BDD: What If It Isn’t Real?

At Baseball Daily Digest, I wonder what we would do if it turns out MLB is just as corrupt as the NBA.

We will still watch, from Game 1 to Game 162, and the post-season. We will talk about the “hot stove” when it’s all done, then we’ll argue about trades that should and should not be made; free agents that should and should not be signed. We will be there for Spring Training. We will ride out the highs and lows with our favorite teams because that’s what we’re in it for, folks: the ride — like a dramatic movie (or in the case of the New York Mets: a comedy). As long as our sports achieve the goal of capturing our attention and entertaining us, we will continue to tune in on TV, radio, and the Internet; we will continue to buy tickets, merchandise, and food at the concession stands. We will continue to blog.

Cliff Lee Is Mr. October

It is usually the hitters who become ingrained in our collective memory when it comes to post-season heroics. Cue montages of Reggie Jackson, Carlton Fisk, and Kirk Gibson. Even for the Phillies, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz have been receiving most of the kudos for the deep run into the post-season. Captain Clutch this year, however, is not Derek Jeter nor is it Ruiz and Howard; it is one Clifton Phifer Lee.

Lee threw all nine innings, struck out ten Yankees, walked none, allowed only six hits, and the Yankees managed a meager one run — a meaningless run — in the ninth. The best offense in baseball was reduced to a series of swings-and-misses and weakly-hit grounders. Cliff was on his game from the start and didn’t let up until the game was in the bag.

Chase Utley took the edge off with solo home runs in the third and sixth innings off of C.C. Sabathia, accounting for the first two runs the Phillies scored. The Phillies gave Lee breathing room in the eighth when Raul Ibanez knocked in two with a bases loaded single to right field, and again in the ninth on an RBI single by Shane Victorino and an RBI double by Ryan Howard.

Lee went the distance for the second time this post-season and has yet to leave the game prior to the eighth inning. For all the clamoring for Roy Halladay near the trading deadline, GM Ruben Amaro is looking like a modern day Nostradamus for his sly acquisition of Cliff Lee (and hey, Ben Francisco too). Clifton now has 30 strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings of work and a paltry 0.5 WHIP.

The Phillies’ ace threw 121 pitches:

  • 48 four-seam fastballs, 40%
  • 14 two-seam fastballs, 12%
  • 24 sliders, 20%
  • 20 change-ups, 17%
  • 15 curve balls, 12%

How did Lee attack the Yankees’ left-handed hitters as opposed to their right-handers?

  • 36 total pitches
  • 21 four-seam fastballs, 58%
  • 2 two-seam fastballs, 6%
  • 3 change-ups, 8%
  • 3 curve balls, 8%
  • 7 sliders, 19%

  • 85 total pitches
  • 27 four-seam fastballs, 32%
  • 12 two-seam fastballs, 14%
  • 17 change-ups, 20%
  • 12 curve balls, 14%
  • 17 sliders, 20%

Of the pitches left-handed hitters made contact with, 67% (6 of 9) were on fastballs. Right-handed hitters only made contact with 31% fastballs (4 of 13). This shouldn’t be surprising because Lee, over the course of his career, has a near-even split against LH (.714 OPS) and RH (.733 OPS) batters.

The Phillies once again win Game One of a post-season series and now have just three more wins to go before hoisting another World Series trophy above their heads. Should they reach that pinnacle, they will heartily thank Mr. October, Cliff Lee.

Suggested Reading Material

Game graph above courtesy FanGraphs.

A World Series Preview with Lisa Swan

We are just about twelve hours away from game time, and if you’re a fan of either team, you probably have the jitters. That is not to be confused with the shivers, which everyone in the northeast has after all of this recent bone-chilling cold, rainy weather. You can always use more World Series preparation, right? Grab a sweater, stretch out that mouse-side index finger, and enjoy the Q&A sessions with myself and fellow Baseball Bloggers Alliance member and Yankee aficionado Lisa Swan of The Faster Times and Subway Squawkers.

Click here for my half of the questioning at The Faster Times.

. . .

1. Chase Utley is pretty well-regarded as the best player on the Phillies. Does New York realize this or is Utley underappreciated outside of Philadelphia?

Met fans know he’s great, but they love to hate him (although not as much as they hate the Flying Hawaiian!) Yankee fans haven’t really paid as much attention to Utley (although some New Yorkers do remember what Utley cursed at last year’s All-Star Game after getting booed!)

