BDD: Top-3 Ricciardi Blunders

At Baseball Daily Digest, I recall the three biggest blunders made under the watch of J.P. Ricciardi.

There is no doubt that when this season ends, Halladay will be named one of the best pitchers of the decade. He is one of the few for-sure aces left in the game. However, when the Jays hit the skids in July (they went 8-16), it made mounds of financial sense for the Jays to move Halladay to a post-season contender to clear up some cash for the 2010 season.

They were not without potential suitors. Several teams made inquiries to Ricciardi, but the defending World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies pursued Halladay the most. The Phils offered Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Michael Taylor, and J.A. Happ, their #2, 4, 6, and 9 prospects according to Baseball America’s pre-season rankings. Ricciardi turned it down because Kyle Drabek, the Phillies’ most-coveted pitching prospect, was not included. As I detailed at the time, Ricciardi didn’t exactly have a lot of leverage with which to bargain, so his refusal was mind-boggling then just as it is now.

Crashburn Photos

I have taken some pictures at the various games I have attended this year, and they have been uploaded them for your enjoyment. Here are links to the photo albums for the three games I have been to this year. You can also access them by clicking “Images” in the header above.

Post-Season Playing Pepper

You may remember back in February, I answered some questions for Daniel Shoptaw of the blog C70 At the Bat. Fortunately for the both of us, our teams have each earned a post-season berth and we are able to once again collaborate for some playoff insight. Click here for the October round of questioning with myself and the guys at Fire Eric Bruntlett.

C70: What player left off or added to the postseason roster would surprise casual observers, if it happens?

[Crashburn Alley]: Miguel Cairo performed very well in limited opportunities in September. He went 5-for-14 with two doubles, and an RBI*. He’s essentially Eric Bruntlett if Bruntlett was an experienced player with the tiniest sliver of talent. Both play the same positions as utility players (corner outfield, middle infield). I would love to see the Phillies leave Bruntlett off the post-season roster in favor of Cairo, but I don’t see it happening.

 *Question was answered before his most recent appearance on October 1.

Who Presents the Best Matchup?

Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, and Ryan Franklin?

Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Clayton Kershaw, and Jonathan Broxton?

Or Troy Tulowitzki, Brad Hawpe, Todd Helton, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Huston Street?

It’s pick your poison in the big picture. Every team has some method by which they can take control of a series. Last year, the Phillies took control of Game 1 of the NLDS against the Brewers’ Yovani Gallardo with their patented plate discipline, drawing three walks with two outs in a three-run third inning. In Game 2 against C.C. Sabathia, it was a combination of plate patience and the Phillies’ similarly-patented power production that toppled the NL Cy Young award candidate.

The Phillies can put themselves in a good position to win by not letting the primary suspects dominate the game. In the NLDS, the Brewers’ Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder collectively batted .200 in 30 at-bats. While Manny Ramirez was smoking hot in the NLCS, the Phillies held Russell Martin, Andre Ethier, and Rafael Furcal in check. And in the World Series, the only Tampa Bay Ray that had any significant success at the plate was Carl Crawford; B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria went 6-for-40 with no extra-base hits between them.

Elsewhere, the Phillies got to the opposition’s starting pitcher most of the time as well. Opposing starters had a 5.21 ERA in the NLDS, 6.75 in the NLCS, and 4.21 in the World Series. And that’s facing some familiar names like Yovani Gallardo, C.C. Sabathia, Chad Billingsley, Derek Lowe, Scott Kazmir, and Matt Garza.

This year, most Phillies fans say they want to avoid the St. Louis Cardinals if at all possible, and their wish will be granted since the Wild Card winner will come out of the NL West. But should we be so scared of the Red Birds, particularly their dual Cy Young candidates? We were similarly scared of the Brewers’ Gallardo and Sabathia and the Cubs’ Carlos Zambrano, Rich Harden, and Ryan Dempster. How did that work out for them?

It’s a cliche now that the MLB playoffs are a crapshoot, but it’s true. The difference between the best and worst team is rather small even at the most extreme; otherwise, how did those 2006 Cardinals win the World Series after winning only 83 games in the regular season?

The best way the Phillies can maximize their chances of winning is not by making sure Jobu has his rum; but by minimizing those small, seemingly insignificant advantages the other teams have: lefty/righty match-ups, pitcher/batter match-ups, and such.

