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:

Continue reading…

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 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

  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

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.

Crash Bag, Vol. 36: Situated on an Isthmus

So I moved to Wisconsin last week, which I think I told y’all about. And it’s great so far–I miss Wawa, and I hate pumping my own gas, but the food is great, the people are friendly, and I’d forgotten how awesome it is to be able to buy beer in a grocery store or a gas station. As men do. In lands where freedom rings out like the throaty drone of a bagpipe on a crisp autumn morning. (wipes tears from face)

But yeah, I got here on Thursday, and Kate, the Long-Suffering Fiancee, came out here to help me set up house. After two days, I was starting to figure out where things were. I’d adjusted to the cold (which isn’t that bad, because while it’s 15 to 20 degrees colder out here than in the Delaware Valley, that cold comes, at least so far, without the customary appalling wind you’ll find in Philadelphia). And on Saturday morning, I went to take KTLSF to the airport.

Madison is a moderate-sized city of about a quarter of a million residents, and a large part of the downtown is situated on an isthmus that bisects two lakes, much the way Ryan Howard bisects the strike zone with his swing whenever he sees a slider in the dirt. It was while I was driving along this isthmus that I…by the way, “isthmus” is an awesome word, isn’t it? Perhaps the greatest of all geographical terms, and if not, right up there with “archipelago” and “fjord.” I remember learning what “isthmus” meant by watching Sesame Street as a child. Imagine that! A show designed for preschoolers being unafraid to teach young children esoteric geographical jargon! We’d certainly never stand for such a thing in this day and age! Imagine the nerve of those socialist cheese-eaters over at Children’s Television Workshop–teaching our children big words! Daring them to expand their horizons before everyone’s stopped to pick up his participation trophy! Isthmus.

But I digress.

Like I was saying, it was while I was driving along this isthmus that I first realized something wasn’t right. First of all, the lake was frozen, which is something I’m not positive I’d ever seen in person before, a lake frozen to the point where you could walk on it. So imagine how completely unprepared I was to witness people–dozens of them–walking out on the ice in various Gore-tex apparel, toting drills and tents and stools, doing what I can only assume was ice fishing. Ice fishing! A sport undertaken by such barbaric people as Russians and Canadians–not normal, civilized Canadians, the Quebecois and Vancouverites and Ontarians, but people from, like Manitoba and such. Shocking behavior.

So there they were, dozens of ice fishermen, just kind of chillin’, so to speak, out on a frozen lake, sitting on stools and dropping strings through holes in the ice as if this is just something people do. I was kind of intellectually aware that Wisconsinites behaved in such a manner, but to witness it literally in the middle of a city, literally within sight of the state capitol building, was quite a shock. Totally jarred me out of enjoying the beautiful view of the skyline and the frozen lake that can be had from this isthmus on a sunny morning.

Question time.

@fotodave: “Which is colder: A Wisconsin Morning or the Phillies development of Domonic Brown?”

Like I said, it doesn’t feel all that cold out here. I mean, it’s cold, but it’s more the refreshing crispness of standing inside a walk-in freezer than the bitter, skin-blistering assault of sitting on the bleachers at a high school football game in December. When I was in college, I waited tables for a summer, and I had neither a car, nor air conditioning in my apartment. Which had no exterior windows and was situated in a building made entirely of brick. Which, I’m pretty sure, is what they make pizza ovens out of in expensive restaurants.

Anyway, I walked to work, which took between 20 and 30 minutes, which wasn’t bad. Or at least it wouldn’t have been if it weren’t 115 degrees with 100 percent humidity every day of the summer in Columbia, South Carolina. So occasionally, I’d be dispatched to the restaurant’s walk-in freezer to pick up some foodstuff or other. And damn if I didn’t take my sweet time. I’d let the door close behind me and stand there in my shorts and polo shirt, just letting the heat radiate off of me and into the foggy cool like I was an ear on a Fennec fox in the desert night. That’s how the cold is in Wisconsin. At least in my part. I watched a little bit of the Packers-Vikings game on Saturday and it looked considerably less pleasant in Green Bay.

But I wouldn’t describe the Phillies’ development (if you can call it that) of Domonic Brown as “cold,” either. The word I’d choose would be something more along the lines of “bizarre” or “profligate” or “This is a chemical burn.” They have to have known something that we didn’t, that all the prospect writers didn’t, when Brown was coming up. They’re professionals–they have more training, and more experience and more resources than we do, and by all publicly available information, holding Brown back made no sense.

I’m going to write a book about Domonic Brown one day.

@pinvert: “in your expert opinion, how did Ryan do last week at the helm of the Crash Bag?”

Quite well, I thought. If you haven’t read it yet, you should. It’s comforting to know that if something horrible were to happen to me, say, if I perished in a tragic Michael Martinez accident, that service could continue almost uninterrupted.

Qui-Gon…more to say, have you?

“follow up-answer one of last week’s questions with the viewpoint opposing Ryan’s”

Oh, but yeah, for as much as I look to Ryan as kind of an intellectual and philosophical sounding board–not that we agree on everything, but I do respect his opinion immensely–it’s difficult to be as entirely wrong about something as he is about the designated hitter. The DH leads to three true outcomes and to old fat guys who have overstayed their welcome trundling around in circles. And if I wanted to see that, I’d walk around the WIP offices telling Angelo Cataldi that there’s a woman in a bikini hiding in a room somewhere and not tell him which.