2. With the way balls fly out in right field at Yankee Stadium, do you have any apprehension about seeing Utley, Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, and Matt Stairs?

When the Phillies came to town in May, the balls were indeed flying out of the park. But it’s calmed down a bunch since then, for whatever reason (weather, better pitching, etc.) However, it is still a bit of a concern. After all, the Phillies hit like an AL East, not an NL East, team.

3. What are your thoughts on the match-up of former Cleveland Indians staffmates C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee? Do you see it being a close one, or is there a weakness of either that will be exploited?

Aside from wondering what Cleveland fans are thinking over seeing their guys face each other, it’s hard to say. The Yanks have a bit more familiarity with Lee than the Phillies do with Sabathia, and even beat him once this year. Plus, CC’s pitching at home. (Slight) advantage to CC.

4. Going back to underappreciation, who has been the biggest Yankees contributor who has flown under the radar?

Dave Robertson. He’s been great in the bullpen this season, with the highest strikeout rate in the league – 13.4 Ks per 9 innings. He helped the Yankees stay in the game in their two playoff walkoff wins, and got the wins in both games. And if Joe Girardi had just left him in to do his thing in Game 3, the Yanks might have won that game in
extra innings as well.

5. The Sabermetric fielding statistics have painted Ryan Howard as a better fielder this year than Mark Teixeira. In fact, they paint Tex as a below-average fielder. As someone who has watched Tex, what is your reaction to that?

I don’t want to sound all Joe Morgan here, but I find that hard to fathom. Teixeira was like Stretch Armstrong at first this year – especially in the playoffs – with the ability to make close plays and get runners out. It’s part of the reason fans haven’t gone too crazy when he hasn’t hit much this October – because he’s saved a ton of runs.

6. Sticking with defense, what has Derek Jeter done to improve his? In the off-season and in spring training, Ryan Howard worked with Sam Perlozzo on his defense, and that has been a very worthwhile investment. Did Jeter do anything different?

Yes, he did. Jeter reportedly changed his workout routine – and changed personal trainers – before this season to improve his mobility and range. And it’s really paid off – Jeter is looking better than he has in years.

7. What’s it going to take to stop John Sterling from coming up with those awful, awful isms about your Yankees? A “Tex message”? Really?

He’ll never stop – he gets too much fun out of saying them – and creating them. I’m picturing Sterling up late at night in his hotel room, pen and paper in hand, letting the muse strike him while he comes up with gems like “Robbie Cano, don’tcha know” or  “Hinske with your best shot.” I get it, though – every time a new hitter joins the
Yankees, I do a post trying to come up with what the Sterling call will be. Invariably, what he comes up with is even cornier than what I could have predicted!

8. I have often thought of Brett Myers  and A.J. Burnett as being cut from the same cloth. On some days, when they have their stuff, they are completely and utterly dominant. On other days, they are as pedestrian of Adam Eaton. Has it been at all frustrating watching Burnett, who actually had a decent year?

To use a Michael Kayism, A.J. is like the little girl with the curl. When he’s good, he’s very good, but when he’s bad, he’s horrid. I do think he’s better when Jose Molina catches him, because Molina is a calming influence. But when Burnett is really bad, even having his own personal catcher doesn’t help.

9. The Yankees have over $166 million tied up in 12 players in 2010. Do you see 2009 being a “you gotta do it” year, or do you think that if the Yankees lose the World Series, they can try again next year?

Nah, they gotta win now (and, of course, try to repeat next year.) The Yankees haven’t won a World Series since Bill Clinton was president – it’s time. Win or lose, I don’t expect the team to change must next year, though.

10. The media has raved about the atmosphere of the Yankees’ clubhouse changing with the acquisitions of Burnett and Nick Swisher. Do you think that has had any tangible effect on the Yankees, or is it just a matter of the team being made up by a bunch of really good baseball players?

I do believe in the chemistry thing. For too long this decade, the Yankees were the dynasty guys, and everybody else, and they seemed held hostage by the so-called “Yankee way,” where everybody had to be bland and boring. But this year, Joe Girardi placed a high priority not only on getting the team on the same page – he had the Yanks miss a spring training day to go play pool together – but in letting these guys be themselves, and letting new players have a say in the club.

This is a special team, with the 17 walkoff wins and the fun atmosphere. Yes, they have a huge payroll, and a ton of talent, but they also have good chemistry. And I think that’s part of the reason they’ve been so successful – because they have each others’ backs. In previous years, one bad playoff game would kill them for the rest of the series. Now, they’re able to turn the page easily, thanks to having faith in each other. They really are a likeable bunch.