However, let’s get a quick look at the big picture and to get an idea as to where the Phillies stand before diving into the splits (which will be provided in an upcoming post).

The Phillies, unsurprisingly, are king with the lumber. According to FanGraphs, they lead the National League in batting wins above replacement (WAR) with 27.1. The Dodgers come in third at 23.5; the Cardinals fifth at 19.1; the Rockies sixth at 18.0.

When it comes to pitching WAR, the Rockies are best in baseball. They are first out of 30 MLB teams with 24.1 pitching WAR, with roughly 80% of that value coming from the starting pitching. The Cardinals are next, fourth in the National League with 19.8 WAR, with 95% of that value coming from the starters. The Dodgers are fifth with 19.3 WAR, with 75% of that value coming from the starters. And our Phillies are eighth with 13.0 WAR, 84% of which has come from the rotation.

That may be confusing, so here’s a nice table.

As you can see, the Cardinals really stick out because they derive almost all of their pitching value from the starting rotation. This is a good thing, of course. And that’s not to say that the Cardinals don’t have a good bullpen; it just says that if the Phillies can get to Carpenter and/or Wainwright, they’re in the driver’s seat, to use another cliche.

The Rockies are arguably the most well-rounded of any pitching staff among playoff entrants. Starters have logged about 68% of the innings and 78% of the value, compared to Dodgers’ starters taking about 63% of the innings and 75% of the value; Phillies’ starters 67% innings, 84% value; Cardinals’ starters 70% innings, 95% value.

Defense is tricky because no one is extremely confident in any of the metrics presently available. However, just for the sake of completion, it will be presented.

Of the four playoff entrants, the Phillies have the best defense according to UZR/150. In fact, the Phillies are the only team with a positive mark, at 5.7, second-best in the National League. The Cardinals are close to average at -0.2, eighth-best. The Dodgers come in at -1.2, ninth. The Rockies bring up the rear at -2.3, 11th out of 16.

Lastly, let us take a look at how each team runs the bases. Our metrics of choice are EQBRR and EQSBR from Baseball Prospectus.

The Phillies lay claim to the second-best base runner in all of Major League Baseball. No, not Jimmy Rollins, or Shane Victorino, or even Ben Francisco. It’s The Man Himself, Chase Utley. He has created nearly nine runs above expectation with his running alone. The Rockies’ Dexter Fowler comes in at a nearby fourth place with nearly seven EQBRR. Shane Victorino is 25th at 3.5 EQBRR. Other than that, no one cracks the top-30.

As a team, the Phillies have 0.4 EQBRR and 3.4 EQSBR values. That means that the Phillies derive almost all of their value from stealing bases and not from “taking the extra base” so to speak, or other base path ploys. If you subtract EQSBR from EQBRR, we find that the Phillies actually have created three less runs than expected when we factor out stealing bases.

Here’s an overview showing where the Phillies stand among the rest. It’s actually interesting: the Phillies have the worst base running value among the four teams, but have the only positive stolen base value. So other teams run the bases very well when contact is made by their hitters.

By the way, the Cardinals’ Yadier Molina and the Dodgers’ Russell Martin are the top-two catchers in the National League in terms of throwing out attempted base-stealers. Molina has thrown out 34% and Martin 25%. The Rockies’ Iannetta has thrown out 24% but Yorvit Torrealba has thrown out under 8%. Carlos Ruiz and Paul Bako have only thrown out 20% and 12% of attempted base-stealers, respectively.

It is important to note how the teams get their base running value. For instance, the Rockies are mediocre at throwing out base-stealers, and the Phillies get most of their value from stealing bases, so this is a great match-up.

Likewise, the Phillies have an above-average defense and other teams get their value from “taking the extra base”. The Rockies have gone first-to-third in one-third of their opportunities. Jayson Werth, thankfully, is one of the best defensive right fielders. According to Bill James Online, he has 6 “kills” and ranks fourth among all right fielders.

In this regard, the Rockies are a favorable match-up in terms of base running even though they’re the best among the four playoff entrants. The Phillies’ weakness — throwing out base-stealers — is nullified by the Rockies’ poor base-stealing and the Rockies’ strength is nullified by the Phillies’ above-average defense.