“caveat: it can’t be the DH question”

Oh. Well I don’t know that he said anything else that I really disagree with. Oh, here’s one. He said that Cliff Lee would win a steel cage match against Jonathan Papelbon and Chase Utley. I don’t think so. I’m not sure it’s possible to kill Chase Utley. Sure, you could hack off his knees and wrists, but he’d still be there, with his unbeating heart and cold, steely gaze, gnawing at your ankles until you gave up and cried. I think Utley wins if only because Cliff Lee is made of flesh and blood, and he bleeds. If it bleeds, we can kill it.

@SkirkMcGuirk: “What current Phillies player(s) will have their numbers retired someday?”

Funny you should ask that, because literally the first thing I ever wrote on this site was a long post on why the Phillies should retire Jimmy Rollins‘ number. I love these debates about retiring numbers and (in other sports) captaincy designations–it’s a combination of the rational and emotional. Not only who was the best, but who meant the most. The Phillies seem only to be interested in retiring the numbers of players who made the Hall of Fame, but I’ve got a little more liberal outlook on such things, so screw them. If the Phillies want to answer this question, they can get their own Crash Bag.

The past decade has been, by far, the most successful in the history of the Phillies’ franchise, and among current members of the team, I would retire the following numbers today, no questions asked:

Each great era in Phillies history (all one of them, plus 1950, which apparently counts as an era), comes with at least two retired numbers. Rollins combines on-field value with longevity and qualitative meaning the franchise. He is to us what Richie Ashburn was to our grandparents. And Utley, for my money, is the best player in franchise history not named Mike Schmidt, so he goes too. And Charlie Manuel is to the Phillies what Billy Martin was to the Yankees or Earl Weaver was to the Orioles, except Charlie Manuel is the exact opposite of Billy Martin and Earl Weaver in every way imaginable. But sometimes franchises honor great teams by honoring the manager–I think it’s appropriate to do so in this case.

And if Cole Hamels keeps pitching like a No. 1 starter until the end of his contract, he gets on the board too. Roy Halladay doesn’t have the longevity (though he’ll get his later in this column, don’t you worry) and Cliff Lee, for how great he’s loved by the fans, probably won’t have enough good season with the Phillies to merit having his number retired either.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Say the Phillies pick up an actor to be their play-by-play guy on TV. Who would you want it to be? I’m thinking H. Jon Benjamin.”

He’s not a bad choice. I’ve long been of the opinion that ESPN should have its No. 1 soccer commentary team of Ian Darke and Steve McMannaman try other sports. I’d love, love, love to see them give baseball a shot.

But you said actors. So actors it shall be.

We’ve got to consider a couple things. Vocal quality. H. Jon Benjamin has that sonorous Joe Buck baritone that would lend itself well to the commentary booth. Or you could go with the carnival barker/1950s radio newscaster voice that Keith Jackson made his own and go with…I dunno, Morgan Freeman? I feel like Nick Offerman might be able to pull it off, but that might be entirely a product of how much Parks and Recreation I’ve been watching recently. Liev Schreiber is doing great work as a sports documentary narrator and would probably do well calling a  ballgame.

If we’re just going for quality of voice, I’m not sure you’ll do better than H. Jon Benjamin. In fact, I could listen to him talk to a woman with a breathy, seductive alto voice in any context, baseball or no. If H. Jon Benjamin and Diana Agron called a ballgame, I’d hang on every word–no joke, every single goddmaned word–and be completely unaware what sport they were watching until about inning four or five.

You could go another direction and take multiple actors who you know have good on-screen chemistry and just turn them loose. I’d watch a Christopher Guest/Harry Shearer/Michael McKean booth. Or a Nick Kroll/Jason Mantzoukas booth. Adam Scott and Lizzy Caplan. Bradley Whitford and Matthew Perry. Michael Fassbender and that basketball from Prometheus. You get the idea.

Notice how I never said anything about knowing or liking baseball. This is because most baseball commentators offer bugger-all in terms of useful insight. My favorite broadcast teams (Darke/Macca, Franzke/LA and Breen/Van Gundy are probably my top 3 right now) are talented describers of events, and you get the sense that they’re guys who enjoy watching the game with their buddies. I want to know what’s going on and I want to get the sense that what’s going on is genuinely fun.

With that said, I’ll take…Jon Hamm and Chris Pratt. I have no idea if they’d have good chemistry (well, apart from Chris Pratt having had good chemistry with Treat Williams in Everwoodwhich is like having good chemistry with a doorframe), but I like both of them, and I think it’d be fun. Maybe with Jennifer Lawrence in the Sarge role, doing some mid-inning relief and postgame interviews. Mostly because I am hopelessly, irretrievably in love with Jennifer Lawrence, who was the acting equivalent of the space shuttle lifting off in Silver Linings Playbook, which is the best movie I’ve seen in a theater in about five years, and if she doesn’t win Best Actress I’m going to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate potential wrongdoing. But I need more Jennifer Lawrence in my life, and this seems as good a reason as any.

But enough fun. Given the events of this week, I think it’s time for a….


(sirens, klaxons, Wayne Brady)

Nobody got in. Shocker. Blow up the BBWAA, burn down the disco, hang the blessed DJ, and so on. All your post-hoc ass-covering moralizing won’t stop Barry Bonds from having been one of the five best baseball players ever, Grumpy Old White Male Sportswriters.

@mdubz11: “Fill out your Hall of Fame ballot.”

