Brief Thoughts on the NL Cy Young Award

Clayton Kershaw ran away with the National League Cy Young award yesterday, earning 27 of 32 first-place votes. Roy Halladay received only four while teammates Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels finished in third and fifth place, respectively. It is not surprising that Kershaw won, but it is somewhat shocking that he won so convincingly. Leading up to the announcement, the common thought seemed to be that the trio of Kershaw, Halladay, and Lee were very close in nearly every statistical category that any of them could win it. Ultimately, the voters — who traditionally have cited the importance of playing for a contending team — felt that Kershaw’s edge in the traditional stats gave him the edge.

Ian Kennedy was another surprise, finishing fourth in voting ahead of Hamels. Kennedy’s 21-4 record looks quite nice compared to Hamels’ 14-9, but he received 0.7 runs of support per game. Over 33 starts, that amounts to 23 additional runs. That’s not to say that Kennedy didn’t deserve to be in fourth place, but he did inexplicably receive a first place vote while Hamels didn’t receive any first-through-third place votes.

Other oddities included relievers John Axford and Craig Kimbrel getting votes as well as Ryan Vogelsong, riding the momentum of four very surprising months between April and July — his first four months in the Majors since 2006. Yovani Gallardo received two percent of the voting share despite a 3.52 ERA.

Overall, the results seem fine even if the distribution of the votes is a little peculiar. The down-ballot nominees are largely irrelevant, so I don’t think fans can make many complaints about how the Cy Young balloting played out.

Pitcher, Team 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th Points
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers 27 3 2 207
Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies 4 21 7 133
Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies 5 17 9 1 90
Ian Kennedy, Arizona Diamondbacks 1 3 6 18 3 76
Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies 2 13 17
Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants 1 5 7
Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee Brewers 1 3 5
Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants 1 1 3
John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers 2 2
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves 2 2
Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants 1 1
Ryan Vogelsong, San Francisco Giants 1 1

Source: BBWAA.com

Is the Phillies’ Offense A Concern?

The past two seasons have been rather disappointing for the Phillies. Ruben Amaro constructed what can best be described as superteams, but the Phillies have exited the post-season with a whimper at the hands of the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals, both teams considered prohibitive underdogs at the time. In the 2010 NLCS, the Phillies scored 20 runs in six games against a daunting Giants pitching staff. More disappointingly, after the Phillies trounced the Cardinals for 11 runs in Game One of the 2011 NLDS, they managed just ten runs in the final four games of the series, including a goose egg in all nine innings of the rubber match.

As a result of the depressing finishes, the big concern for the Phillies going into the off-season is offense, or at least that’s what the fans and media would like you to believe. The truth is that the Phillies’ offense is fine and has been fine for quite some time. Fans, of course, are used to the powerhouse offenses of the mid-2000’s that put up 700-plus runs with reckless abandon. The end of the decade saw a dramatic shift in offense across the expanse of Major League Baseball. The league average runs per game has been in decline since 2008 and with it many components of run-scoring, such as overall hits, doubles, home runs, walks, and strikeouts (which have gone up). Whatever the cause may be — stricter drug policies, better and younger pitching, etc. — 2011 saw offense at its lowest level since 1992, when baseball had 26 teams.

When you compare the Phillies’ offensive output, it has more or less declined at the same rate as the league. Peep the following line graph:

Another way to visualize the data is to use an “index” that compares the Phillies’ offense to the league’s and scales it such that 100 is considered average, over is above-average and under is below-average. That is done as such: ((Phillies RPG / League RPG) * 100)

  • 2007: Phillies 5.51, NL 4.71 (117)
  • 2008: Phillies 4.93, NL 4.54 (109)
  • 2009: Phillies 5.06, NL 4.43 (114)
  • 2010: Phillies 4.77, NL 4.33 (110)
  • 2011: Phillies 4.40, NL 4.13 (107)

The three percent decline in offense, relative to the league, from 2010 to ’11 is lower than the decline from ’07 to ’08 (eight percent) and ’09 to ’10 (four percent). If offense wasn’t a concern for you in either of those years, then it shouldn’t be now.

There are symptoms that can be identified and hopefully treated, though. For instance, the 2011 Phillies collectively walked at their lowest rate (3.33 per game) since 1998 (3.14). Similarly, they stole bases at their lowest rate (0.59 per game) since ’06 (0.54). Only one of their ten hitters with 250 or more plate appearances hit .280 or better (Carlos Ruiz). Ruiz was also the only hitter in that threshold with an on-base percentage above .360.

Sure, the last two post-seasons left a very sour taste in our mouths, but it was not evidence of a systemic problem. By tweaking a few small components here and there (speed at the top of the line-up here, good on-base skills here…), the Phillies can turn an above-average offense back into a league-leading offense.

Ruben Amaro and Multi-Year Contracts

One does not earn the nickname “Smuggy” without putting his reputation on the line. Since taking over for Pat Gillick after the 2008 season, Ruben Amaro has been the daredevil GM in Major League Baseball, putting together arguably the best starting rotation of all-time and signing Ryan Howard to one of the largest contracts in baseball history. Although the Phillies haven’t won a World Series under Amaro, they have continued to reach the post-season and even set a franchise record for wins (dating back to 1883) with 102 just this past season.

Amaro’s signature move came in the winter after the 2010 regular season. At the time, the media had been reporting that the bidding war for Cliff Lee‘s services was down to the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers, with Texas considered the slight favorite as Lee’s wife had a bad experience with some Yankees fans. Suddenly, a “mystery team” emerged, a term initially met with skepticism and derision. On December 14, the Phillies announced that they and Lee had agreed on a five-year, $120 million contract. Both Yankees and Rangers fans were left mouth agape as Phillies fans celebrated getting their guy back.