I’ll close this out with some quick and easy rankings.

Offense

  1. Phillies
  2. Dodgers
  3. Cardinals
  4. Rockies

Starting Pitching

  1. Cardinals
  2. Rockies
  3. Dodgers
  4. Phillies

Relief Pitching

  1. Rockies
  2. Dodgers
  3. Phillies
  4. Cardinals

Defense

  1. Phillies
  2. Cardinals
  3. Dodgers
  4. Rockies

Base Running

  1. Rockies
  2. Cardinals
  3. Dodgers
  4. Phillies

Good News, Everyone!

Sweet Zombie Jesus! Crashburn Alley will be part of ESPN’s SweetSpot Blog Network, covering the upcoming playoffs.

Nothing will change except for a banner that will appear on the sidebar to your right. Other than that, it’s status quo. The coverage will remain Phillies-specific with the same insightful commentary you’ve grown to love here at The Good Phight The Fightins Crashburn Alley.

I’d like to thank Rob Neyer and Jamie Greenthal, and the rest of the gang at ESPN who have given myself and several other bloggers a great opportunity.

Be sure to stop by often and don’t hesitate to post a few comments.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, here are the other blogs that are involved:

BDD: It’s Always Classy in Philadelphia

I’ll shut up about it soon, but I can’t stress enough how much class the Phillies organization has shown over the years. It makes it that much more enjoyable to follow them as a fan.

It is because he has been such a good person and a good teammate and a good example that tonight, with a seven-run lead and one out left before the Phillies won their game against the Houston Astros and celebrated their division title, manager Charlie Manuel strolled to the pitcher’s mound to remove Scott Eyre from the game. The band Drowning Pool blared through the speakers once again, and Lidge emerged from the bullpen to a standing ovation from the Philadelphia crowd for the honor of once again notching the last out before a division title.

Business As Usual: Phils Clinch Division

During the Ed Wade era here in Philadelphia, we wondered if we would ever sniff post-season air. We were exposed to the Chris Brocks and Joe Roas of Major League Baseball much too frequently for such hopes to have a life span of more than a couple seconds.

How little we knew and how low our expectations were.

Pat Gillick took over Wade’s job after the 2005 season and quickly bolstered the team with some sly roster maneuvers. Just two years into Gillick’s reign, the Phillies finally achieved that vaunted post-season berth thanks to a collapse of epic proportions by the New York Mets. One can just imagine how sweet that victory champagne tasted in the clubhouse. For half of the teams in baseball, a simple post-season appearance is an achievement in and of itself; for the Phillies, who hadn’t been there since 1993, were unsatisfied with a meager three-game appearance abruptly ended by the Colorado Rockies in ’07.

The ’08 Phillies came out on a mission. They did not take baseball by storm; they did not even take the NL East by storm. It took, as in ’07, a last-minute coup de grace to leap into meaningful October baseball. Gillick, architect supreme, may not have drafted and cultivated the breadwinners that turned the gears, but he peppered that home-grown talent with guys you’d never expect to positively contribute to a championship-winning baseball team — guys like Joe Blanton and Pedro Feliz.

The Phillies did, of course, win that championship, the first since 1980. They went into the ’08 post-season, kicked some tail and took some names, winning the series 3-1, 4-1, 4-1 and never once lost a game in front of the home fans.

Gillick, having done many times what most GM’s would love to do just once — construct championship-winning baseball teams — stepped down and fresh blood in the form of Ruben Amaro took the helm. It doesn’t happen often, the button-pusher behind a World Series-winning team stepping down immediately afterward. With the change, many involved in the success of the ’09 Phillies could have resisted or become complacent. Not the Phillies.

47 games into the season, the Phillies wrested control of the NL East and that was it — that lead was never relinquished. It was the most dominant Phillies team since, well, 1993. So dominant that fans had to work themsleves into a frenzy when the Phillies were only 99.2% to win the division instead of 99.7%.