I don’t have a Hall of Fame ballot. I wish I did. But let’s pretend. Holy damn, Rondell White is on there. Remember that guy? Also Todd Walker. Who, as far as I know, is the only Walker ever to play for the Texas Rangers. Oh, and let me say up front that allegations or even proof of performance-enhancing drug use bother me not one iota, and if you think you’re going to convince me otherwise, I cordially invite you to bugger off and not say anything. Drug use was so accepted and prevalent at the time that the so-called Steroid Era is nothing more than a run-scoring environment to me. I’m also kind of a big hall guy, so I’m going to fill my ten spots, particularly on this ballot of all ballots. Though if others are in favor of being more selective, I really don’t have an argument–it’s a matter of preference. The ballot isn’t ordered, but this is my rough order of preference.

  • Barry Bonds. Possibly the greatest baseball player ever. Maybe not as good as Babe Ruth or Honus Wagner. Oh, what’s that you say? Barry Bonds took steroids? Well Wagner and Ruth didn’t have to play against foreigners or black people. Seriously, I’m so over the drug outrage. If Kennesaw Mountain Landis and Bill Conlin and Cap Anson are in the Hall of Fame…hell, if Tim McCarver‘s in the Hall of Fame as a broadcaster…I’m not sure we can fairly impose some sort of nebulous morals clause. Sure, Barry Bonds was a jerk and likely a drug user, but Mickey Mantle (one of my favorite players of all time, and as deserving a Hall of Famer as ever lived) was a drunk and a serial adulterer, which I find far more icky than whatever Bonds did. The ability of grown-ass men to be shocked and butthurt over a ballplayer ruining their innocence astounds me.
  • Roger Clemens. Just like with Bonds, a Hall of Fame without Clemens doesn’t diminish Clemens–it diminishes the Hall of Fame. When I’m dictator of the world, anyone who doesn’t vote for Bonds or Clemens loses his vote. Not just his Hall of Fame vote, but the franchise as well. And he spends two weeks in the stockade.
  • Jeff Bagwell. I like to think that Bagwell’s been left out of the Hall of Fame so far because his eye-popping statistical record has been underrated (which I think it has). Not because everyone with big muscles who played in the 1990s is assumed to be a juicer, regardless of whether or not he’s even been credibly accused of wrongdoing. Let alone, you know, tested positive for illegal PEDs.
  • Tim Raines. Another guy who, like Bagwell, had an astonishing career but somehow flew under the radar. I believe it’s Jonah Keri (and if it’s not, I apologize) who’s fond of saying that Raines was the second-best leadoff hitter of all time, but no one noticed because he was a direct contemporary of the greatest leadoff hitter of all time (Rickey Henderson). I find that sentiment to be broadly accurate.
  • Craig Biggio. It was Bill James‘ argument (in the New Historical Baseball Abstract of 2001) that Biggio was a better player than Ken Griffey, Jr., that was really my first introduction to the enlightened–or rather, evidence-based–way of considering the game to which I subscribe now. That was a terribly-constructed sentence but I’m not going to bother to change it. Biggio was great at his peak, he played at not one but three premium defensive positions, and he played for a long time. I’m really not sure what case there is to be made against him.
  • Edgar Martinez. Okay, so some people won’t vote for Martinez because he was “only half a player.” Which is an interesting thing to say about a guy with a career .418 OBP. Okay, so Martinez hardly ever played the field. Maybe the presence of Ryan Klesko on this year’s ballot will serve to remind voters that there are worse things than not playing defense at all. Or maybe someone can explain to me how Martinez is unworthy of enshrinement for his lack of completeness, and Lee Smith got half again as many votes as Martinez did. Also worth noting: Jack Morris batted once in his regular-season career.
  • Curt Schilling. Pitched with Randy Johnson when Johnson was stupid dominant, and with Pedro Martinez when Martinez was stupid dominant, so he never got the praise he deserved for being one of the great power/control pitchers of his era. He pitched a ton of innings, and the innings he pitched were really good. That’s really all I want from a starting pitcher. And while Schilling’s regular-season credentials alone are worthy of enshrinement, it’s worth noting that for all the fainting Jack Morris induces among sportswriters for his performance in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series (admittedly one of the greatest postseason pitching performances ever), Schilling did that a lot. Across the span of more than a decade, for three different franchises. In a much tougher pitcher’s environment. And, due respect to a lineup anchored by Ron Gant and Terry Pendleton, tougher competition. As a rule, I don’t believe in clutch, but if we’re going to use that word on one pitcher on this ballot, I’d take Schilling over Joe Blanton with Better Facial Hair and Better PR.
  • Mike Piazza. Another argument that being a DH is not always the worst thing that can happen to a player’s defensive reputation. Though there are some who say that Piazza was actually an underrated defender. No matter–this guy had me convinced well into my teens that catcher was a position for big guys who could mash, not guys who were too athletic and not good enough with the bat to be middle infielders.
  • Larry Walker. If you wouldn’t vote for the eight guys above, I probably think you’re an idiot. Or an absurdly small-Hall guy. Walker is where I draw the line between no-brainer and negotiable. I’m a big fan of rewarding peak over longevity, which is why Walker goes ahead of Rafael Palmeiro or Fred McGriff. Though it’s worth noting that Walker has a higher career bWAR total than Tim Raines in more than 2,000 fewer plate appearances.  I’ll also admit that this vote may be entirely the function of when I was born. I came of baseball-watching age just before Walker’s peak with the Rockies, and he was the first player I ever saw who struck me as being change-the-rules good. Sure, he played his best years when Coors Field was at its Coors Fieldiest, so he probably wouldn’t have slugged .700 (which he literally did, twice) if he’d played at the Astrodome in the 1960s. But even if you adjust his numbers for run environment, they’re still quite robust–a career 141 wRC+ for a good defensive corner outfielder with 230 career stolen bases is good enough to make me a believer.
  • Mark McGwire. Again, peak vs. longevity. I know there are some writers who are making a crusade out of trying to get Alan Trammell into the Hall. No, that’s not right. There are some writers who are making a crusade out of complaining that Alan Trammell isn’t in the Hall. And on a ballot that didn’t have a top-five all-time hitter, a top-five all-time pitcher, the best-hitting catcher of all time and four guys who should have been in years ago if the voters weren’t sanctimonious poopyfaces, Trammell would get my hypothetical vote. As would Sammy Sosa, Kenny Lofton and probably Palmeiro. Sorry, Sammy. You only slugged .700 in a full season once. But yeah, that’s not to say I don’t think any of those guys are unworthy, or that I have some bulletproof reason to include Walker and McGwire over Trammell (and I think he’s the only one people will get upset about). If the BBWAA had voted Bagwell and Raines in when they were supposed to, this wouldn’t be an issue.