Everything Amaro did in getting the Lee deal completed was done essentially in the stealth of night, as this article by Nick DiUlio of PhillyMag.com illustrates:

Still, it wasn’t happening. Every time Amaro made an offer, the Lees asked for just a little bit more. The Rangers were offering Lee $138 million for six years. And the Yankees were offering him the choice of either a six-year, $138 million deal or a seven-year, $148 million contract. Amaro simply wouldn’t be able to bridge the gap.

So by the afternoon of December 12th — three weeks after Kristen Lee had pleaded with Amaro not to break her heart again — “The deal was dead,” Amaro says. “We said, ‘That’s it. We’re done. It’s dead. Out. Done.’”

Conceding defeat, [Assistant GM Scott] Proefrock sent [Lee’s agent Darek] Braunecker a text. “I feel sick about this,” he wrote. Braunecker’s response: “I feel the same way.” It was that response, so emotional, so devoid of cunning and games, that gave Proefrock the feeling that maybe, just maybe, there was still a shred of hope. They would make one last offer: $120 million. Five years.

Later that night, Amaro’s cell phone rang. “Ruben?” Once again, the voice of Braunecker on the other end. “You got Cliff back.”

Amaro doesn’t utilize Moneyball principles when constructing a roster. In fact, the Phillies are considered one of the few teams left in baseball that aren’t particularly progressive. Instead, Amaro takes his team’s one big advantage — money — and throws it at the best players available. With that approach, he has acquired Lee as well as Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Hunter Pence while keeping the core players around. Under Amaro, the Phillies’ Opening Day payroll rose from $98 million in 2008 to $113 million in ’09, then to $138 million in ’10 and $166 million last year.

Because of the risk involved with big contracts, Sabermetrically-inclined people tend to wince at just about everything Amaro even hints at doing. The Phillies are agreed to a contract with reliever Jonathan Papelbon just days after a four-year, $44 million deal with Ryan Madson fell through. The Papelbon contract, like many of Amaro’s contracts, has been met with distaste, but let’s review all of the multi-year contracts Amaro has handed out since he became GM of the Phillies. Perhaps he is on to something the rest of us are missing.

It would be very easy to take every contract and compare it to a dollars/fWAR metric, but I’d rather just review some descriptive stats to provide a general feeling. I am personally not a fan of using WAR for pitchers (especially relievers) and WAR for position players is reliant on rather unreliable defensive data. So, let’s start from the top.

12/12/2008 Raul Ibanez (free agent) 3 years, $31.5M

Ibanez posted a .342 wOBA, above the league average (between .312-.324). The bulk of his value came in the first half of the 2009 season, when he went into the All-Star break with a 1.015 OPS. The second half saw just a .774 OPS in part due to a groin strain. While still above-average, Ibanez’s 2010 season was his first since 2003. Ibanez completely tanked in 2011, finishing with an OPS barely above .700. In all three years at a non-premium position, Ibanez was a defensive liability and was a detriment on the bases. fWAR values Ibanez at $18 million over the three years. Even without using that, I think it’s safe to say that the Ibanez contract was a flop, especially considering that it isn’t difficult to find offense at that position at a cheaper price.

12/15/2008 Jamie Moyer (re-signed) 2 years, $13M

Between 2009-10, at the ages of 46 and 47, Moyer pitched to a 4.90 ERA. At the time, the Phillies did not have a super-rotation, so Moyer factored into the middle of a starting rotation that figured to include Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, and Joe Blanton. That said, given Moyer’s age and uninspiring peripherals, the money could have been better spent on a more reliable option for the back of the starting rotation. The deal wasn’t a flop like the Ibanez contract, but the Phillies certainly didn’t get positive value out of it.

1/18/2009 Cole Hamels (extension) 3 years, $20.5M

One does not need to closely examine the statistics to conclude that this was a good deal. At the time, Hamels was coming off of a great season, posting a 3.09 ERA during the regular season and winning World Series MVP honors as well. The sky was the limit for the 25-year-old, who had several years of potentially-costly arbitration ahead of him. It was absolutely the right move for the Phillies to buy out all but one of his remaining arbitration years.

However, Hamels quickly earned the ire of the Phillies fan base when his 2009 season went into the toilet. Hamels finished a topsy-turvy regular season with a 4.32 ERA. Unlike the previous post-season, the Phillies could rely on someone else, namely Cliff Lee. Hamels’ struggles continued in the post-season, resulting in him wishing for the season to end after his start in Game Three of the World Series against the New York Yankees. Needless to say, Hamels put his nose to the grindstone and came back a new man in 2010. He refined his curve and added a cutter, helping him dramatically increase the rate at which hitters swung and missed. Over the three years of the deal, Hamels’ ERA is 3.36, right in line with defense-independent metrics. Along with Lee and Clayton Kershaw, Hamels emerged as one of the top-three left-handed starters in baseball. Yes, this deal was absolutely a good call from Amaro.

2/8/2009 Ryan Howard (extension) 3 years, $54M

Doesn’t this contract look like a pittance compared to his more recent contract? At the time this was signed, Howard had yet another season with 45+ home runs and 130+ RBI. The traditional metrics made the guy look like a god, even though his performance had been on a three-year decline and teams had already figured out his weakness (left-handed relievers throwing sliders low and away). However, the Phillies did not have any other options at first base and Howard figured to be a big part of any successful Phillies teams in the future. With an average annual value of $18 million, the deal paid Howard very handsomely, but the three-year duration gave the Phillies ample room to maneuver in the event that Howard declined precipitously.

Over the three years of the deal, Howard posted a .372 wOBA, well above the league average, but it was only the 11th-highest mark among first basemen. Although Howard’s 2009 season was quite good, the following two years were mediocre relative to other players at his position, and he did not bring any other tools to the table such as defense or base running. fWAR values Howard at $33 million between 2009-11, roughly 60 percent what he was to be paid. Although Howard certainly didn’t live up to the contract performance-wise, I think Amaro was justified in offering it given the short length and the team’s position at the time. Let’s call it a push.