What did Amaro do to bolster the roster? Unlike Gillick, he did not trade a couple of B-level prospects for a middle-of-the-rotation starter or a utility player. He replaced fan-favorite Pat Burrell with Raul Ibanez, who would right now be a heavy contender for the NL MVP award if not for a groin strain that hampered half of his season. Amaro also went out and gave up some significant talent for last year’s AL Cy Young award winner in Cliff Lee, and signed free agent Pedro Martinez, who is a Hall of Famer the second he is five years separated from his last Major League pitch. That just doesn’t happen to the Phillies. Good players never wanted to play here before!

It is with the overt moves of Amaro and the shrewd machinations of Gillick that the Phillies have won the NL East division for three years running, the first time that has happened in Philadelphia since the 1976-78 teams.

When you look at teams like the Washington Nationals and the Pittsburgh Pirates, you empathize. We know what that is all about. It contrasts starkly to what has been going on in Philadelphia these last few years. We are so fortunate to be able to watch the great game of baseball played every night by these professional athletes — these classy, professional athletes.

Winning back-to-back championships is even harder. Improbable, even. Only three National League teams have ever done it. If there’s one thing we have learned about these Phillies, it’s that they are capable of achieving anything.

It was only nine years ago that the Phillies notched their seventh-straight season of sub-.500 baseball. Here we are now, NL East division winners three years running, and a mere 11 wins away from a second straight championship. In retrospect, it was worth trudging through the failures of the Ed Wade administration because it made this — all of this — taste that much better.

Charlie Manuel Can Adapt!

All season long, Charlie Manuel — known as a “player’s manager” — stuck his head in the sand and ignored the struggles of Brad Lidge. For five and a half months, he did this. For five and a half months, the Phillies didn’t pay any mind to their post-season chances. With two weeks left in the season, the finish line in sight, and a lack of any kind of improvement on the part of Lidge, Manuel and GM Ruben Amaro switched horses mid-stream.

When Amaro delivered the news that Lidge would no longer be closing out games for the Phillies, he did not specify who would be taking over the role. From FOXSports.com:

“At some point, we’re going to have to juggle, be creative, figure out who that person is — whether it’s by matchups, closer-by-committee, whatever it takes.”

But, come on, it’s Madson, right? Park has been injured, Myers recently came off of the DL and is still fighting his way to full-strength — who’s it going to be? J.A. Happ? Nope. Durbin, Condrey, Walker? No, no, no. So, although Amaro never named a closer, he may as well have — Madson was the only logical option.

Of course, Mad Dog also has the closer traits that we all identify with. The 95-MPH fastball, the ridiculous off-speed stuff (for Lidge it was his slider; for Madson, it’s his change-up), the odd delivery. He has closer written all over him. And he has, you know, actually been a great reliever for the past three seasons.

So tonight, in a game the Phillies should have been able to, and did win, Manuel used Madson in the eighth inning with a three-run lead. Lidge, Durbin, Walker, et. al. sat in the bullpen and watched him shut down the Astros 1-2-3 in the eighth.

Should have saved him for the ninth, Charlie.

He did.

Madson took the mound again for the start of the ninth to face the top of the Astros lineup: Matsui, Tejada, Berkman, Lee, and Pence, one through five. The worriers thought about his supposed ninth-inning struggles — the .778 OPS hitters have notched in the ninth against him as opposed to the .662 OPS in the eighth inning. But, of course, we’re dealing with that small sample size where anything can happen.

As if to make sure none of us were breathing easy, Madson allowed singles to two of the first three hitters. With runners on first and second and just one out with the tying run coming to the plate in the form of Carlos Lee (who had gone yard earlier in the game against J.A. Happ), a pow-wow was held at the pitcher’s mound. He had thrown at least one breaking ball in each at-bat in the ninth thus far.

After the mound visit? Nothing but heat. Madson threw four fastballs in the strike zone to Lee, getting him to swing and miss for strike three. With one out left and Hunter Pence at the plate, Madson stuck to his heat, quickly getting ahead in the count 0-2. After a 96 MPH fastball taken for a ball, Madson froze Pence with a 97 MPH fastball for strike three. Game over.

Ryan Madson is your new closer. Get used to it and enjoy the ride, however long it lasts.

Only twice before this season had Madson been used for two inning relief appearances. With the Phillies having played lackadaisically recently and the Braves playing their best baseball all year, Manuel decided to stop toying around with the NL East division lead. He went to the best reliever he had and asked him to get not just three, but six very important outs. Charlie Manuel adapted.

