Phillies’ Offensive Success Is Not Sustainable

In the comments for yesterday’s post, I mentioned that the Phillies’ offensive success so far is, while nice, not sustainable. I felt it worthy of its own post.

Through six games, the Phillies have a team offensive BABIP at .423. In the previous three years, it has fallen in the .280-.295 range. Needless to say, the offense is due for a regression by that fact alone.

We can break down exactly how the Phillies are succeeding, however. They have a .357 BABIP on ground balls, .195 on fly balls, and .762 on line drives. The National League averages last year were .235, .137, and .719 respectively.

If the Phillies had the NL average BABIP on each batted ball type instead of what they have currently, they would have ten fewer ground ball hits, seven fewer fly ball hits, and two fewer line drive hits for a total of 19 fewer hits. They would have 57 hits rather than the 76 they have currently.

If we use the same distribution of hits (79 percent singles, 20 percent doubles, one percent triples), the Phillies go from 56 singles to 45, from 14 doubles to 11, and no change in triples. Thanks to the work of Tango, we know the run values for singles, doubles, and triples relative to an out: 0.77 runs for singles, 1.08 runs for doubles, and 1.37 runs for triples. So the 11 fewer singles account for 8.5 runs, three fewer doubles account for 3.2 runs, and of course there’s no change in triples. All told, the Phillies’ unsustainable offense has led to nearly 12 extra runs, or 1.2 extra wins (assuming an NL-average BABIP circa 2010).

It is a good thing, though, that the Phillies lead the Majors in line drive rate at 25.6 percent per FanGraphs. They also have the lowest fly ball rate at 28.5 percent. What that means is that the Phillies are hitting the ball hard and they’re finding gaps in the defense — fly balls turn into outs more frequently than grounders and line drives. No, it’s not sustainable, but there could be some lasting effects as we move further into the season.

A Quick Note on Plate Discipline

As mentioned in the post on Opening Day, the Phillies will lack plate discipline in 2011, especially without Chase Utley. Last night, when the Phillies scored 10 runs against the New York Mets, they walked just three times in 43 plate appearances (7 percent). In five games, they have walked a total of 17 times in 200 plate appearances (8.5 percent). Through five games last year, the Phillies drew 32 walks in 227 PA (14 percent). Overall, last year’s squad drew 560 walks in nearly 6,300 PA (about nine percent).

Kind of makes you appreciate Bobby Abreu, doesn’t it?

By Law, I Am Required to Post This

From FanGraphs, when pitching statistics become reliable:

150 BF – K/PA, grounder rate, line drive rate
200 BF – flyball rate, GB/FB
500 BF – K/BB, pop up rate
550 BF – BB/PA

In case it’s not obvious, you can tell a lot more about a hitter from one year of data than you can about a pitcher.  All this data is from research that Pizza Cutter conducted, which can be found in the links below.  If a statistic is not included, the means it did not stabilize over the intervals that Pizza Cutter tested (which was up to 750 PA / BF).

Last year, Cole Hamels faced 26 batters per game on average, which means that we need to see at least six starts (about one month) before we can begin making up Hamels-related theories.

Hamels was bad last night. Was it a fluke? Maybe. Is his performance a bad omen? Maybe. In one isolated game last night, Hamels had trouble with his command (two walks in two and two-thirds innings) and was a bit unlucky on balls in play (lots of bloop hits, a scorching line drive by Ike Davis notwithstanding). Perhaps the weather bothered him, though he pitched just fine in the cold, rainy weather during the 2008 World Series.

I can see the Bleacher Report articles now: “10 reasons why Hamels doesn’t have the mental fortitude to pitch in April” or “17 signs Hamels is offended to be the #4 starter”. The 610 WIP callers will scream about how Hamels has become complacent pitching behind three aces.

Using sample size constraints limits discussion topics, but you’ll thank yourself at the end of the season when you think back on the season and don’t look like an idiot for projecting doomsday scenarios, as many did with Hamels last year. I get it, though. Corey Seidman said it beautifully at Brotherly Glove:

When Hamels annoys us, we react. When the other three [Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt] annoy us, we bite our tongue because we’re so grateful that they bless us with their presence.