12/1/2009 Brian Schneider (free agent) 2 years/ $2.75M

Amaro signed Schneider to play back-up to Carlos Ruiz, getting roughly 25 percent of the playing time behind the dish. Schneider was decent in 2010, posting a .324 wOBA, but disappeared in 2011, finishing at .227. However, he wasn’t signed for his offense; he was simply supposed to handle his pitchers and play non-terrible defense, which it seems like he did. Furthermore, he quickly earned the trust of 2011 Rookie of the Year candidate Vance Worley, catching in a majority of the right-hander’s starts. Whatever Schneider lacked in stats, he made up for in “other stuff”. Nothing wrong with this deal.

12/3/2009 Placido Polanco (free agent) 3 years, $18M

While many were focusing on free agent third basemen like Adrian Beltre and Chone Figgins, Amaro shrewdly focused on second baseman Placido Polanco. Polanco had earned a reputation as a defensive wizard while with the Detroit Tigers, spending every single inning at second base. Amaro, however, felt that Polanco could be an asset at third base for the Phillies while his bat control could be an asset in the #2 spot in the lineup.

Amaro was correct about Polanco’s glove, and that alone may be enough to pay for the contract. However, Polanco did have the worst offensive season of his career in 2011, finishing with a .304 wOBA. He did not live up to the “bat control” hype as Polanco set a career-low in batting average (.277) and strikeout rate (eight percent). The Polanco signing coincided with the Phillies’ shift from an offensively-focused team to a pitching-and-defense-focused team, so the lack of offense hurt less than it otherwise would have while his defense was more important. fWAR, with its ever-unreliable UZR metric, values Polanco at $29 million over the first two years of the contract. Even if UZR is grossly overstating Polanco’s defensive prowess, it is hard to argue that this contract was bad in any way (other than that Polanco is not Beltre).

12/15/2009 Ross Gload (free agent) 2 years, $2.6M

The Gload contract is a tale of two seasons. In 2010, Gload was reliable, providing occasional power from the left side off of the bench. He finished with a .348 wOBA. With a hip injury that nagged at him all season, Gload’s 2011 was the worst of his career. He had just eight extra-base hits (all doubles) as his wOBA dipped to .266. Given the relative strength of his 2010, he was overall a net positive. fWAR values him at about $1 million overall between the two years. Still, I have a hard time faulting Amaro for this. It’s a push.

12/16/2009 Roy Halladay (extension) 3 years, $60M

There’s not much to say about this other than that this deal is pretty awesome. In the first year of the deal, Halladay pitched a perfect game in the regular season and a no-hitter in the NLDS. Oh, and he took home the NL Cy Young award unanimously with a 2.44 ERA (2.80 xFIP). Halladay improved in 2011, finishing with a 2.35 ERA (2.71 xFIP). At the time, the Phillies were famously sticking to a policy where no players received a multi-year contract of four years or more, one reason why Halladay agreed to such a team-friendly deal. With Halladay’s blessing, the Phillies lured Cliff Lee back to Philadelphia with a five-year deal. (Halladay’s intangible value!) If you think this contract was bad, you are taking crazy pills.

12/31/2009 Danys Baez (free agent) 2 years, $5.25M

Baez was awful while with the Phillies. In fact, he was so bad, the Phillies released him with two months remaining on his deal. Baez finished 2010 with a 5.48 ERA, but he was inconceivably worse last year when he left the Phillies with a 6.25 ERA. It wasn’t exactly a buy-low deal; Amaro signed a pitcher with an injury history and declining peripherals on a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract. Given the volatility of relievers and the relative ease at which one can be found cheaper than $2.5 million per year, this contract was doomed from the start.

1/21/2010 Joe Blanton (extension) 3 years, $24M

In retrospect, this deal looks very bad since Blanton missed most of the 2011 season with an injury and he finished the 2010 season with a 4.82 ERA. Blanton, though, is an underrated pitcher who provides value when he isn’t injured or bitten by bad batted ball luck. In his time with the Phillies, Blanton’s xFIP is 3.87, ever so slightly above the league average. Still, given the Phillies’ strength in the rotation (Halladay, Lee, Hamels at the time), the Phillies could have simply taken Blanton to arbitration, then let him walk as a free agent. Most generously, this deal can be regarded as a push.

1/21/2010 Shane Victorino (extension) 3 years, $22M

As you can tell by the date, Amaro wanted to get his arbitration-eligible players their multi-year extensions and be done with the whole thing. In the previous four years as a regular with the Phillies, Victorino played great defense with one of the best arms in the game and ran the bases very well with great efficiency stealing bases. At the time, his bat was very underrated as he posted a .350 or greater wOBA in three consecutive years between 2007-09. Victorino’s production dipped slightly in 2010, but rebounded in a big way this past season. Through the end of August, Victorino found himself in the NL MVP conversation, but he tapered off in the final month, killing any hopes of earning some hardware. Overall, Victorino hit for a .372 wOBA, setting a career-high in strikeout-to-walk ratio and isolaTed Power. fWAR values Victorino at $41 million over the first two years of the contract. Even if fWAR is completely off-base in evaluating Victorino’s contributions, he has certainly been quite valuable since signing this deal.

1/24/2010 Carlos Ruiz (extension) 3 years, $8.85M

The unsung hero of the Phillies teams of the “playoff era”, Chooch was a no-brainer when it came to offering a contract extension. Every pitcher that has passed through Philadelphia — besides, perhaps, Vance Worley — has sung Ruiz’s praises. The guy expertly handles his pitchers, calls a good game, and is among the game’s best at blocking pitches in the dirt. Most impressively, he was an offensive monster in 2010 as his .366 wOBA was the fourth-highest among catchers with at least 350 plate appearances. The Phillies had no reliable Major League-ready catching prospects and the readily-available free agent catchers are as volatile as relievers, so it made perfect sense for the Phillies to extend Ruiz. Even if Ruiz didn’t have a great 2010 season, the contract was a huge bargain.