@mferrier31: “War breaks out between BBWAA and the “[sabermetric] tea party”. Who would play what role for each side( i.e. Pres, General, etc) & who wins”

Well, it’s worth noting that there are many members of the so-called sabermetric tea party who are also BBWAA members. Here’s how I think it goes. Murray Chass is John C. Calhoun, Jon Heyman is Jefferson Davis and…I dunno…someone like Peter Gammons or Bob Ryan, whom everyone loves and respects but was just born in the wrong place and time with the wrong ideas, is Robert E. Lee. Buster Olney plays James Longstreet in this metaphor.

On the goodguys’ side, STP President Joe Posnanski plays the Abraham Lincoln role, a wise, cogent man, a leader who sees both sides of the issue but ultimately stands up for what is right at all costs. He sends in Dave Cameron (George McClellan) and his tentative advances are rebuffed. Then he goes with more aggressive generals: Jayson Stark and Jonah Keri (Fightin’ Joe Hooker and Ambrose Burnside, respectively), but once again, they’re not quite aggressive enough.

Then, with the war going badly, Posnanski finds his Ulysses S. Grant: Keith Law. Law is recalled from his western campaign and informs President Posnanski that we’re younger, smarter and more numerous, and we can just bulldoze those old fogies, damn the human cost, if we want to. He’s given command, and he calls up Jay Jaffe (William T. Sherman) to burn everything from New York to Cooperstown to the fucking ground. We win, idiocy in baseball analysis is abolished and we get a bunch of kickass marching songs. The end.

@JustinF_LB: “Who do you think voted for Aaron Sele in Hall of Fame voting?”

I dunno, but if you find out, tell me so I can buy him lunch. I used to love Aaron Sele. My childhood fantasy that I could become a front-line MLB starting pitcher lasted well into middle school because of Aaron Sele.

But in all seriousness, ordinarily I don’t have a problem with writers throwing a Hall of Fame vote someone’s way to honor a player they liked but know won’t make it. As long as they take the rest of the ballot seriously. But this is a year with 14 qualified candidates for only 10 spots. If you’re giving Aaron Sele a shout-out and not spending that vote on a deserving but borderline candidate, you’re doing the Hall of Fame a disservice.”

@Parker_Adderson: “Any chance the character clause works more as it was intended and keeps Chipper out of the HoF?”

I’m going to answer this question, kind of, in the next bit. But I just wanted to take this opportunity to remind y’all that Chipper Jones is a poopy head whose wife divorced him because he had a kid with a Hooter’s waitress behind her back. That poor woman. Imagine how close you’d have to get to Chipper’s face to conceive a child with him.

@Jferrie: “do you think that since guys who juiced can get into hall that Pete Rose should get a chance? Gambling vs Juicing.”

I’m glad you phrased it that way, because cheating doesn’t get you eliminated from Hall of Fame discussion. Because Willie Mays cheated. He took and distributed PEDs too. So did Mike Schmidt. Baseball, for all the moralistic bluster of certain writers, is an incredibly forgiving community as a whole. It will welcome you back with open arms even if you’ve been dinged in the past for things far worse than drugs, such as drunk driving or hitting your wife. And if you do both, you get some sort of career bingo and writers come up with weird excuses to give you prizes. It gets better–baseball will forgive players for anything from hate crimes to rape.

Now, I don’t know that any of that behavior would fly if, instead of baseball players, these guys were accountants. And if Miguel Cabrera, thoroughly scumbaggy a man though he seems to be, were an accountant, even as great an accountant as he is a baseball player, I wouldn’t begrudge him the right to make a living. But neither would I want him to work for me or with me. That’s a very intellectually inconsistent position to hold, and I stand by it steadfastly. But perhaps no other line of work is as zero-sum as professional sports, so for that reason, we give the truly great athletes like Cabrera (and for some reason, truly mediocre ones like Young and Lueke) a lot more rope than they might get in other lines of work. The point is, baseball is like a Backstreet Boys song: “I don’t care who you are, where you’re from [or] what you did.” (Side note, do yourself a favor and watch that video. Peak late ’90s going on there. I totally had Nick Carter‘s haircut when I was 12.)

It’s like baseball has literally one rule. And that rule is that you can’t bet on baseball. You can literally rape and pillage, but you can’t bet on baseball.