That’s all we ask for.

This Isn’t Looking Good… Or Is It?

Your 2009 Philadelphia Phillies bullpen, ERA’s in September:

  • Brad Lidge: 9.34 in 8.2 IP
  • Sergio Escalona: 7.38 in 3.2 IP
  • Tyler Walker: 6.51 in 9.2 IP

This isn’t looking good. Or is it?

  • Ryan Madson: 3.49 in 10.1 IP
  • Chad Durbin: 2.13 in 12.2 IP
  • Clay Condrey: 0.00 in 3.2 IP

Of course, Brett Myers, Scott Eyre and J.C. Romero are recovering from injuries with Chan Ho Park on the shelf, and Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer out in the ‘pen as mop-up specialists. A year separated from sporting one of the most formidable, most organized, least-worrisome bullpens in baseball, the tables have turned and many Phillies fans are on the verge of needing A.A. for ninth innings what with all of the disarray.

Yet, even with that disarray, the Phillies are still middle-of-the-pack in most categories when it comes to the bullpen:

  • IP: 461, 19th out of 30 MLB teams
  • K/9 rate: 7.7, 15th
  • BB/9 rate: 4.12, 8th
  • K/BB rate: 1.86, 19th
  • HR allowed: 46, 22nd
  • WHIP: 1.388, 17th
  • BABIP: .291, 19th

It still looks decent with WXRL:

  • Madson: 2.25
  • Park: 2.08
  • Durbin: 0.89
  • Condrey: 0.39
  • Walker: 0.28
  • Escalona: 0.11

That’s right: the above six relievers — familiar faces here in September — have combined to contribute about six wins to the team. The only Phillies reliever with a WXRL in the negatives that is still on the roster is Lidge. Andrew Carpenter, Rodrigo Lopez, and Jack Taschner haven’t seen MLB action in a while.

Comparing this year to last year:

  • Phillies’ starters, 2009: 4.20 ERA with a .775 opponent OPS
  • Phillies’ relievers, 2009: 3.98 ERA with a .715 opponent OPS
  • Phillies’ starters, 2008: 4.23 ERA with a .756 opponent OPS
  • Phillies’ relievers, 2008: 3.22 ERA with a .703 opponent OPS

If we take Brad Lidge out of the equation, the ’09 bullpen ERA drops to 3.50.

Simply put, the bullpen isn’t nor will be as bad as it has shown or seemed to be in the last week or so. Brad Lidge has been the only consistently poor performer. The success of the Phillies’ bullpen in the post-season will largely rest on the successful comebacks of Myers, Eyre, and Romero as well as the remaining contributors staying with the status quo.

Teams have hiccups many times throughout the season. Sometimes the Phillies go through stretches where they don’t hit, or where their starters are absolutely terrible. The bullpen, as enigmatic as it has been, is also prone to such hiccups. It is simply part of the game and not a true reflection of the ‘pen’s true talent level, which is somewhere around average (above-average if we remove Lidge from the equation) — not bad but not great either.

How to Slump and Still Create Runs

Jayson Werth is in a slump that has encompassed his last 35 plate appearances. He looks completely lost at the plate, having notched only one hit in that span and struck out 14 times. There’s no way Werth has helped the Phillies at all during his slump, hitting fifth in the lineup, right?

Well, yeah, there is a way. He has drawn six walks and been hit by a pitch, and has also stolen one base in one attempt. That’s right, while Werth was hitting .042 prior to today’s game with the Brewers, his OBP was at .250. Further, Werth has driven in four runs: two with his only hit in 35 PA on September 22, and two more with productive outs in each of the last two games against the Brewers.

As an example, when Jimmy Rollins went hitless in 31 PA between June 19 and July 1, he only had an OBP of .129. Players like Werth, who can draw a walk (he’s second only to Chase Utley in that area), can continue to earn their spot in the lineup even when they’re taking some awful cuts at the plate.

They say speed never slumps. It does, but humoring that, neither does intelligence, and Jayson Werth has shown in his three years with the Phillies that he is a very smart hitter with his ability to work counts and draw walks. Werth will soon emerge from his slump, but in the meantime, Charlie Manuel can still feel justified in writing his name on the lineup card.