2013 Phillies Report Card: John Lannan

We should probably have seen John Lannan‘s acquisition coming. The Phillies were intimately familiar with Lannan, for reasons both good (the Phils had smacked him around for a collective .899 OPS over 448 plate appearances) and bad (he was ejected from his debut for hitting Chase Utley and Ryan Howard consecutively, the former derailing a possible MVP season). So Ruben Amaro opted for the traditional boring fifth starter play, taking the divisional guy that could grind away some innings and, theoretically anyway, keep the game winnable. It wasn’t a bad idea, either. Prior to 2013, Lannan had been essentially league average in terms of ERA, which would have been more than effective enough for the last slot in the rotation on any team.

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Amaro Hints at Analytics Incorporation

With the way Major League Baseball operates in the year 2013, little things like this shouldn’t necessarily be news. But given the organization’s stubbornness and obstinance vis a vis the incorporation of analytics into player evaluation, this quote from a piece by MLB.com‘s Todd Zolecki feels important:

“We’re going to make some changes,” Amaro said. “I think we’re doing some stuff analytically to change the way do some evaluations. Look, we are going to continue to be a scouting organization. That said, I think we owe it to ourselves to look at some other ways to evaluate. We’re going to build more analytics into it. Is it going to change dramatically the way we go about our business? No, but we owe it to ourselves to at least explore other avenues. We may bring someone in from the outside, but we have not decided that yet.”

Whether this is the first step toward a total renovation of player evaluation or merely a placation of a growing portion of the fanbase remains to be seen, but it’s encouraging nonetheless. A moment of lauding for the much maligned RAJ, either way.

Relievers and This Winter’s Checkbook

The bullpen! It needs help! And although the lingering fear is that the best fix is to go with an influx of external candidates, pouring free agent money out the taps and dishing pint after pint of it to the latest and greatest relief arms to grace the free agent pool, there may actually be a way to avoid such a money dump.

Right now, the relief corps looks pretty crappy. September call-ups on tryout, lethargy in the air and the absence of other names via injury or suspension have rendered the bullpen a place of shame and dread, its gate-opening an act to be regarded with the utmost distaste. Hell, even the best arm currently available within gets booed nearly every time out, regardless of performance.

It’s a sad place. But the good news is that brighter days may be ahead in 2014! That’s easy to say about nearly any aspect of this Phillies club, but we need to go one thing at a time, lest our gripes pile upon our chests to a suffocating weight before we’re ready to bear them.

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Crash Bag, Vol. 45: Filling In For a Legend

Hello, pleased to meet you. My name is Paul, and I’ll be filling in for your usual host, Mr. Baumann, today. This column has always intimidated me, both because it’s the longest regular feature on the site and because Mike effortlessly references so many things that I couldn’t hope to duplicate him. But I’m what you’ve got and what you’ll have to deal with.

We’re coming up on a year’s worth of ‘baggery, and I consider myself honored to be part of this now-long-standing tradition. I’m not sure exactly how much I deserve to be soiling the name of this fine column with my own byline, but I hope my words do it proud. What I may not quite have in quantity, I certainly won’t make up for in quality. Or something like that. What follows is a mix of baseball, Oreos, Little Giants, revisionist poetry and Jennifer Lawrence. SEO, baby!

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Crash Bag, Vol. 41: Fleet of Foot, Absent of Neck

It is OPENING DAY! At 3 p.m. EST, Jordan Montgomery takes the mound against Liberty University and for the first time since last August, a team I follow will be playing meaningful regular-season baseball. Joey Pankake, “Hold Me Closer” LB Dantzler and the South Carolina Gamecocks, locked in mortal interscholastic combat with the Fightin’ Jerry Falwells! You know how that makes me feel?

Yes, sir. And remember, college baseball is now accepting callers for these pendant keychains, so if you want to hop on the bandwagon while there are still seats, you can start with my superb college baseball primer, for which the public had been clamoring, and I posted over the weekend, so you may have missed it.

Anyway, for ease of site navigation, you’re going to have to negotiate a jump to get to the rest of the Crash Bag, so click that little link and we’ll be on our way.

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Trimming the Fat

Instead of making that one big, impact move Ruben Amaro had come to make his trademark each offseason, the Phillies have turned to an alternative strategy of adding many players on lesser Major or Minor League deals. What that has produced, in turn, is a glut. Two gluts, if we’re being precise, in the positions of outfielder and relief pitcher.

At the close of business on Friday, here’s how the Phillies’ 40-man outfield situation shakes out:

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Delmon Young: The Links

The Phillies’ signing of Delmon Young this week was, by far, one of the most…well, it was something, and a lot of people (both on this site and elsewhere) felt compelled to write about it.