12/14/2010 Cliff Lee (free agent) 5 years, $120M

This contract is ever so slightly cheaper than the most recent Ryan Howard extension. The important distinction between the two is that Lee’s position is at one of great value, while Howard’s is not. Still, a five-year deal with an average annual value of $24 million is incredibly risky, especially for a pitcher. With the Indians, Lee was not exactly a model of consistency nor perfect health. However, Lee had three consecutive years (spanning 667 innings) where he was among the best pitchers in baseball both in terms of results and peripherals.

Lee arguably had the best season of his career in 2011, the first year of his contract. He finished with a 2.40 ERA (2.68 xFIP) and found himself in the conversation for the NL Cy Young award, along with Halladay and Clayton Kershaw. The contract will ultimately pay him through his age-36 season, not exactly his prime years. Ultimately, this is a deal that will be judged on results rather than the circumstances. Even without Lee, the Phillies would have had one of the best rotations in baseball (even if not historically great) and they didn’t advance past the NLDS with him in the first year, so it seems a bit superfluous. Amaro, though, signed Lee to an incredibly expensive contract to win another championship. If it happens, the risk is justified.

4/26/2010 Ryan Howard (extension) 5 years, $125M

Also known as the contract that split the Phillies’ fan base. Amaro did not want to allow Howard to hit free agency at the same time as Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, so he signed the 30-year-old to a five-year, $125 million contract extension that started in 2012, meaning that the contract would end after Howard’s age-36 season. For all of the warning flags present when Howard signed his initial extension, the same flags remained and more had cropped up. Still, the extension was universally hailed by all in the Phillies community except the Sabermetrically-inclined.

When the 2010 season finished, Howard had a typical offensive season with a .367 wOBA. However, his walk rate declined for the third consecutive season and his isolated power hit a career-low at .229 (it was .292 in the previous two seasons). Managers countered him with left-handed relievers who threw a heavy amount of sliders low-and-away. Howard showed little to no adaptability. In 2011, Howard improved his walk rate, but had the worst offensive season of his career as his wOBA dropped to .354. He showed increased preference to pull, which had a negative effect on both his power and plate coverage. Additionally, while he put in a lot of work improving his defense at first base, it could be considered only average at best. Even before the contract kicked in, it appeared to be a colossal failure.

Then, on the last play of the Phillies’ 2011 season in Game Five of the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals, Howard injured his Achilles running out of the batter’s box. The injury has the potential to put the kibosh on his entire 2012 season, the first year of the extension. If given the power, I think every Phillies fan would now undo the extension granted to Howard on that fateful day in late April, 2010. Of all the multi-year contracts Amaro has dished out, the Howard contract is the worst and there are no others in the same stratosphere.

Recap

  • bad
  • 12/15/2008 Jamie Moyer (re-signed) 2 years, $13M
    • bad
  • 1/18/2009 Cole Hamels (extension) 3 years, $20.5M
    • good
  • 2/8/2009 Ryan Howard (extension) 3 years, $54M
    • push
  • 12/1/2009 Brian Schneider (free agent) 2 years, $2.75M
    • good
  • 12/3/2009 Placido Polanco (free agent) 3 years, $18M
    • good
  • 12/15/2009 Ross Gload (free agent) 2 years, $2.6M
    • push
  • 12/16/2009 Roy Halladay (extension) 3 years, $60M
    • good
  • 12/31/2009 Danys Baez (free agent) 2 years, $5.25M
    • bad
  • 1/21/2010 Joe Blanton (extension) 3 years, $24M
    • push
  • 1/21/2010 Shane Victorino (extension) 3 years, $22M
    • good
  • 1/24/2010 Carlos Ruiz (extension) 3 years, $8.85M
    • good
  • 12/14/2010 Cliff Lee (free agent) 5 years, $120M
    • unknown
  • 4/30/2010 Ryan Howard (extension) 5 years, $125M
    • bad

    Going by groupings:

    • Free agents: 2 good (Schneider, Polanco), 2 bad (Ibanez, Baez), 1 push (Gload), 1 unknown (Lee)
    • Extensions: 4 good (Hamels, Halladay, Victorino, Ruiz), 1 bad (Howard [second]), 2 push (Howard [first], Blanton)
    • Re-signings: 1 bad (Moyer)

    When it comes to free agents, Amaro is more or less breaking even. He’s had better success on extending players as four of the seven can be deemed successful. Of them all, the Howard, Lee, and Papelbon contracts (each either recently started or to begin in 2012) stick out the most and, ultimately, Amaro’s legacy will be judged by them and not by his noteworthy mid-season acquisitions.

    A Closer Look at Jon Papelbon

    Well, yesterday was fun, huh? It seems like giving out a huge contract or making a(t least one) blockbuster trade is a rite of passage for every offseason under the Ruben Amaro Jr. reign.

    The latest addition to this big, happy family is none other than long-time Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, he of the intense pitcher-face, long pauses between pitches and often exuberant reactions to saves. He’s also a pretty darn good pitcher. Sure, giving four guaranteed years and $50 million – I’m still in the stage where I wince while typing that – to any reliever that isn’t prime Mariano Rivera is sure to raise as many questions as it does eyebrows.

    For now, though, we’ll put that aside to check out some of the things that have made Papelbon so effective.

    Papelbon rebounded from a shaky 2010 to post another solid season in ’11 with great peripherals. He’ll only pitch 60-70 innings a season, but rest assured that those innings will be good ones. Papelbon finished his fifth consecutive season of logging 10-plus strikeouts per nine, but what makes him more than just a simple power pitcher is that he actually commands his stuff; not only that, he loves to challenge hitters and still has the stuff to blow by them.

    In 2011, Papelbon lived in the upper part of the zone, as shown to the right. The vast majority of the pitches from the belt to the letters were fastballs, and seeing as his average fastball was 95 mph, it’s a bit easier to see how he can overmatch hitters.

