value is not really my style, and I can’t attest to what San Diego may covet, should Bell be available. What I do believe is that Bell is a solid arm this bullpen may not need right now, but will almost certainly need soon.