. . .

Thanks to Lisa for painting a clearer picture of the Bad Guys for us. Personally, I cracked a smile when she said, “The Yankees haven’t won a World Series since Bill Clinton was president”. That smile grows even wider when you consider that the Mets haven’t won since Ronald Reagan was President. Although, I am conflicted by the fact that the Phillies  technically haven’t won since George W. Bush was President.

World Series Scouting Reports

As promised yesterday, we’ll take a look at the World Series starters. Despite the Phillies naming Pedro Martinez the Game 2 starter, there is still a lot of uncertainty around both teams’ rotations:

  • Will the Phillies use a four-man rotation?
  • If so, will Charlie Manuel use Joe Blanton or J.A. Happ?
  • Will the Yankees use a three-man rotation?
  • If so, who is starting Game 2?
  • If not, will Joe Girardi select Chad Gaudin to start Game 4?

Regardless, we can still take a look at what these starters throw and how often they throw it. Introduced in the NLDS preview, I’ll be using scatter plots with the pitch frequency and the respective values (runs above average per 100 pitches of the type in question). These statistics can be found at FanGraphshere’s Cole Hamels’ page for instance.

You will, of course, need to know how to interpret the graph. Values to the north and east are good for the pitcher, as it means he throws the pitch often and succeeds. Values to the south and east indicate that the pitcher throws the pitch often and gets hit around. As you go west, the data becomes more insignificant because the pitches are thrown less and less, meaning A) there’s a small sample size and B) that the pitcher doesn’t throw the pitch often enough for it to have a noticeable effect on his performance.

Due to the uncertainty of the rotations, I will simply present the graphs by team. Note that the acronym”RAA/C” stands for “runs above average per 100 pitches”. As an example, C.C. Sabathia’s fastball has a RAA/C value of 0.64, which means that for every 100 fastballs he throws, they are worth (you can think in terms of prevention as well, since he is a pitcher) 0.64 runs above average.

The obvious caveat here is that the graphs don’t account for the Nash Equilibrium, or in other words, pitch sequencing. While Pedro Martinez has a change-up that has been below-average, it in all likelihood increases the value of his fastball enough to make the trade-off beneficial. Exactly how much is near impossible to quantify. But this is just to say that the following charts merely give a general idea as to what the pitchers throw and how effectively they throw it.

To enhance the quality of the graph, I suggest opening it in a new window, which you can do by clicking on it.

Philadelphia Phillies

New York Yankees

Observations

  • Cliff Lee and J.A. Happ have the most effective fastballs on the Phillies’ staff and they rely heavily on them
  • Although by itself Pedro Martinez’s change-up has not been an effective pitch, it is the only thing keeping his fastballs from being Adam Eatoned
  • Cole Hamels’ chart essentially shows what Matt Swartz argued at Baseball Prospectus, which is that Hamels isn’t nearly as bad as he has shown
  • Joe Blanton potentially starting is a thought that makes me increasingly nervous
  • All three of C.C. Sabathia’s pitches are above-average — wow!
  • A.J. Burnett’s curve is as good as advertised
  • One of the more intriguing Andy Pettitte match-ups has to be his cut fastball against right-hander Jayson Werth, who can pull his hands in and get around on the cutter better than most RH batters
  • The Phillies should be licking their chops at the prospect of facing Chad Gaudin, as the Yankees should for Joe Blanton

Meet the New York Yankees

The 2009 season is down to its last four-to-seven games. One squad of 25 men will attempt to wrest control of the final series from the other for the right to call themselves “World Champions,” or in the Phillies’ case, “back-to-back World Champions”.

Each team made a concerted effort to get to this point. The Yankees spent an exorbitant amount of money to lure 2007 AL Cy Young award winner C.C. Sabathia, the multi-talented first baseman Mark Teixeira, and the good-when-healthy A.J. Burnett. The Phillies signed Raul Ibanez in the off-season and added former Cy Young award winners Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez mid-season to improve a mediocre starting rotation.

Likewise, each team had to battle adversity. Alex Rodriguez missed the first five weeks of the regular season and had to deal with fallout from his admission to use of performance-enhancing drugs during his tenure with the Texas Rangers. Chien-Ming Wang was ineffective when he took the mound and eventually called it a season after his start on July 4.