    There’s interplay with Papelbon’s stuff, too. You can have a fastball that touches the mid-90s and still get knocked around (ask Danys Baez) but you need secondary stuff to make it effective. And vice versa: offspeed and breaking pitches can be ignored or sat on if the hitter knows there’s an ineffective fastball backing it up (ask 2009-11 Brad Lidge). With Papelbon, the mid-90s fastball is supported by an excellent splitter, a pitch that drastically changes the batter’s eye level and throws off timing.

    Again, bear in mind how often Papelbon hits the upper part of the zone with the heater, than take a look at the map to the left.

    The splitter was a pitch Papelbon was eschewing in favor of more heaters, as there was talk of the pitch possibly leaving his shoulder sore. The splitter is a notoriously taxing pitch. Really, with that fastball to lean on, it’s no surprise he was still effective, but when the splitter is a prominent part of the arsenal, Papelbon is that much more dangerous.

    The slider is still something of a work in progress. One of the big reasons why Papelbon wasn’t converted into a starter – as he was for the majority of his time in the minors – was the lack of an effective third pitch. As a reliever, two plus pitches can definitely be enough, but if Papelbon can continue to demonstrate an effective slider in 2012 and beyond, he should remain very, very effective for a while. Perhaps, as it improves, he can even use it against left-handed batters (from 2010-11, Papelbon threw his slider to lefties only three percent of the time) and be a three-pitch guy to all hitters.

    While 2010 was likely considered his worst year – even though, relatively speaking, it wasn’t all that bad – a big rebound in 2011 almost certainly played a big part in the Phillies front office seeing Papelbon as worthy of four guaranteed years and a lot of money. Via Inside Edge, here’s a comparison of a few next-level categories for Papelbon between 2010 and 2011.

    click here for a larger, more readable version

    Fastball command was improved, as was efficiency and the amount of hitters’ counts that ended up resulting in outs. What really jumps out at me, though, are the “Dominance” and “Overall Effectiveness” sections. Papelbon was good in both areas in 2010, to be sure, but the numbers go off the charts in ’11.

    What all of this amounts to is a fine relief pitcher who should accumulate plenty of quality outs. Whether he’s worth the kind of money he’ll be paid will almost certainly be in question for the life of the deal, but there’s little denying that the Phils have added a fine piece to their relief corps.

    Phillies Sign Jonathan Papelbon

    The story just hit its apex. Just days after a four-year, $44 million deal with Ryan Madson fell through, the Phillies signed free agent reliever Jonathan Papelbon, according to Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com. Salisbury reports that the contract is worth over $50 million.

    Bill’s Take: Papelbon is a very good pitcher, arguably better than Madson in many ways. The former Red Sox closer finished the 2011 regular season with a 12.2 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9, setting a career-high with a strikeout-to-walk ratio approaching nine — that’s in Cliff Lee territory. He has been more or less dominant since becoming a fixture in the Boston bullpen in 2006. Still, Papelbon has not exceeded 70 innings in a season and the Phillies are paying, presumably, upwards of $12 million per season for one inning of dominance once every two or three nights on average.

    Additionally, the amount of money being spent on a closer can potentially hamstring the Phillies’ ability to find an adequate shortstop and sign Cole Hamels to a contract extension. As has been said here many times recently, one does not need to allocate large sums of money in the bullpen in order to find success. Relievers — even those as consistently elite as Madson and Papelbon — are notoriously volatile on a year-to-year basis, so it makes more sense to shift your money to more reliable causes such as shortstop and the starting rotation.

    It seems like there will be almost unanimous distaste for the Papelbon deal. The stat-heads will hate that a reliever got such a lucrative contract while traditionalists will dislike the guy’s personality. Let’s not forget, though, that he is a very good reliever — even if his genus is unpredictable — with the potential to be the frontman of a dominant bullpen.

    Contract: no. Personality: no. Skills: yes.

    Ryan’s takeJonathan Papelbon is an elite reliever, and has had sustained success in that role since 2006, sustaining a 200 ERA+ over six seasons. But this is just too much money and too many years for any reliever, save maybe Mariano Rivera. Relievers are a volatile breed by nature, and they pitch a vanishingly small portion of a team’s innings. Since 2006, Papelbon accounts for 4.6% of the Boston’s innings pitched. Most of his appearances involved high leverage innings, yes, but the point remains: free agent relievers, especially closers, are paid more than they’re really worth, and they’re not a safe enough bet to merit longer term contracts.

    Take Brad Lidge, who received an extension from the Phillies following his excellent 2008 season. He was two years older than Paplebon is now, and had, in 461.2 innings as a full time reliever (Papelbon: 395.1), managed an excellent 144 ERA+ (Papelbon: 200). Pat Gillick gave Lidge more or less the same deal that Papelbon is now receiving, except a year shorter in base length (3 years, $37.5 million with a 2012 club option). I don’t have to tell you what an albatross that turned out to be. Granted, Lidge had serious injury concerns, and there is no reason to suspect Papelbon will crater in the same way, but the Phillies had a lesson on the danger of big money reliever deals that was impossible to miss, and appear to have missed it.

    Had they taken it, and instead (as Bill has previously suggested) deployed their bevy of young arms as a cheap, internal solution, supplementing cheaply as necessary, this money could have been used to reap more value in areas of need. They would’ve kept their draft pick, and Ryan Madson would have walked, netting them more pick compensation to salve their depleted farm system (this benefit, of course, hinges on the outcome of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement). They did not take the lesson, though, and now Jonathan Papelbon is The Closer in Charlie Manuel’s bullpen. This means that the Phillies won’t even derive maximum value from their huge investment. Charlie Manuel has never leveraged his bullpen assets properly, and it’s a guarantee that Papelbon will see plenty of low leverage 9th innings, and sit on the bullpen bench while lesser pitchers labor through the most important plate appearances of the game because they don’t happen to come in a save situation. And what if Papelbon does run into problems? Remember this quote from 2009?

