Terrifying Thought Experiment #1

Earlier today, Ryan Lawrence posted his best guess at the Phillies’ opening day roster. Everything about the offense, including the starting lineup, looks pretty grim:

C Carlos Ruiz
1B Ty Wigginton
2B Freddy Galvis
SS Jimmy Rollins
3B Placido Polanco
LF John Mayberry, Jr.
CF Shane Victorino
RF Hunter Pence

BN Jim Thome
BN Laynce Nix
BN Brian Schneider
BN Pete Orr
BN Juan Pierre

SP Roy Halladay
SP Cliff Lee
SP Cole Hamels
SP Vance Worley
SP Joe Blanton

RP Jonathan Papelbon
RP Chad Qualls
RP Antonio Bastardo
RP Mike Stutes
RP Kyle Kendrick
RP Jose Contreras
RP David Herndon

(I took out Lou Montanez and subbed in David Herndon, as Lawrence was planning for 6 relievers instead of 7 only because a fifth starter won’t be needed until April.)

Last season, the pitching staff allowed 529 runs, which is very good. Historically good, in fact. If you put every team since 1947 in the same 4.5 runs per game environment, the 2011 Phillies staff ranks 18th out of 1550 post-integration pitching staffs in runs allowed. And that’s without a park adjustment; 14 of the teams ahead of the Phillies had pitcher-friendly park factors on their side. The brightest beacon of hope for 2012 is that the pitching staff will still be extremely good, but it probably won’t be as good as it was last season. The simplest reason is that it is very difficult, even in the more pitcher-friendly environment of late, to allow as few as 529 runs. Beyond that, there are a few candidates for regression, like Cole Hamels and Vance Worley.

If you take the ZiPS projections for the pitching staff that Lawrence came up with and adjust it to fill, say, 1450 innings (this is about what most teams needed last year), you get a runs allowed total of 606. On the one hand, ZiPS is probably a bit bearish with regards to some of the best pitchers on the staff, but, on the other, we’re assuming no injuries or bad fortune will take their toll. So 606 is a reasonable enough estimate. Assume, furthermore, that the National League run environment will be the same as it was last year: 4.13 runs per game. With these two numbers, we can use the Pythagenpat formula to get a picture of what is needed from the Phillies offense in 2012 (click for large):

The upshot is, in a tougher NL East, the Phillies need to score around 730 runs to be in the 95 win ballpark and be reasonably certain of winning the division. Keep in mind: last season they scored 713 runs, and, thanks to an inordinate amount of success with runners in scoring position, that total was probably higher than their team OPS of .717 portended. Without delving deeply into hitter projections, the opening day offense predicted by Ryan Lawrence above is not nearly as good as the sum contributions that the Phillies got last season. Per Fangraphs, Ryan Howard produced 92 weighted runs created last season, and has not yet even resumed baseball activities since the setback with his surgery wound; his ETA right now is indeterminate, as is his 2012 effectiveness. Chase Utley, missing to begin 2011, produced 61 weighted runs created. He returned on May 23rd last season, and I think most people would count that as an optimistic projection for 2012 given the tone of the updates we’re being given on him.

This is to say nothing of the potential for regression facing John Mayberry, Jr., the likely ineffectiveness of Ty Wigginton, and the fact that Juan Pierre, who by wRC+ was the 10th worst qualified hitter in baseball last season, is penciled in as a bench contributor. The offense above is likely to score significantly less runs than in 2011, which could put the Phillies in the 92 win range or worse. Particularly now that two wildcard spots are available, this will probably still be enough to make the playoffs. But with the substantial improvements made by the Marlins and the Nationals, and with the Braves still being a contender, the division is by no means the guarantee that it was in the last two seasons. The Phillies, who know the sting of a short series so very well, may be facing a single game win-or-go-home proposition if they don’t look outside the organization for reinforcement.

A Halfhearted Defense of the Kyle Kendrick Contract

This afternoon, as you’ve no doubt figured out by now, the Phillies have avoided arbitration with RHP Kyle Kendrick by signing him to a one-year, $3.585 million contract that seems structured specifically to irritate people who write about such things by making us type out the dollar value to the thousand-dollar place.

As the news broke, my Twitter feed was dominated by reactions to the Kendrick signing, ranging from resignation, to fear, to what I assume is a potshot at Darren Rovell, to mocking incredulity, to more mocking incredulity, to unbridled snark, to a dose of placid rationality with an unflattering comparison. For a while, my window to the internet was almost entirely dominated by Kyle Kendrick, with a little bit of France Football‘s Philippe Auclair musing about the political legitimacy of credit rating systems.

The point is, no one seems to really like that the Phillies re-signed Kyle Kendrick.

So what of Kendrick and his contract? Well, Bill wrote earlier this afternoon in big friendly letters, “Don’t Panic,” and I’m inclined to agree with him. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that Kendrick, an extremely durable swingman who never walks anyone and goes from the rotation to the bullpen to Lehigh Valley without ever uttering a word of complaint, is more valuable a piece than we might realize. Perhaps no team relies more on (or expects more from, at any rate) its starting rotation than the Phillies do, so having a Kendrick to plug in for 15 starts might come in handy if one or the other of Joe Blanton‘s elbow or Vance Worley‘s two-seamer prove to be less reliable than expected. If nothing else, we know that Kendrick can come in and pitch slightly-better-than-replacement-level ball for six innings or so on very little notice.