The Phillies, meanwhile, had to compete with Jimmy Rollins being a shell of his former 2007 NL MVP self, and Brad Lidge inverting his success from last year. To make matters worse, the Phils lost the voice of the team, Harry Kalas, in mid-April following the conclusion of a series in Colorado.

Back stories out of the way, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and compare the World Series entrants. Fellow ESPN SweetSpot blogger and Yankees representative Jason Rosenberg of It’s About the Money, Stupid! is likewise comparing the teams, so stop by for an alternative perspective.

First, let’s look back on the May 22-24 inter-league series in New York. What happened?

  • May 22: The good guys won 7-3 behind a strong start from Brett Myers. As was typical for Brett this season, he allowed three home runs in the game, but fortunately they were all of the solo variety. The Phillies hit four home runs, including this mammoth shot from Jayson Werth off of A.J. Burnett.
  • May 23: The bad guys won 5-4 thanks to one of Brad Lidge’s many blown saves during the regular season. The Yankees scored three in the ninth courtesy a two-run, game-tying Alex Rodriguez home run, and a walk-off RBI single by Melky Cabrera. Lidge wasted a great start by future Sporting News Rookie of the Year J.A. Happ.
  • May 24: The rubber-match ended as a rubber-match between two elite teams should: with extra innings. The Phillies led 3-2 going into the bottom of the ninth, but Brad Lidge once again blew the save opportunity on another RBI single by Melky Cabrera. Carlos Ruiz gave the Phillies the victory in the 11th inning on an RBI double that scored Chase Utley.

Judging by the way the inter-league regular season series went, both teams’ offense will figure prominently into the results. As such, let’s take a look at where each team stands offensively.

Offense, Base Running, Defense

The Phillies led the National League, averaging 5.06 runs per game. Being an American League team, the Yankees led with a higher 5.65 RPG average.

At home, the Yankees averaged one home run every 23 plate appearances; on the road, every 30 PA. The Phillies are more balanced, averaging a HR per 25 PA at home and per 28 PA on the road.

The following chart will compare each team’s starters at each position using OPS+. For those unfamiliar with the metric, this Wikipedia blurb explains it rather succinctly.

(WordPress is back to reducing the quality of images. If you’d like to see a clearer version of the charts, just click on them and they will open in a new window.)

The Yankees have clear advantages at catcher, shortstop, and third base, while the Phillies don’t have any clear advantages themselves, though most would take Chase Utley over Robinson Cano and Jayson Werth over Nick Swisher without thinking twice.

Using batting and fielding runs from FanGraphs, and base running runs from Baseball Prospectus, what happens if we also include base running and defense into our analysis? Have a look:

For your convenience, the following chart will quickly show you the advantages, marked with the letter x.

The Yankees’ offense is more powerful than the Phillies’ — without counting Hideki Matsui as the DH — but the Phillies make up a lot of ground with their base running smarts (thanks to first base coach Davey Lopes) and defense.

Catchers

Offensively, the switch-hitting Jorge Posada is clearly ahead of Carlos Ruiz. However, Chooch is enjoying a fine 2009 post-season with a 1.000 OPS in 34 PA. Posada has put up an .845 OPS in 36 PA.

With his cannon arm, Chooch threw out 23 of 84 base-stealers (27.4%) during the regular season. Posada matched him, throwing out 31 of 111 (27.9%).

As Phillies fans are well aware of, though, is that Ruiz’s strength is blocking balls in the dirt, a very important feature particularly for closer Brad Lidge. Ruiz led all qualified Major League catchers, averaging just .184 wild pitches and passed balls per game. In other words, Ruiz will let one skip by once every five games. Posada was among the bottom ten in the American League with a .562 WP+PB/G according to The Hardball Times.

Posada, a potential Hall of Famer, is clearly the superior catcher here, but in a short series where small events are magnified, Ruiz’s fundamentally-sound game reduces that gap.

Bench

Both teams’ benches aren’t exactly filled with batting champions, but they are deep and versatile.

The Phillies have left-handers Matt Stairs and Greg Dobbs; Stairs will likely DH when A.J. Burnett starts. Infielders Miguel Cairo and Eric Bruntlett allow manager Charlie Manuel the flexibility to pinch-run late in the game to increase the probability of scoring an extra run. Right-hander Ben Francisco will likely play left field when a left-hander (C.C. Sabathia, Andy Pettitte) starts, allowing Raul Ibanez to simply DH. Finally, left-hander Paul Bako is the back-up catcher to Carlos Ruiz.