Which makes sense, to a certain extent. Even if you cheat–especially if you cheat–you’re still trying as hard as you can to win. But if you’re betting on baseball, there’s the chance that you might undermine the competitive integrity of the game, where athletic outcomes are fixed to support certain financial outcomes. And when that happens, you’ve got the NBA. Pete Rose broke the one rule, a rule in whose name Major League Baseball has banned, or considered banning, players as great as or greater than Rose. He’s not going to get in.

At least not until he dies. Because as Ron Santo would tell you if he weren’t dead, people who were worthy all along sometimes have to wait for posthumous induction.

@gberry523: “how long before another Phillie gets inducted to the hall?”

Probably the next time another Phillie leaves a room.

Depends on who counts as a Phillie. Because I’d vote for Curt Schilling today, and when the time comes, I think Pedro Martinez, Halladay and Jim Thome all make it in without too much fuss. I’d throw Scott Rolen a vote too, but I don’t think he makes it in. That said, I don’t think any of those five guys would wear a Phillies hat on his Hall of Fame plaque. I don’t think Chase Utley gets in either, because he’s been preposterously underrated over the years and is entirely deserving, even if his career ended today.

Honestly, if I’m going to take bets on the next Hall of Fame inductee to wear a Phillies hat on his plaque, I’d lay the odds as:

  • 4/1: Chase Utley
  • 5/1: Cole Hamels
  • 2/1: The Field

Because apart from Utley and Hamels, I can’t think of a name. Maybe the Phillies draft Karsten Whitson next year, he turns into a stud for a decade and change and gets inducted for the Class of 2040. It could be that long–the Phillies have had a ton of really good players over the past 30 years, but not really a slam-dunk Hall of Famer.

Which is fine by me, because with Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Jason Heyward and The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton in the division, we Phillies fans are going to be seeing our fair share of potential future Hall of Famers.

That’ll do it for this week. We had a first this week–way more good questions than I could use. Which is good, because I won’t be able to write this whole thing in one sitting between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. Thursday night/Friday morning anymore, as has been my custom. So in the interest of spreading out the workload, send in questions anytime via #crashbag and they will be answered. And if you ask even a moderately evergreen question and it doesn’t get answered right away, it might show up in a later episode. For instance, I’ll be giving advice next week on how to build a child. You won’t want to miss it.

Have a pleasant weekend, everyone.

Ranking What’s Left of the Free Agent Outfielders

This handy-dandy free agent tracker from MLB Trade Rumors shows us who’s left among free agent outfielders. GM Ruben Amaro is reportedly still searching for a veteran outfielder to add to the mix, though the hunt has certainly died down in recent days. Currently, the left-handed Domonic Brown and Laynce Nix, and right-handed John Mayberry and Darin Ruf are slated to man the corners in some kind of platoon or double-platoon.

Using the FA tracker, I’ve divvied up those remaining into a few groups: “Could be worthwhile”, “Not Like They Have Any Other Options”, and “Dear God, Why?”.

Could Be Worthwhile

Scott Hairston

  • 2012 Salary: $1.1 million (one year)
  • 2012 wOBA vs. LH/RH: .368 / .317
  • Career wOBA vs. LH/RH: .353 / .306

The biggest benefit Hairston would provide, besides mashing lefties, would come in pushing Darin Ruf back to Triple-A for a full season. While many fans are anxious to see Ruf prove himself at the Major League level, particularly after 37 impressive plate appearances in September last season, Ruf would benefit from his first taste of Triple-A with very little pressure. Furthermore, the Major League club wouldn’t be punished if it turns out Ruf isn’t able to handle big league pitching as well as advertised.

Hairston is below-average defensively, but is nevertheless much better than Ruf, who only started playing left field last season. The old, slow Phillies won’t have much in the way of speed outside of Jimmy Rollins and Ben Revere, but Hairston can add somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-10 stolen bases depending on his performance and playing time.

With Hairston looking for a similar salary as he received in 2012, somewhere in the neighborhood of $1-2 million, he would be a safe bet for the Phillies, currently with a $152 million payroll.

Ryan Sweeney

  • 2012 Salary: $1.75 million (one year)
  • 2012 wOBA vs. LH/RH: .160 / .310
  • Career wOBA vs. LH/RH: .266 / .330

Sweeney’s production against left-handed pitching is abysmal, so he would have to be part of a platoon, which would necessitate pushing Laynce Nix back into a bench role. Nix, with a career .235/.317 L/R wOBA split, could likely do what Sweeney would do, and the Phillies are already committed to him anyway. Sweeney’s skills, relative to Nix, include better contact (career 15 percent strikeout rate) and better on-base skills (career .338 on-base percentage).

Not Like They Have Any Other Options

Austin Kearns

  • 2012 Salary: $600,000 (one year)
  • 2012 wOBA vs. LH/RH: .277 / .428
  • Career wOBA vs. LH/RH: .341 / .337

Kearns’ days as a regular outfielder are behind him. The 32-year-old hasn’t logged more than 175 plate appearances in a season since 2010. In limited playing time with the Marlins last year, though, he was average with the bat (.331 wOBA) despite a drastic platoon split (he hasn’t shown one over his career). When he’s right, he has excellent plate discipline (career 11 percent walk rate) and on-base skills (career .351 OBP).

Signing Kearns to be part of a platoon isn’t the greatest way to use him, but given how cheap he will be and the assets he would bring, the Phillies could do a lot worse. Bringing Kearns on board as a bench bat would be superb, though.