I probably wouldn’t be making this argument if not for the 2011 Red Sox, who, I would argue, missed out on the playoffs last year for want of a pitcher like Kendrick. While the Red Sox went into the season with a projected rotation of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, and Daisuke Matsuzaka. That group included the reigning AL ERA champion (Buchholz), one of the four or five best young left-handed starters under 30 (Lester), two guys who, while wildly overpaid, were expected to at least be mediocre (Lester and Dice-K), and Josh Beckett. Not a bad group, on the whole.

Well, in the blink of an eye, Buchholz and Matsuzaka were out for the season, Beckett missed a couple starts (though he went on to post the best season of his career, by ERA+ and bWAR), and Lackey suffered what I’ve come to call the Alex Fernandez Injury. In Game 2 of the 1997 NLCS against Atlanta, Marlins pitcher Alex Fernandez blew out his arm but stayed out on the mound at least an inning after it became clear that someone had set off a grenade inside his elbow. After being horrified and fascinated by this incident, I’ve thought of Fernandez every time I’ve watched a pitcher do his elbow, then try to get by 81-mph arrows in the vain hope of the velocity, movement, or location coming back.

While the Marlins yanked Ferndandez after 2 2/3 innings, the Red Sox trotted Lackey back out there for another two months or so with the inside of his elbow resembling nothing so much as the mangled inner workings of the Cylon Raider that Starbuck fixed up in that episode of Battlestar Galactica. So the Red Sox traded for Eric Bedard, who was hurt and ineffective. Then they found themselves in the stretch run with only two effective, healthy pitchers: Beckett and Lester. The other three spots in the rotation went to the injured Lackey, the aged Tim Wakefield, and the ineffective Andrew Miller and Kyle Weiland. In 1949, the Red Sox reeled off an 11-game winning streak over the last two weeks of the season by going to a two-man rotation–over the last 20 games of the season, the Red Sox only won two games that where neither Mel Parnell nor Ellis Kinder recorded a win or a save. When Beckett and Lester were unable to duplicate that success, the Red Sox were screwed.

The presence of Kendrick, who almost certainly won’t be able to duplicate his 3.22 ERA of last season, makes such a disaster profoundly unlikely for the Phillies in the coming year. Now, is $3.6 million too much to pay for a pitcher with a career 4.65 xFIP? Probably, but not disastrously so. He’s almost certain to come down from his excellent 2011, unless his BABIP stays at .261. But with the cost of a marginal win hovering somewhere north of $5 million for this season, Kendrick doesn’t have to be particularly good to justify his contract–about 2/3 of a win will do nicely, and even if he comes up a bit short, overspending by $1 million or so on Kendrick isn’t a disaster for a team whose utter contempt for prudent stewardship of its monetary resources is made clear by the contracts extended to Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, Brad Lidge, and Jonathan Papelbon, while Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, and Ryan Madson merited little more attention than a panhandler at the PATCO stop at 8th and Market.

And there’s the old adage about there being no such thing as a bad one-year contract.

All in all, there’s a lot to like about this deal: short duration, relatively low cost and expectations, and it fills a need. All in all, Kyle Kendrick is like a slightly overpriced spare tire–kind of irritating if you don’t need him, but absolutely essential if you do. If you want to feel good about the Phillies, you can stop reading now.

HOWEVER.

Today, MLB Trade Rumors noted that the price has come down for the top starting pitchers remaining in the free agent market, including Roy Oswalt, who, it is said, would accept a one-year, $8 million contract. Hiroki Kuroda could be had for $10-11 million. I’ve always liked Kuroda, but his age and his price probably eliminate the Phillies from contention. Of course, if the Phillies hadn’t signed Joe Blanton, Jonathan Papelbon, and Kendrick to deals no one was crazy about when they were signed, they’d have room on their payroll for Kuroda, Madson, and probably one other pitcher. But hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.

But let’s compare  how the three have done, in terms of fWAR, since Kuroda joined the National League in 2008.

As you can see, Oswalt and Kuroda, each in a relative down year, were each somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 times more valuable than Kendrick was. Of course, Kuroda threw a little less than twice as many innings than Kendrick, so let’s say that Kuroda was six times more valuable than Kendrick, per inning pitched, and set aside the intrinsic value that innings pitched have. Oswalt threw about 20 percent more innings than Kendrick, so let’s call him ten times more valuable in 2011.

This is what drives me absolutely busalooey about the way the Phillies do business. They tendered Kyle Kendrick for arbitration, knowing that he’d be in for a multi-million-dollar payday, when better options were out there. Kendrick had a good 2011, buoyed by unsustainably low batted ball numbers. For reference, Happ posted a .261 BABIP, a 4.43 xFIP, and a 2.93 ERA in 2009. In 2011, Happ’s BABIP returned to a relatively normal .297, and his xFIP rose slightly, to 4.59, but his ERA was 5.35. Amazing what a little bit of luck can do to you.