The Yankees have several pinch-running options as well in outfielders Brett Gardner and Freddy Guzman. Jerry Hairston, Jr. is the lone back-up infielder. Jose Molina will back up Jorge Posada and will likely catch when A.J. Burnett starts.

Pitching

It’s like staring into a mirror. A look at each team’s starting and relief pitching during the regular season:

  • Phillies starters: 4.29 ERA
  • Yankees starters: 4.48
  • Phillies relievers: 3.91 ERA
  • Yankees relievers: 3.91

I’ll compare the starters once the rotations are set. For now, we’ll just focus on the bullpen using WXRL from Baseball Prospectus.

Mariano Rivera, Phil Hughes, and Alfredo Aceves during the regular season were better than any of the Phillies’ relievers. Almost everyone said that the Phillies’ biggest weakness heading into the NLCS was their bullpen, but that wasn’t fleshed out by the results, as only Chan Ho Park and Ryan Madson gave up runs out of the ‘pen against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Meanwhile, Rivera, Hughes, Aceves, and Joba Chamberlain allowed runs in the ALCS against the L.A. Angels.

It would be foolish not to assign the Yankees a huge bullpen advantage, but the Phillies have made a habit of disproving conventional wisdom.

Offense Splits

Since the Phillies and Yankees play in different leagues, we can’t just compare raw OPS figures. Instead, what I will use is tOPS+. To paraphrase Baseball Reference, tOPS+ is defined as:

OPS for split relative to total OPS. A number greater than 100 indicates the batter did better than average in this split. A number less than 100 indicates that the batter did worse than average in this split.

  • Yankees LH batters vs. LH pitchers: 102
  • Yankees LH batters vs. RH pitchers: 103
  • Yankees RH batters vs. LH pitchers: 101
  • Yankees RH batters vs. RH pitchers: 90
  • Phillies LH batters vs. LH pitchers: 103
  • Phillies LH batters vs. RH pitchers: 108
  • Phillies RH batters vs. LH pitchers: 100
  • Phillies RH batters vs. RH pitchers: 85

Both teams’ right-handed hitters struggle against right-handed pitchers, which makes the likes of Mariano Rivera, Brad Lidge, Alfredo Aceves, Ryan Madson, Phil Hughes, and Ryan Madson, as well as starters A.J. Burnett and Pedro Martinez, pivotal figures in this series.

Pitching Splits

Both teams’ left-handed hitters hit left-handed pitchers surprisingly well, which will minimize the effectiveness of Phil Coke, Damaso Marte, Scott Eyre, and J.A. Happ.

Here are similar split numbers for the pitchers. This time, numbers above 100 signify below-average pitching.

  • Yankees LH pitchers vs. LH batters: 70
  • Yankees LH pitchers vs. RH batters: 95
  • Yankees RH pitchers vs. LH batters: 106
  • Yankees RH pitchers vs. RH batters: 106
  • Phillies LH pitchers vs. LH batters: 90
  • Phillies LH pitchers vs. RH batters: 101
  • Phillies RH pitchers vs. LH batters: 99
  • Phillies RH pitchers vs. RH pitchers: 106

The reason why Phillies’ right-handers perform better than the Yankees’ right-handers against left-handed batters is because of the preponderance of change-ups thrown by Ryan Madson, Pedro Martinez, and Joe Blanton.

The run-down, sans starting pitching:

  • Offense: Slight advantage Yankees
  • Base running: Advantage Phillies
  • Defense: Advantage Phillies
  • Bullpen: Advantage Yankees

Once the rotations are announced, we will look at the starting pitching match-ups. If you need something to hold you over, stop by It’s About the Money, Stupid! for some Yankees-themed coverage.

The World Series Rotation

Todd Zolecki of MLB.com posted a couple days ago that the Phillies hadn’t set their rotation aside from Cliff Lee in Game One, mostly because they still don’t know who they will be opposing in the World Series. That, of course, has led to speculation and debate, so I’d like to weigh in on it, with the assumption that the Yankees win the ALCS over the Angels. It’s a safe assumption according to the post-season odds on Baseball Prospectus, which gives the Yankees an 89% chance to win the ALCS.

There are several questions to answer:

  • Should the Phillies use a three- or four-man rotation?
  • Does J.A. Happ fit into the rotation?
  • Which starters should pitch in New York?