[…] [we] don’t hate Hamels, [we’re] just so much more passionate about him because he dated us before we had money.

Ryan Madson, Closing, and Contracts

Over at Brotherly Glove, Eric Seidman refutes the suggestion that the Phillies named Jose Contreras closer partially to deflate Ryan Madson‘s leverage in contract negotiations.

While the idea that the team is trying to cost-control Madson by not allowing him to close is interesting from a storyline standpoint, I highly doubt the Phillies are implementing such a devious tactic.

How would it even make sense? The front office would spend this year deflating Madson’s confidence, convincing him that he lacks the mental fortitude to be a closer, hoping that he and Boras buy in and re-sign at a lesser price, only to eventually use Madson in the role they said he could not fill? It’s just too wacky a theory when every angle is examined.

I haven’t seen anyone else suggest this besides myself, so it’s just a theory of mine and is in no way a fact. However, over the years, the Phillies have shown themselves to be very acutely aware of any and all contract situations. Before Cliff Lee, they absolutely refused to devote more than three years to any pitcher, Roy Halladay included. For all of the contracts former GM Pat Gillick and current GM Ruben Amaro have handed out, the only two that have come back to haunt them were the ones awarded to Adam Eaton and Geoff Jenkins (though some, including myself, will argue that Ryan Howard‘s contract will end up being a mistake).

Let’s not forget that Amaro’s secretive handling of the Lee signing was incredibly strategic. The New York Yankees and Texas Rangers were considered the heavy favorites to sign Lee; the Phillies were never even considered.

Additionally, the Phillies have traditionally set their payroll as a specific percentage of revenue.

Year Revenue ($M) Payroll ($M) Ratio
2005 $167 $95 1.76
2006 $176 $88 2.00
2007 $183 $89 2.06
2008 $192 $98 1.96
2009 $216 $113 1.91
2010 $233 $138 1.69
2011 $239 $169 1.41

From 2005-08, the Phillies had a ratio between 1.76 and 2.06. As soon as they won the World Series, ownership felt the best way to continue to turn a profit was to devote more money to payroll. So as the Phillies made more and more money by selling more tickets, merchandise, advertisements, etc. they sank more of it into the players and coaches on the field.

In 2009, the Phillies signed Howard to $54 million contract extension, signed Ryan Madson to a $12 million contract extension, traded for Cliff Lee, and avoided arbitration with Joe Blanton and Shane Victorino, among others.

Last year, the Phillies traded for Halladay and signed him to a $60 million contract extension, signed Howard to a $125 million contract extension, traded for Roy Oswalt, signed Blanton to a $24 million contract extension, signed Victorino to a $22 million contract extension, signed free agent Placido Polanco to an $18 million deal, and signed Carlos Ruiz to an $8.85 million extension.

Going into 2011, the Phillies signed Lee, exercised Jimmy Rollins‘ $8.5 option, and re-signed Jose Contreras for $5.5 million.

Clearly, the Phillies have become very dedicated to putting out the best possible team that money can buy. However, there is a limit to how much the Phillies can spend. As their current streak of 126 sellouts will attest, you can only sell so many tickets to every game; you can only sell so many jerseys before everyone has one (or seven); you can only sell so much advertising. As profitable as the Phillies are, they cannot yet print their own money like the New York Yankees, which Forbes valued at nearly three times the Phillies ($1.7 billion to $609 million).

The Phillies cannot continue to spend with reckless abandon, especially given how heavily some of the contracts they’ve awarded have been back-loaded. Between now and some time during the next off-season, the Phillies’ front office will be carefully analyzing what they can do with upcoming free agents and position vacancies. Potential free agents include Raul Ibanez (LF), Rollins (SS), Madson (RP), Danys Baez (RP), Brian Schneider (C), Ross Gload (1B/OF), and J.C. Romero (RP). Four arbitration cases await for Cole Hamels (SP), Kyle Kendrick (SP), Ben Francisco, and Wilson Valdez. Roy Oswalt can also be kept around for $16 million or bought out for $2 million. Brad Lidge will likely be bought out for $2 million. As of right now, the Phillies have $113 million committed to nine players.