But the Phillies, because of ontological blindness, naivete, or sheer force of their intractably reactionary institutional philosophy, have once again spent $3.6 million on a pitcher with a career low 4.04 xFIP, when $8 million would have nabbed them a pitcher with a career high 3.97 xFIP, or $10 million would have landed them a pitcher with a career high 3.89 xFIP. Imagine shopping for beer like this. Signing Kendrick to this contract with Oswalt and Kuroda where they are in the market is like going to Canal’s, passing the 24-pack of Sam Adams for $12, then passing the Great Lakes variety 24-pack for $15, then deciding you’d rather spend six bucks on two pounders of Beast Light. Those are not the actions of an informed shopper. I know this and I just spent 20 minutes on Google and three minutes tooling around in Excel. The Phillies are an organization worth half a billion dollars or more, with hundreds of full-time employees. How can they not be aware of this?

In a vacuum, re-signing Kendrick is a nice, if slightly pricey insurance policy. Given that the Phillies appear willing to sign Cole Hamels to a one-year deal rather than locking him up long-term (what possible purpose this could serve is a mystery to me), keeping Kendrick on at this price is hardly the most actively harmful personnel decision the Phillies have made this week. And I’ll grant you, that by price, age, and role, Oswalt and Kuroda aren’t completely fair comparisons to Kendrick. But the Phillies have so gravely miscalculated the value of starting pitchers this offseason that if NASA were so off-base, they’d have sent Apollo 11 straight into the center of the Earth.

So did the Phillies do well to re-sign Kendrick? It depends on how you look at it.

The Farewell Voyage?

If there was one thing I was concerned about entering this offseason, it was the possibility that the Phillies would fail to lock up Cole Hamels to a multi-year extension.

As you all know and are probably tired of hearing by now, the 2012 season will be Cole’s last under team control in his current contract situation. His three-year, $20.5M extension ended at the conclusion of last season, and ’12 will be his final year of arbitration eligibility. The logical comparison often bandied about is Jered Weaver‘s five-year, &85M extension, signed this past August. The numbers bear out a close comparison. Hamels is almost 15 months younger, but both pitchers have about six years of Major League service, separated by 0.08 in ERA, 114 strikeouts, 16 walks and 29.2 innings. Despite concerns – Weaver with his cross-body delivery and Hamels with Minor League arm trouble – both have been durable, starting 30-plus games each of their past four seasons.

Only one is signed past the 2012 season, though, and it ain’t the one pitching for the Phillies this season. And that is quickly becoming a problem.

CSN’s Jim Salisbury recently posted a piece which details the club’s focus in signing Hamels to a one-year contract. That it’s even come to that is damning. I’ve held to the belief for a couple years running now that, if Hamels is allowed to play the 2012 season as a walk year, he will indeed walk right out of Philly to a new home at season’s end.

Consider Cole’s possible competition on the free agent market next winter. Obviously, things could change depending on how players perform, injuries and other miscellany throughout 2012, but at this moment, this is the 2013 free agent market. Matt Cain will command money. Zack Greinke should also probably expect to receive a healthy contract, but not on the same level. The next tier includes guys like James Shields and Ervin Santana, both of whom have reasonably affordable options (or, in Shields’s case, may be traded for and extended by their new team). They would be a half step below Hamels to begin with, but if they don’t reach the market, that’s more power yet to Cole.

The point is, Hamels and Cain are the heads of the class. There’s little potential of a Ryan Madson-type positional market flooding preventing Cole from cashing in. And guess who’s lurking? The Yankees, for one, who have an obvious need and plenty of dinero. The Red Sox had some rotation issues, too. And that’s not to mention any number of teams that wouldn’t love to add an ace before he turns 30.

It’s all gut feeling at this point. What I may be feeling, you may be sensing the opposite. And sure, a decent one-year deal could keep Hamels placated and away from running the gauntlet of an arbitration hearing. But he doesn’t own this city any type of loyalty or discount, especially to a fan base which, on a maddeningly large scale, wanted him run out of town after an unlucky 2009 and a front office that seems to think Ryan Howard and Jonathan Papelbon are worth major bucks, but not him. This is the game you play and the risk you take.

Hamels is entitled to every penny the market will bear, and he will get it, especially if he stays healthy and posts another non-2009. Call it fatalist or pessimist, but don’t forget to call it realist. The Phillies are big boys and can spend with the big dogs, but with more than $100M already committed to just six players in 2013, adding Hamels at potentially $17M-plus – a higher AAV than Weaver – will make the luxury tax loom even larger than it already does.

It’s an unnecessarily complex situation, given the Howard and Papelbon deals, but it’s complex nonetheless. Call it a kneejerk reaction, but as of this second, I don’t like the way this is shaping up one bit. Not one bit at all.

Sarge Is Awesome [.gifs]

Just a warning to you low-bandwidth, slow-computer people: there will be many .gifs after the jump, so don’t click through if you can’t handle it.

Staked to a four-run lead, the New York Mets wanted to get Mike Pelfrey through the bottom of the sixth inning as he was at the end of his rope, throwing over 120 pitches. With two outs and the bases empty, he had to get past Placido Polanco before hitting the showers. Polanco, as he always does, worked the count well, fouling a few pitches off and getting to 2-2. Pelfrey decided to throw him an inside slider, but went a bit too far inside, nearly hitting Polanco. Those of us watching on TV wondered if the ball grazed his uniform, but alas, it did not. 3-2 count.