Games 1 and 2 will be played in New York, as will Games 6 and 7 if necessary. Games 3, 4, and 5 will be played in Philadelphia. This is important to denote because Yankee Stadium is much more conducive to fly ball hitters than Citizens Bank Park. According to ESPN’s park factors, Yankee Stadium ranked first (1.261) while CBP ranked 16th (1.005) in allowing home runs.

As a result, it would behoove the Phillies to keep the fly ball-prone starters away from Yankee Stadium, especially the right-handers. Looking at the breakdown on HitTracker, left-handed hitters have a much easier time than do their right-handed counterparts. So no right-handed starters in New York for the Phillies, and keep the fly ball-prone guys away, too.

The Phillies starters’ fly ball rates:

  • Pedro Martinez: 43.9%
  • J.A. Happ: 42.9%
  • Joe Blanton: 39.3%
  • Cole Hamels: 38.7%
  • Cliff Lee: 38.1%

As it so happens, Lee in Game One and Hamels in Game Two appears to be the most likely scenario, which is the most beneficial to the Phillies.

Happ is a candidate to start, though not a very likely one as he provides more value in the bullpen since Scott Eyre is the only other reliable left-hander. Unfortunately, Happ has had a rough go of it in the post-season, allowing 11 base runners (six hits, five walks) and three earned runs in three and two-thirds innings against the Rockies and Dodgers. Based on these two facts, Happ should stay in the bullpen.

Now let’s take a look at how the Yankees have fared against each pitcher:

  • Cliff Lee: 224 PA, .820 OPS, HR per 28 PA, 14% K, 8% BB
  • Cole Hamels: 66 PA, .833 OPS,  HR per 22 PA, 17% K, 5% BB
  • Pedro Martinez: 386 PA, .661 OPS, HR per 39 PA, 28% K, 9% BB
  • Joe Blanton: 126 PA, .838 OPS, HR per 16 PA, 10% K, 6% BB

Most of Martinez’s history against the Yankees came from his prime years with the Boston Red Sox when he had a 95 MPH fastball, so his stats above should be taken with a grain of salt — he will not replicate a 28% strikeout rate.

The Yankees have hit Blanton well, smacking home runs at a frequent rate and striking out infrequently. Most of Blanton’s rates above are worse than his career averages: HR per 40 PA, 15% K, 7% BB. As a result, I would utilize a three-man rotation (Lee, Hamels, Martinez) and move Blanton to the bullpen.

The added benefit of using a three-man rotation is that it allows Charlie Manuel an extra spot for another bench player, like John Mayberry, while still keeping room for the versatility that Miguel Cairo and Eric Bruntlett provide. Antonio Bastardo would be left off the World Series roster, Blanton would go to the ‘pen, and Mayberry would be added to the roster.

Finally, a three-man rotation would mean that the Phillies could use Cliff Lee three times in the World Series if it got to a Game 7. The only hiccup in my plan comes in a perhaps unnecessary Game 6 in New York that Pedro Martinez would be in line to start. If Happ hadn’t been used much to that point, he could take Pedro’s place.

In summary, this is how it would look:

  • Oct 28 @ NYY: Cliff Lee
  • Oct 29 @ NYY: Cole Hamels
  • Oct 31 @ PHI: Pedro Martinez
  • Nov 1 @ PHI: Cliff Lee
  • Nov 2 @ PHI: Cole Hamels
  • Nov 4 @ NYY: Pedro Martinez or J.A. Happ
  • Nov 5 @ NYY: Cliff Lee

Changes to the roster:

  • Added: John Mayberry
  • Dropped: Antonio Bastardo
  • Moved to bullpen: Joe Blanton

Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on what the Phillies should do with their World Series starting rotation.

Looking Back on the Brett Myers Era

Brett Myers was the odd man out when the Phillies set their NLCS roster. Myers was infuriated — or, in his words, “ticked”. There is a chance he makes the World Series roster, but even if he does, it is likely that the next 4-to-7 games are the last we’ll see of Brett in a Phillies uniform. He is a free agent after the post-season ends and is coming off of a disappointing, injury-plauged 2009 in which he was paid $12 million.

The Phillies have over $108 million obliged already for 2010, and that’s before addressing arbitration-eligible players (i.e. Chad Durbin) and free agents (i.e. Chan Ho Park). Given that Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson will continue pitching the late innings for the Phillies, Brett doesn’t fit in at the back of the bullpen as he did in 2007. Additionally, it is likely that both Durbin and Park will be back. Assuming the Phillies also include two left-handers (J.C. Romero is a lock aside from his health issues), the only role left for Brett in the ‘pen is as a mop-up reliever, certainly not a role he will be happy to take.