    “Lidge is our closer,” Manuel said before the Phillies played the Washington Nationals. “You’ve definitely got to show confidence in him.”

    The Phillies signed Lidge to a three-year extension midway through his stellar 2008 season.

    “We signed him. He was perfect last year. Everybody knows about that,” Manuel said. “We signed him to a long-term deal as our closer. I’ve always looked at him as our closer.”

    Remember how much it took to get Charlie Manuel to stop relying on that tired refrain?

    Of course, we knew that the Phillies would not likely stay cheap and flexible with the bullpen. We knew that Ruben Amaro was intransigent in his desire to add a bonafide MLB “closer,” and that he could have picked worse options (Heath Bell, for one). And it is unlikely that this will impede the cash-flush Phillies from giving Cole Hamels a much-needed extension, and acquiring a starting shorstop. But for these things to bring us comfort, we have to first surrender ourselves to the spurious logic that constrained the Phillies to the best of some bad options. And when future misallocations of resources start to pile up and actually hurt the team’s financial flexibility, you’ll have to hope that the Amaro-induced Stockholm Syndrome is still strong enough. In 2015, when the Phillies are spending $36 million or more on a relief pitcher and an aging first baseman alone, I wager that “well it could have been worse!” won’t really be comforting.

    Guest Post: Phillies and the Closer Situation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Phillies Linked With Yoenis Cespedes

    If you were on the Internet yesterday, you probably heard about Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes. The highly-touted outfielder has drawn the interest from at least one-third of the teams in Major League Baseball, including the Phillies, according to Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports. If you watch the YouTube video below, it’s hard not to get a little psyched about the guy’s potential. Even more so if you read Kevin Goldstein’s narration of the video at Baseball Prospectus.

    If you’re wondering how international signings work, Dingers Blog posted a primer here. The last four paragraphs deal with Cubans. It’s not particularly complicated, but interesting nonetheless.

    Bill’s Take: Given the holes on multiple fronts that the Phillies need to fill with a limited budget, I wouldn’t expect to see the Phillies in hot pursuit of Cespedes, but you never know. The Phillies don’t have any center fielders nearing a call-up and Shane Victorino becomes a free agent after the 2012 season, so Cespedes could cover the Phillies for the next five years or so. However, it is more likely that the Phillies will work out an extension with Victorino during the season or trade him by the July 31 deadline in order to fill that hole.

    The Phillies are suspected to have between $30 and 40 million left to round out the roster. Furthermore, they have been more heavily linked with relievers Ryan Madson and Jonathan Papelbon. Assuming that one of the two is signed for something near $10 million annually, the Phillies still have to sign Cole Hamels to an extension, find a shortstop, address left field and first base somewhat, and round out the bench and bullpen with $20-30 million. Given the widespread interest in Cespedes, I can’t see the Phillies competing in and winning a bidding war for his services unless Ruben Amaro plans to dumpster-dive to fill out the 2012 roster.

    Paul’s Take: To be frank, I don’t know much. Like all of you, I had never even heard of this gentleman until about a week ago, when that hysterical promotional video made its way around the web.

    Like Bill, though, I see financial constraints as a hindrance here. If this guy wants Aroldis Chapman money, I don’t know how that fits into the payroll with other needs more pressing. I can see how the allure of a player like Cespedes – a supposedly solid defensive center fielder with nice offensive upside – would draw big-time interest, but with so many teams supposedly interested at this point, it seems tough to put the Phils near the front of the pack.

    Ryan’s Take: The Cuban free agents have a way of exploding onto the market with a comet’s tail of hype and folk legends for obvious reasons. Not only is there an added element of mystery about the player’s true ability, but I would bet there is also an intelligence cold war being waged between teams, just under the surface; none can be sure how much data any other has gathered on the player, which is important as the market for him takes shape. To those of us with only the video to go on, there are a few things that are obvious. For one, he has physical tools for days — he can jump very high, run very fast, and do a variety of squats and lifts with assorted giant weights, grand pianos, old-timey anvils, human beings, etc. attached (I’m even leaving out “explosive ability” and “core power” which, per the video, entail jumping up and down a lot of times consecutively, and thrusting your crotch into an unfortunate spotter’s face, respectively). For another, he appears to have a tremendous amount of power, and a swing that looks mechanically sound and conducive to sustaining that power. Of course, power is only useful if you can put the ball in play, and it remains to be seen how well he can do that against the caliber of pitching that exists in the MLB, replete with secondary pitches that are likely better than anything he’s seen in a league that Keith Law characterizes as “equivalent to low Class A or worse.” We’re also unable to make any inferences about his plate discipline, which itself involves a giant competitive leap for a Cuban player coming to the majors.

    The Phillies aren’t known for making big IFA splashes, but, now that they’ve established a new spending power, it might be time to take full advantage of what that market has to offer. Last season’s Hunter Pence trade put the Phils’ system in an unfortunate state, and it would be nice, with the departure of Jon Singleton, to add a bat with Cespedes’ potential to it. But other big market teams are reportedly quite high on him, which will drive up his price. He’s also “26,” so he’s not really a “prospect” per se, and if it turns out that he’s major league ready in the near future, the Phillies don’t necessarily have a spot for him (granted, they could always keep Domonic Brown roasting in the organizational bronze bull for no reason at all). At the right cost, Cespedes is definitely a worthy pursuit, but the Phillies should invest generously in Cole Hamels and a starting shortstop first.

    A Closer Look at Michael Cuddyer

    With the Phillies reportedly in serious pursuit of free agent Michael Cuddyer, I find myself caught in something of a time warp whenever I hear him mentioned. I still play MVP 2005 every once in a while. To me, even as the rosters get more dated with each passing year, it’s still a nearly infinitely replayable game.