Delmon Young

  • 2012 Salary: $6.75 million (one year)
  • 2012 wOBA vs. LH/RH: .357 / .282
  • Career wOBA vs. LH/RH: .352 / .309

Young has had some bad off-the-field incidents, but if the Phillies aren’t concerned about that, Young could provide some value as the right-handed side of a corner outfield platoon. Since he started playing regularly in 2007, Young has never been worth more than 1.7 WAR and has three times posted negative WAR, according to FanGraphs. Baseball Reference WAR echoes this. His defense is awful and he doesn’t draw walks, but he can definitely hit lefties. If his price tag drops significantly from his nearly $7 million salary from last season, he might be worth it, but the Phillies’ best best is to stay away.

Ryan Raburn

  • 2012 Salary: $2.1 million (last year of two-year extension)
  • 2012 wOBA vs. LH/RH: .215 / .217
  • Career wOBA vs. LH/RH: .345 / .306

Aside from playing in the outfield corners, Raburn has played some second base as well, so he could be used as an occasional substitute for Chase Utley when the Phillies want to give him a day off. As his career numbers show, he hits lefties well, so an infield that includes Raburn at second, Michael Young at first, and Freddy Galvis at third would be formidable against left-handed starters. Raburn’s career .174 isolated power is among the highest of the remaining free agent outfielders.

However, Raburn had an abysmal 2012 and turns 32 in April. His numbers have been in a steady three-year decline, from a .382 wOBA in 2009 to .356, .316, and .216. Raburn wouldn’t contribute anything else aside from power and hitting lefties as he doesn’t run the bases well and isn’t much on defense.

Bobby Abreu

  • 2012 Salary: $9 million (Angels picked up 2012 option)
  • 2012 wOBA vs. LH/RH: .312 / .309
  • Career wOBA vs. LH/RH: .335 / .385

This would never happen, but it’s fun to think about anyway. Abreu turns 39 in March and is no longer even a double-digit home run threat, but showed even last year that he still has a great eye at the plate. His 14.4 percent walk rate was right under his 14.7 percent career average and he finished with a .350 OBP. In the last five years (post-Barry Bonds era), only nine other players have finished a season with a .350 or better OBP in at least 250 PA at age 38 or older:

Player OBP PA Year Age Tm
Jim Thome .412 340 2010 39 MIN
Manny Ramirez .409 320 2010 38 TOT
Chipper Jones .381 381 2010 38 ATL
Chipper Jones .377 448 2012 40 ATL
Gary Sheffield .372 312 2009 40 NYM
Jim Thome .366 434 2009 38 TOT
Derek Jeter .362 740 2012 38 NYY
Jim Thome .361 324 2011 40 TOT
Melvin Mora .358 354 2010 38 COL
Craig Counsell .357 459 2009 38 MIL
Jorge Posada .357 451 2010 38 NYY
Ken Griffey .353 575 2008 38 TOT
Bobby Abreu .350 257 2012 38 TOT
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/5/2013.

The most surprising thing about Abreu is that, in those five years, he hasn’t missed any significant time due to injuries. In fact, according to Baseball Prospectus, Abreu hasn’t gone on the disabled list since 1997. In all likelihood, Abreu could probably pass muster as an every day player for the Phillies, but his defense is just so bad that he would cancel out any good that he would bring with his bat, which makes him an excellent fit as a bench player similar to Austin Kearns.

Dear God, Why?

Rick Ankiel – Hire him to entertain fans with throws from the outfield before games.

Jeff Baker – Human ellipsis (…)

Michael Bourn – $$$$$$$

Johnny Damon – He’s done. The 39-year-old posted a .271 wOBA last season.

Mark DeRosa – Since 2010: .220 AVG / .309 OBP / .269 SLG. Turns 38 next month.

Ben Francisco – Insanity is…

Kosuke Fukudome – His last name is now more valuable than his on-field production.

Don Kelly – Career .280 wOBA.

Darnell McDonald – The 34-year-old barely crossed the Mendoza line and had a sub-.300 OBP last season.

Scott Podsednik – He’ll be 37 in March and only hits singles.

Juan Rivera – Somehow, the Dodgers agreed to pay him $4 million last season. The 34-year-old rewarded them with a .287 wOBA and -0.8 WAR.

Domonic Brown: Turning Lemons into Lemonade

If the Phillies had plans to open the 2013 season with a formidable outfield, those dreams have quickly vanished. As Nick Swisher went off the board just before Christmas, signing a four-year, $56 million deal, so too did the final option for a full-time corner outfielder for the Phillies. Among those remaining are Michael Bourn (whose price is prohibitive), Matt Diaz, Scott Hairston, Ryan Sweeney, and bigot Delmon Young — players best fit in a platoon.

There has been speculation that the Phillies will use four outfielders in the two corners, utilizing John Mayberry, Laynce Nix, Domonic Brown, and Darin Ruf depending on the match-ups. While a platoon involving Nix and Mayberry makes sense, a platoon involving Brown does not.

A team utilizes a platoon when players at a particular position complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. For instance, a Mayberry/Nix platoon works because Mayberry hits LHP well and RHP worse (.371/.301 wOBA), while Nix hits RHP passably well and LHP significantly worse (.317/.235 wOBA). When he was healthy and playing every day, Brown showed an ability to hit left-handed pitching nearly as well as he hit right-handed pitching:

Impressively, the left-handed power hitter has hit left-handed pitching at a .282 clip in his career; his ability to hit southpaws will only accelerate his learning curve in the majors.