Here’s a collection of links to pieces from throughout the net-webs on everyone’s favorite new acquisition, typically listed chronologically, but in some cases not because existence is pointless.

Crashburn Alley

  1. Ryan Sommers: Phillies Sign . . . *sigh* to 1 year, *groan* thousand dollar contract
  2. Paul Boye: What Happened to My 100-Win Team?
  3. Paul Boye: Caring About Walks and Production
  4. Bill Baer: Failure in Philadelphia
  5. Michael Baumann: Crash Bag, Vol. 38: The Great Satan

The Good Phight

  1. Joe Catanzariti: Are You There RAJ? It’s Me, Joecatz: An Open Letter to Ruben Amaro Jr.
  2. Bill Parker: Delmon Young: A User’s Guide
  3. TheOrangeCone: The Biggest Loser: Phillies Edition
  4. dajafi: Defending the Delmon Young Deal
  5. RememberthePhitans: Love Triangle: Delmon Young, Ruben Amaro, and Domonic Brown
  6. Liz Roscher: Done With Ruben Amaro Jr: A Special Comment

That Ball’s Outta Here

  1. Ethan Seidel: Outfield Still Remains A Weakness After Delmon Young Signs 1-Year Deal
  2. John Stolnis: Ruben Amaro’s Disastrous Off-Season
  3. Justin Klugh: Delmon Young Saga Now Involves Dog Poop, Weight Loss

Phillies Nation

  1. Pat Gallen: Phillies Sign Young to One-Year Deal Worth $750K
  2. Ian Riccaboni: Big Money if Delmon Young Makes Weight
  3. Jay Floyd: Manuel Full of Gusto as Spring Training Nears

The 700 Level

  1. Andrew Kulp: Is Delmon Young the Answer in Right Field?
  2. Enrico Campitelli: Delmon Young’s Incentives Include Over Half a Million Bucks for Weighing Less

Aerys Sports

  1. Karilee Jeantet: Seriously Ruben?!?! Delmon Young?!?!

SB Nation

  1. Grant Brisbee: Delmon Young signs with Phillies
  2. Grant Brisbee: What are the Phillies thinking?

Philadelphia Daily News/High Cheese

  1. David Murphy: Breaking down the Phillies’ signing of Delmon Young
  2. David Murphy: Delmon Young, and the potential tragicomedy called the 2013 Phillies
  3. Ryan Lawrence: Worth the weight: Phillies outfielder Delmon Young’s contract
  4. David Murphy: Over the last two years, Domonic Brown has been better at baseball than Delmon Young

Philadelphia Inquirer/The Phillies Zone

  1. Matt Gelb: Video: Phillies pin right field hopes on Delmon Young
  2. Matt Gelb: Phillies outfielder Delmon Young has incentive to eat less

Delaware Online/Philled In

  1. Chris Branch: Delmon Young is getting paid to not be fat

NBC Philadelphia/Philthy Stuff

  1. Dash Treyhorn: What to Expect: Delmon Young

Sports On Earth

  1. Jon Bernhardt: Swing And A Miss

SI.com/Hit and Run

  1. Jay Jaffe: Winter Report Card: Philadelphia Phillies

Yahoo! Contributor Network

  1. Pete Lieber: Delmon Young a Skeptical Addition to the Philadelphia Phillies’ Outfield

ESPN.com

  1. AP: Phillies Sign OF Delmon Young

Had enough? Me too. But if you’ve written about this wonderful moment in club history and don’t see your piece listed above, poke me on Twitter with a link.

Shouldering the Load

twitter.com/JSalisburyCSN/status/289414094367367168

If you’re like me, seeing that tweet pop on your timeline last week was like sending a bolt of lightning through your chest. “Shoulder issue” and “Hamels” appearing in the same sentence is almost as frightening as the Three Scariest Words; those being “Dr. James Andrews.”

Everything seems alright, though. Ruben Amaro says he’s fine. We’re guessing Scott Sheridan is optimistic. Cole Hamels himself will probably tell you all is well and there’s no need for concern. On that, I’ll continue to hold my breath, but as for the comment that Hamels felt some of this discomfort toward the end of last season, was there any noticeable change?

To the eye test, I personally don’t recall Hamels looking adversely affected. The numbers seem to bear that out: a 3.32 ERA in 38 September innings with 44 strikeouts against seven walks are not typically the figures of an injured pitcher. He wasn’t given the Mark Prior treatment, either, throwing 110 pitches at most and fewer than 100 three times that month.