The case of Madson may seem like an insignificant blip on the radar, but it will actually play quite a large role in how the Phillies’ manage their roster going forward. In baseball, because of the perceived importance of the ninth inning, closers make significantly more money than other relievers. Consider some closers around baseball that have hit free agency:

The only set-up reliever who has come anywhere close was Rafael Soriano, who signed a three-year, $35 million contract with the New York Yankees. But again, they print their own money.

Therefore, it is true that as Madson’s save opportunities increase, so too will his price tag. This is not a fact unknown to the Phillies. If Madson gets scant save opportunities, he and his agent Scott Boras have less leverage in negotiations. They can cite his K/9, BB/9, and xFIP as I have been for the past couple years, but when Amaro cites his relatively low saves total and save conversion rate, there’s not much of a counter-argument, as irrational as it may be.

Assuming a 2012 Opening Day payroll of $175 million, the Phillies have around $65 million to spend on at least 16 players. Chopping Madson’s asking price from (example) three years, $30 million to (example) three years, $18 million is a big deal. Saving $4 million in annual average value nets them a player worth about one extra win above replacement.

I agree that suggesting that the Phillies are intentionally fixing Madson’s price is a wacky suggestion, but I wouldn’t put it past the Phillies. Their front office has been among the trickiest (and best) in all of baseball.

Announcement: Phillies 24/7 HD Radio

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve heard me hint about an announcement for a while now, and I can finally spill the beans. I’ve been asked to contribute to a new HD radio station with WOGL that will have Phillies content 24/7. My show is called Stathead and will air Tuesdays from 3-4 PM ET. Jeff Sottolano will co-host the show with me.

Below is the official press release and information about the shows on the Phillies 24/7 HD radio station.




Philadelphia, March 31st, 2011 – The Philadelphia Phillies and CBS RADIO’s WOGL today announced the launch of Phillies 24/7, the first ever HD Radio multicast station exclusively dedicated to a Major League Baseball team.  Phillies 24/7 will air continuously throughout the year and feature live play-by-play of every regular season Phillies game on-air at 98.1 WOGL HD4, plus game re-broadcasts the following morning at 9am.  The channel will launch on Friday, April 1 when the Phillies take on the Houston Astros in their home opener (1:05pm).

CBS RADIO’s WPHT serves as the Phillies radio broadcast flagship, a position they’ve held since 2005 after previously holding that title from 1982-2001.

In addition to game coverage, Phillies 24/7 will broadcast a full schedule of unique daily and weekly programs centered on the team, as well as provide behind the scenes access at Citizens Bank Park, and archived audio content including classic game replays.  Phillies fans can expect to hear new shows heard only on Phillies 24/7, including Phillies Today – a daily look at all things Phillies on the field and off, Phillies Phorum – a weekly opportunity for fans to ask questions via email, Facebook, and Twitter, and Phillies Playlist – a look at what’s playing on a different Phillies’ mp3 player each week.

Marc Rayfield, Senior Vice President of CBS RADIO Philadelphia had this to say about the partnership, “We are thrilled to embark upon this new endeavor with the Phillies. There is an insatiable appetite for this team, and CBS RADIO’s HD platform allows us to use new technology to bring Phillies related content to their fans 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And the best part is it’s free!”

“Creating this channel for our fans is a natural way to give them even more access to the team. We are excited to partner with CBS RADIO on this unique and exciting project,“ Phillies Senior Vice President of Marketing and Advertising Sales David Buck added.

HD Radio™ Technology is fueling the digital evolution of AM/FM radio in the US and elsewhere. It allows broadcasters to offer new digital channels through multicasting, crystal-clear sound, and advanced data services – all free, with no subscription fee. HD Radio Technology is available nationwide with more than 2,000 digital stations on-air and an additional 1,300 HD2/HD3/HD4 digital-only channels that broadcast fresh new content that can only be heard with an HD Radio receiver. These receivers are available in retail stores and online from major electronics brands, as well as in new vehicles from 17 automotive brands. For more information, visit


WOGL AND WPHT are owned and operated by CBS RADIO, one of the largest major-market radio operators in the United States.   A division of CBS Corporation, CBS RADIO owns and operates 130 radio stations, the majority of which are in the nation’s top 50 markets.  CBS RADIO also owns and operates KYW-AM, WIP-AM and WYSP in Philadelphia.