The above quote from Bill Root on Sports Illustrated’s website was posted on July 13, 2010. A few weeks later, Matt Gelb noted how well Brown was hitting lefties with Triple-A Lehigh Valley:

Huppert declined to share his opinion on whether he believes Brown is ready for the big leagues, but he was certainly impressed by the rightfielder’s ability to hang in for a two-run triple against sidewinding lefthander R.J. Swindle in the bottom of the eighth inning.

“He doesn’t give in at the plate,” Huppert said.

Brown is hitting .318 against lefthanded pitching.

There is a difference between Major League-quality left-handed pitching and Minor League-quality left-handed pitching, though. In his brief Major League career, Brown has posted a .260 wOBA against LHP and .321 against RHP. That gap has prompted Brown’s suggested use as a platoon player.

With 492 career trips to the plate, Brown has faced right-handers in 383 of them (78 percent); lefties in only 109. 109 plate appearances isn’t nearly enough for us to ascertain a player’s true talent. The standard deviation for his RHP performance is 24 points of wOBA, meaning that we are 95 percent confident his true RHP talent is between .273 and .369. The standard deviation for his LHP performance is 42 points of wOBA, so his 95 percent confidence interval is .176-.344.

Saying that Brown’s true talent against southpaws is .176-.344 is just about worthless, which should tell you that 109 PA is also just about worthless. When you have such scant information, you want to regress towards the league average. Last season, the average non-pitcher posted a .320 wOBA with a standard deviation of .001.

In this post at Athletics Nation back in 2008, Sal Baxamusa illustrated the best estimate of Travis Buck‘s true OBP skill based on the amount of plate appearances in which you observe a .377 OBP.

Notice how much further from the league average (.330) the estimate gets as your sample size increases.

Because we have hardly any information to use, we heavily regress Brown to the league average. As a result, our best estimate of his true LHP skill is a .320 wOBA, virtually identical to his performance against right-handed pitching. We either need to accept this or get some more data before making any conclusions.

Additionally, platooning the 25-year-old would simply further stunt his development. Brown has been in the Majors since 2010, but has accumulated only 492 PA in total, an average of 164 per season. The timeline:

  • 2010 (70 PA): Brown was promoted to the Majors on July 28. He started 13 of 35 games in which he appeared, but 9 of those 13 starts came in his first 11 games. He was a bench bat by mid-August. He suffered from a strained quadriceps in September, forcing him to miss 15 games.
  • 2011 (210 PA): Brown was hit on the hand by a pitch, fracturing his hamate bone. He had surgery to fix it, then was sent to Triple-A. Keith Law estimates that it takes 12-18 months for a player to regain power after such an injury, effectively a timetable of May-October 2012. The Phillies recalled Brown at the end of May and he played regularly through the end of July, when they senthim back to Lehigh Valley. Brown was brought back up in mid-September only to pinch-run and pinch-hit once before the season ended.
  • 2012 (212 PA): Injuries continue to sabotage Brown, as he suffered from a left hamstring injury in May and inflammation in his right knee in June. Matt Gelb noted, “[the injury] comes at an inopportune time for Brown, who was finally finding his stroke at triple-A Lehigh Valley while playing regularly. Brown was hitting .300 in 11 June games with three home runs and a .939 OPS.” Once healed, the Phillies recalled him at the end of July, giving him regular playing time for the final two months.

Brown has never had more than two months of uninterrupted regular playing time at the Major League level. Platooning him in 2013, at age 25 in his fourth season, would only further impede his growth as a player. Brown either is or isn’t going to be a good enough player to be a part of the Phillies’ plans; they are never going to learn this by using him as a part-time player.

If the Phillies don’t intend to give Brown 600 PA this season, they should trade him. As Brown becomes increasingly older and more expensive, both the Phillies and their potential suitors will have little need for a player who hasn’t played a full year at the Major League level. Put another way, when it comes to Brown, the Phillies need to [crap] or get off the pot.

Phillies Should Pair John Lannan with Freddy Galvis

I was thinking out loud on Twitter yesterday and said this:

In my post yesterday about the Phillies’ recent free agent signings, I mentioned Lannan’s high ground ball rate and the propensity for those ground balls to be hit to the pull side. Since 2009, John Lannan has induced 1,005 grounders. 528 of them (52.5%) have been hit to the pull side, 160 to the opposite field (16%), and the rest to the center of the diamond (317, 31.5%). As a result, I concluded that the left side of the Phillies’ infield — Jimmy Rollins and Michael Young — are crucial to Lannan’s success in the #5 spot for the Phillies.

As Grant Brisbee illustrated in a recent post at SB Nation, Young’s defense is not very good at third base. Here is one of the .gifs Brisbee used:

Meanwhile, this is something Freddy Galvis seemed to do routinely last season:

I’m not going to cite any defensive metrics because they’re not reliable in single-season samples (in Freddy’s case, a half-season sample). Galvis, brought up through the Minors as a shortstop, had no problem shifting over to second base. Thus, it is not crazy to think he could transition smoothly at third base as well. In fact, some of the early ideas surrounding the team’s options at the hot corner involved pairing Kevin Frandsen and Galvis rather than going after a player like Young or Kevin Youkilis.

Lannan averages 25 batters faced per start, and has a 12.1 percent strikeout rate and 9.6 percent walk rate (I included hit batters in this percentage), meaning that about 78 percent of batters Lannan has faced have put the ball in play. More than half of them — 53 percent — have hit ground balls. So, that is between 10 and 11 ground balls per game. As we learned above, slightly more than half of those grounders goes to the pull side. And, as pointed out in my post from yesterday, three out of every four batters Lannan faces is right-handed. So, we’re talking about  four or five ground balls per night to the left side, towards Young and Rollins.