What about the starting rotation? Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are locks, of course, and you may as well throw in J.A. Happ too. Joe Blanton is arbitration-eligible, Jamie Moyer still has another year left on his contract, and Pedro Martinez is a free agent. Blanton made $5.75 million this year, so he’s due for a slight pay raise — not enough to deter the Phillies from offering him arbitration. Granted, it is an assumption, but I would be very surprised if Joe Blanton declined a $6-ish million arbitration offer from the Phillies. Four out of five spots filled.

If the Phillies are comfortable with four left-handers in the rotation, Jamie Moyer could be back as he will likely be 100% by spring training. Pedro Martinez could be re-signed, but he may retire if the Phillies win the World Series, and if they don’t, he still may retire. Antonio Bastardo or Kyle Drabek could win the #5 spot in spring training. Post-season barista Kyle Kendrick is always in the mix.

All told, Brett is looking at the following scenario if he wants to return to the Phillies:

  • A pay cut from the nearly $26 million he’s earned over the past three seasons
  • A mop-up role in the bullpen if he returns as a reliever
  • Competing with many candidates in spring training for the #5 spot in the rotation

If Brett wants to go elsewhere, he certainly could. There will be teams who will be willing to pay him more than the Phillies will — maybe not $12 million, but certainly better than what the Phillies will want to pay him. Other teams will also be willing to guarantee him a spot in the starting rotation, as Brett likes being a starting pitcher more than a reliever. And if he chooses a team that wants to use him as a reliever, there will be teams who will let him pitch in the late innings.

It’s still too early to tell which teams will open up their arms to Brett, but there are always teams in dire need of pitching every off-season. While left-handers Will Ohman and Joe Beimel had to wait until spring training to sign before the 2009 season, Myers won’t have to endure those tribulations. Myers is a jack-of-all-trades kind of pitcher, whereas Ohman and Beimel are strictly LOOGYs.

Now that we can all agree that it’s not likely (but not impossible) that we’ll see Brett pitching for the Phillies, let us look back on the five fondest moments of Brett’s career in Philadelphia.

5. Brett pitches a complete game gem against the Milwaukee Brewers to spur the Phillies to a seven-game winning streak.

On September 14, 2008, the Phillies were scheduled for a double-header against the Brewers, who had swept them in a four-game series in Milwaukee earlier in the season. The Phils were behind the Mets by 2.5 games and had won the first two games of the series against Manny Parra and Ben Sheets.

In the first game, the Phillies scored four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to break a 3-3 tie, victimizing Guillermo Mota and Brian Shouse. Scott Eyre and Brad Lidge combined to work a perfect ninth, and the Phillies won their third game in a row. If Myers could win the second-half of the double-header, the Phillies would only be behind the Mets by one game with twelve games remaining.

The Phillies staked Myers to a four-run lead early, scoring one in the first inning and three in the second against Brewers starter Jeff Suppan. Through four and two-thirds, Myers had faced the minimum, the only blemish coming in the third inning: a lead-off walk to Craig Counsell that was eventually erased when Suppan grounded into an inning-ending double play.

In the fourth inning with two outs, Ray Durham finally punched the Brewers’ first hit into right field, but Myers quickly ended the inning by striking out Prince Fielder. Myers would only allow one more hit — a solo home run to Prince Fielder in the seventh.  He notched 1-2-3 innings in the fifth, sixth, eighth, and ninth innings.

Myers pitched all nine innings and allowed only one run on two hits, striking out four and walking only one. The Phillies would go on to win 9 of their 12 remaining games, taking the NL East pennant, ahead of the New York Mets by three games.

4. Brett works the count against the Milwaukee Brewers’ C.C. Sabathia in Game 2 of the 2008 NLDS.

The Phillies had just tied the game at 1 apiece when Brett Myers strode to the plate with two outs in the second inning. There was a runner on third, and the Phillies were simply happy that, barring a terrible base running blunder, they were going to have the top of the lineup leading off the third inning. Instead, Brett decided to start a rally.

Sabathia had been utterly dominant in the second-half of the 2008 season after being traded to Milwaukee from the ailing Cleveland Indians. In 17 starts, Sabathia compiled a 1.65 ERA and better than a 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. What could a poor hitter like Myers do against the defending AL Cy Young award winner?