The landing page for the station can be found here.

Stat Head (Most Tuesdays at 3pm)

Statistics have always been a big deal in baseball. There are the numbers you know about, the hits, runs and errors. There are other numbers though, deeper numbers. Our resident stat head, Bill Baer of breaks them down for you and tells you what you might be missing.

Tune into the show and please leave feedback here and on the station’s website/email. This week’s show covers expectations with the starting rotation, choosing between Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras, and what’s left at second base sans Chase Utley. I think the show is unlike anything else you’ll get on the radio — level-headed, objective analysis of the Phillies.

If you’re unfamiliar with HD radio, as I was, check out this page as it explains everything you need to know. To tune in, just find 98.1 WOGL HD-4. You should be able to find HD radios at most electronics stores such as Best Buy and Radio Shack.

Mets Series Preview with Joe Janish

The 3-0 Phillies square off against the 2-1 Mets for a three game series. I caught up with fellow SweetSpotter Joe Janish of Mets Today to get some info on the Mets.

1. The Mets are off to a 2-1 start. Obviously, just about everybody is picking against the Mets this year, but was there anything in those three games that provided some optimism?

As usual, it helped that the Marlins beat themselves in the opening series. The good news is that, unusually, the Mets didn’t beat themselves and took advantage of a fundamentally poor team’s mistakes. Also, it appears that R.A. Dickey‘s carriage has not turned to a pumpkin and Jon Niese may be poised for a breakout season. Additionally, Josh Thole continues to make strides both at and behind the plate. Carlos Beltran has taken the field twice, and Jose Reyes hasn’t yet injured himself. In short, I’m basking in a positive glow but waiting for the sky to fall at any minute.

2. I caught some heat on your blog last year because I called Mike Pelfrey a fluke. Are fans’ expectations of Pelfrey lowered after his decline last year, or do you expect him to emerge as one of the better pitchers in baseball this year?

Fans’ expectations are for Pelfrey to be as good or better than he was last year — he is the de facto “ace” after all. Unfortunately I’m seeing the same mechanical inconsistencies that affected his command and likely contributed to his shoulder woes last year. Oh, did you know Pelfrey pitched with a strained rotator cuff and posterior capsule last year, and took a pain-killing shot before every start? We didn’t either, not until a few days ago. Since he hasn’t yet made the mechanical correction, I fear his command issues will only worsen, and that he may further damage his shoulder. So, no, I don’t expect him to emerge as one of baseball’s better pitchers this year (but hope that I’m wrong).

3. Ike Davis is off to a fast start. What kind of year do you think he’ll have offensively? Does he make the list of baseball’s top-ten first basemen?

Davis has made a few adjustments as the NL adjusted to him — and that is how players succeed at this level. I don’t know if he’ll be a top-ten first baseman but he should improve upon last year’s numbers. I would peg him be somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-25 HR, .270 – .280 AVG, .350 – .360 OBP, .450 – .475 SLG.

4. Francisco Rodriguez blew a save on Saturday. Is he over the hill? If he falters, who can the Mets use in the ninth inning?

K-Rod isn’t over the hill, but he’s rolling down it. His velocity has dropped markedly since putting on a Mets uniform — there were times last year that he struggled to hit 90 MPH. As a result he has relied heavily on his change-up and breaking stuff, and hitters have caught on. I believe much of his problems stem from the combination of an ankle injury that led to mechanical changes, and I don’t believe he’ll ever be a $17.5M closer. If he falters to the point where he needs to be replaced, the Mets will be overjoyed, as the previously alluded to $17.5M option is tied to games finished. I would guess that flamethrowing Bobby Parnell would get first crack at closing, though if Jason Isringhausen gets on the 25-man roster he would also be a candidate.