The question becomes “is the downgrade in offense from Young to Galvis worth it for those five ground balls”? Young’s career average wOBA is .344 while Galvis posted a .267 mark in three months in 2012. In one game, the difference is about 0.3 runs:

The run value of a single relative to an out is about 0.8 runs. So, if Galvis made one play that Young wouldn’t have made in one out of every two starts, he would justify the maneuver. Of course, we are assuming that all of the ground balls become either outs or singles, which we know is not true. Unless the Phillies play Young consistently close to the line, some of them will become doubles, which have a run value of 1.1 relative to an out, justifying the move even more.

Such a tandem is not unprecedented, even for the Phillies. Back in 2007, the Phillies started the light-hitting, slick-fielding Abraham Nunez at third base 51 times. He started behind the left-handed, defense-reliant Jamie Moyer in 21 of his 33 starts, and an additional time in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Colorado Rockies.

Phillies Sign Mike Adams, John Lannan

Mike Adams is a 34-year-old reliever who spent the last five years with the San Diego Padres and Texas Rangers as one of baseball’s best non-closers. Among the 64 relievers who have thrown at least 250 innings since 2008, Adams had the sixth-best difference between his strikeout and walk rates at 19.7 percent, trailing Jonathan Papelbon, Mariano Rivera, Rafael Betancourt, David Robertson, and Matt Thornton.

Adams finished the 2012 season with a 3.27 ERA, his worst since his rookie season with the Milwaukee Brewers. Between 2011-12, his strikeout rate plummeted by seven percent and his walk rate increased by 2.5 percent, while his fly ball rate dropped to a career-low 32 percent. After posting a 7.56 ERA in the month of September, Adams had surgery on his right shoulder as he suffered from thoracic outlet syndrome, which is:

a condition where the rib bone pushes against a nerve and can cause numbness or pain in the arm or shoulder.

Thoracic outlet syndrome is the same injury St. Louis Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter suffered from for several years. He had surgery in mid-July, then returned just before the end of the season. The right-hander made three starts, striking out 12 and walking three in 17 innings. Carpenter made an additional three starts in the post-season, striking out nine and walking six in 13.2 innings. Carpenter’s fastball averaged 93 MPH in 2011, but dropped to 91 MPH in his few starts at the end of 2012. Similarly, Adams’ average fastball velocity was above 93 MPH in 2011, but dropped to 92 last season. His cut fastball declined in velocity as well.

Adams’ shoulder should be concerning, but he is expected to be ready on Opening Day. Unlike the Papelbon contract from last off-season — four years, $50 million — the guaranteed $12 million the Phillies will pay Adams over the next two years is relatively low-risk, since Adams can still be an above-average reliever in his age 34-35 seasons with lower velocity.

The John Lannan signing is interesting, to say the least. The lefty had a penchant for hitting Phillies with baseballs over his career, famously breaking Chase Utley‘s hand in 2007 and contributing to Ryan Howard‘s twisted ankle in 2010.

Lannan isn’t particularly skilled when it comes to defense-independent criteria. Since the start of 2008, the lefty has a 3.7 percent difference between his strikeout and walk rates, the third-worst among the 113 starting pitchers with at least 500 innings. The only pitchers worse than Lannan are Aaron Cook (3.2%) and Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona, 3.3%).

The lefty’s calling card is his ability to induce ground balls. Since 2008, he has induced grounders at a 53 percent clip, the tenth-highest among all starters. It is likely the reason why he has out-performed his ERA retrodictors (FIP, xFIP, SIERA) by more than a half-run over his career:

  • ERA: 4.01
  • FIP: 4.57
  • xFIP: 4.46
  • SIERA: 4.69

Because of his reliance on infield defense, he can have a great season like he did in 2011 (3.70 ERA) or he can have an abysmal season like he did in 2010 (4.65 ERA). The Phillies are weak at the infield corners with Michael Young and Ryan Howard and strong up the middle with Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. The following two hit charts show the location of Lannan’s ground balls that have gone for hits and those that have been converted into outs.


Although the one on the right looks like an amorphous blob, you can see that between the two, a majority of Lannan’s ground balls go to the right side. It makes sense because for every four batters Lannan has faced, three have been right-handed, and batters tend to pull ground balls. On grounders hit to the pull side, opposing batters have posted a .171 wOBA against Lannan since 2009. When they went to the opposite field, their wOBA was .200, and .210 up the middle. This means that the left side of Young and Rollins will be crucial for Lannan.

Due to his guaranteed salary, Lannan pushes Tyler Cloyd out of the rotation. The right-handed Cloyd was recently moved up a spot on the depth chart when the Phillies sent Vance Worley to the Minnesota Twins in the Ben Revere trade. Cloyd could still make the rotation if the Phillies feel that Kyle Kendrick is once again better used as a swing man between the rotation and bullpen, but given how well Kendrick pitched as a starter in 2012, that scenario isn’t likely.

Both of these signings have a very good chance of working out well for the Phillies, as the guaranteed money is relatively low and there is some upside. Adams and Lannan aren’t quite as sexy as Wilton Lopez and Edwin Jackson, but the Phillies are just about set when it comes to pitching. To complete the off-season, they now have to focus on acquiring a corner outfielder.  Nick Swisher is the one big bat the Phillies have been linked to recently, but he may command too many years and too much money, making it more likely that the Phillies end up with a lower-tier corner outfielder such as Cody Ross (ugh).