On the Solo HR/RISP Hype

As you’ve probably gleaned, I get annoyed when people whine about the Phillies’ so-called struggles with runners in scoring position. Fact is, the Phillies have the highest OPS in the National League with runners in scoring position at .795. Apparently, the Phillies’ streak of solo home runs is yet more evidence that they are Ruthian with the bases empty and Bruntlettian with runners on.

After Jayson Werth’s home run last night off of the Nationals’ Tyler Clippard, the Phillies’ last 15 home runs had been of the solo variety, going back to August 29.

So I looked into the Phillies’ distribution of HR types and compared them to the National League average. Here are the findings:

  • Type: Phillies | NL Average
  • Solo HR: 59.2% | 58.4%
  • Two-run HR: 23.5% | 27.5%
  • Three-run HR: 13.3% | 11.2%
  • Grand slams:  4.1% | 2.9%

If you just lump all of the non-solo HR together, the Phillies are at 40.8% to the NL average of 41.6%. 0.8% is nothing to worry about. And, frankly, the Phillies’ distribution of HR types with runners on is good, since it’s skewed towards three-run homers and grand slams. They’re 4% below the league average in 2-run homers, but 3.2% up otherwise.

There is nothing to worry about with the Phillies’ offense. Yes, prior to the start of the series in Washington, they scored a combined 21 runs in 10 games. But that’s what happens when you run into good pitching. In those 10 games, they faced Tommy Hanson, Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, Jonathan Sanchez, Brad Penny, Tim Lincecum, Wandy Rodriguez, Roy Oswalt, Bud Norris, and Brian Moeheler. Here’s where they rank in ERA (with the usual caveats about ERA).

Getting shut down by most of those pitchers is nothing surprising.

The real issue is with the bullpen. Three valuable arms are injured in J.C. Romero, Clay Condrey, and Scott Eyre. Then there’s Brad Lidge, who brings Phillies fans on the verge of a nightly aneurysm, and Charlie Manuel is only now starting to realize that he has better options out there. Just saying.

The offense is fine. The bullpen is not.

BDD: Chris Jaffe on Managers Part II

The latter portion of my interview with Chris Jaffe is up at Baseball Daily Digest. Here’s Part I in case you missed it.

I know he’s a pitching coach, but I’d love to get your take on St. Louis Cardinals’ pitching coach Dave Duncan. I hear — and see — that he works wonders. Do you buy it?

He’s done a great job.  Where does Dave Duncan end and Tony LaRussa begin?  I definitely give Duncan more credit for what’s happened to pitchers than his boss, but pitching coaches aren’t magic bullets and can’t be easily divorced from their surroundings (a statement that holds true for managers as well).  If you don’t believe me, ask your friendly neighborhood Orioles fan what he thinks of Leo Mazzone.

Cole… Why?

Philebrity shares with us some, uh, pictures of uh, yeah, that’s Cole Hamels. Click to enlarge.

If you want intelligent commentary on the above situation, well, I’m just speechless.

Wonder what J.A. Happ is doing. As Chris Wheeler would say, you know those left-handers are goofy.

BDD: Chris Jaffe on Managers

At Baseball Daily Digest, I was able to get Chris Jaffe, author of the upcoming book Evaluating Baseball Managers: A Comprehensive History and Performance Analysis, 1876-2008, to share his knowledge of managers in a two-part interview. Click here to read the first half.

Considering the incredible success the Phillies have had in recent years, where does Charlie Manuel rank on the list of the Phils’ best skippers? Who’s the franchise’s best, in your esteemed opinion? The worst?

Huh.  Well, by and large I think managers are underrated.

That said, I never thought that much of Charlie Manuel.  Hey – he’s the defending World Series champion manager and I’ll give him credit for that, but when it’s all said and done I’m not sure if he’ll go down as anything more than a latter-day Danny Ozark whose shit worked in one postseason.

The Smallest Violin Plays for Chris Coste

Chris Coste had it pretty good in Philadelphia. He was freakishly old for a rookie, which gave him plenty of fodder — and a title — for a book that became relatively popular. He’s been contacted about turning his life story into a movie in the vein of Vince Papale. For a catcher with a limited skill set (the ability to play below-average defense at five positions and about league-average offense), the Phillies have treated him very well by giving him his Major League break and about a million dollars in the process.

Realizing just how good Coste has had it, it makes the following all the more difficult to understand. From the Delaware County Daily Times:

[…] he never understood why his former employers felt the need to replace him. He also sounded off about Charlie Manuel, saying the manager’s decision to replace him with Carlos Ruiz when Brad Lidge came into pitch “killed” his reputation.