5. Do you expect Carlos Beltran to remain a Met throughout the season? What are the chances Jose Reyes is signed to a contract extension?

No and none. I’m making sure to fully appreciate every single at-bat of those two players early on, as I expect a fire sale come July.

6. The match-ups in this three-game series will be Chris Young/Cole Hamels, Mike Pelfrey/Joe Blanton, and Jon Niese/Roy Halladay. How do you see the series playing out — how many will the Mets win?

Young has pitched well in spring training and healthy so far, but I don’t like how his high-ball style will play in CBP. Unless Pelfrey does an absolute about-face, things could get ugly. Niese is the one who I have the most confidence in right now, but he’s going against Doc. How many will the Mets win? Let’s just say I’ll be pleased if they get out of Philly with one victory.

. . .

Thanks again to Joe for shedding some light on the new New York Mets. Hop over to his blog Mets Today for my answers to his questions, and to keep up on Mets-related stuff throughout the season.

Video: Q&A with Lee, Howard, Ibanez, Lidge

Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, and Brad Lidge took some questions from fans at a Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce event.

The 2011 On Deck with the Phillies Reception, a Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce event sponsored by KPMG and co-sponsored by Pennoni, allowed Chamber Members and Phillies fans to participate in an informal Q & A session with Phillies stars Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, and Brad Lidge.

Hilarious moment at around the 2:40 mark.

Breaking Down David Schoenfield’s Phillies Prediction

Note: Skip down to the bolded text if you’d like to avoid a rant. That’s where the real Phillies-related stuff begins.

ESPN’s David Schoenfield recently wrote an article about the Phillies that evoked some very negative reactions from Phillies fans. It’s titled, “Why the Phillies won’t make the playoffs“. Making that statement about the Phillies, who have reached the post-season in every season since 2007 and have assembled arguably the greatest starting rotation in baseball history, is going to generate some, uh, conversation. Accuscore gives the Phillies a 76 percent chance to make the playoffs, by far the largest in baseball, beating the Boston Red Sox at 67 percent.

Schoenfield definitely went out on a limb, but he did a good job of explaining his thought process that led him to such a conclusion. I haven’t seen his detractors provide much of a counter-argument. The majority of the commenters on his article left me feeling very disappointed, and I’ve seen many others dismiss him outright on Twitter, which is completely undeserved. Unfortunately, this is the downside of giving everybody a platform to make themselves heard. ESPN, of course, appeals to a much more mainstream demographic and Schoenfield’s heavy use of Sabermetrics and rational reasoning seems foreign.

I don’t agree with everything Schoenfield wrote. However, just because I disagree with him and he disparaged my favorite team doesn’t give me the right to question his integrity. A rational discussion between two people who disagree shouldn’t go like this:

  • Person 1: The Phillies will not make the playoffs. Here’s why.

This post from Tango (as do the rest of the posts on his blog) shows the way a rational discussion should take place.

  • Person 1: The Phillies will not make the playoffs. Here’s why.
  • Person 2: I disagree with your claim because your Reason 1 is based on a faulty premise; you are relying too heavily on one piece of information; your evidence is lacking.
  • Person 1: Here are more reasons that support my claim. (Or: You are right. I will amend my position.)
  • Person 2: Interesting. Those reasons support your claim and make a convincing argument. I will amend my position. (Or: Repeat skeptical argumentation.)

That type of formulaic conversation seems dull to many people, but that is the basic structure of conversations people have every day — it’s just not as obvious as above. I think that, in general, people need to do a better job of being open-minded and willing to have these rational discussions. People are far too quick to bury their heads in the sand or plug their fingers in their ears because they are unwilling or unable to participate in such discourse.

Now that I have that rant out of my system, let’s actually examine Schoenfield’s claims and see how they pan out. I suggest you read his article first. I am not going to do a lot of quoting; instead, I will just highlight his main bullet points and refer to his arguments, assuming you’ve already read the material.