    I bring this up because, whenever I would play with my good buddy Baumann from Phillies Nation, Cuddyer would always have the biggest impact on the game. He’d make diving plays at third base. Come up with a solid double to drive home Lew Ford. You know, 2005-type things.

    Of course, the Michael Cuddyer of 2011-12 bears no resemblance to Fake Michael Cuddyer from ’05. Since the end of that ’05 season, Cuddyer has logged all of 107 innings at third base (all in 2010) and spent most of his time in the outfield and at first base. He doesn’t seem like a logical fit to supplant Placido Polanco, so we’ll move forward assuming that a potential signing of Cuddyer would mean time in the corner outfield spots and at first. He’s spent some time (read: very little) at second base, too, but with one of Wilson Valdez and Michael Martinez expected on the roster come Opening Day, there’s already a more viable backup option there.

    Cuddyer handles lefties very well. His .311/.403/.589 slash in 176 PA against them last year is Victorino-esque, and his career OPS is more than .100 points higher against lefties than righties. That isn’t to say he’s unplayable against right-handers; he’s just especially dangerous against southpaws. And that’s an antidote to something Phils fans had heard about for a couple of seasons now: how the club and everyday lineup is too lefty-heavy. And really, the complaints aren’t exactly unfounded as it relates to LHB performance vs. LHP.

    A look at Cuddyer’s In Play Slug heatmap (right) against lefties in 2011 shows some decent plate coverage. The cold spot down and in is a little surprising to see from a RHB against a lefty, but the strong showing in the heart and on the outer edge – from the top to the bottom of the zone, too – does compensate. Cuddyer also seems to fare better on pitchers in the lower portion than anything at the letters and up.

    The drawback to that, naturally, is that Cuddyer can find the high pitches a bit too appetizing. Inside Edge reports Cuddyer as having a chase rate on pitches up and out of the zone near 50 percent, a weakness pitchers are sure to target with two strikes during the season. Pitches in on the hands also tend to draw Cuddyer’s attention often. It will be interesting to see how long his hands have the speed to turn on pitches in, especially if his next contract carries him through his age 35 season.

    Cuddyer is also a candidate for the infrequently-used right-handed Ted Williams shift. When he puts the ball in play to the outfield, he’s pretty equal-opportunity. Most of his home runs tend to be pulled, but he’s not dependent on left field for hits past the infield.

    Ground balls, on the other hand, are a bit of a different story. The Inside Edge spray chart (left) shows that, on balls in play since the start of 2010, Cuddyer pulls the ball a great deal. Now, this might not make a difference, again considering how little the right-handed shift is used. Either way, Ryan Zimmerman, David Wright (maybe?) and Chipper Jones should be on their toes if/when Cuddyer comes to the plate.

    What we have in Michael Cuddyeris a nice player; a guy who plays some different positions (none particularly well defensively) who appears appetizing to the Phillies for a variety of reasons, none of which should be confused for being the best player available. He would be a nice addition at the right price – as any player would – but to me, Cuddyer makes the most sense on a two-year deal. A three-year deal to Raul Ibanez ended on a rather sour note, Placido Polanco looks to be slowing as he enters his third year and Joe Blanton has a nerve issue in his pitching arm as his third year approaches. Three-year deals for Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz and Shane Victorino, plus the recently expired Ryan Madson, look to provide counterbalance. But those latter four were all at least three years younger than Cuddyer is currently when they signed. Apples and oranges, etc.

    Would Cuddyer be a good fit for this Phillies club? I tend to think so on the surface. He’s no star player, but he does represent an upgrade from Raul Ibanez on both sides of the ball. The thing I’m struggling with is Domonic Brown’s eventual place in all of this. Signing Cuddyer to a multi-year contract – paired with Hunter Pence’s two remaining years of team control – leaves no place for Brown this season. Now, Ruben Amaro has stated that he wants Brown to basically spend the whole year in Triple-A, so that may be a moot point for ’12. Moving forward, though, what’s the plan? Does Cuddyer become your third baseman after Polanco’s deal expires, with Brown finally slotting in a corner outfield spot? Another wrinkle to the saga of the once-top prospect being curiously handled. It will be interesting to see how Cuddyer’s potential addition affects Brown’s future in Philadelphia; a future that seems muddier every week.

    Phillies Bring Back Jim Thome

    The Phillies, as seems to be a common theme these days, shocked the baseball world yesterday when they announced the signing of Jim Thome on a one-year, $1.25 million deal. Since he was traded from the Phillies after the 2005 season, Thome has spent most of his time in the American League as a designated hitter. In his very brief stint in the National League with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2009, he served as a pinch-hitter.

    The Thome signing is believed to be a response to Ryan Howard‘s injured Achilles. Thome, of course, hasn’t played in the field regularly since 2005, but it wouldn’t be unprecedented that the Phillies would ask him to make the switch — all Thome has to do is look across the diamond at Placido Polanco, who the Phillies acquired after the 2009 season. In his time since leaving the Phillies in 2005, Polanco hadn’t played a single inning at third base, but he moved to the hot corner anyway. Of course, Polanco played superb defense at second base and has since proven to be one of the best defensive third basemen as well. Moving from DH to first base is an entirely different animal and, at the age of 41, it is questionable if Thome can handle playing the field even on a platoon basis.