“My disappointment is after four years they never recognized that I was actually a way above average defensive catcher,” Coste said before starting against the Phillies Saturday.

With the caveat that catcher defense is extremely hard to quantify, it is still laughable that Coste ever was an above-average defensive catcher. Last season, Coste was near the bottom among all Major League catchers in throwing out base-stealers (42nd out of 58 at 15.4%). His replacement, Paul Bako, was much higher (21st at 26.7%).

He had a SLG-light .724 OPS in 118 plate appearances for the Phillies this season before getting shipped to the Houston Astros. His SLG was an Eric Bruntlett-esque .382. It is no surprise that when Coste’s bat went, so did he. He did not bring any value to the Phillies other than with his bat and his ability to circulate blood and breathe oxygen while wearing a catcher’s mask and mitt.

“When (Manuel) started doing that, Lidge had five wild pitches — four with Ruiz and one with me,” Coste said. “What that did, as much as I respect Charlie — and I respect him as much or more than any baseball person alive — is it gave Ruiz this image of best defensive catcher in baseball … we all know he’s awesome but it also killed my reputation … I’m not saying I was better than Ruiz by any means, but I was far better than I was given credit for.”

You know how when someone says, “I’m not trying to be offensive, but…” and they follow up with an incredibly offensive statement? That’s what Coste is doing, in a sense. “Charlie’s great, but…” or “Ruiz is great, but…” It’s a cover for insulting them.

Wild pitch records by catcher are darn near impossible to find, so I don’t know exactly how many of Brad Lidge’s pitches Ruiz and Coste saw. However, according to Coste’s own claim, Ruiz caught him much more. So, the four wild pitches to one isn’t really meaningful in the context of total pitches. And whether justified or not, if pitchers — and managers — feel more comfortable with another catcher, then that’s who they’re going to go with. Even if Ruiz is the absolute worst at blocking sliders, if Lidge believes he’s the best and it helps him more confidently throw his slider, then Ruiz should catch him.

It is interesting, having said all this, to look at the word Coste apparently used: faith. Charlie Manuel lost faith in Coste. One of the definitions of faith is “belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.” Yeah, that’s an accurate description of what happened because it appears that Manuel based his decision to go with Bako over Coste on facts.

Enjoy fourth place, Chris.

C’mon Charlie

Stop coddling Lidge. Demote him. Promote someone — anyone — to closer. Ideally Ryan Madson. Chan Ho Park would work. Maybe Brett Myers in a week or two when he gets re-acclimated to pitching to Major League hitters.

Lidge may only be blowing regular season games and the Phillies still have a sizable — and nearly unsurmountable — lead in the division, but he has the potential to cost the Phillies home-field advantage in the playoffs. As Matt Swartz of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, home teams win 54% of the time in baseball. The Phils were a game behind the Dodgers and Cardinals going into tonight’s game, and will likely be two out after the other games are finished.

If you recall last year, the Phillies were a perfect 7-0 at home in the playoffs. This year, the Dodgers are 42-28 (.600) at Dodger Stadium, and the Cardinals are 43-26 (.623) at Busch Stadium.

It is true that the Phillies have played better on the road this season (likely due to randomness), but the Phils will take the opportunity to win the bottom of the ninth as opposed to the top 100 times out of 100.

Lidge’s problems are not just based on the individual now; they are having a tangible effect on the Phillies’ post-season hopes. Charlie Manuel needs to stop sparing Lidge’s feelings and put a competent reliever in the ninth inning.

Don’t Make Chase Angry

You wouldn’t like Chase when he’s angry.

From an ESPN chat with Jerry Crasnick:

Bob (Denver)

Is Chase Utley the ‘Derek Jeter’ of the NL? Albeit without the dating prowess…

Jerry Crasnick

Bob, There are a lot of similarities. They’re great baserunners and attentive to all the little things. And they don’t have to say a lot to get their point across. I was talking to a Phillies player last night who told me, “Guys in this clubhouse don’t want to mess up, because they don’t want to disappoint Chase.” That was amazing to hear.

Bob from Denver, kudos to you on the cleverness. Bob Denver. Ha!

Chase is like a mob boss. With his slicked-back hair, maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise. The quoted Phillies player is likely reliever Chad Durbin, who said something similar in the last episode of The Pen on MLB Network.