1. Roy Oswalt is around for a full season.

Schoenfield starts out at 95 wins for the Phillies since that was their Pythagorean W-L expectation last year. I don’t agree with that method. Instead, I’d have preferred he base the starting figure on projections. For instance, PECOTA has the Phillies at 89 wins. Given that Schoenfield started at 95 and ended up at 92, that would actually bring the Phillies down to 86 wins given the rest of his logic and that would have enraged tens of thousands more. However, it’s better to base a 2011 win projection on 2011 projections rather than 2010 runs scored and runs allowed totals.

As for Oswalt, Schoenfield correctly notes that a full season — rather than a half-season — of Oswalt is a good thing. He uses pitcher WAR from FanGraphs to derive Oswalt’s value. FanGraphs bases pitcher WAR on Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP). In other words, their pitcher valuation comes from what should have happened rather than what actually happened. This is why I have rarely (never?) used fWAR for pitchers. Value should be based on what happened, not what should have happened. As a projection for 2011, however, using FIP (or xFIP or SIERA) is totally fine.

Baseball Prospectus has Oswalt at 4.6 WARP in 2010 (2.5 with the Phillies), and projects 3.6 WARP this season. Their win metric is based on results, not retrodiction. Schoenfield’s addition of two wins for the Phillies was actually a bit generous, since Prospectus has Oswalt adding only one more win with a full season compared to his half-season.

2. Cliff Lee in, Jayson Werth out.

Schoenfield doesn’t state which projection system he’s using. It’s an important distinction to make because not all projection systems are alike. Bill James’ projections (which you can find at FanGraphs), for example, tend to be overly optimistic about hitters. In fact, analysts say that James’ projections, taken as a whole, are untenable.

In this post, I examined PECOTA’s projections for the Phillies and made my own adjustments as I thought they were a bit too pessimistic with regard to Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels. Last year, Phillies starters combined for 165 VORP, which includes 50 starts from Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer. With my adjustments, PECOTA projects the 2011 starters at 217 VORP, or an increase of about five wins better. Schoenfield again was generous, citing the addition of Lee as a six-win gain.

Werth has averaged about five wins over the last three years. Calling for another five wins in 2011 is not in any way unrealistic. PECOTA has him at 3.7 WARP, which I think is too pessimistic. Schoenfield cites Ben Francisco and Domonic Brown as combined 1-WAR players, which PECOTA agrees with. Generously, that’s a three-win drop. Realistically, it’s four wins.

3. Chase Utley out.

Given the uncertainty around Utley’s condition, I’m not comfortable with any playing time projections at the moment. Schoenfield takes two wins away from Utley, who averaged about 6 WARP from 2005-09. PECOTA has him at 3 WARP in just under 400 PA, which means Utley misses a little over one-third of the season (basically, he’s back in mid-June). If you buy it, that’s a loss of three wins, which is more severe than Schoenfield anticipates.

4. Decline from Carlos Ruiz and Raul Ibanez.

I’ve covered both Ruiz and Ibanez during the off-season. Here, I explained that a lot of Ruiz’s offensive success in 2010 was fluky, based on an unsustainable BABIP. PECOTA sees Ruiz dropping from a .400 OBP and .447 SLG last year to a .347 OBP and .388 SLG in 2011. The OBP drop makes sense because of the BABIP luck, and the SLG drop makes sense for the same reason, but also because his isolaTed Power actually dropped from .171 in ’09 to .146.

PECOTA has Ruiz dropping from 3.5 WARP to 2.3. Schoenfield was in that vicinity.

As for Ibanez, here I discussed why he is likely going to fall around the league average for National League left fielders (~.770 OPS). The arguments against Ibanez usually focus on age and proneness to injury, but no one who uses those arguments ever quantifies exactly how that will affect his production. In the last three years, Ibanez has missed only 28 days due to injury and has had only one stint on the 15-day disabled list.

PECOTA has Ibanez being slightly worse in 2011, going from 1 WARP to 0.7. Schoenfield took a way one whole win. Given the uncertainty with projections, that’s not a big deal.