Pelfrey then started jawing at Polanco for seemingly no reason. Broadcaster Tom McCarthy speculated that it was because Pelfrey thought Polanco was trying to lean into the pitch to get a free trip to first base. Polanco was as surprised as anybody to hear the criticism. The .gifs show this story unfolding in hilarious fashion. Click the link to watch the scene.

Continue reading…

Ricciardi, Pagan Help Mets Meet Trash Talk Quota

Carlos Beltran, 2008:

So this year, to Jimmy Rollins, we are the team to beat. (New York Daily News)

Francisco Rodriguez, going into 2009:

Of course, we’re going to try to win the division. Of course, we’re going to be the front-runner. Of course, we’re going to be the team to beat. (ESPN)

J.P. Ricciardi, special assistant to Mets GM Sandy Alderson, going into the 2011 season:

So now that Mr. Ricciardi is a special assistant to Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, the prospect of having to wrench supremacy in the National League East away from the Philadelphia Phillies doesn’t fill him with much apprehension.

“The AL East always had two or three teams coming at you,” he said by phone recently. “After having done it so many years against the Yankees and the Red Sox and Tampa being good through that cycle, I’ll take my chances. Even though the Phillies are really good, I’ll take my chances over here.” (Wall Street Journal)

Angel Pagan on Wednesday:

Angel Pagan knows that much of the baseball world is “talking about Philadelphia” since the Phillies added Cliff Lee to an already-imposing rotation. But Pagan wants to make sure no one forgets about the Mets, either, even if they’ve had a much lower-profile winter. “If we have health, we can give them a fight,” Pagan said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “Everyone is counting on Philadelphia, but they have to do it. I got my money on my team, bro. I love challenges and that’s why I’m looking forward to it. I believe in surprises.” (New York Daily News)

You’d think that, after four seasons of the Phillies dominating the NL East, the Mets would learn to keep their mouths shut. Everybody and their mother has already concluded that the Mets will be golfing in October. That is, everyone except Ricciardi and Pagan, it seems.

Chipper Jones Whines About Injuries

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports interviewed Chipper Jones, asking him his thoughts on several topics, including the Braves’ fall from first place in the NL East. Jones took the opportunity to blame it on injuries, failing to realize that the first-place Phillies have had to overcome a multitude of injuries themselves.

Q: But what happens if you fail to make the playoffs? How disappointing will it be fall short in Cox’s final chance?

A: You’ve got to keep it all in perspective. If Medlen and I were healthy and we didn’t make it, that would be extremely disappointing, but it’s hard to overcome losing your No. 3 hitter and third baseman and one of your pitchers in the rotation, replace them with people in your organization and not have a little bit of a dip, not let it affect you.

Either way, it obviously would be disappointing. We’re a good enough team to represent our division and the National League in the playoffs, but you have that check in the back of your mind that says, “What would happen if I didn’t go down? If Medlen didn’t go down?”

It’s been a while since we last looked at how the injuries have been piling up for the Phillies, so let’s take a look.

The timeline (click to view a much larger version):

Player Absent Injury $/Gm $ to Date Injury Cost
Chase Utley 47 R Thumb Sprain $92,593 $13.70 M $4.35 M
Jimmy Rollins 66 R Calf Strain $46,296 $6.85 M $3.06 M
Brad Lidge 42 R Elbow Surgery/
Inflammation
$70,988 $10.51 M $2.98 M
Jamie Moyer 56 L Elbow UCL $40,123 $5.94 M $2.25 M
Ryan Howard 16 L Ankle $117,284 $17.36 M $1.88 M
Ryan Madson 63 R Big Toe Fracture $27,778 $4.11 M $1.75 M
Placido Polanco 19 L Elbow Bruise $30,864 $4.57 M $0.59 M
J.C. Romero 22 L Elbow Surgery $24,691 $3.65 M $0.54 M
Shane Victorino 13 R Abdominal Strain $30,864 $4.57 M $0.40 M
J.A. Happ 88 L Forearm Strain $2,901 $0.43 M $0.26 M
Chad Durbin 18 R Hamstring Strain $13,117 $1.94 M $0.24 M
Carlos Ruiz 20 Concussion $11,728 $1.74 M $0.23 M
Danys Baez 15 Back Spasms $15,432 $2.28 M $0.23 M
Joe Blanton 24 L Oblique Strain $6,173 $0.91 M $0.15 M
Ross Gload 17 Groin $6,173 $0.91 M $0.10 M
Brian Schneider 13 L Achilles Strain $6,173 $0.91 M $0.08 M
Antonio Bastardo 26 L Elbow Ulnar Neuritis $2,500 $0.37 M $0.07 M
Scott Mathieson 12 R Strained Lat Muscle $2,469 $0.37 M $0.03 M
Juan Castro 5 L Hamstring Strain $4,321 $0.64 M $0.02 M
TOTAL 582 $81.77 M $19.20 M

The above data in graph form (click to view a much larger version):

The Phillies have lost about $20 million in injuries, not even counting the non-DL days players took off (like Lidge Sept. 7-13 or Brown Sept. 7-17). Overall, 19 players have landed on the disabled list for a total of 582 days. Ten of the 19 have missed 20 games or more; six have missed at least 40 games. Six players’ injuries have cost the Phillies at least $1.75 million; three have cost the team $3 million or more.