Of course, Chase’s iron-fist rule is well-justified. Including this season, he’s been by far the Phillies’ most valuable player and has been in the top-five in Major League Baseball in that span. He’s the best second baseman in baseball, and he’s not even in the same ionosphere as his competitors. He’s more than a half-win more valuable than the next-best second baseman this season, the Rays’ Ben Zobrist (he’s also the most valuable player in Major League Baseball according to WAR). Last year, he was over 1.5 wins more valuable than second-place Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox; in 2007, he was nearly 3 wins more valuable than second-place Placido Polanco of the Tigers.

Sportswriters often preach about how not everything can be quantified in numbers, and often attribute a team’s success or failure largely to clubhouse chemistry. Knowing it’s impossible, I’m still incredibly interested in learning just how much Chase has helped the team when he’s not on the baseball field. Also, is Chase the only “leader” or is he the silent type and Jimmy Rollins is the vocal type — co-leaders?

At any rate, this blurb from Crasnick is yet another way to appreciate the genius of Chase Utley.

Chase Utley, you are the man!

BDD: Pedro Martinez Dazzles

At Baseball Daily Digest, I use Pitch F/X to illustrate just how brilliant Pedro was in his start last night against the Gigantes.

As you can see, eight of the nine strike threes came on a fastball of some kind (four-seam, two-seam, or cut). The first four strikeouts started with something off-speed. As the game progressed, Pedro relied more and more on his fastball: 14 of the 16 pitches thrown in the last three strikeouts were of the fastball variety, including 10 four-seamers.

More impressively, eight of the nine strike threes came on swing-and-misses. Aaron Rowand was the only one to get a backwards K.

Sputtering Along

While the Phillies’ starting pitching has been immaculate — and J.A. Happ’s start tonight wasn’t terrible — their offense has hit the skids. In the last two weeks, Cole Hamels, Happ, Cliff Lee, and Joe Blanton have all had ERA’s at 3.00 or lower. Meanwhile, here’s a look at the hitters over the last week:

  • Jimmy Rollins: .471 OPS
  • Shane Victorino: .320 OPS
  • Chase Utley: 1.099
  • Ryan Howard: 1.437
  • Raul Ibanez: .500
  • Jayson Werth: .769
  • Pedro Feliz: .733
  • Carlos Ruiz: (not enough PA to qualify)

It’s great that Utley and Howard are hitting well lately, but there’s nobody on base when they get hits. That would also explain the recent whining about the Phillies’ failure to hit with runners in scoring position (though overall they’re among the best): Utley and Howard are the ones getting on base, leaving it to the struggling Ibanez and the 7-8-9 hitters to knock them in.

Overall, it shouldn’t concern anyone as these issues don’t tend to linger for the Phillies, who own the National League’s best offense. Additionally, they’ve run into two good pitching staffs owned by the Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants, who have the National League’s fourth (4.02 RPG) and best (3.77 RPG) pitching, respectively . If the struggles continue into the next two series against the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals, then you can start to worry.

However, if you’re impatient and you need to use some energy worrying about something, then check out this graph of Raul Ibanez’s production by month:

The Phillies haven’t had a day off since August 17. Raul Ibanez has only had one day off. Since the 17th, Ibanez has a line of .143/.294/.238. Now, I’m not saying fatigue is the only reason for his struggles, but more rest could help him out. It’s not like the Phillies don’t have another capable outfielder — they have Ben Francisco, acquired in the Cliff Lee trade.

The PECOTA-adjusted Baseball Prospectus post-season odds put the Phillies at 96.5% to make the playoffs. Damn good odds if you ask me. It’s worth the risk of sitting Ibanez and the offense completely going into a tailspin in order to recharge him for the playoffs. Collapses like that of the New York Mets in 2007 and ’08 are historically rare.

Assuming a Phillies loss and a Marlins win tonight, the Phillies will have a 7.5-game lead on the Braves and 8.5 on the Fish. Let’s say the Phillies play .450 baseball the rest of the way (they won’t, as their remaining schedule is relatively easy) for the final 32 games. That’s 14 wins (rounding down) and 18 losses, putting them at 90-72.

The 70-63 Braves would have to go 21-8 (.724) or the 69-64 Marlins would have to go 22-7 (.759) in order for the Phillies to lose the division.

That’s a risk I’m willing to take. Rest Raul Ibanez. In fact, rest everybody, especially the pitchers near the middle of September.

BDD: What, Exactly, is J.A. Happ?

At Baseball Daily Digest, I investigate Happ’s success this season: is it real or just an illusion?

It’s true: Happ hasn’t been giving up hits when his opponents are threatening to score. The only situations in which opponents have an OPS higher than .600 against him are:

  • Runner on first: .781 OPS
  • Bases empty: .725 OPS
  • Runner on second: .678 OPS