5. Jimmy Rollins is healthy and will play better.

Schoenfield credits the Phillies with another win with a healthy and better-performing Rollins. PECOTA projects a gain of 0.7 WARP. Personally, I’m more optimistic. FanGraphs valued Rollins at about 5 WAR on average from 2004-08, before injuries and bad luck derailed his past two seasons. He was at 2.7 and 2.3 WAR in ’09 and ’10 respectively. The difference between FanGraphs and Prospectus is defense. Prospectus has him at -18 Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA). FanGraphs, which uses UZR among other metrics, disagrees. His Aggregate Defensive Rating (ADR), which is a composite of all of the various metrics, had him at +8 last year and +3 the year before.

When the statistics disagree, that’s when it’s a good idea to bring your own eyes and ears into the picture (not before!). I’m sure 99 percent of Phillies fans who have religiously watched most or all of the Phillies games over the past two years will agree that there has been no noticeable decline in Rollins’ defense, injuries aside. When healthy, he is a well above-average defender. So I have Rollins being as many as 2.5 wins better in 2011. Honestly, none of us have a high level of certainty around our expectations of Rollins.

6. Bullpen Issues

Schoenfield says that Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras are unlikely to be as good in 2011 as they were the year before, but he doesn’t provide any reasoning here. SIERA, which does a good job of predicting next-year performance based on current-year information, put Madson at 2.49 (actually only shades lower than his 2.55 ERA) and Contreras at 3.19. Strikeout and walk rates are the best predictors of pitcher performance, and Madson hit a career high 10.9 K/9 and a career low 2.2 BB/9. Contreras posted a 9.1 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9.

PECOTA is particularly harsh to Madson, predicting a 3.64 ERA with an 8.0 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9. I completely disagree with that. Contreras is at a 4.36 ERA with a 6.0 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9. Needless to say, I’m not sold. If there are reasons to expect Madson and Contreras to be considerably worse in 2011 than they were last year, I haven’t seen them.

Additionally, I disagree that the rest of the bullpen will be an issue. The best arms — Madson and Contreras — will be pitching the highest-leverage innings. I’m not comfortable with Danys Baez, David Herndon, and Kyle Kendrick, but given the amount of innings the Phillies’ starters will pitch, they’re just about insignificant. J.C. Romero is very effective when he faces left-handed hitters, which should be a majority of the time.

Schoenfield subtracts two wins because of the supposedly bad bullpen and calls that “conservative”. Actually, Madson-Contreras in the eighth and ninth compared to Madson-Lidge can be considered an upgrade, accounting for leverage. But I’ll call it a push.

That ends the Phillies-specific line of Schoenfield’s reasoning. He winds up at 94 wins, then subtracts two more wins because of the perceived improvement of the rest of the National League East. The decision to take away two wins seems arbitrary, especially since he didn’t do the same line of reasoning for the rest of the teams (which, admittedly, is very time-consuming). Additionally, using a WAR-to-wins conversion isn’t a flawless method. At FanGraphs, Dave Cameron says that the standard deviation between WAR and actual record is about six wins. In other words, if you put the Phillies at 92 wins, they will fall somewhere between 86 and 98 wins about 68 percent of the time. 95 percent of the time, they’ll fall between 80 and 104 wins. In other words, there’s actually a lot of uncertainty, even with WAR.

While I disagree with Schoenfield on some points and with some of his methods, the real takeaway from all of this is that I am not any more sure than he is (and neither are the people who so menacingly disparaged Schoenfield’s writing). People always say that the beauty of baseball lies in its randomness, and nowhere is that more evident than in that standard deviation of six “wins”. Breakout and breakdown seasons, batted ball flukes, and many more factors bring a lot of uncertainty to the table. If you are going to discredit someone else’s projections, especially when they put a lot of time and effort into producing and explaining them, then you need to reciprocate — show your work, then we can move towards a middle ground.

Phillies Stage Comeback, Win on Opening Day

Opening Day appeared to be a cold, dreary, roughly three-hour loss for the Phillies. The Astros chased Roy Halladay after six innings and 101 pitches, then bolstered their lead to 4-0 when they tagged J.C. Romero and David Herndon for three runs. Through six innings, the Phillies could only muster three base runners and mounted no offensive threats against Brett Myers.