Of the nearly $82 million the Phillies will have paid the 19 injured players, over $19 million has been lost to injury (23.5 percent). They opened the season with a $138 million payroll; the injuries represent about 14 percent of that.

Despite the host of injuries — including the simultaneous absence of the right side of the infield and #3-4 hitters — the Phillies sit in first place, 26 games above .500. They won 31 of 44 (.705) in August and September and finished out the month of July with six straight wins as well. The Braves have gone in the opposite direction.

While it’s certainly true that the Phillies have been playing over their heads and the Braves under theirs, the Braves have only themselves to blame for their struggles. Swapping Yunel Escobar for Alex Gonzalez was a loss in terms of production and expecting the oft-injured Derrek Lee and Rick Ankiel to provide an offensive boost was a fool’s errand. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro has outclassed Braves GM Frank Wren in terms of surrounding the core group of players with productive complimentary players. Having an extra $50 million will do that. But when payroll is that much smaller, player evaluation has to be that much better and for the Braves, it simply hasn’t been there.

Jones is wrong when he blames the Braves’ woes on injuries. If he would look up at the team in first place, he would realize that.

Faith and Fear in Flushing

The title is a nod to a Mets blog of the same name, which is unrelated to what will follow. I think it captures the issue perfectly, though.

News flash: Phillies fan criticizes Mets organization; Mets fans recoil.

Denis Leary, captured above, perfectly sums up the situation.

Disclaimer: What will follow will likely be boring to read, as it’s yet another response to an SB Nation blogger that felt personally insulted by something I wrote about his team. This is your opportunity to click your way out of here before you get swept up in blog drama.

Initially, I wasn’t going to respond to it because the author of the latest response, James Kannengieser, appears to be trolling. After he read my article at Baseball Daily Digest about the Mets’ lack of leadership, James sent me an e-mail informing me that he was, in fact, personally offended by my thoughts. He went as far as to call it, “an ignorant writeup I would expect to read at The Fightins‘ or Beer Leaguer or some other mongo Phillies blog,” and “the biggest turd of a piece you’ve ever written.”

I regret to send page views to Amazin’ Avenue for what clearly amounts to trolling, but I don’t want to show only one side of the argument. So if you want to read James’ full argument, instead of what I will selectively quote here, then click here to go to Amazin’ Avenue. I also recommend reading my BDD article that inspired James’ rebuttal.

James’ thoughts will be quoted in bold and my responses will follow in regular typeface.

Let’s just ignore the lame Phillie fan throwaway line about All-Star Jose Reyes being known more for celebrations than on-field performance. Although it does provide a backdrop for the (usually objective) writer’s perspective.

Perception is a funny thing. Human beings are egotistical beings, they really are. James accuses me of not being objective in my BDD article, and I don’t particularly disagree. I said as much prior to going into my argument:

Before I introduce my theory, in the interest of full disclosure, I’d like to put out there that I’m a die-hard Phillies fan with a blog about them. I’m sure there’s bias in my perception, so feel free to comment below and steer the ship back to center if you feel I’ve gone adrift.

But James, of course, is totally objective, right?. He…

  • …is a Mets fan;
  • …writes for a Mets-based blog;
  • …is on the Internet

In other words, he’s not impartial as he seems to think he is and just as biased as I am. I pointed this out in our back-and-forth via e-mail, saying that the crux of our argument hinges on perception; that there’s no one correct perception. It’s like saying, “You don’t have the right taste in music; there’s way too much country filling up your iTunes.”

If James had said, “I disagree, I think Jose Reyes showed leadership,” that would have been fine. That wouldn’t have merited his blog entry, of course, but it would have been fine. But James went the extra step in saying, “I think…” and indicting my opinions in the same breath. He wrote via e-mail, “don’t write about shit you don’t know about (the Mets).”

Reyes is selfish for wanting to come back from injury and do his job? Come again? Pushing his body to rehab from injury, in order to better his team, seems like the very opposite of “selfish”.

Selfish is defined as “Holding one’s self-interest as the standard for decision making”.

I linked to sources in the BDD article describing the Mets’ front office and the Mets fan base questioning Reyes’ toughness. I also linked to an article with quotes Reyes’ mindfulness of these criticisms. He attempted to return from a hamstring injury prematurely in an attempt to silence his critics. That is blatantly obvious.

Believe it or not, James agrees, he just doesn’t realize it. A couple months ago, he wrote:

It’s this foolishly negative perception that may have driven him too hard to try to come back this season from injury.

He completely agrees with my statement; he was just upset that the criticism of Reyes was coming from a Phillies fan, which is why he had the knee-jerk reaction. It’s akin to a brother picking on his sister at home, but standing up for her when she is picked on by someone else at the playground.

He pushed himself to come back and was bizarrely called selfish. If he didn’t come back, he’d be labeled “soft” and “not a gamer”.

Kannengieser seems to think that I’m in the business of bashing Jose Reyes, but I’m not. I recognize Reyes as one of the premier players in baseball when he’s healthy, and I admire his work ethic and loyalty to the Mets organization. I simply said it was a selfish decision to come back prematurely from a serious injury just to protect his public image. That is the very definition of selfish.