    When he will be in the lineup, though, Thome will be a force. Despite his age, he posted a .362 wOBA during the 2011 regular season. Although that is his lowest mark of the past six years, it is well above the league average (between .310 and .315) and rare to find in a player of his age. His .362 wOBA would have been second-best on the Phillies among players with 300 or more plate appearances.  More impressively, Thome was one of only 17 Major Leaguers in history (min. 300 PA) age 40 or older to post an OPS 30 percent or higher compared to the league average. The list is littered with Hall of Famers:

     

    Rk Player OPS+ PA Year Age Tm
    1 Ted Williams 190 390 1960 41 BOS
    2 Barry Bonds 169 477 2007 42 SFG
    3 Willie Mays 158 537 1971 40 SFG
    4 Barry Bonds 156 493 2006 41 SFG
    5 Edgar Martinez 141 603 2003 40 SEA
    6 Brian Downing 138 391 1992 41 TEX
    7 Moises Alou 137 360 2007 40 NYM
    8 Dave Winfield 137 670 1992 40 TOR
    9 Stan Musial 137 505 1962 41 STL
    10 Carlton Fisk 136 419 1989 41 CHW
    11 Harold Baines 135 486 1999 40 TOT
    12 Darrell Evans 135 609 1987 40 DET
    13 Carlton Fisk 134 521 1990 42 CHW
    14 Ty Cobb 134 574 1927 40 PHA
    15 Brian Downing 132 476 1991 40 TEX
    16 Jim Thome 131 324 2011 40 TOT
    17 Willie Mays 131 309 1972 41 TOT
    Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
    Generated 11/5/2011.

    Thome has traditionally been better against right-handed pitching compared to left-handers, but that wasn’t the case last year. It was the first time he posted a platoon split that favored southpaws. In terms of wOBA, he hit lefties at a .385 clip; right-handers only .353. If Thome is to fit into a platoon at first base or serve as a pinch-hitter, when he will be used almost exclusively against right-handers, he needs to be a lot better against them. Looking at the data, there wasn’t any large shift in performance although Thome’s isolated power vs. RHP was at a career-low, excluding his injury-plagued 2005.

    Naturally, there are concerns about Thome’s defense. Thome hasn’t played regularly in the field since leaving the Phillies. While it’s hard to imagine he completely forgot how to play defense in the last six years, there are a lot of little things at first base that are mastered only through repetition (e.g. footwork). Thome will have ample time to get reacquainted with the position during the off-season and spring training, so we will simply have to wait to see how that part of the issue is addressed.

    The other concern is that he is simply not physically able to play the position, in terms of stamina and range. If the Phillies happen to face ten right-handed starters in a row, as they did between May 5-15 during the 2011 regular season, can they count on Thome to be in the lineup every day without a significant decline in performance? Will the gradual wear-and-tear of first base — for example, holding a runner on first base and dashing back as the pitcher delivers — erode his durability as the season progresses? These are questions that, simply put, nobody knows the answers to and will not until the season is under way. Nevertheless, they are legitimate concerns, especially considering it is rather unprecedented that a 41-year-old DH six years running is asked to move back into a defensive position.

    On the other hand, if Thome is instead asked to serve in more of a bench role, is he one of those players whose offensive contributions decline without regular at-bats? Some pinch-hitters complain of “getting cold” if they are not given the opportunity to take their hacks every so often. When Thome gets on base as a pinch-hitter late in the game, will the Phillies always lift him for a pinch-runner? This may necessitate carrying only an 11-man pitching staff. All of these concerns should have been addressed as the Phillies contemplated signing him.

    On the surface, the Thome signing is very savvy. At the cost of just $1.25 million, Thome need only be a 0.3-WAR (FanGraphs) player, something he has been every year between 1994-2011 excluding 2005. With Thome now in the fold, it will be interesting to see how the Phillies round out the rest of the roster. MLB Trade Rumors reports that the Phillies are very interested in Michael Cuddyer, noting that he could play at both corners in the infield and outfield. A Thome/Cuddyer platoon at first base would undoubtedly be more offensively productive than Ryan Howard would have been.

    Regardless of what happens, it will be great to see Thome back in Phillies red. His tenure in Philadelphia ended rather abruptly and, given his reputation as a person and a player as well as his relationship with Charlie Manuel, Philadelphia and Thome are a natural fit.

    On Targeting Players

    On Twitter, I get asked the question “What do you think about getting [Player X]?” question frequently. I feel bad because I always give a hem-and-haw answer, which seems unhelpful. In the case of free agent targets, I tend to respond, “if the price is right and the contract isn’t too long” and go from there. For trade targets, it usually starts with, “If the Phillies don’t have to give up too many premier prospects and/or money”.

    I wanted to go a bit more in depth as to why my replies on that are so non-descript. When you brainstorm potential player acquisitions, you should always take economics into account. I would love it if the Phillies signed Albert Pujols. All Phillies fans would, probably. However, it would be even more awesome if he signed a five-year, $30 million contract as opposed to a ten-year, $475 million contract.

    So the two players I was asked about today were free agents Michael Cuddyer and Joe Nathan, both long-time teammates on the Minnesota Twins. Reports have the Phillies as very interested in acquiring Cuddyer’s services, chiefly because of his ability to play both corners in the infield and outfield. In discussions involving Cuddyer and the Phillies, I see a lot of absolute statements, but rarely are contract details taken into account. Cuddyer would be a great get for the Phillies on a cheap one-year deal or perhaps something similar to what the Colorado Rockies gave Ty Wigginton (a similarly-versatile, but slightly less-talented and less-revered version of Cuddyer): two years, $8 million. Instead, if Cuddyer is chasing a contract similar to what the Phillies gave Raul Ibanez (three years, $31.5 million), then it is not so good.

    As for Nathan, who pitched 44.2 innings last year after missing the entire 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery, it is more of the same. If the contract is low-risk, the Phillies have little to lose in going after him. If the contract is similar to what they gave Brad Lidge (three years, $37.5 million), then it makes little sense.

    When you think of player targets, use a sliding scale. The fewer dollars and fewer guaranteed years, the better (and the less production you require to live up to it); the more dollars and more guaranteed years, the worse (and the more production required to live up to it). All of this is relative to market value, of course.

    I enjoy providing insight to you on this blog, via email, and on Twitter, so I wanted to use this space to clarify why my replies may seem unhelpful at first glance. Generally speaking, anyone who tells you that a team definitely should or should not acquire a player without taking the market into account is giving you bad feedback. And that’s why I try not to make absolute statements about players the Phillies are targeting.