Then, in the seventh, they worked counts better, their batted balls found holes, and they made productive outs. A sacrifice fly by Ryan Howard and an RBI ground out from Raul Ibanez brought the Phillies back to 4-2. After an unproductive eighth inning, the Phillies needed to score at least two runs in the ninth against closer Brandon Lyon. After two singles and a stolen base, they had runners on first and third with one out. From there, it was the story of Phillies should-be reserves. Ben Francisco, Wilson Valdez, and John Mayberry each hit RBI singles and the Phillies had completed the highly unlikely: they had come back from a four-run deficit with nine outs to go.

As the win probability graph (via FanGraphs) illustrates, the Phillies had about a 10 percent chance to win at the start of the seventh inning. As the seventh inning came to a close, after the Phillies had halved their deficit, their win probability was still only 13 percent.

Despite the great ending, I was a bit disappointed by the Phillies’ lack of plate discipline. 36 Phillies came to the plate yesterday, 20 of them saw three pitches or fewer. Four swung at the first pitch. Through six innings, the Phillies had seen a grand total of 56 pitches from Myers, an average of less than ten pitches per inning.

With Chase Utley injured and Jayson Werth elsewhere in the NL East, the Phillies do not have many players adept at working counts. The chart below shows their average pitches seen per plate appearance from 2010.

The top-three in the Phillies’ batting order — Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco, and Jimmy Rollins — each saw 3.75 or fewer pitches per plate appearance last year, which is not great. Prorating their averages over 650 plate appearances, Werth would have seen 2,840 pitches while Rollins comes in at 2,420; Victorino 2,387; and Polanco 2,303. The difference of 400 pitches accounts for about one-sixth of their pitches seen.

Seeing pitches has more than the obvious benefit of wearing a pitcher out and getting into the opposing team’s bullpen: it allows hitters to more accurately predict which pitches are coming, which leads to better offensive success. It should come as no surprise that, last year, hitters posted an OPS 270 points higher in hitter-favored counts than in even counts.

Previously, I had remarked that the Phillies don’t have many hitters with good on-base skills. Their relative lack of plate discipline plays a large role in that. If the Phillies intend on remaining near the top of the National League in offense, they will need to have a more disciplined approach in the batter’s box.

Joe Posnanski’s 32-Best in 2011

Joe Posnanski, the Ted Williams of baseball scribes, offered his list of baseball’s 32-best players in 2011. Why 32?

I have little doubt that the following list is also a mess … but at least I know what I want: I am putting together my prediction for the 32 best players in baseball in 2011. That’s all. I’m not considering seasons beyond. I’m not thinking about who is best to build my team around in 2014. Everything is built around 2011.

Cliff Lee came in at #16, Chase Utley at #12, and Roy Halladay at #2. Three players in the top-32? Not too shabby. I was surprised to see Poz rank Utley between Troy Tulowitzki (#11) and Tim Lincecum (#13) since the list is focused only on the short-term, and Utley’s short-term future is very much unknown. I’m also surprised Cole Hamels didn’t make the list, but Matt Cain did.

I have a few other minor quibbles but generally speaking I think Poz did a fantastic job ranking the top-32. Tango offers a good way to look at these types of lists:

Are his top 5 in my top 10? Are his top 10 in my top 30? Are his top 20 in my top 50? Are his top 30 in my top 80? Are his top 40 in my top 100?
Because that is really how the talent is spread out.

The Phillies’ NL East foes each had one player make the list: Brian McCann (#24) for the Atlanta Braves; David Wright (#21) for the New York Mets; Ryan Zimmerman (#18) for the Washington Nationals; and Hanley Ramirez (#7) for the Florida Marlins.

. . .

Elsewhere, Justin Bopp looked at the infield components for Ultimate Zone Rating from 2006-10, the popular defensive metric created by Mitchel Lichtman, found at FanGraphs. Range runs accounted for 65 percent of all defensive runs saved, while error runs came in at 26 percent and nine percent for double play runs.

Luckily for us, he created an example graphic for an individual player and he just so happened to be a Phillie. Click to view the full-scale version at Beyond the Box Score.