This revelation doesn’t mean Reyes is a selfish person, just that he made a selfish decision. It’s not exactly breaking news, as people make selfish decisions on a daily basis. When you’re on a team, though, selfish decisions are not good.

Mets management and players have made numerous embarrassing blunders the last few seasons — let’s not fabricate more for the sake of a tidy narrative.

Nothing was fabricated, as my thoughts on Reyes were preceded by the thoughts, directly quoted above, of Kannengieser himself.

Next, James doesn’t like my criticism of Johan Santana…

I tried to come up with reasons why a fun, harmless handshake exercise would be portrayed as a negative. The potential argument that Santana should be preparing for the game instead of wasting time with handshakes is a poor one — by my count the whole process took 1 minute, 24 seconds.

I think it’s funny that James took the time to e-mail me and to have a debate about this, yet posted this flawed argument anyway. I debunked this criticism by the time we got to the 20’s in our e-mails. It’s like Bill O’Reilly saying Richard Nixon never met Chairman Mao (true story), showing him video evidence of Nixon meeting Mao, and then O’Reilly arguing on his next show that Nixon never met Mao.

Anyway, my point about the handshakes is that Santana designed close to, if not more than, 25 unique handshakes for each of his teammates. In the video, it takes him about a minute and a half, as James mentions, to make his way through the dugout going through each unique gesture. That would be a solid debunking of my argument… if it were my argument.

I told James several times that that was not my argument. Yet he completely ignored that and used the strawman argument anyway.

My point is that it takes a lot of time to come up with, edit, and practice/memorize each of these unique handshakes. I challenged James to prove me wrong, telling him I’d donate $25 to a charity of his choice if he could come up with 25 reasonable and unique handshakes himself by the end of the night (it was about 6 PM when I wrote it, giving him six hours). He did not even acknowledge this (I challenged him at least twice), knowing full well he couldn’t and that my point was valid. I realize it’s a stupid challenge but it very well illustrates my point and, hey, it benefits a charity.

In the time Santana used to come up with those handshakes, he could have been doing something much more productive, such as working with his catcher, or pitching coach, or infield; poring over video tape; going over scouting reports, etc.

If Santana had just a few of those handshakes, that would be fine, but it’s clearly a hobby and an unproductive one at that.

Also, listen to Ron Darling describe Santana as a leader of the ballclub towards the end of the clip. Maybe Baer had his speakers on mute.

Because what Ron Darling says is gold. Let’s say a video exists of Gary “Sarge” Matthews (Phillies color broadcaster for you out-of-towners) in which he says Santana is not a leader. What happens? A stalemate?

It’s just an appeal to authority; just because Ron Darling says something doesn’t mean it is a fact.

What business is it of anyone how he spends his free time? More importantly, what in the name of Zeus’s butthole does this have to do with not exhibiting leadership?

I believe the concept of leadership is to set an example for younger or newer teammates. Correct me if I’m wrong. What if everyone on the Mets followed Johan’s lead and spent a lot of time working on handshakes when they could be going over scouting reports or something more productive?

In our e-mail conversation, I did admit to James that citing this probably did more to harm my point than to help it. However, that’s not because my point is flawed but because my point requires a bit more than the passive examination James gave it.

Hypothetically, if I were a 22 year-old rookie who made the Opening Day roster and Johan Santana approached me about creating a secret handshake, I’d be ecstatic. One of the best players in baseball wants to connect with me? Wow — I’d really feel like a part of the team.

As would I. I don’t deny there may be some positive effects from Johan’s handshake routines. However, the utility calculus doesn’t favor spending so much time on these handshakes. Others may calculate the utility differently; there’s no one correct calculus, hence why we perceive the same issue in different ways.

Maybe it’s a waste of time, but that lies in the eye of the beholder and has absolutely nothing to do with team leadership.

In this statement, James a) agrees with my entire point once again, rendering his rebuttal moot; and b) contradicts his previous point: “One of the best players in baseball wants to connect with me? Wow — I’d really feel like a part of the team.”

A classic myth propagated by the New York mainstream media is that of the 3 AM “middle of the night” firing of Willie Randolph.

[...]

Saying it happened at 3 AM is exaggeration in an attempt to make Mets management look as inept as possible.

James is absolutely correct that the firing took place shortly after midnight in Pacific Standard Time, which would be about 3 AM on the East coast. However, this is mere nitpicking on James’ part as he completely ignores the fact that Minaya waited to fire Randolph:

  • After he and the team flew out to the West coast on a six-game road trip
  • After the Mets won the opener in Los Angeles against the Angels
  • After midnight

The situation was totally botched and it was completely embarrassing for Mets fans everywhere. The only thing that would have made it worse is if Minaya fired Randolph via text message.

In closing, SB Nation blogs don’t really like me too much it appears. I don’t know what it is but while some of their blogs and their respective communities are outstanding (Lookout Landing and Beyond the Box Score, among others), others are the equivalent of YouTube commenters (Halos Heaven and Amazin’ Avenue).