Myers quickly fell behind 0-2, but fouled off some tough pitches and took some pitches out of the strike zone to work the count back to 3-2. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Sabathia threw a 97-MPH down-and-in fastball. Myers took it for ball four and took his rightful spot at first base. Jimmy Rollins followed up with a walk of his own, bringing up Shane Victorino. And, well, the rest is history.

Myers followed up his excellent nine-pitch at-bat in the second inning with a ten-pitch at-bat in the fourth. He flied out to right-center, but he had done more in two at-bats than 99% of the hitters had done to Sabathia all season, taking 19 pitches and reaching base once.

In the fifth inning, Myers came up with runners on first and second, the Phillies ahead 5-1. He swung at the first pitch right-handed reliever Seth McClung threw, dropping a single into right field to load the bases. Unfortunately, Jimmy Rollins couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity.

Totaled up, Myers saw 20 pitches in three at-bats and reached base twice via a walk and a single. His walk eventually led to four Phillies runs, and his overall plate discipline accounted for more than 20% of the pitches Sabathia threw. Sabathia, of course, did not make it through the fourth inning.

3. Brett gets hit in head by line drive, pitches complete game gem anyway.

The Phillies were in Chicago on May 8, 2005 for a day game against the Cubs. Myers took the bump for the Phillies, opposed by Carlos Zambrano. Myers had retired the first five Cubs he had faced when catcher Michael Barrett took his turn at the plate. Barrett took the first pitch, then lined the second pitch off of Myers’ head. The ball ricocheted into left field and Barrett had himself a single.

Phillies catcher Todd Pratt and trainer Jeff Cooper were worried about Myers potentially having a concussion, but Myers assured them that he was fine, and he stayed in the game. Myers got Ben Grieve to ground out to Jimmy Rollins to end the inning.

Everyone assumed Myers would be taken out of the game for precautionary reasons, but Myers took the mound in the third inning. He retired Jerry Hairston, Zambrano, and Corey Patterson consecutively for a 1-2-3 inning. That would be the theme for the day, although the Cubs scored two runs against Myers in the fourth when Neifi Perez and Aramis Ramirez hit solo home runs.

Myers pitched all eight innings, allowing just the two runs while striking out ten Cubs and walking only one. Unfortunately, the Phillies could muster only one run off of Zambrano, who also went the distance.

2. Brett clinches the division on the last day in 2007.

In what was the start of good things to come, Myers clinched the division for the Phillies on the last day of the season in 2007. The Mets, behind Tom Glavine, had already lost to the Florida Marlins, so all the Phillies needed to do was earn a victory against the lowly Washington Nationals.

The Phillies led 6-1 going into the ninth inning, and Charlie Manuel insisted on going to his closer despite the lack of a save situation. Myers came in and quickly retired two Nationals by striking out Dmitri Young and inducing Austin Kearns to fly out to left field. The only person who stood between the Phillies and a celebratory pile-up in the infield was Wily Mo Pena.

Myers got ahead 0-2, threw a ball, and as he frequently did that season, he dropped a perfect 12-6 deuce on the outside corner for a called strike three. Myers threw his glove way up in the air in celebration and was quickly mobbed by a joyous Phillies team including Pat Burrell.

1.  Brett continues his hitting dominance against the Dodgers’ Chad Billingsley in the 2008 NLCS.

Unlike his approach to C.C. Sabathia in Game 2 of the NLDS, Myers was very aggressive at the plate against Chad Billingsley. The Phillies again had just tied up the game 1-1 when Myers came to the plate with a runner on second base and two outs. Myers swung at Billingsley’s first offering, serving it into center field for an RBI single.

That was not all Myers had to offer.

In the third inning, with the bases loaded and one out, Myers again swung at the first pitch, swatting a line drive past a diving James Loney down the right field line. Two Phillies scored on the hit and they still had runners on first and third with only one out. Myers stood on first base, looked into the Phillies dugout, and shrugged his shoulders, as not even he knew that he could do that with a bat. Later on, with two outs, Shane Victorino tripled scoring Ruiz (who was on third) and Myers, upping the Phillies’ lead to 8-2.

But wait, there’s more!

The baseball gods they did smile upon Myers in his third at-bat against reliever James McDonald. Myers again swung at the first pitch, a low-and-away breaking ball, driving it into the ground. The ball slowly dribbled down the third base line, hastily retrieved by McDonald. The perfect placement of the ball allowed Myers to reach first base safely without a throw — his third hit on three total pitches in three at-bats. Myers drove in three runs and scored two himself.