Of intrigue, though, is the note that Hamels’s overall fastball velocity dropped for the third consecutive season in 2012, down to 90.9 MPH from 91.2 in 2011 and 91.7 in 2010. September ’12 was also, on the whole, one of Cole’s slowest fastball months of the year, but no much slower than April that the concern pot should be stirred. Those same P f/x tables show that Cole’s FB movement hasn’t flattened out, either, so despite an uptick in line drives allowed against it, fewer fastballs left the yard for the ever-damaging dinger.

Above, we see graphical representations of Hamels’s horizontal (left) and vertical (right) release points, as documented over the years. The vertical graph shows little difference, but take a look at the horizontal graph on the left. At some point during the season (these graphs aren’t specifically detailed, unfortunately), Hamels reverted back to a release point more like 2011, slightly more three-quarter than over-the-top. While it’s not possible to tell given these tools exactly when this changeover occurred, there’s no clear statistical indicator (in terms of performance) that demarcates a noticeable change; Hamels was pretty consistent year-round.

I’m led to believe the front office when they say this issue is minor. At least, it’d better be.

Chase Utley and Left-Handed Pitching

Ken Rosenthal reported this week that the Phillies may be in search of a right-handed bat, listing Scott Hairston, Alfonso Soriano, and Vernon Wells as possible targets. Leaving aside the fact that the latter two are horrible tire-fires, the phrase “right-handed bat” triggers in me a gag reflex many years in the making. The notion that the Phillies are “too left-handed” has been around since at least Ryan Howard‘s arrival, and possibly longer. You could find such a claim on some blog or newspaper for any season since their run of success began.

This talking point persisted despite the fact that, from 2008-2010, the Phillies were the second-best hitting team in the NL against left-handed pitching when measured by their 105 wRC+ (friendly reminder that this is just park-adjusted and league-normalized wOBA). It seems almost shameful in its ingratitude nowadays, when an extra-base hit or a walk is almost a luxury for Phillies fans. In the two most recent seasons, the Phillies certainly have struggled against left-handed pitching, posting a 92 wRC+ in that split in 2011, and an 86 wRC+ in 2012. It’s less of a canard and more of a legitimate issue now.

The departure of Jayson Werth put a dent in the lineup’s LHP effectiveness for sure, but just as costly was Chase Utley‘s time lost to injury, and the apparent crumbling of his adverse platoon abilities. Entering 2011, Utley was just about equally lethal against either flavor of pitcher for his career. In fact, in 2010, he hit .294/.422/.581 in 166 plate appearances against lefties, compared to .266/.371/.381 in 345 plate appearances against righties. After knee injuries forced him to miss lots of time in the next two seasons, his bat declined, and his defiance of the platoon advantage principle unraveled in dramatic fashion. His wRC+ crashed from 172 in 2010 to 73 in 2011. It rebounded to 90 in 2012, but that figure is still second worst of his career.

It’s not hard to pick out what’s underlying that. Take a look at this table (click for larger), which plots various measures of Utley’s contact, discipline, and power against left and right-handed pitchers since 2007.


wXB/H is a statistic that measures power totally independent of contact ability, which is why hits are in the denominator. For more information, see here

The areas with discernible trends — and in which the decline is markedly worse against LHPs — is in BABIP and the power metrics. Utley is swinging roughly as often against LHPs as he usually has, and putting the ball in play about as often too. But those balls in play are becoming hits much less often, and, even when they do, they’re less likely to go for extra bases, or turn into home runs.

The culprit appears to be Utley’s pulled balls. From 2009-2010, when pulling the ball against a left-handed pitcher (136 plate appearances), Utley posted a .556 wOBA. For 2011-2012, in 97 such plate appearances, his wOBA is less than half of that — .246. The effect is easily visible when you chart his hits and plate coverage in these scenarios. Observe his hit locations when pulling the ball against left-handed pitchers, 2009 to 2012:

Now look at his slugging percentage when pulling a ball into play against lefties, over that same time period:

More outs and weakly hit balls are evident since his injury. Needless to say, we’re slicing the data up rather finely here, and these are pretty small sample sizes. But it’s not blogging without some questionable speculation. With that in mind:

Pulling the ball requires the hitter to be ahead of or right on the incoming pitch. Timing and recognition is crucial, especially if you’re a left-handed hitter trying to pull the ball against a same-handed pitcher, since you “see” the ball for significantly less time. For the Utley of old, this was never a problem. His pitch recognition was and still is among the best in the game, and his short, compact swing allowed him to bring the bat through the strike zone as quickly as needed, getting on top of left-handed offerings without issue. If his chronic knee issues have forced him to make alterations to his swing, even minor ones, this advantage could be obviated. A change in footwork could slow his bat just enough to hamper his contact abilities, or sap his ability to generate power to his pull side, relegating Utley to the production of a more traditional left-handed hitter.