I think it says a lot about human nature that I left an open invitation for dissenters to comment on the article to point out where I erred, and no one used the opportunity. Instead, they stayed inside their gated communities and left snide comments such as:

  • Boy, that Baseball Daily Digest article really brought the stupid
  • those guys are douches
  • that’s the worst article I’ve ever read like, literally ever.
  • haha this is just comically bad writing
  • Why are people so stupid????
  • I really hope that, that guy is not paid to write, because oh my was that ridiculous.

People, for the most part, want to have their beliefs reinforced. When their sheltered beliefs are challenged by an outsider, they feel threatened and react accordingly. Looking through Amazin’ Avenue’s archives, claims very similar to mine have been made; the Mets organization and the players have been thoroughly roasted by their very own writers.When a Phillies fan does it, however, suddenly those points are immediately wrong and he is clearly “stupid”, a “douche”, “comically bad”, and “ridiculous”.

James’ trolling is simple preaching to the converted, a rallying of his base. It’s no different than Glenn Beck calling President Barack Obama a socialist. (In the interest of fairness, an equivalent analogy will be made. It’s like Keith Olbermann calling former President George W. Bush a war criminal.) In the end, we all like to feel that what we know and believe is true, and if we can push out the outsiders to keep our gated communities sterile, that’s what we’ll do.

Blogs should not be in the business of suppressing thought, but encouraging it. It is a disservice to the baseball (and Sabermetric) community to try and squelch opposing opinions. Blogs are at their best when they freely welcome in dissent and at their worst when a conscious effort is made to homogenize the community.

“The most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome.” — George Orwell

NL East Rotation Showdown

So a mini-argument broke out on Twitter today. No one got hurt, fortunately, but feelings may have been bruised. It all started when radio host Kent Covington suggested that the starting rotation in Atlanta is better than the one in Philadelphia, which is not an outrageous claim in and of itself. However, he suggested that the Phillies’ duo of Roy Halladay and J.A. Happ is only marginally better than the Braves’ duo of Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson.

As a proclaimed radio host, I’m sure his intention was just to ruffle some feathers. He did so successfully, as his Twitter feed is mostly a litany of responses to outraged Tweeters. I don’t write this to call him out, however. It was a thought-provoking claim and it broke up the monotony of the baseball-less winter.

Still, I was curious. Is the Braves’ rotation better than that of the Phillies? Which rotation in the NL East is best? To answer these questions, I took the PECOTA projections from Baseball Prospectus (using WARP) and each team’s starting five according to the playing time projections from Heater Magazine. Here’s what I found:

  • Phillies (Halladay-Hamels-Blanton-Happ-Moyer): 11.7 WARP
  • Braves (Hudson-Lowe-Jurrjens-Hanson-Kawakami): 10.2
  • Marlins (Johnson-Nolasco-Volstad-Sanchez-Miller): 8.1
  • Nationals (Marquis-Lannan-Olsen-Martin-Stammen): 5.4
  • Mets (Santana-Pelfrey-Maine-Perez-Nieve): 4.7

PECOTA thinks the Phillies’ rotation is tops, about 1.5 WARP better than the Braves’ five. Additionally, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels are the top two pitchers in the NL East according to the projections.

A nifty chart for you visual learners (click to enlarge):

Note: Pitchers are ordered by WARP, not by probable spot in rotation.

Of course, these are just projections and the baseball season will never pan out exactly as the projections say they will.

Kent lost me when he attempted to put Jair Jurrjens on the same pedestal as Roy Halladay. In several Tweets, he said:

Didn’t forget a/b Halladay. Jurrjens posted 2.60 just ERA. Halladay has never posted an ERA that low in a full season.

Jurrjens has yet to prove he can be quite the innings horse that Halladay is, but my point is, Halladay isn’t 1995-Maddux.

Jurrjens had better ERA, opposing average, & fewer HR’s. Now then, I agree that Halladay had a tougher road in the AL East…
…& I’m not even saying that Jurrjens is better than Halladay. But when you look at numbers, it’s hard to make a credible…
argument that Hallday’s in a completely different class. The facts just don’t support that claim.

The only reason I highlight this is to stress the use of BABIP in analyzing pitchers. Frequent readers of this blog are likely tired of me harping on this, but it is so important. BABIP does not correlate from year to year. When that BABIP significantly deviates from .300 (the league average), barring an obvious explanation, we attribute that season to luck and label the season an outlier. Both Hamels’ 2008 and ’09 seasons were outliers thanks to the respective .270 and .325 BABIP.

Jurrjens last year had a .273 BABIP, which is nearly as low as Hamels’ in ’08. What makes it worse for him is that he didn’t have the favorable strikeout and walk rates (and subsequent K:BB ratio). Thanks to the depressed BABIP, Jurrjens was also able to strand an abnormal amount of runners — nearly 80% to be specific.

Jurrjens struck out a meager 6.36 and walked 3.14 per nine innings, a K:BB ratio of just over 2:1. It’s decent, but nothing awe-inspiring.

Halladay, meanwhile, struck out 7.83 and walked 1.32 per nine innings last year, which gave him a K:BB ratio of nearly 6:1. He had a BABIP of .313. As noted here, Halladay has compiled his eye-popping numbers in the most offensively-potent division in the Majors: the AL East. It is very reasonable to expect his numbers to improve given the weaker level of competition in the NL East.