This is not to say that such an outcome would be disastrous. Utley’s performance against lefties in 2011 was atrocious, but it rebounded significantly in 2012. Even then, with an OPS of .679 against left-handed pitching last season, Utley was 11% above the average left-handed batter in adverse platoon scenarios. His overall line of .256/.365/.429, while somewhat sub-Utley in caliber, was still more than acceptable for a second baseman of his defensive talents.

Besides that, Utley was really the least of the Phillies’ problems against lefties last season. There were several notable non-lefties who couldn’t hack it against southpaws — Jimmy Rollins (221 PA, 65 wRC+ vs. LHP), Placido Polanco (101 PA, 65 wRC+), and Michael Martinez (54 PA, 46 wRC+). And a few of Utley’s same-sided cohorts had their own problems — Ryan Howard (106 PA, 60 wRC+ vs. LHP), Juan Pierre (60 PA, 13 wRC+), and Domonic Brown (59 PA, 70 wRC+). The good news is that Polanco, Martinez, and Pierre are no longer with the team, and there is room to hope that Rollins and Brown will improve upon their figures. If Utley is able to build upon 2012 and make a further effort to resurrect his lefty-on-lefty abilities, and any of the previously mentioned players can make their own adjustments, the Phillies could even their nasty platoon split without the addition of the ever-elusive right-handed bat.

The Offseason That Awaits

Times were a bit tough for the Phillies in the 2012-13 offseason. A subpar season followed up with smaller-scale moves designed to give the team years of control in some areas and stopgaps in others isn’t the best way to build hype and excitement, but that’s the state of the union right now. Now that the dust has (likely) settled, these potential pitfalls still remain: four players are making $20 million or more, the farm is thin, numerous players have considerable injury concerns, the bullpen and bench are uncertain and the outfield is anybody’s guess.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln…

But yet, in spite of all that, this offseason’s frustrations and walking-on-eggshells approach pales in comparison to the difficult decisions that await after the 2013 season concludes.

Impending Free Agents

The following players are set to hit free agency after the coming season:

*Halladay has a vesting option that’s unlikely to kick in. According to Cot’s, he needs to pitch 258.2 IP to meet the 415 combined 2012-13 IP requirement and avoid the DL.

Of course, the possibility always exists that an extension could be worked out, whether it happens before, during or after the season. With a weak farm, Halladay, Ruiz and Utley appear to be more competitive choices moving forward, although each comes with their own set of risks and an uncertain price tag. If the squad isn’t competitive, is maintaining a high payroll viable? Consider the in-house heirs apparent for the big three of that group:

Others who might be missing from those lists are likely too far away to make an impact in 2014, should those respective players leave. Now, looking at that, the Phillies clearly can’t expect to field a competitive squad relying solely on options that are currently team property. Free agent options aren’t great either; Brian McCann and Robinson Cano headline potential catcher and second base free agents, but neither seems likely to hit the market.

Potential Trade Assets

The Phillies experienced their first foray into the seller’s market under Ruben Amaro’s guidance when Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino were dealt prior to the 2012 non-waiver deadline, with Joe Blanton following not long after. Should 2013 not represent a fairly substantial improvement, and should the front office deem this roster in need of a bigger overhaul (which is feasible), more trades could come. What do the Phillies have that could be of value, that could net pieces that would facilitate a faster transition or rebuild?

Lee’s name was already tossed about briefly after the Dodgers put a claim in on him last summer, as well as that wonderful one-sided internal discussion of being dealt for Justin Upton more recently. He would likely fetch the most value, but this list is not devoid of potential asset grabbers.

On the flip side, should the Phils find themselves in buying mode, their lower-tier farm system has little left to fetch a prize. Jesse Biddle, the best of the bunch, projects as a No. 3 starter with a shot at No. 2, which is not conducive to making another big acquisition, even though he seems likely to crack a few top 100 lists.

The Conclusion

One way or another, the Phillies are primed for an interesting season and denouement. Most of the viability of any of those names either being extended or traded depends, obviously, on health and production. Value is reflexive based on those things. The linchpins are Halladay and Utley, but if Ruiz can replicate his 2012 production, his net worth as an affordable rental may never get higher.

None of this is set to be moved to the front burner, but as the calendar pages turn, you can bet the brass will have next winter on their minds more and more.