In no universe, except the Bizarro universe, is Jurrjens comparable to Halladay. PECOTA puts Jurrjens at about 3 WARP in 2010; I will bet the under on that. Halladay is at about 4.5 WARP; I’ll take the over. And I’m not just being fannish — I’m the guy calling for a significant regression for J.A. Happ for reasons along the same lines as Jurrjens.

Tommy Hanson, on the other hand, had a .280 BABIP in 2010 and he’s an example of a pitcher we can reasonably expect to post a slightly below-average BABIP due to his high strikeout rate (8.2 per nine last year). Matt Swartz of Baseball Prospectus found the following:

Pitchers who are at least one standard deviation above average in strikeouts enjoy the benefit of even lower BABIPs than moderately high strikeout pitchers. These extreme power pitchers have overall BABIP of about .285, and this drop in BABIP is consistent among all four count types.

If I’m a Braves fan, I’m putting my eggs the basket of Tommy Hanson; not Jair Jurrjens. Anything that Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, and Kenshin Kawakami give is dessert.

How to Lose with Grace

From The 700 Level is a quote from Cliff Lee following his shellacking at the hands of the whiny Atlanta Braves:

“Ballpark? Whatever,” Lee said. “I got hit today because I was throwing pitches down the middle. That had nothing to do with the ballpark. It was me throwing balls down the middle and them not missing them. They’re good hitters. The ballpark is an excuse. Yeah, maybe in another ballpark a couple of those would have been fly balls, but they weren’t. They were home runs. It’s my job not to throw the pitches where I did.”  

I’ll also quote The 700 Level’s commentary:

See that, Braves? That’s how you lose with some stugots. Somehow I like Lee even better today than yesterday, despite the loss.

If an Atlanta Brave got shelled like Lee did, he’d blame everybody except himself. It was the ballpark. No, it was the umpire. No, it was the hostile Philadelphia crowd. No, it was the rainy weather the past few days. No, it’s because it’s the end of August. No, it’s because the Braves’ fielders didn’t corral every batted ball. No, it’s because Bobby Cox stole Jobu’s rum.

All right, I promise this is the last time I’ll whine about the Braves’ whining… until the next time they whine.

Brian McCann, Walk This Way…

…right off of this conveniently-located cliff.

Hat tip to The Good Phight. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“He’s got so much power, and this is a high school field,” Braves catcher Brian McCann said of Howard, who has four homers and seven RBIs in his past two games against the Braves, including a two-homer game Aug. 16 at Atlanta.

It’s like clockwork. Two or three times a year whenever the Braves get pounded by the Phillies, they whine about the ballpark. Click the link above, “NL East Whining” for some sad music from the world’s smallest violin.

Hit Tracker Online has classifications for 35 of Howard’s 37 home runs. Only 10 (27%) classified as JE or JE/L (Just Enough/Lucky). Another 10 were ND (No Doubt), and 15 were PL (Plenty). Here’s a further breakdown of his home/away HR splits:

Howard has hit two more “wall-scrapers” on the road than at home, and he’s hit four more “no doubt” home runs. As usual, an Atlanta Brave has whined about something unsubstantiated by facts.

Don’t forget that both teams have to play in the same park. It’s not like McCann has to toil away 162 games a season in the pitcher-friendly confines of Turner Field while the Phillies play 162 in CBP; he gets to hit there too!

And he likes it. McCann has hit three home runs (one ND, two PL) in Philly this year along with a 1.054 OPS in 30 plate appearances. Throughout his career, McCann has a .887 OPS in 147 PA, his highest OPS in any stadium in which he’s accumulated 70 or more PA.

Instead of being classy and simply respecting the opponent that beat them, or at the very least saying nothing at all, the Braves always call to arms and take to the press following the game. For an organization that has produced some of the game’s great players, they also produce a very high percentage of crybabies. I want to like John Smoltz, I really do. And I want to like Brian McCann, but every time the Braves’ players open their mouths, I want to Spartan Kick them. I can’t think of a less classy organization in baseball… the Blue Jays, maybe?

Rant almost over.

Further down in the AJC article linked above, we have a quote from starter Tommy Hanson on the first homer Howard hit:

Hanson gave up an opposite-field homer to Howard to the nearby left-field bleachers, an easy poke for the left-handed slugger.

“I don’t even think it was a strike,” Hanson said. “It was a slider, up. I was trying to make a quality pitch. Left it up a little bit.”

McCann said: “With a guy that strong, he doesn’t even have to come out of his swing. Playing here, he can wait as long as he can and just flip ’em to left.”

So Howard hit a pitch that may not have even been a strike (it wasn’t according to Pitch F/X) for a home run. You know what you do in that case? You tip your hat to the batter for putting a good swing on a pitch most hitters would pop up to the third baseman.

Of course, there’s McCann showing up with a back-handed compliment of Howard. You stay classy, B-Mac.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a quote from Braves manager Bobby Cox two weeks ago following a Phillies win in Atlanta:

“We played in the wrong park tonight,” Cox said. “If we’re in Philadelphia, we’ve probably got five homers, at least four. The long fly balls just weren’t traveling. I knew Utley’s was out and I knew Howard’s was out.”

Get your story straight, Braves!